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Monday, August 29, 2016

It's a marathon.

You know what I want more than anything?  I want to wake up tomorrow and it all be over.  

I want my friends and their children living in their homes.  I want the massive piles of sheetrock, insulation, cabinets, flooring, appliances, furniture, toys, Christmas decorations, mattresses and books that literally line our streets and neighborhoods to be gone.  I want schools to be open and full of the laughter and chatter of kids.  I want businesses to be open with lots of customers in the check out lines.  I want the stench of rotten sewer and mold to dissipate.  I want the shelters empty.  I just want things to be normal again, look normal, smell normal.

But every single day I am reminded that it is not over.  As a matter of fact, it is very far from being over.  And this is our new normal for awhile.  The "experts" predicted last week that it would take us at least a year to recover from this unprecedented flood that swallowed our cities and neighborhoods and parishes whole and left behind a wake of complete devastation.  It wasn't a hurricane.  It wasn't even a named storm.  It was rain.  Rain.  Today I heard it described as an unprecedented rain event.  Well, let me just tell you.  That's putting it lightly!

It's one thing to see the pictures.  It's another thing to see the images on the television screen (although, if you don't live here, you probably aren't seeing anything!).  But it's a whole nother thing to touch it, breathe it and live it.  Those photos and images don't even come close!

The Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) estimates that as many as 160,000 homes have been flooded.  Thus far, more than 120,000 households have applied for federal disaster assistance.  The Baton Rouge Area Chamber (BRAC) currently predicts that almost 42% of homes in a nine parish (county) region were affected by the flood.  In Livingston Parish alone, 90% of the homes flooded.  Y'all.  90%.  As of tonight, there are still over 1,500 people living in shelters.

Denham Springs (in Livingston Parish) was perhaps one of the hardest hit cities.  That's where we used to live, where we bought our first house.  This picture right here was the sanctuary of First Baptist Church in Denham Springs after the waters receded.  The building took on 10 feet of water.  TEN FEET.  One of my friends commented that it was probably hard for me to see that beautiful grand piano turned up on its side.

You know what was hard for me to see?  My dear friend's piano was sitting out by the curb in front of her beautiful home, flanked by the soaking wet sheetrock and insulation and furniture and cabinets and other contents from her home.  That was hard.  Stuff can be replaced.  That's really not what's important here.  But it hurts.  It does.  I think about my two pianos.  My baby grand was purchased right after we built this house.  I'd been dreaming and saving for it for a long time.  My console piano was a gift from my Granddaddy to my MeMama and then it was given to me when I was eight years old so I could begin piano lessons.  While they are indeed "things and stuff" they mean so much more than that to me.

Seth and I spent the last two Saturdays mudding out a couple of houses.  "Mud out" is just a fancy little word (or words!) for cleaning up after a flood.  

Two Saturdays ago we spent about six hours at Mason's Sunday School teacher's parents' home.  This cute little couple is in their 80s, and they have been married over 60 years.  They built their home in Baton Rouge in 1972 and have lived there ever since.  That would be a whopping 42 years.  And do you know how many times they've flooded in that 42 years?  Once.  One time.  Their home had never flooded until August 13, 2016.  They had to be rescued by boat, and they took nothing with them save the clothes they were wearing.  They spent the next several hours in a shelter until their grandchildren were able to locate them.  They are now living with their daughter, and their son came down from Dallas the following day and has been here ever since cleaning out, cleaning up and overseeing the restoration of their home.  Their home took on about a foot and a half of water so we were able to salvage many of their personal belongings, including photo albums, DVDs, books, clothing and collectibles from their travels around the world.  That's over 60 years worth of memories.  60 years.  It was hard work, but it was exciting to be able to save so much.  On this particular day, we simply emptied the house of its contents.  As soon as we were finished, the contractor came in with his team of folks, and they began ripping up carpet, demolishing sheetrock and removing cabinets.

This past Saturday we had the opportunity to serve Hannah Kate's Sunday School teacher and her family.  She and her husband live together with their son, granddaughter and great-grandson.  They live in Holden, one of the hard hit areas in Livingston Parish.  Their house took on five and a half feet of water.  As soon as I talked to Mrs. Martha regarding the extent of the flooding in her home, I knew the task was daunting.  It was huge.  It was so much bigger than Seth and me.  Not only did Mrs. Martha's house flood, but her other son's house flooded.  Her daughter's house flooded.  Several of her grandchildren's houses flooded.  Usually they would help each other out.  But not this time.  Each one had to tend to their own homes.  And because of that, Mrs. Martha's house had barely been touched.  Some of the larger furniture pieces were out, and the walls were out for the most part in the living room.  But that was it.  And it had been sitting for almost two weeks.

It's quite hilarious, really.  I am THE LAST person who should be organizing anything like this or giving advice about this.  Because I know NOTHING about how to demo a house and clean up after a flood.  I mean, those shows on HGTV make you think you can rip out a wall or two . . . no problem! . . . over the course of a weekend.  But I KNOW BETTER.  Home Depot.  You can do it.  We can help.  Yeah, that's the biggest bunch of hogwash ever.  Because you know what happens?  I get all excited.  And then I get to work.  And then I end up having to HIRE SOMEBODY to come in and fix my mess.  But, thankfully, I know some people who know how to use a few tools and have the muscle to go along with it.  Within two days, we had a group of 21 folks from our little church family who committed to going last Saturday to mud out Mrs. Martha's home.  My pastor's wife and I sat down last Thursday night armed with a couple of internet articles and texts and Facebook posts from friends who had already mudded out their homes.  We made a list of supplies we thought we needed and a list of what needed to happen at Mrs. Martha's house.

