ReBuild: Mexico 2017

One of the best things our church does fills one week with life-changing experience and takes the rest of the year to plan, then debrief, before planning the next trip: our spring break house building trip to Mexico with Amor Ministries. This year, as in most years, about 250 high school students and adults built hope, twelve new homes, and a classroom for a church in the community. In one week.

In addition to thirteen build teams the trip includes a tool team, a camp crew, a medical team, a camp therapist, and a media team. Layered throughout are the Catalyst student leaders, all seniors, who lead the build teams, and the adult coaches who play a supporting role to their Catalysts. It takes a lot of people putting in a lot of work to pull it all together, and that’s not stating it strongly enough.

Each trip has a theme, and this year’s theme was ReBuild. Guy chose the theme at the end of 2016 and, when he told me, I had to laugh: without consulting one another, he chose a “re” theme for this trip into which he invests so much love, energy, and leadership, while I chose a “re” theme (re:create) as my word of the year, the word that has and will motivate me to new investments of love, energy, and leadership.

The group returned last night, and today in worship we celebrated what God has done. In Mexico, through the buildings, the memories that will last a lifetime, and the hope for a new and better future as people have a safe, dry place to nurture their families. In participants, as so many spoke of new or renewed faith commitments, fresh insights into themselves and their place in the world, and deeper relationships across all the ‘usual’ social boundaries–adults and teens, kids in different grades and from different schools.

We also celebrate what God will do. In families, as this year more than ever I was struck by how many families or family groups participated together–siblings, parent-child, married couples, and whole families; and in families where some or most did not go on the trip, they, too, will be affected by the overflow of experience from those who did. In schools and workplaces, in our church and community, as participants continue to live out their experience over weeks and months and years to come, and as God’s love shines brightly, bringing glory to His name.

As story after story was shared, participants built for the listening congregation a vision of God at work through this week in Mexico. I’m no contractor, but clearly God is our foundation. He created us. He knew our names, He had good plans for us, all before we were yet born. This year, for perhaps the first time in the 27 years of this trip, all teams had solid concrete foundations poured by the end of the first build day. I hope they remember: a strong foundation is essential to a strong structure, and God is our firm foundation.

One after another spoke about the strength of relationships developed in such a short time. And as I reflected on the theme, ReBuild, it occurred to me that we have the power to build supporting walls in each other’s lives. Someone said, “As the walls of the houses went up, the walls in our hearts and lives came down.” That’s true: we build metaphorical walls to protect ourselves from judgment, from criticism, from rejection. And it’s also true that when we find safe people, we can dismantle our walls of protection even as we together build stronger walls of community and encouragement.

Life can be hard, and people can be mean. Too often we throw verbal stones or, for whatever reason (sometimes for no reason, at least no good reason), we tear each other down. No surprise we wall off our hearts! But encouragement and community, they rebuild us and make us stronger.

One young man said he had been seeking community for years. Something clicked this week and he found it, evidenced by a friend’s embrace as he returned to his seat. My Teen has been fortunate to know that community. A twice-monthly before-school boys’ Bible study started with a group of motivated 8th grade guys and has continued through their senior year. They were adult-led until they took up their own leadership, and they have carried it forward in ways that pleasantly surprised their parents and other adult leaders.

Teen got to be a Catalyst this year (achieving one more life goal!), as did many of the Bible study boys. Along with their female peers, they have forged a tight-knit group; their community had a “ripple effect” throughout camp, fostering community with each gentle wave. Teen stood up to thank his fellow Catalysts, and to thank his team. He said, “We became a family. By the end of the week our team was a family building a home for another family.”

I watched with awe as my son–surrounded by community–stood, arms raised, singing:

I’ll stand
With arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the one who gave it all
I’ll stand
My soul Lord to you surrendered
All I am is yours

Safe to say they are returning home having been rebuilt by God and His gift of community.

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Full Friday – March 2017

The week before spring break is a crazy one in our office as each year we prepare to send about 250 people from our church and community to Mexico to build hope and homes with AMOR. This year, in this one week, our group will build fourteen homes.

I am FULL of gratitude for this trip, this experience, that changes lives in Mexico and the Bay Area. The chaos that precedes the trip dims in contrast to the bright light God shines through the trip itself. I can’t wait to hear all the stories on the other end…!

That crazy-office week continues to our home. My sweet Guy leads this trip every year, and every year it surprises me (again! How can I be surprised again?) how much work it takes to plan. In addition, this year Teen is–at long last–a senior and a student leader for one of the house builds. Quite literally, he has anticipated this trip his entire life, and it’s almost here…

The FULL schedule means I have not been as present to the blog as I like. I have put on pause several posts just because there aren’t enough hours in any day. I had hoped to post a Meatless Monday recipe for National Spinach Day (3/27) but, as much as I ❤ spinach!, I didn’t have a spare minute to decide which particular spinach recipe I’d post. I started writing a re:create recess post for Wednesday before the day slipped away. I planned to write a Thankful Thursday post, and instead said a happy Yes! to a friend’s request for a short walk around the dog park, a healthy antidote to stress.

