“To love is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will become untreatable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” – C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
At 7:40 am on Tuesday morning, I felt my own heart’s vulnerability as I clasped hands for the last pray out time with Suzanne, a Billy Graham chaplain from California, and Julietta, a beautiful, young, traveling nurse turned full-time office manager volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse, in a tightly knit circle of prayer. Tears streamed down my face as I encountered the heartbreak that comes with leaving new friends behind and the joy of new beginnings unfolding amidst times of uncertainty. I have never been great at goodbyes. Goodbyes are like litmus tests gauging the quality of an experience. The deeper the connections and the more profound the interaction with others, the harder the goodbye. This was no easy goodbye.
I landed overwhelmed with gratitude, quieted by exhaustion, and spiritually renewed as I returned to life back home, life before witnessing the daily routines in an ongoing disaster area affecting over 100,000 southern Louisiana residents. Undoubtedly, the experience varies from person to person; however, I believe one thing remains the same for each of us involved, and it is best summarized by the concise, poignant words of C.S. Lewis:
“You have not chosen one another, but I have chosen you for one another.”
Wow, let that marinate for a minute.
After several hours in my favorite local coffee shop this morning unpacking my thoughts and fond memories, I returned home and retreated to the comfort and safety of my bedroom, shades pulled, bulldog and pug snoring on the dry floor beside me, with spiral notebooks, hard covered journals, colored index cards, an open student Bible given to me during a spiritually life-changing experience in France 17 years ago, highlighters, and all sorts of writing tools with which I attempt to catch passing thoughts and release to paper, I paused to give praise, by way of tears of gladness, to the One who authored this experience. I humbly realized that I did not decide to go to Louisiana, rather, God chose Louisiana to be a healing ground for me and for all the others who joined in the relief efforts. God’s plans are immensely wider and His love runs profoundly deeper than our human minds will ever comprehend. He chose this experience for each of us, knowing how to satisfy the longings of our souls. This distinction keeps me in awe and wonder of our Maker.
Having spent several days a passenger in the backseat of Drew and Pat Alexander’s Subaru Outback to and from work sites each day, I gained a unique vantage point for witnessing their genuine love for each other as well as their deeply rooted passion for serving people in disaster situations. Drew currently serves as pastor of Folcroft Union Church in addition to his volunteer work as chaplain of the local police and fire departments in Folcroft, Pennsylvania. He and Pat, his amazingly strong and inspiring wife of 26 years, respond to both Red Cross and Samaritan’s Purse deployments, and in the late nineties, they spent two years overseeing boarding school children of missionaries in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. I asked them both what drives their volunteerism on a ride home from Abbeville, La. that Saturday afternoon.
“I believe we were given the gift of service“, he replied from behind the steering wheel in a low-toned voice likened to Tony Dungee’s by one fellow SP volunteer. Drew went on to share the importance of using spiritual gifts, and emphasized the distinction between spiritual gifts and talents. “Talents can frustrate“, said Drew, “but [using] gifts is refilling. When we are not using our gifts, we feel stifled, stuck, and tend to stagnate.”
As we returned back to our home-away-from- home, Crossroads Church– the welcoming lighthouse location providing long-term shelter and much appreciated provisions for several dozens of overnight volunteers, I contemplated the masterful design of this Samaritan’s Purse (SP) team and all the gifts it had to offer to the residents of Louisiana, and to each other.
There were no coincidences on this trip.
God masterfully and purposefully painted the smallest details into this Lafayette team canvas with variegated brush strokes, each volunteer a vivid prism of color combined to form a rainbow palette of spiritual gifts to share. As the apostle Paul states in his analogy of the church to a human body in 1 Corinthians 12:12 :
“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.”
I likened the rest of this passage (vv 12-27) to the joint effort of volunteers with Samaritan’s Purse and Crossroads Church. Today I jotted down a list of all the extraordinarily talented volunteers who made the experience possible, as well as the number of things that happened behind the scenes to keep such a large, long-term disaster relief operation running smoothly. I cannot say enough about the incredible stories of those with whom I had the privilege of serving.
While this list isn’t exhaustive, it allows the formation of a mental picture to accompany the “many parts, all one body” illustration. Furthermore, it is intended to thank all of those who shared, knowingly or unknowingly, their spiritual gifts for the benefit the entire group.
Number of blessings
There’s a sales adage that goes, “the proof’s in the numbers“.
Let us, therefore, consider the numbers:
# of miles flown, # of miles driven , # of prayers lifted, # of circles gathered. # of Bibles signed and gifted, # meals prepared, served, and shared, # of dishes washed, trips to the grocery store, and # of alarms going off at 3am.
# smiles, hugs, greetings to one another and to homeowners, # tools used, # hands hammering, pulling, lifting, # of sweat beads and tears shed, # dirty orange t-shirts washed each day, # devotions, chaplain prayers, and nightly debriefings. # of welcome visits, new orientation videos, and facilities tours, # squeegeed shower stall walls, lights out at 10, and after hours conversations in the hallways outside the sleeping quarters.
The # of times your body wanted you to rest, but your heart begged you to join one more conversation, stay up just one more hour.
# soaked drywall fragments removed, corners meticulously brushed and scraped, mold infested areas sprayed, and the # of personal effects carried to the curb. # of lives intersected, laughs shared, and songs sung. # of stories told, pasts untold, hurts brought into the light, lives redeemed. # false beliefs shattered, emotional and physical walls surrendered, # times mere strangers became close friends, and the # of encouragements that helped you make it through another day after difficult night of sleep. # of opportunities to share, to help, to give, and to learn, # of times we had to love our neighbor as ourselves and stand as living testimonies, and the # of times we had the chance to respond to the Gospel’s call to action.
Above all this, the # of times we humbly, without merit, received God’s grace and mercy, and felt his unending love fill our lungs with every breath.
Thank you God, for providing this gift to us all.
Click here for serving opportunities in Lafayette, Baton Rouge, or Gonzales, Louisiana. Samaritan’s Purse will be on the ground through the end of October at the earliest, serving the flood victims and their families until the need no longer remains.
Please enjoy this video tribute of my experience with this highly organized, thoughtful, and incredibly nurturing group of volunteers, leaders, and staff of Samaritan’s Purse. I look forward to the next deployment, and throwing on my favorite orange t-shirt.
Stand in Love,