Hurricane Harvey has got me reflecting on the year 2005.
That’s when Hurricane Katrina hit the southeastern coast.
The devastation caused by this terrible natural disaster tore at my heart. I know many around me in the Midwest felt helpless watching the aftereffects unfold. At the time, I was a full-time waitress (choosing to break from my college career). It wasn’t the brightest season of my life. I was feeling pretty worthless. I was a new believer, yes, but still fumbling at trying to shed my old self.
Many around me had careers, families, or school to focus their time and energy on. Feeling like my life was pretty directionless, I felt a responsibility to drop everything (on behalf of those who didn’t have that luxury) and do something to help down south. And since it seemed like a Christian thing to do, I enlisted in the Red Cross, simply because I could and because something inside me said I should.
With a couple weeks of training completed, I got my photo on my official Red Cross badge, made a trip to Wal-Mart for a sleeping bag, and boarded a plane for Baton Rouge. I was on my self-affirming mission to go help hurricane victims, but what I didn’t know was that instead, I’d be on a humbling journey to find Hope.
Once there, I would go to the Red Cross headquarters to get my assignment. Right from the start, nothing turned out like I had imagined. I had an internal pity-party when I learned that instead of New Orleans, I’d be working at a shelter in Lake Charles, Louisiana (an area devastated by the second hurricane, Rita). On my shuttle ride there, I pictured myself entertaining children, maybe doing art projects with them, perhaps helping them with meals. But instead, I got the disappointing assignment of the dreaded night-shift. I was pretty bummed to know I’d be staying awake and sitting at a check-in desk all night, every night, for the next two weeks.
I’m so glad I got “stuck” doing the night shift. That’s how I met Hope, literally, Hope the insomniac. Her home had been destroyed by Katrina and here she was, homeless, restless, and living in the shelter with her son. The nighttime was an orchestra of hundreds snoring in the big, open conference center. The less-than-ideal sleep in cot #74 left her wandering for company so she seated herself up front to chat with us at the check-in desk.
By first judgment I had (wrongly) assumed there would be very little that a young, middle-class white girl from the Midwest (like me) would have in common with Hope. I’m ashamed now to think of how I first felt bothered by her loitering at the front desk. But as she shared her stories, and her heart, her laughter, enthusiasm and unbreakable spirit, the more I felt thankful to be one of the few awake in the shelter at night.
By all the standards I had been previously measuring my life by, Hope should have been distraught and broken. But she wasn’t and she had something so bold and beautiful that I wished I had within my own self. As a new Christian, wanting to build my life on a foundation that couldn’t crumble, Hope was exactly what I needed to see. The more time I spent with her the more I wanted my insides to look like hers.
Hope had us dancing and singing to worship music at 3am.
Hope spread joy and fun and had security guards rolling with laughter.
Hope created and shared beautiful poetry.
Hope encouraged everyone around her.
Hope built-up and empowered the broken down.
Hope did everything in her power to ensure her son was rested, fed and shirt-tucked waiting at the bus stop each morning (so that he didn’t miss out on his education because of his homelessness).
Hope shined her bright light through the dark of night.
When my two-week assignment neared it’s end, I decided to stick around for more. I knew I needed to spend more time as a student of Hope, so I signed on for more night shifts. I got braver and bolder with how I served the people staying in the shelter. I prayed aloud for the first time (with the help of the Holy Spirit) for a stranger – a former crack-addict who was coming down off of addiction as a result of being displaced, or cut-off from his sources (when he fled for safety from the hurricane). At Hope’s encouraging, I had other residents sit for me to draw charcoal portraits, giving them the gift of art when they were without life’s luxuries (having little or no possessions to their names). I accepted a family’s invitation to join them at church and experienced worship “southern-style” followed by the best homemade gumbo ever in their new FEMA trailer.
I needed to meet Hope.
Funny, when I got my official Red Cross photo taken before the trip south, I just so happened to be wearing an orange hoodie with HOPE across my chest (it was from Hope College). I guess the trip had always been about finding Hope; Hope strong enough to withstand hurricanes.
“May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17