September 25, 2018

How Do We Rebuild After Life’s Storms? (Harvey Anniversary Part Two)

Inside This Episode

What do you do when life knocks you flat on your back and you start to wonder if you’ll ever get on your feet again? As people shared their Harvey stories with the Maybe God team, they inevitably told other stories about other times in their lives that they were flat on their backs, powerless, with no hope. This episode features Astros President Reid Ryan, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, some of Houston's homeless, and a young woman whose life was nearly derailed by drugs.

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Eric Huffman: What do you do when life knocks you flat on your back? And whether it's because of your bad luck or your bad choices, or both, you start to wonder if you'll ever get back on your feet again. In Houston, we've clearly seen how God can use a storm to wash away some of our vanity and our selfishness and to remind us what really matters. But how does God work in other kinds of storms like poverty, addiction, setbacks, and disappointments to bring light into our darkness? We begin with Maybe God producer Julie Mirlicourtois, who visited with some homeless survivors of Hurricane Harvey.

Julie Mirlicourtois: Tell me what Harvey was like for you.

Man 1: Oh, yes. I was in the Lakewood area of Northside Houston, Texas. I lost everything like my clothes, my shoes, and people that were living... my neighbors they lost all their stuff too.

Man 2: [inaudible 00:00:58].

Julie Mirlicourtois: [inaudible 00:01:01]

Man 2: Well, my transmission went out but I made it through.

Man 3: Me, I slept through it. I slept through it and my team. I slept through the storm. I knew I'll be alright.

Julie Mirlicourtois: For many Houstonians, Hurricane Harvey will always be the biggest storm they've ever faced. A year later, people are still rebuilding their homes, and in some cases, survivors are still trying to shake the depression and anxiety that followed the destruction. But for another group of Houstonians, Hurricane Harvey felt like just another storm of life, another day trying to survive the harsh conditions of their reality.

Man 4: Poverty, drugs, prostitution, you name it, it's here. And when it gets dark here, you hear the gunshots. I always tell the people, if you hear the shots, just wait a minute, if you don't hear an ambulance, that was just friendly fire. But if you hear the ambulance, someone got hit.

Pst. Brown: The Lord is awesome, ain't He?

Julie Mirlicourtois: Yes, He is.

Pst. Brown: He'll never leave you nor forsake you, for He shall be with you always.

Julie Mirlicourtois: Pst. Brown has been leading Church Under the Bridge for 14 years now in a small, abandoned field in the Third Ward of Houston with the help of churches all around the city. He feeds the homeless a hot meal every single night of the year and teaches them about God. And they listen closely, because no one understands what it's like to be them better than Pst. Brown. For years, he was addicted to drugs and living on the streets.

Pst. Brown: I knew I was no match for enemy I couldn't see, so I began to seek the Lord. And it wasn't long after that that I began to speak faith. And God provided, from that point on, the housing, clothing, you name it, God did it.

Julie Mirlicourtois: When Hurricane Harvey hit, Pst. Brown found himself homeless again. He and his wife lost everything except their car. They still haven't found a new home. But Pst. Brown wasn't about to let this storm knock him down, like the ones of his past. After the water receded, he drove around looking for the homeless from his church. He said he found some scared animals under bridges. He brought them to shelters. And he tried to figure out how to get his church up and running again, despite food shortages and impassable roads.

Pst. Brown: And I remember about this tree I waited in the water here, and I was telling them the service is canceled because we have no way of getting food for you. As I was making that statement, there was a caravan of high terrain vehicles with these flags coming and they turned in here, they lined up there, they was blowing these horns, parapapara, "We're here for you." And I was like... I just looked up to heaven and stretched my hands, and I said, "Lord, You are awesome."

Julie Mirlicourtois: Who were they?

Pst. Brown: I don't know. They said, "We heard you guys be here, so we got plenty of food for you." And they did. And that went on for a couple of days. And it just brings tears to your heart that strangers that you don't even know would come out of nowhere. That was a godsend.

Julie Mirlicourtois: Church Under the Bridge dropped from 120 people a night to about 30 in the weeks following the storm. So many attendees had been brought to shelters like Willie, who arrived at Georgia Brown in the back of a dump truck.

What was that like being in Georgia Brown?

