Friday 5: Seeing God

Placeholder ImageThis week many people have asked me how the mission trip went. My usual reply, “It was good. The youth enjoyed it and we did some amazing work.” All of which is true.

My colleague asked me during our catch up session, “Where did you see God?” I vaguely remembered what I told him, though I did give him an answer.

Since then I’ve been contemplating that question, “Where did I see God during mission trip?”

Here is what I’ve come up with:

The Heat: The heat in Charleston was unbearable. I don’t mind the heat usually. However, 110% humidity gets to me. Though I never felt truly clean even after showering, I still think God was present in the sticky, humid, heat. I loved waking up to see the haze of the humid heat, of feeling the swamp like air on my skin. As uncomfortable as it was, God was present.

People: Charleston is a friendly city. In an age when many people are fearful, diverting eyes when walking and simply plain unfriendly to strangers, Charleston is an open book. The group and I were welcomed warmly, heard stories from unique individuals and felt at home in a foreign city.

Car Ride: Have I mentioned I love the mountains? I love driving through the Appalachian Mountains. Those mountains are beautiful and majestic and awe-inspiring. Plus, they are God’s creation.

The Work: The people we met and assisted during our week are incredible people. Alice, Mr. and Mrs. B., Elizabeth, Dani, David, the youth, folks from the church, those at the garden, and many more…All were super nice, helpful, caring. Each showed passion in their work. God is surely present in each of them.  Plus, the work we did had meaning and all of us took something away with us.

Teenagers: The youth inspire me each and every day. They show me the face of God when I’m feeling down and frustrated over some things. On this trip I was frustrated a lot. But when I saw how they all came together – all 19 of them – to work and to play, I saw God.

There are more stories about where I saw God. But you know, some things are meant to remain personal. 

Advertisements

Misc. Wednesday: It’s the White Rabbit!

20160726_182444 [10376]A few months ago I strolled through Target on a weekly shopping run. Sometimes I stroll over to the DVD and book section of the store because you never know what you might find.

On this particular run, I found a coloring book: Alice in Wonderland. It is one of my favorite stories of all time. I bought it, grabbed some colored pencils and headed home, content with my purchase.

For months I have wanted to jump into the adult coloring book world. I can now say that I have joined that world.

I love coloring. As a child I would hunker down in a corner with my crayons and one of those art kits that had markers, colored pencils and water colors in them. As I grew up, I would draw and paint, inevitably leading to my artistic side. Now I color with my niece, who tells me what to color and lines up the crayons in the “used” pile, not to be used again on that particular page.

Though I would love to draw and paint and scrapbook on a regular basis, using up my creative energy, time doesn’t allow it. I typically come home, make dinner and crash. And that only happens if I’m home at a decent hour and have no evening plans. Why drag out all the art supplies or scrapbooking materials for an hour or 2 of play time?

Thankfully, coloring has allowed me to not only be creative and get out those artistic energies, it also has relaxed me. I sat coloring for about 2 hours one evening. My hand was sore and cramped when I was done. I didn’t have music on. I didn’t think really. I simply colored. It was liberating.

My Alice coloring book sits on my coffee table, along with colored pencils and markers. I’m afraid if I put them away they will never come back out. One day Alice will be joined by Harry Potter and Doctor Who, allowing for more creativity and simple pleasure of coloring in the lines.

For now, I see God in the quiet time of coloring, of feeling the colored pencils scratch away on the paper, of sharpening colored pencils and a page completed with bright colors. And that, for me, is Sabbath at its best.

Sabbath Monday: Finally Home

Leaving Charleston, South Carolina

Leaving Charleston, South Carolina

I spent the weekend travelling with the youth. Mission trip had come to a close and it was time to get back to Chicago.

Our journey began in South Carolina, included a stop over in Kentucky and finally home. I was so exhausted last night that while I did laundry at my parents’ house, I watched a movie, completely forgetting I had a blog to write.

Today I finished up the laundry, packed up my car and came home to my cozy apartment. And then promptly slept for about 5 hours. Now it is about 9pm and I’m finally catching up on blog writing.

I love road trips, so much so that in about 3 weeks I’m taking another.

I love getting into a car, bags packed with a destination in mind. Flying is great but you don’t get the same spontaneity out of it. Flying takes you from point A to point B. At most the airports provide some sort of entertainment but that’s about it. Traveling by car allows you to stop whenever and for whatever reason. It allows you to take your time and enjoy the scenery.

