Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Coming "Home"

This summer, as it turns out, flew by.

I cannot begin to describe it. I have only begun to process it. There are a few things I know for sure, a lot of questions that remain heavy in the air, and even more things that I will surely continue to learn as I process over the next weeks, months, perhaps even years. This is a pattern I have been blessed with in my life. A pattern of incredible opportunities and experiences I have seized, to return from them a changed and more whole person, yet also broken with questions unresolved, relationships I yearn to dive deeper into, lifestyles I struggle to integrate into my own upon arriving home to “normal” life. As I write this, though, I realize perhaps these things only feel like brokenness, but are rather means to wholeness, occasions to be vulnerable and grow in new and unexpected ways, opportunities to grow closer to each other and more importantly to God.

This summer I rode my bicycle 3400 miles from Long Beach, California to Cape Henlopen, Delaware in an effort to provide funds and awareness for Blood:Water Mission. Together, we partnered to provide clean water projects, sanitation education, and a health clinic to the community of Marsabit, Kenya. I do not know how to describe this journey except as an incredible feat that would absolutely not have been possible without the friendship, prayers, and faithfulness of my teammates. Yet the bike ride itself is far from what has changed me.

Do not get me wrong – this was by far the most physically challenging thing I have ever put myself up against. Yet the physical challenges were not what made me want to get off of my bike on so very many days. It was the mental battle. The mental endurance, fighting against my own thoughts, my own fears, my own stubborn struggles – that is what made this journey both incredibly difficult and remarkably rewarding.

I could say that many things I learned this summer were similar to last year, that they were great reminders of lessons learned. Truth be told, though, these were more than reminders – I learned them all over again in new and unexpected ways. I was of the generosity of people across the United States – that no matter the differences we have, we have more things in common. When we allow those commonalities to come together for good, a piece of us is shared, and I know I am more whole because of the many pieces of others that are now integrated parts of who I am.

I learned of the importance of taking time to get to know people – of really getting to know people – who we may otherwise know as strangers. There were 18 other people on this team this summer, and had it not been for the Ride:Well Tour, they would likely have remained strangers to me. They are far from that now, and as I have grown to love and care for them as family, I cannot imagine my life without them. I wonder how many people pass us by in our daily lives that this could also be true for? I hope to be more intentional about allowing strangers into my life, inviting them to play a greater role than this. This is not easy, and requires intentionality. It was not easy this summer, either (in fact, it took me most of the summer to be okay with it) – but it will be worth it.

I learned of the great joy I’ve been missing out on by not taking risks. I risked a lot to attempt this ride I was not sure I could do. We took risks to do crazy things like jump off a bridge or climb up into a giant dish at the VLA even if we were afraid of heights. We risked pieces of ourselves every time we shared with one another on the team, with those who hosted us, with the many congregations who listened to us speak and share our stories. I saw no negative results of such risks. In fact, I was even surprised and blessed by the unexpected friendships that resulted from this sharing within the team. It taught me again about how much we all need each other: even those who we think we are so very different from.

I learned the many different ways that communities here can join together to make a real difference in other communities far, far away. We forged a community of cyclists to raise money and awareness for Marsabit, Kenya. Communities all along the way joined in our efforts, and are changed because of it. We have tangible stories about churches beginning new partnerships because of their joint efforts in supporting Ride:Well and Blood:Water. We met and had lunch with a homeless community who has together raised $6000 because they believe it is of utmost importance that everyone around the world has the basic things even they do: clean water. The stories of these communities making a difference are endless, and yet their stories have only just begun.

So too is this only the beginning of a new chapter of my life. This is only the beginning of a long list of things I have begun to process in the one week since I returned to the Chicago area. It is mind-boggling for me to think that only ten days ago, we rode 140 miles into the ocean. It simultaneously feels like a lifetime away, and like we began in Long Beach just yesterday. It is both incredibly difficult to come down off of the high of joy and excitement from this epic journey, and an unbelievably rich blessing to know that the people, places, and shared experiences I miss so much will continue to be a blessing for a lifetime. I greatly miss those people who were strangers to me only 9 weeks ago, and I cannot help but to get excited when I think about the incredible paths their lives are taking.

These paths remind me of one final great thing we learned this summer. I already mentioned the power and strength a community can have when they pull together to make a difference. Yet many individuals I met this summer – including but not limited to the Ride:Well Team – served as reminders that individuals do not have to wait for a large group to make a difference. Each time a teammate spoke of what brought them on this journey, of how they understood our “typical” day, of what they are learning or how God is speaking to them through this journey, I was reminded of something more. I was reminded of how important each individual that made up our community was. Our Ride:Well community could not have had the identity we did without every single person on our team. Every individual in our community contributed to our identity, our impact, and our opportunity to bring change and new life to other communities.

This emphasized for me the importance of endurance even when we think we have nothing to offer. If we are willing and open to the Spirit working in and through us, God will bring us surprise after surprise. Just like God used Moses who thought he had nothing to give, so too can (and will) God use each of us. My hope and prayer, then, is that we will not be too quick to underestimate what we are capable of, but that we will instead, “lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

1 comment:

Karl Kroger said...

Thank you for taking the risk of sharing these very personal reflections. As usual, your thoughts are beautifully written.