Durability after a natural disaster.

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The message I want to send with Too Damn Durable is one of finding a way to forge connection between people. It is to build on the idea that life is hard and no matter who you are or how your life has played out we have more in common then not. Turns out being a human has caused all of us to take some hard hits and finding a way to remain compassionate, joyful, hopeful, graceful, and honest requires a certain amount of durability. Too Damn Durable is a mantra to say nothing can take us out of the game because we are too damn durable.

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to visit Guatemala and while I was there I met a family that represents everything that durability means to me.

They lost everything in the volcano last June, their home, community,  means of income, among so much more. More than losing their earthly possessions they lost a sister, nephew, and brother-in-law all at the same time.

It’s so easy to see the news and disconnect from the natural disasters and other tragedies happening around the globe. It’s so easy to shrug it off with only a hint of sadness for their loss and move on. When Fuego erupted in Guatemala last spring it hit close to home for me. I knew people in Guatemala, I had seen the volcano puff little clouds of smoke when I lived in Antigua on the world race, but even more than that I just could not shake the question: What if something like that happened to my family? What if I lost everything in a moment? What if my friends were still missing, never to come home? Asking those questions made me feel connected to the story in some way.

After the volcano erupted I wanted to do something. I wanted to feel connected to the story of healing after a disaster. I wanted other people to feel like they could in some way feel connected to the people in Guatemala who just lost so much. So with my little business, I did a fundraiser and managed to bring in around $200. Not a whole lot but it felt like we had done a little something. After I sent the money to my friend who lives there, she mentioned it would be great if I could come down and decide how the money should be spent. I told her she could pray for it but it would never happen. If you tell Marielle to pray for something, her and God have a way of making it happen. I got to spend ten days in Guatemala in the month of October. While I was there I had the chance to meet a family who lost nearly everything in the disaster and gave the money to covering some of the medical expenses for there baby that is due in two months.

I want to connect you to the family I met.  I want you to know the story they have lived in the last four months. I want you to know the story of people who live so far from your normal life because it matters. It matters because even if you have never lived through a natural disaster it shares many elements that are similar to your story: pain, heartbreak, joy, hope, confusion and grief. As humans these are the things we get to share in and it is continuing on in the face of these things that makes us mutually durable.

The town of San Miguel Los Lotes and the town of El Rodeo are located right next to each other at the base of an active volcano called Fuego outside the popular tourist town of  Antigua, Guatemala. On June 4th this year Fuego unexpectedly erupted causing a flow of lava and a covering of ash. The town of San Miguel Los Lotes was directly in the path of the pyroclastic flow. In that moment it was completely buried in deep, hot ash, killing many in its path.  The next door town of El Rodeo was not as directly hit but because of the ash and how close it was to the pyroclasic flow it has been condemned by the government. Many of the poorest residents have returned to live there with no electricity or source of running water. The death toll is officially at 159 with 256 still missing, however locals say the death toll is closer to the thousands. There are still crews digging through the ash to find the remains of family members in hopes that  they can have funerals and some sense of closure.

The family I got the chance to meet  ( Grandma, Grandpa, Mom who is seven months pregnant, Dad, and all their kids) lived in El Rodeo and managed to survive, however their daughter and grandson lived in San Miguel Los Lotes and were trapped under hot ash. Their remains have yet to be found. After they left home they were moved to a shelter to live with other people who also lost their homes and had no other place to go. As they recounted the living conditions to us it brought tears to my eyes as once again I thought: What if my family had to live like that? They described the danger they constantly felt as they shared a small space with people who were sometimes unfriendly strangers. There was no running water, no place to shower, or clean the clothes they had brought with them. The outhouses were overflowing and would splash back up on you when you used them. The days were spent trying to wrangle children, work through grief, and figure out just how to move on.

Thankfully, because of the kindness of fellow Guatemalans they have been given the chance to move out of that shelter and into a small apartment. It is a small set up for the number of people living there but the ability to take ownership and simply keep it clean has made them feel a little bit more at home. We sat in this little apartment while they told us about how their life has completely changed since that day. They tearfully, yet proudly, showed us pictures of there daughter that passed away. They talked about the wonderful relationship they had with her. Recounted how excited her little boy was to have a new cousin that is arriving in 3 months. Cried when they talked about how hard it's going to be to watch that baby be born without the support of her loving sister. They shared how hard it has been to not know how they are going to make money to support themselves now. We all cried as we hoped that even for a minute we could help shoulder some of the grief.

In the midst of this incredibly hard conversation there were two things that surprised me the most. One: there was a willingness to be in pain. I knew you could choose to be numb and not cry in front of the strangers that showed up at your house. But they let us into there sorrow and told the whole story and I respected that. I felt honored to know what they had been through and hear of the loss that was added to the story of their lives. We prayed for the mother who is seven months pregnant, that the hardships would not negatively affect the baby. I marveled at the wisdom this mom carried in the midst of her pain. It is a pain they did not try to cover up.

The second thing that I felt so grateful to see first hand was the amount of hope and faith they carried in the midst of that pain. They were not mutually exclusive. Their hardships and hope were woven together. They did not try and block out one for the other. Faithfulness in waiting to see how God would provide and pain lived in the same room.

I did not really know exactly why I was going to Guatemala other than deep in my soul I sensed I was supposed to go. I went because I believe you should listen to what your soul is telling you to do. Unpacking my trip I see lots of reasons I went: business, vacation, coffee, getting out of America. As far as the reason my soul needed to go, it was to learn to live inside the paradox of pain and hope. To find faithfulness in God in the midst of loss and confusion. It was about beginning to realize that the most human thing you can possibly do is live in the midst of the tension of praying to a God you trust is good while recovering from utter disaster at the same time. I am learning that this human existence of being durable is exactly what this family taught me. They taught me that you have to connect to both sides of the story to the hope and the pain. They taught me that moving on is about trust, hope, and allowing others to shoulder grief even if it’s a caring stranger who showed up on a random Monday.