When I was 15 (16?) my parents sent me on a work camp trip over the summer.
Take a minute to envision how that conversation went. Here, I'll even give you a little hint, it went almost exactly like this; "Eden, we are sending you on a work camp mission trip for the summer. Oh and by the way it costs $3000 and you have to pay for it yourself. This is non negotiable."
I was NOT happy.
Yes, life at home was awful, but this entire little plan of theirs seemed insurmountable. I hadn't been on a plane since I was three, I didn't have any construction skills, and now my parents were going to drop me off at the airport where I was going to fly across the country to live with people I didn't know and literally do hard labor for the summer. Oh yea and I had to find a way to pay for it myself.
Not daunting at all. Not a bit.....
Not only did I spend months participating in more fundraisers than I care to remember, but I had to attend "work training" classes at my church. I would literally show up with a piece of drywall, throw a hammer through it, and learn to mud and tape it back up. After learning to safely climb from a ladder to a roof when June rolled around I had scraped enough money together to begrudgingly hop on an airplane and jet set off to labor camp.
It was a life changing event that probably saved my life.
I left for the trip as an angry girl, who while surviving, was doing nothing more than just that; surviving. I left as nothing more than a girl just surviving and I came home living a life with a purpose.
My daughter is named after my first trip so I won't tell you where it was, but as I said, I will tell you that it changed my life.
I remember sitting there on the airplane, watching the clouds go by underneath my feet, and feeling like a fraud.
"I'm flying all this way where I will arrive to meet a family that needs my help, a family that is expecting me to fix things for them, and I can't even help myself. My own parents know that I am worth nothing, why would someone trust me enough to help someone else? I have nothing to offer, I have nothing to give, and I fail at everything. I don't want to fail these people but I don't know how to be a success, because I am worthless."
When we landed I met up with the crew that I was to be working with. We piled into a van where we were driven through streets that contained shack like houses and were then dropped off at our mission site with a massive amount of building materials.
There was no easing into it, oh no, it was all speeds ahead on this trip.
Our crew was an odd bunch, our hometowns scattered across the country. None of us had anything in common whatsoever and yet, we quickly learned that we had everything in common.
Every single one of us walked into the house we were to be working at, took a look around, and walked right back out. We all stood outside for a minute saying nothing; the silence in the air was so loud it was deafening.
I didn't know what to say but I sure as hell was hoping that someone else would.
Finally someone spoke; "there is no floor."
Yep, that about summed it up.
We had walked up the stairs of the front porch and then hopped down an 18 drop onto the dirt below; the dirt inside the house. The floor had fallen clean off of the house and the only thing that remained was the cinder block foundation with large gaps to the outside, a couple of wood rotted support beams running across, and a partial floor in the kitchen were the cabinets were.
I was not prepared for that.
We stood there for about ten minutes or so before someone spoke again.
"Literally, there is no floor."
Yep, that's what we noticed. Thank you captain obvious.
I stood there, feeling so self conscious that I was pretty sure the rest of the group was glaring at me and thinking "there is no floor in there and you have dropped us off with this teenage Eden girl who looks like she only knows how to patch drywall and climb onto roofs and we have an entire weight bearing structure to build."
I stared at the ground so hard I might have actually driven it a few inches further down.
Finally someone started talking, but it was unfortunately nothing that made any of us feel any better.
"Uh...I don't know how to fix this."
Yep, me either buddy, me either.
It was just then that the homeowners walked up to us, thanking us with everything they had in them. The joy that was in their eyes was not only unmistakable, it was heart breaking.
It was heartbreaking because we were there to give them hope and yet not a single damn one of us knew how to go about doing that.
Now remember, this was before the days of smart phones. We couldn't exactly just pull up a home improvement website on our phone and get to work. Hell we couldn't even drive to a hardware store and ask for help because #1, we were dropped off, and #2, we were in one of the poorest regions in the country.
As far as I was concerned, we were screwed.
I'm not sure how long we stood there to be honest. At some point we moved to the backyard where we perched on coolers, wiped sweat off our foreheads, and said not much more than a few disparaging phrases.
Eventually the words "well, we can do nothing and get nothing done, or we can do something and hope for the best" were said.
