Thursday, December 20, 2012

The one where she says "oh. my. gosh." (or Part 2)

Hi, again.

I'm currently in route to Phoenix, Arizona where my friend Helen will be picking me up from the airport before transferring me to my sister Lisa for the 5 days.

It's now been three weeks since the fire.

The phrase "oh. my. gosh." has been the most used phrase to come out of my mouth.

For a lot of reasons.

But mostly. Because I've been stunned by the generosity and support by so many people near and dear to my heart.....But also- by people I have NEVER EVEN MET.

Many of you already know, but my friend Laura set up a donation page within hours of hearing about the fire.

I was swamped at the conference and didn't even realize what was happening until later that night. When I finally got around to seeing messages, I saw that within several hours- $2,500 had already been raised. I was FLOORED.

At the same time I was looking at the devastating pictures, I was seeing money come in.

There was not even a chance to grieve. God had already begun replacing what was lost.

The next morning I woke up and the number had doubled.

By the time I went to bed that night- $9000 had been donated.

Laura, thank you for taking such quick action and making this happen. You are near and dear to my heart.

On top of that, calls, texts, emails were coming through from people offering different ways to support.

I just kept saying "oh. my. gosh." I didn't know what else to say!

Now that I'm 3 weeks out, I finally have found a few more words to utter. And that would be either "wow" or "holy cow!"  :-)

If you gave anonymously, please know that my heart is overwhelmed by your generosity. I don't know who you are or what you gave- but I know that your generosity has not gone unnoticed.

If you gave and your name showed up- please know EACH name I saw made my heart melt a little bit more. So many of you that I know and love have overwhelmed me.

If you have given to me personally through checks or gift cards....You are helping meet my immediate needs and I am SO grateful.

If you called and left messages on my voicemail- I have saved them. Actually went back and listened to them all again yesterday and tears came to my eyes. Hearing your voice, your concern, and your prayers is still comforting today!

To those of you who have started replacing items from my kitchen that you know are near and dear to my heart- I smile. I really do break out into a huge grin when I think about what you have given. :-)

To my coworkers who have dealt with me day in and out as I've processed....You are gems. Your generosity, kindness, friendship, and most importantly: hugs!! have been MUCH appreciated on a daily basis. For the brush, the pedicure, the gift certificate for a massage, the Starbucks drinks, the diet dr. peppers, the giftcards.  I truly work with the best team.

Wade and Cynthia: Thanks for going through the ashes. I am so grateful you and your family were called to Tallahassee last year. The support and encouragement you and Emerge church have been to me has been such a blessing. :-)

Carl and Jennifer. "Uncle" Carl. The two of you have sacrificed so much time for me. So much space in your garage and kitchen. :-) There are not a lot of people that I would have called at 5am, but Carl, I knew without a doubt you would do whatever was needed. When I got the first initial call- you were the one I called first and knew you could be my eyes/ears in Tallahassee for me while I was in DC. Jennifer- washing my clothes OVER AND OVER trying to remove the smoke smell. Washing my dishes and coffee cups. The soot you had to deal with. I know it was a HUGE sacrifice for both of you. And my heart is grateful to not only know you- but to officially call you 'family.' :-)

To my family. I just can't get over how blessed I am to call you my family. To my aunts/uncles/cousins/grandparents. Your calls/messages/support is a reminder that God couldn't have put me in a better family. Aunt Mary- for driving down to Tallahassee on a moments notice to be with me, knowing I would need family by my side. Lisa. Caralyn. You two are THE world's best sisters and I am so honored that you would rally your friends and coworkers to help support me. I can't even get over it.  Mom: 5 more days until I get to hug you. That's all. And Dad: :-) I knew you were getting tired of helping your girls guess what! That washer and dryer will never have to go up a flight of stairs ever again! ;-) But seriously. Thanks for playing the middle man for me while I couldn't communicate myself.

