Sunday, December 31, 2006
When I was growing up I used to chat with my best friend Lindsey about spending New Year's Eve in New York City- at least once. Well, we've yet to do that, but I have seen the ball drop and/or the fireworks go off from the mountain tops of Colorado, the sunny beaches of Ft. Lauderdale, and the mob scenes of downtown DC. Never in my youth, however, did Lindsey and I dream of celebrating the turn of the year in Mississippi.
But Mississippi feels like the right place for me this year. The Gulf Coast is a little broken, still. They're trying to pick back up and move forward, but they don't really know how that looks just yet. They're not totally sure what they're going to be or how they'll rebuilding. Cities are still arguing out the planning processes. Developers seem to be shooting up everywhere- but also nowhere in particular- haphazardly. Confusion reigns in government, business and non-profits all over the coast. But neighbors have swooped in to help, coming from near and far to support, heal, love, build and laugh with those who have been through so much.
Since New Year's two years ago, when my little sister passed away, I've been pretty broken. I don't know how to rebuild myself. I don't know how to rebuild my relationship with God. I don't know what my future looks like- where I will be or what I'll do. I didn't live through Katrina, but I did survive my own storm. And, two years later, I'm still trying to pick myself back up and look forward. And that's without having to navigate the webs of building permits, mold treatement and smart codes!
Coming down here to help out with the Gulf Coast rebuild has been such a huge piece of the healing process for me; for my own personal rebuilding. It's work I can do to help someone else pick up. It's a way for me to pay back all of the family, friends, co-workers, neighbors and strangers who've held me togther for the past two years.
Today's reading in church was the story of Jesus as a boy getting "lost" from his family, and seeking refuge and understanding in the temple. I caught myself thinking that maybe the Gulf Coast and this Recovery effort can be my temple. So many people have struggled here and so much damage has been done. But for me- this chaos- it is helping me to rebuild. I've spent almost 4 months here seeing God's love touch lives, homes, pets, organizations, and even me, again.
The Gulf Coast and I aren't the only ones in the world hurting this New Year's Eve. War, illness, hunger, poverty, violence, hopelessness and so many other troubles are so very present in all of our lives. So my New Year's wish is that we can all help each other rebuild- ourselves, our families, our communities, our world. The only way I see that I can rebuild, that we all can rebuild is to put our trust in God's love. If we can start to share that love with one another, maybe we can all heal enough to move forward, together, in peace and joy.
May His love be with you all this evening and throughout the New Year!
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
I had to use my ice scraper on the car this morning! IN MISSISSIPPI!
That's all. We'll now return to regularly scheduled blogging.
Back to the Christmas report....
Christmas in Mississippi was fantastic, as I am sure you can tell by the few photos I posted yesterday. I had mixed feelings going into the holidays here. How can you have Christmas in 75 degree heat? Will the church be packed? Why am I not skiing? Where is my family? What about my favorite family Christmas traditions? Why does my tree have Mardi Gras masks and feathers all over it? Where will we eat? What will we eat? What about all of the families we're working with down here? Urg.
Christmas Eve was a rainy day. I had spent the day before gathering and delivering Christmas gifts and dinners for families donated by my church back home. My roommate Linda and I had stayed up until 2:30am wrapping gifts for Christmas Eve delivery to some needy families with whom we've been working. On Christmas Eve, I hit both the Episcopal and Presbyterian morning worship services here at Handsboro. At the Presbyterian service, a few homeless folks joined us for worship. It has become commonplace for homeless neighbors to come by the church requesting assistance with food, blankets, bus tickets, gas money, etc. It rarely happens on a Sunday. Pastor Scott had run out of money in his discressionary aid budget to assist these people, so he invited them to worship and agreed to request assistance from the congregation directly. They sat through the service and we all gave what we could to help them out. I spoke with them a bit and then gave them some of the money my home church had sent for Christmas needs. As we were talking, Scott and I realized that they had no place to eat Christmas day. Scott and his family had already invited all of the GCM volunteers over to their (not-yet-completed) home for Christmas supper, so it was easy for him to invite our new friends as well. We weren't sure if they would show up, but Rebecca (Scott's wife) and I started planning for the meal just in case.
The evening worship services that night were held at Orange Grove Presbyterian Church, the yoked congregation with Handsboro. As Linda and I were headed out the door, we ran into our new friends, from the morning service. They wanted to attend evening worship and didn't know how to get to the church. It was awesome. I couldn't believe they had returned! When they stepped into Orange Grove's sanctuary, several church members recognized them and greeted them warmly. This was the best true Christmas moment I can remember. And the service was beautiful, full of readings and carols- just the way I like it.
After church, Linda and I had dinner with some Episcopal friends. They opened their home to two ladies with no place to eat a proper Christmas meal. Another fine example of the Christmas spirit. And their family is pretty darn funny, too!
Christmas Eve finished with my two roommates and two of our GCM friends left in town all bunked in my room. We dragged all the mattresses in and had a big sleepover, complete with a lively White Christmas sing-along. A wind storm and flapping flashing awoke us all around 2:30am, so the crew slept in past my normal Santa-wake-up hour. Around 8:30 we got up and started with breakfast beignets, Grandma Grogan's sticky buns, cider, and gifts. Melodie was the proud recipient of a DVD Tetris game that we all enjoyed testing out. Somehow, without my family being here, it felt much like the Christmas mornings of my childhood.
Soon after the unwrapping was done, it was time to whip into gear preparing lunch. Our homeless friends arrived around noon and we all shared a great Christmas meal of jumbalaya and salad. That's Christmas in the South! Then I recruited Mical and Tyler to take part in my Christmas Cookie Sweatshop. We made sour cream cut-outs, peanut butter kiss cookies, and of course, chocolate chippers. Four hours of that done, we hardly had time to clean up and get to work on Christmas Dinner.
