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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

That's Not What I Meant



Via Illuminate, Wednesday Weekly Update, Downtown Peru Episodes #2 and #3…  Because this is getting epic…

Last week we only brought one vehicle to Peru.  Because of our tricky schedules, I found that I would have to walk with Ian (age 9) to his piano lesson.  He just didn’t “get it.”  How could it be that we had no van to drive?  Couldn’t Dad just come home in the middle of his work day?  Was there someone we could call?  Would we die without water on this ½ mile trek?

Peru is a community where not everyone owns a car.  I guess every community is like that, but I would guess the percentages here are higher than average.  A lot of people walk or bike everywhere, and let’s be real, that does limit their ability to cross the city lines.  I was so proud of myself as I explained to Ian, tongue in cheek, that we were living in solidarity with the residents of Peru.  I mean, the walk wasn’t going to kill us, and chances were Phil would be off work before Ian’s piano lesson ended, and we surely wouldn’t have to walk back, as well.

I got to thinking about how having a vehicle is pretty important to being able to hold a job, at least when that job isn’t within walking distance of your residence, and the truth is, so few jobs like that exist in a small town such as this one.  I got to thinking about how fortunate we are to have two working vehicles.  They are old, but they run.  In fact (and don’t laugh…  don’t you dare laugh…), my beaten up, rusty, fifteen passenger van is my dream car.  I don’t care that we have had to replace the computer three times.  I don’t care that we have now been driving it long enough that the cartoon family stuck to the back window has several decapitated members.  I don’t care that the driver’s side window may fall into the door at any given moment, and I’ll show up to appointments having to pretend that I drive a convertible.  I don’t care that I occasionally have to pound on the dashboard to make the CD player work.  OK…  scratch that last one…  I care about the CD player.  But the point is, owning and driving a fifteen passenger van says something important about my life.  I have certainly not attained everything I want, but this vehicle signifies my need to cart many people around from place to place… many people I love… and I wouldn’t trade it for a sports car… except maybe when I leave the children and fly to conferences… then a sports car might be nice (but, let’s face it, I actually always rent whatever is cheapest)…

I guess cars have always been important to me.  I grew up with a race car driving dad who promised me a Porsche for my sixteenth birthday.   As a side note, the thing is still sitting in his garage as far as I know, because it is easier to promise such a car to a four year old than to actually deliver it into her hands when she is capable of pulling out of the driveway in it. 

I can remember watching Facing the Giants for the first time and thinking something must surely be wrong with me, because as someone who struggled with infertility, I should have been distraught over that part of the storyline, and as someone who is intensely competitive, I should have at least teared up when the struggling team wins, but that’s not what got to me.  Instead, I cried my eyes out over the scene where someone gives the coach a truck!  Are you kidding me?  It gets me every time!

So, when we made a quick turn around on Tuesday night and Phil dropped the rest of us off in Michigan for the remainder of the week, I was greatly concerned when my brake and ABS lights came on while driving the “Nazarene Limousine.”  Still, I drove it all week.  I drove it to doctor’s appointments and meetings with friends.  And at 5:00am on Friday, I headed out to the driveway to depart for Peru, just for the morning, to teach the last two music classes of the week.

And the van wouldn’t start.

And as I called off during my second week of work and proceeded to spend the entire day under the hood of a vehicle that must surely hate me (even though I love it), it occurred to me that when I talked about solidarity with the poor, this is not what I meant!  I didn’t actually want to be incapable of arriving at my job on time (or at all), because I don’t have a reliable vehicle.  I didn’t actually want to know this much about oil and brake fluid and coolant and recharging batteries.  I didn’t want to explain to my teenage daughter why I was incapable of transporting her to a sleepover.  I… just… didn’t.

After exhausting every possible human resource we could imagine, Phil decided to drive back to Michigan… again… and to pick me (and Grace) up for the weekend.  We dropped her off in Indy, I worked on things in Peru (both work and school related), and Phil continued to run the mail.  Thank goodness for Grandma, because at least the rest of the kids were able to stay home and to avoid this craziness!

