Thursday, June 28, 2018

Embraced by the Whirlwind

Left to right: Nathan, Chad, Theresa, Jacob

For about a year now I have listened to stories told by my friend, the pastor of Pass Creek Church, about his, "Hunka Mom." He and his wife are both living at the Pine Ridge Reservation with the Lakota people. Tim tells me that the term, "Hunka" is similar to being adopted into the family. It acknowledges strong ties of fidelity that are greater than mere friendship.

In her unique role as Hunka Mom to what was once an outsider, she has been instrumental in bridging culture as two once-different people have become something more than family. Indeed, the basis of community seems to have began with the two of them. She calls him her son, and to him she is "Mom."

Today Jacob, Nathan, and I had the great opportunity to load equipment in the large (and better than the Chevy) Ford F-250 Powerstroke Diesel for the purpose of mowing and trimming Tim's Mom's yard. He introduced us and we went outside to mow in the 100 degree scorching sunshine.

Jacob mowing the front.
Nathan sweeping up glass.

The yard was knee-high in places and the work was slow-going. Tim's Hunka Mom recently had surgery and was unable to move about as freely as she might have liked. With a stake in hand I cleared the yard of snakes and picked up a few stray cans and pieces of plastic. 

Nathan cleans up a shattered storm window.
Lacking a dust-pan or broom, a snow-brush and a portrait of Jesus served to pick up the broken pieces.

Having completed that, I went inside to see Tim's mom, and I hoped to establish a relational connection. Our church has adopted her and her property to care for directly. We will  write, call, meet needs, and even visit her once a year. My hope was that this relationship could be somehow natural and comfortable... despite the distance and obvious differences.

I asked her, "Mrs Whirlwindhorse, I know that Tim calls you, Mom. What should I call you?" She smiled and tilted her head slightly to the right. She said, "Yes, yes he does. Hmmm... you can call me Auntie Theresa."

I couldn't stop the giant, goofie smile from spreading across my face! She just became my Lakota Auntie. I brought the other guys back into her home where we shared cold bottles of water and prayed blessings down on the property and her family together. 

Earlier I had taken a prayer walk around the perimeter of her property.

We prayed for the Spirit of God to guard the perimeter of her property from North to South, from East to West. We prayed that feet would only set on that property to do kindess, and that cars would only enter her driveway to provide peace. The wind answered softly outside, shifting the framework of the home in a sort of affirmative response.

I decided to take a chance and ask her if we could all have a picture together. I promised her that we would make sure that she looked beautiful.

Promise kept!

She embraced me with a giant hug. 

We love you, Auntie Theresa. We'll write soon and we'll see you next July. We'll have those new kitchen cabinets ready to be installed. Thank you for accepting us and calling us family.

What May Be Found

What may be found at the top of an unknown staircase? When I was a young child my uncle and cousins locked me in Grandma Elsie's attic on Baltimore Street. I knew that I should be afraid of that centennial house with hand-hewn beams and cascades of spiderwebs... but I just sat there in the darkness until I could see small beams of light cutting through.

This evening I stood at the bottom of a newly installed pull-down ladder inside of the old garage at Pass Creek Church in Pine Ridge. I stared up into the attic above and knew I had to climb. Memories of childhood wonder and adventures in old houses colored my mind as I escaped into Narnia.

What may be found when we're willing to really look? I mean, to look with more than just our eyes. To look with our memories, our wonder, and even our souls.

Tonight I begin our team devotional moment. The group seemed more vulnerable tonight, sharing real emotion, reaction, and thoughtful reflection. Eyes here are seeing again like a wonder-filled child, peering past the darkness and seeing slivers of light. 

Generations have crossed paths with the span of 60 years that covers the ages of our group. The energy of a teenager insects with the calm and wise assurance of age. We all grasp figurative hands as we see with spiritual eyes.

I stood there knowing that the devotional was winding to a close. The room was growing hot, chairs were beginning to shift, and everyone was dead-dog tired. I argued a bit with God. 

"I know I should pray, but I just don't know what else to add." The answer, "So don't pray." I responded, "Ok, that sounds good, no praying tonight for me. I guess someone else can pray." The response, "No. You don't want to pray to me, so don't make them." I thought... "Ugh." 

Again God prompts me, "So sing a song." I thought, "That's a great idea God, but I don't have a clue." I could picture God with a chuckle as He gently said, "Well, you never do."

