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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Adventures in Sunday School

I’m married to a pastor. I work on the church staff. I lead small groups for both women’s and student ministries. I wasn’t looking for more ways to serve.

But they needed teachers, and Tween has been a student helper with the 4-year-old class. Which is better for me than the 2-year-old class; the only time I can recall leaving a service opportunity in tears of failure was when Tween was 2 and I was conscripted as Teacher–give me middle schoolers any day, but I lack the gift for 2’s.

So I said Yes, I am willing to serve as Teacher when Tween is helper. But the day of the month they needed me, of course, Tween is already committed to Scout camp outs. I said Yes anyway.

I accompanied Tween last month just to watch. The other teachers didn’t mind one more set of hands, especially because the craft that day involved way too much cutting for 4-year-old hands. The Bible lesson emphasized, “God loves me,” and I realized:

Preschool Sunday school is truly about welcoming children, helping them to have fun and feel loved by God and others. If that’s all they get, that’s a whole lot already.

Today was my first time actually teaching. Fortunately I had a more experienced partner, though she confessed to having relied on the teacher whose spot I filled. Our “student helper” was yet another mom filling in for her tween while he played sports. The curriculum didn’t make as much sense as I’d hoped (what 4-year-old needs a bookmark?) so I made up new connections (We share because we love others, so we’re making bookmarks to share with our parents). Roughly following the curriculum, the three of us cobbled together a lesson–music complete with hand motions, activities, DVD lesson, Bible story, and snack, with free play at beginning and end.

Here’s the thing: it mostly worked. The kids mostly seemed to have fun, and so did we. And the hour wasn’t endless. I could do this again.

The story was the poor widow who gave her two coins, all she had, because she loves God (Mark 12:41-44). The point: I can love everyone. [Point to your heart and say, “I.” Cross your arms over your chest and say, “can love.” Point to others and say, “everyone.” We did that A LOT.]

So we practiced loving everyone. We love the precocious little girl who, as I entered the room, was spelling T-Y-L-E-R for another adult.
“Is that your brother?”
“No, he’s my baby.”
“Oh, your baby brother?”
“Yes.”
“Do you have an older brother?”
“Jake.”
“Can you spell Jake?”
“J-A-C-O-B!”
“You bet! That’s the formal spelling of Jake!” Wink, wink.

We practiced loving the little boy who never spoke a word. We practiced loving the kid who wanted all the stickers. We practiced loving the little boy who admitted that he hates sharing, but when we said, “Right, because sharing can be hard,” replied, “No it’s not!”

During our combined music time with all the preschool classes, a little girl from another class whom I’d never seen before asked to sit on my lap. In her hands, she proudly held a pink construction paper heart on which she’d glued pom poms and drawn a smiley face. I complimented her craft yet she was concerned that it was missing a long Popsicle stick with which to hold it. And the smiley face she’d drawn only had eyes and smile, no nose.

I did the hand motions while she sat on my lap, then she scooted away, returning when she’d drawn a big yellow oval nose and yellow eyelashes on her smiley face. I told her I liked the improvements.

She looked at it, looked at me, then said, “It’s for you!”
“Thank you! But you should give it to your mommy.”
“Yah, it’s for Mommy. But I can give it to you.”
“Please give it to your mommy. She’ll be so happy to have it.”
(mumble…)
“Sorry, what did you say?”
“Did you brush your teeth?”
“Yes, I brushed my teeth.”
“Did you really?”
“(Hmmm…) Does my breath smell bad?”
“Yes.”
“I’m sorry. Does it smell like coffee?”
“Yes.”
“Well, yes. I had a cup of coffee after I brushed my teeth.”
“Okay.”

So I also practiced loving the honest little darling who called me out on coffee breath and gave me a small pom pom so I can remember her craft forever.

Leadership can be funny. Every person you lead is different, with different ways of being and thinking and loving and understanding God. Every age and stage is different, too. The 4-year-olds need something different than the 6th grade girls different from the mamas. While maintaining authenticity, leadership seems to require chameleon-like color-blending skills–I will be who you need today so that you can meet Jesus.

Because, while every person and every age is unique, what we all need at the core is the same: to know that we are loved by God.

Jesus: Our Shepherd
Restored: Jeremiah 23

Connect
Whose leadership do you admire, and why?

Study
Read aloud Jeremiah 23:1-4.
What have the shepherds done, and what are the consequences?
God’s response includes both judgment and promise. Explain.
Read aloud Jeremiah 23:5-6.
Describe “the righteous Branch.”
Read aloud Jeremiah 23:7-8.
Why would people have said the statement in v. 7? Why would they replace it with the statement in v. 8?

Live
Who do you shepherd? What does this passage say to your practice as shepherd?
Some use bad church leadership as an excuse for their lack of participation in the church. How could you use this passage to encourage them?
Jesus is our Shepherd. How does this picture of Jesus give you hope in hard times?
How can Jesus’ model of leadership help you be a better leader?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that you will be a faithful follower of Jesus as you shepherd others.

 

Bigger Than a Bumper Sticker

Last weekend I was One Proud Mama, overflowing with joy, as Teen had what may well have been the best weekend of his seventeen years.