On our journey home, the youth and I took a few detours to find food. Instead of eating straight off the highway, we drove into town looking for that Dunkin Donuts and Bob Evans, about 5 miles off the highway. It was great. It might have added a few minutes to the journey but would I have seen the Eastern Kentucky State University campus? Probably not. Would I have seen the small little downtown of Lebanon, Indiana, probably not. Granted, not exciting sites but still…

Plus, only on road trips do you crank music and sing along. You can sleep and play video games. You can laugh with your friends and enjoy the trip, stretching legs every few hours. You can sit and talk hours on end getting to know someone. You can get car sick as you travel through the mountains and make fun of towns such as Bat Cave, North Carolina. (Really? Bat Cave? Is Batman the mayor or something?) Or perhaps it’s the bilboards that make you laugh.

Road trips are great.

I’d love to one day pack my car and simply take off. No destination, no hotels planned, no plan whats-so-ever. Simply ride the highway, meet people, and enjoy the country. Till I’m brave enough to do so, I’ll stick to road trips with planned hotels and spontaneous stopping points for bathrooms and food.

Where are you road tripping this summer?

 

Friday 5: Saturday Early Morn

IMG_0110[1]As it is after 2am, I should be in bed. However, I’ve been thinking about this week, about the things I and the youth are taking home with us and those we’re leaving behind, about the work and people we’ve met, about what it means to be a pastor to a bunch of high school teenagers, about what an impact the youth made this week. And though this is technically my Friday 5 post, I’m instead going to reflect on earlier tonight.

Tonight the youth went out to dinner and ice cream. The group came back to do our wacky t-shirt contest and have some laughs before settling in for devotions, which included Communion.

As we sat around the table, I asked about Communion, about what it meant. Someone noticed the Oreos sitting next to me, which sparked comments about this meal being symbolic and meaningful, whether it’s with bread and cup or with Oreos and milk. The point of the Last Supper is to remember what Jesus did for us, for the love, forgiveness and grace he provided. It doesn’t matter if that remembrance happens with wafers, bread, grape juice or wine. The point is to remember.

With a group that has spent a week bonding, I loved coming together and remembering that final meal Jesus had with his friends. I enjoyed reminding the youth that Jesus was in that room, laughing and having a good time with his Disciples, like they have done all week. It connects Scripture and faith to our common lives, I think. But then came the Oreos and milk. Then came the actual Communion part.

After I said a youth interpreted Words of Institution (“On the night he was betrayed, etc…), I opened the Oreos. Each youth took the cookies and milk, held it for the person sitting next to them and ate. It was silent except for the crinkling of the cookie package and some shifting in seats. More was said in that action of sharing in Communion than any words or prayers. Each held the package for the next, with no words being spoken. There was something incredibly holy in those moments.

No words may describe how much the group bonded this week. Ending tonight with Communion and prayer showed how much God’s light is in each of them. My prayer is that they are able to remember that and take that with them in all that they do.

 

 

 

Misc. Wednesday: Yard Work, Hard Work

20160719_134409 [84927]Sorry for the all the posts about the trip but this is my life at the moment. Though there is much more ahead on this trip, I have to tell a story from yesterday’s work day.

Our group of 23 went to work with James Island Outreach to do yard work. For us suburbanites, yards consist of grass and dirt. Here in the south, yards are sand, dirt, and bugs. Depending on your lawn, hardly anything grows. The woman’s yard we worked on was mostly sandy dirt, weeds and leaves. And it wasn’t small.

Our group bagged upwards of 60 bags of leaves in the Charleston 90 degree humid heat. There was another huge pile of sticks and branches. At one point the group realized the house needed a little color, so we went and got some mulch and potted plants. The house and yard look 10 times better than what it did and it’s incredible.

Towards the end the folks picking up yard waste in the neighborhood came around the corner. They had 1 big dump truck and a tractor with a claw on the front. Our group stood there, waving at the gentlemen who proceeded to pick up the 60+ bags and dump them in the truck. It was an incredible way to end the afternoon.

Many of the youth have commented on being privileged, about wanting to make a difference. Yesterday they did that. They worked without complaint on a very hot humid day for someone they have never met, for someone they will never see again, for someone who doesn’t have running water at the moment and is probably barely living. How incredible it is to know what an impact our group made for her! Even if all we did was rake leaves. I nearly cried, knowing how much of an impact we made yesterday, how much God was present with us.

God truly does amazing things.

 

Sabbath Monday: Taco Tuesday

Heading over a bridge from James Island into Charleston

Heading over a bridge from James Island into Charleston

(Well, I missed Sabbath Monday. That’s what happens on mission trips. In honor of taco’s later today, this belated blog post is officially titled Taco Tuesday.)

Have I mentioned I love working with youth? Yesterday we did a car wash for a local charity here in Charleston, which got rained out and not many cars came through. It’s a tough one to take. Plus, it brought up the question of, “Who are we impacting?” I completely understand that one and really, I don’t have an answer other than, “your help and the money you raised will make an impact, even if you don’t see it.

