Thoughts on Mission

Four brave adults and myself just took our church’s Youth Group on a mission trip to Sault Ste. Marie, Mi.  The “Soo” is in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and right across the river from Canada’s version of the city.  It is a LONG drive.  We planned on twelve hours with stops, it took us sixteen.  You actually end up in a completely different biosphere (using my newly acquired biology knowledge) and climate zone.  At one point we noticed that our detour road had no lights except where the snowmobile trails crossed it.  That and the “Caution Elk Crossing” sign clarified we were in the North country.

I found this today and started thinking about all the trips the youth group has undertaken.  Five trips to five different cities in five different states.  They never repeat, even if the previous trip had more memories than can be recounted in a two hour meeting.  The group is always ready for the next place.  They want to see the country they live in and it isn’t about the hot spots.  They are looking for the places no one chooses to go.   The real city that hides beneath the gloss of the Chamber of Commerce description.  The teeming masses yearning to be free that the Statue of Liberty welcomes.  The kids are looking for a place to have an impact, one that no one knows about beyond the sphere they live in.

I recently shared with them how unique they were in a society that is always looking for the payout.  These kids never look for a payout.  They are looking for the experience, the friendships, the moments of accomplishment.  The intangibles that have no price tag.  When I mentioned how unusual this was, true to form they looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language.  The “HUH?” look was mirrored from face to face.  The kids never contemplated the idea of a material reward or that they should expect one for the work they did.  They just loved doing it.  A chance to put on the light gray shirt with the grinning sheep and head off on a week adventure that would test them physically by sleeping on air mattresses in rooms with no AC, test them mentally as they cut box after box of melons to feed hungry people, and emotionally as they encountered people who were grateful just to have someone notice them.  That was the reward.

Ask a youth group member, past or present, to share their favorite memory from a mission trip.  Some of the stories will match, but each member has a special moment from at least one trip, and usually one from every trip they attended.  Some memories relate to the fun things we did between serving, but just as many of the memories will grab your heartstrings and bring tears to your eyes.  Because these kids take off the blinders, put the rose-colored glasses aside and truly look at the community they are serving.  And it changes them, creating people that I look forward to spending time with during the year, people that I know will work to make where they live and work a better place, people that understand there is no price tag on compassion.

If you were ever looking for a chance to experience life in its truest form, go on a mission trip with a group of teenagers.  Immerse yourself in the world they live in for a week, with all the ups and downs that adolescence requires.  See the people, places, and moments through their eyes.  It will change your perspective.  Every time I jump in a van with the big circle magnet that has that goofy sheep with the cross around its neck and the words “St. Michael’s Youth Group”, I know my life is going to shift.  I know my viewpoint, my perspective will be impacted in ways I never imagined.  I will store the memories and they will show up at the perfect time, like the best rendition of “September” I ever heard on the longest detour ever, or the opportunity to let a Yute know about the photo of us I treasure from a particular trip.  When I have a moment that feels like all I do is fight the current, I remember cleaning a Salvation Army center or building new animal pens at a teaching farm.  It tilts the balance back because I know those memories were all pebbles dropped in a pond that continue to ripple through-out the world.

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Changing My Corner of the World

Everyone talks about winning the lottery and what they would do with the money. Big dreams, expensive trips, no bills, it’s all In there. Some talk of building schools that are run by teachers, others will give to their churches and communities.
I am a giver. Sometimes to the point that I overload myself with giving and honestly get so immersed I forget to let others find the same joy by giving to me. I make it hard for them and I regret those moments, days, and sometimes years. I let my need to be independent and invincible overcome.
If I had a million dollars (thanks Barenaked Ladies) I would want to do something that makes a difference. Something I could get right in the middle of and face the disappointments, tragedies, joys, and triumphs first hand. I want to change a little piece of the world. To give some hope where it is missing. To show my little piece that what society and the media offer are not the only choices. That they can have a better life than the one they Are currently living. That they don’t have to face it alone.
Recently my community and I experienced a loss. A good person who worked at making his little piece of the world a place that people came for help and healing. I watched him bring kids alive, the kids no one else could get to share. He wasn’t Superman, but he was always trying to save us, even when none of us realized it.
A year and a half ago, another friend passed away. At the funeral home I kept waiting for him to walk in the door, smiling from ear to ear, hugging everyone in sight. It never happened, he wasn’t coming in the door again, but I try to remember his joy in life and find the moments (and sometimes they truly are just moments) to hold onto when life gets dark and dreary.
I want to be a person like that. Who changes her small corner of the world somehow. Who helps change others by dropping the pebble into the pond and watching the ripples spread.

There and Back Again, 2014

2014 is over tonight.  It’s hard to believe another year has ended.  Time just keeps flying by and I keep looking around wondering where it went.