Our goal was to empty the entire house of its contents AND demo everything . . . walls, cabinets, floors, sinks, tubs. And we wanted to do it all in one day.  I didn't know how long it would take, but I knew it didn't matter.  Because there were 21 folks who were going to do whatever it took as long as it took!  We got there at 8:30.  The sight was . . . really unbelievable.  No wonder the family was so overwhelmed!  That house took on five and a half feet of water.  FIVE AND A HALF FEET.  Y'all.  That's how tall I am.  That's how high the water was in that house.  The house took on water in the middle of the night.  Mrs. Martha was sleeping, and her son woke her up.  At that time, the water was waist deep outside so they could not evacuate by car.  The utility room on the back of the house is a bit lower than the rest of the house so it took on water first.  At the time, the water hadn't reached the living room yet.  It took Mrs. Martha's son about 20 minutes to get the boat so they could get out.  By the time he came back to get her, the water in the living room was ankle deep.  That took less than 20 minutes.  These waters were so fast, y'all!

Do you know what happens to your furniture and clothes and dishes and toiletry items and STUFF when your house floods with over five feet of water?!  It's not pretty.  At all.  A quick walkthrough revealed that we would be salvaging very, very little, if anything at all.  The freezer was full of rotten meat.  The refrigerator was full of spoiled dairy.  And the mold was growing.  (Don't worry.  Several of our guys work at plants and are also volunteer fire fighters.  So they set us up real good with masks and gloves.)

I can't even describe what happened after that.  I just know that Chandler and I found ourselves in one of the bedrooms throwing stuff out of the windows while Anna, Katherine and Kayla were waiting below and switching out wheelbarrows when they got full.  As soon as one room was finished, the guys were right behind us ripping out the paneling, sheetrock and insulation.  The hardwood floors had floated up in the water so that was a matter of just grabbing planks and throwing them out the windows or front door.  

Our ladies' Sunday School class set us up with all kinds of snacks and sandwiches and veggies and fruit.  We took a quick lunch break, but other than that we worked nonstop.  We worked hard!  Not only did we look like it, but we smelled like it, too!

I took some pictures this day.  I'd been so hesitant to do that before, but I did on this day. I was standing on top of the truck when I took this first picture.  This is the top of one of two debris piles.  I just hate to even call it debris though.  I mean, this is so much more than debris!  This is memories and parts of a home.  You can see mattresses, a refrigerator, a bathtub, parts of beds and cabinets, sheetrock, paneling, insulation.  You can't tell from this angle, but this pile was taller than I am.

Here's the back side of that pile in the first picture.  This is mostly pieces of walls, cabinets and flooring.

Here's a wider shot of that debris pile.  Again, this is only one pile!  There was also another one!


This is what a house is supposed to look like because you're building it.  Not because you're taking it down.  But at the end of the day, I stood in the living room.  I'm looking at three bedrooms and two bathrooms right here.  The kitchen and dining area is off to my right, and the utility room connects to the kitchen and goes out towards the back porch.   

Now the house has to dry out.  That's the next step.  It depends on who you listen to (because EVERYBODY has an opinion), but the drying out process takes anywhere from two weeks to three months.  Yes.  You wait.  And then you spray a mold remediation product on all your studs and floors (and don't even get me started on the great debate regarding whether or not clorox is an effective mold remediation treatment!) and let it dry.  Again.  And then you need to "test" it to be sure it's dried to a certain something or other before you begin putting sheetrock up or insulation.  At this point, it's like building a house all over again.  I think the whole, entire process takes three to six months depending on how much you do yourself, what you hire a contractor to do and the availability of materials.

These people right here.  Well.  Let's just say it was a Saturday best spent with some of the best people I know!  This right here is what it's all about.  Hands and feet.  I sure am thankful for those who tackled that freezer and refrigerator.  I didn't have the stomach for it.  There was a chipped tooth in the process, and two of the guys stopped by urgent care on the way home to get a tetanus shot.  And, apparently something hit my nose.  When I woke up Sunday morning, I noticed the bridge of my nose was sore, and it's still sore to touch today.  I don't remember anything hitting it, but I guess it did.  Or maybe it was because I had that mask fitted so tightly to my face!

Again, it was HARD work.  It was smelly work.  But it was beautiful work.  This was the body of Christ on one of its finest days.  And you know what?  That's everyday down here right now.  The faith community is out here IN FORCE, I tell you!  It brings tears to my eyes every morning when I drive up to Istrouma Baptist Church to drop the kids off for morning class at Sequitur and see the huge tents and trailers belonging to Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief, the large group of volunteers who have been up since 3:30AM preparing breakfast, lunch and supper for thousands of families displaced by the flood.  But it's not just Istrouma and Southern Baptists.  It's Samaritan's Purse and Mercy Chefs.  It's Healing Place and Bethany.  It would be IMPOSSIBLE for me to name every single church and para-church and non-profit organization here on the ground every single day bringing hope and help to those who are hurting so badly right now.  That's what it's all about.  That's what we, as Christ followers, are to be about.  We have THE ANSWER for a desperate, hurting, sinful, hopeless world.  Jesus.

After we mudded out Mrs. Martha's home, it was time for us to gather our tools and load our vehicles again with the wheelbarrows and shovels and crowbars and screwdrivers and all the stuff that literally stripped this house bare.  There was a wall of built-ins in the dining area.  Of course, all of those built-ins had to come out.  I walked back through for something and turned around and noticed these tools had been gathered and collected for everyone to come back through and claim what was theirs.  The hands that gripped these tools did fine work last Saturday.  FINE work.  And I am so humbled and so thankful to have been a small part of it.

The need is great.  Much has been done, but there is SO MUCH left to do!  But you know what?  God is GREATER!  His provision, His supply is abundant.  I see it everyday.  I hear it everyday from my friends who are hard at work restoring their own houses.  God is at work here.  My prayer continues to be that hearts will be changed and lives will be saved as a result of the Lord's work here through His Church.  This is the real deal.

