I Am Not a Hugger, But on Thursday I Was

By Thursday, my initial adrenaline rush was slowing down. The lack of sleep during the storm was snowballing with the emotional demands. So much of this was relieved when I arrived at 218 and began seeing faces that we had not seen. With the passage of time came water drainage. With drainage came drivable streets. This was the first day that many friends could get out of their homes.

I remember when our friends John and Erin walked into 218. None of us are huggers. I love that about them. But somehow after 5 days of separation by water, the desire to be dry and safe and together prompted a hug. This continued all day. A new face that I had not seen would walk in the door and I would jump out of my seat to hug them. This freaked people out because I am REALLY not a hugger, but here was the reality. Some of these friends had water in their homes. Some had been trapped for days. Some were without transportation. Some had been frozen in fear for days. Some had rushed out in the first hours to help and by Thursday, were feeling the bone pain of exhaustion. Whatever state you found yourself in, we all needed hugs.

By Thursday, the word was spreading about our distribution center. While many would pop up in the coming days and weeks. At this point, resources were scarce. Lines were still very long at stores. Money was all spent on salvage and housing. We had family after family coming in for assistance. During the course of the day, we requested shelving. In a matter of hours (and thanks to generous donors) easy to assemble shelving filled our worship space. As quickly as it could be assembled, clothing and shoes and supplies filled every shelf. When we would begin to run low on supplies, Donna would send out a plea on Facebook and the fountain would turn on.

The highlights of Thursday included watching many of my youngest’s teammates and families serve our community. When they heard of the work at the center, they began walking in to help. It’s easy to forget when you spend your free time together at kid’s sporting events that the power of that community is fierce. When these kids worked with the common focus of helping our city, everything began to shift. Some things that seemed vital two months ago where stalled by the invasion of Harvey. Where before, priorities for this group centered around what we would BBQ at a meet, suddenly our motivating force was the impact for our neighbors.

The insight from Thursday was the sheer magnitude of the storm. I am from the West side of Houston. The flooding to the city caused catastrophic flooding along the bayous. Due to the quantity of water, the Corp of Engineers released additional water from the reservoirs and the flooding continued to increase. My sister and her kids waded from their neighborhood where a friend of my parent’s drove to pick them up. Although the water did not reach their house, many of my childhood friends were directly impacted.

While the roadways continued to open, passage to and from the Med Center  was still not easy. My dad was admitted the Monday prior to the storm, and for 10 days, the view of his water logged city was from the 17th story of the MD Anderson tower. Unfortunately, his condition was not under control and a quick return trip for care was not possible, should he push for release. It would be another 24 hours before it was safe to return home, so we spent another night separated by miles of water. With each phone call to my mom and sister, I clung to the knowledge that while I could not get to them, I was doing the best I could to serve someone else’s mom or sister.

When I reflect on the highs and the lows of day 6, I have one very bright moment. At 5pm that day, 5 of our 7 church elders gathered on the porch of 218. The two missing were neck deep in recovery work. For some, this was the first day they could make it into League City. As we looked at each other and the needs that were being met in this space, it was a no brainer that we would continue. For many churches, “losing” worship space would have been tragic. For the community of ECL, it was a non-event. Actually, I think our community would have been upset with us if we had tried! Instead, the decision was made to worship under the oak tree outside on Sunday morning. The most important aspect of the coming Sunday was that we would be together. Our community needed to sing of hope. We needed to tell of the Resurrection promise. We needed to be fed at the table. And none of these things required a building. It was in that space, however, that my go-go-go body was told that we would rest on Sunday. I could not make this space for myself, so someone else did it for me. We all needed to prioritize Sabbath because the work of recovery is long and hard.

As the day came to a close, there was only one thing left to do. After hours of filling orders, folding clothes, moving gallons of cleaning supplies, packing diapers and folding more clothes, the girls and I made it to our house. At some point that night, Lucas arrived in a similar exhausted stupor. We were tired. We were feeling the pain of loss all around us. This kind of tired is so hard to explain. The image on today’s post will have to do. As Ally was in the shower, she laughed. I looked over and realized her was showering with her socks on. She was so tired, she forgot to take them off. We could all relate. We could not change the many devastating situations in our midst. So, we just hugged each other.

