Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"If the Arizona trip were made into a movie, it would definitely be a musical"-- Evan McElrath, Wednesday Edition

Wednesday-- "Smokin' in the boys' room"--Motley Crue (or Brownsville Station)

   OK, I know you are all thinking that HAS to be a mistake, but just hear me out.  Trust me, it works. :-)

   At breakfast, we laid out our plan for the day.  One group of us had to return to the cultural center to finish the painting there, while the others headed for the fitness center to start the outdoor project there.  We decided that I would take myself and two others to the cultural center to attack the restrooms and the kitchen area.  Although I knew we would have to work hard and fast to get it done, at least we would have the A/C.  And when we stopped for gas, I filled my monster cup with ice so we would have cold water.
   While we were prepping to leave for the day, dividing up supplies and stuff, Tory and I got to talking again.  We had hit it off the prior two days, mostly because once he understood that I am an engineer he could see the method to my madness.  That and our common fondness for Legos had pretty much sealed the deal.  But little did I know that a simple snag would bring us even closer.  You see, we were loading and tying down the ladders on the trailer for the fitness center, and Tory's rope had become tangled.  When he dropped a piece of the knotted mess and started working on one end, I quickly dove in to tackle it so we could get it undone twice as fast. 
   And that was when it happened.  I heard Tory laugh as I started on the rope mass, and we got talking about our love for untangling knots of all kinds.  That was like the third thing we have in common, so now, by default, we are good friends.  Rachel called it a bromance.  I just call it destiny :-)...
   Now, when we got to the cultural center, we were all set to have a hardworking but comfortable day (see above).  However, what none of us had realized the day before was just how much edging was left to be done.  And Herb didn't turn on the air for us today (turned out it was by accident that he didn't turn it on), so the heat got pretty stifling.
   It was Becky, Casey, and me as the initial team at the center.  We got done with the rest of the kitchen in pretty good time, so at that point I was figuring we were good to go.  However, when I started taping the bathrooms, I noted that we were going to have a LOT of edging to do, and that was going to take time.  Fortunately, I had two of our ace edgers, so the girls would edge and roll while I rolled ( I am definitely NOT an edger).
   About half an hour after being in the bathroom, it started to feel more like a sauna.  The three of us were all working in a room that was about 7 X 7, and it was getting hot.  But, being the troopers they are, the girls kept working at it, and by the time help arrived we had pretty much finished the girls' bathroom.
   At about 11:45, Tory brought Courtney and Hannah over to help finish up, because even with all of the work we were doing, we were going to be close on time.  Turns out that Courtney was suffering from a bit of heat stroke/dehydration, so we got her back on her feet while we turned our attention to finishing the boys' room and replacing the furniture and fixtures in the conference room, kitchen, and girls' room. 
   Needless to say, we barely eked it out, and at one point had four people working in the boys' room to get it done.  With the heat it really was like a sauna, thus the title for today.  And once again we ate lunch on the way back to the church.  We met back up with the rest of the team there, where we learned that they had also had a hot day on the roof, and Evan had been mortally (well, the pic was better than the real thing) wounded while valiantly carrying a ladder for Shelby.
