Let Go or Be Dragged

https://www.maryengelbreit.com/products/let-go-or-be-dragged-fine-print

Art Print Credit: Mary Engelbreit 

It was a Thursday night, which was not our usual time for violin lessons, and my four children knew it. Our day was as overloaded as the spring ditch creek at the end of our driveway – group play date, library, and tumbling, all falling back-to-back. We landed at music lessons tired, overstimulated, and hungry for anything else besides the box of atomic yellow flavor blasted goldfish we’d been sticking out hands into all day.

While my eldest attempted to follow her teacher’s instructions, my youngest threw books on the floor while his sisters lolled over my shoulders and pulled at my purse, disconsolately asking whether or not I had any mints, or new snacks, and if it was time to go home yet. The scratch of violin scales doggedly began. Heat started to collect under my arms and along my temples.

My eyes desperately traversed the now-familiar classroom. The black and white clock stonily stated we had fourteen minutes remaining. The sun glinted off the warped and dirty snowbanks quietly melting outside the south window. And then I noticed it, a little sign taped to a file cabinet. It was a picture of a child haphazardly holding on to a bunch of helium balloons that were dragging him backwards across the grass.

The cheery lettering at the top read, “Let go or be dragged.”

I read it again, no longer noticing the child pulling at my jeans, or the frenetic whisper play of the twins going on behind me. The violin noise faded, and I inhaled slowly.

Let go or be dragged.

Somehow, this seemed like a startling new revelation regarding a number of circumstances I was doggedly working through in my personal life. Potty training. Tantrums. Financial puzzles. Interpersonal connection. Hurt. Faith questions. Exhaustion. The ever-constant need to clean and organize.

Let go or be dragged.

***

Take potty training, for instance.

Potty training a boy (after training three girls) is proving to be an animal with different stripes. I was warned this would most likely be the case, but by the end of the second week, our success was limited to me remembering to haul my son to the bathroom at the appropriate elimination time. He maintained a very laisse fair approach to the whole affair, going when he was prompted, but with increasing resentment and hesitation.

Meanwhile, we burned through an entire bag of miniature colored marshmallow treats (given out in magnanimous handfuls by his helpful sisters), a bottle of Clorox wipes, and a bag of overpriced Cars-themed pull-ups.

One night after I recounted yet another exhausting toileting mishap to my husband, he gently suggested that it might be time to take a break.

Inside, I rebelled at his words. We had made some hard-fought advances, after all. Our son was staying dry at night and during naps, and rarely had accidents during the day. He successfully held it in the car, and had only had one public accident.

I saw my days of careful vigilance and bleached training pants and bathroom floor reading time swirling down the drain, and it hurt my pride to admit defeat. But this was not about my pride.

It was about my son.

Let go, the little boy in the picture whispered. He’s not ready yet. Don’t push it. You’re being dragged. I didn’t want to agree, but I knew it was true.

The next morning, we went back to diapers.

***

The events of life, it seems, are hell-bent on getting their hooks in us. A meaningless jest. A bad meeting. A temperamental car battery. A child’s lost library book. These things are outside of our control, but often fall just close enough within our purview that we can’t stop thinking about them.

Letting go doesn’t usually occur to us.

We lump around like an arthritic dog, imperfectly guarding our territory. We mull over our thoughts, chewing over conversations, shortcomings, mistakes, and concerns like a well-worn bone.

It isn’t often we give ourselves permission to simply let go.

That seems too easy, our brains say.

That’s giving up. It’s letting someone else win, the world says.

Or is it?

In the act of letting go, of giving in to circumstances outside of our control, what it we are better able to practice the little celebrated art of surrender?

Definition-wise, surrender means: to cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority, to yield to the power, control, or possession of another upon compulsion or demand, or to give up completely or agree to forgo especially in favor of another.

Spiritually, surrender looks like what Jesus taught in Matthew 11.

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

What if we have to start by getting over ourselves, and then seek out wisdom from the source?

Humility may not be many people’s favorite virtues, but that doesn’t make it any less important as a part of our daily lives– particularly when we need to let go of something and try another way. Humble surrender (as opposed to angrily giving in and then stomping around like a temperamental two-year-old) allows us to assess our circumstances and accept our position.

And if we’re lucky, it affords us the opportunity to pick ourselves up from the dust and either try again or walk away, this time with more clarity and perhaps, a deeper wisdom.

***

A few days ago morning, after our full return to diapers, my son grabbed at his pants and quietly mumbled that he needed to go potty. The deed was done successfully and with no cajoling, and I stood in the kitchen afterward in dumbfounded amazement.