My house didn't flood.  So I really and truly have no idea what it's like to personally experience that.  But I've learned a few lessons along the way.  A lot, actually.

Ellie does not like to pick up.  She strows stuff everywhere.  I know exactly where she is and exactly where she's been.  All I have to do is follow the trail.  And every night we go through the same routine.  It's a battle to get her to pick up and put up.  She likes to "gather" her stuff together in little "piles" and calls that "picking up."  It. drives. me. crazy.  She has three or four piles in her room.  I find piles behind the piano.  I find piles in the bathroom.  The other night I came home, and the first thing I saw was this "collection" on the floor in the kitchen.

I kept on walking, and here was another pile in the hallway to the foyer.

But you know what?  I know there are THOUSANDS of Mommas who'd love to have piles of their four year old's toys littering their clean, disinfected homes.  I mean, they'd dream of it!  So Ellie's piles aren't as frustrating anymore.  (But she still has to pick up every night!)

And what's wrong with this picture?  This is the upstairs bathroom.  The cabinet drawer facing is on top of the counter instead of on the front of the drawer.  "Someone" crawled up on it to see in the mirror.

And on this same day, "someone" also clogged the sick right there with lotion and paper.  This was two weeks ago when Seth was in Wyoming.  I took apart the pipe underneath the sink (be impressed!) and cleaned it out.  But I couldn't get the stopper out of the sink.  So I just left the whole thing unassembled until Seth got home.  There's a double sink in that bathroom so I told the kids to use only the other one.  When Seth got home, he removed the stopper and thought we had everything cleared out.  He put everything back together only to realize the sink was still stopping up.  So he disassembled the plumbing underneath again and realized there was a clog behind the wall before the pipe goes down.  He turned the water off at the sink until he could fix the rest of it.

The next day the kids were playing upstairs.  Mason yelled that the bathroom was flooding.  Trust me.  That was NOT something I wanted to hear.  I ran up there, and sure enough water was pouring out from the cabinet.  I opened the door.  I had thankfully left a bucket underneath the sink we'd been working on.  It was full of water and had spilled over into the bottom of the cabinet and then onto the floor.  Water was trickling out of the pipe in the wall.  I was confused at first because I knew the water was off right there.  I emptied the bucket and cleaned the floor.  I knew Seth would be home soon so I just checked the bucket every so often to empty it.  Come to find out, the pipe from the other sink in that bathroom was connected to this one, and that's where the water was coming from.  The pipe was so clogged that nothing could go down.  So Seth got in there with the shop vac and some liquid drano and finally pushed and pulled the clog out.

Frustrating?  I guess it depends on who you ask.  Because I know THOUSANDS of folks who wish they only had a clogged bathroom pipe (at the hands of a certain "someone") and a few drops of water instead of several feet of water.

This same week . . . you know, the one in which Seth is out of the state . . . I went to the back porch to water my flowers.  I walked by the grill and woke up the neighbors (not that we really have neighbors close by) when this guy jumped out from underneath!  I. nearly. DIED.  I do not do snakes.  AT ALL.  This is the second encounter I've had with a snake since we built this house six years ago (and wouldn't you know Seth was out of town the last time, too!).

So I ran back inside, and I'm taking pictures and texting Seth and looking out the window and trying to figure out WHAT TO DO.  I really wanted to shoot it, but I would've had to have done that through the window while standing inside.  That wasn't so much the problem.  I was mostly afraid of what would happen if the bullet ricocheted off the concrete.  Because I was sure it probably would.  It took me about 30 minutes, but I decided I was brave enough to go at it with a shovel.  So I grabbed a shovel and went back out there.  I got closer to that darn thing than I've ever been to a snake before.  But I chickened out.  Totally.  And then it saw my shadow and slithered back underneath the grill.  I was so mad!  I banged on the grill to try to get it to come out again because I was sure I had enough nerve now to whack its head off.  Well, this is how it came out.  I mean, the thing was MASSIVE.  Needless to say, I went inside and didn't go back out.  At 11:00PM, that snake was still underneath the grill with its head sticking out.  Seth told me to turn the light off and go to bed.  So I did.  The kids weren't allowed to go outside and play until Seth got home two days later and shook that grill inside out.  

As much as I HATE snakes, I'm certain there are THOUSANDS of folks who wouldn't mind a snake underneath their grill on the back porch.  Only, their grill was ruined by flood waters.

After we built the house, we landscaped part of it and decided to do the rest of it later.  Well, it's five years later.  And we finally started working on it in May.  But before we could do anything, Seth had to lay some pipe and drains to correct a drainage problem in front of our bedroom window.  He finished that project, but that's about it.  The only time he has to do stuff like this is Friday afternoons and Saturdays.  And we were busy this summer.  And then it started raining.  We've had a lot of rain.  And it's been too wet to get back out there.  We've been waiting on it to dry out, but that's not happening any time soon.  So not only do we have huge piles of what is now mud in front of the front porch and our bedroom, but all of the rain water that has splashed in this dirt has splashed it up onto the bricks.  So the house is filthy where our bedroom is.  I made the comment a few weeks ago that we at least needed to lay pine straw down if we aren't going to finish it right now so we can get the house cleaned off.  Because this was getting on my nerves.  But.  Now there are THOUSANDS of folks who wished this was the least of their home renovation problems!

It's all about perspective.  And that has changed a lot during these last three weeks in south Louisiana.

My "out of state" friends and family have been so faithful to pray and give and ask me how the recovery process is going.  I've really been overwhelmed with their generosity!  I wish it were a quick thing.  I really do.  But it's not.  It's long.  And it's hard.  This is not a sprint.  It's a marathon.  But I'm here to tell you that we are in it for the long haul.  I don't know yet where our next project is.  But we're ready!
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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Hands and Feet: Part 2

Wow.  I am overwhelmed.  OVERWHELMED.  For so many reasons.

