Sunday, July 29, 2012

dead people are everywhere

This week I got back from visiting Washington DC. Yes, I saw a bunch of the monuments, and Yes, I walked almost the entire Museum of American History, and Yes, I rode the Metro. But none of these things were what made this vacation so great.

It was the friends.

I got the stay with my friend Carol for the first 2 days, and had a great time hanging out with her. She also happens to be a fantastic Personal Tour Guide, and I was the better for that.

The world's smallest house (blue one in the center)

Mount Vernon

Christ Church in Alexandria, VA

US Marines Memorial (Iwo Jima)

Iwo Jima from the west: Notice the US Capital and Washington Monument on the right.

National Cathedral
 In the National Cathedral, there are so many beautiful stained glass windows to see, and so many little chapels to duck into, that there is something beautiful and "picture-worthy" at every  turn. BUT, Woodrow Wilson is alos buried there, and as we stood next to his crypt, I told Carol, "this creeps me out a little." I think it was just the juxtaposition of the beautiful windows, the reverent feeling, and then this crypt. And me standing about a foot away from it. Like I could have reached out and touched it. Eeewwwww...
And he's not even the only one! There are lots of crypts, and it seems like every time you turn a corner there is a crypt of some kind. Why so many dead people???

"Space" window in the National Cathedral
 In that "Space" window, you can see the big red moon in the upper center. Right in the middle of that red moon, there is a piece of the actual moon, brought back from the Apollo XI mission.

We ate at Ben's Chili Bowl: a U St. landmark since the 50's.
I did have a great time visiting all these great places, and learning a TON about George Washington. By the way, I believe he was visionary. I think he just had *something* that let him see what needed to happen at a certain time. Like when Braddock was taken out in the French and Indian War, and George just stepped in and organized the men how they needed to go in order to win that battle. Then, he said that God gave him that victory, because 2 horses were shot out from under him, and there were 4 bullet holes in his jacket, yet he came out unscathed.
AND, I have so much respect for him; At that time, money almost always had a picture of the person in power. But George eschewed the personal gratification, and featured Lady Liberty instead, so that all Americans could reflect on what makes our nation great: Liberty.

But, that was not even the best part. The best part was the part where I got to deepen my friendship with Carol. It was refreshing to spend time with her and her family - she made me feel like I was part of the family. And I am grateful.

Then I got to spend some time with my adopted sister, CherylLyn. She's not a sister by blood, but because my family has made her a part of our family. Even if she lives in Maryland now. :)

We also got to see a lot of neat places and things in the DC area. We went to Baltimore, and one of the Smithsonian Museums, and on a bus tour of the monuments after dark.

A Baltimore Neighborhood

Ship...or restaurant???

US Capital

Me, as the president. HA!

CherylLyn as the president.

Thomas Jefferson

Sunset from the Jefferson Memorial

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Jefferson Memorial from across the tidal basin

Washington Monument

Honest Abe

Lincoln Memorial
And all these things were great as well. We both had a good time seeing things, but the best part was spending the time together. To talk without anyone else around, to hang out with just the two of us was fantastic, mostly because we never get to do that.

What a great time - great time with friends and family, great time seeing our nation's capital, great time just being together.

But as we walked out of the Smithsonian castle, there is another crypt - Smithson is buried there. Right there! Just to the right of the main doorway. And the person in the information center told me this like it was something great - "you can walk right up to  Smithson's crypt!"

No thanks, there are dead people everywhere.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


A friend of mine from church recently felt led to do something for the people who had lost their houses in the recent fire. There were 346 houses totally lost, and lots more that were damaged. So Mandy set out to do something.

She set up a "Free Garage Sale". Meaning, anyone with an ID and address on the affected streets could come to our garage sale, and shop for free. No money. Nothing cost anything. She got a church to give us some space to do the sale, and a bunch of people to donate things that one might need after losing almost everything. She had volunteers to do everything in running the sale, and coordinated with the disaster relief effort going on nearby - they were helping people sift through the ashes of their homes, and using this church as a home base. They handed out water all day, and sent people inside to do some "shopping".

So I dropped off lots of sheet sets and comforters that Mom and I had culled from the cabin and our homes. And I told Mandy I would come back early Saturday morning and help get things opened up for the day.

So yesterday morning, I got some coffee and headed over to the church early in the morning. I had to be there at 7:30, and as my Mom says, "That's ALL THE WAY on the other SIDE OF TOWN!". So I went.

I didn't do much, except check-in volunteers, give people tours of the sale space, and smile and be friendly.

But let me just tell you.

