Exactly one year ago, Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. My family of seven – my wife Audrey and I, and our five children, including triplet babies – weren’t prepared for a 1-in-1,000-year event. We and millions of others in the Houston area were right in the middle of one of the worst natural disasters in American history.
We had never experienced a hurricane. As we sheltered in place, little did we know that rainfall would soon be measured in feet, not inches. Soon I would be evacuating my family – all still wearing pajamas – from our levee district, like a scene from “Fast and Furious,” driving our family vehicle in the wrong direction (contra-flow) on State Highway 99, trying to escape the storm.
Harvey broke a 60-year U.S. rainfall record (set in Hawaii), with some rainfall estimates at up to 70 inches in parts of southeastern Texas.
The storm tore through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky and took a terrible toll: A total of $125 billion in damage, 13 million people impacted, 39,000 people forced out of their homes, 204,000 homes damaged or destroyed, more than 1 million cars and trucks damaged beyond repair. And worst of all, at least 88 people lost their lives.
Yet, important words describing what happened after Harvey hit never appear in a government report that described the disaster: hope, friendship, love, faith, church and rebuild.
Here are four lessons our family was reminded of during this horrific natural disaster. Perhaps they will encourage you when faced with adversity.
People actually care.
In the early morning hours of the Harvey weekend, every cell phone in our home startled us with that terrifying emergency alert buzz. The message was clear. Our levee district was under a mandatory evacuation at first light.
With only enough time for our children to put their most valued possessions (a Paw Patrol toy and a stuffed animal) in their HEB grocery sacks, away we went.
I didn't forget the triplet stroller (you still need the stroller in the apocalypse). I didn't know we would not be able to return for home eight days.
How did we make it? We had no clothes. No diapers. There were fuel shortages all over Texas. We didn’t budget for the expense of evacuation.
Strangers and friends from all over America gave our family their love and prayers and provided for our immediate needs. Trying to navigate our first hurricane, we felt so vulnerable, especially attempting to translate words like "catastrophic" to our children.
When you face adversity, one of the most challenging hurdles is getting over the nervousness to ask for help. After several unplanned nights in Dallas, we were out of Hilton points (all seven of us in one room!), and finally, we made a call to dear friends in Arkansas. They opened their home to our family.
When we arrived, their Women's Bible Group study adopted our family and provided: diapers, new clothes, food, beds and love. This little story is only an illustrative drop in the bucket of how people came together in the aftermath of Harvey.
Short prayers make a difference.
We were praying with our eyes open! Short, brief, guttural, staccato prayers. Audrey and I are unashamed to admit that we called on the name of Jesus for our city, our region and our family.
The Scriptures say that even when we don’t know what or how to pray, the Spirit within us prays with inexpressible words (Romans 8:26-27). If you are facing the grind of adversity and have endless decisions to make, don’t ever forget about the power of prayer.
Those prayers put on feet when people of faith came out in full force and outpaced the Federal Emergency Management Agency helping Houstonians and others hit by the storm to rebuild their lives. Fort Bend County, where we reside, is the most ethnically diverse county in America. No one minded if Christians prayed in their home before helping them muck it out. They were just grateful someone was there to help.
God is with you in the midst of chaos.
We tried five different evacuation routes out of Houston, and all of them were impassable. By the way, emergency evacuation is complicated, often very unclear. Finally, we made our way via Highway 59 out of Houston, stopping at the Buc-cee's gas station in Wharton to get our bearings.
Drenched and still in our pajamas, a deputy sheriff stopped me and – for some reason – asked if we were OK. He didn't have much time, but he took a moment to redirect my family to the only available route to safety (eventually Waco, then Dallas).
A few hours later, the Buc-cee's and Walmart in Wharton would be completely flooded. The presence of God shows up through people. Strangers stopped us and offered help and love. Don't fail to see God around you in His people.
Great friendships are forged in tragedy and adversity.
Acquaintances become fast friends in difficult circumstances. During our Harvey evacuation, we were stranded in Dallas and literally running on fumes (gas was scarce).
I'm a professor and Adam Wright (President of Dallas Baptist University) somehow managed to find my family in the metro area. I had never met him and never visited his campus. We appeared at the school a haggard and hungry looking bunch.
We were presented us with fresh clothes, food and fun for the kids – all serving as a very welcome distraction. Wright used the campus gas reserve and even filled up our vehicle. Gosh, you don't forget people who help you in life’s difficult moments. "Thank you" will never be enough.
Certainly, there is much more that can be written. I hope today if you are struggling in a tough situation, you won’t forget the important lessons we learned one year ago.
Audrey, Lily Faith, Justin, Abel, Ryder, Jaxson and I are so grateful to have learned these lessons. Thank you, Harvey.