Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Prayers for Alabama, Missouri and Oklahoma

Dear God,

I don't know anyone in Missouri but my friends and family in Alabama and Oklahoma as well as the strangers in Missouri need comfort, shelter, safety, peace and help. They are my neighbors, my friends, my family.

Why God, are there so many of these monster tornadoes? Is this what the end will be like? You said no one knows when the end will be here, although there are nutjobs that like to try to calculate Your time table.

You taught us all that You don't operate on a human agenda, but You are baffling me right now.

I don't know what to say or what to do. How do I comfort my family and friends who are being devastated by these monsters?

I pray for their safety. I pray that enough volunteers can be deployed to help. I pray for quick healing, quick recovery, quick restoration.

Casting Crowns sing "Praise You in This Storm." May it become an anthem for all of Your children, Your chosen, Your elect. May it be a comfort.

In Jesus' Name,
Amen

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Voices in My Head

The voices in my head are not the ones in my heart.
The voices in my head say I'm not pretty, I'm not smart.
The voices in my head say I'm not lovable, I'm not wanted.
The voices in my head say they hate me, they don't care.

I don't want to believe the voices in my head.
I want to believe the voices in my heart.
But I can't seem to synchronize those voices in my head with the ones in my heart.

I messed up again. The voices in my head say I failed.
They say that I'll never be forgiven, I'll always be shut out.
They say I'm a mistake, unworthy of anyone's love and friendship.
They hurt me deep inside, turn me upside down.
They laugh at me, mock me, and beat me senseless.

Those voices in my head scream louder than the ones in my heart.
Where's the love, the grace, the truth, the cure for those voices in my head?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Developing a Thankful Heart Whilst in the Midst of Chaos and Confusion

This past Wednesday, volunteers from Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church went to serve a small community in the Ensley area of Birmingham. This area was one of the hard hit areas from the storms and tornadoes of April 27, 2011. Crews went earlier in the day to conduct debris removal and clean up with a later team to feed the community via Westmont Baptist Church. Personally, I was amazed by the turnout of OMPC volunteers as compared with the prior week when we served Moody. It seemed to have doubled, if not tripled!


Let me be honest for a moment though. This is one location in which having print directions and GPS map function on an iPhone did no good. The directions gave names of roads, many of which no signs were present or signs were knocked down by the tornado. The map feature said to turn in a different direction. Following what I instinctively wanted to follow and not being able to get the two to coordinate, I ended up on a very narrow road made all the more narrow by the devastation from those storms. It was bad. Finally after passing the road I needed probably for the third time, I was able to get on the correct road only then to find that mileage does not really mean much on directions either. That area will definitely try one's patience!


So, I've been feeling a little useless and helpless as I can't go out with the debris removal teams and we do tend to have more hands than needed (which is an excellent thing) with the other teams. So I'm now sort of the unofficial photographer. Unofficial in that I am not a professional, I just love taking pictures of, well, everything, so I can capture a lot and stay out of the way and still feel like I'm helping somehow. You know you see a lot from behind the camera. I would say from behind the lens except that most camera phones don't actually have lenses, now do they? I know I certainly do. 


I see pain. These people, these neighbors, these friends, these families, these brothers and sisters, they have real pain right now. So many of them have lost everything. Literally everything. Last year, I felt like I had lost a lot when I was told that I have an immune deficiency that is practically unheard of and has no cure and no treatment. And don't get me wrong, I did lose a lot with that diagnosis, but these people have lost EVERYTHING. I still have a lot to be thankful for. I don't always see it and I don't always feel it, but I do. I have my house. I have my cat and my dog. I have my clothes. I have my collectibles. I have my car. I have my phone. I have my family. I have my friends. I have my church. I have people who love and care for me even when I don't understand their quirks in showing that love and care. But some of these people lost all of that when those storms ripped through. 


I heard on the news a girl from Cullman who said that her church was leveled. But she said all they lost was the church building. She still has her church, the people that go there. In spite of the fact that so many of these people have literally lost so much, I keep hearing the sounds of appreciation and joy and thankfulness. It's overwhelming. If they can be so thankful in the midst of such loss, why is it so hard for me when I still have so much?


