Maggie’s Story

This is (a part of) Maggie’s Story. She told us this over coffee and beignets, as we were working on the insulation. We stood in her new living room, and listened.

The Mud

“In the days after the storm, I started goin’ through stuff. You know, FEMA said if you weren’t there whenever they came to deliver your trailer, they’d give it to somebody else. So I came here. And the mud lay this thick [indicates about a half foot], and the flies; oh, those flies. Because by then, all our food had started rottin’. You know, everything in your pantry and your refrigerator was there in that mud. And the fish too. There used to be a shrimpin’ factory up the road – it all washed all over us.

“It was all there in that mud, and after a week and a half of this, there were flies, and maggots, too. But they said we had to clean it up. So I put my rubber gloves on, and took my glasses off, and started cleaning it up. I figured what you can’t see can’t hurt ya!

Cleaning Up

“Finally, when the water came back on, it was just a trickle. It took me ten minutes to fill a bucket! So I filled it, and went slippin an’ slidin’ over and tossed that water onto my floor, washin’ out that mud. Oh it was caked by then, but with the water, it was so slippery. And the flies!

“My son, Scottie, he loves the Nebraska Cornhuskers. A few years ago, someone got him a Cornhusker hat. I mean, it was a huge corn on toppa his head. He loved it. He wore it around town every Saturday the Cornhuskers played. Well, one of the first days, I found that hat in the mud. Later, I cleaned it up and gave it back to him. He loves that hat.

Evacuating

“Before the storm hit, my son convinced me not to stay here but to go see my daughter in Kentucky. So we got in my truck with our lunches and two bottles of water. We started drivin’ and it took us two hours to get to Pensacola – that’s 20 miles away! And then we saw a sign that the interstate would be closed, and so was the other one. So we turned around and went to my son’s house in Ocean Springs [another Gulf Coast community].

“Well, their fridge just had a little fast food in there. So we filled the tubs with water and we stayed with him. At least he was on higher ground. But they had nothin’ there, and weren’t ready for us either.

My House

“After the storm hit, we went to check out my place – to get the food, water, and maybe even to all go back there. Well, we couldn’t get through one street because there was a house smack in the middle of it. We didn’t know that was even possible! So we turned ’round and finally made it to the end o’ this street. I couldn’t see the house because these big trees had fallen down. My son got out the truck and I said: “stay in – the wires.. you’ll get electrocuted.” He said: “I’m fine mama.” Well, he was gone for what seemed like two hours, and I tell ya, that was the longest. I was beside myself, thinkin’ he got electrocuted and not knowin’ what to do because I couldn’t follow him. I could get electrocuted and then what would happen to Scottie?

“But then I glimpsed the top of my roof through all these trees, and counted this tree [points] and that one, and that one…! My son then showed back up too, and I thought we were spared. The trees hadn’t hit my home, and Steve was alive. “We won’t be cookin’ in there, mama. It’s all pretty messed up.” He didn’t wanna tell me.

Gettin’ Food

“So we still needed food. My husband, he was a vet before he passed, so we decided to go to the base and go to the commissary there. All our stores were closed. We still didn’t know what had happened. We didn’t know water could do this. So we drove, and after two hours we finally made it. We kept havin’ to turn ’round because the roads were blocked by everything: roofs, houses, trees, boats, trucks.

“So I pull out my ID and the boy, with his big M-22 gun or whatever he had, he asked what I was there for. So I told him we’re just getting some groceries at the commissary – Katrina hit us pretty good and we don’t have food. He looked at me for a second before he said: ‘I’m so sorry ma’m, but we have nothin’ here; we’re devastated too.’ Well, that’s how that went.

Losing My House

“You know, everyone kept telling me I wouldn’t be able to save my house. But I knew I would – deep down. I kept cleanin’ it and prayin’ and walkin’ through that mud. But slowly I think I began to realize that I wouldn’t be able to keep it. You see, one day I made it up to the attic. And my old house, oh it was beautiful. It was built in 1920. You know, they made good houses back then. Nothin’ like this [points around]. Everything was trees, and thick, and solid. My beam in my attic was a tree, this thick [indicates about 10 inches].

