December 31, 2008
Formats, ME News, Vol. 1, Issue 44
Happy New Year, a little early.
Last year at this time, I hadn’t even had the first thought about a newsletter format.
I had just begun my blog adventure, timidly, I might add. Last week I decided to print out a table of blog contents just to see what I had already covered. I guess I wasn’t paying too much attention, because I was surprised to see over 210 posts. I had forgotten some of the topics I wrote about, but then again I was a little alarmed at the ones I kept repeating.
Ok, so I have some serious commuter issues where other drivers are concerned.
Ok, so I still don’t have a clue what GOD’s plan is for me
Ok, so my poetry can be a bit morose. However, in my defense, it’s been that way since I learned how to write. That’s just how those thoughts come out.
Formats are interesting. Take this note for example. My computer is going berserk as I’m trying to write tonight. Every three or four words, the new words are showing up in between the old words. I must have hit some hot key I’m not aware of. If I didn’t correct it, this sentence would look like this: Anyone have any clue how to fix this? “ If I didn’t corretencect it, this sentewould look more like this. Ho?to fic thisw sa cyone have ane ha vfix th”
Maybe it’s my computer’s new year’s resolution to try something new.
Which leads me to this:
Newer isn’t always better, especially when old was working just fine.
So here’s to the old things about all of us that we love about each other.
And here’s to a new year of learning new things and learning new things about each other, too.
December 24, 2008
Pre-New Year, ME News, Vol. 1, Issue 43
Isn’t it interesting how there is always one week between Christmas and New Years where we are given the opportunity to recognize our second chance given by GOD and to create a list of ways we can better honor and serve HIM?
New Year’s Resolutions may seem to be mostly about us, but the underlying roots of our desires all lead back to being better people. Being a better person means mostly focusing outside ourselves, but first we need to take care of ourselves. Is it any wonder that most resolutions center around health issues, financial issues, family issues?
Enjoy your families and friends this week and next week as we celebrate new beginnings. Think about those you love and how you can best serve them. Then try to figure out how you can improve yourself in order to improve their lives. That’s the trick to building resolutions you can keep; higher goals.
December 23, 2008
Embossed with ice tracks
Forced to stay between them
To reach the destination
Thankful for the guidance
Of a partially cleared path
Resentful of the boundaries
Imposed by winter’s wrath
Looking for a clearer way
To turn this all around
Snailing toward what waits ahead
For tears we’ve cried aloud
Praying that GOD holds you
Firmly in his hands
That HE provides your road
as peaceful joy, love, and
Patience to believe, and
Faith to understand
Worthy is not our decision
Forgiveness lets us stand
Feet planted firmly
Despite the paths of ice
To walk beside each other
On this road life.
December 19, 2008
The Sunday Raccoon
It began with a knock on my door.
Usually the only people who ever knock are those who have ended up at the wrong address. So, I was surprised to hear the man outside my door explaining that he was my newest neighbor, and he just wanted me to know that I either had a dying or a pregnant raccoon balled up under the one small tree that occupies my front yard.
In broad daylight, in the wide open, the critter was loosely crimped into a half-moon, and looking sleepy. Cars, people, barking dogs, did not seem to bother this raccoon. The growing crowd agreed it probably weighed 25 - 30 pounds. It certainly was large enough to be very expectantly pregnant. After a while though, it became hard to tell if it was still breathing at all or if it had died.
Just then, lifting its head, the raccoon looked around, sweeping its surroundings, not really focusing. Semi-alert, it tried to rise and move away. Convulsions overtook it. Were those contractions or maybe a stroke? The back quarters were dragging, and then suddenly it was stranded on its back, struggling like a flipped turtle. A driver paused as he passed. “Looks like it’s been shot in the hind quarters," he said.
It was getting darker outside, but I could see the pain and confusion in the raccoon's dark expressive eyes. We both knew something wasn’t right. “I’m sorry I can’t help you," I said quietly. “Just relax, sweetie." After a few seconds, which seemed like an eternity to me, it finally relaxed. Did it give up, or its body just give out? It doesn’t matter, because what happened was remarkable.
The situation changed, its stiffened legs slowly, gracefully lowered. The momentum gently rolled it over on its side and into a better position to become upright. It lay there quietly, gathering the strength to stand. Finding it, it tottered a few feet toward my house. Rolled into a furry wad again, it rested. After a few minutes rest, determined to move on once again, the next obstacle became the drain pipe.
The poor animal couldn’t figure out how to get to the other side. Without the strength or balance to step over, and without the reasoning to walk around the end just a few inches away, it was stuck where it was. Tired, again. Balled up, again. Looking at me sadly, again. I wanted so badly to rush over and lift it over the barrier. I knew better, though. I’d scare it; I’d get hurt. I just kept talking in a calm voice, trying to convey caring and comfort. Don’t know if it worked on the raccoon, but it certainly wasn’t working on me. I had already taken in the stress of knowing where this was going to lead.
About half an hour passed, and the raccoon awoke. Sniffing for water by the drain spout, it wasn’t having much success finding a drink. But somehow as it realized where it was, it deduced that moving left would place it on the other side of the spout. Once it got there though, it looked back in confusion, not sure if it wanted to continue moving away from me. So, I spoke a little more and it seemed to be listening. “You’re very pretty," I said. “It’ll be ok," I said. “You should rest some more," I said, hoping to keep it within sight until the animal control folks arrived. “It really would be best. Just close your eyes." Tired of standing, unmoved by indecision, it sank to the ground once more. This time it seemed to pull itself in a little tighter.
A neighbor with a tote, and a neighbor with an affinity for animals, talked the wounded one into walking into a plastic tub. The tub set down over it, and to our surprised the creature took the situation calmly. Maybe because its own heat was now keeping it warm, maybe because it could no longer see any threats.
Eventually a patrolman showed up and determined it was time to put it down. The shot was brutal, echoing off the houses around mine. He had aimed for the head, and the raccoon had moved at the last second. The struggle inside the tub was noisy; crying and clawing. The end was painfully slow for both of us. And long enough for me to see some things a little better.
There’s no way that raccoon would have ever right itself while it continued to struggle. Letting go, almost giving up, is what gave it the temporary strength to stand. Why do I continue to struggle against letting go to GOD? Because I’m afraid I’ll get stuck in a tub with no way out. Oh, heck, I might as well admit, I’m already trapped. Family and friends are constantly telling me to breathe, relax, go with the flow, let go, and believe that things will get better.
Why can’t I give up the foolish notion that I am in control of anything, and relinquish attempted control of all? How do I know if giving up really means I have accepted that I am patiently waiting for GOD to move me, or if by giving up that becomes just giving up, and that’s it?
If I sound confused, it’s because I am.
But, I’m alright.
Ok, I’m not alright.
But, I’ll be fine.
I always am.
December 16, 2008
Done & Not, ME News, Vol. 1, Issue 42
Snow. Yeah, I said it again. I’m not going through this alone. If I’m gonna be weighted down with white stuff, you’re comin’ on that trip with me.
Now, on to lighter subjects….
Holiday shopping – done!
Snow boots – bought!
Holiday cards – started, but not done!
Baking – not even started!
Snow brush – not located. Dustpan brush works fine for now.
Car windows – repaired. Thanks to my brother and nephew, the driver’s side window no longer rolls down every time I start the car up, and the passenger side which had been repeatedly drowned with Mt. Dew by a husband-passenger prone to falling asleep with beverages in his hand, now also rolls back up instead of always being stuck down.
Proof of insurance certificate – in car. Thanks again to my familial mechanics for pointing out that little error on my part.
Garage – next home, for sure.
Customer Service Training – begun. Although, I already know exactly what not to do having recently had almost 6 hours experience on the phone with Sprint. Take my advice on this, upgrade your phone in person at a store – not online, not over the phone, never after midnight.
Cranky-meter – kinda high, but I’m about to work that out on the treadmill with Nickleback on my belligerent side.
Night – night. Love y’all.
