"History's biggest tragedy is not the violent acts of bad people, but the appalling silence of good people."~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I don't want school to start! We got home from the beach this past Sunday and jumped directly into back to school mode. We have spent a fortune on school supplies and dance registrations. We've had our first soccer practice. I spent today sending out emails about the upcoming women's bible study session and the upcoming Stephen Ministry training. We have been to middle school Get Ready For School Fair and the elementary school Open House. We are finishing up summer Algebra packets and reading assignments. We are dusting off the piano books in anticipation of the first lesson. It has begun and I am not happy about it.
Usually, at this time of year, I am anticipating getting back into our school year routine with pleasure. For some reason, I don't feel that way this year. Maybe because we have had a really fun summer. Maybe because my kids are older and easier to have around. Maybe because they are starting to have their own social lives that don't include me, so I am more protective of the time I do have with them. Whatever it is, I am really feeling sad about them being gone all day...thank God I am not sending one off to college like several of my friends!!
Besides them being gone all day, I am feeling sad about starting the busy schedule of homework and activities that characterize our evenings and afternoons. We have tried to be protective of their schedules and not buy into the high-powered Northern Virginia insanity that we see all around us....we don't do travel sports, we didn't join dance company. There isn't anything wrong with those things, but so many families around us do multiple travel teams or have dance classes every day of the week. That just wouldn't work for our family. Still, even trying to be reasonable, we are busy. The homework at the middle school level was a tough adjustment for us last year and I don't look forward to getting back into that. Every moment that isn't scheduled seems to be taken up with homework and I think that 6th and 8th grade Math will start to push the outer limits of what my brain can recall from my years in school. In addition to praying for peace, balance and time management skills, I will be purchasing an Algebra for Dummies book!!
Of course, there are some of my personal activities that begin this fall for which I am excited. We start the new women's bible study mid-September and that is always a huge blessing to me. I am also looking forward to beginning our next Stephen Ministry training. Teaching the Stephen Ministry training is one of my all-time favorite things and I am praying that God will bring forward a wonderful new group of Stephen Ministers to take that journey with us. My older daughter and I will also begin participating in the production of Footloose in September.
These are all good things....but I really just want to go back to the beach and enjoy my family! Or hang out at the pool with my girlfriends and their kids. Or sit around reading books with my girls. I like having our evenings free and starting our mornings late. I have been trying to sell the girls on how great it is to be starting school...all the great things to look forward to... but tomorrow I think I will just fuss and whine with them. We will have the end of summer blues together. Maybe we will eat ice cream to comfort ourselves.
Then, on Tuesday, we will hit the ground running...
We are furiously packing for the beach today. My daughters and I auditioned for our church's next musical production this morning and, in preparing for that, I didn't start packing until today...we leave about 6 a.m. tomorrow! Our next musical will be Footloose. You may remember, that first born child and I were in Godspell this past March. It was an awesome experience and I really want to have the opportunity to be in a production with my younger daughter as well. In fact, that is the whole reason that I am trying out again (other than my incessant love of performing, of course!) This time, they did the auditions like a "real" theatre production, so we had to prepare monologues in addition to learning a song. My kids also had to dance. Thankfully, for all involved, I was NOT required to dance...YIKES!!
So we have been working on our monologues all week, having a blast practicing for each other. I am grateful to report that both the girls did great. They completely rocked on their monologues and they both did their absolute best work in song and dance (they have somewhat different abilities in the song and dance arena, so I was pleased that they both felt good about what they personally accomplished.) I felt good about my song, but I stumbled in the middle of my monologue and, after recovering from a long pause, realized that I had left out about a third of it! Oh well! The really sweet thing was watching my kids reassure me afterwards. They were so precious and I love that we had the opportunity to encourage one another, pray together before (and during) our auditions and then comfort/ congratulate each other afterwards. I really hope we all three get to be in the show in some capacity...the three musketeers, all for one and one for all (too bad their daddy doesn't have an inclination for the theatre!)
