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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Life ain't always beautiful...

Thursday was a bit of a surreal experience for me.

I left my apartment in WF at 5:30 am, to meet up with Southeasterners going to Union for landscaping. Around 12:30, we stopped for lunch in Knoxville, at the Chick-Fil-A across from the Olive Garden I worked at while at home for breaks from college. Around 6:30, we pulled into Jackson, the town I spent four years of my life in for college at Union.

More than combining all three of my homes into one day, a feat I have never done before, it was surreal being back at Union and seeing how much is the same and how much has radically changed. My friend Rose picked me up from dinner and took me to campus. After watching the Zetas practice for variety show, she and I walked out onto campus - allowing me to see the damage/regrowth of my dear campus after the tornado for the first time. To mildly explain the emotions I felt, I cried that I had lost so much of the campus I loved, and praised God for what he is doing there.

Union was hit by an F-4 tornado on february 5, a little over 2 months ago. Today, they are well on their way to completing 6 new dorm buildings to be opened in the fall for students to move back into. The student body, though scattered, is truly experiencing revival and joy at the mercy of God for sparing every life, all 1200 of them.

Standing in spots I have stood in many times over the last 4 1/2 years and looking in the same direction, nothing looks the same. From this sidewalk here, I should be able to see the Sugar Shack. See where that sidewalk curves there and joins up with the plastic barrier fence? That's where my dorm room was. Where do students, who largely don't live on campus anymore, hang out now, now that the sugar shack and the commons have been demolished? In Barefoot's Joe, the new coffee shop in the old student lounge. It is amazing, and so cool, because it has a progression of pictures of tornado aftermath events. The final "picture" is a window that looks out onto the construction zone, and will soon look out on the new dorm complex.

Where there used to be an open field, filled with students playing softball and my friends laying in a hammock in the shade, there are now gigantic buildings that future generations of Union students will call home.

Though I know Union is not about buildings, it's about the people who are Union, I can't help but feel sorrow over all of the good memories I had there, and the fact that that place will never be the same. I still feel regret over the fact I wasn't close enough to do anything meaningful except pray during those following weeks. However, God is moving in mighty ways around the campus and students and the leadership.

There are a lot of thoughts rolling around in my head about the weekend, not all of them coherent. It was a hard trip, seeing how life has moved on and having bittersweet memories. I'm emotionally and physically worn out, but as I get rested, I'll share some of the more joyful moments of the trip. Meanwhile, please continue to PRAY for those students: They are resilient, and blessed, and amazing, but also still recovering from the shock of losing so much in a matter of seconds. Pray God will continue to guide them and to guide those who will lead them into a new generation of Union.

It's been a beautiful ride.

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