It began with a rugby end-of-season barbecue where he won a coaches award for Most Improved player in his position. The coach spoke of Teen’s hard work, determination, and playing all in both before—and more significantly—after his six-week injury. He laid it all out for his sport and his team, and it showed.tournament 1

Racing home, Teen had 20 minutes to shower and change into his brand new Calvin Klein tuxedo complete with a tie-it-yourself bow tie for Junior Prom. It took Dad and Kid (consulting YouTube) a few tries, but he looked sharp—and he knew it, with that sweet arrogance of youth. This may have been one of the few times he did not complain about Mama taking too many pictures. He patiently smiled and posed, on his own, with his stunningly beautiful date, in this spot and that, and with friends. We even got a couple of family shots. I kept thinking: who is this good looking young man, and what happened to my rascally kid?prom

But Sunday was the best, a culmination of years of diligence and small achievements along the way. Sunday Teen’s Boy Scout Troop celebrated its 53rd Eagle Court of Honor to present eight new Eagle Scouts with Scouting’s highest honor.

Teen and I sat in the front pew of our church during Scout Sunday when he was just eight years old, not yet a Cub Scout. He watched older boys—shoulders back, heads held high—lead the service and share stories of adventures, brotherhood, and faith. He turned to me and declared, “I am going to be an Eagle Scout in this troop.” And he is.

Like most worthwhile pursuits, it hasn’t been an easy road. The troop prides itself on being boy-led, which means each Scout must play his role and take the leadership failures and successes at each level. Which means that, if you’re a Scout—or a parent of a Scout—in a patrol where the leader fails (it happens often), you feel the bumps. The learning curve is huge and yet, from this vantage point, I can truthfully say it has been the best long-term leadership training we could ever have hoped our son would experience.

During the private pinning ceremony, we presented our son with a blessing of words before we pinned the Eagle Scout pin on his uniform, right over his heart. We expressed gratitude for this Troop which has developed his leadership while allowing him to indulge his passions for the outdoors and for animals.

We told stories of his perseverance (he designed the District award-winning patch with the theme of Perseverance)—climbing out of his crib and over two stacked childproof-gates all the while whispering, “I can do it. I can do it.” At times, Scouting itself has felt like a sky-high mountain of switchback trails, and yet he has persevered.

We told stories of his gift with animals—just two examples, book-ending his Scouting experience:
his first Troop hike, accompanied by the Scoutmaster Emeritus, during which Teen safely caught and displayed (and released) countless reptiles and opened the Scoutmaster’s eyes to how many species of reptiles inhabited a trail he’d hiked for 34 years…
his kayaking trip last summer, when he was the only person deft enough to catch one of the many turtles populating the river.

During the Court, his Scoutmaster shared Teen’s outstanding qualities: kindness, thoughtfulness, his desire and gift for mentoring younger Scouts. A family friend told about Teen as a preK who, much like the Croc Hunter, insisted he come along while Teen narrated a critter-filled walk around the block. Teen’s spectacular gift is to insist that we notice critters we might never see otherwise and help us appreciate them for their God-created place in the ecosystem.

Passionate, exuberant, spontaneous to the point of recklessness… For most of Teen’s life I have been his advocate, helping others see the strengths in what, at times, seemed like weaknesses. On this afternoon, I listened as others spoke to the beauty of these strengths and how they will be gifts Teen will use to change the world.

These eight new Eagles form an impressive group. Two high school seniors and six juniors, they have a combined total of 387+ camp outs. They include the ASB President and Vice President and the Quarterback of the championship football team. They have demonstrated their duty to God through 24 trips to work among the poor in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica. They are scholars, athletes, musicians, and leaders in several arenas. While several have shared significant friendship beyond the Troop, together they share in a unique fraternity.2016Eagles2

Teen has participated in over 48 camp outs, including 5 week-long Wilderness Camps, a 3-day Mini Backpacking Trek, 2 Orange Torpedo Kayak Treks in Oregon, 2 Bike Treks, and a 50-mile Mt. Lassen Sierra Trek. For his Eagle project, Teen refurbished and built exercise stations for the Raptor and Reptile Rehabilitation Grove at Lindsay Wildlife Experience, an animal rescue/rehabilitation organization. In the words of the gentlemen who reviewed his project and approved his Eagle Scout application, “he didn’t build just another bench.”

A hawk working out on Teen's refurbished exercise equipment

A hawk working out on Teen’s refurbished exercise equipment

After the post-Court reception, after the post-reception dinner, after the cards and gifts had been opened, Teen explained to his grandparents the meaning and experiences behind each patch he had received on the road to Eagle. Tremendous experiences, so many memories, some hard and many glorious. At the end, I watched as my son turned his head aside. I sat on the floor at his feet and I wonder if anyone else heard as he almost whispered, almost to himself: “I set a goal, and I achieved it.”

There are very few goals of this caliber one can set in childhood and achieve during adolescence. Fewer still are goals of this caliber that will last into adulthood. Once an Eagle Scout, always an Eagle Scout. He has accomplished something that will hold him in good stead throughout his life. He should feel proud of himself, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.