Willie: Oh, it was wow. It was something that I'd never seen before. I actually felt like a refugee in my own city. You know, because we had to be told what to do, we had to be told when to eat and shower. I mean it was like prison, but it was a little bit different because lives was being lost.

Pst. Brown: ...and Sunday 9:30 until. Let's give the Lord a hand clap of praise for the service that we have in this community and abroad. Amen.

Julie Mirlicourtois: Like Pst. Brown, Willie struggled with addiction. He'd been in and out of prison for years. He was finally picking up the pieces of his life, living with his sister, and leaning on Church Under the Bridge as his faith community when Harvey happened.

Willie: Nothing happens in God's world by mistake. I mean, people love to look at the things that they lost but I mean, I gained more than I had before the storm. I mean, even that house that I had that I was living in, I didn't lose that place because that place didn't belong to me. But now I have a new place and a place where I live. So I think the storm did more good than it did bad, even though it was tragedy. But it did more good because it brought a whole nation of people, nationality of people together. We needed to be Houston strong. We needed that.


Julie Mirlicourtois: There were a lot of positives to come out of the storm for the homeless community. I met a man who got off the streets and started college after the storm. Others finally found the housing they needed to get back on their feet.

Pst. Brown: Through this experience, more doors have opened, and the people are beginning to seek the help that they need. And that's what I always tell them, to get it while the assistance is there. And they are doing it. And I said that's what it's about, you know, because we keep pumping faith in and pumping, pumping, pumping, and finally it gives, you know. That is the blessing unto me because I tell them that God is no respecter of person. What He's done for others He'll do for you if you believe it.

Julie Mirlicourtois: Twice a month, The Story, Houston visits Church Under the Bridge. We make casseroles and serve dinner. We help lead a worship service. We pray for and with the homeless. We take communion together. But we're not just serving the homeless, they're also serving us. One of the volunteers I met at Church Under the Bridge said it best.

Man 5: We're really busy in the suburbs trying to chase life. It's fast-paced, we've overscheduled. And as a result, sometimes we miss what God is doing.

Julie Mirlicourtois: It's easy for us to race through our days and forget to stop and think about God and how he's working in our lives and in the lives of those around us until a storm like Harvey or cancer or addiction hits. But for some homeless people, they don't have the luxury of forgetting about God. They need to lean on him every single day. And when we serve them, we stop worrying about the little storms of our own lives and see God all around us.

Man 6: If I have good, strong faith and belief in Him, that He exists and that He will do what He say He will do, that's where I get my strength from—my faith. I'm His son, He's our Father, so I rely on Him a lot.


Eric Huffman: We intended for this to be part two of our Hurricane Harvey anniversary episode. We wanted to focus on people who found a way to stand tall again after that storm knocked them down. But as people shared their Harvey stories with us, they inevitably told us other stories about other times in their lives that they were flat on their backs, powerless with no hope.

A year ago when all seemed lost, Houstonians turned our weary eyes to a handful of local heroes who gave us all hope. J.J. Watt, Mattress Mack, the mayor, and the police chief, and of course, our own Houston Astros. I know baseball is just a game, but last fall, a worn out waterlogged city came together to support a franchise that just a few years prior was flat on its back, the laughingstock of professional sports. During the two long months that followed Harvey, the Astros' title run symbolized everything good about the city they represent.

Man 7: Reid it's always good to see you. How are you?

Reid Ryan: Welcome to Houston.

Man 7: This is great being back here. You tell us what it's like. Again, the city has been through a lot with the hurricane and everything else back here. What is it like for the city to get a World Series?

Reid Ryan: It's exciting. You know, we landed coming in from LA. There were people at the airport, there were people outside the stadium when we got here. I knew this city would respond, and it's done it. This is a great team to watch and the fans, they love them.

Eric Huffman: We begin this act with Astros President Reid Ryan. Reid is responsible for all the Astros' business operations from stadium maintenance and scheduling games to community relations and in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, disaster response. Reid landed his first job with the Astros over 30 years ago as a ball boy, when his dad Hall of Fame pitcher, Nolan Ryan, played in Houston.

What's it like growing up not just in a Major League Baseball family, but the son of Nolan Ryan?

