The Journey: The People

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My morning broke wide open at 6:30 AM to the alarm clock blasting an assault on the ears. “Caution, Dangerous Curves Ahead” by Maylene & the Sons of Disaster became the rooster crowing and I rolled lethargically to a sitting position at the foot of my bed. I don’t know about the routines of other people but this is usually how my morning starts when I have to get up early. I wake up to my alarm and then I sit at the foot of my bed hating my life for about 10 minutes while simultaneously trying to muster the will to get off my bed and into the day’s activities. This morning was particularly important because I was to get in a van by 8 AM to leave for a week long missions trip in Rapid City, SD. In my head I was telling myself to stand up and start getting myself put together for the week that was to come. I didn’t even have to put forth that much effort, I told myself. I was already packed and everything was sitting there waiting for me to load it into the car and leave. But at 6:30 AM my brain hasn’t acquired enough strength and momentum to instantly override my body’s many protests.

I took a deep breath, let out a deep sigh and finally stood up.

My things all packed, assembled and loaded, I took off for the college campus where the team would be meeting and loading into a van. Load time was 7:30 AM and, thankfully, I wasn’t the only one who was on time. Slowly, the students started congregating near the van and loading their luggage in. I had managed to get all my things into one bag/suitcase and my trusty grey messenger bag. I was in awe in the amount of stuff other people brought with them and not just the girls who were on the trip. I guess not everyone likes to travel light like me. More of the team began to show up as we got closer to 8 AM, their things being loaded as they appeared. The sponsors started to get nervous when the clock started reaching for 8 AM and two people hadn’t shown up yet. One of them we were able to get in touch with. He had gotten the times confused and didn’t think we were leaving until 8 PM. We got him straightened out and he came down with his luggage and got in the van. The last one pulled into the parking lot minutes later.

This would be a recurring theme for the rest of the trip.

A test for those of us, myself included, who like to be punctual.

Not a whole lot occurred on the trip there. We took I-29 North which took me past all the towns where my former youth group kids live when I was a sponsor in Whiting and Sloan, IA. It was far too early for reminiscing. I had picked the most comfortable spot in the van which was the way back with all the luggage. There was enough room for about 1.5 people so I got a little room to stretch out and I didn’t have to worry about bumping into someone else. So, I did what I always did on long trips: I put in my headphones and cranked up some music that fit my mood.

On the road I can live in my own little world if I so choose. My music is loud enough to drown out jabber and whatever else and it creates a whole other atmosphere in which my mind is free to explore ideas, worlds and memories that were currently pressing themselves into the crevices of my brain. It’s really helpful when I’m feeling my introversion because I can temporarily shut out everyone on the trip. That’s not to say that I wanted to ignore the team but we’ll get to them. The drive there was boring the whole way north and most of the way West on I-90. I saw some strange billboards heading west and I got some good pictures of random stuff I saw outside my window. I hadn’t been this way for quite some time but do you want to know what my biggest question was?

How does Wall Drug market to someone with oppositional defiance disorder?

Answer: They can’t.

They’ve got billboards everywhere telling people to go to Wall Drug which I was told by quite a few native South Dakotans is not all it hypes itself up to be.

Good thing we didn’t stop there then.

The drive in was beautiful but I won’t try and describe it. You can look at the pictures that I took and draw your own inclusions. What matters is that 8 hours later we made it. The house we pulled up to was in a new development but this was nothing like the ones we have here where the houses are all based off one or two different floor plans. No, this development was full of some very nice houses with all sorts of insane accoutrements like basketball hoops, batting cages and just insane architecture.

But as with so many other things this is not about buildings and houses. Well, maybe a little about houses.

I think the house we stopped at was far superior. I say that because when I walked from the van to the front door I saw the street light ignited cityscape of Rapid City. By day it’s alright but by night it’s breath taking. I wish I could walk out my front door to that kind of view. We got inside and got to meet one of the two host families that would be putting our team up for the week. The owners of the house, Mary and Larry, were just the first set of people who would prove to be such a huge blessing to us. Their house was big and open with a lot of artwork. They were fond of Terry Redlin which always reminds me of my mom. She’s always been a big fan of his work and, while I would never buy his artwork for myself, I always feel like I’m being warmed by a campfire when I see his paintings. They were very into family and, through the duration of the trip, we’d get to know Mary & Larry’s kids and grandkids.

Mary decided they would house the girls. The guys were taken to the other host family’s house.

