Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tuscaloosa Tornado - Day 4 (Last Day)

Last full day in Tuscaloosa. We went back, once again, to Phillip's home to clean up and finish transplanting some trees and bushes from his grandparent's house in the backyard. Here's how it turned out:

I was so great to see it come together a bit at the end. It has been a blessing to meet all of Phil's family and the people of the First United Methodist Church. We've had such a great trip and worked hard (despite the many breaks). The weather has been great, but very hot. So we decided to celebrate on our last day by calling it quits after lunch and taking a trip out to the lake-house that Phil's aunt so graciously offered on Lake Tuscaloosa. I have no documentation, but I watched for 2 hours as Jonathan and Ryan swam to the opposite side of the lake for some cliff jumping. Pretty entertaining.

That night, we went to the original Dreamland BBQ to hang out with all of Phillip's family one last time. A great way to end the trip and fellowship with the team. Thanks for all of those who were praying for the trip, Phillip's family, and the city of Tuscaloosa.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tuscaloosa Tornado - Day 3

Another work day at Phillip's house. Got the chain saws going and worked on removing some of the smaller branches that have fallen in the yard. In the afternoon, we worked on transplanting some great myrtle trees from Phil's grandparents house up the road. We got the trees out of the ground today, but only got one of them replanted. It was quite difficult to get them out of the ground and it was crazy hot again today. We went back to the church to chill and eat, then headed out into town after dinner. We walked around and enjoyed some of the unique and original sites of Tuscaloosa. We ended up going to some bars and meeting up with some guys Phil grew up with and knew in high school. It was interesting to hear their stories about the tornado and how they were all coping with it as college students at U of A. All in all, besdies some wack karaoke, not much happening in downtown Tuscaloosa on an early, somber, summer night.

Here are some pictures I took of Phil's grandparents house, just so you kinda get an idea of how their neighborhood was effected by the twister:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tuscaloosa Tornado - Day 2

First day to actually get to work and see first hand the damage done by the tornado. We went to Phillip's house and just went to town in the backyard tearing out trees that had fallen. Phillip lives in a part of the city known as Forest Lake. However, there are very few trees left standing. We worked in the backyard the entire day and made great progress despite having chain saws that only worked half the time and were stuck the other half. Thank goodness for Jonathan and his hatchet.

We were hoping to do some work on Phil's grandparent's home that is just a couple houses up the road. Unfortunately, FEMA declared it destroyed. Therefore, it will completely bulldozed and they will have to rebuild their home on the same lot. In fact, Phillip's mom Perry informed me that probably all the houses on their block, besides their own, will have to be bulldozed. The damage isn't widespread, but took a path straight through town. You can follow the line of the tornado very easily. The weirdest part is driving around; everything is normal. Then 50 feet later you are in an area that is completely leveled. At the end of the day, Perry showed me around town to the other neighborhoods that were effected by the tornado. Specifically, Alberta City and Holt. These areas were way worse then Phillip's neighborhood.

We got back to the church and showered up and then had dinner. Some volunteers from First United Methodist served up a great Italian meal. We all ate a bit too much. Soon after we crashed from being a little too ambitious the first day in the 93-95 degree heat (record high). One of the coolest aspects of the trip is having Dr. Troyer and Kulaga there. It is truly a unique experience have people in such high positions at a University caring so much about their students. Dr. Troyer is the man on the chainsaw. I think we are all going to be feeling it tomorrow.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tuscaloosa Tornado - Day 1

Hey everyone, I know it has been a while. But a few weeks removed of college and student teaching, I believe it is time to start up the ole' blog again. No better way to start then reflecting on the past week and my trip to Tuscaloosa to help a good friend (Phillip) and his wonderful family. The next couple posts will be in a journal format, each representing the days of the trip.

DAY 1:

First night in T-town. Got to the church and met all the fine folks of First United Methodist. Including Josh Davis, who's on staff and has been so hospitable to us Kentucky folk. The team that came down form Asbury includes: Jacob Clevinger, Jonathan Rehner, Ryan Stoltzfus, Jenelle McClean, Janah (not to be confused with Janay) James, Paul Niswander, Ben Andrews, Randy Troyer, Dr. Troyer, Dr. Kulaga, and myself. We were joined by one of Paul's friend Carlton and his brother who is a student at the University of Alabama. We settled in the awesome youth room, but we couldn't do much on the first night because it was nearly dark when we arrived. We decided to ride around to make a brief assessment of the damage. Afterwords, we ran over to Holy Spirit (Phillip's school growing up) to drop off some supplies that we had picked up before heading down. Earlier in the evening we ate at Mug Shots, downtown. Two thumbs up; awesome burgers.

The supply shelter set up at Holy Spirit is mainly for the Hispanic community that is near by. That specific section of town was devastated by the tornado. By devastated, I mean piles of debris are all that remain of what used to be mobile homes and houses. It would remind you of driving into a junk yard. In some places, where there used to be houses, there are just holes in the ground. The lives and stories of some of the Hispanic folks at the shelter were amazing and troubling. I wasn't able to communicate with them for the obvious reasons, but this is what I was able to take from the conversations that occurred:
  1. The big problem happening in the community is the need for medical care.
  2. In a good amount of the homes, which were mainly trailers, the residences who survived the tornado are illegal immigrants.
  3. Because they are illegal immigrants they are refusing medical care regardless of their condition. This is due to their concerns with being deported or revealing someone else that is not supposed to there.

Phillip and his Dad were trying to convince them that they needed the medical care and that the doctors wouldn't ask any questions or to see identification. However, it seems they did not gain much ground with them. These people want nothing to do with anyone, especially Caucasian doctors, that could jeopardize their situation or that of a family member. The saddest part of all of this is not only that they refuse treatment or to go to a hospital, but they also won't claim their dead because of the same fears. Unfortunately, it seems that most deaths caused by the tornado happened in this section of town.