Reid Ryan: You know, I mean, it was great for me. My mom and dad were great because, one, we lived in Alvin, which was a small town. We were very grounded. They both came from large families. They realized that, you know, God gave us all our own individual gifts. They never tried to say, hey, you need to live up to what my dad's done or what my mom's done. They just wanted me to be my own person and be the best person I could be.

So I got to live really what I tell everybody was every kid's dream because I spent my summers at the Astrodome, hittin', hanging out with Jose Cruz and his kids and people traveling on team flights. And during the offseason, I was in Alvin playing Little League, knowing everybody in town.

Eric Huffman: Reid's life wasn't without adversity. When he was just eight years old, he was literally knocked flat on his back fighting for his life.

Reid Ryan: In 1979, I was in a terrible accident where I was run over by a car. This girl turned the corner and she smoked me and I broke my left femur and my ribs, and I lost my kidney and my spleen.

Eric Huffman: Oh my gosh.

Reid Ryan: Yeah, it was a very serious deal and ended up being quite a life-changing experience. It was kind of the first time I really spoke to God and just said, "Please don't let me die." And it sort of ended up changing my perspective, I guess I should say, on God and faith. And then I felt like, look, God had a plan for me, because I very easily could have died.

Look, you know, to whom much is given much as expected. I've been given a great opportunity in life. I've been given a great opportunity being the son of Nolan and Ruth Ryan, given a great opportunity being born in America, being a Texan. My glass is half full.

Eric Huffman: Glass half full. That's more than just a cute cliché Reid uses to inspire others. Throughout his life, he's tackled his toughest challenges with a glass-half-full frame of mind. A few weeks ago, I attended an event hosted by a Houston nonprofit called WorkFaith Connection and Reid was the keynote speaker. His address was called Building a Life on Shattered Dreams.

[clip - Reid speech on WorkFaith Connection event]

Reid Ryan: My dad used to always say, "Reid, don't let the failure of your last pitch ruin the success of your next one." There's people in the room that probably say, "Hey, yeah, easy for you to say, Reid Ryan, you're the president of the Astros, you grew up with a Hall of Fame dad." But I'm here to tell everybody in the room, and like I said, I don't share this story a lot, but I am the product of shattered dreams. I think everyone in this room is a product of shattered dreams. My goal was to be a major league baseball player, the struggle that I have, and I think each of us have is putting what I want versus what God wants for my life. And it's hard because innately we're all selfish.

Eric Huffman: Reid's childhood dream didn't pan out. He launched a baseball scholarship at the University of Texas and transferred to TCU. That's where he met his wife, Nicole. They've been married over 20 years and have three kids. Then when Nicole was pregnant with her first child, life threw them another curveball.

Reid Ryan: When my son was born, which goes from the greatest day of your life to suddenly being one of the worst days of your life when he's not breathing, and there's something wrong and they rushed him away to the NICU, and it turns out that my son had a stroke when he was being born. And suddenly it goes from this moment of, you know, you've always waited for into hearing doctor say, "Hey, you know what? He might not ever walk, he might not ever talk."

So over the years, we've spent a ton of time and energy on therapies and we had a hyperbaric chamber we bought, we've done cord blood transfusions. I mean, you name it, we've kind of tried everything under the sun. But the minute he was born, and we had those conversations, I think both Nicole and I's priorities changed. And we realized that, you know what, this plan we had of talking about all these things that this son would be, we realized God had a different plan than what we had and that we had to trust that plan.

Today I'm proud to say my son is actually playing baseball at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. He has always wanted to play baseball. If you've never seen him, he throws and catches with the same hand like Jim Abbott. He was, as I said, born with cerebral palsy, so he has no motor skills in his right side. And I tell people all the time, Jackson is an average baseball player, but he's an incredible athlete because he has worked his tail off to achieve success that he's wanted. Thank you.

Eric Huffman: Meeting Reid for the first time in his office overlooking the field at Minute Maid Park, it was clear to me that the struggles in his past have shaped the way that he does his job today. When Harvey hit Houston, Reid sent his family out of town but stayed back to take care of his house and the stadium, his staff, and the team.

Who were the players that were most directly affected by Harvey?

Reid Ryan: I'd say for us, our Latin players struggled because they had never been through a hurricane and then you're in a country that's not your own in a city that's not your own, you know, trying to handle language barrier and all the different things, thrown on top of that, then our own employees who service these players and their families were dealing with it and ended up making for some crazy times.

