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8am came very quickly on Monday. We met the director of the Disaster Relief effort for the UCC, our project manager, and two long-term volunteers with the project. After a brief overview of the Disaster Relief Mission in New Orleans we headed out to our project for the week – the renovation of Beecher Memorial UCC.
Beecher Memorial is located in the 7th Ward and was under five feet of water post-Katrina. The surrounding neighborhood is predominantly working class and poor and African-American. Beecher was gutted right after Katrina, but its rebuilding has been postponed as members’ homes have taken precedence. Its members still worship in the building – although they relocated during the summer as it’s just too darn hot in there. Things are getting closer to completion as sheetrock is almost completely in, the drop ceiling should be going in next week.
There were two more volunteers that met us at the church. They were from Ohio (of course we would travel hundreds of miles to meet Ohioans). They had stayed over from the week before.
We were given the lay of the land and then were handed off to long-time volunteer Marjorie. Marjorie is from Chicago but made three week-long trips with her church and then decided to do a long-term stint on her own. She had no construction experience prior to this but is now pretty much a pro. Our first mission was to install insulation into a 15 foot ceiling. Yeah, right! Me on a taaaaaall ladder staple-gunning insulation over my head. Sounds fun right? Add the no air conditioning, goggles, and dust mask and I was in heaven (serious sarcasm). At the end of the day I felt like I’d gone through some sort of hazing. But, I did do the whole darn ceiling. Not bad for someone who’s not particularly fond of heights. And the ceiling looks pretty good.
After our long day we decided to cruise over to the Ninth Ward to see what we could see – answer – a lot of destroyed homes, with a few coming back around to normal. Quick showers at Little Farms were in order as we got ready for a fabulous potluck dinner thrown by our hosts. Red beans and rice, fried chicken, andouille sausage, and jambalaya – that truly is heaven!!
We were able to visit with several of the members of Little Farms and hear what they had going on. Although small they seem very active in their community. A small farmer’s market has just started in their area and they are having a craft/information booth there every week. We traded simple craft ideas that would be good for kids and adults. Another member his motorcycle ride from Buffalo, New York to New Orleans 20 years ago. He’s is one cool cat, more on him later.
After a well-deserved slow, lazy start and a quick bite at Popeye’s (oh how I’ve missed you!) we hit the road. We took I-90 so that we could enjoy the Mississippi coast and my partner could get her first view of the Gulf of Mexico. We dipped our toes in the water at Biloxi and got a first-hand look as how the Gulf Coast was and was not rebuilding. The coast is a strange mix of shiny brand new buildings and empty lots and driveways that lead to nothing but weeds.
We got into New Orleans around 3 and went straight to our host church and settled in. We were met by Donna, a member of the host church, and learned the housekeeping details of our stay. We found out that we were the only people scheduled to be there that week, and that we had full access to the church and it’s kitchen, bathrooms, and laundry facilities. And we were going to be honored guests at a church potluck dinner on Monday. Talk about keys to the kingdom!!! There’s nothing like southern hospitality. We got settled quickly, went grocery shopping, and headed out to the French Quarter.
We soaked in all of the sights and sounds of the Quarter. I had several flashbacks to my time in NOLA and memories I share with my ex-husband – a bittersweet lining to our fantastical, neon clouds. We ate crayfish etouffe, gumbo, jambalaya, alligator sausage, and red beans and rice with a hurricane to wash it down. On top of that we saw a rockin’ cover band, a tour-de-force of a drag show, and ended the evening with hot buttered rum in a sweet little jazz club.
Pure bliss. We fell into bed knowing we were in for a hard day’s labor on Monday.
Hello! I haven’t disappeared – I just took a little break and headed down to New Orleans for an amazing trip. I was born and raised in the Baton Rouge, LA area – and have many relatives in the New Orleans area – I spent many Mardi Gras at my aunt’s house. I also lived on the North Shore back in the early 2000s.
Anyhooo…a few months ago I noticed a mission opportunity on the UCC.org website to do post-Katrina rebuilding. It piqued my interest but the available dates were in September and didn’t seem doable with the kiddos in school then. Just a few days later a friend of mine sent me a link to that very opportunity and asked if I would be interested in going with her. Well, heck, I had to say yes then. I talked to Chris and he talked to his parents and they agreed to come up and stay at the house that week and pick up the kids from school/handle errands/etc. We talked to our pastor, received his blessing, and quickly signed up. The next step was fundraising. I decided to have yard sales (how convenient!), put out a call at church for yard sale donations and we made a little over $800! Woot!
Unfortunately my friend had to drop out due to some personal issues. With no one else signed up it looked like it might not happen. Luckily a very new member of our congregation stepped in and we were back in business. I was a little nervous heading out with someone I barely knew – but I put it in God’s hands and figured if she was interested in going she must be cool.
Day 1 – Saturday, September 10
Our day started at 7am. My partner headed out and drove through Kentucky and Tennessee. We had a polite “getting to know you” conversation and listened to a lot of music. One of the things we talked about was our mutual love of rocks. Cue signs for “Rock City” as we neared Chattanooga. We were doing great on time so we decided to check it out.
OMG! Best thing ever!!! The amazing rock formations, the view, the swinging bridge (the first of many tests of our fortitude), the fairy tale caverns. It was too much, we felt like we’d fallen down the rabbit-hole and entered an alternate dimension. A few hours later we hit the road again and drove all of the way to Mobile, AL.
