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Year 9 of Teaching

Although this past Friday was the last day of school for students, it wasn’t until after I’d attended a final meeting Tuesday morning that I could officially close the book on my ninth year of teaching.

You wouldn’t have known, from looking at the picture above, that the following was my face just an hour before . . .

Y’all, that is the face of a teacher who had gone through one of the hardest years in her career.

Truth be told, the year had gotten off to a rocky start early on. I remember telling my friend, Megan, after less than a month in, that it was already a hard year.

Little did we know that, a month after that conversation, what we would be called to deal with would stretch us to our limits.

I have always started out each school year with a fresh perspective; summer vacations are restorative must-dos for teachers due to the taxing nature of our profession.

It had not taken long, though, before I and fellow teachers were completely up to our eyeballs in oversized classes and too many preps. I considered myself fortunate that I only had two; some teachers had three or four with 30-40 students in each of them. Personally, I had 180 students – the most I’ve ever had and way too many considering that most of my students were low level 1 kids with great deficiencies in reading comprehension skills. Some of the kids came to me twice because of the way the scheduling was done, and many were resentful of that.

I can’t say that I blamed them. One class period with Mrs. Auburnchick is enough for anyone.

Ha!

Another thing that was hard at the beginning of the year, and quite frankly continued throughout, was that I had to fight hard for everything. There were kids who did not belong in some of my classes, and it was a real struggle to get them placed appropriately. A few wound up staying, which was frustrating because I knew that this wasn’t in their best interest.

Despite all of the angst, I settled in the best I could – determined to help my students pass the stupid FSA or make a concordant score on the SAT or ACT.

Hurricane Michael’s landfall and utter destruction threw everything out of kilter. It hit the day we were supposed to take our first School Day SAT, and my students were devastated. All of their hard work, because they knew that their chances of passing the stupid FSA were slim, felt all for naught.

We did the best we could, returned to school over a month later, but found ourselves with a half-day schedule (which I loved) and housed at a small middle school.

Kids had a hard time adjusting to beginning their academic day at 7am, although most were thankful that we were getting out at noon. Many of our kids found jobs because a huge chunk of the adult workforce had to relocate due to businesses being closed and homes being too damaged to live in. Places like Walmart couldn’t hire enough people, so they closed early.

I actually felt more of a community love during those hectic months. Being housed in a tiny school put us in closer proximity. We shared more conversations and had to be especially flexible in all things. As an introvert, this was both difficult yet soothing. I don’t do well in chaos surrounded by a lot of people, but this brought me out of my shell.

I did return to school with the same expectations for my students. Some were grateful for the academic challenges; others expected to sit and do nothing, which did not work in my classroom at all.

We made do, though, and eventually returned to our own campus. We had yet another schedule to adjust to because the state was demanding that we make up some of the time, and classrooms were a half-mile apart because of the portables that 3/4 of our teachers had to move into since so many of our buildings were too damaged to use.

Y’all, a Cat 5 hurricane wreaks absolute havoc on everything it touches, and repairs do not happen quickly at all.

We adjusted, though, but it was about March or April when I started seeing more extreme signs of PTSD emerge from my students. They were emotional wrecks with so much STUPID testing ahead of them.

You want to know why I was so teary-eyed in my second photo? It was partially because of how extra hard the Florida Department of Education made things for us.

This office on high refused to even consider test waivers for our sweet kids who had endured so much.

We had seniors who were scrambling to pass because the state refused to look at them as actual human beings – traumatized beyond anything we’d seen.

Do you know how hard it is to have students tell you that they probably won’t be at school the next week because they are getting kicked out of their rental, can’t find a house, and will be moving two hours away?

This happened many times a week.

Our school district had an increase in student mental health issues and a ridiculously high number of kids who were Baker Acted. When kids don’t feel like they can make it one more day but are required to take ten to fifteen exams, you know something is wrong with the Powers that Be.

Disillusionment set in – for all of us. Students repeatedly told me that the state didn’t care about them, which I agreed with, and I myself felt that the state didn’t care about teachers either.

