You know what I want more than anything? I want to wake up tomorrow and it all be over.
I want my friends and their children living in their homes. I want the massive piles of sheetrock, insulation, cabinets, flooring, appliances, furniture, toys, Christmas decorations, mattresses and books that literally line our streets and neighborhoods to be gone. I want schools to be open and full of the laughter and chatter of kids. I want businesses to be open with lots of customers in the check out lines. I want the stench of rotten sewer and mold to dissipate. I want the shelters empty. I just want things to be normal again, look normal, smell normal.
But every single day I am reminded that it is not over. As a matter of fact, it is very far from being over. And this is our new normal for awhile. The "experts" predicted last week that it would take us at least a year to recover from this unprecedented flood that swallowed our cities and neighborhoods and parishes whole and left behind a wake of complete devastation. It wasn't a hurricane. It wasn't even a named storm. It was rain. Rain. Today I heard it described as an unprecedented rain event. Well, let me just tell you. That's putting it lightly!
It's one thing to see the pictures. It's another thing to see the images on the television screen (although, if you don't live here, you probably aren't seeing anything!). But it's a whole nother thing to touch it, breathe it and live it. Those photos and images don't even come close!
The Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) estimates that as many as 160,000 homes have been flooded. Thus far, more than 120,000 households have applied for federal disaster assistance. The Baton Rouge Area Chamber (BRAC) currently predicts that almost 42% of homes in a nine parish (county) region were affected by the flood. In Livingston Parish alone, 90% of the homes flooded. Y'all. 90%. As of tonight, there are still over 1,500 people living in shelters.
Denham Springs (in Livingston Parish) was perhaps one of the hardest hit cities. That's where we used to live, where we bought our first house. This picture right here was the sanctuary of First Baptist Church in Denham Springs after the waters receded. The building took on 10 feet of water. TEN FEET. One of my friends commented that it was probably hard for me to see that beautiful grand piano turned up on its side.
You know what was hard for me to see? My dear friend's piano was sitting out by the curb in front of her beautiful home, flanked by the soaking wet sheetrock and insulation and furniture and cabinets and other contents from her home. That was hard. Stuff can be replaced. That's really not what's important here. But it hurts. It does. I think about my two pianos. My baby grand was purchased right after we built this house. I'd been dreaming and saving for it for a long time. My console piano was a gift from my Granddaddy to my MeMama and then it was given to me when I was eight years old so I could begin piano lessons. While they are indeed "things and stuff" they mean so much more than that to me.
Seth and I spent the last two Saturdays mudding out a couple of houses. "Mud out" is just a fancy little word (or words!) for cleaning up after a flood.
Two Saturdays ago we spent about six hours at Mason's Sunday School teacher's parents' home. This cute little couple is in their 80s, and they have been married over 60 years. They built their home in Baton Rouge in 1972 and have lived there ever since. That would be a whopping 42 years. And do you know how many times they've flooded in that 42 years? Once. One time. Their home had never flooded until August 13, 2016. They had to be rescued by boat, and they took nothing with them save the clothes they were wearing. They spent the next several hours in a shelter until their grandchildren were able to locate them. They are now living with their daughter, and their son came down from Dallas the following day and has been here ever since cleaning out, cleaning up and overseeing the restoration of their home. Their home took on about a foot and a half of water so we were able to salvage many of their personal belongings, including photo albums, DVDs, books, clothing and collectibles from their travels around the world. That's over 60 years worth of memories. 60 years. It was hard work, but it was exciting to be able to save so much. On this particular day, we simply emptied the house of its contents. As soon as we were finished, the contractor came in with his team of folks, and they began ripping up carpet, demolishing sheetrock and removing cabinets.
This past Saturday we had the opportunity to serve Hannah Kate's Sunday School teacher and her family. She and her husband live together with their son, granddaughter and great-grandson. They live in Holden, one of the hard hit areas in Livingston Parish. Their house took on five and a half feet of water. As soon as I talked to Mrs. Martha regarding the extent of the flooding in her home, I knew the task was daunting. It was huge. It was so much bigger than Seth and me. Not only did Mrs. Martha's house flood, but her other son's house flooded. Her daughter's house flooded. Several of her grandchildren's houses flooded. Usually they would help each other out. But not this time. Each one had to tend to their own homes. And because of that, Mrs. Martha's house had barely been touched. Some of the larger furniture pieces were out, and the walls were out for the most part in the living room. But that was it. And it had been sitting for almost two weeks.