And there was evening and there was morning – the sixth day.

The Day It Finally Stopped

There are few people in my life that I REALLY listen to. My father-in-law is one of them. For those that have met him, the initial reaction to my previous statement may be to laugh. But if you know him, you are aware that he is extremely wise and rarely worries. On Tuesday morning, he called to make sure we were staying home and off the roads. At 8:30, I said we were. By 10, I was done. He was not happy, but I made it safely to 218. As a point of clarification, 218 is the address of the building our church owns. Notice we don’t call the building Ecclesia – Clear Lake. ECL is the people. 218 is the address of the walls where we do ministry.

When we arrived, it was still drizzling outside. The creeks were too high to pass. We were restricted in movement around town. At the same time, we knew that there were needs and we needed to meet them. We began by responding to the calls for supplies at the shelters. We quickly shifted focus to food and water. Hotels had nothing. They were out of food. They did not have enough staff or supplies for the full rooms they were now experiencing. Babies did not have diapers. Kids did not have clothes. Day 4 was spent meeting needs at hotels for those that were trapped because they lost their cars. Shelters were at capacity. Schools had become receiving areas and rec centers were now triage units.

On the West side of Clear Lake area, high water rescues took place all day. Roads were impassable, and as the creeks and bayous rose, people were wading out of their homes with what little they could carry. The rain kept falling for much of the morning. I couldn’t stop to think about my neighbors that were trapped, as I watched the rescue helicopters fly overhead. I had to keep my head down and work. There are times when you need to process and sit still. For me, this was not one of them. My coping mechanism was to keep working. I knew that I could not drive a boat or fly a rescue chopper but I could get babies diapers. We answered calls and heard the stories. We hugged necks and tried to calm frayed nerves.

Our truck drivers went on any road that was safe and probably some they should not have traveled. They delivered box after box of underwear and clothes and food. We sent flyers to hotels and individuals began calling in, as well. We filled orders and continued dreaming about how to get our neighbors the help they needed. Whether it was food or material things, if it came across our radar, we sent the call out and rallied for support. Those of us that were safe and dry had to do something, anything, because so many of our neighbors were not.

Mid-way through the afternoon, I realized that the sound on the metal roof was gone. The rain seemed to be tapering off. People, and not just the ones in big trucks, were beginning to move around the city. After days and days of wet sky, it seemed eerily quiet. We left 218 at 6pm that night and I recall thinking to myself that it was too quiet. Would we be able to sleep? Would we know how to handle the silence? It was very odd, but we did it. We observed the area curfews and settled in before dark.

We were experiencing a tired that is hard to explain. In many ways, it was painful. The numbness of exhaustion mixed with sheer emotional turmoil of guilt and the need to help, clouds all rational thought. For those that embrace loving others, this is as tough as it gets. In these moments, you see the deepest pain of your fellow human and you want to push past any and everything to find a way to love. Even if that means sprinting past the normal warning signs of impending fatigue.

Our pillows were a needed retreat that night. My girls were still not ready to return to their own rooms, but we all crashed quickly. With no weather to interrupt, our sleep was full and when the alarm went off, we knew that the real work had just begun.

And there was evening and there was morning – the fourth day.

Could This Be Real?

Sunday morning came and went. As the water started to recede in some areas, a glimmer of hope sparked. Unfortunately, for each story of rescue there were equally as many that painted the picture of desperation and loss. On our street, the water was slow to drain. With each small sprinkle of water, panic ensued. Around mid-day, the streets began to show concrete, so Lucas got on his bike and rode to the water line. He could cling to sidewalks and get to the front of the neighborhood. At the entrance, he found a DPS officer blocking access to the main road. He was not headed to work.

