July 29, 2009

Day 6: Go!

Five C's sum up today:

Cubo. It’s our fourth day on the work site. Thanks to heavy equipment (a first for one of our projects), massive amounts of earth were moved the other day. What a bulldozer and a digger accomplished in a day would have taken years of mission trips. As a result, the site was prepared for the present church building AND future expansion.

Twelve ginormous holes have been dug for the columns; hence mountains of dirt litter the site. With the heavy equipment gone we’re stuck moving dirt the good old-fashioned way--a bucket line. We fill buckets (cubos) and pass them down a human line, one to another, until we reach the dumping site. We’ve literally filled, passed and dumped thousands of cubos. (And we haven’t even moved the mountains of sand or stones yet!)

Concreto. The moment finally arrived. After days of chopping down trees; hauling away branches, debris and rocks; and digging holes, we got to start mixing concrete, then cutting and bending re-bar for the columns. Even if it’s still so basic, it’s incredibly satisfying to see actual construction starting.

Creativity. Supplies are in short supply here. I’m continually amazed at the Dominicans' resourcefulness, and because of their example, how resourceful we've become. Nails are removed from old pieces of wood, straightened and reused. Then, the wood is reused. Old concrete blocks are reused. Basically most of what you and I consider trash finds life elsewhere.

Here’s a fun example of this creativity. Right now we’re sitting on the rooftop waiting to start our large group devotions. To pass the time, the kids are playing “baseball” on the corner of the roof. Their bat? A stick. Their ball? A lime from a nearby tree. Their laughter confirms they're having a great time, despite their meager equipment.

Community. We are one family here. Like the ebb and flow of the tide: we travel together, we eat meals together, and we work, worship, pray, laugh and play together. Americans and Dominicans. New friends in Haina and old ones from San Miguel. Children and adults. Men and women. Boys and girls. It’s a fluid, cohesive mix unlike any I’ve ever experienced.

All God’s people. One Spirit. One Church. One Christ. I wonder if heaven will be like this?

Contentment. The Dominicans' joy is infectious. Never have I seen such bright smiles. And it's rubbing off. I have such a sense of inner peace. My wants here are minimal and my needs are being met. None of the worries, anxieties and conflicts that fill my thoughts at home have found their way to the DR. My uncluttered spirit is open to receive. (I think most of the others in our group would concur with these sentiments.)

I want to stay on this mountaintop. In this place. With these people.

Lord, how can I take this experience home with me?

”In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:21-22)

P.S. I wrote this two days ago, but am posting it tonight. It’s hard to believe, but tomorrow is our last full day. Sigh.

July 23, 2009

Day 2: Set. . .

I’m going to make this quick because I REALLY don’t want to spend my time on the computer while we're here, but…

Thanks for your comments from yesterday’s post. I shared them with our team. And thanks to our Bahamas mission trip brothers and sisters. We’re praying for you -- go with God!

First of all, it’s amazing what a good night of sleep will do to restore and refresh!! We’re back from our first day on the work site, sitting on the roof of our house, hanging out until dinner and enjoying a pleasant breeze.

Today was our first day on the work site. There’s so much more to write than I have time for. I don’t even think words can do the day justice. Our main goal was to prepare the site for setting columns and foundation. This consisted of moving lots and lots and lots of rocks, and digging enormous holes, which also involved—moving lots and lots of rocks. But the main job was removing five trees, including stumps—using only pickaxes, axes and machetes!! Everyone had a chance to jump in and chop away, but to watch the Dominicans yield these tools of destruction and tame the trees into submission was truly a sight to behold.

