Thursday, May 30, 2013

Healing in the Heartland

Blake Shelton hosted a wonderful concert in Oklahoma City, geared towards raising support for the victims of the May 20 tornado that ripped through so much of our heartland.

Almost my entire extended family lives in Oklahoma, and half of them live in Moore.  It was devastating to hear from a cousin via text that afternoon, as I'm lying in bed, home sick from work that day, that a tornado was ripping through just south of Oklahoma City and headed straight for Moore.  I cried out to the Lord to protect my family!  He chose to do that.  I don't know why.  He chose to protect them from this tragedy, and I am oh, so grateful.  Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

I was encouraged to see the entertainers host and participate in a wonderful concert to promote support for Oklahoma.  I know America came through, because I saw that this past weekend when I was there.

One thing I've learned in the past few days is that organizations are there to help.  But they're also helping a lot of people.  And there is a lot of paperwork.  And they have a lot of employees to pay and a lot of expenses to cover.

I'd rather my money and supplies and support go straight to the source.  I'd rather be able to give someone a hug.  Wrap my arm around them and pray for them right there, after knowing their specific story.  I'd rather organize canned goods and unpack boxes and sort toothpaste and shampoo.  I know I can't always go.  That isn't going to be possible every time there is a disaster.  But to help in a tangible way is always going to be my preference.

I've been to Moore so many times over the course of my life, it's like a second-home.  Talking about the Warren theater and crossing I-35 and even that new 7-11....I know those places.  I've been to those places.  I've driven past them.  My cousins attended Plaza Towers Elementary school when they were kids.  There are so many connections.  So many ways that my family knows people that are hurting.

One of the little boys killed was in Greg's 3rd grade Sunday School class.  One of the families that lost everything without insurance has a little girl on Madeline's softball team.  Rhonda had 14 first grade students in a tiny bathroom stall singing songs and playing rock, paper, scissors to keep distracted.  She had the forethought to turn off the lights and "practice" seeing your hand in front of your face to help the kids focus on something else and not be scared when they lost electricity.  They turned it off themselves.  Greg pulled his son out of day care across the street from the elementary school he coaches at and went to Madeline's classroom, where they were all singing camp songs.  They heard the air conditioning unit pull off of their roof and clatter across the building.  They heard the slam...POP...of the doors and the air pressure changed and all the doors sucked in.  He used his body to protect his son and his daughter and thought he was going to throw up as he waited for the roof to lift off the building.  A first grade teacher from Briarwood shared her story at the memorial service the governor organized.  She passed out musical instruments and had her children play and sing as loud as they could.  She told them she knew it was going to be noisy outside and she still wanted to hear their music.  They played Jesus Loves Me at the top of their lungs.  At one point, when the tornado hit, she told them they'd been screaming their music and now they'd be warmed up to scream for their heroes to hear them and find them.  One little boy said, "KD is coming for us!?"  (Kevin Durant is a hero to many little ones in Oklahoma. ;))

There are stories like this all over the city of Moore.  I am blessed to have heard them.  I am blessed to be from a legacy of Oklahomans.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Disaster Relief: My Perspective

My grandma survived the May 3, 1999 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, but it was finals week of my freshman year in college, and I could not go and immediately help.  By the time I made it there, several months later, much had been accomplished and the devastation was not as harsh or visible.

The May 20, 2013 tornado is currently being classified as the worst tornado in the history of America...maybe even the world.  Here are just a few pictures of the destruction.  I had them rotated the correct way, but the first one is uploading sideways for some reason.  Sorry about that!

The first picture was a brand new 7-11.  You may have heard on the news that a mom and her daughter hid in the freezer during the tornado.  They are two of the victims of this tragedy.  The final two pictures are from the back of Southgate Baptist Church's property, facing the back of the Plaza Towers neighborhood.  That is whatever is left of the neighborhood.  

Two of my cousins are members of First Baptist Church of Moore.  It opened up Monday night at 9:00 after the tornado at 2:56 pm...and eventually became a fabulous area with First Aid, showers, cots, a "shopping" area for victims to come through for canned goods, baby needs, clothing, blankets, pillows, dog food, gloves, tarps, totes, produce, etc.  

My aunt is a member at Southgate Baptist Church.  As you can see from the pictures above, they are VERY close to the devastation of the tornado.  They still do not have electricity.  They are running their gym on two generators that were donated.  Someone else donated the diesel.  Tyson showed up with two 18-wheelers and have been cooking meals for volunteers, victims, just whoever needed a meal.  Mercy Chefs is parked out back cooking meals as well.  I ran into the head chef at Houston's First Baptist Church!  He was serving with Mercy Chefs.  Awesome to see some of "my" people serving "my" people!  
Many youth groups and college groups have volunteered to come this summer, but where would they stay?  Someone donated 4 bunkhouses, with 12 bunks in each and a sleeper sofa.  Each bunkhouse has 2 refrigerators, 2 bathrooms/showers and a sofa.  This is a HUGE blessing! 

