Become Like the Children

When you allow humility to take over, you find peace in “becoming like a child” and may find yourself closer to Christ.

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We have been in Schönebeck for over a month now (I forgot to post this–this blog was from Sept 11, 2018) and reflecting back on our first stop of this year journey, the Matthew 18:1-5 continues to be a constant reminder for reflection and inspiration. At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom He put on among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes such a child in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:1-5). This verse has brought me a lot of encouragement over this last month, as I have had to rely on the help of so many different people (children, adults, strangers, family, friends, etc.), just like a child. Since the beginning of our time here in Germany, I have felt many times just like a child and I must share with you that it is a very humbling experience; I have felt lost, confused, isolated, alone, and completely helpless at times. When I have felt most like a child during this time, I try to remember this passage in which Jesus tells us that it is important to become “like a child”. Maybe this is not entirely what he meant, but I think there is truth to the idea that when you put yourself in a situation where you are having to rely on others, you are opening yourself up to being vulnerable and must learn to accept the help and love of another.

Now for someone like me, this is not an easy thing to do. I know that I am not the smartest person in the world, but I do feel like I am competent and well educated. I have my Masters in Social Work and while it has been a while since I have worked in the field (for those that don’t know, I was blessed to be able to stay home with our children for the last 11 years), I do have a level of competence that helps me to feel like I can help those with basic needs. I have been volunteering in an elementary school here in Schönebeck, specifically a 1 Klasse (this is the first class children attend in elementary school). The students are learning their colors and shapes, their alphabet and numbers (and how to write them), and starting to put letters together to make a word (for those in the US, this class is comparable to our Kindergarten classes). So given my education and background I felt that I could be of help when I was asked to help out a special needs student, basically to help keep him on track and help him with the assignments as he needed it.

The first several weeks was quite trying and extremely humbling. As I sat in class with these children, I realized that I was not there just to help, but to also learn right alongside them. I was learning my numbers, letters (and the sounds they make in German), my colors and shapes, etc. I was a 1 Klasse student and helping a student with whom I couldn’t speak to because of the language barrier. The simplest of tasks became quite difficult (ie.“write your number one from the top down not the bottom up”—I don’t know how to say this in German, so I have to try to show it through action).

Now the language barrier is challenging enough with adults who are patient and willing to help and learn alongside of you, but a language barrier with a child who already has difficulty learning and paying attention….sigh. I was starting to wonder how helpful I actually was until the teacher I am working with asked me to stay and continue to help (of course knowing that we had plans to change locations at the end of September). Now this job is nothing like the high stress job I had before and there are many times I still feel pretty useless, but I know that I am helping both the teacher and the student. And it may be a small way in which I am helping, but this journey is about just that, helping people where and how they needed it. Right now, this teacher and this student needed me to help in this way, and even though I may not always feel effective and competent, I know that I am giving them something that is making their life just a bit better for this moment, and that is wonderful.

The really amazing thing about this time in Germany and in the school is that not only am giving to others, but I am getting so much from them. I have been given an opportunity to learn how to laugh at myself and how to accept the help of others. I have learned that sometimes conversations and meanings just get lost in translation and when it happens, laughter seems to bring everyone back together. The people here in Schönebeck have shown our family so much love, patience, and acceptance that I can’t help but hope and pray that we all learn to show the same to others who don’t speak our language.

New Beginnings

Doesn’t it seem like God will remind you that things will get better? When you know that you deserve the consequences of your actions but they feel like they are ruining your life. I guess the words “Like the ocean” sum up the world pretty well. Maybe God wanted us to see the ocean so he made it so appealing. The reason why is that you have good and bad days. Some days are still waters, and other are rough. They are balanced. Last night, I felt like the world was coming to an end. The evening was going just fine when it came time to brush our teeth. Lucia was already in trouble and I wanted to tell David something while I was brushing. When I did, dad told me stop again and again, and I didn’t. Then he told me that I had to brush for 20 minutes. I talked yet again and I was done. I had lost dessert and things just went off the rails at that point. I honestly don’t remember what happened, maybe I talked back or something. I was being a butthole (dad used the 3 letter word😆) and I knew he was right. I was retardedly angry over such a dumb reason!

