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.

Bah Humbug

I’m having trouble finding the Christmas Spirit this year.  It all started with a trip to Target.

I was recently part of an Early Response Team in New Jersey.  I spent 3 days working in the name of God.  Throwing families personal possessions to the curb for the back hoe to dump into the semi headed for Pennsylvania’s land-fills; ripping out the floors, walls and souls of well loved homes, and mucking through black sludge in a hazmat suit not really wanting to know what that smell was.

Upon my return I desperately needed razor blades. As I walked into Target that morning I was immediately struck by the intensity of the lights in the place and the absurdity of the muzak humming in the background.  I have made jokes about being a “Stepford Wife” in the past, but this time I REALLY felt like one.  So much so that it made my stomach retch. The copious quantities of crap that assaulted my eyes as I walked to the health care aisles offended my sense of being. I picked up my pace, grabbed my $15 4-pack of Venus cartridges and fled to the great outdoors.

In the parking lot I stood, waiting for my head to stop spinning.  Breathing – panting at first actually. But eventually my breath returned. I went home and showered.

Two weeks later and my home is the warm, cozy winter retreat that it always is – some decorations up, roaring fires in the evenings and gentle music to soothe away the day. But I still don’t have a tree up and I’ve only casually considered Christmas Cards.  And baking? Really not happening.

But in this moment that all seems OK.  Maybe I really have found the spirit this year that I never really had before.  Advent is about waiting, finding the joy, feeling the love and welcoming the child. A light is burning in me, just casting a different glow this year. A softer one. A glow found in the anticipation of something new: the love, peace and serenity of a clean-shaven life.

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Everyday Heroes

EVERYDAY HEROES

At first glance this ragtag group of road-weary travelers looked unsure of how they were going to be able to work together and accomplish anything. A seemingly disparate group of personalities made up the cast of characters that would in short order create an impenetrable bond of love, strength and hope. Slowly eyeing one another and trying desperately to break the ice it soon became clear that each one would share a personality and many talents that would cement our bond to see us through the next few days.

Al and Joe. The first friendly faces that greeted me at the Saturday orientation meeting. Their kindness and charm was supported by a determination to do whatever needed to be done. Again on Monday they sat next to me in the Red Bank Fellowship Hall that first evening and I am so thankful to have had them beside me for the week.

That first night I immediately felt the presence of, then saw the eyes of the person that was to become my great friend. Kathy had the strength and fortitude to guide the “newbie” through her first ERT experience and quietly and firmly demonstrate the meaning of our “Christian Presence.” At first it seemed that we had to have been sisters in a former life. But when it was clear that we had the same sense of humor, the same sensibilities (or lack thereof) and similar ways of dealing with what life throws at us we concluded that we must be twins separated at birth. After mucking out a four-foot crawl space for several hours and sharing our stinky joy with the folks at Starbucks, Kathy and I affectionately dubbed ourselves the “Tramps of Joisey” and gave up the quest for any familial connection.

There was Greg, the Lone Ranger. The quiet type, capable of exerting immense amounts of strength, persistence and fortitude regardless of personal pain and demons. To me, Greg demonstrated the kind of determination that comes from learning to compartmentalize your life in order to do what needs to be done, not capable of self-care until the job is done. This skill becomes a tremendous gift when used in service to others.

Dear, sweet Susie has such a kind way with compliments. Her quiet voice and soft encouragement were a meditative retreat from the physically hard and emotionally exhausting work of our days.

I watched in awe as our youngest member Reagan, metamorphosed from a painfully shy young girl into hard working, integral part of our team.

Nora and Mary had the ability to keep the energy level high enough for all of us to tag along for the ride. These farm girls to the core have such big hearts and I believe that Nora may have saved the life of a man close to the edge.

I will always remember the care and patience that Debby took to painstakingly go through picture frames and old family photos, carefully lay them in the sun and take the leap of faith that they would be there for our friends, intact. I will always be able to see the light in her eyes as she told us about her kids that made Christmas Tree ornaments for her to bring and the joy in her voice as she told us about delivering them to a classroom where the children had received a donated tree just the day before.

Doug, a self-professed “non-athlete” proved he had the strength of Hercules. I believe he even surprised himself in the process! His power at the work sites along with his character and charm radiating from his journaling closet each morning were an inspiration. I had to peek in and disturb his space on our last day in order to take home with me the vivid visual of an artists’ contemplation in the midst of chaos.

Dry humor Don. Loved this guy’s quiet calm, his acerbic wit and his stalwart determination.

And last, but by no means least, Jason. Jason is an outstanding leader. He so very effectively took this immensely divergent group of strong personalities, helped bond them together with loving guidance to create a Christian presence that provided comfort, care and unbelievable physical accomplishment to the survivors we touched. Even on our first day, when we were ready to dig in, get dirty and get moving, and the Grace UMC just wasn’t able to make decisions, Jason reassured us of our mission, negotiated the tasks and contacts which were needed and led us patiently through our restlessness. Jason was our gorilla-glue.

At the church where we stayed I had a couple of angels. Not sure who they were, but so very thankful for them nonetheless. The first was my coffee angel. I am not a pleasant human in the morning without my coffee and someone so kindly had it made by the time I dragged myself down to the kitchen for it. Thank you. Another was the CPAP angel. This particular angel made sure that all who needed them remembered their machines. The windows never trembled and I never needed earplugs (of which I had a generous supply.)

I remain awestruck by the serendipity of our first day and the accomplishment of our team. In our waiting at Grace Methodist we were joined by Brian from Quebec. Although I spent 2 1/2 days riding around with and working beside Brian, the only things I really know about him is that he was born and raised in Quebec (even though he never once said “eh”), his wife is from Philadelphia and he has a 2 year old child. After Thanksgiving with his wife’s family Brian felt the need to help in New Jersey. He sent his family home and by virtue of fate hooked up with us to work for a few days. Brian stayed elsewhere at night, he showed up just after breakfast each day and left us as quietly as he came on Thursday. The chainsaw gang and a couple others also joined us in our waiting on Tuesday morning.

Then we performed our “flash mob”. We descended on the site of our other half and all of us chipped in to get at least 2 days of work accomplished in one. I should have been clocked with at least a couple of swinging pieces of trim. Others should have been gored by tile shards, choked by airborne particles or injured by flailing hammers. But there were no injuries. There were no arguments. There was hard work, laughter and teamwork that allowed a young boy to get off the school bus and exclaim that his demolished first floor looked so much better than the chaotic mess of the last three weeks.

Sorry Floyd, we never pulled out our puppy cards. We thought of creative ways to get around our given assignment. We certainly mentioned the cards and the probability that we should have used them. But we were such a loving, cohesive family that we really didn’t need them. We knew grace last week.