January 2009


I have been poking around the Internet lately, trying to find organizations that offer opportunities to volunteer/serve/minister (pick a word) as a family. Can’t find anything. Well, not anything that fits OUR family. Here’s the backgound to my present quandary…

Just after Christmas, my family, along with several other families, teens, and various other non-attached people, took a bus trip to Mexico. The purpose of said trip was to build a school in a village called Maneadero. This was our second trip with an organization called True North Helping Hands. So… that’s what we did, and it was wonderful.

Since returning home, however, I have been a little blue. I was visiting with a good friend who was also on the trip, and we started comparing feelings. Freakishly similar.

Both of us talked about feeling that “there’s got to be more to it than this” feeling. That “what next?” feeling. That “how else can I serve the Lord by serving humanity?” feeling.

Now I realize that there are many service opportunities right here at home, and we try to do what we can in our neighbourhood. But our friends and we have made a commitment to try and do some kind of beneficial work each year (God willing, of course). Something that we can do together as families that uses the talents of our family members. We are more doing families than, say, teaching families. So the build-a-school-in-Mexico thing has been great. But we thought we might like to explore some other options, closer to home.

These are my requirements (I won’t speak for my friend):

1. Something that involves helping others.

2. Something that will be a good experience for my kids. By that I mean both the work experience, and the location experience. For example, in Mexico the kids were able to learn some building skills and contribute in other specific ways to the project, while getting the benefit of the cultural experience as well. A twofer.

3. Something we can afford to do. We can’t afford to fly to Africa, although that would be awesome!

4. Something, probably, in Canada. This is because Canadians are now required to hold passports when entering the U.S., and any foster children we might have would most likely not have passports.

We were hoping to find some kind of organization out there that we could just sign up with, but… nada. If there is, I haven’t been able to find it. If you know of any, please let me know. However, since I haven’t found anything to tap into, I’m starting to consider creating my own. I mean, it’s not like there aren’t needs out there. I’ll let you know how it goes. And if you have any ideas, send them along my way. That’d really be great.

I know the Obama inauguration is old news, but I can’t seem to get the events of a few days ago out of my head. I dragged the boys down to the basement and fired up our old tv to watch. “It’s history, unfolding in front of us,” I said. Truthfully, they came quite willingly because, let’s face it, it’s not everyday that mom chooses television over math and english.

We started watching just as the Obama children arrived. I kept trying to emphasize for the boys the significance of the day. Put it all in a historical context. I am not American, nor am I black, nor am I especially political, so I am not sure how to categorize the emotions I felt while watching. Maybe I was just struck by the rightness of it all. Starting with the red Lincoln Bible, carried in by Michelle Obama, to the pictures of Malia Obama photographing the day, to her comment to her dad after he finished his speech. For what it’s worth, here are a few of my thoughts about the day.

I watched the CBC version, which meant I heard commentary by Peter Mansbridge. Lots of discussion about the size of the crowd, the weather, the president who died a month after his inauguration, the beautiful Obama children, the thoughts Bush might be thinking…

I actually found the commentary interesting because I don’t watch much television and so I was not aware of things like the controversy around Rick Warren being asked to pray. I believe in a situation such as this, it is called an invocation rather than a prayer. I felt kind of sorry for the guy. It all seemed a little awkward, almost insincere. I don’t think Mr. Warren is an insincere guy. I mean, I’ve read Purpose-Driven Life, and that is the extent of my familiarity with him. It is just a weird situation in which to lead a prayer. It sounded more like a mini-speech, with an amen at the end. Lowrey’s prayer, although I’m sure it was prepared and rehearsed, just didn’t sound prepared and rehearsed.

Of course, Aretha, singing Our Country Tis of Thee, can’t help but give you the shivers. Although the hat she was wearing was, shall I say, a little distracting?! But what do I know about fashion. I thought they all should have been wearing warmer coats. And maybe mittens. Or at least those gloves with the fingers cut out. (I noticed the pianist was wearing those). Michelle was at least wearing a coat, but it was one of those that don’t actually button up. Brrr.

Isn’t it funny how we call them all by their first names.

The actual oath-taking was fumbled a bit. Does that matter? Or am I being legalistic?

I enjoyed Obama’s speech. It was fairly low-key, but beautifully written. I wonder how much he actually personally contributed to it? He is a wonderful public speaker. No doubt about it.

I felt a little bad for the people who had to present after the Obama speech. A little anti-climactic. I have heard quite a bit of negative talk about the poem. I should have looked up the poet’s name. I am sure she is well-known in poetic circles. I actually thought her poem was okay. Poetry is a difficult art to appreciate. I thought she did a good job of balancing style, and presented something that was accessible to most people. Not really traditional, but also not so “out there” that it couldn’t be understood.

