Saturday, April 30, 2011

Desperate for Something

So much of me wants to write. But, what to write about? Do I write about the terrifying experience of being in a house hit by Wednesday's tornado? Do I write about the nightmares? Do I write about the despair on the faces of those who have lost everything? Do I write about the sick-to-your-stomach feeling you get when you walk through the destruction in the city?

I don't know what to write about, frankly. And maybe that's a sign I shouldn't be writing at all. But, my heart is hurting. Hurting for our own losses, and hurting for the overwhelming loss of so many others.

I guess what I can write about is what we experienced here in Ralph. For those of you who aren't familiar with my crazy-fun family, about 25 of my immediate family members live on a big piece of property out in this beautiful rural area. We all live within two miles of each other, with the intersection of Wesley Chapel Road and Sipsey Valley Road at the center. A few weeks ago, we confirmed with my family that Blake and I would be moving into my great-grandmother's old house, which is right at the intersection.

It's a brick home, built in the 1960s and has served as a gathering place for my family for decades. My mom, dad, and I actually lived in the house for about three years to take care of my grandmother while I was in high school. Some close family friends have been living there for about six months, but had planned on moving to Mississippi in about two weeks. Blake and I had already picked out paint colors, and were thrilled at the idea to live in Ralph near my family and to live in a home that means so much to me. I was even begging Blake to let me get some chickens to put in the yard. I love living in the country. :) This was going to be our first home... a beautiful home, already filled with memories, and the answer to a yearning prayer for God to provide a home for us.

After the intense winds of Wednesday morning, Blake and I decided that we'd hang out at the new house with my cousin Holly, her boyfriend Micah, my cousin Julie, two of her kids, and our friend Hilary (who has been living at the house) and her niece. We wanted to go there because of the brick walls and cellar. We played games with the kids in the living room as we listened closely to James Spann. We laughed and chatted, and Blake and I surveyed the house. My heart was pitter-pattering at the idea that this was going to be our home. I had it all planned out.

Then, James Spann said for Ralph and Fosters to get in their safe place. We sent all the kids, Holly, Julie, and Hilary to the hall with blankets and pillows. Micah, Blake, and I looked around the windows to see what was coming. We thought the house was safe - in the fifty years that house had been standing, surely it would be okay.

Blake and I meandered to the sun room - filled with a wall of mid-20th-century Florida-style windows. We watched the sky turn gray, and decided it was time to go sit in the hall. Everyone was in the hall when we noticed the door to the sun room creak open. Blake went to shut it, but by the time he returned down the hall, it had opened again. He went back to shut it once more, and yelled for us to get down. What I found out later was that he saw the pine trees in the yard starting to snap.

We dove over the kids, and my mind went blank. I could hear glass shattering all around us and snapping and popping sounds. I was terrified that the glass from the sun room would soon impale itself in our backs.

And then, silence.

We sat up, checked to see if we were all okay - if anyone was hurt or missing. Everyone was accounted for, so Blake, Micah, and I got up to survey the damage. I opened the sliding door to the living room.... and my heart sank in my chest. Rafters, bricks, limbs, leaves... and sky. A giant hole was torn through the roof of the room where we had just been. But, the scariest was yet to come.

As we went to each of the four exits, we could find no way to get out. Every exit was blocked with trees. We could get out on the front porch, but power lines were down across the trees and we were too nervous to cross them. I called my mom, in a panic, who told me to stay where we were and she would come get us - but she couldn't get to us for trees in the road. Eventually, we made the decision to take a chance and we climbed over the dozens of twisted pine trees.

We got to the street, and saw that my aunt's house across the street was okay, but trees were down EVERYWHERE. She, too, had a yard full of beautiful, full-grown trees. We climbed more trees to get to her, while my uncle Marshall (who had ran half a mile from his undamaged house) ran to my aunt Tammy's. Tammy was at home, a quarter of a mile away, alone with Hilary's five-month-old baby.

Tammy's house was destroyed. She spent yesterday letting the insurance company haul her belongings into a storage unit. She will most likely have to rebuild most, if not all, of her house. Our new house is salvageable, but the insurance had not yet been changed over and our last hope is for FEMA to be of assistance. As for now, our plan is to live with my mom post-nuptials and hope God provides again.

Wednesday was the end of plans and dreams for me and Blake, and also a nightmare of a task to clean up our family's property. But, what we experienced and what we lost pales in comparison to the mass devastation in Tuscaloosa and in the other areas affected. We still have our material possessions, and the ones we lost can be replaced. My heart aches for those who have lost family members, friends, loved ones... for those who have lost their homes and have nowhere to go... for those who have simply had to clean out their freezers for lack of power. We are thankful to have what we still have, and are determined to use what we have to help others.

An entire cemetery was wiped out in Ralph. This tombstone was from 1900.

My Aunt Tammy's sewing room... complete with a new aerial view. :)

Some sort of projectile shot through this wooden door and into the wall of the hallway where we were taking cover. Blake and I had literally been sitting in front of this door just moments before we ducked for cover.

The living room. A tree hit the chimney, and then the chimney and the tree came tumbling into the living room. Thank God we had moved!!

