Thankful Thursday – Maundy Thursday 2017

I did not grow up with a tradition of observing Lent but, as an adult, I have grown in appreciation for spiritual discipline in general and this season of church life specifically. God does great things when we give Him great access to our lives through disciplines that help to tune our eyes and ears to His work.

Before this Lent began I asked God: “What discipline would you have me observe to see you more clearly?” Funny (and I truly believe God IS funny this way, at least sometimes), He didn’t answer clearly. I could take on a discipline of reading the news; in these times, we all ought to read the news more broadly and more carefully. And I put on a ring my mother-in-law gifted to me; as my ‘not typical’ right-hand ring, its presence on my finger has reminded me of Jesus’ presence with me.

And then Lent took a quick left-hand turn into discipline. Situations arose that required prayer; people needed me; I needed Jesus. God knew I didn’t need more disciplined practices than the discipline He was already planning to send my way. (And oh, wowza, did I ever need that ring as a reminder of His presence…!)

Today is Maundy Thursday, which means Lent is almost over. The dark before the dawn, tonight we commemorate Jesus’ last supper with His disciples before He was betrayed. Tomorrow He was crucified. Sunday, at last!, Jesus rose from the grave.

We want to fast-forward the bad stuff to get to the good. We want to skip the pain in favor of pleasure. We don’t want bitter but sweet. In this Holy Week, God calls us to see His glory in the worst-ever scenario, trusting Him to redeem and transform it into more than all we could ask or imagine.

So what am I thankful for on this Maundy Thursday?

I am, as always, thankful for Jesus, who sacrificed Himself in love for me, for all of us, so that our lives not only exist, but matter.

I am thankful for a year, and that the situation that occupied my heart last year is no longer my concern. And I’m thankful for the hope that the situation that occupies my heart now won’t next year.

I am thankful for time, as in, time heals all wounds. The wounds of last year, but also more recent cuts and jabs that, with time, prayer, and careful tending, have already begun to heal.

I am thankful for kind and gentle human beings who willingly give of themselves to help the rest of us make peace–with ourselves, with God, with one another.

I am thankful for the continual bubbling over of last week’s Mexico trip, and the ways I see God has grown and shaped my Teen through this experience.

I am thankful for yoga, and my friends and their friends who filled a studio this morning for a laughter- and fun-filled sweaty workout, good for body and soul.

I am thankful for the rain showers earlier today, for the quail running down my fence line, for the twilight breeze rocking the tree branches outside my window. Peaceful beauty.

I have to laugh at what happens when I pull out my running shoes…

…and say “Thank you!” for what I see outside my door…

The first spring rose in my garden, a gift from a friend

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

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.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Thankful Thursday – Beach Therapy

I am a beach girl, all about toes-in-sand over body-in-water (although I have heard stories of little me evading my parents’ grasp and running headlong into the waves, fully dressed and shrieking with delight). With proximity to the shore, I breathe differently: deeper, more fully, relaxed. Robinson Jeffers wrote, “The tides are in our veins,” and I agree: again and again the tides pull me back to the coast. I need regular doses of vitamin sea.

So today I am thankful for Pacific Grove, California, one of my favorite places on the planet. I first visited with Guy on college-escape weekends to his parents’ home in Santa Cruz. Back then I referred to Pacific Grove as Monterey, no firm line on the coastal cliffs marking town from city. For most of my kids’ lives we have vacationed there one week each summer. This week, while Guy and Teen build homes in Mexico, Tween and I got away for a few blissful days.

Our summer “‘Cation House” unavailable, this trip started with a Groupon for two-nights’ stay at The Olympia Lodge at the end of Lighthouse Avenue, a five-minutes’ walk from Point Pinos Lighthouse and the rocky shore. The lodge is a little like Grandma’s house–friendly, cozy, a few updates but mostly old in a comfortable way. We don’t require luxury and the price made it right. We’d stay there again.

Tween and I scrabbled on rocks and examined tide pools. He led the way, pointing out stable rocks to land each step, calling, “Mom, look, look!” We saw so many hermit crabs, anemones, even a chiton. We saw nesting Canada geese. Never have we seen so many seals and sea otters in the wild, bobbing in the waves. The sun hitting surf spray created flashes of rainbows. And everything was blooming!

While Tween “rested” (read: stared at phone) I went for an almost-two-hour walk from the golf course to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and back. I walked and prayed and people-watched. People walked alone or in pairs. Many walked dogs. Some ran or biked or laughed with loved ones as they maneuvered surrey bikes. Some sat, soaking in the view. A couple of middle-aged men enjoyed a glass of white wine; when I smiled, one remarked: “What better way to end the day?” Indeed!

Some appeared to be turned inwards (one or two even in tears), while many, like me, smiled because they couldn’t help themselves. It wasn’t until later that I realized: perhaps I noticed so many smiles in direct response to the slap-happy ridiculous grin on my face!

Tween and I enjoyed all of our regular activities–a few hours at the aquarium followed by a walk down Cannery Row, a scrumptious chocolate-caramel sample at Ghirardelli Chocolates, and drinks at Starbucks. We ‘socialized’ puppies (held, played, laughed, and loved puppies!) at the animal rescue. We looked for potential new reads at BookWorks.

We also bought art supplies and spent an hour drawing the view. We devoured guacamole and chips and burritos vegetales smothered in enchilada sauce from Michael’s Grill & Taqueria. And we went paddle boating on Lake El Estero next to the Dennis the Menace Park. Tween hadn’t been paddle boating since his legs were too short to reach the pedals. The half-hour ride around the lake, which afforded us an up-close view of two herons and a pair of turtles, was a perfectly relaxing way to end a perfectly relaxing couple of days.

Next spring break Tween will be on a school-sponsored trip, and the following year he expects to join his dad on the Mexico trip. This week was our final spring break hurrah for just the two of us. I’m grateful we did it right!

 

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

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.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Thankful Thursday – Spring Break 2016

Me: You know what day it is?
Tween: No, what?
Me: Thankful Thursday.
Tween: Oh, awesome!

Awesome indeed. Actually, everyday of this spring break staycation has been awesome. Tween and I have played and read, repeat repeat repeat. We are almost done with Shel Silverstein’s Everything On It, and about halfway through Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. We watched the first two Divergent movies on DVD, then saw the third installment, Allegiant, in the theater. We have exercised – me running, him biking or scootering. We have played with dogs. We have played with friends at the dog park, at the school, at the pool, out to movies and dinner. He has practiced his trumpet, taking time to simply love the music as well as practicing to bugle at his brother’s Eagle Court ceremony in just a few weeks. We have slept well, remarkable considering the Tween hasn’t slept consistently well in his entire lifetime.

Most importantly, we have said Thank You! This week Guy is leading 270+ students and adults from our church in building hope and homes in Mexico. On Sunday he preached from Psalm 103, the theme text for the week. Psalm 103:2 says, “Let all that I am praise the Lordmay I never forget the good things he does for me.” Guy encouraged the congregation to read Psalm 103 throughout the week and make a list of the good things God does.

So we have!Ps103 1Ps103 2

Each morning at breakfast, we’ve read a few verses from Psalm 103 and made a list of things we’re grateful for – the dogs, the people, the activities. It takes only a few minutes and centers us on what truly matters.Shel Silverstein

This is one of the Shel Silverstein poems we read yesterday, and it reminded us of something God could say. God has created so much beauty for us, it’s the least we can do to recognize it, acknowledge it, and say Thanks!

What are you thankful for this week?

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.