We were still expected to jump through performance evaluation hoops – some mandated by the state and others mandated locally. There were other things teachers were told to do that I did not agree with ethically.

Sigh.

Now, I know that I’m sounding all negative, so I need to change gears for a few minutes and talk about the good stuff.

First of all, I loved watching my students put up their phones when they walked into class each day. I’d decided, last summer, to get much more strict on this policy this year, and I’d started from the first day. Students grew to be less distracted by their phones, although there were times when they would look at them hanging in the pocket holder and wonder who was texting them. I think this freed them up to really keep up with what we were doing and participate more in class discussions.

Of course, there were the celebrations when students did make their concordant scores. One young lady was ready to give up this spring. She was burned out from all of the testing she’d done, so it was very satisfying to tell her that she’d passed the stupid FSA (every now and then, one of my struggling readers will pass it).

I loved hearing, near the end of our final week, kids thanking me for being a good teacher. That meant the world to me.

I loved watching my kids from last year and the few who did early graduation this year walk across the stage to get their diplomas.

I’m not Mr. Flint, but I can imitate him quite well, thank you very much.
Pre-graduation shenanigans in the gym
This young man headed out to Marine boot camp the morning after graduation.
You’d never know from this silly photo, but this young man took care of an elderly woman through the hurricane. They both stayed, and he bailed out water from her home in the middle of the storm. When I saw him after the storm, I asked, “Were you scared?” He said, “Yesssssss, girl. I was screaming my head off.” Ha! He’s one of my heroes.

Graduation has always been the highlight of my year. It represents all of the hard work put in over the years – all of the loving poured into these kids – making them believe in themselves.

In fact, one of my students told me one of the last days of school that I was her favorite teacher. She told me that she’d been afraid to come into my room because other kids had told her that I was super strict. She said that she understood why I was strict, and that while some teachers said, “Poor girl” if she didn’t understand something (she’s ELL), I would tell her, “You can do this.”

That’s what I love most about teaching. It’s moments like this one that the people who wear fancy suits and work in beautiful, window-lined buildings (wish I could see outside my classroom) do not understand and that no amount of tweeting will get them to take notice of.

This year, I taught two English 3 classes. Y’all, after I figured out that my kids couldn’t do subject-verb agreement, we went back to the very beginning of grammar – to the parts of speech.

That is ALL we did for an entire semester because when kids don’t understand something, I slow down and teach them until they do. Even if they don’t do well on my tests (because the state says that’s the only way to measure growth), I know that my kids have progressed when I see what they are doing in my room on a daily basis.

I watched as wheels started turning in my kids’ heads as they started piecing together the different components of the grammar puzzle – how those parts worked together in their writing.

I heard one guy say, “My mama will whoop me good for talking all proper at home, so I have to talk a different way and not act like I’m better than her.” That might seem sad to you, but it was an aha moment for my kiddo who recognized that there are certain situations when you speak in certain ways.

Progress – not perfection.

My class was a safe place to make mistakes in the journey as they progressed.

What a journey it was this year too.

I was able, in the last few days of school when we were on a whack testing schedule, to talk to Flint (the Flint of the sign above). We reflected on the year. He always tells me what a wonderful teacher I am. Compared to him, Megan, and a few others I can think of, I don’t feel so great. I am not the SGA extraordinaire that Megan is. I’m not the fly-easy kind of guy that Flint is. As he and I talked, I told him that I have to manage my energy levels carefully, so I’ve tried to be more balanced and, instead, put everything I have into my lesson planning. We reflected on how grateful we were that we are veteran teachers now who have prior years’ worth of plans to lean on, tweak, or create from. With all that we had going on this year, we didn’t have to add the heaviness of being new teachers in our first or second years on top of that.

Despite that, we were exhausted.

It’s no wonder that the last day of school found me dressed, well, not in my best stuff, although Auburn attire is always spot on.

Floor decor courtesy of Hurricane Michael

I had prepped my room all that last week, so by Friday, I was able to lock my door for the summer.

