What On Earth Am I Doing?!?

“WHAT ON EARTH AM I DOING?!?”

I was alone in my car, but I spoke those words out loud. I’m not sure exactly who I was talking to, whether it was just myself or if I was talking to God. It was spring break of my sophomore year of college, and I was driving on partially ice-covered roads to a camp I had never been to. Oh,and I didn’t know anyone else who would be there.

The story kind of started a week or so before spring break. A friend of mine and I attended a summer job fair on campus. We were both hoping to work at camps that summer, so the job fair seemed like a good idea. I was looking for a Christian camp, and quite honestly, didn’t think I would find a good fit there. Sure enough, there were several church affiliated camps, but most of them seemed to focus on canoeing, horseback riding, archery and the like. I’m sure those are all nice camps, but I was looking for more.

We were almost through the booths in the room when we got to one last camp. The guy said, “Well, we’re about telling kids about Jesus, so if that is something you’d be interested in, feel free to take an application.”

I had intended on applying to a camp I had attended as a child. Another friend of mine had worked there and got me an application. The application process was pretty lengthy. The “We’re about telling kids about Jesus” guy’s camp had a much simpler process, so I filled out the form and put it in the mail right before spring break.

My roommate and I drove to Colorado Springs during the first part of spring break. We had a good old time laughing at tumbleweeds, seeing mountains and going skiing that trip. I don’t remember the exact timeline, but we returned to Iowa in time for me to receive a call from a staffer at Ingham, Okoboji and Riverside Bible Camps (the previously mentioned “tell kids about Jesus” camps). They were having a weekend retreat for middle school students that weekend and were short staffed. They had received my summer application and wondered if I’d like to come up to Okoboji to help out and see if it was something I’d really like to do for the summer. I said, “Sure!”

Then I said, “WHAT ON EARTH AM I DOING?” as I drove to the camp. It seems to go that way sometimes. I agree to do something and then wonder what I was thinking when I agreed to said commitment.

I don’t remember much about that weekend in Okoboji, other than feeling very out of place, yet strangely in the right place. I ended my time there interviewing with the camp director for a summer position. A few days after returning to college, I received a letter saying I was hired for the summer. There is a whole lot more to that story that I’d like to share sometime, but not today.

Today I’m doing a re-enactment of that weekend in Okoboji. Instead this time it’s a weekend in Ohio. I’ve scheduled this little story to post while I’m driving to a retreat in Ohio. I’m pretty sure I’ll be saying, “WHAT ON EARTH AM I DOING?!?” at least once during the 684 mile drive.

photo

It all started last May when I read about a giveaway on a blog. I entered, of course, because blog giveaways are fun! I mean, I had never won anything on a blog giveaway, but you can’t win if you don’t enter, right? This giveaway had some lovely books, jewelry and artwork. The grand prize was a ticket to a retreat in Ohio. {Spoiler alert!} Kris Camealy was doing the giveaway in honor of a blog re-launch and to promote the retreat.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I got a message on Twitter from Kris asking if I had entered the giveaway and then telling me I had won the grand prize. I was all, “No way! I never win anything!” I mean, how totally exciting to win something!

I later received an email from Kris with more details. “There were nearly 3000 entries for this Giveaway, so consider yourself hand-picked by the Lord. :)” she said. “I don’t believe in coincidence.”

Cue the “WHAT ON EARTH?!?” thoughts.

I’ve said many times that I wish God would just send me an email or invent a God app. This is about as close as it gets. God used a giveaway app to pick me as the winner.

What is a person supposed to think when God sends them to a retreat in Ohio? I’m excited to see what He has going on, yet I’m a little bit wondering why He couldn’t do whatever He is doing closer to home. In the past, I’ve set my expectations way too high and then been disappointed a conference or experience wasn’t what I imagined.

I have to admit, my thoughts have included: why didn’t I just win some art or a book? Maybe the retreat will get cancelled. Maybe something will come up that will make my attendance impossible.

We’re (my family) in the middle of a busy, stressful season. Maybe God, in His ever-loving kindness, knew I was going to need a get-away. Maybe there is someone at the retreat I need to meet? Maybe there is a message I need to hear?

I started a 40-day Lent challenge to read through the New Testament. I’m hopelessly behind, but reading all four Gospels so close together makes certain things stand out. One thing I’ve noticed is how often Jesus escaped the crowds to spent time with his Father. My word of the year is small. Going to a retreat in Ohio seems anything but small. On the other hand, the essence of the word small is to simply take the next step. To reign in my focus from “everything” that’s “out there” and all the possibilities on God’s green earth, and to instead focus on what God has given me under my own roof. God has given me a ticket to a retreat, so I embrace the gift with excitement and anticipation!

