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September 1, 2017

Helping after a Hurricane

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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,, 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.

Cleaning/packing Supplies:
Masks- ventilator
Paper towel
Disposable gloves
lysol/clorox wipes
Cardboard boxes
Packing tape
Hand sanitizer
Mosquito repellent

Water bottles
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.