Monday, September 27, 2010

Beautiful Colorado in the Fall

It's one of those times in life that I feel everything I want to write should not be shared, at least not yet. I have so much on my heart and so much I want to say, scream, shout, or yell, but just as it comes to the surface I choke it back into my heart.
It's like when you are having an argument with your spouse or friend and you want to say so much. You want to point your finger at them and tell them all the things that hurt and exactly what they did to cause it. But you know... it will only cause more pain. It's better to keep it inside and fight fair without pointing a finger at anyone but myself.

I'm not pointing fingers, but the lessons God is teaching me clearly are my lessons. The day will come that I can share, but today they are for me. If I shared today, they would be misunderstood, misconstrued and misused. It would appear I was pointing a finger when indeed my finger is only pointing to God's Holy Word, which has been twisted and misconstrued. I want to point out the truth of the Gospel, but Americans have gotten so far off base, it's hard to share the truth without sounding like a hater.

I'm not a hater. I'm not angry. I just found the truth.

Since I cannot share with you what is on my heart, I will share with you some beautiful pictures I took while in Colorado last week.

Isn't it Grand?

Best Buds

I know it's out of focus, but I still love it.

Ta Da! It's the Rocky Mountains!

Our Campground

A picture of Summer, Fall and Winter. The flowers, fall leaves and snow all together at once.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Facing Homeschooling Challenge #1: Organizing

I am not a bad organizer, I am just a wannabe organizer. I don't know why getting organized comes so  hard for me, but it does. I am good at it, but I want to organize like I want to pick up a cobra and kiss it on the lips. I'm afraid of it.
I struggle with fear of organization in everything from balancing my checkbook, to putting my clothes in order, to homeschooling and scheduling.
Then there are days that I have the choice to drown in my lack of order, or put on my big girl panties and kiss the snake.

There have been times I have drownd in my chaos. For years following our evacuation from New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina, I could not balance my checkbook. Actually, I have only in the last year begun to keep track of our money again. It is a good feeling to know how much we have, but overcoming that fear was extremely difficult for me.

But most times, I do what I fear most and get it done. Today was one of those days. For the last couple of weeks I have been evaluating our homeschooled life and how it can be improved. And now I am facing homeschool challenge #1; organization.

I worked hard today on getting our new books out and getting reading books in order. I worked hard on putting our schoolroom into workable order, so that when I face my upcoming challenge, scheduling, I can have a good grip on what I have access to.
I bought some bookcases over the weekend at a garage sale, put all the kids books on it, and started over on the decorating of the school room. However, this is where I fail miserably. I don't arrange furniture or pictures well at all. I have great taste in style, but I'm lousy at putting it all together.

One of the ways I am overcoming my fears and getting done what needs to be done, is to ask for help. I have a friend who is a gifted organizer and decorator. I have asked her to come and help me put my school room in a functional and stylish order. I want it to be a place that we enjoy. I want it to be calm and restful and inspiring. I want it to be a place that we all love to be, not avoid altogether.

Surprise! I kissed my cobra, and I did not fall over dead. It smiled back at me. I feel more at peace knowing the schoolroom is ready for learning and I am ready to face challenge #2 and put our family back on a working schedule.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The End of the Chapter: Changed Forever Part VII

Jay had watched me spiral into paranoia and depression in the months following our evacuation from New Orleans. He was quite aware of my state of mind, but he was incapable of helping me. All he could do was simply watch and hope and pray I would eventually get better.

After I began the medication, I became aware of his struggles, so we began to talk through the things we were both thinking and feeling.

I found solace in the song Held.

"This is what it means to be held, and to know, that the promise was when everything failed we'd be held."

Jay found his solace in the song Cry out To Jesus by Third Day, which was released early due to the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina.

We both found our way. We discussed how we resisted feeling victimized by the hurricane. We felt guilty when we allowed ourselves to be counted as a victim becuase we were among the very fortunate. Many of our friends who lived on the first floors of the apartments, lost everything. We were able to at least salvage some of our belongings.

Many of the residents of New Orleans sufferred through blazing heat and flood waters while they waited for rescuers. We never sufferred through the repercutions of the hurricane.