It's quite hilarious, really. I am THE LAST person who should be organizing anything like this or giving advice about this. Because I know NOTHING about how to demo a house and clean up after a flood. I mean, those shows on HGTV make you think you can rip out a wall or two . . . no problem! . . . over the course of a weekend. But I KNOW BETTER. Home Depot. You can do it. We can help. Yeah, that's the biggest bunch of hogwash ever. Because you know what happens? I get all excited. And then I get to work. And then I end up having to HIRE SOMEBODY to come in and fix my mess. But, thankfully, I know some people who know how to use a few tools and have the muscle to go along with it. Within two days, we had a group of 21 folks from our little church family who committed to going last Saturday to mud out Mrs. Martha's home. My pastor's wife and I sat down last Thursday night armed with a couple of internet articles and texts and Facebook posts from friends who had already mudded out their homes. We made a list of supplies we thought we needed and a list of what needed to happen at Mrs. Martha's house.
Our goal was to empty the entire house of its contents AND demo everything . . . walls, cabinets, floors, sinks, tubs. And we wanted to do it all in one day. I didn't know how long it would take, but I knew it didn't matter. Because there were 21 folks who were going to do whatever it took as long as it took! We got there at 8:30. The sight was . . . really unbelievable. No wonder the family was so overwhelmed! That house took on five and a half feet of water. FIVE AND A HALF FEET. Y'all. That's how tall I am. That's how high the water was in that house. The house took on water in the middle of the night. Mrs. Martha was sleeping, and her son woke her up. At that time, the water was waist deep outside so they could not evacuate by car. The utility room on the back of the house is a bit lower than the rest of the house so it took on water first. At the time, the water hadn't reached the living room yet. It took Mrs. Martha's son about 20 minutes to get the boat so they could get out. By the time he came back to get her, the water in the living room was ankle deep. That took less than 20 minutes. These waters were so fast, y'all!
Do you know what happens to your furniture and clothes and dishes and toiletry items and STUFF when your house floods with over five feet of water?! It's not pretty. At all. A quick walkthrough revealed that we would be salvaging very, very little, if anything at all. The freezer was full of rotten meat. The refrigerator was full of spoiled dairy. And the mold was growing. (Don't worry. Several of our guys work at plants and are also volunteer fire fighters. So they set us up real good with masks and gloves.)
I can't even describe what happened after that. I just know that Chandler and I found ourselves in one of the bedrooms throwing stuff out of the windows while Anna, Katherine and Kayla were waiting below and switching out wheelbarrows when they got full. As soon as one room was finished, the guys were right behind us ripping out the paneling, sheetrock and insulation. The hardwood floors had floated up in the water so that was a matter of just grabbing planks and throwing them out the windows or front door.
Our ladies' Sunday School class set us up with all kinds of snacks and sandwiches and veggies and fruit. We took a quick lunch break, but other than that we worked nonstop. We worked hard! Not only did we look like it, but we smelled like it, too!
I took some pictures this day. I'd been so hesitant to do that before, but I did on this day. I was standing on top of the truck when I took this first picture. This is the top of one of two debris piles. I just hate to even call it debris though. I mean, this is so much more than debris! This is memories and parts of a home. You can see mattresses, a refrigerator, a bathtub, parts of beds and cabinets, sheetrock, paneling, insulation. You can't tell from this angle, but this pile was taller than I am.
Here's the back side of that pile in the first picture. This is mostly pieces of walls, cabinets and flooring.
Here's a wider shot of that debris pile. Again, this is only one pile! There was also another one!
This is what a house is supposed to look like because you're building it. Not because you're taking it down. But at the end of the day, I stood in the living room. I'm looking at three bedrooms and two bathrooms right here. The kitchen and dining area is off to my right, and the utility room connects to the kitchen and goes out towards the back porch.
