Saturday, August 9, 2014

Serving others, even without the comforts of home

It's been a long while since I've posted.  I've been busy and I would tell you all about it, except that I have something else on my heart right this red hot second.  

Every summer, my church does a mission trip to the Cherokee Indian reservation in North Carolina.  It's approximately thirteen hours in the car, once you include potty breaks and meals.  Because of that, we left at 3 in the morning on July 26th and arrived at about 4 in the afternoon.  I rode in the back seat of the Mountaineer that was populated with the adult contingent and slept for virtually the entire drive other than meals at Shoney's and Chic-fil-a.  I recommend it because it made the drive feel very short (though the crick in my neck was something else...).  

The accommodations at the church are not exactly plus.  There are two bunk houses and us girls stay in the one closest to the church.  There are rows of bunk beds with varying degrees of head room.  Despite my five foot two height, I could not sit up in my bed without hitting my head.  I got one of the better mattresses though, which was exciting.  There are also a few old hospital beds that I imagine were donated so that larger teams could come in.  I almost took one of them but one of the women warned that she snores so I declined.  Our team was small enough that I was able to use the top bunk of my bed to lay out my stuff (Which I prefer to living out of a suitcase for a week).  There are three showers, one of which is in a separate bathroom with its own toilet and sink (the lap of luxury!).  However, the supply of hot water is somewhat... limited.  So I had lukewarm showers most of the week.  But that's okay because when I did get a hot shower and when I got home, the hot water felt like I was in a spa.  Seriously.  The bath I had when I got home was arguably the best of my life.  

In some ways, life in the bunkhouse almost like you're at camp.  Privacy is limited but there is a great sense of community when you can see everybody and everybody can see you.  It's not the best night's sleep you've ever had but as tiring as construction work is, you are grateful for every minute of rest.

I cannot say enough for the quality of food the ladies (and man) in the kitchen put forth.  It's awesome and it's so nice to wake up to a hot breakfast and come home to a delicious dinner with dessert waiting for later in the evening.  If you leave the table hungry, it's your fault.  

I spent my week working on two different projects.  Both of them involved painting decks.  It doesn't sound like major hard work, right?  It wasn't difficult so much as tedious as you had to get each board and each picket covered in paint or varnish.  It involved being hunched over, squatting, or standing on my tip toes to reach the bare spots.  I would finish the day with every muscle aching.  

I'm trying to paint a realistic picture of what we really do and what it is really like being on a mission trip.  It isn't all sunshine and daisies and warm fuzzy feelings.  We come to serve, to work and the work that we do is important.  Painting a deck doesn't sound as important as building a house or a wheel chair ramp or fixing a roof but putting paint on a deck that sees the rain and snow and wind and heat of the outdoors preserves the work and keeps it from falling apart.  

That's not to say it isn't boring though.  I already mentioned it's tedious.  As an assistant crew leader, it was often difficult to keep everyone motivated.  There isn't a lot of variety of task, you know?  And yet... I serve with a joyful heart.  

Let me rewind seven years to the 2007 Cherokee mission trip.  I had been bounced from crew to crew and on my last day had been moved from a job I LOVED doing (building a deck) to a cleaning job.  I don't like to clean.  But it was for a family that desperately needed it as they had just had major construction in their home due to a bad mold problem that had actually landed the wife in the hospital.  She had been in rehab but had twenty-four hours to get out so the house desperately needed to be cleaned.  So clean we did.  I scrubbed cabinets and vents and every imaginable surface.  We finished the job satisfied but I was still frustrated at having been pulled from my job so as we were leaving, I talked to Mr. Jim who is our construction head.  As a somewhat experienced crew member, I was usually in charge of the saw so it hadn't made sense to me that I had been pulled when a less experienced crew member could've cleaned just as well as I could.  I will never forget his reply.  He told me that while what I said was true, he knew that I would do the job without complaining and do it to the best of my ability because (and this is where he really got me) I have the heart of a servant.  

Part of me feels like I'm bragging when I say this but what he said is true.  Serving others is where my heart lies.  It's one of the reasons I think teaching is a profession that suits me.  It's about the kids, right?  I'd be lying if I said I were perfect and if I said that I did absolutely everything with a joyful heart without ever complaining.  I can whine with the best of them (it isn't one of my better qualities).  I can also be super bossy. During the week, it was suggested to me that I think of myself more as a coach than a teacher or a boss.  I tried really hard to do that but found myself slipping into teacher mode more than I would prefer.  But I love to serve.  I got up each morning with every muscle aching and was excited to get to work because I was helping people.  

Cherokee is an unbelievably special place, full of special people.  There is something in the air or the water or those mountains that is peaceful.  It's the winding roads and the slow pace and the people and the mist that hangs over the mountains on a cool morning after it has rained.  It's the red mud that clings to my boots.  It's the cold streams that run through the woods, babbling over rocks and boulders.  It's a place that is instantly home.  Even first timers call it home within a few days.  I wish I could fully explain this place but I can't even begin; it is a place that must be experienced for you to know what I'm talking about.  

I've rambled on in this post over several days, trying to commit my thoughts and feelings into words.  Life back in Seaford is stressful right now as myself and my fiance work to make important life decisions about where to live and how to plan for a secure financial future.  I am prone to anxiety and have been trying to meditate on Phillipians 4:6-7.  I'm trying to leave it all in God's hands (I know it is) but it isn't easy for someone like me who has always been a worrywart.  The week in Cherokee was not only a week to serve but a week to reflect on the decisions to come.  I won't claim everything was instantly crystal clear but one thing surely did:  God is number one.  Everything else comes after.  

I don't really have pictures to share with you all.  I think I took four the whole week because I was focused more on being present in each moment rather than trying to capture it for posterity.  You'll just have to come to find out what a beautiful place it is.  :)

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