Hurricane Florence Through My Eyes

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On Tuesday, September 11th, I evacuated with my mom, dog, and kiddo after a mandatory evacuation order was released, for my county. We spent just over a week away from home, due to the dangerous road conditions and flooding.

We have had quite the eleven days. My beautiful eastern/coastal NC has been deeply marred by this hurricane and the flooding that followed. I know people who have lost everything – some homes, some businesses. I have neighbors, who have an entire floor of their home they’ve lost due to the intensity of rain (30 inches in my city).

It wasn’t just the event itself but the evacuation. My (foster) son had a hard time – any kid would. But his was a little more intense as his fear of losing our home and me was very real after what he’s gone through the last couple of years. I feared what would happen if we lost our home.

I’ve returned home now to the potential that there’s unseen water damage in my home as the smell of mold has intensified in the last couple of days.

Today and tomorrow, I’ll be volunteering at my church. The needs of others are so great. We have poor families, migrant workers, and so many elderly folks that have nothing to help them and nowhere to go. But Florence didn’t discriminate. And it doesn’t matter what your situation, when you lose everything.

The needs are great. And there is a great deal I want to say about this entire experience. There were funny things about our “Evacuation Vacation” as we’ve all been calling them. I want to share some of the experiences we’ve had along the way. So I plan to write a few posts to cover what this experience has been like. I just need a little time to figure out what’s happening with my house.

This isn’t my first hurricane. But it is my first evacuation – mandatory at that. And obviously the first time I’ve had to decide what to do in a storm – with a child. This has been an emotional and exhausting experience all around.

I hope I’ll feel up to sharing more, soon. In the meantime, prayers for my beautiful Eastern Carolina would be appreciated.

Back to School: Newbie Mom Firsts

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Monday is my {foster} son’s first day of second-grade. The other day we attended his Back to School night. We met his teacher, saw his classroom, and turned in paperwork. I was a little overwhelmed. I’m not going to lie.

But as we took a photo in front of the PTO’s “selfie station,” and I talked with one of the parents about volunteering, I had this overwhelming sense of gratitude.

I never dreamed that being a mom would mean starting my parenting journey with a six-year old boy who is not mine and yet, may be.

But picking out his first day of school clothes, getting his backpack, and buying his school supplies, I am overwhelmed by the beauty of this time, in spite of how . . . mundane it all could be under slightly different circumstances.

I’m not sure I’d ever be a good helicopter mom. There are just some things I think he’s got to experience – even in failure – on his own. But I’m fiercely protective. In case you’re wondering if the mama bear thing only happens with children you give birth to, it doesn’t.

I worry over this year for him. In just a few short months, the court could decide that reunification efforts will be ceased. His plan could change to adoption. In just a few short months, it may be very clear that he will be with me forever.

I want him to have people in his life who will see how sweet and precious he is – even when his behavior is sometimes rooted in trauma. I want them to invest in him, in ways that so many kids just don’t experience. And so, as this school year begins – a year that could change everything for him, I pray that his teacher will invest in him.

I pray that I will know how to support him. And I pray that those who are part of the team of professionals that provide additional support, will know how to help him {and me}.

Here’s to a new school year – and hopefully soon – the permanency that my little guy deserves so much.

Are you ready for your kiddo’s new school year?

Thankful,

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Sifting Through the Rubble

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One day I woke up and knew I loved him. It was a shock. And yet, not.

We are nothing alike. And yet he was home. We are nothing alike – and yet, somehow still, so very similar.

One August day, sitting next to him, as he handed me something to clean off my sunglasses, without me asking, I knew.

I knew then that I’d waited a lifetime to love a man like him.

I knew then that my life had changed.

I will spend a lifetime trying to understand God’s purpose in this confusion and heartbreak. After everything I’ve seen and experienced, I’m not sure I will ever open my heart again.

After so many months, after so much time to process what was, what was not, and what will not ever be, I thought it would make sense by now. Or, that I’d come to a place of numbness – that I’d move on.

I haven’t. I’m not sure I ever will.

August has brought something of him to me in new ways, as long as I’ve known him. The first August, it was the knowledge that I loved him. The second August brought a crazy, faith-rooted belief that he was the man I’d waited for, for so long. That conversation, a little over a year after I knew I loved him, he told me something that rocked my world.

It sounded an awful lot like answers to a lifetime of prayers. No man has ever come close – didn’t hold a candle – to who he is and the ways in which I believed God answered a lifetime of prayers in this man I never dreamed I’d like, let alone love.

Here we are, at another August – and I miss him in increasing measure. I never knew it was possible to miss someone this much. I thought time would make it easier. It has not. Today hurts in a way I would not have imagined.

I expected by now, with distance and time, that I’d have a better understanding or find some meaning behind it all. There is no understanding. And the pain is somehow worse.

One day, I knew I loved him. And that’s about all I understand.

Flash Fiction: The Hard Way

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It is summer. Eastern Carolina is a sight to behold in the summer, even more so on the coast where the air is like a sultry, sexy Flamenco. It just seeps way down deep into your bones. The light in the early evening is like this living thing. It almost breathes. Deep. It wraps me up – safe and content.