I feel lazy not posting, but know that I have been busy with other things. Specifically I have been working to create an identity for a new church that I am helping to birth. It’s been a really exciting time – we decided on a name on Sunday, and last night put the finishing touches on the logo. I love creating logos and creating one for a church is especially meaningful to me. As a “new” Christian I have that zeal only a newbie can have – and want to tell the world about my faith and, in particular, my church – First Congregational United Church of Christ. As such, I have thrown myself into the activities and people of the church. Tomorrow I will helping get the church ready for a very busy weekend, on Saturday I will be the liturgist at the installation of the pastor who will be leading the new church that we will be planting in Charleston, WV. Sunday I will be attending two services at church, and entertaining a friend in between so that he can participate in both services as well (he lives about an hour and a half away). It almost sounds like a job, except I am completely excited about each and every activity. Working on the name and logo, searching for the perfect words and images to convey what this church will be about was a total joy.
The UCC is an open and affirming faith that welcomes ALL people, and recognizes that everyone is on their own path to God. This is not a church that relies on “tests of faith”, it does not require following a long list of rules and regulations, and it welcomes people from all faith backgrounds. As such it is a faith that includes a lot of converts, people that grew up unchurched, people that felt that the faiths they were raised in did not live up to their needs (like me), and people that we actually rejected by the faiths they were raised in. So we wanted to come up with a name/logo that conveyed a message of safety, a message about the journey that we are all on.
Edit 11/20 – I started this post earlier – but am finishing it today. And unveiling the new church name and logo. Bridges of Grace United Church of Christ. Do you feel that? Bridges of Grace? Doesn’t that just feel good, and purposeful, and hopeful? And hope is something that seems sorely missing these days. These days where the “cultures of faith” seem more bent on creating lines and demarcations of who is in and who is out. When certain religions want to decide who is a family and who is not – and who is worthy and who is not. I belong to a faith that says ALL are welcome. Buddhist. wiccan, Catholic, brown, white, straight, gay – if you are seeking God we are here for you. Everyone is on their own path and we are here for YOU as you follow that path.
Peace be with you.
Well, actually, Raine, you were different. You didn’t want a perfect life, a typical life, or even a normal life. You wanted a one-of-a-kind.How we doing? ~The Universe
Do you receive notes from the Universe? If you don’t I highly recommend it. A sweet daily dose of inspiration and encouragement delivered do your inbox every day. And it uncannily has provided me with just the thing I needed so many times. I have a folder in my email where I place particularly cool ones. I received the one above recently.
And, it’s so appropriate because it’s something I’ve been thinking about recently. My life has recently come together in ways I’ve never expected – but when I look back I realized I’ve come full circle – if by circle you actually mean a decades long meandering, journey that has now overlapped itself.
Because, you see, I could have had a simple life. I was engaged to the boy next door when I was 17 years old. We were just two farm kids who came together more because of proximity than anything else. We decided to move to Seattle so I could go to school and grew together in a variety of ways and then grew apart. And then we broke up.
Here’s the weird things.
1. He was a member of the United Church of Christ. He didn’t go to church often, but one of my best friends was a part of the same congregation, and I did go a few times with her, as well as with his family. And of all the religions/denominations I’ve explored it was that church community that had always felt the most comfortable and “right” to me.
I rejected all religion a short time later and and even the whole concept of a “higher power”.
Since moving to Huntington I have “found God”, joined the local United Church of Christ, and been baptized.
2. This boy and I decided to become vegetarians because of the horrors of factory farming – some that we had witnessed firsthand.
Now I am working toward a full-time vegan diet. I’ve been blogging about it here - Hot Vegan Mess.
3. When I was a middle school and junior high I took private art lessons and art classes that were actually for adults. In high school I rejected my “arty” side and focused more on math & science, friends, and sports. I continued to reject that side of myself through most of my 20s.
It wasn’t until my late 20s that I started to delve into my creative side – and not until my 30s that I decided to claim the mantles of “artist” and “photographer.”
4. Even though I was engaged at 17 – there was a part of me that thought I would never get married. With that first relationship I kept putting off setting a wedding date. I always had a push/pull relationship with relationships and domesticity. It’s that push/pull that led me to be married and divorced twice in my 20s.
Now I am happily married for almost five years (anniversary is December 1) to an amazing man who gets me and can deal with my particular brand of crazy and have the two most awesome children in the world.
So, I could have done the simple thing – gotten married right out of high school to a great guy, moved a mile down the road from my parents, joined the church that my husband’s family belonged to, become a vegetarian, and been an artsy housewife.
Now I am married to a great guy. I live in a relatively small town, am active in my UCC congregation, am becoming vegan, and am a SAHM and an artist who is working towards opening an art gallery in 2011.
Such fundamental parts of myself that I’ve flirted with and dabbled in. And finally have come full circle to embrace.
And along the way I’ve had so many adventures – lived so much life – good and bad. Like the time I hopped in a VW bus with a guy I barely knew to travel from Seattle to Mexico (that didn’t end well). Taking a leap of faith and moving from the safety and comfort of Seattle to Dallas - a place I moved to sight unseen. The helicopter ride over Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque. Opening an art gallery with a crazycool group of artists. Seeing so many amazing concerts – John Lee Hooker, U2, Depeche Mode, Dead Can Dance, Cake, the list goes on and on. Getting married in Vegas. Deciding to drive to Vancouver, Canada to hit the clubs there. At age 18, making out in a cab, as it’s pouring rain outside – while riding around the streets of Bogota, Columbia. The many, many, many late nights spent in dance clubs and dive bars in Seattle and Dallas and New Orleans. Having my heart shredded by the person I thought was my soulmate, my one true love – left in a city I didn’t know, surrounded by strangers. Working in food service, for Greenpeace, in accounting, in air freight operations, and as a graphic artist. Meeting the very first person I’m actually related to by blood – my son. Being a gallery wonk and a sign slut all at the same time.
My life has not been perfect, or easy, or typical, or simple. But it is full of memories that will last a lifetime and experiences that have shaped me to be the person I am today. And I know I have many more amazing experiences in store for me.