Friends and Prayers Like Gondolas

Telluride, CO, August 2020

In August the Rocky Mountains beckoned, or maybe it was my friend Cheri in Denver—Girls Trip 2020, Telluride, Colorado. Cheri has a Telluride connection, and she invited me and three other friends for a complimentary weekend at a posh three-bedroom condominium in the heart of the action. We grew up together in the Oklahoma panhandle. We’ve all known each other since fifth grade or before. I had never been to Telluride. AND we all rolled up to fifty within the past eight months or so. This was a celebration of empowered women and a new decade, the ultimate slumber party and the feat of forty-year friendships, hot tubs in the mountains and an offer I couldn’t refuse. COVID, shmovid.

The Telluride/Mountain Village Gondola carrying us up the mountain we face.

One Thursday, after sitting on my ass for 155 nearly-consecutive days with minimal human interaction since mid-March, I made my way to and through George Bush International all masked up and onto an airplane that touched down at Denver International. Denise from Dallas, my friend since age five, arrived ahead of me and waited with Cheri to pick me up. The three of us worked really hard to stay out of trouble before Starla, my friend since age seven, landed later that evening from California. On Friday morning, we three road-tripped into the Rockies and picked up Pamela, who flew from Austin to Montrose, sixty miles or so from our destination. Pamela has been my friend since age ten. Do I realize this is rare? Grown women, who grew up together, now staying connected, and still growing?

L-R. Cheri with dimples for days, Starla with stars in her eyes, and me mindful of this moment.

I’m sure I could tell some stories, but I would prefer to keep our secrets, just like I know they will keep mine. At the end of our time together, we shared photos and take-aways and one last hug. I can’t stop thinking about how the gondola carried us up and over the mountain, just like the best of friendships.

L-R. Denise, the badass blonde, and Pamela, my guru.

You see, when I returned home, the sky fell off my life, again. My son Drew, who lives with paranoid schizophrenia and dysfunctionally depends on his dad and me, returned to the hospital for the first time since 2015. An overdue hospitalization. His medication of the past five years, no longer effective. His doctor has been telling me for three years there’s nothing he can do. Me—after living through the 2017 hurricane, and in a hotel for ten months while rebuilding home, and starting a new job in 2017, another in 2018, and then a long-term sub job in 2019, and finally returning to school as a graduate student in 2020—well, I’ve stayed too fucking exhausted to look for a new doctor. Besides, Drew is an adult, and so he must agree to any changes. That’s the problem with seeking help for a person who doesn’t believe he has a problem. Meanwhile at home, Drew shouts at the voices he hears in his head most of the days of the month. His words. Terrible and angry. Racist and sexist. Filthy and threatening. His body odor vile. I don’t care to dive into further detail. All of this is an ongoing battle, Drew is now safe in the hospital, and of course, he wasn’t always this way. This brain disorder has transformed my son and stolen ten years of his life, and of course, I’m sad. In no way do I mean to imply schizophrenia is worse than cancer or Alzheimer’s or drug addiction or Lou Gehrig’s disease or any other infirmity leading to ultimate death. Wow. This post suddenly turned dark as tends to happen when I go down the path of what is wrong. Therefore, I focus on gratitude. Otherwise I may remain in fetal position for the rest of my days. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Cheers to women who uplift each other! Oh, and to age fifty. Happy Birthdays to us!

And so—I continue to count my blessings. When I don’t even care to put one foot in front of the next or speak a single word, I am so very thankful for the friends and family I have who carry me and for their prayers that lift me like a gondola up the mountain I continue to face.

“Who is set up for the tragedy of suffering? Nobody. The tragedy of the man not set up for tragedy—that is every man’s tragedy.”   

Philip Roth

And by the way, if you are the type who prays, please join me in believing Drew will understand there is better for him and that his dad and I are here to help and that we love him and that God will direct our steps and give us wisdom in dealing with this illness and that there will be a helpful, hopeful outcome to this hospitalization including a new doctor who believes along with me.

Amen. And thank you.

Ode to My Bestie

I love telling people
how I crashed her party
and met her on the day
she turned five.

It was July the Fourteenth,
Nineteen Seventy-Five.
She was blonde haired,
tiny, and hazel eyed—
my new friend, Denise.