It seems as though in the midst of the chaos and confusion, despite the chaos and confusion, there are people who have seen ways to still be thankful. And apparently, I am starting to develop that thankful heart myself as a result. 


Maybe it's true what the group Alabama sings, "...there are angels among us," and maybe those angels are what help us to be thankful in the midst of chaos and confusion.


Another thing I am thankful for right now is that my church has been so responsive to the needs as a result of this disaster in Alabama and has been offering organized ways for people to get involved in the relief efforts through so many different avenues. Because in some ways, doing exactly what we are currently doing, is allowing each and every person to have the opportunity to be a missionary. There are few things that even the youngest and the oldest can't do right now.


To see some of the pictures from this week: http://photo2.walgreens.com/walgreens/thumbnailshare/AlbumID=12517722006/a=5001910006_5001910006/otsc=SHR/otsi=SALBlink/COBRAND_NAME=walgreens/ or http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10100199558026185.2592095.27434363&l=ecc7571383


http://www.oakmountainchurch.org/tornado-disaster-relief has a lot of the ways people can get involved. 


For Sunday, the Third Day tornado benefit concert I posted about Monday could still use as many volunteers as they can get. It'll be a great way to have fun listening to some great groups and help at the same time. And to exercise a thankful heart!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Great Opportunity Coming for Tornado Relief

Third Day is the main group behind a tornado relief benefit concert coming to Birmingham Sunday, May 15, 2011 at the BJCC.

http://makeyourmovebenefit.com/#

Tenth Avenue North and Rush of Fools are also lined up as well as others.

The cost is ten dollars at the door with all proceeds going to disaster relief efforts.

Also, consider volunteering. They stated in an e-mail to volunteers that they would rather have too many volunteers than not enough. And one advantage about volunteering is that volunteers can see the concerts for FREE. As they will be accepting donations, volunteers can make a donation.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Looking Out From Behind the Camera and a Great Loss of Words

I got my photos from Wednesday, May 4, 2011 printed. Let's just say, many are sobering. If you haven't seen them, but would like to I have two ways that you can do so now. The first is via my public Facebook album: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10100195046262795.2589976.27434363&l=4b81b9563e. The second is through: http://photo2.walgreens.com/walgreens/thumbnailshare/AlbumID=12417214006/a=5001910006_5001910006/otsc=SHR/otsi=SALBlink/COBRAND_NAME=walgreens/ which will let you order print copies of any that you might like.


As I looked through the photos, I became more aware of the monster that ripped through Alabama that fateful day, April 27, 2011. It was a monster beyond compare. A monster that even Hollywood, with all its doodads and gizmowhooties cannot reproduce.


So now this is my heart's cry.


I know not what to say. 
I know not what to do. 
All I think is why'd it happen to you?
I know not how to respond. 
I know not what's best for you. 
All I ask is why you and not me, too?
I wish I knew the words. 
I wish I knew the deeds. 
I wish I knew indeed how best to reach to you.
My heart aches inside as I wonder why. 
My heart yields a loud screaming cry.
Why God why?
What lesson is there in this moment?
What lesson are we to learn?
How?
How and why?
Hear the cry.
Hear the roar.
Hear the scream.
Reach out and comfort.
Comfort those in need.
Heal us.
Heal us all.
That's all I know to say.
That's all I know to do.





Friday, May 6, 2011

Kids, Dogs, Service, Sorting, Getting Lost, Almost Destroying a Car, Steven Curtis Chapman, Storms, Accidental Fasting, and Chaos - How It All Ties in to Theology, Missions, and Disaster Relief

"Kids, Dogs, Service, Sorting, Getting Lost, Almost Destroying a Car, Steven Curtis Chapman, Storms, Accidental Fasting, and Chaos - How It All Ties in to Theology, Missions, and Disaster Relief" has got to be my longest blog post title ever. I'm not sure, but it may be the longest title of anything ever. If you find anything in the record books longer than this title, let me know.

Chaos. The last two weeks. My AD/HD and my brain are going crazy. Next week is going to be a week that I'll HAVE to consistently take my Vyvanse regardless of how I feel. I need some sleep. By the end of next week if I have not been able to quiet my overactive brain, I'll have to call my prescribing doctor and see about a non-addictive sleeping medicine. I hate sleeping medications, but my brain won't SHUT UP! Oh, and let's see. I've got about four songs running through my head all at once that all encourage me and have served as inspiration through these past two weeks, particularly this past week and a half since April 27, 2011. Thank you TobyMac, Casting Crowns and Steven Curtis Chapman.