A Rocky Raccoon Sunday
Ok, here's the scoop. I'm sure I'll find a way to make this more humourous in the future, but right now I'm not feeling that vibe, so basically last Sunday night ...
One of my new neighbors, who I hadn't met yet, knocked on my door Sunday afternoon to let me know there was a commotion going on in my front yard. There was a sick/dying raccoon who was trying to pass peacefully under the tree in my front yard that was closest to the road. My neighbors were parading by, bringing their kids around to see "the sweet sick animal". Not so smart. I called animal control and then ended up sitting outside from 4:00 - 7:30 pm, keeping an eye on the darn thing and keeping people away.
It got pretty cold as the sun went down, and eventually one of my neighbors called another neighbor. They sent their daughter's boyfriend over. My neighbor went and got a clear 10 gallon tote. The boyfriend ended up talking the racoon into the tub, and then setting the tub down over him. We stole some bricks off someone else's landscaping to put on top of the tote. The intention was to keep it from running under someone's house to die.
Actually, the poor thing couldn't run. An earlier drive by another neighbor in a truck had determined that someone had shot him in the butt. He had some convulsions, so I think he had a stroke. He was confused. Cars, people, and barking dogs did not scare him. I would estimate he was about 25-30 pounds.
In any case, since he was secured under the tote, I was about to go inside and finish waiting for animal control to show up, when one of my neighbors allowed their estimated 10 year old to come out at night with a flashlight! He wanted to know if we had captured it. I said, "Yes."
He asked, "What is it?" I thought, "Are you kidding?" He'd been over with his father just a few hours earlier watching it. So, I said, "It's a raccoon!" He then wanted to know if was a boy or a girl. Because I blessedly speechless, the boyfriend told him we didn't get that close.
Then the kid, whose father is standing on their front porch watching says, "Can I lift up the tub and look at him?" Thankfully the boyfriend was like, "NO! It's a wounded wild animal and it will attack and rip you to shreds if it gets out of that tote." The kid took off towards home screaming. When he got there, the father yelled something I didn't understand, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't intended to be nice. I waved back in a friendly manner anyway.
At that point, I decided since a lack of sense seemed to be in abundance, I'd better stay outside just in case someone else decided it would be fun to peek under the tote. I got in the van and cranked up the heat. One of my neighbors called my cell and asked me if I would like some hot cocoa. That sounded good to me. I had to get off the phone then because the police showed up. Not animal control, mind you, a patrol cop.
So, after I told him three times that I was absolutely sure the critter wasn't dead, he reluctantly got out to take a look-see. He asked me if I wanted to keep the crate. I told him, "It's not a crate, it's an upside down tote. When you lift the tote off he's gonna be free." "Well," he said, "You're sayin' you don't want the tote ,then?" I said, "I suppose I could always buy my neighbor another one, so I guess not."
"Ok," he said, "I'm gonna shoot it through the side of the tote." He immediately pulled out his gun and told me to walk around the other side of my house. The boyfriend was on his way back over from across the street to see if he could be of more assistance. So I waved him over and told him to walk to the side of the house with me.
I also called my next door neighbor to let her know that the policeman was going to shoot the raccoon. Unfortunately, he shot before I could warn her. She was still shrieking as she answered the phone.
"I was calling to tell you they were going to shoot it," I lamely said.
"Well, that's fine," she huffed. "There's now cocoa powder all over my kitchen!"
As I turned around I saw that almost everyone on my street and the next street over had turned on their porch lights and run out of their houses to stand on their lawns or front porches. I guess Michiganders don't know about the New York code of common sense when you hear gun shots! If you hear gunshots outside your home, drop yourself down to the floor and stay there. Don't run out your front door and risk getting it by a random bullet. And for goodness sake, don't drag your little kids out with you.
Another one of my other neighbors showed up to talk to the cop after the shooting. I was still on the phone trying to apologize to my neighbor and getting her to breathe evenly. I guess the policeman filled out his report by whatever Mr. Across the Street said because the next thing I know, the cop got in his car and drove away. He totally left a bloody-dead double-shot raccoon and a totally mangled holey-bloody tote in my front yard.
Mr. Across the Street, bless him, said if animal control wasn't out by the morning to pick the beast up, he'd bury it for me in my backyard. When I got home Monday night, all the evidence was gone. I haven't checked the backyard. And I haven't caught up with Mr. Across the Street yet to ask him what happened and to thank him if necessary. I have a fear one of my neighbors grabbed it and made raccoon stew and I don't really want to know about it.
So, that's how my week started - with the cranky-meter up way at a reading of 10.
Thanks to Mr. Across the Street and my next door neighbors who tolerate my yearly visits by the police, and for having the decency and foresight to hose spray the splattered stuff from the side of the house and the lawn area where Rocky died.
Thus, I've managed to add another entry to my latest book. I've decided to call this one, "The Amused Widow's Guide to Unusual Circumstances." It's beginning to have best seller potential.
December 13, 2008
At what point?
At what point
does faith become fantasy
and hope become a delusion?
How do I know if it’s gone too far?
I may have crossed that line now.
Giving GOD suggestion on ways he can bring you to me.
I give HIM scenarios: if YOU do this, I’ll do this.
I’ll be right there. I’ll give my all.
I’ll make it work no matter what.
Promising GOD what I will do for HIM,
for you, for us.
I can shake my head at myself, but
a little later I know I’ll find my way back
to asking for you, praying for you,
hoping, for you.
December 10, 2008
Take one step
I will run
into your embrace.
December 09, 2008
Crock Pot Wine, ME News, Vol. 1, Issue 41
It's 1/2 way between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I'm looking for one of those grow-lights for humans. It's supposed to give us extra energy and relieve darkness-syndrome. Understand that it won't alter my dark-side sense of humor, but I might feel less like a nocturnal creature always coming and going in the dark. Plus, I might not look so pale-ghostly-goth-without-really-trying, either.
Speaking of energy, I've stuck a few ideas about how to conserve energy and increase energy in this week's newsletter. If you have any exciting or obvious ways that you use to make it through holiday season, please share.
I stopped at Pentamere Winery in Tecumseh last week, and picked up a few holiday presents. I also sampled a delightfully spice-mulled Michigan cherry crock-pot-warmed wine. Alas, I have no good reason to warm an entire crock-pot of wine... Well, on second thought, I'm pretty sure I do have plenty of good reasons to keep a crock-pot full of warm wine on my counter top. However, I'm trying not to confuse my priorities. It's either treadmill or warm wine, but definitely not both!
In the in between spirit! jak
December 05, 2008
I could hand it to you
In a nice
Neat little package
With a cheery
Bright red bow
And tell you
That everything inside
It would be
my way of saying
will be ok
will hurt you again
I’ll be here
You are worthy.
December 03, 2008
Leftovers, ME News, Vol. 1, Issue 40
Well, thanks to my sister-in-law, I’m still celebrating Thanksgiving 2008. I got off way easy this year. My assignments were devilled eggs and fruit salad. The whole meal included turkey breast, smoked turkey breast, stuffing/dressing (depends on who you ask what it’s actually called), mashed potatoes, cranberries, devilled eggs, fruit salad, pumpkin pie, and oriental cabbage salad. (Hey, we’re not all traditionalists!)
Here’s the best leftover turkey recipe ever:
Amy’s Turkey Casserole
One large casserole dish layered with:
½ of the leftover mashed potatoes, turkey, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, rest of the leftover potatoes.
Cover with foil. Refrigerate until needed. Reheat in 350 degree oven until hot (about ½ hour). Maybe add some shredded cheese on top (that’s my idea!)
Make this casserole right at the table before you put anything away. Cuts way down on searching for storage containers, trying to jam them all into the fridge, and then having to clean them all out later. Best of all you get to re-live your complete Thanksgiving dinner a day later, with only one dish to clean up!
Or, in my case, you may still be enjoying it almost a week later. I think tomorrow night I might see the last of the turkey casserole that came home with me on turkey day. Such sadness.