We looked at each other, figured we had nothing to lose, grabbed a pencil, and got to work drawing up a plan on the back of some plywood.
Two days you guys, it took us two days before we were able to figure out how we might go about this little project. We weren't even sure if it was feasible, we weren't sure if it was doable, but the only thing we knew was that is was attemptable and sometimes that is all you've got.
Luckily for us, it wasn't just attemptable, it was completable.
A week later we found ourselves laying peel and stick vinyl flooring tiles on top of our new sub floor. Never in my life have I seen such smiles on faces and I am not even referring to the homeowners.
I looked around and I just knew that everyone had changed. We had walked into that project feeling like we had nothing to offer and as we worked, as we cheered each other on, we grew. We found ourselves that week, all of us. We learned that when we felt like we had nothing to offer, that we just weren't working hard enough to offer what we could. We learned to look past the obvious shortfalls in people and to focus only on their benefits; because the only loss in a person is the good you don't recognize.
I learned to see the best in people that week and most importantly, I learned to see the best in myself.
|Our new floor, complete with a man that watched me get married so many years later.|
As I said, that trip changed me. For the first time in my entire life I felt needed. I felt accomplished. I felt worthy. So far from home, in such a harsh environment, so totally and completely out of my element, I felt nothing but peace.
That trip spurred a series of trips that spanned nearly a decade of my life.
I put a roof on a house in the mountains of Appalachia for an elderly couple caring for their three year old grand daughter. The family was so poor that we gave them our lunch everyday and when we left, we left them everything we had; suitcases and all.
|Some places had no roof at all, in other parts, particularly the dark rectangular patch, it was nothing but mold, moisture, and about to cave in. (Before)|
|Other places had big holes in the roof (Before)|
After that trip I started on a series of trips to build a youth center in New Orleans. The idea behind it was that if we give the kids a place to go, we could keep them off the streets.
This is the street that the center is located on:
We would sit outside on our breaks and watch the drug deals go down, right out in the open, kids witnessing the entire thing. The sex workers would walk up and down the streets, doing their jobs while the kids played ten feet away. I'm certainly not shaming their job, it's just obviously not a great environment for children to be around.
We spent a lot of time with those children; children that I still hold in my heart to this day. Kids with fathers in jail and mothers on crack, they were desperate for not only food, but for love and attention. When we would walk outside with art supplies and juice boxes they would come running down the street cheering to greet us.
Back at the center we were busy laying the driveway, running lines for the Internet, building a computer room, painting, and putting together a game room.
By the time our trips were over, we had given the kids a safe place to do homework and just be kids. We gave them the only place they had to escape the horrors of their everyday lives.
|Look how old the donated computers were!|
My daughter's middle name now bears the representation of that center. I poured my heart into that project and when Hurricane Katrina washed it away, I knew I had to go back.
I was sitting in church one day shortly after hurricane Katrina and a year into my marriage, listening as the Paster told us that New Orleans desperately needed us to go back. The woman next to me, a woman that I didn't even know, said "my heart breaks for them! I wish I could go but I hurt my back." I told her that I wished I could go, but that I didn't have the money. She asked me my name and wished me a nice day. A few days later the church called and said an anonymous donor had dropped off a check with my name on it and the subject line stating "New Orleans." She had paid for my entire trip.
I saw her at church a few weeks later and rushed over to thank her. What she said has always stuck with me, "sometimes the gifts you are given are just to aid someone else in the mission that they have. I can't do what I'd like to, but that doesn't mean I have nothing to offer to the situation."
Heading back to New Orleans after the hurricane is the one time that I can say I outright defied my ex. To this day I don't know why I did it; I was terrified of him. Truth be told I think that I felt more of a "right" to stand up for the people of New Orleans than I ever did to stand up for myself. My ex actually used the phrase "I forbid you to go" but that didn't stop me from buying my plane ticket. He locked me out of the bedroom for weeks on end, refused to talk to me, didn't come home many nights, and hurt me in many other unmentionable ways, but I didn't back down. I remember buckling my seat belt on the plane and thinking "I really can't believe I made it out alive." He was so angry that I was defying him that he spent the entire time I was there texting me about the other women he was with in my absence.