About a month ago, Scott and Rebecca had invited us over to the newly renovated manse for Christmas dinner. They were supposed to be able to move in on Dec. 15th. Well, the manse wasn't ready. So they moved into another temporary home and we had Christmas dinner there, with their family. It was fantastic. I enjoyed my first fried turkey and I am totally sold on it. We had all the trimmings- sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, the famous Miranda stuffing, ham, green beans, etc., etc. The meal was tasty and the company was cozy. We played Uno, Apples to Apples, and some sort of electronic password game for hours. It was laughter, joy, and insane competition- all characteristics of the Christmases I remember and love.
So somehow, without anything familiar available to me in Mississippi this Christmas, I had a very traditional, warm, loving holiday with good friends, strangers, and lots and lots of food. The Christmas spirit is alive and well in this disaster zone, in the families we work with, in this rebuilding congregation, in our developing GCM project, and I hope in all of you, too.
Merry Christmas- all year long!
PS- for Christmas photos check out this link!
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
I hope you all are surrounded by loved ones, good food, laughter, and God's love this holiday season!
Love and Peace,
Friday, December 22, 2006
Today I arrived back in Gulfport (I spent the night at a PDA volunteer village in Houma, LA) and was greeted by several stuffed envelopes and packages. My roommates put the big packages under the tree for us to open Christmas morning, but I opened the cards immediately.
Last week we had a toy drive and ran out of toys. I mentioned this to my sister and asked if she had any ideas of how to help. She did more than come up with an idea- she stood up at work and stood up at church and asked folks to give to the needy families of the Gulf Coast this Christmas. My little church in Dickeyville, MD and a few of Rainey's co-workers responded by sending me more than $700 to buy gifts, food, and other necessities for some of the families I've been working with down here.
I can't tell you how touched I am by this outpouring of love and generosity: my sister's actions, the church's support, and mostly by the very kind notes and cards that housed these donations. I am just blown away! Thank you! Bless you! I love you!
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Monday, December 18, 2006
Dad and I enjoyed the Skins victory in the Superdome this weekend! We had a full range of comments from Saints fans on our burgandy and gold jerseys. A man in the mall started it with, "Boo Redskins!", which was followed by another man in the stadium who caught me in the food line with, "We're going to eat us up some Redskins, today", but to me the winner was next man in the food line who quietly made eye contact with me and said, "Thanks for coming down here. It means a lot." Over-all there was a sentiment of gratitude from the city- that we'd come, spent our money, and contributed to their rebuilding effort. I had fun with Dad and the surprise Washington victory was a nice finish, but the true blessing of the day was getting to spend some time with the people of a great city, who are excited about bringing it back! And the beignets are tasty too!
Thursday, December 14, 2006
I've been trying to help a young man complete some community service hours and wasn't having any luck finding work- and yesterday, after a month of waiting, it worked out.
I met a homeless man, who's friends had taken advantage of him, who'd lost his job, who'd lost all his money and needed a bus ticket home to PA to get back to family and find some help- and yesterday, despite several serious road blocks, it worked out.
I've been wanting to feel closer to God in this building- this church, this office, this volunteer hostel that is my home, my work, my community. Last night I attended the healing service run by our Episcopal friends who are temporarily worshiping here at HPC and then spent the end of the night and the wee hours of this morning singing Christmas hymns by the light of our advent wreath with a couple of my roommates. I think Linda thought I had sad tears, but really I was crying because I finally felt God's presence in this church. I was so moved during the healing service, with the weight of the past three months, really of the past year and three months, starting to show signs of lifting off of this structure. I cried in joy, knowing for the first time since I arrived- really knowing- that God was in this building. He is in these people: the community service worker, the volunteers, the homeless folks, the pastors and priests, the staff, the cat, the cockroaches, the six of us GCM volunteers and the whole bunch of mess that strolls in and out of these doors daily. I had wanted to believe that all along, but I just couldn't feel it- yesterday, it worked out.
This morning I awoke to the news that our tool trailer had been broken into last night. Someone stole all of the power tools, compressors, and light tripods; very expensive equipment. Two days ago, this news may have crushed me. But today, I have hope. I have hope that our insurance will cover the loss. I have hope that we'll have the funding to replace the equipment. I have hope that the police will find answers to the increasing crime concerns of this community. I have hope that we can help enough people in this community so that there won't be a need to use theft as a means of getting by. And I have hope that God's love will get us through all our days- the good, the bad and the ugly.
With love and hope,
P.S.- Dad arrives tomorrow- please join me in praying for his safe travel. -E
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Yesterday began with our weekly staff meeting. I know it is good to check in on a Monday morning, but I'm just not at my best first thing Monday. The folks at Initech would call it a case of the Mundays. (See Office Space photo above for an example of how to treat a case of the Mundays.)
For me, the meeting was followed by a few hours of phone calls I had to make to homeowners to let them know that we won't be able to work on their homes for a few months. We don't have too many volunteer teams coming down to work during December, naturally- they want to spend time with their families. But it means that families on the Gulf don't get back in their homes. I thought it was better to call and tell them that we're running behind, rather than have them waiting and hoping that some how we'd come through and then being disappointed when we never show up. Hence the horrible, awkward phone calls. I hope you'll join me in praying for all of the families who are still unable to celebrate this Christmas in their own homes.
After lunch several of my favorite (no, I don't really have favorites, okay, yes I do) homeowners came in all at once to pick up some Christmas gifts. It was wonderful for them to be able to shop in our garage, but it was even more wonderful (in my opinion, which clearly is the only one that matters here) for me to get to see them shop! They were all so happy to have bright, new toys to take home and wrap for their kids. These three women would not have been able to afford Christmas gifts this year without our garage full of toys (all donated by a church in Oxford, MS). To see the joy in their eyes, it changed my day. I hope you'll join me in praying for the needy children on the Gulf Coast this holiday season.
Later last night, we shared dinner at Orange Grove PDA Volunteer Village to say goodbye to a dear friend. One of our fellow volunteers has decided to leave the program and return home for the remainder of the year. While we'll miss him dearly, I know that this is the best decision for D; for his health and happiness. I hope you'll join me in praying for Big D as he embarks on a new journey.