Angela and I drove up Friday afternoon and worked at FBC Moore and Southgate.  It was an eye-opening experience for sure!  I had never worked a disaster before, and it was such a learning experience.

On Friday, when we arrived at FBC Moore, many people coming in for supplies were still in shock.   They were quiet as they moved through the facility, looking for an item or two.  One lady came in.  She currently lived in Moore and her home had seen some destruction, but her hometown is Carney, a town of less than 1,000.  She was headed to help her grandparents and didn't think Carney had any supplies or donation site set up yet.  We loaded up her car with as much food, diapers, towels, gloves and other supplies as would fit....and it was a lot!  It's amazing how many crannies you can find in a Nissan!  She was in tears to know that others were willing to help.

Each day brought learning to the volunteers.  Each day the victims were beginning to come out of shock and into a stage of feeling overwhelmed.  Where can we find our insurance company?  (They're in the parking lot on the other side of the church building.)  Where is FEMA?  (At the back of this parking lot under blue tarps.)  I don't have power yet...or have no home to even worry about do I feed my family?  (We have MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) that heat up themselves.  We also have peanut butter and jelly, apples, oranges, bananas, chips and packages of cookies.)

People drove in from around the country with supplies.  One MAJOR thing I learned is that there is NO possible way to coordinate disaster relief, because there are so many people that come to help, but let no one know they're coming.  One man showed up at FBC Moore on Friday in the early evening.  He had left Maryland at 5am that morning and driven straight to Moore.  He had a trailer full of supplies.  FBC wasn't currently taking donations, but he had already been to two places that weren't taking donations either, so we accepted what he brought.  Yes, the supplies are needed, but where are these buildings supposed to store them?

Holy Cow, the water!  I've never seen so many bottles of water in my life.  FBC probably had 50,000 bottles...and that might be an UNDERestimate.  Southgate probably had 15,000 bottles.


That's a LOT of water!

I know of a couple of families that didn't have insurance.  I can't even fathom the amount of pressure on a mom that works for a school cafeteria and a dad that just graduated as a paramedic to provide for a family with no home and no insurance to rebuild.

My family was able to hear stories of heartache.  Everyone wants to share their story.  It's a part of the grieving process and I'm so glad I was able to hear them share their horror.  When asked why we were there, our family said, "My grandma survived the May 3 tornado, but lost her home.  We've been on that side.  Now, it's our turn to help."

Praying for the people of Oklahoma.  Proud to be from a legacy of Oklahomans.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Oh, Mother's Day...What can I say?

As most of you know, a little girl moved in for my first foster placement the Monday before Mother's Day.  That night when she moved in, Mother's Day was not on my mind, but as the week progressed, it did occur to me.  :)  It never once crossed my mind that I should be celebrated.  I've always celebrated MY mother on Mother's Day.  I already had the gifts purchased.  I had an idea of the menu.  However,  C needed to be priority and celebrating Mother's Day would not have been the best thing for her.  In our family, we ignored the day.

My family has been coming over for Sunday lunch for a couple of months now, and they still did that day, but there was no specific mention of Mother's Day.  I had checked with Mom ahead of time and she was completely fine with postponing.  At that point, we knew C would probably only be with us until the next day, so it would be easy enough to celebrate Mom the next Sunday.

The first day C was at Bledsoe, there was a Muffins for Moms event for her grade level.  She simply hung out with me at the beginning of the day and we walked down to class a little bit later.  Let's not highlight the fact she isn't with her mom on her first day at a new school. :)

Mother's Day was the first (and only) Sunday she was with me, and dropping her off at Sunday School went better than I expected.  But, the adults there said, "Mom will come back for you in a little while, okay?" I don't think she heard them, because she was so busy with new toys.  But I heard them.  And my heart ached.

I'm not her mom.  I was acting as her mommy.  I was doing all sorts of mommy things: making breakfast, rocking her to sleep, kissing her boo boos, brushing her hair, reading her stories, giving "bunny noses" and "butterfly kisses", helping her make friends and feel comfortable in her new class and a plethora of other things mommies do.  I was filling the role of mommy, but I'm not her mommy.

I sat in service, knowing she was probably leaving the next day.  She was already fully ensconced in my heart.  I felt alone.  I felt oh, so single.  I felt oh, such a single parent.  There IS a difference in those two feelings.  And, being vulnerable and honest here, the feelings both stink...but the feeling of being alone as a parent is beyond any emotion I can even begin to explain.  It's beyond the feeling of alone.  It's the responsibility of a child's welfare.  It's the love that explodes in your heart, yet the explosion is gradual and takes place over time.  Until all of a sudden it's there, and I don't remember it not being there before.  It's waking up in the middle of a night of already restless sleep, because I'm worried about her or wondering how she'll do with _________ event coming up.  I'm constantly thinking I could have done something differently.  I need to start doing something else differently.  And with all of these thoughts...I'm the only one responsible.  My parents are PHENOMENAL and they are Oh, So, Supportive.  But the final word.  The final responsibility.  Is mine.

