There have been three weekends since we returned to our home after the hurricane.
We had the weekend Harvey hit, followed by the week we evacuated. The following weekend we returned and put our house back together.
Then, now I see, came the three weekends to fulfill our home’s new mission.
The first weekend, September 9th, was my birthday.
By then, we had cleaned our house and helped our neighbors. I desperately wanted to thank the three families who circled us the week of the evacuation. These three families, all friends from our school who have kids in class with ours, were gifts. We had already been friends, but nothing deepens a bond like hardship. Two of the men swooped in with their trucks and strength and moved things out (and then back in) to our home while another regularly provided insider intel from his corner in the newsroom. The women calmed the kids and encouraged me and housed us and fed us and generally offered breathtaking hospitality.
So I asked Bray if we could host a dinner in the backyard for the families on my birthday as a way of thanking them. Instead of presents, we’d collect hurricane supplies.
That night was a gift.
Bray cooked out. The kids swam. I laid out the table on the deck with candles and flowers and we thanked our generous friends.
The second weekend, several of my girlfriends and I had planned a weekend away to the beach which we canceled when the storm hit. Bray and I had been in town all week – he gutting different houses every day and me having to return to work fulltime. Our street looked normal on the south end and like a war zone on the north end. The kids were trying to return to a routine at school.
We needed a day away.
So, the second weekend, we left town. Bray took the boys to his family farm to help his father, and I took a day to run little bit up to Fort Worth to see some of my oldest (tenure, not age) friends. She and I did nothing Saturday and Sunday. Saturday we hung out at my matron of honor’s home all day, and Sunday we hung out in another dear friend’s home.
The time away, for all of us, helped us find our way back to our calling: Helping.
The first day I returned home after evacuating, even before moving back in, I found a scripture card under our kitchen table.
On one side, Psalm 138:7a: Though I walk in the midst of trouble, thou wilt revive me.
On the other side, 1 Corinthians 3:21b: For all things are yours.
I promised God then and there our house would be open to anyone and used for His purposes.
I just hadn’t quite known how or even had the ability to do it yet.
Until the third weekend.
The third weekend, we opened our doors much wider. Much of the news coverage of the hurricane’s devastation has subsided, but the number of people in need is still staggering. Many people we know are still trying to find temporary accommodations, drifting from house to house, or staying in extended-stay motels with their entire family (including pets).
I texted everyone I knew in that situation: come Saturday. Bring your friends. Bring your pets. Just come. Kids can swim. I’ll feed you. Don’t bring a thing.
I made pans and pans of chicken enchiladas (my go to comfort food), set out chips and salsa and a stack of paper plates. If you know me, I’m not an easy hostess. Laid back is not a term regularly used to describe me. I need everything perfect. Glassware is a requirement along with cloth napkins with napkin rings. The neighbors table worked for me because it kept people out of my messy home. Well, that wouldn’t work anymore. It was time to open the doors.
Five families came Saturday night.
The house was messy but the kids running and yelling never noticed. The adults kept commenting how wonderful it was to eat a home cooked meal. My meal wasn’t extraordinary, but they had all been living on take out so anything out of an oven was a gift.
I wasn’t stressed because all people needed was space. They didn’t need china table settings and jazz playing in the background. They needed their kids to be able to swim so they could sit around the table and swap rescue and clean up stories.
Sunday, more families and kid drop offs so adults could demo.
The house was loud and messy and perfect. I had never felt more full. Nerf gun wars and footballs whizzing by and wet floors from waterlogged kids. Bowls of popcorn and beanbags for movie watching and sticky popsicles.
This is what our house was meant to do.
And all over the city, that’s what all the dry houses are doing. In a season of vitriolic political discourse and heartbreaking natural disasters, neighbors open their doors wider.
We are gaining more friends. We are loving bigger. It’s paper plates and sweat stained clothes and caring about the inside instead of the outside. No one even grabbed a camera because all the beauty was in the conversation and the friendship.
It’s what I’m praying our home and our family can do for years to come, even after the rebuilding is complete. This is the new normal.