Sometimes Mission is not so Far Afield
I made a wrong turn on my way to a training session. Darn that GPS, it proclaims “you have arrived!” just as you pass the turn. Thankfully, just up the road there was a big church parking lot where I could make a U-turn. On exiting the lot, I was greeted by this sign:
I let the car idle for a moment as I considered this. There, in my training shorts, shoes and sport shirt, was I really entering the mission field?
I have never actually been on a mission trip. Never stood with a group before the congregation to send me off to a distant land to build a church, or to a neighboring state that has experienced devastation, nor even to the inner city to lend a hand to those living in poverty. Could it be that right here, right now, with my little training business in my own community, I was knee deep in mission? Maybe I didn’t need to go on a trip after all.
I wasn’t exactly “called” to Fit2Finish. Not in a voice-from-heaven-that-insisted-I-go way. It’s been more of a constant contact kind of thing. On this day, I was meeting up with Emily, a 16 year old basketball player, who’d had ACL reconstructive surgery in February. We had already had several sessions, but this time we were meeting on the basketball court of a middle school near her home. She had been cleared to return to play, but it would be my first time to meet her father, Roy, who was bringing her. He wasn’t so sure she was ready. What’s so “missional” about this?
I have walked this road before, and it can get rocky in the space between a sporting kid delighted to have permission to return to play and the father who loves them so much it would absolutely kill them to see their child injured again. (Incidentally, the mothers tend to do much better; it’s more often the fathers who wince at the prospect.)
I put Emily through her paces. She runs, jumps, dribbles, and shoots. She stops and starts, pivots and hesitates, and drives the lane for a lay-up. Roy and I both shag balls as we watch, and I make a point to join him under the basket to hear what he’s thinking. His reflective sunglasses prevent my reading his face for cues.
“What do you see?” I ask him. After all, he is the expert. He has been watching this kid since she toddled with a ball.
“How does it feel?” I ask Emily when she jogs over. After all, it’s her body. She knows it inside and out.
I haven’t said a word. Not offered any observations, made any corrections, agreed or disagreed with any statements made. I have just created the circumstance to watch and listen, as father and daughter hear each other out to discover their common ground.
On this sunny day in August, with a cool breeze blowing across the playground, things go smoothly. It’s not always like this. Sometimes there are undertones and misgivings, ushered in with angst and fear. Parents don’t trust their kids. Kids are frustrated with their parents. Parents want to wait. Kids are in a hurry. Parents have expectations. Kids want to meet expectations but they can’t. Sometimes, it gets ugly.
I can’t ever be sure how things will go, but it seems where I’m meant to be. “You are now entering the mission field.” It’s not exactly a “sharing the faith” kind of thing, but I am convinced that somehow, when I put on those training sneakers, I am standing on holy ground.
Funny, as I prepare to shuttle my own 18 year old off to Virginia Tech this week, expanding the space between us and leaving the proverbial “empty nest,” I will especially miss her poignant observations about life. Often, just a few words captioning a drawing in a memory dusted off. In our cleaning out and packing, she has pulled out a book she made as a first grader. On the ‘Meet My Mom’ page, she has written, “(My mom) really likes to tech pepol to stresh.”
I do like to teach people to stretch. Guess I have been at this longer than I thought.
Teaching people to stretch… their limbs, their minds, their lives, toward their goals, their dreams, and toward each other. Now THAT is a mission field. Amazing how those wrong turns remind us.
Seems like I sit a lot these days. Writing and blogging and posting and, well, information consumption can do that to you. That’s a bit of a problem for folks who like to move. Not just in the name of “getting in my exercise” or “keeping my weight down” or “not sitting for long periods because it’s bad for your health.” It disrupts me. Period.
And it’s pretty devious because sometimes I don’t notice. Been sitting here a while and everything I’m thinking is getting stale. The words are garbled. The imagination is out to lunch.
So one of my go-to’s is the seated tip. I extend my arms straight out to my sides (like a T) and, keeping my butt cheeks on the chair, I lean straight to one side and try to touch the floor with my fingertips. The other arm, then, is extended straight up to the ceiling. Then, I repeat this on the other side. It’s a core strength and oblique abdominals challenge. Our trunks are woefully weak in this computer and screen age.
I’m lop-sided. I can reach the floor on one side fairly easily, but not so easily on the other. I attribute this to an injury I sustained 2 1/2 years ago that put me in a brace for a bit. But that’s no excuse. I’m weak.
So, leaning right, I look at the floor, trying to urge my fingertips further, further to touch. Come on, you can do it! Slowly, awkwardly, I brush the floor. Success!
On the other side, I don’t look at the floor. (This wasn’t planned; it’s just how this has gone.) I look, instead, at my hand extended to the ceiling. And feel for the floor that comes into touch. Voila!
Then, I repeat. And of course, I compare. How come it’s so much harder on one side than the other? Injury, yes. Thorn in my side, perhaps.
But here I am, arms extended, to touch the earth and reach for the sky. I am the me in the middle. When I look to the earth and urge myself forward, my body resists. By my own effort I stretch, eventually. When I look to the sky and let myself go, my body complies, effortlessly.
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, I say to myself. Humankind is in between and reaching. Do I look down and push or do I look up and reach?
The distance is the same. The difference is me.
How can you prepare to be surprised by God?
My way, truthfully, is to pack every possible option. To bring every book I might need, every piece of equipment I might demonstrate, and more. I prepare and work out the details, sketching and outlining and scratching in more notes in the margin. I prepare out of my fear of failing those who have come expectantly for help, or healing, or direction.
No one can prepare to offer those. There is only One I know who offers those. But still, I prepare. And then I come to Junaluska and I’m bowled over by the change in plan. God says, “Wendy, thank you for your preparations. Now let me just add these few things.” Which change the whole game.
God knows I am not the kind to come empty-handed. He expects me to prepare my heart and my mind. But then to pray, “Lord, help me love these as you love them.” And in rushes surprise. You can’t help but smile at the joy that comes with it.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,
I have been surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. People on a journey of faith, come to dive deeper. What do I have to offer them?
…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
I am not naturally caring and serving by nature. I know this. I wake before 5am, according to the illuminated digital display across the room. All else is dark, the fog out my window so dense that nothing but the cross glowing high on the hillside appears through the sliver in my drapes.
Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. ~ Hebrews 12:1-3
“Just keep looking to the center,” it seems to say. “To your center. I am in the midst of this.”
Our core must be strong. That’s what I teach and show my athletes. And around that strength your joints may move, smoothly, through their full range of motion. The motion they were designed for. I show this to my friends who have come for the workshop:
“Hold yourself, just so. And pull, just so. But keep your core strong, as you strengthen your triceps,” I say. And I am grateful they have “stretchy bands” and are trying it for themselves. My words are completely inept. But they try it. They move it. Then one observes, “Ah, you’ve said something very important: your core must be strong so you can move.” That’s a very familiar message.
A cloud of witnesses. They start with faith and land in fitness. I start with fitness and land in faith. We have taken many roads to get here but have landed in the same place. What a surprise.
Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. ~ Hebrews 12: 12-13
I think God may have been trying to get my attention in the ladies restroom before the session. When I stood with dripping hands in search of a paper towel. The dispenser had printed directions: “motion activated.”
Surprising the places God will speak a word to you.