Small Town Touring

It was a Sunday that smelled like spring.  It is difficult to describe the smells that come with each season, but when the smell of spring comes, fresh, new, and wonderfully earth-y, it puts a smile on my face and a spring in my step.

It was also a Sunday when, little did I know, I would get to become the driver of a small town tour bus (err, van).

Workfest was on.  Which meant that camp was filled to the brim with all sorts of new people.  A few of these people, cooks and crew leaders, would be joining us for church.  And my housemate Anna and I would be driving two of them there: Mary and David, first-timers to CAP all the way from sunny California.

When we entered the doors of St. Paul’s, a little Catholic church started by Father Beiting (CAP’s founder) himself, we were greeted with the perfect sight for a spring Sunday:  a couple of girls were decorating the altar with bright yellow daffodils.

At St. Paul’s, there is a sitting area in front of the chapel area of the church.  We milled about in the sitting area for a bit as we waited for church to start, talking to other Workfest volunteers who had just arrived and to some of the local parishioners.

Then one person pulled out her phone to take a picture of the daffodils decorating the altar.  Then two others did the same.  I smothered my smile behind their backs.  I felt like I was with a group of tourists (I’m from the lakeshore of Lake Michigan, which means I see a lot of tourists – and make fun of a lot of tourists – so it was funny to feel like I belonged to a group of them).

Church over, Mary and David offered to take us to lunch.  But along the way, we needed to stop at the tourist guide Jackson County sign because it was very colorful and very Jackson County.  So I pulled the van in front of the sign and the phones came out again.

Lunch at the very busy Dairy Queen over, we headed back downtown.  Anna pointed out the famous graffitied “Jesus Loves You” wall.

“Oh!” Mary said.  “We should get a picture of that, too!”

So I pulled the van into a parking lot across the street and we walked over to the wall, the sun resting over our heads, the gravel crunching under our feet.

“Hey, would y’all like me to take your picture?”

We turned around.  Baseball-capped and jean-clad, the man who had been working on a trailer in the lot next to the sign was walking over.


We stood in front of the sign, a group of four standing under a spray-painted heart, as he took the picture.

“You’d be surprised how many people stop to take a picture here.  I know the guy who painted this.  He did it secretly because he thought that he would get in trouble, but so many people liked it, that he went ahead and let out the secret.”

We thanked the man and headed back to the van, smiling at the fact that we had happened to meet a person who could tell us a story about the wall right when we were about to take a picture in front of it.

That, after all, is exactly the sort of thing that happens on small town tours.

Which is what makes them so durn special.

Mckee Jesus graffiti



Pieces of Hope

It’s been an interesting week.

The week started with a new (short-term) addition to our housing team:  Jim.  Jim is a retired guy who, since his conversion to Christianity in his later years, travels around doing mission work wherever he is needed.  He has been a volunteer with CAP several times and is joining us for Workfest (which starts next week!).

At work this past week, we were focusing for the most part on getting ready for Workfest, but we also were working on finishing up some incomplete projects.

On Monday, we got started by paying another visit to the little girl in the window.  The septic tank at her house is sinking in and we needed to build a platform over the sinkhole to make sure that none of the visiting college students end up taking a bath in it.

When we arrived, the little girl was at the window once again.  I waved to her, and she waved back.  And to my surprise, her father came out of the house.  The last time I had seen him at the house, he had been laying on the sofa, hooked up to a machine.  He has some sort of disease that makes it so that his body cannot digest food, which naturally causes a lot of problems.  He leaned on a cane and talked to us about various topics, from three-legs the dog (who, it turns out, has a hurt leg because she is overly fond of chasing cars), to what he used to do before he got sick, to the thieves down the road.

Jim was going to be working on this house during Workfest, so we went inside to check it out, since he hadn’t been there before.  The little girl greeted us with glee, introducing us to her little sister and making Kristina chase her back and forth through the house.  As we got ready to leave, Jim said that he’d like to leave with a prayer.  So we all stood together, Jim, Kristina, Me, Mother, Father, older daughter and younger daughter, and prayed for healing, for innocent little lives, for hands repairing houses.  It was a beautiful moment.

Fast forward to the next day.  I came to work expecting more of that beauty, and got hit hard with brokenness.

We went to the house of an elderly participant who I had never met, but whose house had been worked on during Foxfest, but wasn’t finished.  And when we got there he was drunk.  Ugly drunk.  And some threats were made.  We had to pull off of the job.  And that experience shook me quite a bit.  Sheltered teetotaler that I am, I had never seen anyone ugly drunk.  And the situation was kind of frightening.  It was all that I could really think about when I got home.

Thinking about the scary “What do I do?” feeling.  Thinking about the kind of life where you’d rather be out of your senses than facing reality.  Thinking about how we can fix broken floors and windows, but we can’t fix brokenness.

I went to bed early, the sound of the rain beating against the house.  I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of torrents of rain rattling the gutters and thought about that brokenness again.

