Saturday, July 8, 2017

Urban Plunge

I've been dragging my feet writing a post about my weekend with Jae for Urban Plunge because in all honesty, I've been struggling to put into words what I took away from this weekend. Let me back up for a moment. Back in April, I was asked if I'd be willing to chaperone my daughter's serve project in Omaha in June. The thought of "Urban Plunge" kind of took me by surprise, and if I'm being honest with myself, I'm not sure I saw it for what it actually was. In my head, I pictured standing in the middle of downtown Omaha passing out Bibles and telling everyone on the street that Jesus loved them. Nah man. That's not my style. I'm not a shove the Bible down your throat Christian. So, after waiting about 3 weeks and talking with some people, I decided that my expectations of this project were a little skewed, and replied that I'd be able to attend.

I don't think there was ever really a moment where I felt excitement for this trip. In all reality, I felt a little anxious- the unknowns of trying to be a "leader" for a bunch of middle schoolers whilst not embarrassing my own middle schooler (not an easy task) were heavy on my heart. I dreaded the thought of sleeping on a thin dormitory mattress. Lord knows sleep is sacred to me. Beyond all that, I just felt like I was overwhelmed at home. I didn't think that I'd be able to keep my focus on where it needed to be that weekend, and I wanted to be a good example. So, my heart didn't feel prepared as I got on the bus that Friday morning.

God's funny like that. Funny in the way he moves people despite their current situations. First let me back up a second. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Urban Plunge, it is an organization that works with youth groups like ours to put service projects in the hands of kids and allow them to experience being the hands and feet of Jesus. Our group had a very busy weekend. We spent time at the Cross Training Center helping to take apart TVs, cut down branches, and sort cell phones for a place that works to give people jobs who may otherwise have a hard time getting one. These include ex prisoners, homeless people, or people who have different disabilities. Once we finished there, we went to the St. Francis house, a homeless shelter, to serve people juice and watermelon, pass out socks, and listen to their hearts. On Saturday we went to the Food Pantry where some of us stocked shelves, brought groceries to their cars, sorted and displayed clothes for people to "shop" for, and many other various tasks. The afternoon was spent helping a lady remove a very large tree that had fallen onto not only her backyard, but the backyards of her two neighbors. We spent a few hours cleaning up branches, trimming her hedges, sweeping the cement in her backyard, and taking a part the tree with a chainsaw piece by piece. Finally, we spent Saturday evening helping out at Scatter Joy Acres, a farm that houses more than 100 therapy animals. We did various volunteer work on the farm including ripping out old carpet, tearing down a tarped "shed" that had been destroyed during a wind storm, and moving playground equipment for the animals so that they had room to add a few more animals to their farm. Finally on Sunday we got to attend a church service very different to ones our kids attend back home. Drugs, alcohol, and murder are all words that are all too familiar for this congregation. There was a lot of hurt at this church, but more importantly a lot of hope and a whole lot of Jesus.

We didn't have a lot of downtime obviously, and so it has taken me a few weeks to reflect on my time there that weekend. What it meant to me. What I took away from it. How I feel God is calling me to respond.

I think a lot of people expect service projects to be this life changing experience. And for a few it can be. For some, it becomes a platform for how they serve the Lord as they get older. It gives some kids a passion for a certain group of people in God's Kingdom, but for many, it becomes this high that you are on, and once you get home, you don't know how to channel that into the real world. This is so familiar to me. I did many serve projects as a kid. All of them touched me in some way, but I couldn't say that any of them were "life changing". So I'm sitting here trying to piece together my perspective and put into words what I took away from that weekend.

