We’ve come home from our mountaintop in Kentucky. Life was waiting for us right where we left it. Along with hot showers, comfy beds, and good food, we’re also back in the throngs of our schedules, phones ringing, early morning alarms, bills to pay, laundry to do, and the big world problems. Interestingly, none of “that” has changed. Maybe we have?
Coming home from a weeklong mission trip where our focus shifts from ourselves to someone else has the potential to be a depressing time. It’s like the week after Christmas or vacation where we can feel lost and out of sorts. The build-up prior to our ASP week begins about ten months before we go. Anticipation grows with each meeting until finally we’re on the way. We spend a week sleeping within inches of each other, eating two meals a day together, sharing heart wrenching/warming stories of our workday, lamenting and enduring the shower torture. We focus each day on “God Moments” and share each night circled in prayer and song…and then we come home.
As I sat at a traffic light this afternoon after running errand after errand, I realized a couple of things. First, I miss my FUMC – ASP family today. Last Monday night at this time, we had all experienced our first day. We had much to share, warm-fuzzies to write, and silly, silly things to laugh about. It was a melancholy moment to think it would be a year before we would get close to that feeling again – if ever. In an effort to understand how and why God uses these experiences like our week in Kentucky, the second realization dawned on me.
God allows us time on the mountaintop to be close to Him, to feel all that it is to be with Him, in Him. What and how we use this experience when we leave is the question. Each of us experienced something special that filled our hearts and souls. He has graciously given us these experiences so that we are able to navigate the many valleys in our lives, not so we can stay on the mountain. We must cherish these beautiful experiences, and draw from them in the valleys. As we go forth to share with others, isn’t it comforting to know, as Christians, there are mountains out there for us to rejuvenate our souls so we can spread the beautiful love of God.
Never give up. I know that and yet I almost had. God’s timing is not our own and His touch comes at just the right time. We all come on this mission trip with the hopes of making a difference and like it or not, we want to know that we did. Yeah, yeah, I know we’re touching lives and we’ll never truly know how or to what degree. It’s bonus to actually be able to put your finger on “why am I here – why was I sent”. I began our final day with the heart-warming “overall good” that we had done for our homeowner and didn’t expect anything more.
I rarely feel worthy enough to claim I know that God is specifically using me for a purpose but our last morning began on site by meeting a new family member, the grandson. We learned more about mining operations and the economics of the area. The grandson had come to help his grandfather with tasks around the house. All was going well and I had the warm feeling that our homeowner had a loving family member there and was not totally alone in this world. Not too long after we arrived, the yelling, cussing, and berating began. Growing up in a volatile family, it’s impossible for me to watch it or even be around it now. Generally, I remove myself from the situation, as I’m terribly uncomfortable but not this day. As the grandson listened to unwarranted and irrational attacks from his grandfather, a peace settled in my heart. Was it the Holy Spirit? I think so although I’m hesitant to claim such. I know that it was not by my strength alone that I was able to stay put and talk to the grandson. This young fella of “38 year” was hurting, confused, and quite frankly, ready to walk away from his grandfather forever. Not having lived a perfect life, he comes to try to do the right thing for a man unable to do for himself but how much is too much. I don’t remember all we talked about but I do know that it wasn’t me doing the talking. As much as I’m glad to have been used in some way this week, I’m so thankful that we have a Lord that fills our hearts and souls with the Holy Spirit so we are able to share with others just at the right time.
All week I waited and looked for my purpose in the obvious places, the front door. This year, my blessing was waiting at the backdoor on the very last day.
We come to the end of yet another great experience in Kentucky. Our final workday is finished. Our teams have been scattered all over this county working, making new friends, leaping out of comfort zones, and seeking to serve someone other than ourselves. Good-byes are never easy on the last day. There are few times in our lives when you are fairly certain, you won’t meet up with these people again. We leave praying we’ve done God’s work and hope they will remember us.
As we circled up last night and I looked around at all of the individuals making up our team, it occurred to me that a whole “lotta” life is going to happen for each of us before next year. Every year, our group is special and God-sent. Every year, it’s different. I wonder who will return and who will not. We have college kids, newly graduated children and many beginning their senior year in high school. Their lives are entering a new and exciting time where spending a week on ASP may or may not be possible. Before now, these kids have been absolutely certain they’d be coming. Adults? Who will be back? Will our jobs and families stay healthy enough to allow us to come? What I am certain is that the Lord is going to lead us and lead new youth to join us and the teams will be fantastic as always. Circling up tonight, I want to appreciate every last moment with our team from Letcher County, 2014.
Round and round we go…looking for Walmart. Only in Kentucky with this crazy group of people does it matter NOT that we’ve gone about 45 minutes in the wrong direction looking for Walmart. Back home, who has the time to be lost? It’s no fun to be lost when life is banging on the door. In Kentucky, we enjoy the leisure of being lost as this gives us time to see the beautiful sunset over the mountain, mining operations of huge coal beds, and of course lots of laughter, music and car dancing with our teams.
Tomorrow is our last work day and all we can think about is spending time with our families before we have to say good bye. Every year we hear the young people with us making plans to see our new found friends again, to keep in touch. Us old folks know that the likelihood is slim. We live a world away and most of our friends here aren’t on social media and aren’t much on handwritten notes. Yes, it will be goodbye to another set of families that will forever leave a mark on our lives and on our hearts. We will pray for them and remember them forever. Our ASP staff will always be associated with our experiences here and of course, the center accommodations will be the source of many years of laughter and memories.
