Houston didn’t need me. But I needed Houston.

It was nearing midnight in Nashville, just a few weeks before Christmas, as I crawled into bed and mindlessly opened Instagram to scan through pictures of my friends’ smiling babies and beautifully curated photos from companies seeking to sell me something. Right then, a Preemptive Love post came into focus. They were calling for volunteers in Houston, for people willing to travel just two weeks before Christmas and help in a big, final push to get people back in their homes before the holidays.

What a great thing, I thought. I love PLC. I kept scrolling.

Kristin and her fellow volunteers measure and cut drywall in a flood-damaged home near Houston.

After all, it was my busy season. As the owner of a retail-based company, it would be foolish for me to leave town right now. Besides, I live a thousand miles away, I don’t know anything about construction, and they probably have plenty of people already. Houston doesn’t need me.


Why can’t I sleep? Why can’t I get this idea out of my head? What is it they always say—Love Anyway? What about the cost? Oh, gosh… am I going to Houston?

Just a few days and a 13-hour car ride later, I arrived in that hurricane-torn city—unsure, a little intimidated, but hopeful. Hopeful for the people I would meet and the work we could accomplish. Hopeful for the stories I would hear and how they would change me.

And Houston was a city full of stories. Stories of loss, of fear, of unknowing and weariness. Stories of a community in recovery, but still with such a long way to go.

“Dark water,” as I learned it’s called, leaves its mark on everything, and nowhere quite as distinctly as on the human heart. Pain is a great equalizer, and rising waters do not discriminate between the haves and the have-nots.

But there was hope there too. Everywhere we looked, hope was at work.

Hope was at work when a father who lost his child to a miscarriage just weeks before his house flooded finally started to see walls of his home put back into place.

Hope was at work when a little girl who’d been sleeping on a motel floor got to help drill the boards that brought the shape of her room back together again.

Hope was at work in the hearts of a small migrant community who was embraced by Preemptive Love when they didn’t understand the language and government systems well enough to get the help they needed on their own.

Hope was at work in the pastor leading his congregation to love in the sacrificial way they’d always believed—and now got to embody.

Hope was at work as we were welcomed into a mosque by our Muslim brothers and sisters, reminding me that somehow the humanity binding us together might be stronger than the cultural rhetoric dividing us.

Volunteers visit a mosque in Houston to listen, learn, and love across social boundaries.

Love might be costly, but the payback is hope. So we keep choosing to love anyway.

Because after all, real love, the good kind, rarely comes cheap. It costs our comfort, our resources, our time… and what’s more, it costs us our pride. Real love is ready to be inconvenienced. It in no way denies the cost or diminishes the sacrifice, but instead it chooses to press into the pain, to set aside preference and personal comfort in some hopeful belief that mutual good is to be gained. And this is the life I want, to live and tell a story of a hopeful love.

Kristin (center) during an evening debrief in Houston.

Coming back to Nashville, back to my routine and my warm bed, I’ve carried the mark of Houston’s dark water on my heart too, and I want to let it change me. I’ve learned that choosing to love anyway has way more to do with the state of my heart than with my physical location. Sure, in Iraq and Syria, the call to preemptive love often means risking one’s actual life. Even in Houston, it meant a more physical, daily risk.

But even though I’m not in Iraq, my opposition to love is just as deadly. It goes by names like Pride and Comfort and Prejudice. Sometimes it even goes by the name Safety. Whatever shape my adversary takes, I want to combat it armed with hope.

To stop scrolling and stop looking away, and instead to start loving anyway.

It’s true, Houston didn’t need me. But I needed it.

Kristin Hornstein lives in Nashville, TN where she is an entrepreneur, an artist, and a storyteller.