May peace and love find you all today!
Monday, December 11, 2006
Erin and the Home Depot Christmas Tree!
What a weekend.
I gave in full-force to the Christmas spirit this weekend. Scott, the pastor at Handsboro Pres, would be correcting me at this point- noting that I actually gave into the Holiday spirit this weekend. He preached on the difference between celebrating the holidays (Christmas, Channukah, Kwanza, Festivus, etc.) and celebrating the birth of Jesus. I did not spend enormous amounts of time sweeping mangers, knitting baby blankets, cleaning camels, or even reciting the nativity story. I simply went out to get a Christmas tree.
My housemate Linda has been desperate for a Christmas tree since the week of Thanksgiving. Many who know me know that I don't do Christmas until after Thanksgiving weekend. I get angry at stores who fill their holiday displays in October. I refuse to buy ornaments, cards or gifts until December on principle. It's ridiculous, I know, but I mean it. Linda waited patiently for me to be ready to prepare for Christmas.
We tried to make it a family adventure. We tried to go cut down a Christmas tree at a near-by farm. I had told Linda about my favorite family adventures to Smoky Glenn Farm, getting the cider, hopping on the hay ride out to the tree fields, cutting down the tree, eating pie and sipping coco while enjoying carols in the background. It's almost a Norman Rockwell painting. But I loved it. And Linda loved the idea of it, so we went.
Problem was, the whole family didn't go, it wasn't cold enough out for cider, and the tree farm wasn't selling trees! I should have known we were in trouble when we walked up and there was a "Caution: Fire Ants!" sign taped to a giant candy cane. This "tree" farm was selling bushes, cut in the shapes of trees. We ran out of there and began searching for a tree lot in town- something to support the firemen, boy scouts, Kiwanis club, anything.....nothing. We ended up at Home Depot picking up a tree wrapped in twine off the line. We never opened it up. Just bought it to be done with the chore. We took the tree home and set it in the stand- in which it didn't fit- tree was too small. Somehow we got it to stay in place and opened it up. Pounds of dead tree fell out, along with some dead pine cone pieces and a few bugs. Where's the Norman Rockwell in that?
To try to get Linda to stop crying, I made a swit move to get her out of the house. We took off for a Christmas Cantana at Long Beach Presbyterian Church. This didn't stop the crying, but did change the mood. It was fantastic. A choral group from Trinity Pres in Meridian, MS had come down to sing on the coast at the church where one of their own is now working. That twenty people would give up a holiday-season weekend to sing for their missionary and his new church, it just made me beam with warm fuzzies (and well with tears, per usual). They sang hymns and helped Linda and I to remember that Christmas isn't about the tree, the weather, our families and home congregations, but it is about celebrating the joy of Christ- his love, peace and forgiveness.
On the way home, hearts full of hope, we drove by a Coca-Cola truck all light up for Christmas. There was a Santa in the truck and they were honking and waving at everyone they saw. They ended up parked outside the K-Mart across the street from our church. I know that this story now sounds like one of corporate cheesiness gone wild, but there was something about that Coke-Truck-Santa that made me feel just as bright as the Cantana. They we're hauling soda that night- they were driving around, rocking out and ho, ho, ho-ing. And it was their job. Someone paid them to spread holiday cheer. I'm not going to be the girl that promotes big business, ever, so don't worry. All I know is that the Coke-Santa gave me a candy cane and made me smile on a long day. Just the same way Linda's pretty tree made her smile. The children's concert down the road made Brenna and Sarah Ann smile. A day of uninterrupted football watching made our boys smile.
I don't need the Norman Rockwell painting. I don't need a manger scene in my bedroom. I just need the little every-day reminders that there is much hope, love and joy in God's world. And those reminders come from all over!
Linda loves the Home Depot Tree.
Linda not loving, but vacuuming the death out of the Home Depot Christmas Tree.
Now we're all happy with the tree!
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Click here to read the article
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Monday, December 04, 2006
Last week flew by. Partially because I was ridiculously homesick and partially because it was only a three day work week for me. On Friday we took off for a retreat with the entire Gulf Coast Mission crew.
Yep- all 15 volunteers and 4 program coordinators together for the first time since orientation. We went up to a lake resort in Louisville, Mississippi and spent the weekend in prayer, worship, fellowship, discussion and silence.
Here are a few photos my friend Emily took of the retreat:
The survivors of the great marshmallow incident of 2006.
So, we're back in Gulfport again. You can tell from the photos above that it is in fact December in Mississippi...jackets and all! It is cold down here, which I really wasn't expecting. Last night it got down to 34 Degrees, which is mighty cold when you live in a cinderblock palace without heat! Tonight it is supposed to drop to 26 Degrees! Good thing we have 279 million blankets in storage! And it is a great thing that I was able to get home for Thanksgiving in order to bring back coats, blankets and winter clothes. I can't believe I thought it would be warm in the South?! So please join me in praying for all of those who don't have cinderblock walls, winter coats or 279 million blankets to keep them warm tonight, or all winter long.
Winter is here. December is here. Bring it on, Mississippi!
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
It was so fantastic that I almost didn't get back on the plane for my return flight. To all of you with whom I had the pleasure of spending time this past week- thank you! You inspire and encourage me all the time! I love you and miss you so much. Please know that I would never give all of you up just to hang in Mississippi for a year. I really believe that God called me down here to help this community and the Presbytery.
So I am back to Mississippi and back to work. This week I have the pleasure of telling many of the 98 backlogged homeowners on my wait list that we don't have the volunteers to fix their homes this month, so they will need to either wait or contact another agency for assistance. That's the stink part of the job. But this morning, I was able to call several homeowners and tell them that we have stoves and microwaves for their homes. Another family needed beds, which we did not have, but I was able to get them air mattresses and pillows. I'll take my blessings wherever and whenever I can get them!