I ran to the school that Monday to make the obligatory visit and turn in my keys before heading home to hang up my bag and lunch box.

I did return that afternoon to celebrate the retirement of three of our teachers. I’ll miss them and will admit to being jealous that they are closing out this chapter of their lives. State and local mandates are making me long for the day when it’s my turn. I am physically and emotionally depleted.

For right now, I’m content to retreat to my home, lick my wounds, and let God restore my tender heart, which has been too busy taking care of my teenage charges to completely mend from a beyond-challenging year.

If you need me, I’ll be working out, sunning myself, napping, and knitting – whilst enjoying homemade margaritas and yummy vegan dishes prepared by yours truly.

Here’s to Year 9 – a year when I lapsed a bit on #findingjoyinthejourney but plan a more positive approach/return to Year 10.

Never Lose Hope

My posts, of late, have been rather dreary.

I do apologize for that, but I’m definitely one who wears her feelings on her sleeve – or rather on my blog. I’ve never been accused of being fake, that’s for sure.

And then came Sunday . . . Easter Sunday . . . the first since October 10th when things went so very sideways (literally).

Just as Jesus rose from the dead on that very first Easter, so has hope been renewed in my own heart.

My church had been making plans for this holy day for weeks. We had been praying for good weather because, for the first time since December, we’d be having our service back in our original church parking lot.

Yesterday, I saw this picture posted on Facebook . . .

That’s an aerial view of my church. I wasn’t exaggerating when I’d previously written about its destruction. It still takes my breath away.

What can also be seen in the photo, near the top, is a tent, chairs, and what looks like a stage.

There had been many people working around the clock to ensure that we had everything we needed and many donations pouring in to help church leaders bring to fruition the plans that God had laid upon their hearts.

When I saw this picture, hope stirred within me.

Seeing, from ground level as we arrived this morning, what I’d only viewed online was something else altogether.

What you can’t see from the above picture are the other tents – a large one set up with tables and another set up with other things. There was a welcome center and tables to get coffee, water, and snacks.

There were people on media stands ready to film our service. I suspect that there was a soundboard and light thingamabob too because what occurred during the next hour resembled a concert of the most professional kind.

One of our worship leaders was singing as people arrived. I could listen to him all day; he has an incredible voice.

I posted this picture on Instagram – hence the location tag and text.

The Mr. and I settled in . . .

While behind us sat our hurricane-ravaged church building bearing witness to the fact that God’s Spirit cannot be contained within man-made structures . . .

What followed was one of the most incredibly inspiring services I’ve ever attended.

The song lyrics made me tear up; my sunglasses hid my red-rimmed eyes.

Against the backdrop of broken trees, we poured out our hearts to the One who has promised to make all things new, beginning with the sacrificial gift of His Son that day so many years ago.

My pastor’s sermon was a call to view our circumstances in a positive light – as the force to affect real change. He called for our county to stand out as different because of what we had endured.

And so, although I’ve been incredibly overwhelmed by a deep sense of frustration lately, the gathering of like-minded people, the songs we sang, the message preached – well, God used all of these things to buoy my spirit.

Rather than merely repairing what Hurricane Michael broke so badly, God will remake all of it . . . the physical and the emotional.

At the conclusion of the service, each family was encouraged to select a flower pot to take home and plant.

Unsurprisingly, the Mr. and I selected orange flowers.

They’ll be a bright spot in my front flower bed and a reminder of one of the most special Easter services I’ve ever experienced – of the hope God placed in my heart – of the reminder that though many have forgotten about us, He has not.

Happy Easter to all of you. I pray that you, too, will experience God’s personal touch in your lives today and that, if you don’t know Him, that you will seek Him out and discover, personally, a saving knowledge of His Son, Jesus.

We Told You So

191 days ago, Hurricane Michael hit my town and cut a viscous path through a number of other counties as it made its way north before finally expending its energy.

“Experts” labeled it as a strong Cat 4 storm . . . one mile shy of a Cat 5.