In school we shared
home rooms—
First grade
with Mrs. Shaffer,
second grade
with Mrs. Goff
third grade
with Mrs. Lane
and so on
and so forth
through senior year.

Nineteen years

ticked away.
The Class of Eighty-Eight
Reunion. In Oklahoma.

Memorial Day.


We both lived in Texas.
She lived nearby,
this girl I had known
since we were five.
I needed a friend,
and she did, too.
We met for margaritas
and Mexican food.

More years pass.
We ate and drank.
We told each other
secrets, even when
they stank.

Forty five years
from the day we met,
July 14th, 1975,
a day I’ll never forget.

iCANFLY

When I stepped into the wind tunnel from the safety of the doorway, I had only two things on my mind: Carpe Diem and survival.* I said a little prayer with faith and gratitude for peace and hope. At home on my laptop, I had skimmed a release of liability and waiver of legal rights and acknowledged that indoor skydiving can be HAZARDOUS AND INVOLVES THE RISK OF PHYSICAL INJURY/DEATH and signed the electronic copy. Then I hopped in my car and drove to Austin for some girl time and a sleepover with two of my elementary school besties.

Pamela, Denise, and I arrived at the iFly in leggings, t-shirts, and tennis shoes before receiving our flight suits, ear plugs, and helmets. During the safety debrief with our instructor Drew, we learned the basics of maintaining a stable flight position, sort of like assuming the airport security position, hands above your head, elbows bent, except with fingers spread strong, feet further than shoulder width, and pelvis forward with a slight arch to the back and a bend in the knee. Drew said, “Tilt your hands to the right to fly right,” while demonstrating with his hands. “Left to fly left.” He tilted his head back, “Chin up to fly up,” and then dropped his head toward his chest, “chin down to fly down.” He straightened his arms to Superman position and said, “Extend your arms to fly forward.” I forget what he said about flying backward, but it didn’t really matter. I was ready.

Denise, my friend since age 5, Pamela, my friend since 5th grade, and me.

I stepped up to the doorway and gently leaned into the wind. There was no jumping or falling. Just a sense of peace, floating in the air with an instructor by my side and a second instructor observing, coaching, and manning the camera from outside the wind tunnel. I never once feared for my life. None of us crashed into the wall or fell to our doom. Once back on solid ground, Drew gave me a high five and an enthusiastic, “You’ve never done this before? You were amazing!”

And I felt amazing. Little kids were suited up and waiting to fly after the three of us, and I thought to myself, Sometimes you need childlike faith.

Even before iFly, Pamela and Denise concocted a 50th birthday plan to actually jump out of an airplane with a parachute. Skydiving wasn’t exactly on my bucket list…

Until now…

Now I might just join them, and maybe one day I’ll finish this one…

When I stepped into the clear blue sky from the safety of the airplane, I had only two things on my mind: Carpe Diem and survival…*

*This post inspired by S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, “When I stepped into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.”

Everyone Needs a Denise

It was July 14, 1975. Up the street, a vacant lot and three houses away lived my friend Jennifer. I was five in 1975, and Jennifer turned five that day, so I walked to her house with a gift in hand to celebrate her birthday. Jennifer’s social calendar was packed for a five-year-old. After her party, she would head across town to another birthday party for a girl I didn’t know. Although the details are fuzzy, I remember crashing that party with Jennifer and meeting the tiny, precious, blonde-haired, hazel-eyed Denise. We would grow up together, sharing classrooms and friends and happenings of the Oklahoma panhandle. Little did I know that one day in the distant future, Denise would forever change my life.

Flash forward to Memorial Day weekend 2008 and our twenty-year high school reunion. When I caught up with Denise for the first time in at least nineteen years, we discovered that we lived within twenty minutes of each other. And guess what? We both needed a friend. One dinner at a time, one text message at a time, over months and months, then years and years, Denise learned all my deep-dark secrets, and I learned hers. We shared our imperfections and struggles, our wins and celebrations, and that’s how the girl I’ve known since age five became my bestie. And OMG, everyone needs a Denise.

