By outside measures, Brooke and Randy Keeney look like deceptively ordinary people.
They have four kids and live in a quiet neighborhood on the West side of Houston. Randy works for an oil and natural gas company and Brooke is a stay-at-home mom who homeschools her kids on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
But when the flood waters rose and their home went under, Brooke and Randy Keeney showed just how extraordinary they really are. I can’t even write that sentence without crying. Because if you look at the picture at the top of the blog, while standing in their water-logged living room, every square inch of their house soaking wet, Randy holds in his hands a picture of a verse that says, “And He shall be the stability of your times” (Isaiah 33:6) and Brooke holds a plaque that says, “Choose Joy.”
And for all the world and their submerged neighborhood to see, they have walked out that verse with quiet humility and patient trust in the Lord.
They walked it out as they waded onto their street with three kayaks and a paddle boat and for three straight days, salvaged all that they could from their home.
They walked it out as they consistently spoke kindly and respectfully to one another in the tenseness of ripping out flooring and sheet rock and deciding what possessions to keep and what to throw away.
They walked it out as neither one of them uttered a word of complaint or self-pity or despair in the two days I was with them in the moldy dampness of their home.
In fact, the words I heard them speak most often were, “Thank you. Thank you for being here. Thank you for helping us.”
That, my friends, is extraordinary. Because let me tell you something: speaking kindly to your spouse when every single square inch of your floor, your carpet, and your sheet rock is being pulled out from the aftermath of a storm, speaking kindly to your spouse when every article of clothing, every damp book, every single piece of furniture, scrap of paper, photo book, and memory that represents your lives is in black trash bags all around you to either be taken to the curb, taken to the car, or floated over to a neighbor’s dry house for storage is not normal. It requires supernatural intervention.
And the radical dependence that Randy and Brooke showed on that supernatural grace that was not born in the moments of a flood or water filling their house. It was born in the months and days and moments preceding the flood, when quietly, persistently, consistently, they chose to make the fear of the Lord the stability of their days and the bedrock of their home. So when the hurricane hit and the flood waters rose, although their floors crumbled, their faith did not simply because their foundation was securely attached to the only floor that cannot fail – the saving, faithful character of Jesus Christ.
The Saturday before the hurricane, Brooke and I met for lunch and ate chips, salsa, and fajita grilled chicken (the best kind of lunch) while catching up and sharing stories about our summer. Brooke shared how disappointed she was at the beginning of the summer that their family was not going anywhere on a vacation. They chose to stay home and brave the summer heat in Houston to focus on establishing rhythm and routine with their four children and in their own lives before the school year started.
Spending a whole summer in Houston is not an easy feat, out-of-state and out-of-country friends. It requires lots of Sonic ice, air conditioning, and two showers a day to simply clean off all the sweat. And Houston heat means you are either inside or in a pool. Outside on the concrete is simply not an option. There is no telling your kids, “Go outside and play. You are driving me crazy.” They are either inside with you or outside in a pool in a bathing suit with you. And inside with you can feel really cramped really quickly.
But Brooke used her summer to…are you ready for this…pray.
She used her summer months to attach herself securely to God in the daily rhythm of prayer for herself, her husband, her children, her community, and her world. Prayer was the essence of her summer. and she spent that Saturday lunch testifying to me how much prayer had not only changed her life but the entire climate of her home. She was so thankful those months had been spent not in packing and unpacking and vacationing…but in praying…to prepare for the school year ahead.
Or a hurricane.
Little did Brooke (or anyone) know that the hours she had spent in prayer were laying up a treasure for her that could not be taken. A treasure she would need to draw on and from in the coming months as her family was displaced and her world turned upside down. She had day in and day out faithfully chosen “the one thing that was necessary…and could not be taken from her” (Luke 10:42). And she chose well.
David Platt says this about prayer: “Prayer won’t just change your prayer life; prayer will change your life.” And Brooke’s choice is living proof of that statement.
We all have so many choices to make on a day in and day out basis. And we all have so many things we could do with our resources and our time. Good things. But when it comes down to it, like Jesus told Martha in Luke 10:42, only one thing is really necessary. And like Brooke, the time that you and I choose to spend at Jesus’ feet, connecting to Him through prayer, praise, repentance, supplication, and surrender, is the only time that will bear lasting, eternal fruit in our lives and in the lives of those around us, and prepare us for the seasons and storms ahead in ways that scratching things off of our to-do lists and responding to emails and taking vacations never can do.
Today, this week, this season, choose the one thing. Put all your other things down; they can wait. I promise. And like Brooke, choose the one that cannot be taken from you, even when the flood waters rise.
