Friday, July 29, 2011

I Am the Vine

Our former neighbors, Earl and Judy, gave us a concord grape vine before they moved down to California several years ago. They knew I liked to keep a garden and they knew I'd be tickled to have this vine in our yard.  And I was. We kept it in its lovely Tuscan pot for the first year and finally decided to plant it by our deck near the vegetable garden the following year. Last summer, it finally produced its first cluster of grapes. We were thrilled!  We knew we'd likely get more clusters this year, but had no idea our fruit would multiply as much as it has. We've got near 20 clusters of green grapes growing on our vine! I keep checking on it and marveling. It seems I haven't tended it like I should. It seems the crummy weather this summer should have spoiled our crop. It seems we shouldn't have faired as well as we have.

I couldn't help but think of Jesus' words as I pondered these things.

 John 15:5-11
"I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown in the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you , that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Fun Jubilee Pictures

My first post about Jubilee was rather serious as I shared my reflections about the trip. But there's a fun side to our trip I wasn't able to showcase very well, so this post is purely dedicated to that purpose.
The fun to be had at Jubilee Youth Ranch!
Made new friends.

 Learned to have fun while cleaning the dog kennels.

Swam at Fishhook Park.

Got to see Jonas' big guns.

Helped weed this garden.

 Found lots of these good lil' helpers.

 Lost a lot of sweat during b-ball.

 Got to ride a go-cart...

 ..thanks to Bradley insisting.

 Got to wear cowboy hats.

 Got to be a toad whisperer...

 ...while sister got to be the kitty's toy (with scratches on the legs to show for it).

 Managed to catch one grasshopper.

Helped out by walking the kenneled dogs.

Rode horses. Yeehaw!! 

Got to eat at the cafeteria (nice break for yours truly).

Found ways to entertain ourselves the morning we showed up too early.

Enjoyed a "friendly" French Toast competition
between two students and one of the cooks.

 Listened to Darren (the cook) trash-talking the whole competition long.

There were other memorable moments I wasn't able to capture with the camera:
  • Andrew helping kids with math in the classroom.
  • Kids watching Sandlot in the guest house.
  • Andrew working on irrrigation stuff with the boys.
  • Several students sharing their heartbreaking stories during chapel.
  • Anne-Marie visiting with the other moms on campus.
  • Andrew brushing shoulders with students and staff as they distribute Red Cross flyers in the 'booming' town of Prescott (population: maybe 50).
This was all-around a great trip!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

55 Years Ago Today...

55 years ago today, my parents said their "I do's".
Oui, je le veux.

55 years--that's a long, LONG time!
I wouldn't really know, of course.
The best I can do to wrap my brain around it is
to think of it as my whole lifetime + 20 years.
That seems like a really long time to me.

For better or for worse until death do them part.
There have been many 'betters' and many 'worses' in 55 years,
but they have weathered the storms together and have stayed the course. The odds were stacked against them--
my dad, the dreamer, entrepeneur, risk-taker, construction big shot; my mom, the farm girl, school teacher, God-fearing, level-headed realist--
but they prevailed.
How? They were stubborn. The good kind of stubborn.
At least, my mom's stubborness was.
She was stubborn in the Lord. Dans le Seigneur.
She drew strength from Him and clung to His love,
overcoming many obstacles along the way to becoming my dad's suitable helpmate. And that she is!
He would be the first to say so.

55 years and she's still clinging to Christ's love.
These are tough times for them.
The family train business is failing.
Mudslides have ruined the track beyond repair.
They have to salvage what they can, sell for parts,
pay their creditors, and keep their Christian testimony intact.

It's not easy, so I pray for them.
We pray for them.
But today, I sing.
I sing a song I wrote for them 5 years ago.
For their 50th wedding anniversary.

There's a schoolteacher
Who won't teach much longer
'Cause she's met a man
Who wants her hand
And won't let it go

Stay for a while
Don't go my darling
Stay for a while
Don't you know that I love you
Stay for a while
No more goodbyes
'Cause I love you, don't you know
So stay with me.

There's a cry from the nursery
So Mommy awakes
There's a child who needs rockin'
Good thing sleep can wait.

Let's rock for a while
Hush my sweet darling
Rock for a while
Don't you know that I love you
Let's rock for a while
No more cries
'Cause I love you, don't you know
So rock with me.
There's a call from the motel
And then later, the train
There's a crisis to deal with
Another trial to face.