Kids. The first thought that came in my head when I awoke April 28, 2011 was all those children just lost everything. They don't even have a stuffed animal to hold right now. I look at my bed. I see the one my mother swears I stole from her when I just a little baby. I see one from one of my two trips to New York City to the Disney Store. I see my first bear from Build-a-Bear. I see a black panther I had gotten my first year at the University of Montevallo when I visited Toys R Us in Hoover that I called Salem after the black cat in Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. But those kids lost everything. So I contacted Build-a-Bear. Last I heard from them is that they were working with the Red Cross, but they thanked me for thinking of them and how they might be able to help. I just found a twin to one of the little plushes I have that I can donate. I have another twin around somewhere that I would like to find and donate as well. Already donated four stuffed toys. Two of them were these pillow pet type of things that can serve dual function.

Dogs. The second thought in my head was pets. What happened to all the animals? I remember one of the reasons some people didn't evacuate for Katrina was that they didn't want to leave their family pet behind. Some of the pets have ended up in foster homes until their owners can be relocated out of shelters. Some of the animals found range from newborn puppies and kittens to older animals. A few, sadly, have died. Some have been reunited with their families. And the saddest thing to me is the fact that those litters have possibly lost their own mother cats and dogs. Too young to survive on their own, and possibly too young to survive. I remember one of my first dogs was a rescue from a flood in Oklahoma. The poor thing never could get over storms after that. He was seen floating atop a dog house. He died several years later after I had to leave him behind during the move to Alabama. He had heartworms. I only saw him once between the move and his passing. He barely remembered me.

Service. Let's just say that anything that anyone does toward the disaster relief, be it clean up or sorting clothes or even just donating, is service.

Sorting. Sorting clothes. My first time was sorting at the Christian Service Mission in Birmingham. I was hand sanitizing left and right after that one. Someone tried donating dirty underwear. Not just used, but really badly stained. EW!! I am fine with gently used shoes even though I would never buy shoes from a thrift store. But all I could think is come on people. You would not debase yourself to buy used underclothes or socks or bathing suit bottoms from a thrift store or yard sale, let's not subject our victims to them either! My second sorting job was at the Salvation Army Disaster Relief Warehouse. Sort of in between Birmingham and Bessemer. It was better except for the bags of strongly smelling of cigarette trigger an asthma attack clothing. Ugh. And one of the people who ended up helping at my table found an adult clown costume. All we could do was laugh. It was a little sad.

Getting lost. What I did when I was going to the Christian Service Mission. Should have followed the GPS mapping on my phone. Ended up following the exit and got turned around because the street was a one way street. That part of Birmingham is not very safe for single women under 40. I feel safer alone on the streets and the subways of New York City than I did around there.

Almost destroying a car. Really. The road leading to the Salvation Army warehouse was worse than the potholes and craters on I-65. But I felt safer. However, I am noting that I need to work on finding any and all possible alternative routes that don't use I-65.

Steven Curtis Chapman. Got stuck on a song of his this week that fit all too perfectly with everything that Alabama just experienced. I'll post the lyrics and a link at the bottom of this post.

Storms. The more we have threaten Alabama, the more fearful and anxious I become. My city and my county were spared the worst of the damage. And every time I close my eyes, I see trees falling and getting uprooted.  Because in three of the storms during April, we have had three trees break and crash.

Accidental fasting. Yep. It's been so bad in the state of surrealism about everything that I accidentally fasted the greater part of the week. I did not realize that I did not eat anything Sunday until midnight. And I've been lucky if I've eaten at least a snack one time during the day the rest of the week!

How does it tie in to theology, missions and disaster relief?

Theology is shaken and stirred and tested when anyone experiences the travesty this great state of Alabama has just been through. Hollywood cannot even begin to come close to being able to portray what happened last week with that monster tornado. How do you handle the theological questions that arise? Why? How come? Why would a loving God allow this to happen? Why would He spare some but not others? Why would He spare me and not them?

