Campground Talk

When we were growing up, camping was the highlight of the summer. We’d load up the station wagon, squabble over who was crossing the line, sweat dribbling down our backs and sealing our legs to the seats. You’d pick up one thigh, then the other, put your hands balled up into fists under each and hold them there as long as you could stand before giving up and settling back into the pool of your own sweat. We might pull into a parking lot and have a “car picnic” something I never minded, but my brother still to this day seems to have a distaste for, bologna or Carl Budding turkey, pringles and an apple and then back on the road.

Finally, we’d reach Smith Mountain Lake or Lake Norris and pour out of the car into puddles in the parking lot. Dad would go around to the back of the car and then do something and go somewhere and I would be underfoot or leaning out over the water swearing I can make duck calls and wildly screaming “HONK! QUUUUUACK! HOOOONK!” Then the suitcases were on the boat and we pushed off and headed to our spot.

We knew our peninsula, jutting out into the lake with the cove that my brothers swore was full of catfish that would sting me if I didn’t stop following them around. We’d pull up and then up the hill with all our belongings, up went the biggest burnt sienna tent you’ve ever seen and a smaller green one for the boys. Setting up was tedious, pole, pole, slide, pole and the ever famous line “Sarah, the best way you can help is to just stay out of the way.” But without a place to change no swimming could be done until the tents were up.

At last, camp was set and we were in the water, on the water, or near the water with lines cast. Our vacation had  begun and all the effort was worth it. We spent weeks on those shores and when I think of peace its often like Lake Norris in the morning, quiet, damp and cool, blue with an orange glow, all of nature rustling to life and my mom cooking pancakes on the green campstove.

After a week or two of true relaxation it would be time to return home, and every time I heard the same hard and fast rule. If you ask any real camper they’ll know and tell you it the same, leave the campsite nicer than you found it. You sweep all the dirt and spiders out of the tent, straighten up the fire circle and pour out the rest of your melted ice over any left embers. You sweep the bench and the table and check to be sure no soda can was left behind, gather up all the trash and load every bit you came in with back on the boat. Push off and then we were headed back to the dock and to the sweet sweaty insides of the wagon, for a quieter, sleepy ride back home.

A few days ago I was contemplating my childhood camping experiences and this piece came to mind, whether we were at Lake Norris or Smith Mountain Lake, or camping on the Chesapeake Bay or anywhere we stopped along the way across the country and back in our Club Wagon, this was always constant. Leave it nicer than you found it.

    I started to think, wouldn’t it be amazing if this was a principle people adopted in their everyday life and applied it to their speech?

There is a story I’ve heard recently the Woodrow Wilson told and later confirmed to a journalist to be truth and not legend. I have found the story told by President Wilson, as follows,

I was in a very plebeian place. I was in a barber’s shop, sitting in a chair, when I became aware that a personality had entered the room. A man had come quietly in upon the same errand as myself and sat in the next chair to me. Every word he uttered, though it was not in the least didactic, showed a personal and vital interest in the man who was serving him ; and before I got through with what was being done to me, I was aware that I had attended an evangelistic service, because Mr. Moody was in the next chair. I purposely lingered in the room after he left and noted the singular effect his visit had upon the barbers in that shop. They talked in undertones. They did not know his name, but they knew that something had elevated their thought. And I felt that I left that place as I should have left a place of worship.

Woodrow Wilson later learned it was the evangelist Dwight L. Moody who had been next to him and his admiration of the man only grew from that day on.

We should make it our goal that any conversation we enter, we leave it like D. L. Moody, and like a campsite, better than we found it. The people around us are far more important than a piece of earth, important as our planet is. In the Bible, in the book of James, we read that all sorts of beasts of the land and birds in the sky are being tamed, but no one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of poison.

If you think for a moment to the most recent moment of strife in your life, I would be happy to make a bet that at the center of the drama, at the juiciest morsel of shame or hurt of it all was someone with a big nasty gossip filled mouth eager to eat that meal and share it with others. And at times, if you’re truly honest, you’d admit that YOU were the one with that mouth causing trouble. I’m not afraid to admit I’ve been the one who’s mouth has gotten her in trouble. I’d even go so far as to say, if you won’t admit it, you’re filling your mouth with lies and proving my point. Yet, with that same mouth we sing our children to sleep and comfort our friends in hard times. We cheer on our favorite team and even pray with the same mouth that we use to spew such vileness.

