“Cassie, you have fun…at times.”

27 06 2011

I opened my suitcase and was assaulted with it: the smell of damp, warm, bug-infested, dirt-coated clothing.

I sat there and wondered if there was a setting on my washer that said, “I think there’s something living in my dirty clothes”.

You know, right next to the buttons that say “Medium load, light wash” and “Heavy load, heavy wash”?

Wishful thinking.

We’re finally back from our summer middle school mission trip to St. Petersburg, Florida. We took 28 kids and 10 leaders on the never-ending trek to meet up with the

Our entire team, including our Floridian teammates, after serving at the homeless shelter...

youth at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church (where a former pastor and great friend of ours currently works). It was an incredible experience–I was so blessed to have a simply amazing team of adult leaders, and had the joy of seeing two young high school apprentice leaders blossom on this trip.

You can check it out yourself with the blog we had going during our trip here.

And our kids–I told them on the last night of this trip that they just blew me away. The number of housing changes we faced in the course of our one week trip (we unloaded and reloaded the trailer exactly 10 times), the extreme heat we faced (sweat was just dripping down my face the entire time we were outside), and the difficult conditions we faced when we camped for 3 nights at Fort DeSoto National Park made for a challenging trip for middle schoolers and adults alike. But these kids sailed through it with hardly any complaining, and were united as one by the end of our trip.

In all truthfulness, their constant good behavior, plucky attitudes, and diligent servant hearts gave me hope for the future. Just thinking of all their inside jokes and hilarious antics puts a smile on my face right now.

Another thing that put a smile on my face was reading over our “Care Cards”, a tradition we started last year on our mission trip in Colorado. We hung up bags at our campsite with students’ and leaders’ names on the outside, and everyone was responsible for writing at least one affirming note to each person on their team over the course of the week. Overall, that meant that our kids had to write 38 different notes in just a few days–but they rose to the challenge and wrote things so sweet and meaningful that nearly every kid I saw reading their cards on the last night had tears in their eyes.

I had some serious tear-jerkers myself, even unexpected ones from the goofy class clowns who were on our trip (maybe someday, someone will be able to explain to me why that type of student sticks to me like glue on these trips? It’s not like I’m at my best when I’m lugging around a 4-lb binder with the complete information for the trip everywhere I go and counting children constantly…).

However, mixed into the cards that had such powerful words that they brought me to tears, I had some truly hilarious cards from some of the kids, too:

“Dear Cassie: You are a great, awesome leader. And I love your husband.”

“Cassie, You’re a great leader and you’re really good at not getting mad when bad things happen.”

“Cassie is an interesting, cool young lady who is caring, fun, and loving and can have fun… at times.”

“Dear Cassie–remember to breath.”

Oh, the truthfulness of kids.

In all honesty, this was a difficult trip for me–for the first time, I wasn’t working with a mission organization and was planning the entire trip from scratch. We went farther away than we usually do on mission trips (with bathrooms stops, we drove nearly 20 hours each way), we camped outside in the middle of summer for 3 nights (during which, more than once, I compared myself to Bear Grylls, the gritty survivor of extreme

Our kids, hanging out in downtown St. Pete....

situations), and we ended up taking a student to the emergency room for stitches as well as having to repair a vehicle that got backed into a tree and shattered a window. Our food orders were messed up and we had to scramble to refigure how to feed 60 people, the raccoons at the campsite stole our salads and s’mores supplies every night, and I was the dirtiest and stickiest I’ve ever been in my life. I swatted bugs until my arms were sore and still came home with 134 bug bites (yes, I counted–I need to have a good reason when people ask me why I’m scratching like a dog with fleas!)

But, despite all the headaches and stress and responsibility, the Holy Spirit powerfully moved. And the kids and many of the leaders grew tremendously.

I saw so many of them discover themselves and find out that they have talents and skills they never knew they possessed.

I saw kids who seemed like nothing but goofballs connect to Christ in powerful ways.

I watched students who haven’t ever been away from home make deep friendships and have the time of their lives on this trip.

I watched young men and women cry as they realized the depths of God’s love for them.

It was simply amazing.

However, if I have to hear us cycle through a van count one more time, or smell the scent of sunscreen mingled with bug spray once more, I think I might have a mental breakdown…


Don’t Judge the Savior By the Screwball…

17 03 2011

(Author’s Note: This post is part of a multi-author blog site called “The Question”, where a variety of authors will be blogging about a sole topic. To check out the site, please go to whygrudge.blogspot.com or facebook.com/The-Question)

It’s the epic question that, provided you had the right answer, could land you a multi-million dollar book contract and enough speaking engagements to last you a lifetime.

The problem is that I don’t suspect that there’s merely one answer to this taxing question: why do people have a grudge against Christians and the church?