All we were told about them was that he was a state senator and that they had a hot tub at their house. We rolled up to their house long after the sun had gone down so we didn’t get to see much of the house from the outside. We did get a view of the inside and it was amazing. The best part was, of course, was that we each got our own bed. That was just nuts to me that they had beds for 6 people outside of their own bedroom. But I soon realized that it was so they would have room for their now grown children and grandchildren when they came over and stayed there. The whole place gave me the feeling of being at home even though I’d never been there before which, I’m certain, can only be created by people who have spent their lives devoted to a loving and giving family environment. There was a lifetime of love in that house which was flooring to think about. And that was just their house.

I don’t know if I’m strange or if I was just raised differently. But I think there’s a lot of wisdom and knowledge to be taken from people who have lived a life devoted to serving and glorifying God. And so, on the first night we were there, we were able to sit and listen to Bruce and Sandee talk about their lives and what they do and stories about their kids I was all ears. They asked us all what we were studying and they gave their full attention which is something I feel like doesn’t happen often with such a generational distance like that. But they were gracious enough to get to know us while we were in their home and to share everything of theirs with us.

I must pause here and issue a verbal medal of bravery to Cari. She’s probably one of the nicest and sweetest people I’ve ever met. She got the pleasure of getting to chaperone the guys on this trip and keeping the rest of them in line while I tried to do my best to stay calm and patient. She put up with a lot and with much grace.

However, I would be remiss if I failed to mention Leslie who did a great job of laying out everything for the trip. I don’t know much about her personally since she deals primarily with the girls on campus too but I do know she’s very schedule and detail oriented. She kept us all on track no matter the conditions without being dictatorial or overly neurotic.

Our team was a bunch of college students. The team was interesting to say the least. The team was completely even as far as men and women goes. There were 5 guys and 5 girls which, for you math-challenged folk like me, makes a team of 10 with two female sponsors. The age range went from college freshman to a dude in his 30’s who had a wife and kids of his own. The girls were all roommates back at the college which means we were subject to every loud and obnoxious inside joke and favorite movie quote they were able to dish out. I can’t fault people for being friends and I can’t say anything bad about the women who were on the trip in the end. They did their share and sometimes more. I got to know them as more than just a face I passed in the hallways and in the cafeteria which was pretty cool.

The men did what men do and that’s make jokes at each others’ expense in good fun and have conversations about sports or video games. It was interesting to watch from the outside because I don’t do a lot of any of that. I tried my best to lead by example when we were working and try to keep things from getting out of hand when it came to the poking fun. I sound like a kill joy and maybe I am but that’s what I felt like I needed to do. It’s not like we didn’t all have fun but I tried to make sure we were representatives of our school and of Christ because that’s what was most important to me on that trip since we did mostly manual labor. Our actions said a lot about us. I was happy to work with those guys and get to know them despite our differences. The men stuck together well and worked hard like I had hoped we would, in the end.

Our first task was a basement but I don’t want to talk about the basement right now. We were brought to a house the Monday of that week but I don’t really want to talk about the house either. First, we met Jared who is a Chaplain in the Army National Guard and owner of the construction company we were partnering with to work on this house. He was a youth minister before working in construction which was more than apparent. He was really extroverted, loved to crack jokes and had an infinite amount of patience (as did his crew) with those of us who had little to no experience in working with drywall. He unfolded what I thought to be an extraordinary vision for his company. By and large their purpose was to make money off construction jobs but he told us he wanted to be like Paul in regards to his trade. That the Apostle Paul was a tentmaker while he was doing his work for the kingdom. Jared wanted to give back in some way and so he would devote some time and money to giving back to people who need it.

Jared introduced us to the wife and mother of the family we were helping.

Her name was Jess.

Jess’ personality just radiated off her. She was wrangling 3 young children while her husband was serving his country overseas. While she was always smiling and constantly expressing her gratitude to us in one way or another you could tell she was tired. Understandably so. She had the face of a saint who had been running the race and it was wearing her out but that didn’t matter so much. In fact, she dove in to help us when she had a chance despite what Jared told her. She’d carry the sheetrock with us and whatever else when she could. But what really stood out to all of us was something we were not expecting and, actually, it would be better to bring it all together to show you what I saw from the trip.