We had little to complain about, but still, we sufferred deeply. WeE finally came to a place where we agreed that although we had not lost as much as others, nor had we sufferred as greatly as many had, we still expereinced a tragedy. It was okay for us to mourn, grieve, and finally move on with life. We were forced to make decisions in constricted circumstances, but eventually we had to make peace with our decisions and accept them, whether they were good or bad. We had to look forward and quit questioning whether we made the right choices.

Jay had found closure when he went back to our home to gather some of our things. I had never returned home. Saturday, August 27th, 2005, I walked out of my home and never returned. I still needed closure.

A month after Jude was born, Jay and I traveled back to New Orleans for his graduation. We left Benjamin and Levi with my parents, and traveled to attend the first graduation ceremony to be held since the hurricane.
We were fortunate to have friends still in New Orleans. Kevin and Lori, our friends who had taken us to dinner right after the hurricane, had moved back to pastor the church we attended. Again they helped us out and allowed us to spend the night with them. It was good to reconnect with several people we had known pre-Katrina.

Saturday, graduation day, came. It was exciting for us as we prepared Jay for his big moment. Jude, at just one month, was with us all the way. Then came the ceremony.

We listened as Dr. Kelley spoke. He called them the Katrina class. Truly they deserved a great honor becuase they had pushed through the most difficult event in their life and finished well. I was so proud of my Jay.

I anxiously listened as they called one name after another. I noticed families cheering for the graduate, standing and clapping. I wished, so deeply, that at least one member of one of our families could have come to witness this moment. He was the first in either one of our families to receive a Masters, and I would be the only one to witness the moment he received it.

His turn came, he walked on stage, shook Dr. Kelley's hand and received his degree. Tears welled up in my eyes, and my wish turned to deep, heart-felt pain as I wanted so badly to be able to yell and cheer as if a whole crowd was cheering him on. Nonetheless, I was proud, and satisfied to see this period of our life through.

We cried together after the ceremony, wishing his mom and dad could have witness his accomplishment, but we took pictures to share the moment.

Sunday morning we prepared to leave for home, right after we attended our church's morning service in a tent in the parking lot. The building was far from safe for meeting, but the parking lot tent with fenced off nursery was sufficient, and quite a blessing to us. More than that, it was closure for me.

At the end of our trip we knew we were forever changed. Our belongings no longer hold such importance in our lives. Fear has new meaning, and very few things in life can bring true fear to our hearts.

Giving is much easier. We experienced complete strangers handing over $100 bills to us. We witnessed immeasureable kindness and selflessness. Because of the compassion we were shown, we are excited to share what we have with others. When given an opportunity, we are excited to be part of another person's life in that way.

So many other parts of our hearts, minds, spirits and lives were changed. The lessons we learned and the confidence we gained could only be recorded in a number of books.

Even more important, so many of our beloved friends were still in New Orleans ministering, rebuilding, restoring, encouraging, and hurting and struggling. We could never forget the battle they faced, and continually prayed for the ones God called to stay.

Our lives will forever be connected to New Orleans, to people suffering immense tragedy, and to the least of these.

After the church service and long goodbyes to all our friends, we loaded our baby boy into the car and said goodbye once again, to our beloved New Orleans, and the most important chapter in our adult life.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Labor, Distress and Finally Reward: Changed Forever Part VI

Jay attempted to describe to me the images he saw when he went back to New Orleans. They took pictures, of some stuff, but not all. One of his descriptions blew my mind away.
We had a car that we left behind because Jay had taken the engine apart to fix the clutch. When we left we knew the car would be destroyed. Indeed, it had spent all those weeks submerged in the putrid flood waters. Jay opened the back of the car to see if he could salvage any of his tools. He found a mucousy, web-like covering on the inside of his car. His description fit perfectly with what I had seen in my kitchen cabinets in my nightmares.
None of his tools survived the flood. Some had even been completely eaten through and corroded.
Next he described some sort of hard shelled bugs stuck to the outside of our refrigerator. Again, his description fit the little bugs I had seen in my nightmares.
The city of New Orleans was so contaminated at that point, all the men had to get a vaccine just to enter the city. E-coli was rampant in the ground all over the city. It was a dangerous environment. So as the men unloaded all my rescued items, I stood by with a spray bottle of bleach water. Everything was bleached no matter what. Some items, such as my table, had mucky, nasty, blobs of gooey something growing on them.