Tony and Claire, a retired couple volunteering with us for a few months, cooked dinner for the group last night. I had been in a funk all day, just sad about leaving home, and they were able to put the first smile of the day on my face. I am so grateful for them and folks like them who give me such hope. Their generosity, humor, and love warm my heart and drag me out of the the muck most days. See--there must be a plan. There must be a plan. There must be a plan.
That will be my mantra this week. Trust in Him. Love these people. Be patient.
There must be a plan.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
10. You're drinking Blue Gatorade for communion.
9. You trip and fall on your face while trying to get lunch for a new homeless friend.
8. You're sick of Shrimp Po' Boys.
7. Every time your roommates leave out a dirty coffee mug you dream tossing it out the window (the mug, not the roommate- okay, sometimes the roommate too).
6. You pinched a nerve in your back entering 98 backlogged work orders into a spreadsheet that no one but you will ever use.
5. You said, "Take it easy, now, y'all" and no one seemed surprised.
4. You can't remember the last time you wore anything other than PDA blue. (Bonus points if you can't remember the last time you showered!)
3. You fell asleep two of the past three nights while holding your alarm clock.
2. Your mind wandered towards a few choice f-words when a nun cut you off at the gas pump.
(To be fair, this one may have been my fault since I was backing up to turn around at the pump- but still- not good.)
1. Your plane ticket says it is time to go home for Thanksgiving. I'm on my way!
Thursday, November 16, 2006
I'm not talking about an East Coast fall drizzle. It poured. Lightening, thunder, pounding rain, wind, tornadoes- full wrath and destruction.
My morning started at about 4am when the rain was coming into my bedroom and my roommate was screaming for help in closing the window. Fortunately, I am skilled at closing windows, so I was able to correct the problem even in my semi-slumber state.
The rain wrecked chaos on our day. Volunteers had to be moved into the church to finish sleeping. All of our roofing and siding plans had to be delayed. I had planned on going out on home visits, but the roads were flooded, so I was benched. Our Long Beach site was under a foot of water. The day felt blown at 7:30am.
I managed to get some paperwork done. I organized files and workflows. I tried to make the best of a frustrating day.
Then another storm hit. As has been well documented, I'm dealing with some frustration around communication and organization at work. My teammates and I had a meeting with management and there was a flurry of emotions, feelings, expectations, and needs raining down over all of us. A few guidelines were established, but overall I left the meeting just as confused as I had entered. That left another storm brewing in my brain.
How do I balance the needs of the community, each homeowner, my supervisors, my program, my roommates, my family, my home church and myself without drowning under the weight of it all? The simple answer is that I don't know. I have a tendency to over think everything to every possible detail. This has served me well in some situations, and completely crippled me in other situations. I am trying not to over-process this experience and just live it.
I am trying to have faith in the journey. I believe God called me to this community to help these homeowners and congregations. Katrina was a storm bigger than anything I can imagine. If they can live through that storm and walk on in faith, than I certainly can live through this drama and walk on in faith beside them.
Today I awoke to sunshine and beauty everywhere. A few puddles linger, but the coast seems to have dried out again. Hope anew. Faith restored. All that good stuff.
Another day to try again....
Monday, November 13, 2006
I am sitting outside enjoying the day at PJ's- our favorite place to use the Internet. I say this and laugh because it is really the only place we use the Internet anymore. We haven't been able to get online at the church for going on three weeks. I am trying to be kind and patient and all of that jazz, but really I want to shake someone. Then I get mad at myself for being so dependent on the Internet and want to shake myself.
Work went well last week. I realized that there is no way that I will be able to effectively case manage every one of the homeowners the Presbytery works with down here, so I have got to get some help. I decided that volunteers that come down on work teams may be interested in visiting folks. Not everyone wants to hammer down shingles, right? So I started creating the paperwork and training materials needed to bring volunteers into the casework program. I tested it out on one of the volunteers and got some great feedback. I also rode along with two different contractors to learn more about the construction needs of our homeowners. Now, when I visit someone, I won't be giving them false hope- I can be honest in telling them whether or not we can help rebuild their home. Hurray for information and honesty.
I also had a fantastic visit with mom this week. She was working hard with her team each day, I was working hard with my job each day, but we had plenty of together time each evening. It was great to have her here to talk with and just to sit with. I feel so blessed.
Yesterday we had in impromptu babysitting session with the Castleman kids. They are sweet and smart and wonderful. It made me miss my munchkins. I can't wait to see some of them in just a few days.
I keep forgetting that I am going to Maryland in just a few days for Thanksgiving. I guess I should start to think about packing.
On this day, sitting in this chair, I don't feel as frustrated as I've been.
Maybe I should sit here more often....
The sun feels good......
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Sorry that I am slow to post these....we're having Internet trouble at the church this week. Here are a few shots from our Halloween fun with the whole YAV gang. The Presbytery six dressed up as the PDA six. We thought it was pretty funny! Check out more photos on my photo page by clicking the link listed on the right ("Erin's Photo Page").
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
The political excitement is only enhanced by the presence and enthusiasm of my mom. Mom is here visiting, on a work trip with Gaithersburg Presbyterian Church (www.gpchurch.org - check their blog online!). I can't put into words how good it feels to have my mom in town. After all of the transition, work, and drama of the past few weeks, it is so comforting to have someone here who really understands me, no questions asked. And, of course, it's been refreshing to get out of Handsboro each evening for dinner. Especially since we have lost Internet access at the church and are struggling to get back online.
Fortunately, there is plenty of work to be done. I've been out on the road this week, visiting house after broken house. It is difficult to explain how many people there are here still in need. And the piece that no one wants to hear is that it really is just a money issue at this point. We have the labor. We have volunteers coming out of our ears. We don't have the money to buy the materials we need to supply the volunteers with singles, sheetrock, insulation, cabinets, toilets, etc to put the homes and lives back together again. And it is the same story with every agency working on the coast- lots of volunteers, not enough supplies. My bosses have taken off out of the office this week to find some peace in order to complete reports and grant proposals to secure more funding. And really, the long-term answers are still such a mystery. But as I am reminded each and every day on the coast, if we lift these mysteries to God, He will find a way. It isn't for me to plan, but for Him to provide.
