Old Dog, New Tricks

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My eyes scanned the kitchen before turning off the lights. Dishes, done. Counters, wiped. Table, cleared. I brushed a few wisps of hair back, and the cotton dressing from my early morning surgery rustled in muffled tones.

Last Monday, I broke my lifetime record of no surgical procedures. For the past eight years, I’ve been living with a hereditary, pregnancy-related hearing loss called otosclerosis. In short, every time I carried a baby (or two), the influx of hormones caused the stapes bone in my inner ear to grow. As it grew, it was no longer able to vibrate, which decreased my ability to hear.

Two hearing tests this summer confirmed that my right ear suffered moderate to severe hearing loss. (My husband could have confirmed that a long time ago, bless his patient heart.) A pre-op appointment labeled me a good candidate to surgically correct the issue, and a month later, I was prone on a table, letting a surgeon laser off the faulty portion of my stapes in order to replace it with a titanium prosthetic.

Science is amazing. God is good.

Have you ever seen those videos of babies who undergo a procedure in order to restore their hearing? Their eyes get huge. They laugh. They clap. Sometimes they cry in amazement and stare at their family members, awed by this new revelation of sound. That’s how I felt. I heard the nurse rusting in a drawer for a bandage and I squealed. I heard people having a conversation in the hallway and I leaned forward, intent on what I was catching. I heard the whirring tires of our car on the road and raised a hallelujah.

Amazing, all of it.

But now there’s the sticky issue of healing. I say sticky, because I feel pretty good. Good enough, in fact, that it’s going to be too easy to forget that I’m not allowed to bend, squat, or lift anything over ten pounds for the next 4-6 weeks. (Sorry, Griff. This is going to take some getting used to.)

Which brings me back to shutting down the kitchen for the night. Before I hit the lights, I saw it: an offending blue sock, deflated and forgotten by the chair. I walked over and went to grab it without thinking when the warning bells (literal and figurative) went off in my head.

Do you know how hard it is to reprogram your brain and your body NOT to do something you’ve been doing for years? Socks in the corner. Toys on the floor. Little arms begging you to soothe some hurt. I don’t go to my Tuesday body pump class for fun (even though it is – thank you Wild River Fitness!) I go for life. Daily living requires squats, lifts, and bends – and I do all of those things without thinking.

Until now.

Building a new behavior takes effort. It also takes time, memory, and energy. Our brains need to create new neural pathways in order to back away from old habits and form new ones. And thankfully, the phrase “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” applies only to dogs. Humans at any age can continue to learn. Though it comes more naturally when we are young, those of us that are thankful for selfie filters and comfortable shoes still have a fighting chance.

With intentionality, practice, and the creativity to problem solve, our “new” will gently become real. It too will lose its unfamiliarity, becoming instead a beautiful pattern informed by our past, holding hope for tomorrow.

God gave our minds and bodies some remarkable abilities. He also entrusted us with some amazing promises.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Deut 31:6

None of this is a magic bullet. But the combination of attention, practice, and hope can come alongside us as circumstances require us to change, bolstering us when we feel incapable. I’m sure I’m going to mess up and forget not bend over one of these days – but hopefully the new reflexes I’m building will help catch me before I go too far.

Meanwhile, I’ll just be over here living life for the next four weeks, reveling in how loud flushing the toilet actually is, and mastering the art of picking things up with my toes.

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Let Go or Be Dragged

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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.

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.”

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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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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

High School Mission Trips: We’re not going to Change the World

During my high school and college age years, I was privileged to be a part of six different mission trips as both a student, and a chaperone. If you’re not familiar with the phrase “mission trip”, it’s generally a faith-based volunteerism trip where young people tackle projects that need extra manpower. For example, in Mexico, we helped build a structure (though to this day I can’t quite tell you what it was supposed to be). In South Dakota, we scraped and painted houses. In Kentucky, Louisiana, Arizona, and Brazil, we staffed various types of children’s camps.

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Side note – I used to be impossibly cool. Pink pajama pants girl, I’m looking at you.

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A lot of people are on the fence about the role of short term mission trips. They wonder how much “help” can really come from a group of inexperienced students. Do the gifts and supplies volunteers bring actually do much good? What happens when the volunteers leave?

These aren’t easy questions.

