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HOUSTON—Last night, my 3-year-old requested some stories from her Bible before bed. We started with Jesus bringing the little girl back to life (one of my daughter’s favorites) and ended with Jesus calming the storm. As I read the familiar account, the Holy Spirit prompted me to consider something I hadn’t before: The disciples, fisherman all their lives, had faced plenty of other storms. The one that churned out of the blue that day created wind and waves so unprecedented, the seasoned sailors cried, “We are lost!”
A similar sense of dread filled my own heart Monday night as Hurricane Harvey’s floodwaters lapped over the curbs on our street and inched toward our front door. For the last 48 hours, I’d listened to television news anchors and Houston-area officials use the word “unprecedented” countless times. Overuse rendered it almost meaningless until paired with statistics: 52 inches of rain, 13,000 people rescued from flooding, 17,000 in shelters.
My husband and I are hurricane veterans. We survived Hurricane Ike in 2008 while living in Galveston, Texas. Our house took on 7 feet of water. We lost almost everything we owned. God turned the devastation into a blessing, as only He can. We emerged from that flood with a deeper appreciation for community and a keen understanding of how meaningless worldly possessions are.
So why, nearly a decade later, did I tremble as Harvey unleashed a new deluge of misery all around me?
Harvey made landfall Friday night in Rockport, Texas, pounding the popular beach town into near oblivion. It rained a little in Houston, but nothing to worry about. Harvey appeared to have done its worst, I confidently told friends who texted me from outside the area to check on us. We felt so relaxed by Saturday evening that we went out to dinner. As we paid our bill, streaks of lightning began to crack through the inky sky. Not long after we got home, ominous cluster bombs of rain began to land in our driveway.
The bombardment lasted for 17 hours.
After peering out the front windows at our street, my husband came back to bed. “We’re going to be OK,” he said. When I heard the sound of soft snoring, I knew he believed it.
I awoke at 4 a.m. Rain pelted our windows, thunder exploded overhead, and my Facebook feed filled with appeals for prayer from anxious friends measuring the rapidly rising floodwater outside their homes. My husband and I watched our own street fill up. At 5:30 a.m., he told me to start making a list of things we wanted to move to the second floor.
But by the time the weak gray dawn broke, the water’s slow march stopped. We took our daughter for a ride in her Radio Flyer wagon to check on the nearby creek and drainage channels. Although full, they didn’t appear to be in danger of overflowing. Shortly after lunch, the rain ceased enough for us to join our neighbors to wade through our flooded street—the toddler in a white summer party dress—to celebrate surviving the worst. Water began to recede, and we went to bed feeling blessed.
But the rain started again Monday. Our street began to fill, and by the afternoon the water had risen to higher levels than we’d seen on Sunday. I obsessively checked Facebook for updates from friends. One family despaired for their house when the retention pond across the street overflowed. They prepared to retreat to a neighbor’s two-story home if the water crept too far up the driveway.
I prayed for God’s mercy and protection for everyone around me. But I also prayed for peace and strength because I knew He would provide even if the worst came. I had confidence in His goodness, an assurance cemented by experience. So why did I still fear water seeping under the seal of my front door?
We fell into bed Monday night exhausted with worry and set an alarm for 2 a.m. Although rain continued to fall, the water level stopped rising. After peering out the front windows at our street, my husband came back to bed. “We’re going to be OK,” he said. When I heard the sound of soft snoring, I knew he believed it.
By Tuesday morning, the water receded measurably. The rain stopped, and we could tell based on radar models that the worst really was over. For us, at least.
Much of our suburban community endured Harvey unscathed. But thousands to our west, north, and east have a very different story to tell. On Wednesday morning, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett estimated Harvey left 40,000 damaged homes in its wake. The death toll stands at 21, but officials expect it to rise. In neighborhoods near two overfull reservoirs, the water isn’t expected to drain for weeks. And far too many homeowners didn’t have flood insurance because they didn’t think they’d ever need it.
Media reports are full of big-money donations from sports stars and entertainment industry moguls. While certainly helpful, I know from experience all those millions of dollars mean little to families faced with what now seems impossible: recover and rebuild. That’s where the church will step in. This morning in a Facebook video, our pastor encouraged us to embrace the opportunity to love our neighbors and meet them in their time of need. Over the upcoming holiday weekend, we plan to join crews tearing out soggy carpet and dragging waterlogged furniture to the curb—another hurricane survival skill we know about from experience.
But do I have more important hurricane wisdom to share? A week ago I would have said yes and rattled off what sound like platitudes in light of the storm of fear that filled my heart less than 48 hours ago. Harvey revealed I still have much to learn about trusting God in the face of loss. Today, Jesus asks me the same question He asked the disciples that stormy night on the boat: “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”
In the “grown up” version of the Bible, Jesus then rebuked the storm by telling the wind and waves to “be still.” But I like how my daughter’s Bible puts it: “Hush!” As I read those words to her last night, I heard the Holy Spirit whisper the same gentle command to me. Like the disciples, I marvel at His power to control the wind and the waves, both inside and out. But it’s His limitless love and grace in the face of my human frailty that leave me speechless.
They are unprecedented.
See “Harvey Relief” for information on organizations assisting victims affected by the storm.