Being able to grasp and see something that God shows to you when you’re angry is something I’ve never seen until last night. I opened up a sketch diary planning to write or draw something, when the first thing I saw was a tree I had drawn a few weeks earlier and had forgotten about somehow. When you see a tree what do you think of? Maybe a squirrel or reading a book. When I saw that tree, I saw hope and a new beginning

An International Language

We may not all speak the same language but when we strive to understand each other with patience and love we stand a far better chance of reaching our goal of understanding.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
    like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
    and makes its circuit to the other;
    nothing is deprived of its warmth.

Psalm 19:1-6

We had been in Germany for about a week when the pastor we’ve been working with brought his Granddaughter (who happens to be the same age as Lucia) over to play. What I watched was absolutely amazing. She and Lucia could not communicate verbally, as neither spoke the others language, though they both tried. I watched them work through this barrier and figure out how to communicate in another way. . . playing catch and laughing. First Lucia ran and got the ball and proceeded to ask her new friend if she wanted to play “catch”, which was clearly not understood. But that did not deter either little girl. They both made various hand motions while they spoke in a different language, neither understanding the other, and then it happened. . . Lucia, very gently, bounced the ball to her new friend. I could see her eyes light up when she caught the ball and both girls screamed with joy and jumped up and down together. They were both so happy because they figured out how to communicate without the use of words. These two girls continued playing ball with each other for about 20 minutes, laughing, giggling, running, throwing, catching, and having a blast just playing.

As I look back on our first 11 days in Germany, a place where I have no understanding or knowledge of their language, I realize how lost I really am. I continue to try to learn German and I have noticed some improvement—I am actually starting to understand some things, though I can’t respond to it (I am told that comes later). I spent this past weekend helping out with the Kinderbibleatage, which meant that I had 60 children asking me questions in German to which I stared blankly at them with an inability to answer them. Despite my best efforts we all realized that I could not communicate in the normal verbal ways, so we had to find other ways, which meant a really funny version of charades. Some kids thought this was awesome, trying to either speak English or trying to teach me German (once we figured out what I was trying to say!) and a few kids started to get frustrated or just didn’t want to try (which was fine), but thankfully there were several teens and adults that could speak English and provide some translation.

Two situations stuck out to me over this weekend:

–I had one little boy (about 9) who continued, for about 20 minutes trying to teach me the word for red. Now my background is Spanish and the sounds that are made in German are quite different. Words that roll the r’s in the back of their throat instead of the front like Spanish (which was I was NOT successful at doing). He kept trying to teach me new words with this sound and then would laugh every time I rolled my r because it was wrong. But we had a lot of fun together and he was my helper for about an hour–it was wonderful!

–And then a young girl who asked me “sprechen sie Deutsch”? (Do you speak German?) To which I responded “Nein” (No), only to have her come back and say “nein ist Deutsch” (Nein is German). She was right. I could speak German, not much, but I couldn’t say Nein!

What I have learned is that there is a much more universal language that we all can speak, one that is non-verbal and that involves taking the time to be in the moment and have fun even when we don’t understand each other and most importantly laugh with each other (not at each other). The world is full of different languages, different beliefs, different religions, etc. and if we can approach these situations with the goal of understanding then we can accomplish much more. I have not yet felt laughed at, but I am sure that moment is coming soon, and when I does I fully intend to laugh with them (even at my expense because I’m pretty sure what lever I end up saying will be pretty funny!).

I have found that I am less frustrated and stressed because I am able to have fun while trying to learn this new language and I have been grateful that the wonderful people here have been welcoming and very patient with my few words of German that I do know.

I had commented to Jeff that I wanted to wear a name tag that read on one side “Ich lerne Deutsch” (I am learning German) and on the other side “Danke, dast du geduld mit mir hast” (Thank you for being patient with me). Jeff got a kick out of this, and said that people would laugh at me. Maybe they would, but at least we would all know where we stood, smack in the middle of the intersection of I don’t speak your language and You don’t speak mine.

I want to learn German and I have been trying really hard, but learning a new language takes a lot of time and I only have 2 months. . . So I must get back to work.

Auf Wiedersehen!

God’s Grace Continues to Light the Path

When you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders, open your heart, mind, and soul to hear and see God’s way. He will speak to you, you just have to be willing to hear it.

