When tragedy strikes we are often stripped of all that we know to lean on for strength. It is in those moments that faith seems to take over in a large degree.
In Katrina’s aftermath, it seems that many people either ran toward God, or they ran away from Him.
But no matter which end of the spectrum they fell in, it was apparent to me by the conversations I had, that faith played a large role in the days following Katrina – either the strengthening of faith, or the loss of it.
On of the women I had the privilege of speaking with was Ms. Brenda Wheeler. She lives in the Gentilly neighborhood with her two sons, ages 15 and 21. Ms. Wheeler spent the better part of an hour sharing her story with me and I walked away blessed. As we spoke, I was struck by the total calm and peace in Ms. Wheeler’s demeanor. There was no bitterness behind her eyes, no anger. She exuded grace and I told her so. Her response?
“Well I figure I can be angry and bitter about all that happened after Katrina hit but where will that get me? I’d still have all the same problems, but they would be magnified. I choose to look for the positive, because there is always positive to be found.“
Katrina and the resulting floods destroyed Ms. Wheeler’s home. Thankfully she and her husband, along with their boys, were able to get out before the flood waters rose, but they would never return home again. They lost all that they had and this set off a collision course of effects that ultimately led to the demise of their marriage, health problems and three years of wandering before finally being able to return to their home city.
Through all of this, Ms. Wheeler clung to her faith.
As Ms. Wheeler shared her story with me, she also let me know of a few of the minor challenges she has overcome since Katrina. One of those challenges was the lack of a few simple appliances that would have made life uncomfortable. While it wasn’t an enormous loss to live without a washing machine, stove or oven, those things sure would have made it easier for her to care for herself and for her children. Especially given the fact that she mentioned more than once how much she loved to cook for her family. “That’s how I show love,” she said. For the past three years, she’s been cooking her meals on a hot plate.
Twenty minutes after I spoke with Ms. Wheeler, a Sears truck pulled up caring a washing machine and an oven range.
The look on Ms. Wheeler’s face was priceless. I couldn’t think of anyone who deserved that blessing more. Sears gave away 150 Energy Star appliances during the Fifty for Five campaign. It was a gesture that may have seemed so minor, but for those who were blessed, it meant the world. It was such an honor to be a part of that experience.
As mother’s, our deepest desire is to protect our children and make sure they are safe. In a situation like Katrina, when the ability to protect them physically was stripped away, Brenda Wheeler had to work to protect them emotionally and spiritually. I met her older son while I was there and was impressed at what a fine, thoughtful and caring young man he was. He was the product of a mother who poured every ounce of energy into protecting and guiding his heart and it showed in his demeanor and in his love for her.
I came home from that trip and I hugged my children a little tighter. I looked them in the eye and I slowed down a bit. It is so easy to get caught up in life and to miss what’s really important – the hearts of the little ones placed in my care. I may not always be able to protect them from physical challenges outside my control, but I have the power to build in them a base of faith that they can lean on when times are tough. That is my number privilege as a mother.
I am grateful to Ms. Wheeler for reminding me of that calling.
Thanks to Sears and Rebuilding Together for sponsoring this trip.