   It was probably Wednesday's VBS that really showed me just how desperate these kids are for God's love as demonstrated through us.  While Tuesday had been very cool, and we had been part of that great migration of kids to the park, today was the day when we would really see if they wanted to be around us, if they were really drawn to what we were doing there.  I think that was my biggest worry as we drove out.  That all of the work that the HSM'ers had put into yesterday would be just a flash in the pan, and that the kids would not show up on the second day, or at least not in the numbers we'd seen the day before.  All I can say is that it was great to be wrong, and to see that God's light does draw people out from the darkness.
    When we pulled up, there was already a gaggle of kids waiting for us.  The park had these shades over the concrete pads, and in the heat of August (110 degrees and more) in the afternoon there is only just a small area that actually gets shade.  Well, there were about 10 kids all huddled in that small area of shade just waiting for us.  When we started getting out of the trucks, they literally exploded over to us and latched onto the HSM'ers.  It was awesome to see.
   As we were waiting to start and more kids came over to the park, I saw Miguel walk up.  He couldn't have been more than 4, and he had walked from his home to the park all alone.  And when I say walked, it was not a short walk.  And he had to cross a fairly busy two-lane road.  Anyway, Miguel and I had played yesterday when he managed to lasso me with a rope.  So I went over to say hi, and he looked up eagerly and said "I waited and waited all day for my clock to say 4."  To me, that was a testament to how much the kids here need hope, need love, need God's light on them.  And these kids are still young.  Imagine how much the teens need that, after years of living in darkness and not knowing anything else. It is just heart-breaking, as can be seen in this blog from Kara (http://3-18ministries.blogspot.com/2010/08/life-cut-short.html).  She felt it, and I could feel it through her words.
   Anyway, VBS was once again a big success.  We had extra play water this time, and the kids used it to nail just about everyone in the group.  The hardest part was actually saying goodbye, because we knew we were not coming back to this neighborhood on this trip.  It is sad when you see what God can do, and then you have to leave.  You are left hoping that their short exposure to love and happiness will linger on and have an impact on them.  God knows how much they need it.
   At dinner that night, Tory gave us a black light to use to look for scorpions in the brush around the church (they glow really cool in black light).  We then went home with several of us eager for the epic hunt that was to take place.  When we got back, we did our debrief with Rachel, then had our second big bug sighting.  The girls found a scorpion in their showers.  We did what any good scorpion hunters would do: shut off the lights and watch it glow.  But sadly, it seemed that there would be noone sleeping if it wasn't dead, so we terminated it.
  Seeing the scorpion inside got our hearts thumping for the "real" thing, so a few of us then bounded outside to look for scorpions in the wild.  It all started out exciting: we were overturning rocks, kicking plywood sheets to see if any ran out, rolling old barrels out of the way.  But alas, we saw no scorpions.  Kind of a bummer.  But we had two more nights to try!
  We went inside with slightly less exuberance than we went out with, but it quickly turned happy again when we had a scorpion sighting in the gym.  This time, it was up too high to see with the blacklight, but we considered ourselves partially successful.  At this point, I went out to view the stars again, then retired for the evening.
    Today my lesson was about trusting God.  Every time I think about how "we" can or can't do something, or about how little influence we have, God shows up and says "Yeah, well, I was behind that, so just look at what I can do!"  It boils down to relying on God rather than ourselves.  You see, I am right.  "We" can't do it, at least not alone.  But when we have God on our side, and we are doing His will, He can make miracles out of us.  "Now to Him who is able to far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory"-- Ephesians 3:20-21.  Amen to that!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"If the Arizona trip were made into a movie, it would most definitely be a musical"-- Evan McElrath, Tuesday edition