December 3, 2008
i want to leave.
change my name.
but i keep hearing GOD.
telling me to wait.
just a little longer.
it’s getting harder.
in this nothing.
my stretched soul.
the wait is.
proof of trust.
didn’t work out.
what it is.
i’m supposed to be.
or who it is.
i’m supposed to be.
December 02, 2008
Starting Over Again
'The Lord says, "Heaven is my throne. The earth is my footstool. What kind of house are you going to build for me? Where will I rest?'
It's been two years since Jeff's been gone. Two years, and four mission trips later, I'm headed back to New Orleans again. Timing is everything.
"12 over 12" turned into "9 over 1". But the right week for me. Yeah, timing is everything.
Is this a break from the journey, a new journey, or the same journey?
New team members keep asking: what, when, where, why, how. I try not to smile as I just keep saying, "I don't know."
For me this trip is significantly different already. My team members trust me for no other reason than I've done this before. I'm not in charge, just slightly seasoned; lightly experienced. Is there such a thing as a sub-leader?
I do know some things: Monday will be hard for them. A 1/2 day of orientation, and a 1/2 day of assessing needs, procuring supplies, presenting a game plan, choosing team member roles. Not much physical work will get done on Monday. But, GOD's work has already started.
Day One is Always Interesting
Day one is always interesting. It's like watching an amoebic form solidify into a sphere. Edges align cohesively. And, although all connected, some will, by law of natural design need to remain as opposites in balance.
One great truth is that we are all on different levels of our spiritual paths. And, we will remain that way no matter what. The only time we can expect to find ourselves at exactly the same place will be within heaven as an un-definable abstract.
The GITC V journey begins.
Two vehicles on different routes. The truck and trailer made it to the Dundee meeting point. The van team was delayed by a deer incident. $4,000 in damage a team member’s vehicle caused a slight delay - all are well and safe.
For the non-deer challenged: coffee and quick get-to-know-ya at Bob Evans.
Going through Cincinnati to pick up one more team member. I never knew it was such a pretty city. I’d like to spend some time there. By the way, I simply “lost sight" of the truck. I did not follow the wrong truck! We caught up - all is well.
Trying to stop for lunch. Passing up 2 or 3 Cracker Barrels helped identify team members who tend to get cranky when they don’t eat on time.
Emergency pit stop for food/bathroom break. Driving to Florida each winter with my family we always rest-stopped at Stucky’s. The restaurant/candy shops were conveniently located off highway exits, and they were known for their good food and clean restrooms. Things have changed a little in 35 years. We did not use the facilities or eat there.
Getting back on the road, I almost followed the wrong truck, but didn’t. I think I’m getting better at following. Ha ha.
Lunch finally. Good news about a late lunch is no need for supper… for some. Some of us went to supper anyway. Because we know how cranky we can be when we don’t eat. Lots of good food, lots of good company.
Along the way, throughout the day, we discussed careers, families, opportunities for mission work. We discussed callings and being moved beyond protest. We discussed whether the sisters were camels or buffalo in that long ago Christmas pageant. We revisited a GITC issue regarding the use or non-use of vehicle turn signals while others are trying to follow you. We caught up on the lack of anticipatory sleep from the evening before. We laughed and shared and debated the differences between "whittle", "diddle" and "piddle".
I prayed special prayers for a special someone back home.
Love, peace, joy. Follow your heart; know you are worthy.
Off Road Luxury Evolving
Not much has changed in Kentucky as far as GPS goes. The ridiculous thing still showed us running parallel to but off the roads continously admonishing us to "Return to roadway as soon as possible." Can someone please get down to Kentucky and document the road changes there. At least this time, we knew what to expect. We expected we’d get lost. And we did. But we also recognized the cow-field and were able to right ourselves more quickly. Experience does matter. And, we knew where the restaurants were, too.
As usual, we weren’t sure about the Loucon accommodations. We knew they knew we were coming. We knew they would provide lodging for us. We found out how supportive they were. We ended up in the Caretaker’s cabin. A five room mini-bunk house with a common lounge area and in-room sinks. Feeling like missionary royalty, we assured ourselves these were the best accommodations we could expect on this trip. We hoped we’d get the same cabin on the return trip.
We briefed ourselves outside in the picnic area. Some jobs were loosely assigned. I say loosely because, well, everything tends to change a few times as far as organization goes. We can only attempt to prepare ourselves, and we do so knowing that our attempts are temporary. As we get to know each other, discover talents, strengths, desires, we evolve.
It was hard to make that phone call back to Michigan from Kentucky because I was unfortunate enough to have time to think about it, and rationalize it. Or de-rationalize it.
There was so much more I wanted to talk about, a year’s worth of thoughts and praises, but couldn’t. Instead I said, “I don’t usually accost acquaintances with requests to minister to friends. I just feel like this person needs to be given the opportunity to fall apart.”
I said it wasn’t easy to make that phone contact. I constantly get called on my tendency to qualify statements. I am always preparing mentally, and verbally, for the opposite of my desire. To lessen the disappointment when it occurs, so I am able to say I wasn’t surprised. So I have an excuse when I am wrong. So I can say, “See? It’s not me the LORD is trying to use.”
I can discount the pressure, the being moved, watching myself task against nature; boldly, incredulously. Leaving me shaking, literally, caught between desiring tears and not wanting them, yet. There’s the qualifier, again.
Answering / Requests
10:00 pm. Answering.
I keep getting told that I will lead a group.
The answer I have consistently given is – “Not.”
However, just now, as I began to drift off pondering that projection statement again, I heard a loud bell-clear message.
I will not lead a group – but I will lead individual leaders.
10:05 pm. Requests
So, I’m happy with that answer, and I’m thinking, “Hey, I’m doing ok so far.”
Then, a simple request turned ugly. It came innocently from a top bunk.
“Please turn off the ceiling fan,” became a solid smack of the forehead on the steel bar of a very low clearance bunk.
This lead to a slight imbalance upon standing, which led to a stumble, which led to a fumble over a suitcase in the dark, which led to me flat out on the floor. I notice that my wrist is immediately a little sore, but I’m laughing to myself, and at myself.
Until the team leader sticks her head in saying, “It sounded like someone just fell off a bunk.” “Not exactly,” I giggle. She quickly backs out and I know she’s feeling relief that all is ok. She knows she’ll get the details in the morning. I later learn she had been carrying a camera hoping for a GITC photo op. I’m thinking that would not have been ok.
Accomodating / Complaints
Sunday morning, 10/5.
Loucon is so accommodating to GITC. Arrangements were made for our early breakfast before the rest of the camp arrived. For $3.00, the camp kitchen serves up a hot breakfast that can’t be beat. Eggs, grits, pancakes, sausage, toast, danish, fruit, coffee, juice. It’s a good way to fuel our early morning departure for Louisiana.
I’m a little frustrated because I’m still writing about the August GITC trip to Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin. I want to jump right and start telling you about now – in real time. But I’m going to exercise patience for now and finish that path first.
In the meantime, though, I’ll share why I write. Because some times overheard conversations lead me to want to say things are not appropriate to say. The conversation was slightly humorous. Tales of husbands who don’t cook, don’t clean, can’t boil water, leave cabinet doors open, leave food out, don’t help carry groceries or open doors anymore.
I wish I had some complaints like that. Unfortunately for me, my husband was loving, caring, committed to my happiness. He cooked, he cleaned, he did laundry, went grocery shopping. We shared the store responsibilities, we shared everything. I wish I had just one thing I could complain about, add to the conversation. But without him now, I just don’t.
That’s how I originally came about writing "Things You Never Gave Me," in 2007. I’ve heard the same complaints from coworkers, in church circles, among friends and even family. I thought about sharing my feelings, the poem and the picture, but that could be construed as lecturing, right? If they really are unhappy with the person they are with, it would be wrong of me to interject my past happiness, right?
