A Storm By Any Other Name

Wilma. Andrew. Hugo. Betsy. Allison. All these are past names of hurricanes, some more well known than others. It was 1995 when a hurricane sharing my own name made an appearance in the U.S.

I lived through quite a few hurricanes as a child, most notably Hurricane Frederic in 1979, when I was 5. This storm tore apart the low-to-the-ground tree house Daddy had built for my brother and me and left a giant pine tree toppled onto our roof.

In 1985, Hurricane Elena swept through south Mississippi. Our home at the time didn’t have air conditioner, but losing power meant we lost the ability to use our multiple box fans. My nana, a widow since I was age 3, left her home in town and sheltered with our family in our house out in the country.

In early September 2005, days after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, some Cru staff–including my husband and I–joined a non-profit group serving people impacted by this storm.

Newly pregnant with Woodrow, barely able to keep in touch with my parents (whose cell phone coverage was nonexistent during the storm and spotty immediately after), I felt frustrated with helplessness. When I heard from my sister, who’d spoken with our parents, that Mama and Daddy had run out of ice and almost depleted their food supply following Katrina, I cried on the phone with her. Katrina pounded south Mississippi and south Alabama as much as the New Orleans area back in August 2005; my parents–and grandparents–went without power for many days. For a short time each day following the storm’s devastation, they’d run my grandparents’ gas generator so as to have a little time with the air conditioner. I felt paralyzed to do anything to help. Even if we drove from Orlando up to Mississippi, bringing food and water, we couldn’t buy any gasoline there to get back home.

So when the opportunity arose for a team of Cru staff to serve hurricane evacuees in Lafayette, Louisiana, Mike and I jumped on board. We linked up with a ministry helping to connect churches around the country with people rendered homeless due to Katrina. Church families participating in this program agreed to house (for free) a certain number of people in need in apartments for 3 months; they would also assist with food, accessing available government benefits, transportation, and job searches.

Our job was to coordinate the matching up of people with churches. Most all the churches volunteering to host people existed outside the state of Louisiana. And most all the people we met sheltering at the Cajundome in Lafayette didn’t want to leave their state. Who could blame them? But most churches in Louisiana were already at capacity, helping and serving those whose lives had just been invaded by this storm.

But the evacuees’ time at the Cajundome arena would soon come to a close, and these folks needed to find housing. We stayed 10 days and watched people (mostly from New Orleans) drive away in church vans and buses headed to Chicago, Little Rock, Georgia, and Texas.

Although rewarding in some ways, this work was intense and often stressful. I had multiple nightmares during our time in Lafayette; once I dreamed that the Finney family–mom, dad, a couple of teenage children, one of whom was diabetic–whom we’d dropped off at the bus station so they could travel to a sponsoring church in Marietta, GA, had missed their bus. In my dream, they were walking down highways and across bridges to get several states away, from Lafayette to Marietta. They’d shared with us that, after the hurricane, they’d walked out of New Orleans, where Mr. Finney worked as a bursar at Tulane University. I don’t remember how far they walked, or how they landed in Lafayette, but I woke up in a panic, thinking we needed to jump in our rented mini-van and go find that family walking their way to Georgia.

Today, though, over 12 years after Hurricane Katrina, my family and I face a different storm. Hurricane Irma has already begun to make its presence known, and the four of us will evacuate from our home in central Florida this afternoon. Starting out with a full tank of gasoline, we’ll set our course for south Mississippi, to stay with my parents. There’s stress involved in this, too, but our boys are excited to visit Grandma and Grandpa.

allison and boys on swing

I’ll bring some photo albums, baby books, home school gear, along with the basics we’d need for a quick road trip. We don’t know what we’ll find when we return, but stuff is replaceable.

No matter the circumstances–storms within or storms without–I want to turn to Jesus and cling to Him in any of life’s storms. No matter their names.

Nahum 1:7 The Lord is good,

a refuge in times of trouble…

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My First Very Own Clothesline

In May, I received the Mother’s Day present that I’d requested from my family:  a retractable clothesline.

We have a backyard now at our current home–as of 2 years ago–and I wanted a clothesline to go with it. There’s an old metal post that used to belong to a clothesline at one end of our yard; it’s fixed in concrete, so that precluded moving it to a sunnier spot for erecting a new clothesline.