Arizona Trip, Day Two, Tuesday--"Gonna Fly Now"-- Bill Conti (from the "Rocky" soundtrack)

   I have to admit something upfront here.  I know that I snore.  Some have even said "loudly."  So I tried very hard to be the last one to sleep at night so that it didn't keep anyone awake.  If I did and you were quiet about it, thanks, but next time just kick me and tell me to roll over.  It really does help, and I try to accommodate.
    Anyway, I set my cell phone alarm to get up about 1/2 an hour early each day.  That way I could be ready, have some Bible time, and be out of the way of everyone else getting ready.  When you live in a house with four teens and a wife, you learn about mornings the hard way. And this was ten teens and a Rachel, so I knew I would be in for trouble.  But surprisingly, everyone gelled pretty well during wake up time, and we made it to breakfast at Tory and Kara's house on time.
  After a wonderful breakfast of biscuits and gravy, we all had to make our sack lunches for the day.  All I can say is that it was good to see that Kara's kitchen survived.
   We made our way to the Cultural Center on the reservation, about 25 minutes from Globe down a two-lane highway.  There were plants that I was not familiar with alongside the road, and as you enter the reservation you dip into this valley with mesas and mountains in the distance.  It was beautiful, but stark.  After all, it is mostly desert.  What struck me was shame for our government, who back in the day decided that the AZ desert was the best place to "dump" the Apaches.  There is a little water, and they have built up some farmland, but for the most part it is a hostile environment.  If it wasn't for the Apache pride, their ability to work together, and some grace from God, I don't know how they could have survived.
   At the Cultural Center, we met the owner/operator Herb.  He is super-friendly, and welcomed us all.  He is Apache (of course), and he has had a multitude of jobs through the years.  Now he mainly runs the center, and he makes traditional herbal remedies.  In fact, when we were done for the day, he took us out to his truck, where he was drying some acorns.  He had traveled into the surrounding mountains to gather them.  I didn't even know acorns were edible for us, but he showed us how to shell and eat them.  I must say, they taste like sunflower seeds.
   While we got to know him, we prepped the conference room and kitchen/hallway for paint.  We were going to paint the bathrooms too, but we didn't get that far on Tuesday.  So Herb, Tory, Evan and I set to moving the furniture away from the walls, taking down pictures, etc.  Evan found a dead bat under one of the bookcases-- awesome!-- and then we were ready to get started painting.
  This turned out to be a perfect activity for the first day.  We were inside and Herb had turned on the air in the conference room, so it was pretty comfortable.  And since we were all inside a pretty confined area, it gave us the opportunity to get to know each other better.
   The surprise of the morning had to be the condition of the exterior wall.  While there were windows that I am sure provide a great view, Herb had to close them up with plywood to prevent them from being broken so that from the outside you wouldn't even know there are windows there.  And he had to have some work done due to a water leak, and he paid a huge amount to have someone come in and drywall the repair.  However, it quickly became apparent that the drywall job was not so good.  So Tory, Rob, and I spent most of our time patching holes with the caulk we had while the others painted.  We got the entire room done and about half of the kitchen before it was time to leave for lunch and VBS.
   We ate our lunches on the way back to the church, where we were able to take a break for an hour or so.
   After the break we headed over to Tory and Kara's so we could make our way to the VBS.  They said it was going to be at the neighborhood park, so we all had an idea of what to expect.  Needless to say, when we got there all of our expectations were destroyed.  When we hear the word park, most of us expect a playground, some grass, etc.  But this was not the case.  I think I actually gasped when we pulled up.  It was a fenced off area at the top of a hill.  There was a playground that was literally covered with graffiti, and two slabs of concrete under shades, also full of graffiti.  And a concrete slab for a basketball court.  Otherwise, it was all just dirt and glass. LOTS of glass.  Broken bottles, to be precise.  And it seems like it is layered there, years and years of broken bottles just settling on top of each other.  It was profoundly sad, because here is a place designed to bring joy for children, but instead it is where the teens, for generations, have been literally breaking their hearts and dashing their dreams via bottles.
  Rachel sent out a group to wander the neighborhood and pass out fliers for the VBS while the rest of us tried our best to clear the concrete under the shade of all of the glass shards so the kids could sit down.  We did not know what to expect, and even Tory mentioned that they had had only a mediocre turn-out the last time they were there.  And it was the first day of school to boot.
  After about fifteen minutes we saw the group coming around a corner down the hill.  They were walking together down the street towards the park.  All of a sudden, a huge group of kids lined up in front of them and started walking with them.  When they reached the corner diagonal from the park, even more kids seemed to come out of nowhere and ran to join them.  This is when the Rocky theme struck up in my head.  I think I even let out a tear of happiness at what we were seeing, as the kids scrambled up the hill to the park.  And even though Rachel had not been there for a year, one of the little girls ran right up and jumped into her arms.  We were giving them something to be happy about, and to hope for.
    The rest of the VBS was all about the high schoolers.  They gave the lesson, played out the story with the children, and then conducted water games with them.  I don't think there was a leader there who was not SUPER-proud of them.
   Once playtime came, we all got into the thick of things.  The kids are so starving for attention, for hope, for light, that it is infectious.  You cannot stand back and stay uninvolved.  So we were all playing with them-- basketball, frisbee, jumprope- you name it.  The joy on their faces is indescribable, because you get the feeling that they don't get to express that emotion very much.
   After VBS we went back to Tory and Kara's for dinner.  We had our first big bug sighting there, a large stink bug that had wound its way up around the shoes in the carport.  We were trying to decide how to let it live and get rid of it when Rachel came out, saw the bug, grabbed a random flip-flop, and struck down the stink bug with great fervor and enthusiasm.  Poor bug...
   When we returned to the church that night, we had our first debrief, where it was clear that Rachel wanted us to focus on building relationships with the kids.  That was important for me, because here we are touching these kids' lives, and if we just turn around without another thought when we go home, what have we really learned?  Then was some relax time.  I stayed in the gym for a while, then went outside to watch the stars with some of the kids.  It was beautiful once you got out of range of the porch light.
  That was my lesson for the day.  Just like leaving the porch light, sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone, where you can see what is going on clearly, and step into the darkness, into the unknown, into the uncomfortable.  Then you can see a bigger picture, and even though it seems scary, there is a world you never knew that is just waiting for you to shine.