We had some of our belongings back, and between gifts, Red Cross, and the Church at Edmond, we had almost everything we needed to make a home. The little parsonage we were living in was very nice, but we needed a home we could call our own.

We began house hunting without any luck. Then we stumbled across a house for sale by owner. Our realtor and good friend, Frankie, set up a tour for us. We loved the house. It had the same green walls and gold carpet our apartment in New Orleans had. It was like God created this house just for us to live in. It was His gift, like with Job, to return and double what we'd lost.

We bought the house and happily moved into our cute, early 20th century home, complete with a white picket fence and tree swing in the back yard.

We found we had some of the best neighbors in the world. On one side of us was a retired couple who adored our children. The boys would go to Mrs. Joy and Mr. Vernon's door and ask, "Can I have a cookie?" They were precious.

On the other side we had Mrs. Lola. She was an elderly lady whom Jay had the privelege of mowing her yard for her. She came to me one day to offer her services to me in return. She had thought that she could keep my little ones in the morning while I took Benjamin to school. It was such a blessing to not have to get my babies out in rain and snow every morning. She was a jewel in our life.

God had given us a wonderful home close to my mother. But the bad feelings did not go away. My mother began to help me with Bible study, exercise and diet. But I still couldn't stop crying. I even questioned why God allowed me to be pregnant at such a time. There were even times I had thought, "I wish I wasn't pregnant right now."

I finally told my doctor's PA how I felt and she responded with, "Well, there is no reason for you to feel that way all the time."

Kelly was my good friend from church, and God had once again blessed me by making her my PA as well. I would say it was coincidence, but I believe it was God sending me the person I needed to take care of me at my most difficult time.

She put me on Wellbutrin and I soon began to feel better and cry less. Within a month I was happy again. But damage had already been done in our family. Once my body had healed, I realized my husband had been suffering many of the same things I had been going through. I hadn't even noticed, and I am certain he didn't notice what I was going through either. We had completely disconnected ourselves from each other, becuase our own pain was all that we could handle. It was a time that we couldn't bear each other's burdens, because to double the burden was just too much.

I also realized I had missed out on so much of Levi's childhood. I didn't remeber him going from a baby, to a toddler. But there he was in front of me, a talking little toddler. My heart broke to realize Katrina and depression had stolen so much from my life. They stole my peace, security, safety, time with my children, and worst of all my best friend.

I tried to help Jay, but he had to deal with it all differently. He not only had the stress of rebulding, but also the stress of working full-time at a new job and finishing his school online. I tried to help him however I could, but he truly needed time, and a break.

It was almost 8 months from the time Katrina hit, until we finally found peace again. It was April 13th, the baby's due date. I had been induced early in the morning, and began my labor with the intention of going completely natural. I had tried my hardest to prepare Jay for his role in the labor, but we were so disconnecte it had been difficult.

The time came that I needed him. The man that I had struggled to reach over the last 8 months came through in a way I never expected. He set up our computer to a slideshow with pictures of our boys for me to focus on.

He held me, rocked me, massaged my back, spoke loving words into my ear, encouraged me, and showed me the love and tenderness I had always known. About 10 hours after labor began, I received an epidural to try to help labor along. Soon after, I became numb up to my neck and began having trouble breathing. The baby also began to show distress. His heart rate plummeted for almost 9 minutes, far below a safe rate. I was given an oxygen mask to wear and the room became tense and quiet as the nurse worked to protect both of us. I looked over at my beloved and saw a tear roll down his cheek. I knew he was scared and praying for our safety.
 God had showed me great blesings once again by giving me my good friend, Tracy, as my nurse. We went to church together and I loved her and trusted her. She worked into overtime to stay with me while I labored. When his heart rate dropped, she worked constantly to get it back up, until she was finally successful. Twelve hours after induction, little Jude was ready to make his entrance, thanks to all the work Tracy had done for us.
That evening I laid in my hospital bed holding my precious little angel, with Jay next to me. I laid my head on his shoulder and suddenly realized, I had my husband back.