We have to make a conscious choice to do what Moody did, to go into every conversation with the goal of elevating it. We have to make a conscious choice, even when we’re tired and all we want to do is stay another hour focused on our vacation, on our own happiness, and get up, pick up the broom, and leave that campsite nicer than we found it.

It will be a joy to push back from the beach then and set our eyes out over the shore, pleased with our time there, pleased with how we left things, and ready to move on to the next place.


My Only Friends

There is a boy in Frank’s class that is feeling out his place amongst his peers. Well, probably every boy in Frank’s class is feeling out their place, and every girl, but this boy you can read this on him. He has a joyful spirit, a great smile, a bright mind and a wellspring of energy that will not run dry. He has all the makings of a track star or something that requires quick movement. He does things at his own speed, in his own time, and I imagine that the tempo of the drummer he marches to is really tapping his toe at an incredible pace.

From and early age I worked to impress upon Frank that there are some children that do things “in their own time and in their own way.” This was the phrase I used when I introduced him to the son of a dear friend of mine who was on the spectrum, at that point nonverbal, and not toilet trained. I think Frank was 3 at the time. Frank liked that boy and liked going over to their house and playing with them. My big fear was that he would notice that this boy wasn’t using the potty like he was, something he was incredibly proud of, and turn it back on this friend and criticize him for it. But Frank didn’t. Those talks about “in his own time and in his own way” seemed to satisfy whatever difference Frank would notice between him and this sweet, sweet child.

Preschool began and Frank came to meet other children who did things in their own time and in their own way. Sure, kids on the spectrum, but also kids whose parents had neglected and abused them to the point that they lashed out violently and to the adults in the room in scary ways, showing what they’d been exposed to through vulgar language or crude gestures. Nonverbal children who hid in playground tunnels or shoved their friends down slides. Very verbal children who couldn’t sit criss cross applesauce hands in their laps. We came back to the discussion time and time again. He would tell me that so and so kicked down his block tower and I’d let him know that I was sorry that’d happened, and here’s what he could do next time, but I wanted him to know, this is a child who does things “in his own time, and in his own way.” When I would say that to him, it would settle the matter. He would extend boundless grace to any child who I characterized this way.

It could be a struggle. Frank is a rule follower. He was often described in those days as a “police officer” or “very good at encouraging others to follow the rules” which are both nice ways to tell me that he’s a narc who spends half of recess yelling “Slides go down, not up!”and the other half reporting to the teacher which rules were being broken.  As he worked through the concept that he would never have any street cred if he was going to be a fun killing tattle tail, and to worry about himself and not everyone else, he grasped the concept that not every rule applies in the same way to every kid, and that’s ok.

I’ve heard stories about this friend he has at school now. I’ve sat down to lunch with his class a few times over the past few months. I’ve seen this boy testing the waters not in the way many children do, by dipping in a toe, but by cannon-balling right in, and I’ve watched kids squirm as they got splashed. He’s figuring out his place, just like 8 year olds do.

Frank talks to me, often at bedtime, about what’s on his heart and mind. We’ve talked a number of times about this boy over the course of the year, about conversations he’s had with him or heard others have. This isn’t the only boy Frank has noticed struggling to find their place. We talk about those boys, too.  I remind him that he has the right to be friends with whomever he likes, with everyone if he’d like, and that being friends with one person doesn’t mean he can’t be friends with someone else, a lesson that has come up every year since he’s started preschool, and I really hope doesn’t continue all the way through high school.

I’ve never described this child to Frank as someone who does things in his own time and in his own way, though I’ve thought it to myself. Through Frank’s conversations I could tell Frank was giving this boy the same grace he has learned to extend to other kids who are just a little bit different, no matter what the difference may be.I don’t have to repeat my phrase anymore because it has become part of Frank’s world view.

Last week I lay next to Frank and asked him about his day, about his friends, and if there was anything on his heart that he wanted to talk to me about. He started to tell me about this boy, this friend of his, about what he saw this boy wanting and his struggle to make it work for himself and his attempts to get positive attention from the other kids in his class. Then he said of one other boy and himself “Mom, he says we are his only friends.”

I can’t remember how I replied. I can’t remember anything except my eyes welling up. Frank does not want for friends. He is kind, and kids like him. But in that moment I heard that I understood something about Frank that makes me so proud of him. My kid is not just a well liked kid, not just a nice boy, he’s a kid who makes someone feel valuable when they struggle to see themselves that way.

