The Day We Ran Away
Here we are. Caught in the fallout of this raging war in the clouds. Torrents of rain assault the land, pelt the earth. Each drop hammers in, driven by the force of the fall.
Gravity goes against us even, pulls in the painful fury of this ruthless rain, and it sinks in deep, right to the heart of this land that I love. This land that is precious to us all. This land that is soaked and soggy. This land full of sopping spirits - my neighbors, friends and family. We all drip with the runoff of the same question.
How on earth can we hold anymore water?
The raindrops come in an endless supply, like water in the ocean, a vastness we can't quite fathom. They are infinite. Little soldiers. Single drops of water when they attack alone, but an endless army when they band together.
And aren't we like that? These people I see uniting everywhere to extend a hand, to save a life? Human beauty in it's truest form. Aren't we just as unstoppable as the storm when we come together as one?
Facebook is teeming with images, my mind burns them into its memory, capturing them forever, collecting them like lost relics as I scroll. I can only think that I’ve never seen this kind of reckless devastation interlaced with such empowering beauty before - never in my life.
Homes are slowly submerged while the people relentlessly rise, the true depth of human character being revealed even as the water deepens.
Our street is one of the last in town to remain above the flood waters, like the backbone of the community. Big trucks with boats, canoes, and kayaks have passed our house by the hundreds all day for the last two days solid. But now, this afternoon, the parade of self proclaimed rescuers has slowed, only the tallest trucks still muscling through.
Steven gets a phone call saying that some men from our local church are forming crews, getting people out, and they need help. He looks at me with the question in his eye. I say it with confidence because I know that he wants to participate in this effort to band together in the midst of this band of the storm.
“Go. We are out of harm’s way for now while lots of people aren’t,” I affirm him.
His words are heavy when he responds, like he's weighing the needs of those in our community in one hand and the needs of his family in the other. His voice is thick when he says, “I really think I should.”
He kisses me, the kids, and I send him out with the only food I can grab off the counter, a bunch of bananas. He loads the kayak and leaves out the back door. I walk to the front to see him go, but have to stop to break up a fight between these two little people who have a serious case of cabin fever.
Maybe I need a thermometer… Is this stuff contagious?
When I get to the front and open the door, he has disappeared already. Not even a tire track left behind, the water swallowing up every last trace of evidence of the husband-hero. But the evidence of his rescue mission and the missions of all our fellow Texans won't vanish in the wake of the water. Every life, every hand reaching out, every cry for help matters - the evidence of the heroes lies in the count of lives that made it through.
I notice the levels of the ditches by the street before I go back inside and I make a mental note.
I feed two hungry children a hearty lunch of warm sweet potatoes with creamy butter - orange and yellow melted and swirled together. A little something to warm their insides on such a chilling day. And my heart is warmed too by the blend of the autumn colors there in the bowls; I'm glad I can offer them this small comfort of home here in this moment as the threat of losing it becomes more real.
But me, I'm too shaky to eat right now.
Something in my gut just refuses to settle down and be at peace today. I can’t put my finger on it. Of course, it’s probably the fact that we are literally in the middle of a horrendously devastating hurricane.
We talked it over earlier today, the big question of if we ought to run, but he thinks we will be fine, we won’t flood here. And I don’t think we will either. And there is no major wind threat. So our plan is to stay.
I go on with my day, not overly concerned, but still not able to ignore the unease in my spirit. I put away homeschool books. There’s just no way I can maintain even that much structure today. I totally just let the kids veg on a cartoons while I clean up the lunch dishes.
I look out the front door. The water levels are significantly higher. Too high. The street threatens submersion.
I text Steven.
Me: “Our road won't be passable for much longer. Another hour or two at most I think.”
Him: “Okay. I’ll try to be quick.”
I breathe, tell myself to stay calm, to trust our Provider, the One who Knows. Chaos and panic will do me no good. And honestly it’s not on my agenda today. The Lord is my peace. And He is good. He can only be that. I remember the post I read just yesterday morning that Ann wrote back in 2011, when she and her family endured their own kind of storm. She wrote about how even in the middle of the chaotic, busted up mess, God is still good - how He literally cannot be anything else.