Just outside the living room.

Our dreams and plans for the near future were uprooted, but our faith the the Lord was not. He will provide for us, but our concern is with those who lost more than just plans and dreams. We pray God will provide in miraculous ways through the outpouring of His spirit onto the volunteers who will sweep through this city.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Healthy Dose of Sarcasm

sarcasm |ˈsärˌkazəm|
defn: the use of irony to mock or convey contempt

synonyms: derision, mockery, ridicule, scorn, sneering, scoffing; irony; cynicism.
"The tongue has the power of life or death, and those who love it will eat of its fruit." - Proverbs 18:21

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer." - Psalm 19:14

"A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of." - Luke 6:45

"The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly." - Proverbs 15:24

"The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil." - Proverbs 15:28

Stark contrast, eh? I have to admit, I usually lean a little more towards a heavy dose of sarcasm than a healthy dose. But, the past few months have been an eye-opener in the world of words and friends. I am often brewing with sarcasm, used to be silly or funny - not to "hide [my] resentment." I have described friends using this line "He's so funny and sarcastic," as if being sarcastic was something to be proud of.

But when I look at the synonyms of sarcasm - ridicule, scorn, mockery - I am ashamed. Why would I ever want to be defined as such? If my being funny and getting a good laugh comes at the cost of another person, I am wrong. Very wrong.

In certain situations, sarcasm is somewhat harmless. When joking about situations or experiences, I don't see any serious harm. You laugh with a friend about a bad experience at a restaurant and say, "Oh yeah, that was the best meal ever...." No big deal, I don't think (except that you are technically lying, but that is a different story!). But, when our sarcasm (or just our jokes in general) is aimed at a person, we begin to enter dangerous territory. We begin to encroach on a person's Spirit - God's territory.

I am guilty of this, too, and at times it's gotten me in big trouble. But, lately, I have seemed to be at the receiving end of what seems like a thousand sarcastic/"just joking" remarks. I am beginning to reap what I have sown, and it is isn't fun.

We say that we "pick on people we love" or that we "only pick on people who can handle it." But, really, is that how we want to treat the people we love? Is that how I want to treat people I love? And, who decides if a person can "handle" it? There are days when little jokes don't bother me, and other days when an innocent comment can send me home crying and hurt. Who can judge what I can and cannot handle except me and Jesus?

My favorite is this line: "I only pick on people who know I love them." That's the worst lie ever. I don't know if you've ever been around the kind of person who constantly pokes fun at you (I have), but they don't make me feel loved. They make me feel like I'm a joke, like my feelings don't matter to them, and that they don't care about me. I don't want people I love to ever feel that way, or ever doubt that I love them. I don't want to show people I love them by picking on them. I want to show them I love them by loving them.

Now, I know that this post is kind of like "the pot calling the kettle black." And let me just confess: I am so guilty of this. SO SO SO SO SO SO guilty of letting the garbage in my heart come out of my mouth! I am, at times, the worst of all! But, I am learning. I am learning that I want to speak in love, and speak life into people.

"The tongue has the power of life and death..."

I choose life.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Stressing About Stress

Everyone struggles with something. Some people are neurotic about the condition of their house, some people are OCD about clipping coupons, some people are nerdy foodies, and so on (and, at times, I am all three of those things rolled into one). My problem is a little more complex... I am consumed with productivity.

I have this "thing" with being productive. If I relax, I feel guilty. If I overwork myself, I feel overwhlemed. I have yet to find the "perfect" balance (if such a thing exists), and I often relate my self-worth to my level of productivity.

This past semester has been extremely busy. Between student teaching, trying to graduate , getting married, and trying to find a place of live... whew! I'm tired just at the thought! It's just been flat-out, non-stop busy. And, although I love to be productive, I hate being busy. Surprisingly (or not), I am an introvert, and I need some alone time every day. I hate having something to do every night of the week and on the weekend. I like to have time to chill and work on my scrapbook. But, this semester hasn't always allowed for much calmness. At times, it's been so stressful that I have wondered if I want to teach until retirement age. I've wondered if this really is what I want to do for the next twenty years or so.

Then, I read a news article that said people who are stressed because they work hard at a job they love actually live LONGER than people who have relaxing, calm, and stress-free lives. WORD! I definitely love what I do and it is definitely stressful! So, now, I am trying to embrace the stress... hoping it'll keep my heart ticking just a wee bit longer... so I can be more productive.... crap. ;)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Counting Down.

Nine school days left of my internship.
Less than three weeks until graduation.
Twenty-seven episodes left of Oprah.
Less than two months until we can begin moving into our house(!!).
Sixty-eight days until the wedding.

I said I wouldn't be one of those "countdown girls," but I SO am.