In the crisis and helplessness of the night, I knew that not everyone was awake. In an attempt to reach out to our community, I formed a Facebook group at 2am titled “ECL Harvey Check In.” For those that were staring at phones and TVs, we began reaching out through digital prayers and fears. Sunday morning, the sleepers joined in and we were sharing our home statuses, our health statuses and just sitting in the waiting together. One of our friends was 40 weeks pregnant when the storm came in. While watching the water rise in her neighborhood, her stress induced contractions. By late Sunday afternoon, we saw on the group that she was calling for a boat rescue.

Her neighborhood was completely inaccessible. After loading her family of 4, her mother in law and her dog into a rescue boat, they were driven to an interstate overpass which was high ground for a vehicle to pick them up.  Once we knew that they were headed to a place we could access by car, all systems were go to participate in rescue. One family made it to the shelter point to take the dog. Mom, and later dad, were taken to the hospital to have a baby by way of garbage truck to get through high water. Lucas and my girls loaded his big truck and headed out to pick up our overnight guests. While they did not understand the adventure at 4 and 2, they knew that their home had too much water and their mom needed help with the baby. That provided the perfect opportunity for a slumber party with the Hilbrich girls.

A local church in the neighborhood opened as a Red Cross shelter that day. As the needs began to scroll on community boards and the overwhelming devastation was more and more apparent, I ransacked the house for needed supplies. AJ and I struck out. We could safely drive on the path to the church but I was not prepared for what I saw. The building was packed.

The people.

The animals.

The smell of flood water.

They were already well beyond their maximum capacity, and we were only hours into this nightmare. And for those that had made it though the last 24 hours without water in their homes, the quantity of STUFF that was being dropped off for donation was unbelievable. People wanted to help.

This was more than anyone could handle. But what option do you have when you wade through chest high water to a boat, are placed on a transport truck and are delivered to a shelter door? The desperation was palpable. I stayed for 30 minutes and felt helpless and afraid. I had slept a total of 45 minutes in almost 36 hours and I did not have the capacity to wrap my guilt filled mind around going home to a dry house.

As I settled our houseguests, the weight became real. Both of my girls wanted to sleep on our bedroom floor, still shaken from the previous night. I knew in the last hours of Sunday night that one of two things was going to happen. I had to either wake up and get to work or prepare for a dark cloud of anger and depression to take hold. Both were possible outcomes, but I have been taught that the only way to avoid self-pity induced morbidity was get into action.

With the setting of the sun, the rain began again. These were not heavy bands, but enough to make you hold you breath. The tornado warnings were less consistent on Sunday night. The thunder was quiet and the lightning did not illuminate the room. The sheer exhaustion of the last 24 hours was so overwhelming that when I finally stopped, I slept. And then I felt guilty for sleeping.

And there was evening and there was morning – the second day.

Tornado Warning Friends

When you experience a storm the magnitude and size of Harvey, there are waves of intense weather, followed by quieter hours. During the night of Saturday, August 26th, quiet was nonexistent. The girls and Lucas went to bed at a reasonable hour, but I was bracing myself. You see, I am weather watcher. I have 4 tracking apps on my phone. I know the lingo. I know the warnings. I have mastered the art of under the stairs closet sitting. There are weather people I trust and weather people that I ignore. Unfortunately, the ones I trust indicated that it was going to be a long night.

We have a group text with our elder team from church. I really wish that everyone could see how much fun we have together. To read our text thread is to be entertained. Lucas sent a full report to all that he felt safe with the night ahead. We checked on each other at 9:30 and I assumed we were saying goodnight. At 11:46, our friend John gave an update of his street. Water was rising and others reported the same. Two people on the thread were obviously pacing with me, and I know they both could handle my excessive messaging. At this point, I knew that my thoughts needed company and I switched to a chat with John and Marla. At 11:52, our conversation began with, “Lucas was WRONG.”

For the sake of friendships, I will not divulge the author of that text, but it was clear before midnight that we were all nervous. The first few comments included things like, “I’m moving to Colorado” and “I wish I had built a canoe.” By 12:15 the tornado warnings were so intense that I felt the best use of my resources was the $9.99 funnel rotational app. Later that hour, jokes are interruppted with “shelter, Lacy” and “your turn, John.”