The devastation here is so widespread, so catastrophic, so unbelievable.  The piles and piles of garbage and contents lining the streets are bigger than the houses!

The outpouring of love and support and encouragement from family and friends has been so refreshing.

The hands and feet coming together to love on one another, serve one another, help one another, lift, push, pull, tear, wash . . . man, there is so much GOOD going on here!

Yesterday the big kids and I got down and dirty at the Baton Rouge Dream Center.  This is Healing Place Church's inner-city location in one of the poorest and highest crime rated zip codes in Baton Rouge.  

The Dream Center provides all kinds of life skills and recovery classes for kids and adults, community outreach, block parties, homeless ministry, door-to-door outreach, clothes closet, cafe and Sunday worship services.  It is hands and feet every day.  And it was flooded.  So were all the little houses in the neighborhood.  So not only is the Dream Center reaching out to the community to provide water, hot meals and disaster relief, but they are also trying to demo and repair their own facility so they can continue to minister to those who are in desperate need of spiritual and physical nourishment.

Let me tell you.  Flood clean-up is dirty, nasty, smelly work.  In looking for a place where I could take the children to serve, it had to also be a safe place and something they could reasonably do.  We were welcomed at the Dream Center.  Because the children were with me, they sent us to the clothes closet.  It took on about three feet of water.  All of the clothing and shoes and blankets and linens and things that sat in that nasty water had to go.  They gave us masks and gloves and garbage bags, and we got to work.


I have to admit.  The task seems so easy, so simple.  But it was hard.  All of these clothes had been lovingly donated and were intended to bless someone who didn't have clothes or the means with which to purchase clothes.  And here we were essentially throwing these clothes away!

We bagged about sixty 55-gallon bags of sopping wet stinky clothing and shoes.  I was so proud of the kids!  Once they got used to the smell, they didn't stop.

And here's what the room looked like when we were finished.  We were able to salvage some things that did not get wet.  It's not a lot in comparison to what we got rid of, but I know that room will soon be full of clothing again.  The next step is to clean and disinfect the walls and floors.

This is the door going into the clothes closet.  You can see where the water was.

Once we were done with that, we went to the activity room.  This huge room hosts parties and youth group gatherings and all sorts of things.  By the time we got there, it had been cleaned out, and it was time to scrub the walls and clean the floor.  So the kids went to work scrubbing walls.



We had the opportunity to hand out bottles of water to those who knew the Dream Center was there and ready and willing to help them.  We had planned to stay and help distribute the 1,000 meals that were coming, but there was a delay in receiving the meals.  They were coming from a sister church who was preparing not only our 1,000 meals but also meals for several other locations.  Again, the need is so huge.  The meals were late, but they finally came; however, we had to leave before they got there.  But that's okay.  

It was such an eye-opening experience.  So humbling.  All of the stuff and furniture and stuff and stuff and stuff that was emptied out of the classrooms and sanctuary and offices and hauled to the road . . . as quickly as it was hauled to the road, folks were lining the street and picking through it.  They were loading down their vehicles with chairs and toys and things that were already molded and mildewed.  These folks . . . I mean, they really had nothing to begin with, nothing before this flood came and swept it all away.  One of the guys was hauling out a clothes dryer.  A lady came running up to him and said, "I want that, I want that!  Hang on, let me get my car."  He tried explaining to her that it stood in three feet of water and did not work.  That didn't matter to her.  She wanted that dryer.  She thought she could fix it.  It was better than what she had.  Which was nothing.  So he loaded it up for her.

On the way home, we got behind this trailer.  I followed him as far as I could.  He was going to Lafayette.  There are more trailers just like this in Baton Rouge now.  Thank you, Samaritan's Purse!

I was tired when we got home yesterday.  Real tired.  And then I thought about my friends who were ripping out carpet, pulling up hardwood floors, cutting out sheetrock and pulling insulation.  This was after they hauled every piece of furniture out of their houses.  And most of them have to remove cabinets, too.  They've been at it for several days now. They still aren't done.  They begin as soon as curfew is lifted and stay as long as they can before heading out to make it to their temporary digs before curfew begins.  Talk about tired.  I can't even begin to imagine the kind of tired they feel right now.  The kind of physical and mental and emotional tired they must feel.

When I visited my friends' houses the other day, when I saw the contents of their homes by the curb . . . their memories, parts of their houses, their children' toys, EVERYTHING . . . the piles bigger than their houses, even . . . and this is what it's like for every single house in entire neighborhoods . . . well, I didn't take any pictures.  Not one.  I couldn't.  It was so personal.  My house . . . well, I try to make it a home for my husband and my children, a place we can come to at the end of a long day and hide and get away from it all, a place that is special and personal.  And yet their special and personal place is just garbage by the road now.

I know.  It's stuff.  It's just stuff.  It can all be replaced, all fixed.  But it's still hard, y'all.

Here's another thing about my friends.  All of them.  Every last one of them.  They keep talking about how they want to hurry up and finish their own homes so they can help someone else!  And they do it, and they mean it.  And they are smiling and laughing the whole time.  That's such good stuff right there.

Some of you have told me you wished you were here, you wish you could do something.  Well, you can.  You can pray for us.  That's the best, most important thing that you and I and anyone can do!  Pray for God's provision.  Yes, the need is great.  But His provision is GREATER!  Pray for His strength and rest at the end of a long day for those doing the work, for those who are working hard to restore their homes.  Pray that He will be glorified in and through this and that a HARVEST of souls will be reaped for His kingdom!  

And, wherever you are, find your one.  Be hands and feet.  This is kingdom work, y'all . . . the BEST kind there is!  