Just another test of faith....because I haven't enjoyed enough of those yet....
And please, please don't read this as a fundraising letter. It's simply my observation and frustration at the moment, expressed to you openly and honestly. I have been so unbelievably blessed with financial, emotional and spiritual support from church, family and friends. You all are making this year possible for me and I am grateful to each of you every day. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all that you do to support me and through me the people on the Gulf Coast.
On a high note- in the hour it has taken me to draft this blog (due to the shaking of my fingers in this cold, cold tent....no, really because I've been trying to get some work done too) the Dems seem to be taking over the House and they have definitely won back control of Maryland. Hurray for faith and hope. We'll see how the rest of it shakes out in the morning.
Good night and God bless.
All my love,
Sunday, November 05, 2006
The quick highlights, by the numbers:
2- hours of artsy-fun spent wandering through the Peter Anderson Festival in Ocean Springs, MS. (Yes this is my third festival in two months. We love festivals- they're free!)
372- mosquito bites acquired during ONE 10 minute walk along the Pearl river.
372- also the number of mosquito bits I gladly took on during that walk in order to spend time with my great friends/co-workers. (Thanks for playing host, Becca!)
44- times I was thankful that I don't live in a trailer, while spending quality time with the GCM crew in Becca's Pearling trailer this weekend.
2- tanks of gas purchased for my car this week that I can't really afford.
5- gas requests I received from strangers this week who can't afford anything.
172- thoughts of guilt over stressing about the gas situation, when really, I don't have anything to stress about compared with most of the people I meet down here every day.
97- mini-peanut-butter cups eaten, provided by 1 fabulous work team from Westchester, PA.
100- cookies that my dad sent this week (yum, yum!).
9- number of cookies already in tummy.
2- new, young and fun friends who expressed interest in joining Handsboro Presbyterian Church today!
1- shot of Jesus consumed in the form of blue gatorade since the volunteers drank all of the grape juice the church had intended to use for communion this morning.
3- hours spent ignoring the Redskins game since they loose every game I actually watch.
100,000,000+ thoughts and prayers for all of you! I love you and miss you all the time!
My mom arrives today with a work team from her church- Gaithersburg Presbyterian. Please pray that they all arrive today safely. I'll be spending the week living with them at the Orange Grove PDA camp, right down the road. I am so excited for mom to be here! I am sure we'll take lots of photos and update with lots of stories in the days to come.
Until then, peace and joy,
Friday, November 03, 2006
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
The Gulf Coast Mission crew- all 15 of us together, if only for an hour and a half, but together, for the first time since orientation- met in New Orleans yesterday for a little business and a whole lot of fun. My 5 housemates and myself arrived dressed as six of the other volunteers (photos to come) and if I do say so myself, the joke went over quite well. We had a brief meeting and then toured around the French Market for the afternoon. It was a beautiful, sunny, not-very-fall-at-all day, but I still loved it.
We came back to Gulfport to meet up with friends and do a bit of trick or treating adult style- we hit one bar and one casino in costume (again, photos to come). Brenna was dressed as a lobster, Linda was an angel, and I was a ghost. I mean a real ghost. White sheet with eye and mouth holes. I thought it was classic! I mean, who dresses as a ghost anymore? Well, apparently not anyone in Mississippi, because when we were out at the casino a man asked if I was dressed as the Klan for Halloween. That was the end of my costume, and my ignorance. I am learning things about the south, slowly but surely.
All the same, it was a great relief to get out of the church, see some friends and enjoy a few laughs yesterday. It's been a stressful couple of weeks for me down here. I have been so fortunate to be so wonderfully supported by church, friends and family through phone calls, emails and care packages. And I really feel that I've bonded with housmates through this experience. But the work is hard. The relationships are hard. The communication and organization is hard to work with at this point. We've had meeting after meeting to try and address some issues. The simple fact is that this still is a disaster zone. There may not be bodies lying in the street anymore, but people here are still living in crisis all the time; working in crisis all the time. I get frustrated that things aren't more organized or structured, but then I remember that no one has had time to structure the structure, because they are still working on feeding and housing their neighbors. I really hope that my housemates and I can provide some relief by way of hard work and help, but I also think it is arrogant to expect that I can just jump in and create change and provide help. It's a daily battle for me to find a way to help without getting in the way.
But I believe God has called me, and so many others, here to serve. He didn't give us directions or assembly instructions. He gave us hands and minds and hearts to use in His service. The rest of the details are just that, details that we've got to figure out. I have faith that as a community of His servants, we'll "make it work" (Is it okay to borrow a catch phrase from my Project Runway friend Tim Gunn while attempting to make a serious point? Apparently, yes.).
Today my friend Linda and I attended a service of healing and prayer with our Episcopal friends here at Handsboro. Sensing our emotions and stress levels, Sarah, the priest, asked us how far we are into our mission year. She guessed we were 8 weeks in. We told her that she was about right. She told us that when she started seminary, they told her upon arrival that pretty much all seminarians experience a meltdown around 8 weeks in. I guess it is just the natural time to question every expectation you had, relationship you've developed, hope you've believed, assumption you've made and bit work you've done. So, if you have been reading these blogs you know I have been struggling with some things lately, but know that those struggles are normal. It's time to question everything. The priest said so. And so does my heart. And I know that these questions and emotions will only bring me closer to God, to the work He has called me to do and the people He has called me to serve.
And it's not like I'm not having any fun......
Monday, October 30, 2006
Sunday, October 29, 2006
So do you remember when they told me that flexibility was the most important quality in a disaster worker? Apparently God wants to test me on that one. All year. This week especially. It's been a roller coaster of Erin emotions.
I had the ups- receiving a warm, fuzzy care package full of my favorite things (magazines, popcorn and love) from my home church, getting the software installed that I need to run the casework program, making new contacts at the housing summit, spending quality time with my housemates, etc....