Missions. Whether it's going to sort clothes, going to do debris removal or going to serve a hot meal to a community that was affected, it's missions.

Disaster relief. Anything can count as disaster relief. Donating time and money and clothes/items, cleaning up, rebuilding.

TobyMac's "Get Back Up" and "City on Our Knees" were the first two songs that moved me this week. Casting Crowns "Praise You in This Storm" followed. The other day I heard Steven Curtis Chapman's "Beauty Will Rise." It is this last song that I felt more strongly compelled by. As I thought about my own church, Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church, PCA, and the relief efforts that have spun out in response to the disaster.

My first year in Alabama I survived Hurricane Opal. Hurricane Ivan ripped through as far up as Montevallo. I went home to be close to family when that was approaching. I remember having to check in with my resident hall assistant before leaving. But I never thought that other than the random "snow" events which pale in comparison to what New England goes through that my part of Alabama would ever see anything like the images we saw when the tornado ripped through Enterprise (near which I lived for the first half of my life in Alabama (which is exactly half of my life)) or the tornado that ripped through Prattville or the images from Hurricane Katrina. I never would have imagined it to be possible. It is for this very reason that the Steven Curtis Chapman song has really compelled me more than the other songs.

"It was the day the world went wrong." April 27, 2011 started and ended on a bad note for Alabama. There is hardly a county from Montgomery north that was not touched by that nasty storm system that brought that monster through Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Cullman and every small and large town and city in between and around it.

"I screamed til my voice was gone." I think a lot of us have screamed. In horror. In anger. In pain. In anguish.

"And watched through the tears as everything came crashing down." I have not personally gone to Tuscaloosa yet. I do not quite have the courage and the strength yet. But I have seen the images. For me, the full reality has not sunk in yet. But we certainly watched in horror as the face of these areas were changed in a matter of minutes and hours.

"Slowly panic turns to pain as we awake to what remains and sift through the ashes that are left behind." I think of everyone sorting through the rubble, the remains of homes, churches, daycares, schools, businesses, etc. I think of the heartache that many are feeling as they find pictures, documents, toys, remnants of what was a life that was relatively normal as possible before that monster came through and changed everything.

"But buried deep beneath all our broken dreams we have this hope." We do have a hope. A hope and a promise. One of a better life. Maybe not on this earth, but it most certainly will be for the elect, those that belong to God.

Chorus:

"Out of theses ashes...beauty will rise." The cities and towns will be much more beautiful after they rebuild than they ever were.

"And we will dance among the ruins." For every person or animal found alive, there is joy.

"We will see Him with our own eyes." God is in every person who comes to the aid of the victims of this monster.

"Out of these ashes...beauty will rise."

"For we know joy is coming in the morning, in the morning, beauty will rise."

"So take another breath for now, and let the tears come washing down." Right now, we hurt. We need time to heal. And there will be tears. That's perfectly fine.

"And if you can't believe I will believe for you." Your faith may be weak. My faith may be tested. But together we can trust that things will indeed work together for the good of those who love the Lord.

"'Cuz I have seen the signs of spring! Just watch and see." Every little bird and every little flower that survived the storms that ripped through Alabama April 27 is a testimony of hope that springs eternal.

Chorus

"I can hear it in the distance and it's not too far away."  Help is coming. That help is beautiful.

"It's the music and the laughter of a wedding and a feast." I went to Moody with my church this week to a church there that suffered a hole in their roof. But I did not see fear and tears. I saw strength and courage. I saw inspiration. I talked with a couple of little boys who were hanging out by the truck that brought the food afterward. They were both five and in kindergarten. One of them is really excited about starting first grade after the summer. Does he even know or understand how that storm disrupted his life? I don't know, but it was encouraging.

"I can almost feel the hand of God reaching for my face to wipe the tears away and say, 'It's time to make everything new.'"

"Make it all new." And new it will be made.

"This is our hope. This is the promise. This is our hope. This is the promise. That it would take our breath away to see the beauty that's been made out of the ashes, out of the ashes, that it would take our breath away to see the beauty that He's made out of the ashes, out of the ashes." As cities and communities rebuild, it will be beautiful.

Chorus

"Oh, beauty will rise. Oh, beauty will rise. Oh, oh, oh, beauty will rise. Oh, oh, oh, beauty will rise. Oh, oh, oh, beauty will rise." Beauty will indeed rise.

