When Chris and I were first married we found ourselves in New Orleans. It was right after hurricane Katrina hit the golf coast and the devastation that we witnessed both from the storm and the effect of flooding were unlike any I have ever seen. We drove through neighborhood after neighborhood, deserted. With ugly X’s marking one home after another after another telling the story of the number of people found dead because they couldn’t escape the rising water.
There are so many judgements we put on people who are in a less fortunate situation than ourselves. We try and name the reasons why that person is suffering. We think if we can pinpoint why she suffers or why that happened to him then we can avoid the same choices they made and then escape hardship. But we all know, if we allow ourselves to look inward even a little, that hard things happen to all people. Pain and loss touch everyone with no care to who they are or where they have come from. While in New Orleans we heard many opinions as to why such a tragedy had hit the city. Maybe it was God’s punishment? Why didn’t the people evacuate as they had been instructed to? Why did no one have flood insurance? There are intricate answers to all of these questions but the truth is, none of them really matter. What mattered was that people were hurting. They had lost close to if not everything. They needed help.
Have you ever needed help? We all have, haven’t we? I hate to ask for help. It makes me feel so vulnerable and well, helpless. By the time I get up the nerve to show my vulnerability and ask for help, I just need someone to help me. I don’t need a lecture on how to avoid the situation the next time or a suggestion to go elsewhere for help. I simply need help. And I asked you.
The people in New Orleans, they simply needed help. From one human being to another. The kind of help you hope and pray someone will give you if you find yourself in need.
The first Spring/Summer we spent in the Bayou I was pregnant with Aimee, our first baby. So, I wasn’t allowed to put on the coveralls and masks to gut the houses. The mold could have been harmful. Instead I had the privilege of taking little packages of vienna sausages and bottles of cold water to the worst hit part of the city. It was also the poorest before the storm came and made everyone equal. Storms tend to do that, don’t they? Take away the distinctions that make us feel that we are better than each other.
I am a fixer so naturally I felt useless. The mess that the water had made would take a long while to fix, maybe it wasn’t even fixable. That is how tragedy is. It leaves us wanting to set everything right but not able to ever put it back exactly the way it was before.
We set up with our cold bottles of water, cheese and peanut butter crackers and tins of vienna sausage and the people came forming lines in the deserted Walgreens parking lot. We all sweated under the same sun and I never knew how valuable a bottle of cold water could be on a hot day.
There is another day that I think of whenever I think about handing out those bottles of cold water. Another Shepherd like my Deacon friends who I was pleased to assist under the Louisiana sun. He lived long ago, yet still lives within his followers today, he was teaching his friends and they leaned in intently.
“For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.”
A cup of cold water. So small and yet so significant.
I have heard it said that we can’t give to everything and I know this to be true. This is part of the heart behind Stories Foundation, the nonprofit organization I co-founded and run. The idea that giving through what you purchase is a different and less intimidating ask. We know that there are many worthy causes; so many needs.
Foster care, homelessness, clean water, natural disasters, discrimination, single parents, extreme poverty, mass atrocities, exploitation, slavery, child abuse, detention centers at our borders where children are living in conditions that are far from humane, lack of food, jobs, health care, education. I could go on and so could you.
These issues feel so very overwhelming. I know they do. We don’t want to talk about them because we don’t know what to do and we think we can’t do anything. I don’t have all the answers, but don’t believe that we have to have answers to begin real conversations. It is in connection and sharing that the boundaries of our thinking and ideating are stretched and we take a step closer to equality for all.
The lesson of the cup of cold water that I learned when I was so young and out of my comfort zone in a new, devastated, city has left its mark on me and continues to teach me to this day. Maybe we can’t fix the problems, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do something. Maybe you can’t give $100 or $200 to everything, but maybe you can give $50 to many things. Or $25. Can you give voice to the existence of issues and therefore value to the human beings they affect by educating yourself and starting the conversation?
What is in your hand friend? We all have something to offer this world, to those hurting and in pain. Truly, it could be us and probably will be someday, who need a hand or a bottle of cold water and a prayer. Instead of choosing to give into overwhelm; thinking of all the things we can’t do, what if instead we walked with open hearts and hands asking what can I do? What do I have to give? What would our world look like if we all gave what we could? Whether it be finances, time, our voice or our resources? What if instead of allowing fear to dictate our generosity we filled a cooler with ice and bottled water?
I am a person of faith, I claim Jesus as Lord and Christ Follower, this last bit is for you. This is his way. The way of our Lord is to surrender it all and follow him. To trust that as our provider he will cover us as we walk with open hands and open hearts. When we give we aren’t trusting the receiver with our gift, but the original giver. We can trust him with our sacrifice. You and I who claim to represent Jesus, it is our role to lead the way into the hard spaces in our world. The first to open our hands, engage our minds, and have hard conversations.
What do you have in your hands friends? I bet it is more than you think and can create more change than you would ever know. Start there. With a bottle of cold water.