Super short, quick update! We are so excited to be in the repair and remodel stage of our Hurricane Harvey saga! Thanks to some family members and friends, we were able to hang sheetrock 2 weeks ago. That gave us a HUGE boost up to move the process along. We have hired help to finish prepping the floors and installing some smaller items like a tub and toilets. We just approved a quote to get the taping and mudding completed next week! Other subcontractors were quoting up to 12 weeks out just for THAT job alone! We have someone working on kitchen cabinets while the drywall and tile work is finished. Lord willing, we can have a lot of that taken care of by Thanksgiving.
Truly, it was the Lord’s hand in orchestrating all of this. We don’t even have a response from our insurance company, yet we have been able to get a fast and sudden jump on the process! Workers in the area are so overwhelmed and swamped that many don’t even respond to our requests for quotes. We thank God for our helpers that got us moving on drywall and then the referrals to get us quotes and installation work done.
The plan now is to continue living with our wonderful, generous host family until we can rough it in our own home. We will continue remodeling and at this pace, we may have it rebuilt before the insurance company even gets back to us!
Thank you to everyone who sacrificed financially to help us get back on our feet! We know many other people have been asking how to help and we had said “maybe later” because we didn’t really know the entire scope of our needs 2 months ago. Well, considering that things are moving along somewhat quickly, we are thinking about using the seasonal sales and Black Friday sales to get a jump on reaccumulating some of our necessary earthly treasures. In response to your requests to help, we will be publishing an Amazon wishlist a few days before Thanksgiving. The best part about an Amazon wishlist is that you DON’T HAVE TO BUY IT ON AMAZON to be able to mark the item as “purchased”. You can see a sweet deal in a local store and buy it there, but then go mark the item as “purchased” on their wishlist so there aren’t duplicates.
This is definitely the fun silver-lining to the tragedy of losing our home. The anticipation of seeing our little home remodeled is exciting! Thank you for being here with us and for following along in our journey! May we each be encouraged as we see God victoriously meet our needs in ways beyond our capability. It’s really cool!!
Read the newest Oprah interview with the GrothOlsons from their temporary home on Hoveden Drive. Interview is loosely based on Oprah’s interview with then-First Lady Michelle Obama. (http://www.oprah.com/omagazine/michelle-obamas-oprah-interview-o-magazine-cover-with-obama)
Our GrothOlson Family on the surprises of life in the Hoveden House ("If you want pie, there's pie! If something breaks, it's fixed. In an hour")...the rules they’ve laid down for Benjamin and Samuel ("I want the kids to be treated like children, not little princes")...and how they hope to use "one of the worst disasters in American history" to help transform their lives.
On the second floor of the Hoveden House, the Game Room—part of the GrothOlson Family's semi-private residence—offers a stunning view of the property’s pool. The pergola stretches into the heavens. The Weber Grill sits above the glassy water of the Reflecting Pool. In the distance, you can see the neighbor’s fence, where the dog’s attention was focused as birds and squirrels gathered to witness an event many had thought would never happen. I felt the weight of history, and I understood what they mean when they say, as she often does, "This is not about us."
The GrothOlsons packed up their belongings in Raintree Village and headed for Nottingham Country in early September so 8-year-old Benjamin and almost-5-year-old Samuel could get started at their homeschool co-op. When I returned to Katy/Houston after the hurricane, I spent the weekend thinking, "I wonder what the GrothOlsons are doing now?" Later, when I was looking for some cough syrup in my medicine cabinet, I suddenly thought, "GrothOlsons don’t even have cough syrup!" For the GrothOlson Family, it's a whole new reality. As we talk, they tell me how they're adjusting—and what they’re planning to do in their new role.
OPRAH: How are you guys doing?
GINNY: I feel like a first-time parent with a colicky newborn again. Yeah, that.
OPRAH: I literally have no idea what that’s like.
Well, it’s difficult, right? And exhausting. I remember being so desperate for help yet so sick of asking for it. Or those moments of trying to decide if I’d rather shower, eat or sleep during the baby’s ambiguously long or short nap time. I feel gross from not showering yet totally not motivated to shower for another day of dealing with mold, laundry, meals, appointments, sorting, cleaning and organizing.
