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.

arizona mission trip

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

kentucky camp mission tripsouth dakota mission trip

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.

image1-3-1

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.

 

Advertisements

Refusing to believe I AM NOT

piano keys worship music

I am not a worship leader.

These were the first words that came to mind when our associate pastor asked me if I’d be interested in leading worship at a winter family camp retreat this past weekend.

Let’s be frank. I’m not. I pound on the enormous ebony grand piano in our church with all my heart most Sundays, but I am not the leader, the melody, or the keeper of time. I am the background. The harmony. The filler of sound.

Saying yes was a stretch, not only of my capabilities, but of what I believed about myself.

Even though I stress telling the truth to my children (one in particular that needs help deciphering her imagination from her reality), it’s embarrassing to admit that I routinely lie… to myself. These lies range from big to little: I’m not a good mother, I can’t keep anything together, I’m a mess, I never have time, I shouldn’t say yes, and my particular favorite thorn, I’m not enough.

Sometimes, I can see these lies for what they are – trickery, falsehood, arrows aimed at the heart of who I want to be. Other days, I fall into their wide open trap.

***

This weekend, we had the opportunity for some family play time in the Big Sandy Camp gym during the retreat. One of the activities offered was crate stacking. I’m not sure where this originated, but it’s a unique (and strange) challenge.

The crate stacker harnesses up in climbing gear, and hooks into the belay. Then the stacker starts stacking, creating a tower of side by side plastic milk crates. The operative is to stack enough crates on top of one another in order to touch the ceiling of the gym. Helpers hand, then toss, then all out throw the crates up to the stacker, who attempts to do all of this while maintaining balance, managing fear, and ignoring the burn and tingle of tired muscles.

crate stacking

I watched the process, and point blank told myself, I’m not going to be good at that. 

That was, actually and probably, the truth. I have torn cartilage in my knees and a marginal sense of balance. As much as I love thrill-seeker experiences, my performance abilities are average at best.

But something inside me said, do it anyway.

So I did. I put on the ridiculous harness that accentuates parts of me that don’t particularly need to be accentuated, stepped on the first crate, and started stacking.

I stacked, and squealed, and wobbled, and laughed, and kept on climbing. I felt fear tighten my senses and narrow my vision. I gulped in enormous, burning breaths and felt the green plastic crates swaying under my nervousness.

I stacked until my lower half tingled with exhaustion and nervousness, and then I slowly stood up, still a few too many inches away from that corrugated white metal ceiling. I knew, with the certainty born of experience, that if I stayed up much longer I was going to fall. My feet were numb, my legs were burning, and I couldn’t steady myself enough to catch and climb another crate. My only chance at reaching the ceiling was to jump for it.

I shouted down to my belay that this was it, I was going to jump. And in that moment, I knew I probably would not reach my goal. The probability of my getting enough vertical to hit the ceiling by jumping off a 20 foot stack of precarious milk crates was decidedly low. 

But falling, without trying, was not something I wanted to do either. So I jumped.

I jumped, and I reached, and I missed.

And in that moment of exhilarating failure, I felt the rope catch my body as I stretched my arms wide anyway, realizing that I could still fly on the way down.

jump fly fail

***

Believing the lies we tell ourselves is a common plague. And like the plagues of ancient Egypt, they are dangerously incapacitating.

I am not turns into I can’t, and I can’t turns into I won’t, and I won’t turns into a heart closed off from the possibility of growth in our lives.

One of the lines from an All Sons and Daughters song named Called Me Higher that we sang at the retreat this weekend said it this way: “I could hold on. I could hold on to who I am and never let you change me from the inside.”

It’s easy to hold on to our lies, isn’t it? It’s easy because lies feel like truths in our moments of messing up. Saying I am not confirms something about what just happened, whether it’s failure, or a faltering, or a simple mistake that we’d easily forgive someone else.

Believing the abstract of I am, or I can is much harder. It means trusting our intrinsic worth over our temporal works.

