Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Write of Passage 2 -- Everything Falls Apart

June 23, 2012:  The day I had held in fear since we first started planning Hannah's Rite of Passage, arrived today at 5pm.  The phone rang, and on the other end of the line was Patty our mission trip leader. Her news was devastating and had me crumbling into the nearest chair....our trip had been cancelled. Seems that several participants had to back out last minute for personal reasons. Patty apologized over and over, saying this rarely ever happened. "What are we supposed to do," I cried out loud. We had our flights. We had reservations at a B&B for an extra 2-night stay. We had all our plans put into place. The best Patty could do was offer us either another trip at another date and time, or World Servants would refund our mission trip money and cover the cost of our cancelled flights should we decide not to go at all, ever.  I couldn't believe it. I held the phone in my hand, but my mind was racing out of control and my body was collapsing under the weight of the news.
Everything had just fallen apart, with only three weeks left before we were to get on our plane.

I hung up the phone and started crying. Hannah wasn't home. She had left for work a half hour earlier and I knew she wouldn't be back until close to midnight. There was no way to let her know what had happened, not that I was ready to. I couldn't even comprehend the full ramifications of what had just happened--how in the world was I going to tell her? As my panic grew and my tears spilled out, Josie (my youngest), took on the role of mother, soothing me with those tried and true "parental" one-liners I'd used all too often in the past...."It'll be ok. Everything will work out. Just breathe. Things will be fine."
I appreciated her words, but I knew I also needed to talk to Dan. He would give me some direct advice, he would offer a solution, he'd know what I needed to do. But a quick search around the farm didn't turn him up. So I headed back inside and did the only thing I could think of. I fired up my computer and started all over again.
Evan Almighty
As I waited for "Google" to load, a scene from Evan Almighty (a movie we had just watched the weekend before) began playing in my mind. It was the part where Morgan Freeman (God) chuckles when Steve Carell (Evan) tries to argue that building an ark doesn't "fit his plan." Was God chuckling at us a bit too, as we kept "telling" Him all the wonderful ways we were going to serve Him in Puerto Rico? With all the twists and turns and stops and starts we'd had over the past 11 months, was God really trying to clue us in and say, "It's time you leave the details to Me?"
As this idea rolled through my psyche, it connected with another long-time belief of mine....."God helps those who help themselves." So, with an open mind and a prayer in my heart, I clicked on a couple new volunteer opportunities in Puerto Rico. One for the El Yunque National Rainforest and the other for a pet rescue shelter. I wrote down the phone number for the first, and shot off an email to the second. Then Dan walked in.
As I took a deep breath preparing to share my news, I felt another small fear bubble to the surface of my heart. "This is a make-it or break-it moment." I knew that in telling Dan what had just happened, I would and could be about to find out his true feelings for these mother-daughter excursions. I mean, he's always been outwardly supportive. He's never told me not to go. But I always wondered if there was a deep-down part of him that didn't understand my reasonings for taking each of our girls on such a trip. This would be the perfect opportunity for him to softly discourage us, to tell us not to go, all without him having to be the "bad guy" by suggesting it. He could simply say, "Take this as a sign," and the trip would dissolve into nothingness.
But that's not what happened.
Instead, when I blurted my news and then cried, "Now what?", my husband, without blinking an eye, spoke these words I'll never forget: "You still go. Don't cancel anything. This trip has always been about you and Hannah spending time together. You'll find something else to do." Little did he know that besides the verbal question thrown between us, he had just answered some hidden questions of mine as well. In this strange twist of fate, I was given a great gift---a chance to see directly into the heart of my husband, and know once and for all that he supported these rite of passages, 100%.
It was then that I waved him over, and showed him my computer screen filled with the new volunteer opportunities I had found.  "See, it will be alright," he said. "You'll figure it out as you go. Just go."
It would be 1:00 a.m. before I shared the news with Hannah. It was then that she came into our bedroom to say she was home and to ask if three girlfriends could spend the night. I told her yes, but that I had something to tell her first. Even in the dark I could sense Hannah's body tighten. She knew this was an unusual request on my part, to talk in the middle of the night. She crouched down beside my bed and as gently as I could, I told her about the mission trip being canceled. Immediately her body sunk to the floor, and the words "Oh, no" escaped from her heart.
"Hold on," I said.
I filled her in on the rest--what I had found out during my evening of online investigating and that we would still go, no matter what. Although her dream of a mission trip was taken away so suddenly, to my surprise Hannah's resolve and strength and faith rebounded almost instantly. She leaned in and and gave me a hug, whispering into my ear, "It doesn't matter what we do, Mom, as long as we're together."
Ok, but that 's the easy part, my thoughts replied. I was still silently anxious about what we were going to do and where we were going to stay.
As Hannah turned to leave, she got half way to the door, when she turned around and came back to my bedside. Giving me another tight hug, she added, "We'll go on faith, Mom. We'll trust what God has planned."
And with that simple, yet incredibly faithful statement, I fell back asleep knowing that God had just clued me in---He would be the One tending to all the details.

