You see my heart as I sin against you. You see my filth, my defiance, you feel the whips and the shards of glass, the thorns crushed into your skull, the nails piercing through your hands and your feet, the agony as you struggle for breath, the cold darkness of isolation. Lord, you bear it all even as I doubt your love for me. Even as I blame you for my sin.
And you never change your mind.
You watch as I run from you and you chase after me, calling my name in the sweetest tone. And you never stop chasing me, no matter how far I run. No matter what choices I make, you keep loving me, you keep chasing me, you wait for my return, my surrender.
And when I finally turn back, you fold me into your arms and kiss my brow and not a harsh word is on your lips.
Lord, you are so kind. You are love. You are grace and mercy.
Last month (April 1-6), I had the privilege to serve as a Short Term Missionary (hereafter referred to as STM) at the Joni and Friends Family Retreat at Wonder Valley. Honestly, when I first agreed that I would do this, I wasn’t really giving it much thought…I just knew that I had the time, would probably be able to raise the funds, and could be of service to someone who needed it. I had heard about this camp before, having written about it for my church newsletter a while back, and I was interested in the things that they were doing there. So, I went into it thinking, “this could be a neat experience.” Let me tell you now, “neat” was a gross underestimation.
[I’ve broken this up into parts because that’s kind of how my brain works…]
Part 1: Leading up to camp
Let me start off by telling you a bit more about this camp, in case you are not familiar with it. Joni and Friends Family Retreats are week-long (roughly) camps for families who are affected by disability (whether it be physical, developmental, etc). Typically, it is one or more of the children in the family who have a disability, but the rest of the family is affected by this as well. Caring for these children is not an easy task and these families are on the job every single day. These retreats give these families the opportunity to have a vacation. Not only do they get time together as a family doing fun things that may or may not usually be accessible to them, but they also get some time to be around their own age groups, kids playing with other kids and adults spending time with other adults, and generally getting to be around people who can relate to them. One of the major ways that these retreats make all of these things possible is by assigning trained volunteers (STMs) to each family for the purpose of serving and aiding them throughout the week.
As the week of camp drew nearer and nearer, I started to think about what serving as an STM would require of me. I became a bit worried as I started to realize just how self-centered I am and how much I am used to taking care of my own wants and needs before considering others. This is a troubling thing to begin with, but it was even more disturbing to me as I knew that I was entering into a situation in which I would need a selfless, servant-hearted attitude in order to accomplish what I had signed up for. I did not want to be a poor representation of Christ to whomever I was assigned. I wanted to please the Lord by reflecting His character, and I knew that I would not be able to do so by my own strength and “will power.” Humility and servant-heartedness are things that do not come naturally to sinful mankind, but are only accomplished by the grace of God. And so, I prayed for God to change me, even if it were just for that week, into one who regards others as more important than myself (Phil. 2:3).
Part 2: Training and Preparations
Arriving at camp, the STM’s had about a day and a half of training to get through before the families arrived. We bonded together, learning about various disabilities and how to deal with different things that we might encounter and so on and so forth. Something that really meant a lot to me and remained with me throughout the week, and indeed, after that week, was that in order to serve in such a way that would display the love of Christ, we must constantly come to Him in prayer and depend completely on the grace of God.
All throughout the first day (the day before the families arrived), I was nervous, not knowing which family I would be assigned to. I kept thinking that once I knew who my camper was and what disability my camper had, then I would know, more or less, what I was going to be dealing with and could start preparing my mind and praying more specifically about my assigned family. That night, when we got our assignments, I learned that I would be caring for a 4 year-old boy who had autism. My first thought was, “now I still don’t know what I’m dealing with.” As you may or may not know, autism sort of ranges from mild to severe and the affects of it vary from person to person. So, all I could really count on was that I would have to adapt and learn as I went. And so, I began praying even harder for the week to go smoothly and for my assigned family to be able to relax, enjoy themselves, and really experience the love of Christ. It was nice to finally be able to pray for them by name.
