With Grace There Is Hope

Serendipity. What a great word. It is fun to say, it is fun to hear and it is so descriptive when used appropriately.

I find it serendipitous that I can use serendipity here since I was also able to use it in my essay about my first mission trip with an Early Response Team to New Jersey. The serendipity evident in my first trip was about a chance meeting. On this trip the serendipity was found in my worksite location.

I travelled back to New Jersey last week with a friend I had made on the first trip. Along with one other traveling companion we rode the 8 hours with great anticipation for a fabulous workweek. When we arrived it was apparent that Judy had labored over her decision on which team to place me. I was assigned to Team 1 that was to go to work at a church in Union Beach. As it turns out I was assigned to work at the Grace UMC, which was the same church that was my first assignment as an ERT last November. At that time, their congregation was so frazzled and emotions were so raw that they were unable to make decisions and we were asked to leave without having accomplished any work. Over the course of the last six months the congregation had begun to heal and last week I was able to begin to rebuild this vital community church.

Through Gods grace I saw hope in Union Beach last week.

Privileged to have been able to spend last week with the First UMC Warren Mission Team, I would like to express my gratitude:

To Gary and Skip – thank you for treating me like one of the guys – even if it was the “fall guy”. You were so quick to teach me and include me. Your humor, happiness and kindness were infinitely appreciated.

Anita, thank you for always getting us to the job site, for always laughing at my stupid jokes and for not throwing my GPS out the window. I look forward to once again being in your van in the seat behind you!

To the smallest woman with the strength of Xena, Warrior Princess – Mona I thank you for great conversation, for being my friend and for knowing whether to cry uncontrollably or laugh hysterically right along with me.

I am not easily intimidated, however Dave, you had me shaking. At first, whenever you were watching me, my screw would immediately leave the drill and fall to the floor; when you instructed me, you had to repeat it at least once; when you teased me I wasn’t quite sure if you meant it or not. But I quickly found out you really are quite the charming gentleman. Dave, I thank you for letting me see that.

Ah Menno, no matter how much you wanted to join in the teasing and haranguing, your huge heart and astounding humility had you quickly and quietly apologizing for your joke. Thank you for your kindness and earnestness that filled my heart every day.

Donna thank you for your quiet patience, your calm perseverance and warm smile. You softened the hard work of our days.

To Larry and Jim, thank you for nourishment and sustenance. Your culinary skills are only outshone by your charm. And Jim, thank you for occasionally taking the heat off of me in the ridiculing department.

For your tremendous spiritual guidance, I will be forever grateful to you Pastor Rick. I will always remember to take with me the focus that I learned on this trip while striving to give away my heart at every opportunity. I will always try to be sensitive to the Spirit of God and follow that spirit where it leads me. I will also be thankful for your dry wit and lunch suggestions.

Judy, I wholeheartedly thank you for including me on this team. Your leadership was resolute; your kindness toward me was heartwarming. You and your friends are amazing.

Greg, thank you for your honesty and your friendship.

And to all those on Team 2 that I didn’t get to know very well I thank you for not joining on the “It’s Kristina’s fault” chorus (even if the motive was simply to stay out of the blog). But more importantly thank you for the moments we did have together. I will treasure every one of them.

Through Gods grace this team was brought together, brought into my life and heart and brought hope to some people in New Jersey. Some people think that serendipity occurs by sheer chance, I believe it is the hand of God. Last week, serendipity was the hand of God bringing people into my life and giving me a second chance.

Let’s Make a Deal

Many people proclaim that they have “made a deal with the devil”.  I on the other hand, made a deal with God.

I grew up without religion. In response to a request to go to a fundamentalist Baptist church with a schoolmate, my father, an avid atheist, once proclaimed to me “I don’t care if you go to church with your friends, you just won’t be dragging me there.”  I went to church with my friend and while in awe of the full submersion baptisms going on, I declared that I would rather bathe in private, without assistance and with shampoo.  Throughout junior high school, our house was the haven for errant Catholics, the place where friends would come hang out after telling their parents they were walking to mass.  I often served a breakfast buffet.  My mother, a lapsed German Lutheran, was much too busy being co-dependant with my alcoholic/drug addict brother to bother giving me any religious instruction.

As I grew up I developed a strong sense of independence.  I had no need for my dysfunctional family, I was perfectly capable of taking care of myself, and I was fiercely protective of my own integrity. I knew I had the strength to persevere, to make decisions, stick to them and make them work.  The family I created was going to be normal. Then my first marriage fell apart and my ex stole my children away to Texas.

In the depth of despair, unable to find a way on my own, I made a deal with God.  “Dude, if you just help me get my kids back, I promise to take them to church most Sundays.” I pleaded, I prayed, I cried and I screamed. One and a half years later, my children came home to me.

Seventeen years later I continue to make deals with God.  Raising 4 children has meant that I plead, pray, cry and scream a lot.  But now I know someone is listening.  Now, instead of just asking for things, I do things.  I am still searching for a comfortable definition of faith, spirituality and religion, but God and I are working things out.