“Well, I got up to my attic and I saw that beam. And there was a crack. All… the… way… up… it. I think that’s when I knew. [starts tearing up]. I was just cryin’ every day in those days. But not anymore, just sometimes now.

“Anyway, this new house will be beautiful. Scottie’s gonna love it. Did you see the paint colors I picked out?”

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Cooking Wife

Cooking can be so much fun!  Just trying out a new recipe, or making one up, or following one that you’ve made a 100 times just because you have a craving.  There is something soothing about the motions of being in a kitchen: stirring, chopping, kneading, flipping.  The kitchen makes sense – add little pieces at a time, if it doesn’t taste good, add something else, just follow the directions and it’ll come out.  Some of my most relaxing moments are while I’m preparig a meal on a leisurely weekend afternoon (I haven’t had too many of those lately!)

I suppose that historically the wife cooked dinner because the husband was out at work.  Today, even when both partners work, it’s still often the wife who prepares the meals.  I wonder why?  Between MrH and I it’s easy – he has his five rotations, which he makes well.  If we want something different, it’s up to me to lead that. 

He’s happy to help, mind you.  Unfortunately, I’m not always able to accept the help.  On TV yesterday was a scene where a husband said “so are these tomatoes ready to be taken out of the pot?”  She looked at him and said: “just look at them.”  He kind of looks inside, peering through the steam.  With a puzzled face he shrugs his shoulders and tells her that that isn’t a very useful answer.  She promptly drops what she’s doing, looks in the pot and takes the tomatoes out.  “Yup, they’re ready.”  I think that’s classic!  How many times have I done the exact same thing to MrH?  We usually end up figuring it out and forgivig each other for any harsh words, but that is the perfect depiction of how it goes.

So then I just take a nice retreat on a leisurely Sunday afternoon and cook up a storm.  Soup with dumplings, veggie lasagnas for me and my sister in law, and spiced nuts.  All served with a pinch of peace, a breath of inspiration, and a sprinkling of joy.  Mmmm. 

And now, for the obvious…

Why did God let all of this happen? Why did a God who can heal the sick, who communicates with us directly, cares about us and loves us, a God who does miracles and never leaves us alone, how could He let this happen?

I realize that this is considered an elementary question in some circles. That God is bigger than all of us and we don’t know His reasons, that we shouldn’t question them. Well, I believe otherwise. I believe I must question this, for how else will I sustain my faith over the years? Also, how will I respond when this question is asked of me? Lastly, is it a reason for me to question whether this God is real, after all?

One element of how people answer this question is to say that even when things seem bad in the moment, there is always something good that comes out of it. Stacy James, for example, is now able to point to the ways in which God has enriched her life as a result of her diving accident. She clearly states that “God did not push me in the water to punish me or necessarily teach me a lesson; I chose to dive off my friend’s shoulders. As horrible as the consequences were, I can blame no one but myself.” That’s well and good for personal accidents and losses for which you are, indeed, the cause. But what about things for which you are not the cause?

Romans 8:28 says that: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (NLT). That helps in the midst of a hard thing. It helps to know that God is there, caring for us, working things for good. His work and His presence are certainly there in D’Iberville, even amidst all the sorrow and pain. He provides the hope it takes for folks to keep moving on, to rebuild their lives. In the end, however, this passage does not describe why He lets bad things happen.

I suppose the folks in New Orleans might be quite grateful to God. After all, the eye of the Hurricane missed them. This point was poignant in the new IMAX film we saw: http://www.hurricaneonthebayou.com/. After spending the week in Mississippi, it was glaringly obvious that when the film said “the eye of the hurricane missed New Orleans”, MrH and I completed the sentence by saying “but hit the Gulf Coast full on.” Was that God’s act?

Perhaps 1 Kings 19:11-12 answers this question: “Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.”

