Tuesday, June 28, 2016
We have an old falling down picnic table in the back yard that slopes from the ground to about four feet tall. All of the grandchildren have loved to run up and down that table. It is too rough to serve as a slipper slide, but it is great as a little hill in flat Kansas.
It is Sarah's turn to be two, and ready to explore that table. I'm cautious, being afraid she will try things too hard for herself. When Sarah grabbed my hand and commanded in her one-word method of communication, "Come!" I was glad to be nearby. Sarah did not want to walk up the ramp and then run back down. That was much too tame for this little sprite.
Holding tight to my fingers, Sarah walked with determination to the top of the ramp, several inches shy of the edge. Then she looked me in the eye, let go of my hand, and edged her feet forward. Looking at me out of the corner of her eye, she laughed. She indicated her desire that I stand in front of the drop, and when I complied, her face lit up. She put her arms out, stood up straight, and shivered with anticipation. She laughed again as she gathered up her nerve. And then she flung herself into my arms.
I swung her to the ground, laughing along with her. Then she grabbed my hand, commanded, "Come!" and we headed back to the bottom of the ramp.
Maybe someone else taught her this. It wasn't me. I'm not so brave, at least about jumping off of ledges.
This thing Sarah is doing is so much more about the jump than it is about being caught. If she were a little bit bigger she would likely jump without asking for my help. It is about taking a risk, testing herself, enjoying doing something scary and still ending up ok.
There is joy in the leap, even as sometimes there is hardship.
When Jesus announced his ministry in Luke, he read from Isaiah that he had come to announce good news to the poor, and freedom for the oppressed, and sight for the blind.
And then he called his disciples, and they climbed up their picnic table and grabbed hands and looked at each other with anticipation and hope and confusion and all the many mixed emotions of trying something new and hard that you believe in with all your heart. They laughed and they shivered and they gathered up their nerve. And they jumped. Like Sarah.
We have been there too, sometimes in small ways and sometimes larger.
We did voluntary service when we were still in our twenties.
We were nearing our 7th wedding anniversary when we read an article in our denominational magazine, The Mennonite, written by Robert Hull on the old testament practice of Sabbath in a non-agrarian society. He suggested that every seventh year be a Sabbath year, even if we aren't in a position to leave our fields fallow. Some could offer a year of service. Some could live on a reduced budget while sending their excess funds to support others who are serving. We could be creative about finding our way to Sabbath year practice.
As we read his writing we had that exciting, frightened feeling of standing on the edge of something that could be life-changing. Because things aligned in unusual ways, Chuck's brother and his wife could take over our farm for a year.
We filled out applications, had interviews, and were accepted for a year of service in a community and with a church in Illinois.
It was a life changing year.
When it ended, I mourned. I'd felt more alive and more on the edge of something bigger than myself during that year. I wanted to be back near grandparents, but I did not want to go back to routine. What about our lives would be different when we moved back to the farm?
That question was a years long conversation between Chuck and myself that encompassed the birth of another child, the loss of a family friend, and my first depression. And then one date night as we walked the bike path in our nearby town, we talked about foster care. It was a way of serving that encompassed the skills and interests of both of us. Being on a farm could be a positive factor. Could we do this? What would it mean for us? for our children? Again, we were at the edge, shivering with fear and with excitement and with the possibility that God could be leading us in a new direction.
Now the kids are gone, but life has not ended. There are always new challenges.
It doesn't have to be a long term commitment. It can be offering a meal to someone, or inviting someone over. It can be starting a conversation with someone very different from yourself. Or dialing the phone to make that first phone call to offer empathy and a listening ear after a tragedy. It can be trying out a day or two volunteering in your community. It can be seeing a need and sensing an inner pull to see if your gifts meet that need in any way.
Throughout my adult life I've wondered about the way our church does Sunday School for those who are fresh out of high school. Because the adult classes are mostly based on age groups, those who have recently become adults have no class. Partly because of this, but also because they are scattering for school and jobs, and because they are testing out their own faiths against the world they are entering, attendance drops off significantly. When they come, there is not a place for them. One time this year when I was again trying to make sense of this, a couple of people suggested I get involved.
For me, this is a leap. I'm good with kids. But I have a deep sense of my own inadequacy with ages past middle school. I don't know how to lead young adults. If they don't attend, is that an indication of my giftedness or an indication of their other commitments and stages in life? Does it matter? Is it OK to do something new and out of my comfort zone and to fail? I decided it is. So even now, months into this, I'm still shivering and laughing and holding out my arms, hoping this works.
If it doesn’t, I’m sure there will be something else to try. In fact, I have a few ideas already.