On Sunday afternoon, we headed back to Michigan… again… again… to pick up everyone else and start over, hoping for a less eventful week.  About forty-five minutes away from “home,” the battery light came on in “the good van.”  It was pretty fun when the battery died, completely, as I was careening down the expressway at seventy miles per hour.  Cue awesome driver’s ed instructions from race car driving dad mixed with husband shouting, “Don’t brake!  Don’t brake!” and we’ll all just be happy that I’m a good driver.

I actually can’t believe how far the van made it, just coasting.  We were off an exit and almost to a gas station before I threw it into neutral and Phil and Grace got out to push.  May my children never say life was dull, growing up…

It took several hours to come up with a service technician who was willing and able to drive to the station to pick Phil up so he could buy a new battery and then was also willing and available to offer the tools needed to install the new battery in the gas station lot.  Thank goodness for Darryl!

Finally on our way again… again… again…  We made it back to our home in Michigan, took far longer than anticipated to get everyone packed and ready to turn around, and loaded up both vans, because Phil was able to get the fifteen passenger started… go figure…   We left at 10:00pm, which meant we should arrive in Indiana between 1:30am and 2:00am, but at this point, no one was counting anyway…

A little under an hour into our trip, the new battery died.  We jumped it with the Beast (I stopped calling it the Nazarene Limousine or my beloved dream vehicle when it refused to spit out Air Supply on demand.  There is a limit, you know.)  After another twenty miles or so, it died again.  This went on all night, until we were eventually stopping every ten miles to recharge the battery.  I think I was a relatively nice person until sometime in the 3:00am hour.  I am a night owl by nature, and my favorite, most productive time is usually 11:00pm-2:00am.  I do require sleep, though, and I was running on precious little of it!  When we reached Fort Wayne, I was just done!  We had come to a point where neither of us was going to make it to work on time if we kept this up, so we left the van with the dead battery in a Kroger parking lot and continued on with the one whose brakes were getting worse and worse by the mile.  We arrived in Peru shortly after 6:00am and unloaded the kids and the stuff we had brought with us.  Phil left for the Post Office (let’s not even talk about what it looks like to deliver mail in a fifteen passenger van with a broken window, but neither snow… nor heat… nor rain… nor gloom of night… right?)  I took an hour long nap.  And I felt guilty about it.  But whatever, my job requires me to sing and dance and smile and talk in a high register to babies, so it was a necessity!

I worked (at least my job is fun), and then I got a phone call from Phil saying that he had to call for assistance after half his route, because the brakes had failed completely (I later learned this was as he was headed toward the highway, downhill I think, with a pretty good number of vehicles hurdling toward him…  yay for husbands who leave out details until they are looking you in the face, in one piece…) 

With two broken down vehicles in two different towns and no way of doing anything about it, I walked Grace and Caleb to their piano lessons.  What a difference a week makes.  I understand that it is insanity to laugh in such a situation, but the alternative was worse.  “Solidarity, kids…  We are practicing solidarity…” 

By (very late) Tuesday night, we had both vehicles back in parking spaces in front of our temporary apartment.  Phil asked me if I wanted to drive back to Michigan (as is going to be my normal rhythm for Tuesday nights).  Um…  no.  I did not.

We’re all settled in for the next week, now, and I’m mildly afraid to drive either of our vans, but I suppose I’ll get over it.  I mean, I have to get over it by the weekend, because I have a wedding to attend, and Phil is taking our three oldest children to a quiz in Louisville.  I’m not sure these are the kinds of things you are supposed to say after a week like this.  I’m not sure these are the kinds of things you are supposed to say when you drive vehicles that may stop driving at any moment.  But it’s life.  And it’s real.  And we’re either going to survive or we aren’t, so I guess we might as well keep trying…

L.                 
 
PS  Fall is my favorite season.  I am so glad it’s here.  Unfortunately, I only packed summer clothes last week, since it had been something like 104 degrees in Indiana for months, so I would greatly appreciate it if no one points out my kids’ sandals and shorts until I can get back to Michigan to do the Fall clothes swap!   

Monday, September 19, 2016

Surprise



For as long as I can remember, I have not liked surprises... even good ones... ever...  OK, once, but being so honest is really blowing my hyperbolic blogging...