Brooke and Randy Keeney are not perfect people. But they are praying people. Extraordinary people. Because they have made their treasure God rather than their comfort, or the things in their house, or the things of this world.
The rest of the verse Randy is holding in the picture says this: “And He shall be the stability of your times, a wealth of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is his treasure” (Isaiah 33:6).
That pretty much sums up the lives of Randy and Brooke. Underneath the water-logged pieces of wood in their home was not despair or grief or a torn foundation; underneath was a secure foundation of salvation, wisdom, knowledge, and the fear of the Lord. And that, my friends, is the ultimate treasure. It just took a hurricane and a summer of prayer to pull up the floorboards and see what really was beneath.
I don’t know about those of you who live in Houston, but for me, this last week after the hurricane was harder, in many ways, than the week of the hurricane itself. Roads were jammed with traffic, and trying to navigate around town to get to friends who needed help, houses that had flooded, or even trying to do normal things like dropping my daughter off at preschool or going to get tap shoes for a ballet class took hours. Hours.
Hearing the continual drone of choppers flying overhead and wailing sirens of emergency vehicles, while seeing the trash piles and flood debris that lines almost every street, has left tension in my neck and all through my shoulders. Navigating in our city is like navigating a war zone, and every attempt to get out on the road is one more reminder that “normal” does not exist anymore, at least for a very long time.
Just like the sheet rock and flooring so many of us have had a hand in ripping out this week, “normal” has been ripped out of our city, our day-to-day lives and routines, our priorities, and our to-do lists and left to sit out on the curb, waiting for dump trucks to come carry it away. And confronting all the realities of the “abnormal” has left us frayed around the edges and feeling heavy and pressed down. Seeing the realities of friends’ homes that are utterly destroyed, all of the possessions they hold dear in this life piled high on the curb, water logged, mildewed, and molded has taken its toll on our bodies and souls.
As a city, I think we are grieving the loss of “normal.” We are grieving the loss of land and homes and streets and people the way we have always known them to be. And we are grieving and frustrated with our own weakness and the limitations of our own strength and ability to be strong and sufficient in normal, day-to-day tasks, as well as in the aftermath of a storm.
And maybe, perhaps, we are grieving the loss of God as we have always known Him to be, at least in regards to our city and hometown – stable, reliable, protective, shielding us from disaster, the winds, and the storm. National or international disasters always happened out there, but not here. Not in our hometown, our churches, our schools, and our neighborhoods.
Yesterday I delivered some clothes to a family whose home flooded and realized I was very close to the neighborhood where I grew up. Mom and Dad moved about five years ago, but for almost thirty years,they lived in a beautiful and restful neighborhood called Memorial Glen. Their house backed up to Terry Hershey Park and Buffalo Bayou, so during the storm, we heard that their street flooded, but we did not know the extent of the damage.
So after my delivery, I slowly drove the familiar route to my parent’s house, a route I have driven a thousand times lined with quiet houses graced with big, front lawns and overarching green trees. But instead of the familiar peace and quiet, I was confronted with devastation. Their whole neighborhood had flooded. Every single street, every single house, was lined with rubble. Trash piled so high you could barely navigate the streets. Homeowners and neighbors and friends of neighbors were out in full force, equipped with masks and rubber boots, sledge hammers and shovels and wheelbarrows, doing the work of demolition.
As I wove my way through the streets, I parked at the end of my parents’ street and walked slowly down to their house amidst piles of wood, furniture, sheet rock, and insulation. I stood in front of the house that had been a shelter for me and so many for so many years and just started to cry. The bayou had crept in and flooded everything in the one story house, killing the yard and grass my dad kept such good care of for thirty years, destroying the interior of a house my mom had made a home in every sense of the word. I am still crying as I type.
I know that stuff is just stuff. I know that and believe that with all my heart. But I also know in the aftermath of this hurricane that stuff is more than just stuff. And it’s ok to grieve it. It is ok to grieve over the devastation of land we have all loved. It is ok to weep under the weight of the trash heaps that line the streets and driveways of the homes that hold the most cherished memories of our lives. It is ok.
And I don’t know about you, but that is where I am. In the weeping. In the mourning and loss and grief of missing “normal”, the tangible things and places that have held our memories, and the God we thought of as “safe.”
The passage of Scripture that has lingered in my heart and mind this week and given me courage and insight when I have needed it is Hosea 6:1-3.
Come, let us return to the Lord.
For He has torn us, but He will heal us;
He has wounded us, but He will bandage us.
He will revive us after two days;
He will raise us up on the third day,
That we may live before Him.
So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord.
His going forth is as certain as the dawn;
And He will come to us like the rain,
Like the spring rain watering the earth.
