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

Friday, December 28, 2007

Always a cheater.....

So in addition to occasionally writing on this blog, I also read a number of other blogs. One of my favorites is the revgalblogpals. It's my impression that it is really more of an online community than a blog. The revgals show that they are a group of women pastors and church professionals who share with/support one another through the magical medium of the blog. Now, by writing this, I am forced to admit that I am stealing from these women. I am not a member of this community, but regularly peruse their blogs to learn, laugh, ponder, and cry with them.

One of the special weekly treats on the revgals blog is their Friday Five. Each week a member asks all of these blogging women of faith to list five of something on their blogs- sometimes they are funny lists, sometimes they are deeply emotional lists. The lists are always entertaining. This week's Friday Five got me thinking. Since it is the last Friday of the year, Singing Owl (blogging woman of faith's online alter ego) asked the women to list five memorable moments of 2007, giving actual bonus points to anyone who pulled out a warm and fuzzy God moment to share.

The blog assignment, plus the nearing end of the year, plus my general liking of lists got me going on this...so I decided to play, even though I'm not listed on the roster.

Here's what I got- my five memorable moments of the year:

1. The day I spent crying over my job, only to return home to a letter in the mailbox, from a homeowner, who said that she felt God had left her in my hands. That letter that changed my tour with disaster work forever and has carried me through every difficult day I've had on the Coast.

2. The spontaneous BBQ at the Handsboro apartment. Sharing instant fun with people I love dearly....unplanned, unstructured, undeniably the best moment of the spring!

3. My church's mission trip to the Gulf Coast. Their love and support throughout this year was so powerful. But having them here on the Coast, seeing it all through their eyes, seeing their relationships grow- there's nothing like that and I'll never have the right words to describe how it inspired me.

4. My cousin's wedding this summer in MA. My mother's side of the family is pretty tight. We gather as a group of 40 or more each year for Thanksgiving. But that is about the only time the whole gang is together. Except for my sister's funeral three years ago. The wedding this summer felt like a real release. The family celebrated, really celebrated, with joy and love again. It changed everything about how we talk, walk, and play together. I also got to spend some quality one on one time with some cousins that I've always wanted to know better. And the wedding itself. The idea of two people standing before God and everyone they love and making a commitment to one another in faith, hope and love- it still gets me- every time!

5. My first trip to Ghost Ranch, NM. A sunrise hike to the top of Chimney Rock, an afternoon jaunt to a dirty cave, the group challenge up Kitchen Mesa, and some quality alone time.

6. The ongoing lesson in humility, and through that- forgiveness- that I've been living since arriving on the Gulf Coast. I've seen some of the ugliest and most beautiful parts of my own character come out down here, and I've seen all of that in others as well. A whole new world of gray is opening up every day. I've begged God for years to teach me to forgive. I think the daily failures I experience here are teaching me how to forgive myself, and then others. It's a fantastic start..... and an answer to a whole lot of prayer.

Okay, there's my list. It's six. Not five. I cheated on my stolen assignment. And it's no longer Friday. Fooey!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Since my last blog...

...we held a memorial service in honor of Rich. It was as beautiful as a memorial service can be. It's going to take a while for everyone to heal. And that's just speaking for his PDA family here on the coast, most of whom had only known him for 3-12 months. His funeral was held in his hometown in Ohio last Saturday. PDA Gulf Coast staff was unable to attend that service because...

...we went on retreat in Gulf Shores, AL. In what has now become an annual tradition for our staff and long-term volunteers, we had scheduled this retreat more than a month ago, and given recent events, we felt we all really needed some quiet time together. We enjoyed fabulous beach weather, tasty meals, some quality board game time and even gathered to watch White Christmas together. It was just the refreshing retreat we all needed after a busy fall and an emotional December.

...I went to see the Singing Christmas Tree.

...I attended the home dedication for house that PDA volunteers have been working on through one of our partnerships. Talk about coming home for the holidays!

...I became a house-sitter extraordinaire! I've been hanging at a friend's house all week while she and her family are on a cruise. I'm enjoying the space, the real shower, and all of her sweet animals. Eddie is making some new friends over here and there haven't been too many issues between him and the cats.

...My mom surprised me with a visit. She's staying through Christmas morning. She can't believe how warm it is here.

...I was in a minor car accident, which left me in bed for two days with a sore neck. I'm very thankful it wasn't too bad and that the lady who hit me has insurance.

...I didn't get my Christmas Cards out on time. See above. Expect yours next week.

...Mom and I visited the live nativity scene across the street. They had a real camel. A CAMEL!

...I finally, finally feel like I may be ready to celebrate Christmas. It's almost here!!!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Hoping for Peace

This morning, for the second Sunday of advent, we lit the candle of peace.

I'm not feeling the peace right now.

Let me back up.

Wednesday afternoon, I received some tough news from home. My family has been battling for information about my sister's death with the hospital, insurance company, and radiology company for almost three years. This week, my family reached a settlement, but it came without answers. I hadn't been very involved in the process, but the minute it became final, my heart ripped open. I will never know what happened to Molly. For almost three years, I've told myself I didn't care. I do. I care so much that I can hardly breathe. And that's how I have to continue, because we'll never, never know. My mom won't know. Molly's daughter won't know. It's more than I can handle.