Preface: recommended reference: Faith / Current / Moved, Used, Set Apart
Riding to Louisiana, someone just wouldn’t let the “leadership" conversation die.
So, I divulged my divine answer: “I will not lead a group, but I will lead leaders.”
“That’s ministering,” was the reply.
“Me, ministering?” I laughed. “I could never, too terrifying. Suppose I say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing? For example…” I started, and went on to tell about my recent unnerving cemetery experience.
When I was done, the driver turned to me and said, “He saw you.”
It was said with such conviction, I panicked. “No way, I never slowed down, just drove around the block.”
“He saw you,” was repeated.
“Great,” I said, “that sucks.”
“Why? How many stones did David take to meet Goliath?”
I knew the answer but I didn’t get the connection.
“The answer is three,” the driver said holding up three fingers, “David took three stones with him.”
Then another question was posed. “But, how many did he really need?”
“One,” I answered.
“One,” nodded the driver.
I took a dozen stones with me that day. But, I really only used one.
Could that really be considered ministering? Was I truly defending a spirit? Why was I so easily moved without resistance? Why am I uncomfortable being that symbol, representing my faith?
Why am I so annoyed about this? Because I was not in control then, and I am not in control now.
10/5, 5:00 pm
Somewhere on the bottom side of Mississippi, I had decided to relieve myself of driving duty. Camped out in the farthest back seat, I listened to conversations, listened to music, and rolled my traveling jacket into a makeshift pillow. I rested, wrote, and closed my eyes for a bit. That was just to keep the tears from falling out. Things had settled down some. I had some serious thoughts to deal with.
I keep praying for you. I know it’s prayers for me, too. I know this is selfish.
The last time I prayed for someone to find happiness, they truly did.
It hurt. I gave it to GOD and he took me at my word.
So, why am I doing it again? To prove I can trust him?
Because, maybe, someday someone will pray for my happiness?
Maybe because I hope that while I’m praying for yours, you’re praying for mine.
I guess I must have actually dozed off, because they next thing I knew I woke up to the realization that I needed a rest room. We’d just crossed over into Louisiana. No longer hyper, somewhat tired, the setting sun had apparently brought us all down a notch. Most everyone was asleep; except the driver of course. Sometimes that’s just how a mission trip goes.
In any case, I didn’t want to shout about my predicament from the back seat and wake the others up. So, I texted. “Potty break, please.” Next thing I know, there’s laughter up front, and a loud announcement. “Jodi needs a potty break!” My text makes its way around the van. It’s my fault when we pull over at a less than desirable pit of a stop. Lots of bottled coffee and Mt Dew get purchased. We’re so close now. We’re so ready to get there.
Aldersgate, Slidell, Louisiana, October 2008
On the drive down, I had been thinking a lot about how much has changed in my life over the last 6 months. I feel like I’ve been making progress towards “getting on with my life". That seem to have been the most frequent advice I’ve been given lately.
So, pulling in to Aldersgate United Methodist Church Sunday evening was one of those “wow" experiences. When I was here in March 2008, construction had already begun on new facilities. It is one thing to hear about plans, and quite another to see them come to fruition.
The dedication of this facility was held on October 5, 2008, just hours before we arrived. Some volunteers arrived before us and were already settled into the Epworth Center prior to the dedication. Mere hours before, construction work was still being completed.
It’s quite an honor to be among the “first-in." And, it’s a little like the Hilton of mission camps. Air conditioning, brand new bunks and beds, 5 women’s showers, freshly painted walls, awesome art, and a dishwasher. It’s an inspiring package. Golden tans, cooper hues, shades of orange hope, enough room and meal seating for 50 volunteers. By next Friday (10/10) the North Shore Disaster Recovery offices will be housed here as well, so that the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of Slidell may have back the meeting house they have been without for the last three years.
From the consecration ceremony for the Epworth Center at Aldersgate for the housing of Recovery Ministry Volunteers, for the work of Case Mangers and Recovery Ministry Staff, and for the preparation of GOD’s people for discipleship:
“The consecration of this building is in vain without the consecration of those whose gifts it represents. We give thanks for all those who have hoped and dreamed, planned and labored, waited and watched as these walls have been constructed. We give ourselves anew this day to the service of GOD through the building up of the community of faith and for the rebuilding of walls and lives torn apart by the winds and waters of the storms.
“We consecrate this building to the service of others and for those who work with hands and arms and backs and shoulders to build homes and hope and to care for the weary and heavy laden; to the ministry of administration upon whose ability and faithfulness depends the wise conduct of our life together and our ministry to the world; and to the spiritual enrichment of all who shall come here seeking knowledge. We consecrate this Epworth Center, and we consecrate ourselves anew to the service of humanity in which we perform the true service of GOD."
Slidell is estimating its recovery is close to 90%. 90% of the recovery work has been done by volunteers. I can’t decide if that is awesome or sad. It just makes me tear up every time I hear it. The slow recovery movement inward toward the Gulf is making progress. This facility has just begun its life of dedication to those who are dedicated to making a difference. Even as Slidell is nearing the end of its immediate needs, the city will continue to give of itself by supporting volunteers who will be staying here, but working in other communities.
There are still too many people along the Gulf Coast who are waiting to “get on with their lives." I think that is what will be giving me the strength I need. I will be more dedicated to getting on with my life now, in order to help them in getting on with theirs.
In 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita blew through Slidell, Louisiana, leaving 15,000 homes over 50% damaged. At the time, Slidell’s main income sources were fishing, oil, tourism and the military. The area had never flooded before therefore no one had flood insurance. The formerly 1.1 million person community now has only about 225,000 inhabitants.
Back then there were 4 high schools, two of which were destroyed. When the remaining schools reopened, there were no sports, no activities. The suicide rate among 40 -55 year old men, most of who had lost everything they had worked for their whole lives, rose to an alarming 36%.
It costs about $25,000 to rebuild a home. About 800 homes have been rebuilt by volunteers. Habitat for Humanity has built 92 new homes. 90% of the rebuilding is performed by faith based recovery groups. The other 10% has been Rotary, Military, Colleges, and other volunteerism groups such as Habitat for Humanity.
No skills? Of the 37,000 volunteers that have funneled through North Shore Disater Recovery Center, there has never been an “unskilled” volunteer! If you have ever held a hammer, you are considered "skilled." If you've never held a hammer, you are still needed. Cooks, drivers, and supply runners are all necessary and important parts of a reconstruction team.
NSDR averages about 150 volunteers per week during the school year, and 250 other weeks. Houses are rebuilt with no government involvement, no red tape, and no exclusions. NSDR currently continues to receive an average of 17 applications a week for assistance with lodging, food, prescriptions, eye glasses. They have facilitated 4.5 million dollars in recovery efforts, through donated funds and material goods.
Injury rate average is 10/1 – guys over girls. And no, there isn't a 10/1 ratio of guys to girls volunteering. The # 1 injury is dehydration. Humidity is the problem. Volunteers are encouraged to drink at least 6 bottles of water per day, even if the weather is cool and breezy. Construction volunteers are encouraged to ingest at least 8 bottles of water per day.
We had an awesome weather week. Orientation personnel joked that this was the one perfect week you live in Louisiana for. But the next message wasn’t a joke.
Slidell is considered to be about 90% recovered, only 5% better than last October. There are 5 North Shore Disaster Recovery Centers operating fulltime. It had been predicted that recovery would be nearly complete by the end of 2008, however, Gustav and Ike had other plans for the area. Now, the prediction is another 18 months. But recovery will never be complete, and the projects won’t end until the volunteers quit coming.
“There are about 100 volunteers in this orientation session, and we thank you for showing up with your servant’s hearts,” we were told. “This week, as far as disaster recovery personnel go, folks… you’re IT.”
Lugging It: Minimalist Style
For a good portion my life, I have been accused of being a pack rat, over packing, and over planning. I have learned to remarkably minimalize each of these not-so-negative attributes for mission trips. Here's how I Lug-It.
