Saturday, April 07, 2007

the hero of our story

"We long to be the hero of our own stories."

So said my RUF campus minister, Brandon Barrett, of Judges 7:1-8:3, spring break 2006, all of us sitting on the floor in a mosquito-filled bunkhouse back in the trees behind the Morrell tent in Waveland. In these verses, Gideon is about to fight the Midianites. And then "the Lord said to Gideon, 'The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, 'My own hand has saved me.''" (7:2) God proceeds to reduce Gideon's army from 32,000 to just 300--just 300 men to fight an army "like locusts in abundance, whose camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance" (7:12). Like Brandon said--Israel can't be the hero of its own story now. Any victory can only be attributed to God.

These last few weeks, I've been jumping through hoops to bump my graduation up to this December, so I can move down to the bay a little bit sooner. Of course, everyone asks, "Why?" And there's two reasons, I guess.

The first is a quote by Louis L'Amour (yes, the Western writer...)--
“To make democracy work, we must be a nation of participants, not simply observers. One who does not vote has no right to complain.”

How is this relevant? Well, something I've given a lot of thought to, is, I'm far from the most qualified person to be going to the bay. They need contractors, electricians, plumbers (seriously, if this is what you do... go). I do none of these things. The fact that just now, sixth months later, my broken thumbnail from where I whaled on it last October is finally growing out proves that I'm really not even much good with basic construction skills. But I don't think that gives me a "get out of jail free" pass. Knowing what I know, seeing what I've seen, I've become convinced I have a moral responsibility to go down to do whatever it is that I can do, especially because I don't have anywhere else I've committed to be.

Two weeks ago, I spoke at RUF about Lagniappe's summer internship program. I quoted something Jean says in the Lagniappe video--"We need people to come. We need people to come cry with people, we need people to come drive nails into sheds, and put on sheetrock, and put roofs on. Some people can go, but other people have to send. And so there is a need for people to give. For people to send their sons and daughters, to send prayers, to send money, to help raise the support so this can be here." Speaking to everyone, I said that we--the people in and just out of college--are the people who can go. And so I think we should. Should everyone? No, of course not. But I think that, for some people, it is the right thing to do.

The second reason is this, Galatians 5:13--
"Serve one another in love." Enough said.
And now, I'm leaving this blog to make way for the new 'terns. I've met a bunch of them, & they seem amazing. I'll get to meet the rest of them in July & August, when I'm in the bay after getting back from Goa, India. And then just 4 more months until I can move down for good. Well, as long as "for good" may turn out to last in the life of this nomad. ;)
It's been good times. Thanks.
This is how it works:
"You're young until you're not
You love until you don't
You try until you can't
You laugh until you cry,
You cry until you laugh,
And everyone must breathe
Until their dying breath."
No, this is how it works:
"You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
And try to love the things you took.
And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some,
Someone else's heart."
--on the radio, r. spektor

Sunday, April 01, 2007

paint all up in my hair

Two Lagniappe-related life developments this week--

1. This Saturday with HPI, my friend Erin & I helped finish up painting some of the houses that didn't get finished at Paint the Town last weekend. We've both talked with our RUF campus minister, Ben Robertson, about the need to get RUF-ites more involved with community service here at W&M--and not just RUF sponsered events; we should dive into the fantastic opportunities that already exist, mix it up with some new people, & get some work done. Like painting houses. Needless to say, I came back covered in paint (Lagniappe staff--is anybody really surprised?? Nope, didn't think so. :P).

2. I had applied for another summer grant, like the one Office of Student Volunteer Services gave me last summer, to use toward this summer.... I found out this week I got it, which was kind of amazing. :) I've been seeing that a lot in my life recently--God providing money when I've needed it, in ways I would never expect. It reminds me a lot of those very early days at Lagniappe, when suddenly someone would come tearing through the room waving a paper in the air, shouting about this donor or that grant or some pledge or another. So, I know He provides, but yet, somehow, each time, I'm still amazed.

PS, PRAY FOR THE BAY bumper stickers have finally materialized??!? I'm gonna go peel some of the other dozen off my car right now, so that people actually have a shot at noticing this new one. :)

PPS It's been two weeks since I was last in the Bay, & already I need another fix. I feel like an addict. The bearable time between fixes seems to keep getting less & less. :P

Sunday, March 25, 2007

recap of a week in the tool crib

Over last fall, and then the times I've been able to be back at Lagniappe this spring, I've had a chance to meet some of the people applying to be interns this summer... basically, they're all so awesome that I kind of wish I was doing a second round. :) Seriously, it's exciting to see the people God is bringing each season to serve at Lagniappe.