A few words sum up the day:

  • Machete (Anything and I mean anything can be chopped down with one of these! Picture Lucas, one of the site maestros with a machete in one hand and a Bible in the other--really!)
  • Cana (sugar cane that a passing man sold like we sell ice cream. Eating it was like chewing on a stick with sweet liquid inside.)
  • Coco (coconuts that the kids gathered up from one of the fallen trees. We hacked them open . . . with a machete, of course. . . and drank the liquid.)
  • Limoncilla (little fruits with the appearance of tiny limes that came off one of the trees we chopped down. Honestly they were like sweet-tart, gooey, stringy eyeballs. But the Dominican children loved them…and so did some of our kids.)
  • Amigo (“friend” The Dominicans young and small are unbelieably warm and friendly.)
  • Ninos (“kids” This is definitely a kid-friendly experience for both gringos and Dominicans!)
  • Pica (“bite” like… “Be careful, that bug bites [and usually has a million legs!”])
  • Agua (In the blazing sun we drank vats of it)
  • HOT (Forget about sweating, it was like we were leaking!)
It was a fabulous first day. We're beginning to experience first-hand how God’s grace knits each of us together, and binds us to our Dominican brothers and sisters. It is truly an awesome privilege.

Here’s today’s thought that I wrote for our trip’s devotional:

Each of us came on this trip for different reasons. Maybe you came to serve God…or maybe you came to find God. Maybe you’re here because you had to or because you thought you should. Right now you might be excited, joyful, nervous, anxious, tired or cranky. Your heart may be overflowing with God’s love or it might be parched and dry. No matter where you are or why you came, God has a plan for you in this place.

Any charitable group can come to the DR to build, teach and offer medical care. Many can even do it better than we do. But, as Christians, we come here to offer the one thing the world can’t offer—grace. Grace sets us apart from the world. So, here in the DR, we’re not just builders, teachers and helpers, we’re dispensers of grace. But what is grace?

Through Jesus, grace is God’s amazing, unending, perfect love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached; and it goes against every human instinct.

As Philip Yancey says in "What’s So Amazing About Grace?"
Grace is
Christianity’s best gift to the world, a spiritual nova in our midItalicst exerting a force stronger than vengeance, stronger than racism, stronger than hate. It comes free of charge to people who do not deserve it. Simply put, grace means there’s nothing
we can do to make God love us more. And grace means there is nothing we can do
to make God love us less.

With every song we sing, prayer we utter, wall we demolish, batch of concrete we mix, hug we share, tear we cry, we are being built together in a legacy of grace tracing all the way back to Jesus. As we work mano a mano to deconstruct and reconstruct, let the Spirit of God tear down walls in your own heart and let his grace do a new work in you.

God bless!

P.S. I wish I could post pictures to better show you the amazing sights, but that process takes too long. Perhaps when we return.

July 22, 2009

Day 1: Ready. . .

We’re here. We’re safe. And we’re tired. I might see 2:30 a.m. once in a while as a bedtime. But, as a waking up time? Never.

Today was a first and by 3:07 a.m. Dan, the kids and I joined our group of 30 at church to take a bus to Newark airport. And even though I’ve been awake for 13 hours, my thoughts haven’t wandered far from “I am so tired. I need to take a nap.” I’m not proud to admit, but I’m a baby about my sleep!

Today, however, is a “buck up little camper” day! And buck up we’re doing.
And it’s going great so far. We’ve arrived in the Dominican Republic, safely, with all our luggage and without incident. Right now we’re in the Foundation house where we’ll be staying, enjoying one of the few down times we’ll have. The kitchen staff is making dinner and the delicious smells blanket the house. A bunch of us are hanging out in the common room chatting. Some are unpacking supplies. The medically-oriented among us are meeting on the porch to plan the week’s medical activities. A few are catching some shut eye. Someone is playing Viva la Vida on a tinny piano down in the living room. And the kids, including my son, are outside playing soccer. “It fun speaking Spanish!” he excitedly proclaimed.

In no time at all, we’re settling in. I can’t speak for the group, but I think most of us are excited to get a good night’s sleep (which won’t come for at five more hours) and really start our DR experience. Tonight after dinner we’ll attend a church service with the Dominicans that we’ll be working with. I have a feeling it’ll be a worship experience unlike most of us have ever been a part of.

As my sleep-deprived mind tries to process the sights, smells and sounds, a few of the day’s highlights spring to mind, like:

Watching the blazing orange sun rise over the New York City skyline.
  • Starting to bond with our group and realizing there's been no whining or melt downs by anyone.

