Monday, February 27, 2006

Mardi Gras - - - Pass Christian Version

Only about 30 floats as compared to the usual 100, but plenty of spirit . . . A step toward normalcy. The same festive atmosphere as spring break on SPI. The floats were not spectacular . . . No bands, but plenty of loud music. The big attraction seems to be the beads thrown to the crowd and toys to the kids. Parties sprang up along our street which under normal conditions would be part of the parade route. It was a welcome diversion from the steady stream of heavy equipment that is carrying out the demolition process. It was 6 months ago today that the hurricane struck. It is still the number one news story with the grim reminder in today's paper that it is time to start thinking about the next hurricane season.

The more people I talk with the more vivid the event becomes. People seem eager to tell their story even though they say it still seems like a bad nightmare.

There is a memorial in Biloxi that was recently unveiled that brought an interesting reaction from one of our neighbors. While she could appreciate the artistic value it was impossible for her to fathom any beauty that could come from the wave that washed in and around her beautiful home. For her it brought back memories of the days following the hurricane being more freightening than the storm itself. The total stillness, the stifiling heat, every tree stripped naked of its leaves, the confusion caused by not being able to communicate or get around. No animals or birds or even bugs, people wandering aimlessly. It brought tears to her eyes as she struggled to put into words the depths of her dispare. Yet her home is the first to look perfectly normal and decorated in the true spirit of the Mard Gras festival. And, she worries about those that suffered much more extensive damage. But the wave . . . that dreaded memory, will linger forever and nothing beautiful will ever come from it. I use to enjoy the fury of a storm but witnessing the devastation and fear it is capable of generating . . . a calm sea really is much more peaceful

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Sand Stands . . So Do The Oak Trees

For me Mardi Gras Sunday at Pass Christian, MS started with what has become my early morning walk to the Marina. Not nearly as beautiful as it once was but on a crisp morning with the bustle of the parade just beginning . . . It seemed like a perfect place to build a sand castle. Daughter Cindy insists that wherever I am I must analyze the sand. She is a pro at this, a connoisseur of sand, having built sand sculptures around the world, and wants to be prepared when that invitation arrives to rededicate the beach (my idea).

On my way I passed this huge Live Oak tree and its' massive root structure. Katrina was no match for this tree which easily withstood the hurricane's' onslaught, Any community with roots this deep will also survive and continue to grow.

It seemed appropriate that my modest attempt would be inside a huge drain tile that was perhaps one of the first items to be torn up by Katrina, and like all sandcastles, washed back out to sea.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

A Special Event

The current groups of volunteers organized a very special opportunity for some of the people we have been privileged to help, to meet with volunteers who continue to come to Pass Christian, MS from all over the country. It was a joy and a blessing to hear first hand from those who suffered most form THE STORM that so radically changed their lives and the impact volunteers have had in the rebuilding process. We had a wonderful meal and a joyous time together.

The locals were very eager to share their experiences and show appreciation for what had been done for them. The common theme was the blessings received in addition to the work accomplished . . . but we assured them that The Biblical verse "It is more blessed to give than to receive," was alive and well in this place.

Love Thy Neighbor

One of the issues that keeps popping up is, just who do we serve? I think just about every resident of Pass Christian needs help of one source or another Do we prioritize or simply help whoever asks? Do we ask financial questions, or for that matter . . .. any questions or do we help blindly?

Being a ‘pure’ volunteer, as I stated earlier, makes us beholden to no one. We are truly free to help unconditionally. Calling only on the God that lives within each of us. Being a volunteer connected to a specific organization narrows the field. Deciding who gets money narrows it still further. Representing the government more yet.

Some organizations do wonderful things and accomplish significantly more than a similar group of individuals setting off on their own. Or do they! My experience so far has been that helping and loving our neighbors is contagious. Keith told me that he is anxious to get back into his house for all the obvious reasons but most significantly so he could begin helping the way he was helped. Neighbors Ms Althea and Ms Ward, shown here, share a common need for help as well as a willingness to help others. Local folks wonder out loud if they would travel a thousand miles to help someone in critical need. We are all rethinking our mission in life. The Bible says to love our neighbors . . not just the poor neighbor, but also our rich neighbor . . . unconditionally. That’s pretty simple and straight forward.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Answer To Prayer . . . Or

God's hard working people?