The labor and all the measures Jay had taken to care for me had connected us once again. I felt like in my little baby's face, God was saying, "Here is your reward, and the means by which I have healed your heart, mind, body and spirit, and most of all, your family."

A baby! Who would have known that God had plans throughout the entire events of Katrina, to bring us through it all by using a baby. It was exactly how God works. Every time God has changed the world, he started by sending a baby.    

This week we celebrated Jude's fourth birthday, and the day our family found peace again.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Don't forget the Bubble Wrap!: Changed Forever Part V

I was walking out the back door of my mother's house. There sat my mother and stepfather on the deck. I looked up and said, "I don't think I'm doing very good." It was the first moment I realized I was having difficulty following our evacuation from Huricane Katrina.
I don't even know why I said that, it just came out. My mother shook her head and said, "I know."

Truly there wasn't much they could do, except watch us go through it. We had to grieve, and no one can fix grief.

Soon after we moved into the church's parsonage my symptoms became more severe. I heard on the news one day that someone was killing people along the road that we lived a few miles from. However, the killings were happening much further from our part of the city. Nonetheless, I became paranoid.

I heard news reports that said to keep shades pulled in the rooms your children play in. Some children had been abuducted right out of their own home by people who came in through the window of the room the children were in.

The paranoia began to set in more and more every day. Every morning I would put on cartoons for my little ones and keep all the shades closed. The house was dark all day long. I was too afraid of what might happen if I opened a door or window.

Once the boys had breakfast, I went to sleep on the couch where I stayed until lunch time. I managed to get up to make lunch and usually take a shower about that time. Then came the afternoon, the worst time of all. I didn't know what to do, so I sat and cried, and panicked, and worried.

I was afraid to go somewhere. "What if someone was waiting outside for me and killed me and the boys?" I secluded all three of us to the house.

I wanted my mother to come stay with me every day. She tried, but we were now 45 minutes away, and she had a job. She would come take me out to lunch, and I was okay when she was there, but when she left I was not fit to take care of myself, much less two children.

One night I decided to get it together. I took out a whole chicken. Looking at the clock I realized I had only 30 minutes before Jay would be home wanting dinner. "It'll be okay. Thirty minutes is plenty of time for a chicken to cook," I convinced myself.

Thirty minutes later we still had raw chicken, and I couldn't figure out why I had thought such a thing. So we ate out that night and every night after.

The next day, I was trying to decide what to cook. Then I remembered, "That chicken is still in the oven from last night. I'll just turn the oven on and let it finish cooking." The smell that filled the house with the putrid chicken was disgusting. It seemed I had lost all common sense.

Then came the nightmares. I woke one morning to hear Levi crying in his crib. I started to go pick him up, but fear gripped my body. I suddenly saw, in my mind, a deadly snake in the middle of his bedroom floor.
"What if I go in there and he's crying becuase there's a snake in there and I can't get to him becuase the snake is between him and I?" It was crazy, but it took a while to muster the courage to go to his room. There was no snake, but I was still horrified.

One night I was walking down the dark hallway to our room. I suddenl ystopped as my mind imagined a snake in the middle of the hallway, waiting for me to step on it so that it might strike me dead.

Being paranoid was miserable, but the tears soon followed and brought even more misery. I spent most of my time crying.

October brought strange and dificult behavior from all of us, but it also brought many good things for us too. We had finaly been given a day to go back home and get our things. But with the filth and bacteria that was left behind by the flood, I was not allowed to go home becuase I was pregnant. Jay took a group of about 8 men back to New Orleans with him. And I waited patiently hoping I didn't forget to write anything down that I desperately wanted from home.

We rented a little U-haul trailer that he pulled behind the church van. They drove all night, 12 hours to New Orleans. The next day they were allowed into the city for only 8 hours.
Back at our apartment, Jay marked things with tape that he wanted to be packed and brought home so the other men would know what to pack. I had made sure to send Bubble wrap with him so that he might bring my Daddypa's picture safely home to me, and I prayed he remembered to get it.

What Jay found was a mess. Boats were lining the streets, the stench was beyond anything he could describe. The families that lived on the first floor apartments had lost everything and many of them were our friends. Their home was literally turned upside down, and our hearts broke for them.