But, that is now behind us and we are headed for my absolute favorite place on earth!! I leave you with this picture. It is me and my auditioning buddies at the beach in 2005. The other is a sunrise pic from last year. Pretend it is a postcard from me with the words to the Jimmy Buffett song above written on the back!! Talk to you next week!
My mom gave me two books by Frederick Buechner for my birthday last week. Buechner is one of those authors of whom I knew little, only that all my favorite authors quoted him and referenced him. He was on my list of authors to check out one day and then two books arrived in the mail!! My mom is fabulous that way and she has this wonderful pastor at her church with whom I apparently have similar tastes...although I have only met him briefly, he has referred me to several of my favorite authors through her. Thanks, Ben!
I am off to see my brother and my extremely pregnant sister-in-law today, so I only have a minute. They have a new boat and two sons, 4 and 6. I see much to entertain us there! Because the personality tests are even more self-indulgent than my usual self-centered blog entries, I felt the need to get something of a bit more substance on the blog today.
I am currently reading a collection of Buechner's works called "Listening to Your Life." It is meant to be a daily devotional type book, but I am reading straight through. I am in April, but somehow I've read most of October as well....go figure. Anyway, here are a few gems to whet your appetite. I love him!
"Theology is the study of God and His ways. For all we know, dung beetles may study man and his ways and call it humanology. If so, we would probably be more touched and amused than irritated. One hopes that God feels likewise."
"If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party. The world says, Mind your own business, and Jesus says, There is no such thing as your own business. The world says, Follow the wisest course and be a success, and Jesus says, Follow me and be crucified. The world says, Drive carefully--the life you save may be your own--and Jesus says, Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. The world says, Get and Jesus says, Give. In terms of the world's sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow Him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under a delusion."
"But instead of feeling any pride or sense of superior accomplishment by the comparison, I remember a great and unheralded rush of something like sadness, almost like shame. I had been very lucky, and he had not been very lucky, and the pleasure that I might have taken in what had happened to me was all but lost in the realization that nothing comparable, as far as I could see, had happened to him.--------All I can say now is that something small but unforgettable happened inside of me as the result of that chance meeting---some small flickering out of the truth that, in the long run, there can be no real joy for anybody until there is joy finally for us all----and I can take no credit for it. It was nothing I piously thought my way to. It was no conscious attempt to work out my own salvation. What I felt was something better and truer than I was, or than I am, and it happened, as perhaps all such things do, as a gift."
"The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you I created the Universe. I love you.------There's only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you'll reach out and take it..---------Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too."
Enjoy! More later---
A friend and I were talking about our Myers-Briggs the other day and I mentioned that I hadn't taken a test in a while. I ran across this online. When I was younger, I was an ENFP....I wonder what changed?
"ESFJs are social butterflies that value relationships, supporting and nurturing others. Never one to shy away from social events, they are often the host. They are great encouragers of teamwork. ESFJs are responsible, dutiful, observe traditions and follow rules. ESFJs have a deep concern for others and often end up as caretakers. They are sensitive to criticism and have a need to be appreciated for the good they do for others. ESFJs are understanding, generous, have a quick wit and a knack for composition and beautification."
You can read more about this personality type and others on their website. Go take the personality test and/or the multiple intelligences test and let me know what you scored!
During the weeks preceeding the mission trip, I have to admit that the cynical part of me often doubted the usefulness of our attendance. Often it seemed contrived...sort of fake...for my two little princesses and I to travel to West Virginia to help "poor people." Who were we kidding as we bought dust masks, safety goggles and work gloves? Was our playing construction worker really going to impact the lives of anyone in any meaningful sort of way? Wouldn't all the money we spent buying supplies for the trip be better used by a reputable charity organization to make a real difference somewhere? Would our group of 40 blowing into town for a week of "do-gooding" really change anything in the lives of the people hurting in West Virgina....and, for that matter, what about the people hurting right here in Northern Virginia? Or was this all just a feel-good field trip designed to assuage my liberal guilt the next time I spent $80 filling up my fancy SUV or blew $100 on a new pair of boots this fall?
