After a Deluge, Comes New Life?

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Ed and Bob in their lovely pre-Katrina garden

Remember the elves at the Threads’ Birthday Party on Sunday?  Well, one of the most joyful elves is a guy named Bob Tick who has a 500 watt smile and is a GIANT of a good guy.  Watching him on Sunday, one would think he has never had a care.  WRONG!  It has been my experience that deeply kind and joyful grownups almost always have the gift of resilience due to having fallen down and gotten back up.  On the eleventh anniversary of Katrina’s landfall in New Orleans, here’s Bob’s story:

“Another hurricane heading towards New Orleans! They usually turn or just skirt the city. So as required by my job, all managers of the Hotel must be on property in the threat of a storm. Our GM said bring your family and pets so we picked up the container that held everything important, took a few photos and headed to the Royal Sonesta in Ed’s truck. A couple of days in a luxury Hotel in the French Quarter would not be so bad or so we thought.

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My first meeting was with all managers and the director of security who advised us that if New Orleans took a direct hit we would be standing in two feet of water on the second floor. By Saturday night the Mississippi river began to flow backwards meaning the eye was heading our way. So we began by securing all doors and windows, banquet rooms restaurants, bars and the Engineering department. The National Guard, CNN and ABC took up residence in our Hotel.

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The storm came in Sunday night into Monday morning. We had no electricity, gas or fresh water. There was no phone service and all cell towers were down. We couldn’t even tell anyone we were OK. We were told we could not even shower in the water as it was contaminated. Fortunately the Hotel had generators that could run hall and lobby lights.

Wednesday morning the Mayor issued a mandatory evacuation. We left in the truck with five other people and five dogs. The police forced us to leave via the west bank. We wanted to check out our neighborhood but they would not let us and they said nothing was left standing in our neighborhood so we left thinking we lost our home. We dropped off the first group in Baton Rouge and continued north to Shreveport where we left the others and finally stopped to eat. We were exhausted and hungry and a mother and daughter came over and handed us a napkin saying this is for your kids. We said we didn’t have any kids but they saw our dogs in the truck and gave us a piece of bacon for each of them. They heard us talking to the waitress and knew we came from New Orleans. They picked up our check and gave us a hug and we were in tears.

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Some of Bob and Ed’s Kids, eleven years later. Not sure same dogs but same love.

We got on I-20 and drove east all night heading to Atlanta. It was very scary because every gas station we stopped at was out of gas. People were sleeping in their cars waiting for the next gas delivery to the station. By the time we reached Alabama we were running on fumes but did find a station that had gas and we continued on to Ed’s Sister’s in Sandy Springs. After a 24 hour drive we fell into a warm welcome bed and crashed until the next morning. We finally were able to let other family members and friends know that we were OK.   No ATMs were working in New Orleans and no branch of our bank operated in Atlanta so we lived off our American Express card for several months.

After about two weeks we were able to get in touch with a neighbor who told us our house was standing and we had about 2 feet of water downstairs. Four blocks away there was 6 feet of water. We were not allowed back in the city for five weeks because they had to pump the lake water back out of the city.  Our home was a duplex and we lived upstairs so it was our renters that lost all of their furniture. However the entire downstairs had to be gutted from the floor up 4 feet due to water and mold wicking up the sheetrock.

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A Small World in Shambles

Aside from the floors, walls, kitchen cabinets and appliances down there we also lost 2 washers, 2 dryers, 2 hot water heaters and all of Ed’s art supplies in our garage. My car and the tenants’ cars were all lost as well. Electricity was restored first so we had to buy electric clothes dryers instead of the gas dryers we lost. We also bought electric hot water heaters. The electricians from the Hotel installed the hot water heaters and electric dryers. Our garage quickly became the “Laundromat” of our neighborhood as we were the first on our block to have washers and dryers and we offered them to all of our neighbors.

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Can you imagine?

Returning after five weeks was sickening. You could not get away from the stench. No electricity meant that all meat, dairy products and produce in every grocery store, hotel, home fridge and freezer had rotted. All trash was hauled out into the streets. Ten thousand fish from the New Orleans Aquarium rotted. That smell made you want to throw up and it is something you will never forget. Our favorite restaurant at the end of our block was split in two by a 100 year old oak tree that came down. Our beautiful city park had cars in trees and no birds came back for months…but there were horrible gnats and bugs everywhere.