Eric Huffman: Twenty-five full-time Astros employees lost their homes to Harvey. Minute Maid Park sustained significant damage as well. The Astros were forced to play a few home games in Tampa Bay. And after that, with the city still in shock, it was up to Reid to decide when it would be safe and appropriate for Houston to host baseball games again.

Reid Ryan: We visited with the mayor and he was wanting, you know, people to get back to normal because it a certain point, how long are you going to sit around? The rain is gone, the city's dry, people have been devastated but not everybody. But even those that were devastated, they wanted distraction, they want something to get their mind off what they've been doing for the last week, which was sitting in water, mucking their house out, and fighting for their lives.

And so we looked at it as an opportunity to say, Look, we only want to do what's the right thing. We don't want to be here playing baseball and minimizing the severity of the storm. But at the same time, at the mayor's urging, he's like, "No, play people need a distraction."

Eric Huffman: On Saturday, September 2nd, the Astros played their first post-Harvey game in Houston. Over 30,000 Houstonians took a break from mucking houses to watch their hometown team. That day, the Astros score 12 runs. It looked like their hitters were taking the whole city's frustration out on the New York Mets starting pitcher, whose name, by the way, was Matt Harvey.

Reid Ryan: A.J. made a very impassioned speech to the crowd before the game.

Eric Huffman: I remember that.

Reid Ryan: ...which I think set the tone for everything we did from that moment on.

A.J.: Hello Houston. It's good to be home. On behalf of the players, the coaches, our organization, we want to thank everyone in the city of Houston that's doing something good for somebody else. And we wear this patch on our jersey the rest of the year to represent you. So stay strong. Be strong. We appreciate every one of you. Be strong.

Man: Now I'm gonna go to Transtar for a news conference featuring the mayor and the Harris County judge. They're gonna give an update on the circumstances and the preparations for both the county and the city. You see Harris County, Jud. Ed Emmett there.

[clip - Judge Emmett giving an update on Hervey]

Jud. Ed Emmett: Well, good afternoon, everybody. We're going to have, as we've been saying all along, a major rain event over the next several days, and we've dealt with those in the past.

Eric Huffman: Another hometown hero to emerge during Hurricane Harvey was Jud. Ed Emmett. He became Houston's space of hope during the storm as he worked alongside the mayor and chief of police to keep as many Houstonians as possible safe and informed.

Jud. Ed Emmett: I never thought I'd say this, but I've now discovered hurricanes are easy because, see, Harvey wasn't a hurricane. It was a rainstorm. Hurricanes, you just calculate when they're going to hit, what the storm surge is going to be, who you need to evacuate, tell everybody else to stay in place. It goes away fairly quickly. Harvey, though we didn't know which areas were going to be impacted. We didn't realize we were going to be cut off from the rest of the state so that supplies couldn't get in.

Eric Huffman: No one is more Houston than Ed Emmett. He was born here in 1949 and he basically never left. After high school, he attended Rice University, Houston's version of an Ivy League school. He and his wife Gwendolyn have been married for 43 years and have four children. Ed has spent nearly all of his adult life in public service. And since 2007, he served as Harris County Judge, which according to a state statute, also makes him the Director of Emergency Management for a county that has a larger population than 24 states.

How many people do you serve? How many people live in Harris County?

Jud. Ed Emmett: 4.7 million people live in Harris County and 160,000 homes flooded. How many lives were lost?

Jud. Ed Emmett: I think the official count ended up 36 or 37. And of course, a lot of those were lost because they were out in the vehicles. And that's why when people started talking about evacuations, you don't evacuate in a circumstance like this because that's where you're most at risk.

Eric Huffman: What do you remember most seeing from people in Harris County in response to the storm that maybe surprised you, maybe it didn't surprise you since you've lived here all your life.

Jud. Ed Emmett: What didn't surprise me was the willingness of people to come out and help in their boats. At noon, I asked for volunteers to come forward with boats and high-water vehicles. The response, I don't have an exact number, but it's been gratifying, to say the least. You just can't thank people enough for going out for their neighbors. So I want to thank all the people who are out there helping get our residents out of harm's way.

When I stood up and said, "If you have a boat, come help," people applauded that decision and said, "Oh, that was brilliant. That wasn't brilliant." I mean, people were going to do that whether I asked them to or not. But it allowed us to organize it a little bit better.