The music was beautiful, but, again, the show was over. People were done listening. Too bad.

I thought the departure of the Bushes was sort of interesting. I wonder what they were all thinking as they went through the ceremony of walking out together, and then the hugs and handshakes as the Bushes said good-bye to the Obamas. And all the commentary talk about the “smooth transition of power”. What were they expecting? Is it really so significant? There are several countries, including our own, that manage to transition leaders smoothly. Just part of the rhetoric of the day, I suppose.

I didn’t hang in there for the parade. I heard that Barack and Michelle got out of their vehicle and went for a stroll through the crowd. And I heard that Ted Kennedy collapsed at the reception and was rushed to hospital. All events that will no doubt become Peter’s colour at the next inauguration.

See you in four years.

I have been given an assignment and so (flashback to high school) I am procrastinating. Although, truthfully, I don’t know if that is really the right word. I mean, I’m not actually doing the assignment, but I am thinking about it. I’m, you know, mulling it over. Sifting ideas. Organizing thoughts in my head.

Okay, I’m procrastinating.

The assignment. A friend asked if I would write an article for a small magazine she helps edit. The topic is to relate to the “living stone” theme found in 1 Peter. Anyway, she asked me, and, well, I didn’t say no. So I guess that means I said yes. And so here I am feeling that “the paper is due” feeling.

On the plus side, I have been reading 1 Peter, over and over, from several different versions, for the past few days and I gotta say, I love 1 Peter. Lots of good stuff in there. And I never really stopped to realize, until now, that Peters 1 and 2 are the only books (letters) this guy wrote. This amazing, passionate, I’ll-cut-your-ear-off-if-you-don’t-watch-out guy only has two, rather short books in the whole bible. But I digress…

I love 1 Peter. I love how he uses the idea of LIFE in the book. From The Message version:

Welcome to the living Stone, the source of life. The workmen took one look and threw it out; God set it in the place of honor. Present yourselves as building stones for the construction of a sanctuary vibrant with life

(emphasis mine, but totally called for, in my opinion). Okay, I want to be part of that building project.

And then, later on:

Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless– that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing.

I love that. That’s your job, everyone. To bless. Just get out there and… bless.

And this is from the guy who, according to Eugene H. Peterson in his forward to the book of 1 Peter in my copy of The Message, could have been a bully. He says:

From what we know of the early stories of Peter, he had in him all the makings of a bully. That he didn’t become a bully (and religious bullies are the worst kind) but rather the boldly confident and humbly self-effacing servant of Jesus Christ that we discern in these letters, is a compelling witness to what he himself describes as “a brand-new life, with everything to live for.”

Life, with everything to life for. Life, lived out secure in the foundation of the Living Cornerstone, Jesus. All my life I’ve heard sermons based on this passage and they have usually gone something like this:

Jesus is the cornerstone of the church. A cornerstone was the most important part of the foundation when building using stones in Bible times. The cornerstone had to be just right or the building would not have a solid foundation.  That is what Jesus is to the church. The foundational stone. The one the the church is built on.

But as I read this passage, I wonder if it actually says something more than that. If Jesus was the traditional cornerstone, the perfect fit, then why did the builders throw that stone out? Why is that Living Stone called a stumbling block? I wonder if this passage is saying that Jesus was NOT the traditional cornerstone. In other words, he wasn’t what the traditional religious people were looking for. He was different. Perfect, because he is the Living Stone, but different. And so the church that will be built with THAT stone as it’s cornerstone will be different. After all, it says, “whoever trusts in this stone as a foundation will never have cause to regret it”. Building with this particular cornerstone requires trust. Hmmm.

I have to trust this living, out-of-the-religious-box stone. That gives religion a kick in the pants, I’d say. Because what he is asking here is for us to build with him something that lives and breathes and… blesses. That, my friends, is a whole lot different than the “building” that had been going on. Tradition, obligation, expectation… sound familiar? But Peter says, Wait. Catch the paradigm shift. Let’s quit thinking in terms of building codes and blue prints and let’s start living. Trusting the Builder. Trusting the Cornerstone. Trusting the One that is the perfect fit. The One that you can bring your unique self to and know that you will find a place in the thing he is building. A living, thriving, growing organism… okay, this is starting to sound like something out of an old Star Trek episode.

The thing is, I love the idea of being part of this living, blessing, building thing that Peter is talking about here. I love how it makes me feel. I want it. I think that is what the church, established by Jesus, is supposed to be. So, how do I get there? Can I really be a part of that church? What does that church look like in 2009? And, most scary to think about, would that church want me?

Help.

