It’s not that I had any expectations of this trip. I really didn’t know what to expect. I had hopes of course, but they were fairly vague. Like most of the things I am searching for right now. Something… something right beyond my reach. I think I hoped that the joy I saw in the eyes of someone I helped would affirm me in such a way that my path might be further defined. I wanted to see if my heart would indeed be stirred by the service I performed. Which is why the way some things have progressed have been frustrating. But you know what? Never question God. And besides, the trip isn’t even half over.
The drive down was fairly uneventful other than getting to know my companions better. Muji has a talent for sleeping in the car, though her headphones at full blast surely helped her check out. Elizabeth drove the majority of the way because she’s cool and weird like that. And Sheila, whose name inspires constant annoying songs to go through my head, shared some really cool new music off her mp3 player.
We expected at least a 12-hour drive with extra time for potty breaks and getting lost. When we made it in 11, we drove right by the church we were to stay at and headed for the beach in Gulfport. It’s not a pretty beach by any means. I don’t know if that’s a result of the hurricane or if it’s just not as nice in that area. But that didn’t stop us from taking off our flip flops and sinking our toes in the sand as we walked aimlessly � enjoying just being somewhere else. We wanted to stay for the fireworks but had been told lights went out in the church hall at 10. We didn’t have time for fireworks, but we made time for seafood at place called Lookout 49. The shrimp practically fell apart in my mouth. I guess I’ve never had it that fresh. I also had a fish I’d never heard of called amberjack. Very good.
So having foregone out firework dreams, we arrived at the church only to find out that they hadn’t at all been expecting us. What?! Not only had we been talking to someone for weeks about coming and filled out e-mailed forms, but also we had talked to someone just a couple hours before. Apparently there was a lack of communication with the people physically located here. Frustration number one. In addition, we had been told by our work coordinator that we’d be given tasks upon our arrival. We’d tried to call her the whole way down, wondering what we were to do early the next morning. Once here, we were told she was on vacation. Frustration number two. Fortunately, we were able to piggy back with another group.
Thus far, this Maryland Lifeteen group has been our saving grace. They’ve been incredibly warm, welcoming and fun. It’s truly been a joy working with them and getting to know them.
Yesterday, we worked at the home of Miss Ivonne, an older, physically challenged woman whose home was damaged in the storm. People who know me won’t believe that primarily all I did was yard work. I was so excited. In the morning that is. Halfway through the day, Muji asked if I was still excited about the yard work. I must admit that knowing I had to avoid the dangers of fire ants, black widow and brown recluse spiders was far from comforting. I did have a run in with the latter. Yikes! St. Louis having been horribly humid and nearly 100 degrees when we left, I thought I’d be able to handle whatever Mississippi had to throw at me. Ha! It’s not like I normally would spend all day working outside in that weather anyway. It was a very challenging day. You just had to keep going even when you felt as though you didn’t have an ounce of energy left. It had pretty much all been sweated out of you.
Frustration number three was feeling as though we weren’t doing the service we’d hoped. Yes, Miss Ivonne’s home had some damage from the storm, but the skilled laborers were seeing to that while we pulled vines out of the fence and cut back trees. We kinda felt like there were old people in St. Louis we could have helped just the same. But the all told difference that we made on this house was astounding. And we were very happy to help Ivonne. The four of us actually had a few moments to sit with her in her living room and chat. That was special.
The crew quit earlier than a normal day in order to have a July 4th BBQ. After one of the most gratifying showers of my life, I spent dinner getting B.F.F. with Kelly, one of the Maryland teens and James, the Iowa farm boy who is spending his summer down here. Then the entire group headed for what will be a very hard to top high point of my trip � fireworks along the beach in Biloxi. A much prettier beach by the way. Fireworks are also legal for citizens down here, and there was quite a show all up and down the beach before and after the official entertainment. Of course, I was running around sharing my �trippy� fireworks, light refracting glasses. And I was twirling so free-spiritedly with sparklers that even little children were giving me their spares. I was happy to inspire others to whirl and duel. The main fireworks were incredible. The whole evening was incredible. The temperature was perfect and the breeze caressing. Our new friends were a blast.
Unfortunately, at the end of the evening, we were informed by one of the work coordinators that work for the following day (today) was unclear. Frustration number four. We ended up deciding as a group (theirs and ours) to spend the day at the church cleaning and organizing to facilitate other volunteer groups. At least, that was the plan before the skies opened up and much of the outdoor work was abandoned for mud sliding. No, I did not partake. But I got plenty soaked. So this day has most definitely not been what we had hoped or planned. But as so many other things in my life, I realize yet again that it’s not always about what you are doing but who you are with. As the four of us have continued to get to know each other and this other group, we’ve had to admit that though things might not be as we expected, they are far from without value. Through several experiences and especially one conversation, I have made some important self discoveries. And isn’t that really what I am here for? God knows.