Our home faired much better. There was no water damage, but mold had already begun to grow in our home in disgusting forms. We chose to leave everything that belonged to the children behind. It was too risky to expose them to the bacteria.

My stepfather chose to leave behind the furniture he had made me years before. Jay brought back our irreplaceable antiques, clothing, and heirlooms. He brought home to me the crystal bowl that had been my grandmothers. He brought me my jewelry he had bought for me. He packed all of our life into a little U-haul trailer within 8 hours, then he and the other men headed back to New Orleans, exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. What they had seen was tragedy at its worse.

I was so excited to see the uhaul trailer pull up to our little parsonage. I couldn't wait to see what was inside, and I prayed that they left nothing behind that I would miss.

The door swung open and the stench that rolled out was unlike anything I had ever smelled before. I imagine it was the smell of death. Boxes began to come one one by one, and then some of my favorite antique furniture. My duncan fife table and chairs, and some of our clothes, most of which did not make it through without mold damage.

I searched longingly to see my picture. Did Jay remember? Did he wrap it in bubble wrap so that it might not break the irreplaceable bubbled glass in the antique frame?

I opened plastic rubbermaid boxes, looking through to find it. Finally, I lifted the lid to the grey smelly box and there on top, smashed down without any kind of wrapping on it whatsoever, was my beloved Daddypa staring up at me with his slight grin, just as he used to smile at me when I was a little girl. He looked so handsome. I have never felt a joy like that, before or since.

I rejoiced at my discovery, but quickly turned to scold Jay. "Why didn't you wrap this up like I told you? It could've broke!"
"You sent bubble wrap with us?" was his reply. I suddenly realized, this picture was not much, but God knew it's value to me. He kept it safe through the worst hurricane in US history, through weeks of putrid, sewer, flood waters, and then through the packing, loading, and traveling of 8 men who were exhausted. God had blessed me again.

The pieces of my life were starting to come back together again. The demolition was over and we could begin rebuilding.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What Now?: Changed Forever Part IV

It seems like a lifetime has passed since I walked out of my precious little apartment in New Orleans. Almost 5 years later, I still have that moment in my head. My family was heading down the stairs toward the van, but I stopped. I just held the door open for a moment and took my very last look at the home I had created for my family. Then I whispered, "Goodbye," and let the door close. I can still feel the longing to be home and the painful tinge of losing it.
When I close my eyes, I can still smell the humid, salty air that is New Orleans, and I feel the warm breeze blow my hair in my face. Some days I wake up and long to be back there. I long for the gifts I received at my wedding, the train table Jay built for Benjamin, the crib we first purchased for Benjamin, the bedroom furniture my stepfather built for me when I was in highschool, the cheval mirror my husband gave me as a wedding gift, the first plastic flowers he gave me when we were dating, and my ugly rocking chair.

But those weren't the things that concerned me the first few weeks after we evacuated. I desperately needed one question answered, "What now?"

We stayed with my mom for a month and in that time we began to build a new life for ourselves.
Habitat for Humanity offered us housing on a cruise ship, if we would come back to work in New Orleans. But I couldn't imagine having a baby in a city with no doctors or hospitals, or raising two boys and a new baby on a cruise ship.
The seminary offerred all the students the opportunity to transfer to their Atlanta campus, where housing was being provided for any students who chose to live there. We considered the move to Atlanta to finish school. The administration, who also lost their homes and lives, had agreed to continue all classes online. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary was the only school in New Orleans to continue classes following the hurricane.
Since Jay was in his last year and would be graduating in the spring, the Atlanta campus did not offer any classes he would need, so all of his classes would be taken online no matter where we lived.

So we had one question answered, we would live in Oklahoma... until who knows when.

I began to look for a place to live, without much luck, until one Sunday a friend told me about her uncle's church in Edmond. They had a parsonage they wanted to offer to a family that had been displaced by the hurricane. She put us in contact with the church, and by the beginning of October we had a home. The church even supplied us with items we were still lacking such as toys, clothes, dressers, a mattress, a TV and VCR, microwave, dishes, and even decorations. They even gave us a washer and dryer that was exactly like the ones we'd had. They paid all the utilities on the house, installed a dishwasher, and continually blessed our lives over and over again.