As I adjust to life back here in Northern Virgina, I have given a lot of thought to the value of our trip to West Virgina. How, if it all, did we move closer to experiencing/ bringing about the Kingdom of God? Maybe some of my cynical suspicians were true...at least partially. If my ability to serve my fellow human beings is limited to strangers in West Virgina, than perhaps the value of our participation ended as we crossed the state line. If my skills as a construction worker are a measure of the work I did, then I'm afraid it may have been a wasted trip. While I believe we definitely helped the folks we met in West Virginia by completing the projects that we were assigned, did we impact their lives in any way that will matter 3 months from now....6 months from now?
While there may be many questions left unanswered, there is no doubt in my mind that God ordained this trip and that it did matter. I am hopeful that we all learned something last week about the way God calls us to be servants. Jesus gave us a beautiful example of being a servant in the 13th chapter of John. This is the familiar story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples and of Peter allowing Jesus to wash his feet, despite his discomfort with Jesus performing this demeaning task. During these very intimate moments, Jesus showed them that there was no task too lowly or dirty when we are serving from a place of love and grace. I think maybe...in a small way....we learned a little bit about washing feet when we were in West Virginia.
My life is very different from the people we met in West Virginia...yet, in many ways, we are very much alike. Stripped of the fancy trappings of my Northern Virginia existence, I too am just a sinner in need of grace. Thankfully, I am someone who is very aware of the outpouring of God's goodness and grace in my life. I am blessed beyond what I deserve and, truthfully, I don't really understand why. Without all the adornments and comforts of my privileged life, I had the opportunity to reconsider my dependence on God for everything that I have and it brought me to my knees...literally. And kneeling is the position we must be in to wash the feet that God places in our paths...
In the moments we spent in the home of J.B. and Max, I saw God at work powerfully. As I mentioned before, I was blown away by the generous spirits of the children with whom I was privileged to serve. Our job at their home involved some construction, repairs and cleaning. It also involved celebrating our common humanity with them by getting involved in their lives. We spent precious moments on their front porch, talking and laughing together. And we laughed A LOT! They were precious people who had experienced difficult circumstances but still found joy in life. It was a pleasure and a privilege to serve them...even when it was dirty, hot and uncomfortable. From the moment J.B. first prayed for us on our first day... thanking God for sending us to help them...our time there felt like a divine appointment. God was in charge and was using His people to make things a little better for all of us. J.B. and Max having a safer, more comfortable home makes the world better for all of us because we are all connected in Him. That, it seems to me, is what the Kingdom of God is all about. Opening our eyes to the world outside of our little safe cocoon...one person at a time. But did we bring those eyes back home to Virginia? Only time will tell...
(By the way, in the picture on the right, we are wearing hats that J.B. gave us. We got lots of presents from them!)
Here are the lyrics to a Michael Card song that I listened to today. It is called The Basin and the Towel and I think the lyrics fit beautifully with the lessons God is trying to teach me. Enjoy!
In an upstairs room, a parable
is just about to come alive.
And while they bicker about who's best,
with a painful glance, He'll silently rise.
Their Savior Servant must show them how
through the will of the water
and the tenderness of the towel.
And the call is to community,
The impoverished power that sets the soul free.
In humility, to take the vow,
that day after day we must take up the basin and the towel.
In any ordinary place,
on any ordinary day,
the parable can live again
when one will kneel and one will yield.
Our Saviour Servant must show us how
through the will of the water
and the tenderness of the towel.
And the space between ourselves sometimes
is more than the distance between the stars.
By the fragile bridge of the Servant's bow
we take up the basin and the towel.