  • Realizing that after months and months of planning, this trip is really happening.

  • Meeting our wonderfully enthusiastic in-country team, Anna and J.J.

  • Being serenaded on the bus from the airport by a few of the children from the church we’re working with.

  • Enjoying a general sense of joined purpose and anticipation.
I don’t have any deep spiritual insights to share today, but I do have an overarching sense that all is well. We’re here. . .and we’re ready.

P.S. In the time that I’ve written this, the nine chatty people sitting around me have ceased talking and have all nodded off!

The call just came in..."Time for dinner!"

July 20, 2009

Who, Me?

I'm posting at Exemplify Online today where you can read this entire devotional. 

“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:12)

Missionaries. For most of my life I pictured them toiling away in the deepest, darkest jungles of the Amazon basin converting savages. They’d spend their days in hostile environments, eat bugs and monkey brains, sleep in huts, dodge piranhas and risk their lives to spread God’s word. Honestly, I wondered why anyone would say “yes” to such a job.

Then I became a Christian and started looking at life differently. Phrases like “finding your purpose” and “following God’s will” suddenly crept into my reality. I wanted to live a life that pleased God and wondered how I might serve Him. Then one day a shiver of dread put the brakes on my enthusiasm as my greatest fear sprang to mind, “What if God calls me to be a missionary?!”

For a while I packed my schedule so full that I made sure if God called, I’d be too busy to answer. Yet, the more my faith grew, the more missionary experiences intrigued me. For one thing, I found out they don’t just work in the jungles; but serve all over the globe (even in the United States!). And the ones I’ve met fascinate and impress me. Their stories speak to my wanderlust and passion for the gospel.

Each summer our church sends a group of missionaries to the Dominican Republic. For years I sat in the pews on Mission Sunday and heard their testimonies. Each time I said, “Some day I’m going to do that.” Yet, although my husband joined the past two trips, the time never seemed right for me. Until this year.

This past January when organizers asked for commitments to the 2009 trip, it seemed God cleared the way not only for me, but for my husband and children to go as well. The fact that I might go on a mission trip was a hope—that we will go as a family is a dream come true.
For months we’ve hurdled passport, immunization, planning and most of all, fundraising obstacles. And now, in two days we’ll be in “the DR” working alongside our fellow missionaries.

During our time there we’ll start construction on a church, hold VBS, run a medical clinic, and worship with our Dominican brothers and sisters in a community very different from our own.
Our days will be long and our work tiring. Am I nervous? Yes. But I trust God has a plan to grow, stretch and take each of us deeper into his love. Because that’s how God works. He doesn’t need us to do any of the things we’re setting out to do (He is all powerful after all), but instead wants us to be part of the process. He gives us the glorious opportunity to build His kingdom, one brick and one soul at a time—dispensers and recipients of His amazing grace.

Turns out, as followers of Christ we’re ALL missionaries called to “love one another” (John 13:34) and “go to the people of all nations and make them [Jesus’] disciples.” (Matthew 28:19) God’s call may indeed take us to remote locations, but more likely our mission field is no further than our own backyards—the playground, our workplace, the bus stop, our book club, a homeless shelter, a tutoring center or even the Internet.

It’s not where we travel, but that we do. And that when God nudges, prompts and plants thoughts that just won’t go away, we say “OK, Lord. I’ll go.” And don’t be surprised if what you end up doing is the very thing to which you once said, “Who, me? Never!”

God’s funny like that.

To what mission field is He leading you?

Lord, give me the courage to share the Good News boldly and passionately through my words, but especially through my actions. Give me ears to hear your call, feet to follow and a voice to say, “Yes.” Amen.

P.S. Thanks for your warm response to my very first post. It was such a blessing to see old friends and meet new ones. I look forward to traveling this journey with you.

July 13, 2009

Sing a New Song

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

“Oh, my gosh, Mom! You don’t have to make such a big deal out of it. It’s not like I’m going to college!”

I wiped a tear from my eye and replied, “When you’re a mom, you’ll see.”

