I was 5 years old when we evacuated the first time. By the time I arrived home from school, our windows were boarded so the house was unusually dark inside even though the outside was full of afternoon light. While my parents hurried to secure things, my little heart started to panic. I opened the top drawer of my dresser and emptied my most precious treasures into a white plastic back with some sort of green print on the front (the kind with with plastic handles that snap together at the top). With the bag in one hand and my teddy bear tucked under my other arm, I told my mother I was ready. By the time we left, the tide was rolling in so fast the road between our home and the beach was covered in water. I quietly asked my mother if our house would be there when we got back. Her eyes met mine as she said “Sweetie, I don’t know, but if it’s not, we will be ok because we are together. It’s ok to feel scared.” Hot tears stung my eyes as I choked back a big lump in my throat. Heavy silence hung in the air as we passed miles of boarded windows and deserted streets.
It’s been 30 years since then and I’ve learned hurricane season is just part of life on the coast. There have been many close calls and some close hits, but nothing rivals the destruction of Hurricane Harvey.
Harvey made landfall on August 25, and with faces glued to the weather reports, we watched the devastation in Rockport and Houston. Citizens turned into heroes as they steered their boats into neighborhoods on rescue missions. Here at home, south of Houston, the actual storm damage was minimal, but in the following days, catastrophic flooding from rivers too full to stay in their banks devastated thousands.
I’ve seen the fatigue in so many eyes. From volunteers trying to put a dent in the massive need to those grieving significant loss and the arduous road ahead. It’s overwhelming. No matter how you look at it. And honestly, for some, it’s easy to forget because our daily lives don’t bear the marks of devastation. Appearances can trick you into thinking life has returned to normal, but there’s nothing normal about street after street of empty houses. So many have lost everything, and recovery will take months and years. Some will never be able to return to their homes at all.
As I type these words, it’s only been 72 days since Harvey made landfall but it feels so much longer. It’s hard to describe the disoriented time warp we’ve been living in as we try to shake out some semblance of “new normal” from the chaos. Some are bone-tired from working and organizing and helping, and others are brokenhearted because of loss.
But as grace would have it, there’s beauty even here.
3 Lessons from Harvey
- We are stronger together. I saw the church from the pages of Acts come to life in the weeks after Harvey. Friends and relatives welcoming those who couldn’t go home. Children who lost everything hosting art and lemonade sales to donate money for other children who lost everything. Strangers driving hours to help, while others sent funds and supplies. Neighbors who didn’t know each other’s names the day before tending to pets or mucking-out homes. Public schools opening cafeterias to those who were weary and hungry. Everyone did what they could and shared what they had. The sense of togetherness and camaraderie was palpable and unlike anything I’d ever experienced.
- Suffering and joy can coexist. As I’ve talked with friends, neighbors, community leaders, and business owners, all struggling to put the pieces back together, I’m struck by their resolve, their strength, and their hope. Each one a living, breathing testimony of just how much purpose and joy are not determined by circumstances. The pressing of brokenness shapes us, but it doesn’t define us.
- Not all things hold equal importance. So much of life feels urgent and important, doesn’t it? Yet when our evacuation turned from the anticipated 2 days to 10 days, all the urgent obligations taking up space on my calendar were forced to be removed. And the world did not end. I lived out of a small suitcase of 3 outfits and 1 pair of pajamas, and strangely, I felt as though I had enough. Our daughters played with a handful of toys and never wanted for entertainment. I’ve sat across the table from both strangers and friends who lost it all, and while the rollercoaster of grief is real and unkind, they cling to what they say matters most - their loved ones, their purpose, and their faith. More than once I’ve wondered how to do life differently moving forward, to make sure the things that are really important hold the places of greatest importance.
Harvey hasn’t just marked our land, our trees, our cities, and our homes. It’s marked our lives.
I don’t want to forget these days because, as my friend Emily wrote today, “they are living proof that life’s greatest trials are often the VERY THING God uses to fortify the greatest strengths in our lives.”