Yet faced with the reality of the hurricane's destruction, his texts didn't even register on my shock meter.
Not only was the center gone, but the whole town, and it's residents, had washed away with it.
|This is two houses washed up against each other|
|This house is on top of a fence and bushes|
|This house is sitting on a sidewalk; who knows where it came from.|
|On this street a house got caught up on a tree and all the other houses washed up against it|
|Empty foundation, the house is gone.|
|The engine is in the backseat|
|Those cement blocks are the only thing that remains of the houses that were built on them. Look how flat the cars are.|
What was once a bustling street, was now nothing more than the cawing of birds and destruction as far as the eye could see.
It was a place where life was........ and then suddenly wasn't.
All of the houses had a large "X" spray painted on them. The X meant that the house had been searched and the numbers spray painted next to them stood for how many people were rescued alive and how many were found deceased. What the news didn't report was that there were entire streets where rescuers had not been allowed to enter; streets that were deemed too dangerous to risk the lives of the rescuers.
I walked down that street, past the sign that was miraculously still nailed to a stop sign that said "attention drug users and prostitutes, this is a school bus stop. You have made your choices as an adult now please allow our children the chance to become one." I walked past the rows and rows of houses that had holes busted through the roof where people were trying to get out; the roofs that had "HELP" spelled across them with anything they could find. I walked past the houses where every single X reflected the number of live rescues at 0 and the number of deaths at a number I care not to remember.
The horror of it all was unimaginable and still haunts me to this day.
My assignment while I was there was to help gut a water ravaged house for a grandmother and her six grandchildren who were all living in a FEMA trailer no bigger than the size of a large pick-up truck. The temperature was 111, the humidity was suffocating, and it was my job to not only haul everything out of the house, but to tear down the hundreds of pounds of plaster and lath board walls. If I didn't get my job done, because of the tight schedule the following team would not be able to rebuild her home.
I took a look around and I felt the same feeling creep over me that I hadn't felt since my first mission's trip; the project felt insurmountable.
I spent days doing nothing but lugging sewage filled things out of this poor woman's house and then having my heart break and she dug through it; desperate to find anything left of her old life.
After we finally emptied the water logged house of it's belongings, we spent days cracking the plaster off the walls with our hammers
We spent even longer smashing through the lath boards with the hammer and then prying them off the support beams with the back of the hammer.
Every night I would climb onto my missionary cot after taking a shower with a hose in a tarped off area of the clothing donation center, and I would wonder if I was going to be able to get up the next day. Every muscle in my body was screaming in pain and my heart was heavy from the messages I was getting from my ex; the messages about the women that were filling my absence.
Yet somehow, the five of us got the job done.
A couple of you blew me away by donating through my PayPal account with the instructions to do something frivolous for my daughter.
This was the result;
I took her to her favorite restaurant that has gluten free grilled cheese (so exciting for a six year old!)
where she insisted on putting ketchup on each individual french fry.
"You are the best mommy EVER and I love you SO much" was thrown at me a few times.
Then she got her first haircut in 18 months
She couldn't wait to tell her friends all about it, especially when she wore her new outfit to school the next day; the one that I had failed to get her before.
|She has a big smile on her face|
So, you might be wondering why on earth I have dragged you through a series of photographic mission trip excursions only to abruptly cut to my daughter eating french fries at Red Robin?
Don't fret, I am going to tell you.
Out of the handful of donations that I received, it was really odd that all except one came with a little note that said something along the lines of "I'm sorry that this is only a few dollars and I feel bad that I can't give more."
So this is where I tell you that every dollar counts and if all of you could send me a dollar that would be fabulous.
JUST KIDDING, NO ONE FLIP OUT, THAT WAS JUST A JOKE. DON'T SEND ME ANYTHING, I WAS JUST JOKING. (Guarantee you the above line will be screen shot and posted on some GOMI site about me. Oh well, I hope it was worth the laugh.)
No, in all seriousness, this is 100% not about money, stay with me here people.
I get a lot of emails from you guys, I do. Most contain some version of the phrase "I never comment because I don't have anything helpful to say." Others of you email me your stories of trauma and tell me that you look up to me because I have found a way to use it for good and you are feeling stuck in a place where you feel like you have nothing to offer.