So here we are: Friday. The week has been FULL-to-the-brim. My heart is FULL: the hectic pace pulls in tow joy, gratitude, frustration, bite-your-tongue bleeding, tears, and laughter (um, have I mentioned I’m just a wee bit emotional?).

And now, now it’s time to take a deep breath and a rest. We have a week. Nine days, including weekends. Half of our little family will be in Mexico, working and serving and growing. Half will spend intentional time resting and playing together, growing in altogether different ways.

I may feel energy-empty and heart-full now but, during this week, I plan to fill up on rest; to fill up on moments and memories with my darling Tween; to fill up little accomplishments in a lot of arenas; to fill up my body with satisfying rest, fulfilling exercise, and delicious food. I want to exit this week FULL in completely different ways.

Meanwhile, here are some recent pictures that fill my heart with beauty.

For dinner tonight, I’m making (again) an entirely satisfying soup (stew) that will linger as tummy-yummy leftovers this weekend (my friend keeps sharing her kale crop!). And for more on my (too-short) one-night experience with AMOR, keep reading.

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Thankful Thursday – Forced Detox

I’m back!

For the last few weeks my computer has either struggled to function or has been in the shop (don’t even get me started on the several internet technicians who spent hours at my house replacing brand-new modems with other brand-new modems or moving brand-new modems to different locations in my not-big-enough-for-this house; or the multiple techs sent by the manufacturer as my machine is still under warranty; or the fact that, once the company had the machine in their possession, their first pass was to repair the wrong part…).

As Communication Director, it becomes extremely difficult to get the job done when I’m traveling between computers with files on server, in the cloud, and on a thumb drive. Needless to say, and frustrating to deal with, a few balls dropped.

As a writer, I felt like a good portion of my brain had exited the building. I couldn’t think straight. And I didn’t want to write on another computer–almost like cheating–because I have enough files I need to retrieve and back-up again now that my machine has returned to me. I guess I could write on paper, but I didn’t.

Definitely not a vacation, no way a sabbatical, but in the “off work” hours, I had, for the most part, to be off work. I couldn’t check work email at home or do “a few quick tasks.” When I left the office, I had to be done.

Considering I work part-time, this shouldn’t have been so hard. Still, it was.

Being gentle to myself, it is hard to not have the equipment necessary to do your job efficiently. It is hard when your major creative outlet gets stunted. And as I’m trying my darnedest to also (mostly) stay off Facebook during this maddening political season, I had unanticipated time.

What did I do? I read. A lot. I walked or ran. I cooked. I helped Tween study for a test. I took pictures. I also watched more TV than normal, but TV that I recorded because I want to watch it, not just whatever’s on TV.

I made conscious choices throughout the moments and the days to be grateful. To remember that this is absolutely a first-world problem.

Meanwhile one of my work projects has been to compile and edit gift-in-kind donation items for local and global ministries to be available through our church Mission Market. For example, you can donate $7 to buy school books for kids in the Dominican Republic and then give your sister a card with a description of the group to which you donated in her name. Win-win, especially when most of us don’t need another Christmas sweater. Or anything, for that matter.

For example, Amor Ministries, the home building ministry we work with in Mexico, for which hundreds of high school students and adults through our church have built hundreds of homes over 25+ years, finally has the opportunity to purchase land for their camp that hosts all the volunteers… Amor can finally have a home! If we donate…

Thanks to another group (nameless at their request and for their protection), Syrian refugees can machine wash their laundry, rather than hand wash. While the clothes tumble, women can make a pretty craft to take to their temporary “home.” Their children can do crafts or receive help with handwriting and spelling. There’s also a corner with second-hand clothes free to the right fit.

Keeping things in perspective: I had a few weeks of significant inconvenience. Others told me they would be banging on doors and demanding a better, faster solution. That’s not my style. I complained a bit and did my best while also trying to make the best of the situation.

On the other hand, some people have not just inconveniences but hardships. Frankly, I am abashed to have complained at all when I think of their life situations.

I am grateful to have my computer back. I am grateful for easier and quicker access to the work given me to do. I am grateful for this blog, this creative outlet that connects me to others in (I hope!) meaningful ways. I am thankful for technology that organizes my life in oh-so-necessary ways. I am grateful for perspective. I am thankful.

Mexico: A Quick Glimpse

Amor Ministries has been organizing groups to build houses in Mexico for 30 years. Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church has been taking high school students and adults to build houses in Mexico during spring break for 25 years. Pastor Dave knows just how life-changing this experience can be – he has spent spring break building homes in Mexico since he was a high school freshman.

I have been on two Mexico house-building trips, each with a different organization, each prior to having kids. Since then, I’ve spent spring break with my kids and hosted extra kids (and dogs) so other people could go to Mexico.

This year I got to cross the border with the MVPC team for one night. One of my kiddos was on the trip while the other stayed with Grandma in San Diego.

I met the group at Amor headquarters in San Diego, where they had a party waiting.

M partyM reyM lobbyM snowconesM ladiesM JusticeM guysAnd then, the call… “Board the Bus!” The crowd scatters in anticipation. Mexico is SO close!M bus

Welcome to Amor's new camp!