Part 3: Meeting my Camper/family and getting started
As the time (the second day) for me to actually meet my assigned camper and family drew nearer, I became more and more nervous. Thankfully, I had many brothers and sisters in Christ around me who could encourage and pray for me. When I finally laid eyes on my precious little camper and his equally-as-precious twin brother, my excitement and joy won-out and my nervousness was no where to be seen. To my delight, the mother and father of my camper turned out to be very kind and loving people and I felt a connection with the whole family almost instantly. I quickly learned about my camper and his twin brother (who also has autism – he was assigned another STM and we worked together a lot of the time), their little quirks, cleverness, character, and the differences between them. By the end of that first day of serving my camper and his family, there was already so much love in my heart for them; all I wanted to do was spend time with them and help them with whatever they needed or wanted. I couldn’t keep from smiling as I realized that there was literally no place in the world that I would rather have been at that moment, than right where the Lord had placed me. The Lord had, indeed, already answered my prayer.
Part 4: The rest of the week/concluding thoughts
All throughout the week, my days were very busy, and I noticed that I had a lot more energy and stamina than usual, which could only have come from the Lord. I remember feeling so blessed. It was so satisfying to spend my entire day serving someone else and not focusing so much on myself. I enjoyed watching the parents of my camper relax and enjoy themselves, having extra hands to take care of things. I loved looking around and seeing so many families in such a happy state, in which they did not have all the usual troubles weighing on their shoulders. It was so neat to be in a place where everyone could just be themselves. If a child began screaming or doing other things that would usually be considered “disruptive” or “rude,” it was received with understanding and grace rather than judgmental stares and ignorant whispers. If ever a parent felt overwhelmed, there was someone there to help lighten the load. All of us STMs worked really hard throughout the week, but it was some of the most satisfying work we had ever done. I know from my own experience, and from talking to other STMs, that we left that camp feeling as though we were more blessed by the families we served and the work that God had done in our hearts than we had even anticipated. I really did not want to leave that place. I had grown so attached to my camper and family as well as the overall environment of the camp – so much so that I had a good cry as I was leaving the camp to go back home.
It was truly an eye-opening experience that I will not soon forget. My whole outlook on service has been altered for the better, as has my understanding of families affected by disability. The Lord has used this experience to grow my desire for service and my love for others. I would urge everyone to prayerfully consider trying something like this at least once. I promise you, it will be an unforgettable experience that you are likely to carry with you for the rest of your life. And, if you are like me, you will quickly decide that this is something you want to be involved with every year.
Please feel free to ask/talk to me more about the camp if you feel so inclined 🙂 I was not super specific in this blog because I didn’t want it to be too long and also because I wasn’t sure how detailed I should get about my particular family and whatnot. However I am open to talking about it on a one-on-one sort of basis. 🙂
I have been thinking about Valentine’s Day… that is, I am still thinking about Valentine’s Day, even though it is long gone and I have many other things to occupy my thoughts. I have been meaning to share my thoughts on this holiday, but school has a funny way of preventing me from doing such things… such things as blogging, that is. As February 14th came closer and closer, I kept telling myself, “I’ll write a Valentine’s Day blog!” and as I stared the day right in the face, I figured, “I’ll write a blog a day or two from now, and I’ll call it ‘Reflections of Valentines Day,’ or something like that.” But then I just kept on walking, as the 14th waved me away. But I still have these thoughts that I think would make a decent post. And… well… at least it’s still February!
I have always loved Valentine’s day. Always. I have also always been single on Valentine’s Day – single in both the original meaning of being unmarried and the meaning that young people often use to describe a person who is not currently dating. I have never joined the bitter ranks who like to call it Single Awareness Day, snickering to themselves at the imagined cleverness of that acronym, SAD. I haven’t even joined those who brood at the fact that Valentine’s Day is a commercial holiday in which corporations brainwash men into thinking that they have to prove their love with diamonds, flowers, chocolates and cards… and those ridiculously large stuffed animals that nobody really knows what do to with. No, I have always found so many reasons to enjoy that day every year of my life. While I do strongly believe that we can show others that we love them every day of the year (and maybe, we actually should), I really like the idea of having a day that is a celebration of love. I like having a day in which I tell people how much I love them and why I love them. I like making cards for people (no matter how much I am lacking in artistic skill). I like eating chocolate with my girl-friends and watching cute movies. I like wearing pink and red and painting my nails just for the fun of it. I like letting my dad and my brother (and in the past, my mom) know, again that I love them and am glad to have them. I love looking through the Bible to find all the verses about love and praising the God who is, Himself, love. I think it is something my mother instilled in me. We always had cards, flowers, scriptures and little gifts between us on Valentine’s day. She always made it special, and I intend to keep it special.
