Friday, September 7, 2018

Faith Floats

Before you read this post, I want to acknowledge that everyone experienced Harvey in a different way. Often in hardship there are varying degrees of past and present suffering which color and shape each experience. There are the first responders and their families who sacrificed so much. There are the families who calmed little ones throughout the storm.  And then there are those that lost some. Some that lost all. Bits and pieces of these things may be parts of your experience too. This is just part of our story.

Our version of American Gothic
I read my last few posts below after not having blogged in a year and a half. Sometimes you just have to laugh...and marvel. At the time, we had finished the first round or two of simplifying our life. Drastically minimizing belongings (the word 'drastically' is so funny to me now, but at the time it was a drastic change), shoring up finances and changing our mindset and priorities to that of less for the sake of more. 

If you would have told me that within the next six months we would lose our home along with about 95% of our possessions, I could never have imagined it. Minimalist Dabblers would become by circumstance, Minimalist Extremists in a few short months. The 'me' on August 24, 2017 that went to sleep in our bed underneath my favorite fluffy duvet could have never imagined that in two weeks we would be in an unfamiliar rental house while our home dried out from holding several feet of sewage water for a week. The contents of our life and the physical memories of the past nine years rotting on the curb in wreaking, head-high heaps of garbage.

Different house. Different clothes. Different toys. Different bed. Different comforter. Different pillows.

Same husband. Same children. Same faithful God.

This is where I begin to marvel at the ways in which God prepares each us for the trials that we will face. And we will encounter them, believers or not.
As Peter affirms "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed." 1 Peter 4:12-13
Christians don't suffer less because we believe, but as believers God uses every bit of our suffering and pain for his glory and our good. Nothing is wasted. To look back and see his hand in our lives is overwhelming.

I could tell you many stories from this season. The words of an entire year have been building up and are too big. Sometimes the words are so many, that they can't make it to paper until they're processed through a bit. The story that I will share today is more about the thread that connects all the stories. It's not really about a flood or a hurricane. It's not an account or timeline of our journey.

It's about God's faithfulness. Here are a few of the pieces of faithfulness that have surfaced for us over the last year...

Almost a year and a half before the weary part of the journey began (read "the wet part"), God gave me a desire to simplify our life. I didn't know why, but I felt like our family needed to get light. By "light", I mean to shed the excess. I thought, 'Maybe we are supposed to adopt or go into ministry or move to Africa or I don't know...prepare for something drastic?' - there's that word again.

Something that we needed to be light for.

You can look back at my previous posts, but basically we got rid of a bunch of stuff and pared down. Yes, that freed us up a lot, but the bigger result of this process of "getting light" was the refocusing of our mindset to storing up treasure in heaven versus things of the earth. Do we enjoy things? Absolutely. But, it's a matter of enjoying earthly things without a white knuckled grip. Holding loosely. It was only the beginning of this lesson that I'm still learning, but I am so thankful that God began loosening my grip when he did. It's one thing to pry your own fingers away from something and quite another to have it wrenched away while holding fast. God was teaching me these things for something and it was...drastic.

In an effort to simplify overall, we had tightened our finances and made several decisions that would eventually help to ease the financial burden of what was to come. One of these decisions was to purchase flood July. It takes 30 days for a flood policy to take effect. Harvey came at the end of August. Yeah, I know.

I just thought we were saving money to pay off our house and make room for whatever was coming. and in truth we were, but I certainly never earmarked anything in our budget with 'in case of flood'. Typically when I think of Emergency Funds (i.e. Dave Ramsey), I'm thinking more like a car breaks down or an appliance goes out, not your home and belongings being under a couple of feet of sewage water. I've said it so many times, I couldn't have imagined this narrative for our family. We were like squirrels storing away nuts, yet oblivious to the coming winter.

In the wee hours of Friday morning, the night before Harvey's dimensions were really becoming apparent, my husband woke up at 3AM. I didn't know this until 5AM when I walked into the living room to find him watching the news. He told me he thought we needed to go to Louisiana. He felt it in his gut. At the time and much to my discredit, I balked. Really? We're Houstonians, we hunker down. We don't leave. Furthermore, no one was telling us to leave. Yet he felt really strongly about it. So I said ok, thinking we would avoid a few days without power with two toddlers. It couldn't hurt. We left around 7AM with four suitcases, two kids and our dog. Oh, and the kids' lovies, pillows and special blankets (thank you, Lord!). One more thing, an unflooded car! This was an unbelievable grace as rentals would be hard to get in the coming weeks. We weren't here for the incessant tornado sirens over the course of several days, seeing rising water in our home or eventually being boated out. We were spared this trauma and spent the whole time in Louisiana dry and being loved on by family. Yes, the trauma of change and loss is a lot, but we were insulated from the actual storm. And by insulated, I also mean that we gained a few pounds from two weeks of my father-in-law's cajun cooking.

On our way back to Katy

After we learned our home was certainly flooded and when we got back to Katy, God's provision really blew us away.

