Understanding Relational Mission Work

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It is a strange sensation, returning home after a travel experience.

Yesterday I went through the motions, willing my body to adjust to its regular timezone and 7 hour jump. My children were gracious, having been away themselves, and we all took the day slowly. Meals were simple, naps were welcomed, and requests to read stories (aka sit together on the couch) were granted freely.

My main concern with traveling was being away from my family. My son and I have never been separated for that long, and it’s been a while since I was away from the girls for any length of time. Thankfully, with the help of a crew of true champions (Daddy, Grandparents), each one of them did great (a true testimony of many of you praying.)

But even as our home wrapped me in the wide comfort of American familiarity and the glory of a having bathroom I could a.) find easily and b.) not have to pay for returned, I felt somehow split between physical locations.

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Mission trips have a way of doing that. They marry new experience with eternal purpose. It’s an intoxicating combination.

Upon return, you realize you aren’t who you were when you left just a week or so ago. The mold of your life feels tight in some places and looser in others, as though God has taken hold and stretched the reach of your arms, the speed of your step, the capacity of your heart.

It’s not that home doesn’t fit. It’s that you’ve grown in your ability to interact with it. You have new ideas. Questions. A broader sense of courage for what you are capable of doing.

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Paris is a beautiful city in every sense: architecturally, aesthetically, gastronomically. And ever since my college days of working at Paris Flea Market in Edina (a shop where the owner imported French antiques and other goods), I have always wanted to go there.  But the work of Envision in that city is what reached into my heart. They function as a true family. They apprentice residents and interns. They shepherd short-term teams. They serve and encourage their local churches. They build community for new friends.

They are teaching love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control as it pertains to their context in the city of Paris, allowing it to influence their humanity and daily interactions. Or in the words of one of the full-time international workers living there, they are introducing people to the family of God before introducing them to God himself.

It’s relief work in the familiar sense of recognizing a need and filling it – but instead of that need being food, shelter, or clothing, it runs on the emotional wavelength. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs outlines that after our basic needs (physiological, security) are met, we seek after our psychological needs: friendship, intimacy, family.

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This is the mission of connection. It is friendship. It is availability. It is asking hard questions and really, truly listening for the answers. It is recognizing difference and respecting it. It is humbly sharing what we own – stories of brokenness, hurt, exhaustion, shame, and fear, and how Jesus speaks into those places, restoring us to wholeness.

Most importantly, it’s an effort that is translatable anywhere we live. This level of the human condition needs tending at every level of society: within our families, within our friendships, in our social media networks, at the workplace, in sports teams, even at the checkout line at the grocery store.

In John 13, Jesus taught his friends a new concept, one that probably seemed a little strange the first time they heard it:

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

For all it’s overuse as a catchphrase, to love and be loved will always be a central need, as basic a fact as that the Eiffel tower is in France. And realizing that meeting that need in others is equally as important as any of my daily pursuits is a gift I will never forget receiving on this trip.

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Ready, set, GO!

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I stand in the travel section aisle of Walmart at 10:47 pm, weighing tiny bottles of green and white shampoo in my hands. I read the labels without really reading them, my mind already wandering to what the shower will look like at our apartment in Paris. Ever since our team meeting Friday night, I’ve felt a strange sense of alertness, as though my brain has switched energy levels from battery-saving mode to full power.

It’s not fear or worry; I’m just… ready.

Earlier in the day, I was talking with a friend about skydiving last summer, and how right before the jump, I had to shut off the part of my brain that wouldn’t stop feeding me anxious thoughts. Instead, I made myself focus on trivial matters at hand, like making sure my shoes were tied. After all, the big things were already taken care of: the plane, the parachute, the guide, the gear. All I had to do was jump.

Somehow, helping lead a mission trip of six students to Paris feels a little like skydiving. There are so many things to plan, to prepare for, and to overthink. Yet at this point, the morning of our leaving, all the work is done. The flights are booked. The schedule is made. Our partners at Envision are ready and waiting. All we have to do is go.

