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....

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Homecoming (11/29/06)

Ah, the fun of a week back home...Fallen leaves, my favorite church peeps, cold rain, my munchkins, my sister, my whole huge extended family, cherry sheets, white wine in bulk, unlimited WiFi, familiar roads, familiar traffic, good friends, late nights, Karen and Taylor's wedding, Yuengling, wedding shoes (notice that I did not say wedding shoe blisters), winter clothes, Breakfast with Liz, Breakfast with Lindsey, a Redskins victory, Redskins fans, Sunday Night Ladies Night, turkey, mashed potatoes, and SWEET POTATOES!

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

Thanksgiving Vacation, Here I Come (11/18/06)

Top 10 signs you're ready to get out of Mississippi:

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

Storms of All Kinds (11/16/06)

Yesterday it rained.

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

Random Thoughts from PJ's Cafe (11/13/06)

It is sunny and beautiful today.
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



Halloween Photos, take one...

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").
Love you,

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Lots of Mom, Little Money

I'm writing tonight from a very cold tent in Orange Grove PDA camp 3. We're watching election returns on a TV with cable and using unlimited WiFi to access detailed results. In a tent! At a camp without flush toilets. Ah, technology.

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

By the numbers (11/5/06)

Another busy week....another fun weekend!
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!

Final Note:
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

New Photos

Hey- this week has been busy. I don't have the Halloween photos up yet, but I did just post a fun, random collection to my shutterfly page: http://eringulfcoast.shutterfly.com
Love and peace,

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Halloween Report (11/1/06)

Happy Halloween!
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......