The Serious Side of My Trip to Oklahoma

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Around May 24 of this year the Kingston Oklahoma area was deluged with rain storms that flooded rock solid, parched grounds. Since homes are not built with basements in most of the south, people saw water in their living rooms up to 1’ high. On June 18, new rains and swollen rivers and lakes flooded those same homes. Homeowners were then seeing flood levels of 2-3’ in their living rooms.

Our UMC East Ohio Conference Early Response Team of 15 was divided in two and one team was sent to a Lake Texoma neighborhood while my team went to Tishomingo, birthplace of Miranda Lambert, her Pink Pistol gift shop and the Pennington Creek neighborhood. Both communities were feeling the stresses of disaster: confusion, isolation, helplessness and hopelessness.

On the shores of Lake Texoma many families were devastated that their beautiful homes were soaked. Fortunately, they were able to move many of their possessions to upper floors, rent storage pods and stay with relatives or neighbors nearby. The community came together and helped each other find resources such as UMCOR Early Response to help when all seemed hopeless. The Lake Texoma team removed carpeting, some drywall and did mold remediation.

In the Pennington Creek Community the lake and creek had flooded their banks, washed out roads, soaked living rooms, destroyed possessions and rendered people almost homeless from their small, one-story bungalows. Dennis, our homeowner was a recovering alcoholic with 2 years of sobriety. He had had 18 years until he found his wife dead of a prescription pain killer overdose. Dennis was rapidly running out of money to pay for the local hotel that had given him a discounted rate for 2 weeks. There we also met Donald, in his 80’s, staying at the same hotel but only for 2 more nights. We also had another senior stop and beg us for help as she was living in a borrowed camper next to her home until she could get assistance.

 FEMA and the Red Cross responded to both communities after the first flood. But by the time our team arrived 2 weeks after that second flood, they hadn’t been heard from again.

My team removed all of Dennis’s possessions out of his home. We removed drywall from floor to ceiling, removed moldy, wet insulation from all the walls, and pulled out paneling, hardwood flooring, linoleum, refrigerator, cupboards, bathtub and toilet. We literally gutted Dennis’s house. We had to leave all the debris on his front lawn because the city had not provided dumpsters to the neighborhood. Moldy, stinky piles were collecting in front of houses throughout the neighborhood. And just like his neighbor, Dennis was hoping to borrow a camper to live in next to his home until rebuild teams could help out.

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I’ve been on several Early Response trips and have always left knowing that I have been the hands of god helping in times of disaster. I have left with the faith that others will follow to finish what I had started – basically healing and rebuilding lives. But on day 2 of this trip I developed a nagging, uncomfortable feeling that I couldn’t shake.  I talked about it with a friend and again with our Team Leader. The more I talked about it the louder my gut screamed and the more visceral my emotions became. I left Tishomingo with a deep concern that this poor, aging neighborhood would remain neglected and unserviced. On our last day, we heard hushed rumors that FEMA would be back to condemn many of the homes.

At a particularly low point for me, our Team Leader, Jason Frazer shared this prayer hoping it would settle my soul, and it did. I would like to share it with you:

“A Prayer for Prayer” by Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman

O My God

My soul’s companion

My heart’s precious friend

I turn to You.

I need to close out the noise

To rise above the noise

The noise that interrupts –

The noise that separates –

The noise that isolates.

I need to hear You again.

In the silence of my innermost being,

In the fragments of my yearned-for wholeness,

I hear whispers of Your presence –

Echoes of the past when You were with me

When I felt Your nearness

When together we walked –

When You held me close, embraced me in Your love,

Laughed with me in my joy.

I yearn to hear You again.

In Your oneness, I find healing.  In the promise of Your love, I am soothed.

In Your wholeness, I too can become whole again.

Please listen to my call –

Help me find the words

Help me find the strength within

Help me shape my mouth, my voice, my heart

So that I can direct my spirit and find You in prayer

In words only my heart can speak

In songs only my soul can sing

Lifting my eyes and heart to You.

Open my lips, precious God,

So that I can speak with You again.