OPRAH: Have you not been able to achieve your best self?
JESSE: Just this week, I went a full 2 days with having my fingernails clipped on only one hand. I mean, we are under a lot of emotional, mental and financial stress but we don’t feel defeated.
OPRAH: So do you consider yourselves “Flood Victims” then?
GINNY: Good question. We haven’t looked at it that way. We call ourselves “Flood People” or “Dirty Flood People” when we want to be funny. DFP’s to be exact. We actually feel so blessed and cared for and loved on. In some ways we even feel lucky. We can’t remember a time God hasn’t met our needs in the past, so we have no reason to fear that He won’t somehow follow through this time around.
I hope people feel and know how much God is using them. I had someone buy me lip balm the other day and it was amazing! She didn’t even know that I needed it and had lost mine. God puts these things on people’s hearts.
JESSE: Our burden is too big to carry alone and every piece others lift for us--whether it be in prayer, financial support, practical daily living, listening, or whatever else they do – accumulates to a big old hug and easing of our load.
OPRAH: I love hugs! So what are your “normal” days like now?
JESSE: Even without flood stuff to deal with, this time of year always takes a huge toll on our family. I am back teaching for the semester and have long days and nights plus a long commute. I am often gone for 3 meals per day, and Ginny and the kids get lonely and a bit rattled at times. But we also know that, like a baby, the phases and stages come and go. Unfortunately, most stages usually only end through the passing of time. We just have to wait this out and we have no clue how long the wait will be.
OPRAH: So, Jesse, you have felt overwhelmed at all in this?
JESSE: Oprah, are you asking if I cry? Heck yes I cry! I’m tired, so I cry a lot. And Ginny cries when she’s tired or hungry, too. There are a trillion details that keep us busy non-stop. Plus throw in daily life with work, students, and young children. But are we making progress? Yes, we’ve made quite a bit of progress thanks to help! We praise God for His continued provision in all areas. When it seems like we can meet our own needs, it’s easy to forget how needy we really are. When we are given undeniable needs, we get to see firsthand how God Himself steps in and notices and cares. That makes us lucky!
OPRAH: When will you be able to get back in your house?
GINNY: We have zero clue how long that takes. All we know is that current rumors from other flooded folks suggest not getting back into our home until at least after Easter and more likely next Summer.
JESSE: Obviously, we want to go home as soon as we can, but we don’t want to rush any part of the process that could lead to consequences further down the road. We want to do this right and steward all our resources well.
OPRAH: How long will you be living where you are?
GINNY: Again, Oprah, we have no idea. Literally zero. Currently we are waiting for our FEMA inspection to see if they will provide assistance for temporary housing or if what they provide will even be reasonable or available based on how many families here are in the same situation. In the meantime, we get along well with the family hosting us right now, and our boys are loving the dog and swimming pool and upstairs level.
OPRAH: OK, so you guys have flood insurance, right? Doesn’t that just take care of everything for you?
GINNY: Well, it certainly helps! That’s for sure. However, there are 2 deductibles, one for the structural damage and one for home contents. They are each $5000, so a total of $10,000, plus the cost difference of whatever else they decide to not cover and the depreciation of the replacement costs. We also lost one of our vehicles and the return value on that was definitely not enough to cover a new vehicle. I think we got back about $2700.
JESSE: We actually just had our flood insurance adjuster come out to the house today. He seemed supportive and encouraged us to fairly claim all of our losses. He also reminded us that it was nasty, contaminated water that flooded into our home versus cleaner water from a broken pipe or something. This was septic, swamp, garbage water filled with bacteria and molds and literally everything from outside and inside people’s home. Because of that, we lost a lot, but we also will be claiming a lot.
OPRAH: I imagine this will take a long time to sort through with insurance. I usually get to jump ahead in a VIP line or something. Does your insurance company have anything like that?
JESSE: Yeah, not so much. Now that someone has come out, we can submit everything we are claiming as a loss. In true tedious insurance form, we must photo document every single item we are claiming as a loss and then provide cost estimates on every item as well as a timeframe for when the item was purchased. Yes, every single book or toy or even food item needs it’s own line item entry, a photo, a description and a replacement cost value. We are working to get this submitted ASAP. We have so many people to thank for helping us get the spreadsheet mostly ready. Once we submit it, it will take about 3 weeks for the initial decision and then we can go from there.