I’m too old to pedal the old idea that if you let something go, it’ll come back to you if it’s meant to be. Life is too uncertain for platitudes.

But it is also, undoubtedly, too short to be threatened by thoughts that want to drag me, kicking and screaming, to somewhere I don’t want to go. Had I not stepped back from constantly directing my son to go potty (and thoughts of my own failure as a mother), he never would have had the space to determine his own urge.

Humility and gentle surrender will do far more good for a soul than clinging to failure and hurt.

Hanging on to words, worries, and fears and allowing them to direct our thoughts and emotions is dead weight, better to be cut loose from than strangled by.

Let go, or be dragged.

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15 Family Snow Day Activities to Keep Everyone Sane

15 family snow day activities

Yesterday we got word that here in our corner of Minnesota, school is cancelled for the next two days due to the extreme cold, windchill, and continuing snow. In other words, winter has decided it’s time to start acting like winter.

First off, I don’t have a frame of reference for how cold -50 is, so I’m thankful that now we won’t have to leave the house to do anything other than the usual farm chores of hauling wood and feeding the animals. Even those two things will be questionable the next few days.

But across the Midwest, I’m guessing mothers like me are a mixed bag of YAY! SNOWDAYS! and CRAP! WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO TO STAY SANE?!

I’ve been brainstorming what we’re going to do with our kids (ages 7, 5, 5, & 2), and with no further ado, here are a few things we’ll probably be up to in our next couple days of hygge.

  1. Indoor exercise

This one’s for you, parents. Exercise is important, and endorphins are a must on days like these. So, got a treadmill? Or are you a Pinterest workout pinner? Or how about live streaming video workouts? Now is a great time to shred your abs, bump your booty, or tackle any other ridiculously named set of exercises. If you need a place to start, here’s a link to my favorite 10 minute ab workout.

A quick note: your kids may want to join you. In the spirit of family togetherness, let them! Now’s a great time to teach them how to plank, do a proper bicep curl, or master the jump squat. I mean, what else are you doing today?

  1. Exercise for the kids

Little bodies need to move too. Did you know you can stream how-to beginner lessons in ballet, taekwondo, and other activities from Youtube? Just cast them from your phone/computer to your TV and turn your living room into a miniature gym – no membership required.

If your kids are smaller, there’s also a fun TV show on Netflix called Bo on the Go. The main character Bo invites viewers to accompany her on missions and move their bodies in the process. It’s a great way to get them off the couch but still stay generally contained in their activity.

  1. Get a head start on Valentine’s Day

Full disclosure: This is totally an original idea from my preschoolers, so don’t go thinking I’ve suddenly become good at planning ahead. The twins are making homemade valentines for their classmates today. They are coloring hearts, cutting them out, and writing names on them. It’s a great activity in dexterity, counting, writing, coloring, and spelling, and they have been at it for the last hour and a half. Frankly, I’m amazed.

  1. Snow Tray play

Got a fresh pile of snow but don’t feel like bundling up in 80 bajillion layers to go play in it? Me either. Enter, the snow tray. Grab a bowl, gingerly step outside far enough to fill it with snow, and then slam on the door on that madness and get back inside. Dump said snow on rimmed baking trays and let your kids make miniature snowmen, or race tracks for cars, or tiny snowballs. Bonus points if you put towels under the trays so they can periodically wipe their hands.

  1. Compromise on music time

I love listening to calm, mellow music during the day… but my 7 and 5-year-olds do not. We compromise by listening to their music for an hour, then my music for an hour, then daddy’s music for an hour, etc. Music has the power to change all sorts of cranky attitudes and spur on spontaneous dance parties, so be ready.

Now might also be a good time to introduce your kids to audio books or podcasts. We’ve had varying results with these, because they have to be pretty closely matched to your children’s interest and attention span, but you can find them on streaming music sites like Google Play and Spotify.

  1. Go ahead. Marie Kondo the toy room.

Last weekend I headed downstairs to watch a play the kids were putting on. Two hours later, I emerged victorious with two bags of garbage, a fully organized play room, and a great haul of stuff to give away. No need to be judicious here. If the game doesn’t have the pieces anymore, it goes. If the plastic McDonalds toys aren’t bringing anyone joy, dump them in the recycling. If no one has touched the giant bin of Little People toys in the last year, contact your local gym or church nursery and see they if they need any donations.