Yesterday we dropped our daughter off for a week of music camp at college. It’s not like this is her first time away at camp, but this is the first time going to one on a college campus. And she’s not on any college campus, but THE college campus that holds our family’s heart—Penn State. And she’s not just staying in any dorm, but the same cluster where my husband spent his four years in Happy Valley. And she’s not in any room, but one overlooking the most photographed and sacred spot on campus—The Nittany Lion Shrine.

When I gazed out her dorm room window and soaked in the scene, I saw the intersection of the past and the future. In only four years we’ll be doing this for real.

Plus, this week of camp offers a tremendous opportunity for her to go deeper with her love of singing, learn from music experts, live a mini-college experience and meet new friends. I’m excited, but nervous for what’s in store.

Throughout registration, auditions and course selection, I wanted to jump up and down with excitement. I wanted to mother, question, offer my opinions and share concerns. But I knew that through the eyes of one fourteen-year-old girl, she'd counter such unacceptable displays of parental emotionalism and excitement with a firm, “Mom, STOP! You’re soooo embarrassing!”

So, I summoned up every ounce of inner strength to tamp it down. To be supportive, but not smothering. Interested, but not excited. Emotionally available, but overly emotional. Cool, but not detached. (It's exhausting work!)

To give her a little more breathing room, the boys (a.k.a. my husband and son) went outside to play on campus.

But, I knew my daughter's cool exterior masked the nervousness that lie beneath. Roommate concerns topped her list: “What if she’s 300 pounds and plays the tuba?” (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) “What if she snores?”

“What if she’s really nice and you become friends,” I countered.

Once registration was taken care of, we all made a quick trip downtown for lunch. Then it was time to scoot back to the dorm for a quick stopover before the first session began. A pillow and suitcase on the formerly vacant bed announced her roommate had checked in, but was nowhere in sight. My daughter started to unpack and I rested on her bed watching and trying to hold my tongue—Let her do it. I planned to stay long enough to escort her to the first session so she wouldn’t have to walk alone. As if on cue her roommate rushed in the door, breathless from running around.

They briefly sized each other up. Introductions revealed they were the same age and sang the same voice part. All concerns quickly washed away and within moments they chatted easily.

It was time for me to go.

I gave my firstborn a quick hug goodbye and added, “You don’t have to call, but will you please text me before bed to let me know how it’s going, thumbs up or down?” I think she reluctantly agreed.

As I walked out the door, two more girls stopped by to introduce themselves. The four of them started talked and their excited voices carried me down the hallway, assuring me all would be OK.

True to her word, I got a text last night, giving a little update and asking a question. Then later, to my surprise, she called. “Mom, what’s the weather going to be like this week? I’m planning my outfits and I’m not sure which one to wear tomorrow.”

I chuckled to myself, glad to be needed, and passed on the 10-day forecast. With the important fashion details under control I asked, “How’d it go tonight?”

The past six hours came out in a flurry, “We had an ice cream social at the Creamery. And I was upstairs hanging out in my friends’ room listening to music. Tomorrow night all of us are going to pop popcorn and watch a movie, and Tuesday night we’re …”

My heart rested easy knowing my not so little girl was in a great place, growing, learning, laughing and making friends. For her dad and me it was a dress rehearsal for the big drop off day coming all too soon. These bittersweet experiences sharpen the eventual reality and primary purpose of parenting—our children's independence.

For now, I’m going to treasure this moment in my heart, adding it to the others I’ve collected along the way. Some easy to miss, others glaringly obvious, but each priceless payment for this sometimes thankless, often tiring and all-consuming job called motherhood.

July 10, 2009

It Is Well

If you unhinged my head right now and peered in, I’m pretty sure you’d find a tangled, scramble-y mass of gray matter that used to be my brain. Ever since the kids have been home for the summer, I haven’t been able to unwind my schedule, my thoughts or my agenda from theirs. My brain feels agitated, disorganized and cluttered. I want to relax and hang out but I have work that needs to get done. I’m out of touch with my friends, both real and online, and feel disconnected and guilty about that.

I’m discovering that I’m not very good at balancing work and play when summer blurs the guardrails that keep them separate during the school year.