We knew, immediately, from the horrendous damage left behind, that these “experts” were wrong.

It was a Cat 5 through and through.

Well, it’s taken a minute or two, but today, we received official word that the storm has been reclassified as that of Cat 5 status.

I echo what every other hurricane victim is saying right now: “We told you so.”

#sorrynotsorry

The Mr. texted the news to me first thing this morning; he knew that I was doing all of the teaching things and didn’t have time to follow the latest updates.

How did I feel when I read his words?

It was a mixture of emotions . . .

Vindication for the insistence that I and everyone else I know had been putting forth about how horrible the recovery has been.

Anger at the powers-that-be for visiting my city, getting my hopes up by promising that they would help my community rebuild, and then failing to pass a funding bill to pay for recovery efforts.

Sadness at the reminder of what existed before the storm and what was left behind.

That’s the street that I drive onto every time I leave my neighborhood – a street I have frequently run up and down during my virtual races – a street that took my breath away for its beauty before the storm and now takes my breath away because it’s so shockingly devoid of standing trees.

Disappointment in a political system that claims it is for the people.

Y’all, it’s not.

It’s not for the everyday people in itsy bitsy towns struggling to survive every day.

History has proven that unless a storm hits a metropolitan area with a lot of clout, it doesn’t get the attention it so desperately needs.

This was a sign that was held up during a rally in our state capital this week. We are up to 191 days. And counting.

It’s very hard to believe in our “esteemed” political process when it fails to support the very people who elected those sitting in the drivers seat

I watched one of the national news broadcasts tonight (NBC, I’m calling you out) and was SUPREMELY saddened when I saw not one story about the change in the storm’s status.

Not one, y’all.

What the hell?

Sorry for my Redneck French.

But seriously though.

Oh, but I got to see a story about vaping.

It moved me to tears.

#notreally

I am so thankful that Hurricane Michael will forever sit in the history books as only the fourth to make landfall as a Cat 5 storm. It deserves its place for all of the havoc it has wreaked on our lives.

Today’s announcement, though, has taken us back, emotionally, to the early days of recovery. During my planning period, while I was in another room retrieving makeup tests that some of my students had taken, I had a long conversation with two other school employees. The topic: our experiences during and immediately after the storm.

We are scarred; we are battle-weary; we are stressed.

The government and media’s lack of attention continues to exasperate us.

The refusal by the Florida Department of Education to answer our requests to waive state test scores this year is pissing us off.

Thanks for putting the kids first.

#insertsarcasm

I am sorry for sounding so negative, but the public deserves to know what we are really going through since the media and political people have seen fit to sweep things under the rug.

Would you like to help? Please contact Florida’s governor and state representatives, @ them and President Trump on social media, and reach out to them any other way you can.

A big group of local teachers, students, and volunteers (I see you, Michael’s Angels) visited Tallahassee this week to make their voices heard. It was awe-inspiring to watch teenagers speak up for their education and the educators who will probably lose their jobs because of the lack of funding post-storm.

We face YEARS of recovery, and it will require many, many, many millions of dollars to do so. We cannot do this on our own. We need our country to stand beside us in deed rather than in word.

It never really feels good to say, “I told you so.” It means that someone, somewhere, did a wrong that needs to be fixed.

This is one HECK of a wrong.

It needs to be fixed.

It’s never too late.

6 Months and a Day

It’s been six months and a day since Hurricane Michael hit my sweet little town.

I was going to write a post yesterday, but quite honestly, I was on overload after reading the various Facebook posts acknowledging the half-year anniversary.

Hurricane PTSD is a real thing, y’all.

If I had to describe how I’m feeling six months and one day later, I’d have to use the word tired.

I’m tired of waiting for a new roof. My house is currently the last one on my street still sporting a tarp — well, three tarps, to be exact. We’ve been told that we’re next on the list. That could mean next week or next month. We have no idea.