Well, spring break was good times & went by all too fast. And now I'm a little less surprised to find that now that I'm back at W&M, Lagniappe continues to be a part of my life here, too. Before I left for break, my RUF campus minister had asked me to speak at the next large group about Lagniappe's internship program. So, did I carefully prepare over those days in the Bay?? Nope, of course not. ;) I threw together a few slides, & then stayed up late-ish Monday night getting them into some semblance of order. I ended up being somewhat coherent, I think, & a few people have talked to me about maybe applying... I think that would be pretty awesome. More W&M exposure to the Bay can only be a good thing. :)

In other news, my brother, Bill, is trying to choose where he wants to go to college, & so we've been talking recently about all the things that go into that--what he wants to do, what he's looking for, what I've gotten out of college. During the course of that, I tossed out an idea I had kicking around in my head about senior year next year, involving maybe being at Lagniappe for part of it. Now, my parents were each able to get down to the Bay for a visit, but my brother never was, & so he has a bit more trouble understanding why I'm continually drawn back there. Also, he just got an ipod. So he's started listening to all the old Lagniappe podcasts so that we can talk through them. I'm excited. :)

Love from the east coast.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

pictionary telephone

OK, so, it's spring break, & I don't feel like actually writing anything. Plus, this is hilarious. :) Let me explain what's going on.
So, Wednesday night, I went to my Transfer Student Ambassadors meeting. As an icebreaker at the beginning, we played this game... you may have played it at one point. Each person starts with a stack of paper, drawing a picture on the top, then passing the stack to the right, that person then writes what they think the picture is of, then passes again, that person (using only the words) tries to draw a corresponding picture, etc., until the original person gets their pile back. You can see how the chain would break down after the first two people. :P
Our topic was "What are you doing for spring break?"
So, I drew (1) a house being washed away, emptiness, and then a house being rebuilt.
The girl on my right actually guessed right what I was doing (2).
The third (3), fourth (4), & fifth (5) people also got it fairly spot on.
The sixth (6) person, however, seemed to be a little confused by (5)'s hurricane symbol. He guessed that over spring break I would be "playing the Big Bad Wolf & blowing down a house."
Which is how I ended up with this picture, (7), of a disembodied wolf head blowing down a house. Please note the pig in the bottom right corner.
Well, I made it through my midterms alive, at last, & am packing for my spring break down at Lagniappe, leaving tomorrow. To play dress up & fairy tales, apparently. :P

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Paint the Town

Well, it's one week later. As promised--an HPI update. Last week, we finished up that roof... the week before, we had done the north side, and last week was the south side. The tar paper was already down, so we had to lug the shingles up & then go to town--old school; no roofing guns here. :)

There was six of us there, plus Devon, the project manager... he's a fellow junior here at W&M, and also getting engaged soon (my best friend from elementary school just got engaged on Valentine's Day... everyone's growing up so fast!). It was a warm day, & it felt really good to be up there making new friends as we got ever-closer to the top. Right about as the sun was setting, we finished up & headed back to campus. Then, today, we got houses ready for Paint the Town... on March 24th, HPI (along with campus service fraternities like APO and PSP, and many local community volunteers) is kicking off the Jamestown 400th Anniversary celebrations (side note: as part of the Anniversary, Queen Elizabeth is coming to W&M's commencement in May) by painting dozens of homes in the Williamsburg/James City/York County area. Today we prepped some of those houses.

There won't be any HPI updates for the next two weekends, because... I'll be back at Lagniappe! Once again, it's spring break, & things have come pretty much full circle.

Last of all, in other news, I found out on Thursday that, from May 24 to June 19, I will be going to Goa, India!! I was accepted to one of W&M's faculty-led summer programs... I'll earn 9 credits (which, together with the credits I took at MGCCC-Jeff Davis last semester & the 18 credits I'm taking this semester, will allow me to graduate on time) & hopefully have an AMAZING experience.

I've been continually amazed by how much Lagniappe has continued to be a part of my life here in VA... between trips back to visit, running into people here who have been or know of it, & other random coincidences, it's been a good transition.

I wonder how long it will take for me to bump into somebody in Goa with a "PRAY FOR THE BAY" bumper sticker?? ;)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

spring break 2006--a year later

So, my post for this week (next week--update on roofing with HPI) is the letter I sent out to my family & friends after last spring break, 2006, when I went with my RUF down to the Morrell Foundation's i-Care Village in Waveland, Mississippi. In two weeks, it will have been a year for me since that first trip, & I'll be back on the coast--full circle. Since that week last March, I will have spent parts of 11 of the last 13 months in Misssissppi. Eight months, altogether. And to think--I originally went for just five days. Crazy.

