In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, so many people have asked, “What can we do to help?”
I rarely ask anyone for anything. I suck at asking, even when someone asks what they can do.
I find myself responding along the lines of, “Just pray that the people who show up will help us make everything happen.” Somehow that request doesn’t seem too much. And guess what? People have shown up. In unexpected ways.
It’s a humbling lesson to learn—this acceptance of help when people intend to give. Amid my inner conflict between pride and loss, I stumble across some common-sense advice of the good book. In Acts 20, Paul says to the Ephesians: 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” I’m humbled by this time of weakness, loss, and uncertainty. But even more, I’M HUMBLED BY THE GENEROUS GIVING OF HUMANKIND. I can only hope to pay it forward one day.
Sunday, August 27—Flood, Evacuation (previous post), Unsolicited Gifts. After HFD rescue, we received a cash donation from an awesome family member, whom I wish to keep anonymous, and donation of water and snacks from our next-door neighbors Megan and Boaz, who followed us to the pet-friendly La Quinta. By the way, I met Megan for the first time earlier that day (on a dump truck).
Monday, August 28—First Cry for Help. The water outside of our hotel had drained, and after texting with Susan, my across-the-street, non-evacuating, two-story home-owner neighbor, I knew the water had subsided in my neighborhood. Not knowing road conditions between the LQ and home, I asked a few local, non-flooded friends for what seemed to me a huge favor, a ride from the hotel to home. Erica showed up. Our beautiful, young, stand-in-daughter, bartender-friend arrived for the challenge in her new, Hyundai Veloster. At times, we navigated U-turns and alternate routes to avoid high water. Other times, Erica braved the water, still-too-high, risking her car, but delivering Kody and me to our front door and our still drivable cars. At home, Kody and I assessed the mess. Water remained in the drainage ditch outside and glistened on the wood floors inside. The house smelled of wet walls, sodden furnishings, and contaminated floodwater. Kody flipped the power on. I opened the refrigerator and rescued our blueberries. I grabbed some wine and more clothes. We didn’t linger. We took a deep breath before locking the door and driving away in separate cars.
Tuesday, August 29—First attempt at post-flood self-sufficiency. Kody, Drew, Rain, and I first drove to two Home Depots to discover them closed, then on to the house. We measured the evidence of water damage to walls, doors, and lower cabinets, the discolored water line approximately a foot, high enough to immerse our electrical outlets. We took photo upon photo. Together Kody, Drew, and I moved our couch and coffee table and chairs and beds off waterlogged area rugs, (two new, one cherished, soon to be trash) too heavy to be dragged farther than the back yard. We made the first of many decisions concerning personal belongings—to trash or not to trash? That was the question. I never imagined a hard-back book or a bible as trash. Most of our furniture would be going to the curb, and for about five hours we tortured our backs before returning to the La Quinta.
Late in the day, my neighbor Peggy texted me, “We applied for FEMA assistance and got it…for a month.” Back at the hotel, Kody filed our insurance claim and applied for FEMA and an SBA loan. I contacted our last contractor.
Wednesday, August 30—Second day of Team Byers. Kody and I drove once more to a Home Depot and a Lowe’s, both closed, before finding another Home Depot open. We bought contractor bags and storage bins and bubble wrap and gloves and bleach and a one-gallon, pump sprayer for the bleach, a chalk line to mark the section of walls to be knocked out, and an extra hammer.
Next, we stopped for cigarettes and beer, and we picked up lunch at Subway. I don’t recall ever feeling more thankful for a Subway sandwich or a more appropriate time for a smoke. I remember saying to Kody, “Okay, let’s prioritize. What should we do first?”
I remember him sitting and saying, “I just need to sit down.” I grabbed a tall boy Budweiser for Kody and an Angry Orchard for me. We sat and drank and smoked. Both overwhelmed, we found ourselves staring at ruined things, without words, for extended lengths of time. Boxes of wet, unpacked, relocated things didn’t matter much anymore, but the sight of my book collection gripped my heart and squeezed. I counted 150, boxed and ready for school, before I stopped. Now they sat in soggy boxes, too heavy to move, ready for the curb.
Kody and I chalk-lined interior walls that day. I pulled on my new gloves, picked up a hammer, and beat the shit out of the lower half of the first wall. I did that for my books. I pulled out the insulation and stuffed it in a contractor bag. I carried sheetrock to the curb. I remember saying, “One wall down. Twenty-eight to go.” Maybe I’m obsessive-compulsive, maybe it’s my teacher tendencies, I find myself forever counting. Around that time, an answered prayer called, Kody’s boss Doug, to say he would be at our house the following day with Oxy friends, ready to work. Around that time, we called it a day.
Thursday, August 31—Oxy guys showed up, Doug and Brad and Larry, and Larry brought a furniture dolly. Six extra hands and two extra wheels changed our lives, and I’m forever grateful. The guys focused first on the furniture. I cleared the beds of random items, including two saved cellos, moved to higher ground four days earlier at four a.m. The legs of the beds had cracked and split, from standing in water and supporting extra loads. I emptied dressers and night stands, bottom drawers stuck from swelling, and packed away non-necessities to be stored in the garage during our time at the hotel. One by one, three bedrooms became four walls. Water-damaged memories and furniture stood on the street waiting for a pick-up, which happened overnight. People wanted that furniture, and I’m happy for someone else to have it.