During these conversations, we ran into an older fella named Sebastian. His story is heartbreaking and was a good reminder of how blessed we all are. Sebastian's trailer was destroyed by the tornado and he miraculously survived. He got out of his home and went next door to check on his sister and two nieces. He found them dead in their home, but he pulled them out onto the side of the street where they were soon picked up by emergency personnel making their rounds through the damaged areas of town. Since those moments, right after the tornado passed through, he has been looking for their bodies. However, they are no where to be found. A week and a half before, Paul met Sebastian a day after the storm on a bus in the same predicament. It has been two weeks at this point and he still has no idea where they are. For now, he just hangs out at the supply shelter because he literally has no where else to go for the time being. Depressing end to day one.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fear and Vindication

Fear is such a strange characteristic. None of us really want it. We want to be fearless, but no matter what we all experience some kind of fear. Hopefully one of those is a fear of God. A lot of the time I like to define "God fearing" as Job did and as I have referred to before in a previous post:

And he said to man,
"Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
and to turn away form evil is understanding."

-Job 28:28

Wisdom and understanding are good characteristics. But what about the fears that we have that are not of God, but are strictly human. I think of passages like Matthew 6:25-34. But how difficult is it to "not be anxious about your life" and "tomorrow." What life would be if we were able to take it one day at a time and truly be able to say, "Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

A passage from Joel, which is less popular than that of Matthew and New Testament writings, expresses the same idea in a different way. I really like how the passage addresses fear from the perspective of creation. First the land, then animals, then humanity. I particularly think it is cool how that order of events parallels the creation story in Genesis 1.

"Fear not, O land:
be glad and rejoice,
for the LORD has done great things!
Fear not, you beasts of the field,
for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit;
the fig tree and the vine give their full yield.
Be glad, O children of Zion,
and rejoice in the LORD your God,
for he has given the early rain for your vindication;
he has poured down for you
abundant rain,
the early and latter rain as before.

-Joel 2: 21-23

Two years ago, on a a trip to France and Spain over Christmas break, I wrote a poem to try to relate to the concept. Thanks to Mr. Frost for the rhyme pattern.

Southern French Landscape by Jennifer Young


Near the border of France and Spain,
Passing the countryside by train.
In a field sits a broken windmill,
Below it a barren water main.

The winter winds blow hard,
Shifting the rusty gears ajar.
Early spring breezes whirl soft,
But do not spin the battered blades far.

Up in the farmhouse loft,
The faithful farmer lays his head down soft.
The restless cattle are unaware,
There will be not water in the troth.

Thinking Mother Nature would show no shame,
To the east turned the farm's old vain.
Then the heavens poured out rain.
Then the heavens poured out rain.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Freedom in Thinking

Over Thanksgiving break I watched Dead Poets Society for the first time since about 9th grade. It was great! I forgot most of the plot line of the movie so it was almost as if I were watching it for the first time ever. My favorite character was Knox Overstreet, who uses his new found poetic abilities to woo a public schoolgirl. However, I cannot quit thinking about the story of Neil Perry. The young man that commits suicide after feeling his life and thinking do not deserved to be controlled by his parents. I kept thinking about the major theme of the movie and what that means in my future as I begin teaching. In my mind there is a conflict of tradition thinking and the new ways of thinking associated with the modern world. I have concluded there is a time and place for both. Nevertheless, Neil Perry's thinking was just (although his actions were tragic and wrong). Thinking should always be free. Throughout history people have been physically enslaved, but what keeps people alive is freedom of mind. We all should allow others that same freedom, especially the ones we love. I read a poem today that reminded me of this:


Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
when the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that were picked
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than nay other man on Toner's bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away

Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I've no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.

- Seamus Heaney

All I have left to say is: carpe diem.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


People have their doubts. That is certain. Many people have doubts in their faith, the Bible, who Jesus was, and if there is such a thing as justification. In fact, because of doubt and skepticism, many people do not seek any of these things. I think that is the beauty of faith. Faith in Christ that gives us salvation removes, or at least pardons, all the human imperfection associated with doubt. I look back at the gospel and the life of Jesus and see many people that chose to follow him, and others who sat in his presence and still did not believe. Even the people that were the closest to him, like his own disciples, doubted Jesus and his motives at times. Luckily for us, Jesus was well prepared to deal with our ignorance. Despite what someone might believe about Christ, his miracles, his message, the resurrection, descent, and ascension, one thing cannot be denied. That is, we cannot ignore the way in which the followers of Christ, then and now, experience God. Today I look at the way the Holy Spirit works in my life and can identify how I experience God in a magnificent way. But what we may not realize, is that people like the disciples experienced God in the same way years before us. Proof for the authenticity of Christ can be seen in the drastic changes in the lives of the disciples. They did not just hear the great commission, but they became it. Take the story of Paul for example. A man that once persecuted Christians became one of the leaders of the commission, even after Christ was gone from this world. Then there is my favorite example in doubting Thomas:

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe."
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

-John 20:24-29

The Incredulity of St. Thomas by Caravaggio

The disciples lives were radically changed through the experience of Christ and the acceptance of his message, thus changing the history of the world. Today, people are experiencing these same radical changes. I encourage you to look at your own life or someone you know, and reflect on how through the experiences of justification and sanctification, their has been radical changes. One thing is certain, in the skeptical world we live in, God is alive and at work changing the world today. Through the Bible and the founders of the Christian faith we know that this is only because of the message and opportunity provided by Christ. And to that, there is no doubt.