After only one week back in school after a long summer, it was canceled until further notice starting on August 25th, 2017. Hurricane Harvey was on the way to our suburb south of Houston and no one knew exactly what to expect.

Then on the evening of August 29th I called to my husband Lee, “The sun is shining! There are shadows around the living room again!” The rain had finally stopped and it was time to survey the damage.

Water got up to the middle of the driveway, but we were safe inside our home. We never lost power. We ate some strange food combinations, but we were thankful to have food throughout the storm (and in the weeks to come as grocery stores were slowly restocking when trucks were able to get into the area again). Mail delivery and trash pick up slowly got back to normal too. But so many lives were changed forever.

My husband Lee hadn’t officially started as pastor of our new church yet. He’d been voted in, but September 1st was supposed to be his first day. He got on the phone as soon as he could to check on church members. More than twenty families’ homes were damaged and they were displaced (most staying with extended family members). We contacted our boys’ school and found out more than twenty families there were also affected, some losing everything. These weren’t pictures on the evening news—these were families we crossed paths with every day.

So we got to work. We mobilized teams mud out teams, we organized donations, we prepared meals, we collected gift cards. Then we decided as a church that our focus from then until Christmas would be helping these families and our community rebuild. Every weekend we had teams working. Mission teams came in to help. And a new normal eventually emerged for these families, our friends and neighbors.

Days after it stopped raining, I saw someone post on Twitter, “Everyone in the Houston area either got flooded or is helping someone who did,” and it certainly felt like that was true.

There were lots of ways to help, from mudding out homes to babysitting kids and doing laundry. Neighbors who only knew each other by the cars they drove were in each others’ homes, cleaning out debris that just a few days earlier had been furniture, clothes, and memories. They had more conversations with each other in the days that followed than in the entire previous year. We were all connected by one horrific event that reminded us of what was most important—each other.

As a special-needs parent, once you’ve accepted your new normal, you’re also ready to look around and see who needs help. You are called to bless the families around you.

My upcoming book, Unexpected Blessings, helps special-needs parent move from a place of pain to living out their purpose. Like we learned in those days after Harvey, we need each other. Someone needs to learn from your experiences and hear your encouragement. God doesn’t waste anything you’ve been through.

You’ll be hearing more about Unexpected Blessings in the weeks to come, including how to be on the launch team so you can read an early copy and help me spread the word to families who need to be reminded of the hope we have in Christ and in each other.

I’m thankful for where we are now compared to a year ago—in a new town, a new church, and in new schools. Together let’s look around and find someone who needs encouragement today: a text, an email, a meal, an invitation to a support group. Encourage someone else with the encouragement you have received!

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