Message for Houston flood victims: My house was once under 9 feet of water, too. Here's how you hold on to hope

I can still remember the adrenaline reaction when I saw our home under 9 feet of water on the networks news. That was over 30 years ago, but as I watch the destruction that flood victims in Texas and Louisiana are experiencing, I know there are devastated families behind each image, and they are facing, not weeks, but years of recovery.

Our home, community and church were flooded when a levee broke in Marysville, California in 1986.

I know the unsettling feeling that many in Houston are facing today as they wait to get back into their homes. And I know that within a few weeks the streets that are now flooded will start looking like a war zone, as the ruined belongings of a lifetime are put out on muddy curbs in a mix of ripped up flooring and wallboard waiting to be picked up.

We learned that the recovery from a natural disaster, such as Hurricane Harvey, would not be measured in months, but in years. There were four simple truths we needed to quickly learn to maintain hope during the recovery, and I pass them along as encouragement to victims and volunteers alike.

1. We found hope in the gifts that were given.

When a crisis hits thousands of homes, your gifts will bring hope. In our case, we found hope when a single woman gave up her apartment to give our young family a place to live as we rebuilt our home, when a truck that brought meals to the workers became the highlight of the day, when a church replaced my pastor’s library, and in knowing that thousands who were not there had given to help in the recovery. 

2. We found hope in the prayers that were prayed.

You need people to pray for you when you are in a crisis, because you’re so busy you barely have time to pray. We appreciated those who prayed that God would give us the wisdom that needed to find the right resources and to head in the right direction. We were grateful for those who prayed that God would lift our spirits and keep us encouraged.

3. We found hope in strength for each day.

When we looked at our flood as a disaster, recovery looked hopeless. When we looked at what we could do that day to begin to dig out, we found that God gave us strength for that day. God gave me a promise from Nehemiah 2:20 to hang on to during this time. The God of Heaven will give us success; we his servants will start rebuilding. Each day, God gave us the strength and hope we needed.

4. We found hope in those who stayed.

For some, a disaster is forgotten as soon as it leaves the front page. There are many reasons for that, maybe they’re going through their own crisis. But what surprised us and gave us hope was how many stayed to help us rebuild months and even years afterwards. If you’re in the middle of the flood, be encouraged to know there will still be people helping you recover for years to come. This encouragement is especially important in the chaotic first days, when even those who want to help are unable to get to where the help is needed. At Saddleback Church, we’re making plans even now to do as we did with the recovery from Hurricane Katrina, sending teams to help over the next several years.

I end this with a blessing...

God, bless those who are recovering from Hurricane Harvey. Ease their anxiety as they wait to get back into the flood ravaged areas, and give them your peace. Strengthen them for this day, and let them know that they do not have to face this alone. Even in this most challenging time, bless them with your grace and love.

Tom Holladay is a teaching pastor as Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California and author of “Putting it Together Again, When It’s All Fallen Apart”.