Bedding: sleeping bag, one flat sheet, mini-pillow, pillow case
Work clothes: 3 pair pants (knowing I will only wear two, but keeping one for a spare), 4 shirts I don’t mind trashing (Monday orientation/planning, can wear again Thursday.)6 pair of work socks (5 for each work day and 1 spare in case of wet feet; ones with nearly thread bare heel and toes that I will not be taking home), 6 & 3 work undergarments that have already had full lives and should (and will) be retired after this trip, in case as my mother worries, I “get in a car accident.”
Footwear: steel-toes work boots, mucking boots, sneakers that I don’t mind trashing, flip flops for bathroom use, and the one pair of groovy sneaks I wear on the way down.
Non-work clothes: 1 pair decent jeans (I’m wearing the other pair on the way down), 2 pairs of shorts, 3 & 2 undergarments and 2 pair of socks I plan on keeping, 1 non t-shirt (dinner out), 1 sweatshirt, 1 pair sweatpants
Necessities: tooth brush, tooth paste, floss, deodorant, hair brush, feminine stuff, 2 towels, 2 washcloths, flashlight, moisturizer, hand sanitizer, sun block, Pert (shampoo w/conditioner), soap, powder, Q-tips, medications/vitamins, Benadryl, bath bag to carry it all in, lip balm, tissues, bible, cheap sunglasses, reading glasses, phone, phone charger, 2 pair gloves, respirator, goggles, duct tape, phone numbers (in case I lose my phone), health insurance card, license, cash.
Over prepared necessities for me:
Bandaids, antibiotic, nail kit, tweezers, Motrin, Tylenol, aspirin, nail file, clear nail polish, sewing kit, power strip with multiple plug in spaces, V8 juice, crackers, canned fruit, notebook, pens, other inspirational reading, loose leaf tea & tea bags, extra flashlight batteries, extra gloves, extra hats, hammer, screwdriver, music for the ride, umbrella, anti-shine face powder, AAA card, SAM’s card, emergency credit card, 800 #'s for airlines and trains, gallon size zip locks for dirty laundry, and a list of everything so I brought so I can make sure I leave with what I want to take home with me.
All of the above, including my sleeping bag, fits into one medium size duffle bag with wheels. With the exception of toiletries, pjs, 1 tshirt, change of undergarments, and the over prepared necessities, which are toted in a small soft sided cooler that I keep with me on my lap or on the floor, depending on available vehicle room.
The rule is: You bring it - You carry it. Of course, others are always around to help you, but the point is to be reasonable with your gear. Luggage space is limited to whatever areas are not filled with people or tools, and that’s it. Remember, anything you forget can be purchased in Louisiana, and doing so helps stimulate the local Louisiana economy.
What I don’t lug:
Air mattress, air mattress pump, bottom sheet, full size pillow, blanket, dirty laundry, laundry detergent, hair styling products, makeup, dress shoes, slippers, jewelry, winter coat, ipod, alarm clock, books or magazines.
Cutest, Smartest, Oldest
There are four sisters belonging to one Michigan family who have traveled with Get In The Car to Louisiana.
In October 2007, I met three of these sisters. I worked on the demolition crew with 2 of the ladies. I got to know the 3rd, first over meals, and then later when I joined the dry wall crew. Back home in Michigan they had re-roofed their father’s barn and built their own church. These women are amazing, and delightful and fun, and I was thrilled to be adopted as the 4th missing sister while we were in New Orleans.
October 2008, I was lucky enough to be traveling with three of the four sisters again. One of the three who went in 2007 was unable to join us for this trip. This time I got to meet the fourth sister, the one I hadn’t met before. Also a lovely lady, she was the one I was standing in for last year.
Because there were still only 3 out of 4 sisters in attendance, I happily retained my former position as the 4th missing sister, but I was reassigned. “Last year,” they joked, “you were the cutest and the smartest – this year, you’re the oldest!”
One night we were given the option of showering, getting dressed and going out for dinner or staying in and ordering pizza. Actually, showering wasn’t an option. Not after another humid, sticky day on the job site. And some of us were already in our downtime pajama like clothing.
So, we four “sisters” had a pizza pajama party. We talked a lot about me, for some reason. They had lots of questions. Lots of the same questions I have been asking myself for quite a while. “What are you going to do about your job?” “Do you think you’ll move from Michigan?” “How much more weight do you want to lose?” “Have you thought about dating?” All good questions, all not answered very well. Mostly with an “I don’t know.”
Except for the last question. Jeff had made me promise that after he died I would get back on an internet dating sight. After all, if we met that way, surely I would be able find someone else that way again. And because, I always did everything Jeff told me to (ha!), I went ahead and signed up for one right before I left for this Louisiana jaunt. I did get to share some of the excitement of being matched with potentials. It got a little girly and I blushed a lot, but still it was fun, and made me a little less scared of trying to date.
I missed having the oldest of the sisters with us. Someday, I hope to work with and see all four sisters in re-construction action together. I realize if this happens, it will remove me as the stand-in, but perhaps I can become an honorary missionary cousin, or something.
Presence of a Cook
One of the nicest surprises we received on this trip was the presence of a cook from another team who offered to provide our meals on our budget. This meant no grocery shopping, no time spent cooking, and a full team on the site each day. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, and sometimes an evening snack, were always ready for us. Clean up was shared amongst teams; everyone had a least a turn or two.
Not having to rush to make lunches before we left our camp, and not having to lug an extra lunch cooler with us, cut down on the regular “let’s get going!”stress. It also gave us just a little more time to socialize over morning coffee. We shared plans with other teams, asked for advice, and listened to stories of how we all ended up in Louisiana this particular week.
Breaking from the work day to head back to Aldersgate for lunch was a strange experience for those of us who were used to grabbing a bucket and a soggy sandwich and sitting down for a 15 minute wolf-it-down-let’s-keep-working lunch
It didn’t seem right at first – to waste precious time traveling, and eating meals that required utensils. But after each lunch break, there seemed to be a new energy. Taking stock of our advancements for the morning, and planning our afternoons became the lunchtime ritual.
Returning to the work site with fresh eyes, and nourished, semi-rested bodies resulted in accomplishing more, more efficiently.
Job Assignments for the Powell St home:
Hang remaining cabinets
Install ceramic tile kitchen counter tops
Install microwave oven (custom kitchen deliver-ay-ay-ay)
Install remaining trim throughout home - about 50 lineal feet
Wash the exterior and interior of the home
Caulk the entire house - inside and out
Repair the bathroom toilet tank assembly
Seal tile grout throughout the house
Install ceramic tile counter top in bathroom
Install bathroom sink and plumbing
Install kitchen sink and plumbing
Install the hot water tank
Install the washer and dryer; dryer vent to outside
Clean and organize garage area
Build rail onto existing wheelchair ramp
Patch walls damaged during previous work projects - not uncommon as the home progresses
Second coat of paint on all molding and doors, all ceilings and walls
Clean up of lot debris
Clean up of gardens and replanting as time and budget allows
Install new mailbox
And something new for a GITC team – Staging!
Monday Night Devotion, Ecclesiastes 4:7-12
Last year, at this time, I was running away.
This year, at this time, I am running to.
Running to GOD.
Running to old friends.
Running into new friends.
Running to see what might be in store for me this year.
I’m planning to take direction from only one source.
Don’t expect me to argue with you about my purpose, or my role, or my future.
Don’t expect me to be the most devout or the most Christian.
Don’t expect me to lead you, at least not in any ways you would expect.
Expect that you will continue to influence me as you did yesterday on the drive down, as you did today beside me, and as you will tomorrow, no matter what comes.
Expect that I will love you, learn from you, and keep your strengths with me for longer than this journey will last.
In Ecclesiastes 4:7-12, we learn: “2 people can resist an attack that would defeat one person alone. A rope made of 3 cords is hard to break.”
I’m glad this is a 9 cord team. We can easily withstand a little fraying, a little twisting, and at some point a little slack.