GINNY: I’m guessing there will be a fair amount of going back and forth on cost values and proof of damage, etc. But this was a huge, unprecedented national disaster so there really is no “normal” time frame for what we can expect.
OPRAH: What do you need right now? I mean, how can other people who are not me help?
JESSE: We have had so many generous gifts and donations these past 3 weeks. It’s been incredible! Praise God we have our deductible saved up now! Besides that, our most immediate need at this point is to purchase a second vehicle.
OPRAH: So the money is for a vehicle or for your house?
GINNY: We are trying to be prudent and set aside a realistic amount of money to cover the rebuilding and refurnishing because we know that people rarely come out ahead on insurance claims. We are now pushing immediate funds towards a vehicle.
JESSE: People have been asking us to add to our Amazon wish list, too. We totally will! However, we don’t want to be impulsive and would rather wait until October or so until we know if we will be needing things for temporary housing or to cover other losses the insurance won’t cover. Or maybe we will end up doing more of a gift registry style thing early next year when we get close to moving back in.
GINNY: We also might end up needing a ton of new clothes for all of us. We are working very hard to get as much clean as possible, but even some of the “dry” clothes have mildew and mold that won’t come out. The washing process is long and slow despite so many families helping us with that huge chore. We hope to have a better idea of additional clothing loss in the next week or two. In the meantime, honestly I am the one that lost the most clothes to full water saturation. I had all of my jeans and cardigans and shoes on the bottom rack in my closet. Most of my shirts and shorts are still TBD.
JESSE: But they'll definitely be cargo shorts!
OPRAH: So really all you want is a lot of money?
GINNY: No! There are scads of other ways to help us out too! Some amazing families have brought us meals or watched the kids. We have someone housing the cats for us. Other families are doing laundry. Someone else loaned us a vehicle. Restaurant gift cards, grocery cards, groceries, toiletries. I’ve even found it helpful to have someone just follow me around all day and do whatever I need, like reorganize something or move trash somewhere.
JESSE: Yeah, we’ve had so many people step in to help with daily chores. And don’t forget how truly important all of the prayer support is. We are only able to carry this huge load because we aren’t carrying it alone.
Let us start by saying that this has been one of the most incredible experiences of our lives—incredibly stressful, incredibly difficult, and incredibly filled with blessing and love. Many people, some we know and some we don’t, have generously given to us, and some are still asking how they can help. We are incredibly grateful and blessed by your love and desire.
We had an unbelievable amount of help that day. It made us feel so loved and cared for in the midst of such great loss. It was so cool to be a part of such a great day! Everything was taken care of for us. God knew what we needed and He sent it. Truly surreal!
Our GoFundMe link says a little about what happened and how our home was one of many to be ruined by Hurricane Harvey. We ended up getting 11-18” of flood water in our single-story home, which amounted to losing about 75% of our home. (At least the attic stayed dry!) Our home flooded on Monday, Aug 27th, and we were able to return and demo it on Saturday, September, 2.
That being said it is also exhausting and overwhelming to consider all that is involved in rebuilding our home and our lives. We aren’t even so concerned with the loss of property or materials, but rather the struggle we know is ahead of us. What we need is long-term support and attention—thoughtful words, notes, and texts; moments of relief and fun; and prayer for strength, energy, and unity. Keep asking how we’re doing. Keep checking.
Many have given through GoFundMe, and many have wanted to avoid losing the percentage they keep. We have established PayPal and Venmo accounts to provide as many options as possible. Others have asked about specific physical needs we may have, and the fact of the matter is we still aren’t entirely sure. We have a very dear friend working through the spreadsheet and photos of everything we’ve lost, and the stuff that we did get to save is spread about to three different friends’ houses. We have been richly blessed in our short-term needs, but we really won’t know what our long-term needs are for a while. That said, there are things that we definitely need as we begin to rebuild, and to that end we have created an Amazon wish list.