I didn't ask God for a solution to Keith and Diane's electrical problem. Maybe someone else did. Permits, inspection, inflated labor costs and lack of electrical contractors seemed like an insurmountable hurdle in their attempt to salvage their home. So along came the team from New York that included at least three qualified electricians. They had already completed a similar job and tomorrow they will finish the job for Keith and Diane, who will quickly move to the drywall stage . . . And a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel.

But I did think about it a lot and wrestled with several possible solutions.

My breakthrough came when I stubbornly gave up my theory that it would be unnecessary to remove all the existing wire just because it had been under water for twelve hours. I even did my own experiment to prove my point. However, when the option of completely re-wiring the house in two days with donated materials surfaced, it no longer became an issue.

Perhaps God saw our need and intervened . . . But I don't think so. I like to think when we dig deeply into our heart and soul and find a way to help and express love to others we are doing Gods will. I think these three guys from New York had a "God day" today.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Lewis and Sandra - Reconstruction

It began in early January when our first group of volunteers spent most of their week repairing and replacing shingles on the roof. It was the first step in restoring a home that was ready to be abandoned. Lewis had lived here all of his 49 years. It was comfortable but by no means luxurious.The original building was replaced by one that Lewis purchased for $400 and moved to the present location.

At the end of January some of the first group came back to finish the project. They tore up the floor, stregthened supporting beams, installed different windows, patched holes in the siding and hung and finished the drywall. It began to look like a real house. They also put in place the cabinets that Lewis purchased for a $100 at a demolition site. . . but they didn't quite get finished. At the end of each work session. Sandra and Lewis put on a feast of catfish and all the trimings. They also shed tears of appreciation each time a group left.

The next group that came along was blessed with several skilled plumbers. Lewis had spoken of not being able to sleep nights for fear that he would not be able to afford a plumber and construction would come to a halt. We all called it an answer to prayer. Lewis and Sandra's dream was getting closer to a reality.

Now things really started to happen. A Lewis size (Lewis is A BIG man) bathroom including a washer, dryer, tub enclosurer and new hot water heater were plumber and sucessful pressure tested. Lewis leaned into the window and said: "Mr. Don will you flush that toilet one more time . . I just love to hear the sound!" The cabinets and counter top were fastened in place and a used stove donated by the church was delivered. I brought in a paint crew . . . but we didn't quite make it.

This time the feast consisted of boiled crawfish, sweet corn and boiled potatoes. Lewis provided the following instructions for eating crawfish: Twist off the tail, squeeze up the good stuff from the bottom of the tail (tastes like shrimp to me) pull it the rest of the way out with your front teeth and enjoy. There is more . . . and this takes courage. Squeeze the head from the top forcing out the inards and whatever else is in there (tastes like raw sardines) and enjoy. Finally suck the remaining liquid from the head and dig in for more. After a few I abandoned the last two steps and concentrated on getting all of that delicious tail meat.

Tears were shared all around late Friday afternoon (Lewis had warned that watching a grown (big) man cry was not a pleasant sight). Appreciation comes from the heart with these people . . . maybe from the soul.

So now I wonder at 3:00 A.M. how we will get the job finished. A new crew has arrived but we have other jobs and other grateful people to help and more crews scheduled . I think we will find a way and maybe even a new way to make other grown men cry.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Lewis and Sandra

Their story, like every one else's, began on August 29, 2005. High winds, falling trees and drenching rain left their home in shambles. They thought it was beyond repair and would probably replace it with a cheap, used trailer. Enter Sandy's angels as the volunteers from the First United Methodist Church came to be known. Lewis is a big man, nearly 400 pounds. Living in a small FEMA trailer was not easy and medical problems kept him from working. Sandra and her neighbor Louise both work as cooks at Pineville elementary school. Louises' home also suffered major damage and we are helping her rebuild.

In appreciation, they invited our work crew to have lunch in the school cafeteria. We enjoyed a delicious spaghetti dinner with the kitchen staff, met the principal, talked with students and teachers and watched a video of flood waters that destroyed the school and nearly all books, materials and records. Amazingly it was reopened in late October . . But with less than half of its' normal 400 student population.