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Hands and Feet

Peter.  He's one of my favorites.  He was one of the twelve apostles.  

We first meet him in Matthew 4:18-20.  Peter was a fisherman.  He was on the Sea of Galilee one day just doing his job when Jesus came along.  He called Peter to follow Him.  And Peter did.  He dropped his net immediately to go with Jesus.  He gave up his job, his livelihood   He didn't hesitate.  Not one second.  Peter was all in.

We see Peter again all throughout the Gospels.  In Matthew 14, he's the one who walks on water to Jesus.  The disciples had gotten into a boat, and Jesus went to pray.  Then the storm came.  When Jesus began walking to the boat, the disciples didn't recognize Him.  He spoke.  And Peter challenged Him.  "Lord, if it's You, I want to walk to you."  So he did.  Things were just fine until Peter took his eyes off of Jesus.  He got distracted by the storm.  And he was afraid.  He began to sink.  But, of course, Jesus reached out His hand and saved Peter.  We could say all kinds of things about Peter here, but you know what?  He got out of the boat.  In the middle of the storm.  Peter was all in.

I love Peter's confession of Christ in Matthew 16:13-16.  Jesus point blank asks, "Who do YOU say I am?"  You know, we all have to answer that question.  Peter responded, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."  Peter was all in.

When Jesus went up on the mountain in Matthew 17, he took three of his disciples with him.  Peter was one of those.  And, of course, he was the first to speak up.  God even told him to be quiet (verse 5).  Peter was kinda like that.  Slow to listen and quick to speak.  But Peter was all in.

In Matthew 26, the arrest of Jesus was drawing nigh.  He went to pray.  He took three of His disciples with him.  One of the three?  Yep.  Peter.  But Peter fell asleep.  Jesus asked them to stay awake and pray.  He asked them more than once.  And, more than once, they fell asleep.  Even Peter.

But when the soldiers arrived later in that same chapter to arrest Jesus, Peter was all in.  So much so that he drew his sword and cut off one of the officer's ear (John 18:10)!  Jesus quickly admonished Peter and healed the man's ear.

And then, shortly thereafter, we see the account at the end of Matthew 26 when Peter denied Jesus.  Said he didn't know Him.  Not once.  Not twice.  But three times.  Three.  I guess you could say, again, that Peter was all in.  And then, Peter weeps.  Bitterly (verse 75).

But that's not the end of Peter's story.  After Jesus' death, burial and resurrection, He appears again to many of his disciples and followers.  Jesus had a little conversation with Peter in John 21:15-23.  Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him.  Not once.  Not twice.  But three times.  Do you see that?  Three times!  What's my point?  Well, how many times did Peter deny Jesus?  Three.  Anyway, of course Peter affirmed his love for His Lord all three times.    Jesus told him to "feed His lambs," "tend His sheep" and "feed His sheep."  In other words, take care of folks.  Love on folks.  If you see a need, do what you can to meet the need.  Be the hands and feet of Jesus.  That's what it's all about.

If I could use only one word to describe Peter, it'd be passionate.  And if you don't believe me yet, take a look at his sermon in Acts 2 and again in Acts 4.  So where am I going with all this?  Peter may have been passionate in his denial of Christ.  But he was also passionate in his service for His Lord.  That's what Jesus told him to be about anyway.

Hands and feet.  

In case you haven't heard (because, as hard as it is to believe, we're now understanding that many of you haven't heard), Louisiana has experienced catastrophic and record breaking flooding during the past five days.  There was no hurricane or named storm.  And we're aren't talking about New Orleans or the Lower 9th Ward.  We're talking Baton Rouge.  We're talking Denham Springs and Baker and Central and numerous other towns in southeast Louisiana.  These aren't the places you usually associate with a flood.  I'm a numbers and facts gal.  So here are some numbers and facts for you:

The rain gauge at my neighbor's house recorded 23.5 inches in less than 48 hours.

More than 30,000 people have been rescued.  You need to google the Cajun Navy.  Just take my word for it.  Anybody and everybody with a pirogue (that would be the equivalent of a john boat with a motor where I'm from) was launching off the side of the interstate (yes, the interstate!) to travel the waters to rescue folks.

At one point, there were 11,000 people in shelters.

It's estimated that 70% of the homes in Livingston Parish flooded.  And that's just one parish!  There are currently 20 parishes included in the federal disaster declaration.

Eleven lives have been lost.

Many of our schools are closed "until further notice."  I can't put a number to that one because there isn't one.  No one knows how long it's going to take to clean up and repair flooded schools.

We are safe, and we are dry.  But many, many of my friends are not.  I have a lot of friends in Denham Springs and Central, two of the hardest hit areas.  Most all of them live in homes that have NEVER flooded before.  Never.

Seth and I used to live in Denham Springs.  We bought our very first home there in January 2003.  We were so proud of our little house there.  We did all of the landscaping ourselves.  Seth was meticulous with the yard.  We brought Mason home there.  We did not have flood insurance on that house because we were not in a flood zone.  Since Katrina, most all of the flood zone maps have been changed.  So I'm not sure if it's now considered a flood zone or not.  When this first happened, Seth and I were sure our house didn't flood.  But seeing the aerial photos now, we aren't so sure.  We haven't been able to get any information regarding our subdivision, but we think it's very possible our house took on water.

This photo shows the Range Avenue exit off I-12 at Denham Springs.  That's our exit.  The interstate runs halfway across this picture.  As you can see, everything except tree tops and roof tops are covered in muddy water.  Bass Pro Shop, Sam's Club, Chic-fil-A, Longhorn, Chili's, Shell and Chevron Stations, Ford dealership.  The top portion of the picture is a subdivision (not ours) that was completely flooded.