But I also had some downs- rain, rain and more rain, the frustrating housing conference with no answers, a three hour long meeting with our program leadership to discuss house concerns, losing my work cell phone in a hayfield, etc....
Patience. I am working on patience. I have a housemate who keeps reminding me that it is more important to be faithful than to be successful. That seems to be the motto of our year, maybe of all work on the Gulf Coast right now. Success is difficult to measure down here. A mentor once told me that there are some days when success is simply not making things worse than when you arrived. I am not sure where I fall in all of that, but I do think that there is a certain amount of success just in being present. Just showing up says a lot. I am here. I will try to do what I can. But I will also just try to listen and be present. And I will eat candy. Lots and lots of candy.
Thanks to the fantastic family I have back in Dickeyville (DMPC), my housemates and I are stocked in magazines, candy, popcorn and Halloween fun (see photo above). Thank you, thank you, thank you! You all are so wonderful for thinking of me. And really, every day recently, I have been getting cards in the mail from DMPC folks, which truly brighten each and every day.
Except for casserole day! I don't have the photos yet, but yesterday we received a shipment of more than 100 casseroles from the ladies in Meridian, MS. It is so sweet of these women to bake food for the volunteers down here- but just wait until I show you what hundreds of casseroles look like in your freezer- not to mention in your jeans.
To work some of the casserole off, we had an active adventure today. I am posting a few of our corn maze photos. Who knew they grew corn in Mississippi? But if there is a corn maze to be found- I will find it! And it was fun.
The lesson is, whenever you get frustrated, grab some candy, some casserole, or some corn maze and restore your faith in friends, family, and community.
Love you all,
Thursday, October 26, 2006
We had "spaghetti pie" for dinner with the Episcopal church last night. I'm not sure why it was called a pie- I suppose the pie dish in which it was served provided the name- because it looked like a casserole. I mean, eating in layers, is eating in layers. So I am counting the spaghetti pie as half a casserole, since there was no mention of casserole in the name.
Also, in an effort to curb the effect the casseroles are having on my rear, I started the 2006-2007-move-that-thang-workout-plan today. Morning in Mississippi was welcomed with a bit of sweat. Let notice be served- the casseroles will not win!
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Don't get me wrong, it was great to see so many concerned parties get together for a giant brainstorm session, but if you've ever met me, you know that I like to get things done. We didn't get anything done this week. I know that there are no easy solutions. I didn't expect to come out of there with a plan, but it is so frustrating to talk around all the problems and have no action items to take home at the end of two very long days. We did gather some useful information about government aid programs, pull in plenty of networking time and made a few good contacts with other agencies working in the Gulf. Ah, hope! Oh and we managed to find the back way into the casino's very posh pool, which I fully plan on taking advantage of when the heat returns in the spring.
Tomorrow, we're back to trying to save the world....or at least our little piece.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Speaking of Halloween- I need some costume ideas. I mean, how do you dress-up for the devil's day when you live in a church? Help me out here.
This weekend has been really fun. Many of the 15 GCM crew came into Handsboro to chill a bit. There were board games, football games, long talks, celebrity magazines, a bit of beach time, and 2/3 of my favorite 80s movie (Better Off Dead). I learned that while down here, you just can't beat some quality time with folks who really understand what you are doing and the point of this adventure. I love this team!
It's also a bit crazy since we have several volunteer teams coming in and one big team leaving for home tomorrow morning. The church is full of energy and spirit, and noise and smells. I'm so sad to see the SoCali team go home, but I know we have some great peeps coming in to help out this week.
It is raining again. Maybe it is time for me to turn in.
I love you guys!
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Here at Handsboro we make home for a constant cycle of volunteer work teams from all over the country. Some teams bring experienced construction workers and some crews come to do office or medical work. Some teams arrive with 40 members strong and some consist of just one or two dedicated people. They are from large California churches and small North Carolina congregations. They come in all ages, shapes, sizes, and attitudes. And each one of them brings a needed shot of faith, hope and love to this community- including myself.
We're currently hosting a team of 30 from Newport Beach Presbyterian Church in Orange County, CA. It's a huge, wealthy church full of folks who are ready to fix things and do good all over the globe. They've been a bit frustrated this week because we've been slow to get the work done. You see, we've been thrown a kink in our work plans by mother nature. It's been raining! Since Sunday we've had nothing but rain, rain, rain. I haven't seen rain since I arrived on the Gulf Coast- I wasn't even sure it rained here at all. This week, I learned. It rains. It's been dumping. And that rain really slows our roofing, painting and building plans. Sometimes I think it might be funny to put a bunch Californians up on wet roofs and watch what happens, but down here they won't let me do it. I suppose that's Southern Hospitality for you. So, we had to scramble to find inside jobs for the Cali crew. We searched and searched our files, and finally found a great inside job just under our noses- the church sanctuary. Being over 100 years old the church has seen some shifting and her walls were covered in cracks and tears (you folks at DMPC haven't heard of anything like that, have you? He, he). They spent the day filling the cracks and preparing for new paint.
This morning, when I joined them for their daily devotional mini-worship, one of their team members read Philippians 2: 3-7 and spoke about being a missionary as being a servant. He spoke about doing the work that needs to be done, regardless of your own agenda. He had been one of the team members who wanted to get out into the town and build roofs and houses and meet people and change lives and who had been frustrated by how the weather had changed his mission trip plans. But this morning he looked around the patched together sanctuary and noticed that, " if not for the rain, this work wouldn't have been done".
That struck me. He was talking about this week's rain spurring all of the work on the church building, but I heard him preaching about the Katrina rains and how the work in this community wouldn't have been done with out them. All of the families, churches and schools that are rebuilding down here were hurting before the storm. The hope and joy coming out of this rebuilding effort is lifting this community higher than it stood before.
I also heard him talking about me. If not for the rain of tears that followed my sister's death, and my move back to Maryland, I may not have found my way down to Mississippi to join in the rebuilding effort to get my work done. I don' know that I would have had the emotional, physical, spiritual and financial resources to take on this challenge if not for the year and a half through with I struggled, explored and learned. And as much work as I do in this community, there is just as much work going on in my head, and my heart. That work would not have been done, if not for the rains.
