In The Eye of the Storm: Surviving Hurricane Harvey

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Monday, August 28, 2017: Ever since Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast, rain kept pouring down. The streets of my neighborhood were starting to flood, with water getting higher every night. An uneasy, lingering anxiety filled my guts, even as I kept praying Rosary after Rosary. I was in my room, reading when my mom said: “Pack your bags. We’re going to evacuate.”

At this point, a lot of the things in my room were already put into bags and placed high in case water got into my house. Still, I packed a few bags and felt my heart jump when my dad said that there were people ready to take us out of our house. The next thing I knew, I was out on a float boat, the kind that people usually use for river rides at water parks. My stomach felt like it was on fire and I wanted to make sure that my backpack stayed above the high flood waters.

So while floating along the street, I did something a little crazy:

I sang.

Specifically, I sang this song:

It was kind of appropriate. And part of me knew that if I didn’t sing, I would’ve been panicking instead. My brother and I made it to the gas station across the street and waited for our parents. Dad was also on a float boat, but my mom took a jet ski. It felt like forever.

Once we were all together at the gas station, we hitched a ride to the grocery store down the street and waited there for someone who could drive us to somewhere dry. I prayed that if I had to take shelter, I wanted to be at a church where I could sleep in front of the cross or the Blessed Sacrament. Instead, we ended up hitching a ride with one of dad’s customers (a contractor) and went to another town where my mom’s coworker lived. His house had plenty of room for us, not to mention that he still had electricity, a guest bathroom, and a laundry room.

The strange thing was that even though I was at someone else’s house, worried about if water would get into mine, I felt more at ease than I was at home. Miraculously, through the rain and the flood waters, all the stuff that I brought with my was mostly dry. My laptop, keyboard, and phone were dry, my clothes were damp, and I had all my toiletries. Not to mention my tiny collection of Funko Pops.

funko pop mini squad

I also had a few books with me. One book was Every Day with Mary, a collection of daily reflections from the affiliates of Mayslake Ministries that I got at the Catholic Writer’s Guild conference in Chicago. The reflection for that day began with this Bible verse:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory thatis to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.-Romans 8:18-19

The reflection’s theme focused on abundance, but not the kind you would hear about from the Prosperity Gospel or Law of Attraction crowd. The abundance in this book referred to the heavenly reward for those who carried heavy crosses in their earthly lives. Mary is a great example of this because she also had to leave the safety of her home at a moment’s notice and stay amongst strangers for a certain period of time. But throughout that ordeal, she remained strong and did God’s will.

One of the things I prayed while I stayed at my mom’s coworker’s house was a short request to Our Lady of Fatima: “Our Lady of Fatima, please bring a miracle of the sun to Texas.”

The next day, around the afternoon, my brother messaged me to look out the window because the sun finally came out, peeking from behind the clouds. We also decided to go to my cousin’s house and sleep over there because they just came back from being evacuated.

Throughout all this, I thanked God for giving me the strength to go through all of it. I felt grateful for my family, the clothes that I had, and all the things I had with me. And then, when I woke up on August 30, 2017, I took a picture of the sky. Never have I ever felt so grateful to see the sun and the beautiful, clear skies of Texas.

I was able to get home yesterday and signs of recovery were already showing on the drive home. The streets were dry and even though my street was still somewhat flooded, the waters were no longer high. I arrived to a house with only one inch of water damage…in my garage. Every other room in my house was okay and still had electricity and running water and functional plumbing.

Which leads to the question: Why did I have to leave?

For the brief period that I left my house, I experienced what it was like to be displaced. I understand now how scared everyone in the shelters must feel. I also got to see how disasters can bring out the best in people. 90% of my social media feed shared images and stories of people who were helping others, like the priest on the kayak who was trying to find wine for Mass, the lines of volunteers, and the local furniture store owner who turned his showrooms into shelters.

And as far as the 10% of social media who keep politicizing this tragedy: look at the people who are volunteering and donating and please do likewise. Here’s a list of charities to donate to. 