I’m tired of walking my dogs in my back yard because I don’t have a fence yet. Trying to avoid stepping in piles of dog poop at o’dark thirty is a tricky thing on dew-laden grass.

I’m tired of driving down treeless streets. I don’t think I ever truly appreciated nature before the storm destroyed the landscape around me.

My street . . . sans trees . . .
So many bushes destroyed that need to be replaced . . .

I’m tired of getting lost on streets that I’ve driven thousands of times because six months and one day later, entire houses and other structures – landmarks, if you will – have been torn down.

Six months and a day later, the realization of the far-reaching effects of this storm is weighing heavily on my mind.

This week, I’ve had two students tell me that they are moving soon. One young man has been living with his aunt, and he’s being forced to leave (I can’t remember the reason). He’s looking to live with a cousin, but he’s not sure where they’ll wind up . . . either across the bridge or down south in another part of the state.

A different student, a young lady I actually got to know last year, told me that her family is being kicked out of the home they’ve been renting. The owner is either going up on the rent or has some other reason for displacing them. The saddest part of all was hearing her tell me that she’s going to have to get rid of her pets – a thought that she cannot bear.

These stories are wearing me down. The kids I’ve taught over the years have always had tough lives; however, Hurricane Michael has thrown monkey wrenches, or should I say storm-related debris, into the mix. The kids are carrying heavy burdens – often unspoken yet visible on their sad faces.

I am tired of waiting for state and federal policymakers to assist us. Today, my school district’s superintendent had a news conference that explained that legislation is pending to help us out with this year’s financial shortfall and no legislation to help us fully fund next school year.

Because of that, the district may have to let 600 people go. That’s a lot of people – people who might have to move – people who would take their children with them – which would make our school district have fewer children to teach – which would lead to fewer jobs. Do you see the trickle-down effect?

It’s sobering.

I’m tired of state education policymakers who have given us no information about waiving student test scores this year. I’d say that I’m at a complete loss for words, but I’m a blogger (can we not speak of the irregularity of my postings the past few months – ahem). I have LOTS of words.

What the freaking heck is wrong with these people? Do they not realize that most of our children RODE OUT THE STORM and THOUGHT THEY WERE GOING TO DIE.

This is true. I read their essays.

How can you expect traumatized, displaced students to focus on STUPID reading tests when they LOST THEIR HOMES and an entire month of instruction.

I’m tired of priorities being a$$-backwards.

For real though.

Oh, and did you know that six months and a day later, we have not received the kind of financial help, overall (not just in education) that other, LARGER cities received after other storms hit (for example, Hurricane Andrew and Hurricane Harvey).

I guess that Lynn Haven and Mexico Beach (not to mention all of the itsy bitsy towns around us) are not considered important enough cities to provide funding for despite the fact that a near Cat 5 storm – one of the strongest ever – hit us square on.

Six months and TWO days ago, I had absolutely no idea what hurricane survival and recovery looked like.

Now I do.

It ain’t pretty, y’all, and it sure as heck ain’t easy.

Pardon me for sliding back into my Redneck vernacular.

With all of that being said, there continue to be positives. My school hosted prom last weekend, and it was definitely a community effort. It was held downtown, and many people volunteered their time, money, and other tangible items to make it quite memorable for our kids. Without the generosity of so many, the prom would not have happened.

Another positive, I guess, is that the hubby and I eat dinner at home most nights. We still miss our favorite Mexican restaurant, which we hear is being rebuilt at a different location. I’m not sure if it will be the same, though, without the familiar people who used to take such good care of us. Still, it’s nice being at home most evenings.

That’s all of the positives that are coming to mind right now because, in case I haven’t mentioned it, I’m tired.

I have a countdown to summer vacation posted on my white board at school. Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard not to do this because some kids actually enjoy being at school, and long summer breaks can be tough on them, but y’all, we are DESPERATE for a lengthy vacation. We need time to lick our wounds, regroup, and recharge.

Six months and a day isn’t far enough removed to be healed from a painful milestone in our lives.

To be sure, we will heal, but it’s going to take a lot more time than the point we’re currently at.