For a person of faith, asserting our I am’s over our I am not’s is an act of belief. It is understanding that God’s words are more than stories and platitudes from an ancient book; they are promises from a living and active Father who wants us to recognize and be secure in the value he created us with.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. -1 John 3:1

I said yes to leading worship. I said yes, knowing full well that I’m not a worship leader, and that very soon, everyone at the retreat would know that too. I said yes because despite my limitations, I love to play, sing, and be a part of a community of praise.

Yes meant possibility. Yes meant growth. Yes meant serving something bigger than my own need to be perfect.

Yes meant that I am not had no power over what could be done if I simply tried.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Onward: Kindergarten, Apples, and Hope

Honeycrisp apple treeThe fall that we moved to our hobby farm, my husband planted a small orchard of Honeycrisp apple trees in the front yard. The following year, we had twin babies, an active toddler, and one of the worst winters in memory. Newscasters kept calling it a polar vortex; I called it a one-way ticket to stay-at-home-mom insanity.

In the spring, (the late, late spring that year), a few of the apple trees barely leafed out. Some developed a blackish type of rot, and others just withered. Every so often, my husband would stalk across the yard carrying an uprooted sapling and add it to the burn pile. Meanwhile, he carefully tended to the rest of the trees: pruning, fertilizing, fencing, weeding, waiting.

Last year, seemingly out of nowhere, a few small, red apples dotted the branches. Jason hid the biggest one on the top shelf of the fridge, a ruby red trophy, and we marveled at it every day for a couple of weeks, waiting for just the right moment to cut into it.

Meanwhile, apple alchemy was working its magic in the little orchard.

This year, five of our most gangly, teenage-looking trees produced an incredible show of nicely sized, bright red, juicy apples. Afraid for the young branches and the weight they were carrying, we decided to pick last week, though I’m sure it may have been a little early. (Remember, it’s amateur farm hour here. We’re learning by… experience.) The girls joined me in carefully twisting off all the apples they could reach, and I couldn’t help but remember driving past the orchard that polar vortex winter, wondering how on earth those trees were going to make it.

***

Four years ago, we were in the thick of raising babies. My eldest was two, and our twin daughters were two months. For better or for worse, our life was about small, concentric circles; we moved around the house in reliable patterns – meals, naps, laundry, baths. Taking an outing required a ridiculous amount of prep work: diapers, clean clothes, snacks, wipes, extra clothes, socks, shoes, toys, etc. and so most days we stayed home, managing best we could.

I want to say, “fast forward a few years”, the way people do when they scroll through vacation pictures and only remember the highlights (conveniently forgetting all incidents of puke, sleeplessness, and wardrobe malfunctions), but the truth of the matter is this: those early years of raising little ones did not go fast. They were full of wonder and challenge, failure and growth. And like the apple trees, there were times I wasn’t sure just how we were going to make it through.

first day of kindergartenBut two weeks ago, I watched my eldest hang her backpack in her locker and walk into her cheery kindergarten classroom. We stayed for a minute, processing her emotions and getting her settled in before turning around and navigating back down the hallway full of eager and nervous students.  The following week, I watched the twins walk confidently through the preschool entrance and line up by the door. And just like that, my minivan was overcome with silence (Griff isn’t a big talker yet).

I drove a few blocks, parked, and pulled out the baby carrier. Griff and I commenced to take on a beautiful, albeit sweaty hike through the woods in Taylors Falls. (Twenty-five pounds of baby and carrier adds a new level to any exercise these days.)

For a majority of my walk, I kept thinking back to two things – apples (namely, the giant bags in the pantry needing to be processed) and waiting, an action I’ve struggled with all my life.

You see, I had to wait for those wimpy little trees to do something, anything.

I waited through those long, wintery days when my daughters tested every ounce of patience I could muster, and it felt like we’d never be able to open the front door without a mountain of snow spilling into the entryway.

I waited while I mowed in circles around the apple fences and weed-whipped around the trees, keeping them clear of intruding vines.