The boys created a tree fort using the rusty old post as a base for the wooden pallets we picked up for free last year–with the vision of making some kind of tree house. The pallets languished in the yard for many months; then one day, I spotted the boys creating this in the backyard. Using ropes, strings, and a cord from a broken set of window blinds, this is what they created:  a two-story play place in the shade. So at least that old post is good for something.

boys tree fort

So, in the absence of an actual clothesline, for a while I hung laundry over the chain-link fences surrounding our yard–or at least big pieces such as towels and sheets. But invariably it would get blown off. After the second time in one day that I was forced to kick off my flip-flops and hop the neighbor’s fence to retrieve the rogue laundry, I gave up on that practice. And, yes, I know it sounds a bit tacky to hang one’s drying laundry over a fence (although portions of our backyard fence aren’t shared with the neighbors’ yards). That’s kind of par for the course in our neighborhood, but still:  It did provide a reason to skip fence-line drying of clothes. I returned to using our clothes dryer along with the dryer balls I made a couple years ago. 

Then we visited Travel Country Outdoors one afternoon, and I spotted the retractable clothesline option, primarily meant for camping. I asked for one for our family. I unwrapped this gift in May, then we left for the summer. In early August, Mike installed it using 2 trees in our yard. It’s affixed to one tree; I pull out the cord, stretch it across the yard, and hang it on a hook attached to another tree.

clothesline 2

I grew up with clotheslines in the backyard of our country homes; the featured picture at the top of every blog post is of my parents’ clothesline. And now I have my own! Solar power for the win.

clothesline 1

The Mystery of Thistle

Once in a while growing up, I would have the inimitable privilege of getting my hands on a pack of 64 Crayola crayons. I never referred to them as “crayons,” though–in the South, we just called them “colors.” I especially appreciated having options such as gold and silver, burnt umber and cornflower blue. Although cornflower always confused me, because I spent time in gardens as a child, and I associated yellow and green with corn–not a muted shade of blue. All those colors at one’s fingertips–it made me feel rich in a way.

Cornflower wasn’t the only shade to confuse me. There was another one–thistle–that I never understood. I always liked the color, but I didn’t understand how it got its name. When I thought of thistle, I assumed it was a prickly, thorny weed. I associated it with dandelions. And yet nothing about a dandelion boasted that lavender-pink hue.

thistle
Milk thistle on a hiking trail in Fort Collins, CO.

Then I came to Colorado. To the best of my knowledge, milk thistle (like the one in the picture above) doesn’t grow in south Mississippi, where I was born and raised. So I’d never seen it until about 8 years ago, when Garfield was a baby and Woodrow, a toddler, and our family took a hike near Horsetooth Reservoir in Fort Collins. That summer, 2009, we spent in Colorado. On the hike, while carrying Garfield in a Baby Bjorn on my chest, I spotted these plants that I’d never seen before. After looking them up, I learned that they indeed are thistles.

sunflowers and thistles
Sunflowers and thistles on the trail.

The mystery of this color’s name was solved! I now knew how one of my favorite crayons in the box of 64–remember how it came with a built-in crayon sharpener?–had gotten its name.

many thistles

Thistle is considered a weed; it may compete with crops where it grows and can disrupt pasture grazing. But it also serves bees as they gather nectar to produce honey. Thistles are also a source of nectar for several species of butterflies.  And, thistles are beautiful. Living in Colorado again this summer affords me the joy of encountering thistles all over again.

Sometimes there’s mystery in beauty, and sometimes there’s beauty in the unexpected. And even a weed can draw me into God’s beauty and cause me to marvel.

 

Embracing with Faith our Summer Re-location

One thing I appreciate about living in Colorado:  There are no lizards. I can leave the front door of our apartment open when the weather is mild and never worry that I’ll find lizards running around the floors (or inside our shoes) later in the day. This spring–back in Orlando–I found a little lizard in our kitchen sink. I can’t count how many times I’ve almost tripped trying to avoid stepping on a lizard in our driveway or on the sidewalk. But I’ve never seen a lizard in Colorado. Also:  No fire ants. NO FIRE ANTS! Those are parts of Florida I don’t mind leaving behind for the summer.