I continue to pray for the flood victims in Oklahoma and especially for Dennis and his neighbors in the Pennington Creek Area. I ask you to pray for them as well.

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Joys of Camping

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Newago State Park, Michigan

Day 1

I have to admit, I momentarily regretted my decision to camp by myself. After dropping Hannah and Abby off at camp, I drove from the sparkling waters and sunny skies of Lake Michigan toward the stormy grey skies and unknown lands of Newago State Forest. The beautiful summer day became cloaked in the steel grey and pastels of weather brewing. But, not to be defeated, I turned on my headlights, turned on some loud music and drove into the forest.

Things were quite different a few hours later as the tent was pitched, the dog was walked and fed, fire wood had been purchased, kindling chopped and the sun was out like a still life in the late afternoon sky. I decided to celebrate – chips, dip and chardonnay.

After cocktail hour, a stroll around the lake was magic for my senses. The turquoise blues of the massive lake complemented the vibrant wet, luscious greens of the dense pine forest. The warm setting sunlight created shadows that danced on the water and played hide and seek through the trees. I spied small oaks seedlings in massive quantities worried that they may have been of the poison variety so I prayed to the gods of forest to spare me last trips misery – yet another itching return from camping.

My nose was teased by the damp, earthy scent of moss and by the thousands of gnat-like insects eager to tickle my sinuses. I could literally smell the green in the woods. The pine, the oak, the maple all newly watered by the rain was full of life and vigor. The smell was better than Old Spice, any day. Slowly the breezes brought the smell of campfires and dinner cooking which was comforting in a way.

The woods were alive with a symphony of sound. Woodpeckers provided percussion, boats on the lake provided the hum, waves lapping the shore were the tympani and in the alcove of a small campsite I stumbled upon an upright bass, a fiddle a banjo and a most haunting voice to complete the effect. I was definitely in the enchanted forest.

Wandering on I was overjoyed by the discovery of the perfect marshmallow stick. This perfectly straight, 3 foot long hardwood beauty needed only a carved tip to provide orgasmic goodness to my taste buds later in the evening.

So overwhelmed by my sensory experiences I sat by the shore of the lake to take it all in. Within moments I was close to hysterical watching Darby, my six month old, big eared, short-legged welsh corgi bravely protect me from the 2-inch waves slapping at us. His barks were adorable, his legs were sinking in the sand and he was pitifully unable to stop those darned waves. Then, the light bulb went off, his head cocked just a bit towards me as it occurred to him that digging might actually be the appropriate method of attack. So dig he did. A great one-foot hole that almost swallowed him up. A hole that he stuffed his nose into and immediately inhaled copious quantities of sand and brackish water.

He vomited a good portion of that night.

Day 2

Ahh, morning. Not a bad night’s sleep considering my air mattress doesn’t hold air. It had been a long time since these bones had slept on the ground. Darby woke me up bright and early and we crawled from the tent to greet the chilly yet beautifully foggy morning. The new day began with steaming coffee and a roaring fire.

The morning fog gave way to a sunny, breezy, beautiful summer day. The sounds of birds, boats, wind and children filled my ears. I grabbed my journal, my camera and my dog, had breakfast at a picnic table near the lake and felt perfectly content.

Later I took a walk by the dam. I walked and walked and walked. I walked through woods, across an embankment and across fields. The Muskegon River stayed 75 feet below me down an eroding wall of mud, the kind that could swallow you whole if you slipped. Across the river were summerhouses with docks, boats, waterslides and beaches.   Families playing and splashing in the river shared coolers full of sodas and beers.

Being quite the adept party crasher (a talent honed by solitary camping over the years) I was eager to make new friends and share in their beverages. Yet Darby and I continued to trudge on, parched because I forgot our water canteen. The sun continued its trajectory to the top of the sky, burning brightly, sending serious 90-degree rays directly at us, the kind that only SPF 75 can protect you from. Finally, the sound of rushing water was loud enough to make me believe we would have wet toes soon. My hot feet were tingling at the thought of a cold, wet stream. Darby’s thirst was checked for just a second as he dashed toward the sound. But alas, the view of the rushing tributary could only be seen from the 3-foot wide, wooden bridge, suspended 20 feet up from the crashing, cold water. Foiled yet again by the eroding embankment.