I waited through seasons of discipline when I sat my eldest firmly down on the stairs over and over, talking through actions and consequences.

I waited in the smoke of bonfires, watching the dry leaves of another failed tree darken and curl into ash.

I waited through shopping trips of horror where my daughters took the liberty to climb like monkeys out of the cart, eat Chapstick, tear tags off items for sale, land us in the bathroom multiple times during one trip, and demand to be fed every eight seconds.

I waited because I had the promise of something else to come alongside me through the difficulty.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4

I had hope. Firm, anchoring hope, a Hebrews 6:19 hope, that what God promised me through his recorded words was going to come true.

I wasn’t muscling my way through the daily grind without reason. I was waking up day after day, pouring bowl after bowl of cereal, mediating argument after argument, reading story after story, because I had faith that eventually my children would learn to do those things for themselves…and that my perseverance in teaching them the small things would prepare me in maturity to teach them the bigger lessons later on.

And then it struck me that here, in this season, some of the things I’ve been waiting FOR just climbed into the passenger seat next to me like it was no big deal. It’s like when you see your child make their own toast and pour their own milk and you feel like THE WORLD has opened wide up with progress.

We survived that first awful winter, and the ones after it, with a little bit of pluck and gumption. The toddlers that tried my patience are now talking about helping others on the playground and raising their hands in class. The apple trees are thickening their limbs, digging down deep to produce the richness they were meant to.

Our daily life, which used to feel so small, is now moving forward, not at breakneck speed, but with a steady, constant pace that I have grown to appreciate as I deepen my understanding of things like faithfulness, and patience, and hope.

Onward.

Embracing Risk

sign

The door to the plane rolls up, and a blast of air hits my face. Everyone comes to life, securing safety googles, straightening harnessing, checking straps. Twelve thousand some odd feet below and sixty miles away, my family is going about their Sunday afternoon routine without me, because I’m sitting on a bench, rattling my teeth in the smallest airplane I’ve ever set foot in, strapped to a stranger I’m about to trust with my life.

before

My tandem jump guide straightens up. The four pairs of jumpers ahead of us scoot their way down the bench to the front and launch themselves out of the plane. My friend Katie and I high-five each other like amped up high school football players, and I take a deep breath. Katie’s videographer, (all photos courtesy of Katie Folkestad and Sky Dive Twin Cities, Baldwin WI) Katie, and her tandem guide slide to the front, barely pausing before disappearing into the patchwork green landscape below.

katie's face

Katie’s jump

Somehow, it’s my turn. My guide and I awkwardly move off the bench and crouch in front of the open door. This is the part I assume everyone pictures in their mind – eyes frantically searching the unfamiliar horizon, hands clutching the overhead bar, calculating the risk, making that final decision whether or not to jump – except it doesn’t go that way. We face the open door for all of two seconds. I can’t tell you if my guide said ready, set, go, or if he counted 1…2…3… because somehow we just lean forward and tip ourselves out in the open air.

flying

Katie’s free fall. Phenomenal.

When Chris, my friend and youth pastor at church messaged me with the question, “Ready to jump?”, I didn’t know how to respond. He was putting together a sermon illustration and promotional material for taking faith-filled risks in the month of July, and wanted to know if I’d be interesting in skydiving with my friend, his wife Katie. I was standing in my kitchen, surrounded by dirty dishes and the chatter of my children finishing their breakfast. The idea of jumping out of an airplane seemed alien, so different and strange in the context of my normal life.

Jason and I had talked about it briefly over a cup of coffee before he took off for work, but with no real decisions or clarity.

Was I ready to jump?

Are we ever ready to hold hands with that kind of risk?

It seems to me that risk is something I try to steer clear of at this stage of life. I carry the weight of responsibility for my children, who are all still in various stages of physical and cognitive development, and it’s up to my husband and I to know what our kids are capable of – when to protect, when to push, when to maintain status quo. Risks are taken in a calculated, padded sort of way.