As our departure date is fast approaching (33 days from today) I continue to become acutely aware of how real this all is and I have noticed the fear and anxiety start to surface as the reality of our path approaches. Last night was no different; I could feel the fear and anxiety rising up inside me, the barrage of questions swirling in my head, and the complete uncertainty of the path we have decided to walk. What were we thinking…quitting our jobs, leaving our home behind, taking our three children out of school to serve complete strangers around the world for one full year, and to top it off utilizing our savings to make it all happen because “we heard” and “we felt” called. I;m pretty confident that these feelings surfaced because all the things we have put off until the very end are happening (because we are at the very end)–selling our van and downsizing to one car, wrapping up jobs, and saying goodbye to friends and family. We returned home from a wonderful week long trip to see and say goodbye to family in Michigan and then on to spend a long weekend with wonderful friends and, again, say goodbye. We all unpacked the car and the kids went to bed. I took the short drive up to the store for some milk for breakfast and to get Jeff and I some dinner when these feelings and thoughts surfaced again with full force. As I pulled out of the drive-through parking lot and turned the corner to head home a song I had never heard came on the radio called All In by Matthew West. The lyrics of this song made me laugh out loud in my car…

“So, I step to the edge and I take a deep breath; We’re all dying to live but we’re all scared to death. And this is the part where my head tells my heart; You should turn back around but there’s no turning back now.”

“I’m going all in; Headfirst into the deep end. I hear You calling; And this time the fear won’t win. I’m going, I’m going all in.”

I have never been a believer of “signs”, but I have come to be a huge believer in the Holy Spirit and God lighting the path for me and providing me with assurance that this is His plan for me and for my family. The funniest part for me was that the very next song that came up was Thrive by Casting Crowns. This song has been like a theme song for Jeff and I through this process of planning and preparations, the words singing out to our hearts in a way we could not imagine.

“Just to know You and to make You known; We lift Your name on High. Shine like the sun made darkness run and hide. We know we were made for so much more than ordinary lives. It’s time for us to more than just survive; We were made to thrive.”

It may sound absurd, but at the very moment I could feel the fear and anxiety completely disappear and was instead replaced with peace and comfort. I was so overwhelmed at how peaceful my heart felt when just minutes before I was so heavy with fear. And all of this because of the songs that came on the radio. Now some may say that was just fate or coincidence. You can call it whatever you want. I will call it God’s way to comfort me in my time of fear, telling me that it’s okay to be afraid and then giving me the strength and solace needed to continue on our path.

God’s path for us is not always lit with neon signs flashing above our heads showing us the way, so we have to have our ear, eyes, and hearts open and we have to be willing to allow His way and His light to shine through us. He may ask a lot of us and it may be very difficult and maybe even painful at times, but He is not sending us on this path to harm us but to help us shine His light in this dark world, to help us fulfill His son’s commandment:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your souls, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:34-40.

We are embarking on a journey that is going to be difficult and we are going to face many struggles along the way, but we love our God and we have chosen to follow His path for us to serve our neighbors around the world despite these challenges. We will continue to pray for God to shine His light though us and to help us love Him with all our hears, souls, and minds and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

The “What” Versus the “Why”

Let your “why” be the motivation to change the world with the “what”.

Many people have asked about the connection between our faith and the mission to which we have been called. I think the best way is to decipher between the “what” we are doing and the “why” we are doing it; this distinction is crucial.

What we are doing (volunteer and service work) has nothing to do with our religion or even religion at all. Our goal is to serve others as they need it, to help where we can, to try to make their lives a little better, and to show them they are loved beyond their family, their hometown, etc by someone on the other side of the world. We want people to feel the love that we feel from our Lord.

With that being said, we are not seeking to change anyone’s religion, beliefs, traditions, or culture. All we want to do is show them we love them for the person they are today. We want our global brothers and sisters to feel and experience the love we have for them.

Now the “why” we are doing it is deeply rooted in our Christian faith. We believe that we have been called to show Christ’s love for ALL of His children, not for the purpose or sake of changing them, but just to love them. We believe that Christ has called us to this path because people around the world need to feel they are loved by people of different nations, cultures, and religions because God loves ALL His children, and our family can do this; show love to ALL people.

