In this book, John Ortberg writes, that it has been said that life is a game, moving toward a goal: “It has an object; it is not just a series of random activities. Furthermore, there are rules to follow in life, and each of us will develop a strategy. The game will not go on forever” (p. 7). As part of the rules, it is important to focus on what really matters rather than all the worldly things, possessions, money, looks, and power (i.e., things we think will bring us fulfillment). Anne Lamott writes, “But this turns out to be a joke, because they are just props, and when we check out of this life, we have to give them all back to the great prop master in the sky. They’re just on loan. They’re not ours.” They go back in the box.
On August 28, 2017, in the midst of preparing for my 50th birthday, I received an email from the American Counseling Association (ACA) stating that “The Red Cross Needs YOU: Professional Counselors for Hurricane Response. The American Red Cross is in great need of disaster mental health volunteers to help individuals and families cope with the trauma of this natural disaster” Also on this day, I confirmed my annual solo beach vacation. However, Hurricane Harvey had just devastated Texas and Louisiana and affected more than 1.3 million people. And on the horizon, was Hurricane Irma which was projected to devastate Florida. In the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to help in some way. I have family and friends in Texas, Louisiana and Florida. However, I was also excited to celebrate another year of life. I was also excited about my new career journey having just resigned from Waynesburg University and about my upcoming vacation to rest, relax and rejuvenate. I was conflicted between watching the devastation (and potential devastation to come) and wanting to help with wanting to celebrate and enjoy the worldly possessions! On September 1, when I saw that Hurricane Irma was going to hit Florida, I made the decision to volunteer with the American Red Cross. I completed all the necessary training by September 8, 2017.
On Thursday, September 21, I received a call from the American Red Cross stating that they are ready to deploy me to either Texas or Florida. On Sunday, September 24, I received my assignment that I was being deployed to Orlando, Florida on Wednesday, September 27. This is the same day I was to depart for my solo beach vacation to the Cayman Islands. How could I go rest, relax and rejuvenate in the Caribbean when many of the islands in the Caribbean had been devastated? I couldn’t. I cancelled my trip and accepted my Red Cross assignment.
In the past 48 hours, I have truly reflected on what is important in this Game of Life. As I prepared to pack, it wasn’t about having all the designer clothes packed in my bag; it wasn’t about the possessions I would bring; it wasn’t about how I looked or should look in Florida; and it sure wasn’t about having fun on all the sunny beaches as I have the many, many times before that I traveled to Florida. The focus is on being present with the individuals, families and the other Red Cross volunteers who have been impacted by Hurricane Irma (and Hurricane Harvey). The focus is on my missional assignment to assist individuals with emotional, mental and spiritual support. The focus is on helping and giving back.
On my way to the airport this morning, I talked to a colleague who just returned from his 9-day deployment in Florida. He told me to be prepared to see devastation and trauma in communities and to the individuals and families who live in the communities. I asked him how he is doing since being back in which he stated that he’s good although he is having some reoccurring thoughts of the trauma he witnessed (which is normal). He reminded me to take care of myself as we as helping professionals are not immune from vicarious trauma. When I ended the phone call, I could have turned around and headed back home. However, I became even more excited to help and reminded myself that as part of the rules of the Game of Life, it is important to focus on what really matters rather than all the worldly things. It is important to focus on the eternal rather than the temporal. It’s 12:09pm and we have begun our descent into Orlando. Let’s play!