And then He said to me, "But, someone in this room does."

With a smile on my face I looked up and said, "We're going to close this out with a song. I don't know what it is, but someone here does."

I was thinking of some sort of Bethel or Elevation bit of genius... when from my left a deep, rich bass voice began with the most perfect of words...

Jesus loves me this I know,
for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong,
they are weak yet He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
The Bible tells me so.

I sang it out from the wonder-filled child of me that sat on the attic step, lost in the bright beams of light that shattered the dark space. I saw with more than my eyes the deep truth of Jesus' love in this space. 

I opened my tear-glistened eyes and met twenty-nine pairs of others who were with me and saw exactly what I had seen.

What May Be Found? That we are not alone.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Finding God in Unexpected Places

The South Dakota sun set over the Lakota people, dropping beneath the distant horizon as it has for well over one-thousand years. As I stand and breath in the atmosphere I can feel the weight of time. There is so much to be received from the depth of this culture. We have encountered a kindness sourced beyond recent history, a shimmer of the character of this noble people.

Our team of thirty is settling into a rhythm for the week: beginning with a 6:55 AM rooster-call from Dan, followed by breakfast, an impromptu devotion, construction, VBS for ages four to twelve, a youth meeting after dinner, and our nightly debrief. Patience, flexibility, and love are our guides.

The Soccer Team made final preparations for the week, along with the: Teaching Team, Craft Team, Lunch Team, and our Village Pick Up Crew. When you're with THIS group, every activity is a fun activity!

The Rally Team was in full swing at the close of VBS day one with Rebecca and her assistant, "Mega" leading the charge! The students went home with extra snacks in hand and a charge to bring their friends for the next day.

Great progress was made on the Craft Center conversion project, extending beyond this photo well into the evening. Soon this space will be used by the women of the Lakota for crafting and selling on the Etsy store. It's a place of connection, learning, friendship, and discipleship.

The day ended with a time of reflection as team members shared mental snapshots of the day, describing how they saw Jesus looking back when they took the time to intentionally look a child in the eye and make a real connection. We're discovering that we're all very much the same here, our similarities are far deeper than our differences.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

3 Vans | 1 Box Truck | 30 People | 2400 miles | 1 Purpose

Forget your plans. Don't worry about your schedule. It's ok if the job doesn't get done, or if you miss a meal altogether. You have 51 weeks this year of comfort, safety, and all-about-youness. 

No matter what you do this one week, just make yourself vulnerable to the other. Oh yeah, keep in mind that this week you are the stranger. There is so much for you to learn in this place. Feel a little discomfort. Experience some hunger. Lean into the tension. God is not found in the ease, He awaits you on the battlefied. 

A quick drive through Allen last night and I saw her. A little girl wandering alongside the road covered head to toe in mud. A clothe diaper was her only protection. No shoes, no shirt, and no-one there to hold her hand. She had fallen and the blood was dried, caked, and crimson on her face. 

Common here. Not shocking to anyone here. Just the norm. 

The vision of God is stronger here. Change that begins with the light of a single human pausing to meet and see another. Don't be afraid to love. Lean in to the voice of the Spirit. You are here for a purpose, for such a time as this. 

Look a person in the eye. Take a hand into yours. Give them something that you can't give up. Understand that the loss you feel is simply their everyday state of being. 

This trip isn't about us who have traveled. It is about authenticity. Loving God and loving neighbor as self. We all agree that the world needs more of this. So let's begin here.

Monday, June 18, 2018

A Public, Private Letter to Aleks: If We Were Morning Persons

Aleksandra, that expression was authentic gold. I had stood there in your doorway, unaware for just a few short moments before you looked up and caught me staring like a Monet aficionado at the Louvre. 

My daughter, if we were morning persons, I'd ask you to play softly and sing while the sun rises. You and I both know that we'd smash that thing together though if it made noise before 10. That's why this late afternoon moment was perfection.

I adored this past week, spending moments with you as we sipped coffee, iced pineapple, and shared some pretty banging omelets (yeah, I did that). Thank you for sharing your heart. 

Your mother and I have held you in our arms for nearly 15 years now, but there is a new level of connection when you engage back with us at a cognitive and spiritual plane. I am blessed more than I ever expected to be. 

-Your wildly loyal father.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Caleb Thomas Shepherd: I Believe in You and the One Who Holds You.