Here's what I know. I love people. I love to hear their stories. I enjoy being a village to others and definitely appreciate the village that is my own. So I guess for me, it was a reaffirmation that ALL God's people need a village. That village can be as close as your next door neighbor, your brother, or the people in a tiny town an ocean away. God's people are everywhere. On Friday night, Joya and Sharon took us to this beautiful park overlooking the city of Omaha. It was sunset, and we were all in awe. We were encouraged to take 10-15 minutes to silently walk the trails or sit and reflect on the day. The people we met. The stories we heard. So we did. We walked the trails, and oogled at the beauty of the landscape in front of us, and when we all got back together, she told us something that stuck with me. She said that this was such a beautiful picture of what this city looks like from afar, but we had just come from the depths of it where there was a lot of hurt and pain and brokenness. There are places that are so obviously in need of people who are willing to step up and help. To be servant hearted and show people the love of God, yet it's easy to step back and only see what we want to see- the beauty, the silence, the normal.
The beauty of Omaha from afar
Doing a little reflecting on the trails

On the other hand, you could take this symbolically as how our little town can portray itself. We don't have near the amount of "obvious" brokenness that we experienced in Omaha that weekend. Sure there are people who are dealing with drug and alcohol addiction or have been to or have a loved one that is in jail. Do we extend Christ's love to them? Are they welcomed in our churches? Do we have the time of day for them? Are we the broken ones? Are we in need of a village? Do we push away our pain or our struggles to save face? It's easy to put on the mask of perfection when you don't feel like you can spill the contents of your heart to those around you. How do we break down these walls of pain, hurt, shame, guilt, and suffering? How do we let people in? Where does it begin?

With me. With you.

What did I take away from this weekend? That we are all children of God. That we all have hurt and pain and brokenness, and it's the job of all of us to be a village to one another. Some of us will be called to help the homeless or the widows. Others will be called to feed the hungry and help the poor. Some will be called to the Foster care/adoption front lines. Others will be asked to serve the children or the addicts. At some point, our hearts will break for an injustice. THAT is where God is calling you to go. I've always believed that when God breaks your heart for something, that is where he is calling you to serve. That may look different to each person. God's talking. We just need to listen.

How is God asking me to respond? He's asking me to Be Still. Listen to his voice. Be compassionate. Compassion is your pain in my heart and back out through my hands. I think that we forget sometimes that we can be His hands and feet every single day in very small ways. Maybe it's asking that single mom if she needs help with childcare or that homeless man you see sitting on the sidewalk. Maybe ask him to lunch WITH you. Get to know him. Maybe it's in your school. That student you have that shows up with holes in his shoes. Maybe buy him a new pair.

You don't HAVE to leave your town to love other people. You just do it. And if your heart is breaking for bigger injustices around the globe, our country, our state, our county, our town, your neighborhood.....then listen carefully. That's your purpose.

I'll leave you with a few photos of our weekend.
Cross Training Center

Hope Food Pantry

Cleaning up the tree and debris

Helping tear down the building at Scatter Joy

Making friends at Scatter Joy Acres

Hot dog eating contest

Group picture at the church before coming home

My roommates. :)

Serving Jesus with my lady

Leadership team

Friday, July 7, 2017

Enjoying Summer

How is it July 7 already? It seems like we just let out for the summer. June always seems to fly by between ball schedules for three kiddos, camps, and the 4th of July. We've definitely been enjoying ball games 5-6 days a week! Jaedyn plays middle school ball this year, and because of how it worked out, all the 7th graders played both the 7th and 8th grade games this year. So while it basically takes up our entire morning, it's been awesome watching them get that much extra playing time to tune and refine their skills. We love softball!! Carter played AAU ball this season for the first time with his Sioux Center friends. It was a great year watching him gain confidence and learn new skills also! Sawyer played Rec ball, and Dan got to coach his team this year! What a fun memory for my boys! I can say that it's definitely different going from 5th grade baseball to 1st and 2nd grade baseball. :) It's amazing to think what just a few short years can do to their game.

The past few weeks have been insanely crazy with ball winding down and Carter and Sawyer going to camp That nicely sandwiched the 4th of July which was go, go, go. We spent Saturday on the boat for our annual Adult Boating Day. It happened to land on the 4th of July weekend this year which I thought would make it overly busy, but we just found a nice little area to anchor our boat and enjoyed the sunshine and great friends. We spent the actual 4th at Paullina with my mom, Dave, Casey, Amy and the girls. It was a perfect day to be by the water. We shot off fireworks at the acreage later that night after supper and some down time. Great food, fun, and family.