I go back and reread the message I sent to our church group earlier today, to my parent peers who walk with me in this life of exemplifying for our children what fleshed out faith looks like.
“Here’s what’s on my heart this morning. It’s that amidst the chaos, God is still good. He can ONLY be that. Tell this to your littles. And remember to sing to Him today. So they can see how we praise Him in the storm. Can’t wait to see everyone again. Love y’all.”
I look out the door and I feel my chest tighten. I force myself to take a deep breath. I check my phone. Steven says he is trying to get an elderly lady out with his team. They couldn’t get to her by truck and are going back now in the kayak. I wonder why they didn't bring it along in the first place.
I walk the floors, pace for a moment, and then decide to check the middle bedroom where the water started pouring in earlier. I rearrange the totes that we have there on the floor underneath so that they will better catch the rain coming right into my house, uninvited. At least it’s not coming in through the walls and floor like so many family and friends. The totes seem to be catching most of it.
I pause for a moment, slack jawed, to gape back at the gaping hole in the ceiling. A strange sight, to see this massive chunk of my home missing. A crumbling away of consistency, of the structure that has provided me shelter and safety for so long, through so many other storms.
I go back to the front of the house and look out the window to check the water levels, but it’s too hard to tell. So I open the door wide to the hurricane outside. The downpour is nothing if not determined, the little rain-drop soldiers persist in their mission, steady and sure. The ground silently speaks as a witness, showing evidence of the beating it has taken for three days now.
The street right there in front of our house has finally surrendered, submerged now. And it's surreal. One of the trucks pushes through, sprays of water shooting out the sides like streamers, dancing decorations, kite tails.
I text Steven, not wanting to call and interrupt the rescue mission.
Me: “There are still trucks going down, but the water is over the road now in front of our house.”
Him: “Okay. You wanna pack and leave when I get back?”
Me: “Are things that serious?”
I start a pot of afternoon coffee and build block towers with the kids while I wait on his reply. When it comes, he simply says, “Get ready.”
His sudden shift in concern and his quick switch of opinion from earlier makes my eyebrows shoot up into little miniature mountains. My stomach lurches a bit and I swallow hard, reread the text to be sure. This husband of mine is a good man, not always choosing to use many words. And I know that the fewer words he uses, the more serious he is - as if the severity of what he is saying can somehow be intensified by using fewer and shorter words.
This time he used only two.
So I do.
I shuffle the kids off to bed for their nap, a battle all its own. As they drift off to sleep, I shift into high gear.
“Packing,” I text to Steven. No reply.
I start with the kids. I line a tote with clothes, shoes, undergarments, and a few favorite toys. I snap the lid on and lug it to the front door to await pick up. Totes will stay drier in the bed of the truck than fabric suitcases, so we bought several for this purpose a few days ago. And I’m thankful we did.
I check the street while I’m there at the door dropping off the tote. The water has flowed over from the ditches now and is in the yard - rising faster than it ought to be.
I notice that I am quivering. Most people I know have already evacuated and many of the ones that stayed had to leave by boat this morning.
I am scared of what might happen if he can’t get back home to get us.
I text again, “Please come soon.”
I run back to our bedroom and throw two totes onto our fluffy, linen lavished bed. The white down comforter flattens beneath them, the way the grass has flattened outside, unable to push back. I, however, was born with a good bit of push-back in me. So I’ve always been calm in times of crises and I am thankful just now for this sprinkling of sass in my veins.
The seconds tick by and I still haven’t heard anything from Steven for about half an hour now. The bottom step of our front porch is an inch or two under. Just breathe. Stay calm. Focus.
I think through my list and my hands fly as I tuck things away into totes for Steven and I. Shirts, shorts, shoes, bedside photos of our first date, wedding and babies, all a blur of color as I scramble to salvage these scraps of our lives. Because I don’t even know if any of this will be here when we get back.
It surely has only been minutes since I last contacted him, but I think time has stopped, mocking me in my race to ready us for this run away we are about to do.
And everything rushes now. Water rushes outside the house while adrenaline rushes inside of me.