Let's pray for a while
Don't fret my darling
Let's pray for a while
Don't you know that God loves you
Pray for a while
Through this trial
'Cause God loves you, don't you know,
So pray with me.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Jubilee Youth Ranch

Two Tuesdays ago, we left the rollercoasters and joy rides of Coeur D'Alene behind to embark on a new and different adventure. We drove through fields and fields of wheat and along many desert-type canyons to be able to claim that we have seen the middle of nowhere.

Okay, not exactly.
But, that's how it felt when we first got there. That's how most people feel, I hear.

We spent 4 days at Jubilee Youth Ranch, where we witnessed and heard enough in that timespan to realize that we were the middle of God's grace.

Yes, God's grace in all its raw splendor.
God's grace, pure and unadulterated by self-righteousness.
God's grace, given freely, but at a dear cost.
God's grace, in every redemptive story. 
It's not easy to capture with words all that we felt and experienced...all the redemptive stories that touched our lives...all the memories that could change us if we let them.

On our last day, as we got ready to leave, it was hard to believe that it had only been 4 days. Really? Just 4? It felt like much longer than that. Perhaps it's because we had had to process so much of what was happening around us. We had had to take our suburban-jaded lenses off and enter another reality as though order to let it change us. We were taking it all in.

The Ranch. Jubilee Youth Ranch's website adequately lays out its mission and the way things work around there, so I will not spend too much effort on relating those details... except to say that it is a school for troubled boys between the ages 13-18, and currently has 35-40 students enrolled. I took the picture above at the top of the hill the boys have to run up if they fail to comply with the rules and regulations of the school. All four of us ran up this hill at one point or another just for fun (I promise we weren't naughty). It was HARD...harder than it looks! For me, reaching out to touch the cross at the top of the hill had a Bunyan-like feel to it. I could picture my burden rolling down...

The Cross. In a way, the cross was at the center of this whole trip. It was in the forefront of the founders' mind when they built this ranch, it was on the lips of the staff members as they shared their stories and the reason why they'd be willing to sacrifice so much to be there, and it was what had motivated Andrew to take his family out in the middle of nowhere in the first place. 

We went ready to serve...really. really hoping to be a blessing and not a burden. I think for the most part, we achieved the not-being-a-burden part, but it's hard to tell how much we truly helped. At the least, we were glad that the ranch had a guest house for us to stay in and a cafeteria to eat at so we wouldn't have to impose on any of the families living on campus. Not to say that the families were not hospitable to us...because they really were. In a way, they were more than hospitable---they were real. They let us enter their lives both at home and the workplace...and made us feel welcome and appreciated every step of the way. 

The Staff.  We are so thankful for the many opportunities we got to better acquaint ourselves with the staff. Meeting them was probably one of the most memorable part of our trip for Andrew and myself. We both felt inspired by these individuals who had answered God's call and now lived counter-cultural lives for His glory. Many on staff live on campus--especially the young families. One of those particular families, the Rileys, really ministered to us as we ate together and discussed a variety of topics from homeschooling to theology to the hope that is within us. We are now committed to praying for them and their ministry. Notice the little blond 2-year-old in the picture? I fell in love with that kid. It made me so happy when he'd try to get Miss Anne-Marie's attention. 

As Shawn explained, most of the people working at the ranch have jacked-up pasts. They've tasted and seen God's redemptive power in their own lives and now want to spread that hope to others. I think of the staff we met...Jamal, Leigh and Rebecca, Tom, Darren, Mark and Cosette...there are amazing stories out there. But if you think about it, it's what we have all been called to do, really, this spreading of hope. We all have redemptive stories. We were all lifted from the mire.. We all should be living our lives as salt and light in the world.

And so, it's been my hope and prayer that we would not forget these people and this place, but rather that we would let it (them) inspire us to love the unlovable as Christ loved us. For while we were still sinners, enemies of God, weak and ungodly, He loved us (Romans 5). We didn't get our act together first because we simply couldn't. He did it for us and and it cost Him dearly--not us. Except He does call us to pick up our cross and follow Him. Follow Him as in 'do what He does'.

And what He does is GRACE.