There is still a massive financial gap in our lives right now. While we are glad we have flood insurance, we have separate $5,000 deductibles on our house and on its contents, so that means we’ll need to come up with $10,000. We also lost my minivan to flood water, so that’s a $500 deductible, plus whatever the difference will be on the valuation of the vehicle and what we’ll need to buy to replace it. The van that we were in when we evacuated suffered damage to the seal on the (already cracked) windshield, so we will need to pay to have that replaced completely out of pocket. Then to top it all off Ginny was involved in a hit-and-run accident today. She and the kids are fine, and she managed to get a photo of the license plate on the vehicle, so the police are tracking them down. Hopefully they will be able to pay for the damages to our remaining van. Financially, we just straight up need help with the huge load. Any day-to-day needs you help us with also allows us to save towards our deductibles and vehicle costs.
While we qualified for 30 days of hotel assistance, there was only one in our area, which was slammed. We have been incredibly blessed by multiple families who have opened their homes to us. We are still waiting for a decision from FEMA on our eligibility for long-term Housing Assistance until our home is made habitable again.
So I recently was a director for a short film as part of a speed competition. I had worked on someone else’s team last year as part of the same competition, and this year I spearheaded the effort. My team consisted of a mix of my students and local professionals in the Houston area, and it was pretty much the same team as the year prior but with a lot of extra hands on board.
I’ve directed before, and I’ve done speed competitions before. I teach directing, and I coach students through the same process I went through on this shoot. I often say when I’m teaching that it’s really easy to say something, but it’s another thing altogether to do it. That totally proved true in this case. There were some things I did that were right on, and there were other areas where I definitely let the ball drop. There are some definite principles to directing films that were reinforced for me in this process.
1. Surround yourself with the best. Last year we had a good crew, but it was lean. This year the crew was nearly twice as large as it was last year. I had an AD, a DP, a producer, two AP’s, a Gaffer, an audio technician, an editor, and a sound designer. And my cast was fantastic. I love those people, and I would work with them any day of the week. Everyone was stellar. Everyone. Seriously. It’s hard enough to do what we do, and then in a speed competition you take away the two things that make it possible: time and money. The only reason this thing turned out as good it did was that everyone was top-notch. When problems came up, my crew solved them. When artistic differences were present, they were brought up and discussed. We got what we did because people didn’t bury their artistic opinions. Some people could see this as threatening or discouraging, but I thrived on it. I was constantly having to defend my vision for the story, and that nearly always made it better. Nearly? I’ll talk about that more later.
2. Know what you want. Having to defend your vision makes you refine it, sometimes on the spot. This is especially true when you start your production window by pulling the genre for you film out of a literal hat. It’s easier when you’ve been able to steep yourself in a story or a world for a long time. We also had a few elements that we had to include, but those are minor things. Usually, a Director is having to manage the demands of a producer, and balance that with the artistic input of those under him or her. In this case, I was having to balance what I had in my mind with what all the brilliant people around me had in their minds. Most of my conflict was internal. I would know what I wanted, and then someone would come to me with a great solution or alternative that was brilliant. How does someone make that decision? I think it depends on the situation. I’m supposed to be over the entire story, and from that perspective I should be able to make the decision that fits best into the context of the entire story, which individual artists may not always have. But this is a speed competition with friends, and everyone is invested. Where do I draw the line between friendship and creative control? There were times when I would have liked to have pushed back on a creative element, but either didn’t have a good enough argument to do so without reverting to a “because I’m the director” kind of argument. Friendships don’t thrive on that. I need to find a way of saying, “Listen, I can’t give you a great reason or argument right now, but I just need you to do it this way.” Actually, that sounded kind of good. Maybe I’ll just use that in the future.
3. When problems arise, it’s up to you to decide. This is so true. Here’s where things got tricky for me in this context: We all came together after the draw and came up with the story together. We brainstormed for about three or four hours, and I didn’t leave until we had a basic arc that we could all get behind. Then me and my longtime friend and co-producer hid away in my office until we had a completed script. The benefit to this process is that there are a myriad ideas that get kicked around in a large group like that, so when you hit a roadblock further down the road you have some previously-discussed fallback positions. However, because of the time crunch, It’s almost never a clean transition. There’s also some reason you didn’t go with that option in the first place, so it’s usually not as good as your first choice. Also, not everyone is around the table on set. So sometimes problems with one of your workarounds aren’t brought to light until it’s too late. Ultimately you get/have to make that decision. When the credits roll at the end, it’ll be your name on the stupid thing, so act like it.