"If the Arizona trip was made into a movie it would most definitely be a musical"-- Evan McElrath; Monday edition

    I am determined to write down my thoughts and memories of my recent Arizona trip, but I have been so awash in emotions and so physically busy since I got back that I have not had the time to actually put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).  And then, I see that my friend and fellow leader Evan McElrath (http://www.realevanmcelrath.com/blog/) has done an excellent job of recapping just about everything, and I was tempted to let his posts speak for the trip.
   But then I got thinking.  The Bible has four Gospels that tell essentially the same story, each one for a unique purpose and from a unique perspective.  If the Bible has room for "duplicate" stories just to show various perspectives, certainly the web has room for a duplicate AZ story.  Besides, we weren't at the same place all of the time.  Maybe my perspective would look a little different.
   Just because I am doing my own, though, does not mean that I will not steal a bit from Evan.  You see, the title of this post is actually quoting one of Evan's tweets.  What is funny is that I could see why his post is so true, so I just decided to run with it.  So without any further ado, here is my Arizona trip summary.

Monday-- "On the Road Again"-- Willie Nelson
    This trip is the final long roadtrip out of three for me from the past two and a half weeks.  You see, we had been to the Colorado River (5 hours each way) for the weekend of July 30.  We moved our trailer to a new facility and took the girls back to their mom.  Then, the following Tuesday, we left for Las Vegas to support my lovely wife Christine during a work trip.  We got back on Friday the 6th of August.  So for me, leaving on Monday for another long drive was just me getting "on the road again."
  Fortunately, I had some great company.  We used our truck as a cargo van/ extra seats, so I had Evan, Kaitlin, Zach, and Shelby in the car.  While Evan provided the soundtrack for the trip (nice job, by the way), the others in the back seat definitely provided the in-car entertainment.  I think Evan and I spent much of the drive either laughing or shaking our heads at what was coming from the back seat.
   At our stop in Blythe for gas and lunch, Rachel and Evan invited me to go with them to Las Casitas Dos, a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican food place right off the main thoroughfare.  I felt a little like that gal from the Oscars, who said "You like me!  You REALLY like me," but I managed to keep my face straight.  Evan and I stepped up to the challenge of the donkey burrito there.  It was great food, but alas, neither of us was able to finish.
   During the Blythe stop, I was struck in wonder by the sight of a Greyhound Bus station that was little more than a shack behind McDonald's.  What struck me was that while we were there a bus pulled up, and several people actually got off.  Why would anyone make Blythe their destination by bus??
   We got through the major Phoenix area and entered into the mountains to the east, where I had never been before.  Although for the most part it was just mountains, there are some beautiful rock outcroppings and the mix of rock and green vegetation made it just unfamiliar enough to be intriguing.  Plus, there were a couple of really cool old bridges that we drove over.
  Once we got to Miami, AZ, we started seeing some of the desolation that would become all too familiar to us over the next week.  We drove through what seemed to be essentially a ghost town, complete with a fire department that had been closed down with the old trucks still in the carport.
  Our contacts in Globe were 3:18 ministries (http://3-18ministries.blogspot.com/).  Tory and Kara have a huge heart for the people on the reservation, and it shows in all that they do.  But what I thought was funny when we first pulled up was that in the middle of nowhere, in this little tract of homes, here is this huge red Nebraska mailbox out front :-). 
   Anyway, Kara showed us to our living quarters (actually quarter, since there was only one room).  We stayed in what would best be called the activity center of Trinity Baptist Church.  They were great in letting us use the facility.  It consisted of two main parts: a)a kitchen, a dining room where we slept, and two small bathrooms that were air conditioned, and b)the gymnasium and two large bathrooms with showers that were not air conditioned.  We got settled in for a bit, separating the boys from the girls via conference tables, etc, then went to dinner.
    Dinner that night was at Roberto's, where they serve a delicious culinary concoction called the Arizona burrito.  While we feasted, we played a little "get to know you" game.  My thoughts at that point were somewhere between "this could be fun" and "what have I gotten myself into?"  Thankfully, there were no tears, only laughter, and we made our way back to the church for orientation/initiation.
   The orientation consisted of an activity and discussion that really opened my eyes to how we as Christians through the ages have really screwed up alot of great opportunities to share the gospel with others.  We also got to meet Tory, and he and I quickly bonded when one of the kids called the Mega-bloks "big Legos."  For shame :-)!  It turned out that he and I became quick friends (more on that later).
   After initiation, Evan and I picked up a basketball and started shooting hoops in the gym.  Actually, I should clarify.  Evan was shooting hoops, I was trying to shoot hoops.  Then Garrett joined us and we had, to quote Evan, "an epic game of horse."  The shots he talks about were indeed epic, and I was forced to acknowledge just how bad I am at basketball.  Now to practice for next year!
   That concluded our day.  I had seen some country that I had not been through before, had my eyes opened to the need for compassion, communication, and understanding for others, and was humbled at my lack of mad basketball skills.  All in all, a pretty good day!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What role am I playing?