Casting Off Globally, the non-profit that Jeff and I started, has the hope and mission to help families find the opportunities to serve and volunteer together. Casting Off Globally (COG) is the bridge to the “what” but does not impact the “why”. Every family will have a different “why” for their desire to volunteer/serve others and COG wants to embrace that. We want to engage all families in volunteer service and welcome their “why” as a part of their specific story, not ours. Every “why” will be different, as it should be. Our differences are what makes this such a great opportunity for families across the spectrum to serve together and COG can be the key to opening their door to the “what”. We all have different reasons for wanting to serve and COG strives to embrace all of them to help families find their path to volunteer and service so they can make a difference in this world.

Our family’s “why” shaped the formation of COG, which is why we operate it with a Christian foundation, but that foundation cannot and will not get in the way of the “why” or the “what”. The primary goal of COG is to engage families in service and volunteer work together so we can make this world a little better, and whatever the “why” may be, we will work together as a global family to care for all our brothers and sisters.

God’s Gifts and Calls (post from 2/1/18)

We are all unique pieces of God and we fit perfectly together to make up the masterpiece of God himself.

No two people are the same. We all have been gifted with different talents, attributes, passions, and paths to follow. I have recently started reading In God’s Hands by Desmond Tutu and right away he addresses this very topic and I love his insight. He explains that is not just our unique gifts that make us so special but that we are all meant to complement one another. My weakness is your strength and visa versa. This is what really connects us together and it makes me wonder if this is another one of God’s grand ideas…we are all imperfect beings, but together with each of us using our own given talents or “God’s gifts”, we could actually become perfect beings (I know, very utopian). Maybe, humanity as a collective whole can be perfect amongst our individual imperfections; Together Everyone Achieves More (TEAM). This feeds into why He made us all so diverse, alone we are sinful and flawed though made in His image, but as a whole we all make up God. We all are individual pieces or reflections of God as a whole and this is why we are so unique; we alone can’t make up all of what God is. We are like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, each one of us is a little piece of God, but when we are all connected together, we make up the beautiful masterpiece that is God himself.

God created all of humanity and I believe He made us so different so we could supplement the individual flaws of others, and others for us. This uniqueness is also transferred to the calls He relays to us, no call is ever the same and no path laid before a person is ever the same. God needs missionaries, volunteers, He needs teachers, fire fighters, soldiers, lawyers, doctors, janitors, and everyone in between. He needs all of us doing what we do best for Him in order for His plans to work; everyone’s individual path is important to the whole. No calling is more important, better, or less than another, especially if it came from God. The path that God has led me and my family down is no more important than yours. Our paths are different, just as we are different. I believe that He wants us to embrace our differences and our unique paths so we can serve His world collectively, as a TEAM. We can’t make a difference alone, we need each other. We need our uniqueness to serve each other, our world, and most importantly, God. Let us all use our individual gifts and talents from God to follow our unique path, and let us do this together as a TEAM to complete the puzzle and make our world a better place; the place God envisioned for us.

A Positive Spin on Negative News

How do we create positives in a world of negative news?

Steven Pinker opined in the Guardian on February 17th that there is an overwhelming trend towards negative reporting in news outlets.  For a child growing up with cable and satellite television and the myriad channels dedicated solely to the dissemination of news and having seen first hand how the lead topics of every nightly report are murder, rape, war, and graft, this trend is no surprise.  I have only ever known the news to report first and foremost on the worst of the worst.  As Mr. Pinker pointedly remarks, the adage of the day is if it bleeds, it leads.  Having also lived in a small town, then a big city, and then to a small city, I have seen a wide spectrum of how this plays out.  On the local channels there is typically a nod to a trending national headline (almost always negative)  followed by local headlines.  In the larger towns this usually starts with who was murdered that day or if no one was, the next most egregious list of crimes that occurred.

In our current situation we are fortunate that the list of crimes is usually fairly short and mercifully aligned with drug overdoses or bank robberies, not mass murders or worse.  It has gotten to the point where I no longer watch the news because frankly, I am not interested in hearing about all the bad things that have happened that day.  I have no doubt they occur and I am not supposing that ignorance will yield bliss or make the problems go away.  But simply put, there really is nothing I can do to stop a drug dealer from dealing his drugs.  I cannot stop a group of gang members from shooting each other, and I cannot intervene when a parent abuses his children.  The Federal and state authorities are tasked with this effort.  Instead, I try to focus on the areas that I can impact.  I look for the politicians who will support tough crime laws that will directly empower those authorities tasked with preventing or at least cleaning up the mess left behind by evil.  I look for opportunities to create positive outcomes for our community so that there will be fewer people who feel helpless and turn to crime as what they perceive to be the only solution to their predicaments in life.  I try to find ways to bring good to the world when it seems all we hear is bad.

