On a mission trip down to Mississippi two summers ago I was forever changed. My church, Sugar Creek Lutheran, loaded up two fifteen passenger vans with 25 students and luggage to last a week to aid in cleaning up Hurricane Katrina’s damage.
We arrived in Mississippi in just about 20 hours with aching backs but smiles on our faces. We lodged at the local high school that had already been repaired but was far from perfect. My team was assigned a house that was located in what use to be a typical subdivision one could find all over that nation. We were shocked to see though that it no longer was. Even though years had passed since the hurricane there was still an immense amount of damage all around. There were pieces of houses littering others’ front yards, water line marks on the houses, and very few residents. Our job was to clean up one house’s front yard and paint the inside of the house in 100 degree weather.
While we worked the owner of the house worked side by side with us telling us his bone chilling stories of the storm. He had been one of the few in his neighborhood to stay behind. He had lived there all his life and thought it could not be as bad as expected. As the waters raised as he sat on his roof waiting for help he realized he had been wrong. He thanked God over and over during his story for letting him be saved. He had watched his neighbors’ houses being swept off by the water along with most of possessions yet he continued to be grateful.
After three days of hard labor on the house or job was completed. We then went to the local elementary school where there was a summer day care for school kids. Before going we would plan out crafts and games to play with the kids. As I sat next to a group of eight year old girls and taught them how to make friendship bracelets I was blown away at their bravery.
They told me their own personal experiences with the infamous storm. Some of the girls had gone with their families to other states to wait out the storm. They left their friends and schools behind and started fresh for a few months. Others had stayed behind. They spoke of how when the storm started they storm proofed their house, then went upstairs, then had to go to the attic, and next had to go to the roof. One girl sat up there for three days with only a bag of chips and a sandwich. She watched her best friends’ house be eaten up by the water.
Yet, after the hardships that most people will never encounter the girls were able to move on with their life. They knew how blessed they were to be alive with their family. They had, had no school, no house, and no clothes except the ones on their back, but they had smiles on their faces. Upon my return to Wisconsin I returned with a new found gratitude towards life. I am grateful for every morning I wake up to the sun beating through my window. God has blessed my life in more ways than I shall ever know. Each time my minds slips from that trip I look down to the bracelet Cortisha had given me and I instantly remember life is the most precious gift.
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