Speaking of wins, her 20-year-old son Ryan, a junior on the Baylor Men’s Golf team, won the Texas Amateur golf tournament back in June with Denise caddying and coaching him toward the victory. She coaches kids’ golf, by the way, and teaches private lessons, too. In case you don’t have an extra two minutes to watch this news clip and see AWESOME in motion, my favorite part is when Ryan says, “If I got down on myself, no matter what happened, she would be the one to say, ‘All right, we got this. Let’s just keep on moving forward.'” So many times, Denise has kept me moving forward with a little positivity and a little “we got this.”

In 2015 my son was hospitalized, and believe it or not, I was a complete wreck. Denise was there to say, “You got this.”
In 2017 Hurricane Harvey flooded my house, and here is Denise showing up to help with the packing, the trashing, the decision-making, saying, “You got this.”

In that same news clip, Denise says, “You don’t see very many mothers [caddying], but if anything, I hope I’m encouraging more mothers to get out there.” That’s my Denise, the ultimate encourager. Life’s too short for anyone who brings you down, and I’m so very grateful for my forever friends who lift me up.

It is July 14, 2019, and I’m hopping in the car, driving the four plus hours from Houston to Dallas to crash her party again today. Forty-four years later. I wish Jennifer could crash it, too.

Whatever challenges you meet today, just remember, “You got this.”

Advice from 2017 Crystal: A Top Ten List (With a Bonus)

Returning to school this past week after a rejuvenating holiday, I had an action plan to keep my mind right with a simple formula of God and gratitude. Monday started strong, but by Friday, my positivity was shot to Hell. Ironically, I missed my devotional that day, and I may or may not have been nursing a hangover. I haven’t mastered the art of not allowing people and circumstances to suck the good mojo right out of me.

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The devotional that would have saved my week.  His name will redirect my thoughts.

Thankfully I had pre-packed my bags and loaded my Mazda for an overnight stay in Dallas with a couple of my forever friends, if you call 38-43 years forever, before driving on to Oklahoma to visit family. With ample time to think while disentangling myself from Houston traffic, I reflected on my own best advice for those times when life fails to go my way:

  1. Talk to God and trust him (That Time When I Met Harvey).
  2. Ask for help when necessary and accept it when people offer (The Most Humbling Part of Harvey).
  3. Wait and hope (Wait and Hope and Other Mantras).
  4. At times you must dismantle to rebuild (And Rebuilding Takes Time).
  5. Seek inspiration (Eyes Open and Seeking).
  6. Surround yourself with positive energy (Flawed but Still Trying and The Power of Positivity).
  7. When God speaks, listen (A Divine Intervention).
  8. Practice gratitude (The Deep Sapphire Blue of the Mediterranean Sea).
  9. Love Liberates (Five Years before I Said, “I Do.” Also, Love Liberates).
  10. True friends nurture the soul (A Life You Want and Eyes Open and Seeking).
  11. Forgiveness and kindness reverse worst case scenarios (How to Deal with a Purse Snatcher).
  12. Through challenges we learn and grow in strength and wisdom (Goodbye, Beef Pot Pie).

Pre-divorce, I needed a psychologist. Mine came highly recommended by two different teacher friends after having a meltdown or two at school. I’m flashing back about fourteen years, which seems a lifetime ago. Through counseling, I became more self-aware and discovered my role in my own life. Each session, Dr. Stevenson probed, I verbally processed, and my eyes malfunctioned with a non-stop leak. Through her questions and my answers, I became conscious of my guarded nature, my inability to speak of heavy things, and my inclination to stuff my feelings. The doctor listened more than she spoke, but I’ll never forget her saying, “Crystal, don’t you have any friends?”

And me sobbing, “No!”

And her saying, “You’ve got to open up to people.”

In the first fourteen years of my marriage, we had lived in three states and moved five times. I had attended one junior college, two universities, and worked at eight different jobs. My friendships and relationships in general were surface level, in part due to continual change. Dr. Stevenson’s advice was pivotal. Slowly and over time, I made meaningful bonds by sharing my truth.  

Denise and I met at age five when I crashed her birthday party. K-12, we shared many teachers, birthday parties, and childhood memories. After high school, our lives diverged, but at our twenty-year high school reunion, we discovered we lived within twenty minutes of each other in the Dallas area. One dinner at a time, one text message at a time, over months and months, then years and years, Denise learned all my deep-dark secrets, and I learned hers. Neither one of us judged. I was her vault, and she was mine.