But this wasn’t about my children. This was about me and my faith. (Well, I mean, if I died it would be about my children and my husband, *laugh/cry*, but the likelihood of that happening was 0.0007%, much less than the risk of dying while driving a car, which I do every day.)

This was about my willingness to take a risk for something beyond myself.

The whole idea of taking risks is complicated. To be perfectly honest, it’s not often I see the need.  I enjoy wrapping myself in comfort – a solid family, close friends, good food, a snug home surrounded by nature. I like soft clothes and strong coffee and books with hundreds of pages. I revel in hot showers, clean sheets, and the smell of my favorite Aveda lotion.

But life isn’t about comfort. In fact, because I’ve decided to be a follower of Jesus, building a static, easy life built on maintaining my own comfort should be the least of my concerns.

“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.”               John 12:24-25

But was I really, ready to jump?

***

Katie said I should scream, and she was right, because the cold crush of wind roaring in my ears and tangling my hair rips my breath away, and the best way to fight it is to roar a raw mix of fear and exhilaration into the wideness of the sky.

I know I’m falling, but strangely, it doesn’t feel like falling. The ground is so far away that the free fall loses any sense of urgency and instead, I find myself able to believe I’m flying, arms wide spread, screams turning into shouts of astonishment and adrenaline. After sixty seconds, my guide taps my shoulders, alerting me to the parachute that’s just opened above us.

We shift to an upright position as the parachute pulls up on our harnesses, and suddenly me and the stranger on my back are masters of the sky. I can’t help but kick my feet out wide like a baby does when his legs are submerged in water for the first time, excitement coursing through every inch of my limbs. We continue to descend, the air growing warmer around us. The guide asks if I’d like to do some maneuvering, which involves leaning and swirling one direction, then the other. This isn’t my favorite, and I’m thankful when the pressure of the turning subsides.

 

The drop zone is now in sight, and even though I shout that I could stay up here all day, my guide laughs and tells me I better just come back and jump again. We glide through the air, turn gently, and position ourselves to land on the drop zone of green grass at Sky Dive Twin Cities in Baldwin, WI. I lift my feet forward so that they’re parallel with the ground, which is steadily getting closer and closer. I try to savor the last few seconds as we come into land, my guide touching down and leaning back, pulling us down into a controlled slide on our rears.

14712

high five

The whole process took less than five minutes, and as I shake my arm and legs loose in the harness, I can’t quite believe it’s over. I am flooded with adrenaline, so loose and light in the warmth of the afternoon sun. Katie and I hug and high five again, and I find myself repeating the words amazing and awesome over and over again to anyone who will listen. And then, somehow, I climb back into the 4-runner and drive off down the road, back into normalcy and, in a split minute decision, the Dairy Queen drive-thru.

***

A week later, I’m under no delusion that I did something earth-shattering for my faith. Yes, I took a controlled risk. I conquered my uneasiness and got to jump out of an airplane, which was an incredible life experience gifted to me by my church. Did I change the world? No.

But what if, by practicing taking a non-essential risk, I was preparing myself for something bigger later? What if saying yes this time meant I’d have more faith, and be more ready to say yes to whatever came next?

What if being willing to jump gave me the opportunity to build my trust in One who’s never failed me yet?

That, my friends, is a risk I’d take all over again.

IMG_20170703_104845_628

 

 

 

 

 

These unexpected gifts

The summer morning air is cool and heavy. I instantly feel it resting on my forehead and arms as I cross the yard to let the chickens out. My yellow farm clogs leave dark footprints in the grass, proof of life in the quiet, early hours. I open the coop and watch the chickens pour out in a flurry of feathers and straw, then turn to the bigger coop housing the ducks and meat chickens. Something green hanging on the barn catches my eye.

Every so often in the summer, and usually after a rain, the farm becomes home to some amazing moths. We’ve found various Polyphemus types resting in the grass, but this moth was new to me. Her wings were a perfect creamy green, with four small, yellow markings, and her antennae were like an intricate ivory lattice that twitched gently.