Stay tuned for the total make over occurring at the home of Lewis and Sandra.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

New Life

With spring just around the corner and Easter approaching, my attention is drawn to the gift of life. So fleeting and so final, yet so beautiful. Living in the midst of chaos and near total destruction now for over a month, it is easy to understand the "Why Me attitude." Our homes are so important and to watch people day after day looking from Their FEMA trailers at destruction and just praying that someone will show up to complete the demolition and cart it away, is the hardest thing I have witnessed.

Eighty four year old Valena, who lives 10 miles from the coast, waited out the storm because she refused to leave her own bed, now patiently waits for me to finish her bedroom and bathroom so once again she will be able to enjoy rest and comfort. I couldn't resist having my picture taken with the twins who are the newest additions to her clan, and the most vivid reminder that the future of this community rests peacefully in my arms.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Sand Castles

I remember when many years ago the SOB's of South Padre Island entered the Guinness World Book of Records for creating the worlds longest sand castle. I did substitute teaching in those days. When I really needed to get their attention I would casually mention that my daughter was in this famous book and nonchalantly walk over to the book case (nearly every classroom had a copy) and pull out the appropriate edition. Of course no one believed me but I offered that if they settled down I would prove it . . And I did! The Sob's (Sons of the BEACH) had the friendly beach cleaning guy push up a continuous ridge of sand several miles (I think) long and organized spring break kids to do the work.

Today as I observed the neatly furrowed rows that the giant sand gobbling machines left as they sifted the debris from the beach, I thought how much easier the job would be. Just start at the waters edge, build for a quarter of a mile, double back and forth until you surpassed the record; create a labyrinth to make it even more interesting and start building. Simple? Only no kids! Also no shells, no sea gull, no tourists, no restaurants, no motels, no dogs, no cats . . . Well, almost nothing but pure white sand. I wonder what one guy could do! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Wave

Being surrounded on a daily basis by the destruction of Katrina is a constant reminder of the power and force of the storm. I try to imagine what it was like when those waves washed over this community. This photo helps.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Trains-Barbed Wire-Driftwood

As I entered Pass Christian early last January I was thunder struck by the level of destruction. I have experienced first hand a tornado but was not prepared for mile after mile of near total collapse of every home and building. The closest image I had was bombed out sections of World War II Europe. Then I approached the railroad tracks that follow the coast two or three blocks inland . . . And the barbed wire. I was told that in the first days after the storm looting was a huge problem. The barber wire along the tracks kept the looters out, or as some said, kept the looters in the coastal area. At any rate it added to my image of a bombed out community and chaos that often follows a disaster.

A few days later local residents were thrilled to hear the sound of the first train to pass through. It was a step towards normalcy. It became a symbol for me as well that progress was being made.The barbed wire remains a grim reminder that some people see nothing wrong with helping themselves to the few worldly goods people had left.

Today was my first day off since arriving. One Kentucky group left early Saturday morning and two others arrived this afternoon. I spent much of the day at the beach, just a block from our church headquarters. There's a curfew in Pass Christian and the beach is off limits. Even talk of a $1000 fine. . . Still not enough to deter a beach comber like me. Imagine the driftwood that washed several miles inland, across the tracks and then left with the dreams and treasures of thousands of residents as it made its dash back to the sea.

I have developed deep respect for the personal belongings that five months after the storm still litter the community and its' beaches. I'm careful to leave them in their final resting place. But can it be all bad if a few pieces of driftwood find their way into my bird castles?

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Kentucky Conference - United Methodist church

Louise lives 12 miles from town. Her home suffered severe wind damage and she has been living in a FEMA trailer since the storm. The roof damage was repaired and our job was to strip the drywall from the ceilings and walls and spray for mold.
The job was started last week by the group from Maryland.

After my careful dry wall demonstration I was besieged with complaints about hammer nailing (my way) vs.screw fastening (the new way)and left for another job. When I returned it was neatly fastened with screws and completed in about half the time. I’m convinced!

Finishing still must be done the old fashioned way (I think) and that would require another day. The team was eager to move on so we went around the corner to Valena’s home . . . 84 years and absolutely refuses to sleep in any bed but her own . . . to do the same process . . . this time using screws! All in a day’s work at Pass Christian, MS. I set my alarm for 4:45 to see the Kentucky group leave in their church bus. I was 20 seconds too as they pulled away from the church parking lot. It was a great group, as they all are!