My soul wants rest. My body wants a day off. And my mind cries out, “No more!” But still work piles up on my to-do list and as much as I want to, there are just certain things I can’t blow off. Next week will be better, I promise myself.

Discontentment. It’s an easy place to settle in to. Before we know it, we get comfortable there and call it home. Unhappy with our circumstances, seeds of discontent take root. We think others have a better life than we do. Better kids. Better marriage. Better job. Better health. They have more friends, more money, more talent, more free time. We want what we don’t have. If only…

The Bible has a name for this condition and it’s called sin.

The apostle Paul, the poster child for a hard life, said “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil. 4:12-13) The source of Paul’s contentment was found in one place alone: in Christ.

Content in every situation? I’ve got a looooong way to go before I can claim that. But in the past few days I’ve gleaned the truth of these verses. God’s word is alive and active. Reading scripture recently has settled my soul like a balm. Soothing, quieting, reassuring. Encountering the living God in the pages of this ancient text, showed me that even if I don’t figure out the craziness of my life right now, it’s not the point anyway.

Being one with Jesus is.

It is just as the hymnist wrote Horatio Spafford wrote in 1873:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul

It is well, indeed.

July 5, 2009

Summer in the Garden of Weedin'

Starting today I'm posting every other Monday at Exemplify Online. I'm excited to be a part of this growing online community that's filled with excellent writers and sisters in Christ.

(I've had some technology issues, so pray my first post actually shows up properly. I'll settle for showing up at alll!)

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

Fourth of July says summer’s here, but those “lazy days” have yet to find their way into my reality. Instead, unpredictable schedules, vacations, outings and kid-focused days (many of which resonate with “I’m bored!”) turn my normally ordered days topsy-turvy.

Even my devotion time gets lost in the chaos. We often miss church because of traveling schedules. My Bible studies take a break until school starts again. Close Christian friendships wane as our friends face the same unpredictable schedules. Honestly, it’s tempting to take a vacation from God altogether. Lord, I’ll get back to you in the fall when things settle down.

Judging by attendance at church yesterday, I’m not alone in my thinking.

I found insight over the weekend as I tended the gardens I’d carefully prepared in the spring—but largely neglected since then. How quickly nature had started to take over my little plot! Weeds staked their claim. Invasive plants flourished, enveloping whatever garden territory they desired. (Unless you REALLY love mint, keep it contained in a pot!) I began to imagine the weedy, overgrown mess I’d face at the end the summer if I didn’t tend to my beds at all.

As I worked I thought, this is why I’ve ended many summers in a spiritual funk. Left unattended, my garden of faith reverts back to its “nature.” Weeds of sin take root. Bad habits invade. And the enemy looks to reclaim what is his. (1 Peter 5:8)

 When I neglect my “spiritual gardening,” my faith resembles a hobby, not a commitment. Try to imagine the apostle Paul writing to the Philippians, “We’re taking a break for the summer so enjoy yourselves until we get together again in September.” Paul would see that idea as inconceivable—as if someone suggesting he stop breathing. To him, to live was Christ. Jesus was his life’s focus 24/7/365. He didn’t take “time off.”

And so it should be for every one of us that follows Jesus.

Does this mean we can’t take a vacation? That our ministries should never take a break? Or that we must rule our summer schedules with an iron fist? No, but we need to remember first and foremost to whom we belong—every day, no matter what the season.

Each year I’m slowly learning that without the structured spiritual activities of the school year, I need to be deliberate and creative about tending to my faith garden during the summer. I’ve actually found that the lack of structure has allowed me to see God in new ways and with fresh eyes.

The good news is God makes a wonderful traveling companion. Wherever we go, there He is also. The beauty of summer provides a glorious backdrop to meet with our Creator.  Worship, devotional time, prayer and faith exploration can happen anywhere, anytime—by the pool, on the beach, on a mountaintop, at an out-of-town church, in the car, amid chaos or solitude, as the sun rises or sets. “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

God doesn’t take a vacation from us. The least we can do is return the favor.