Hey all,

"Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is a healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision.”

Last Sunday, March 5, I sat in one of the back pews at First Presbyterian Church in Biloxi, Mississippi. I had arrived there, along with twelve other students and our two leaders (Brandon, our campus minister, and Bryon, from our home church in Williamsburg) early that morning after driving all day Saturday. We had walked in, between the broken entryway pillars, been warmly greeted, stood—along with about 85% of the attendants—when asked to identify ourselves as volunteers, and were now reciting the confession of sin.

It amazed me to see these people, survivors of Katrina, embrace their situation to come to a fuller understanding of God. In these last six months, they have come to know what it is to be on the way down, to be low, to have a broken heart and to have nothing. They truly have had to learn to bear the cross in the valley. Yet even through all this, they are able to see in their devastated and ruined homes a place of vision.

After the service, we met with about six other groups, Reformed University Fellowships (RUFs) from around the country. We watched footage of the hurricane, powerful beyond anything the media had shown last fall. Most of the coverage had been on New Orleans, but the eye of the storm passed directly through Bay St. Louis & Biloxi on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. 85% of Bay St. Louis has been destroyed. Most of the federal efforts and money have been funneled into New Orleans, while Mississippi has had to rely on volunteer efforts, most of which have been through church organizations. We were told, over and over, that people who had received nothing from the government (“State Farm Insurance Sucks” signs were everywhere; only 20% of people had flood insurance, & companies were refusing to pay because the damage was caused by “wind-driven water” & not a “flood”; Sunday’s headline was of an 80-year old, wheel-chair bound woman being evicted from her FEMA trailer) were able to rebuild through the aid they had received from the churches.

I thought that the footage we watched had prepared me for what lay ahead that week; I, along with most people in the room, was moved to tears. However, we had arrived in the night, able to make out only a few broken trees and piles of debris. When we walked out of the church, we took pictures with UVA’s RUF. And then we drove around Biloxi.

We first went to a bridge that had formerly connected US 90 across the water. What had looked like any other bridge was now transformed into about 30 concrete towers, each jutting above the water; street lamps and stop signs hung horizontal above the surface, and the double yellow lines stretched up towards the sky, like some unnatural yellow brick road leading up into the clouds. On the shore was a fallen statue—a bronze man, about 20 feet tall, with blank eyes and holding the world in one hand. You could imagine him leaping from one tower to the next, the only one able to use the bridge that humans will never again cross.

The church had been filled with three feet of water; a boardwalk, no trace of which now exists, had been swept off the beach with a fifty foot wave. Houses are completely washed away, leaving only concrete slabs. Others remain in pieces—one whole house, swept out into the Gulf, left behind only a staircase, rising to the right and the left up to a nonexistent second story. Still more, further inland, lie abandoned, everything inside picked up and shaken and deposited at random, soaked through with hurricane water and now molding. Whole stands of pines are flattened, each tree broken and bent at a ninety degree angle. Pipes emerge randomly from the ground, spewing foul-smelling water and sewage into the air until it runs through the streets. Endless broken piers stretch out into the Gulf, which now, with its altered tides, sprays up and onto the highway at high tide.

Our trip was planned in conjunction with Mission to the World (MTW), an organization run through the Presbyterian Church of America. We were housed in a tent-city based out of Buccaneer State Park near Bay St. Louis. The camp was centered around a main tent, housing most of the volunteers. Our group, though, stayed about a quarter mile further back in two just-finished bunkhouses that will later be moved and donated to families who lost their homes. The first night, the house we were in filled up with gnats (interesting fact: since Katrina, the Gulf region, formerly relatively gnat-free, has become a breeding ground for them) & everyone woke up covered head-to-toe in rashes of bites. Our team broke up into three groups, one of which did construction work around the base camp, & by the time we left, both houses were bug-proof.

One of the other groups went to homes in the construction phase, & helped put up drywall & spackle. I was in the third group—I worked with Jess, Ansil, and Sean from W&M, & Beth, Lauren, Jarvis, Bobby, Emily, & Sarah from Wake Forest on a house on Waveland Ave. It is owned by a grandmother now living in North Carolina. The flood waters had reached up to eight feet, making her house uninhabitable. The work order stated that she didn’t want anything salvaged, that we were to remove everything from the house and then strip it to the studs, because she intends to sell it.

