During August’s Hurricane Harvey, the Aples family didn’t question why God had them leave their home in Houston. In the middle of the night, as the water rose, Ashley Aples told his wife, Briand, “We need to get out of here.”
The massive storm was bearing down on Texas, and the Aples knew better than most what could be coming. They grabbed their son and niece and fled, making their way to a Dallas shelter, where Briand caught the eye of Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplain coordinators Sue and Paul Dowdy.
While many others at the shelter wore a look of despair, Sue noticed Briand—half-asleep, yet smiling. “She had the joy of the Lord in her smile,” Sue recalled. Both Briand’s and Ashley’s smiles were contagious, she added. “[They were] fully relying on the Lord.”
The Aples’ joy and peace, chaplains would learn, came from an extraordinary journey of hardship.
The Aples moved to Houston in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina flooded their house. They found themselves in a Houston shelter and decided to call the city home. During her second pregnancy, Briand was diagnosed with Stage 3 cervical cancer. The Aples prayed and trusted God for the outcome. After their baby girl was born, doctors tested Briand again, and the cancer was gone.
Twelve years later, they trusted God again as Hurricane Harvey churned in Houston. The Dowdys were struck by Ashley and Briand’s faithfulness to be thankful in all circumstances. Ashley said God kept telling him to “pick up the tent,” Sue said.
“When God tells you to move the tent, you move the tent,” Ashley said, referring to a Bible verse about following God’s lead to share His love and salvation with others. “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes” (Isaiah 54:2).
PRAISE AMID LOSS
The chaplains also learned the family had lost much more than two houses. Just over a month earlier, they had lost their 4-year-old daughter to a rare type of cancer. For most people, their world would have come crashing down. But Briand told Sue that what she learned from her daughter’s death was something only the Lord could orchestrate.
“We need to praise the Lord all the time,” Briand said. “Even when we know we’re getting ready to meet Him, just continue to praise Him.” That’s what their little girl did, often singing praises to Jesus, raising her hands and dancing—because she knew Jesus, Briand said.
One night, though their daughter was very ill, she said, “Mama, I want to do a twirl.” She needed help because the cancer had weakened her muscles and she couldn’t walk. After Briand twirled her around, her little daughter, satisfied, let her mom know she was ready for Heaven. Later that night, Ashley and Briand’s daughter met Jesus face to face.
Chaplains often pray for God to lead them to the right people to minister to. The Dowdys have also lost a child and could relate to the Aples’ trauma. What struck Sue, though, wasn’t their pain but their joy. “They have a strong, unwavering faith,” she explained. “In whatever happens, they’re going to accept it and go on and seek God’s will.”
LIKE A WEIGHT HAD BEEN LIFTED
Farther south, in Friendswood, Texas, Laura Tinney, her 5-year-old daughter, Haley Ray, and their dog Bevo escaped rising floodwaters through a kitchen window. “I shut the window behind me, and I just said, ‘In Jesus’ Name, let Your will be done,’” Laura said. There were never any worries about anything that was in the house. … It was just all good.”
A neighbor picked them up in his johnboat and waded alongside in chest-deep water. They passed other neighbors perched on rooftops. Eventually the little family had to climb out of the boat and trudge through waist-deep water for a half mile, crossing “a raging river” of water to get to a local church shelter.
Through it all, Laura’s positive perspective ministered to her neighbors. “They were just bawling,” she said. “I would just grab them and hug them, [telling them], ‘You keep talking about how you want to clean the house and de-clutter. And here it is. This is an opportunity. Look at it differently.’
“That’s God’s way of cleansing,” she said.
Laura’s husband, Rick, an Army command sergeant major serving in Kuwait, received two weeks leave to help out at home after the flood. Married 21 years, the couple had accumulated a lot of things that Laura had been cleaning out since last November. This is going to take forever, she would think. After leaving the shelter and returning home to these ruined possessions, she actually felt relief. “It was joyful to know that I didn’t even have to sell it, organize it, sort it—it was just gone. No one needed it. And it was like a weight had been lifted.
“They were just things that I needed to let go of and really focus on what God wants me to do. And He’s been working, talking to me about those things.”
With her husband serving far away, Laura has worried about how she and Haley Ray would get along without him. “I think this was almost like a test, and I’m so thankful for it because I know he is going to be OK and I’m going to be OK, no matter where we are, because God is with us.”
Laura Bailey is a writer/editor for BGEA’s Digital Media Services department.