After all that our country/world has undergone in the past year, I had started to grow complacent, thinking I had seen (if not totally experienced) it all. Wow, was I wrong! Until a couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate to never have lived through the challenges of a natural disaster, but that changed with the weather crisis that hit Texas this past week.
For us, it began the night of Wednesday, February 10th. We had been experiencing a bout of warm weather, so I’d not been checking my weather apps and was unaware of cold temperatures in the forecast. I was surprised when I received a Wednesday-night email from the director of Charleston’s sports camp, informing parents that they were cancelling class the following day due to “unsafe driving conditions.”
On Thursday, instead of dropping Charleston off at camp like I usually would, we stayed home in our pajamas while freezing rain outside transformed our yard into an icy wonderland. We had, as Charleston explained it, been “icicled”, and our trees and lawn and roofs were encased in glass; it was stunning! I was too nervous to drive on the icy roads, so Luke went out to pick up my curbside grocery order that afternoon. (Little did we know that over the next day, grocery shelves would be wiped clear by shoppers preparing for the upcoming storm.)
Our lives went on as usual on Friday and Saturday. I didn’t love being cooped up indoors with boisterous kids, and I was disappointed not to get my usual Saturday break when unsafe roads kept Luke from taking the kids to his parents’ house, but mostly we were unaffected by the chilly weather. In-person church was cancelled on Sunday, but we watched it online, then put the kids in their Valentine’s outfits for pictures and enjoyed a family Valentine’s celebration from our dining room.
At that point, we knew that Austin was about to get REALLY cold, so before we went to bed on Sunday night, Luke prepared the house for cold weather, set our faucets to a slow drip to keep the pipes from freezing, filled our tub with backup water, and got out flashlights and lanterns in case we lost power. I had also gotten an email that Charleston’s Tuesday enrichment program would likely be over Zoom rather than in-person, so I printed out the necessary lessons so we could get started on them the next day. (It’s comical now to think that the notion of doing school over Zoom seemed hard, when by Tuesday I would have given just about anything to have the power that would make a Zoom school day possible.)
It snowed throughout the night and I was awakened at 4:00 Monday morning, not by the twins (my usual morning alarm), but by my husband, who told me that the power was out and that we needed to all move into the twins’ nursery to try to stay warm. It was a mere one degree outside, with a feels-like of much lower, and we would need all of our body heat to endure the remainder of the night. We all five piled under blankets on the floor of the twins’ room, trying (unsuccessfully) to stay warm and get some sleep until the power came back on—which we were sure would be at any minute. . . .
When our power—and subsequently our heat—had not returned by morning, we all bundled up in as many layers as possible (which is easier said than done with squirmy toddlers who refuse to leave on beanies or socks). We didn’t have WiFi, but cellular service seemed reliable, and through texts and social media we learned that members from my MOPS group and our community group—who live across the greater North Austin area—were also experiencing power outages, and many were without water. Luke’s sister, who lives south of Austin, also had no water or power, though his parents (forty minutes northwest of us) had both. From updates in our neighborhood Facebook group, we saw that none of our neighbors had power and quite a few had lost water as well. As frightening as it was to learn the scope of this problem, there was a comfort in knowing we weren’t in this alone.
We were unsure how long our power would be out, and not knowing when we’d be able to get to the grocery store (or if the store would even have any food once we did get there), we wanted to preserve the food in our fridge. So we kept it closed and scrounged up some food from our pantry for breakfast. Luke was able to use our camping stove in the garage to heat up water for coffee, tea, and oatmeal. (Unfortunately our stove, like our heat, is electric, and we do not have a fireplace.)
The temperatures in the main part of our house were dipping below 60, so we spent the rest of the morning making our bedroom as warm as possible: we filled the room with candles and Luke covered the windows with bubble wrap, and we moved the twins’ playpen into our room so they could nap in what was now, at 60 degrees, the warmest room in the house.
The rest of the day was a bit of a blur: I was hopeful power would come back on at any minute, but also nervous that it might not. Charleston was begging to play in our yard, which was now covered in powdery snow, so Luke took him and Arlo out for a quick snowball fight before making them come right back in (because we didn’t want Charleston to get too cold without the ability to warm back up).
After a cold lunch, Luke watched the twins while Charleston and I did some school work (because we had nothing else to do), then I spent a solid hour in our heated car in the driveway, where I saw several other neighbors doing the same. It was dark by the time I came inside, and we fed our kids granola bars and oatmeal by the light of a lantern and our phones’ flashlights.
