Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Summer that Matters

Every year about this time, I find myself wondering why I longed for summer so much. When you hear the word "summer," you usually envision lazy days full of water and fun and sun. I crave relaxation and sitting for long periods of time with a book in hand. Then, summer comes and I remember that summer is usually none of those things at our house. We do have periods where fun is the name of the game, but it seems that more often exhaustion is the best word to describe our summer months.

That sounds a little sad, but the exhaustion comes from wonderful work that is being done. This year, our summer started with mommy going off for several days to a homeschooling practicum. My body was still, but my mind was mush. Then daddy left town for two weeks, and my mind and body became mush. There's something about not having another adult on stand-by that wears on the sanity. Just for kicks, the second week of daddy being gone, we took part in a summer favorite: Vacation Bible School (a.k.a. VBS; a.k.a. the most exhausting week of the year). And since we're obviously gluttons for punishment, we leapt from VBS straight into Father's Day and off the Family Mission Trip cliff for the third year in a row.

My body protested with a summer cold and my mind protested with something that sounded like "STOOOOOOOOOOP!!"

We boarded the bus and lead the caravan of cars that added up to 43 people headed to Mobile to sweat our rear ends off in an effort to spread the love of Christ and get both our and our kids' minds off of ourselves for a few days. There are so many moments in the days leading up to the trip, and even many moments during the trip, when I question the whole expedition all together. Trying to mobilize that many people, more than half of them children under the age of 13, is a logistical challenge, to put it politely. I always want things organized to the hilt so that they can run smoothly and stress is kept at a minimum, but the chaos just cannot be contained at times. This year, we stayed at a hotel, Praise the Lord!, but there were small chunks of time when the roar of all of us congregating in the lobby undoubtedly had the staff on edge. At other times, trying to figure out how to get several groups of people to several different locations with the transportation available was a challenge.







 However, it's in all the chaos, in all the moments when no amount of prep work or organization can stave off the stress, in moments when exhaustion sets in and details just don't seem to be coming together, that the Lord's glory shines most brightly. When we come to the end of ourselves, He steps in and saves the day...in both the details and our attitudes. It's when you think you can't sweat any more that you remember why you're doing it and decide not to complain. It's when the hard work needs to be done and you deny your flesh, suck it up, and do it for the Lord that He is glorified. Because when we choose the hard road so that God's name might be made known and others might be shown love, we are showing that He is worthy of our work, sweat, and discomfort.




My group spent three mornings at an apartment complex teeming with international refugees, as well as Americans struggling to get by, with the intention of doing a Backyard Bible Club. And while I guess we sort of did that, we mostly just played with kids and talked with adults. We quickly saw that the organized plan that we had wasn't going to be too effective, so we just spent a few hours building relationships in the lovely Alabama humidity. Our kids played with new friends, completely oblivious to color, nationality, social class, or even language. We met our first Iraqi friends, five days in America.


On the evening of our first full day in Mobile, we put on a block party at a neighboring apartment complex where our friends had been working in the mornings. While we fed lots of people, and one of our team lead a man to faith in Christ, I was struck by how difficult it was, especially for me, to have good conversations about things that really matter. The people there were definitely more reserved, and there is great value in just sharing a smile, a meal, and a good time with people who rarely have the opportunity to enjoy those things. However, I longed to be more intentional with the times I shared with these who were so obviously struggling through life.



The next morning, we didn't have many show up for our Backyard Bible Club because many of the children were attending ESL classes of some sort. The morning seemed like it might be a bust, as we only had three kids old enough to participate show up. As I glanced over to the side, where many of our kids were playing, I noticed a young woman and her toddler standing near the stairs, kind of taking it all in. I made my way over there and tried to start a conversation. She was fairly timid and I wondered how I'd ever make the transition from the very superficial things we were discussing to the deep things of life and soul. Then, this sweet 11-year-old boy, who was repeatedly drawn to our group like a moth to the flame, walked over. We had all remarked how hungry he seemed for the things of God. He would listen intently to anything we said about Jesus or the Bible and asked many questions.

I took that opportunity to ask the young boy if he remembered what we'd talked about the day before. As we began our conversation, I began to look over at my other new friend, the young lady I'd just met, trying to include her in what we were discussing. Before I knew it, I was asking her questions as well, and she wasn't totally shutting me down. When I say that this type of conversation with people is out of my comfort zone, I mean it. I stink at sharing my faith. And when I say that the true work was done by the Lord, I mean it. All of the circumstances and the eagerness in the eyes of these two people were a product of His work.

Just the week before, at our church, I'd been present (which hasn't happened often for me lately) for a service in which we were given a Bible specifically designed for sharing our faith. Honestly, I scoffed at the whole thing a little, as I'm not one for approaching people and sharing the Gospel with them, and I also felt a little defeated. I figured I'd never use the thing and felt a bit like a failure, as I usually do when evangelism is brought up. Still, I'd been prepared, and Chris had thrown the two Bibles we'd received into our bags as we packed for Mobile. In addition to that seeming coincidence, the young woman I was talking to was supposed to be at a job training center the morning of our conversation, but she had overslept and missed the bus.





















Those things could be chalked up to coincidence, if you believe in coincidence, but the look on these two faces and the questions they asked and the way they seemed to crave forgiveness and hope were certainly not happenstance, nor were they my doing. I shared the Gospel with another little boy the next day, but his eyes and his mind were nowhere near that conversation. Not so with these two people. As the words came out of my mouth, and my hands held that Bible, and my husband and friends prayed for us, and my two new friends answered questions, I knew something bigger than me was happening. I felt like nothing more than a humble tool that the Lord chose to use to do His work, which is saying a lot for prideful little me.









As those two people bowed their heads and chose new life in Christ, I could hardly believe I had been a part of it. My heart was full of thanks for the privilege of being there at that moment. It all seemed so much easier and, in some ways, less dramatic that I had envisioned it. I see that as God's doing as well. It was easy because He was doing it, and perhaps it was not so emotional to prove that things don't have to be full of earthly pomp when heaven is doing the real rejoicing.

I pray that the Lord would use me in such a way again, because it was such a blessing to me.  I also hope that my heart will be a little less cynical and full of low expectations the next time I hear of evangelism efforts or of new believers in Christ. There is no doubt that, at times, people pray a prayer at the end of a Gospel presentation and their hearts remain dead and unchanged. Yet there are times that the Lord is doing a work, He is completing a calling, He is scooping up His children into His unyielding grasp for the first time, and He uses ordinary people with little numbered Bibles on a hot staircase to finish the task. The work and calling of the Lord is a mystery, but it is powerful and real. I am thankful to have witnessed it in the lives of two people whom I will one day see again. Praise be to God!

So I will say "yes" to our tiring summer days and I will say "yes" to sweating in the summer sun. I will say "yes" to the chaos and I will pray that the Lord will continue to bring me to the end of myself that His work might be accomplished.