More Than Just Water

We bought a home 6 years ago this June. I remember our realtor, who was and is incredibly logical, educated and DEEPLY knowledgeable regarding ‘smart’ home purchases asking us, “Soooo, what is it exactly about this house that you…like??” hahahaha! Oh, the replay in my mind is hysterical. It was out of our price range, it was run down, it needed a lot of work and it was part of a much classier subdivision than it and we belonged. LOL. Basically, it was waay off target for us. There were 3 other offers in on it at the time, but the sellers reduced the price only for us and it just felt right. So, against logic, and our realtor’s better judgement, we bought it! There has not been one day that has gone by since then that I have not thanked God for that home. I knew then, but I know even more now, that we were meant to be in that very home. It was a stepping stone that opened us up to a path we needed to follow that led to incredible lessons, incredible friends, incredibly hard days, and overwhelming happy days. I’m so thankful the Lord knew what we needed and where we needed to be.

 

162 days ago, that home was filled with feet of flood water brought on ultimately from the 52 inches of rain that fell on Katy over a four-day period due to Hurricane Harvey. I do not want to argue where the water came from (reservoirs blah blah blah) or who is to blame, but to share with you what that storm has filled my life with other than water.

 

It has taken me 162 days to gather the courage to try and put the words together that would accurately paint the picture of what our life looked like and felt like during that time and leading to today. If I’m being honest, I couldn’t hardly talk about how I felt before now without leaving puddles of tears all over the place. There were just too many raw feelings. I have witnesses of such. Truth.

 

Nothing could have prepared me for the emotions that flooded my heart as I watched every single drop of rain fill up my city. My neighborhood. My streets. My community. My home. Nothing can describe the feelings that overcome you when you see your neighborhood friends being evacuated by helicopter. Nothing I’ve seen has accurately depicted the actual level of hurt and fear that rose with every inch of rain. Nor has any picture or description really portrayed the anxiety that built inside me while I viewed pictures and videos of all my dear friends sitting with their families from the highest places they could find just watching water creep its way into their safe spaces and sanctuaries of the world AND just.keep.rising. Nothing has ever taken my breath away as did the sight of the content of my friend’s homes all laid out on the curb where it would sit until it could be hauled off. Have you ever seen someone’s entire home heaped up in one mound and drowned in, basically, sewage? It broke my heart. And I don’t mean just one house. But all the houses. In all the neighborhoods. My heart broke over and over and over again. I was never desensitized to the sights my eyes beheld each time we entered any neighborhood that flooded. Have you ever seen men show up to muck homes day after day in the same filthy clothes because, well, that’s all they left home with when they flooded themselves? It’s strange that somehow it is so indescribably different when its YOUR home. Your stuff. Your memories. I was just not prepared – and how could anyone be? Thus, the 162-day delay in bringing any of this up.

 

Harvey changed so many lives. It changed my life. 162 days has offered many moments, hours, days, weeks and months of many varied perspectives as I, like the rest, tried to untangle the knotted mess that our lives had become. There were all the sudden so many missing pieces to our life’s puzzle. It has allowed me time to digest, to process and internalize exactly how powerful this hurricane was to me. I do not pretend to speak for all – just for me. Nor do I pretend that because so much time has passed that I have the perfect things to say. Because I do not! Just because our home flooded doesn’t make me an expert on anything other than the things I saw and the impact it had on my heart.

 

What I’ve put back together is much of what I had before, but deeper and more meaningful. I am grateful beyond measure, beyond pictures, beyond words for the experiences I have had because of Hurricane Harvey.  How twisted is that? I’m glad that from it I was taught principles of life that cannot be read in a book or seen on tv and truly understand without extreme hardship and trauma. I would not trade the witnesses of LOVE and GENEROSITY that my eyes and heart have seen for anything else in the world. I’ve since realized that there was a staggering difference between the person I was before Harvey and who I want to be now BECAUSE of Harvey. Now, don’t think I am fishing for compliments. I don’t think I was a bad person.  Nor do I think now I am a perfect person. But a lot came into perspective for me in August with this storm. Harvey brought about major self-reflection and major introspection. It took a minute for everything to sink in. I mean, was this really happening?? Do I really own a home that is flooded? Do I really have a mortgage for a home I can’t sell and can’t live inside?? Panic. Total panic and anxiety moved in. Accompanied by some real-life STRESS EATING, y’all. Oh boy. But in many quiet moments where I found my mind reeling and trying to hold on to something, I had to really ask myself:

 

- Who am I? Am I angry? Am I patient? Am I fearful? Am I faithful? Am I grateful?