 

Day 23: Rest

Part of learning to run was reading about running. I started checking out articles online about training, breathing, stretching, etc. for running. There is a lot to learn.

One thing that almost everyone agrees with is that while training to run, you must take days to rest. The  Couch to 5K program suggests running only three days a week. A half-marathon training plan I checked out has running, walking, cross-training (biking or swimming) and strength training for six days, always including a day for rest.

Rest is important for recovery, replenishment and injury prevention.

As a beginning runner, I am glad for rest days. There’s no need to worry about me running every day. It’s just not going to happen.

In life, though, I wonder if we know how to truly rest? Do we know how to take a day off for recovery, replenishment and injury (burnout) prevention?

I’m an American, you know. We’re all about productivity, efficiency, multi-tasking and the like.

My husband sometimes takes days off from his job to do work around our house. We take a vacation and it’s so jam-packed with activity that we need a vacation from our vacation when we get home. The internet, email and social media keep us connected constantly. We are bombarded with things to do.

 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.  — Genesis 2:1-2

God worked. He created the entire universe. And then He rested. It’s pretty plain and simple. We should work. We should work hard. We also should rest. We are not above God. Why do we sometimes live like we are?

Words.

Baskets of laundry stand in line, waiting their turn to spin in soapy water. A load of damp towels and washcloths rest in stiff, crumpled shapes against the sides of the washing machine, ready to be tumbled and warmed. Yet another load of hand-me-downs and garage sale finds sits in the dryer, waiting to move into their new spaces in drawers and on hangers, needed to accommodate the growing legs and arms of my children.

I sit at my dining room table and push lunch crumbs from beneath my bare toes and wonder why I am typing and not sweeping or folding or anything more productive than putting words on a screen.

I remember the words of writers Ann Voskamp and Holley Gerth telling the importance of words, of offering what we’ve been given as worship to the One who has given all to us.

And it seemed God whispered that in the Kingdom there isn’t much difference between a hungry belly and a hungry heart. There are all kinds of needs. And all kinds of ways to meet them. Sometimes that means actual food and a trip to another country. Other times it means daily bread of words offered from wherever we are.

— Holley Gerth, Can Words really Change the World?

A blonde girl dressed in pink asks me to carry a plastic castle from the basement, and I feel guilty for entertaining words and not playing with her.

I remember my old roommate Mandy’s words that pursuing her art is not selfish, but being a good steward of the gifts given her.

If God has called us to it and partnered with us in it and equipped us for it, then we are not being selfish, we are instead stewards of the gift. We are responsible for caring for it, nurturing it and using it well.

— Mandy Steward, Messy Canvas: Selfish or a Steward? — Part 1

This game I play with words, debating their value in this season of life, is not new. It’s the reason I started this blog and later quit this blog. They, the words, dance around in my head, sometimes singing and sometimes taunting. They sometimes whisper and sometimes yell.

Another blonde girl dressed for Yellow Day at preschool arrives, knocking at the front door. She’s given a ride home by my friend, and I feel guilty for losing track of time and failing to greet her at the door.

Yet the words keep swirling, asking to be set free from their prison in my head.

I remember how I cringed as we started to sing an old hymn at church on Sunday. I had longed for a more modern song, yet as the familiar tune filled the sanctuary, I realized the words — more words — were just for me.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

— The Love of God, by Frederick M. Lehman

The words are persistent. They will not go away. I beg and plead with them to leave me be, and they beg and plead back for me to stop pushing them away.

So, I stop the tug-of-war and pause before returning to the sweeping and laundry and other productive things. I dip into the ocean of ink and start painting on the parchment filled sky.

Kids These Days

My  husband and I have worked with a Wednesday night youth program at our church for several years now. We help with kids in 3rd to 5th grade. We’ve been the “red team” for a while now, and each year we get a new batch of kids. It’s a fun time (usually 🙂 ) and we enjoy it.

There are four teams, and when it’s game time, it’s helpful to have an equal number of kids on a team. About a year and a half ago, there was a night where we were short on leaders and kids and we moved to the yellow team for the night. It was a chance to get to know a few new kids, including a girl I’ll call Andrea.

And if you judge a book by its cover, Andrea’s blond hair was in need of a wash, she carries a few extra pounds on her 10-year-old frame, and her initial response to “hello!” is to cross her hands over her chest and give a look that says, “Don’t mess with me.”

The following week, Andrea was moved to the red team for the night, and it seemed as though we had broken through some barriers the week before, because she was fairly friendly and talkative.

Her stories and questions spoke volumes.

“My mom just had a baby two weeks ago,” she said. “His name is John.”

“Oh yeah?” I said.

“John is the dad’s name, too.”

The dad.

Not my dad, or even my mom’s boyfriend. Just the dad.