4. Preproduction is priceless. I had a phenomenal producer. She came on board months before the production, and I gave her a list of possible locations I would want. (This is not against the rules of the competition.) She did it. She made a spreadsheet and started reaching out to places. So, when we drew our genres, we could tailor the story to the people and places we had. This allowed us to be really creative in creating our story, and raised our production value immensely. In fact, she won an award for “Best Locations.” Is this a completely made-up category? Absolutely. But I’m glad it existed because she totally deserved it.
TAlso, I didn’t have a storyboard this year. My poor AD didn’t really have a shooting script or shot list either, so we were kind of having to make it up on the fly. She did a great job of keeping us on target, but I really wish I’d had those things for my own sake. My head got cloudy, and I found I was having a harder time making decisions than I would have liked. Next time…
5. I love directing and I hate it. I love creating collaboratively with competent people, but it definitely comes with the weight of being responsible for the artistic success of a story. The Director is the thermostat of the set. He or she will determine the atmosphere that all these wonderful creative people are working in. Some love to rule with an iron fist, and will take the first opportunity to strike fear into everyone around them. They justify it by saying that at least they got their way. That's not my jam. The other end of that spectrum is the director who is so busy trying to keep everyone around them happy that they don’t push for their vision. This is what Elia Kazan said about some of the first films he directed. “I used to spend most of my time straining to be a nice guy so people would like me.” And as a result, we have the film Sea of Grass. Let me save you the time…don’t watch it. I would feel bad saying that, but so did Kazan. I love being around people, and I love being able to bring out their best, but I often struggle with not being a little more hard-nosed. I need to stay malleable enough to take the good advice of excellent artists, but also I need to have the mettle to stand up for my ideas. I think I ran a pretty good set, but I also wish I’d taken 5 minute breaks throughout the day—told everyone to just go stare at a tree for five minutes. I think we’d have had a better final outcome if I hadn’t pushed so hard. I also wish I’d pushed harder and gotten the shots I really wanted.
6. At the end of the stupid movie, your name is on it. I feel like this has to be my new focal point. I mean, honestly, I need to make films NOT in 48 hours. There's a reason we take time to make art. Films are films, however, and not life. I need to make films, but I need to keep balance in my life. And when I do, I need to be able to know the reason for every beat of the film. And when it gets challenged I need to stay open to suggestion so that I can capitalize on the amazing people around me, but also know when what they are bringing me isn’t right. They work hard, and they get their fulfillment wherever they get it from in their process, but at the end of the day…I’m responsible. I need to work at being able to communicate my vision, and I need to work at fighting for it. This is hard for me to say, but it’s my film, and I’m going to act like it.
We did really well in the competition, and I am incredibly proud of everyone who poured themselves into it, but I was ultimately disappointed. I know the potential that our story had, and we didn’t quite get it there. It is no one's fault except mine. I think I really feel the weight of the other wonderful people who worked on this that put their trust in me to steer this project to a very successful conclusion. In the end, I had too much story for the limited time allowed by the competition. I have a 10 minute film and I had to get it down to 7 minutes. Also, we did really well the year before, and I was really hoping we could have done better than last year. I loved the experience, but I’m hoping I can spin it out into other products that I’m even more proud of. Steven Spielberg once said, “You shouldn’t dream your film, you should make it.” I will. And I will learn from that too. I’ll still mess up, but I’ll be a better director and it’ll be better than the film before it.
And I hope to continue that cycle for a very long time.
I’ve recently described “film school” to my students as a story incubator. There are incubators for startup businesses, where young entrepreneurs can receive experienced guidance, mature instruction, and even investment in a short-term, intensive season in hopes of kick starting a new company. They are also places where entrepreneurs can get networked in with other entrepreneurs to create economic synergistic magic. I really think that film school is that, but for stories and storytellers. Or it can be. Or it should be.
Jesse is a professor at Houston Baptist University. He also directs the school's theatre club, does handyman projects on the side, and produces features and short films. A Pastor's kid/missionary kid, his view of life is at the very least unique. And hopefully helpful.