Lyrics from http://www.metrolyrics.com/beauty-will-rise-lyrics-steven-curtis-chapman.html.

And that's how everything begins to fit together.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Small Ways to Involve Whole Families in the Disaster Relief

In the Birmingham area, there are two places that I can recommend for whole family involvement.

McWane Science Center-They are accepting toiletry donations. In exchange, you get one free admission for that day for the item.

California Pizza Kitchen, both Birmingham locations-100 percent of proceeds goes to disaster relief May 9 and 10. Great time to try the gluten free menu at the Galleria location.

Christian Service Mission-anyone forth grade and older based on location. Carpooling recommended for safety and efficacy.

Disaster Relief and Theological Questions

We have a tremendous outpouring of love for the victims of last week's storms. Neighbors helping neighbors, rival schools helping rival schools, and both in-state and out-of-state groups and individuals sending donations.

Today I got to see firsthand one of the donation sites in action as I went in to serve with them to sort items. I learned firsthand of some of the most needed items. I learned firsthand about things that are unacceptable. I learned that this is a multigenerational, multicultural effort. And I realized firsthand some potentially unmet needs.

The donation center receives loads of items in boxes, bags, suitcases and even pallets on the back of semis. Today I got to see three giant paper towel boxes come through from out-of-state full of those tiny Big G cereals, socks, diapers, facial tissues, toilet paper, Hot Wheels cars, bandages and blankets. It was a touching moment.

In the midst of it, I wondered aloud, what about those on gluten free and allergy free diets?

I thought videotapes were odd since many of the people lost their homes so what would they do with that anyway?

Clothing running small which means larger people might be understands.

Some people just throw things out with no care. Too much trash in the midst-especially with underwear. I shuddered at the thought that someone would actually dare donate used underwear. I mean, even the thrift stores don't take used socks and underwear. If you wouldn't buy it.... Lots of baby clothes but not a lot of maternity clothes.

Very little pet supplies. Families often get separated from their pets and the pets are in foster homes. Between the families who lost their pets and those fostering the pets, pet supplies are needed.

Diabetics, asthmatics, children and adults with ADHD-do any of the victims have their needed medications? Medical devices? Medical braces? Over-the-counter vitamins and minerals? Antihistamines? Inhalers?

What about can openers for cans?

How about a stuffed animal for the child who lost everything? They need something to cuddle that is their very own.

Eyeglasses?

Are they registered in medical alert programs?

What about phone charging?

We have only just begun. We have a long way to go. But I have seen love in action.

Are there any Deaf who can't find their interpreters? Are there any who have weekly shots or infusions?

Blood drives and bone marrow drives are starting. Clothing and food drives.

I learned multiple-item care packages often get sorted. They are great if you can personally deliver them, but not so great to donate. They get sorted.

Clothes clothes clothes. What about more immediate needs other than clothes?

Not just the victims but also the volunteers.

How can I help when I can't do heavy duty physical labor?

I feel helpless and discouraged. Frustrated that I can't do more right now. I want to but this is one time we all see the fragility of life, and not just life but living with immune deficiency.

Last week, I thought I had the answers and understood things. This week, I have no answers. I don't understand anything.

Why did God allow my area to go relatively unscathed but killed my friends and family or those of my friends and family? Why did God spare me and not them?

It could've been me.

Am I ready? How do I prepare?

My cat. My dog. They're my babies. My mom. My friends. How do I keep us all safe? Can we be safe? What if I lose them and everything else?

Why? How?

What can I do?

What can I say?

When will the nightmares go away? Will they ever?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Monster Swept Through

A monster swept through.
It left havoc in its wake.
It left destruction and pain.
It left fear and anxiety.
It left tears and brokenness.
But then something else happened.
Those left in its destruction,
Its havoc and brokenness,
They arose with a shout,
A cry of unity and love.
They said, "Monster!
You knocked us down,
But you can't keep us down!
We are strong!
We are proud!
We are united!
We are brave!
What you meant for harm,
We will turn to good!
We are mighty!
We are one!
We are Alabama!"
That monster is now gone,
And we will be restored!
And THAT is what happened
After a monster swept through.
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