Later that day . . .

I was completely convinced that I had single handedly eliminated 90% of the park mosquito population with my smoldering campfire. The firewood purchased at the stand down the road was so wet that it absolutely refused to flame. Two Sunday papers and a trip to the store for lighter fluid later, I had a small flame.

Meanwhile, Darby was completely zonked out. As I was enjoying my mid-afternoon smokefest, a plate of cheese and salami, and a glass of chardonnay, Darby remained complete immobile under the picnic table. I do admit that we walked a lot that day and a nap was definitely under consideration.

That evening I sat at yet another picnic table, scarred by initials, stained with food, overlooking the lake. I watched boaters take their last turns around the darkening lake. I listened to the retching of the skier having failed yet another attempt to get up. Apparently having swallowed another gallon of lake water. Darby sits perched at the edge of the embankment, curious and fascinated by the vista.

As the sun set behind the trees, as quiet calm comes over the lake, I breathe. The loudest noises I can hear are the gentle waves on the shore. The evening ends with peace.

Day 4

The peace and serenity that charmed the campground for the past couple of days was completely obliterated by the unruly rambunctiousness of new arrivals. Last evening four women and their 8-10 children descended on us with annoyingly loud noises irritatingly like a pack of laughing hyenas. The screaming children were up until 12:30 and the drunk women made a ruckus until 2:00. Sadly, the demeanor of the friends I had made changed by morning, as we were all tired from disturbed sleep and disappointment at the loss of serenity. I didn’t linger long after breaking camp that morning.

While it was a disappointing end to a glorious preceding couple of days, the peace I found at Newago State Park is still with me – as is the cold I caught.

Gold Star Day

Well last Saturday was certainly a gold-star day. Remember the feeling of getting that star on your grade school paper, or the taste of the glue when you were allowed to put one wherever you wanted it? Perfection.

My grandson, Carter, was born last Saturday morning. A snowy, blowy, cold winter morning made brighter by the birth of a child. So ironic that this new, beautiful life was brought into my world on the one-year anniversary of a day that almost shattered my faith in humanity. Carter was born on the anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.

That morning, Mark and I were at the hospital with the in-law’s, joyfully anticipating Carter’s birth. We were able to cry, congratulate, hug and love our growing family as he entered the world.

By noon, Mark and I were home celebrating with a champagne brunch.  After a short nap we returned to the hospital with Hannah, Emma and Kate, where for the first time since the same date last year, I truly felt that all was right in the world. We were actually the larger, more boisterous family! A photograph in that hospital room showed every one of us at our smiling best – no scowls, no closed eyes, no one turned away.

I am enough of a realist to know that moment of perfection was fleeting, but I am also cognizant enough to know that particular moment was divine – that despite all the cruel, crazy evil in this world we can find our moments of perfection in the birth of a child.

I was given the true gift of Christmas last Saturday.

Carter & Gramma

 

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Warm Glow

Black and white negatives. I don’t even remember when or where I found them, or how they got on my desk.  Occasionally I held the strips up to the light, thinking “it’s been at least a decade since I’ve used film” or “I can barely make out any faces.” I did however recognize my brother Pete. Of course I recognized him, he always stood out.  I was pretty sure I saw Andy and George too. But for some unknown reason I concluded that these negative’s were Pete’s, not mine and I often wondered why they made their way to my desk. Pete died almost two decades ago yet artifacts of his keep appearing in the strangest places.  These were obviously not something that needed my immediate attention. So I kept putting them down, still within reach, but definitely out of priority range.

But I kept these film negatives on my desk knowing that one day I would make prints.  I would tell myself that I would get to it eventually. A label applied to many an item on my desk.  It’s what I do – get to it eventually.  I put off doing anything about it; I didn’t even rank them it in priority as there is so much going on in my life and in our world that needs my immediate attention.