I'm a slow processor, a deep thinker. My mind does heavy lifting when I leave it alone. The more significant the event, the longer the incubation. I saved this photo to my drive the day I snapped it, two weeks ago. 

I remember the day I left for university. I was so eager and I never looked back. I wanted life as an adult. I was ready to put away childish things. I was fully unaware of leaving my family abruptly. Suddenly my room that had been filled with crashes, thumps, and once the sound of breaking glass as I fell from my bed and went butt-first through a window... it all went silent for my Dad and Mom.

I remember one specific morning from childhood with clarity. Certainly I remember more than one, but this one stands above the rest. I uncharacteristically woke up first (I still prefer to sleep in) and sneaked into the kitchen to find that Dad had left me a 6-pack of Hostess chocolate doughnuts. 

I snatched them, ran quietly into my bedroom, dove underneath my bed, and ate them with a sort of forbidden enjoyment. That insight could have helped me avoid future heartbrake. I could have simply eaten them at the table.

And I remember the day I walked out of that room for the final time as a full time occupant. My clothes were loaded into a 1978 avocado green Buick Skylark. I'd crashed and totalled my earlier vehicle in a mindless pursuit to recover a lost necklace. It was growing dark and so I decided to drive to Meijer to purchase a flashlight, rather than admit to the Planck family that I needed a flashlight to recover my lost jewelry... and in my haste, ran a stop sign and T-boned a family of 8 who had recently fled Iraq... in 1991, while George H.W. Bush was blowing up Saddam. 

I suppose that's another story?

But here I am now. Sitting on a third floor balcony in Destin, Florida... contemplating the recent departure of my son. 

He's been with us for some time now. He arrived September the ninth, year two-thousand (9/9/00). Our life was crazy then and he was our anchor. I'd been fired from my job just a few weeks before his birth. My boss read my email that I'd written to my uncle. I was bragging about convincing her to wear an eye patch.

I was in San Diego, working a trade show booth for a textile manufacturer. My boss didn't like me much. She was sleeping with the owner of the company and I didn't figure into her business plan. She got drunk one night and then somehow poked herself in the eye. We were on our way to take clients out to an expensive dinner. I convinced her to walk into a pharmacy and purchase a black eye patch.

She wore it to dinner... I made fun of her to the clients... and then bragged about it to my uncle. She got the last laugh when she watched me later carry out my things in a box.

Kellie and I did not know what we would do. I spent two hours hiding in my garage in my Fruit of the Looms because Kellie's Mom showed up at our house one day when I was supposed to be at work. It was a hot summer day and I sat on the hood of the car. I felt ashamed that I'd lost my job just weeks before the birth of their grandson. 

When I held Caleb in my arms for the first time, I knew that everything would be ok. 

It simply had to be. Because... him.

This September marks 18 years of age for him. In my mind I just graduated high school. Time makes no sense to my mind. I have memories along the way, but am in sheer disbelief of the passage. I feel like I have never moved from this spot and yet somehow the panorama has shifted.

Now my mind must acknowledge this phenomenon. My son Caleb is a young man, an adult who has stepped away from our home and will never return for good. His next place of permanance will be one of his own creation.

Caleb is away for seven weeks at Camp Marengo as a Camp Counselor. When he returns, we'll have him in his room for only a couple of short weeks... and then he departs for Cedarville University. Life for him will begin to change. 

I helped him carry his large trunk of clothes into his car while I was fully aware of the significance of that moment and also a spectator of the memory of myself doing the exact same thing. The sensation was somehow beyond self. I was the participant in both roles. 

I watch this unfold as both participant and spectator. This is sensory overload like a Kindergartner on a field trip to her first Imax experience about the universe. The waves crash steady on the beach and I cling to them for sanity.

For sanity.

I am so thankful to see Caleb grow. His integrity and the promise of his future is such an undeserved joy to my heart. I love him so very deeply. My grounding with him is no less constant that the ever crashing waves on the shore. 

And so, finally I've typed it. These words that must accomapany that photo above. The one that overwhelmed me the moment I pushed the capture button.

Caleb... dream God-sized dreams. Whatever you can imagine, dream, or conceive, the vision God has is so much more. Your worth is in Him and He is limitless. Reach. Cast your all into Him and He will still exceed your measure.

Captured. Yes, for the past two weeks.