- If I can’t be those things when life is hard, then what do I really believe and WHO AM I?

- What really matters to me?

- Do I have faith that things will work out as they should?

- Do I really believe that prayers help?

- Where can I turn for help? And peace?

-What kind of example do I want to be for my kids?

-How do I want to act as I move forward?

Etc. etc. etc.

 

I don’t want to dwell on how much water we received. It was more than enough to completely ruin all our plans. I don’t want to dwell on the money FEMA offered. It was laughable. Literally, I laughed. I don’t want to argue about why we didn’t have flood insurance – that doesn’t change the fact that we didn’t.

 

Harvey arrived with words like, “unprecedented” and “unbelievable” and “severe devastation.” I can attest that all that is true, physically and emotionally. It brought unprecedented pain AND love.  Unbelievable agony AND generosity. Severely devastating despair AND insanely motivating resolve to help. Every extreme, every emotion, every degree. Sounds dramatic, right? Yes. Please make no mistake, I can assure you it was every single ounce of drama. Or is it trauma? I was taught so plainly that you really do need to feel pain and anguish to appreciate the sweetness of life. It seemed that for a time, every intense sorrow I felt was quickly washed down with just as much if not more overwhelming joy. Talk about emotional exhaustion!

 

From here I’d like to share some of the personal experiences I will cherish forever. I know I could no way mention every single experience specifically, but I hope anyone reading this knows and understands the level of my gratitude which I hold close.

 

Love and let love. Even if it means using more courage than you think you have. A friend of mine knew what our home meant to us. She knew the equity we had in it was pivotal to our future and her heart broke as ours did when it went down the drain with the flood waters. She expressed her love and care and concern to me privately, honestly and sincerely. Do I let others know I am there and thinking of their pains? But then she spoke up about it publicly. She shared our story. What a brave thing to do! Would I have done something similar?  She told me, after I read my story on FB, that she woke with this voice screaming inside her saying, “HELP HER!” So, she found a way to help. She put out a call for help. She put her voice to use in the only way she knew how. I’ve always known that sooooo many people just need to be offered a chance to help but know I KNOW better. I understand more of what that means. She is an example of bravery, of articulating your feelings, then using what you have to help. It taught me to want to use my voice, my heart, and my love to find help for those who need it. I will never forget the love and albeit anxiety about seeing my story posted on social media. Who would respond? Would anyone really help? Yes! Because of this one voice, so many others jumped to action with reposts, bake sales, fitness fundraisers, donations, and concern even from states away. I do not want to ever regret not speaking up. I learned a powerful lesson. I want to be like every single one who gave without question when she announced the need. And I want to be like every creative, big-hearted soul who sprung into action. My goodness, people are incredible. For the first time, I felt hopeful about where we would end up. I was reminded that I was loved. That I wasn’t alone. Somehow the fear that crept in overtook my thoughts, but these acts of love and relief helped me to remember what I once knew. I wasn’t alone. I also learned that receiving help is so difficult. Why is that?! We need to let others love, show love and give love. And we need to receive love. I’m working on that…again. I mean still. Yes, still, again, I’m learning to receive. Love and let love.  If you love someone – tell them, show them and own it. Love is a good thing!!

 

Rescue = love = sacrifice = gratitude = miracles. I do not know if I can write about this one without my Kleenex. Too many beautiful people with beautiful stories of sacrifice about coming to the rescue of others. I saw strangers helping strangers. I watched the best people I know leave their dry homes and wade through water up to their necks through neighborhoods with inflatable rafts in tow just to wade all the way back out with a single person on board. And then wade back tirelessly until every family member in every home was out. I saw emotionless expressions and complete disbelief on the faces of dear friends of whom they were rescuing. What a humbling day to leave your home with just a trash bag, if you’re lucky, of possessions. I saw pictures of dear families I love all clinging to each other as they navigated deep murky flood waters to safety all while wondering when they would ever be back home again, if at all. I watched strangers take these families in from rain, dry them off, clothe them, feed them, and give them a place to stay with assurance everything would be ok. During this time, so many people redefined what love meant in my world. Love is miles and miles and miles of boats trailered behind vehicles filled with big hearted people sacrificing time and resources to help families face the dangerous waters of life. Love is a father wading through chest deep water with one child on his shoulders for blocks to turn and go back again for each member of his family. Love is trying to find any way possible to rescue a woman on dialysis from her beautiful home filled with water in hopes she can make it to the hospital in time. Love is losing everything in your own home because you spent all your time carrying your elderly neighbor’s furnishings upstairs instead of concerning yourself with your things. Love is preparing any room you can spare in your home for strangers to occupy because you care that much. Love is tirelessly organizing food, clothes, medicine and unending embraces for anyone who stumbles into an elementary school gym for shelter. Love is seeing your own children agonize over how to contribute because they’ve seen your example of service. Love is refusing to go to work to earn money for your family because there is more important work to do at your neighbor’s house. Not just for a day, or two days, but weeks.  Love is about showing up. Love is about action. I wouldn’t trade the images of the rescuers in action that I keep in in my mind for any amount of money in the world. I watched people love, rescue and serve in their own ways for weeks and weeks and weeks on end. I learned how love makes a difference.  It doesn’t fix it.  It doesn’t change it. But it brings hope. And that is something to hold on to.