Well, I got to it last week. I’m not sure if it was the holiday spirit that got me reminiscing or something more mysterious. On the other hand it may have just been the frenzied pre-holiday ritual of clearing my desk before December knowing that not much else will be accomplished in the last month of the year.  But I took those negatives to the camera shop and lo and behold, they were mine. Snapshots in time, circa 1980.  A flashback to a time of wonderment, excitement and electricity and a trip back to a place of laughter, friendship and yes some debauchery.

I’m still not sure when he put those negatives on my desk, but I’m pretty sure I know why I printed them when I did. It’s the holiday season, a time to laugh, love, reminisce and feel the warm glow of all those souls (both departed and still with us) that have touched our lives.

May the spirit of those souls that have touched your life keep you warm, smiling, and full of love this holiday season.  Share that warmth with everyone you see.

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With Grace There Is Hope

Serendipity. What a great word. It is fun to say, it is fun to hear and it is so descriptive when used appropriately.

I find it serendipitous that I can use serendipity here since I was also able to use it in my essay about my first mission trip with an Early Response Team to New Jersey. The serendipity evident in my first trip was about a chance meeting. On this trip the serendipity was found in my worksite location.

I travelled back to New Jersey last week with a friend I had made on the first trip. Along with one other traveling companion we rode the 8 hours with great anticipation for a fabulous workweek. When we arrived it was apparent that Judy had labored over her decision on which team to place me. I was assigned to Team 1 that was to go to work at a church in Union Beach. As it turns out I was assigned to work at the Grace UMC, which was the same church that was my first assignment as an ERT last November. At that time, their congregation was so frazzled and emotions were so raw that they were unable to make decisions and we were asked to leave without having accomplished any work. Over the course of the last six months the congregation had begun to heal and last week I was able to begin to rebuild this vital community church.

Through Gods grace I saw hope in Union Beach last week.

Privileged to have been able to spend last week with the First UMC Warren Mission Team, I would like to express my gratitude:

To Gary and Skip – thank you for treating me like one of the guys – even if it was the “fall guy”. You were so quick to teach me and include me. Your humor, happiness and kindness were infinitely appreciated.

Anita, thank you for always getting us to the job site, for always laughing at my stupid jokes and for not throwing my GPS out the window. I look forward to once again being in your van in the seat behind you!

To the smallest woman with the strength of Xena, Warrior Princess – Mona I thank you for great conversation, for being my friend and for knowing whether to cry uncontrollably or laugh hysterically right along with me.

I am not easily intimidated, however Dave, you had me shaking. At first, whenever you were watching me, my screw would immediately leave the drill and fall to the floor; when you instructed me, you had to repeat it at least once; when you teased me I wasn’t quite sure if you meant it or not. But I quickly found out you really are quite the charming gentleman. Dave, I thank you for letting me see that.

Ah Menno, no matter how much you wanted to join in the teasing and haranguing, your huge heart and astounding humility had you quickly and quietly apologizing for your joke. Thank you for your kindness and earnestness that filled my heart every day.

Donna thank you for your quiet patience, your calm perseverance and warm smile. You softened the hard work of our days.

To Larry and Jim, thank you for nourishment and sustenance. Your culinary skills are only outshone by your charm. And Jim, thank you for occasionally taking the heat off of me in the ridiculing department.

For your tremendous spiritual guidance, I will be forever grateful to you Pastor Rick. I will always remember to take with me the focus that I learned on this trip while striving to give away my heart at every opportunity. I will always try to be sensitive to the Spirit of God and follow that spirit where it leads me. I will also be thankful for your dry wit and lunch suggestions.

Judy, I wholeheartedly thank you for including me on this team. Your leadership was resolute; your kindness toward me was heartwarming. You and your friends are amazing.

Greg, thank you for your honesty and your friendship.

And to all those on Team 2 that I didn’t get to know very well I thank you for not joining on the “It’s Kristina’s fault” chorus (even if the motive was simply to stay out of the blog). But more importantly thank you for the moments we did have together. I will treasure every one of them.