It's not that surprises can't be really great.  It's not that they can't be turning point moments or important markers in our lives.  They certainly can, but I'm a planner.  It's not that the best laid plans don't ever end up as a pile of garbage at the end of the day.  Heaven knows this has happened to me over... and over... and over again.  But I guess I'm more like Effie than Han (don't worry, friends, more YA fiction references are coming your way all week long).  Go ahead and give me the odds.  That doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to make the choice with the smallest risk.  In fact it'll probably go the other way, because that's just who I am.  But at least I'll know what I'm up against... 

If you need a good example regarding my lack of love for the spontaneous, let me share a middle school story.  I was thirteen years old...  eighth grade... totally boy crazy... and I finally had a "boyfriend," which seems a little silly to me now, because in that era the verbiage was that we were "going out," but where do thirteen year olds really go? 

School hallways.  With lockers.  After dances in the cafeteria.  OK, fair enough.

After much contemplation about whether or not I was ready for my first kiss, I planned it.  Who does that?  It's rhetorical.  That poor boy.  I mean, we had to talk about it for a full week... on the phone... every day... before it could happen.  I am withholding his name, because the truth is we're Facebook friends, decades later, so this post will show up in his newsfeed, and it's bad enough that I'm subjecting my own family to this story.  I'm sure he neither wants nor needs this kind of Internet fame...

On a warm night in May, dressed in a pink and black flowered bodysuit (I'm trying to decide if it's more appropriate here to tell you that I kept that thing for almost forever or to ask why my mother let me wear what were essentially onesies for middle-schoolers), smelling like Teen Spirit (how I wish this was a clever nod to the song, but it's actually a reference to my deodorant of choice at that time), I experienced my first kiss backed up against my locker, just praying no adults would walk around the corner, because I was terrified I'd get in trouble!  It was exactly like I'd planned it, and today I can't decide if I remember every detail because first kisses are memorable or because I ran through the plan so many times, before the actual kiss, that I had it down to a science (much better science than that time my eighth grade science teacher brought in mercury for all of us to touch or that other time when we blew up the science lab ceiling).

When I started writing this, there was a point...

I like to have a good plan.  I like to know how things are going to turn out.  I like it so much that I will even sacrifice a pleasant, surprising, spontaneous moment for the sake of being prepared.  Every... single... time...

But there's a flipside, because even though some surprises could be nice, many of them just aren't.

The other day I posted a vaguebook status that read, "A year ago, if you had asked me what I thought I would be doing or how I would be feeling right now, this would not have even been on my radar..."  I posted this at 4:50am.  I did not expect it to be widely read.  And yet, there were comments.  The first one took me by surprise, but it shouldn't have.  The first comment was clearly made by someone who assumed that I was excited about this moment in life.  I mean, what else could I have possibly meant at this hour of the morning?  Everyone loves a good pre-5:00am departure time, right?  The comment was about how amazing God is, and please don't misunderstand, I completely agree.  God is amazing.  God is really, really amazing.  But it the midst of feeling super horrible about the surprising way my year ended up, I was not in any way willing to credit this awfulness to God.  Not to my God, anyway.  Not to the God who loves me and has been with me through every single moment that has sucked.  Not before the sun rose and I pulled out of the driveway to do the things I never dreamed I'd be doing, because they were not the things I wanted to be doing.  Not on that day.

Later in the day, I read a quote that said, "Adulthood is like looking both ways before you cross the street and then being hit by an airplane" (Purple Cover).  Well, that resonated deeply.  Too deeply.  Imagine, I couldn't stop laughing because it resonated so deeply...

But the best part was something my friend, Pat, said: "There are times that it isn't good to know. We would be overwhelmed!"  Oh.  Yes.  This.

The truth is, if I had every detail planned out, and if I knew... with certainty... that everything would always go as planned, I would probably never be able to do anything.  I would constantly be trying to find a way to make things better... more perfect...  just perfect.  If I always knew what I would be doing or how I would be feeling in the wake of every choice; it would be difficult to choose.  I would never be able to choose between good choices, that's for sure.