It was GRACE that made the Broetjes found and continue to fund Jubilee Youth Ranch, Vista Hermosa, and several missions throughout the world. These husband-and-wife sole proprietors of over 7,000 acres of apple orchards chose not to hoard God's blessings but to use the success of their ingenuity to bestow grace upon others. Yes, lots and lots of grace on lots and lots of people (even adopting 6 along the way).

I came upon this view of the orchards on a morning run and again, came face-to-face with God's grace...along the Snake River, of all places.
I thought of Jeremiah 17.

How blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is in the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
That sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anwxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.
The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick; who can understand it?
I the Lord search the heart and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds.

I was left wondering which way I lean. Do I trust Him--that He will give me the grace to do what He calls me to do--or do I often let my heart of flesh guide me? My deceitful and sick heart. Put in different words, would I be willing to do this--what the Rileys, Broetjes, and countless others do if that's where He wanted me to bear fruit?

We met Mr. Broetje. I'm tempted to say that it was by chance, but I'll defer to God. He knew I wanted to meet the man who was behind all this...and so He probably decided to indulge me. Mr. Broetje couldn't have been more regular of a guy. In fact, if Andrew hadn't recognized him from last year's visit to the orchards, we wouldn't have known who he was. Just a guy in the front office of a huge apple factory building on a Saturday morning letting us know that the store was closed. But there was kindness in his eyes and humility on his lips..and I felt his discomfort at being recognized, but a willingness to indulge us also. After visiting for only a few minutes, he even let me take the picture below... reluctantly, but graciously. Very graciously. I got a lump in my throat as we said goodbye to this kindly man I had just met....because I knew that thanks to his willingness to count the cost... 

...I had just spent 4 days in the middle of God's grace.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Silverwood Theme Park

Last Monday, we left our house at 4:03 a.m. and drove over 400 miles to get to Silverwood Theme Park by 11 a.m.  We made it with a few minutes to spare.

We were herded into this tunnel that connects the parking lot to the park with the rest of the people who had manage to arrive right at opening. Judging by how the parking lot had emptied by the time we headed back to our car in the evening, we are pretty confident we outlasted many of these early birds.


Following our neighbors' advice, we immediately made a beeline for the major roller coasters that all four of us could ride. This is how the kids felt as they anticipated their first roller coaster ride. 

Brielle was a brave girl to ride Tremors 2 times.  It was a pretty wild ride with many underground tunnels and crazy sharp turns. It was an old rickety wooden roller coaster that had me screaming the entire time. 

Needing a break from the wilder rides, Brielle drove this antique car while Isaiah
and I rode another roller coaster...and let's just say, we are glad she has another decade before she can hit the roads!!

The kids loved all the wet rides and, thankfully, the weather was just right for those.

Tired of getting our clothes wet over and over again, we decided to just go to the water park side of Silverwood called Boulder Beach and get our water fix and be done with it. Boulder Beach ended up being very similar to Calypso, the water park we went to while in Ottawa. We realized as we got in our swimsuits that it hadn't even been a month since we had been to a water park. Not ideal, I know, it might raise the kids' expectations to a level we can't maintain the rest of the summer...but we were there and so we might as well enjoy ourselves...and we did.

We went back to the main park to ride a couple more rides. There were bumper cars and flying elephants to try out.

 We finally called it quits a few minutes before closing time. It turned out to be a very full and very fun day! We can't see how it could have been better. 

We crashed for the night at the Motel 6 a little ways down the road, thinking we'd be pretty much sleeping the whole time we'd be no need to go fancy. It turned out to be a decent setup...and would have worked out just perfectly...if it hadn't been for an 'alarm malfunction' that got us up WAY too early. What happened is I was relying on my watch to tell me the time throughout the night. Sometime during the night, I must have messed with the buttons and set my watch on Time-2, an option I didn't even know I had. It turns out that Time-2 was FOUR hours early. So instead of waking my crew at 10:30 so they'd get ready before checkout time (12 p.m.), I woke them up at 6:30. Since it was overcast, we couldn't tell the time of day just by looking out. We showered, ate breakfast, repacked our bags and headed for the car with only a few minutes to spare...only to find out that in actuality, it was only 8:00. We could have slept in several more hours!!! We might have even had time to swim in the pool. I was ready to head back to our room when we found out the truth...but Andrew decided that, though it was bummer we weren't as rested as we could have been, it was time for our next adventure. We drank our coffee and hit the road...exhausted but content...and ready to tackle another adventure together.