My mind is at an impasse with no new information to process. It travels down the same well-worn paths: how will my family do when I’m gone, will everything at home run smoothly, how will communication work since the only French phrase I’ve truly mastered is “Je sui un Americain stupide. Parlez vous Anglaise?

I have prayed over, under, around and through these concerns often the past six months, and asked others to do the same. I’ve also managed to pray less self-focused prayers, for things like strong listening skills, team bonding, opportunities to be of service, conversations to be Holy Spirit-led, and for grace to break us all wide open as we experience God’s presence and purpose for our lives in a completely new context.

We go on this mission trip with hands that are both expectant and uncertain. We know the basics: learn about the local Christian and Missionary Alliance church’s efforts in Paris, offer English conversation skills to their classes, encourage connections, share our own faith stories, help refugee efforts, be of service.

What actually happens between those black and white lines will change lives.

I end up scrapping the pre-packaged shampoo and buy a few empty bottles that I can fill at home. The rest of the cart slowly fills with family needs. Six pounds of apples. Ground beef. Trail mix. I walk from aisle to aisle, buying groceries I won’t eat, and tentatively let myself day dream about beignets and Parisian coffee and new friends.

It is strange, straddling this point between two very different life experiences. But a familiar and favorite verse keeps pinging in my brain:

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8

No fear. No worry. Just readiness. Or in the fledgling words of my 2 year old son, ready, set, GOOOOOOOOO!

Here I am Lord. Send me.

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Want to stay in tune with our team’s adventures with Envision Paris? Follow our team blog over at ACV Student Ministries – Team Send for *hopefully* daily updates and pictures from the group. 

 

Summer Slush

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If I could pinpoint three things that the summers of my youth were made of, they’d be family picnics at Newton Hills, lazy afternoons spent reading medieval dragon lore, and Summer Slush.

My mom made slush by the gallon, and I can still see the re-purposed ice cream pail full of golden goodness sitting at the front of the freezer (mainly because it never had a chance to get pushed too far back.)

She’d stand at the counter, scraping with gusto because no one ever wanted to wait twenty minutes for it to soften enough to scoop easily. Then she’d fill the pastel-tinted Tupperware tumbler glasses three-quarters full, and top them off with sprite or ginger ale. On our lucky days, she’d also add a scoop of vanilla ice cream. That turned the whole works into something like a citrus flavored root beer float.

Fast forward to today: my kids started begging for popsicles in April this year. The allure of frozen treats is never too far from their memory. And during our trip to the family farm to visit Grandma and Grandpa last week, my mom pulled out the old Tupperware tumblers for a picnic and all my brain could think of was SLUSH.

So yesterday I took a quick peek at my cookbook, and grabbed the requisite ingredients from the grocery store. The result is now a much coveted plastic container in my own freezer that everyone is angling for after lunch.

I’m not about to say no, and I’m guessing you won’t either after you take your first bite.

 

Summer Slush

1 12 oz. can frozen orange juice

1 12 oz. can frozen lemonade (pink or yellow both work)

1 20 oz. can pineapple chunks

3 bananas

3 cups water

-Blend till smooth, pour into a large plastic container, and freeze. To make it easier to scoop, pull out after 6-12 hours and start scraping, breaking up the soft-freeze into granita-like chunks.

-Scrape a cup-sized portion into a glass, top with ginger ale, Sprite, La Croix, or whatever else strikes your fancy. Top with vanilla ice cream if you’re feeling particularly generous.

 

 

Unalienable Rights

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I stood on my tiptoes in the tall green grass, reaching for the ripest mulberries on the tree branch above. At my feet, my youngest begged “more, more” with an impish grin, his mouth and hands stained purple. The small tree was a hive of activity, branches bending every which way as eight children and three adults searched for the darkest, ripest berries.

After a while, we all piled back into the ranger. The older cousins sat in a tangle of limbs in the back and younger ones stayed up front. The wind whipped our hair around as we motored slowly down the gravel road, the taste of berries still fresh on our tongues.

I want to hold that moment, the hot windy air, the little legs and arms all pressed around my own, bouncing along next to both my parents as we watched the next generation of our family learn how to appreciate the goodness of the world surrounding them.