Seth's office is also located in Denham Springs.  He went to work Friday morning.  He called me mid-morning and said he couldn't get out.  He didn't realize how quickly the waters were going to rise.  He didn't realize that places that had never flooded were about to be inundated.  He told me to be prepared because he might have to start swimming, and I might have to come get him.  He wasn't joking.  I waited.  I prayed.  And I was ready to call 911 to place him in the que for rescue.  I finally heard from him again a couple of hours later.  The Lord sent a utility truck that was able to guide him through the water and out.  He took this picture as he was driving.  

I finally began making a list of my friends whose homes flooded.  I'm writing them all down so I can keep up with them, so there's not one at all that I forget to pray over.  The list is long.  The stories are heart-wrenching.  

There's the 6:00AM phone call that woke my sweet friend up . . . her vehicles were already submerged, water was rushing into her home and they had about five minutes to get out.

There's the friend and her husband who carried their 4-year old and 2-year old through knee deep water and away from their flooding home.

There's the friend who had to leave so quickly that everything was left behind . . . clothes, electronic devices, pictures, important documents.  Needless to say, the five feet of water that entered her house took it all.

There's the friend who had to evacuate to her son's house.  But so did her daughter because her house flooded, too.

I'll just stop right there.  But I could keep on going.  So now that the waters have receded and folks are getting back to their homes (although some still can't because there's still too much water, and it's only accessible by boat), the hard work begins.  And it's so overwhelming!  Where do you even begin?!  You have to empty the contents.  Then you have to rip out floors and walls and insulation.  Everything.  Maybe you had flood insurance, and maybe you didn't.  Again, this has never happened like this before!  But it's not just you.  It's all your neighbors, too.  And your parents.  And your friends.  And you family.  It's entire towns and neighborhoods and subdivisions.  Even being here, living through it, seeing it . . . it's hard to believe and nearly impossible to describe.

In times like these, I just keep asking myself the same question over and over again.  What can I do?  The task seems . . . insurmountable!  Impossible!  But I have to DO something.  What can I do?  With the sheer volume of devastation and families and homes affected, I feel like any contribution make is so insignificant.  But when I go back to what Jesus told Peter . . . hands and feet . . . that's the answer.  That's what it's all about.  I looked at my list of names.  So long.  But I was aware of two specific requests from two of my friends.  So that's what I did.

The kids and I drove out to Central today and picked up laundry from two of my friends.  Yes, laundry.  I read an article on the internet on how to clean and disinfect clothing after a flood.  Did you know they need to be washed in a disinfectant, like pinesol, first?  Well, I didn't either.  As we were driving, it was hard.  The piles of debris . . . furniture, mattresses, flooring, sheetrock, insulation, Christmas decorations . . . at the end of each driveway were nearly bigger than the houses themselves.  There were two houses in particular where the homeowners had just thrown everything out the front door and were pushing it across their yard and to the road with a tractor.

My friends' houses were covered in sludge.  That's the best word I can use to describe it.  Washers, dryers and refrigerators were completely turned over.  Furniture was just wherever it landed after the water swept it all over the room.  It's stuff.  It's just stuff.  And all of my friends and their children and their families are safe.  They are all smiling.  But I will not lie.  This is hard.  And I didn't flood!

Some of the laundry was in garbage bags, some in big rubbermaid tubs.  My friend's brother loaded the tubs into the back of my truck so I never even lifted them until I got home.  I was shocked at how heavy they were.  I couldn't believe how much clothing must've been packed in them.  I could barely carry them by myself (of course, it's not like I'm known for upper body strength anyway!).  Once I got them inside and to the laundry room, I opened them up.  And that's when I realized why they were so heavy.  The clothes were soaking wet.  I mean, what did I expect?  When you get five feet of water in your house, the clothes in your drawers and even some of the clothes in your closet are going to get wet.  Wet with muddy, stinky, brown water.

I've never been so excited about doing laundry in my whole entire life!  It seems so small, so insignificant.  But when I saw my friends today and they handed over their bedding and sheets and children's clothes and shoes, I knew it wasn't at all insignificant to them.  And I am so honored that they put the need out there and that they willingly gave me their laundry today.
     
I'm not sharing this with you to brag about washing clothes for someone whose house flooded.  Not at all.  I'm sharing this with you to encourage you.  Maybe you, like me, feel overwhelmed, too.  You want to help, to DO something, but you don't know where to begin.  You "offering" seems so small, so meager.  You feel like you can't possibly make a difference.  You can!  Yes, you can!

Just find one person.  One.  That's it.  Maybe you can wash their clothes.  Maybe you can take them a meal.  I have a friend who is preparing casseroles for her friends who flooded so they can stick them in the freezer and then pull them out at the end of a long day of renovations.  Even if you don't personally know anyone affected by this, there are still ways you can serve!  Maybe you can get on social media and share about opportunities for serving others and help mobilize other volunteers just like you and me.  Maybe you can even go and serve at one of the shelters or churches.  Maybe you can provide coloring books or toiletry items for a family.  It really doesn't take much to be hands and feet.  It just takes heart.  And we've got a whole lot of that!

As devastating as this is, we have been given such an incredible opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to minister to folks and to meet needs, to remind people that there is HOPE!  Yes, there is, because of Jesus!  That's what I love about this.  I love seeing the church come together, the body of Christ coming together.  That's what I love because that's what I'm convinced we're supposed to be and what I know is going to make a difference.

If you want to serve but don't know where to go, here are a few (and I mean only a FEW, as there are so many other churches and organizations involved in recovery and restoration, too) ideas (and if you aren't local to Louisiana but still want to "do something," you can make financial donations to any of these churches or organizations as well):

Istrouma Baptist Church

Healing Place Church

Bethany Church

Samaritan's Purse

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief

Maybe you don't live in Louisiana, and you don't have flooded out homes and people in your backyard.  Well, you know somebody . . . at least one person . . . who needs something . . . maybe a meal or their grass cut or their toilets cleaned or a ride to the store or even an encouraging card in the mail.  Yep, as simple as that.  