And last, but not least. To the entire Emhof family who has taken me in and let me live in their house for the past few weeks. Your hospitality has meant more to me than you will know. Many people could have offered me a roof over my head- but you have offered me a home and family during this time when mine was so far away.

My heart is full this Christmas.

I am blessed with friendships that are beyond compare.

**I also recognize there are PLENTY of you who I could have called out by name- but know you'll be hearing more from me.**

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The one with the intermission

I want to post Part 2 but I don't feel that it is even finished being lived out yet.  I sit here at the computer and it's still too fresh.

I'll come back to part 2 later.

In the meantime, I DO want to share photos with you from my time in DC and NYC. Here are a few from the summit with coworkers:

There are PLENTY more where these came from, but I'll post them later.n But I must add here- I work with the best group of people. I am so grateful this team was around me when I heard the news of the fire.

After hearing the news, they supported me, let me cry on their shoulders (and into our walkie talkie's....which I didn't know was happening...oops!), brought me froufrou drinks from Starbucks, brushed my hair, and did a fantastic job covering for me during parts of the summit when I was slacking. I LOVE this team. I am blessed. If any of you coworkers happen upon this blog- know that I am overwhelmingly grateful for you. The outpouring of support has not stopped even now that I'm back in Tallahassee.

After our conference was done in DC, Jaryn and I had a media summit to attend in NYC the following Friday.

Our summit was finished on Wednesday, and Thursday morning we went apartment hunting.

By the way. I had not made it OFFICIAL- but with the fire happening- I think it's as public as it will ever be. But I'm moving to DC in January. Surprise. Yay! :-)

I'd been making plans to move at the end of January- but didn't want to 'announce' via social media until I had signed a lease. Well. That lease will be signed in the next couple of days. And I'm officially moving to Washington, DC.

So Jaryn and I went apartment hunting Thursday morning, found some great places, then headed to Union Station where we would catch a train to NYC. My first train ride!!! I was really excited about it- until we started moving. I got a little motion sickness- but made it :)

We arrived in NYC and came up right from underneath Madison Square Garden where Justin Bieber was performing. (aka- tons of squealing girls). Welcome to the city.

We made it to our hotel in Times Square and did a quick change and freshened we had BIG PLANS!

Jaryn had scored tickets to see the Rockettes at Radio City Hall!!!!! But of course, right before seeing them- we were walking towards Radio City Music Hall when we turned a corner and saw THIS:

SOOOOOO Amazing.

The show was FANTASTIC as well:

We made our way back to the hotel, crashed, and headed out Friday morning for coffee before our media summit started.

That evening we grabbed dinner at a Puerto Rican restaurant and Jaryn was quite happy with her meal: (ok, and maybe she was just happy to finally have the Summit over :-) )

After dinner we walked around some more, and headed back to Rockefeller Center where we would be meeting up with Leticia!! 

We grabbed a cup of coffee (decaf for me, duh) and then made our way back to the hotel. Saturday morning was spent brunching it up and my first visit to Macy's on 34th street.

I also have to note- not only was this weekend being spent with fantastic people, I ran into 2 friends from Dallas while in NYC! God-ordained, for sure. He knew I needed some Dallas love. Jen and Stephanie- two separate friends- on different trips- had both posted about being in NYC. So of course we made a point to catch up and I'm so grateful we did!!

After brunch, Jaryn headed back to Tallahassee and Leticia, Jaclyn, and I celebrated 10 years of friendship with the rest of the weekend in NYC.

We met the first week of college in 2002 and have been friends ever since. I am SO glad I made the decision to stay on in NYC rather than go back to Tallahassee.

We toured the city, browsed many stores, drank lots of coffee, and ate great food.

On Sunday morning, Leticia, who lives on 34th street across the street from Macy's, made pancakes and coffee while we had a relaxing morning. The best part? Miracle on 34th Street was on TV.....WHILE I WAS ON 34TH STREET. Drinking coffee. Talk about a 'moment.'  It was quite perfect.