Colorado offers beauty, adventure, outdoor fun galore. It’s also not home. It’s not the place where I do life. I do like to travel–as in, pack bags, go someplace for a visit, and then come home. {I actually like living overseas more than I enjoy travel, but there again, one puts down some roots and establishes a life if making a home in that place, wherever that place may be.} But this is more than–different than–travel. It’s packing up our house for a summer renter. It’s packing our family’s belongings to be away for over 2 months. It’s asking questions:  Do I pack the crock pot, or buy one at Goodwill when we get out there? How many dish towels should I pack? Will our tenant take care of our plants for the summer? 

frames

It’s also recognizing that we’ll be away from our church for 11 Sundays. ELEVEN. Another question:  How can we connect with people there–especially when we know hardly anybody there–if we’re not THERE? 

And it’s work. So. Much. Work. Imagine giving your entire house a spring clean to prep it for a person who’s going to pay (a modest amount) to live there, while simultaneously packing lots of boxes to be shipped out to Colorado for your family (along with suitcases and school supplies, since our home school year didn’t end until mid-June) AND continuing with normal life chores. Baking cupcakes for the Cub Scout den party and prepping for our end-of-year home-school evaluations, for instance. You know how busy the month of May can be for families, what with all the end-of-school-year functions? Yeah, like that. Plus readying my home for the house sitter AND getting all four of us packed to travel cross-country and plant ourselves in a new place for the summer–long enough to be more than a trip, but too short to consider that we’ve moved to a new home.

cupcakes with sprinkles

But here we are. End-of-year festivities and responsibilities have been fulfilled. We live in a 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom apartment this summer–instead of our 3-bedroom, 2-bath house in Orlando. Less housework is required, and the weather is delightful. I mean, there is NO humidity. The city of Fort Collins is a cool, interesting place to be. Our boys are making friends with other Cru kids, and the pool is just steps from our door (although the water has been far too cold for me so far). There’s a community gas grill that Mike has used multiple times already, enjoying a working grill since we actually moved our broken gas grill to our new home in 2015 and still haven’t fixed it. He’s missed grilling and is making up for that by grilling everything from corn on the cob and tomatoes to chicken and pork chops.

We’ve hiked, biked, fished, played, taken advantage of the plethora of summer yard sales out here. I got a small tape measure for a nickel–just 5 cents–that I’m using as I sew more quilt tops while we’re here.

There’s much to appreciate in this place where I’ve spent the summers of 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, and now 2017. And even with my horrible sense of direction, I’ve lived here enough months collectively that I remember how to get many places without using GPS.

But there’s still struggle, transition–the boys have their own, and I have my own, and I must help them navigate theirs. Conducting school out here, even at a slower pace, has been really difficult. I don’t have a specific summer job to do with our ministry out here, as my husband does. I still edit ministry stories on a minimal basis, the role I fill normally with Cru. But I don’t have a niche to fill out here; my real purpose in being out here is so our family can be together for the summer while Mike serves in his summer role. That’s more struggle.

And yet, since we’re planted here for the summer, I want to bloom here for the summer. In early May, I wrote in my journal, Lord, thank you for whatever our summer holds. My desire, my hope, is to embrace by faith whatever God has for us–and for me–this summer. I want to have the heart to receive with grace what He gives.

picnic tea set

What He’s given so far (besides that crazy cheap tape measure):  On the way out to Colorado, I spoke at my sister’s church about the Luo Pad program (led by Cru’s humanitarian ministry, GAiN), a cause close to my heart. The women who attended responded with great interest in sewing Luo Pads as an ongoing project. What a treat that I got to do some public speaking–which I love but rarely get to do–and that I got to share about a ministry opportunity that meets tangible needs as an expression of God’s love. I’ve also had a chance to help a mom with a Cru conference job here who’s needed an extra hand.

luo pad chalk board

There’s more summer to come, and I’m hopeful that God will continue to give me grace to take hold of all that He ushers into my time here in Colorado. I want to remember that EVERY DAY counts. This is not a season of simply marking time until we arrive back in Orlando in early August; these are days of living by faith, living out my faith. Embracing it with faith.

 

 

 

How Tina Spurred Me On

Near the end of April, my family and I went on our last Cub Scout camp-out of the school year. We explored some fascinating caves and splashed around in a creek. Then when we got home, I received a message that an old friend had died after having been in a car wreck a few days prior.

I had seen news about the accident on Facebook, posted by her husband, and it seemed that her condition was improving. Or at least I had thought so. I was stunned to read the message that Tina had passed.