It is a privilege, the historied homestead and surrounding acres my family still lives and works on. I am the fifth generation of a family of immigrants who left the mining industry in Sweden for the promises of America.  They came here seeking a country that better offered them their unalienable rights.

Life. Liberty. The Pursuit of Happiness.

They purchased a plot of dark, fertile soil in South Dakota. They built a house that my parents still live in today. I am here because of their choices. My life was forged in their ability not only to pursue but to find freedom.

It’s a luxury not everyone has uncomplicated access to today.

This week has been full of stories about families faced with unspeakably difficult circumstances. Their hopes for finding refuge turned into nightmares as they found themselves suddenly caught in a web of moral and legal confusion.

One story titled Where’s Mommy particularly caught my attention. In it, a mother describes her family’s need to leave El Salvador because of gang threats to the lives of her husband and son. After an exhausting series of bus rides, they ended up connecting with a group of migrants also wanting to enter the US. It is unclear if she understood that their aim was to enter illegally. But suddenly she was there, staring at a wall that stood between her and her family’s chance at safety and freedom.

I don’t know where the closest port of entry was that night. I don’t know who promised her this way would be safe, or that her family would be okay. I don’t know the fast, shallow breathlessness of her fear.

But I know the fierceness of a parent protecting her child.

I know that stress impairs judgement.

I know that blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

I know that personal safety and security are valued by all of humanity, no matter what side of the wall they stand on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paperless Post: An (honest)ly excited review

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July is always a crazy month for our family. All four of our children have birthdays within nine days of one another, we generally attempt/execute a family vacation, and the growing season on our hobby farm is in full swing. Thankfully, my husband has time off from the busyness of the school year so we can tackle everything together but still… a lot of life happens in those 31 days.

This year, our summer has the addition of my 10-day mission trip to Paris, which means we have a little less time to fit everything in. A few months back, my husband and I pulled up our calendars and realized we only had one available weekend to throw our annual family birthday bash for the kids. Gulp.

Thankfully, a collaboration request from a company called Paperless Post popped into my inbox last week, offering their design invitation services in exchange for a blog post. Problem solved. I immediately sat down and started perusing birthday invitations.

Here’s the low down!

Paperless Post offers well-designed, on-trend email invitations, cards, thank yous, stationery, and flyers. The idea is similar to what you’d find at evite.com, but with a much more elevated selection of graphics and designs.

Of course that lovely design comes at a price; beauty isn’t free here. However, it is reasonably priced. My eight emailed invites cost 48 coins (their version of currency) to make, which put cost in the $12 range.

Following my rabbit trail of reason/rationalization, if I bought a box of 14 invites at the store, I’d probably spend $6-10 plus mailing costs. If I made photo invites and printed them, I’d be looking at somewhere around $20 plus mailing costs. If I sent a plain text email, I’d risk my guests doing what often happens to me: losing the invite in the mass of 3000 some odd emails that live in my inbox. (I’m not kidding. It’s my online version of hoarding.)

Bonus: the emailed invitation comes with the option to add directly to a calendar, which is a lifesaving feature I’m always grateful for.

What’s great?

Aside from invitations, there are plenty of other great design offerings. I particularly liked the thank you note section, the personal stationery section, and the fantastic birthday card section (perfect for people like me who desperately want to BRING BACK BIRTHDAY CARDS!!! but never actually have any of said cards to mail.) Being able to choose from a great selection of script-type fonts was another huge bonus, as was the fact that I didn’t run across any ugly designs. Seriously.

Also, no ads (yet). Bless you, Paperless Post.

What needs improvement?

The coin idea is a little strange to me. I’d rather not have to check a table that converts dollars to coins every time I add or detract a feature from my projects. I would also love to see a print-to-paper option for more of the designs. They currently offer that service for wedding invitations, stationery, and a few holiday cards, but it’s pretty spendy ($50-$100 for 20 pieces of stationery or 20 holiday cards) and isn’t available (that I found) for cards, thank you notes, or standard invites. I understand there are probably limitations with printing small batches… I’m just saying it’d be nice to purchase 20 really cool birthday cards to have on hand.

