I like to say I am a recovering flooder. My husband and I have flooded twice. The first time was in a freak storm that literally sat over only my neighborhood and dumped 19 inches of rain on that small area of Houston in 12 hours. The second time was in 2015 during what we Houstonians call the Memorial Day floods.
After that last storm we sold our house and all of our furniture and moved to a one-bedroom high-rise apartment, where we live on the 13th floor and park on the 6th. It was a significant downsize for sure; but, we should never lose everything again to flooding. Many of our friends questioned the sanity of this drastic move, but flooding makes you re-think the value of stuff.
It was especially hard for my husband, Russell, to get beyond his relationship with things; many of his keepsakes had sentimental value attached to them. But, after our second flood event even he was ready to say good-bye.
Last week Houston was hit hard by a freak hurricane named Harvey who came to town and would not leave. It rained buckets for 4 days, and flooded at least 150,000 structures with over a trillion gallons of rainwater. If you live anywhere in the path of the storm, even if you did not flood, you at the very least know someone who lost a great deal.
The statistics are daunting. Of all the structures that flooded. FEMA estimates that over 60% were not covered by flood insurance. Even worse, after the rain left, the detention ponds and dams were so full that unplanned and planned releases flooded even more homes. There are still parts of town that are underwater and they are likely to remain so for at least another two weeks. Tragically, these homes probably will not be salvageable after the water goes down: structures standing in water for too long start to break down.
Yet, probably you also saw the resilience of our people. We all came together. The news media who covered this storm (our neighbors after all, many also devastated by Harvey), continued to come to work to share important information about how to get help.
These amazing reporters aided rescues and put faces to victims and to the countless unknown everyday heroes who had boats and guts and love. As the storm subsided and shelters opened our generous neighbors poured into shelters volunteering and giving donations of clothing, food and money until shelters and donation centers were overwhelmed.When there were no more shifts at shelters these neighbors started showing up to strangers’ streets with offers of help and food.
Our faith communities stepped up in big ways too. They sent out teams of people to help rip wet sheetrock out of strangers’ homes, remove wet stinky debris and deliver food to the volunteers and homeowners. It was amazing to hear and see how all kinds of people helped rescue their neighbors in dangerous situations.
Many at my own church, St. Thomas’ Episcopal, were doing the same things. There have been organized efforts and unorganized. Teams of people helping our friends recover. Even our own Rector, David Browder, was out during the storm in a kayak pulling people out of homes. Russell and I have run into to many of our parish friends unexpectedly showing up with gloves, masks, strong backs and willing hearts at one flood victim’s home or another. I keep hearing John 15:13 in my head “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
I grew up going to school and church at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church and School. My youngest son graduated from high school there. Consequently many of my friends live in the Meyerland neighborhood. Yes, this neighborhood is prone to flooding, but this time many homes that had never flooded before did. Most of my friends were flooded, as was over 70% the church and school campus, including the church building.
We built the church in 1972. I was in 3rd grade when it opened. The church building has always been the focus of what church was and who St. Thomas’ is. It is highlighted on most of our printed material. The school’s yearbook is even called the Bell Tower.
This storm is going to change the face of St. Thomas’, though. As Russell and I learned, it is not the “stuff” that matters: it is the people. Last Sunday our service was held on the apron in front of the church. There were tons of people standing together as one. We all felt and understood, in a way we never could have before Harvey, that God is in control.
The walls and structures that we build around us are not what keep us safe, nor what we should rely on. The service was moving. Many cried during hymns and psalms that were sung a capella because our beautiful, expensive pipe organ was inside the church. We discovered we did not need it to be in communion. The simplicity of the service was a metaphor for the opportunity we have been given to have a simpler, richer and more fulfilled spiritual life with our Lord and with each other.
We have been doing our best to help as many as we can. I will confess that I am getting physically tired, but we continue to try to be there as best we can. God will continue to give us strength. The flooding was devastating to many, but we will rebuild. Yet even now in the midst of the crisis we see God. He is helping us learn again the value of each other. God is our hope and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. Amen.