Tuesday morning was a surprise. When we’d arrived on Sunday night, I happily introduced myself to the young woman who occupied the bunk next to me. A lone traveller from Minnesota, she had arrived in Louisiana, to meet up with and become a member of this week's STEM group.
“Hi,” I blurted out. “My name is Jodi and I’ll be snoring next to you!”
She laughed, or more truly – she coughed and wheezed, and snuffled, and told me that she had a prescription for antibiotics on its way. She ended up staying back at Aldersgate Monday while her team headed out to their assignment. I knew that must have been tough for her. She had traveled alone to meet up with the group and then ended up being excluded from the first real full day of work.
Tuesday morning, I was sick. I wasn’t sick like her though. It was more of a semi-constructive “Hey, this is a new facility, let’s check out the bathroom repeatedly and in great detail for long stretches of time” kinda sick. Spent a lot of time in there; came up with a few ideas on things they could do to improve the new facility. Mostly, I shuffled back and forth from bathroom to bunk, glad that the administrative offices hadn’t moved in yet. I’m sure I would have been a continual treat to see every 15-20 minutes trudging down the hall.
Eventually, that ridiculousness stopped, tapering off around noon. I slept for a bit, and woke up feeling like it might be ok to get dressed and maybe search the kitchen for a banana or a piece of toast. On my way out to the common area, a small “tour” group of three ladies from Mississippi came through to look at the bunk room. I spent some time talking to them about the set-up and what was awesome about it, and what recommendations our groups had come up with to improve the space.
I continued with them on their tour; a quick round through the bathroom and my list of potential improvements, the social space, and lastly the kitchen. Our cook was in there planning dinner, and we got to talking. And then suddenly, I got to peeling, and dicing, and well, cooking. I spent the rest of the afternoon helping to prepare a jambalaya dinner, and getting to know the angel who had volunteered to cook for all the folks from STEM and GITC.
Tuesday morning, staying back really hurt.
By Tuesday evening, it began making a little sense to me.
It’s that separation thing again.
I want to be in – but not too far in.
Except when I’m out, then I want back semi-in.
I also will admit to feeling too close to being considered a leader. I wasn’t, and as I’ve said before, I knew didn’t want to be. This team had two leaders who I felt it was important be allowed to work together, without my influence. I know they felt differently, but I wanted to be more semi-part of the team, than fully involved in leadership.
Full work day Tuesday:
Talk about fired up. This 9 cord team, reduced to 8, went to work. They ran into a few problems, but their list of accomplishments was amazing.
The cabinets that were already installed were off level; they needed to be realigned before the rest of the cabinets could be placed. So, they did that.
The shed had to be cleaned out before the hot water heater could be installed. So, they did that.
Among the interesting things observed in the shed was a monstrous 3 inch slug.
They fumigated, and then went beyond – as necessary: it took 26 direct aim squirts of bug killer before one giant cockroach became a bestial angel.
Inventoried supplies on hand and made lists of needed items
Divided into task groups
Repaired the broken toilet and seat to workable flushing and seating status
Patched the drywall holes
Installed the microwave
Put the bed together to get the pieces out of the way for the painters
Repainted the ceilings and trim
Washed down ¾ of the outside of the home
Achieved 80% of the needed caulking
Dumped, hauled and made trash
Completed the kitchen counter edge banding
Got the sink top cut out
Planned the wheelchair ramp and railings
Prioritized Wednesday’s jobs, learned, bonded, laughed, and truly solidified as a team.
Without me, but that was alright.
Wednesday: Half-day, 7:45 am - Noon
The Mid-Week Volunteer Shuffle resulted in new work groups. Readjusting to a new work partner in the middle of a project can be challenging. Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in life. Frustration levels are high for many reasons.
It appears there has been an attempted break-in into the homeowner’s shed that now houses the washer, dryer and hot water heater. The locks held. No one got in, nothing was stolen. Still, perplexing and heartbreaking, the violation is personal to us. Anger leads to inspiration, and a renewed determination to repair this house not only to livable conditions, but into a home.
Outside scrubbing was finished
Calking was completed
Dryer vent and dryer installed
Newly installed hot water heater leak repaired
Handicap railing started
Trim work, front door painted
First coat of grout sealer applied to bathroom shower and floor
Fans and air conditioning were installed by a local electrician
Tiling plan for kitchen
We know we're only scheduled to work a half day today. There’s still so much to do, it’s tempting to keep going.
But, the way we spend the other half of our day will be equally important.
Third Round Tour
On my third round touring the lower 9th ward, it seems too exactly as I remember. Disserted homes still haunt the streets displaying their quadrant markings from 2005. There has been some progress; a few more fast food chains, corner markets and gas stations have returned.
I walk the levee this time, following the slow slope up to the highest point. Looking down confirms my fears; the new levee doesn’t seem sufficient. I doubt it will fare any better than the old one should another storm like Katrina pass this way.
We drive through neighborhoods we've worked in before. Our timing is such that uniformed children spill out into previously abandoned courtyards and onto new sidewalks. Their laughter and smiles are contagious. I have a happier memory to take home with me now.
We drive through small side streets to find my first assignment home from 2007. Another volunteer and I – members of the home wreckers demolition team – stand sadly at the gates of the home we gutted a year ago. The yard is a little greener, the debris is all gone. There are, however, no signs of life at this address. We brave the gate, peer into the windows, and then hug each other in joy. Drywall is up, flooring is down – someone has been working here. If the drywall is up, the electrical is complete, the water heater and the plumbing are working. 3 years after Katrina hit, this home is not complete, but also not completely hopeless. We have to take what good we find and build it into solid reasons to encourage others to keep coming.
We drive through the levee neighborhood and Brad Pitt’s venture. The houses are interesting, and say nothing about New Orleans. Maybe that’s the point; to take the clean slate provided by mother nature and move the city forward into progress. As we walk the streets and wonder, our team members stop to talk to Make It Right workers on these sites. We respectfully keep off the properties; we understand the liabilities.
We drive through Musician’s Row, and I feel better knowing that at least one neighborhood has been restored to its New Orleans’ heritage. The close-knit, colorful houses speak of community revival. I laugh when we find ourselves at the intersections of South Bunnyfriend and Desire Streets; an odd and playful combination reflecting both the innocence and the essence of New Orleans.
Loaves, Fishes, and Holy Water
Shafer’s Louisiana cuisine restaurant in Slidell is great place. For the second time, they allowed us to bring our construction crew in for dinner. There were fishes on the wall, loaves on the tables, and an interesting pictorial advertisement for Jerusalem Spring Water – which I affectionately dubbed Holy Water.
We prayed: “That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of GOD.” Ecclesiastes 3:13
There were excited adventurous eaters and some dubious not-so-adventurous eaters, but with sharing and sampling, it all worked out.
Appetizers: Turtle Soup, Gumbo, Crawfish Bread, Alligator Sausage
Dinners: Jambalaya, Stuffed Crab, Fried Shrimp, Cajun Shrimp, Cajun Crawfish, Breaded Catfish, Cajun Catfish, Sweet Potato Fries, Oysters, and way too many Hush Puppies. In fact, there was so much food leftover that we took 3 filled containers back for a late night treat for the other teams.
We discovered we had a “gansta” among us, and took photos to prove it.
The three sisters and I were re-named Huey, Dewey, Louie and Jodi.
We discussed the unusually high level of symphonic snoring in the ladies’ bunks.
The lone man on our crew announced, “I’m the oddball here!” (No one had the heart to tell him he’s always been the oddball, no matter where we were.)
We re-lived the trauma of finding a 3” snail, and the 26 squirt cockroach.
We kept getting back to our list of projects, adding ideas, and hoping we would get to meet our home owner.
And even though there was talk of a Sonic stop, we were just too stuffed for dessert.
The afternoon’s anger over the inadequate levees was forgotten.
The evening’s warm breeze and the warm laughter carried it away, leaving only high spirits, healing and hope.