Frank is developing a competitive spirit recently, and starting to enjoy sports, but at this point he doesn’t show that he has some hidden Olympic destiny. Frank is an incredibly smart boy who thinks outside the box, but sometimes if you ask him to pick up the socks on the floor directly in front of his feet it could take him an hour to find his feet. In America parents push to find not just the thing their kid is personal best at, but the thing their kid can trample all other children at with their mad skills and super awesomeness, the light in their child that outshines everyone else’s light.

How beautiful it is that what I see as Frank’s greatest skill, what he’s super awesome at, what is his light that shines brightest…is his ability to make others shine brighter.

I hope that I can be like that when I grow up.

Do You See This Woman?

We just came through revival season at church. I think that’s how you say it…”came through” and “revival season.” I’m picking up the jargon as I go. In college I passed a church’s marquee that advertised a revival with dates and times. It struck me as a little strange. I was confused about the concept of setting a date or time, like you’ve called and left a voicemail that says “What’s up, Holy Spirit, we’re showing up at 7. Be there or be square. If you’re hungry, there’s a carry-in before. Your last name starts with S, so you bring a side dish.” I always thought to myself, who are they to tell the Spirit when to show up? How can you set a time and a date for that?

This was my first time going to something called revival, and I think I understand it better. Our pastor said at the beginning of the first night that this would perhaps feel better described by the word retreat, which is something I am very familiar with. I have very fond memories of going off on church retreats, have sessions to talk about the Bible and time to wander in nature and soak in some peace and tranquility. When I thought of those retreats which were so a part of my church culture growing up I began to comprehend the concept.  The time and date is set. The word of God will be there, worship will be there and willing hearts eager to learn will be there, and where those three things are, the Spirit will inevitably be there as well. It’s not about setting a time and date and dictating the Spirit’s schedule, it’s about dictating your own schedule to show up to where the Spirit already is.

At the revival there was lesson after lesson about different women in the Bible, different women Jesus met. Mary Magdalene, the woman at the well, the adulterous woman, and others. One of the things that made Jesus radical was his interactions with women. He not only saw and spoke to them, but he touched them and allowed himself to be touched by them. He removed the huge barrier set in front of women in their ability to approach God. And he almost in every occasion does it in the same manner. He acknowledges her and then points her out to others and helps them acknowledge them as well.

In Luke 7 Jesus is invited to a nice meal and is seated among respectable people  when in comes this woman, well, perhaps this whore. She is at least “a woman who lived a sinful life” but the picture as I understand it from sermons preached my entire life is that she is a prostitute. There as they sit at the meal, she comes and anoints his feet with her perfume and washes it with her tears. She drys them with her hair. The whole act places herself in the role of servant to him.  And as she is doing it, the others notice her.

They say, if he was a prophet he would know who this person was touching him. How often is that not the words from our lips? If our friend understood what type of woman she was talking to on the field trip, she would avoid her. We should tell her. If our teacher knew what kind of parents this other child had, then she’d understand why that kid is such a mess. We should tell her. If our sister knew that the guy who asked her out, years ago dated this other girl who is totally “that kind of girl” she’d never date him. We should tell her. We have all been there. Do you see what kind of person you are talking to? Let me enlighten you!

Jesus replies not by addressing the woman, not by using her as an immediate example, but speaking to the men there about men who owe money. Men and money. These are ok things to use for examples. Men. Money. (Insert Tim Allen caveman noise.) If two men owe a debt, one big and one small and both debts are forgiven, who is more grateful? Of course the one with a larger debt.

And then he says it….

Wait for it…

Do you see this woman?

What a question. Of course they see her. I can only imagine she is making somewhat of a spectacle of herself. They noticed her before Jesus gives her attention, but as His words draw their eyes from his face to his feet, he asks if they SEE her.

And he calls her woman. Not prostitute. Not whore. Not woman who lives a sinful life. Not any of the terms used to describe her by the Pharisees at that meal or the pastors in the pulpits for the next couple of thousand years. He doesn’t qualify her by her behavior, only by her created nature.

Do you SEE this woman?

Do you?

He follows this question by clarifying who she is, and he NEVER throws her former self back in her face. He shows her to be a devoted servant and the only evidence that there had been great sin, is not the discarded clothes on the floor of her bedroom, but the discarded tears she laid down proving her vast comprehension of grace and gratitude.

Do you see her?

