In Alabama, there are many religions. One of the biggest is college football. You see, in other states, professional teams pull money and loyalty away from college sports. When I moved to Pennsylvania seven years ago, I heard about Penn State. But I heard more about the Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies and Fliers. The car tags, flags adorning front doors, and jerseys worn in grocery stores all showed allegiance to the professional teams. What you see depends on the season. In the fall, you see Eagles and Steelers jerseys. In the winter, the Fliers orange and black abounds. And in spring, the Phillies red and white is on every cap and t-shirt.
We don't have that down South. In Alabama, there are no professional football, baseball, or hockey teams. There's just Auburn and Alabama football. (If my friend, Jason Mitchell reads this, he'll note the obvious mention of Auburn before Alabama--War Eagle.) Because of this, the line in the sand runs deep and wide. There are no other teams to distract your loyalty. So on the day of the Iron Bowl (the annual Auburn-Alabama game), the streets go quiet because everyone is somewhere watching the game.
Then, something happened to bridge the divide. On April 27th, a series of tornados tore through the South causing unimaginable damage. At least 350 people were killed, homes were destroyed, and thousands were injured. In Tuscaloosa, the home of the University of Alabama, a mile-wide tornado laid an unbelievable path of destruction. Within days, Toomer's for Tuscaloosa was born. "Toomer's" is short for Toomer's Corner in Auburn, the heart of campus. Days after the storm, a few Auburn fans gathered to help their rivals, but brethren, in T-town. They utilized Twitter and Facebook to cry out to their neighbors to help thousands. If there was a need, someone would tweet or Facebook Toomer's for Tuscaloosa and boots were on the ground within hours. The help ranged from water to diapers to food to debris removal. As the movement expanded, clothing, furniture, and mobile homes were added to the list of things delivered. This grassroots effort provided miracles to people all over the state who were affected, and it was done so by volunteers.
As donations and help poured in, the founders of Toomer's--who are all volunteers--began the process of creating a non-profit to handle the donations and deal with the paperwork. But its number one priority was to field requests for help. To this day, they work tirelessly into the night to answer emails and dispatch donation trucks and clean-up crews.
But as with anything, there are haters. Their Facebook page has been peppered with people spreading rumors about the propriety of their work and where the money is going. The (volunteer) administrators have tried their best to field the questions and provide answers--all while continuing to dispatch resources and respond to cries for help. Yet, still there are the haters.
This illustrates a very important lesson for me. No matter who you are, what you do, or how altruistic your intentions, certain people will find a reason to criticize you. To be cliche: you can't please all of the people all of the time. I refuse to compare my manuscript with the mighty work being done by Toomer's for Tuscaloosa. But it reminds me that people will hate my work. They will read, "The Beauty of Grace" and say I'm anti-motherhood. Anti-faith. That I advocate suicide and vanity. But they will be wrong. Just as most haters are.