I know the teams come down here to serve and touch the lives of the Gulf Coast community- I just never expected to be included as a recipient of those gifts, to be included in that community so soon.
Monday, October 16, 2006
This weekend we held a fair to kick-off the after-school program that a few of my housemates are creating. We had a balloon pop, a cake walk, cotton candy, a pie toss contest, face-painting and the all-important bounce house fun! Some church folks and some neighborhood folks came by to play for a few hours and I ate a bunch of yummy fair food- all good stuff in my book. We also made time this weekend to stop by the Gautier Mullet Festival. Now, my roommates and I thought we were going to an 80s hair-style celebration, but quickly discovered that the mullet is a fish down here. It was a wild- fish throwing, music rocking good time. And yes, they did have a hair cut contest- because even fishin' folks recognize the hilarity of the mullet haircut. I still can't believe I forgot my camera!
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Love and peace,
Monday, October 09, 2006
On Friday, my housemate Linda and I went to dinner in Biloxi and finally found where all the young people in the gulf live- in a gym at the Methodist Church! There were about sixty 20-somethings gathered for food and fun organized by Hands-On, a non-profit volunteer agency working in the Katrina rebuilding effort. But they live in a gym. A lot of them. With 3 showers for 60 people. The gym did not smell good. Not at all. I am glad that I don't live in the gym. There will be no complaints about my living situation, ever. I don't live in a sweaty gym- hooray! But it was fun to met other young folks working in the area, and I am sure we'll head back over to the sweaty gym again soon to make some friends.
After the sweaty dinner, Linda and I joined the rest of our roommates at the hottest, most happening place to be on Friday night in Gulfport: the high school football game! They do love their football here in the deep south. We arrived at half time and the score was 42-0. I spent the second half watching the cheerleaders and band members avoiding each other and remembering how painful high school really was for most people. Then some snotty high school girl ma'amed me in front of all my friends and that stopped me from feeling bad for her any more. I mean, I know I live in the south and so kids at church and tellers at the grocery store are going to call me ma'am, but I just can't take with when the cheer captain does it when I am giving her my coolest schpeel. Whatever. I am old. Maybe it is time to accept it. Humpf. We finished the evening enjoying the surprisingly cool weather out at the beach. A beer by the water is always a good way to end the night!
On Saturday, some of our PDA friends came over for the Texas/OU football game. I also snuck out for a quick hike in the nearby National Forrest. The trails were so damaged by the storm that many paths are now impassable- but that just serves to get me into the scrambling mood and attack those trees. The spiders slow me down, though. Big spiders with really big webs.
Sunday brought the double dose of church I've come to love- 9am service with the Episcopals and 11am Presbyterian Extravaganza. It's a fun combo and the commute is right (they both worship where I live). We bombed out of the service to make it to a sports bar in time to catch the horrible Redskins game. I've noticed a pattern this year- when I watch the games, the Skins lose. Maybe next week I won't watch and they'll be great again! Then we came home and I attended the Blessing of the Animals, hosted by my Episcopal friends. It was too cute. Everyone was told to bring any animal that would fit in their car to be blessed by the priests. The dog and cat owners were cute, but the kid with the fish just cracked me up! Then I went to the beach for a bit to clear my head before our evening- planned to include family dinner, spiritual gumbo and some board game fun! I met a few random strangers on the beach, watched a beautiful sunset and took off for home. We had a great team dinner and then dove into the bible study/discussion on faith that I have come to call spiritual gumbo- because you never know what will come out of that pot! We each take a turn hosting the evening, so it stays fresh. Tonight I hosted and we had a lively discussion about faithfulness. I can't begin to tell you all how brilliant, talented and funny the team is and how glad I am to have them in this adventure. We closed with a pathetic game of Trivial Pursuit- which may never be played in this house again. Unless we can get those blessed animals in on the game. They may actually be able to answer some of the questions. Wait, I thought I said my teammates were brilliant?
Oh well. It's late. I'm beat. Too much football. I love football. But maybe not every day. I love my housemates. I love the animals. I love all of you. And I miss you. Miss you like mad. But I am doing well, feeling strong and ready to work. This is going to be a good week.
All my love,
PS- I ate zero casseroles this weekend. No, wait. I heated up casserole left-overs for lunch on Saturday. Gotta love those Presbyterian women and all of their casseroles!
Friday, October 06, 2006
Thursday, October 05, 2006
So, I spent today organizing to start my real job. Hurray! I am going to be working for the presbytery doing casework and follow-up with folks who we've already assisted with structural repair. But, before I can tackle that task, I first agreed to meet with the 200+ families we've taken work requests from but haven't been able to assist yet. Today I organized the files of work orders taken as far back as May, that have not been looked at since they were first written. Yikes. What touched me about all this- these people are all still waiting for help! What's holding us back- we need work teams to come and do the work! So, if you are willing and able, consider coming down to help. Organize a work team of friends, family, church-goers, co-workers, whatever. We have teams as small as two and as large as 60. Bring what you've got! We'll find work for you to do. And spread the word- there is still A LOT of work to be done down here! For more info or to register a team, email Linda directly at email@example.com or just contact me and I will send you info.
Okay, after I got over all of that- I went to an Episcopal Healing service at lunch, a Presbyterian Covered Dish Dinner and Prayer Meeting in the evening, and managed to eek out some time to watch the LOST premier. We closed this evening with a house meeting and some prayer time. For those who are so inclined, I would ask that you keep my housemates in your prayers. We're all working on finding the best ways to use our talents to help the Gulf Coast communities rebuild, without missing our families and churches at home too terribly much.
That said- I still miss you all like crazy! Don't forget to update me on what's going on in your world!
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
I had such a great time seeing friends and family this past weekend in Baltimore and DC. I hope to get the photos developed soon to share with you all! The MS Challenge Walk was a huge success- minus the blisters and other possible permanent damage done to my feet.