Wednesday came and I still hadn’t shaken off Tuesday.  The expectation of beauty had left, and in its place was a subdued sense of duty.  People asked me if I was okay, and I said yes, but I maybe should have said no.  The rain was still falling thickly from the sky, beating against my windshield and forming puddles of mud around my feet.  We drove here, there, and everywhere; delivering tools and ladders to Workfest sites, picking windows up at the store.  We drove home in a deluge.  Half the road covered in water here, a field become a lake there, a stream swelled and flowing across our driveway.

Thursday.  The rain had become snow.  A couple inches of white rested on top of ice.  I tied an old piece of clothesline to a Rubbermaid container, filled it with the necessary tools, and dragged it down the hill to the shop.  We had been tasked with building sawhorses.  None of us had ever built one before – but, no worries, the ever useful youtube was there to help.  I buried myself in the rhythm of cutting two-by-fours at 22 1/2 degree angles, as sawdust piled up along the floor. And in doing so, I found a strange sort of contentment.

Maybe I was wrong to say that we can’t fix brokenness.

There are pieces of hope in a little girl greeting strangers from her window, in a father feeling well enough to stand and walk.

There are pieces of hope in a volunteer who knows what it is to be ugly drunk leading a little family in prayer and coming back for mission trip after mission trip.

There are pieces of hope to be found in creeks returned to their original size after a deluge, in snow melting from blacktop.

There are pieces of hope to be found in the peace found in the rhythm of a chop saw, in the smell of newly cut wood.

And I’m picking up the pieces. Because maybe we can’t fix brokenness with a hammer and nails…but we can help to heal it. With smiles, with words, with prayers, with working hands, with hearts turned to God.

And the sleet fell from the sky

Okay, so I’m going to be honest.  I originally wrote this blog post on Thursday.  And it was very different from what it is now.  In the throes of nearly two weeks of snow days, it was written as a litany of all the frustrations of being (to a northerner) unreasonably trapped in my house for two weeks because of grounded vehicles.

It was full of important snow day tid-bits, like the day that I was feeling so lethargic that I didn’t even want to make the effort to get off of the sofa.  My solution to this problem: trying to roll from the sofa, through the living room and dining room, and down the hall to my bedroom.  (If you’re wondering, my solution failed.  I am too tall to roll down the hallway…unless I did somersaults…which would hurt…so I had to stand up.  Poor little me.)

It was full of snow day grumbles, like how stupid it was that I couldn’t go to work just because there was a big ice patch on my driveway.  Or how my brain was melting from inactivity.

That’s what this blog post was on Thursday.

And then Friday happened.  And it got me thinking.  And I knew that this blog post needed to change.

I was ungrounded for the first time in two weeks on Friday.  By the time I was ungrounded, I was in a very sour mood.  I had expected to get the call earlier in the morning.  I had been waiting for it, antsy and frustrated that everyone else in the house always heard from their supervisors before I did.  When everyone had left the house except for me and my partner in crime, I got tired of waiting and called them myself.  I was told that I could leave.  And then I was told our tasks for the day.  And said tasks just made me more irritated.

After two weeks of being stuck useless in the house, I was being given busy work:  cleaning the barn (shed) and the office.  (Granted, these things were not actually “busy work” in this situation, as they needed to be done in preparation for groups that are coming in, but to me, in this mindset, that’s what it felt like).  Instead of being excited about getting out of the house, I was annoyed that I was being sent to do useless tasks.  As if I hadn’t been useless enough these past two weeks.

As I drove to the barn, all I could think about was how unproductive I felt.  The fact of the matter is, there are some days when I’m doing this job where I just feel like a burden.  Like maybe they would be better off without me.  And that’s how I was feeling on this day.

So we cleaned the barn.  And then we went to the office to clean there.  And while I was there, I said something to someone that, while it was true, probably could have been approached differently.  And then I saw a look on her face that clearly told me that my comment had hit a sore point with her and made her unhappy.  And this look got me thinking, because I had never intended to cause it.

For all my talk of more heart and less attack, for all my resolutions to act more wholeheartedly, I wasn’t living it out very well.  I wasn’t trying very hard.  I should have been really happy and thankful on Friday to be able to get out of the house.  I should have been understanding, knowing that my supervisors have been really busy doing things to get ready for Workfest that I can’t help with, and if cleaning the barn and cleaning the office were things that needed to be done, then I should have done them with a servant’s heart.  Because that’s what I came here for – to do whatever was needed of me.  I should have been happy to see people that I hadn’t seen in two weeks, but when I did see them, mostly all I did was grumble and make negative comments.

Last Saturday, I pulled on my winter coat and my rain pants and walked out into the sleet that fell from the sky.  I trudged through the snow to camp and found myself on the dock.  The dock was covered in heavy wet snow and the lake was covered in a thin layer of ice.  Sometimes, when I am alone outside, in God’s creation, the spirit leads me to do funny things.  And on this day, it told me to lay in the snow on the dock and take it all in.  And so I did.  And despite the droplets falling from the sky onto my face, despite the feeling of the cold, wet snow through my pant legs, I knew, that here, in this moment, the world was beautiful.  And I was lucky to be alive and in the moment.

On Friday I was ugly.  And I’m sorry.

Sometimes we’re just so caught up in the sleet on our faces, in the pool of cold surrounding us, that we forget to see the trees reaching their arms to the sky and the leaves twirling across the ice.

And Friday, I forgot.