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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Messy Family

problems-of-a-dreamer

How would you describe your family? My description might go like this: Dramatic. Quirky and Creative. Outdoorsy and Eco-friendly. Open books. Welcoming. (I have to laugh as Teen adds: “Zookeepers!” With twelve pets and four people living in approximately 1600 square feet, our home often feels like a small zoo).

Same question, different audience: How do you describe your family in the secret regions of your heart and head? What might you say if you could shake the shame, if you were free to share the sins holding hostage the generations of your family? Everything you said before would still be true, but typically there is so much more to the story than we speak out loud.

Fortunately we can turn to stories to see families just as bad—and often so much worse—than our own. The Bible depicts Joseph’s family as a flat-out mess. His grandfather Isaac (Genesis 26) and great-grandfather Abraham (Genesis 12) were prone to lying. His father Jacob (encouraged by his grandmother Rebekah) was a dirty cheater (Genesis 27).

Each had redeeming qualities, of course. They were faithful and unfaithful, saints and sinners. Their sins were their own and they got played by others, at least wrapped up in the complicated family-dynamic mess.

Joseph’s father Jacob fell head-over-heels in love with Rachel, so much so that he worked hard labor for seven years to earn her hand in marriage. He got cheated, however, and found himself married to Rachel’s older (and less attractive) sister, Leah. He married the girl of his dreams within days, but had to work yet another seven years before he could leave with his brides.

Next came baby problems: Leah had four babies before Rachel had one, so Rachel gave Jacob her handmaiden (repeating the family drama of Sarai giving maidservant Hagar to Abraham, resulting in Ishmael’s birth—Genesis 16), who had some babies. Leah couldn’t be outdone, so she gave Jacob her handmaiden as well: more babies. Finally Rachel has one baby (Joseph) and then another (Benjamin), and she died in childbirth with Benjamin. [I have one husband and two sons (see “dramatic” in my family description) and cannot begin to imagine three “extra wives” + all their strong-willed sons… Egads! Oh, and yes, there were at least two daughters: Dinah gets a name (and a terrible story—Genesis 34); and Genesis 37:35 mentions “all (Jacob’s) sons and daughters.” These poor women living in an unabashedly patriarchal society…].

Jacob’s beloved Rachel has died, and Joseph is Rachel’s firstborn son. So Jacob plays favorites, symbolized by the coat of many colors he gave his newly beloved, setting Joe apart as favorite and as white-versus-blue collar labor. Joe plays right into the family drama by snitching on his brothers’ bad behavior and naively sharing his (prophetic) dreams about his family bowing down to him.

Joe’s brothers retaliate by conniving against and betraying their brother; profiting on his “death” (would you sell your brother into slavery?) while lying to one another—Reuben would have rescued Joe from the cistern had he had the chance, and then what?—before they feign to comfort their father, grieving his son’s bloody death by animal. Aren’t those brothers animals? And can’t you sympathize with their feelings a smidge, if not with their actions?

Hard stop: Genesis 37 doesn’t explicitly mention “GOD.” Joseph’s dreams point to God—dreams in the Bible always signal prophetic interruption—and yet, no mention of God Himself. And doesn’t that also feel true? Sometimes our families are so down-right messy and we feel like God has absented Himself.

I believe it was St. John of the Cross who coined the phrase “dark night of the soul,” when it feels like God stops answering, has turned His phone to silent, maybe not just busy but uncaring. Individuals feel it—faithful and faithless—and so can families. I can point to several periods during which my family experienced God’s silence. Where did He go? Doesn’t He care?

Joseph’s crazy mixed-up family gives me hope. It may seem God was absent, the circumstances definitely seemed overwhelming, and yet God was at work. God orchestrated bad events to bring about good outcomes, in Joe’s case, salvation for not only Egypt but Israel as well. Those who betrayed became those who were saved.

Today our church family observed communion. After I have prayerfully received the elements, one of my favorite times of each month happens when I prayerfully watch as my church family receives the elements. Today I reflected on family. After ten years in this church, I know so many family stories: parents who’ve lost children, children who’ve lost parents, spouses separated by divorce or death.

So many heartaches of so many varieties. And yet these people have been–not perfectly, but still–faithful. As a church family, we have an extra level of support for our nuclear and extended families. We offer one another God’s grace and love and strength in the good times and the hard. God’s family is a gift to our families, one of the ways God cares for our families. He cares for the individuals in families. He works, despite our mess, to produce salvation and receive glory. God is good—all the time!

