Seeing a natural disaster shakes and wakes the heart- compresses and expands it.

“God is so Good. I am alive and this is a sign that I need to live better. That we all need to stand together, closer. He let me live. I am going to live the rest of my life working to serve my purpose as best as I can. I’m alive.”

He was sitting on his driveway, smoking a cigarette. I don’t know his name but I could show you the remains of his house in Pratt City, Alabama. His eyes were searching mine to see if I understood. I don’t know if he saw that I didn’t know if I did, but I know that he saw that I wanted to.

All the people I spoke to who were affected by the devastating tornado in Alabama had the same thing to say. All were praising God and recognizing the tornado as a sign from Him “a new beginning- a chance to live right” as one woman called it.

I was there with Islamic Relief who partnered with The Red Cross to do disaster relief. We were doing D.A’s or Disaster Assessments, which means we were going house to house assessing the specific damage to each and every home in the path of the tornado which spanned 60 miles. It was the worst and most destructive tornado in recorded history. I also got the opportunity to do Client Case Work, which was doing more than just assessing the damage- it was talking to the people to see if they had any unmet needs- to see if we could figure out how to fill them if they did. They lost everything. All was buried beneath mountains of rubble: their prescriptions, their glasses, their shoes and sometimes, their pets and loved ones. Sometimes they just needed someone to talk to. Sometimes they needed help figuring out what the heck FEMA was asking in the forms they needed to fill out. All the stories were the same, but each was that person’s story and each and every one was important and new to me. The heartbreak and the strength to move forward was renewing every single time.

Working with the people of the Red Cross was a blessing. These saintly people drop everything and jump in a car or on a plane and flock to disasters, but not as spectators like some. They come with the intention to do everything they are asked in order to help. Sometimes that means alphabetizing forms. Sometimes it means spending 6 hours in the sun walking house to house talking to people. I worked with a woman who has been with the Red Cross 39 years. She has been doing disaster relief work for most of that time. She was at ground zero after 9/11 with her dog who was trained in finding cadavers. We were sitting around waiting to be deployed one day and people were talking about their pets and she became teary eyed and we asked her what was wrong. She told us the story of her dog. How he didn’t live much longer after that disaster. How the hurt was too big for such a good creature. She said, “No dog should have to find so many bodies in such a short time.”

The motivation for action isn’t heroism. It’s service- Helping people and in that is service of God.

The stories penetrate the heart and motivate me into action. There is so much we can do. We can sign up with our local Red Cross chapters. We can make action committees in our places of worship. We can pray. God is the changer of hearts. May He make our hearts steadfast upon His path and in His way and in His service. May He give us sincerity in our hearts that translate into sincerity in all our goodness. May He increase us in goodness and guide us away from things that would lead us away from Him.

There was a little boy walking with his mother away from their pile of rubble back to the tent where they were handing out water. He was 2 years old, had beautiful cornrows, dirt on his face from the dirty air around us and a jar of bubbles in his hand. We stopped to talk to them. The other volunteers talked to the adults. I talked to him. I told him I thought his jar of bubbles was really cool. He stuck his hand out and motioned for me to blow some. I did. He laughed.

Click HERE to see a few pictures from the trip.