I have known God to tear up specific circumstances in my life, or even specific people, but I have never known Him to tear up my city.
But here we are. Torn. Wounded. Weary. Waiting. In need of healing. In need of grace.
But just as I have been reminded in the past, when He tore me apart with two miscarriages and then gave me Lillian. When He tore me apart with Lillian’s diagnosis of cysts on her lungs in utero and then healed her at the last hour. When He tore me (and many) apart with Kathy’s death from cancer last fall and chose to heal her by taking her Home. He will come to heal us. His coming to us is as certain as the dawn.
And our job, as a city, as victims of the flood and responders to the flood, is to press on to know the Lord in certain expectation of His coming.
Our job is not to press on to know the in’s and out’s of FEMA, or the best route to get our kids to school in the headache that will be here Monday morning, or the best way to help our homes, help our friends, and help our trash disappear and our city rebuild. Our job is to press in to know the Lord. To call on Him…in confident expectation that He will answer. To earnestly look for Him in the renewing strength of His Word each day and then in the ways He responds to us throughout the day. To be aware of the touch of His Hands and His summons to us to come to Him, “all who are weary and heavy-laden,” and to allow Him to give us rest (Matthew 11:28). To be aware of not shouldering any burden that is too heavy for us to bear and to let Him do the carrying instead. To walk only where He tells us to walk each day (since each day shold so many places we could go right now), trusting He will direct and guide our steps (Proverbs 3:5-6; Psalm 23:3).
God tears us…but only to heal us, restoring our souls.
God wounds us…but only to bind us, bringing us the comfort we so desperately need.
God allows destruction to touch us..but only to rebuild us into the people He has created us to be.
As you grieve your losses this week, know that we, as a city, are grieving right along with you. You are not alone.
And as you press in to knowing God this week, giving precedence to the only thing that will truly put you, your family, your home, and your city back together, know that you are not alone. We are pressing in to Him together, knowing His coming in the days, weeks, and months ahead is as certain as the dawn.
Let us be a people who mourn, and then press in together.
Last week was the worst week and the best week all at the same time.
It was the worst week because 100,000 homes in Houston were flooded by the waters of Hurricane Harvey. It was the worst week because 72,000 people had to be rescued by boat, kayak, canoe, helicopter, or whatever way was possible over the rising waters. It was the worst week because 150 schools and 700 churches flooded, roads were washed out, and driving cars around this city is like navigating through a war zone. It was the worst week because after the rains stopped, the waters rose from the release of waters from the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs, and thousands of additional homes flooded, many of them homes of families we know and love. It was the worst week because although Houston was under blue and sunny skies from Wednesday on, four feet of water stood and still stand in many people’s homes, making the salvaging of any of their possessions or memories in precious photographs, wedding and baby albums, or family heirlooms practically impossible. It was the worst week.
But it was also the best week. As the rains fell, the church rose, and the people of God went out into the storm to do their Bible, not just read their Bible, and the stories of courage and faith were staggering. It was the best week because while it was hard to understand why God continued to allow the rains to fall, we also saw Him answer prayers so specifically and amazingly it was hard to keep record of them all. It was the best week because the mercy of God was felt in specific and tangible ways that many of us had never experienced before. It was the best week because those of us who were left by the hurricane with dry homes were given the absolute joy of coming alongside those who needed rescue and relief. It was a joy that surpassed any outing, vacation, gift, or gathering I have ever experienced. It was the joy of comforting others with the comfort we ourselves have received through the gospel of Christ. And for those who lost everything, it was the best week in that it forced them to cry out to God for a parting of the Red Sea, for Him to make a way where there seemed to be no way…and to stand back and watch as He moved.
One of those Red Sea moments for me happened last Wednesday when I sent out a post asking people to fast and pray on our city’s behalf. Margaret Austin, a dear friend who lives in Clemson, South Carolina and a guest blogger on this site, answered that plea and called to pray with me while she sat in carpool line at her son’s school.
She wept tears with me, specifically asking God to allow my husband and the other men in his family to lead people to the Lord in decisions for salvation. She asked for people to see this flood as a need for their67 souls to be made right with Him, and I wept right along with her.
The next day after our time of prayer and fasting, Jason spent the day with a group from his office in a neighborhood of our city known as Meyerland. They met at an address where they knew help was needed and began ripping out sheet rock and tearing up floors. The longer they worked, the more men showed up to help, and soon houses up and down the block had hands and hearts loving on and serving them well. Jason and a few other men ended up in the home of an elderly woman named Roberta. Roberta is in her 80’s and was all alone in her house with the exception of her caretaker. Roberta shuffled out in her house shoes and asked how much it would cost for the men to tear out her sheet rock and flooring. “Roberta,” Jason said, “I can give you the best price in the city – it’s free.” And Roberta started to weep.