On Thursday, we had a regular staff meeting. We started saying good bye to our coordinator, Rich, and two long-term volunteers who have become great friends. There were a few tears and a few laughs, but most of the goodbyes were to be saved for our beach retreat planned for next weekend. I bought a cake for these three lovely men, but as we got busy with the business of meeting, I forgot to take the cake out of the fridge and we never ate it.

Friday morning, I woke up early to have my four problematic wisdom teeth removed. Driving back from the oral surgeon's office, I received an email about an emergency meeting. We drove into the village and nearly the entire PDA volunteer force was gathered around the fire pit. I was still a bit foggy from the surgery, and stumbled into my trailer. Wilf and Virginia came in and shared the shocking news that Rich had been killed a one-car accident overnight. My head cleared and my heart sank. I've been a mix of denial, sadness, anger and fear ever since that moment.

Rich Cozzone was a man of faith and service. His job, like many of ours, had him driving all over the coast all the time. Bad weather, bad roads, blackberries on, crazy supplies falling from trucks, long hours, rushed schedules....

But it was Rich! It couldn't possibly happen to one of us. It just couldn't. And I was just talking with him. I mean, the man lives in the trailer next to me! We just spent time sanding the walls of a local church where he told me the story of how he met his wife. We've struggled and served next to each other these past few months, and now he's not there. And I'm just the girl who's known him for a few months. Rich leaves behind a wife, three young-adult children, a grandchild on the way, hundreds of students, and dozens of teams of volunteers, just to start the list.....

I don't understand. I can't find the peace. The joy of this season is lost on me right now.

Most weeks, this work, this place, is full of the highs and the lows. We live our entire existence in the extreme struggles and successes of lives in recovery. The beauty of people working together balances the lack of funding for building materials. Watching volunteers and homeowners from totally different backgrounds befriending one-another eases the thoughts of families spending a third Christmas in a FEMA trailer. These rationalizations are my attempt at making peace in this environment, in my own limitations, and in those of my community.

But how do you explain these seemingly senseless losses? How do you make peace with the untimely death of a family member? How do you go on without asking why? Without asking how? Where's the peace in that? I don't see it right now.

I'm angry. I am so sad. I am totally lost. And as I am writing this, I am realizing that I am also totally selfish. This shouldn't be a blog about me. It should be a prayer request for Rich's family back in Ohio and the PDA family here on the Coast. It should be a sweet letter of celebration of the life of a tender-hearted man. But I keep finding myself stuck in my own questions and doubts. It's a mess. I'm a mess. And not very peaceful. Not one bit. I want to be done with advent this year. Done.

But last week, when we started this advent season, we lit the candle of hope. And there is something I've always loved about the tradition of lighting advent candles. The quiet, the ritual, the symbolism, yes, yes, yes. But mostly, I love that each candle is a part of the whole, eventually guiding us to the Light of Christ. Even in that little circle of 5 candles, it is a journey. And that journey has an order. The peace candle can't be lit before the hope candle. That equation would never work out. So for tonight, the second Sunday of advent, instead of lighting the peace candle, in my heart I'll keep that hope candle lit. I'll keep a hope that even though I don't feel it right now, the peace candle isn't too far away after all. And maybe, maybe, maybe, through this dark time, I can keep trying to walk the journey toward that light.

Monday, December 03, 2007

In the past 72 hours I have....

...decorated my trailer for Christmas.
...been totally inspired by a New Life Church member.
...changed another flat tire.
...cried over friends who've left the coast recently.
...completely enjoyed being with good friends who are still here.
...met with a homeowner who's getting paperwork together to apply for funding to repair her home.
...burned one grilled cheese sandwich.
...only eaten one Big Bopper. (good job!)
...watched too much football.
...played way too much snood.
...watched 2 Christmas movies.
...fallen asleep reading the same book three times.
...slept a grand total of 13 hours.
...bowled a 49.
...bowled a 149.
...seen my teeth on tv.
...sanded the walls of a church.
...killed three cockroaches.
...been introduced to a fabulous new team of AmeriCorps volunteers.
...enjoyed breakfast with peacocks.
...forgotten to do laundry.
...argued with a Wal-Mart employee.
...received a handful of the best hugs I've had all fall.
...missed my nieces and nephews terribly, while nursing a sore throat.
...secured funding for two floor repairs.
...welcomed an addition to my home:

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Here's to hope....

Recently I was home for Thanksgiving. I was heckled a bit by loving friends and family about not blogging. I decided to get back to it. Then, somehow, another week has blown by. How?

This fall has been rough. I hate that every blog I write starts with some version of that sentence. But then, that is what this is all about. It is hard work. Period. I've never before been a part of something totally new. We're still creating this mass-scale disaster recovery stuff. It is new every day. I don't know how to explain that to people who haven't come down to the Gulf Coast, because it really doesn't make any logical sense, but it is so true. We're still disorganized, under-staffed, under-funded, befuddled, and confused. You'd think that we'd figured some of that out by now, but nope, we're still playing catch up. Whew. So we're busy. Always. Even when there are no volunteers in town. There is simply too much work to do. And I am amazed that ANYTHING gets done. But somehow it does and and that is unbelievably inspiring.

I spent the day Friday in a meeting room with our PDA Gulf Coast HQ team planning and organizing. It was my favorite day of the fall. For the first time in a months, I have hope and energy and I'm excited about our work again. We can do better and, now, I believe we will. It changed my outlook on everything down here. I'm smiling at people in the grocery store again, I sing along with the Christmas music on the radio, I get fired up to go in to the office..... I'm ready!

Bring it.