While I'm sitting in the sanctuary, a few minutes before service begins, a friend leans over to say hi, but I'm already teary and can't really explain it.  It's Mother's Day and my heart is hurting.  Hurting for C.  Hurting for me.  Hurting.

At the beginning of service, a man is making announcements and he addresses the excitement and the heartache of Mother's Day.  He didn't specifically hit fostering and the "love and let go" that is oh, so hard, but that's okay.  He really did try to hit all the aspects and emotions of this wonderful, painful, heartfelt day.  He asked the mothers to stand to be recognized.  I could have stood.  I'm a foster mama.  I had every right to stand.  But, my body did not get up.  I don't know any other way to say that.  I sat there, and I sobbed.  It hurt.  How much I want a child.  How much I want to parent WITH a husband instead of by myself.  How much I want C to have a forever home that is safe and teaches Jesus' love.  How much I love her and I knew she was leaving.  My body was wracking because my heart was breaking in slow motion.

It was 10:30a when we're in the car, headed home.  I was emotionally exhausted, with not much left to expend of physical energy either.  But, I was still filling all the mommy duties.  C wasn't tired.  She was full of excitement and joy to have fun another day.  Mommies don't get a break.  There is no rest time.  It is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year responsibility that is met with joy and heartache and worry.  It doesn't get "left at the office" because it's constant, no matter if you're a SAHM or a working mom or if it's summertime or during the school year.  I understand that so much more now, than I ever could have comprehended before. I'm sure there is even more I will learn with my next placement.

Mother's Day was hard.  I'm not sure it could have been easier.  It was emotional.  It was my first Mother's Day.  Except I'm not a mom.  But I am.  But, I'm not.  Mother's Day can be a day of celebration.  If I had just birthed a child.  If my husband was beside me and we'd tried to have a baby for awhile and the Lord finally blessed us with a child to love and hold.  That was not my experience for my first Mother's Day.  It was painful and full of heartache and wishing for something different, not just in my own life, but in hers, too.

Prayers for moms that are hurting on this day.  You are not alone.  Even when Satan tries to convince you that you are.  You are NOT alone.  Jesus loves you.  I am praying for you.  You are not alone.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Random Mother Thoughts

I will try to post more coherently later.  For right now, I'm going with stream of consciousness and bullet points.

- I have a whole new appreciation for mothers.  Working, SAHM, single, two-parent home...all of them.

- I've always had a good relationship with my mom.  I love her even more now.  I appreciate her even more now.

- Everyone has been SO very helpful.  Thank you!

- I have become a leaky faucet.  I have cried more this week than I have cried in the last 6 months.

-Once she's asleep, she sleeps all night, but it takes about 2 hours from the time we begin bath time,  wind down with stories by herself, brush her teeth, I read two stories to her, sing songs, rub her legs, say prayers, final hugs and butterfly kisses before she goes to sleep.

- She is an EXPERT negotiator.

- My sensitivity radar is on for the word "mom".  It's in books, at school, the dentist assumed I was making an appointment for my daughter, everywhere.  C hasn't said much about it, but my sensitivity radar is on HIGH alert.  Mother's Day many conflicted emotions.  SO MANY CONFLICTED EMOTIONS!

- I think about her throughout the day.  I sleep differently at night, with my door open, so I can hear her if she needs me.  My heart jumps when an email from her teacher arrives.  I cried when I dropped her off for her first day of K at a new school.  She didn't see my tears, but she was so nervous and I left and just...cried.

-My nighttime routine includes getting EVERYTHING ready for the next morning.  Breakfast fruit is peeled, sliced and ready, pan is out for the waffle, plate is on counter ready to hold fruit and waffle, lunch is completely made and in lunchbox in fridge ready to go, clothes are tried on and laid out for her, clothes are out and ready for me.  I have NEVER been a nighttime showerer.  I am now a nighttime showerer.

-I've always been more of an early to bed person on school nights.  I'm now ready for a little bit of me time, but also ready to crash as soon as she falls asleep, so 9:30-10:00 is still about what happens.

- She was almost tardy on Friday.  We had been at school for 30 minutes already, but that included finishing the breakfast that wasn't finished at home, brushing her hair, getting her teacher's Teacher Appreciation gift wrapped and ready and both of us signing the card for the teacher gift.  New appreciation for parents' mornings!

- I am a COMPLETELY different teacher now.  I have always loved my students.  I have grown better over the last 3-4 years at remembering they're little people and not just a "student".  I now try to love them like their mommy loves them.  This has been an absolute and immediate transformation.  I love them SO much more and SO much better than I did before.

-I've thought of a fundraiser concert I watched on television a few years ago.  Faith Hill sang a song, "A Baby Changes Everything."  It's an absolutely gorgeous song that emits so many emotions.  My mind this week has been "Becoming a Mommy Changes Everything".  In C's mind, I'm "Alyssa" and I LOVE it.

But, I'm still filling the role of Mommy and it changes EVERYTHING.