Intern Blog: Lauren's first day in Texas sent her to Oklahoma to provide disaster relief

Most people’s first day of a new job or internship includes sitting at a cubicle, filling out some paperwork, and trying (and usually failing) to connect to the company’s computer server. My first day as an intern with Mercury One involved helping with disaster relief work in the heart of Oklahoma. I quickly learned that nothing deters this incredible organization. Although severe storms were once again pounding Oklahoma this past weekend – to be quite honest, I’m deathly afraid of tornadoes and was more than a little nervous about the trip – the team was on the ground within hours. I pulled together my courage, packed my backpack, and joined Mercury One for a humbling, moving, and life-changing experience.

Those of us new to disaster relief did not know what to expect as we drove in to Oklahoma. At first, everything seemed normal. As we suddenly turned a street corner, however, our eyes fell upon the desolation. Joel, a fellow intern, said in amazement, “When we first got there and were looking at the neighborhoods, you’d see a single devastated street or house – just a small window of destruction. And then you’d look up and see that everywhere there was nothing.” I had seen pictures in the media, but being there in person left me speechless. Homes were reduced to a pile of rubble, yet parts of everyday life still caught my attention: a toothbrush caught between two bricks, a stuffed animal poking out from underneath a piece of concrete, the game Battleship lying on the side of a road. These small remnants of people’s possessions forced us to remember that this was not debris; it was the lives, hopes, and dreams of men, women, families, and children.

My first thought was, “How can I, just a single person, help to heal this community?” I soon realized that individually, we are weak, but together, we are strong. These tornados in Oklahoma have only proven that Americans are unbreakable, and thanks to the donations to Mercury One’s 2013 Midwest Tornado Relief Fund, we were able to distribute money and aid to many different organizations in the area. Seeing the memorial of Plaza Towers Elementary School, where seven children died, helped me to understand how important our donation was to Shelter Oklahoma Schools. Seeing the emotion of the sheriff’s deputies whose homes were destroyed or damaged helped me to understand just how significant each and every donation, great or small, is to our fund. Seeing how church members had spent countless, sleepless days and nights sorting clothes, distributing food, and improving morale helped me to understand how I could go home at any time, but these were the people who were there to stay. And personally shoveling and clearing debris allowed me to experience, albeit briefly, the emotional and physical toll disasters take on those affected.

The other interns and I were surprised most by the sense of optimism surrounding us. Many times throughout our trip I found myself near tears and had to mentally step away. During such moments, I would think, “If the people of Oklahoma can smile, so can you.” Alex, another Mercury One intern, said, “One of my most memorable moments was when we found a father moving the remains of his house out of his yard. We offered to help, and he said as he picked up leaves and bricks, ‘One day the grass will grow.’” It was this phrase, along with finding an undamaged set of family photo negatives under a shattered mirror, stumbling across a perfect, unbroken egg lying next to a refrigerator, and seeing the American flag on every corner, that helped me to keep smiling, to keep going.

I came away from this trip feeling extraordinarily blessed: blessed for my home, my family, my school, my job, and my country. But most of all, I came away knowing that even in the darkest, hardest times, we must remember that, “One day the grass will grow.”

Lauren

This was one of the first homesteads in the area in the 1880's and was just begging to be brought back to its original glory — with a touch of modern. When we first purchased the property, it was full of old stuff without any running water, central heat or AC, so needless to say, we had a huge project ahead of us. It took some vision and a whole lot of trust, but the mess we started with seven years ago is now a place we hope the original owners would be proud of.

To restore something like this is really does take a village. It doesn't take much money to make it cozy inside, if like me you are willing to take time and gather things here and there from thrift shops and little antique shops in the middle of nowhere.

But finding the right craftsman is a different story.

Matt Jensen and his assistant Rob did this entire job from sketches I made. Because he built this in his off hours it took just over a year, but so worth the wait. It wasn't easy as it was 18"out of square. He had to build around that as the entire thing we felt would collapse. Matt just reinforced the structure and we love its imperfections.

Here are a few pictures of the process and the transformation from where we started to where we are now:

​How it was

It doesn't look like much yet, but just you wait and see!

