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....

Sunday, December 31, 2006

My New Year's Wish- December 31, 2006

New Year's Eve in Gulfport, Mississippi: sounds exciting, right? I bet you're jealous! You know you are!

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


Important News Update:

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

Christmas in Mississippi with the GCM gang! (Photos included)

I hope you all are surrounded by loved ones, good food, laughter, and God's love this holiday season!

Merry Christmas!
Love and Peace,

Friday, December 22, 2006

Blown Away!

Have I mentioned that I am a proud member of the most fantastic church around!?

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

When photos say it best:

Meeting Mississippi native James Earl Jones at a Thank You reception at the Beau Rivage Casino in Biloxi.

Also, check out new photos by clicking on the Erin's Photo Album link.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Go Skins!

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

Hope and Good News

Yesterday I was full of good news and couldn't wait to blog about it!

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

Case of the Mundays

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

Holy Christmas, Coke-Santa!

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!
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Read me.

While doing research on Christmas gift programs for needy families today, I came across a touching letter penned by Sue Reed, the Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast. Far more eloquently than I have been able to explain, she puts to words the feel of the Gulf Coast this holiday season. I'm not promoting this organization or fundraising for them, so don't feel any obligation there. It's a good read if you have a few moments.

Click here to read the article

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan"

I did it. I watched It's A Wonderful Life last night. It's officially Christmas time for Erin.
Holly, Jolly.....

Monday, December 04, 2006

December Already??

I can't believe it. Really! I know the stores have had their Christmas displays up for months, so I should have been more prepared for December, but I'm not. My roommates made me watch White Christmas last night. I didn't think it was time for holiday movies- not yet. But I guess it is time and I better accept it. December. Already.

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 raging bonfire and the brave souls who attempted to roast marshmallows while also trying not to set their flesh aflame!

The survivors of the great marshmallow incident of 2006.

A cheesy Christmas card waiting to happen
(don't laugh too much, you may be a recipient of said card!)

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!