Each year, the church I attend hosts a Family Experience. It’s a time to come together as young families, enjoy a high energy time of skits, games, and teaching, then transition into the activity center for snacks, crafts, a service project, or anything else planned for the specific year.
Last year, I was one of the hosts (characters in the skit). There is usually one serious host and one comedic host. I was the serious host. There is no way I could have out-comedied the person I was paired with last year. Not to mention, I’m not really the comedic type. But this year, the friend who hosted with me fit better into the serious host role, so I transitioned. I put on my silly hat; well, it was actually a silly headband that lit up.
Anyway, my friend and I worked well together. We had several practices and got off track a few times, but we had fun together. I think we made a good team. Neither of us felt completely confident without our scripts the night of the event, and we messed up a few times, but we tried to be flexible and covered for each other. Families seemed to be engaged and have a good time.
One of my best friends had texted me earlier in the day. Her daughter wanted to go, but my friend and her husband had been serving meals to tornado relief workers all week and wouldn’t be able to get away for the evening. I was happy to help. Her daughter and I are buddies; plus, several of her friends would be there, so she easily found a place to sit among them during the program, then got adopted into the group as we transitioned into the activity center.
This year, the theme was compassion, and the focus in the activity center was service. There were also cookies to decorate and enjoy, but the primary activity was packing meals for Lifeline to be shipped to people in Haiti. Watching the families in action was inspiring. We had six stations, and people gathered together, figured out who would do what, and went to work. Dads, moms, kids, and friends helped each other and began to prepare bagged meals and box them up. It had been less than a week since the tornado came through our community, and many of these same people had been helping others in their neighborhoods throughout the week. They were once again helping people in need – not people next door to them, but people next door to someone in another place of the world, people who had ongoing basic needs – and they were doing it together.
I helped as gaps opened as younger kids scooted away to decorate a cookie or two. I enjoyed laughing with the parents and watching them interact with each and their kids. I glanced around the activity center and watched people smile as they served together, including several people I knew were struggling with difficult situations at home or work.
So many people stayed afterward to help clean up. A group of kids were very excited when we mentioned all the miscellaneous grains that had spilled on the tables or floors could be placed in a bag and taken to someone’s chickens. I don’t think a single grain was wasted. People packed up the trailer with all the boxes and supplies. They put away tables, and swept the floors.
A few of us went to eat afterward. It was late, and I wasn’t very hungry, but the time together was so good. It was a continuation of the community coming together and doing life together.
As I drove home, I realized how accurate the name of the evening was: Family Experience. Sure, it’s intended for families with younger children, and that’s no longer me. Even beyond age and lifestage, my family looks a lot different than I thought it would. The same church I attend is where my ex served as a leader for years. We did life with many people. He no longer wanted to be a part of a family with me or with people at church. But my family experience has gone deeper with these people. I appreciate them in new ways. I’ve deepened many of my relationships. I’ve made new ones. I’ve had many opportunities to pour into people – and let them pour into me – in ways I likely would have missed. There is a gap where I thought there wouldn’t be one, but other areas are overflowing.
I am thankful for the family experiences I have. Doing life with others is worth the effort.
I sat around the table with old friends and new. Stacks of brochures, letters, labels, and envelopes were piled on the table. Boxes were scattered across the floor, ready to be filled with envelopes to be mailed.
We came together for one purpose: prepare a mailing. There’s been lots of preparation leading up to that night. We’d designed brochures, drafted letters, written labels, contacted people, and so much more.
We’ve prayed. Lots of prayers.
And we’d cried and laughed together.
This was a group of people supporting Hope House of Central Illinois, a retreat home for parents and their families who are grieving the loss of a child.
These people I worked alongside were friends who had walked that dark road, and they are still walking it. They’re putting their hope into action so they can help others. They purchased the land and are hoping to break ground next year. Perhaps within a year, they’ll be welcoming parents and their families to stay several nights for free. Getting away on a retreat won’t take away the pain, but it might just give them a respite for healing and hope.
As I folded brochures and stuffed envelopes, I prayed about the people who would receive the letters asking for support. I prayed for the parents and families who will benefit from our efforts, despite not even knowing what they soon might be facing. I prayed for my friends, who continue to walk through grief every single day.
And I smiled as gratitude washed over me.
When you do life with others and walk with each other through the tough stuff, your rawness and vulnerability knits you together in friendship.
When you do life with others as you focus on a common purpose and hope for others, your mission unites you in friendship.
When you heal together, you grow together even when it hurts.
I am grateful for my friends. I’m excited about what they’re doing for others. And I’m thankful I get to be a small part of it.
If you’d like to learn more about Hope House of Central Illinois, click here.
We have all experienced it. I’m referring to the less severe, acute, situational depression. The fog that settles in for days or weeks. The numbness of going through the motions.
We can’t see the take-away at the time. In fact, there is little we can see. Our vision is significantly limited. Sometimes, the only reason we move forward is because of routine. We know where we’re going because we’re repeating what we’ve done many times.
We have little energy or focus to reflect on what we can learn through the experience. All we can do is survive. But there is a pebble to pick up in the cloudy fog. There is something small to take along and examine in the light.
The pebble we carry out of the depression might give us a bit of understanding. Or it might not. It might give us a reminder of where we’ve been and how we’ve progressed. It might encourage us to continue to make one decision at a time, to be honest with ourselves and others, to build authentic relationships with others and with God so that when we’re in the dark fog again, we have a trustworthy foundation to orient and guide us forward.
Reach down and pick up the pebble. It is worth its weight.
It took five miles for me to relax. Not five minutes but five miles. It had been preceded by several days of pesky issues, as well as some fun. I needed some detox. So, I walked my trail. I was five miles in when I heard myself sigh and felt my shoulders loosen. I settled in.
Relaxing isn’t always the goal, but when we carry what we shouldn’t carry, we need to listen to the warnings of tension, anxiety, and preoccupation. We need to stop spinning.
I think that’s one thing I like about walking. It is impossible to spin and walk at the same time. I would spin off the path or get sick. Instead, I look forward. I move forward. I get somewhere.
Maybe walking isn’t your thing, but find something (healthy) to focus on and stop the spinning.
It doesn’t change the need for safety and health, for boundaries and guidelines, but it loosens the binding on my heart. It gives me freedom and peace. The ability to not return to a situation of hurt but to move forward into healing. A vulnerability not to the person who betrayed and belittled me but to God who will prune me, mold me, comfort me, and challenge me.