Ruling / Leadership
Flexibility. Remember that word? A team of nine, two vehicles and a trailer, one leadership meeting, made for a small challenge. The end result was that the truck had to go to the home site because it had the trailer attached to it. The van would remain at Aldersgate, so that following the meeting, the leaders could rejoin the team. However, there turned out to be another little challenge – not enough seats or seatbelts. The truck holds five, maybe six, but there were seven to transport. Somehow the group decided that two people could ride in the enclosed truck bed with some assorted tools and a couple of coolers.
Now, I’m not sure what came over me. Yes, it’s true that I am usually a stickler for rules. That’s because I assume rules were created through reasoning; by someone else’s experience. I don’t make things difficult on purpose. I am not comfortable being a leader because of this. Yet, in the absence of leadership, I was next in command. And even though, I’m not usually a do-it-my-way-or-else gal, I refused to let anyone ride in back of truck.
“Absolutely not,” I declared. “Insurance issues,” I claimed in a very adamant mini-meltdown sort of way. “There needs to be a seatbelt for every one! Suppose something happened? Suppose there was an accident?”
Yes, as hard as it is to believe, there I was; assertively stamping my foot in insistence, raising my voice, and not backing down. I said to the team, “In this situation, my word is final.” I uncomfortably faced down a half-dozen anxious to get going women whose moods ranged from mildly annoyed to extremely unhappy. I then asked for one other member to volunteer to stay back with me.
After the truck and the trailer left, I sat in the van and cried. “I know I did the right thing,” I said to the remaining team member. I did not get either an agreement or denial, only a comforting pat on my hand. Once again, I had succeeded in separating and then removing myself from the group. Partly because I knew they were angry at me and partly because I had some pretty overwhelming un-hide-able emotions surfacing.
After about an hour, I vaguely explained to the surprised leaders why there were two of us sitting in the van waiting on them. I didn’t mention the meltdown or the probability that some folks were still annoyed with me. I started hoping to find a small individual project that didn’t require me to work with anyone else. I was feeling pretty awkward when we arrived at the work site, and grew even more so when I realized the rest of the team was standing in the driveway apparently anxiously waiting for us.
Finding out the gathering had more to do with the trailer locks, than the foot stomping episode, was a relief. There was still a lot of tension. As we circled up for morning devotion, I hung back a bit.
But it seemed I couldn't get off that easy. Two team members approached me and herded me off to the side. I braced myself for a dress-down regarding my inappropriate behavior. I was willing to confess an over-reaction. But that's not what I got. Instead, I ended up being the 3rd party in a conspiratory trio. Keeping their voices quiet, a newer, more attention-demanding issue emerged. The awe of it floored me.
Keeping in mind that my enthusiastic team members were willing to climb into the back of the truck for the short ride to the work site, here is the abbreviated version of what happened.
Shortly after the truck with the appropriate number of passengers-to-seatbelts ratio departed, there was an "incident." Turning a corner, the bedgate opened up and a cooler fell out. The cooler was only slightly damaged, but the implication was scary. If a person had been sitting in front of the cooler, as was momentarily planned, they would have been the one pushed out.
I think it took a lot of bravery for our team members to stand in a circle, discuss our feelings, and admit our errors. I didn't know that the truck bed sometimes failed to keep it's latch. Neither did anyone else. Except the team leader, who was away at a meeting.
I wish I could be sure that everyone who was there feels as I do. It still bothers me some - that the hand of GOD was stomping my foot.
Shiny Yellow Locks, Dull Purply Spots
How many trips to the tool trailer does it take for the average GITC team member to realize that the ceiling in there in low enough that if you attempt to stand straight up you will most likely bang your head on one of numerous bolts?
For some it only took one or two trips; for me, it took about five times.
Even a shorty like me wasn’t exempt; I ended up with one really sore spot on my scalp. Thank goodness for baseball caps or some of us might have ended up with stitches in our heads, instead of purply forehead spots.
I wasn’t the only one making multiple trips to the trailer on Thursday morning. After the rush to begin, the delays, and cooler incident, there was just a little more scattering than normal. And just a little tension.
There was a lot of trailer unlocking and locking, and handing off of the key chain (also known as “shiny yellow locks”). You’d think the bright color would make them harder to dislocate. No matter who had them, someone was always looking for them.
Misplaced parts, misfiled equipment, missing pieces: but not really.
Sometimes things go missing for a reason. Sometimes, we need a break and don't know it. Sometimes at the lowest point when the winds seem nothing but scattered, what we need floats our way, and lifts us high enough to continue.
Meeting GOD in the Street
Misplaced parts and pieces... how many trips to the GITC tool trailer does it take to meet GOD?
So there I was in the dining room, caulking the window sill.
More truly, I was taking a mandatory water break. Our "water gal" had just delivered me another bottle of water so I could meet my quota. Yep, there I was standing at the window absently watching our team move around and through the house. That’s one of my favorite moments to find – watching the work, listening to the whoops of success and the joyful laughter, seeing the dedication, knowing that this experience is changing lives within our team as well as within the community.
Our site manager was headed out for yet another trip to the trailer, when a car approached the drive. I immediately became more alert, watching for signs of danger – checking if others were in the vicinity. Rules apply: team members should never go anywhere - even from the house to the trailer – alone. At lot can happen in a few feet in an unfamiliar area.
It seemed like minutes, but I know it was only seconds, as the car continued on to pull into the driveway after a brief hesitation. I thought maybe they were lost and just turning around.
These are the other moments I live for; not the fear – the revelation.
We had a visitor. I smiled as I realized, this must be our home owner. Again, only seconds, but even as I write this I can still see the slow motion movie in my mind. If I could have chosen any one person to greet our homeowner, it would have been her. A young lady invested deeply in the mission of restoring this house to not only livable but into a home, she was also our fierce planner, organizer, and stager.
I finally moved from my spot and rushed off to quietly find and interrupt a working leader. I didn’t alert everyone immediately. I just didn’t want to ruin this moment by having all of the team move in too quickly. We went back to the window and watched for a few moments more. It’s even more special when you can share the revelation with someone who understands. Tears in our eyes, chills on our arms, GOD swelling in our hearts we silently watched as curious team members slowly migrated towards the car.
Eventually Miss R, was ushered from her vehicle. She stood for a while asking questions of us: “Where are you from?” she said. “I know every state that has sent people to work on my house.”
“I’m so blessed that you’re here,” she said. “I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it to meet y’all.”
Somebody went to get a chair. Somebody else grabbed another water bottle from the cooler, and Miss H commenced to holding court. We sat close, in a circle on the ground, and listened to her amazing story.
A Slidell Life Story
This is Miss R’s home. “There are many people from many places that I may never get to visit,” she said with shining eyes. “But, there’s a piece of every person and every state in my home, now. My children and my grand children are excited to be coming home soon.”
Currently recovering from knee surgery, Miss R is scheduled to have surgery on the other knee as well. She’s been living in an upstairs apartment in New Orleans with her son in a neighborhood that is known for its high crime rate.
There were two Baptist ministers in her family; her father and a brother. Two of her sisters became nurses. Miss R’s other brothers were contractors. They built her this house in 1949. She raised five children in this cozy home, and has been blessed with eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
She watched her grandchildren dring the daytime, so her children could work. She herself worked nights and sometimes, she would lie down with them on a blanket on the floor. For safety reasons, in case she ever drifted off to sleep, she ingeniously pinned their clothes to the blanket so they couldn't get too far without her knowing.
Her house used to be the gathering spot on her block. She was well known for her perpetual pots of red beans and rice with plenty of crawfish. It’s the flavor from the tails that makes hers so special. Neighborhood kids would come by after school. They called her the “Kool-Aid Lady” or “Big Mama.” Her garden and fruit trees were for everyone, and she loved to share. She’s especially fond of hummingbirds and “tweety” birds. She had one special friend in a mockingbird that would come and sing to her in her window.