Overall

Paperless Post is a great online invitations+more service that provides timely, trendy design offerings at a reasonable price and value.

Meanwhile, I can mentally cross off birthday invites from my future to-do list without ever having to write them in. Score.

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(This is, as you may have guessed, sponsored content. Here’s the deal. I will occasionally share products and services I think add value to life, and/or that I would have organically used without any prompting. Note that all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own. All images courtesy of Paperless Post. Collage built at Fotor.com.)

The Fluid Nature of Things

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The last few days in Minnesota have been glorious. While the rest of the world may have been basking in spring for weeks already, us Northerners watched as flakes of white flew sideways across the landscape, covering the ground with drift after drift of frozen, icy gloom.

But suddenly, the sun came out Thursday and shocked us all with fifty-degree temps. The snow melted like mad, and my stir-crazy children begged to go for a walk. I was happy to oblige. I dug one scooter from a snowbank beside the house (did it stay there all winter?) and unearthed another and a bike from the dusty depths of the garage. Griff was already halfway down the driveway, so I decided to forgo the stroller or proper waterproof footwear (which I couldn’t find anyway) and let him walk as long as he wanted. Somehow, within minutes, we were off.

The delighted shrieks of the girls filled the air as we made our way down Reed Avenue. Griff kept pace a few steps in front of me in his halting toddler walk/run, stopping every now and then to pick up a rock and proclaim something. The sun sat warm as a promise on the left side of my face. Never did it feel so good to arrive at the creek and throw snow and sticks into the rushing, yelling farewell to winter.

We all burst in the house an hour and half later with red cheeks and flyaway hair. Griffin’s soaking wet, muddy feet and shoes demanded immediate attention, and I vowed that I had to find his hand-me-down rain boots before he set foot outside again.

Thursday’s walk was so great that no one hesitated when I suggested we do it again yesterday. I made a few slight adjustments to the lineup (scooters for all three girls, stroller for Griff when he got tired), and made another sweep of the basement for Griffin’s rainboots. Lo and behold, there they were, tucked into a storage tote labeled 0-3 mos. *Snort*.

Boots on and scooters ready, my small tribe gleefully picked their way down the rut-filled mess of our driveway and set off for the creek again. I couldn’t help but laugh inside thinking that last week, I was planning a Christmas party with a sweet friend as an act of defiance/acceptance of the forthcoming April snowstorm.

After all, it’s all so temporary, isn’t it?

We arrived at the creek, and the girls assumed positions at the top of the culvert, throwing in sticks, rocks, snow, and anything that would splash. Meanwhile, I sat down on the side, legs dangling over the water, and put Griff on my lap so that he could safely throw rocks in without me fearing for his life every time he leaned over the rushing water.

He was having a grand time chucking dried grass stalks in and kicking his legs against the edge, when suddenly, I heard a plop that was different than any of the others produced recently. Sure enough, I looked down, and there was the much-sought after rubber boot, gently bobbing sideways on the surface of the water.

The girls went crazy, demanding that I rescue the boot now making its way toward the fork in the stream. I quickly deposited Griffin in his stroller and buckled him in his seat, and then raced down the banks, stirring up a winter’s worth of dust as I picked my way through the dried yellow grass of the creek side. I grabbed a branch and made a few worthless attempts to snag the boot, but it doggedly kept bobbing just out of reach until the current took it downhill and all further efforts became futile.

There’s something poetic and important about physically letting go of something beyond your control, so I stood there a moment, watching the black rubber boot float away down the stream. It was clear I was never going to be able to retrieve it. It was also clear that I should not chase after it, since I left four unattended children watching aghast as their crazed mother attempted to rescue a boot from a raging spring creek armed with nothing but a weak sapling branch.

I hiked back up the ditch, listening to Ellis give an animated play by play of the lost boot escapade. Griffin, entirely unamused at this point, kept pointing at the creek and shouting “shoe, shoe!”. Lucy declared we might as well go home, and Gabby agreed, noting that there were still popsicles in the freezer. We walked back up the road in sunny camaraderie, as though I had just survived a lion attack instead of a failed attempt to rescue a rubber boot, and made it home without further incident.