Tina and I were closest in elementary school; we were in the same class in fourth grade. The summer after seventh grade, I remember going to her birthday party, where we danced in the humid Mississippi heat on her parents’ carport to The Outfield as they sang about Josie being on a vacation far away. In high school, we were in marching band together for a couple of years and competed in a scholarship competition together.

red bellied woodpecker

One of the last times I saw Tina–tall, statuesque; voted Most Beautiful or Campus Beauty more times than I can remember–was at our ten-year class reunion back in Mississippi. I met her older daughter then, who was a toddler at the time. Since then, we’d conversed only through Facebook.

Years ago, Tina sent me a message over social media about a letter to the editor I’d written to our hometown newspaper–to which I still subscribe, even though I haven’t lived in Lucedale since 1998. In the letter, I’d written about the need to seek ways to memorialize or celebrate events other than balloon releases, citing environmental concerns and the fact that these balloons often end up in oceans, often eaten by sea creatures. Tina had read that letter and written to encourage me about submitting more pieces to the newspaper on the topic of environmentally responsible living.

I was so boosted by Tina’s message–by how she believed in me–that I decided to take her advice. I didn’t write back to the newspaper but did write and submit an article (based on the same idea in the letter to the editor I’d written) to a magazine for girls called SHINE brightlyThe magazine published my story–which I called “Up, Up, and Away”–in their November 2009 issue; I still have the 2 free copies they sent me.

basket of magazines
Basket of magazines, reviews, anthologies, and one book in which my writing has appeared. You can see a SHINE brightly issue peeking out near the back.

If Tina hadn’t cheered me on to write about this topic, if she hadn’t believed I had something worthwhile to say and took the time to express that, I probably never would have submitted that piece to SHINE brightly. That’s just one of the ways Tina’s life intersected with the lives of others. Just one example of how she touched others.

Life is short, and it can turn on a dime, and we don’t know the number of days allotted to us to live out here on this earth. But I do know this:  I want to do for others what Tina did for me–take the time and make the effort to spur others on to love and good deeds.

 

How Not Complaining Gave Me Better Understanding

For Lent, we decided as a family to fast from complaining–and we chose not only to give up something but also to add something during the season of Lent. We elected to add acts of kindness. As you can imagine, at least one person in the family fails almost daily in the giving up of complaining. But therein lies the value of choosing to ‘sacrifice’ this habit for Lent:  We know that we can’t be good enough in our own strength, our own power, to uphold our own standard of goodness (much less God’s standard). So as we slip and stumble, we’re reminded of our need for Christ. Of our need for the gospel. Of our need for the gospel EVERY SINGLE DAY.

smiley-face

But recognizing that we ARE fasting from complaining helps to make me at least more intentional about noticing when I do it and about kicking it to the curb when I catch myself at it.

This past Sunday afternoon, on a glorious and bright and sunny day, we took the boys to a lake with Woodrow’s kayak and their fishing gear. I took my workout plan and found a shady spot to do my crunches, squats, Russian twists, and the rest, while Mike watched the boys play around with the kayak mostly near the shore.

A massive, well-attended dog park sits next to the park with the pier and the lake where our family spent time that day. Dog owners bring their pets to the dog park here to run and play; they even have a bit of lake shore set aside for their enjoyment. All this is separated from the lake park (called Lake Baldwin Park) by a fence. The fence even extends several feet out into the water, and the place across from the multi-acre dog park–where the boys paddled in the kayak and fished off the pier–is marked with a sign reading “No Dogs Beyond This Point.”

Almost every time we visit this lake park, we see dog owners bring their pets right out onto the pier, past the sign informing them not to bring their dogs to that area. The dog park has its own entrance, so there’s no need for the owners to walk their dogs on or near the pier. Sometimes these dogs startle my children while the boys dangle fish hooks in the water, but the dogs are usually on leashes, and I typically don’t say anything to the owners about it.

This past Sunday, however, we encountered a different situation with a dog and her owner. The man dropped his dog off at the dog park and then walked over to the lake park, to the pier, and stood on it while yelling at his dog across the fence. He wanted her to swim around the fence that stretched out into the water and make her way over to him on the pier. He tried to get her to swim around to him over and over. She didn’t seem to understand the command. Eventually, he went back inside the dog park to retrieve her. Then he brought her with him back to the lake park, to the side of the lake NOT designated as a dog park. He took her off her leash, letting her run freely.

