Tom Cox Jr.'s home in the Sanderling part of Woodforest had never flooded before, so he was shocked when he got out of bed early on the morning of Monday, August 28 and stepped into eight inches of water. Hurricane Harvey was dropping a historic amount of rain on the Greater Houston area, and floodwaters were seeping into homes all across the region.
Tom quickly woke up his wife, Bonnie, and the two immediately encountered a sensation that would come to define the next 24 hours: helplessness.
"We were staring at each other like, 'What do we do?'" says Tom. While Bonnie dressed and wrangled their dogs upstairs, he sloshed around the house trying to gather as many family photos as possible and move them to higher ground. When he finally opened the front door of their home, another foot of water rushed inside.
"It's overwhelming how helpless you can feel in a situation like that where there's water all around you and it's coming at you," Tom says. "It struck me in that moment that I was going to lose everything. But I've got my faith. That's all we got. I held onto that, and it gave me such peace, such belief that God was there and He was going to move me in a way I wasn't prepared for."
After the waters had receded a bit the next morning, Tom decided to visit the house and assess the damage.
"I didn't want to take Bonnie, because I knew she wouldn't be ready to see what had happened," Tom says.
It turns out he wasn't emotionally ready either though. Even as the owner of GracePoint Homes, which has developed many of the houses in The Woodlands and Woodforest areas, the years of building and rebuilding hadn't prepared him for when the devastation hit so close to home.
"I walked in through my front door and was overcome," Tom says. "As I'm standing there, I'm thinking, 'I've got so much to do and I don't know where to start.' I am a home builder and have the ability to see things for what they are in these types of situations. I act in these kinds of moments. Those who know me know I am not scared to make a decision. And I was just completely helpless."
It was at that moment that people quite literally began emerging from the trees around his home to help clean his house.
"A herd, army or whatever is the proper description showed up," Tom says. "God sent me 50 people from The Church at Woodforest I did not know. They saw my need, acted in faith and helped me. People just started coming out and grabbing things and getting things out. People took bags of clothes to their home to wash them. I don't even know who these people are - they're just there, helping."
Later that night, Tom returned to the house with Bonnie, who was ready to get to work salvaging what she could. Before they even entered the house, though, they discovered Bonnie's wedding dress by the front door. It was saturated with water and covered in mud. Elsewhere, they found a book floating in water that featured a beautiful, personal note from her late stepfather.
Bonnie was understandably overwhelmed.
"This was her house," Tom says. "Bonnie is tough - always has been - but this got her. I found her in a closet, broken and disoriented, evaluating all that was lost, just not knowing what to do. We hugged and then said let's get to work."
The next day, Tom says an even bigger group returned to the house and got much more done. A friend of Bonnie's stepped up and organized teams to begin focusing on particular things, such as breaking down the kitchen, cleaning and packing all their pots, pans and dishes.
One man in particular showed up and worked for hours to rip up the floors in the house.
"I'm standing there, and this guy walks in, straight from Home Depot, and I don't know who he is," Tom says. "He's got a set of knee pads he's ripping the tags off, some gloves, a pry bar and a hammer. He said 'What can I do.' I said, 'I gotta get all this hardwood floor out of here.' He said 'ok' and gets down on his knees and starts hammering away. And this isn't his job, and he doesn't know what he's doing. Six hours later, he never got up and never took a break. (Afterward) He got up, didn't ask for anything, and went to the next house and did it all over again."
Tom says God continued to work like this, bringing both friends and strangers at just the right time to help clean, provide food, or to just hug and be with them.
"It was hard to accept such a blessing and I held back tears as they made impossible work seem easy," Tom says. "They sought no praise either. They loved Bonnie and I like Jesus and demonstrated being the hands and feet of God. It is something I will never forget. We are blessed, even more in the storm. God's love is so abundant and shines through everyone we meet. Sometimes it just takes an event like this for us to see. I will never stop praising His love or thanking His hands and feet."