We celebrated Christmas several times over the last week and I was back in the photo business with my new camera.  (Thanks family for the early Christmas gift!)  Putting together yearly photo calendars for both grandmothers, and working on a photo book for 2014, caused some nostalgia as I looked through photos of the last year.  Having the time to hang a bit with my kids added to it, especially when my 13 year old slept until after 8:00 Christmas morning.  I was the only one awake early, with just George the cat for company.  What happened to waking my parents with the phrase, “We can’t hold them back much longer”, as the kids hovered at the top of the stairs?  It all changed this year.  But that wasn’t all that changed.

  Look at these two.  They are so tiny.royals

And willing to wear matching jammies for their mom.  matching

They used to both fit in my lap.family

Now the matching pajamas are just a memory.

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And socks are not as exciting as they used to be.

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But they are still silly and like to laugh with and at each other.

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Christmas 2005, nine years ago.  Bitty Baby had to be in the photo, Coach and I had more hair and less of it was gray, and JMumbo still fit on his dad’s lap,

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Christmas 2014.  The prodigal daughter has her learner’s permit (which she never uses), George the cat is a permanent fixture in the family, and they are all as tall as Coach and I.  Soon JMumbo will shoot past us.  M&M never will, but that means she can wear heels and not tower over her dates.

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I tried to get JMumbo to sit with  me in the big chair last night and watch a movie like we used to.  I even made popcorn to bribe him with.  He wandered into the kitchen, stole the big bowl of popcorn leaving me with a little one, and headed back upstairs to the gaming world he likes to spend time in.  Thank goodness for George, he spent some time with me, filling the empty space.  JMumbo was always the one willing to snuggle with his mommy and hang out.  Now his legs and arms hang over the edges of whatever he is sitting on.

2015 will bring more changes in physical size, interests, and aptitudes.  It will be a year where the prodigal daughter starts to narrow down college choices and JMumbo enters high school.  Time will keep moving forward and I will try to keep up, remembering what Bilbo Baggins said, “It’s a dangerous business going out your door.  You step onto the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”  I’ll try to keep my feet in 2015.

Mad Woman – for Stacie

I have been watching the series “Mad Men” on Netflix.  You have to excuse me, I tend to be a few years behind on the TV series trends, but it works for me because I can watch it in one giant stream instead of weekly installments.  I watched “Friday Night Lights” the same way and it is still one I return to, but I don’t think it would have the same impact if I had watched it week to week.

In “Mad Men”, the men are in charge, it is the 60’s, but Gloria Steinem would be okay with it because the women are strong and making headway in the man’s world.  Unfortunately, one of the themes I see that may not have been in the producer’s minds is the idea of balance for women.  Being a working woman, and a mom, and a wife is a juggling act that looks a lot easier than it truly is.  And no offense, but men don’t have it.   There are great dads out there, who help out their wives, look after their kids, do the dishes.  But those dads don’t have the generations of guilt behind them.  No one compares them to June Cleaver who vacuumed the house in her pearls and heels.  And although no  one compares me to June either, I do enough comparing for everyone.  Why don’t I have the warm cookies on a plate when the kids get home from school?  Why isn’t everything homemade and served at a perfectly set table?  Why does my house have stuff ( and I mean stuff – most doesn’t even have a designated space) sitting around it all the time?  Why can’t I get it all together and decorate for Easter on top of that?  What is wrong with me?!?

Nothing.  Not a damn thing.  I just have too many titles and expectations for myself.  I am still a mom and housewife, but have added breadwinner and corporate diva to the title.  (Well maybe not corporate diva, I am not that driven)  It rips me apart.  It creates a situation where I am grateful for my parents because they remember and retell stories from my kid’s childhood while I listen and think, “When did this happen?  Was I there?’.  I don’t remember because I was so busy wearing all the hats, I forgot to pay attention.  And sometimes it really pisses me off. (Sorry mom, not a great word choice, but it does piss me off)  Actually it pisses me off a lot.  Now they are teenagers and don’t want to play Shoots and Ladders or Sorry! with me. They want to hide in their rooms.  Away from me.   And I feel like I missed it.

This is for Stacie because she posted today that she was not going to let herself be overcome.  I know what she means.  She has an incredible husband.  He’s my brother and I know from experience that he is an excellent roommate and caregiver.  He loves watching their daughter grow up, because he really did miss his older daughter hit various milestones.  That’s what divorce does.  So it isn’t that relationship she is fighting against.  I think it is just life.  The overwhelming mess that is being a woman in the 21st century.  Nike did not help women out with the “Be All That You Can Be” slogan.  They just made it harder.  They added more expectations.  Live up to your potential!  And it can’t be to learn to vacuum the living room in high heels like June, it should be more, it should make a difference.  What we have missed is that June Cleaver made a difference.  I am using her as a reference.  You don’t use nobodies as reference points.  And what was wrong with creating a home, a place that people could feel safe and loved?  It doesn’t seem enough anymore, but maybe the real issue is that the simple things aren’t complicated enough.  If you don’t work hard at it, it must not be worth anything.