Based on this passage, Tony Campolo writes that “Instead of looking for God in the earthquake or the tsunami, in the roaring forest fires blazing in the western states, or in the mighty winds of Katrina, it would be best to seek out a quiet place and heed the promptings of God’s still small voice. That voice will inspire us to bring some of God’s goodness to bear in the lives of those who suffer…Personally, I contend that the best thing for us to do in the aftermath of Katrina is to remain silent, and not try to explain this tragedy. Instead of asking ‘Why?’ we should be asking, ‘What does God want us to do now?'” Perhaps he’s the one who has it right – that God isn’t in these things, but rather, before, after, and around these things. And that even then, He can provide comfort, clothing, and shelter to all who call upon His name.

What ways have you found helpful for thinking about this?

Where IS the hope?

The first wave was the hurricane. I’ll post lots more stories about some of the things folks told me about. However, for right now, I want to think about the “second wave.”

Some folks down on the Coast refer to the volunteers, the love, and the support that have been streaming in, as the continuing “second wave” of Katrina. Residents speak of the hope they find when they get a team of volunteers on their frontstep. Volunteers range from every area of the country, every age-group, and every other background. Many come for spiritual reasons, on mission trips. Others are compelled for different reasons.

We met a couple who have spent many winters on the Coast. They actually had thought to buy a home, but weren’t able to find the right one. When the hurricane hit, they knew they couldn’t abandon this community. They are spending their second winter serving others, building homes.

Volunteer Village hosted a group of Buddhists from Indonesia. They figured that this was something they could do in return for the aid they received during Tsunami recovery.

Still others came independently, feeling called by God (whatever he looks like to them) to go and do what needed doing. The need for them was obvious, not just to the citizens of D’Iberville, but to all of us in the Village.

Many people come not once but two, three, four times. Some stay a week, others months at a time.

I find hope, encouragement, and inspiration in the 225 volunteers staying in D’Iberville this week. With so many helping hands, I can actually imagine that one day, this job will be done. While I can’t fathom what D’Iberville, or the region, will look like when it’s “done”, there is actual hope and faith that it will get reach that point. That homes will be rebuilt, communities reshaped, and people reborn.

Residents of D’Iberville speak fondly of all the volunteer who help make rebuilding a reality for them, and many longingly wait for the day that rebuilding will be, for them too, a reality. Every imaginable way of saying “thank you” is being employed in this region. One person came to the Village, had dinner with us all, and presented a handwritten and framed poem about the “angels” she sees when she looks at us, the volunteers. Another person made beignets for every volunteer, every day. Someone collects names and signatures from every person working on her house – she plans to frame them and place them on a plaque in her front yard. Still others buy lunch for the volunteers, entrust us with their stories, engulf us in their hugs, and inspire our faith through example. These friends wouldn’t have been made without the storm, and this type of Godly love wouldn’t have been displayed without the storm.

I’m not saying that that these things negate, balance, or somehow “make ok” all of the terrible things people have and continue to experience. However, there is hope in knowing about it. I’m also not trying to pat myself on the back here, rather, I want it to be known that all the different kinds of support that people have gotten down there means a lot to each individual I spoke with. Whether that’s a volunteer, a Lowe’s giftcard, a check, a quilt, or anything else – it’s a beautiful, unexpected, and love-filled gift. It is seen, and it is treasured. Each one carries hope.

Imagine…

slab.JPG
… that it’s been 18 months.

For Sale

… wanting to buy this.

Paying your mortgage

… paying your mortgage every month, for this.

People ask “how is the Gulf Coast, are people back to normal yet?” I took these pictures last week, 18 months after Hurricane Katrina hit. Imagine not being back to normal (or anywhere close) yet.

Ed and Wilda

We had the honor of working on Ed and Wilda’s home. During our stay, a crew went out each day and worked to drywall their new home. We finished it on our final day there.