IMG_2156

I finished chores and came back to check on her, and, knowing how excited the girls would be, decided to bring her inside. I gently reached my hand under her wings and waited until the delicate legs grasped my finger, and then slowly carried her into the house. The girls were thrilled, and no matter how many times I reminded them to move slowly and quietly, they shrieked and jumped with excitement.

Picturing a sticky preschooler foot as an untimely cause of demise, I scooped up the moth, which I later looked up and discovered was called a Luna, and set her back outside. After a wobbly start on the grass, the moth suddenly started shivering (a precursor to flight), and then caught the breeze and fluttered into the sky, looking for all the world like a delicate leaf suddenly come to life.

I stood back up, brushing my hands on my knees, and watched the grays and blues of the clouds marble the sky. And in that moment, I decided it would be a slow day for me and the children. A day for margin, for space. A day for looking for the extraordinary in the framework of our normal lives.

***

We spent the morning sprawled on the rug, playing games, clapping for the baby who practiced his squats and stands with the dogged determination of an Olympic athlete. His strong legs pushed him up and down, and I marveled at how tall he’d grown, and how much work it must be to learn the art of balance and motion.

We moved outside to the swings, the bikes, the trampoline. The baby joined me in the garden and learned the sheer joy of smearing, squashing, and raking his way through the dirt. I staked peas, pulled weeds, spent time staring at the intricacies of the flowers in bloom. Instead of rushing from one thing to the next, I slowed down. Took notice. Enjoyed.

IMG_2159

The rest of the day flowed steady, easy, like water from the garden hose. Please don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t perfect. The girls fought over stuffed animals. The baby cried and messed an extraordinary amount of diapers and clothes. I still did dishes and laundry and sweeping and the lego-to-heel dance of pain.

But somehow, those things were okay too. It seemed that having margin for both joy and error was equally important. After all, life doesn’t favor one or the other. Could it be that joy and error were necessary partners in the everyday?

***

Later, we piled into the van and headed for the library, where we ran into our neighbors and miraculously both had time to chat. A surprise text landed us next to my best friend for supper at the local Drive In, where our kids ran circles around the fountain pond and chowed down on hamburgers.

Out of nowhere, someone anonymously paid for our family’s meals. I looked up from wiping food off the baby’s face, and stared incredulously at the waitress when she told us. I couldn’t have been more surprised, or more grateful. We hopped back in the van and left the radio off, making time instead to talk about the about the gifts of thoughtfulness, of generosity, of blessing.

Later that night, I kept thinking, “I could have missed this entire day.” And in a sense, it was true. Yes, I would have lived and breathed for the same 24-hour period. But it would have been easy enough to hurry my way through chores before diving into house tasks, and miss the experience of the Luna moth delicately spiraling into the sky.

I could have skipped playtime to fold and put away laundry. I could have thrown together something quick for lunch instead of making my daughter’s favorite meal. I could have said no to the library, which would have then been easier to decline meeting up with my best friend, and not afforded me the chance for sharing an unexpected object lesson on generous living with my kids.

I could have missed it all.

IMG_2167

When I create space to say yes, to be awake, stay present, and actively appreciate the good things in my life, I rarely feel as though my minutes pass me by, or that they’ve gone too fast. Savoring my days ensures that even if I look back and yearn for a certain time period again (newborn stage, anyone?), I can know I lived those moments to the fullest, leaving no space for regret. Conversely, time moves slowest when I put the blinders on, doggedly pushing forward, bound by my own perception of duty in lieu of enjoyment.

And some days, that might be reality. Some days are meant for doing, moving, accomplishing. Some days run beautifully on a schedule. But when we’re given the opportunity and reminder to slow down, to watch, and to feel grateful, there’s endless surprise and delight waiting in life’s simple, unexpected gifts.

Living Life Unfinished

 

 

If I were organized, I’d be a killer list person.