As I was driving away, I got to thinking about those people that came to the sale. And I got to thinking about how they must be feeling right about now, as the shock has worn off and the finality of things set in. About how they must feel every time they have to meet with an insurance adjuster, and how they must feel sending in a mortgage payment on a house that doesn't exist anymore.

And I recalled the gratitude of the people as they asked over and over, "You mean we can take ANYTHING?" "We don't have to pay for it?" And their incredulous expressions as that information set in.

And I thought that even though I can intellectually understand the enormity of what has happened, I do not truly have empathy for them. I cannot wrap my mind around all the things they are dealing with at this point.

So I prayed as I drove home that God would give me more empathy for these neighbors of mine, and the will to find another way to help.

And then I was thankful for Mandy. That she had found a way to provide a little bit of hope to these people that must need some encouragement. And that God told her to do something and she obeyed.

And then I looked to the west, at the charred hills, and prayed for my neighbors who lost homes. That they would find what they need to go on and thrive. And I think God gave me a little bit more empathy, right then.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

thoughts on what is important

Last week I went on a trip with about 90 people from my church. We had done a VBS here 2 weeks prior, and in order to be a blessing to a new church plant in Kansas City, we took our VBS there and did it for their church kids and the kids in the neighborhood.

What a great week. Our team was fantastic, and flexible, and wonderful to live with for a week. Even in the heat.

Closing Craziness

Our awesome team

Amazing students working with kids that came to VBS

Me, leading one of the sessions
I a grateful for the students that gave a week of their summer and went. They did a fantastic job of doing ANYTHING that needed to be done. Of loving on those kids that came to VBS. Of not complaining about the heat. And did I mention it was HOT? The hottest day was Wednesday, where we topped out at 105 degrees and about 60% humidity. You know how when you are baking, and you open the oven door, and the heat hits you in the face like a frying pan? That's how it felt every time you walked out into the heat.

But the heat aside, it was a great trip. We had a great time with the kids that came, many of them not knowing anything about church or God at all. Our students loved on these kids, and had fun with these kids, and most importantly showed Jesus to these kids. It was awesome.

But in the midst of this amazing journey, we had a reality check from back home. The day we left was the day that a fire started up in the canyon to the west of our city. We heard about the fire, but it was mostly background to the great things happening at our VBS trip. Until Tuesday. Tuesday, June 26, 2012 was the day that the winds shifted to the west, and the fire rolled over the mountains down into the city. At the worst, 35,000 people were evacuated out of their homes, 349 homes were destroyed by fire, and 2 people were killed. Even now, 2 weeks later, the fire is only at 80% containment, and there are still firefighters up in the hills working to keep any hot spots down, and contain the northern fire lines.

While this was happening back here at home, our phones were "blowing up" with texts and pictures from friends, and facebook posts and pictures about the fire. We had messages from out of state friends asking if we were OK. We had facebook pictures of the fire and destruction. We were streaming news to find out what was actually happening. But the worst was that we had several students and adults on the trip that were in the evacuation zone. Their house and family was threatened while they were away and couldn't be near. Eventually, we had to shut off the news, because it was really freaking several of them out, looking at pictures of the fire that was coming dangerously close to their homes.

We had several very personal discussions about how we have to trust God, because there is nothing we can do about this from Kansas City. Ironically, Trust God was the theme of our VBS, and we quite literally lived that out during the week. We went over what the important things are: Your family is safe. Your pets are at a shelter. You are here and safe. Your parents have gotten the few important possessions out of the house. You MUST trust God at this point. But when you are 12 years old, and on one of your first missions trips away from home, that is a difficult thing to do while looking at pictures like those above and knowing your house is in the path of that fire.

This past week, I have come to the conclusion that my friend Diane said it best: It comes down to Faith, Family and Friends. Everything else is just "stuff". In the heart of the fire raging, I asked my parents go to my house and pick up a couple papers for me. My mom asked if I wanted her to take anything else, and my answer was like Diane's: no. It's all just stuff.

If I was here, I probably would have taken a couple things that have sentimental meaning for me, but in the end, all that is still just stuff.

The important things in life are the things that cannot be quantified on an insurance form. Family. Faith. Eternal work for God's kingdom. And relationships with friends.

Am I glad it took this literal trial by fire to cement these things in my heart? No.
Am I thankful that I am a changed person, and have a clear vision of what IS important in life? Absolutely.

And as a final note, I am SUPREMELY grateful to those firefighters that have fought this fire for the past 2 weeks, and continue to do so. There are not enough words to express our gratitude to you.

Thank you.