Pamela entered the montage of my life in the fifth grade. From humble beginnings, she put herself through school at Notre Dame, sending me ND baby booties for Drew and letters from India when she studied abroad. Somehow before cell phones, we always maintained our connection even as her life led her from one adventure to the next. We reconnected on Facebook when she lived in NYC, and she flew from her home in Miami to mine in Dallas when I remarried Kody. Now living in the wild west near Waco, Pamela, Denise, and I have formed a trio of Mutual Admiration.

img_6207
11/11/11 wedding celebration with my forever friends.

After my extra-long drive from Houston to Dallas, I beat myself up in front of my friends through the rehashing of my day, and by the end of the night, I felt renewed strength. On Saturday morning, before I departed for OKC, I asked Denise and Pamela, “So what are your take-aways from our time together?”

Pamela responded, “Flowers don’t blossom every day. They have their season. I learned that from Glennon Doyle Melton. Don’t be too hard on yourself. I’ll be right back.” She returned with gifts, wrapped in gold tissue paper, for both Denise and me.

img_6329
A book from Pamela. Have I mentioned being a Brene Brown fan?

I look back on this weekend and laugh out loud. Pamela observes with a keen eye and knows me well.  Apparently, our journeys are similar, and by ‘our’ I mean, all of us. I don’t know about you, but I seem to need some reminders, so I pass them along, just in case.

Pamela continued, “I’m also reminded of something that Tony Robbins said…” Whatever Tony Robbins said was good, something about being self-consumed, but I didn’t write it down, so I quickly forgot. The three of us said our goodbyes with hugs and vows to see each other again soon.

I trekked on to Oklahoma City to visit my precious mother in memory care, my super hero dad, who makes the ten-hour round trip each weekend, my sort-of cool brother Scott and his awesome wife Gerri, who have quite possibly worn their very own ruts on the road between Stillwater and OKC, and my closest cousin Angie, who would have a guest room, a bottle of wine, and a hot tub waiting for me at the end of the day. Of course, I kid about my bro. From my standpoint, he plays the role of son, husband, father, and brother like a pro. And Angie and I, well, we solved all the world’s problems in our swimsuits in her backyard, oblivious to the 29  ̊of a January night.

On Sunday morning, I joined my parents for church, at my mom’s assisted living community. We sang “God Will Take Care of You” and listened to a sermon about three Jewish men: Shadrach, Meshac, and Abednego from the book of Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar had the men bound and thrown into his furnace for refusing to worship an oversized gold statue. The three men told the king that God would deliver them. Sure enough, the king looked into the furnace and saw four men, not three, and then commanded Shadrach, Meshac, and Abednego to come out of the furnace. The men were no longer bound, and they were untouched by fire. In the end, King Nebuchadnezzar does a 180 ̊ turn around and praises the God of the Jews for sending an angel to rescue the men. God took care of Shadrach, Meshac, and Abednego, just as I know he will take care of me.

God's card
My dad handed me God’s card when I arrived on Saturday.

My visits with Mom are always too short and too sweet. Especially as her memories fade, I cherish those moments until our time ends abruptly, and I find myself once more behind the wheel. Time and time again, I feel most bolstered by my family and friends only to set myself up for a fall, right back into my pity party. Wah! From the road, I shot Pam and Denise a text: “Remind me what Tony Robbins said, Pamela. Something about thinking about yourself.” She responded, “The fastest way to misery is making everything about you.” The End

Love Liberates

As the first semester at my new school winds to a close, the students have had some extra down/review time leading into exams. “I’m taking song requests,” I said to my class while sitting in front of my computer at my desk, double checking potential failures in a final attempt to give kids opportunities to pass.

“Rihanna. Love on the Brain,” Rebecca responded.

Ironically, I’ve had love on the brain for a while now although my thoughts on the matter don’t quite align with Rihanna’s lyrics. Love keeps knocking at my door, showing up in phone calls, texts, mail, books I’m reading, on television and social media, almost everywhere, persistently, as if to say, “Let me in. Don’t let me go. Oh, but share me because I will multiply. Pass me on.”

Flashback with me a couple of months or so, one month after evacuating from my Harvey-flooded house, I left Houston on a weekend getaway through Dallas and into Oklahoma, a break filled with family and friends and Love. It was a wonderful escape to places I-call-home during a time when I didn’t have one.  

