Another early morning, this time a bit bittersweet.
We headed out this morning for the last time to Port Aransas, where our groups swapped places. Instead of tackling house demo/refurbishment we helped to clean up the church grounds, removing copious amounts of STINGING NETTLE, the irritating weed that was everywhere and stung and itches so badly even if you just barely brush against it.
The other group was sent out to help install insulation in a house with some other volunteers.
Since we were working during the church’s preschool hours, we got to converse with the children outside on the playground, who were fascinated with us and our gardening tools.
Shortly after we broke for lunch, our last packed meal of the week. As we were cleaning up, Amy came over to us and said something none of us expected: “Y’all should take the afternoon off and go to the beach. It would really bring me a lot of joy. Y’all have been working so hard all week, you need to get down to the beach.”
Not gonna lie, we really did not know what to do with this request. Our first thought was “oh no, we couldn’t possibly…we’ve got all this work to finish” working and finish our jobs. But then she hit us with the “it would make my heart so happy” statement and we realized that to refuse might break her heart a tiny bit so…we took her up on her offer and headed over to Port Aransas Beach.
Upon pulling up, we saw some temporary tent shelters along the beach, housing those who were still displaced by the hurricane, yet another reality check and glimpse of the lasting impact of Harvey.
We practically exploded out of the van and ran down to the water, where we sunk our feet into the Gulf of Mexico and scoured the shore for sea shells.
It was overcast but very a cool temperature, and the sand was so finely ground… it was heaven for the feet.
It was then that I realized I find peace at the beach. Amidst the roaring of the waves and the examination of the tiny clamshells spread eagled like butterfly wings on the shore I can get lost in my thoughts, my experiences and my blessings.
We had to leave eventually, and I asked my friend and mission partner Marissa [who is from San Antonio and vacationed regularly on Port A] how she can bear to leave this lovely tropical paradise and head to the blustery, blocked in city in the middle of the Shenandoah mountains twice a year. She said that it was difficult every time.
We made a pit stop at Deep Sea Headquarters for some souvenir shopping [the store smelled like fish but there was some purty fantastic and memorable merch which I may or may not have purchased ;D]
We headed back to the church to change and pack up a bit, and then headed out for dinner at Snoopy’s, a local fave for seafood. We received word that our priest’s college roommate, whom she hadn’t seen for 25 years, was making the drive from her home 4 hours away to join us for dinner. Needless to say she was over the moon.
After our bellies were full of fried fish, we made the move for dessert at Scoopy’s, the ice cream place right next door, but not before we were approached by a woman who offered us free ice cream vouchers and some really touching stories about the hurricane in August.
She told us about trying to get to her family, how the police pretty much blocked off the areas amongst the flooding, and the craziest way the hurricane left some things completely untouched, like when the hurricane tore the exterior of a liquor store completely off but left a solitary rack of hard liquor standing unscathed. She mentioned that amidst the destruction of the storm no one had the audacity to remove any of the bottles, despite the place being deserted and practically up for grabs. “It just affects you in a sort of way, the storms. It changes you,” she said.
Her family beckoned her away with their car honking, and we said goodbye and thanked her for talking with us.
We made sure to sign the Hurricane Harvey wall; what an amazing sight to see so many names and uplifting messages.
We topped off our meal with some Dessert Olympics– a game our priest used to play where everyone claims/orders a different dessert, which is then passed around the table and rated by each taster on a scale of 1 to 10. The ratings of each dessert are averaged, and the winner is chosen that way.
My dessert, one of the house specialties titled the Chocolate Barnacle tied for first place [I guess all that Olympic training paid off (;].
As we were leaving the restaurant, our attention was jerked toward a large table of people, all huddling around a seated elderly man who appeared to be having a stroke. Someone called 911, our priest secretly laid hands on him, and we got out of the small dining room and prayed for him outside. We heard sirens shortly and hoped everything would be okay. Just another moment of thankfulness– for first responders, for family, for having a priest present.
On the way back to the church [for the last time *sniff, sniff*] we reflected on the week. I thought about all of the wonderful people we met, the families that all needed something different but for the same reasons, the hope in their eyes despite their current situations.
All of the little signs of healing, bits of encouragement, and tokens of kindness and hospitality over the past week culminated into a realization tonight that, in the cases of some people we visited over this trip, it was a gracious vulnerability for these people to let strangers like us into their lives to clean up a bit of a dark place.
We had to head right to sleep, in order to get to the airport for our flight at 8am. Bittersweet indeed, but this week has offered us an abundance of blessings and experiences that I cannot wait to bring home in my heart with me.