I started this blog to keep my church, friends and family updated on my year volunteering in Katrina recovery with the Presbyterian Church (USA). I've now signed on for a second year working in disaster recovery and another year living in Mississippi. It's getting good....

Friday, August 15, 2008

Final Thoughts

Jesus answered him, "What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand." (John 13: 7)

When I left Baltimore, Maryland for Gulfport, Mississippi nearly two years ago, I knew I was in for an adventure, but I had no idea what that really meant.

I thought I was going to go help some hurting people. I had no idea that hurting people could help me so much. And I had no idea that I could hurt people so much.

I thought I'd be able to make a difference and help repair some homes. I had no idea that I'd be welcomed into people's families just for showing up, regardless of whether I got anything done to help rebuild their "house".

I thought I'd do a little case management and make sure no one slipped through the cracks. I had no idea how big the cracks were, and that I'd allow some of my neighbors to slip.

I thought I was going to learn about faith, living in an intentional christian community with 5 strangers. I had no idea that my home church would teach me so much about faith and support and love from more than 1000 miles away.

I thought I might eat some fun things. I had no idea I'd become addicted to hot sauce and sweet tea.

I thought I might make some new friends. I had no idea I'd build a second family.

I thought I was going for 10 months. I had no idea I'd be there for almost 2 years.

I thought I'd gain some insight and direction into my future path. I had no idea I'd leave more lost/open to the mystery of what I'll be called to do next.

I thought I'd figure out how to re-open my heart after the loss of my sister, and the near loss of my faith that followed. I had no idea that I'd learn that my heart's journey is really a forever process, and how seemingly everyone else I meet is in it with me, in a way, recovering from their own loss of hope.

I thought I'd pick up some new skills. I had no idea that would include driving a forklift, drywall finishing, pulling electrical wire, mastering trailer septic maintenance, and creative ways to use a palate or two of expiring peanut butter.

In two years in Mississippi I have been more sure of God's presence among us, and more unsure of God's presence in my daily life, at any given moment. I have laughed more and cried more than ever before. I have seen the absolute best and worst of some church people, some homeless friends, and some perfect strangers, as well as of myself. And along the way, I hope I was able to help out a few neighbors in need, even if just a bit.

Just before I moved away, one of my peers (another who'd moved to the Coast post-Katrina to help out) sat and chatted with me for a few hours. He asked me what was the biggest lesson I'd learned during my time on the Coast. I said that my eyes had been re-opened to a colorful, messy world. I'm embarrassed to say that when I get stressed, I shut down my color-vision and choose to the see the world in black and white; right and wrong. To me, that means you are either a good person or a bad one. Agencies are either doing things right or they are wrong. People are either worthy of my friendship and love or they are not.

That is ridiculous. I know that. But I keep slipping back into it. My black and white structured world helps me cope with the confusion, loss, questions, doubt, unknown, that we face every day. The key being, if you live in a black and white world, you never have to forgive anyone: the people who've wronged you, a neighbor who didn't offer to help, a church member who lied, a politician who cheated, that dog who chewed your favorite sweater, agencies who didn't follow through on their promises, the government who stood by watching idly, a God who allowed a whole Coast of people to get wiped out, or even (gulp) yourself. When you live in a black and white world, like I do much of the time, you get to stay angry and righteous because people are just wrong! You never let go of that grudge against the bad folk/system/creator.

What I re-learned over these two years, is that we are all called to live in the mess that is the spectrum of gray. We are all hurting and angry and frustrated. None of us can live up to the standards we set for ourselves or for each other. Setting black and white standards of right and wrong in order to provide structure (and room for judgement) is not our job. Our job is to love. To love regardless of right or wrong, of merit or effort.

I am amazed at how many chances I've been given to love people over the past two years. There were plenty of times I came through on that call, and plenty of times when I failed. I live in the grey. We all do. And I think the beauty of the gray is that we're not alone there. God is with us, calling us to stay in the grey and to keep trying. And somehow, with God's grace and love the gray world is turned to color for me- full of His light, and His joy, and His peace, and His love.

I'm going to attempt to carry this perspective with me as I go on to new adventures in new places...adventures and places still very unknown to me. I'm also going to try to bring along some sweet tea.

To all of you who have loved me in the midst of all my gray over the past two years:
THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! I love you and all the color you bring to my life, always!