I've been there. I've SO very much been there.
Since many of you will never have the opportunity to travel the missions trips that I have, I'm gonna do you a little favor, save you about $20,000, months of hard labor, and I'm going to tell you what I learned;
You are enough.
Whatever you have to offer, it is enough.
Seriously, it's that easy. That is your takeaway for today. Whatever you have to offer is enough.
I'm not talking about money and this blog, I'm talking about your contribution in life. We all encounter things in life that seem too big, too hard, and like too much work. We feel under skilled, out of our element, and as if we have no place even aiming to make a difference. We see things that we would like to change in the world and yet we feel like whatever we have to offer, it won't be enough.
It is enough. Whatever you have to offer, it's enough. I didn't know how to build a floor. I had never roofed in my life. As I stood in that water ravaged home and looked around, I felt the defeat of my worthlessness before I had even started.To be quite honest, the only thing that I felt I had to offer when I started those missions, was to show up.
Sometimes you just have to show up.
It really is that simple. Literally or figuratively speaking, just show up.
My parents put me on a plane when I was 15(16?) years old, little old worthless me, and I saw the difference that I could make. I saw past everything that I didn't have to offer, and I used everything that I did.
Your efforts, they matter. They are not insignificant.
I built a youth center and I know for a fact that more than a few lives were put back on course because of it. How far the good of those lives will spread, I'll never know.
Do you know the difference between my Hurricane Katrina resident moving back into her home versus staying in her FEMA trailer? I showed up. My presence made a difference. I know for a fact that if our team had been down by one person, we never would have finished in enough time for the rebuilding team to come in and remodel her house. She most likely would have been forced to stay in the FEMA trailer until the government took it back and after that, she would have been homeless.
I was the difference.
Me. I was. Just like all the other people that were on my team. If even one of us had not shown up, the job wouldn't have gotten done.
My husband spent my time there berating me and tearing me apart, reminding me of just how worthless and replaceable I was, yet I didn't let it stop me. I was the difference, no matter what anyone else had to say about it, no matter the little that I had to offer, I was there to change a life.
I was a total mess when I showed up in Mr. Attorney Man's office and yet he saw past that and helped me anyways. Hopefully the work that I am doing in my life now will prove his efforts worthwhile.
Those of you who donated towards my daughters "princess" day all did so with a note that said "I wish I could help you more but this is all I have." What you didn't have, didn't matter. What you did have made the difference in her life that day. You didn't rely on other people to help us out, you stepped up and you made the difference. You did. You changed the course of her life that day, you gave her something to hold onto. It wasn't everything, but it was enough.
Those of you that feel like you have nothing to offer but words, they make a difference. Your emails, your comments, your encouragment, it makes a difference. It makes a difference to me, everyday. Each and every one of you makes a difference in my life even when the only thing you have to offer is your time.
You don't need to have all the money, all the time, all the skills, all the talents. Whatever you can offer, no matter how insignificant it may seem to you, it makes a difference.
It makes a difference to the senior citizen's you chatted with at the retirement home for an hour. It makes a difference to the dog you walked at the shelter. It makes a difference when you drop a few groceries into the food pantry box. It makes a difference when a child living in a shelter got to start her first day of school in a nicely handed down outfit.
You don't need to change the world; you just need to change what you can, with what you can offer in the moment. It adds up, it all matters.
You will never change the life of another if you live by the rule that you are too busy, too tired, too poor, or too worthless to help someone else.
When you feel like you have nothing to offer, you just aren't working hard enough to offer what you can.
I find myself wondering on a daily basis what on earth I think I am doing attempting to run a nonprofit. Me. Broken, bruised, and battered me. Poverty living, overworked, thrown away me. What on earth do I possibly have to offer?
I don't know, but I continue to show up and somehow it seems to be working.
The only failing effort in your life is not the small amount that you were able to offer; it's failing to recognize that you have anything to offer at all.
A funny thing seems to happen when we give the world what we can, it tends to reflect a view back to us that we failed to see before; a view of our own worthiness.
There are so many needs scattered across this globe; so many people needing a little help. You might not have all the answers, you might not feel big enough to make a change, but it doesn't matter.
Just show up.
The rest will work itself out, I promise.