Last year, in late August, we began to hear that a storm was headed for our community. They were not sure what the extent of the flooding might look like, only that it was possible. My husband and I met during Hurricane Katrina, and I did relief work in the months that followed. I knew intimately the trauma that people faced who saw the storm first hand, especially children. So I packed up the kids and we left.

My husband would face Harvey and its aftermath alone for the next two weeks. He could not imagine leaving his church community to fend for themselves. So he stayed up in our house and lived off of cliff bars and gatorade. He would wait for the waters to rise. He would see things and hear stories that still haunt us.

When the children and I could finally return, our city felt like it was in ruins. People were desperate for the most basic things: food, shelter, water. And we were the lucky ones. In our neighborhood, with so much flooding, our big old rectory was high and dry. I did not know I could love our house more.

A mere month after the storm I was scheduled to lead a church retreat for Christ Church, Charlottesville. And I really wanted to back out. I could not imagine leaving my children and husband in Houston so that I could gallivant off into the cool mountains of Virginia. Mostly, I could not imagine standing in front of people leading a retreat. I felt heartbroken and lost. Church retreat leaders are supposed to be inspirational and sure of God’s hand in their lives.

But I had forgotten something important.

I had forgotten what had happened to the community in Charlottesville last summer. When the white supremacists showed up and violently covered the city, when the young woman protester died, when my own friends at Christ Church were picking up the pieces right outside their front door, it all felt very important. But after the hurricane, I seemed to develop memory loss for other people’s sorrows. Mine were just too loud.

I gave up on being a Good Retreat Speaker before I even got there. I forfeited my usual egotistical pep talks because I did not have the energy to listen to my dogged neurosis. I was too tired to put on a show.

The first night I stood in front of the people of Christ Church and spoke directly to what I was feeling: the fear, the sadness, and the roaring storm my beloved Bayou City had just endured. And after that initial talk people came up to me. They asked me questions (which is not usually how this whole ministry thing works), they gave me hugs (same), and most importantly, they told me, “We know what suffering looks like too. Your stories are welcomed here.”

Christ Church, Charlottesville and I, we were speaking the same language. And I was so thankful for it.

On the last day of retreat, my friend and Christ Church parishioner, David Zahl whispered to me, “Tell them about the Jeep.”

In August of last year, mere weeks before the storm came, my husband bought a 2009 Jeep Wrangler. This was a very big deal for him. When we were engaged to be married, he sold his first (and adored) Jeep so that we would have enough money to move to New York City. He loved that Jeep more than he wanted to admit. And for years afterwards would look longingly at them on the road, sigh, and say, “Gosh, I hope someday I can have another Jeep.”

Well, I got sick of him talking about it. And so last August, on our way home from vacation, I found him a red Jeep Wrangler. It was old enough that we could afford it. And Josh was over the moon.

But my beloved husband worried a bit, as pastors often do, that it would look too showy for him to have an extra vehicle just sitting around. The Jeep lived in our garage. And I was uncertain if we he would ever be so bold as to actually drive it around. I honestly began to wonder why we had even bought it.

And then the storm hit. And the Jeep, which has gigantic tires, was the only way that Josh could get to parishioners to rescue them from their houses. It was the only way he could bring them water, or a generator, or just comfort and prayer.

We love to think that it is the good stuff that binds a community together. We want to think that it is about well curated moments found on magazine covers. Big tables with gourmet food and effortless couples chatting over glasses of wine.

But what binds a community together would never sell a magazine. Because it is actually suffering that links us in arms. It is almost never neat and tidy.

It is the horrible things in life that God, in all of His mercy, uses for good. It is our suffering redeemed. It is grappling with and praying through a city with a painful history of slavery, oppression, and injustice. It is the difficult work of racial reconciliation. It is a church gathering Saturday after Saturday to muck out the muddy houses of families who feel hopeless. It is women, momentarily gathered, crying over wedding dresses that were lost in the flood.

It is a muddy Jeep, which had once been anxiously tucked away, out in the streets bringing consolation to the sufferers.

It is a church retreat, that brought more rest and relief to the speaker than to anyone else in the room.