That night was the most challenging. The twins won’t sleep under blankets, so we were very worried about them getting cold. We put them each in three layers of pajamas and nestled them into their playpen in our “heated” bedroom, and we tucked Charleston into a warm sleeping bag on our floor. By morning, all five of us were snuggled under the MANY layers of covers on our bed, having had a restless night.
On Tuesday morning, there was still no power. It was overcast and in the teens outside and the fifties in our house. Changing my clothes in my cold, dark closet was brutal, and I felt awful about having to change the twins’ diapers and clothes when it was so cold.
Following yet another pantry-provided breakfast, we decided that it was time to open the fridge and do what we could to preserve our food. We transferred the contents of our freezer into giant tubs that Luke had emptied of our Christmas decorations, and he went outside to bury the tubs in the snow. We also moved the food from our fridge to shelves in the garage, where the temperature was in the mid-30s.
We spent the remainder of the day reading, playing, and doing whatever we could to keep our minds off of how cold we felt. The twins were remarkably unaffected by the chilled house, and Charleston was a good sport about the cold and about being served yet another bowl of soup (heated up on the camp stove) for lunch.
We were beginning to grow frustrated by news that almost every neighborhood around us had power while we still didn’t, but we tried to keep our spirits high, while also making plans to possibly relocate to Luke’s parents’ house the next day if power had not returned by morning. Many of our neighbors had already left, seeking warmth and light at nearby hotels, but we were reluctant to drive on the icy roads or to leave our house uninhabited with the weather still so harsh.
It was 6:30 Tuesday evening, and we were feeding the kids dinner in the dark, when our power came back on! After forty hours without lights or heat, it was almost shocking to see our house come back to life. The twins bounced in their high chairs, excitedly pointing at the flashing clock displays on our microwave and stove, and Charleston cheered. I was flooded with relief, but still experienced some trepidation, as we had no idea how long this gift of power would stick around. Still, I have never appreciated a working light switch so much in my life, and I thanked God for overhead lights as I changed the twins into their pajamas and read Charleston his bedtime stories.
Using a space heater, we were able to heat up our bedroom before the power went out again at 9. (Just in time for Luke and I to cook our food in the toaster oven before eating it, once again, in the dark!) The power went off and on at irregular intervals throughout the night, but with the heat coming back on every couple of hours, our house stayed decently warm and we all got a better night’s sleep.
During the night, a cold rain had iced over our fluffy snow, but outdoors was just as beautiful as ever, and I was better able to appreciate the icicles and snowy streets now that I wasn’t so cold. (We could also see outside now: we had been keeping our blinds closed to hold in the warmth, so it was a relief to have them opened.) Arlo, on the other hand, was not a fan of the ice that had him slipping and sliding across our yard.
Our power was off and on all day on Wednesday. Sometimes we had only ninety minutes with power, other times it would stay on for several hours at a time. Luke utilized the “on” windows to check in at work, and I tried to time meals around when I would be able to cook. Every time the power flicked back on, I popped my bean-filled heating pad into the microwave to heat it up. We were on boil water notice, so we were filling up every pot and thermos we owned with water that we boiled whenever our stove would work.
Strangely, those rolling blackouts triggered my anxiety more than having no power at all: every time the heater stopped, or someone flipped off a light, my heart was in my throat, anticipating an hour or more without light or heat. I still found myself using a flashlight every time I entered a room, as I’d already gotten in the habit of not being able to turn on a light, and I never knew if a room would go dark while I was in it. But it was reassuring that our power always did come back on, even if we didn’t know when that would be.
That night before bed, we had had heat just long enough that Luke, Charleston, and I felt comfortable showering. It was amazing to wash off three days’ of grime, and we timed the showers perfectly, as the power went out just as I was toweling off.
Wednesday night was the last time we lost power, but we woke up on Thursday morning to no water. We learned that the the power outages had shut down our city’s water treatment plant, so our entire town was currently water-less. I found the loss of water much easier to cope with than the power outages had been. We had a tub full of water that we could use to flush our toilets, and many pots of boiled water were still lining our kitchen counters. (That boil water notice had actually worked in our favor!) There was also plenty of snow outside that could be boiled if needed.
Though much of Texas remained without power or water through the end of the week, our Thursday and Friday were mostly normal, and we got back to the business of work and school and regular routines. We were all back in our own rooms for nighttime, and we packed all of our blankets and candles away.
By Thursday afternoon, we’d had consistent power for a full day and felt good about moving our food back inside. Luke had a hard time shoveling through the ice to get to the tubs buried in our yard, but thankfully nothing had spoiled or been damaged, and the food-shuffling gave me a much-needed opportunity to reorganize the contents of my freezer.