The implications of the answers affect each one of us, as Christians. However, if we’re being honest with ourselves—do we really want to know why we’re so disliked?

To put it in another perspective, isn’t what we’re asking here tantamount to the nerdy dweeb asking the most popular kid in school to bluntly list out all the reasons why he’s not cool?

Quite simply, one of the biggest reasons that Christianity isn’t popular is that we’re soldiers stranded in a hostile enemy territory.

Jesus himself tells us in Luke 12:51, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” The world we live in has little patience for our standards of life. They don’t understand that our philosophy isn’t “every man for himself”, but instead “love your neighbor as yourself”. In a culture obsessed with freedom and success, the idea of submitting and laying down idols seems downright stupid.

And worshipping someone you can’t even see? Ridiculous.

For a year in college, I lived with a roommate who wasn’t a Christian. She was so clueless about Christianity, in fact, that when she watched “The Passion of the Christ” for a mandatory religion class assignment, she paused halfway through the scene of Jesus being whipped mercilessly and asked me, “They don’t kill this guy in the end, do they?”

My roommate observed my behavior as a Christian for an entire year. She asked me questions about why I would get up early on Sunday for church, or why I would waste time reading my Bible when I could be hanging out with the boy I had a crush on down the hall. When I finally convinced her to come to a campus chapel, after months of praying for the opportunity to get her in church for the first time in her life, she sat in mute silence, her face stony. She never came to chapel again.

I valiantly tried my best to point out all the benefits to my life as someone who had a relationship with Christ, but she wasn’t won over by my best arguments. To this ultra-hip, beautiful girl who had everything in the world going for her, she didn’t have the slightest interest in giving up her wild weekends and changing her lifestyle to live a life of obedience and thankfulness for her Savior.

Ultimately, my former roommate became a Christian five years later, after she hit rock bottom in her life. It wasn’t until everything in her life was shaken that she finally realized how important Christ really is.

I think that’s part of it, truly. Our lives are so comfortable and convenient, so fast-paced and chaotic, so distracted, that we forget that we need a Savior. In fact, we’re not entirely convinced that we have anything we need to be saved from. Sure, maybe we screw up every once in a while—but me? Deserve death for my disobedience? Nah.

Sometimes we don’t even realize that our lives have an ending point—and a future home after death—until something earth-shattering forces us to recognize our own invincibility.

And maybe, if we’re being honest, we don’t like to be reminded that we’re invincible. Perhaps we resent the fact that Christianity points out the weaknesses we want to hide, the secret flaws we want to pretend don’t exist in us, and the fact that we, too, will someday cease to breath and will die.

But why, too, are people so opposed to Christians themselves?

Being a Christian, I’m not sure if I can answer that for the “other team” accurately. But I suspect that maybe we find people hating us so much because, well, we’re kind of lame sometimes.

A Christian shirt I actually own...

We wear our pithy Christian shirts. We listen exclusively to our Christian radio stations. We read our Christian books with ridiculous titles, we drive our cars with silly bumper stickers, and we frequent Christian establishments.

Do we ever intentionally look at the bubble of safety we’ve created for ourselves to live comfortably within, and think that maybe we’re not meant to live solely in this zone? That maybe God called us to live out in the world and witness Him to people who don’t read Christian magazines and listen exclusively to Chris Tomlin?

As hard as we try, we’ll never be anything like Jesus. Yet we walk around proclaiming to be His earthly representatives. Unfortunately, when we yell to the world, “I’m a Christian!” and then screw up—as we so often do—we’re representing Him poorly.

Imagine a secretary who proudly claims to represent her boss so well…yet she continually forgets messages, doesn’t return phone calls, loses important receipts, chews out other employees, and bungles one business deal after another. Isn’t that sort of like what we Christians are doing to God?

I hate when I hear a band do a cover of a song from another popular group. Sure, it’s technically the same song—and sure, they can hit all the notes—but at its core, it’s merely an imitation of the real thing. And really, that’s what we are, as Christians. We are merely an imitation of Christ—not Jesus himself.

Sometimes we’re a pretty darn lousy imitation, too. But just as you can’t judge a horrible rendition of a song and give up on the original tune because of the blockhead cover artist, the world shouldn’t judge Christ based on our failed attempt to represent Him.

Somehow, I suspect our mission needs to be getting ourselves out of the way and letting the Holy Spirit shine through us as unclouded as He can. To share that, as Christians, we’re not perfect–but even as the fact that counterfeit money is circulated in the world doesn’t detract from the real money that’s out there, our weak imitation of Christ doesn’t truly represent who He is.

His kindness overflows. Ours does not.

His love is endless. Ours is not.