  1. Plan an extravagant meal

You know. The one you never make because you don’t have time. Check out your local grocery pick up service, order online, and don’t get out of that car whatever you do because staying alive in this freezer is basically your JOB now. Better yet, poke around in your pantry and use what you have. Remind yourself that you always wanted to try making homemade gnocchi, or roasted chicken, or someone’s Nona’s five hour tomato sauce. Then go for it. Involve the family to the extent they can successfully contribute. Set the table. Light the candles. Use fancy glasses. Let them make a centerpiece out of legos, dragons, etc. Bon Appetit!

  1. Bake something

Anything. Cookies. Bread. Sweet potatoes. Granola. Firing up that oven will bump up the temp in your kitchen just that much more, and most kids love a special kitchen project (and the promise that they get to lick the beater.)

Not into baking? Let the kids make their own snacks. Turn bananas into mice with chocolate chips and spaghetti whiskers. Make marshmallow snowmen with mallows, stick pretzels, and raisins. Let them make faces in their yogurt bowl using trail mix, fruit, or whatever else is on hand.

  1. Pull out the puzzles

We are just arriving at the stage where ¾’s of our family can handle doing a 300 piece puzzle. The collaboration, patience, and victory is mostly worth the accompanying whining, misplaced elbowing, and frustration. *Mostly*

  1. Have a reading competition

See who can read (or digest the pictures if you have pre-readers in the house) the most pages in one day. You can go all crazy and make a chart online, or just draw a few columns on a piece of paper and write in books as you go. Winner gets any manner of positive reinforcement you’re in the mood to offer up. Mom and dad should play too.

  1. Skype with family

When was the last time you did a virtual video call with grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins? Never? Or just yesterday? Whatever your schedule of video chatting, setting aside some time to talk with family can be a great way to offer a new activity. Google Hangouts and Facebook Video Calls are two pretty reliable and free platforms to try.

Feeling less techy? Try reviving the lost art of writing letters. That’s right. Use STAMPS. Put actual envelopes in the MAILBOX. Teach your kids what the little flag on the side of the box is meant for. I know. It’s crazy, but it just might work.

  1. Embrace the mess

Kids love using props to be creative. In the spirit of fostering that, don’t hem and haw about getting out the Halloween costumes, or gag when the Legos go skittering across the floor. Toys are meant to be played with, messes are easily cleaned, and the hour or two of probable entertainment is worth the chaos. Just remind them that cleanup afterwards is mandatory, and make sure it actually happens.

  1. Allow boredom

We’ve all heard the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention”, right? Oftentimes, we don’t allow our kids to be bored because they pester us to no end in the process. However, boredom is a necessary step in getting the brain to think of something new to do. So go ahead. Endure the whining, or make them whine in their rooms until suddenly, they’re quiet and somehow engaged in something new. It’s worth it. I promise.

  1. Look at family pictures or videos together

Our kids LOVE watching videos of themselves when they were younger, and it can be incredibly cozy to sit together at the computer and remember how much fun you all had together last summer, or when the kids were babies, or when they took that special road trip. Go ahead. Pop some popcorn and watch family movies like Clark in the Griswold Family Christmas, minus getting locked in the attic.

  1. Enjoy being close

As families we often spend our days doing things apart. Make this time special by consciously sitting together, snuggling, giving backrubs, braiding hair, painting nails, or laying close to one another while you read, journal, watch a movie, etc. Extra credit for involving blankets to further ward off the chill

Whatever you do to survive the great Midwestern chill of January 2019, be intentional about loving your people the best way that they receive love, and take advantage of the opportunity to grow a little closer as a family. Also, if you want to close the curtains and pretend that -50 and the outside world just doesn’t exist for the next two days, no judgments here.

Leaning into Loss at Christmas

Thomas O'Malley

We had an accident on the farm this morning.

I started the van a bit early in order to warm it up and brush the snow off. My husband had warned me that the roads were slippery and to take extra time.

The kids went running and laughing out into the snow, followed by their furry array of outdoor feline companions. I ushered everyone into the van, did buckles, and shifted into reverse.

I didn’t see Thomas O’Malley, our much-beloved kitten.

***

We all cried on the way to school except for Griffin, who just kept repeating, “it’s okay Sissies, it’s okay.”

We cancelled our plans for the gym and a stop at a friend’s house in lieu of Tommy and came home to figure out next steps. The girls ran in and started drawing “I love you Thomas” cards at the kitchen table. I took a box out of the recycling and gently put our little friend inside.

All I could hear was Ellie’s voice from earlier. “Mom, I don’t want things like this to happen at Christmas.”

Me either, sweet girl. Me either.