Eric Huffman: I remember you posted a picture on Twitter made such an impact of a line around the NRG stadium. And you said-

Jud. Ed Emmett: The volunteers.

Eric Huffman: ..."This isn't people who need shelter, these are-

Jud. Ed Emmett: Though we had to turn away volunteers because we got to a ratio of a volunteer for every person in the shelter.

Eric Huffman: Wow, that's a beautiful thing. Some of those people waiting in line to help their fellow Houstonians and some of those who were taking their boats out to rescue strangers, they'd been knocked down by the storm too. Their families were also displaced, their homes were also flooded. Their futures were uncertain. But that didn't stop them from helping. They weren't paralyzed by the storm. They were strengthened by it.

Judge Ed is no different. Not many people know this about the judge, but just a few weeks before Harvey hit, a storm in his personal life knocked him down pretty hard.

Everybody's talking about you and the mayor and how heroic and selfless y'all were.

Jud. Ed Emmett: I'm gonna interrupt. I wouldn't consider us heroic. We did our jobs and we did our jobs well. The heroes were the people who were out there waist high, shoulder high in water, you know, saving people's lives. Those are the heroes. They didn't have to be doing it.

Eric Huffman: I appreciate your humility. And as much as you want me to take you off the hero list, I refuse. You're on my hero list, judge-

Jud. Ed Emmett: Thank you.

Eric Huffman: ...for many reasons, among those, the fact that if anybody had a reason to call in sick that week would have been you. Tell us what happened in the week or 10 days prior to the storm in your personal life.

Jud. Ed Emmett: The short answer is I had a minor stroke on August 15th. I was driving to Victoria and talking on the phone and suddenly I was seeing double, but not just double, I was seeing double at weird angles. And I'd played tennis that morning for two hours outdoors and thought, "Okay, some kind of heat related thing." So then I called the doctor and the doctor's office said, "Well, whatever you do, don't drive." Well, I was definitely-

Eric Huffman: Halfway to Victoria?

Jud. Ed Emmett: Yeah. I'm out at Roadside Park. So I made it all the way into Victoria, and I felt fine. As soon as I got there, the people at the Port of Victoria who I was meeting with, it wasn't five minutes, and they had me headed to the emergency room. I got there and it turns out that there are two kinds of strokes. There's hemorrhagic and ischemic. And if you have an ischemic stroke, there's this medicine called TPA that if you get it in a four hour window, it clears it up. But you have to be sure you're having that. So they did the CAT scan and realized that I was having an ischemic event and so they gave me the TPA and helicoptered me back to Houston.

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Jud. Ed Emmett: In 24 hours later, I was fine, but that was a real eye-opener.

Eric Huffman: I would imagine your doctor probably gave you a directive to take it easy.

Jud. Ed Emmett: Yeah, yeah. He said, at least a month, just, you know.

Eric Huffman: So did you give any of that a second thought as the rain started to fall?

Jud. Ed Emmett: No. No, because the other thing is, I mean, it's stressful and I probably should have gotten more sleep than I did. But we have a doctor on staff out there and they were checking my blood pressure and everything on a regular basis.

Eric Huffman: How many days straight did you work?

Jud. Ed Emmett: Six.

Eric Huffman: Six days without going home or anything?

Jud. Ed Emmett: Right. Six days, six nights, got 11 hours asleep total.

Eric Huffman: Wow. At what point in that whole process during the storm and the aftermath does the switch go off in your mind and you go from being Harris County judge to being citizen, father, neighbor?

Jud. Ed Emmett: Oh, that's an easy answer. There was a church that was getting ready to send I think it was 1,000 pair of new shoes to Africa. And somehow they made contact with my youngest daughter, Patricia, and said, "You know, we got people here that need them." So she set up folding tables on her front lawn in the brace heights section, which had just been devastated.

And when I turned on her street and pulled over to the side, because all I saw were piles of debris on both sides, you know, 810 feet high in this, you know, upper middle-class neighborhood, but it was true all over town in all kinds of neighborhoods. But then I saw people walking out of their houses, couple of couples to these piles and they weren't taking things to them, they were going out and looking through them. It was at that point that I realized those aren't piles of debris. Those are people's lives and they're on the curb. So, you know, that just changed everything. It became, okay, this is now the rest of my public life, making sure this doesn't happen again.