I'm sitting outside in the shade of my little deck highly anticipating a much slower schedule for a few weeks. As much as I'll miss watching ball, I am ready to enjoy a little rejuvenating time for me before I head back to school (which will come much too soon). I'm going to be more intentional about reading, listening to my favorite podcasts, organizing my pictures, spending time at the pool and soaking in life in the slow lane for a bit. Looking forward to sharing that with you! Until then, here is a snapshot of our summer thus far in photos.

Catching up with some old friends on Memorial Day weekend. Spent the day boating, mini golfing, paddle boating and enjoying family and friends

My tradition of going to the dance recital to watch my nieces and all my students, past and present, dance their hearts out. 

Getting up every morning to walk/run with myself or my mama. Love making it for sunrise.

When the pool's closed, and your aunt is swim on a boat ramp because it's hotter than billy blazes.

Great season. Great girls. Great sport.

Such fun to watch these boys this season! 

Getting to have your dad as your pitcher. He had a great season!

My view for 3 hours a day, 2-3 days a week. 

My slugger

One of the saddest moments of summer was saying goodbye to my grandpa. We miss him dearly.

Okoboji teaching conference with these beauties. #Favmoments

Serving with my daughter at Urban Plunge (more about this to come)

Yoga and wine on a HOT Sunday afternoon

RFKC get together including Battleship in the pool

Gettings Garden strawberry picking afternoon

Carmel VBS week

Camp with his bestie Ethan

Camp with his bestie Kyler and friend Makiah

Smores and fires

Short date to pick up Jaedyn in Yankton

Love our adventures

Finishing off boat day at Braccos for supper

Fireworks at Grandma and Grandpa's house

Lemonade stand on a hot summer day

 Hope you are enjoying your summer as well! What's been your favorite part so far?

Saturday, June 17, 2017

See You Later

This has been one of those weeks. A week that seemed to go on for a month. A bad nightmare I couldn't wake up from. Yet, here we are at the end of it. A finish line with no prize.

My grandpa died just shy of a week ago. A night I'll never forget, and one I'm not sure I want to remember. There's no preparation for that phone call in the middle of the night telling you that your grandpa is gone. There's no cheat sheet for how to drive over to your dad's house to wake him up from his sleep to tell him his dad is gone. It's not fair, and yet it's life.

You know, my grandpa and I weren't terribly close in adult hood. We were two very different people. He- stoic, reserved, a man of few words. Me- very relational, wear my heart on my sleeve, forward. And while we didn't speak much, I know he loved me. And I him. I can't help but feel regret that I didn't find out what made Grandpa - well, Grandpa. I wish I'd asked more questions, had more conversations. I don't know that he would have answered all of them, but maybe I'd feel less empty if I had known more about him. Maybe not. Either way, he's gone, and my heart still hurts. Not only for myself, but for my dad. For Marilou-his wife of ten years. I don't like seeing people in pain. It's hard to see it and not be able to fix it.

Tomorrow is Father's Day. A day where I get to celebrate so many important men in my life who have molded and shaped me or my kids. A day where we get to shower love on all the men who have done their part in fulfilling their part of our tribe. While some of these men I no longer get to hug here in the flesh, I still have the honor of sending up a little prayer of thanks to the ones who have gone before us: Grandpa Dick, Grandpa Teddy, Grandpa Irv, and Grandpa John. How lucky we were to have been loved by them.

It's ironic that I should feel such regret at not having spent more time with my Grandpa before he passed when right before the end of the school year, I felt this urge to find out all the stories I could get my hands on. I told my mom I wanted them written down, and I wanted to sit and hear them from my grandparents- from my parents, and I vowed that when the school year was over, I was going to make time to do that weekly, but now it's too late.

We aren't allotted a specific time here. We can get called home at any moment. The time is now. Visit your grandpa. Call your mom. Ask your Grandma to lunch. Send your dad a letter. Get to know them more than you already do. Ask them to tell you stories. Lay your head in their lap and tell them you want to know it all. I'm sure most are more than willing to oblige. All anyone ever really wants is to be heard. Validated. Seen. Loved.