Family Oct. 2017
Family Walk for Alzheimer’s in OKC

Misti, Zeme, Erin, Meghan
School Family of Fourteen Years in Dallas

On the return trip, I began mental preparation for my work week, telling myself that everything was going to be okay. But, thoughts of nurturing kids and making up two weeks of lost curriculum time amid so much personal loss overwhelmed me, and thoughts of doing that without my former co-worker friends seemed impossible. Anxiety attacked a place in my chest that felt like my heart, and bitterness crept into my head about living at a La Quinta in Houston.

When I arrived back at the hotel that Sunday, Kody wasn’t there. I texted him after waiting awhile to announce my return, “Will you bring food when you come back?”

I never heard from him.

I said never, but I’ll rephrase. I didn’t hear anything from him until his key scratched at the door, and he stumbled through, wasted, and promptly passed out on the bed. I saw red. Anger coursed through my veins, pounding at my temples. Anger towards my husband for handling his stress like an alcoholic, anger towards Oxy for transferring us from Dallas to Houston away from a home and friends and a job I loved, anger towards Harvey for destroying my house and taking most of my furniture, anger with myself for taking a job without knowing exactly what I would be teaching. And all of that anger turned my heart black, into a thumping conglomeration of hate. At that moment in time, I HATED my life. 

The next day I endured school and texted Denise afterwards. In the back and forth, three things resounded:

text

Not the “come live with me part,” which I totally considered, but the “Hang on? Love others….” followed by, “Are you going to run away?”

Forty-seven-year-olds don’t run away. At least, I don’t, or I don’t think I do. Her question helped me realize I had to let it go—I had to let it ALL go—the anger, the moving back to Dallas fantasy. I needed to breathe, put one foot in front of the other, and choose Love and grace. If you’ve read any posts since October 2nd, hopefully you’ve noticed I’ve been practicing. Recovery is a process.

I’m fascinated by how YouTube reads minds. Maya Angelou popped up the other day.

I’ve seen this video before, but not in a couple of years. Now, I can’t stop hearing her words: “I am grateful to have been loved, to be loved now, and to be able to love because that liberates. Love liberates. It doesn’t just hold. That’s ego. Love liberates.” Hey Rihanna, I recommend listening to Maya Angelou. 

From Maya Angelou, my thoughts shift to Jesus. After all, he is the reason for the season, and reminders of Him abound this time of year. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). As an English teacher, I notice he said, “must.” Love is imperative. 

Recently I started a book called The Gift of Crisis: Finding your best self in the worst of times. I know the author and psychologist Dr. Susan Mecca through a friend, and I’ve been to Susan’s house for dinner. Her book had been on my To-Read list, and post-hurricane, Susan offered a free download of her book on LinkedIn. She knows crisis. Her son Nick and her husband Vito simultaneously had cancer after Vito had recovered from the paralysis of Guillain-Barre. Nick is now healthy and cancer free. Vito lost his battle. I feel guilty claiming a crisis in comparison. Susan says, “In the years our family fought for the survival of our men, Nick and Vito taught me love always brings transformation to our lives. That love is endless and can never be taken away from us, even when we can no longer see its source.”

In chapter one, Susan suggests some strategies and exercises for a crisis:

  • Imagine it is six months after your crisis has passed. Your best friend is talking to you about what s/he admired most about you during the crisis. What do you hope s/he will tell you?

Strength, grace, and love popped into my head.

  • Reflect on someone (real or fictional) who has gone through severely challenging times in his or her life. What are the qualities or traits that person demonstrated through his or her personal crisis?

Sydney Carton, Maya Angelou, Jesus, and Susan Mecca come to mind.

If you don’t know Sydney Carton, let me introduce you. In A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney was a miserable alcoholic before meeting Lucie Manette, but his character shows how love liberates. His love for Lucie frees him to be a better person and my favorite literary hero. Sydney tells Lucie, “For you, and for any dear to you, I would do anything. I would embrace any sacrifice for you and for those dear to you…think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you.” Sydney Carton’s sacrifice at the end demonstrates a Christ-like strength, grace, and love.

