When I first came to New Orleans in 2008, I had the desire to help clean up the mess that Hurricane Katrina had made. My goal was to enter a place ravaged by nature and change it for the better. What happened instead was that I arrived ravaged by my own nature and was changed for the better.
It started when I moved to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area in 2006. My family and I could not pay the bills with two full-time jobs and three part-time jobs. So, on borrowed money and borrowed time, we drove down to Garland, Texas, to start a new life. From the start, all the stores and restaurants and the constant message of living the “high life” bombarded us. We just could not stop eating out at every new restaurant we found or going to events, even though we were buried in debt. In addition, I found myself sucked in to the idea of climbing the corporate ladder. I started to believe that if I got the big job, with the expense car, the ultimate Blackberry, and all the other trimmings, I would truly be happy. I would have friends again and would never live in want. I could not have been more wrong.
When I came to New Orleans, I essentially wanted to be a fly on the wall, to be a help, but not be in the spotlight. Therefore, since this was a mission trip, I decided to help with the street ministry first. Again, my main goal was to stay in the background. My mission was to walk up to a homeless person, hand them a hamburger, smile, and say “have a good day.” What happened was nothing of the sort. I encountered need, real need, for the first time. I saw what it truly meant to rely upon the kindness of others for your next meal. Were there drunks? Yes. Were there other undesirables? Yes, but when you hear the stories of who they were before and how they got to such a low level, any sense of superiority disappeared. It all disappeared because I knew that I was inches away from being just like them: jobless, homeless, and feeling hopeless.
This drove such a distinct and sweeping change in me that I have never been the same since. I no longer care about getting the high-dollar car. My blackberry is something I would rather throw in the trash for something cheaper and more functional. Our family’s spending has gone way down as well. We have learned to focus on others first, ourselves second. When you understand that healing others, giving life, is what we were made to do, everything changes. It did for me. I hope the same happens for you.
If you have never worked at a homeless shelter, supported Angel Tree, or worked at a home for battered women, I encourage you to do so today. Find the time in your schedule to give life to others, to give yourself away. You will never be sorry that you did.