He, the beautiful man of the hard way, is a challenge I am sometimes convinced I can’t meet. Even after all these years. Today, in a quiet moment in the midst of a busy day, I thought about the way his eyes hold mine. There has been fire and light for me in his eyes – for me, for as long as I can remember. Me. His fierceness lights me from the inside out with just one look. In the middle of an everyday moment, I look up to see his eyes on me. And there in that moment when I’m nothing special on my own and living in the mundane, I am all there is in his eyes. I am the only one in a room filled with people.

And then as quickly as he is fierce and passion, strength and fire, he is vulnerable. His tenderness for me still churns my insides like it did from the beginning. In those moments, I think I love him more than I knew was possible. On nights like these when the lightening bugs pop and flash in the approaching night, as we sit quietly on the porch, I’m overwhelmed by the beauty of it all. There is stillness and quiet between us just like it used to be in the beginning, when he said all he needed to without a word spoken. The heat surrounds us in spite of the encroaching darkness. The rising moon isn’t bringing relief from the swelter.

But somehow, in spite of the sweat that trickles, and the air thick, all I can think about is the way fire and heat burn off the dross. We have been tried and tested in the fire. In the quiet, he reaches over and takes my hand in his. Ten years and a handful of days after the first time he did that very thing, it lights me up inside. Still. I close my eyes, lay my head back, and breathe deeply of the contentment that comes from loving him above myself – even when we do it the hard way. Even when we are tested in the fire.

– Flash fiction by Elaina M. Avalos

Inspiration & Imagination: Kudzu, Lightening Bugs, and Farm Stands

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It’s summer in the south. I know. Not news, right? Growing up in Southern California, you’d think a hot, humid, and rainy summer would not be one of my favorite things. But it so is.

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The summers of my childhood were filled with beach trips, camping along the 5 freeway at San Onofre or with my grandparents in San Clemente. Summers in SoCal are beach days on the right side (extremely important) of the Huntington Beach pier, professional surfers & volleyball players, surfers changing into or out of their wet suits on the side of the road. SoCal summers are KROQ and the Santa Ana winds, wildfires, and the cool marine layer that rolls in off the ocean that makes you pull out a sweatshirt, as the temperature dips.

Summer in Southern California is exactly what it should be and precisely what you’d expect.

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And yet, I didn’t know what I was missing until I moved to the coast of North Carolina. The humidity may be soul-sucking gross at times, but there’s something very . . . healing in the scorch of the sun and the wet air.

A few years ago, I house sat for a couple I’ve known since 2001. This is the second time I’ve made their home, my home, for a few months. After a year lease ended – they were getting ready to take a long trip. The timing was perfect. They live on my favorite river.

Abby the Wonder Dog & I would sit for hours on the back deck – even on the hottest, most humid evenings, watching the river. When I really needed to soak in sun and heat, we’d sit on the stairway at the top of their berm.

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My trusty buddy right beside me – soaking it all in, too.

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There’s something so cleansing about the humidity as it seeps in. Don’t believe me? Try it some evening. Sit quietly, as it settles in around you. Somehow, I feel the day drain off and clarity seep in.

As the summer wears on, the green grows even deeper than it was in spring – as if this was even possible. Nature somehow defies what is already the glorious beauty of green to be even better – deeper – as the kudzu spreads through the jungle of trees.

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The spanish moss, set against the green is breathtaking. The tobacco, corn, and soy bean fields are constant reminders – as I drive between home and the store, or home and work – of how different life is now – from the concrete jungle of my youth.

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Growing up, I dreamed of seeing lightening bugs (aka fireflies for the rest of the country) but didn’t see a single one until I was an adult. How is that possible? How is it possible for you to live a full life without the pop of white light, that brightens the humid evenings? You can’t, I tell you.

Farmer’s markets are more popular today than ever. And though new farmer’s markets have popped up here in recent years, the farm stand is tried & true. They’re a joy and a favorite weekend stop. I have my favorites. I’d go every day if I could.

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My favorite purchase every year – for the brief time I can get them – is green tomatoes. I learned to make fried green tomatoes about four years ago – in a kitchen overlooking the Neuse. It’s probably one of my all time favorite dishes (just behind homemade enchiladas and tamales).

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The truth is, June and July are the best kind of summer. The days are long and there is so much to soak in. By August, I’m ready for the routine of autumn to settle in. The beauty of the long days wears at you a little.

You begin to long for open windows and cool days. If you’re anything like me, you start wishing it was football season before July has fully let go of you. Growing up with a perpetual summer, I don’t know if you fully appreciate the true beauty of the seasons as they change.

Though August erodes my patience as it grows hotter, I’m convinced I’d never appreciate fall in the way I do, without the scorcher of August. Isn’t that just like life, though? As I think about the beauty of summer as it barrels toward fall, I am certain that each season has a beauty of its own.

It may not be roasted peanuts from a farm stand in Cedar Point, beauty – but it’s beauty just the same. I’m grateful for both seasons of my life – SoCal’s palm tree, surfer, Huntington Beach beauty – and the perfect beauty of a tobacco field against the deep blue Carolina sky.