Even though the storm has passed, the next chapter of recovery has just started. The entire Gulf Coast of Texas was affected by this storm, not just Houston. I am supremely proud of my city, but I want to use this blog to raise awareness of everywhere else that was affected. Not to mention that the storm has moved on to other areas who will also need help. Hurricane season is not over. But for now, I feel grateful for how everyone has come together and stayed strong.

As I am back home, I am playing “Amazing Grace” on my Spotify app. It’s cheesy and the most overplayed song in the history of Christian music, I know. Even so, the song was written by someone who survived a storm. It was through God’s grace that I was able to be strong in the middle of the pouring rain and all the uncertainty. I pray that this grace will be given to those who need it now.

DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS!

Resurrection vs. Retribution

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Ever since 2006, when I first heard “Picture to Burn” on my local country radio station, I have been a “Swiftie.” Taylor Swift’s songs always resonated with me. However,  I recently started feeling a dissonance between how I saw life and how Taylor saw hers. This dissonance was most profound when I listened to her latest single “Look What You Made Me Do” and watched the music video that debuted on Sunday night. To me, it didn’t sound like Taylor at all aside from a few lines here and there. I know that Taylor has been through a lot in the past few years, but I wondered why she chose to portray herself the way she did in her music video.

“Look What You Made Me Do” starts out with Taylor crawling out of her grave, looking like a zombified version of how she looked in “Out of the Woods,” which was my favorite music video from her thus far. But her face reminded me of Anya Jenkins, who started out as a vengeance demon on Buffy:

anya demon face

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is copyright to Mutant Enemy and 20th Century Fox. Image is used for editorial purposes only.

The prechorus of the song goes: “I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time. Honey, I rose up from the dead. I do it all the time.” Why did she show herself coming back from the dead as a zombie? I see it as a distorted version of the Resurrection. Zombies, vampires, and other versions of the undead are all dark, perverted types of “resurrections.” To quote Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she came back wrong.

Taylor has written songs about revenge in the past. But at the same time, she also wrote songs about forgiveness as well. So why does she choose to use revenge now?

A few telling lines from the second verse give the answer: “The world moves on, another day, another drama drama. But not for me, not for me. All I think about is karma.”

I recently read an article from Bishop Robert Barron about the difference between karma and grace. In the most simplistic terms, karma is about retribution. “Do good things and you get good in return. Do bad things and you will suffer.” Taylor is driven by revenge in the hopes that everyone who did her wrong will get what they deserve.

The last significant line in the song is this spoken line and it’s the one that Taylor puts on all her social media: “I’m sorry. The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh. ‘Cause she’s dead.” In the video, this is shown by all of her past selves falling down into a dark chasm, with the new Taylor standing on top of a hill with a giant T behind her.

The old Taylor is definitely dead. But instead of embracing grace and forgiveness, Taylor chose to be the bad guy, bent on revenge and retribution.

Now flip the script and take a look at my life recently. In the past few years, I went through my share of bad dating experiences. I was one guy’s rebound date. I went speed dating, but never really connected with anyone. I even dated someone who turned out to be a narcissist!

But at the same time, I kept writing. I worked on my novel and got to share it with other writers at a couple of conferences. I went to Chicago on my own! My first real grown-up adventure! I have been finding my writing voice, this clear, resonating bell that people can hear and listen to. I learned what forgiveness actually feels like and how to persevere in the face of adversity. In other words, I became stronger.

What gave me my strength? Grace. By rooting myself with God, He gave me strength I never knew I had. Even now, as Hurricane Harvey flees Texas, I have found the strength to overcome the anxiety that was building up within me since the storm hit. Grace is not something that I deserved because I was good. God’s strength was given to me because I needed it. Grace is a gift, one that we need to share with others. Through grace, we find the strength to forgive and renew ourselves. We find the strength to persevere. We die to ourselves and live again through Christ.

“It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

And grace is the difference between having a personal resurrection and being fueled by the revenge from the death of your reputation.

*mic drop*