And I think that might be the crux of it for me.  What I'm doing right now is really, really good.  I can't run around feeling guilty, anymore, about the fact that I can only pour my life into a couple of places at a time.  I am the queen of stretching myself thin... or something...  I love deeply.  I love so deeply that it literally, physically hurts when I can't be where the people I love are, especially when they're hurting... especially when they have needs, and I can see how I could help, but I'm not there.  Especially because I'm not there, because I wasn't good enough to get there.    

But here's the thing...  If I was there, I would be crying and bleeding over the people who are here.  So whatever.  I guess it's gonna have to hurt (there's the song reference).  But that doesn't mean there isn't something incredibly good yet to be squeezed out of this.  I wonder if there's a plan...

L. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Boys are Gross



Wednesday Weekly Via Illuminate Update: Downtown Peru, Episode 1

Earlier this week, I read, "When we reject that with which we cannot become intimate, our lives are diminished" (Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach, Page 91).  I think this is true, but I'm struggling with the word cannot.  I tend to be fairly adamant about pushing back when anyone tells me that something is impossible.  I think our ability to intimately relate with others is only limited by how far we are willing to go.  If we're willing to give up everything we have to live like the poor and experience poverty, then we can, indeed, relate intimately to the impoverished.  I recognize that this is not a popular thought or way of living, but that doesn't make it any less true.  As an example from Scripture, Christians tend to be pretty hard on the rich young ruler when Jesus instructs him to, "go and sell all you possess and give to the poor," (see Mark 10:21, NASB) and he doesn't do it (at least according to the general consensus of people who have studied this passage—I might beg to differ).  And yet, how many of us are willing to do just that?  If I'm honest, I'm not.  I'm willing to give up a lot, but I have never been asked to sell every possession, to leave everything familiar, in order to follow.  Sometimes we talk big, and although our family is very serious about the need to live in solidarity with the least of these, the truth is that we have been spoiled...  rotten...

Every once in awhile, I like to stop to take stock of our material blessings.  Honestly, we have so much stuff at this point that it feels like something of a curse.  I think I started to feel this way when we downsized our living space by half almost three years ago.  But this week marked a new adventure for us that is sort of blowing my mind.

As we transition to more time in Peru, we needed somewhere to stay, several days every week, until we close on the church building and make the necessary remediation to call it "livable."  We're not being picky.  It's just that we have a family that suffers from severe allergies and asthma, so there are some things that simply must be done before we can survive in the building... literally. 

There have been delays leading up to the closing.  I am so thankful that the delays have not been on our part, but I'm ready to close.  Go ahead and imagine me repeating over and over, to myself, "Patience is a virtue..."  Occasionally, I think being virtuous is overrated...

But even without our building, my job in Peru started this week, so we had to go...

Now, let me be very clear that my sweet friend and mentor has us set up in a downtown apartment, and... seriously friends... I have always wanted to live in a downtown apartment!  In my younger years, I was thinking maybe NYC, but Peru will have to do!  Our family knows what it is to be briefly homeless, because we have been there... twice... over the past fifteen years.  Our current living arrangement does not, in any way, begin to compare to the desperate housing (or lack thereof) conditions that the least of these here in the United States (or certainly around the world) are subjected to, often for their entire lives.  But let me return just a moment to the spoiled rotten thing...

I've had a master bathroom for years.  The last time I did not have a master bathroom, it was 2005 and I had three really little people who needed help in the bathroom most of the time, anyway!  Sharing made sense. 

But yesterday?  Oh friends, yesterday I both stepped in and sat in pee!  Are you kidding me?  But it gets worse...  Upon washing my hands, I turned to dry them on my own personal hand towel and found that it was covered in snot!  Boys are gross!  Is it shameful that I am questioning whether or not I can scale back and live even a touch closer to the least of these, because I don't want to share my bathroom with my children?  Yes.  It's shameful.  True, but shameful.

We had a lovely two days in Peru.  I taught five early childhood music classes and was incredibly blessed to meet new people and to reconnect with old friends.  There was so much hugging and catching up and talking about my new love of coffee.  And singing.  And dancing.  And helping a college student with a research paper.  And thinking about how I should probably pack pots and pans for next week.  And picking kids up.  And dropping kids off.  And working.  And reading.  And sleeping.  And praying.  And driving.  And stuff.