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Step by step very, very slowly

By December I could no longer live there. Every hard rain the streets flooded which was not unusual for New Orleans. We had a condo in Sandy Springs that we were going to move into when we retired in about three years, so we moved to Sandy Springs. Ed went back for six months to oversee the renovation of our house and we sold it to a tenant who rented our downstairs. Her home was under eight foot of water and her entire neighborhood was bulldozed. So here we are in Atlanta where Ed always wanted to live…just three years sooner than planned.

We looked for a church and God sent us to All Saints’ via the internet:

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The website seemed too good to be true so we thought we would give it a try. We were welcomed with open arms and never thought we would find such a wonderful home parish.

Much has been left out but we’re sure you get the gist of our experience. We still wonder to this day why we were spared. In some respects Katrina was the worst and the best thing that ever happened to us. All of our neighbors, friends and everyone’s pets survived and that was the biggest blessing of all.”

Isn’t that a powerful comeback story?  We are so glad Bob and Ed washed up here at All Saints’ for they are deep blessings in and through the congregation. Look at Bob helping children find garments for new life!

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Around this block, after the flood comes new life. Really. We believe by the grace of Christ. Come and See.

Martha +

 

 

When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Appears. That’s a Promise.

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Lori Guarisco—Graceful and Brilliant Head Elf

Hidden in a set of rooms behind a nondescript door on the lower floor of the Tate Building, are actual ELVES!!  Yes, All Saints’ has elves—the adorable, cheerful, helpful kind, a  gazillion of them!

Their leader is Lori Guarisco, such a fascinating woman. Here’s Lori:

“I’ve been a dancer all my life. My grandmother was a dancer and a clown!  I started off with eastern dancing. Belly dancing for instance is a way that women teach each other about their bodies. Over the years, I’ve had hundreds of students.

In recent years I’ve also become a stone mason and working in stone is now a big part of who I am. I think building with stones is a Christian thing. I am  building an amphitheater in my backyard—long term project, of course.

Dancing and working with stone – believe it or not – they are really the same thing.

The thing I’ve learned about working with stone is the power of patience. You have to have a lot of patience. And I very rarely in my life lose patience. A gift from years of dancing, of living and loving.

I have also learned as a student and a teacher that ‘when the student is ready, the teacher appears.’ I have been aware this past year that it is time learn some new ‘body vocabulary’.”

So Lori is actually in Spain right now, in Seville, where there is a biennial flamenco festival, because a wondrous flamenco teacher recently appeared in Lori’s life and invited her to join the dance! Lori says her inner student is ready.

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The Grace of Baile Flamenco!!

Isn’t that such a good thing to remember?  When we are ready to learn a beautiful and deep new thing, a teacher will appear.  I call that the Grace of Christ.   That kind of grace happens to me all the time around All Saints’.  That’s what we do around this block—teach each other dances of grace and strength, compassion and courage, and yes, patience. We really do.

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Two of our 3000 All Saints’ teachers, Pat Kiley and Lori.

Back to the elves behind the nondescript door in Tate Hall: their passion is Threads,  a parish ministry driven by the desire to provide children from birth through fifth grade with clean, durable clothing and footwear.  Every year about 30,000 items of clothing as well as 10,000 pairs of socks and underwear are elf-organized and made available to Threads shoppers who come to us through neighborhood agencies serving the poor. The elves help families experience SHOPPING WITH  CHOICES. Sometimes, children of affluence have too many choices which certainly  has its own struggles.  But to give a child without financial resources the chance to pick what s/he really wants to wear, why that is holy!! Threads serves a eucharistic feast in a way!

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Excellent Elves, Bob Tick and Cappa Woodward, in a Threads feast organizational moment with Lori!

 

This Sunday, August 28, the place to be in all of Atlanta  is THREADS TWELFTH BIRTHDAY PARTY!!

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Don’t you want to bring a present?? No wrapping necessary!

The elves will be out in force. Don’t miss it!

And then next day, Monday, August 29,  check back here on the Around This Block blog for the anniversary of an eleven year old Elf Back Story—about losing your life and finding it again.

