I went to Lumberton knowing that the homes we saw and people we would meet would be in dire straits. But, I don’t think I was fully mentally prepared for what we saw. The first glimpse of the destruction took my breath away. Just the sheer amount of debris on the sides of the streets and the condition of the homes, it was devastating. This was these people’s lives, and it was all ruined. But, as we began to work it became apparent to me that it was all just stuff. The homeowners and their families had made it out with their lives. That was the important thing.
While in Lumberton I was able to provide a compassionate listening ear to the homeowners when they wanted to recollect certain memories about their homes, or items they had in their home. I sat next to them and held their hands as they told me their stories. I hugged them as the emotion became so strong it overwhelmed them. These were their homes. Their cherished things and memories. Now they were just that, memories. I stayed strong and listened day after day. Until the last house we worked on. Her story broke me.
The story of this home was not just of how this was the second time in 10 years it had flooded. It wasn’t the sad story of the prized dresser that had been passed down for generations, and left elevated in the garage only to be swept away in the flood. No, it’s not even about how funny and amazing it was that their brand new pontoon boat floated in the flood and spun around and came to rest on the roof of the storage building when the water receded. No, her story is one of survival and a mother’s instinct, and the betrayal of that instinct.
September 30 was just another day for her. She was an ambulance driver, and was heading to work. They lived in a low area just off the bayou and had 3 feet of water in their house during hurricane Ike 10 years before. So, they knew that with the expected 50 inches of rain flooding was likely. So, they put what they could in the attic, and elevated the rest and hoped for the best. Instinctively, she sent her son to a friend’s house that was up the hill in the neighborhood, and on higher ground for the night where he would be safe. Her husband headed to the two-story house across the street, where he too would be safe. She headed in to work.
As the waters started to rise her husband waded through the waters to get back to that new boat. His plan was to tie the boat to the house so that it would not float away in the flood. As he made his way to his house the current became too strong, and he decided the boat was not worth his life, so he headed back to the two-story house. He and his friend would later be rescued by boat from the attic of that two-story house.
3:00 in the morning her cell phone rings. “Mommy! The water is starting to come in to the house and we don’t know what to do!”. Her worst nightmare was coming true. The house higher up on the hill where she thought her son would be safe was now taking on water. Her son was in danger. “Get on the next boat you see! They’re coming around to pick people up. Look for the boat! Look for the boat!”. In a mad dash she turned to her boss, threw the keys to the ambulance to him, and said “my kid’s life is in danger. I have to go.”
As she raced across town to get to her son the waters got higher and higher. By the time she got to the shelter where people were gathering the water was over the hood of her truck. But, she made it there to be reunited with her family.
Once the rain stopped they returned by boat to see their home. The water had risen so high it was half way up the roof of their house. They knew that their home and all its contents was a total loss. But, they had their family and they were all safe.
As she told me her story I don’t think I took a single breath. I was right there in her story with her and terrified. All I could think of was my sons, and how scared I would have been for them. Hearing her story, I realized that life is so precious, and how in the blink on an eye it can change. But, it reminded of something really important. It reminded me that in the middle of the storms we go through, and as the rivers in life start to rise we need to rely on Him more. There is a popular saying, “Let your faith be bigger than your fear”. That can be hard to do, but we need to learn to lean into and on Jesus more! John 14:27 says “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” The bottom line is this, He is not going to bring you TO anything that He is not going to bring you THROUGH. It’s learning to recognize and embrace this that is the difficult part. Lean into and on Him!