Alas. If I manage to find a pen in my house (the child security locks on the office cupboard have long been hacked) and write out a few daily tasks, more often than not, I find myself staring at them at the end of the day, in all their bullet point glory, whole and uncrossed.

Let me tell you something. It’s tough to never, ever finish things.

The work ethic in my family is strong. My mom still wakes up at 5:00 am most days to exercise, shower, make breakfast, and tackle what needs to be done. My dad will run the combine at harvest time long into the cool fall nights. My husband will stick with a project for hours until it’s done, or he’s reached a finishing point.

Me, on the other hand? I move around my home in never-ending circles. Load more dishes in the dishwasher. Pick up the deflated socks that seem to be everywhere. Comb someone’s hair. Change the baby. Check the dryer.

Kitchen. Laundry room. Bathroom. Circle. Circle. Circle.

It’s work of the most frustrating kind. Things never, ever stay finished. As soon as the holy grail bottom of the laundry basket appears, someone throws another wrench in my Indiana Jones-like quest for clean clothes. Dishes get dirtied. Something spills and the floor has to be swept. The circle starts all over again.

I know it’s a phase, and that these days of my children being little are like the sunlight hours after daylight savings time: so very short. So I’ve been trying, trying to sit down in the middle of the chaos and be present. To be silly. To take *awesome* family pictures so I can remember life in this season. I’m learning to leave dishes in the sink. I don’t pick up toys every night. I can’t tell you the last time I deep cleaned anything

img_1579-1280x852

But somehow, it’s still not working. I still find myself a little on edge most days, wanting to recount just what it is I’m doing besides endlessly picking up gently browning apple cores left out from morning snack, and supervising cleanup of whatever catastrophe happened while I was nursing the baby last.

Last night at a family birthday party, my sister in law recounted the wonderful stuff she’s been up to lately. Then the tables turned on me. My mind went blank. What have I been doing? Um. *Scramble scramble scramble* I’m…reading a manuscript for a friend! Painting a bedroom! Teaching Ellis not to use an entire bottle of shampoo in one sitting! Making a small attempt at national novel writing month (#nanowrimo y’all!) with the goal of two chapters!

See my exclamation points? Isn’t that big? And exciting? Have I convinced myself I’m worth something because I made a list? Yes? Yes? Yes?

Sigh.

As much as I’ve always wanted to be the serenely-listening Mary in the new testament story when Jesus visits two sisters, deep down, I’ve always know I’m the Martha clanking away in the kitchen, furiously working the dishrag, trying to do all the things.

The things that could have waited.

Because they were just that. Things.

Jesus didn’t care about a clean counter or a swept-up floor. He wanted to be with his friends, Mary and Martha. Likewise, when my daughters come tromping down the stairs in the morning, they aren’t looking around going, Wow. I sure feel safe and secure at home because the house is picked up. Not a chance.

They’re looking for me.

Which means maybe I need to figure out a new approach. Maybe I need to stop measuring the value of my work by the things I’ve accomplished, and starting looking for more places to be available.

Maybe I need to listen to more Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros, because if home is wherever I’m with you, then the best things I can offer my family are my empty, waiting hands.

And maybe one of those creepy automatic vacuum robots.

Maybe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Easter Doesn’t Feel All That Holy

easter

Two weeks before Easter, Grandma generously surprises us with a bag of dresses, all butterflies and flutter flowers in aqua and blue. The girls try them on the next morning and refuse to take them off, dancing like fairies to Stevie Wonder while the rain mixes with snow outside our farmhouse windows.

Later I sit down with my bible during the twins’ afternoon nap and think, Easter. I should read about Easter. I end up somewhere in Matthew 5 instead, reading through the beatitudes and trying not to yawn.

A week before Easter, I go through the drawers and bins, hunting for tights and sweaters and shoes. (Yes, that’s Midwestern snow in the background, thank you very much.) Nothing works. The sweaters are stained. The eldest has a bin full of neon tennies and worn out boots. The tights all say 6-9 months.