Because I do. I see her everywhere, in the men, women and children around me. In the school where my kids attend. In the pews around me. In the check out line at Dollar General.

Jesus asks us over and over again to look at people and see them. In doing so, he speaks to what I think is the sweetest face of God. Hagar saw it and called God “the One who sees me.” God from Genesis on until today has been seeing humanity, in its worst moments and vilest forms and not looking away.

If we are to strive to be more Christlike, then I propose that this is where we begin. We turn our vision upon the least of these, upon the outcast, upon the dirty, upon the unwanted…and maintain the gaze. We don’t qualify people by their actions and their history, but by their created nature, that they are simply women or men, simply beings created who may not by any merit of their own deserve to be loved, but who were created to be loved anyway. Who is this person for you? Can you picture the person you don’t take time to consider?

Do you see her?

Do you see him?

Now don’t blink.

Dog Poop and Love

“Just keep looking at it, Molly! We don’t want to lose where it is! Mom!!!! I have something to show you!”

The sweet sounds of my children playing in the yard.

In Ohio, we had a neighbor who would purposefully bring his dog into our yard and let it poop. Once he brought the dog on its leash into our backyard and had it poop under my kids’ swingset. I didn’t notice until Molly fell off the swingset and fell headfirst into the pile.

Over the years my annoyance at this neighbor bad behavior grew and grew and it doesn’t escape me that at the top of the list of things I don’t miss from Ohio is that neighbor and his dog poop.

While I worked through “WWJD” and “Jesus, who is my neighbor?” as it applies to dog poop ninjas, I could fling the piles into the small patch of woods behind our house. When they lined our drive with them, I could scoop it up and give a really satisfying poop catapult launch back into their drive. Despite the returning to sender and the many times I stood and glared at him while he stood in our yard with his dogs on the leash letting them do their dirty duty, and even the times I passive aggressively yelled about it from my yard, this man never stopped. I never did find the courage to go address it to him face to face, because although his wife was friendly, not one time in the nearly 9 years we lived there did that man smile at me, speak to me even to return a greeting or even acknowledge me. He carried an air about him that made me quite sure if I addressed it to him face to face it would not be in the best interest of my safety or that he would find an even worse way to retaliate. However, then we moved and all’s well that ends well with that story.

In Virginia, our personal promised land, our grass is green, our neighborhood is peaceful, and the kids can ride their bikes in the street. It seems, though, that in Virginia, just as in Ohio, dogs feel no respect for dog free families and their yards. Pretty much everyone near our house has a dog, so I can’t even narrow it down to which dog has left a gift. Since I can’t figure out which dog is donating its gifts to us, I don’t know where to fling the poo. Also, there are no woods lining our yard here. So I take it and either have to walk all the way to the dead end and toss it in the creek or toss it in the little tunnel thing that goes under our drive to help with drainage. Neither is an appealing option, since the first involves me carrying poop on a shovel down the street dry heaving at top volume and the second moves the poop from sight, sun and step, but still I know it’s there, lurking beneath my drive.

In Virginia’s defense this only happens maybe 5-8 times during the warm weather months, but that’s 5-8 times too many. There is no other time that I hope no one who thinks I’m classy and decent drives by as when I have to clean up some one else’s dog poop. I certainly cannot be held accountable for my attitude towards man or beast when in such a situation.

I will end this with my status update which I posted and then decided I had many more thoughts about this than could be addressed with the brevity of a Facebook post. When I get to heaven I certainly expect that Jesus will be giving me a pass on this one…
Many people talk about this verse, but they don’t talk about the rest of it. Today’s verse of the day is….

Matthew 39:12 Love your neighbor as yourself…..but your neighbor’s dog, all I’m saying is if I’d wanted to clean up dog poop, I woulda gotten my own dog.

‪#‎superspiritual‬ ‪#‎dontlookitup‬ ‪#‎justtrustme‬


Volunteer Culture in Church?

I sat down to lunch yesterday with a group of women and one man. The table was spread with a pink tablecloth and flowers, in vases and on the plate pattern, and had my lunch served to me by ladies with more impressive titles than my own. Delicious soup, sandwiches, brownies and cookies made a tasty menu while I listened to comments by our pastor on the importance of what we 9 seated there, and one not in attendance were offering the church. It was beautiful and it was so sweet, it was a kindness to my heart which was a little weary yesterday, but it wasn’t the reward.