I text him, “Please call.” And he does. I feel my shoulders release the pent up tension and I answer. He says he will be here in twenty minutes.
Twenty minutes. That is enough time. I can do this in twenty minutes. I can piece together the pieces of our lives in that much time, fill these four totes with the tokens of our time here in this place. Lots of people have had less than twenty minutes, some as little as twenty seconds to flee.
And if we left with nothing at all, nothing to lug along - if we left with only the life-breath in the lungs of these people I love, that would be enough for me. No matter what borders we must go beyond to get away, I know where my home is. It's with them.
Deep down, I know that we already have all that we really need.
So twenty minutes is more than enough time. But still, I am thankful to have it.
I am in the kitchen now, ripping open doors, slamming dry goods into yet another tote. It’s full so I stack it by the front door where I have been stacking the others. Next, I pack the ice chest and pour the fresh pot of coffee into my thermos.
Time slows as I race to ready us.
The dog barks and finally Steven’s home. I can breathe again. We are all business, strategizing what needs to be done. All that’s left is to pack the computers and snatch up our little sleepers.
So we do. And we lock the door behind us, not knowing what will be here when we return or when that will be. But knowing full well that the God who upholds us is all we really need.
The entire front yard is sitting beneath one to two inches of water now, but we have these two children of ours tucked tightly in our arms as we trudge to the truck. And we smile at one another, because we know that we are packing the most important goods of all, right here wrapped in blankets next to our hearts.
I snap pictures of our neighborhood as we drive away, our truck shooting it’s own decorated kite tails out beside us, like all the others.
Steven is still thinking of what he saw while he was away from us. He tells me that the lady he took out in the kayak was a hard sell - not convinced she wanted to be rescued - she almost wouldn't leave. And who could blame her?
But still, he managed to change the course of one woman’s life before he came back for us, before we took little hands in ours and loaded up in the big green truck, before we ran away from home and Harvey and all this hellacious water.
In the truck with water rushing all around us, I am so proud of this man beside me; I'm proud of him and all the other men and women who have done what he did today - stepped up and stepped into the gap for those whose lives were on the line. My heart is refreshed right here in the middle of this ravaging rain as I see the rescues going on around me by these random people doing radical things. I'm more amazed though by this group of perfect strangers across the Gulf Coast showing me this perfectly borderless way to do life, than I am by Hurricane Harvey.
The Texas coast is flooded with more than water; it's running over with its own flood of fighters - people who refuse to succumb to the storm and its wake.
We drive slow, praying we don't stall, smiling for the kid's sake. By God's grace we make it to Steven's parent’s house in the next town over. They are on much higher ground. We settle in, put on dry clothes and his mom serves us a meatloaf supper - and it's gluten free for Em's allergy. My mother-in-law is doing her own form of fighting in this storm - taking care of her family by keeping my littlest love from an allergic reaction. I breathe deep, thankful for these simple things in life. A dry home, a warm meal, and sitting at the table with family.
After supper, these little people sit in the floor at my feet and build block castles and play with Army men and all I can think of is how blessed we are.
I have cried today, but I have smiled too. Lots.
It surprises me, how much beauty I have seen amidst all of the destruction. I have seen Steven’s strong and able arms lift heavy laden totes in the pouring rain so our family would be taken care of. I have seen little ticklish feet running through this big house while squeals of laughter echo down the hall way. I have seen FB flooded with news of lives saved, boat rescue after boat rescue.
And I think maybe it’s this: Sometimes it takes enduring the ugly to see the beautiful.
It’s everywhere tonight though, it’s got us completely surrounded - the floodwaters from the sky and the floodwaters not seen with the eye. Only the heart can see beauty in its truest form. And I think, How have I missed this so many days? How have I ever been anything but thankful for these people I love and this life I have with them?
I don’t know what we will go back to tomorrow, but I know Who holds my tomorrow. And I know that He is good.
And I have seen beauty, overflowing love from the hearts of people, lived out right in the middle of this Harvey hurricane.
One of the most devastating disasters of my life time has brought out the most magnificent miracles of mankind - people uniting, a storm conquered, love lavished on others.