My husband’s primary area of gifting is working behind the scenes. He’s a fixer. He enjoys a task to tackle with his hands, a specific process that works toward an end he can see with is own eyes. So it was never any surprise to me when he signed up to go rebuild neighborhoods after hurricane Katrina, after ice storms in the midwest, after the devastating earthquake of 2010 in Haiti.
He’s worked with Samaritan’s Purse and Vineyard Mercy Response. These organizations are well-equipped and always ready to descend on any area that needs rebuilt after a widespread disaster. So when they get the call that help is needed, they go into action immediately. Volunteers and materials are organized, temporary command centers are established. There’s no time to mess around. They can’t be late. The well-being of entire communities depend on their ability to know what to do, how to do it, and to do it quickly.
My hard-working, task-oriented husband is just the kind of dude they need. And typically, it’s folks just like him who volunteer to give up a week of their lives and vacation time to take on long days of manual labor to help others in need. It’s a really cool thing.
So when you combine the well-oiled machine of a disaster relief agency and teams of folks who are all about gettin’ it done, you’d expect that everyone from the highest person in the organization down to the newest volunteer would be all about the tasks at hand.
But one lesson my husband brought back from his trips tells a different story:
The thing is not the thing.
One of the mission leaders, a man who had been on staff with disaster relief organizations for many years, held that as his mantra: The thing is not the thing.
The first time my husband heard that, he understood what the guy was trying to say, but at the same time, he thought okay, but the thing kind of IS the thing when you need to rebuild someone’s home in a week so they have a place to stay. But it turns out, they were really both right.
The team got the message. The thing is not the thing. The thing is not hanging drywall when the homeowner starts telling you about how she lost her husband in the storm. The thing is not clearing tree branches when some of the folks from down the street need a few bottles of water. Caulking windows or installing piping or rewiring electrical boxes aren’t the thing when a family needs prayer to keep looking for their still-lost loved ones in piles of memories and rubble.
The people are the thing. The thing you’re really there for. Connecting with them, listening to them. helping them understand that no matter what’s been lost, hope can always be found… that’s the thing.
And here’s the deal: What I’m noticing is that the thing is not the thing whether the disaster around us is a hurricane or just a bad day at work. Because it’s true that all of us are fighting hard battles that no one else may know anything about. But the thing is us. Every one of us. The thing is that we all keep that shred of hope, and that we all help others see it in the midst of our big and little disasters, and in our joys and in the plain old humdrum days.