The youth were great. They helped out, took sitting and waiting with ease and had a lot of fun with each other. And they rolled with it when a storm came through. Plus, the little bit we did raised close to $300. Wahoo!

Upon returning home from a baseball game (Go Charleston River Dogs!), the group showered and then we had nightly devotions. I was nervous. I never how know youth will react to the devotions. This is my 3rd mission trip with this group and in the past the devotions missed a mark somewhere, so naturally I am nervous.

We did a sharing exercise with Jolly Ranchers, answering questions such as, “What do you plan to get out of mission trip? What makes you happy? And tell us one thing you do well.” There was some great sharing last evening, from the very deep to the very shallow end. It was amazing.

An hour and a half later, it was time for free time and bed. It was 12:30am.  I’m a bit tired this morning.

Our scripture with last night’s devotion came from 1 Corinthians 12 – spiritual gifts. I truly see some many wonderful, amazing gifts in these young people. The ability to make people laugh, help out without asking, patience, empathy…they all are truly wonderful young people, created by our wonderful God.

Today brings yard work, tacos and a ghost walk. I wonder where I’ll see God today and how will these youth use their spiritual gifts?

 

Sunday Round-Up: Road Trip

20160717_120514 [81470]Greetings from South Carolina!

It’s day 2 of the high school youth mission trip. All 23 of us made it to South Carolina in one piece. Our little band of road trippers are settled into our home for the week and so far so good.

For tonight’s Sunday Round-Up, I thought I’d share a few highlights from our trip so far.

Sleep, or Lack There-of: The night before our scheduled departure I got probably 3 hours of sleep due to running around and doing last minute stuff. (There’s nothing worse than coming home to a messy apartment!) I slept a bit in the car, but not enough. Then the group crashed on floors and couches at a church in Kentucky and I didn’t sleep well. Granted I don’t expect much sleep on youth trips but still. I’m running on empty and the week has only begun.

Laughs: Youth trips always bring the laughs. There’s been some one-line zingers, impersonations, singing off tune to songs on the radio and much more. I love the joy the youth bring to these trips.

Flexibility & Patience: If there is one thing I’ve learned on youth trips – Be Flexible and Patient. It’s seems so simple but it’s so vital. I’m not a go-with-a-flow person, well sometimes. But youth trips are where my ability to flexible and patient is tried. I’m usually good once I get in a rhythym, which is usually by half way through the trip. Plus, I have 19 youth who are also flexible. They can go with the flow at a moments notice, which is fabulous!

Smokey Mountains: I love driving through the Appalachian Mountains with the Blue Ridge to the north and the Smokeys to the south. I can get a bit woozy with all the hairpin turns, elevation and drops but the sights are breathtaking. There’s something so majestic and incredible about those mountains. God’s creation at its best.

That’s it for now on this late Sunday night, well technically here in South Carolina it’s Monday morning. This pastor is going to bed and hopefully will be rested for a big day of work in the heat and humidity tomorrow!

 

 

 

Friday 5: Appalachian Reflections

Waterfall from our hike in the Appalachian Mountains.

Waterfall from our hike in the Appalachian Mountains.

 

With the youth mission trip to Charleston, South Carolina literally around the corner, I decided on to reflect on last year’s trip to the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia. I give you the Top 5 Mission Trip Moments from 2015:

Appalachian Reflections:

Hiking: I enjoy hiking but I’m an amateur. One morning, at the recommendation of our hosts, our little group began a hike. We were promised waterfalls and an easy path to walk. It’s only about 2.5 miles they said. Ha! The path was about a foot and half wide. The cliff went steeply upwards and downwards. We climbed over rocks, sunk our shoes in mud, and skidded down some paths. In the end, it was worth it. The waterfalls we saw were gorgeous. The scenery breathtaking. It’s one of my favorite memories of that trip.

The Work: Here in Chicago life moves pretty fast. In West Virginia, life moves slow.  I now have a better appreciation for Ferris Bueller’s remark: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Some days it took us a few hours to get to our work site. Getting materials for our little suburban workhorses was like pulling teeth. Yet, it was amazing.  In the end, the group bonded with a wonderful family and their animals, goats and all.

Spicket: West Virginia is hot, even in the mountains. After a long day of work and play, a nice coolish shower hits the spot. That is if you’re lucky enough to get one. The youth picked the cabins with the girls all the way on the end, not realizing it’s also the end of water pressure. Not only was the shower tiny, the water coming from the shower was tiny. I’ve never appreciated water and a shower so much as I did when I returned home.

Band of Black Vans:  Our group looked like the government with our 2 big black sprinter vans and black mini-van in those back woods of the Appalachians. There were hairpin turns that I swear we were going to tumble down, over the cliff and rolling to a stop. I have no idea how those vans made it up those mountains and down again. But they stored our gear, got us from point A to point B in one piece and allowed us to watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy on the drive home.