Dr. Maya Angelou survived rape at age seven and coped by not talking for the next six years. She grew up in the segregated U.S. and became the first African-American trolley conductor at age fifteen, a civil rights activist, a poet, a journalist and author, an actor, director, producer, and professor to name a few. The epitome of strength and grace, Dr. Maya Angelou says, “Love liberates.” And I have witnessed that truth in my life time and time again.

I’m sure most of you have heard of Jesus. So many celebrate His upcoming December 25th birthday, but the night before he carried his own cross to his own crucifixion, he commanded his disciples to “Love one another.” As a believer and Christ-follower, I want to live my life like that—with His strength and His grace and His love, and when I speak of His grace, I mean His kindness and His forgiveness.   

And as for Dr. Susan Mecca. Well, I look forward to finishing her book. She has made me realize my crisis is over. All of my people are alive. After losing her husband to cancer, Susan shows strength and grace through her message, “Love always brings transformation to our lives.” 

And I say, “I am practicing. And you know what? I feel both liberated and transformed.”

(And the messages keep showing up…)

note
This one showed up in the mail along with a gift from someone who would’ve had to ask someone else for my address. Hopes for love, grace, and wine! What more could I want?

Brene Brown
This one showed up on Instagram. As of a few days ago, 13,772 others LOVED this post, too.

classroom
This one showed up above my desk in the classroom. Sometimes spelling doesn’t matter.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a new year filled with STRENGTH, GRACE, and LOVE!

A Divine Intervention

bestill

In a repeated day dream, I load my few remaining possessions into the back of my Mazda CX5, turn up the radio, and drive away from post-Harvey Houston with the wind in my hair, destination TBD and a return unlikely. In my head, the music plays, “Here I go again on my own, going down the only road I’ve ever known. Like a drifter I was born to walk alone,” as if I’m thirty years younger, thirty pounds lighter, and the star of a cheesy 80s hard-rock video. I know this fantasy reeks of selfishness. I can smell the stench. Don’t get me wrong. I love Kody, and together we share the responsibility of parenting our adult son Drew with a disabling brain disorder. I can’t think of anything more rotten than leaving my people behind at the La Quinta and disappearing forever. The make-believe melodrama playing out inside my head is simply an escape from my reality.

Solo, I’ve hit the open road twice now since Hurricane Harvey. Each time I feel untethered, as if I’m literally running away, at least until I arrive at my planned and temporary destinations. For the past month, as my nephew Gant and his girlfriend Kennie planned a trip to Oklahoma City for family and football, I planned the same, minus the football. My trip included more Mom time for me, with a healthy dose of Dad, Sis, Bro, and the outlaws (that’s what we call the in-laws, or maybe that’s what they call Kody—I’m not sure).

On Thursday after school, I planned a much-needed first day off from my new job. Hurricane aftermath plus learning the systems of a new job has been a test and a driving force behind my escape fantasy. With Kody’s job transfer, the school I left behind was a few years new and beautiful, where suburbs meet country and students say, “Yes, ma’am.” That school ran like a Swiss timepiece. Technology outstanding. Copy machines abundant. A staff of friends. I taught honors English and creative writing. Those students wanted to be there. I rarely raised my voice in class. Frisco ISD spoiled me. I know I must stop making comparisons, at least until the end of May. With nineteen years of teaching experience, I know I have options.

But I digress. On Thursday after school, I planned to drive with my waggedy-tailed, little buddy Rain and spend the night in Dallas with my friend since 1975—Denise. Denise planned to keep Rain as a foster dog while the real work begins on our gutted Houston home. Until now, Kody has dropped Rain off each morning at the empty house, where she roams free in the back yard, breathes the fresh air, and naps in the sun. I pick her up after work. However, with workers at the house, that routine must come to an end, so my overnight with Denise would be a long-term stay for Rain.

From Dallas, I planned an early Friday drive to OKC for a hair appointment with my cousin Kaylee before spending the afternoon with Mom and Dad, Liz and Mike, Gant and Kennie. Next, I planned to round out my day with one more, short jaunt to Stillwater for courtside seats at an OSU basketball game and an overnight stay with Scott and Gerri and Dad. What I DID NOT PLAN that day was that moment of divine intervention.