***

And then there is this, in 1Peter 4, from The Message:

Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless– cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everthing through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything– secure to the end of time. Oh, yes!

Maybe it is not up to me to find the perfect church to be “a part of”. Maybe I just need to be the church, trust the Cornerstone, accept and offer grace, and the church (that Jesus already established, remember) will find me. Or we’ll find each other. Or whatever. But it will be something beautiful, full of people who are serving, loving, helping, caring, forgiving…

blessing.

A sanctuary vibrant with life. Hey, I think I’m already churching with some of those folks.

Mexico… I wish I was there. We have had snow and wind for a few days now. The boys and I are snowed in. It is blizzarding as I write. The howling wind sounds kind of like the ocean. Kind of. I know, I’m pathetic.

Lyndon took the Dodge to work in Regina on Monday morning. I was supposed to go to Regina tomorrow for an eye appointment but I just called and changed it. We tried to go to town yesterday afternoon for karate class but we got stuck in the yard. Tyson, Colton, and I shovelled for an hour or so and managed to get the car back to the house where it could be plugged in. We won’t be going anywhere until we get plowed out.

I intended to put up some photos of the Mexico trip on this post but it was taking so long I gave up. You’ll just have to imagine it!

I’ve been asked several times how this trip compared to last year’s trip. It was different in many ways. Last year we were just a couple of families and our focus was on building the school. We were all together all of the time. And everything about Mexico was new and, sort of, in your face. The garbage, the poverty, the dogs, the language, the bad roads.

This year I felt much more comfortable. Those “in-your-face” things seemed to melt into the background. They were still there and I was aware of them, but they weren’t keeping my focus. I was much more aware of the people and how they live.

The group was different, too. There were more people and a large number of them were teenagers. So, different atmosphere, different schedule, different jobs. People were going in different directions and doing different things. We all kept busy and we got more accomplished, but we did not all work together all the time.

Both trips were great. This time, I was mainly responsible for the blanket project. It was crazy busy and we could have made many, many more blankets with the kids that showed up. We ended up putting the kids into family groups and having the siblings make one blanket together. Still, we didn’t have enough fabric. We had brought some fleece blankets along that we had purchased at Peavy Mart and we started giving those to the kids after we ran out of the material to make blankets. Then, I realized that those kids were laying their blankets out on the ground like the other kids were. So, we gave them a second fleece and they went ahead and made tied blankets like the other kids. It was great to see how happy the kids were with their blankets.

I was also involved in the food distribution project. We bought bulk items and then spent an afternoon repackaging it into family “sets”. I shoveled tons of rice into ziploc bags. Carter “helped” with this project. We delivered the food sets in various ways. The most challenging was when we handed the food out on the street in Zorrillo. As soon as the truck drove in the people started coming. We didn’t have nearly enough for the people that showed up. It was pretty hard on the group to have to turn people away.

That whole “it’s never enough” thing is something I’ve attempted to come to terms with as we’ve tried to help out in different ways. I guess I approach it with the philosophy I adopted after studying the book of James last year. That is, do the next good thing that is before me. I can’t feed all the hungry people in Mexico. And the ones I did give food to are going to be hungry again. Is it pointless? Jesus didn’t think so.

And I don’t need to go to Mexico to find the next good thing. When one is finished, another appears. Even here at home. Even in my home!

But it sure feels good to give a hungry family some food, even if it will only last them a week.

The plan was to leave Glentworth at 8:00 Friday morning (Boxing Day). Lyndon’s mom and dad and my sister Kathy and her son Trey spent Christmas night with us. We had turkey dinner and then finished packing, made turkey buns for the next day, organized luggage, finished last minute laundry, and put together one of the fleece blankets as a sample for the blanket project in Mexico. It was a late night and an early morning the next day.

We arrived in Glentworth on time, loaded our stuff on the bus, left the truck at someone’s house so it could be plugged in before we got home again, and found our bus seats. Afer a little shuffling, our family and Kathy and Trey ended up at the back of the bus. Nice in some ways as there was a little more leg room, but challenging (we soon discovered) as we shared the back of the bus with the bathroom which became increasingly stinky as the trip progressed.

Anyway, after that flurry of activity we were off. Leaving behind -30 weather with wind chills that dropped the temperature down into the -40s. We had a fairly uneventful trip. Everyone was in high spirits (except for the one guy for whom we had to keep stopping so that he could puke on the side of the road). The roads were pretty good. A little slippery in some places as they had been having lots of snow in Montanna and Utah. Bernie the Bus Driver was amazing. He stayed upbeat and positive throughout the entire trip and helped us out with the project in Mexico. Clint was the other bus driver. They had a bunk behind the driver’s seat that they would take turns using to sleep while the other one was driving.