So I know what you all are thinking-- where has this guy been who was so gung-ho about his blog?

Well, to tell the truth, there are a few legitimate reasons I haven't posted, and few not-so-legitimate reasons for no post.  I was in Arizona on a mission trip last week (which will be the subject of several upcoming posts), and I have had work and VBS at the church this week.  And I have a three-year-old who loves to make sure I don't do anything on the computer once I get home.  Those are the legitimate reasons.

As for the others, it all basically comes down to lazy.  I have been meaning to get started in my commentary of a couple of books, but I can't seem to get myself started.  So there it is.

But I am back for the moment, so let's get on with today's topic, shall we?

 For the majority of my adult life, I approached being a father as a mostly activity-based ideal.  I played with the kids, took them camping, went to sports or band outings, etc.  Supporting as a body in the seats.  Oh, I gave hugs and stuff.  I listened to the kids, too.  But for the most part, I thought that my being there was enough for the kids to know that I loved them.

When the kids were young,  I think that was a safe approach.  When they make a play, or fall and hurt themselves, they look to us for our reaction.  Even when they screw up, they look at us to see what we are going to do about it.  It is about shaping their perception of what our love is through various versions of approval, discipline, and being a safety net.

But sometime in their teens, all of that changes.  Hopefully, if we have done our job right, the kids drift away from needing all of our physical inputs.  If our actions and reactions have been on course, then the kids can predict what those actions or reactions will be, and they make their choices without needing the reinforcement.  Don't get me wrong, all kids make bad choices on occasion that defy any sense of logic.  But for the most part, their perception that was learned as a child will shape their choices as a teen.

This is where the true fun begins, and I mean fun both literally and sarcastically.  As a parent, there is no greater joy than watching your kids grow into adults.   At the same time, there is nothing more painful than watching them go through tough times-- bad choices, heartbreaks, rebellion-- the stuff of teenage life.  My heart breaks for them at those times, not because I am disappointed or angry (even though those emotions come for a bit also), but because I realize they are struggling with life issues that they have not encountered before.  My love for my kids just keeps getting bigger all the time.

So when those things happen, now what?  They don't need the physical reinforcement as much anymore.  Once kids get old enough, "come give me a hug" or "go to your room" doesn't mean much.  It stands to reason that the next step of parenting would be to guide the kids through these times with your wisdom.  Wisdom you have from living it already, wisdom from knowing where certain choices can lead, wisdom from getting to other side of adolescence and being okay.

But imparting wisdom is tricky.  You can't be preachy, or it comes off as always lecturing.  Waiting and watching for teachable moments is difficult when you have hoards of teens at your house to hang out.  So you have to wait until they come to you (at least for the most part).

And that is where I am so stuck right now.  You see, only a couple of years ago, I came to know Jesus as my Lord and Savior.  And I committed to living with Him as my role model.  And what I used to think was a whole bunch of "you can't" I have realized is so much about "you can."  And the more I take in about Christ, His Life, His Love, and following that example, the more I want to share it with the kids.

But alas, there is a huge lack of talking.  Because the kids think they know my reactions, they don't come to me.  The communication, the ability to impart wisdom, just gets seemingly wasted.  I have so much that I could share that would make things easier for them, or provide them with the mental safety net, but I have to keep it all bottled up.  At times I wonder what good I am doing if I have all of this in my head but don't get to share it?  All I can do is just live the example of Christ to the best of my ability, and hope that someday they will talk again.

As I re-read this, I am tempted to end it right here with a simple "Love, God."  He must feel the same way about all of us.  And that, I realize, is my rub.  If I am going through all of this, I should know that there is Someone who has also gone through it before.  And I should be talking to Him about it, getting His advice.  You see, His heart is breaking as He watches my struggles.  He is desperately longing to share His wisdom with me.  But I have to open up to Him.  I have to talk to Him.

Thanks Dad.  I hope I can be just a fragment of the Father that you are.  Please let me follow your example in grace, mercy, and love for my children.  And please help me to be patient to lead.  Amen.