I sincerely hope that when I blog about the one year anniversary, my words will be more upbeat – that I’ll have my new roof, a fence, and maybe (fingers crossed) a new floor.

For now, all I can do, like everyone else around here, is take things one day at a time, look for joy in the mundane, and praise God for still being in control.

It’s Been a Minute

Oh y’all, I have been such a bad blogger.

I was reading Joyce’s blog recently, and she stated, near the end, that good bloggers write two or three times a week.

Sigh.

I could come up with a hundred different excuses, but the reality is that I’ve been so busy doing life, that I haven’t had a lot of time to write about it.

I was having a hard enough time as it was, and then Hurricane Michael hit, which complicated things further.

It’s funny how quickly the time has flown.  It’s hard to believe that it’s been 159 days since that horrible storm made regular, everyday life so very challenging.

When we returned to school after New Year’s, we had a scant week and a half to finish up our first semester, move back to our old school, and begin the second half of the year.

Talk about CHAOS!  About 75% of our teachers had to relocate to what we affectionately call Tornado Park.  It’s a group of portables, and let me tell you, they’ve had a rough go of it.  The first weeks back saw numerous issues with technology – or a lack thereof, bathrooms (this is an ongoing issue), and muddy paths that led to many ruined pairs of shoes.

The portables are located a half mile from my classroom.  I clocked it one day when I had to walk from the teachers’ parking lot, located beside the portables to my building.  It rained nearly every single day when we returned, so kids were soaked to the bone from walking back and forth to classes.

I’ve been fortunate.  My classroom did not sustain damage, so I was able to return to my old digs.  I have counted my blessings every day – especially after watching my coworkers struggle.

Teaching and testing have continued.  The Florida Department of Education has not seen fit to waive reading requirements for our upperclassmen.

As I’ve often said, the state cares about numbers, not people.  That is a fact.

Today is our first full day of Spring Break – hence my post, which I have time to write.

When we return to school next week, we will finish up our third quarter and will start the fourth nine weeks.  Trust me when I say that the countdown will be ON.  We’ve had probably the toughest year of anyone in education, except for the other victims of the numerous natural disasters that have happened in recent weeks and months; we share a kindred spirit with the victims of the fires in California and the tornado in Alabama.

I’m not sure what I’ll do during my week off.  You can bet that I’ll be sleeping a few more hours a day, working out at a decent hour, and reading a lot.  I also hear Netflix calling my name.

I’m going to try to blog more.  Now that my testing season is over, and I have most of my lesson plans for one prep written, I’m hoping that I’ll have more time to write.  We shall see, as I have frequently made this promise to myself and then reneged.

11 Weeks . . . There is Hope

We are now eleven weeks post-Hurricane Michael, and the word that has stood out to me over the past few days is hope.

After last week’s dreary post, I needed something positive to focus on.

When you’ve been through something as devastating as a Cat 5 storm, the only thing you have to hold on to is hope.

I’ll admit that it’s been elusive at times – especially when you don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.

Untitled

We haven’t even begun repairs on our home and have no idea when things will get started.  Although vegetation debris is getting picked up from the sides of the roads, there are still so many trees that need to be cleared off of people’s properties.

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We hear of smaller communities north of us who are suffering greatly still – of neighbors who, even now, almost three months later, don’t have cable or internet.

For a first-world country, it’s mind-blowing.

Sunday, my church’s pastors and their wives handed out ornaments they had made from the downed trees that once towered over our church.

See the Bible verse?

It’s no coincidence that it echoes, almost word-for-word, the comment that Rebecca left me last week.

I’ve worked out long enough to know that muscles get stronger when a person lifts weights.  It’s actually after the microfibers have been torn a little that new growth happens.

I’m also aware that, oftentimes, trees must be cleared to allow the younger ones room to flourish.

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I somehow doubt, though, that anyone would purposely clear such a large volume of trees at once.

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Despite this, I know, with every ounce of my body, that God will grow us stronger – that He will fill in the void left behind by nature.