Somehow, our preparation for Easter keeps running that track. Clothes. Shoes. A nap instead of contemplation. Suitcases. Car repairs. All things irrelevant to the story of a man on a cross, a body gone missing, an angel in a garden.  

We pack the van and drive six hours across Minnesota and down into South Dakota to the farm where I grew up. We are immediately welcomed by family, activity, food. The next morning, the girls follow Grandpa across the yard, bounding like eager puppies. They relive my childhood of feeding livestock, petting cats, begging for tractor rides.

feeding cows

I stand by the kitchen window, coffee in hand, witnessing this ordinary, extraordinary grace.

But later, the girls are tired and owlish, and we abandon the idea of going to an evening Good Friday service. My brothers and their families come over instead, and we eat dinner out of a giant skillet, talk, laugh, wrestle children into pajamas.

There’s celebration in this. I know there is. We extend grace to one another when the table never gets set and we eat chips out of the bag. Fellowship is washing the dishes together, snapping towels, telling stories.

It’s not the usual, contemplative celebration of the body and the bread, and maybe that’s okay.

The hard part is this: the holiness of Easter is not where I used to find it, sitting quiet in the pew of a small country church, and I don’t know how to feel it here, lying on the living room floor with a shrieking toddler jumping on my legs and the TV droning in the background.

***

I’ve always craved the holy bits and pieces of things. You know, the proverbial moments when the music swells, the lights dim, and sacred swirls around, unmistakable. The candles at dinner. That split second when everyone is laughing all at the same time and the sun is setting and the world glows in hazy, golden twilight. Moments when everything comes together, holy, unmistakably divine.

You too? Good. Welcome to the fold.

Here’s the problem. I’m also a parent. And as a parent, I find that holiness is not in the vocabulary of my very young children. Quiet times are interrupted by fights over a toy. Church gets skipped when the girls don’t sleep well, or refuse to stay with anyone but mama. Early mornings are cut short; books I’m reading go lost under the couch.

Too often, the moment I’m craving slips by, an unacknowledged guest at the wedding.

I can’t help but think that something’s wrong here.  Maybe you’ve felt it too. Maybe you’ve nursed your way through countless different services instead of listening to the message. Maybe you were relegated to the kids’ table after your toddler spilled her third glass of milk. Maybe you skipped church for months at a time because of traveling soccer. Or maybe church was never part of your vocabulary to begin with, but you still feel this draw, this quiet calling out.

The reality I’m learning, and relearning, is this: we can’t always rely on a church, or a moment, to hand us our portion of desired holiness on a silver platter.

What if having “unchurchy” moments forces us to create our own definition, a definition that says it is not the when, the where, or the artifice of stained glass that allows us to contemplate and celebrate the mystery and miracle of our faith?

What if our new definition gives us the freedom to do it when we can? Where we can? With whomever we can?

What if, instead of manufactured moments, we sought connection with God himself?

***

This is how I ended up celebrating Jesus’ resurrection by myself the Monday after Easter, while the laundry thumped around in the dryer. I finally had a second to breathe. My eldest was in preschool, and the twins were napping. So I dug around in the fridge and pulled out some naan (the closest thing I could find to unleavened bread besides teddy grahams) and filled a little cordial glass with juice.

I leaned on the counter, and I read the story of the Last Supper. This, my body, broken. This, my blood, spilled out. I took makeshift communion. I prayed. I looked out the window at the brown of spring struggling to unfold in the northern climes of Minnesota and breathed a simple, heart-felt thank you that had nothing to do with eggs and candy and hair bows and coordinating shoes.

It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t choreographed or particularly inspired.

But it was space in the ordinary to recognize the sacred. It was searching out God himself, laying my simple gratitude at his nail-scarred feet.

Midday, barefoot, holy.

 

Friends, do you have ideas for drawing yourself, and/or your kids into unconventional celebrations of holy moments? Leave me a note in the comments. I’d love to hear how you balance the two!