Now the house has to dry out. That's the next step. It depends on who you listen to (because EVERYBODY has an opinion), but the drying out process takes anywhere from two weeks to three months. Yes. You wait. And then you spray a mold remediation product on all your studs and floors (and don't even get me started on the great debate regarding whether or not clorox is an effective mold remediation treatment!) and let it dry. Again. And then you need to "test" it to be sure it's dried to a certain something or other before you begin putting sheetrock up or insulation. At this point, it's like building a house all over again. I think the whole, entire process takes three to six months depending on how much you do yourself, what you hire a contractor to do and the availability of materials.
These people right here. Well. Let's just say it was a Saturday best spent with some of the best people I know! This right here is what it's all about. Hands and feet. I sure am thankful for those who tackled that freezer and refrigerator. I didn't have the stomach for it. There was a chipped tooth in the process, and two of the guys stopped by urgent care on the way home to get a tetanus shot. And, apparently something hit my nose. When I woke up Sunday morning, I noticed the bridge of my nose was sore, and it's still sore to touch today. I don't remember anything hitting it, but I guess it did. Or maybe it was because I had that mask fitted so tightly to my face!
Again, it was HARD work. It was smelly work. But it was beautiful work. This was the body of Christ on one of its finest days. And you know what? That's everyday down here right now. The faith community is out here IN FORCE, I tell you! It brings tears to my eyes every morning when I drive up to Istrouma Baptist Church to drop the kids off for morning class at Sequitur and see the huge tents and trailers belonging to Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief, the large group of volunteers who have been up since 3:30AM preparing breakfast, lunch and supper for thousands of families displaced by the flood. But it's not just Istrouma and Southern Baptists. It's Samaritan's Purse and Mercy Chefs. It's Healing Place and Bethany. It would be IMPOSSIBLE for me to name every single church and para-church and non-profit organization here on the ground every single day bringing hope and help to those who are hurting so badly right now. That's what it's all about. That's what we, as Christ followers, are to be about. We have THE ANSWER for a desperate, hurting, sinful, hopeless world. Jesus.
After we mudded out Mrs. Martha's home, it was time for us to gather our tools and load our vehicles again with the wheelbarrows and shovels and crowbars and screwdrivers and all the stuff that literally stripped this house bare. There was a wall of built-ins in the dining area. Of course, all of those built-ins had to come out. I walked back through for something and turned around and noticed these tools had been gathered and collected for everyone to come back through and claim what was theirs. The hands that gripped these tools did fine work last Saturday. FINE work. And I am so humbled and so thankful to have been a small part of it.
The need is great. Much has been done, but there is SO MUCH left to do! But you know what? God is GREATER! His provision, His supply is abundant. I see it everyday. I hear it everyday from my friends who are hard at work restoring their own houses. God is at work here. My prayer continues to be that hearts will be changed and lives will be saved as a result of the Lord's work here through His Church. This is the real deal.
My house didn't flood. So I really and truly have no idea what it's like to personally experience that. But I've learned a few lessons along the way. A lot, actually.
Ellie does not like to pick up. She strows stuff everywhere. I know exactly where she is and exactly where she's been. All I have to do is follow the trail. And every night we go through the same routine. It's a battle to get her to pick up and put up. She likes to "gather" her stuff together in little "piles" and calls that "picking up." It. drives. me. crazy. She has three or four piles in her room. I find piles behind the piano. I find piles in the bathroom. The other night I came home, and the first thing I saw was this "collection" on the floor in the kitchen.
I kept on walking, and here was another pile in the hallway to the foyer.
But you know what? I know there are THOUSANDS of Mommas who'd love to have piles of their four year old's toys littering their clean, disinfected homes. I mean, they'd dream of it! So Ellie's piles aren't as frustrating anymore. (But she still has to pick up every night!)
And what's wrong with this picture? This is the upstairs bathroom. The cabinet drawer facing is on top of the counter instead of on the front of the drawer. "Someone" crawled up on it to see in the mirror.
