Updated: Nov 2, 2022
I’d forgotten. I’d forgotten all of it.
I’d forgotten love can happen so fast.
I have an incurable case of wanderlust—not driven by touristy crap or all-you-can-eat buffets—but driven by insatiable feelings of empathy and love for all God’s people.
So off I went on a plane to Puerto Rico without knowing a single person, without knowing much about the work we would be doing, and without any physical, emotional or spiritual preparation.
Sometimes you just have to go.
When I landed in San Juan, I picked up the fear I’d neatly packed in my checked bag and walked into the heat and chaos of another large, urban terminal. As I stood waiting for my group in our designated (and terrifyingly empty) meeting spot, I ran through the list of ways I could have screwed up.
Wrong city. Wrong day. Wrong spot. Wrong phone number.
Wrong… when a large group of smiling strangers approached wearing Jesus-y matching shirts and looked at me quizically (I wasn’t wearing the shirt… #awkward).
Faster than the hellos could be said, my fear flew away with the departing planes overhead and excitement moved back into my heart. Let’s do this people.
We were all here together with one purpose: to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a place drowned in destruction and disrepair. Without even a second to notice, introduction questions gave way to inside jokes and worship sing-a-longs, devotionals and prayer sessions, rambunctious evenings of spoons, and iguana hunting.
And I’d forgotten.
Each morning we rose with the sun, work gloves in hand ready to be the embodiment of God’s love to a small neighborhood in Juana Diaz in our own God-given ways.
With each nail removed, rotten wall demolished, and new board hammered into place, I watched 10 strangers all silently sing the same melody, a tune not heard with the ears, but felt in the heart: a song of hope.
We weren’t there to save anyone. “We weren’t coming with a handout, but a hand up.”
In our downtime, we went door-to-door handing out solar lights, water filters, and listening to story after story of the mother of all hurricanes. As I stared into Carmen’s sobbing eyes and held her hand to pray, I could feel the weight of her trauma as we all pleaded with God for restoration.
We asked each family if they had any needs and made daily trips to Walmart for diapers and wipes and whatever else.
We grabbed hands and prayed in living rooms and front yards, between fences and language barriers. We stopped and prayed in the middle of the street with pedestrians and the mailman.
And I’d forgotten.
The week rushed by and suddenly it was our last day, Louis proudly served us an incredible meal of homemade stew, donuts, and Coca-Cola (the good stuff). He cried. His wife cried. We cried.
I wondered what it would feel like for God to send 10 strangers thousands of miles to help you and I thanked God for choosing us to hand deliver that message.
We spent our last night as a mission trip family exploring the nearby town of Ponce, handing out homeless care packages, and eating a delicious restaurant meal—laughing until we were crying again.
We worshiped by the campfire and we prayed one last time.
The next morning at the airport we hugged and cried again saying goodbye to this family we’d become in just 6 days. I wondered over and over how love could be so strong in the few short hours we’d had together.
In the middle of the airport hustle and bustle, we gave our final hugs and 10 former strangers went their separate ways back to their own little corners of the country almost as if none of it had happened at all.
And I, the one with the latest flight, sat in the airport coffee shop and cried one last time.
I cried because I remembered.
I remembered what it’s like to feel completely comfortable in a group with one mission to love and serve God. I remembered how selfish and cold-hearted I always become hoarding my treasure while billions struggle to eat and survive. I remembered how powerful prayer can be and how listening can be our greatest ministry. I remembered how I wanted to spend all the days of my life: lifting others up.
But most of all I remembered how fast love can happen.
Through so many seasons of pain and rejection, being pushed out of churches and cliques and “families,” watching so many people I thought would never leave walk out the door and never come back, feeling so alone, feeling like I will never truly belong anywhere—I remembered.
Love for new brothers and sisters. Love for a beautiful family in need. Love for a people and a country so foreign to me, yet more comforting and hospitable the place I’ve lived in for 25 years. Love for myself and the many gifts God has curated in me that give me so much to offer.
I remembered that in a world exploding with so much anger and hate, to love a few people well for even the shortest of time is better than anything this selfy-obsessed world could ever offer.
I hope you spend your life lifting others up—not because they need you to save them—but because they will in fact save you.
I hope you go and go as often as you can to remember that the recklessly alive life will always be entirely about love: loving God and loving his people.
I hope you never get jaded by all the lost relationships and never forget one of life’s most wonderful gifts: love can happen so fast.