if one event could change your life, this was it

Just as the country remembers where they were when they heard the news of 9/11, I so clearly remember the moment I heard about hurricane Katrina. I had just come home from work, and my roommate was watching the news. I had no clue what was happening, much less what damage a hurricane could do. I recently learned what destruction a tsunami could cause, as I had just returned from spending my summer in Sri Lanka. I think I had just gotten over jet lag and already had my culture shock "america sucks" fit in the grocery store. (That involved me venting to someone about how unfair the world is, that there is this store full of food, and people in Sri Lanka are starving. I was a little intense about America, and was hating basically everything about my country. I don't think I was wearing shoes either.) Anyway.

I went online, and saw a picture of a woman dead in a wheelchair covered with an American flag, and I blew a fuse. The image of our nation's flag "covering" this woman, who could have been saved, or could have been cared for, but was left to die made my insides turn. I impulsively dumped my checking account to the red cross, which wasn't much at all, but I felt so helpless. My friends were on a road trip and were rerouted because of the storm, and I told them, "buy all the water in Texas, and just drive to the city, and give people water. HOW ARE PEOPLE IN AMERICA NOT GETTING WATER!" They weren't allowed in. 

Unfortunately, I was enthralled with the news and everything related to the storm for a few weeks, and then it left my mind and I went on living in a beach town going to classes, enjoying my senior year. January rolls around and a staff member with Campus Crusade for Christ got a flyer about relief trips to New Orleans, and she hands it over to me. 

"This seems right up your alley. You're like drawn to natural disasters. You should lead this trip." 

Well, OKAY! 

Planning started happening, people started signing up, and not just people involved with Campus Crusade, which I thought was especially cool. About 75 people signed up, and for whatever reason, none of them were close friends of mine, mainly random people which again was great. I went to Sri Lanka with 5 complete strangers, so I was up for this adventure. 

I don't know how to put into words what is was like that last week of March, 7 months after Katrina, but my friend Rob picked me up and he said, "We're staying in a Subway." and I said, "Great, cause I'm starved." He let that one go, until we arrived and we were staying IN a Subway, a gutted out Subway, no foot longs here. That's how clueless I was about what I was experiencing. 

I was one of the older students on the trip, so I had to rent a van to drive to the worksites. I can still find the houses we gutted in my sleep, but when we were first given our address, we had no freaking clue where we were going, and I had to drive. No iPhones, literal maps. Oh, how 2006. We had our gear, our bandanas, and we were stoked. But as we left camp, the van was silent. Not much to chit chat about when you see an abandoned city, houses blown off their foundation, kids toys covered in sludge in the middle of the road. If you had told me the storm had just happened, I would have believed you. I can't imagine how awful it was days after it passed. 

We worked, we sweated, we found high school prom pictures, we prayed for people, we ate really crappy food, took ice cold showers and were glad to do it again the next day. I made some great friends, and felt right at home on my cot at night. 

When my dad picked me up from the airport after the trip, he tells me, "How about we cool it on these trips, yeah? Just focus on school. Stay put, will you." Oh, dad. 

I had my heart set on moving to Sri Lanka after graduation, working at the orphanage, and basically becoming a modern day Amy Carmichael. But then this hurricane, this city, those homeowners, that moment when we were driving back from the worksite, tired as hell, and the radio happened to land on 90.7, and the sounds of slow jazz filled my soul with a feeling that redirected my heart to New Orleans.  I was in love. 

Telling your parents you're moving to New Orleans instead of Sri Lanka is actually easier than you'd think.

I can't sit here and say I'm glad that Katrina happened; that would be insensitive. But her repercussions; I'm grateful for. I have met the most beautiful people since moving here, and have found the most beautiful life, so full and rich. 

There isn't much else to say that hasn't already been worded so well by others on facebook and what not today, but God bless New Orleans, for she has blessed my soul forever. 


Katie Cook said...

Melanie! I love following along with your journey! This post was so fun to read because this is the trip where we met:) THanks for sharing girl! Love Katie (Rystrom) Cook

Emily Young said...

Mel, you've had some great adventures. Glad you found you're "spot." Miss getting to see you out here, but hope to visit some day!

nolajazz said...

The worst moment of my life - "Mom, some of the levees have broken and the city is going to flood" - has yielded some of the most wonderful things. Most of them have been people like you and the others at Redeemer. Praise God for his sovereignty and faithfulness!

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