Because while I know that we are mourning a pet, others are mourning a parent, or a sibling, or a child.  Others are separated from those they love, physically or emotionally. Still others find themselves mired in worry, turning over anxieties like snowflakes in the wind.

We all carry deep wounds, some fresh, some faded.

And this is precisely why Christmas comes.

Trappings and traditions aside, Christmas was the ultimate act of giving on behalf of a Father who wanted to ease the suffering of his children.

God saw our pain. Our sadness. Our hurt. Our darkness.

And mystery of all mysteries, he knew that sending Jesus could offer us peace if we chose to know his heart. Peace that could sit quietly beside us in our grief. Peace that could settle over our shoulders after we wiped off our faces.

Loss cannot be prevented. That is the nature of our humanity.

But it doesn’t have to overtake us.

The hope that Jesus offers reaches into every part of our lives. It is the calming antidote to our anxiety, the presence in our despair, the steadfastness in our seasons of change.

And maybe He came in the form of an ordinary-looking baby born in a barn to remind us that He is holy enough to set His holiness aside and meet us where we are. In our looming bills and imperfect gifts and broken cookies and car repairs. In our eye bags and wrinkles and ill-fitting clothes. In our coughs and aches and hidden pains.

Humanity hurts.

But it doesn’t have to remain in hurt forever.

***

Soon we will have a memorial for our kitten. There will be a homemade cross and a pile of crayoned pictures scrawled on blank sheets of 8×12 office paper. We will say thank you to Jesus for sharing Thomas with us for a few months, and we will cry because we won’t ever see him putting his paws up on the window screen begging to be let in again. And then someone will want a snack. Someone will holler that the bathroom needs more toilet paper.

Life will go on, and we will go with it, secure because of a divine gift we didn’t ask for – because on our own, we never would have thought such a thing would be possible.

Hope.

What I Needed this Thanksgiving

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Yesterday my eldest was out woodworking in the shop with Daddy. When she came in, cheeks pink with cold, she wore a sneaky grin and had something stuffed underneath her teal jacket. She informed me it was a Thanksgiving present. I wondered where the idea of Thanksgiving presents suddenly came from (maybe accidentally decorating for Christmas last week has us all a little confused) but no matter.

Ellis has been particularly focused on the idea of giving this fall, and I love seeing her heart translate into thinking about others. She’s picked out thoughtful birthday presents, colored pictures and cards to share, and given away toys and clothes. In short – she’s turning out to be much better than me at the important art of giving.

Meanwhile, I stood behind the kitchen counter, chunks of hair wildly escaping my haphazard top knot. It was 5:13 pm, the house was in disarray, and supper still seemed miles away. So when Ellis asked me for wrapping paper, I felt like crumpling in ball. Dramatic, I know. Wrapping paper for a present is a reasonable request. But it also meant going down to the basement, clearing off the table, getting out the paper and wrapping supplies, and then fielding what was sure to be a four-child endeavor in wrapping heaven-knows-what they found in the basement while wielding scissors and tangling tape and arguing over what color bow was going on each gift.

Admittedly, this is where my mind goes with most requests I get from my children. How much will this cost me? How many minutes? How much sanity? How much clean up time?

It’s a mindset of management, but not always of grace.

Meanwhile, we all lumbered down the tricky basement stairs of our old farmhouse and managed to wrap a few presents without poking out anyone’s eyes or accidentally lopping off chunks of hair.

This morning, my present was waiting for me. My daughter handed it to me with excitement and I couldn’t help but be thankful I said yes to yesterday’s wrapping extravaganza.

I pulled open the corners and peeled back the paper to reveal a wooden board with a smaller floor-shim sized board nailed to the center. On one corner of the board was a turkey saying “Hi”; on the other, a sweet to-from inscription. But it was the middle that caught my attention. It was hard to see, but Ellis quickly jumped in to explain that it was one of the turkey’s tail feathers. The turkey had pulled it out himself and given it to me.

I smiled and gave her a hug, complimenting her artistry and sweet cartoon-like sentiments. But I couldn’t stop staring at that picture of the feather.

Whether she meant to or not, my daughter had given me an important reminder of what it meant to give of myself. It was less about buying a solution, more about digging deep to provide. Less about counting the cost, more about giving gratefully from the heart.

It was a reminder I deeply needed.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. We have been given much, and we have much to be grateful for.