Youth: The youth are incredible. They make me laugh. They leave me frustrated. They show me the face of God. They taught me how to tie-dye and invited me to play volleyball. I will never be able to hear “Hooked on a Feeling” without thinking of the boys who did their own version in the car. Needless to say those youth are what my ministry is centered around and I cannot wait for this year’s group to provide me with more incredible memories.

Now it’s time for this year’s trip…I wonder what memories I’ll return home with this year?

Misc. Wednesday: Got Snacks?

20160712_124358 [75318]Yesterday morning when I opened the door to my office at church I noticed boxes immediately inside my office. Not a ton but enough for me to go, “Hmmm…” I dropped my stuff in and around my desk, then moved on to talking with my fellow staff members and getting some mission trip stuff complete.

Then I turned to our Admin. and said, “So-so has been here, huh?” Her reply, (with a big smile on her face), “Yep!”

Ok, now it’s time for me to play detective.

Upon further investigation, I noticed some of the boxes were empty, for whatever use later on. (One can never have too many empty boxes.) However, one box was full, overflowing full. Plus there are 2 bags. All are full of trail mix, animal crackers, beef jerky, granola bars, Twizzlers, and baby wipes (you know, for sticky fingers). One big box of goodies! Wow!

Then in my mailbox I found an envelope with a few gift cards, also from said church member. A note was in the envelope as well and read something to the effect of, “for the chaperones and blessings on your trip.” I nearly died with tears.

All of this – the gift cards, the snacks, even the baby wipes are for the mission trip. They are for our youth, for our travels and for some of our expenses. I was seriously overcome by God’s love in that moment.

How wonderful for the youth to know that a church member graciously provided them with snacks for the entire trip, or at least the first leg. How fantastic is it for our youth to know that the congregation does in fact care for them, that there is one person in particular who might not be able to attend the trip but is making sure they are well fed.

I have worked in the church for almost 10 years now. I have witnessed some incredible acts of love and grace over the years. The congregation I’m currently serving consistently does these little random acts of kindness for the children, youth and other ministries, so I’m not overly surprised by this act of kindness. But for whatever reason it moved me to tears. Could be the stress. Could also be the idea of knowing the youth are cared for outside our little circle of youth leaders and parents.

To this person, thank you for sharing God’s love with our youth. They are truly blessed to know you care.  You are my God moment during this stressful, busy week. Thank you and blessings on you and your kindness.

Sabbath Monday: Vacations

20160711_172826 [64681]In a few days I will get in a van with 19 youth and head to Charleston, South Carolina for mission trip. I come home 9 days later, tired and worn. Then I go back to work and 2 weeks later I head for vacation. I’m counting the days. Don’t get me wrong, I am looking forward to the mission trip but vacation is much needed.

Mom, Dad and I are taking a mini-family trip. The 3 of us love history, well Dad and I do. Mom likes the old homes we visit, walking around the historic towns. Despite all of us agreeing on going some place different, our trip is headed to Pennsylvania and Virginia again.

Philadelphia with Valley Forge, Independence Hall and other sites. Then Gettysburg and Hersey (cuz, hello, chocolate). Next is Monticello (Jefferson’s home), Fredericksburg, Virginia and many other places. Basically we’ll cover about 100 years of history in a week. And ghost walks…can’t forget those.

I love history, so much so I have a degree in it. I love learning how others lived, how our country came to be. I don’t know what it is about the Antebellum period, aka the Civil War, that I’m drawn to but I am. I have books, upon books on the subject and will probably purchase more on the trip.  I’ve started reading a few in preparations for our trip.

Gettysburg is probably my favorite place to visit. This will be my 4th visit and though I’ve already been on the battlefield and walked the streets, I cannot wait to do it again. Hopefully we’ll do some new things in town. Shockingly there are things we haven’t done.

I love Gettysburg for it’s ambiance. There’s no better word to describe it. When you’re up on Little Round Top looking down over Devil’s Den and the peach orchard, you get this incredible sense of what took place there 153 years ago. Plus, it’s peaceful. Looking at the monuments, taking in the magnitude at how big this battle was.

The cemetery hasn’t changed, though the battlefield has. The National Park Service has been doing a lot of work to restore the battlefield to it’s original state but not the cemetery. I can stand in the spot Lincoln gave his address, consecrating the grounds as holy. I walk and say prayers for those resting there, as well as other prayers.

Gettysburg is full of history, it’s a town that bleeds the Civil War, and it’s one of my sacred places to visit.

Vacations are awesome. They are Sabbath and joy. I’m not one for beaches or cruises but I enjoy touring old homes, basking in the history of a place.

Wherever your vacations take you this summer, enjoy your Sabbath time away.