 

Rebuild our lives and be sure NOT to include room for judgements.  Chris and I joined up with what our church organizes as, “Mormon Helping Hands.” There were many churches who organized similar groups, there were many groups who weren’t affiliated with religion at all, there were even more who had never swung a hammer in their life. But that did not matter one bit. We all came together with one goal – to bring relief and help to anyone who needed it. There were armies of individuals throughout the city of Houston and Katy ready to work. Make no mistake about the word army, for their numbers were great. It was incredible to see it and very special to be a part of it.  With each soggy wheelbarrow full of muck hauled to the curb it felt like one more load off someone’s shoulders. The work was hard, messy, smelly and exhausting and it was the best medicine. This lasted for WEEKS and weeks until every house in every neighborhood had E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. out on the curb.  Each day, all day, we saw groups of people driving around handing out meals. People who couldn’t physically muck homes went out and spent hours making sandwiches, packing bags of food, icing down drinks, and delivering to anyone who needed them. It didn’t matter that some of us were Christian and some of us weren’t. It didn’t matter that most of us we were strangers. We were hungry, thirsty and they wanted to help.  Morning, noon, and night we saw truckloads of people delivering food weaving in and out of all mess and piles, down every street, to feed not only the workers, but the homeowners too. We were a community helping each other. I learned that I wanted to be a part of building people up in ways that don’t involve judgements or limitations. I loved before Harvey. I served before Harvey. But I was not as eager to FIND ways to help before. I saw exactly how differences can be put aside to accomplish great things. I have prayed that as we all rebuild our hearts and souls that we are all especially mindful and careful to not rebuild any walls that keep us from loving any one individual, race, color, religion or creed. How special to witness such pure, pure love? Wouldn’t trade that for the world either. I’ll never forget one woman in our group spent hours just wiping the tears of a homeowner and constantly throwing her arms around her as she wept about everything being hauled out of her home. She was still in disbelief and sobbed as we carried everything she owned out to the curb. She watched everything pile up before her eyes and she couldn’t bear it. Before she knew it, she had not just one lady hugging her, but she found herself in a huddle of strangers, some I knew, many I didn’t, consoling her, assuring her, and offering comfort. Oh, my heart. This image is tattooed on my brain.

 

Adele wrote a powerful song (many actually) called Hometown Glory. And it echoes in my mind as I consider what I’ve seen this year. Yes, surprise. I am going to share her lyrics because, yes, my mind flashes back to Katy often.

 

I’ve been walking in the same way as I did
Missing all the cracks in the pavement
Turning my heel and strutting my feet

Is there anything I can do for you dear?
Is there anyone I could call?
No, and thank you please ma’dam
I ain’t lost, just wandering…
round my home town
Memories are fresh

Round my hometown
Ooh, the people I’ve met
Are the wonders of my world
Are the wonders of MY world
Are the wonders of this world
Are the wonders of now.

Yes, the people I have met are truly the wonders of this world. I am continually in awe of the goodness I discover in them. Here is what I’m learning.