Ed and Wilda are an older couple – they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in September. All the pictures they had wanted to put in the slideshow were destroyed during the storm. So was Wilda’s twin sister home next door, the home of her other sister next door on the other side, and that of her nephews who rode out the storm in their home, immediately behind Ed and Wilda’s (one of their wives couldn’t swim, or get up to the attic. She survived because they held her up for as long as the water level reached above their heads). Within this family alone, fifteen homes were completely destroyed. So was their nephews’ shrimping business.

What do you do when you can’t go to stay with your sister, because her home is also destroyed? And you can’t get extra copies of pictures, because they are all gone? And you don’t have any furniture, nor any clothes except the three-day supply you took when you evacuated. What do you do when you have to bring in 500 cubic feet of soil, just so you can even think about building a new foundation for your home? What do you do when you have nowhere else to go, because this is home? What do you do when 14 other families, all part of your extended family, face the exact same predicament? The answer for Ed and Wilda was that you start somewhere, and just keep going on. Thankfully, one of their daughters lived further up in town. They were able to move in with her and avoid the tiny FEMA trailers.

Now, 18 months later, their foundation has been built, a new home has been framed, insulated and dry-walled, and the finishers and painters are in there as we speak. Ed and Wilda decided they needed a large living room in their new home because they’ll be hosting their family often. They have picked out the appliances, waiting and working patiently until the day they can open the front door to their new home. In the meantime, we recognized in their voices and faces the reality that as wonderful as this new home is, it’s not the same as the old one – Wilda had grown up in that, as had her parents. It won’t hold the same memories, but they are working to create new ones. Drywalling Crew

Married on a Mission

So we’re back. I’ve been asked whether the trip was “fun”, and that’s a really hard one to answer! There were fun moments, but overall, I’d say that the trip was hard in physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. I’ll probably spend a good amount of time writing things out over the coming few weeks. For now, I’ll start with a post that’s actually related to marriage.

MrH and I had the luxury of having an 8-person army tent all for ourselves. That was also true for another married couple, and the third married couple had come down in their RV and used that. Throughout the week, we hooked into a group of about 15 people who were down on a mission trip. They came from Pennsylvania, and readily adopted the two of us in their work crews. Most of the people in that group had wives, husbands, and/or kids back at home who hadn’t been able to join them. There was only one husband/wife set who had both made it down. He slept in one of the men’s tents, she in the women’s tent. It looked like a really tough week for them.

They were an older couple; maybe in their 60s. Experienced in home repairs, mission trips, and meticulous about measuring the drywall just so! They were not only on the same crew all week, but also worked directly together every day all day. MrH and I often split up if we did projects in pairs, so that we’d be at the same worksite, but not working in tandem for 8 hours a day. Even so, each night we spent about an hour, in the privacy of our tent, debriefing the day. Not just the actual events, but also how it made is feel, why I looked at MrH funny, and why he didn’t want to sit next to me during dinner.

When you spend all day together but in front of other people, that time is essential in order to strengthen your bond and remind each other that you’re still playing on the same team. I think that’s why this couple had such a hard time – not having private time to connect and love each other. By the third day, their stress was already visible, and we witnessed a few awkward moments. By the time we dropped them off at the airport, I asked her how the week had been for her. She said it had been good, but she was now ready to go home. I could see in her eyes that she meant she was ready three days ago.

When MrH and I take a trip like this again, we will be sure to build in some private space where we can come together to debrief, to understand one another, and to forgive and love each other every day.

“It seems important…”

MrH and I are going on a trip. We’ll be staying with the D’iberville Volunteer Foundation in Mississippi. It’s not necessarily a “vacation” and we’re the word “excited” doesn’t quite describe how we’re feeling about this trip. There are so many unknowns, so much potential for an emotionally taxing trip, and so much potential for huge growth, blessing, and fulfillment that we’re just kind of cautiously approaching the whole thing. We’ll just go without fantasizing about all that might come out of it, all we might encounter. We’ll pack a bag and just go.