That day I saved some photos and newspaper clippings and some sheet music for Drew. Doug, Larry, and Brad saved us from self-implosion. When our work came to a stopping point, I said to the guys, “Thank you so much for being here.” Choking up, I cut my thank-you short, asked for a photo, and hid behind my cell phone to snap the shot. I left the goodbyes to Kody.
Friday, September 1—More Oxy guys showed up. Kody and I continued chalk-lining the walls, and Bob arrived amid high tension with Team Byers. Frustrations of the past five days had mounted, and patience wore thin. Bob worked quietly for a guy knocking out walls.
Not long later, Jim showed up with his wife and daughters, ready to work. Christy is a relocation wife from Dallas like me, with family in the Oklahoma panhandle. The female conversation was a nice distraction, and she sped along my packing for our upcoming rebuild. Avery, a fourth grader, unscrewed electrical outlet covers, and Kendall, a sixth grader, unscrewed cabinetry hardware. The steady pounding of hammers sounded throughout the house, and the guys carried drywall to the trash heap. I beat the walls some, too, and even the girls enjoyed some good ol’ wall-hammering. Ten extra hands. Fourteen total for the day. Twenty-two for the week. Filled with gratitude at day’s end, I snapped another photo of the people who showed up as the evidence of many prayers.
Saturday, September 2—Bob showed up for an extra day, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency showed up with approval for thirty days of lodging assistance. Before leaving the hotel for home, I said to Kody, “I really need some music today,” and he grabbed the iPad. Our YouTube playlist lifted the solemnity that had settled upon the house, and Bob returned for more drywall, insulation, and nail removal. The three of us worked in tandem for just a few more hours. It was Saturday, after all, and the end of seven long days. Before Bob left, he said, “Would it be okay if I prayed for you guys?”
“Of course!” I said, and Kody nodded agreement. We stood in the entryway holding hands. I always wish I could remember the exact wording of other people’s prayers. They always seem more eloquent than mine. And so was Bob’s. In short, he asked God for peace for Kody and me as we face the challenges ahead. There was one slight and awkward problem. As Bob began to pray, the iPad had been between songs, and suddenly Portugal, the Man’s “Feel It Still” blasted in the background. Part of me wanted to run to the iPad, turn it down, and slip back to the circle without being obvious. Part of me tried to block the distraction and focus on the prayer, and part of me just wanted to dance. Through it all, I felt God’s presence. I felt gratitude for Kody and all his work and all his friends, I felt gratitude for our flood insurance, and I felt gratitude for the FEMA e-mail that day. Once more this feeling of faith and gratitude filled me with peace and hope.
Sunday, September 3—Kody, Drew, and I continued demolition at the house. I ran to U-Haul, actually I drove, to rent an appliance dolly and a furniture dolly for continued super-heavy trash removal. From Bissonnet Street, I turned left into the U-Haul parking lot as another customer in a U-Haul truck exited the parking lot to turn left onto Bissonnet. I hope you can visualize this. I had the right of way, and the other driver hit me, in my two-week new Mazda CX-5. As far as accidents go, this one was minimal. BUT, I hit a breaking point. I called Kody first. Later I called Denise, Oklahoma friend from age five, Dallas bestie for the past ten years. That call went to voicemail, so I left a message along this line, “Hey, sweet friend. I’m about to start screaming at the top of my lungs or I might kill someone. I’m not sure which. Anyway, I hope to talk to you soon.”
Not long later, she returned my call. “I’m in Waco.” Denise’s son is a freshman at Baylor. “I’ll be there tomorrow.”
Monday, September 4—Denise showed up, and for the day, all problems melted away. I love, LOVE her! Oh, and did she ever help me pack! Together we pretty much finished 98% of that job.
Tuesday, September 5—Kody went back to his day job this morning and took the afternoon off to work at home. His boss’s boss Michael took the afternoon off, too. And guess what? He showed up at our house to work. Michael is the type of guy who takes a vacation and volunteers in third-world countries. As the hurricane hit Houston, Michael rescued people by boat. This day was Post-Harvey Day 10, and ours was the tenth house where Michael had lent a hand. Oh, and our neighbor Sergio lent his wheelbarrow that day.
Once more, I’M HUMBLED BY THE GENEROUS GIVING OF HUMANKIND. Besides all the work, gifts have shown up that have brought me to tears. My neighbors gave us a dehumidifier, and our real estate investing group gave us two more. Kody’s company delivered the gift of insulation and drywall. Oklahoma panhandle friends have offered us furniture. Friends and family have sent cash with notes attached, like, “Treat yourself to a spa day” and “Go buy some wine.” I found a box of make-up on my doorstep one day and a box of books on another. I feel so, SO grateful! And overwhelmed by those who are SO human and SO kind.
SO, I write to remember. I write in gratitude of human generosity. I write to honor #HoustonStrong. Early on I read that Harvey destroyed or damaged over 185,000 homes in the Houston area. I know the numbers have climbed. I know others had MUCH worse damage. Some flooded with chest-height plus of unfathomable water, which stood in homes for days. Some people waited days for rescue, and many did not have flood insurance. Worst of all, lives were lost. My heart hurts for the losses surrounding me while I praise God for what I have left and for those who have prayed and for those who have given. At the end of the day, we will be okay…with a lotta help from our friends, not to mention that gift of peace and hope from the man upstairs.