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Where was this elf eleven years ago?  (Hint: a lot of water was on the way.)

Happy Birthday, Threads! Happy Dancing, Lori!

Martha +

“Melting Blocks of Ice is What We Do”

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George Alexander, Jim Pritchett, Me, Harry Pritchett back in the day
Last Sunday, our beloved colleague, George Alexander showed up in church with his family.  A memory got stirred up in David Aldridge, Finance Chair (and Good Egg). Here’s David:

“Sometimes the Holy Spirit seems to rattle around in the rafters at All Saints and descend into our midst at the most unpredictable moments. This past Sunday was one of those moments.

As background, Dana and I have been attending All Saints since the late 1980s. We have been to countless Christmas Eve Services, Easter Sunday services, All Saints’ Sundays, baptisms (including our three boys), and many, many more in between.

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The Aldridges back in the day
We have seen only two head Rectors in almost thirty years (which is pretty amazing), two interims (we love you Martha!), and a gazillion other clergy that have graced our presence, and all, in one way or another, have left an indelible mark upon our campus and upon our people.

But this past Sunday, was truly a ‘blast from the past’ when George and Norma Alexander attended our 9 am service. Their presence was not totally coincidental, as Martha in her wonderful sermon (“It’s what you make of it, I suppose”) mentioned George and a letter he recently had written to her. In any event, seeing George brought back some old memories, and one in particular that really gets to the heart of what we are at All Saints’.

Many of you remember George and Norma. George served here for many years as an associate rector, both under Harry and Geoffrey. George was a retired Army chaplain, and up until Kim Jackson’s arrival in a few weeks, our one and only African American priest at All Saints (that is also pretty amazing). George is a wonderful, calm, quiet soul, and his wife Norma is among the most genuinely beautiful people you will ever meet. Among George’s most memorable gifts is his warm, almost wry smile that could melt a block of ice at twenty paces—I kid you not.

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George melting block of ice at 20 paces
So, I digress, but here is a story, a story from a long time ago. Please bear with me here.

I spent most of my professional career as the head finance guy for an industrial manufacturing company, headquartered in Atlanta but with operations across the US and other countries as well. In the late 1990’s we were going through a period of very rapid expansion, and had brought in a new Head of HR who relocated to Marietta from somewhere in the southeast, I believe Nashville. Jim was the penultimate HR guy—along with being extremely bright, he was empathetic, understanding, compassionate, and extremely well liked by everyone.  Jim scored at the Mother Teresa level on a Myers Briggs test.

While Jim and I worked together closely, there were two facts about Jim that I did not know; however both became readily apparent over the course of several days. The first fact was that Jim was type 2 diabetic. This became shockingly apparent when Jim, age 44, was found dead at his desk just before lunch on an otherwise normal workday. You can imagine the devastation felt for the loss of an apparent healthy, vibrant, relatively young work associate.

The second thing I didn’t know about Jim became apparent when his wife, Candy, called me two days after Jim’s passing. She wanted to ask me a “favor”. Candy told me that Jim was raised Episcopalian. And while he had not been worshiping as such for years, Candy said Jim had always wanted to be buried by an Episcopal priest. She had heard from others around the office that I was a member of an Episcopal church, and she wanted to see if I could find a priest to bury Jim. What could I say but “No problem.”

This was in the late 1990’s and Geoffrey had only been with us for a short period of time, but I did have his cell phone number, and I did call him—hoping for some miracle to arrange for a priest, on 36 hours’ notice, to bury someone he or she has never met in a funeral home in Marietta, Georgia.   When I reached Geoffrey, he was out of town and wouldn’t return for several days, but he said—“Don’t worry, I will ‘take care of it’.” Within the hour Geoffrey called me back, and said George Alexander would be glad to bury your friend on 36 hours’ notice in Marietta Georgia—and there goes that Holy Spirit rattling around in the rafters again.

So, I called Candy back to let her know that we did have an Episcopal priest to bury Jim. However, I must admit, at that time (remember this was almost twenty years ago), I wondered whether I dare mention to Candy that George was African American (or black, as was more prevalent in those times)? Well, after telling her George’s name and background, I did tell Candy that George was black. And, when I did, there was a slight pause on the line, and then she responded, “Jim would approve of that.” Very simple, very straightforward, very clear.

