Have you ever done something crazy, motivated by love? Spontaneous trips are one of my favorite things. There’s a thrill to picking up and moving in the unexpected. Thursday, I learned of an opportunity to do relief work in St. Augustine after Hurricane Matthew went on a rampage. I have been in Florida for a season of debriefing, with no weekend commitments, I couldn’t have been any more flexible. I linked arms with 4 other volunteers (one of which responded to the invitation and 30 minutes later was in the car with us).
We drove 5 hours from Niceville, FL to aid community members in their efforts to clean up. When we got in the car, we had no idea what we would be doing the next day but we went in obedience and with an attitude of love.
One week ago, the streets of St. Augustine were flooded 3-4 feet deep from torrential downpours and vicious winds. We entered the homes of people whose lives were ravished by the brutal forces of nature and it was a sobering experience. This monumental storm took many lives around the Atlantic Ocean, and it left an immense amount of destruction in it’s wake. What captures my mind is that each person we met suffered a different loss from exact same wind and rain.
We were surrounded by destruction all around; some was visible on outside, but at other places we needed to go inside to see the problem. The damage was from flooding, wind, from ignoring the problem until it was too late, or putting off until a more “convenient time”. Most homes needed drywall removed from the entire ground level, still some homes were condemned. There were docks covered in debris, boats floating down the road and lodging in unexpected places. The stench of swamp water filled homes and garages, even a beautiful 100 year oak tree was uprooted and laying flat on the ground. While there was preparation, nobody can adequately brace for a malicious storm, even when it’s been on the radar for days.
It’s a matter of priorities, caring for the most valuable things, and fleeing for your safety. Upon arriving at one home, a father was caring for his fishing rods and the mom was obsessing over the memories: photos, newspapers, an aunt’s first tooth; the irreplaceable. As I walked the streets, surrounded by earthly possessions, I was ready to embrace more of a minimalist lifestyle: the meaninglessness of collections of “stuff” was overwhelming.
There’s a comfort knowing that in the midst of this tragedy, the walls between neighboring houses were torn down, the community gathered to around a table (we joined a spontaneous neighborhood BBQ), simply put: the solidarity of the storm brought people together. Why do I say all this, why does it matter? You see, it’s the same in our lives. Daily, we are faced with challenges and “storms”. I can face the exact same problem as a friend, but because of my priorities, experience, and stress reactions I will respond differently and the “clean up” required is completely unique to me. I know that what I need will be different than what you need, but I also know that we will all need a little grace.
During our time, we did very simple and small things in response to the need: moving boxes into a truck, drying damp photos, removing debris from a dock, moving furniture and appliances into gigantic trash piles, and raking Spanish moss from the grass. I tend to think that the simple things pale in comparison to “heroic” things, but that’s not the case.
In retrospect, this short journey opened my eyes to a lot. Could hopping in a car to sweep be just as valuable as getting on an airplane and embracing a new culture? We are daily given the imperative to love, to understand, to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. These are the things to focus on. As I sit in America rather than Hungary I wonder what are those things that I need to be focusing on? What are the practical steps that you and I can take to bring transformation where we are planted? I’d love to dialogue about this!