Words cannot begin to express the amount of gratitude I felt that week. Included in the cost of the trip was food money because we were expecting to have to buy food and cook for ourselves. You can imagine my surprise when we got up in the morning and there was breakfast food already laid out for us that we didn’t buy for ourselves. The girls had the same experience at the house they were staying at. Then when we got to Jess’ she said she’d have lunch ready for us around noon. Then to get back to Mary & Larry’s, our rendezvous point for the trip, and they’d have dinner all cooked and ready for us. Then when we, the guys and Cari, got back to our lodging there would be Soda in the fridge and a hot tub out back for us to chill in for a while. This became the rhythm of the trip.

It was a rhythm of grace.

My experience with grace is that it is often contagious or even addicting. I can only speak from my own personal experience, but from the grace our sponsors showed us as we tried to be punctual, to the grace that was poured out in our hard work, to being served awesome food day after day there was almost

this cycle

this repetition

this unexpected cadence of God’s grace

as it flowed and moved in the lives of everyone involved.

So, when the day came where we were done working we were able to use some of the money we had saved to get gifts for everyone who had provided us meals or places to stay and of course, the most popular response was, “You didn’t have to do that!”

No we didn’t.

That leaves me. I have a love/hate relationship with personal application because of its bent towards subjectivity. Because I think it will close this out nicely. I wrote in an earlier post that I am addicted to grace. The more I see it, feel it, taste it or otherwise experience it the more I want it. For me, the amount of grace I saw on this trip was what allowed me to have the patience I did with the people I was with. That is not to say that they were all intentionally difficult or constantly making me angry because it wasn’t like that. A lot of it was me and my slightly tilted way of looking at things and my introversion. Grace and a lot of good people got me through this trip even if those people don’t see it or may never realize it. I just hope they saw the grace that I did.

Grace is a free place to stay.

Grace is having the patience to teach those totally unskilled.

Grace is cooking food for 12 extra people every night.

Grace is almost a week of working with all your strength and asking for nothing.

Grace is a gift that someone didn’t have to get you

but they did. Not for notoriety or for praise.

It is because of grace that we glorify God in all those seemingly nonsensical ways. The world asks the question “Why?” every time and the most rational of people will tell you they don’t deserve it. How confusing it must be to the world to answer them by saying,

“I do this because no one deserves grace

and I want to show you what that looks like.”

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The Journey Before the Trip

As I alluded to in my previous post I spent a week in Rapid City and the surrounding area as part of a mandatory, week-long, missions trip. But I suppose I should back up a bit and tell you about the journey before the journey.

Back on the first of the year I was diagnosed with a heart condition that is extremely rare for a 25 year old called Atrial Fibrillation. The mantra for every doctor I saw about it from then on was, “You’re a little young to be having this problem.” While I was grateful for their insight there is something I should have made known to all of them.

I’m a rare animal.

It’s not just the clothing, the taste in music, the knowledge, the interests and everything that you can see me do and enjoy. I have knees that are reaching arthritis due to a congenital calcification of connective tissue in my ankle bones. It’s a perfect illustration of how sin works because that little calcification decreased movement in my ankles which collapsed the arches in my feet which then, in turn, weakened the tendons that held my kneecaps in place which has now moved into causing hip and back pain. In short, I’m a mess. Oddly enough, the two orthopedists I saw both told me I was too young to be having knee problems the way I do as well.

I’m too young to feel like I’m getting old.

But back to the story before the journey. Since the first of the year I’ve been in the ER twice. No one was quite sure what was triggering the issue. It had seemed to calm down between the two visits so when it came time to sign up for a trip I didn’t even think of health implications. I didn’t sign up right away because none of the trips seem to grab me and tell me I should go. However, the same day the sign up sheets came out the Dean of Women announced a trip she was heading up that was going to Rapid City, SD to help a military family and do some work at a children’s home that housed wards of the state. It was like God was waiving neon-colored flags telling me directly that I needed to sign up for this trip.

I almost ran to the sign-up sheets and I was one of the first to sign up. I know more than one family that had been split up due to deployment and, because of my parents, I am pretty familiar with the workings of the foster care system. The trip quite literally had my name on it at that point.

Then my heart gave out on me again.

I woke up to a feeling much like a very dysfunctional drum solo in my chest. A. Fib is an interesting condition in that it won’t kill you outright, it just feels obnoxiously weird. So, when I hit the ER the second time and told them what was up they didn’t even waste time with the nurse interview. They wheeled me over to a bed and hooked me up to a every monitor they could think of. And there I sat wondering just what I had done to myself to deserve any of this. Not in a self-pity kind of way. Actually, historically that was probably the calmest I had been during a medical issue. Again I heard the line, “You’re a little young for this”.