Through Gods grace this team was brought together, brought into my life and heart and brought hope to some people in New Jersey. Some people think that serendipity occurs by sheer chance, I believe it is the hand of God. Last week, serendipity was the hand of God bringing people into my life and giving me a second chance.

Rememberance

At this time of year (around Easter) I spend time reminiscing about the souls that have touched my life. This essay is a tribute to unconditional love and awe inspiring moments.

It was a beautiful January morning.  The kind we seem to get every January nowadays. The snow had melted; the sky was a cerulean blue.  That magical yellow orb, high in the sky, spread warmth across my kitchen windows like butter melting over toast.  Looking outside I saw nothing but clear skies and the promise of warmth.

However, in my heart I was hollow.  For this was the day that I would have to lay our beloved Rufus down.

I went through the motions of getting breakfast ready.  After pouring the coffee, I knew I couldn’t eat a thing and since Hannah had planned to come with me to the veterinarian’s office, I knew her appetite would be non-existent as well.  So I gathered my hot steaming cup of Joe and sat on the living room floor with our dog.

The cancer came on quickly and was taking him from us even faster.  He hadn’t been able to muster that “catch me if you can” glint in his eye from the edge of the driveway for weeks.  He looked at me with his deep, melancholy brown eyes, obviously asking me what was happening to him.  I didn’t know how to tell him that it was almost over.  That soon he would be running through fields of sunflowers, chasing deer, pulling cat tails and chewing a never ending supply of organic rawhide.

The drive to the doctors’ office was too short.  Rufus couldn’t muster the strength to poke his head the window.  The air was cold, not the warmth I perceived in the kitchen.  Tears wouldn’t stop.  They silently fell as Hannah and I tried not to look at each other.  I lifted Rufus out of the car and we made the slow, sad walk to the barren examination room.  Even the doctor cried with us.

Hannah wasn’t able to stay in the room during the injections, but the doctor was kind enough to give the three of us as much time as we needed for acceptance.  As Hannah and I sat on the floor of the cold barren room, we felt the soul of our beautiful canine pass its way from his lifeless body into our hearts and smelled the result of his body’s last emission assault our noses.  Yes, our beloved Rufus passed gas.  We accusingly looked at each other before we realized that it was from him.  Then we looked at each other for permission to giggle, and we did.  We knew then that it was OK to leave.

The day was still breathtakingly beautiful, so we drove to the Family Life Center and walked the labyrinth.  We silently completed our circuits and silently hugged each other at the center.

We drove home and tried to muster a hunger for lunch.  A quiet calm enveloped us as we sat at the table together.  We didn’t smile, but we did reminisce.  As we ate in our “goldfish bowl” of a dining room we were joined by miraculous menagerie: a flock of birds at the feeders; 4 deer staring at us through the front windows (remarkably not eating the roses); an unknown cat, stoically perched on the boulder just outside; two turkeys peering from the edge of the driveway; and a pack of squirrels unusually calm in their scurries up the walk.  Never before had so much wildlife appeared so magically and so needed.  We were enchanted.

God was with us all that day and is with us every day.  God warms us when we felt cold inside.  God cracks a joke when we are reaching despair. God gives us peace when we need quiet contemplation. And God gives us friends to lift us.

 

 

Melt Down

Climate change has ushered in an unpleasant phenomenon that I have dubbed the “January Thaw.”  As I cruise through life with an appreciation of the seasons that can best be described as awe & protest, I desire consistency.  In spring and autumn I wish to bask in the season’s beauty and moderate temperatures. In summer and winter I must complain of the weather severity and quiver with anticipation for its seemingly never approaching end.

But these last several January’s I have not been unable to complain to my full potential because mid-month has shoveled in a mind-boggling and body confusing 60 degree melt down.  Snow disappears, t-shirts must be dug out and the hounds make the house look like a mud wrestling pit.

Many people love these mid-winter teases. I however am completely unamused.  My brain is not fooled. I know for a fact that it is only days away before sub-freezing temperatures grip me like Flick’s tongue to the lightpost. My body however is completely fooled.  Normally, after that January thaw I am completely incapable of keeping myself warm again. No matter how many sweaters I don, no matter how many logs I put on the fire or how much anti-freeze I consume, once I thaw – I’m done with winter.

