Two parents working full time. Three teens looking forward to a holiday weekend. Everyone in need of a real break.
So what's the vacation destination? Sandy beaches? Mountain skiing? Or ... clearing brush and doing salvage work for a small church?
Would you believe we took a flight to New Orleans to help with disaster relief after Katrina, our luggage bulging with work clothes, hand tools, garden gloves, and sturdy boots? In fact, getting on that plane seemed the most natural thing to do that week. It was the logical outcome to our prayers for this community during the previous three months.
Despite what it looked like, we had prayed to see evidence that God is there and good is going on in practical, tangible ways.
God as ever- present Love continuously communicates to each of us the ideas that will shelter the vulnerable, provide necessities, and illuminate progressive answers. The more we prayed, the more we realized we could be part of those answers.
It wasn't even a hard sell to the kids. They had followed the news stories online. When we asked them if they wanted to get involved, they jumped at the chance to make a difference.
But how? Often well-intentioned good can simply overwhelm those in need or send what isn't needed at the wrong time and in the wrong way. Who needs a donated winter coat in a humid climate?
Most of us are looking for a vacation to help us leave behind our everyday lives – and the daily news included. Our sense of rest and recreation tends to be as far removed from discouragement and devastation as possible.
But there's something in the old proverb that shared sorrow is half sorrow, and shared joy is double joy. Simply becoming usefully engaged in another's plight can ease the burden in ways money and other donations can never fully accomplish. And helping someone else find a reason to smile again rekindles an inner vitality we may not have felt for years.
Getting involved requires thoughtful planning and spiritual listening. The most significant question to ask is, "Father in heaven, what is my role in all this? How can I follow Your wisdom to be of help and not an unintentional burden?"
As our plans came together, we walked out of an airport with its makeshift arrival gate and into instant friendships with the members of the local church community. The task of cleaning up their devastated building and grounds bonded us into a tight family with a single purpose. Our teenagers chatted effortlessly with longtime residents as together they hauled away debris. Hours of hot, hard work sped by, and we made much progress.
There's something deeply satisfying about seeing chaos begin to give way to order and devastation yield to restoration. And our dinner together that first evening was filled with fellowship and laughter. We felt privileged to witness the resilience of this group.
All the accumulated weight we'd felt from the past weeks spent in our day jobs melted away in the company of our new friends. We experienced the joy Mary Baker Eddy wrote of in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures": "...blessed is that man who seeth his brother's need and supplieth it, seeking his own in another's good" (p. 518).
When our focus shifts from self to selfless, we find ourselves enriched instead of impoverished by caring for others. So it wasn't a surprise when we returned home refreshed by our time away.
And the kids? Well, they've had opportunities to travel to some exotic places, but no vacation has meant as much to them as this one. They want to know what we might do next. As we continue to pray for the world around us, we'll have our answer for them.