As they sat on the side of her bed in a home she had lived in for decades, Jason said, “Roberta, you are going to blink, and your home is going to be restored. You are going to have new sheet rock, new paint, and new floors before you know it. But none of this matters unless you are certain in your relationship with Jesus Christ and know where you are going to spend eternity. It is eternity with Him that matters and counts. Roberta, do you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior?”
“I think so,” Roberta said, through tears.
“It’s not good enough to just think so, Roberta. You can know so. You can have certainty of relationship with Him right now. Would you like to pray together and ask Jesus to be the Lord and Savior of your heart and home?”
At her “Yes,” Jason and Roberta prayed right there, and Roberta’s home was not only secured from the floods that day, more importantly, her life was secured through relationship with Christ.
When Jason came home and told me the story, I remembered Margaret’s prayer the day before. I had never thought to ask the Lord specifically that my husband would have the opportunity to lead someone to the Lord in the aftermath of this storm. But Margaret did. And when she prayed, God answered.
So, I am asking you, would you continue to pray with me and for many more salvations in our city? Salvations and rescue and relief for people’s homes, yes. But more importantly, salvations for people’s souls in rich neighborhoods and poor neighborhood. In white neighborhoods, African-American neighborhoods, Hispanic neighborhoods, and Asian neighborhoods. Because that is what this flood is all about. It’s about getting the church out into people’s neighborhoods and homes where we would have never gone before and sharing the good news of the Gospel and security from the flood we have in Jesus Christ.
At church yesterday, Jason read a story about an incident from the childhood of Robert Louis Stevenson.
Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of classic books like Treasure Island, spent his childhood in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the 19th century. As a boy, Robert was intrigued by the work of the old lamplighters who went about with a ladder and a torch, setting the street lights ablaze for the night.
One evening, as young Robert stood watching with fascination, his parents asked him, “Robert, what in the world are you looking at out there?” With great excitement he exclaimed, “Look at that man! He’s punching holes in the darkness!”
Friends, there are many, many weeks ahead we have left to love, serve, and pray for the city of Houston. Thousands of people still remain displaced. Thousands of homes are still standing under four feet of water. And thousands of people still need rescue from the aftermath of the storm in their home and, more importantly, their hearts. The weeks and months ahead still have the potential to be the worst of weeks. But they also have the potential to be the best of weeks as we stand together to punch holes in the darkness through fasting, prayer, service, boldness in our speech to testify to the God of all comfort and grace, and acts of love.
Margaret was faithful all the way from South Carolina to punch a hole in the darkness…and that hole was Roberta. Would you continue to stand with us this week and in the weeks ahead to punch holes in the darkness as well? They have specific names, specific faces, and specific homes, and just as He heard Margaret, He will hear your cry as well.
Please consider joining me again this Wednesday and every Wednesday hereafter for the next several months, in fasting and prayer for our city. Please consider these requests as you pray, using Daniel 9 as your guide:
- Pray that our city would give attention to God. Pray that we would open His Word, read what He has to say, and give attention to it in our personal lives, our church’s lives, and in the life of our city.
- Please acknowledge our city’s sin in turning away from God and seeking our way instead of His way. And please ask Him to use the people of the church to lead many people to decisions of repentance and salvation through Jesus Christ.
- Acknowledge the truth of who God is in your prayer – He is gracious and compassionate, forgiving, full of mercy, and cannot forget the covenant of love He has made with us (Exodus 34:6-7). He desires all to come to repentance and none to perish but for all to come to a saving knowledge of Him through Jesus Christ our Lord (II Peter 3:9).
- Pray and ask the Lord to see our need and hear our cries to dry up our land and specifically the areas that are still flooded from the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs.
- Pray and ask Him for rescue workers and those trying to salvage and restore their homes to be wise and safe.
- Pray and ask the Lord to begin to help us in the process of recovery and rebuilding, and to guard against the tendency to go back to “life as usual” now that the rains have stopped. Ask Him to continue to mobilize crews of people to help, supplies and clothes and food to be provided, and for the people of God to radically and effectively show the love of God to a city in need.
- Finally, ask for the Lord to raise up “Daniels” for the city of Houston, men and women who walk closely with God as Daniel did. People who will think and act in wisdom and humility for the rebuilding of our city and who will administer all plans and recovery efforts in justice and peace.
A couple of days ago, I stood in a neighbor’s driveway and had my very first experience in welcoming an evacuated family out of a car and onto dry land. It was something. As the two parents and four young children spilled out of the car, there were embraces, tears all around, and stricken looks on all the adults’ faces.