Until this year.  Being a woman of a certain 52 year old age, I have come to the phase of life where I often wake up in the night, usually damp (not the good kind) and my internal furnace bathes me in a flush of embarrassment inducing heat (also not the good kind).  This was actually working out for me this winter.  For the first time in my life my fingers stayed warm in December and I was able to wear my Uggs without socks in January.  I didn’t wear a down coat once.

Then came the thaw.  60 degrees, Cleveland – really? I not only dug out t-shirts, I was looking for tank tops, shorts, capris, bathing suits and extra strength Dove deodorant. I was not pleased.  I let others know I was not pleased.  I threatened to move to Montreal for the remainder of the season. My internal furnace was exhibiting itself as a supernatural red flare starting in my toes and exiting with a blush across my cheeks and a plume out the top of my head.  In December it had been merely acting invisibly as an internal combustion engine, but during the January Thaw it was on display in all its raging glory.  I intensely disliked the January Thaw this year.

Luckily winter has returned.  I went cross-country skiing this morning in merely jeans and a hoodie and I was ecstatic.  In a couple of weeks, just before spring break I will begin my annual lament about this interminably long winter season.  I am consistent.

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Let’s Make a Deal

Many people proclaim that they have “made a deal with the devil”.  I on the other hand, made a deal with God.

I grew up without religion. In response to a request to go to a fundamentalist Baptist church with a schoolmate, my father, an avid atheist, once proclaimed to me “I don’t care if you go to church with your friends, you just won’t be dragging me there.”  I went to church with my friend and while in awe of the full submersion baptisms going on, I declared that I would rather bathe in private, without assistance and with shampoo.  Throughout junior high school, our house was the haven for errant Catholics, the place where friends would come hang out after telling their parents they were walking to mass.  I often served a breakfast buffet.  My mother, a lapsed German Lutheran, was much too busy being co-dependant with my alcoholic/drug addict brother to bother giving me any religious instruction.

As I grew up I developed a strong sense of independence.  I had no need for my dysfunctional family, I was perfectly capable of taking care of myself, and I was fiercely protective of my own integrity. I knew I had the strength to persevere, to make decisions, stick to them and make them work.  The family I created was going to be normal. Then my first marriage fell apart and my ex stole my children away to Texas.

In the depth of despair, unable to find a way on my own, I made a deal with God.  “Dude, if you just help me get my kids back, I promise to take them to church most Sundays.” I pleaded, I prayed, I cried and I screamed. One and a half years later, my children came home to me.

Seventeen years later I continue to make deals with God.  Raising 4 children has meant that I plead, pray, cry and scream a lot.  But now I know someone is listening.  Now, instead of just asking for things, I do things.  I am still searching for a comfortable definition of faith, spirituality and religion, but God and I are working things out.

 

Fast Friends

“May I share your table with you” I asked the woman sitting by herself at a four top in the crowded coffee shop early this morning. She was wearing very plain clothing, a neutral toned cardigan and a small white cap around her bunned hair.  I presumed she was a Colonial employee having a cup of joe before her day began. “Please do” she kindly responded.

Thirty minutes later and I was blessed to have made this friend.  Although we never exchanged names, we had a great time together.  She is from South Haven, Michigan and I am from the Detroit area.  We had that in common. She works a farmers’ market for a friend twice a week; I used to manage a market. The markets she goes to are in the Chicago area. I used to live in Chicago.

We discussed working and retirement, husbands and holidays.  By the end of our half hour we had talked about some of her 10 children and all 4 of mine (both of our youngest are 14 years old).  We laughed about the challenges of certain ages; we smirked at the truth that “there’s one in every family”; we bonded over what it was truly like to be a grandparent.

I found out that she was in Williamsburg with her husband, for whom she had purchased space in a woodcrafter’s conference for him for Christmas.  She even added on a stay in one of the colonial houses.  It was a very special trip for just the two of them.  Turns out she’s Mennonite and not in costume.

I love chance encounters. What a wonderful way to start the day.

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