Monday, October 31, 2005


So the weather people warned those of us in the mid-Atlantic that it would be a pretty colorless fall this year since it had been so dry during August and September.

In my yard, at the very least, they were very wrong.

Each morning these last few weeks I've woken up to a sight which has been increasingly beautiful - a maple tree. My drapes are open just a crack, but basically the first thing I've seen each morning is that sliver of the great outdoors. Each day it's seemed amazing...and each day is more amazing than the day before. Despite several cold, rainy, and dreary days, the view from my window has been brilliant.

And then the fun comes. My car, which parks below said maples, always collects a number of leaves on the windshield and hood over the course of the night. So when I leave in the mornings, it's like I'm driving through a big pile of leaves! I get to see them as they all go flying and as a few brave cling on during my travels, waving wildly in the wind.

Soon the leaves will all be gone, along with the colors, and next year I won't be in this little room with it's view...but soon winter with its many joys and beauties will come, followed by a spring like I've never known before - one shared completely with someone else. Life will never be exactly the same again, but one thing that I've found to be always true in my life is that what comes next is even better than what was before. It may not be apparent right away, and at times it may seem like life can't get any better or more beautiful...but it's always been true.

So in the words of the Arabic Children's Bible that I learned from a lifetime ago, I say thank you:

شكرأ يا الله لانك خلقت الاشجار
(Thank you God because You created the trees)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

There and Back Again

Well, we got back from Mississippi at about 7:30 AM on Saturday morning. It's a mess down there, but we were able to help a few people and see what we're really up against. It's going to be a _long_ time before life gets back to "normal" for anyone down there. We spent most of our time working in Nicholson, MS. The MapQuest map that I linked to doesn't really show it, but it's right next to the MS/LA border (that's the Pearl River). We were staying about an hour away in Saucier (pronounced "sew-shure"). We stayed with a couple whose nephew's wife was on our team. They're caring for her 100-year-old mother, so they're not able to get out to help people much, but they saw this as their way of helping with the relief effort. Let me tell you, they fed us _well_. We all probably gained weight, even though we were doing hard work all week. And we each had beds to sleep in (most of us didn't even have to share!)!

We drove down (in the rain) Friday night and got there Saturday evening. Sunday morning we made our first trip to FBC, Nicholson in order to worship with them during their morning service. Afterwards we had lunch with the pastor and his family, unloaded the food we'd brough for their food bank, then had a planning meeting with some church members for our Thursday night block party.

On Monday, the pastor was driving all over creation to teach at a seminary, so we were on our own (with some direction from him). We helped an older couple pull all of the furniture out of their house. They'd evacuated to Baton Rouge or someplace during the storm and hadn't come home for a while, so they didn't realize that their roof had sustained some damage and was leaking into their house. By the time they came back, all of their furniture, rugs, drapes, etc. were ruined. We also re-tarped their roof.

Tha didn't take us nearly as long as we'd expected, so we went over to the local elementary school. The principal was a member of FBCN, so we knew before we came what some of their needs were. In their county, all students are required to wear school uniforms. However, many of the displaced students don't have uniforms, so we brought some extra uniforms from our church's school for some of their students to use. When we stopped by to drop them off, we noticed that the roof of one of their portable classrooms needed some help, so we offered to re-tarp it. While a few of us did that, the rest of the group went over to the Pastor's house to remove the debris from his yard.

The next day, we went to the home of another elderly couple. It had been their home for over 50 years. They hadn't sustained a lot of roof damage, but it had taken two weeks for them to be able to get to their door due to all of the downed trees, so their carpets had picked up a lot of moisture. Their insurance company told them to go ahead and remove the old carpet, but to hang onto their furniture for the time being. So we spent the first day moving furniture around and pulling up carpets. While we were there, we heard stories about how beautiful the yard was since the gentleman was a gardener/landscaper, so we took the next day to try to return their yard to some semblance of order.

That day was the most heartbreaking for me. That couple had spent over 50 years cultivating their yard and now that they should be able to just sit back and enjoy it, it's practically gone. Don't get me wrong, they still have a few bushes and flowers, etc., but even the lady of the house realizes that, while it _will_ grow back, it's not going to do it in their lifetimes.

They'll make it through, but....well....I just can't imagine working so hard all those years to have it taken away like that.

On Thursday, we mostly just got ready for our block party, but we did spend the morning vising down closer to the shore in Waveland, MS. We went all the way down Nicholson Ave. to the coast. For several blocks from the coast, the houses were just completely leveled. For a few blocks beyond that, they were destroyed, although still mostly there. We were told that the storm surge was approximately 50 ft deep there at the coast, so even the tall palms and pines that were there were completely underwater for a time. The water reached in about 10 miles from the coast. Understand though that, unlike New Orleans where the water was trapped, this water receeded almost immediately after the storm passed...taking much with it.

Not at all to belittle the people from Waveland's tragedy, but it seems to me that they'll have it easier in many ways than folks in places like Nicholson. See, their homes are gone. All of their belongings are gone. They just have to accept that, bulldoze the debris, and start over. The people in places like Nicholson are going to spend the next several years dealing with insurance to fix roofs and remove trees and replace furniture and belongings and remove mold. The task is so overwhelming.

So we did the only thing left for us to do. We spent Thursday evening providing a needed distraction. We rented a moonbounce with a slide and provided live music and free hot dogs for a couple of hours. The people were so appreciative, the parents especially. They got to watch their kids _play_ for a few hours without thinking about the storm or their monumental task to rebuild. They didn't have to think about being evicted due to their trailer park's sewage system backing up. They didn't have to think about the clean-up process.

With that done, we drove home after one last wonderful lunch with our hosts, arriving back at FBC Laurel (MD, not MS!) at about 7:30 AM on Saturday. We're all still tired and still sorting through our own thoughts and responses to what we saw.

I _can_ say that the team that came together at the last possible minute was definitely Providential in its planning. We got along together so well and just enjoyed each others' company. But we're all glad to be home.

Friday, October 07, 2005


(That's spells Mississippi, btw).

As soon as our last team member gets here, we're leaving the church to head down to Nicholson, MS. Our church is partnering with FBC Nicholson to help them and their community get back on their feet after Hurricane Katrina. This trip is mostly for us to do some assessment to see what they need and how we can help over the next couple of years, but we know we'll be helping a couple of elderly families clean up mold (and possibly just see what of their stuff we can salvage, if the houses are too far gone), and pulling up some carpet (possibly at the church). The big thing we'll do, however is to have a big "block party" or carnival on Thursday night. The minister of music (who's the pastor leading this trip), another lady, and myself will be providing the evening's musical entertainment, we're hoping to rent a moonbounce, and we've got sno-cone and popcorn machines. Hopefully it'll give people a welcome and needed distraction from their current situations. In the future, we hope to bring down trained counselors since that's really what they need the most right now.

So y'all be thinking of us. It's a 24-hr drive each way with a week of work in the middle. Also be thinking of VNB since he's graciously doing without me for yet another week (he'd be there with us in a heartbeat if he had the leave, but he seems to think that having enough vacation for a honeymoon is important for some reason... ;p ).

I hope I'll have internet access at least for one hour this week as I've got a web-based quiz that's due before Thursday. We download it from a website, then have an hour before we have to upload it again, but we have until next Thursday to do it. But I can't make any promises that I'll blog while I'm there. I'll definitely let y'all know when I'm back though!