Eric Huffman: When I think about Judge Emmett and Reid Ryan, and all the things that could have held them back, but instead they lived to serve others and to spread hope, it reminds me of a verse from a book called Romans in the New Testament: We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character hope.

Just five weeks after Harvey, and just a few years removed from being the worst team in baseball, the Houston Astros beat the Los Angeles Dodgers to claim their first-ever World Series crown. It's hard to describe what that team meant to this town. Their leadoff hitter is a baby-faced, mixed-race all-star who speaks with a stutter. Their Puerto Rican shortstop hadn't heard from some of his family since Hurricane Maria devastated this hometown. And their MVP is a five-foot-six-inch Venezuelan who was told time and again that he's too small to be a big leaguer. This team, like the town they represent, had a thousand reasons to give in, but they overcame every obstacle in front of them. And in the process, they inspired us all.

Reid Ryan: You said Astros were a mirror of who the people of the city of Houston are to their core. And they exemplify that in the way they played the game. And it was only fitting that we want it all because it brought immense joy to the city in a time that it needed it probably more than ever. At the end of the day, this was a great tragedy. Lives were lost, property was damaged, but I believe that we came out of this, I choose to believe that we came out of this better people and a better community than we were before that.


Katie: Good morning. I'm extremely grateful to be here in front of every one of you this morning, as scary as it is. My name is Katie, for those of you that don't know me, I am 16 and I am a junior in high school.

Eric Huffman: In 2016, a high schooler in my congregation took the stage on a Sunday morning to share her testimony with a roomful of people, some she'd known her whole life and some complete strangers. From the outside, Katie was a talented young woman raised in a loving family with deep Christian roots.

Katie: I was born into this church, baptized in this church. My parents go to this church. My grandfather was a minister at this church. My grandmother was the wedding coordinator at St. Luke's. So St. Luke's is a really big part of my family, always has been and hopefully it always will be.

Eric Huffman: Three years ago, St. Luke's United Methodist planted The Story Houston, the community that I helped lead today. Their pristine campus sits in River Oaks, one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Houston. And as you might imagine, it's not the kind of place people usually go to air their dirty laundry for all to see. But at The Story, we've always encouraged people to be vulnerable with each other even in our Sunday best. We've seen how powerful it can be when we share our stories, even the painful or ugly stories, as a way of helping other people who are facing similar struggles. But Katie had a lot to lose by opening up the way that she did that morning.

[clip - Katie's testimony]

Katie: When I was in eighth grade, I started smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol. It was mainly just because I wanted to fit in with my peers. I didn't feel very accepted in middle school. So I was hanging out with girls that were in high school and boys that were in high school and in a way, I felt like that was where I belonged

Eric Huffman: I wanted to catch up with Katie to hear more about what happened back in high school and to get an update on her life today.

So what was it that was going on during that time that sort of precipitated that downturn?

Katie: I had some depression because of just feeling like I needed to hold everything together that, you know, I needed to be good for other people, be good for my family, for my younger brother who has his own, like, learning disabilities, and he needed a lot of the attention. And I didn't want to put that attention on myself. I wanted to be happy Katie, because from the outside, like a lot of other people seem to be very happy. We get a lot of messages in society that we got to keep a perfect image of everything is okay, I have everything together.

Over my freshman year, it was progressing. I started smoking more than on the weekends. And by January throughout May, I was using cocaine and Molly, ecstasy, I was using Xanax almost daily, and drinking a lot, and basically just taking any drug that was offered to me because it didn't really matter as long as it changed the way I felt. I didn't want to feel this anxiety that I felt inside me. I wanted to have friends. I was lying. I was manipulating my parents. I was hurting the relationships that I had at church.

I had these two separate lives where I tried to keep things just kind of steady for my church life and my school life. And then I had this completely separate like party girl image and kind of like the devil and the angel on your shoulder kind of thing.

Eric Huffman: Did those worlds ever collide?

Katie: Oh, my goodness, yes. I couldn't fathom the idea of going a weekend without either getting high or drunk. So I went on a church retreat, which you were the speaker at, and brought alcohol into the parsonage. And not only did I drink, I got every single other girl in the house did drink. And that was definitely the perfect storm. I mean, you know, someone ended up in the hospital that night. Things were just never the same.