Hands and feet.  Let's do this.  Because if we want to see lives changed and hearts mended and hurts healed, we have to be the hands and feet.  We have to be all in.  We have to be passionate.  So, find your one.  Because it only takes one to make all the difference in the world!

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

First Days

And here we are.  Another year of the first day of school.

Hannah Kate's first day of 3rd grade was yesterday.  She is so excited to be a part of Sequitur this year.  She goes to "school" on Monday and Wednesday mornings.  One of the things we've had the most fun with is her little uniform.  Her PawPaw saw her navy blue and white micro-check skort laying over the chair when he came over last weekend, and he told her on Sunday he was disappointed that she didn't wear it to church.  We explained that it was her school uniform.  Her daddy said it was a little old fashioned.  He also made fun of her Keds.  I used to wear Keds to school.  And I loved them.  He told me I should get a pair for myself.  He can be so funny sometimes.  Really though.  It doesn't get much more precious than this!      

I walked in with her yesterday to help her find her class and also to meet her teacher.  We were early, but Hannah Kate didn't want to wait.  She was so ready to go.  I wish I would've taken my phone in with me to get a picture of Hannah Kate with her teacher, but I didn't.  Miss Hager is the most darling thing ever!  When I saw her again last night at parent orientation, she was so sweet as she told me what she'd learned about Hannah Kate so far.  And you know what?  She got it right.  She gets my girl.

Last year I made sure that our school day officially began at 9:00 each morning.  That worked well and gave everyone time to really wake up and eat breakfast and make beds and even play a little bit.  We got home around 8:00 this morning after dropping Mason off at Sequitur.  By 8:20, Hannah Kate couldn't stand it any longer.  She asked if she could go ahead and do her assignments.  Well, of course you can!  She was bouncing off the walls tonight at bedtime because she was so excited to go back tomorrow.  I think she wishes she went to Sequitur everyday!

And today was Mason's first day of 6th grade.  Sixth grade.  Let that sink in a minute.  

But wait.  Middle school.  Y'all.  My kid, my son (my FAVORITE son, no less!), my Mason IS IN MIDDLE SCHOOL.  

Mason was pretty excited to go back to school today, too.  He was mostly ready to see his buddies.  He has the same teacher as last year, and we are so thankful for that.  Mrs. Carpenter really gets him, too, and she has been a huge blessing to our family.  When I picked him up afterwards, I didn't even get the question out of my mouth before he answered with a resounding, "Awesome!"  Mason has NEVER described school as awesome before, not even last year.  Last year we moved up to "good."  And now we're at "awesome."  He said he had the most fun day.  When I asked him what was fun about it, he said they walked a little through their history book, and it looked so "fun and interesting."  Huh?  If I didn't know any better, I'd think he was sick.  But he's not.  He's genuinely excited about school this year!

I can't talk about the first day of the school year without telling you about our littlest one either.  She was excited about "school" last year, but that excitement quickly waned.  By the time Christmas break rolled around, she was pretty much done.  She completely and totally lost all interest in her workbooks, numbers and letters.  Her coloring was atrocious.  So we quit.  She was three.

Well, now she's four, and I guess that made all the difference in the world.  Ever since our school books arrived last month for the older two, she's been begging to get her workbooks back out.  She follows me around the house with them in her hand.  So Monday morning we sat down together.  I have to say I was really impressed.  I wasn't expecting much.  But she nearly finished an entire workbook!  She grew impatient with the coloring parts of it (but at least she stayed in the lines and colored like a normal person!) and only wanted to do the written work.  

Y'all, this girl is a MESS.  She was cracking me up.  I don't know why or where this even came from, but she sat there nearly the whole time doing the duck face while she worked!  

When she realized I was taking her picture, she started giggling, but she was trying to hold it in.

And then she got serious.

She was also hot-to-trot to use her new scissors (thank you, Cindy!) and glue.

I guess this year is technically pre-k for Ellie.  I'd decided not to do a formal pre-k curriculum with her but to instead finish working through the little books I'd purchased last year, along with some additional phonics and numbers practice.  But now I'm rethinking that decision.  I know it's only day two, but if she stays this motivated, we just might do it.

I have never been excited about the beginning of a new school year.  Last year was the closest I got, but I was also so nervous because it was our first year homeschooling, and I just had no idea what to expect.  But this year I have been genuinely excited.  Mason and Hannah Kate are more excited than I have ever seen them about a school year before.  It's been a LONG time coming.  But it feels good.  Something tells me this one will be the best yet!

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Gather

The conversation began at least a year ago, probably more.  Seth's dad wanted to make us a new table for the breakfast area.  "But you have to tell me what you want."  He kept reminding me over and over.  I knew what I wanted.  But I kept putting it off.  This spring he gave me no choice.  I told him I wanted old and rustic and farmhouse.  Not long after that, he said he'd found the perfect old sinker cypress boards for our table.  What had been for a long time a conversation became our new table.

Picking out the boards was quite a process.  I had to pick the board, decide which side I wanted and then put them in the order I wanted.  At this point, the boards had already been planed.  But this is what we started with.  I wanted as many knots and nail holes as we had available.

After he got the top of the table put together, I had to pick out the wood for the legs.  And then I had to pick out which way I wanted each leg to face and which leg where.

The whole process of building and crafting and sawing and nailing is quite intriguing to me, especially when it's something that comes from where I am, something that comes from who my husband and children are.  It's a table.  But it's not just a table.  Seth said it best the other night.  He said it's the kind of table that, when you sit down, you aren't in a hurry to get up.  You want to stay awhile.  And that's exactly it.