And on this same day, "someone" also clogged the sick right there with lotion and paper. This was two weeks ago when Seth was in Wyoming. I took apart the pipe underneath the sink (be impressed!) and cleaned it out. But I couldn't get the stopper out of the sink. So I just left the whole thing unassembled until Seth got home. There's a double sink in that bathroom so I told the kids to use only the other one. When Seth got home, he removed the stopper and thought we had everything cleared out. He put everything back together only to realize the sink was still stopping up. So he disassembled the plumbing underneath again and realized there was a clog behind the wall before the pipe goes down. He turned the water off at the sink until he could fix the rest of it.
The next day the kids were playing upstairs. Mason yelled that the bathroom was flooding. Trust me. That was NOT something I wanted to hear. I ran up there, and sure enough water was pouring out from the cabinet. I opened the door. I had thankfully left a bucket underneath the sink we'd been working on. It was full of water and had spilled over into the bottom of the cabinet and then onto the floor. Water was trickling out of the pipe in the wall. I was confused at first because I knew the water was off right there. I emptied the bucket and cleaned the floor. I knew Seth would be home soon so I just checked the bucket every so often to empty it. Come to find out, the pipe from the other sink in that bathroom was connected to this one, and that's where the water was coming from. The pipe was so clogged that nothing could go down. So Seth got in there with the shop vac and some liquid drano and finally pushed and pulled the clog out.
Frustrating? I guess it depends on who you ask. Because I know THOUSANDS of folks who wish they only had a clogged bathroom pipe (at the hands of a certain "someone") and a few drops of water instead of several feet of water.
This same week . . . you know, the one in which Seth is out of the state . . . I went to the back porch to water my flowers. I walked by the grill and woke up the neighbors (not that we really have neighbors close by) when this guy jumped out from underneath! I. nearly. DIED. I do not do snakes. AT ALL. This is the second encounter I've had with a snake since we built this house six years ago (and wouldn't you know Seth was out of town the last time, too!).
So I ran back inside, and I'm taking pictures and texting Seth and looking out the window and trying to figure out WHAT TO DO. I really wanted to shoot it, but I would've had to have done that through the window while standing inside. That wasn't so much the problem. I was mostly afraid of what would happen if the bullet ricocheted off the concrete. Because I was sure it probably would. It took me about 30 minutes, but I decided I was brave enough to go at it with a shovel. So I grabbed a shovel and went back out there. I got closer to that darn thing than I've ever been to a snake before. But I chickened out. Totally. And then it saw my shadow and slithered back underneath the grill. I was so mad! I banged on the grill to try to get it to come out again because I was sure I had enough nerve now to whack its head off. Well, this is how it came out. I mean, the thing was MASSIVE. Needless to say, I went inside and didn't go back out. At 11:00PM, that snake was still underneath the grill with its head sticking out. Seth told me to turn the light off and go to bed. So I did. The kids weren't allowed to go outside and play until Seth got home two days later and shook that grill inside out.
As much as I HATE snakes, I'm certain there are THOUSANDS of folks who wouldn't mind a snake underneath their grill on the back porch. Only, their grill was ruined by flood waters.
After we built the house, we landscaped part of it and decided to do the rest of it later. Well, it's five years later. And we finally started working on it in May. But before we could do anything, Seth had to lay some pipe and drains to correct a drainage problem in front of our bedroom window. He finished that project, but that's about it. The only time he has to do stuff like this is Friday afternoons and Saturdays. And we were busy this summer. And then it started raining. We've had a lot of rain. And it's been too wet to get back out there. We've been waiting on it to dry out, but that's not happening any time soon. So not only do we have huge piles of what is now mud in front of the front porch and our bedroom, but all of the rain water that has splashed in this dirt has splashed it up onto the bricks. So the house is filthy where our bedroom is. I made the comment a few weeks ago that we at least needed to lay pine straw down if we aren't going to finish it right now so we can get the house cleaned off. Because this was getting on my nerves. But. Now there are THOUSANDS of folks who wished this was the least of their home renovation problems!
It's all about perspective. And that has changed a lot during these last three weeks in south Louisiana.
My "out of state" friends and family have been so faithful to pray and give and ask me how the recovery process is going. I've really been overwhelmed with their generosity! I wish it were a quick thing. I really do. But it's not. It's long. And it's hard. This is not a sprint. It's a marathon. But I'm here to tell you that we are in it for the long haul. I don't know yet where our next project is. But we're ready!