The first day, Monday, we followed Jocie, our coordinator through MTW, into the front door. First, she had to remove tape which said “Caution: Enter if You Dare.” She explained that the area, south of the train tracks, had been hit hard by looters. The door opened into a living room, which had a piano sitting in the middle of it, and sheet music strewn all around. As we filed into the house, masks and gloves on, and our eyes adjusted to the dim interior, we saw and understood--as much as we could understand--for the first time just what it meant to have lived through Katrina.

We were standing in a house that looked nothing like any house that any of us had ever seen. Once through the door, we quickly filled the only available standing room. Around us rose a 3-ft. wall of debris—eighty years’ worth of stuff, topped with fallen ceiling tiles. Everything was covered with mold—black, patchy spores that raised clouds of dust when brushed against.

It took us two days just to get everything outside. Monday, we managed to create a mountain about 8 feet high, stretching halfway across the property line (about 50 ft.) & stretching as far back from the curb as we were allowed (12 ft). It was picked up that night, & Tuesday, we doubled this. Wednesday morning, the pile was still there, & so we began another pile across the road. The most difficult thing to move out was the fridge. There were two, & on Monday afternoon, we attempted to move the first one. One of the ropes slipped, & it burst open, releasing a mixture so toxic that we had to evacuate, & the next day, before entering the house, we had to spray the entire area down with undiluted bleach. Fortunately, we got the second fridge out more carefully. They weren’t the only dangerous things in the house though; aside from the mold, we later discovered that the homeowners had been chemists. The garage had been converted into a lab, & on Tuesday we removed a bottle of mercury along with dozens of other bottles of chemicals. On Wednesday, we hit a gas line, hooked up to a Bunsen burner. One of the girls from Wake commented that if the work didn’t need to be done so badly, we never would have been allowed near it.

Late Tuesday, while the guys started ripping down the drywall from the front rooms, which had already been cleared, I was tackling the back sewing room. The way the waters had circled through, the already-packed room had ended up with quite a bit of debris accumulated from the rest of the house. I pulled out about a dozen hand-knitted vests, about 60 skeins of yarn, a sewing machine, & three closets’ worth of clothes and shoes. What struck me most was how colorful everything was. The bathroom wallpaper was bright, vibrant flowers in primary colors. The bedspreads were a vivid orange; people kept digging up bright green pewter vases, pairs of red dancing shoes, a yellow teapot painted with purple irises. At one point, late in the afternoon, I finally got out a cabinet that I had been struggling with, and underneath, I found fifteen completed quilt squares, each with a person’s name. I brought them to Beth, who was keeping a pile of things she thought the family might want, & went outside for a water break. There are just some things you can’t see and be unmoved.

Needless to say, we were so happy when the daughter stopped by on Tuesday. She thanked us profusely—everyone our team worked with was so thankful—and said that her mother had asked that, if possible, we find for her a porcelain bust of Venus that had been given to her as a wedding present. By this point, we had removed a good portion of the contents, & no one could remember having seen it. We were sure that it had been crushed. But, after we pulled the second fridge out, there it was—wedged between it and a chair. It was just one of the small miracles that we witnessed, but so huge because this was the one thing that she asked for, out of everything that she owned. Later, one of the Wake girls saw an unopened box in the trash pile, & happened to open it… inside was the deed to the house & the homeowner's will.

The ten of us really bonded over this house. We could hardly believe that it took us four days, about 280 man hours, to clear this house that Katrina destroyed in 8 hours. When we finally carted out the last wheelbarrow of drywall on Thursday, we were left overwhelmed by how much we had accomplished, and by how little it was in comparison to all that needed still to be done. We had helped one family, but how many more people are there who still need help? What about the neighbor who came by the collect furniture out of the trash because he was left with none, & received no federal aid or insurance money?

Each morning I went on a run with my friends Amanda and Sarah. We ran by a sign, declaring in giant block red letters, “KATRINA WAS BIG, BUT GOD IS BIGGER.” This attitude, so incredible, is one that pervades the Gulf areas hit by Katrina.

“On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand, and cast a wishful eye
To Canaan’s fair and happy land, where my possessions lie.
All o’er those wide extended plains, shines one eternal day;
There God the Son forever reigns, and scatters night away.I am bound, I am bound,
I am bound for the promised land,
I am bound, I am bound,
I am bound for the promised land.”

The hymn we sang in church on Sunday, literally standing on Biloxi’s stormy bank, is real to these people. Their faith rests entirely in God and in His goodness.

“You have shaken the land and torn it open; mend its fractures, for it is quaking.” Psalm 60:2. Each person we talked to has reached an acceptance of the storm. A lot of people said to us that they trust God completely to repair what has been destroyed. Another of the neighbors told us that he is so thankful that all he lost is stuff, & that he and his family are safe. He told us what a blessing it is for him to be able to witness people pulling together to rebuild, to see the Christian community rally together to pour out Christ’s love to God’s children. He told us that he wishes we could be so lucky.