Later that evening, it struck me that I had been searching for those rainboots off and on for weeks. How ironic that on the day I found and finally employed them, their usefulness slipped out of my grasp in a matter of moments.

Some people call it Murphy’s law. Some call it karma. I see it a little differently.

I see the reminder that the things we think we hold in our grasp are fluid – with us one moment, washing away the next. I see our human nature to fight, rescue, and retrieve what we lose.

I also see a loving Heavenly Father whose store of provision and grace never runs out. I see the relief in opening our clenched fists in surrender, letting the circumstance of life stream through our open fingers.

Why?

Because in this constantly moving flow of grace, I have never been left empty-handed.

It’s been easy to complain about the weather and I’m just as guilty as anyone. I could also be annoyed about the lost boot or being unable to drive on my mucky driveway. But that also means I’d be focusing on what’s lost, and not on what’s continuously being given.

I’d be anxiously looking down at what was falling out of my hands, instead of looking up at the stream of goodness that continues to keep them full.

Easygoing Breakfast Frittata

We just got back from a couple of days soaking in the beauty of Minnesota’s North shore for spring break. I know, I know. Most people would rather head South than North after a long winter full of snow, ice, and subzero temps, but my husband is a die-hard northerner, and if I’m honest, I love it too. Hence, we drank our morning coffee on the beach in the warm glow of a 28-degree sunrise, worked up a serious snowshoeing sweat, explored a few new parts of shore, bought a gigantic canoe in prep for some family fun this summer, and filled up on some pretty darn good food.

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Cheers to some serious ya sure, you betcha.

Meanwhile, I loved time off from the kitchen – particularly not cleaning the kitchen after making a giant food mess, which I’ve done a lot of this week. But after a couple of meals away, I started to get a little twitchy about what was going into my food and how it was being prepped. Call me a control freak. (I’m not, I promise.) I just love cooking my own food.

So as soon as I rolled my happy, slept-in self out of bed this morning, I started thinking about breakfast. Grandma and Grandpa still had the kids for the day, which meant I had the leisure of not putting food on the table for four children in three minutes or less, otherwise risking the cacophony of whines, angst, and chaos that usually erupts from a table of four hungry children.

And what did I decide on?

Frittata.

Frittata, that gloriously forgiving vehicle that takes whatever you put in it and turns it into an easy, hearty and flavorful meal. In case you’ve never made one, the general premise is this: peruse whatever you have on hand, chop it up, pour beaten eggs and milk over the top, and plop the whole thing in the oven. 30 minutes later, boom. Done.

I told you it was easy.

Side note: Breakfast is a bit of a misnomer. We routinely eat this at lunch or for supper on busy nights. It’s a great way to gather the bits and pieces at the end of the week and use them up.

Ready? Your turn. You know you want to.

Easygoing Breakfast Frittata

Easygoing Breakfast Frittata 

Ingredients:

  • onion
  • zucchini
  • carrot
  • fresh parsley
  • ham
  • cooked quinoa
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup of 2% milk
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese (or any cheddar blend)
  • Salt, Pepper
  • Butter
  • Parmesan

Method:

  1. Saute onion in an 8-inch cast iron or oven-safe pan
  2. Chop or shred veggies in half cup portions. If using zucchini, spread out on a paper towel, sprinkle with salt, then squeeze out excess moisture.
  3. Chop ham into bite-sized pieces
  4. Beat eggs and milk, stir in cheese. Add salt/pepper to taste
  5. Add 1 tbsp of butter to cast iron pan of onions, coat bottom and sides of pan
  6. Add vegetables, ham, and quinoa. Mix gently with onions.
  7. Pour eggs/milk/cheese combo over the top, smoothing for even coverage.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, or till lightly brown and firm in the center.
  9. Allow 10 minutes to cool and set before serving
  10. Top with Parmesan, hot sauce, green onions, etc.

 

In case you need inspiration for other flavor combinations, I also love frittatas with:

  • ham, broccoli, garlic, and cheddar
  • mushroom, asparagus, goat cheese and spinach
  • tomato, spinach or kale, and mozzarella