I honestly don’t see why Valentine’s Day should be only for couples-going-on-dates, or elementary-school-children-giving-classmates-tiny-cards. I think our culture has a strange obsession with romantic love that completely discounts other types of love. While romantic love is a beautiful, wonderful thing, so is love between two friends and love between brother and sister or father and daughter. What is it about romantic love that makes so many people think it is the sole purpose for living? I notice so many people being depressed on Valentines Day because they “have no one,” but they are actually surrounded by people who love and care about them. I have never considered myself to be “alone on Valentine’s Day” and I don’t think that I ever will be. There is more to love than just romance and attraction.
… But anyway, I sort of ran out of steam there at the end, but I think you get my point. Perhaps I would have written this much better had I done it sooner while the thoughts were much fresher. Ah well…
Lately, I’ve been thinking about parents. There is something I find quite interesting:
When a couple has a child, it becomes their duty to raise them in such a way that they will contribute well to society and be a decent, respectable person; a person living a purposeful life. They go to great lengths to raise this child in the right way and often worry about whether or not the child will love them. Parents often feel that flaws in their child reflect flaws in their parenting. Meanwhile, this child is always seeking the approval of its parents. We all just want to be certain that our parents really love us. We all long to hear our parents say “I’m proud of you.” Probably even more so the older we are. So, if you think about it, it’s like a strange cycle: parents are hoping to gain the love and approval of their child (as well as approval in how they raised their child), and children are hoping to gain the love and approval of their parents. This is all in a general sense, of course. There is something there between a parent and child. We need each other. We need each other until we have that final answer: Did I do a good job? Did my child turn out well? Did I make my parents proud? I think it is interesting that we find so much meaning in the answers to such questions.
Even when a parent has died, as my mother has, one of the main things that floats around in the child’s mind is the question, “Did I make my mother/father proud?” To know that you did, makes all the difference in your coping.
And with parents that are still living, even if they have assured you that they are proud of you, you need re-assurance. Well I know I do, it may be different for others. I think it’s because things seem to change so much, we fear that nothing is constant.
I don’t really have a point in all of this, it’s just something I was thinking about. I’m not really sure how to wrap this up… Well, if you have any thoughts on this, leave a comment, I’d love to read your thoughts. (by the way, I’m pretty sure you don’t need to be signed up with this website to leave a comment, so go ahead!)
I miss my mother. Like you wouldn’t believe. The reality of her death is hitting me pretty hard today. I miss her love, her compassion, her encouragement, her wisdom, her smile, her hugs, her kindness, her thoughtfulness, and her perseverance. But most of all I miss having a mother. And what a mother.
I bought her some flowers today. White daisies and a soft orange and pink rose. She would have loved them. I put them by her urn.
Honestly, sometimes I wish we had buried her, just so I could have a place to go, away from this house, to mourn for her. Outside, cool air, in a solemn place. To sit by a tomb stone, with her name on it, and think about her and cry for her.
But I guess it is nice to have her ashes right in the living room. I walk past it everyday. And I can look at the flowers I bought her and remember why bought them.
So I don’t even really have time to post a blog right now, but I really want to, so I will try to be quick.
First I will give you some context as I know that some people reading my blogs don’t know much about my family or what has been going on with me this year.
My brother Daniel is in the marines and is currently stationed in Japan. We are really close so it is hard for me to have to go so long without seeing him. As you probably know if you have read my past blogs, talked to me lately, or seen my myspace page, our mother passed away this year in May. It was the most bittersweet thing for my brother to come home while my mother was dying in the hospital. It was the worse possible reason for him to be visiting, but I had missed him so much that it was so nice to see him again (what an understatement that is). I think that I have a special relationship with my brother because we have gone through so much hardship over the years. I think that losing our mother, whom we both loved more than words can express, also aided us in growing closer to each other. It was extremely devastating to leave him at the airport when he had to go back to Japan. I wish I could talk to him face to face every day.
