Thursday, September 2, 2010

Out of Chaos, Hope

The tree strewn across the roof of the building was at least three feet in diameter and was balanced so carefully across the roof beams it was almost believable that a giant had placed the tree there. As if he were balancing a matchstick on a house of cards as a mere reminder of his strength. The town beyond the road looked as if no one had lived there for years. Driving along the raised overpass of HWY 10 I could see the hard yellow plastic of McDonald's golden arches flapping in the breeze, serving as an ominous foreground for the scenes of destruction that were just beyond the service road. As a single red truck drove by that Saturday morning, it became apparent how lacking in life the town was. No green trees, only patches of mossy grass, no restaurant signs, no people, no cars, nothing. The scene was hopeless.

Four and a half years later, I can still see Slidell, LA as clearly as I could see the Dallas skyline as I approached my office this morning.

Earlier this week while I enjoyed the comforts of clean sheets and a cozy bed, I watched a special called Witness: Katrina on Nat Geo, and was quickly brought back to my time spent around New Orleans in February following August 2005's hurricane. Just watching the footage shot during and after the hurricane I felt my chest tighten with compassion and sorrow. I knew the people in the videos. I had seen first hand their pain and my heart again wept for them.

As a person who has always been obsessed by hurricanes (and any sort of natural disaster, really), the decision to skip school and camp out in haz-mat tents to do hard manual labor was not really a question for me of if, but rather of when.

(Our camp for the first leg of our stay in Houma, LA. Later we moved to and built our next camp that was used for more volunteers after we left.)

As soon as I heard that my church was one of several putting a group together to go help the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance organization with the demolition or rebuilding of homes destroyed by the hurricane, I signed up and told my professors I would be out for a week. What I didn't sign up for, however, was the rekindling of a lost friendship. Nor did I expect that six months after the hurricane the once thriving suburbs would still be desolate and empty. Literally, void of all life. The thing I did not expect most, though, was to leave as changed as I was.

While in Louisiana, we helped several families to rebuild their lives. They helped me to rebuild my soul. While Katrina represents many things to many people, to me it represents hope. That was, after all, the PDA's motto for their rebuilding efforts: Out of Chaos, Hope. On that trip I learned how to spray for mold. I demolished an entire set of kitchen cabinets with nothing but gloves, a mask, and a sledge hammer. I talked to people who had survived losing all of their possessions in a terrifying flood.

I learned compassion...

...Out of chaos, hope.

I learned that life is not about the possessions you may or may not have, but it is, rather, about the relationships you build...

...Out of chaos, love.

I learned that when opportunities are presented to you, you should take them, because you don't know how incomplete your life might be without the insight they offer...

...Out of chaos, peace.

As with all mission trips I have been on, I am the person who is healed. And so, out of chaos I found hope in humanity. I found love in deepening my relationships. And I found peace with myself.

1 comment:

  1. I love it, Jana! Thanks for posting this.