Stacie, we all work at letting go.  Not getting worked up about the fact that dinner isn’t perfectly balanced with carbs, protein, and fruit or vegetable.  Letting the laundry sit one more day because you still have some clean underwear.  Ignoring the dust bunnies that chase you out of the bedroom.  Because to ignore them, to let go of the perfect housewife routine means that you have time to watch your kids play ball, or dig in the dirt, or pick dandelions.  It means you can relax and have your cup of coffee, truly enjoying it and that quiet moment when there are no expectations, without the guilt.

 

My heart is full

I try not to get too mushy and sentimental on here.  It’s just not who I am.  I tend to look at life a bit sarcastically and work on finding some humor because it makes the whole thing a bit easier.  But I can’t walk away from saying this.

Last night my church sponsored a musicale, a musical review showcasing the many talents of its congregation.  Instruments were played including an amazing cello and piano piece by a mom and daughter duo, and a concertina, which is a small accordian.  There was an appearance by the Blues Brothers and the mysterious musician Clyde Waterloo who claims to live in the boiler room.  There were silly songs and the return of a young lady with a beautiful voice, who inspired my daughter yet again with her singing.  It was such fun, complemented by and MC who wasn’t afraid to laugh at himself and scrumptious desserts.  If the music began to overwhelm you, a silent auction was going on in the room next door, where you could bid on everything from beautiful knit and embroidered pieces, a handmade quilt, dinners (including a gourmet feast), a sailing excursion, and riding lessons.  It was a pretty incredible spread.

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Why did this fill my heart, cause me to get all gooey inside?  Because I had always wanted the chance to bid for my husband to sponsor a spring clean up in our yard?  No, it was the kids.  The kids I have had the privilege of spending time with for many years.  The kids the church community entrusted to me all those years ago when they asked me to step in on a temporary basis.  Nine years later, that temporary position has become one of the most important pieces of my world.  Last night they were in the spotlight.  The proceeds from the evening were being donated to their summer mission trip.  As always, my co-coordinator Karen put together a brilliant musical performance with them, and Don documented the experience.  They tell me I do things too, but I am not always sure that I give as much as I get.  The songs the kids sang, Short People and You’ve Got a Friend in Me by Randy Newman prompted discussion about first impressions and stereotypes, then showed how a bit of understand can change everything.  The Honorable Judge played an impressive rendition of the first song on his tiny pipe and the audience loved it.  But this wasn’t where I lost it.

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There was a moment in the program to share what the mission trip was and why we were doing it.  We hadn’t thought about this piece and we certainly didn’t practice anything.  In fact, we had forgotten about this piece until intermission.  I huddled with groups of kids as they manned the dessert table and came up with a plan.  If they would just follow directions, I would do all the talking.  The moment came and I was alone on the stage.  Bit by bitI brought them to the stage.  Soon it was full and I stepped off.  This wasn’t about me, it was about them.  At one point, I looked over toward the dessert table where one of our newest members was standing and smiled as I watched him bounce with excitement, waiting for his chance to join us.  Did I say much about the mission trip?  Probably not as much as I should have.  Did I say what was in my heart about the kids?  Absolutely.  

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They brighten my day, they gave me a purpose at a time when I felt like I didn’t have one.  They are always up for any crazy scheme we throw their way.  They ad-lib during the Christmas pageant and give sermons after being up all night for a lock-in.  They sing and play instruments while eating package after package of Oreos.  They care deeply about each other and pretend to help clean up.  They play and laugh with each other.  And it makes me smile.  It brings me joy.  It fills my heart.

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You can’t make this stuff up.

You can’t make this stuff up.

I went to the seasonal pancake house yesterday with the Youth Group and various other pancake lovers.  While finishing up our pancakes, one of the waitresses was alerted to the wasp that was buzzing around the room.  (I would guess they live in the wood paneling and wake up when the restaurant opens.)  The waitress disappeared for a brief moment, only to reappear armed with a hand vac.  Wielding it like a gunslinger from the Wild West, she proceeded to suck up the wasp.   Several others were pointed out to her and she quickly met the challenge, climbing over the backs of booths to reach her targets.

I kept waiting for Candid Camera to show up.

Someday I am going to write all this into a sitcom and become a millionaire.  You can’t make this stuff up.

Crocheting Lobsters

Our school is getting prepared for our spring musical.  One of the props needed are lobster hats.  The director found a photo of a newborn set on Pintrest, but no pattern.  After looking at the photo for a bit, I knew I could create the hat and set to work.

Here is the finished product:

Lobster hatPlease excuse the tea maker it is displayed on.  I needed to show the shape.  🙂

I am posting the pattern for the local volunteers who want to help us create these beauties, and for anyone who always wanted to wear a lobster on their head.  Enjoy!

Lobster Hat for Elementary Age Child