As Mr. Pinker points out, the statistics reflect that there is a propensity for apathy or inactivity when the situation seems hopeless.  Why do anything if everything you do has no effect?  Pinker also published a study which reflects statistically that the world is currently in the most peaceful era it has ever seen (as measured by violent deaths per 100,000 people).  There are fewer wars occuring now then any other time in known, recorded history.  Would you have believed that from watching your news feed today?  I know from my personal experience that if I had to answer whether I thought the world was safer or more unstable and dangerous I would have to default to the latter.  Why?  Because despite the evidence to the contrary (evidence which goes underreported or not reported at all) the multitude of news stories is focused on the negative.  I don’t know if this is a function of the human condition or not.  Are we so guilt ridden from original sin that we cannot fathom to be deserving of peace and prosperity?  Maybe we just need violence and disruption in order to feel important.

I cannot begin to speak for anyone other than myself but I will say that there was a time when I intensely obeserved the news, formulated my strong opinion about the need for a crackdown in all phases of life to stop the bad guys, and vowed to be vigilant in the efforts of justice in the face of lawlessness.  And then I had children.  I watched them play unassumingly and unaware of the evils and dangers that were, according to eyewitness news accounts, around every fathomable corner.  My children weren’t, fortunately, in danger of imminent abduction or murder.  Now, I count my blessings that I have been fortunate to live in neighborhoods where gang violence and drug abuse are not prevalent but crime doesn’t just happen in these places and the news is all too happy to report this.

So after careful observation I started focusing more on the positives.  Laughter, empathy, friendship.  And while I am aware that danger still exists, I am also focused more on how my children have given me the hope and courage to focus on the positives in the world.  You see, it’s easy to gravitate to the negative.  It makes you feel good to not be the bad guy.  It’s easy to say you did the right thing by condemning the man who raped his neighbor or the “sicko” who shot up a country music concert.  But it’s hard to do something about it beyond the words.  It’s hard to give up a Friday evening to go serve dinner to 100 strangers who have no home and are in desperate need of a hot meal to fill their stomachs.   It’s hard to volunteer your time at the county jail to bring comfort to a man who may have committed unforgivable crimes and to remind him that he is still a man, flawed like us all, but deserving of love nonetheless.  It is hard to forego that next latte or round of golf so you can donate to a charity that serves those in need, or those who are sick, or those who may not look, believe, or think like you.  Fortunately, there are a lot of people out there that make those sacrifices.  I only wish the news spent more time lauding their efforts, mundane as they might seem for the ratings gurus.

Perhaps the ratings for good deeds are low because those good deeds remind us of how we all could do more.  And the reminder that we aren’t as profundly good as we think ourselves to be is a turnoff.  It certainly is a lot easier to feel good about myself when I see all the bad things others are doing that I am not.  I can boast of my goodness relative to those who are stealing, murdering, and waging a war of unjustice.  But looking at the great deeds of others puts into stark relief that which I am not doing.  Am I living the life of Christ, a life for others or am I living a life of me, focused on my happiness, my personal gains, my status in society?  If the answer is the latter then it is no wonder that I am drawn to negative news as a buffer to my own falibility.

The great news is that we can all break this habit if we deep down desire to do so.  It is not easy, no habit is easy to break.  But in doing so we will live a life far more fulfilling and far more impactful than the one we live by just not being that guy on the news whose mugshot is the lead story.  We need those good news stories to challenge us to be better.  It’s okay for us to look at others and feel bad for not doing more.  In fact it might be really healthy for us.  A reminder that we can be better and should try.  Seeing someone just like us who is capable of making a difference should inspire us and give us the confidence that we too can do the same thing.  It doesn’t take someone special to do something good.  Quite the opposite.  If you really look at it, it takes someone special to commit an act of evil, if not, then there would be a lot more people committing crimes in this world right?  The fact is that we don’t need to be, and probably outght not be, special.  We just need to be us and we need to make a committment to do good for others.  The ratings might not be there but the path to salvation, to a happier life, and a safer planet surely is.