Since Jim and Candy had only recently moved to Atlanta, the memorial service was a fairly small gathering, mostly folks from the office and some family from out of town. George conducted a lovely service, having met with Candy beforehand, and delivering a short but touching eulogy and homily. I did notice a few eyebrows raised when George first appeared at the altar —remembering again that this is Marietta, Georgia twenty years ago. But there is George with that quiet, comforting voice and that warm, empathetic smile. I know George won a few hearts, and definitely melted a few blocks of ice that day.

After the funeral, I spoke with Candy briefly. She thanked me for helping to arrange for George to be there, describing him as a ‘dear man’, and saying “I am sure Jim liked that”. Again, very simple, very straight forward, very clear.

So, as I said earlier, the Holy Spirit does rattle around in the rafters of All Saints’ a lot. I don’t think that is going to change. And All Saints’ also has a reputation for melting a lot of blocks of ice. I know as we look back over the past twenty years or more (in some cases many, many more), at times there were blocks of ice that I think we should have left alone. But that is not us. That is not All Saints’. On the corner of North Avenue and West Peachtree we melt blocks of ice. As they say in that insurance commercial, ‘It’s what we do’.”

Thanks, David for you yourself  being a “very simple, very straightforward, very clear” witness.

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Around this block, we know the real sermons are written in hearts day by day, week by week, year by year, ice chip melting by ice chip melting.

Martha +

“For mercy has a human heart …

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Sometimes mercy looks just like strawberry shortcake.

Kristina Armstrong teaches  Covenant Community guys how to find and keep jobs. She is the one slicing the strawberries – enough for a feast.  I have known, respected, loved her for over twenty-five years. She helps people move into employment just like she makes strawberry shortcake—by doing the next little right thing.

Want to see some more human hearts in fine working order?

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The Program Director, the Clinical Director, the Seminarian (although the Seminarian has gone back to Sewanee, I leave him in the slide show because he told me his year with Covenant Community will always be in his heart), the Clinical Counselor, the MD … Strong-Hearted, Real-Hearted.  One is actually named Mercy!  She told me that what keeps her going is to witness how hard the men fight for their lives.

Maybe addiction is the most honest and brutal war of all since recovering addicts know exactly where both the friend and the enemy reside.  (Hint: tap your chest.)

 

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Dr. Debra Danzler, Executive Director, leaves Covenant Community this month after seven years and two days.   She leaves the place stronger than when she found it. She put her heart into the covenant and now she will rest.  Godspeed, Dr. D.

Around this block, the human heart is our very best commodity.  William Blake says it well (though I would translate “Pity” as  “Empathy” for pity parties are not where it’s at).  Instead, deep down, day by day,  we remind each other around this block that we are all really truly deeply human and thus really-truly-deeply-by-the-grace-of-Christ “All Saints.”

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.
Martha +

 

 

 

 

 

Where’s your purse? Really.

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Can you believe all these lovely women fit in Virginia Harrison’s purse?  It’s TRUE!              Dot Miller, Kara Wilkes, Virginia, EJ Diedrich, Beth Blalock, Nixon Harris

Here’s Virginia’s story and you will see that EVEN MORE PEOPLE fit in her purse:

“On Monday, August 15th, my beloved father will have been dead for nine years.”

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The Rev. Hendree Harrison – a faithful  priest-shepherd in Diocese of Atlanta.

“The last sermon he preached, just days before his unexpected death, was on these words from Luke: Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

I’ve been thinking about those words a lot lately, partly because, especially near this time of year, I think about last conversations and words with him and partly because we are at that part of our lectionary, but mostly because it’s been a really tough summer.

A big part of the reason it’s been tough is because a desperate man in a very desperate act, attacked me as I walked home and stole my purse.  It was brutal and unbelievably scary.  He physically hurt me bad, but it could have been so much worse.  He took my little, navy blue, nylon purse, but he didn’t get my real purse (which I firmly believe is also blue – my favorite color)!

