Mission: Nigh on Impossible

This past week, I helped out on the 5th grade mission trip. In case you didn’t know, there weren’t just 5th grade missioners there; St. Thomas from San Antonio was there, too. Their group was a little older: mostly late-middle to early-high school.  Overall, this was an amazing and rewarding experience and we truly did accomplish a lot for our Houston community. I’m grateful to have had this opportunity and I am inspired by all the good our 5th graders achieved. You should be very proud of them. They’re rock-stars. (Some of the time, anyway.)

Now, there were a lot of memorable moments, but I’ll give you a rundown of the one that stands out most to me.  Before that, here’s some stuff that I, as a High-School Helper, dealt with that I feel deserve Honorable Mentions:

–   The Half n’ Half Incident

–       The Parmesan Cheese Incident

–       The Mafia Incident

–       The Air-Mattress Fight

Ask any of your 5th grade missioners about these: They should either look guilty or launch into an enthusiastic explanation. For everyone else, I feel that this list is better without any context whatsoever. You’re welcome. Now, for the actual post.

Women’s gosh-darn Clothing

On the second day of missioning, we went to the Emergency Aid Coalition to sort clothes. Eventually, it became clear that women’s clothing was too large of a category to be confined to one table, so we moved it to the floor on one end of the room. Our friends from St. Thomas, Aiden and Greg, did a great job getting everything sorted into piles with labels that I’d made. There were 6 piles initially: remember this, it’s important. Matthew Buchanan noticed just how much stuff we had to sort through and asked everyone to come over and help.


We ended up with one pile once everyone was done “helping.” We were trying to find places to put new clothes, but it just wasn’t working.

I have a pretty clear idea of what the descent into madness feels like now. I had descended, and it was not pretty.

Aiden and Greg were freaking out, people kept throwing – actually throwing – clothes at us to sort, and we were overwhelmed. One of the awesome interns, Zach, tried to hold up the floodgates while we tried our best not to crack. Matthew realized what he had done and joined our efforts. The one spark of manic energy we experienced happened whenever we saw an item of winter clothing. We’d decided to put winter clothes into one pile, so whenever we saw a sweater or jacket, we would smile maniacally and scream, “Jacket! You know what that means!”

The rest of the team would screech back at the top of their lungs,


Finally, enough was enough. We took a breath, sat down on the plush carpet, and got to re-sorting.

From scratch.

I made new piles and labels, and things started to clear up. We began to get more organized, and things got a little easier.

(Just to be clear, none of us were actually recovering from our initial insanity, we were just handling the situation somewhat.)

When we finally, finally, started moving clothes out of the space, I began to feel better. Everyone helped bag up our piles, and in about twenty minutes, the floor was clean. I almost cried, I was so relieved. I hugged or high-fived anyone who had suffered with me, and through the sarcasm and the sighing, I noticed something. Even though the floor was clear, something new had taken its place – a friendship forged in fire.

All of us had complained, screamed, and sometimes just collapsed at multiple points throughout the day, but we were all changed in some way. I had made two new friends, and the satisfaction of taking down your own personal Goliath is incredible.

I learned something valuable that day: Service isn’t always fun or easy, but the service that isn’t is often the most rewarding. Maybe a small part of our souls were gone, maybe we were all more bitter than pure black coffee, maybe we were drained of all joy or energy, maybe my writing style’s just incredibly hyperbolic, but the truth is we all felt like superheroes. We took down Women’s Clothes – that was an awesome feeling. We could have given up and passed the buck to someone else, but we didn’t. We pushed through and bonded over our shared suffering. The moral of the story? Even when you’re overwhelmed, in a bad mood and slowly going crazy, with the aid of some fellow madmen and elbow grease, anyone can defeat their own Women’s Clothing.

~Caroline Paden


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