I am on my 24 hour hiatus before going back on the road. I arrived home last night around 7:30 PM after spending the weekend in Denver with 5 teenagers (sadly one couldn't make it). If you haven't done so, it is fascinating to spend extended periods of time with kids at this stage in life. So much of who they are is formed and yet not fully who they will eventually become as they try on different persona's and their minds are busy trying to examine things from many angles as they discern what their place in this world will be.
We visited the museum on terrorism, which was a very interesting and well done presentation of what exactly constitutes terrorism, what a terrorist "looks like" (anyone...child soldiers to elderly clerics), what kinds of innocent looking items have been used to make bombs out of (even kids juice boxes) and we saw suicide bombing vests and other items used to carry out such attacks. They had an exhibit where you are surrounded by screens and a scene is shown as if you are standing in the middle of a street fair in Denver...and a terrorist attack occurs with a bomb of some sort going off. It is to give you a first hand sense of what it feels like to have your every day life interrupted by such a terrible act of violence. It was a moving moment and a powerful example of the kinds of fears some people around the world face every single day as they do their version of the "Walmart run"...just trying to go out shopping for their family meal is an act of courage.
We had interesting discussions after our visit about why Americans do not seem to understand the true threat of terrorism...is it because the faces affected staring back at us from our TV screens often don't look like our own? Is it because the vast majority of Americans have lived in peace in our daily lives and the effects of 9/11 were but a mere blip on our radar? The museum also highlighted child soldiers and we talked about the inability of those children to fend of advances of recruiters and the kids' ultimate survival might depend on relying upon armies to feed and cloth them after their parents have been killed. That led to us engaging in conversation about the soldiers of the Third Reich and how those working in concentration camps too were victims of a sort of terrorism as they faced a "kill or be killed" moment when forcing Jews to the gas ovens. What choices did those soldiers have? And what would WE do in those circumstances ourselves? Big questions with no easy answers.
We went from there to the Green Festival which was a large event being held to highlight all things "green". We visited booths where items made from recycled materials were beyond our imagination...old seat belts turned into really cool belts to wear, purses and wallets made out of plastic bags and inner tubes, and many other really unique things. The economics of sustainability was the main topic of conversation as we discussed how all of this will eventually become even more mainstream. My favorite concept taken from the event is one close to my heart which is micro-loans and micro-business for poor villagers who form co-ops. I saw many different vendors who were presenting products made by those in economically disadvantaged areas who have no local market but definitely have a viable product to sell. I guess it is the whole idea of teaching someone how to fish rather than giving them the fish that appeals to me.
The highlight of the entire weekend, no doubt, was our visit to the United Church of Montbello which was our actual reason for going to Denver. I wanted the kids to experience a different form of worship than they are used to. Many in their teens understandably become disenfranchised from what they view as their "parents religion". They don't see how their childhood exposure to faith is a mere beginning to their faith journey, and often they walk away from the church when they graduate high school and may find their way back to it in one form or another when they start families of their own. I want our youth to see that there are many ways to engage with God, and it may not necessarily be anything like how their parents do. Of course, this is with their parents' blessings and our particular "flavor" of Christianity tends to draw folks more open to not having their kids feel they have to follow in their footsteps. I feel I will be successful if our older youth feel they need to continue their faith journey and make the efforts later on to explore and find what works for them.
Yesterday's service was a rousing one unlike any our youth had ever participated in. There was joyous singing by a gospel choir, there was passionate preaching with lots of "Amen's" and "Hallelujah's" thrown in for good measure. It was a 2 hour service which all agreed felt like about 30 minutes...and maybe, just maybe...our youth felt God's presence in a new way for just a little while. While this was also my first visit to a largely African American church, I was extremely surprised how comfortable and at home I felt. I hadn't expected it...not because of color issues but cultural differences might have made me feel as if I didn't "fit". Frankly, I could have perched right there on that pew for the rest of my life and been warmly received and become active within that Congregation immediately. I loved the openness of expression...it probably is far more who I really am than the quieter more staid services I attend at my beloved church. I LOVED LOVED LOVED the acknowledgement of the Spirit's presence and the fact that it was CELEBRATED in a way that I could more easily relate to.
As I am writing this I just had a glimpse of another level of understanding that maybe part of the connection I felt was that I could actually more easily relate to the this Congregation and it's daily struggles than I had anticipated. This church is in a struggling area of Denver, hard times haven't just hit with the recession...the day to day challenge of trying to feed your family and raise them right is one Dominick and I are in where we live...the landscape may look different but the life experiences are exactly the same. In stark contrast to many of our friends, we are not fretting over putting away enough money for college for our kids, for that is an impossible dream! We are worried more about how we will make sure the mortgage is paid. Unlike many we know, we are not stewing over how much money we have lost in our 401k's... we are holding on to hope that the sale of our home someday will provide some funds for retirement and we won't be eating cat food in our old age. Seriously. I guess what we are investing in for the next several years is our kids, filling in gaps in life experiences for them, and providing them with opportunities that will develop their character. I would far rather put money into church camp for them than my non-existent retirement fund.
But as is often the case, it is in places like these and times like these where we find faith has taken on a new meaning...when you have nothing to hold on to BUT God, that faith grows as you find that by letting go of the illusion of control, you find strength and healing and you never cease to be amazed at God's provision for you and you family. When you give up on reliance only on yourself and let God work, for Dominick and I at least, that is where the joy comes in. And maybe that is why I felt at home in a place surrounded by people just like me, even if at first glance someone else would only see color contrast and not see blending of similar life circumstances.
I am struggling fighting the onset of a cold, which has worried me for a couple of days as I can not go with Kenny if I am ill. Shriners already called last week and asked if anyone in the house was sick and telling us they would cancel the surgery if someone became ill. Because I was away from Kenny I am not worried about him getting it and I am staying completely away from him right now while I am still uncertain if I am going to fully come down with something or not, but I do NOT want him going for surgery without me, especially this first one here. Thus far I have that warning tickle and sinus pressure...which for me could also signal only allergy issues...so I am praying that rest today and lots of drugs of every kind will knock it down fully.
Kenny is doing well emotionally, far better than I anticipated he would do at this stage. He seems excited about going on the plane and seeing our friends, which I have no doubt is taking his mind off the main purpose of the trip. We have not belabored it all very much in front of him which also may be helping. We have been so blessed with tons of well wishes from friends, Kenny is set to go with a couple of DVD's from our friends who are keeping Matthew and Joshua...guess which one is his favorite that they got him..."Momma Mia"!! He saw it last time in Chicago and fell in love with it, isn't that a hoot? So now he has his own copy and can watch it as many times as he wants while in the hospital. We will have the laptop loaded with computer games and learning programs, I am taking a book or two to read to him as he loves being read to. I am not at all prepared myself and have no reading material or anything so will try and take care of that this afternoon.
And now I HAVE to get off this thing, despite 25 unanswered emails. Thanks to all who are praying for Kenny and our family, special thanks to all that are helping us during this time with Joshua and Matthew. I will keep you posted with photos and writing as I am able during the next few days.
And thanks to God for providing Shriners to help with Kenny's medical needs...financially the blessing that we are receiving is overwhelming and we do not take it for granted for a moment.