Connect
Share briefly about your siblings and where you fall in the family order.

Study
Read Genesis 37.
Describe Joseph’s family and its dynamics (where Joe fell in his family, his relationship with father/brothers, etc).
What do you learn about Joseph from these stories?
Where do you see God in Joseph’s early stories?
How do you think Joseph felt when his brothers turned on him? Do you imagine his dreams gave him hope as his life took a dramatic turn?

Live
Have you endured a messy family situation during which it felt like God was absent? How did you handle it?
What helps you to hope in God when life is hard?
Why do you think God allows families to be so complicated?
Share something you think you have done well in your family, whether family of origin or current family.
What role does God play in your current family?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray for your family and for families you know, that we will hope in God at all times.

Wild Child in Bow Tie

Dapper!

Dapper!

Teen wore a bow tie for his Confirmation.

He chose to participate in Confirmation, a five-month process for high school students during which they met monthly with their leader and peers for teaching/study and with a one-to-one adult mentor to discuss life and faith. At the end they publicly professed their faith in Jesus Christ through a written and presented personal statement of faith, received baptism if they hadn’t previously, and became full members of the church. And then were honored with a celebratory meal and a verbal blessing from their parents while a packed Fellowship Hall watched.

We were thrilled he wanted to participate, although we didn’t push it. We even suggested he wait a year. He chose to forge ahead.

And then he chose to wear not just a shirt and tie but a three-piece suit + bow tie!

He didn’t have anything nicer than a shirt and tie so Guy took him shopping the night before. Then he showered and, wearing only his boxer shorts, he carried every piece of nice clothing from his closet to my bed. While I watched he tried different combinations before settling on the fanciest. He felt good. He looked good. He couldn’t suppress the satisfied smirk on his face as he examined himself in the full-length mirror.

Meanwhile I wavered between incredulous laughter and teary eyes. What happened to my Little Elf? Who is this Gorgeous Giant in fine clothing?

We have never made a big deal about our kids being pastor’s kids. A parent’s occupation certainly influences family life, but why should pastor’s kids in particular feel pressure to define themselves by or against parental occupation? Why has the church allowed this stigmatization of pastor’s families?

Thankfully Tween doesn’t feel that pressure, though Teen always has.

He literally crawled under pews to avoid the burn of judgmental laser beam stares his Pastor’s Kid Radar told him were aimed his direction, which of course backfired and drew even more negative attention. As he read from his faith statement during the worship service, “Every week I either impressed my Sunday school teachers with my knowledge on God or annoyed them to the point that they emailed my parents about my bad behavior. I was a wild child.” That bit of stinging truth got a hearty congregational laugh.

He was a good-hearted wild child, but yes, he was wild.

Still is, sometimes. He’s not perfect, as none of us are. He is impulsive, energetic, passionate, and sometimes takes sharp turns into the wrong lane.

But still, look at him up there on the chancel, that dressed-up good-looking young man, owning his faith as his own, no longer hiding under pews but standing up for Jesus because Jesus first stood up for him. Watch out, world, as Jesus starts to do His work through that impulsive, energetic, passionate child of His!

As each confirmant’s name was called, as they walked across the chancel to receive their new Bible with gold-trimmed pages and red letters, the pastor said, “Welcome!”

Twenty-five confirmants. Twenty-five welcomes.

Regardless of Teen’s behavior, and sometimes despite the consequential pain and conflict we managed as a family and as a church family, Teen has been welcomed.

Isn’t that the church’s job? To welcome in the name of Jesus not just those who sit quietly and behave properly in the pew but also those who don’t? Those who wiggle, or better yet dance, because they can’t sit still. Those who talk during prayer. Those who don’t feel like they’re good enough or deserve to belong. Those who act like they don’t want to be there, because maybe they truly don’t. Yes, all of them.

Jesus calls us to love, not just the one anothers we like, but the world for which He died. Every person He created and called by name. No matter how unruly or annoying they might be. No matter how inconvenient loving them might be.

I am grateful that Teen was given a fresh start each time he showed up. That for every person who wrote him off, enough others cared about him and hung in there with him so that he kept coming. So that as a high school kid, Confirmation felt like his next logical step, not one coerced by zealous parents but a choice he made willingly for his life and his faith.

Thank you, Church, for welcoming a wild child in bow tie.