You'd think, after 13 mission trips, that I would have suggested we travel to an all-inclusive resort in Aruba, but no! Down to steamy Bayou la Batre, Alabama we went. We were warned about the heat and humidity and bugs. We traveled with plenty of water bottles, sunscreen and DEET.
As is my pre-trip habit, I spent most of the last month worrying--about safety, about health, about you name it. By the time 5 AM on July 3rd rolled around I was pretty much a basket case. The teens were very excited (though slightly bummed when my "no phones" rule turned out to be enforced), so little by little I caught a glimmer of positivity and even enthusiasm in myself.
There followed our week of service. We spent several days painting a house and shed, and clearing brush, for a lovely lady named Beverly, and the other days running a "Kids Club" for the local youngsters. All things I've done many times before, albeit not in 98 degree temperatures (being outside was like walking through soup). I reminded myself that our time was short, and we should accomplish as much as possible in this Katrina-battered Gulf Coast town. I noticed some little differences this year, courtesy of my aging body...the aching back and feet, the pains in my knees as I knelt to wash the kids' feet the last night in Bayou la Batre. I felt it wan't fair to give less than 100% when the young people were trying so hard, so I pushed on.
Our travel day home was lengthy. Up at 6, first flight from Gulfport, Mississippi to Atlanta, four hour layover, delayed flight to Philly (we got in two hours later than expected). Of course, a bag was lost. Mine. It was eventually found and delivered to my door at 1 AM, heavily damaged (but props to Delta Airlines, they also delivered a brand-new suitcase).
I'm feeling better every day. Like the tattered tote replaced by the latest model of luggage, I am feeling refreshed, and for that I thank my week in Alabama. Pushing my limits was a good thing; I realized I can still do quite a lot. It was a joy to see bonds form and strengthen among the teens. Since we've been home, I've looked at the photos with affection more than relief.
I don't know what Summer 2017 will bring. It may be time for me to take a break from these trips. But I will always be grateful to Bayou la Batre, as I am to Guatemala, Alaska, West Virginia and on and on. I may depart incredibly stressed, but I ALWAYS return a better person. Stronger. More compassionate. Closer to God. Inspired to continue to do good work here at home. These experiences force me to live fully in the present moment, and to let go of some of my baggage. And in letting go, I have faith that what returns to me will be good as new. Better than new.