Eric Huffman: How did everything change after that with your friends around church or even at school?

Katie: Oh, man. Of course, part of it was parents, I'm sure but none of them were allowed to talk to me anymore, hang out with me. It wasn't fun being this like problem child that other parents told their kids not to hang out with, you know?

Eric Huffman: Right.

Katie: I was pretty numb at this point. I didn't want to allow myself to feel like, Oh, I should probably change something. I should probably make this right. My way of coping with it was, "All right, well, this is this really isn't a big deal. I'll hang out with these people. Instead these these people don't know about what happened." And I tried to make everything feel like it was okay. And that was probably the issue. You know, I was just stuffing everything inside and not letting myself feel remorse.

My parents did everything they could to put a stop to all this behavior. They tried not giving me any money so that I couldn't buy any drugs. And as a result of that, I went to even more extreme measures in order to get drugs. I was exchanging my body with men in order to get drugs.

Eric Huffman: I'll never forget the moment and the room at church, where there's, you know, hundreds of people who just are dressed in their Sunday clothes and looking all perfect and proper and how you could hear a pin drop the moment you shared a little bit about what happened, that you had traded your body for drugs and things like that. It was like the whole world just froze when you said it. How did you feel up there at that moment telling that story at 16 years old?

Katie: That's something I even still think about when people say, "Oh, I saw your video." That's the one thing that I really just keep thinking about is, Okay, now they know this really dark part of me that happened. And sometimes I'm like, "Should I have shared that? Was that too much?" I think I had a lot of fear sharing that. I mean, and it wasn't just that, it was also like, you know, I was telling these like crazy lies, and I was treating people with my ADD medication for narcotics. So there was just a lot of things I was doing that gave me a lot of reason to feel shame and guilt.

Eric Huffman: Yeah, you've mentioned that and that you felt like you were totally unworthy of love. And I think to the young woman that I know now, so confident, full of life, and just full of God's love, and to think of you just feeling completely unworthy of the love of God, I think just speaks to the power of addiction. Like, where did these feelings come from that you're unworthy of love?

Katie: I obviously have always had such a great love for God. I would read in the Bible that Jesus loves you no matter what, and He is going to forgive you for all of these things. And I would just think, "How? I'm terrible." I think a lot of people feel that way sometimes.

Eric Huffman: Yeah. It's funny, like when you are in that frame of mind, and then every time you make the same mistake again, you feel more and more unworthy, because you know you were loved and you know God did love you but you did those things anyway.

Katie: I think I was just so numb at that point. I was not even trying to think about that. And it wasn't until I got sober and was in treatment that I was like, "Oh, my gosh, I did these things. Where do I go from here?"

In May of 2015, my parents woke me up in the middle of the night and they told me that I was going to be getting on a plane and going to Utah. And later that day, I was in the middle of the West desert of Utah in a wilderness program. I was there for four months and then I went to residential for seven months. Throughout all that time, those 11 months, I went through different stages of being in denial, being upset, being angry, being shameful.

Eric Huffman: At what point do you feel like you actually arrived at rock bottom?

Katie: I just remember the moment of getting all these letters from my family saying, "This is how you made us feel," and having my therapist, you know, telling me over and over again, like, "You're full of BS. You keep saying all these things, but your actions aren't matching your words." I remember I had to write just a complete accountability letter of everything that I had done. And I think kind of looking at it all together, I was like, "Okay, yeah, this this was pretty bad." And I remember just like crying and praying on my knees and saying, "I want to be better. Help me God."

One night in the wilderness, I got down on my knees and I prayed. I prayed out loud, I was crying, it was emotional. And over time, praying became less about, Oh, this is what I'm supposed to do in order to be a Christian. It became more about this is what I need to do in order to survive. And after those 11 months, I went home and I'm coming up on 18 months sober, and even though I still struggle all the time, I still make mistakes. I am not the person who I was before. God saved me.

Eric Huffman: We're talking about the storms of life, and whether it's a storm like Harvey that puts a city on its back, or whether it's a storm like you faced as a teenager, and just how these storms knock us down and how people somehow find a way to get back on their feet again. How did it all turn around? What was the key?