When asked why, I’ve realized that the only answer I am able to come up with is “because it seems important…” Usually followed by either a total agreement, or a vague “uhhuh…”. Its interesting because the folks who get it, just get it on their own. Unfortunately, for the folks who don’t, I have no better answer than “it seems important.” Maybe this is God’s big calling for us and as we go down there our lives will be tossed around in some unexpectedly incredible way. On the other, maybe we’ll “just” have a great trip, meet some cool people, do some work, and head back home. In fact, maybe it’ll be a complete bust, we’ll both get sick and not be able to be of any help. Hey, whatever the answer is, it seems important and I really look forward to going.

When your gut says to do something, I have found that you’d better do it. Whether it be something as crazy as traveling into the unknown, or something as everyday taking a different route home, you do it. We’re going on an adventure, and I hope we’re ready for it!

Being Needy

I was just doing some browsing and just happened upon this “are you too needy?” quiz.  Being the quiz-taking sucker that I am, I took it and somehow ended up with a “below zero” score.  The comments were: “Were you abandoned as a child?  You certainly act like you were.  Develop some independence, or your partner will tell you to get a therapist.”  Ouch. 

At least I wasn’t: “can you spell co-dependence?  Or do you need your honey to look it up for you?”  Although somehow that’s a higher score.

So not to put too much stock in these quizzes, but I have been known to wonder about my levels of neediness.  At one point while we were still dating, MrH and I had a really great conversation about that.  At the time it was a bit devastating (if that’s possible), because I was still very much in a place where I was trying to balance being the quiet, just follow along pleasantly, type of woman that is often desired, and the more loud-mouth, opiniated woman that is oft-revered.  Would you believe that at one point in my life, I realized that whenever I was with a guy and he asked “what would you like to do?” my only answer was a starry-gazed “oh anything, honey, I’m just so happy being with you.”  GAG!!!  For years I practiced knowing what I wanted and being able to say it.  Nowadays I sometimes take people by surprise; apparently I’m too forceful. 

On the other hand, I’m such a relational person that just hanging with my hubby is often my preferred activity.  I like his attention; I enjoy hearing his voice; snuggling up on the couch; sharing secrets; feeling close.  Sometimes that makes me needy, and sometimes there’s just reciprocal niceties.  There’s a fine line there though, and when I get too used to the idea that he’ll get up out of bed to get me a glass of water, I start doing it myself again.  In that respect, it’s sort of like my continually-fed coffee addiction.  But I stray.  In the end, I hate being needy: so reliant on him that I can’t or won’t do it myself.  On the other hand, I love being taken care of when it’s not quite necessary.  Ultimately, I need and maintain many different relationships, but the one with MrH is still my favorite. 

New Neighbors

When I move into a new apartment (which has been more than once a year for the past nine years), I always feel really touched when one of my neighbors stops in and introduces themselves.  I like knowing with whom I’m sharing my living space/building/street, and knowing those people helps to make it feel more like home.  Conversely, when that doesn’t happen, I feel a little ignored and unwelcome.  I’m more likely to retreat, and just not bother with “those unfriendly people.” 

On our current street lives a lady (“the plant lady”) who pushes a letter through your mailslot to inform you of her favorite best-kept secret.  The plant lady tells you all about this local community pool, and to say hello if you see her; she goes every day and carries a purple bag.  We also have a couple who, during the summer months, sit on their front porch and share a bottle of wine.  He came and made sure my house was safe one night when MrH had left the front door wide open in the evening.  In the winter, he clears snow off his neighbors’ sidewalks.  He always waves.  I aspire to be that kind of neighbor. 

That’s hard when you’re renting, get new upstairs neighbors (we’re a two-family home), and are working on buying your own home in only 4 more weeks.  Life is busy, emotions are high, and somehow they always manage to get the parking spot right in front of our house!  We were going to say hello yesterday, but MrH was out late with his basketball buddies.  Scheduling didn’t work out.  Today, we’re running around all day again, so no hello.  We did push a little note through their door saying hello and welcome.  And I cleared our sidewalk!  I hope they’re enjoying their new home, and that it’ll feel like a comfortable home very shortly. 

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