And run she did, round and round. She ran around him; she ran around me; she ran around the pier and into the water. At one point, Garfield turned around while sitting in the kayak to see a large dog running full speed toward where he sat in the water. I called out to him that it was OK. But it wasn’t OK with me. 

During the time the dog ran wildly around the lake park, the dog owner kept calling to his dog. It was clear he’d lost control, although I could tell by the tone of his voice that he didn’t want it to sound that way. When I tried to reassure Garfield that it was OK, he heard me and answered, “Oh, she won’t bite; she just wants to run.” I didn’t respond to him, but I could see how exasperated he was getting with the dog. He seemed to be the kind of person who wanted to give the appearance of having things under control, of being IN control. It seemed to matter to this man that the handful of people at the lake saw him as a guy who could get things done, as somebody who certainly wouldn’t be bested by his dog.

We got ready to leave just a few minutes after this man finally wrangled the dog and got her back on the leash. As I walked over to Mike (from where I’d been exercising), I considered venting about this irresponsible dog owner. Which is a bit of a pet peeve for me, y’all. But I believe God prompted me to hold my tongue; there was no reason at this point to comment on the situation. So I chose not to say anything–not to complain.

But I thought about this occurrence at Lake Baldwin Park over the next couple of days. I thought about this man, not just about what he did that bothered me or frightened my children, but about him. And I concluded that he was embarrassed. He was embarrassed that his dog had gotten the better of him–and in front of other people at that. All his bravado, his very calculated nonchalance, was to cover up his embarrassment. His fear of not being seen as the person he wanted to portray to the world, even to strangers.

And instead of feeling annoyed by him, I felt some compassion for him. I also realized that most (all?) of us struggle with this to some degree:  fear of being exposed, of being found out, of not being seen as the pulled-together and competent and capable people we want others to know we are so that we can be assured of being accepted and wanted.

When I think about all this, my heart feels freed up to extend more grace to this man. And just think–perhaps none of that would have been possible if I’d complained.

Our Holidays So Far

Mike took off this week from work, and although we had a ‘regular’ home school day on Monday–as ‘regular’ as they can be, I suppose–we did something different on Tuesday. We went gleaning–gathering left-over crops on a farm to help people in need, alongside some friends of ours and in conjunction with the Society of St. Andrew.

I felt confident side-lining academics for this, since it’s not only educational but also gives us an opportunity for service. And I want our home school experience to be fleshed out not only with academics but also with serving others.

After helping bring in almost 5000 pounds of acorn squash, butternut squash, and eggplant, we spent today [Wednesday] doing a great deal of Christmas reading:  several selections from Lois Lenski’s Christmas Stories along with a beautiful book called An Orange For Frankie and The Story of Holly and Ivy. We rounded out our night-time reading with a quick picture book called The Gift of Nothing.

But wait, there’s more! This morning, I picked up Garfield for a delicious cuddle. He had a toy in his hand while I held him, and, unbeknownst to me, he had twirled the handle of it into my hair while we were hugging. When I set him down, we both realized that this thing was stuck in my hair. By the way, I hate this toy and have tried or asked to give it away multiple times. To no avail. Here’s where it ended up this morning:

toy-in-hair
What’s in my hair?! Oh, no! I can’t look!

No, it’s not resting on my shoulder, nor is it a huge dangling earring (I don’t have pierced ears). It’s in the strands of my hair. I almost got fussy about it, but Garfield apologized profusely, and I saw the humor in it. I cut it out, Garfield pulled out the remaining strands of hair, and all was well.

Then right at bedtime–after our lengthy reading session while piled up on the parents’ bed–the boys went to the bathroom once more before bed. I heard some unsettling words coming from there and inquired about it. Here’s what went down.

Woodrow had exhibited his Cub Scout knot-tying skills and tied a LEGO shark to a piece of para cord. He told his little brother he was going to dip the shark in the toilet and then put it in the water cup that they share in their room (for those thirsty wake-ups). Garfield was understandably perturbed by this, so he told his big brother that he was going to pull Woodrow’s nuts off if he followed through on that.

The shark did go into the toilet (But I rinsed it off afterwards! says Woodrow) but not in the cup of water in their room. The water is safe. All body parts are safe.

And that’s our holiday week so far! Gleaning, reading, enjoying Christmas stories…and living real life. Merry Christmas, y’all!