My life needs to be mostly about everyone but me. I want to spend my life lost in the love and concern for friends and strangers. I’ve said that before and thought that before. But this time it’s different. It’s deeper. It’s more real. I’ve been shown what that actually means, and I want to be better. One of the many who followed the voice and example mentioned earlier organized many care packages that arrived directly to me from giving hearts all over. Each time one arrived I was blown away completely. I can’t even talk about the giant heart of this lady-coordinator, those who participated, and one package specifically. I read about it on Facebook before receiving the actual package and it shook me to my core. A woman whom I’ve never met, never talked to before that Facebook post, put love to action. She didn’t know me but that didn’t matter.  She could have worried about herself because heaven knows she had a good excuse, but she worried about me first. I learned that she was in late stage cancer. I learned that it was her birthday. She asked all who were coming to celebrate what could very well have been, or was to be, her LAST birthday party, to not bring her one gift. Instead, they were to bring cash, gift cards and donations to be sent to me. Are you joking me? How does one express thanks for something like that?  I asked myself, “Who am I to receive such gifts?” “Who does that?” Yes, my life was changed. Another wall came crashing down around my heart and I realized just how much of my soul need to be opened up to what really matters. Do I judge before I give? Do I use my situation as an excuse to let opportunities pass me by? I do not want to live that way. I will never forget this woman or the connections that made it possible for her to offer such a gesture. To those who contributed to her birthday wish, I wish I could hug you. To the lady who collected the ‘gifts’ and shipped them to me, I do not know how to thank you. To the birthday girl, you are beautiful, and your love is beautiful. I began looking at myself and feeling that burning desire to show love with the same magnitude. Another powerful lesson because of Harvey. We can paint the world any color we want when we use love.

 

Never suppress or discredit any act of kindness. With the arrival of each, sometimes anonymous, heart-felt card, text, letter, or package there seemed to be a similar underlying line inside, “I know it’s not much, but we just wanted to help.”  Or “We know this won’t replace your home, but we really want to contribute.” Seriously, y’all, I’m bawling just typing this up. Let me be very, very clear. With each and every single act of love that I received, no matter the means of its arrival or contents, I received also a vivid testament that I was truly being carried through this trial. Each gesture was enough. It was more than enough. Whether it involved money, or not - each was a priceless lesson about how to really live a meaningful life. I was conflicted at times because I was constantly filled with so much doubt – HOW was this all going to work? WHAT were we going to do now?? In a quiet, weak and honest moment, I asked myself if I really believed that the Lord left footprints in the sand and if I really believed He could carry me or would carry me? With the receipt of each expression of love, it was like catching a glimpse, and then another, of what that scene looked like. Yes, I did believe it because I was living it. Through the course of the days and months that followed, each miraculous note, and donation arrived to remind me that there is no need for fear. Fear is real, but belief is too. Believing requires trust and faith and sometimes those come in low supply. Each time I’d question anything, I was shown the miracles of those footprints through other people. I want to be one who encourages belief and trust. Harvey helped solidify my understanding about living what I believe and what that looks like. It looks like not worrying about the dollar amount, not worrying about saying the perfect thing, but just sending out love. It is about offering to be the Lord’s feet and carrying others through hard things. A powerful life lesson? A thousand times, yes! He answers prayers through faithful people around us.

I know this is a rather lengthy post. And I know I could continue on and on but, I just want there to be some positivity that is shared. Too often, those good things, that pure goodness is left out or quickly forgotten.

Many don’t think about people having to keep paying a mortgage for a home they can’t live in. Some do.  Like a certain family that brought me to tears when I received their check in the mail explaining their Christmas wish was to pay the mortgage for us that month. I was and still am overcome with tears when I consider how generous that was. I want to be a friend like that echoes in my mind.

 

Exactly one month ago we were blessed to sell our flooded home. No remodel, just a cash sale for the home in its mucked state. It was an incredible blessing that I do not take for granted. When I consider our realtor, who refused to accept compensation for selling our home for us my heart swells with gratitude. I want to be generous like she is.  When customers from the store send lovely Christmas cards with well wishes for a better year I think, I am going to be more thoughtful like they are.

 

Harvey caused me to not only gut my house down to the foundation and studs, but to strip down my heart and soul to the core as well. I am not rebuilding our Katy home, but I am carefully, thoughtfully rebuilding myself back up.  I’m putting my heart and life back together with more care and more attention to the details that matter. I am piecing my world back together again. And just like any of you Harvey victims out there, you can agree, our homes and hearts require care, time, and awareness about what we let inside. CS Lewis said this:

 

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

 

We recently had a mural painted outside of our store. It says, “Let the challenges of life help you grow strong.” I believe that doing this is possibly the hardest and bravest thing we could ever be asked to do. But I believe in the value of so doing, and therefore we put it up for the rest of us to see as well. I’m trying to let Harvey make me stronger. I’m trying to let each hard time bring about growth. I want to share with you, that I know when we walk with God, this is possible. I know God inspires a love in us that is meant to be shared and when done so cannot be mistaken for anything other than divine and pure. That love strengthens all things, even ourselves, and even others. I hope that what you read today left you feeling inspired by others.

 

Keep being good to each other. Keep working hard. Keep loving and keep growing!

 

Kisha

sales@goodtimberfurnishings.com

Kisha Atkin