When our pastor told us that every family was being given one ornament, he encouraged us to not pack them away when Christmas is over but, instead, to keep them where we could see them as a reminder of the promise God had made long ago.

I went back as I was writing this and looked at when and to whom God spoken those words. I caught my breath when I saw that it was Job who was the recipient.

God promised this man, who had lost everything, that He would restore that which was lost.

At one of the darkest times of his life, Job was given hope.

It’s a promise that is still true today and one that I cling to fervently.

I don’t know what I’d do without it.

10 Weeks . . . What Once Was

We have two ponds that greet us when we enter and leave our neighborhood.

The one at the entrance used to look like this . . .

It was lush with greenery and trees . . .

On Saturday, as the Mr. and I left to run errands, I was struck by the barrenness that has replaced what existed ten weeks ago, before Hurricane Michael hit.

I snapped a couple of pictures when we returned home a few hours later.

The difference is sobering.

I try my hardest to be positive no matter what’s going on around me, but can I be honest with you?  This is the week that the permanence of my new reality has hit me the hardest.

I think that I was in denial at first.  It’s possible that I thought that new trees would magically sprout from the piles of debris that lined the roads.

When you’re recovering from a Cat 5 storm, you find yourself dreaming impossible things.

The heaviness of this realization seems to be at its height on the weekends when the Mr. and I are out and about.  It’s at those times, when I’m riding in the passenger seat of the car, that I’m free to look around at the landscape rather than at the traffic around me.

This is when the difference between what was and what is brings tears to my eyes.

Every time.

When we were at the mall paying for a purchase, the salesclerk asked if we were local.  We told him that we were, and that we lived in Lynn Haven.  He sadly shook his head and said that things would never be the same – at least not in our lifetime.

I trailed behind the Mr. as we walked away and had to wipe my eyes at the truth of his statement.

Despite the Christmas music playing overhead, I was sad.

When most people think of Panama City, the first thing that probably comes to mind is the beach.

For us town folk, we think of trees.

Lots of them.

Rather, we used to.

Now, everywhere we look, we see either an absence of trees or trees that are broken in half – lots and lots and lots of trees that have yet to be cleared.

Every day, when I pass these trees, I wonder, “How long am I going to see this?  Will anyone come along and take these trees down, or will they be allowed to disintegrate and slowly fade into the scenery?”

You’d think that I’d be accustomed to the sights by now.  Ten weeks might seem like a lifetime to some.  I mean, it’s almost three months.  Ahem.

I’m not used to it though.  When you’ve called a place home for as long as I have (many locals have been here their entire lives), you see ghosts of what once was.

I haven’t been on a long walk since a few days before the storm came through.  My route used to take me to the other side of my neighborhood.  I need to, but I’m dreading it.

I know I’m going to cry when I see some of my favorite selfie spots – the ones closest to the main road a neighbor watched a tornado rip through.

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It helps knowing that there are people who understand.  Just this week, our school received dozens upon dozens of Christmas cards written by students from Clear Springs High School in Texas. These kids survived Hurricane Harvey, which devastated their area last year.

I was moved to tears when I read their kind words yesterday morning.

They know what it’s like to lose what you’re most familiar with.

They’re still dealing with the what was, but they’re closer to the other end.

We’re just at the beginning of our journey.

In the midst of my wistfulness, God has reminded me that He’s still here.

I have said this a number of times, and I suspect that I’ll continue to repeat myself, but the sunrises we have had since the hurricane have been nothing short of spectacular.

This morning, as I drove into work, I did so with my jaw on the floorboard.

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I’m not sure that I would notice the sunrises as much – especially at that early hour – if it wasn’t for the absence of the trees, which blocked my view before October 10th.  I guess I don’t have that problem any more.

The colors are always so vibrant (even behind the sign at the gas station) . . .

They bespeak of renewal, much like a phoenix rising from the ashes.

Please continue to pray for us.  We still have hard moments, but God is speaking life into us one sunrise at a time.

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