We drove and drove, all of Boxing Day, that night, and the following day. We stopped at several Flying J truck stops (Bernie’s preferred fuel and food stop), and we stopped in Las Vegas for a few hours to get out and walk around while Bernie took the bus to get washed, fueled, and “emptied”. Las Vegas is quite the place. It looks a little “off” during the day, like a woman who slept with her makeup on. Trump Tower surprised me. It is just a big, shiny rectangle stuck off a little on it’s own, with no landscaping or anything around the outside of it. Must be nice on the inside. It was interesting to see the huge billboards advertising the upcoming shows: Donny and Marie, Cher, Jerry Seinfeld, among others. We saw the hotels that were in the Oceans movies. Kind of cool, in a weird, unreal kind of way.

Because of the trouble recently in Tijuana, we had decided that we would stay in San Diego Saturday night and cross the border early Sunday morning. That meant we weren’t pushing to get there and so we stopped for supper and let everyone spend a few hours at an outlet mall in some town a few hours from San Diego. We arrived at Canyon View Church of Christ early Saturday evening, said hello to the B.C. people who were already there, found places for everyone to sleep, enjoyed the showers there, and went to bed.

In the morning we had breakfast at the church, loaded the rental vans, and headed for the border. We were hoping to get to Manaedero in time for church, but the border crossing did not go as we wished. A border official pulled us over (we were travelling with a truck loaded with our luggage and the supplies we were taking with us, and three vans), and required us all to purchase visas for $22.00/person. The visas were not necessary but we had no choice. So, after shuffling back and forth from one office to another, filling out paperwork, and paying our money, we were back on the road. Unfortunately, the delay caused us to miss church. We arrived at the campground at noon, greeted everyone who was already there, said hello to the owner, Adolpho, and then sat down in the sunshine to enjoy a wonderful Mexican meal that Adolpho had prepared for us.

And then… Mexico!

… If you know what I mean.

We arrived home Monday at around 7:00 am. The house was freezing cold, so after we turned up all the registers (we have electric baseboard heat) we all went to bed and slept until noon. I feel like I have been in a bit of a fog ever since. Kind of like my head is in two places, like part of me is still in Mexico.

We had another wonderful trip. It was different in many ways from our trip last year, but great. Here’s a rundown:

We built a new elementary classroom that will hold around thirty-five children (or as many as they can pack in there). The building was completely finished when we left. It was painted inside and out, electricity working, desks and blackboards installed, and the keys handed to George, the teacher. Some that were there the last day participated in a little dedication of the building, and then George taught a little class (the Spanish alphabet, I believe) to the workers. I missed that. Would have loved to have seen it.

We renovated the kindergarten site, which involved re-roofing the main building and an additional building, painting the outside of all buildings including the bathrooms (banos), some painting inside the buildings, and re-plumbing the toilets so that they could actually be used (compliments of Grandpa Tom). They also had a load of gravel brought in to cover the front yard.

We made over one hundred blankets with local children in Zorillo and Manaedero. We had way more children show up than we had blankets for, which made for some interesting negotiations. More on that later.

Jackie gave two lectures on Type 2 diabetes, one in Zorillo and one in Maneadero. We thought a handful of women might show up, but they came in droves and brought their friends. About 200 people attended each session and there were lots of questions.

We made up and distributed a few hundred packages of food supplies, consisting of rice, beans, corn meal, and either dried veggies with soup mix or dried apples with cinnamon, all packaged in a large plastic bowl. We gave a food set to each diabetes lecture participant, left enough for the church members in Zorillo and Manaeder0, and handed other sets out on the street in Zorillo. We also left some in Manaedero for the church to distribute. While a satisfying project, it was difficult to see that there were people turned away when the food ran out.

We visited an orphanage near Ensenada. We brought soccer balls and skipping ropes and played with the kids for about an hour. Ninos de Baha is a beautiful facility and it was a pleasure to meet the director and to see how happy the kids are there.

We left around fifty purchased fleece blankets at the school in Manaedero for the teacher to hand out to the students there. We also left some baby quilts that had been made by Marylynne, a friend in Gravelbourg, for children in Zorillo.

We left school supplies at both the Zorillo and Manaedero schools.

We visited a tourist site called La Bufadora, where we enjoyed bartering for souvenirs and viewing the impressive blow hole.

That’s the bare bones. I’ll try to provide some “colour” later. And I’ll try to get some pictures loaded. The bottom line is that it was a wonderful, memory-making trip. I’m still processing it all. I pray that this little drop-in-the-bucket adventure of ours will in some way make a difference in the lives of people, both in Mexico and in Canada. It was fun to think that as we were arriving home on Monday morning, children in Manaedero, Mexico were beginning class in a new classroom!