She made most of her children’s clothes. She had one son who was particularly fond of loud flowered shirts. He was always wanting new ones, so she taught him how to sew.
The night hurricane Katrina hit, she had all her family with her; because that’s how they were taught – to care for each other. When the power went out, holding hands, she and her daughters ventured out together into the pouring rain - to pray. After the storm, her first concern was for her 76 year old elderly neighbor, and making sure she got help.
When it came her turn for help, FEMA turned her down. She decided not to appeal. She didn’t need them, she had Jesus. She knew the LORD would send help. A few times in between her stories she’d tell us it was time to get back to work, but we’d sit for a little while more, and she’d share more. When it seemed she’d run out of memories, she said, “I’ve loved talking to you. Let us pray.”
Those of us sitting stood and took the hand of the person nearest us. Her simple prayer started as an enthusiastic near-shout, “You’ve got these people here LORD – so take care of them! Thank you, Jesus!” She prayed over and over, “Thank you, Jesus.” She continued on non-stop, passing her love through our hands, until her words became a communal whisper from those of us who could still find a voice within our swollen throats. We prayed aloud for Miss R, for ourselves, and for those whose hearts were in their eyes and whose tears watered Louisiana soil.
Unusual Missionary Positions
After Miss R left us, we went to work like famished termites on an abandoned farm barn. Power tools buzzing, minds buzzing, bodies buzzing – our work became more of an urgent activity. After a while of quiet, concentrated focusing, a ruckus arose.
“I just got screwed!” someone yelled.
“That’s nothing,” someone else yelled back. “I used to be a stripper!”
The screwing could have been worse. It was actually only a little arm hair twisting that resulted from keeping pressure on the wheelchair ramp rail while another team member screwed it in place from below with a power tool. The tip popped out and nipped at little at the upper team member’s elbow.
The stripper actually worked for a newspaper. It’s a lithography term that described their position.
A little levity was exactly what we needed, too. Mid-day Thursday we realized we also needed a lot more. Suddenly, we needed garden plants, birdfeeders, hanging baskets & hardware, a mailbox, towel rings and towel bars, a bathroom mirror. There were a lot more little individual tasks, plus a lot of independent working.
I was in charge of the second round of sealing the bathroom grout: floor and shower. First order of business was to re-clean to the floor and walls – remove any settled dust or dirt from the previous day. I sponge-washed the shower stall walls, and set out to lift the dry dirt off the floor with shop vac.
I've mentioned before that I usually show up on worksites in clothes I don’t mind trashing. Today I was wearing a too-big-for-me t-shirt that I had planned to throw away later. I was down on the floor, alone in the bathroom, just me and the shop vac, when I ran into an … issue.
The very loose bottom end of my shirt found its way into the hose. I tried to extricate it, but I was battling some pretty severe suction. I stood thinking that would give me more of an advantage. Only as I rose, so did the hose, sucking up more of my shirt as I continued to stand. I thought I saw somebody’s shadow when I looked up, but they were already on their way past me, and obviously had not seen my dilemma.
At this point, I’m sure you’re wondering why I didn’t just turn the thing off. Well, the cannister and power source were in another room, and by now my shirt had been sucked in up to bra level on one side and a little above on the other. I just didn’t feel like parading through the house like that; didn’t want to endure the sure-to-follow teasing, either.
With my right boot holding down the wiggling hose, I used my left hand to pull the hose away from me, and my right wrist at the hose opening for leverage. It worked! With a loud "whop", my shirt was finally free. My right wrist however, had been vacuum sealed to nozzle end. I took myself out of the bathroom, around the corner and hit the off switch. Phew!
Thankful I was no longer a prisoner the shop vac, I took a quick little R&R tour of the site, and observed the progress on our projects. Kitchen counter tile was being cut, landscaping was being fought, and rails were being secured. Things were looking good.
I bravely returned to my solo assignment, completed my task, and am happy to report that there were no more screwing, stripping or sucking missionary style incidents for the rest of the day.
Thursday night after dinner, I settled down on my lower bunk bed, and proceeded with my self-assigned art project - covering a new white mailbox with green vines and black fleur-de-lis.
As I was rubbing and applying decals, I noticed that my wrist was quite sore. Inspection revealed that I had a two inch long, deep purple bruise covering the area surrounding my wrist joint.
I didn’t remember whacking it hard enough to do that much damage, which was weird. So, I just continued working, being conscious not to bump or rest on it.
Concentrating and sitting quietly, my bunk-mates, the three sisters returned from the shower. One their way by, one said to me, “I think you left your bra on a shower hook. I recognized it.”
Now, I’m thinking, “Huh? How could anyone recognize my bra? It’s not like I go parading around without a shirt...." Ahhhhhhhh, nooooo…. Couldn’t be!
Yep, turns out that there was indeed a witness to my shop vac incident, after all.
That’s how she recognized my bra, and after a few moments we realized that’s how I got the bruise. Only technically, it wasn’t really a "bruise" anymore. It was a nearly perfectly-round, large, two inch hickey that resulted from my wrist being vacuum suctioned to the hose. I took a lot of teasing for that. Lots of comments like, “How could you not know what getting a hickey feels like?” and “We really need to get you a boyfriend!”
Truly, is anybody really surprised that I managed to discovered another creative and entirely unique way to hurt myself on a missionary trip?
I didn't bother trying to explain that on an injury report.
Not sure anyone would have believed it, anyway.
Mid-day Friday, we expected to see Miss R. coming down the drive again any second, and we were anxious to see her.
But we were more anxious to finish so much more before her arrival: more tiling, wipe down the floors, walls and doors, remove the evidence of workers, clean everything as best we could, and conquer a new task for a GITC team: staging.
Even though there wouldn’t be time for the grout to set so we could install the bathroom sink, just to double-check the tile cuts, the sink was hauled out of its box. NSDR handles an incredible amount of donated building supplies. Our sink had arrived boxed, with hardware and templates and everything you need for installation. It was at this late point, deep in the afternoon, when we discovered a problem. The template provided from the box was oval – but the sink inside the box, still sitting securely under its wrapping, was round. The vanity top and the tile had already been cut for an oval sink.
There were some issues with some incorrectly installed or completely not installed electrical outlets, and the gas stove that was delivered wasn’t going to help any. An electric stove was needed – there was no gas service to this residence. There was also no refrigerator, although the air conditioning was installed and working which was enthusiastically embraced as a little victory.
As with all homes, new and renovated, there are certain codes and requirements that must be fulfilled before a house can be released for occupancy. Our little house did not meet some of them. Knowing that our homeowner would not be moving in for at least another few weeks now made it even more important to us that we at least create the illusion that despite our last minute set-backs, she would be closer to being able to come home.
Even though I’d heard the term “staging” on one of those house-wise shows where people are trying to sell their home, I wasn’t sure exactly what the point was or what sort of things were required. Our site manager made it easier to understand by explaining:
“Staging is typically done on houses that are going on the market to be sold. Items, purchased or existing, are placed strategically to give the sense that a house has a homey feel. This makes the home attractive to potential buyers. This was also the goal when staging Miss R’s home. Some GITC and donation purchased items such as towels and towel bars, laundry detergent and fabric softener helped make the house feel like a home. We placed Miss R’s existing furniture around the house with the purchased items to help her feel comfortable when she saw her renovated home for the first time.”
Looking back on all the things that were influenced with our personal touches - bathroom mirror, towel rings and towels, kitchen towels, a door mat, furniture arrangement, welcoming flowers, hanging bird feeders, even securing the new mailbox – I have a clear picture of who chose which items. It is a joy and blessing to know that every person on our team was intimately and personally involved in setting the stage for a new beginning to Miss R’s already amazing GOD-staged life.
December 01, 2008
don't want to
don’t want to
examine my motives
don’t want to
be reasonable right now
don’t want to
face the reality
don’t want to
hear the truth
don’t want to
feel the regret
don’t want to
don’t want to
don’t want to
prove myself right
don’t want you
to prove me wrong either