We have needs.  I took one of those silly FB tests that analyzes your profile, the other day, and it told me that my greatest needs included a massage, a vacation, Sara C. (well, duh... always), lots of sleep, and 24 hours with nothing to do. While all of those would be fabulous, I think my number one need, right now, is to recognize how very blessed we are and to give more.

However, if you're looking for a tangible way to help us get started in Peru, we do, indeed, have a Via Illuminate wish list at Amazon (linked here).  Did you know you can purchase a urinal for $140...  Oh wait, that's not on the list...

L. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

When There Isn't Anymore...



The following is a guest post
written by my friend, Vicki Freeland,
whom I met through Nazarene Teen Bible Quizzing ministry.
Vicki is the local director of a growing quiz program,
a wife, and the mom of four precious little people.
She enjoys research and offers so much more than expected
as she teaches others passionately.
Vicki agreed to share a part of her story,
and because I know how important that is
to growing as a community,
I am so thankful for her post.
I'm also incredibly thankful for her friendship!

*****

There are days that you KNOW will be extraordinary … and you make special plans to capture the memories of those days. October 11, 2003 was such a day for me – to the extent that I hired a team of photographers to capture as many moments as possible so that I could remember every single detail. Every detail of this day from hair styles, to makeup, to the guest list, to the dress and tuxes, to the cake and the music, had been planned weeks and months in advance, and I didn't want to forget any of it.

And then, there are days that even though you don't know exactly WHEN they will happen, you know that they WILL happen, and so you make plans to capture the memories of those days… September 8, 2008, January 15, 2010, December 6, 2012, and April 15, 2015 are dates of this type for me—the dates that my children were born. The camera was fully charged with extra batteries packed and ready to go, everything in readiness to capture the memories in all of their newness and wonder and awe.

And then, there are days that start out quite ordinary—but suddenly turn extraordinary … and you find yourself with photographs seared into your soul, as clearly as you see the photos in an album or on the computer hard drive … except you can't erase them, photoshop them, or delete them … and you remember every ... single ... detail ... with razor-sharp clarity that stops you in your tracks with the searing pain that the photos bring to mind. September 9, 2011 is such a day for me. What started out as a fairly normal Friday took a very sharp turn into an extraordinary day when my husband met me at my in-laws' house and told me that my dad had passed away.  I remember forcing everything from my mind in order to write down a schedule and instructions for the care of my barely 3 year old and my 1½ year old for my in-laws. I remember staring at the pan of Rice Krispy treats I had made for the quiz party that evening and wondering how I was going to get them to the party. I remember calling my youth pastor and asking him if he could drive the bus to the quiz meet the next day because I couldn't be there. I remember seeing my grandma walk into my parent's house, shaking with the shock of the news.

The whole week became a blur, yet details remain seared into my soul: walking into church with my family on Sunday morning and my daughter innocently asking, “Where's Grandpa?” My sister stopping short at her question. I remember singing “In Christ Alone” that Sunday morning and lifting my hand in praise, tears streaming down my face. I remember seeing faces of friends that I hadn't seen in years, and never expected to see this side of eternity, as they came through the line at visitation. I remember being in such a daze that I completely blanked when my husband's boss (and company owner) came through the visitation line. I remember my brother beginning his sermon at our dad's funeral with the words, “I always knew I would be preaching this sermon, I just never knew when.” And I remember hearing Pastor Keith's voice as he read the eulogy letter I, my sister, and my sister-in-law had written, our attempt to summarize all that our dad had meant to us. I remember my husband explaining to our children that Grandpa was no longer here and that he had gone to heaven. When we took our children to see the casket, my 3 year old looked for a long moment then asked, “Where you going, Grandpa?”

I only learned later that my mom had found out that dad had passed away earlier in the morning but had forbidden anyone to call or text me, as she knew I was driving to Fort Wayne that morning with my two children. She feared that learning the news while I was driving would have caused me to lose control of the vehicle (it probably would have) and I could have caused an accident. I also later learned that my mom was unable to tell me herself, so she called my husband out of work, told him, and asked him to tell me, because she couldn't. I have always been “Daddy's Girl." She didn't have the strength to tell me that my daddy was gone.