His forgiveness is limitless. Ours is not.

We are human. He is Almighty.

Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to realize how far we really are from Christ’s perfect love, and to honestly show that gap to the world. It’s only when we’re actually open to the stinging truth of our own failures and shortcomings that we can admit our own infallibility and our desperate need for a Savior.

Because really, that’s the beauty of our faith in a nutshell: in our deepest shame and our biggest mistakes, we can be forgiven and renewed and given a future we don’t deserve through the grace that Christ offers us freely and unconditionally.

And when we, as His earthly representatives, can be candid about this—maybe we’ll encounter a world more likely to sympathize with us.

172 Hours, 30 Kids, and WAAAAAY Too Many Bathroom Stops

4 07 2010

Last evening, I returned home from our middle school mission trip to Loveland, Colorado. I think my brain is still recovering. I sure hope it returns to normal capacity soon.

Our new "family"

You see, I spent the last 172 hours straight with 30 kids under the age of 15. 

Ah. Now you get it.

I slept barely four hours a night, sharing a slowly deflating air mattress with a fellow leader, crammed in a tiny classroom with 15 other girls–three of whom talked in their sleep. I nightly attempted to fall asleep to the sound of boys running down the hall and body slamming into each other.

I ran around and played with little kids at a Boys and Girls Club in Colorado, where I had kids sneezing on me and crawling on my lap to whisper their breathy secrets to me. Naturally, I’m now sick.

I have a hard time hearing anything because my ears have been plugged since we left the Rocky Mountain National Park, where I walked around in a constant state of fear as 30 kids scampered around like Bigfoot running from a camera, flying through the woods and scrambling up and down rocky ledges, craning for a view of the unguarded sheer cliffs. 

In the last week, I’ve only had three showers. And, at one point, I joined the desperate kids in bathing in a local lake–in full knowledge that the toddlers a few feet away were probably tinkling in the very water I was washing my hair in.

I’ve basically lived on sandwiches and water–sometimes not even that much, as I had to share my lunch one day with a kid who forgot his.

I’ve helped sweep, mop, wipe down counters, empty trash cans, pick up infinitesimal pieces of paper off the ground, serve food, cut paper, hand things out, pack and repack vans, inflate air mattresses, hand out medicine, balance our budget, plan our routes, hold cameras for kids, juggle phone calls, break up fights, comfort crying kids, direct leaders, discipline kids, and say “because I said so” more times than I can count.

I’ve been alternately sweaty, freezing, sore, ticked off, mischievous, lackadaisical, angry, sobbing, awed, shocked, organized, disorganized, and exhausted.

But, I’ve never seen God so powerfully at work.

While on our trip, we found out that one of our student’s young cousins had been in a car accident and passed away. It was devastating, and beyond heart wrenching to be the one trying to figure out how, when, and where to inform this student about the tragedy that will forever affect his entire family.

It was heartbreaking to inform the entire group, and to see them tearfully embrace each other as they hurt for their friend, but the way that God worked through the kids is something that touched me deeply and will forever impact my own faith.

Seeing these young kids, some of whom have dealt painfully with death already in the last few months, cling to God in their sorrow–praying for each other, sobbing into each other’s shoulders, holding each other, taking care of each other, praising God in the midst of some of the most challenging moments of their lives–it was beyond moving. Every single person in our group cried together.

Without spending the twelve hours I could spend writing about this entire trip–sharing countless inside jokes, insights into the incredible kids on our team, and the gory details of being inside a car with half a dozen teenage boys who just wolfed down Taco Bell–I really just want to give glory where it’s due.

The Holy Spirit moved powerfully in our kids and leaders this week, in undeniable ways.

There’s something special about our group–and I see them now as part of my family. It sounds like such a corny thing to say, like something that would be written in a senior yearbook by the homecoming queen…but I really mean it. 

Our church is special, our leaders are incredible, and our youth are even more amazing. Our kids were willing to do anything–including leave halfway through our trip and driving straight through the night to get to St. Louis–to get their friend home for his cousin’s funeral.

Some of the students even volunteered themselves up to fly home with their friend, offering to pay for part of their ticket by themselves. Anything it took to help their friend. It was incredible to see how they absolutely paid no attention to themselves, but only strove to do everything they could for each other.

Part of me really feels like I was blessed more by this trip than anyone else–interacting with so many kids who poured out their hearts to me, who challenged me in my own faith, and who ran to me when they were hurting was quite an experience I’ll never forget.

I’ve never felt so connected to a group, many of whom I’d never had a significant conversation with at the beginning of the trip.

I’ve never interacting with leaders who I was so sure were the perfect leaders for this trip.

And I’ve certainly never, ever been more impressed with any group of kids. Ever.

God is good.