The night we left, we got to write on the walls of our bunkhouse, messages that the new family would never see, but which would be built into their lives to give them hope and courage. I didn’t know what to write, & opened my Bible, praying that I would find the words to say. “God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” Psalm 46:1-3.

We will not fear. This is the message of the Gulf Coast. As they seek to create the “new normal,” they do not fear. As Bay St. Louis, Biloxi, & the Gulf Coast struggle to rebuild in the shadows, in the darkness of the valley, many look to God’s love to sustain them. These people may have thanked us, but I am infinitely more grateful to them. They are my hope and my inspiration.


...Yeah, people from pre-college call me Kate. It's weird, I know. Anyways... I got second thoughts right before I posted this... started doing some web fact-checking... (FYI: all the numbers & statistics were as I was told them... so, as far as I know, they're accurate)... realized this was virtually impossible, but did come across one statistic, not that I was looking for, that blew me away--that there have been, as best as people can estimate, 61 million volunteers to the coast.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


... continued... so, Saturday mornings, before I go to HPI, I go to the Mercy Team meeting at Grace Covenant Presbyterian, my church here in Williamsburg. It's a committee made up of about 20 people, newly-formed.

Throughout the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, God reveals himself to us as a God who cares about the poor, the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, the needy. And he calls us, his people, to reflect these concerns in our own lives. In order to more fully embody in our own congregation God's heart for the needy, we are forming a "mercy team" to help our whole congregation grow in our heart for, and commitment to, meeting practical mercy needs in our community.

That was the announcement in the church bulletin (I know.... it's so weird to be back in a church that has *bulletins*) several weeks ago, where I first found out about this new committee. It's born out of an idea espoused in Grace's vision statement--

... We believe that the hope for our own lives, Williamsburg, and the whole world is the gospel, the good news of salvation and reconciliation that comes only through Jesus. And so we seek to be a community that loves Williamsburg and the world by proclaiming the gospel in both word and deed. We believe that involvement in mercy and justice isn't simply an addition to the gospel, but a vital part. By engaging in acts of mercy and justice, we are participating in God's work of redeeming all of creation, a work that we see in part now, but which he will one day bring to it's full flowering...

Basically, what happened was, I got back from eight months at Lagniappe wondering how, in a world that hasn't been decimated by a hurricane, I was going to find ways to live out the truths of serving in love and grace that I'd learned in the Bay. Well, clearly, there is so much wrong with that line of thinking. To begin with, Hurricane Isabel?? Yeah, happened here just in 2003... recovery efforts clearly still ongoing... also, need is present anywhere there is even one person. There are people in prisons with no foreseeable future, people in hospitals who despair and are lonely, people who are addicted to all sorts of substances with no motive to seek help. These people have an equally great need of help as those in the Bay, it's just a different sort of help they need. Instead of shingles & drywall they need companionship, to be taught life skills, medical attention, etc. And where do these people live? That's right. Right here in Williamsburg. They live where you live, too. (And, never to forget, people in need of help live right where I live, in my dorm room. Which is a single, by the way. :P )

Anyways, so, like I said--got back from Lagniappe, looking for ways to carry on the ideas of lagniappe here in Williamsburg, walk into church, and guess what? I'm not the only one. There's a whole group of people here in my home church with the desire to love & serve. (Another way this ties into Lagniappe... four people on the committee, including my pastor, were on the team Grace sent down to Lagniappe in July... they're going for a return trip to the Bay this August, by which time, God willing, I'll alredy be back there as well.) This morning, we split up a list of local relief agencies, each volunteering to contact some, with the goal of finding 1) what needs exist in the community, 2) how those needs are being met currently, & 3) how Grace can help in filling the gaps between the two. (Basic idea taken from Tim Keller's book Ministries of Mercy.) One of the names on the list, which I volunteered to work with is... HPI. How amazing is it how all things come connect? HPI, the people on the Mercy Team, the roofing team that worked in Biloxi, Lagniappe... it's amazing. :)

Anyways, the point being... this is the beginning of a story of how Lagniappe is inspiring others and stimulating participation in God's work in other parts of the Kingdom. Narnia is thawing (not literally... it's about 17 degrees here) all over. I'll keep you updated. :)

And the wheels just keep on turning,
The drummers begin to drum--
I don't know which way I'm going,
I don't know what I've become.
--Coldplay, Kingdom Come

... Life isn't static. As people and children of God we're constantly growing to see how the Kingdom is lived out in all times and all places.