A few minutes later she looked across the table at my husband and asked, “Is he your boyfriend?”

I had to chuckle. I mean, it’s been a while since he was my boyfriend. It was actually kind of fun to think of him in that way again.

“No,” I said in reply, “he’s my husband.”

Andrea gave me a blank stare. My smile quickly faded.

I couldn’t help but wonder if she even knew what the word “husband” means.

We carried on with our night, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Andrea. Here’s a little girl with no idea what a dad is supposed to be. Possibly no idea what the word husband even means.

Through no choice of her own and no fault of her own, Andrea does not know what it means to have a father.

As I wrestled with sleep that night, I kept thinking about Andrea. Little did she know that our conversation was keeping me awake. It was a conversation that changed me and changed my view of volunteering for our little Wednesday night program.

God brought this verse to my mind:

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me … ” Mark 10:14

I can’t give Andrea a father. I can’t fix her family. But, for 90 minutes on Wednesday nights, I can give her Jesus.

The truth is, I wish I had been a bit more bold in developing a relationship with Andrea.  I met her towards the end of the year, just before the program took a break for the summer. She returned the following year, but was on another team and only came for a couple weeks. I don’t know her last name or how to get a hold of her. I ran into her once at school, when I was volunteering in my son’s classroom. She has been on my mind lately, and I am praying that we cross paths sometime again.

Even if I don’t see her again, I will always remember her. I hope I continue to remember that many kids have tough lives, and their rough edges and tough exteriors are really defensive walls protecting their hurting hearts. I hope I can remember that those kids need Jesus, even the ones that dress weird, have strange hair cuts and bad language. I hope I can remember that every one needs to see Jesus, and I might be the only one who shows Him to them.

It's the little things.

And just like that, it came! My new name: It’s the little things.

It fits in so many ways!

I just wrote this post about how little things make a difference.

I find joy in the little things of life like flowers and birds and songs and little moments.

I’m a little bit random.

I don’t have any one big thing that defines me, and I like that. I like to know a little bit about a lot of things, always being open to learning new things.

It’s often the little, average, normal life kind of situations that get me thinking and eventually get me writing.

Welcome to “It’s the little things!” Thanks for stopping by!

Where's your starfish?

I have always liked this little story: The Starfish Story, by Loren Eisley.

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. 

Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”

The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out.  If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”

“Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish?  You can’t make a difference!”

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf.  Then, smiling at the man, he said … “I made a difference for that one.”

I often have the misguided notion that I must do something big and grand in order to make a difference in life. When there is such a huge need, it seems like any effort will be fruitless, because it can’t possibly bring an end to the vast need.

The truth is, though, that we really can make a difference by doing something small. Even if it only makes a difference in one life, it is still making a difference! And when many people decide to do something that might seem small, the result can be amazing and huge.

Our local grocery store  conducts a fundraising opportunity for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. For $1, you can put your name on a little clover that gets put on the store’s front window. Giving $1 seems pretty small, until you return the next week and see little clovers plastered across the window. Many people giving $1 adds up to several hundred dollars.

Every Christmas we try to find a project or person to give to. This past Christmas, we decided to join up with the Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child project. The goal is to pack a shoebox with small toys, personal hygeine items, school supplies, etc. for a child in another country who has few material possessions. Our two oldest children were old enough to participate, and we packed two shoeboxes to ship overseas. We used an online option that let us know where our boxes were taken. We had one box go to the Dominican Republic and one to Malawi. (It’s in Africa. We had to look it up.) Our two boxes joined 8.2 million — yes, million! — shoeboxes that traveled around the world to bring a smile to a child.

Several weeks ago, we got a large envelope in our mailbox, addressed to our son. I wondered who would be sending our son some mail. I glanced at the return address, “Republica Dominicana,” it said. I could hardly believe my eyes as I tore open the envelope! Inside was a letter from the pastor of a church and photos of dozens of beautiful children that come to the church. The pastor thanked us for sending the box and also said he would pray for our family. I’m still amazed that such a small gift made an impact.

And, really, the greatest impact may have been made on me. When I feel troubled that I can’t possibly do enough or give enough to solve all of the problems of the world, I need to remember that I can’t do enough or give enough to meet life’s needs. But, I can do what I can and give what I can, and that will make a difference, even if it’s only to one starfish.

Love

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perserveres.  — 1 Corintians 13:4-7

This passage was read at our Awana group last night. I was thinking about how I could try to work on the list mentioned in this passage for the rest of my life and probably still not do it right. There is a lot of stuff in those verses. Wow! Then these verses were read again this morning as the devotion at the moms’ group I attend. Maybe a sign that I should try harder to do all of these things right. 🙂 Good thing God gives us a whole life to shape us into the people we are supposed to be!