Sometime last year or year before last I read Bread and Wine.  Really, the only reason I purchased the book was for the recipes and one recipe in particular.  I didn't know much about it except that it was a memoir.  And each chapter ended with a recipe.  Of all the books I've read during the past few years, this is the one I think about the most.  This is the one that's had the most profound impact on my life.

I love memoirs.  I'm just fascinated by people's stories.  I love to people watch at the mall and can't help but wonder who they are, where they came from.  The subtitle reads "a love letter to life around the table."  And that's really the best way to describe this book.  It's about gathering.  Gathering around the table.  And eating.  And what happens when we gather and eat, what happens when we share life and love and hearts and stories.  It just makes you want to swing your front door wide open and invite everybody inside for fellowship and laughter and fun.  You might even shed a few tears, too.  As a matter of fact, that's guaranteed.  It's about allowing God to work in you and through you to minister to family and friends and those who aren't yet family and friends.  Food.  Family. Faith.  Yes.  Profound.

But in order to gather around the table, you need chairs.  And, can I tell you?  That's the one thing that held me back all those months when my father-in-law kept saying, "Now tell me what you want."  Because I knew that as soon as I told him, he'd do it.  And then I'd have this table.  And no chairs.

We have heart of pine floors throughout the whole house.  The kitchen cabinets are stained a deep cherry.  And now we have a cypress table.  I wanted something to "break up" the wood tones, something to lighten it up a bit, something with texture and soft and cozy.

And, because Pinterest is the BFF to those of us who are creatively and home interior decor challenged (like myself!), that's where I went.  I pinned lots of ideas.  What I really wanted just isn't practical at this point in my life (because there's a four year old in the house . . . and a tween-agery boy).  So I decided we could do something else in the interim and eventually works towards "really want."  After all the pinning (and pining), this was my inspiration for the chairs.

Seth said, "Well, you have to go antiquing."  And everybody everywhere just started laughing.  Because Julie antiquing is just about like Julie yard sale-ing.  No, I am not sick. No, I do not have fever.  I had a yard sale AND went antiquing IN THE SAME YEAR!  Let's just say I have a new found respect for antiquing.  Now.  There's antiquing.  And there's ANTIQUING.  In other words, there are antiques.  There are heirlooms.  And there's junk.  I've seen a lot of all!  Mostly the latter.  

I have inherited several heirlooms over the years, like my great-grandmother's tea cart and my grandfather's old secretary, which used to belong to his daddy before him, and my grandmother's wing back chairs and tea set.  My new table now fits into this category, too.  So last Saturday Seth and I spent the day combing through antiques stores, warehouses and barns for chairs for our table.  I had the best time!  This is what we came home with:  

My absolute favorite chair is the second one from the right, the little French chair.  I sure wish I knew where it came from and what kinds of stories it could tell.  The seat needs to be recovered, but it's my favorite.  I also love the first chair on the right, the Windsor backed chair.  It's the very first one we found and purchased.  We wanted ten chairs.  We came home with seven.  Seth said we absolutely had to come home with at least seven chairs so we could have his parents over to share a meal at our table.  I have to admit . . . I'm so excited that I have an excuse to go antiquing again!

There was lots of conversation about which chair would go where.  And I'm sure they'll be moved around some more.  We still haven't decided whose seat is whose, and there has been, at times, very lively conversation about who is going to sit where (which is why I decided against bench seating on one side because I KNEW they'd complain about not having a back . . . and now they argue over which seat they're going to sit in!).

And something else.  Cindy sent us this arrangement when we moved to Mississippi.  We'd just bought a new table at the time.  We didn't have a formal dining room so I told her I wanted something with a little height, something rustic and not too formal.  It's been on the center of our table ever since.  But I saw a picture (thank you, Pinterest) that reminded me of something from years ago.  I'm going to be moving this arrangement somewhere else because I'm getting an old bread bowl that came from Pa's side of the family.  Mama has had it for years, and it's been living in her attic for a long time.  But not anymore.  It's going to be on my table.

These pictures just don't even convey the beauty of this table.  We are constantly talking about this table.  You don't even walk by this table without stopping.  And talking.  And thinking.  And gathering.

It couldn't be more perfect.  Really.  It's the perfect gathering place.  And that's what I want to do.  I want this table to be full of faces and stories and food and memories and laughter.  I want our home to be open to our friends and family.  I haven't done enough of that.  Gathering.  But that's going to change, and the Lord has already opened the door for gathering and inviting.

When he finished the table, my father-in-law called me out to his shop.  He pointed out every perfect imperfection, he reiterated all of the things he could change or make better.  But I found only one thing wrong with it.  I asked him to engrave it for us.

This table and God's timing . . . that it would be this exact summer, this exact time . . . it's quite interesting.  There have been a lot of hard times, valleys, tears, difficult relationships, burdens.  There have been days when the sadness was so thick it was nearly suffocating, too heavy.  There have been so many questions with no real answers.  There has been loss, a lot of loss.  But all of it has brought about a conversation and a mending of sorts that could only be done through suffering and sadness and sickness.  People have gathered.  And cried.  And prayed.  And loved on each other.  And now, here we have this new table for gathering.     

On the day these boards were originally planed, by father-in-law had a mild heart attack.  A heart cath showed four significant blockages that had been there awhile but hadn't been seen before.  So this Tuesday my father-in-law will have open heart surgery, bypass surgery.  I ask you to pray for him, for the surgeon, for my mother-in-law and my husband and his brothers, my children and Avery and Beau and Abbie.  I ask you to pray for health and healing.  Because there's more gathering to be done.

"Save us, Lord our God, and gather us from the nations, that we may give thanks to Your holy name and glory in Your praise."  ~Psalm 106:47