Some of you may know about the massive storms that ripped through Alabama last week. There were something like 35 tornadoes that day, whole neighborhoods blow apart, and hundreds of people dead. Driving through parts of Tuscaloosa reminded me of footage from Iraq right after the invasion. One moment you're driving through an ordinary downtown area and the next it looks like the street has been shelled. I've honestly never seen anything like it.
A friend of mine said that she was going down to help out, so I volunteered to go with her. A friend of hers was heading up a team from the diocese to sort and transfer donations to some of the harder hit outlying areas. Having seen the pictures I'm all ready to roll up my sleeves and start tossing bricks or handing out water or do something mildly awesome and heroic. Instead I found myself with a clipboard in hand writing down how many diapers and hygiene packs were heading down in a van to poor, rural Eutaw (pronounced Utah). Then I hopped in the car with my friend and a couple more girls to follow the trucks and vans down and sort out all the supplies onto shelves. That was it. I wrote down an inventory sheet and then helped to sort out soup and bottled water and cans of tuna. I didn't see much reward for my labor. I didn't even see much labor for my time. It honestly seemed like a complete waste of all my heroic intentions. Talking with my friend on the way back she mentioned that service was a great way to bring people together because when you serve it's all about giving of yourself - there's no room for "me" when you're serving. I wish I could agree with her. The whole time I was there a part of me was thinking "Look, God I'm doing something awesome. I'm giving up my Saturday to help tornado victims. I've even got a pair of gloves. Surely you have something more important for me to do than count diapers." Wah, wah, wah. Not very noble or self-sacrificing I don't think. But it reminds me of so much of life. We show up thinking that God is surely going to let us do something awesome when really He just wants us to count diapers. We're like a bunch of little kids begging to lift that really heavy log and having to be content with sticks. Sometimes, we aren't that awesome. We go to the right place with the best intentions and then we sit around thinking about much cooler the other aid tent is. It's not about us. But we make it about us. In our own little minds it's always about us.
So I'm glad that I went to Tuscaloosa. It reminded me just how much I don't love people. It reminded me how much I want to pose for the cameras and be a "hero." Yeah, I went down there with good intentions. With a different crew I might have learned a completely different lesson. My compassion might have been touched. I might have learned love and teamwork and service. By God's grace I believe I'm capable of learning and doing all those things. But, today, I learned again that all my righteousness is a shabby cover-up for my own expansive ego. Unfortunately I expect we'll be going back home before I can really get my hands dirty rebuilding this state I love. God bless those cans of soup I counted. Because, despite the unflattering lesson I learned, I really did go down there to give my best.