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My real purse is overflowing and it stayed with me, unable to be touched by him.  That purse is spilling over because it holds people like the women in this photo, taken just a few days before, who immediately surrounded me with love, support, and kindness (as did so many others).

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PURSE PEOPLE! DOT, KARA, VIRGINIA, EJ, BETH, NIXON

Immediately after the attack God put a new person in my purse.  A precious young man who came to my rescue just moments after I began to try and continue walking home.  He climbed into my purse and held my hand while he called for help.  Then he scooted over so that one of the paramedics could get in my purse as he convinced a different hospital to let me come there because it would be much, much more convenient for me than where he was supposed to take me.  My aunt was already in my purse, of course, but she popped her head up to be with me in the emergency room and beyond.  Then, just a couple of weeks later, I popped my head up out of her purse, when her son, my beloved cousin, died, tragically, at the age of 37.

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Life can be tough and the connections we make and the treasures we store up where no thief can get them, make all the difference.

Here at the end of a hard summer, I think of my parents and the treasure in our home purse.

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Virginia’s mom and dad, Carol and Hendree – BLUE PURSE PEOPLE

I’m also reminded of another set of words from that August nine years ago.  Just days after my father’s death, my grief stricken mother stood in front of the church and said, “I am sad beyond measure but I will be OK and my children will be OK because we did not build our house on sand.  Our house is built on a rock.'”

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After a really hard summer,  Virginia says, “I‘m standing on that rock, with my beautiful (blue) purse overflowing. And I’m grateful.” 

And to that I say AMEN.  

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Virginia walks me home after our Monday morning warden meetings. She’s in my purse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Noelle! Noelle! Ultreia et Suseia!!

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Baby Noelle, Holly and Marty.  Pretty Adorable!!

So that little candy striped hunka burning love is our Noelle!  She  came into this world on Christmas Eve.  What a gift!!!  I asked her how she got to All Saints’:

“My parents were trying to figure out where to go to church because it turns out that to join the church they had been going to, the governing board had to vote on you. And they didn’t understand that.

Their friend and my future godfather James Marshall had just joined the All Saints’ choir, and he and his former wife Sheryl (my future godmother) loved the church and mentioned a fantastic preacher who turned out to be Barbara Brown Taylor.   We came in 1985 when I was eight, and the next year I was baptized by Barbara.”

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This makes me cry for the joy of all the seasons of life and love that we three have known here at All Saints’ and for the sadness of goodbyes.  I’m not good at goodbyes.  Are you?  You dear Saints are experiencing two HUGE GOODBYES this summer.  So, between Geoffrey and Noelle,  this is a real goodbye season of 31 years of  All Saints priests. How you doing with that?   (We took the photo last week, which lets you know that saints’ goodbyes are NOT forever.)

Noelle has been part of the Saints since she was child and has been an all sorts and conditions of saint in and of herself!!!!  Kathy Roberts was her youth advisor!

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Kathy and Noelle having mimosas at the staff going away party.    Time is an ever rolling stream!

Here are a few thanksgivings the staff wrote to God about Noelle:

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I thank God for Noelle because she has been a source of support, honesty and unbridled joy in my life (and I think other people’s lives as well). She is in this world being fully human  and someone who has given her life to the work of the priesthood.

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I thank God for Noelle because she is fully she!  The role of priest doesn’t change who she is, how she dresses, what she does, how she celebrates life.

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She is so incredibly cool, a wonderfully animated story teller—not nearly as introverted as she claims to be.  In fact sometimes I think she might need to ice down her jaws from talking so much! Amazingly fun to work with.  Thanks be to God for a bomb of a priest and colleague!

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She has been a source of joy, beauty and truth for me and this church family. She is always clear in her purpose and vision for doing something. 

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We have lovingly watched her grow up, and now it’s time for her to leave the nest. Leaving is never easy for those leaving or those left behind.    I trust God in this season of goodbyes.   We watch her go and know she will do great things.

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I will always be grateful and a little more at peace knowing that her gifts are being used to the Glory of God.

 

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Once a saint, always a saint.  Go with God beloved Noelle, Kevin, and children!!

Me, I love her because she is the dance.  With every move and word and expression across her face, she dances.  Around this block, we follow the Lord of the Dance. Yes we do. Amen

Martha +