Thursday, June 29, 2006

Pictures from New Orleans

Read my post below before looking at these pictures. They will make more sense.

These are pictures from the first house we gutted (Mike's)

These are from the Ninth Ward, the hardest hit area. The levee was only a few hundred feet away from us here.

Katrina today

I have been meaning to post about our trip, but I haven't had a minute to think about it. To sum it up, the trip was amazing. The things we saw were really unbelievable. You would think that the hurricane happened a few weeks ago rather than 10 months ago. Some areas are still untouched other than the big spraypainted "x"s on the houses. I really felt like I was on a movie set. Our group worked in St Bernard Parish, where the houses were under water with the tips of the roofs showing. I was just looking at some of MSNBC's stuff about this area just to see what it looked like at the time. Here's a link to some pics of St. Bernard Parish before the waters subsided.

We were tasked to "gut" two houses. At the first house we met Mike, a 43 year old lifetime military man, who is married and has two elementary aged kids. He and his family have relocated across the Lake (Pontchartrain, that is) for now, but would like to rebuild if possible. The government has told the homeowners they must gut their house (take out all the piles and piles of stuff and drywall, insulation, etc. and get it cleaned out down the studs) or their house will be bulldozed by August. Those who want to try to save their house must gut it. This is not an easy task. These house had hardly been touched for all these months. You cannot imagine what they looked like. Its unbelievable. I have a few pics I'll attach of what I saw.

And the neighborhoods are like ghost towns. In St Bernard, there were a few gas stations open and even fewer restaurants open, many of those operating as a stand in front of where their restaurant once was. Even the Walmart doesn't look like it will be reopening. Its questionable whether the area will come back to life, even though there are signs posted everywhere that say "St Bernard is coming back".

Back to Mike. Mike, a strong Catholic, told us that when the hurricane hit, his family was safe in another state, but he left just before with only a lifejacket and his crucifix. Prior to the hurricane he was just living his life, trying to pay off his house and almost had, trying to be a good dad, husband, citizen, and officer -- "living the American dream" as he said it. Now, Mike told us, he is in debt up to his eyeballs and he has been working like crazy to provide a new life for his family. Mike is thankful for his life, and that his family and loved ones survived. He was so grateful for our help. He said, "I am not used to others helping me, I am always the one helping people." He worked all day with us and then before he left, he lined us up and shook each of our 23 hands, looked us in the eye, and said "Thank you". What a moment that was. It was obviously very humbling for him. All of us were affected by that moment and won't soon forget it. Tears welled up in several of our eyes.

In our second house, a man named Ray had lived for over 30 years. He was a collector by trade and by hobby. He lost 100s of 1000s of dollars when his collectors' store was looted after Katrina. At home, each room was filled to the top with all kinds of things he had collected over the years: coins, baseball cards, other sports cards, postcards, books. Many of these were very valuable. As the baseball cards were uncovered during the gutting, several of us started looking through the cards. I don't konw much about this, but Ray told us, and others in our group confirmed, that many of the cards he had were worth thousands of dollars. They were in glass frames, some of them were signed or rookie cards. There is no telling how much value there was in his card collection alone. But not anymore. Everything in the houses is covered with a mud, they call it "muck", that was left after the waters subsided. All of those cards were just throw into the heap with the rest of the trash.

All in all, I think the biggest lesson I took away from the experience can be summed up in Matthew 6:19-21. I like how the Message paraphrases it:

"Don't hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it's safe from moth and rust and burglars. It's obvious, isn't it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being."

What an amazing lesson. And then now I'm back and here I go to Target or wherever else I shop, and I think, I really need this ____________________ (insert anything unnecessary or frivilous that often finds its way into my cart). I should get _________! It will make my life complete! --And I buy into the lie.

Possessions are temporary. Stuff doesn't matter. Our faith matters. Loving people like God does matters. Living a life that has meaning matters. Today I pray for all of us that we will put our "treasure" in these things.
And I pray for all the people who are still in so much need in New Orleans. See this website for more stories and ways you can help.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Not really an outdoors kind of girl

For those of you who know me, you are probably aware that I am not that much of an outdoorsy type person. I have never been very good at sports (ok, I'm terrible), and my family didn't do a lot of camping or hiking, etc. But, as I have been involved in youth ministry for the past 10 years, I have done a lot more of that kind of thing. I have learned to enjoy camping out, being outside, and even playing ball and laughing at myself. Recently, I decided I wanted to buy some Chacos, because I think they will be great to wear on trips, you can get them wet, they are really comfortable, etc.
So yesterday I went inside a place I hardly ever go... an outdoors store. I am sure the very granola girl who helped me was laughing inside at me - I had on blue and white seersucker shorts from Old Navy and a white tank top with silver adornments, and silver sandals. I love shopping but this was definitely out of my element. Anyway, there were some Chacos on sale so I did it. At the checkout stand she tells me that these cannot be returned except for store credit. So I really hope I like them because I can't think of much else I could find for myself at that store. So far so good.
Even though the $65 (this is the sale price) really hurt, I am hoping it will one of those purchases that I am glad went ahead and got the real thing instead of the fakes. Kinda like my Seven jeans.
On a serious note, this weekend Josh and I are going on a mission trip with the teens to New Orleans. We have 18 kids and 5 adults going. I am excited about the trip and I know that God is going to really stretch us all physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Hope to have a lot of pics to share. Please keep us in your prayers over the next week.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Summer is underway

Summer is underway, and by that, I mean that I have been at my house for less than 5 waking hours in the last 4 days. And I don't expect that to change this week since it's the week of Memphis Workcamp. One of my favorite times of year, of course, but I am already exhausted.
Sunday the youth group kicked off the summer with full day of activities. We are using a theme that echoes the famous iPod commercials. See the picture of how we decorated the lobby of our church to advertise. We also handed out these cool backpacks to all the teens with awesome coupons inside. Now we're in the middle of Memphis Workcamp, a week of 400 teens serving in the more rundown neighborhoods of Memphis fixing up houses and trying to love people as Jesus did (and does).
Not much time to write this week but I'll try to update with some pics and stories from Workcamp!