Indeed God was pouring blessings into our lives at a rate we could barely comprehend. Cards and money and donations flowed in from friends, family, and strangers. Our pastor asked our church to help out. "Amy and Jay are needing our help to get clothes for their family," He explained. "Although donations of used clothing would be appreciated, let's bless them with new clothes and give them some gift cards, so that they may be able to buy new clothes for their family."

We were overwhelmingly blessed to be counted worthy of such a request! God continued to surprise us. One day I received a call from a woman who told me, "Amy, I heard about you from my mother, who heard about you from her hairdresser, who heard about you from her daughter, who knows you from somewhere. I searched you out to ask if I could help you. I have a crib and changing table I would like to give you. Can you use it?" I could barely answer her through my tears. Why would God be blessing us in such a magnificent way when so many from New Orleans were still suffering? And I wondered if all of our friends were being taken care of so well.

The next task was for Jay to find a job. Many people told us of job openings, and put in a good word for Jay. But Jay only wanted to work one place, Habitat for Humanity.

He contacted the Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity and asked if he might be able to transfer. They had no openings at the time, and politely turned him down. It was a week of turmoil for him. He knew this is where God wanted him, and in typical Jay fashion, he refused to look anywhere else. As frustration began to sit in for all of us, Jay received an unexpected call from the director of Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity.
"Jay," She said, "I have not been able to get you off my mind for the last week. I believe God wants you to work here, so I have made a place for you. When can you start?"

Again, the blessing and favor God showed us was more than we deserved, or hoped for.

People would ask us how we were doing, and the only logical answer was to praise God and give Him glory for all that we were being given. Jay and I knew that we had more reasons to be thankful than to be hurt. We tried hard to deny that anything was wrong in our hearts, or that we were deeply hurting. Our family was all safe, we had a home, a bed,  a job and food. Truly, what more could we ask for?

But the blessings couldn't counter the heartached and tragedy that we unknowingly suffered. Darkness was creeping in on our family, and it would take more of our life than we ever could have imagined.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Painful Roots: Changed Forever Part III

I woke to hear my boys clammering through the kitchen and spouting off requests that began with "Mimi...?" I smiled as I remembered the events of the weekend and the opportunity to take an unexpected vacation. I wondered how long it would be before the seminary would allow us to go home again.

As I crawled out of bed I was anxious to get the TV on and see what the news said about the damage to New Orleans. August 29th, had brought hurricane Katrina, and I was hoping August 30th would bring good news that everyone was heading home. What I found was not what I expected.

The levys broke. The city was flooded. People were trapped at the Super Dome. My mind reeled back to our first few months living in New Orleans and all the things I had learned about the city that was lower than sea level. I remembered the news showing a computer graphic, revealing what would happen if a hurricane ever hit New Orleans. It talked about how the levys weren't strong enough to hold the surge of water, and how they would break, filling the bowl shaped city of New Orleans with putrid lake, ocean, river, and sewer water. The predictions were disastrous, and now I was watching it happen in real life. This was not a computer generated image, it was all real, and it was my home.

I felt sad. Now it would be even longer before we could go home. I wondered if the seminary was flooded.

Days passed and with each day, the situation worsened. There was no news on the seminary's website. We were living life, literally day to day.

The situation at the Super Dome worsened. I watched on TV, mamas holding their crying babies. "I'm out of diapers and I don't have any more formula for my baby," was a mother's plea. Behind her sat an elderly man in a wheelchair, covered with a blanket, head to toe. He was dead on the sidewalk.

As I watched the teeny little baby in nothing but a diaper cry, my heart crumbled, and my own downward spiral began. I began to think, what if that were me and my baby? What if we didn't have transportation out of the city, and I was stuck in 100F plus temperatures with no air-conditioning, no food, water, diapers, or formula? What if it were me?

I began to wonder, how many of those people could we have fit in our van if we had just left our trunk of pictures and all the quilts and afghans my Mama made me? Could we have saved that old man's life? Could I have saved one of those girls from getting raped?

The spiral continued. Prisoners were released from prison and allowed to go free. Looting and criminal activity was rampant in the city, and police officers went MIA. "Is my home being looted, are my things being stolen?" I couldn't stop the thoughts that remained within my mind.