After breakfast we headed to a market square area and walked around before grabbing lunch.

Then it was time. We had to say bye.

Jaclyn was off back to DC, and I headed to the airport.

Tallahassee awaited me.

This is where The Fire- Part 2 will pick up.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The one with the fire. Part 1.

Because I simply have to start somewhere. 

Have I mentioned I love my job?

I do. 

I've been getting to travel as of late. And last week I was in DC for the 5th Annual National Summit on Education Reform. This is an event hosted by our organization. This one-stop shop of policies and practices offers an opportunity for lawmakers, policymakers and advocates to learn the nuts and bolts of education reform.

It's our biggest event of the year. This year the line-up of speakers included Jeb Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Joel Klein, Arne Duncan, and many others. 

It's a big deal.

We arrived Sunday morning and began setting up at the hotel and preparing for over 700 attendees to arrive. 

Monday was filled with the same. 

We went to bed late Monday night and had a 6am call time Tuesday morning. 

I woke up at 5 and was in the process of getting ready when I received a phone call at 5:30am. 

The number was a Florida number and not listed. 

I answered and heard "Is this Minda Corso?" Yes. Yes it is. 

"This is the Tallahassee Police. I am going to transfer you to an officer who is at your apartment complex."

I waited. 

Upon being transferred, I heard a policewoman breathe a sigh of relief and said "Ms. Corso, I'm at your apartment building and there has been a fire. Are you here?"

At this moment, my first thought was that there was a small fire somewhere in the complex and probably not close to my building. 

I said "I'm actually in DC at the the fire at my building or just a building close by?"

She said "The fire is in your building."

My brain immediately started thinking "what did I not do!?!?!? Did I forget to unplug my Christmas tree? Did I leave a candle burning?!?!"

The policewoman said she didn't have any other information for me at the moment but they were just trying to locate my body. I let her know I was safe.

I said "What do I need to do?" She said the fire was still burning and they were still putting it out so they didn't have any updates at this point but they would be in contact with me.

I hung up my phone and stood at the base of my bed in the hotel room. 

The first thing out of my mouth was "Jesus. I know that you love me. I don't know what is happening, but I know that you love me."

I probably repeated that phrase over 50 times before leaving my room.

Looking back on that moment, I know that I was faced with a decision. Whatever would happen and whatever would come of all this- I was given the opportunity in that moment to believe Truth or believe a lie. 

I could believe that Jesus loved me and would work this for my good or I could believe that He didn't and that he was doing this to hurt me. 

I think because my response was that of stating the truth and believing His Word to be true- I was able to face the next 48 hours. Perfect love, after all, casts out all fear. 

I went downstairs and found several coworkers. I explained what was happening. 

I called my 'uncle' Carl (not really my uncle- but close enough these days after all I've been through) and wake him up to explain what's happening. I asked if he could be my eyes on the ground in Tally.

One of my coworkers, Joanna, said her neighbor had connections and could get information for me. She contacted him and asked him the status. 

At this point- I'm still thinking "minor smoke damage, nothing big." While on the phone, she asked me what building and apartment I was in. I told her building 9 and apartment 915. 

When Joanna got off the phone she sat me down and said "Minda, it's bad. Your building has had the worst damage. The fire is still being put out. But it's bad."

This is the moment my chest starts to close up.

I don't really remember many details at this point, but all I know is attendees are showing up, registration is taking place, and I'm in DC while my apartment is burning in Tallahassee.

I think there may have been a few more phone calls to different people, but I go upstairs with a coworker, Sarah, and lay on the bed and bawl my eyes out. 

I feel helpless. Several people were ready to get me a ticket home, but all I could think was "My home is gone, all my coworkers are in DC. My Tallahassee family is in DC. Why would I go back?!"

AND. It's the biggest event of the year. I had been SOOOOO excited about this Summit.