I read a blog about a month ago where she sponsored Story Worth, a website that e-mails prompts to a person of your choosing each week for an entire year. You get to choose the prompts and each week, your loved one will answer their prompt, and their response can get e-mailed to as many people as you'd like. At the end of the year, all the responses will get bound into a book that will get sent to you in the form of a keepsake. Check it out! It may be a perfect Father's Day gift. We plan on using it as well!

In the mean time, I've made plans to sit with my Grandma Van and reminisce with her every week this summer. I can't wait to fill my memory bucket with her stories and some quality time.

I had some people ask to read the eulogy I gave for my grandpa's funeral, so hear you go!

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Mandi, and I am the 5th of Dick’s nine grandchildren. Many of you are here to honor a man that you knew as a friend, a peer, a neighbor, or maybe even a co-worker.  But to us – his 9 grandchildren and many more great-grandchildren – Dick was known simply as Grandpa. On behalf of our family, I would just like to say thank you for coming here today to help us celebrate Grandpa’s life and say our goodbyes.

It is an honor to be here before you to share stories of this extraordinary man, but it is daunting to do justice to a life that has spanned 86 years. Do I know enough about the whole of Grandpa’s life? Probably not. I couldn’t tell you about him as a young boy living in the 1930s. I don’t know much about how he met my grandma or their wedding. I know very little about him as a young father. But I, along with my cousins and siblings, CAN tell you what it was like to know him as a grandfather.

Grandpa was a great many things. He was kind, patient, reserved, funny, hard working. He was humble, dedicated to his family- a man of faith, but also a man of few words. In fact, I don’t think Grandpa and I ever had any deep or profound conversations, yet my memories are chalk full of the impact this man and my grandma made on my life.

My most treasured memories don’t surround any extravagant event or particular day. They were simple, but they will be memories I will cherish forever. These include:
-numerous weekly visits after school or church to Grandma and Grandpa’s house where we would grab a glass of Diet Pepsi and tell them about our day.
- riding along in the truck with grandpa
- camping at Round Lake….bonus if you got to ride to the campground with them and not with mom and dad because that usually meant a trip to the Sather’s candy store and breakfast at a hole in the wall cafĂ© in a po-dunk town in the middle of nowhere.
- catching carp with our bare hands by the spillway and fishing with Grandpa off the dock.
- walking down to the store after breakfast so grandpa could have coffee with his friends while I fed Grandma quarters for the claw machine and if I was really lucky, leaving the store with a rainbow sherbet ice cream cone
- driving the golf cart around the circle, making sure to slow down past grandpa or we knew we’d be in for a lecture about being responsible drivers
- how he would check in anytime we were on a road trip to give us a weather report or make sure we were alright and telling us to call when we got to our destination safely
-his love for pens
-his infamous chocolate malts that he would only make if I begged real nicely or if I got to have a sleepover at their house

And maybe the most subtle memory I have…the one that has made me reflect a little harder this last week are the ones of us out for a Sunday afternoon drive with grandma and grandpa. It was typically a silent drive. Not a lot of talking. I can remember getting bored extremely fast and always telling myself I would NEVER take my grandkids for Sunday afternoon drives and go 20 miles per hour under the speed limit.

But you know what….I get it now. Grandpa had it right all along. Life passes us by so quickly, and if we’re lucky, we get 86 years on this Earth, so sometimes we just need to slow down, drink it all in and take a little time to be thankful for what we have.

By many accounts, Grandpa was a very stoic man, reserved in his speech. But years of grandchildren have chipped away at the gruff exterior, and it doesn’t take long if you look through our family pictures to see that Grandpa was a family man at heart.

I know that this week has been hard. It’s been a week full of sadness and tears, and we are feeling the emptiness of man who has impacted our lives in such a great way. But to my cousins and siblings, Marilou, my aunt Gloria and my dad- you need only look around you right now. Look what Grandpa gave you. It’s not money or’s family. This beautiful family is his legacy and every one of you are a part of it. How did we all get so lucky?

And to our Grandpa, we’ll miss you. Send our love to Grandma and Glenn. Don’t forget how much you mean to us. We love you. Rest peacefully. You deserve it.