I didn't ever feel sorry for myself, or consider myself a victim. I hurt for all those people still in the city. Until God used a dinner with some good friends to reach me.

Kevin and Lori had gone to seminary with us, but were from Oklahoma as well. They had moved out of New Orleans before Katrina, but knew many of us that were still there.

We met them at for lunch and Kevin immediately came over and hugged me as I asked, "How are you guys?"

"How are we? We're good, how are YOU?" he questioned. I suddenly realized, Hurricane Katrina wasn't just happening to the people stuck at the Super Dome, it was happening to us too.

God continued to break me open. I began to get sick. Morning sickness was normal for me, but this was more than morning sickness. I couldn't seem to deal with the the putrid feeling in my gut.

My mother worked as an medical assistant at a doctor's office. She asked the PA she worked for about me. God used that woman as a mouthpiece to heal me.

"Nothing is wrong with Amy," she told my mother, "except that she needs to turn the TV off and quit watching what's going on in New Orleans." She was right. When I watched the TV, I got sick. I would turn my back to the TV and do something else if I couldn't turn it off. I began to feel better, but the pain and hurt had grown roots deep in my life, my heart, my soul, and my spirit. I had no idea how deep. But it wasn't going to take long to find out.

Some news began to trickle in. We would be allowed to go back to our home when the flooding was gone, but not to live, only to get our things. But it had been nearly a month and the city was still flooded. I had nightmares about going back home. I dreamt I walked into Benjamin's room and found the windows broke and his room flooded. I had another dream where I opened my kitchen cabinets and found an alien, web-like substance in my cabinets, with little bugs stuck to the doors. I tried my hardest not to think about my Daddypa's picture, and just prayed that God would keep it safe.

As more time passed, it was obvious we had to make decisions for our family. The kinds of decisions a family makes one at a time and takes long periods of time to decide.

Where will we live? How will we finish school? What job will Jay get? Who is going to be my doctor? Where will we get clothes, furniture, dishes, blankets, towels, and coats?

Then there were the heartbreaking questions. Where are my friends? Are they okay? How can I get hold of them? Will we ever see them again?

The answers began to come one at the time, as did God's blessings. But the painful roots were growing deeper and deeper in our life, and we had no idea there was another storm we were about to face.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hanging on the Wall: Changed Forever Part II

I found myself in an uncomfortable place between two carseats in the back seat of the van. Jay's co-worker, Billy, rode shotgun as the two of them chatted. We were fortunate to be heading out ahead of all the traffic, but it was already starting to pile up a bit. We decided that the best way to head toward TX would be to go north and cross Lake Pontchartrain via the Causeway, the longest bridge in the world at almost 24 miles.

As we moved further into the lake, and further from our home, we felt a rush of relief. We had managed to get out of New Orleans without waiting in standstill traffic with other evacuees. But I celebrated too early, for I suddenly realized my most precious valuable was still hanging on my wall, the antique painting of my Daddypa.

It is an irreplaceable painting, that had been entrusted to me by my grandmother, uncles, mother, and brother. And I just left it hanging on the wall! I panicked and asked Jay to turn around and get it. He compassionately and tenderly reminded me that we couldn't turn back now, we would be stuck in traffic with two little boys for hours on end.

I called my friend who had chosen not to evacuate until the middle of the night, when all the traffic had dispersed. She had two little ones of her own and was just weeks away from giving birth to her third. I begged her to go get my picture and take it with her, wherever she went. But to my devastation, she politely turned me down. She herself had much to get done with what resources she had.

I hung up the phone feeling angry at her, at Jay, and mostly at myself.

I began to sob and plead. "Please, Jay, please! Go back and get my picture. Please?"  He pulled to the side of the bridge as Billy offered his help. He called a friend of his who worked security on the campus. His friend showed me mercy and went to my apartment, took the picture off the wall, wrapped it in some towels, and placed it carefully on top of our extra refrigerator in the laundry room, where there were no windows.

I was still devasted to leave my precious picture behind, but there was a bit of relief knowing that it would not be hanging on the wall any longer. And becuase we lived on the second floor of the apartment building, it was unlikely that water would reach to the top of the refrigerator.