As I paid for my new hair, my phone rang, and I absorbed the tension in Denise’s voice on the other end of the line. During my trip to OKC last month, Rain stayed with Denise—a trial run and a visitation success. But—one thing had changed since the last time: Denise adopted a Goldendoodle puppy named Piper. Rain is ten, a Chihuahua/Terrier mix, territorial and feisty. In her maturity, my pooch has mellowed, socialized with other dogs, and acted like a surrogate mother to our two cats who’ve passed over the rainbow. I didn’t foresee any issues with a puppy. When we arrived at Denise’s house on Thursday night, Rain tucked tail between her legs and sought safety. Piper wanted to befriend and chase. Rain returned Piper’s playfulness with spite, growling through bared teeth, snapping at the poor puppy as fair warning. I figured in time Rain and Piper would fall into a rhythm, but before leaving Denise’s house that morning, I said, “If it doesn’t work out, Pamela and my friend Misti both offered to help out. Just let me know. It’s no big deal.” At the time of the call, I had been gone six hours, and Denise needed a Plan B.

With Denise on the phone, I left the salon, found my car, and drove to the Qdoba on the other side of the parking lot. Talking and walking into the restaurant, I said, “I texted with Misti earlier, and she is out of town, but she will be back tomorrow. Let me call her and see what we can do, and I’ll reach out to Martha and see if she can help out.” And with these words, a man leaving Qdoba opened the door for me. His face took me by surprise as did mine for him. With eyes wide and jaw dropped, I said, “Denise, you will never believe who I just ran into to. It’s—it’s—”

“Robert Gibson,” he said.

“I know!” I drawled the vowels, shocked to see Robert after at least twenty years. “I just thought it was a possibility you were Timmy.” Robert and Tim are twins and two of the nicest guys I know. They graduated with Denise and me. We all grew up together in the Oklahoma panhandle, and their dad was my dentist. With phone in hand, held to ear, I said, “Denise, it’s Robert Gibson!” Then to Robert, I said, “I’m talking to Denise Watson.” Then back to Denise, “Okay, I’m going to let you go, but I’m working on a Plan B. I’ll be in touch. I love you.”

“Do you live here now?” Robert asked.

“No, I’m living in Houston and just drove into town. I’m headed to see my mom. She’s at Epworth.” Robert’s eyes stared into mine with disbelief and empathy. “We moved her here in July. She has Alzheimer’s.”

He shook his head back and forth, a sort-of non-verbal I’m so sorry. “And how are you?”

“Well, I’m okay. Our house flooded in Hurricane Harvey, and we are living in a hotel for now, so it’s good to get away.”

“Just you and Kody?”

“Yes, and our son Drew. He was diagnosed seven years ago with paranoid schizophrenia, so he lives with us and probably always will. He’s twenty-eight.”

At these revelations, Robert gave me a hug and said, “I’m so sorry. That sounds like a lot to deal with.” He pulled out his phone, showed me photos of his kids, much younger than mine, and updated me on his wife and his life as well as his brother. “Tim is a pastor in Pennsylvania. I’m going to call him and text you his number. We’ll be praying for you. Are you sure you’re okay?”

I tried my best to nod my head and fake it, but Robert saw right through my cracked façade.  The floodgates of my truth opened, and tears streamed forth. “You know,” I said, taking a second to fight for my composure in the middle of the Qdoba, “I’m one of those people who will be okay as long as you don’t ask.”

“You’re not okay,” he confirmed.

“Well, my house flooded, I live in a hotel and will for a while, my son has schizophrenia, and my mom has Alzheimer’s.” With a wet face splotched crimson, my response seemed sufficient. The details from this point to the next blur in my memory.

You can call my run-in with Robert random or fate, but I know God intervened that day. I had carried some extra pressure in my heart and soul all week long that culminated with a seven-hour drive and a separation from my service dog. Robert connected me to his twin-brother Tim, also my friend and a now a pastor, at a time when I needed a pastor. In recent months, I keep hearing from God. Just when I forget to lean on Him, the voice returns saying things like, “Crystal, I am God, and I have the plan. I know it’s all you’ve got to just be strong, and it’s a fight just to keep it together, but hope is never lost. Just put one foot in front of the other. You’ll get through this. You’re stronger than you know. You’re gonna be okay.”

Humbled by Harvey and Humankind

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.

Post-Harvey Timeline:

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.

18 Extra Hands

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.

Denise and Me
“Nothing wins over love and a hug.” That’s what she said.

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.

Michael

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.