There were 11,532 days between the date of my birth and the date of my father's death. I can't say that we were on the best of terms every single one of those days … but I do know that he loved me fiercely, protectively, and with the best that he had. When you're a daddy's girl, and daddy is suddenly gone, lots of little things disappear, too. There are no more long “whenever” chats because he's not driving his truck all over the country. There isn't someone to just call up and ask a random theological or Biblical question. There isn't someone to “come fix this” because you've exhausted all your knowledge and he's probably done this 400 times before. There isn't someone to purchase the collectible key chains for when you see the one he doesn't have yet.
There … just … isn't.

And yet, I have been blessed far more than others. I had a dad who I talked to more than a lot of kids talked to theirs. I had a dad who not only knew the Bible, but opened up his vast library to me and taught me how to use the research tools in his library, so that I could find the answers to the questions I had. I had a dad who not only “fixed it” but taught us HOW to fix it, so we wouldn't be stranded by the simple things. (To this day, patching nail holes in drywall always reminds me of my dad teaching me how to “do it right.”) The keychains …. I still haven't gotten over that one. I saw one just a few weeks ago and reached for it out of habit and impulse … then realized that there was no one to add it to their collection.

I was able to place the first two of my four babies in his arms and watch him be the most amazing grandpa to them. He got the biggest kick out of playing with them and just delighting in them and they adored him. I KNOW that the last words I said to him were, “I love you,” because that is how my family has always “signed off” either on the phone or in person. I KNOW that my siblings and I were the last people on his mind before he passed away, because when we finally got his belongings from the trucking company, in his leather portfolio where he jotted down all his notes and random thoughts were our names, as if he had a final thought for each of us:

Marcus

Vicki

Brian

Sarah

Lynette

Josh

He wrote down each of his kids' names—his three biological ones and the ones he gained through our marriages… they were never “in-laws” to him, they were “his kids.”  I had a dad who modeled for me a life of obedience and devotion to God and family, a dad who never gave up, and a dad who did his best. I had a dad who showed me what hard work and perseverance could accomplish and one who showed me that, no matter what level of education I had, to never stop learning. 

And then, the man who had modeled all these things for me, just wasn't there anymore.

Nine days after my dad passed away, my senior pastor announced his call to a new area of ministry and announced his resignation to our congregation. I felt like a double-orphan … abandoned and left utterly alone. … and yet, I learned a lot of things during this time of my life, too.

I learned that the prayers of friends can literally breathe life into your lungs when you feel like you can't take one more breath. Those same prayers can propel one foot in front of another when you don't have the strength to move. I learned the power of a promise kept can overcome the pain of the moment.  And I learned that, throughout his life, my dad was doing his best to show me what my heavenly father was like:

My heavenly father delights in me, like I saw my father delight in his grandchildren.

My heavenly father rejoices and celebrates me, as my father did when he flew across the country to     attend my honor society induction at Purdue.

My heavenly father loves me, as my dad showed me in every way he could imagine to do so.

But even more than all that my dad was, my heavenly father is more. He has shown me that, even though my father could not know where I am every moment, He does. On the first anniversary of my dad's death, I was at church—but not mentally “in” church, if that makes sense. Our (new) pastor opened up service that morning by reading Scripture … not un-heard of at our church, but slightly out of the normal … and I listened with half-an-ear's worth of attention … but was snapped to attention when I realized that he was reading my dad's favorite verses … proving that even if no one around me knew my heart that morning, God KNEW where his little girl was, and he KNEW how heart-broken she was.

A few months ago, I was in church following our worship pastor through the lines of a very familiar song, the lyrics of which contain the phrase, “Everlasting Father.” Now, this phrase is very biblical, and taken directly out of Scripture (Isaiah 9:6-7). I've always understood this phrase to mean that God is the Father of everything and cares for everything he created as a father oversees his household, and I don't think that's an incorrect interpretation. However, to the hurting heart of this little girl, I saw something very new and different that particular morning. “EVERLASTING” - from my first breath to my last … “FATHER”—I have a DADDY!