On Being Made New

It’s the last Saturday in August, the final weekend before school starts. Part of me wants to rush do all the FUN THINGS because it’s, well, the last week before school. But the grown-up part of me says, “shhhhh. We’ve done all the things. Let’s just finish the summer well.”

kids running

I’m still figuring out what that means, exactly. We’ve already camped and picnicked and spent countless hours at the waterpark. We’ve had ice cream and popsicles to our heart’s content. We’ve gone on adventures with family and had long, lazy weekends with friends. I’ve been to Paris. Jason’s been to Colorado and the BWCAW. It’s been a beautiful summer.

Last week I found myself planning very little. Doctor appointments, perhaps. A play date, sure. But beyond that, I wanted us all to have the margin to just BE. To practice cartwheel after cartwheel on the trampoline. To run out and hold baby kittens anytime we want. To scatter Legos in wide, clattering swaths across the floor and write picture books with bold red crayons.

I want these last, foggy, unrushed mornings to be full of grace. I think this means immediately saying “yes” a lot, because normally, I say “when I’m finished…”. I’m still working this one out.

School supplies are packed in backpacks, and everyone has new shoes. The drawers are organized, the house is marginally clean and functional, and we’ve taken to leaving the windows open at night to filter in the cool evening air. This morning Lucy asked me when it was going to snow. It’s as though everyone understands change is eminent.

***

I understand this change most by what’s coming out of the garden.

It’s been a great year for growing things, and August is the peak of goodness in my yard. The tomatoes are heavy and firm. The dark green zucchini and cucumbers still come with regularity. The carrots are crunchy and sweet. Broccoli crowns are just starting to appear, and the sweet peppers turn from green to red and orange every other day. The herbs are a wild tangle of goodness that add brightness and flavor to everything, and the whole works screams Life! Life!

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The challenge, as it always is, is to use this bounty well. This year I tried my hand at both savory dill and sweet refrigerator pickles. The freezer is filling up with bags of tomato basil soup and shredded zucchini for sweet bread. I vacuum sealed seven pounds of edamame pods as a side for dumplings and stir fry.

Yesterday, we made our first batch of impromptu apple sauce with early honey crisp apples that we picked from a few of the trees in our mini-orchard whose branches needed lightening.

All of these things feel like a rhythm to me, something almost elemental. It feels good to slow down to the pace of ripening, washing and de-stemming tomatoes. The water is warm, streaming over my hands. The skin of the tomato glows red as the and grit and dust runs off. I hold it in my palm, watching it become something new, something ripe with potential.

Working with food in its raw state is to trust the power of transformation. It’s the understanding that roasting tomatoes and garlic and onions can result in the silky smoothness of our favorite soup. It’s having faith that the long dirty fingers of carrots that come out of the ground will become the tender sweet snack we have at 10:23 a.m. when everyone has declared a state of emergency until their stomachs are fed STAT.

It’s everyday magic, cultivating knowledge and wonder at the same time.

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***

On Monday I had the opportunity to go down to the Bethesda rehab hospital in St. Paul and visit some friends who are there working through the aftermath of a stroke. I brought my thick green canvas hymnbook and we sat in a semi-circle, singing truth and life into the cool sterility of the hospital room.

I also tucked a few songs from the previous Sunday’s church service into the hymnal at the encouragement of a few friends (a whole different story for another post). Little bits and phrases from all those songs have stuck with me this week, like post-it notes hanging around in my brain.

                “Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow.”

“With me in the dark, with me at the dawn.

                “Though He giveth or He taketh, God his children ne’er forsaketh.”

“You are making all things new.”

It is difficult to understand how life can look so very different in just an instant. Or how we can be planning and waiting and living in fullness right alongside someone who’s story has been arrested by a drastic, silent pause.

But perhaps this partnership is necessary.

Maybe we all need to be reminded that our time here is never static; it is continually moving, growing, pausing, transforming. That no matter our place in the cycle of seasons and activity, we are constantly being made new in even the most unlikely circumstances, like when Gatsby said, “Life starts all over again when things get crisp in the fall.”

We are made new every time we see or do something that changes our perspective: when our eyes see new scenery, when we learn a new skill, when we hold one another close, building fresh layers of trust and love. It’s a beautiful process, this grace of newness. I am incredibly grateful for it.

Perhaps it’s an echo from our Creator, a living, breathing reminder that God himself is more than statue and edifice. He is continually at work on our behalf in this process, and has so much to teach us when we follow after his leading.

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. – Isaiah 43:19

The change of seasons always holds a certain allure to me, a promise of something different. But it’s also a poignant reminder that time does not stop, nor should it. Time is a necessary partner in the process of being made new. It is not our enemy; it’s the signage in our journey, reminding us what and where we’ve been.

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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.