We soon resumed our travels to Beaumont. We arrived late in the evening with at least 6 hours still to Tyler, so Billy's in-laws were polite enough to offer us a place to sleep that night. "You can sleep in the shabby chic room," Billy said. "It has two beds and a crib, so you'll have a bed for the whole family."

We woke the next morning to find the hurricane was still heading toward New Orleans, so we made the trip to Tyler and stayed with our friends there on Sunday night. Monday morning we woke early to watch the news. We watched as Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. We watched as the news proclaimed New Orleans had been fortunate and only suffered minimal damage. 

Since it appeared that we would be going home in a week, we celebrated the good fortune. We were relieved and made plans to make an unexpected, but pleasant visit home to Oklahoma. But we had no idea the tragedy that Tuesday would bring.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Pulling the Trigger: Changed Forever Part I

My sleepy eyes opened as I heard the voice of our governor on the TV. I was 8 weeks pregnant and still suffering from the super sleepies. So this particular Saturday morning I slipped out of bed with my two boys, turned on the cartoons, gave the boys some cereal, and found my napping spot on the couch while they enoyed their beloved cartoons. But the boys' cartoons had been rudely interrupted by a special announcement.

We had only been back in New Orleans for three weeks, after spending the summer serving in my home church in Oklahoma. We were just one week into classes at seminary, and my man had just started the job he fought so hard to gain. He spent his days happily building houses for Habitat for Humanity, and we were blessed to be making more money than his previous job in retail.

We were gearing up to finish our time in seminary and move into a full-time minsitry. The blessing of a much anticipated new baby had been confirmed just a week earlier, and we were loving everything about life. Our heart, home, job, friends, and our future was in our beloved New Orleans. Life was exceedingly good. Little did I know, we were in for more of a surprise than just a new baby.

As I struggled to get myself going, I craned my neck around to listen to what the governor, who was standing next to the New Orleans Mayor, had to say.

"We will pull the trigger at 2PM and ask for a voluntary evacuation." Governor Blanco said. She went on to explain that the hurricane headed for New Orleans was not one to try to ride out.

A hurricane? I had no idea! Supernatural energy entered my body as I began to prepare for evacuation, but first I needed to call my man and get him to come home.
He knew about the hurricane. His coworker had already sent his wife and son home to Beaumont the night before. The men planned on working until noon and then heading home to evacuate.

Everything began to speed up. I had to get a shower, pack our bags, gather our photos and valuable items, fill up the van with gas, get cash out of the bank, fix lunch... and pray that it would all get done in the short time I had.

I called my good friends in Tyler, TX and asked if we could come stay with them. We were so grateful to have friends who would welcome us into their home.

I made sandwiches, ran my errands, and loaded my precious pictures into our trunk. However, I did not know where the box was that we used to store the antique painting of my grandfather, so I left my most precious item of all hanging on the wall until my man came home.

Just as he said, he walked through the door at noon. We were racing against the clock to try to beat the traffic out of town, and every minute meant we might spend hours just on New Orleans roadways alone.

New Orleans is surrounded by water. There is the ocean on one side, the Mississippi River on another, and then Lake Ponchartrain on another side. This makes evacuation difficult, since there are only 3 ways out of the city, and only two if you need to go west.

Jay quickly took a shower, loaded the van, and informed me that his coworker would be going with us. We were going to drop him off in Beaumont with his wife.

As I walked out of my little, wonderful apartment that I called home, I paused for a moment to say goodbye. Somehow I knew this day would change my life forever, but I had no idea what kind of heartaches and blessings lay in my future.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Conquering the New Diet... Success!

My Stinkerbell, for the first time, in over a year, has no rash on her body! Yay!!
You don't know what a success this really is for me! I am still working toward getting her in with an allergist, so we can precisely pinpoint the foods that are not good for her, but in the meantime, I have managed to get it under control.

I have not managed to go completely gluten-free yet. Which tells me, gluten is not her problem. But I still think working in gluten free food is a good idea. So we will continue working on some gluten-free recipes.
My biggest accomplishment is going egg-free! There is a little thing called Egg Replacer, that I just love.
I made some GF, egg-free, dairy free brownies, from a mix the other day. They are quite yummy, gooey, and fudgy.

Now if I could just figure out a way to make sugar-free, GF, CF, egg-free cinnamon rolls.
(source of photo)