A family from Denham Springs, Louisiana drove with a trailer load of supplies to help our community. Their entire city had been through devastating floods the previous year. They wanted to help and happened to know our pastor and his wife, who we ended up staying with during the interim between arriving in Katy and finding a place to live. I can't tell you the blessing that they were to us during the whirlwind of the next week. They had the experience to prepare us for what was to come as part of the rebuilding process. He was a builder and had mucked out and rebuilt many homes in their community. This was invaluable. His wife and sister-in-law are so dear to me because they personally cleaned out my closet before the crew was able to get to it. There's something about people tossing your stuff without you that is deeply personal. Such a kindness.

Generous people supplied money for tools and necessities. We were able to find a rental home (we searched for apartments nearby to no avail) in the same neighborhood as some of our best friends and pastor. Also on that note, I made a new friend with three little precious kids that lived on the same street. A sweet friendship thanks to Harvey. Our church family made sure our rental house was fully outfitted with all the necessities as well as extra comforts. I was so worried about the kids' abrupt transition to the rental house lacking anything familiar, but it had a spacious backyard with a play structure (win!). The kids' rooms were respectively purple (to my daughter's happy surprise) and green. Beds and furniture were provided. Duplicates of previous owned toys were purchased for the comfort of our kids. Food was brought to us every day. Childcare was made available as mom and dad had lots of decisions to make. Remaining clothing washed for us. People helped disinfect anything that made it out of the house. Over the entire six months not one need went unmet.

The Lord even provided on the day that we were finally able to muck out our house. (maybe 7-8 days after Harvey? It's a blur.) The National Guard had closed off entry to our neighborhood for many days after the rain subsided for high water, sewage contamination and electrical concerns. Our homes sat for days in nasty water and sweltering heat. My husband and a friend were finally able to kayak into the neighborhood and get a look at our house. They brought back some of our most important salvaged possessions.

Because we left our home without a clue that it would flood, we didn't put anything up high. It's also a one-story home. How many times can I say this, we could have never imagine this would happen! I've mentioned the lovies, but a neighbor pulled bins from under our bed and put them up high before the water entered which contained treasured items such as baby blankets, Joey's A&M stuff, etc. I remember opening each bin on our pastors' porch and being overwhelmed emotionally by each item that was saved. Our Bibles, journals that I have kept since I was young, sweet baby items and a few of my husbands' sentimental family heirlooms were all included. Because we had eliminated so much stuff the previous year, we had little to go through. Picking through the pieces that remain is overwhelming. We were so grateful for the sweet things that made it out, but also the fewer the pieces, the sooner you can move on. Being light on stuff ended up being such a grace for us.

The following day we were able to get to our block with an F250 and a crew of guys from our church, my sweet friend Tara and myself. Tara and I piggybacked in from the truck. I'm not going to say this day was a blast, but it was the perfect blend of people to walk with you through it. The threat of tears turned into laughter and the humor was easy to find. I quite enjoyed asking people to wipe their feet at the door. This day should have been horrible, but it wasn't. Laughter brings such healing.

It's one thing to have physical provision, but another to be given internal provision. I'm talking peace. It's something we truly can't manufacture on our own. Were we at peace every day? Nope. There was much to be sad about and a lot of loss. The physical and emotional weariness knocked me over many days in the eight months following Harvey. If you know me you know that decisions in the Luby's line can stress me out! Making large-scale to itty bitty decisions on the rebuilding and outfitting our home from top to bottom, totally spent me. I'm still tired!

Two mental images stick out to me.

Picture one. The first time I saw our home since we had left it several days before. We were in Louisiana glued to the TV as we watched nationally famous journalists giving reports from across our street at Creech Elementary. It was a video a friend sent me of a boat being pulled by a jet ski through our neighborhood while the passenger was videoing the devastation. I caught the smallest glimpse of our house as they passed by, the boat making ripples in the water by our house as it passed by. Surreal. The home that Joey and I came home to as newlyweds nine years ago. The home to which we introduced both our babies and grieved the loss of another. The home where I left a half-folded basket of laundry on the couch and dishes in the sink. It's a funny thing...after days of wondering, it was both devastating and comforting all at once to see our little house. I broke down, yet I watched it over and over again just to see it.

Claire's room looking into Keats' room

Our street many weeks after Harvey
Picture number two. Seeing your family's ordinary items of daily life all on the curb is shocking and quite the gut punch. Stuff we bought when we were married, kids' birthday gifts picked out with love, my beloved KitchenAid mixer, my daughter's Melissa & Doug princess dress dotted with mold, furniture piled high, black trash bags lining the street. Nine years worth of stuff and life, all there in a rotting pile on the curb. The same picture, block after block.

This was hard. Very hard. But here's the thing with this stuff. Although a lot of memories were attached to these things, they were all destined to this end eventually.
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." - Matthew 6:19-21
This verse has never been more real to me than in the last year. , I still struggle with it daily!

Getting ready to move back in
First night back home
We moved back into our almost completely rebuilt home six months later. My husband worked nearly every day during that time to get our family back home. So thankful for him and the numerous other people that helped to get our family back home. It was a sweet day.

Remembrance of loss still catches me by surprise even a year later when I'm reminded of something that no longer exists but in my memory. While in the garage I stumbled across a little jewel from the crown my daughter wore every day for two years. I keep it on the kitchen window sill. It's more than a memory. It's a touchstone serving as a reminder that God is faithful through it all. No flood insurance, he is still faithful. Boated out, he is still faithful. No lovies, he is still faithful.

"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." - Lamentations 3:22-23