There is freedom in self-forgetfulness. Sometimes life pounds us hard, straight down into the ground and we feel like we’re stuck forever in the hard. Even in such times and in such places, there can be moments of relief when we allow God to move through us, right where we are.
Our family is in such a place and such a time and we have been since last September. But here on our farm, we have traditions that mean much to all of us. One of those traditions is running a week-long nature camp for an inner-city Milwaukee youth ministry we’ve worked with for many years, ever since our kids were very young. Before we moved to the farm, we would get together a couple times a month and make a dinner for all the kids and staff and transport it to their center in the heart of Milwaukee where most white folk from up here in Wonder Bread land wouldn’t dare venture. Why? The center was purposely planted in the most crime-infested, dangerous neighborhood of Milwaukee where guns and drugs and murders are highest. Covered in prayer, we went, as a family, to serve God by serving and loving others. Our kids read books to kids, played games, served dinner and ate right along with their brothers and sisters in “the hood”.
When we moved to the farm 9 years ago onto 44 acres of rolling prairie dotted with two ponds and lots of trails, we decided to open the gift God had given us and share it with others. In particular, we wanted to bring our inner-city friends to the country—to a place most have never seen. Imagine never leaving your own city neighborhood—never seeing a farm field—never seeing a cow or a horse or butterflies or wildflowers or ponds. This land is teeming with wildlife full of parable. And I, a teacher always thinking about God and His kingdom and how He speaks to us through all His creation, wooing us to Himself—I wanted to share all the lessons of this land with others to give them the opportunity the Holy Spirit gave me in nature when I was a mere 10 years old. The Holy Spirit wooed me into relationship with the three-in-one God through my study of astronomy and my sense of wonder when looking at the celestial creation.
So kids come to us from the inner-city every summer and we can’t help but forget our own problems for a while as we serve. Yes, we must deal with the difficult but God in His wonderful grace offers us the chance for respite and reprieve by giving to others what we have been given.
So they come. Kids ages 6 to 12 arrive in vans and explore with us, sing with us, play with us, overcome their fears with us, and we all feel loved. We all feel the love of God as cultural, economic, and race differences melt away for a day and we all realize we are one—all brothers and sisters of the great family of God.
I didn’t know how I would do the camp this year, being that I’m the program director, song and dance leader, horse expert, teacher, and holder of kids who want to be held. I am depleted from dealing with my own high-stress challenges of late. But that’s where prayer and faith and humbling oneself enough to allow others to take charge of areas so they can realize their own giftings comes in. One person doesn’t have to do all—and shouldn’t. Sometimes our weak states open doors for others development. So I let go of expecting 110% of myself and let God just lead me. Sure, I did my planning. But I also did a lot more delegating and directing and letting go even of some things I love that required more energy that I have right now—like being in the arena and leading horses. Instead, I sat and drove the ATV pulling the trailer stacked with hay, covered in vintage quilts, and watching kids with their hands in the air like they were on a roller coaster while cruising our acreage and exploring prairie and ponds.
There is a time and season for everything . . .
Adjusting and flexing are good for the mind, body, and soul. Letting go and listening closely to God, moving with Him instead of against Him—this is true life—this is truly living. And learning to let others love you when you’re in need gives you the boost to love others in return.
I sat with my “circle of real” yesterday—a group of us who has been meeting twice monthly for 6 years now, I think. We talked about how we find fullness of life in the midst of huge loss. We’ve all experienced huge losses. We all have grieved and some of us are still grieving. What helps us keep going?
What helps us hold hope?
What is it about us that feels right—that is so Godly?
We listen closely. We empathize without pitying. We don’t try to fix because many losses in life are not fixable. We pray for each other. We show we care by showing up and listening and supporting all that’s true—that’s of God—and by gently challenging all that’s not true—that’s not of God.
And we heal. Over time, the love of God poured out through eyes and voice and gentle touches on the arm occasionally and always hugs beginning and end—it all helps us break apart what hurts most in loss—feeling isolated and misunderstood by those who can’t deal with their own brokenness, let alone the brokenness of others.
And as we heal, we recognize we have more room in our hearts and lives to love others—to serve others. The “circle of real” is so magnetic, so life-giving, we can’t help but want others to experience what we have found and experience. So we go out into our own part of the world and the ripple effect of our “circle of real” expands, touching lives of others in profound, life-changing ways. And so it goes and ripples out even further. This is the expansion of the kingdom of God, right here on earth—right now. When we face our own brokenness and allow God to heal through the genuine, compassionate love of others—love spreads—always.
So here on the farm, we welcome all who want to experience God’s wooing love through all He created—all the birds, butterflies, ponds, frogs, ducks, deer, hawks, prairie grasses and flowers, blue skies, clouds—everything we see and hear and touch and taste and smell that our great Creator created for His pleasure of drawing us close to Him into loving, healing, life-giving relationship which will last forever and enjoy, one day, the restoration to perfection.
Such joy my heart of flesh can hardly contain. But that’s OK. Such joy is meant not to be held in one vessel but to spill over and flow out and fill many, many more.
The greatest joy this year? Seeing smiles on faces. Feeling hugs. Praying with 16 children who wanted to ask Jesus to live in their heart—who decided to follow Him—this week—and for the rest of their lives. What’s more precious than that?