At 2am, I had to wake Lucas up to move his truck. The water was 2′ from our foundation and rising. About 30 minutes later, the kids were called to shelter in the closet and when that cell passed, the water was not stopping. We began to move things to the second story. This is one of those moments when you all look at each other and you have to decide what matters. Is it your grandmother’s furniture? Is it the desk from your dad’s office? These did not make the cut that night. My wedding album, my kid’s art from preschool and a few important documents went upstairs. The rest was stuff. We said that aloud. We hugged each other and the water kept coming.

“I want to vomit.”

This is the text that sums up the next few hours. The Emergency Response Alarm sounded from the plant. Lucas was needed, and there was no way to get down our street. The humor turned very dark on our text exchange. Sarcasm and morbidity was replaced only by calls to return to the closet. The tornado warning was constant. In these two days, there were 148 tornado WARNINGS for Houston. Insanity.

As the water crept closer to our house, the room that would have flooded first was my craft room. What this meant for the waterways of Harbour Park was that glitter was going to abound in your grass:

Marla: If you are going to flood…there better be glitter.

Lacy: Oh, there will be glitter all over the neighborhood.

John: Little victories.

Marla: Gotta spread that sparkle even in the flood waters.

These two kept me sane. Having spent much of the night with two teenagers and a grumpy hubby in a closet, this was my mind break. At this point, the news reported that we had received 23″ in the last 12 hours. The water was 6″ from the foundation and I just had to walk away from the window. At some point, I dozed off. I think I slept for about 45 minutes. When I woke up, the water was not lower, but it was not higher.

With the daylight came the images of the city. Unbelievable. Unimaginable.

And there was evening and there was morning – the first day.

Why I Can’t Write About Being 22

A few things have been on the radar the past few weeks. It seems like ages ago that my kids were asleep in their beds after day 2 of the school year. Would you believe that was only 3 weeks ago? I have been writing some smaller journal entries and notes to friends in the past few days, but I have not had the capacity to tell the next story of my 100 day journey. While my hometown has been falling apart, I have struggled to find the words to tell you about one of the happiest times in my life. It just seems so empty. I have wanted to walk away from blogging all together, but instead, I am taking a side journey to tell you about a few of the lessons I have learned in the past three weeks. The first of these lessons was the storm before the storm.

On Monday, August 21st, my dad was admitted to MD Anderson Hospital in the Houston Medical Center. Having developed an abdominal infection, it was necessary to treat him with aggressive IV antibiotics. He has a compromised immune system that compounds his “very unique” blood condition. These diseases cause his kidneys to have decreased function. When they admitted him on Monday, I hoped for a short stay and a quick recovery. Neither was on the horizon.

Tuesday and Wednesday proved to be long days. With each passing blood test, the numbers were more inconsistent. By Thursday, two things were clear:

a) there was a major hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico

b) the storm in dad’s body was not resolving

Before bed Thursday night, we learned that the girl’s school was cancelled for Friday. When we woke up Friday morning, Ally and I loaded the car to check on Mimi and Papa. With no clear indication of the infection clearing or flaring, the discussion the previous day made a case for release. When the doctor came on Friday morning, they reviewed the day’s blood work to find that his kidneys were not in a good place. When we walked in the room, the resolve was apparent as my parents had been told that they were taking a Harvey sized vacation in the hospital.

Ally and I tired to entertain. We made Papa laugh and even persuaded Mimi to go shopping for hurricane supplies in the gift shop. Liz brought her kids for a visit, as well, and we all walked to the observation deck high over the med center. From the 20-something floor, we could see the dark clouds roll in off the Gulf. It was bazaar, as you could see rain and hear thunder, but you almost felt like you were watching a movie as the glass window protected you from the wind.

As the afternoon pressed on, I realized that I needed to get home before dark. Ally and I kissed mom and dad goodbye and loaded in the car, leaving them in an area of town that was prone to flood and sure to be impassable from the south. I must admit, it was a strange feeling. Through all of my adult-ing hurricane experiences, my parent’s house has been the evacuation point. They are my refuge and location of choice in time of storms. This time, I was driving headlong into the dark clouds and leaving them in unknown lands with unknown outcomes. These were not familiar nor welcome choices. All of this, and the storm had yet to make landfall.