Katie: God. I mean, sometimes I think there's literally no other explanation. You know, I was going through the wringer and nobody can change someone else. And, you know, they say, like, Oh, it was up to you." But sometimes I feel like I didn't really do that much. I feel like I kind of just had to pray and let it happen, and let God do the work. I think, of course, there were people that were helping me along the way, my parents, for sure, and everybody at church too. But God was working through all of those people to help me, God was working through my therapist, God was working through me.

I started to realize that I was forgiven and that I was accepted at this church, that I was loved at this church, that I had a church to come home to and to be a part of. And I am incredibly grateful for that. And I could not be where I am today without The Story, Houston, without the love that I have received from every one of you.

Eric Huffman: After she shared her testimony, my team and I decided not to post it on social media or anywhere public, but Katie and her family insisted. Within a week, thousands of people had watched it, and complete strangers reached out to Katie to thank her for her courage and to show their support. Why did you want the world to see it?

Katie: I think I was ready to let go of all of the embarrassment. In 12 Step programs, they have these things called the promises. One of the promises is we will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. And I think at that time in my life, I was really trying to live out all of the promises. And I saw that as a way of me embracing the promises.

Eric Huffman: So we're talking on Skype now because you're thousands of miles away in California. But could you just tell our listeners where you are right now, Katie?

Katie: Yeah. I'm in Claremont, California and I'm studying at The Claremont Colleges. And probably some of the most challenging work I've ever done. super overwhelming, but I'm just so happy here.

Eric Huffman: The past has a way of always haunting us, you know, and coming back for us, and I'm sure you're not like free and clear from all the struggles of your past either.

Katie: Oh, for sure. I mean, of course, I'd like to completely leave the past behind. But, you know, my parents were very hurt by everything that I had done and they have reason to worry sometimes. So as I was moving into college and not going to be with them all the time, you know, they said, "It would make us feel a lot more comfortable if you would complete some random drug screens for us." I originally took that so hard. I was like, "Man, they haven't drug tested me in the last three years and now they want this. Have I done something wrong?" The way they put it was they knew that college was going to be a tricky spot. And it is, you know?

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Katie: And I'm on a wet campus for one thing, and so it's everywhere.

Eric Huffman: So how do you avoid that scene?

Katie: There are people that don't do drugs. Specifically, I hang out with a lot of athletes, because they aren't doing drugs. That's kind of one of the best things about college is that there are so many people and not everybody is the same and there's a place for everyone. And I feel like I found my place.

Eric Huffman: So as you think about the thousands of people listening to this story on this podcast now, what would you say to that person who's just hopeless about the future?

Katie: I want people to know that there's hope and that things are going to be okay. I think that's one of the issues that happens every day is people feel like they aren't going to be okay. And they forget to think, Okay, wait, God has a plan. I'm going to be fine. Everything's gonna happen the way it's supposed to. I even sometimes feel just overwhelmed with like, Oh my gosh, everything feels like it's falling to pieces and, you know, nothing's working out the way I want it to. And I have to pray to trust in God's plan. And it's not overnight. Definitely not.

Eric Huffman: Right. It's definitely a journey.

Katie: But time heals, for sure.


Eric Huffman: One final note before we say goodbye. If you'd like to make a small contribution to help the ongoing recovery efforts in Houston, go to Amazon and search for a children's book called H Is for Harvey. A member of my church, Julie Beasley, wrote this story about acts of everyday kindness during and after the storm. 100% of the royalties are donated to the Astros Foundation, the official team charity of the Houston Astros.

And of course, I want to say to those who are facing a storm in life right now, no matter how big and mighty that storm may feel, no matter how small and powerless you may feel in its shadow, there is hope. Don't give up. You can put your life back together again. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Maybe God.


Julie Mirlicourtois: Maybe God is produced by Eric Huffman, Brandon Duke, and me, Julie Mirlicourtois. Our sound engineers are Pat Laughrey and Aubrey Schneider. Our editor is Brittany Holland, music is by Nathan Bonus, and our intern is Caroline Love. If you have questions or doubts that you'd like us to address in upcoming episodes of Maybe God, email us at [email protected] or start a discussion with us on our Facebook page, Maybe God Podcast. And don't forget to subscribe now on Apple Podcast or your favorite podcast app.