Again, not sure of the timing (I'm sure coworkers can help fill in the holes) but Sarah makes the call to Joanna to tell them to grab my journals if possible. I tell them where the box is and what it looks like. I don't care what else comes out- I want my journals.

I also tweeted around this time saying "Please pray. I'm in DC and my apartment burned down this morning." I didn't know anything more than that, but knew I needed people praying.

I have a good cry, clean myself up, Sarah brushed my hair, and I go back down in my black power suit and pull it together. 

As I'm downstairs, Joanna receives a picture.

At this moment, I know I can make it. 

Mary Laura, another coworker, called her husband who is a police officer at some point through all of this and they are helping get as much information as possible. 

To have heard the news, not able to be there, and have people with connections was a HUGE relief. 

The event is starting and Gov. Bush is giving the keynote address. I'm in the green room with my phone (which was BLOWING UP!) and I'm live tweeting the event. 

From this point on- I go in full professional mode and keep to task. 

The summit is going smoothly, people are enjoying themselves, rave reviews are already being heard, and I'm on auto-pilot.

I got a notification on my phone alerting me that someone had set up a donation page, but again, had no idea what was happening. 

Thankfully, I was assigned the responsibility of staffing the Governor for the event and had NO TIME to stop and even think about stuff. For the record- at some point during all of this- someone had informed the Governor of what had happened and he immediately extended his condolences. He said "do whatever you need to do to get back home." I informed him I'd be staying in DC to finish out the summit and he responded "Well at least let people know- for the record- that I didn't make you stay and that I told you it was ok to leave!" **Noted** :-)

I got a text from my pastors wife around 9am, also saying "Random question...but what building number do you live in?"

I let her know it was my building and that I'd received news. I also asked if her and Wade (my pastor here in Tally) could connect with Carl and coordinate going to the apartment and pulling out whatever seemed salvageable. 

I didn't realize how big of an 'ask' that was until I got home. 

I am SO grateful for people who were ready and willing to help do ANYTHING. 

Somehow I make it to the end of the day and Condoleezza Rice gets up to speak. 

I knew after she was finished I'd be able to get to my room, regroup, and make a plan.

Wade had also let me know he'd be sending me pictures once I was done with the days' events. Which I'm so grateful. I don't think I could have dealt with work after seeing what I saw. 

Here are a few of the photos he sent my way:

When I got to my hotel room, I not only faced these pictures of devastation, but at the same time, had looked at my Facebook page for the first time. 

My friend Laura, upon hearing the news, set up a donation page online for people to start helping out. When I saw this, my heart was overwhelmed. 

You have to know, aside from the first initial cry- I did not cry at all from this point on. My chest was so heavy, so overwhelmed, but I couldn't cry. I just started in amazement. 

The page hadn't even been set up but for a couple hours and over 2,000 dollars had already been given. 

I just sat there. Staring at these pictures of my apartment and watching my facebook page blow up. Two contrasting emotions- balancing each other out.

As exhausted as I was- I couldn't sleep. 

I lay in my bed, turned on some music, willing myself to fall asleep, but it wasn't happening. 

We had another day of the Summit left and I knew I needed sleep. I maybe got 2 hours that night and started all again the next morning.

Also. I need to note. Of  course the first thing EVERYONE asked me was "You have insurance, right?!?!"

I can't tell you how embarrassed I am with this answer. 

Since I lived in my first apartment (2005)- I've had renters insurance. ALWAYS. 

When I moved to Florida, USAA informed me they don't cover Florida. I knew I'd only be in town less than a year so I figured I wouldn't go through the hassle of finding a new provider. It wasn't because I was careless or forgot- or because I didn't think about these types of things. I DO think about those things. 

It just was an unfortunate event. 

The links above are for the news stories covering the fire. 

I actually just read these for the first time today. 

I will write more later, but needed to get the initial post out. 

And as I've said previously, I'm sure I am missing several details. 

But here is where the story began. 

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