I’m a little young for a lot of things.

That is when the greatest obstacle came. The doctors wanted me to take it easy and rest. So, I missed that day of work. But the implications of what they wanted from me was a little more far reaching than I would have liked. I started thinking about the future a bit and realized that this could disrupt my ability to go do what I felt I was told I needed to do this whole time. I took what measures I needed to. I talked to the Dean of Students, I talked to the trip leader and told her what was going on. There was talk about going on other trips or limiting the amount of hard labor that I would be able to do. It was really busting me up inside because part of me wanted to back out. I kept pushing to see what had to be done.

I scheduled an appointment with a cardiologist who was fantastic. She was definitely a midwesterner from the Dakotas, Michigan or Minnesota because she had that quasi-Canadian tinge to her speech. She was really sweet and really knowledgeable. So, when I told her what I was going to be doing in a few weeks she didn’t seem all that concerned. She did tell me that since I didn’t present with any of the risk factors normally seen in patients who present with A. Fib I, once again, have fallen into a small percentage of the US population who has this problem for no apparent reason and it was most likely genetic. When I asked her what I should do about my trip to Rapid City she flat out just said,

“Go on your trip”

A verse came to mind shortly thereafter and it sort of became a reminder of the actual purpose of the trip and almost a call in itself: Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26 ESV) I knew going into this trip there was a very serious reality that I may end up in the hospital again. But I also knew that if God had told me this was the trip, for whatever reason it may be, I needed to shut up, listen up and go.

I am too old to ignore such things anymore. So it was with great joy that I walked into the office of the Dean of Women and I told her I’d be going.

But that’s just the beginning of the story.

From NE to TX

At the time I’m writing this it’s about 7:24 PM.  In about 12 hours I will depart from Papillion, NE for a missions trip in Dallas, TX.  I don’t have a whole lot of details right now as to what we’re doing because, apparently, this trip tends to be a little unpredictable.  Of the few details I have been given I can tell you that I will be staying on the campus of Wycliffe Bible Translators for the next week and will be doing work with Pioneer Bible Translators.  I’ve been told in the past its usually menial tasks and manual labor.  I’m not particularly concerned at the moment.

It’s amazing how some things have changed in the last 9 months or so.  If you would have told me just the vague info I just listed above I’d probably be near hysterics.  But I think God has been working on me a lot with that so I’m leaving it in His hands as much as possible.  Sure, I’m worried about some minute details but I’m not going to give them air here because I don’t even want to think about them.  I’ll lose my grip and focus.  To those few who actually read this, please keep my team and the rest of the students in yor prayers for this week as we all go out on our respective trips.  Especially pray for those who went to Croatia and Honduras this year.

In oher news, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and I’m still trying to flesh out this concept that I have in my head.  It started kind of like my previous post on motion.  Right now I’m trying to put together something about what I call looking at the [E]ternal rather than the [Ex]ternal.  Just basic ideas right now but I figured I’d share a little bit so I didn’t forget all of it before I got the chance to flesh it out.  The main focus is that we as Christians need to look at the [E]ternal and stop worrying so much about the [Ex]ternal.  It’ll involve a lot from Jesus’ ministry that flew in the face of what were then considered social taboos.  Just a thought but it’s got me excited to start really working so maybe I’ll have something by the time I come back at the end of the week.

Shifting gears, I’ve been working out all the details of renting a house here in Gretna.  Oddly enough, my friends and I were looking for a house to get us off campus for next year at NCC and my good friend and pastor of York E-Free church was renting his old house.  There are some  interesting things about this location.  One, of courses, was that it belonged to my friend and then pastor so I had hung out there a bit.  It’s actually just a few houses down the street from the house I grew up in until after I graduated High School and it’s also just across the street from my current pastor and very good friend Ben.  So, I’m pretty stoked about all of that.  The guys I’ll be living are the same guys that have helped me maintain my sanity the last few months after almost everything in my life went straight to hell.  I honestly cannot wait to get moved in but I am not looking forward to the moving process.  There’s just so much work involved I can’t even stand it sometimes.  So, I started moving in a bit at a time and have just some larger furniture to move.  Joy.

All things considered, life could be a lot worse.  🙂  I’ll write some more when I have time.  For now, here’s a couple of songs I’ve had in my head lately:

Rancid
“Fall Back Down”
Indestructible

New Radicals
“Someday We’ll Know”
Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too