Saturday, August 09, 2008


Just a quick note to let you all know that I made it to Chicago. It was a long drive and I have yet to catch up on all the sleep I've missed in the past week or so, but I am here. Eddie and I are getting adjusted to city life- he barks and sniffs at everything (very unlike him) and I keep getting yelled at for calling people sir or ma'am. Guess some of the south really took hold, eh?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

On the road again.

It's my last night in Gulfport. I'm almost done packing/cleaning/working. Tomorrow I hit the road for the two-day trip to Chicago.

Today I... took a co-worker to a meeting to (hopefully) start a fall partnership between our two agencies, submitted my last two homeowner grant applications, closed ten cases, cleaned out two years worth of files/folders/scrap paper from my office, cleaned out my trailer fridge, wrote a letter to my home church, packed two packages that I've been meaning to mail for months, returned $65 worth of goods to Walmart, cleaned out the blackberry/email/work computer, enjoyed a final supper with coworkers and friends at one of my favorite Gulfport restaurants, documented everything I do at work and where I left everything that needs still to be done, organized Eddie's food and toys for the trip, and said a big prayer that all the stuff I've so carefully packed actually fits in the mini-van tomorrow.

Tomorrow I will... do a final clean of the trailer, turn in my blackberry/computer/keys, drop off a few files at the office, drive to New Orleans to pick up the car and my co-pilot and her dog and her stuff before returning to Gulfport to repack the minivan, mail a few items at the post office, and drive off to Oxford (Emma's house) for the night.

There is a sappy, reflective, crap-I've-spent-two-years-on-the-coast-and-that's-taught-me-this-about-God-Family-Community-and-the-meaning-of-life post coming...but it didn't fit on the to do list this week......

I will say, though, that I am all full of love for all of you who've been supporting and praying for me these past two years. Shoot me a little prayer for this transition if you will.

More adventures to come...

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Pausing for a good laugh

By now you know that I am now in the throws of packing, which has been a two week process thus far. I've somehow managed to cram two years of life on the Coast into a 240 SqFt trailer. Dislodging, disassembling, cleaning, reorganizing, and packing all of that so that it will fit with me, my friend Jessie (and her stuff), and two dogs in a rented mini-van, has been quite the chore and it is totally stressing me out.

Fortunately, some dear friends of mine had the foresight months and months ago to imagine my stress level during this process and they planted a little comic relief.

Let me back up....in the beginning of November 2007, I went out of town for a weekend to visit my friends in Northern Mississippi. My PDA buds back here in Gulfport took that opportunity to JIF my trailer. If you haven't been JIFFED, please refer to the photos below.

This week, 9 months after the JIFFING, I have rediscovered 2 cans carefully tucked away, buried with my oh-so-important belongings (that haven't been touched in at least those 9 months).

When I messaged Dan (on of the JIFFERS) about the new finds, he told me that JIF was the gift that keeps on giving. I'm not sure about that, but I do think that laughter is a pretty darn special gift....especially after all these months....especially now.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

4 days to go...

And so the countdown continues.

I've been pushing pretty hard this past week to try and get everything done before I leave- packing my trailer, packing my office, pushing cases through funding roundtables, visiting homeowners, tying up transition plans,saying goodbye to friends and work contacts, working on India trip plans, finalizing moving plans, searching for a cell phone, repairing my laptop, cat sitting, and trying not to burst into tears at any given moment. All of this was complicated by a few issues- I was unexpectedly left as the only staff member on the coast for a week- a week when 4 long term volunteers terminated their service with us and needed collection of their receipts/blackberries/keys/credit cards/etc, exit interviews, rides to the airport, etc...and in the middle of all that, my back also went out, so I have to spend several hours a day laying flat on the floor just to be able to function the rest of the day.

There is NO way I will get it all done. Not a chance.

But somehow, I've become okay with that. I had a good chat with one of the smartest women I've ever known, who also happens to be the friend who's known me the longest, and she helped to open my eyes to this: As much as I don't like to admit it, this work is bigger than me, this agency is bigger than me, this mission is bigger than me. If I don't get it done, someone else will pick it up. PDA actually had interviews for my position this week, so it looks like they will be hiring someone to come and take my place soon. Yes, it's possible, Erin, for someone else to do you job- probably better than you. You weren't the only one God called down here to help out. So get over yourself. Do what you can without busting your back/bursting into tears, say a little prayer, and let the rest go. I think I'll tattoo that on the inside of my arm, in case I forget.