The kids on this mission trip were middle school students, ranging in age from 11- 14 (rising 6th- rising 9th graders.) A couple of them may have even been 10, if they had a late summer birthday. We had 27 kids and 12 adults.
I have to admit that, prior to our leaving, I was a bit concerned about kids this young being involved with a week long mission project. Last year, the middle school students went to the same place, but only for a couple of days. My youngest was one of the younger kids and I wasn't sure if she could handle this kind of work for this many days. She, and all of the other kids, proved me wrong.
We were divided into 4 work groups. Three of the groups started the week over at a trailer park that had been damaged by a flood this past April. These kids laid under trailers pulling nasty, rotting insulation out and replacing it with new insulation. In addition to the bad insulation, they encountered a variety of bugs, slugs and spiders. Because dealing with the insulation can make you very itchy, the folks working with it had to wear long sleeve shirts, pants and protective gear on their faces. Everyday we were there, it was over 90 degrees and high humidity. Two of the groups, including the ones that my two girls were on, spent the whole week under trailers. And not one kid ever complained!
When you talked to the kids who spent their days at the trailer parks, they didn't talk about being hot....they didn't talk about lying in filth underneath a trailer. They talked about the people they met there. They talked about Amber, the little 6 year old girl they befriended. They talked about Dale, the older gentleman who was disabled that they befriended. They talked about Rick and Linda. They talked about how proud they were that they overcame their fear of spiders, or their fear of closed in spaces, to crawl under that trailer to help the people who lived there. They came home dirty, sweaty and proud of the work they had done that day.
In the culture that we live in here in Northern Virginia, I think it is pretty awesome that we found 27 young teenagers who were willing to give a week of their summer to do this kind of work. These kids exceeded my expectations of them. When given the opportunity to sacrificially serve, they rose to the occasion. I was touched by their willingness to work hard, but even more so by their willingness to connect with the local people whom we endeavored to serve.
Everytime I felt overwhelmed by the heat...everytime I inwardly whined about the lack of air conditioning, I just looked around me at the kids with whom I was privileged to serve. They are my heroes...I hope I grow up to be just like them.
My two daughters and I just returned from our mission trip in West Virginia this afternoon. I am very tired tonight, so I'm not going to try to write all the ways that this trip impacted me now. In fact, I think I will be processing this experience for some time to come and I hope to write about some of those thoughts here. For tonight, I will say that I am VERY grateful that I went to West Virginia. I will never forget this trip.
One of the things that I am noticing tonight is that I feel a bit overwhelmed by the contrast of the two worlds. The luxuries and conveniences which I normally take for granted (air conditioning, stores on every corner, cell phone service, a clean comfy place to sleep) seemed so necessary before the trip. As I return to them after a week without them, they feel strange and foreign and maybe a bit indulgent. Don't get me wrong; I am THRILLED to be in air conditioning again and I flipped that cell phone open the minute we got into range of a cell phone tower. It's just that they seem less essential now after seeing the joy that can be found in SO much less.
I will write more about the family that my team served when I am more coherent. J.B. and Max are my new friends in West Virginia and J.B. maintains that Jesus sent us to help them. That is certainly true, but I'm not sure Jesus didn't also send me there to remind me of a few things I needed to remember. As J.B. says "there ain't nothing but Jesus, darlin'"
We fixed the broken, rotting floor in their broken little house. J.B., who fancies himself quite a dancer, decided to do a dance on the floor after we finally got the hole closed up. This picture is my favorite from our trip...he is dancing with two of the precious middle school students on my team, Nick and Lindsey.
I hope you can feel the joy of this moment....a moment fueled by love and sacrifice and our common humanity. And by a connection between a group of people that believe that our God is SO personally involved with our lives that he would send a bunch of upper middle class teenagers to serve a poor old man in West Virginia. The same God who knew that those teenagers and a very comfortable middle-aged homemaker would find that they, in attempting to serve, had been served....in attempting to offer a blessing, had received one instead.
As J.B says, "there ain't nothing but Jesus."