Less than an hour before, this family of six waded out of their house with fast-rising waters and were paddled in a canoe down their street to a staging ground where all of their displaced neighbors were being received. Their entire neighborhood, once a beautiful oasis on the bayou, is now a lake, or, more accurately, a fast flowing river and is only a five minute drive from the house where I grew up and where my parents lived for almost thirty years.
In the hours before evacuating, my friend spent the evening watching the waters rise to her front door, trying to keep her four sleeping children safe, and then trying to pack up in the pre-dawn hours only to have the transformers blow and her house go completely dark…in rising waters. Her husband was out in a kayak from 10pm-1:30am on a search and rescue team, looking for a friend who had gone missing under the current near their home. While they did not find him that night, miraculously, he walked out of the waters on his own the next morning.
The preceding twenty-four hours and really, the previous five days, had taken their toll on this precious family. As they got out of the car, they looked like they were emerging from a war zone, not a neighborhood close by I have known and loved my whole life. Needless to say, it was a privilege to stand there with open arms, shared tears, a hot lunch, and a listening ear.
Like many Houstonians, this experience was a new one for me. I’ve never known what it felt like to love on people who just left everything under water in just a few hours’ notice. The learning curve on how to really care, really listen, and offer to do what is really helpful instead of just what makes me feel good is steep, and I found the words from this blog post a friend sent me to be extremely accurate and helpful. I thought you might find it to be helpful too.
This is a blog, I confess, I have not read very often because it gives advice on a topic that is not something I am usually known for – fashion. (If you don’t believe me, go back and read my blog post on how camping and not showering for days on end is my idea of a dream vacation.) But I always hear great things not only about the blog, www.cstyleblog.com, but the blogger herself, Carly Lee. She is someone I would love to one day meet over a cup of coffee and a good conversation. Other than her great sense of style and my lack of one, it seems we do have some things in common, like our faith, enjoyment of a good closet purge, and our mutual lack of ability on high school sports’ teams.
But here is what Carly shared:
My cousin sent this to me from a Facebook friend, who copied it from their friend who is now both a Katrina and Harvey survivor. If anyone knows who wrote this post, please, please, please let me know. I need to credit them! I almost didn’t post it because I couldn’t give them credit. But that seemed silly, since this post could help so many of us who find our friends flooded and want to know the best way to help.
“Here are some ideas how you can reach out to your flooded friends:
Remember they are going to feel uncomfortable being in such a position of need. It’s painful to go from being self sufficient one day to suddenly not having a pair of shoes with no car to go and buy some new ones.
Try to see a need and fill it without asking “what can I do?” Flooded mamas are exhausted and overwhelmed and it’s hard to answer that question.
If you are going to help a friend clean out their homes, here are a few items that are helpful to bring.
Fresh fruit and veggies washed and cut up (we’ve all been eating highly processed food out of bags for days)
Ideas for questions to ask:
1. Does everyone in your family have shoes? If not, can I go pick some up? What size?
2. Do you have anyone coming to help you cut out walls? If not, can I call a few water mitigation companies to get quotes for you?
3. Do you have any laundry I can wash?
4. I have hand-me-downs from my kids, what sizes would be helpful?
5. Can I help arrange playdates for your kids?
6. Do you have any medications you would like me to call about getting replaced?
7. I’m making a trip to HEB today, please tell me 3 things I can pickup for you
8. Can I pack a school lunch for your child this week?
9. Is there anywhere I could give you a ride to?
10. I’d like to take you to pickup your rental car. Please call me when it’s available.
11. Please call me when you are ready for a ride home after you drop off your rental car.
Check in with your friend a week or two later. There is a lot of help at the beginning. After a few weeks life goes back to normal for most, but flooded families are still trying to find a new normal and may be moving into apartments or juggling car research before a big purchase, etc.”
The points I found to be true and extremely helpful, I bolded. I made the mistake of asking my friend, “If you will make me a list, I will go to the grocery store for you,” and then realized I needed to say instead, “Let me come over and help you make a list, and then I will go to the grocery store for you.” Being as specific and directive as possible is really helpful when coming alongside those who are in total shock and thinking about how to save precious picture albums and irreplaceable things in their house rather than a grocery list, shoe sizes, or laundry.
So if you, like me, find yourself in new waters wanting to help those who were caught in the waters, the advice above has proved to be helpful and fruitful for a family in my own life in their time of need.
Again, I cannot say thank you for your continued prayers, support, texts, calls, encouragement and love. Keep them coming. They are a sustaining grace and tangible embrace in a time our city needs it the most.