I should have known that the foreshadowing was not good, but as I drove home on Friday, I went to sleep with tired eyes and restful dreams. Little did I know that this would be the last night of good sleep I would have for weeks.





A Little Storm Named Harvey

When I set out to write for 100 days, I did not plan for a hurricane to hit my home state on day 12. I have tried to power on for the last few days, but I need to take a day to reflect on this experience. I must confess, I am in the thick of it. I firmly believe that wisdom and clarity comes in reflection, but sometimes, I just need to get my thoughts and feelings on the screen and worry about fluidity and creativity another day. Here is what I know:

  • This beast of a storm has dumped more than 52″ of rain on my hometown since Saturday. Just to reference, we have a normal annual rainfall average of 49.77″.
  • Unlike most tropical systems, this one has been hanging around for days, and in the wake of wind has come rain, rain, flooding, more rain, more flooding, and tragedy.
  • This has been scary. I have spent multiple nights walking the floor staring out the window every 15 min to see if floodwaters were going to reach my foundation.
  • People everywhere, even on the WEST side of town are being evacuated tonight, FOUR DAYS after landfall because the bayous cannot contain the rain. This is unheard of.

One of the worst and most unpredictable parts of this mess has been the flood waters. I don’t like being cut off from people I love by powerful bodies of water. My parents have been trapped in the med center without the ability to have visitors or even have access to the regular services of the hospital. My sister is battling resevoir breeches near her house. Just today, she helped to rescue 22 people from nearby neighborhoods by boat. WHAT? This is crazy. What in the freaking world?!?

For those of you not from around these parts, we can be cavalier about hurricanes. War stories of riding out “the big one” are told by native coastal dwellers with pride. But what you need to know is this is not a normal hurricane. The effects of this storm are so far beyond the comprehension of even those who understand atmospheric pressure. While they may have predicted aspects of the science, how it would play out in water and wind and rain (have I mentioned rain) was beyond reality.

There are two groups of people who should never be underestimated: people who follow Jesus and people from Texas. Both are special in their own ways. Texans don’t give up. Our pride and our grit and our heart is as big as our state. We believe that when things are in the royal crapper, we pull together and take care of each other. We do what we can to support and love and generously seek to take care of all who have roots, no matter how new, in our state. We are fighters.

Secondly, my heart and drive is rooted to be in the mix with our world though the expression of Jesus sized love. I like to think that if Jesus was on the earth today, he would like what he sees happening in Houston. Our heart and love to go where we are told is dangerous, to love when the roads are stormy and to reach out in ways that are uncomfortable define the call of the Church today. I’m proud to say that I am walking through this deep water in community with people that raise people high and Jesus higher.

I could tell you of the many tragedies that I have seen already, but I want to close with this. Sunday night, I tossed and turned all night worried. I slept only 1.5 hours the night before, and I feared more overnight flooding. When we woke up Monday morning, I knew the girls and I couldn’t sit anymore. We needed to get our hands dirty loving and helping. I posted on Facebook that we would be opening our church building for donations at 11am. Note to all, when I have a key to a building, I am known to put it to use, permission or not. I had no idea if we would have anyone come, but I knew that I needed to try. By 2pm, we were overflowing with donations. So I called friends, we brainstormed plans, we sorted clothes, we gathered food, we said “yes”. Someone asked how we became a donation center, the long and short of it was, we showed up. We unlocked the door and when people asked if they could help, we said, let’s go.

I wonder sometimes what would happen if we said ‘yes’ more?  My guess is that the world would be a bit less lonely; that people would reach out rather than shut out. I think conversations would be learning opportunities rather than shouting matches. This is what the world needs. I have seen that when desperation happens and all hope is lost and you are sitting on the roof of your house with flood waters rising, you are thankful for the rescue boat.

Even if they have different politics.

Even if they don’t do things just like your tribe does it.

Even when you thought rescue was coming from another direction. 

We are made to help each other. Let’s get to it, ya’ll.