RainForest Inn
Post Note: Over the next 3 days, I would contact the El Yunque National Rainforest to inquire about volunteering opportunities, and I talked with Bill at the RainForest Inn, where we were to stay our final 2 nights in Puerto Rico. (Sue's Place, which I had originally booked, turned out to be yet another "falling apart" in our plans. When I called to confirm our reservation, I was told by the owner that she never accepted our booking. Instead, Sue's Place would be closed that week we were traveling, and she, in turn, would be on her own vacation.) The RainForest Inn turned out to be a wonderful blessing! It was actually the first place I had found online when Hannah's Rite of Passage process began. At the time, I thought it would be too far away from where we would be taking our mission trip. But the place never left my mind; it was always popping into my train of thoughts, my research, my online investigating. When I called Bill on the phone to inquire about extending our stay, he was a world of information and support. Their inn was right outside the El Yunque Rainforest, and he offered to dig up volunteer opportunities for us prior to our arrival. I booked our full 10 day stay in Puerto Rico with him and his wife, Laurie. With that done, I breathed my first real sigh of relief. Somehow I knew this was the place we were meant to be.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Write of Passage 2 -- Eleven Months of Legwork

September 2011-June 2013
El Yunque Rainforest
Like I said, Hannah and I turned many a stone over, trying to find the perfect fit for her Rite of Passage. Below are just a few of the ideas we kicked around during the 11 months prior to  leaving for Puerto Rico. Some of these ideas were explored in great detail, others were nixed within 24 hours of conception---like the trip to Ghana, when we found out plane tickets would cost well over $2,000 a piece---way beyond our budget, if Hannah hoped for any financial help with college from her parents!  For 11 months Hannah and I would close in on a particular geographical area and type of volunteering, only to have our hopes and plans dashed for one reason or another. Time and time again, our research and ideas were wiped clean, much like an eraser being swiped over a chalkboard drawing. But with every blank board we faced, Hannah and I would start anew with determination, despite our disappointment.  
  • Mayan region of Mexico
  • Branches of the Vine--Ghana, Africa
  • Turtle rescue in Guatamala
  • Casas por Cristo Missions
  • Forget Me Not Ministries
  • Peruvian orphanages
  • Student International, Dominican Republic
  • World Servants, Puerto Rico
World Servants finally met all of Hannah's criteria--a mission trip that would lift us up and off the continent of the U.S. and place us on "foreign" soil; a trip that wouldn't feel too much like a vacation but would work us mind, body, spirit; and an adventure that would include a team of volunteers from all different ages, races, and varying backgrounds.  The bonus for me in having Hannah pick Puerto Rico was that it was (and is!) a territory of the United States.  I would no longer have to worry about taking her out of the country, relying on passports for entrance and exit, with intensive/extensive customs to pass through. Although the culture would be new and exciting, and the language barrier a bit of a challenge, we wouldn't have to "leave" the U.S. to experience any of it.
All of that meant great peace of mind for me.

After several more email exchanges with Patty Juarez, our contact leader at World Servants, Hannah and I finally booked two spots on their team leaving for Puerto Rico, July 28-August 4. As the weeks passed, information began trickling in via snail-mail, and one day a huge white envelope arrived with our names on it. Inside were our registration forms, applications, flight information, and packing lists. In the days ahead, I sifted through all of it, eventually going online to reserve our round-trip flights. I decided to pad an extra two days into our itinerary at the end of our week, so that Hannah and I would have a chance to breathe and reflect upon all that we had seen and done. This decision meant renting a car and finding an additional place to stay. But I knew that these two days would become just as valuable as the work we would be doing, and that we'd need the one-on-one time after we said goodbye to the new friends we would be making.
So, with our flights booked, I began searching for a place to stay those extra two nights. I finally stumbled upon Sue's Place, a little loft located near Puerto Rico's El Yunque National Rainforest.  For years, Hannah and I had talked of seeing and hiking through a real rainforest, and here was our chance to do it! Making this a part of her Rite of Passage was a dream come true--and after calling Sue to reserve the room, I thought we had locked the final piece of our long-awaited puzzle into place.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Write of Passage 2 --- A New Journey Begins

El Yunque National Rainforest - Puerto Rico
Hannah's Rite of Passage began 11 months before we actually boarded the plane for Puerto Rico on July 28, 2012. My middle girl had a very specific picture inside her head of what she wanted her mother-daughter trip to look like. Turning that trip into a reality, however, proved quite a bit more challenging than I had anticipated.
First and foremost, Hannah wanted the essence of her adventure to be a mission-oriented. An opportunity to give aid, assistance, support and care to those in a particular need--be it people, animals, or nature, as in our all too often neglected environment. We googled, we hunted, we networked. We talked with those who had taken mission trips in the past, with those who lived among the less fortunate, and with those who knew a friend of a friend, who might know someone we could contact. We did a lot of leg work. We turned over many a stone. Throughout all our months of planning, we rode a roller coaster ride of emotion, as our ideas materialized and then dissolved, over and over again. We got excited, and disappointed. Energized, and discouraged. In the end, when we finally had every "i" dotted and every "t" crossed, and we knew where we were going, and had booked our flights to get there....when we were confident, and clear, and ready to roll....that's when everything fell apart.
Little did we know, that as it was actually all falling right into place...... 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Another Mother-Daughter Journey

Hannah and I left on her Rite of Passage, Saturday, July 28th, heading for Puerto Rico, and more specifically the Rainforest here. It was a whirlwind day of travel, to say the least.