I did manage to come home with a wicked cold, so I have spent the past day and a half nursing my sickness. I pulled myself together today, however, just enough to make the trip up to Hattisburg, MS for a YAV meeting with the Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Mississippi. We went to see the office, meet the leadership, and get a lession in Presbyterian History- all useful information.
Hopefully I will be rid of the uck by tomorrow and ready to get back to work.
Peace and love,
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
I made it back to Baltimore today for the MS Challenge Walk this weekend. Yesterday the Handsboro crew and I painted our living space. It is fantastic! Then the team took off early this morning for PCUSA's Ghost Ranch retreat in New Mexico for a YAV orientation. I am bummed to miss the fun, but glad to be home to visit with family a bit. My family, friends and I are participating in a three-day 50 mile walk for the National MS Society this weekend (that we've been planning for about one year). I won't be at church Sunday because I will be somewhere around mile 41....but I will be thinking of everyone. (And I will be back to visit for Thanksgiving).
All my love,
Monday, September 25, 2006
The 9am service with St. Peter's By the Sea Episcopal Church (they have been worshiping at Handsboro Pres. since their church was destroyed by the storm) was beautiful. Sara, the priest, reminded us all that "we can't earn God's love, but that we should strive to experience His love". That really spoke to me this week.
The 11am service with Handsboro Pres. was a bit more casual. Rev. Scott Castleman preached on the power of Christ's love and our awareness and acknowledgement of that power. I felt that the piggy back of sermons flowed quite well today and was glad to have been present for both messages.
Then, I worshiped at the altar of the NFL for several hours. We didn't get to see the Skins game, but I did see some fantastic highlights. Hurray for the Burgundy and Gold!
We finished the day with family night- all 6 roommates eating dinner, sharing bible study, and finishing with a wild round of Cranium. It was our first family night, and in my opinion, a smashing success. However, my opinion is tainted by the glow of victory on the Cranium board.
This will be a short week as I am leaving on Wednesday morning to return to Maryland for the MS Challenge Walk. My roommates are also all leaving on Wednesday for a few days of training with PCUSA at the Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. And, finally, one of my roommates will be traveling home to Michigan to attend the funeral of a dear friend this week. I hope you all will join me in praying for the safe travels of our crew, in all different directions.
Love and Peace,
Sunday, September 24, 2006
These are photos from our first few days at Handsboro. We arrived on the morning of the church's rededication, hence the cake! Yum. That's when I got to talking with Judy (photo #3). In #2 you'll see a photo of our living space upstairs at Handsboro, where Duane and Linda are hanging out. Then, finally, the last photo is a glamour shot of me in my uniform- a sweaty PDA t-shirt and a smile. Where's that cake again?
Tomorrow will be full of church and football. Go Skins!
Love you all!
Friday, September 22, 2006
A random assortment of photos from my first few weeks at Handsboro. At the top you'll see some of the crew waiting for dinner to start. I am chatting with Greg, Kerry and George. Next is a beautiful photo of the electrical work I spent a week on. I didn't wire that box, but I sure did help. It was a work of art! I am so proud of Fred the electrician and our team (photographed below). The 4th photo shows my roommates Brenna and Sarah Ann preparing for dinner.
I'm Erin. I'm in Mississippi. I have no idea what I am doing here.
Well, I have some idea. I came down here to work with the Presbyterian Church in response to Hurricane Katrina. It started as a simple online resume tossed out into Internet oblivion and became a lifestyle in just a matter of weeks. I'm still a bit confused about the process, but I have no doubts about my call to service. There is so much work to be done here and I just know that I can contribute, somehow.
I arrived on the Gulf Coast on September 5, 2006. Since then, I have been calling, emailing and writing letters to family and friends, basically saying the same thing to each of them with every message. This blog, I hope, will streamline some of those efforts. But don't worry- I still miss you all like mad, so the phone calls and written contacts will continue!
Did I mention that I miss you? I do! Lots! And all the time. Like mad, I say!
So, most of you have already heard of my travels down to the South, the week of orientation in Biloxi, my case of homesickness, and all of the fun people in my program. We moved into Handsboro Presbyterian Church on Sunday, Sept. 10th. Handsboro is a great old church in Gulfport, MS. I live in the building behind the church in office space that has been converted into bedrooms and a large living room. I live with 5 other volunteers- 2 male and 3 females. They are good folks from all different backgrounds, which will definitely make this a year for learning and growth. The goal is to live in an intentional Christian community in order to explore our relationships with God, ourselves, and others. I am excited about this process and where it will take me in my spiritual journey.
The job piece of this puzzle is still a bit fuzzy. When we arrived, there was a mad panic on to finish some work on the manse (the house next to the church in which the pastor and his family will live). So I learned construction and spent nearly two weeks pulling electrical wire and putting up drywall. It was hard, sweaty work and I now have the man-hands to show for it! But it was fun to finally be getting something done. And I did take some pride in showing these southern gentlemen that real girls get dirty and get the job done!
We've managed to sneak some fun into the trip already too. We went to New Orleans the first weekend here to celebrate the 21st birthday of one of the girls in the group. Then my team of 6 went to the Biloxi Seafood Festival with some friends, where we enjoyed good food, local beer, and some rockin' zydeco music. This weekend we plan to make a road trip to Pensacola for some serious beach time!
I am still trying to figure out what I am doing here, how I can contribute and how to live in a church for a year with five other people! But I am inspired every day by the generosity of strangers and the faith of my new neighbors. Did I tell you that I have yet to cook a meal for myself down here. There is a church in northern Mississippi where the ladies cook casseroles and supply them to Handsboro in bulk. Yesterday, a man drove up with 40 casseroles in his trunk. Seriously, I may never cook again.
So, when I don't have casserole on the brain, I will try to keep this blog thing updated with my latest thoughts, experiences and adventures. Please check back and feel free to comment (I think that is how this works), but go easy on me because I am a newbie!
Love and Peace,