Happy Father's Day! 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

You are Enough

Happy Mother's Day to all you beautiful women out there. I know that this day can be bittersweet for some of us, and it can just be painful for others, so I want you to know that not only am I rejoicing for those of you who are celebrating this day, I am also grieving with those for whom this day is incredibly difficult. Know you are being kept close to my heart today. 

With that being said, I had intentions of writing an inspirational Mother's Day post on the blog and sharing wonderful pictures on Facebook, but the truth of the matter is that today I'm just not feeling it. Motherhood is no easy feat man. In fact, there are moments it's downright painful. Difficult. Draining. Exhausting. This has been one of those parenthood in the trenches kind of weekends. I've had moody, mouthy children. Lots of driving in a car with those moody, mouthy children, and honestly, it's just been hard. 

So can I be honest for a moment? Today...I felt kind of jipped. I can't believe I'm typing that because it feels kind of selfish. But on the same token, I think it's important to be able write authentically and the show the ability to be real, and since this is my space for my feelings, I feel like I can be truthful, and know that I'm probably not alone. You see, I'm not a high maintenance person. At least I don't think I am. Maybe my husband would disagree, but for the most part,  I'm a go with the flow kinda gal. My love languages are not planted in gifts or acts of service or even words of affirmation (although let's be honest...they are all very nice). They are rooted firmly in quality time and memory making and relationship building. However, on days like today.....there's always this hope and prayer that maybe today my kids would be perfect angels. It would click for them. They would shower me with love and adoration. They would tell me how much they love me and how thankful they are that I'm their mom. They wouldn't let me lift a finger and tell me to go enjoy some time to myself while they cleaned the house and then we'd  all end the day with snuggles and time together and another memory jar would be filled up, and I'd write Mother's Day 2017 on the mason jar with my sharpie and stick it on my shelf next to all the others. I'd smile and say, this is what life is all about. Anyone else have these fantasies?

Needless to say, that isn't my life. Not today anyways. Only one child said Happy Mother's Day this morning. It was right after he was being scolded about something, so he came up to me, and through gritted teeth said, "Happy Mother's Day. When are we leaving for church?" That was that. One couldn't find any church clothes (because he literally has nothing that fits anymore), and we all left for church crabby. Arms folded. Giving each other the silent treatment. The rest of the day hasn't been much better, and even though we've enjoyed slivers of it spent with family, it's been hard to have a lot of fun when you know that you're kind of faking it til you make it. 

The ride home was spent doing a little self reflecting. I didn't raise them this way. Why are they so ungrateful? What am I doing wrong? Is it because they don't feel like they have a reason to celebrate me? What's wrong with me? 

And then it kind of hit me. There's absolutely nothing wrong with me. This is life. Not a movie. Not someone's social media page. This is the nitty gritty. The trenches. The hard stuff. My kids aren't ungrateful (well mostly), and I'm not doing anything wrong. This was just a bad couple of days because that's life. A constant ebb and flow. There's no planning for which days those will land on. We have equally if not more days of laughter and happiness. Just last weekend, they surprised us for our anniversary with a homemade romantic supper with music and pictures and waiting on us hand and foot. They did that with no prompting. That was all on their own. We are raising good, grateful, kind human beings, but they aren't perfect, nor are we. We, too, have our days when we seem ungrateful or aren't blissful. I am enough. You are enough. I just need to be reminded once in awhile. 

Here are a few happies to help me remember.....
Kulinary Kings with Rifly

Mini reunions with my high school besties and some of our kiddos

My baby girl's first dance

Traditional shopping weekend with my besties!!!

Monthly date nights with our tribe

celebrating this soon to be mama with a baby shower

My brother's last prom!

A first place win for Jaedyn's track team

Participating in the Siouxperman Triathalon with good friends

Celebrating 12 years of marriage with this hunk

At Calico Skies because he just gets me

Celebrating 11 years of this dude

POPS concert was "Out of this World"

Finding this gem on my walk at sunrise. I think I'll be using this to watch the sun come up more often.

Miss Hailey graduated from Iowa this weekend. So proud of her

So there you have it. Bad days don't outweigh the good ones. Even on Mother's Day. And remember. 

You are enough. Always.