Welcome to Amor’s new camp!

Hydration station

Hydration station

The buses got stuck at the border for longer than usual. The adults on the Advance Team wait…

M crew

M waitAnd Bus 1 arrives, eventually.M bus 1The search for luggage begins.M luggaeThe rest of the buses arrive as it grows dark. Tent set-up will be a tad tricky!M bus 23Once tents are up kids can check out camp, including the Encouragement Boards (eBoards) which will be so meaningful throughout the week.M boardsWhen morning comes, the camp is especially grateful for the creative design of the hand washing station where they can brush teeth and wash hands/face with potable water.M handwashOveralls on, faces washed, hair braided by friends, lunches packed and a delicious breakfast consumed, the camp gets ready for the day.

The Media Team T-shirt features almost 1,000 pictures from past Mexico trips

The Media Team T-shirt features almost 1,000 pictures from past Mexico trips

Leaders Ready To Go!

Leaders Ready To Go!

Morning prayer, & Day 1 instructions

Morning prayer & Day 1 instructions

And THIS is why we’re all here…

The Build Site

The Build Site

This year all of the 13 build sites are in the same community. By the end of this week, one-quarter of the community’s population will have new homes. By the end of this week, MVPC will have built approximately 270 homes for the previously homeless over the past 25 years. Praise be to God!

Teams arrived and got right to work, Student Leaders in charge working well alongside their Adult Team leaders.M work

Sometimes issues arise right away. The Adult Team had a fence to deal with.

Sometimes issues arise right away. The Adult Team had a fence to deal with.

Tie Dye!

Tie Dye!

Making friends right away

Making friends

My trip to Mexico was less than 24 hours, actually closer to 18. Dinner to late lunch. Just long enough to be an overwhelming first glimpse, with 270 new friends finding their way and setting up in a new camp. The organization and creativity was overwhelmingly apparent as well – student leaders had obviously put time and prayer into thinking through team colors, fun team pictures, colorful eBoards, and pre-trip team bonding events. The Media Team and Tool Crew all set up and ready when students arrived. The oh-so-helpful hand washing station. The tenting “neighborhoods,” new this year and layering in one more small group element within such a large group. The Student Leaders so clearly prepared to lead a house-building experience.

As I type, teams are more than half-way done with the week. Houses and relationships are being built. In keeping with this year’s theme, Rooted, participants are developing roots that can hold them steady long beyond this week.

Border crossing takes way too long

Goodbye, Mexico

“…I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ…” Ephesians 3:17-18

In Jesus’ name, and to God be the glory. Amen.

Meatless Monday

My sweet Guy bought me an Advent gift, this beautiful book I look forward to savoring:

Advent bk

For some reason, this picture insists on uploading sideways. Then again, my Advent/Christmas/life/today seems to always be a little sideways so perhaps that’s exactly right.

And today, December 1st, these words leap off the page and into my heart: “Jesus…whispers to you in a noisy world: ‘Right where you are, look for the small glimpses of My love unfurling around you….’

“Miracles happen whenever we speak words that make souls stronger. Miracles happen whenever we look for shoots of Jesus’ love everywhere – because this grows deep roots in Jesus’ love for everyone. Miracles happen in the drawing close to the little people, the least people, the lonely people, the lost people – because this is drawing close to Jesus. This is how we all draw love everywhere.” Ann Voskamp, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, p8

And later I read this from our mission partner Amor Ministries: “…do we really live our Christmas season as if it will change the world?”

I want to glimpse Jesus’ love right where I am. I want to witness as God unleashes miracles in our mundane. I want to draw love everywhere. I want to participate in God’s change in the world. Don’t you?

I’ve been meaning to post this Meatless Monday recipe for a while but it seems Jesus meant it for today. I took it to lunch with girlfriends several weeks back; it is a perfect take-to-friends meal. It’s also so easy that you can keep ingredients on hand and whip it up for unexpected guests. Or, you know, those harried weeknights when the day has more than gotten out of hand and you need a quicker-than-quick family meal. Yeah, we’ve had a few of those, too.

Tomato, Black Bean & Corn Soup

1 container Trader Joe’s tomato and red pepper soup
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 c cooked brown rice (TJ’s brown basmati is my fav)
½ jar TJ’s corn & chile salsa (or 1 c roasted corn)
Chili powder, to taste
Ground coriander, to taste
Ground cumin, to taste
Balsamic vinegar, to taste
Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Empty TJ’s prepared soup into a stock pot. Add remainder of ingredients. Heat through and serve. The soup tastes even better if you heat, turn off heat and let sit, and then reheat just before serving. If you’ll be serving littles, the roasted corn might be the way to go as the salsa has a definite kick, but then you’ll want to up the spices a notch for good flavor. You could also try less corn salsa + some roasted corn.

TJs tomato soup

Easy (mostly) Trader Joe’s ingredients to keep on hand for when you need them

Soup might not change the world, but it can sure change someone’s day. With soup, you can offer warmth and hearty goodness and love – your love and God’s.

Oh, and you might as well go ahead and double the recipe from the get-go. Yes, it’s that good.