Although I am journaling our experience every single day, and will share more later, for now I wanted to send off this much. Hope you find a little something worth holding on to......

Journal Entry, July 29th:  "I'm beginning to feel my heartbeat fall into rhythm with the heartbeat of the rainforest. My soul is sitting cross-legged and happy at the edge of a place called Peace."

Peace be yours today and always,

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Winter's Journey

(A piece written several years ago, when I was going through a difficult time and was in a difficult place).

I took a walk through the January woods the other day, in search of winter’s beauty.  It was to be the first step on my journey to revive and reclaim my faith, which had become battered and sorely bruised.  My heart had quietly whispered to me that in the beauty of winter, I would once again see the face of God.  However, as I began my journey on the snow-covered path, I didn’t see the face of God at all.  I saw only the deadness that winter had to offer.
     The trees were stripped bare of their beautiful fall garments, and their bark was as dry and brittle as my faith had become.  Nothing moved except winter’s cold wind that stung my cheeks and burned my lungs.  Even the branches overhead appeared as gnarly, bent fingers clawing at each other in some imaginary struggle.  “There is no beauty here,” my mind scolded my breaking heart.  “You won’t find your faith in such a desolate place.”  My heart, weak as it was, pleaded that I continue on.  So I trudged deeper into the winter woods.
     Four dead leaves halted my search for faith in its snowy tracks.  These four dead leaves clung lifelessly to a dead, barren branch and my withering heart could stand no more.  A half-crazy laugh bubbled beneath the surface of my being, as I felt myself slip off the edge of hope.  Dead leaves dangling from a dead branch!  You’ve got to be kidding!  “You’re dead!” my mind screamed.  “Give up the fight!  You have nothing left to offer!  Just let go!”  My mind then quieted and spoke once again to my heart.  “There is no beauty here.  Only dead leaves, dead branches, and a faith to match.”
     It was then, when both my feet and my search had stopped, that I caught my first sight of winter’s true beauty that day.  A deer in the distance lifted her head, alerted to my strange and new scent.  With my thoughts interrupted and my feet no longer moving through the crusted snow, my heart heard a faint voice whisper, “Be still.”  The deer darted deeper into the safety of the thicket, but my feet remained firmly planted on the snowy path.  “Be still,” the whisper came again, and my mind obeyed.  The words rustled once more through the four dead leaves dangling from the branch above my head.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  I breathed the words in deeply, and as I did, they seeped into the cracks and crevices of both my heart and mind.  I closed my eyes, and allowed my heart to pull in all that was around me.  I heard the pecking of a bird on a limb high above in the treetops.  I smelled the beauty of winter in my prickling, cold nose.  And I felt the hand of God upon my shoulder.  “Be still and know that I am God.”
     Slowly opening my eyes, I was no longer standing in the same winter woods in which I began my journey.  There were sights and smells and touches of life all around me.  I was afraid to move, for the spell of faith being restored I feared to break.  As I tilted my head upward, in search of the pecking bird, the warm, whispering voice washed down upon my face.  “You are my beloved.”  Tears welled up within my eyes, and the guilt in my heart protested.  “Me? No, there must be some mistake.”  For really, how can one who has lost the sight and touch of their faith ever be considered “beloved?”  But the voice would not be silenced, and as it chanted again, the beauty of winter seeped into my being, and together my heart and mind offered up one single response.  “Thank you.”
     “Be still.”  I wrote these words into the untouched snow beside my path, and into the untouched cavity of my faith-searching heart.  It is only in being still that we can see what really lies before us and within us.  In my search, I discovered my faith was never truly lost.  It was only hidden, like the forest floor beneath the snowy blanket of white.  And the face of God was never absent from my view.  I had just forgotten what it could look like.  The face of a deer, a bird in flight high overhead, and even four dead leaves dangling from a tree branch.  Yes, even the leaves were now a symbol of faith for me.  My eyes and heart had opened to see them for what they truly were—a reminder for that tree—that living tree—of what it used to be and what it would be again in the coming spring.  Those leaves didn’t abandon the tree.  They stayed, even through some of the most harshest and coldest of days that tree had to face.  We all have someone who stays with us through our harshest and coldest of days.  God never leaves us or abandons us, even when we feel we have lost our faith.  Like the four leaves, He stays.  That is the beauty of winter, and in turn, the face of God.

Powerful Words

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable. ~Kahlil Gibran