It's what keeps me going these days. I am so exhausted, so worn out... and I hate to be that way. My introverted little self needs more "me" time, and it's beginning to show. But, I keep looking at the countdowns, and I think "one step closer, just one step closer." I'll get there. I'm determined. Yes, the conclusion of Oprah's long-term tenure really is wearing on me that bad. ;)

In other news, things have been moving forward in the little life of Katie and Blake. Our newest excitement has been finding out where we are going to LIVE! For those of you who don't know, our economy is in bad shape... which means the job hunt for me is a slow-going process. We were hesitant to sign a lease at an apartment complex since I don't have a job (yet!). As we waited on signing a lease, a tiny little miracle happened. The family friends who have been living in my great-grandmother's house found out they were moving out of state, and my aunts and uncles have offered the house to me and Blake. We are STOKED. This means we'll have room for an office (something I wasn't sure I could do without) and we will have a yard for Arnold and Elaine. The Lord really showed Himself faithful on this, and I just wanted to share the fun news. Oh, and we'll have a swimming pool...... :)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

For My Daddy

Since returning to school in January 2008, I have been dead-serious about my grades (to the point that I have cried, yelled, and even said a few four-letter-words in the process). But, I never imagined that all this hard work would lead up to three of the sweetest words in my college career: Summa Cum Laude.

Seriously, I made an F (AN F!!!!!) in Biology 101 at the University of Montevallo because I skipped class regularly to watch FAMILY FEUD. I mean, I was once a total slacker! How I made it to Summa Cum Laude (and also a fancy little red hat to wear, since I am graduating with a 4.0), I am not sure...

I didn't fully realize it until yesterday's ceremony that I really have worked extremely hard to be where I am. Thanks to God's many and abundant provisions, I have been afforded an opportunity that I know I have not and will not take for granted. I have sacrificed energy, time, an income, and even some relationships to achieve my goal of graduating with a 4.0. And, somehow, I did it.

I am so thankful for the people who cheered me on, namely my sweet mama and even my Daddy, who I think has been cheering me on from Heaven. :) All those times I was exhausted, all the times I cried, all the times I wanted to give up, I just heard my Daddy saying, "Hey, kiddo, it's going to be alright." I hate that he won't be there to see his little girl graduate with highest honors, and I hate even more that he won't be there to see me get married (which is a whole other story!).

While cleaning out the storage shed today, Blake and I stumbled across a whole bunch of my dad's old stuff. Coveralls, tools, gloves, lamps, and the things from the funeral we hid away. Cards sent from friends, newspapers from the weekend he died, and the program from his funeral. It was such an appropriate time to find those things... a time when I have been thinking of him constantly, hoping he can see a glimpse of where his little girl is finally headed. Somehow, I think he knows. Even if he doesn't, I know he would be proud. :)

Monday, April 4, 2011


Over the past three weeks, I have met some of my most challenging students ever. They are by no means bad, but several of my fifth graders carry some serious attitude problems. I have never had students with such attitudes, but I think I'm starting to see some breakthroughs.

A - This student has a MOUTH on her. Seriously! She is a tiny little firecracker of attitude. She is always in the thick of the drama, yet wants to play innocent. My latest tactic with her is to seat her by my desk (for "preventative" purposes, as I explained to her), and to just really invest in her, while being super tough on her. Today, while I was getting on to her about an issue with another student, she said "Ms. Lewis, can I tell you something?" I reluctantly let her speak, and was astonished when what she wanted to tell me was the truth. :)

R - She is my most impulsive student. If she gets mad, the best thing to do is to remove her from the situation. If she gets upset about something, she starts yelling and threatening other students, and I just can't have that. She can't see beyond the immediate once she starts to get angry. Today, she was sent to the office for yelling at ME (another first) after I told her to leave the restroom (I caught her yelling at and threatening another student). A few hours later (she had been back in the classroom for a while), I went to speak to her. She was smiling and joking with me, and it was evident that she knows I'm tough on her because I love her and expect better from her.

L - Truly, truly, I have NEVER had a student like L. I kid you not, this kid is a miracle. By miracle, I mean that I have no clue how he got to 5th grade. It's not that he isn't smart. He probably could be smart. But, he has no motivation whatsoever to work or attempt to work, and even my classroom teacher (a 20+ year teacher) is at a loss for words and ideas. The best I can do with L is to PRAISE PRAISE PRAISE everything good he does and to offer incentives for extrinsic motivation. If he chooses to sleep, talk, or distract other students during my lesson, then he loses privileges.

J - This boy is something else. Incredible potential, very little motivation. He, too, gets involved in all the class drama and has an attitude at times. The biggest trouble with J is that his already-distracted brain gets even further distracted by L. I have struggled with how to get through to J... I was tough on him, I spoke softly and explained why I needed him to participate, I offered incentives... nothing worked. Then, I realized that he LOVES his mom. LOVES her. We were using a phone call to his mom as a punishment, but I decided to try something else. I talked to J about making his mom proud, and how his mom is most proud of him when he does what he's supposed to do when she isn't around. I put a sticky note on his desk that says "MA - Make her proud!" He's been a different kid after that conversation (and after the reminders I sometimes have to give him!).

Despite the challenges, I have to say this is one of my favorite classes. I love the conversations we have, I love their maturity and their participation in our lessons. I love the ideas they have, the suggestions they have, and the intelligence they posses. I hate to say that I only have four more weeks with them!!