As great as it is to be tucked away snuggly here in Kentucky where, if only for a few days, life’s troubles are put on hold until you get “that” call. The phone ringing on a cell challenged mountain means one or two things; little ones need to hear from you back home or something’s wrong. For one of our long-time ASP family, the latter was true yesterday when his phone rang. The call that no one wants to receive came, “you need to come say your good-byes.” No matter the age, losing your mom or dad never gets easier.
Our prayers are filling the space between here and heaven for our dear friend. As much as we’d like to find something, anything to do to help, there’s nothing more powerful than lifting he and his family up to God. We pray for loving comfort and a tranquil peace to settle over each one of them.
Until we see you friend, we miss you.
It’s funny how while on our disciple’s journey, we’re in a constant struggle, a quandary, trying to find a balance of faith and deeds. We are ever questioning our faith. Will it ever be enough? Do I truly have even the faith of a mustard seed? Then the deeds…this part of the equation seems much simpler than the faith portion. Is it really? Actions like serving in our communities or abroad are easy enough to take the time to do – we can all find some time and offer labor. The question for me is where are our hearts and minds while laboring? Have we stripped away the judgment, the questions, and aggravation and filled our hearts with the love that Jesus has for us? We claim to be the hands and feet of Jesus but isn’t that somewhat comical? I know for me, I love “trying” to serve how I think Jesus would want me to but there’s yet to be a time where human issues don’t find the cracks and crevices of my mind – my heart. I see the task, job-oriented folks struggling with their minds becoming too focused on the job at hand, getting it finished, completion.
How do we ever find the balance spoken of in James 2:14-26? Each year on ASP, I love meeting the family or individual that we serve. It’s my favorite part of the week, as I don’t offer much in the way of construction. But no matter how hard I try to keep my heart focused, little questions creep in, little doubts filter through. The logical side of my head and heart says it’s a defense mechanism taking over to try to understand the pain and heartache we find here. I doubt I’ll ever strike the balance but I think I’ll keep on trying.
The mornings come quickly here in Kentucky. It seems we barely put our heads to the pillow before morning light breaks through the dirty windows in our room. No doubt, we’re exhausted from the physical, mental, and emotional price we pay each day. Sounds painful to be here but it’s the most rewarding thing most of us do all year – at least at one time.
The halfway mark in the week is upon us and while we miss our families and hot showers, I dread leaving in a few days.
Eleven vehicles pulled out this morning on our final leg to our home away from home, Letcher County, Kentucky. While we’ve been preparing our hearts for this trip all year, now it gets serious. In John 20: 19-23, we read where Jesus had come back to the disciples and shared an important instruction, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21). He sends us. It seems pretty clear that we are called to go out in to the world and lead the way for others to become disciples for our Lord. The work awaits and much will be accomplished but more than that, relationships are formed and bonded together in a common purpose both on our team as well as with the families we will meet this week.
Now, as a recap of our fun adventure so far…
It’s a taboo subject to change any traditions on this beloved trip to the mountains. I can’t say how many years this mission group has stayed at the Red Roof Inn in Knoxville, or exactly how many years they’ve eaten dinner at Outback and then gone bowling. I do know it’s been that way for the last 8-10 years at least. So we arrive as expected at the very friendly Red Roof and gather for the Leader meeting. With our strong faith in God, we certainly don’t put much thought in to jinx theories. However…as we were meeting, ONE certain leader with the initials M.F. “suggested” that we do something out of order from tradition. At her suggestion, a hush came over the room (not really, it actually was a brutal reaction). The timing and tradition of handing out the t-shirts had been yanked from the normal order of the evening. Could this small change impact the rest of the night?
We haul all 57 people to Outback where they made room for us very quickly. Dinner was delicious and the company entertaining. No complications at all. On to bowling where our teams for the week would battle against one another in an effort to team-build?? It takes about two minutes to get to the bowling alley and we pull in to find that we’d have to wait 1.5 hours to bowl. What?! It’s already 9pm! Tradition is on the line! How do we deviate from the only thing we know to do after dinner at Outback? Did M.F. cause this collapse? It’s decision time and no one….NO ONE wants to make the call to scratch bowling. The bottom line is, most adults would be sleeping in the bowling alleys if we waited to play. Who stays up this late to bowl?
Back to the Red Roof for? Mr. Jimmy’s wheels are turning and creative juices are flowing. All of the eight teams gather together for about an hour of insane relay games. Running, crawling, leap-frogging, rotating and circling are what comes to Jimmy’s mind. Now, there are some things 40+ year old men and women just don’t do and haven’t done in about 30 years! Leap frog?!? Over how many kids? Oh, let’s hold hands and rotate clockwise while running down through a field, circle around and GO BACK? The result? Ungraceful face plants, grass stains on old knees, and laughter that unlocked reserves and broke barriers to allow bonds to tie us together. You see, tradition is wonderful but we know when our actions are good and right in the eyes of the Lord, we will be blessed…no matter if we are in the bowling alley or falling and sprawling through a grassy field.
Looking forward to more surprises this week.
It seems that I don’t find much time for posting on my blog except for our annual ASP (Appalachian Service Project) trip to Kentucky.
Today is “Go” day. We filled 11 vehicles and four trailers with 50+ (I don’t even know the final number) willing servants and lots of “stuff” to go to meet new friends in the hills and hollers of Kentucky. The excitement is evident as we all look forward to this time to serve.
Before we get knee-deep in our week, I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say, thank you to our church and community for the support that makes this trip possible. Each of your prayers and every penny you contributed connects you to us all week. We have no true idea how cell coverage and internet connectivity will be once we arrive but with luck, we’ll be posting!