By request a photo tour of the restored cabin. I start doing the interior design in earnest tomorrow after the show, but all of the construction guys are now done. So I mopped the floors, washed the sheets, some friends helped by washing the windows. And now the unofficial / official tour.

The Property

The views are absolutely stunning and completely peaceful.

The Hong Kong protesters flocking to the streets in opposition to the Chinese government have a new symbol to display their defiance: the Stars and Stripes. Upset over the looming threat to their freedom, the American flag symbolizes everything they cherish and are fighting to preserve.

But it seems our president isn't returning the love.

Trump recently doubled down on the United States' indifference to the conflict, after initially commenting that whatever happens is between Hong Kong and China alone. But he's wrong — what happens is crucial in spreading the liberal values that America wants to accompany us on the world stage. After all, "America First" doesn't mean merely focusing on our own domestic problems. It means supporting liberal democracy everywhere.

The protests have been raging on the streets since April, when the government of Hong Kong proposed an extradition bill that would have allowed them to send accused criminals to be tried in mainland China. Of course, when dealing with a communist regime, that's a terrifying prospect — and one that threatens the judicial independence of the city. Thankfully, the protesters succeeded in getting Hong Kong's leaders to suspend the bill from consideration. But everyone knew that the bill was a blatant attempt by the Chinese government to encroach on Hong Kong's autonomy. And now Hong Kong's people are demanding full-on democratic reforms to halt any similar moves in the future.

After a generation under the "one country, two systems" policy, the people of Hong Kong are accustomed to much greater political and economic freedom relative to the rest of China. For the protesters, it's about more than a single bill. Resisting Xi Jinping and the Communist Party means the survival of a liberal democracy within distance of China's totalitarian grasp — a goal that should be shared by the United States. Instead, President Trump has retreated to his administration's flawed "America First" mindset.

This is an ideal opportunity for the United States to assert our strength by supporting democratic values abroad. In his inaugural address, Trump said he wanted "friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world" while "understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their interests first." But at what point is respecting sovereignty enabling dictatorships? American interests are shaped by the principles of our founding: political freedom, free markets, and human rights. Conversely, the interests of China's Communist Party are the exact opposite. When these values come into conflict, as they have in Hong Kong, it's our responsibility to take a stand for freedom — even if those who need it aren't within our country's borders.

Of course, that's not a call for military action. Putting pressure on Hong Kong is a matter of rhetoric and positioning — vital tenets of effective diplomacy. When it comes to heavy-handed world powers, it's an approach that can really work. When the Solidarity movement began organizing against communism in Poland, President Reagan openly condemned the Soviet military's imposition of martial law. His administration's support for the pro-democracy movement helped the Polish people gain liberal reforms from the Soviet regime. Similarly, President Trump doesn't need to be overly cautious about retribution from Xi Jinping and the Chinese government. Open, strong support for democracy in Hong Kong not only advances America's governing principles, but also weakens China's brand of authoritarianism.

After creating a commission to study the role of human rights in U.S. foreign policy, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote last month that the principles of our Constitution are central "not only to Americans," but to the rest of the world. He was right — putting "America First" means being the first advocate for freedom across the globe. Nothing shows the strength of our country more than when, in crucial moments of their own history, other nations find inspiration in our flag.

Let's join the people of Hong Kong in their defiance of tyranny.

Matt Liles is a writer and Young Voices contributor from Austin, Texas.

Summer is ending and fall is in the air. Before you know it, Christmas will be here, a time when much of the world unites to celebrate the love of family, the generosity of the human spirit, and the birth of the Christ-child in Bethlehem.

For one night only at the Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City, on December 7th, join internationally-acclaimed radio host and storyteller Glenn Beck as he walks you through tales of Christmas in the way that only he can. There will be laughs, and there might be a few tears. But at the end of the night, you'll leave with a warm feeling in your heart and a smile on your face.

Reconnect to the true spirit of Christmas with Glenn Beck, in a storytelling tour de force that you won't soon forget.

Get tickets and learn more about the event here.

The general sale period will be Friday, August 16 at 10:00 AM MDT. Stay tuned to for updates. We look forward to sharing in the Christmas spirit with you!