So there you go…thats your context. Now on to what I was planning on writing about. So lately we haven’t been able to communicate with Daniel as much because he moved rooms and no longer has a phone that he could use. He also has limited internet use. We can’t call him and he doesn’t have much opportunity to call us. (At least lately he has been able to email us a bit). A few weeks ago he sent us an email and it literally brought me to tears. I cannot even begin to tell you how much I miss him.
In a few weeks he will be going on a big ship and going from port to port. So we will not be able to be in contact with him at all. I’m not sure how long he will be doing that, but I know it will be much longer than I want it to be. I’m thinking it will be a few months, but possibly a year. I don’t remember exactly what he told me about that, but even so, the military changes plans very often.
The other night, well it was about 4 in the morning(sunday morning), my phone rang. Of course, I was sleeping so it woke me up, but I didn’t recognize the number so I didn’t want to answer it. So naturally I just pressed the button on the side to quiet the phone and went back to sleep. When I woke up and listened to my voice mail, I was very upset with myself. It was my brother. He had finally gotten a chance to call me, and I didn’t answer the phone! In the voicemail, though, he said he would try to call the next day if he could find a way. So I prayed all day that he would be able to call.
I was half expecting him to call in the middle of the night last night, but he didn’t. So I was pretty sad about it thinking “if only I had just picked up the phone!!”
To my surprise, I got a phone call today, at noon. I did not recognize the number…it was Daniel! I was so happy to hear his voice! We talked about what we had been up to and whatnot. We had a good conversation. I didn’t want to stop talking to him, but he had to go after about a half hour. So we exchanged I-Love-you’s as we both knew very well that anything could happen and this could be the last conversation we have. This realization does not come only because he is a marine and his job can be dangerous. It is because the unthinkable happened last May. We had no way of knowing that our mother would be gone so soon. I think every time me and my brother say goodbye now, we make sure we are leaving on good terms. And we always make sure the other one knows we love them. Oh, I hope that wasn’t our last conversation. I hope I get to see him and hug him again. But only time will tell. All I can do is pray and wait. And trust that God won’t put anything on my plate that I can’t handle swallowing.
So of course you know I am going to tell you this: you never know when someone you love so dearly is going to pass away. Please make sure you don’t leave anything left unsaid. I was fortunate enough to feel that my mother knew everything that I could have possibly wanted to say to her. We left on very good terms. I can’t imagine what it would be like if we hadn’t.
I’ve heard this song many times before, but never really understood it until I had a very similar experience.
“What Sarah Said”
by Death Cab For Cutie: And it came to me then
That every plan is a tiny prayer to Father Time
As I stared at my shoes in the ICU
That reeked of piss and 409
And I rationed my breaths as I said to myself
That I’d already taken too much today
As each descending peak on the LCD
Took you a little farther away from me
Away from me
Amongst the vending machines and year-old magazines
In a place where we only say goodbye
It stung like a violent wind that our memories depend
On a faulty camera in our minds
But I knew that you were a truth
I would rather lose than to have never lain beside at all
And I looked around at all the eyes on the ground
As the TV entertained itself
‘Cause there’s no comfort in the waiting room
Just nervous paces bracing for bad news
Then the nurse comes around and everyone lifts their head
But I’m thinking of what Sarah said
That love is watching someone die
So who’s going to watch you die
So who’s going to watch you die
So who’s going to watch you die
The line “love is watching someone die” keeps replaying itself in my mind. I never quite understood it. But I do now. I litterally watched my mother slowly die right there in front of me in that ICU hospital bed. It was at that time that I realized just how much I loved her. I didn’t want to leave her side, I forgot about everything else, suddenly she was, not only the most important, the only important thing in the world. There was no place I wanted to be more, than to be there by her side in that moment.
Now as I listen to this song, I can’t help but notice that it is frighteningly similar to my experience and my emotions. The picture painted by those words has never been so real to me.