In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, my sister and I went with a group from our church down to Mississippi in order to help with the clean-up efforts. We spent most of our time working in and around Biloxi, where many had lost their homes and were living in temporary housing, with little access to food, laundry services, or other necessities. We spent a great deal of our time packing boxes of food and clothing, but we also spent several days out at what was lovingly called “The Swamp.” Now The Swamp wasn’t always “The Swamp,” but had, in fact, once been precious beachfront property. Before Katrina, the area was ringed with homes where people could enjoy the view and appreciate having a little bit of seclusion from other more crowded tourist areas. It was an oasis, until…it wasn’t. When we arrived, none of those homes stood any longer, they had all been forcibly pushed into a boggy area away from the road, no longer anything but heaps of wood and shattered memories. We spent several days ankle-deep in the muck and the grime pulling out massive beams and pieces of furniture from the bog, hauling them to the road in order to be picked up and discarded. It was heart-wrenching, pulling out picture frames and chairs from the murky water, knowing that once they belonged to someone.
Now, while all of those images and those memories are seared into my mind, never to be forgotten, there was one moment in particular, so poignant and so moving that I rarely go too long without thinking about it. When we arrived at The Swamp, our leader was quick to point out a trailer that resided alongside our work site. He quickly told us that it was Miss Annie’s temporary house. Most of the items we were pulling out of the bog were Miss Annie’s belongings from losing her entire house to Katrina. He then told us that the door to the trailer was open, and always would be. Even though she was at work, Miss Annie left her home open to us, with a note letting us know that there was Gatorade in the refrigerator and snacks in the cupboards, and that we were welcome to whatever we needed, even if it was just to sit inside for a few minutes to rest. She didn’t know us. We never saw her. Yet, she sought to care for us, even as we were there to try and help her pick up some tiny portion of the pieces of her life. I remember staring at the note she left us, and being in awe. We had come to take care of her, and she was more concerned about taking care of us.
So often, we go into situations of serving with an agenda, and sometimes we aren’t even aware of it, but it lingers in the back of our minds. We’re here to do something for someone else; this is all on us, we’re here for them, and we forget that in the midst of our service, we can be served in return. We have an unfortunate tendency to think that if someone is in need of being served, then they are incapable of serving themselves. We don’t think we have anything to receive or to learn from them, until we do, and that moment is stark, harrowing, and heart-rending, because we realize just how wrong we were. Our call to service is one that will never stop, it will never go away; at the heart of our call to discipleship is the call to serve one another, but that doesn’t mean that we are free from needing to be served ourselves. It doesn’t mean that we are so well off, so put together, that we don’t need a helping hand, that we don’t need someone to take care of us. We are called to open our eyes to the world around us, not only to see where we can help, where we can serve, but also just how the world is serving us, how our brothers and sisters are seeking to reach out and help us, even when we don’t realize we need it. Sometimes it’s just in a smile, sometimes it’s in the simple words of “I’ve been praying for you,” sometimes it’s in a held hand or an embrace, and sometimes it’s in a refrigerator full of Gatorade. We exist with and for each other, don’t be afraid to open your eyes, open your hearts, open your minds to see how your brothers and sisters are there for you…it might just change your life.
Peace it Together,