The look on the faces of the women who created and carried out that meal spoke very plainly about the blessing of service. When the story is shared of Jesus washing the disciples feet, the importance of servant leadership is emphasized, the concept of humility and lowering oneself to the most menial and base tasks to care for others applauded and we see how we should model ourselves to serve others. However, I think many times we imagine Jesus’s face to be serious, to be focused on the task, to be brow-furrowed and concentrated. Yesterday I could see the face of Jesus in that story, and saw those he knelt before laugh as there was a ticklish spot and heard Jesus laugh, too. I can hear the men shake off their uneasiness with the situation with jokes about strap tan lines. I could feel the connection deepen between the disciples and the master in a way that cannot be built by them humbling themselves in front of him, but only by being noticed, cared for and touched by the One whom they noticed, worked to care for and would meet the physical need of without hesitation.

I wasn’t there when Jesus humbled himself that day. I can’t say any more than the next person what the tone of that moment was, but I like to imagine a laughing Jesus who shows not only the great importance of servant leadership, but also the deep joy and reward of it.

I am lucky to be in a place to say yes to things right now and as such I’ve found myself organizing, answering phones, stuffing snack bags, painting, learning an online scheduling program, and sitting next to some rowdy boys.

Years ago, my brother pointed out to me, if every parent who used the nursery put their name down to volunteer, each parent would only need to be called on probably once every 6 months. It’s not about having some deep passion for changing a diaper. It’s about stepping up and doing your part, particularly as a parent who benefits from this service each Sunday. This is what brought me months ago to put my name down to serve in Children’s Church. I only serve one Sunday a month, and it is a little effort to encourage them to listen and be calm sometimes, or to sing and dance with them so they can burn out a little energy when they can. But each time I’m there I see children who recognize and are happy to see me, high five me and want to do the Power Shuffle with me. Each time I watch one boy in particular work against the wiring in his body to suck in the message, one that he is so thirsty for, probably more so in love with the word of God than 20 other children who don’t struggle to sit still.

After a few months of serving in children’s church, our pastor took time in the service to recognize it’s volunteer culture and I was impressed by just how many people do serve in one place or another, or those who serve in multiple areas. I thought surely this church doesn’t struggle with the 80/20 problem, most churches in America face currently, that 80% of members in any given church are either inactive or not serving their church while 20% of the members carry the load of the work. Someone has since told me that it is still probably close to that range for our church as well, maybe a little better, but still the majority attends but doesn’t serve.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are those of us who are called to fill our serving hours outside of the church. Coaching a team or caring for a sick family member or neighbor. We aren’t all called to be spending day in and day out folding bulletins. If you are called to service elsewhere, serve where you are called. But there are those of us who have the schedule that permits us to ask “What can I do?” and if you have that availability, don’t wait for sky writing or a burning bush. God is not going to create and avalanche to fall in front of you and have the stones fall into letter formations that read “I, God, am asking you, ___insertnamehere___ to go to church and serve.” He’s just going to use someone else who already showed up and bless them richly for it. God will not miss out, you will. If you are able to serve and aren’t serving somewhere, then go. Ask what needs to be done and then do it.

Don’t expect that the answer is going to be “Well, we need someone to give the sermon this weekend and tell all the people the way you think things should be interpreted and done.” It’s most likely that what is needed is going to be foot washing. It’s not going to be glorious and there won’t be a parade afterwards telling you that you are probably the best and most exalted pedicurist that has ever existed. But if you look up from the bowl you’re using to clean those dusty, dirty feet, you’re likely to see the joy filled chuckling face of God.

Each time I have walked through the doors to serve, I have walked out blessed by conversation, or by quiet, restored to be a happier and better me. A better me is a better mom and a better wife. This blesses my kids and my husband and they in turn are better thems and better the world as they impact it. As I am restored, I see that my reward for stuffing Easter eggs, or organizing a closet or painting a set is not a sweet luncheon, blessing though that was to me. It is in the understanding that through ministering to others, Christ ministers to me.

This may then read as self serving, but I’m ok with that.  If I can encourage someone to reach out and find out how they can volunteer, and their motivation is that they want the feel goods, I’m ok with that because they’re serving and connecting. Truly, if someone’s motivation to volunteer is even to be able to attend a luncheon, I’m ok with that, too, because even if the motivation is wrong, someone was cared for, and I trust that if they continue to walk in service, they will come to see how sweet it is to wash feet.

If you have time, give it.
If you have talents, use them.
If you don’t know where to begin, ask.