Our water returned on Friday morning—the final piece in returning normalcy to our home.
I’m writing this on Sunday afternoon, and from my comfy spot in a heated room, it’s hard to believe that just a few days ago we were in complete survival mode. Temperatures outside are in the low seventies, and the snow is entirely gone. Our power hasn’t gone out for several days, and we have enough water to run a load of laundry in the washing machine. We are still on boil water notice, but have pots and a working stove to boil water for dishes, and plenty of bottled water for drinking.
We went to church this morning and the service was decently full, with everyone abuzz over what we all experienced this past week. I also went to HEB and was shocked that it wasn’t overwhelmingly busy and that store shelves were more than half restocked. The world beyond appears to be back in order as well: we have started receiving Amazon packages again, and are told that trash services will be back on by the end of the week.
For now, it seems as though the comfortable (spoiled!) life I generally enjoy has been restored. But, being me, I can’t let the events of this past week go by without some serious analysis and reflection. Our family (our whole state) endured something hard. No, it was not any harder than what people around the world endure every day of their lives, but for us in our privileged little world, it was (likely/hopefully) an experience of a life time and one that deserves a proper examination. (And really, who am I anymore if I don’t squeeze my experiences for every possible lesson and application.)
Looking back over this past week, I can’t help but see God’s blessings and kindness over countless aspects of our experience. We were as prepared as we could have been, having 1) picked up groceries within the very last window when that was easy; 2) finished laundry mere hours before we lost power; and 3) fully stocked our dry goods and bottled water supply last spring when the start of COVID revealed some gaps in our emergency preparedness. We had plenty of candles and blankets, a camping stove for boiling water and heating up soup, and a man of the house who just happens to be an Eagle Scout and—despite never having lived in harsh weather—knew just what to do to keep our pipes from freezing, our food from spoiling, and our rooms as warm as possible.
There were so many small comforts during those few days that I didn’t deserve but fully appreciated. Just when I was beginning to feel most grimy, in that short window between getting power and losing water, I was able to fit in a shower; what a blessing! Another was that I never felt desperately cold because I was able to warm up in our heated car—a car that also enabled us to keep our devices charged, and provided needed alone time for this introverted mama. We had plenty of paper plates and bowls and utensils, and I kind of enjoyed not having to deal with washing dishes or cooking elaborate meals for those few days.
One truly wonderful aspect to this experience was getting to spend extra quality time together as a family, without the distractions of devices and work and daily chores. I know Luke felt guilty about not being able to check in at work, but it sure was nice to have an extra set of hands with the kids, and someone to watch the twins while Charleston and I tackled school. The kids loved getting our full attention when they were awake, and Luke and I enjoyed our intimate candlelit dinners once they went to bed. We even got more sleep than usual because there was no reason to stay up past 9:00!
Throughout the week, we were flooded with text messages from family and friends across the country who expressed their concern and voiced their prayers. Friends in the area who had power or fireplaces let us know we could come over to warm up if needed, and a few offered to bring by any items we may not have. We witnessed tremendous generosity within our community group and our neighborhood, with everyone sharing news and advice and offering up supplies. Not once during the whole experience did we feel like we were in it alone.
The biggest blessing of this week was the comfort and intimacy I felt with God through the entire crisis. I came into the week in a very precarious mental space, then was hit with many of my biggest fears—feeling cold, perceived food insecurity, an inability to meet my children’s needs, an unknown future and complete lack of control—all at once. But prayer, and continually remembering to trust in the Lord completely, kept anxiety at bay. In fact, the mental fog and spiritual oppression I had been enduring for weeks all but evaporated in the wake of a true crisis. It’s an understatement to say that I don’t generally handle pivots—let alone complete u-turns—well, but through the power and graciousness of God, I was able to keep it together remarkably well. That might just have been the greatest surprise of the whole week!
Our snowpocalypse was an uninvited yet needed exercise in expressing my trust in God, in recognizing what is truly important, and in learning to appreciate the comforts and securities I’ve been quick to take for granted. I learned a lot this past week about my ability to endure hard things, but also how critical it is to be prepared for when hard times come. Texas’ power system and infrastructure let us down, but we were kept alive by Luke’s survival skills, the kindness of our community, and more than our fair share of fortuitous coincidences. On a spiritual front, my commitment to abiding in Christ when life was easy kept my spirits and my faith in tact when things got hard.
I think—I hope—I was changed forever by this week. At the very least, it was an experience I will NEVER forget.