As a young mission team member, I didn’t realize these questions existed. I only knew that I wanted to help people, because I had begun to learn the quiet joy that crept in after doing something kind for someone else. And if I’m honest, I think most students today are in the same boat. They aren’t worrying about the efficacy of their time away. They aren’t doing cost/value analyses, or measuring outcomes.

But they know that as the next generation, they are called, and they are capable.

For me, being called and capable meant I put hundreds of *mostly* crooked nails into wall frame studs. I ran around a soccer field with a happy, screaming group of kids who were more interested in the free snacks than the lesson time. I let someone smash a pie in my face. I journaled during our designated “quiet time” and read my bible, waiting for God to speak.

I did not come back from any of my trips with a specific vision, or a giant life lesson. I did not see any heavenly signs or miracles or crazy shows of healing. What I did gain was this: I lived in a broad and beautiful world full of people who all needed something.

Some of them needed a house. Some needed a hot meal. Some of them needed my sad attempts at hair braids. Some needed a buddy to play with. Some of them needed a friend to listen to their stories. All of them needed a reason to hope.

***

One night, the Cross of Glory (shout out!) youth group and I were winding down from a service day in Arizona. The students and I were lounging in an outdoor amphitheater connected to where we were staying when our youth pastor Dan joined us, carrying a bucket of warm water and a towel. A few other groups were with us at the time, and their leaders also came out with water and towels. With only a brief explanation of what was happening, they started washing our feet.

The space grew impossibly quiet as the leaders went from student to student, washing and drying their hot, tired feet.

Afterward, someone gave a brief message, explaining how in John 13, Jesus gets up in the middle of supper with his friends and starts washing their feet. This practice, normally reserved for the lowest of servants, shocked his friends, who were confused by his actions.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

My bare feet tingled in the cool air of sunset, and something about that story sunk deep. Jesus’ life and years of ministry were not marked by fanfare and success and solving the world’s problems. Instead, he impacted the world by servitude, by grace, and by love. 

Somehow, it’s been seventeen years since that trip.

Six of those years have been spent relearning the importance of everyday service as I wipe not just the feet, but the noses, hands, and bottoms of my children. Almost fourteen of those years have given me ample time to practice grace in my marriage. And during each of those seventeen years, we’ve been a part of three churches, loving the small groups, students, worship teams, boards, and other opportunities we’ve said yes to as we grew in community.

While none of these are major, world-altering acts, they have changed me, and how I connect with those around me. But I wouldn’t have understood that if I hadn’t learned what it meant to serve and care for others.

This summer, I’ve been asked to pick up where I left off fourteen (*gulp*) years ago, and chaperone another student mission trip – this time to Paris, France.

After I stopped squealing OUIIIIIIIIIIIII!!!!! in my head, Jason and I had a couple of long conversations about safety, responsibility, and my leaving for ten days in July. After securing the assistance of a small army of family members, we decided I should say yes. (OUIIIIII again!!!!! Thanks Grandmas and Grandpas!)

Envision Paris, the group we’ll be working with, is an ongoing effort with the Christian and Missionary Alliance to bring a fresh understanding of the transformational love of Jesus to their city. The traditional church in France, for all its ornate beauty and history, is struggling to meet the deep, connective needs of its people. Envision Paris wants to change that.

Our goal for the time we’re in Paris is to come alongside and encourage a newly formed church community. Our six students, a few of whom actually speak French (huge bonus!) will be participating in English conversation classes and evening student gatherings. We are hoping to use art projects, music talents, and kitchen skills to create friendships, build community, and share our stories of faith.

Spoiler alert: We will not change the world with this trip. But what I do see is the opportunity for each of these students (and myself) to grow in their understanding of what Jesus taught about service, grace, and love. I also see the places where they might experience confusion, rejection, and hurt as they step outside their places of safety and rely on their faith for the first time.

For the record, I value both. I value both because I have seen the different character qualities that beauty and hardship alike can develop in my life.

In the process, I see cross-cultural friendships being built. I see students encouraging one another on in love and good deeds. I see laughter, and big questions, and marginal airport food.

We may not change the world in July, but we ourselves will be changed, and that’s a start.

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As with many youth endeavors, the cost of our students’ trip will be covered by fundraising and financial gifts of support. Please consider giving! I’d love for you to partner with our team and stay tuned for prayer requests, updates, pictures, and posts from the field while we’re there. Click here to visit our team website, where you’ll find easy and secure online giving options for any amount. Your prayers and support will be incredibly meaningful to our team as we prepare to go.