Friday, May 22, 2009

a week of friends, family and fun!

I had the wonderful opportunity to take some vacation time and head down to Illinois to visit my brother, sister-in-law and two nieces. The plan was just to hang out and relax and enjoy their company. I got to enjoy their company a lot, because my wonderful, amazing nieces would come in to my room and wake me up at around 5:30 everyday. And that is just ungodly, if you ask me. Now, by ungodly, I mean immoral, wicked and unreasonable. I do not mean of or denoting the absence of God.

We had the opportunity to do some fun stuff. One of those things was visiting the Jelly Belly warehouse in Wisconsin. We got a "tour" which included riding in a little train around the perimeter of the warehouse and watching videos about the origins and production of Jelly Bellies. It was neat, and I've decided my goal is to become one of their Master Confectioners. After the tour we got free samples of the Jelly Bellies. I tried some normal flavors like mango and pomegranate (that's a really hard word to spell) and red apple (which was really good!) and I also tried some weird flavors like booger (although I opted away from the vomit flavored one because, as I told my sister-in-law I have too many stories involving me actually vomiting to be able to enjoy a jelly bean that simulates that flavor... oh, and I've tried it before...).

On my way back home, after visiting my family, I drove the long way and visited my old internship congregation and went to church there on Sunday. Then I drove through the Quad Cities and visited my internship supervisor (that's where he has moved since he retired, although with the congregations he's serving as an interim pastor, and the organization he's working with as their interim director, I think he might work just as much if not more than he did as a fulltime pastor...). It was great to see Ron again, and to chat about all the things that are going on in my life and ministry. Ron was probably one of the best supervisors I could have had as an intern pastor. He was like the yin to my yang. I was inexperienced and impulsive and had a lot of energy. He was experienced and thoughtful and grounded. I'd come into his office freaking out about something, frantically trying to come up with a solution for it immediately, and he'd calmly talk about it and think about it.

While I was in the Quad Cities I also visited my friend Christie, ate some great pizza, and then went to Ross's 24 Hour Diner in Bettendorf, IA and ate their Magic Mountain for breakfast. I've had it before when I was in the area, and I really enjoy it even through I know it's not the healthiest thing I could have. It's grilled texas toast, piled high with eggs, hasbrowns and sausage and then covered (I mean COVERED) in sausage gravy or cheese sauce. The first time I had it, I almost got the cheese sauce but the waitress informed me that it was much better with the gravy. So I do that, although I am always intrigued by the cheese sauce. I do love me some cheese (but I recognize that "cheese sauce" is probably more sauce than cheese...)

Then I drove home and made it back to the Cities in time to have supper with some great people. Erin is a friend and classmate from seminary who has recently moved to the area to serve as the Director of Youth Ministry at a large church. And Casey is the son of other good friends from seminary who recently moved to the area so Mike, Casey's dad, could be the Executive Pastor at this same congregation. Casey has recently enlisted in the army and was getting ready to fly out for basic training so Erin and I took him out to eat and it was nice to have that time with him. And Erin paid for dinner at Outback Steakhouse, which included french fries covered in cheese and bacon, so I can't complain!!

Also, on my drive home, I had the window open and the sun was beating down on me for most of the drive. Well, and when I say "beating down on me" I mean it was beating down on my left arm and left knee for most of the drive. So now my left arm is tanner than my right arm, and I have a small spot of sunburn on my left knee, although that's already faded. Pretty awesome, though, huh?

All in all, it was a great week of fun and family and friends!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Book 'em, Danno!

So, I knew my summer schedule was going to be busy. It usually is. But until today, when I went across the hallway to make sure my Senior Pastor knew what dates I was going to be gone for trips and whatnot, I did not realize quite exactly how busy I am going to be. Let's take a glimpse at what is in store for Pastor Mark!

Right off the bat, in June, I will be gone from June 7-12 with our 7th graders at Confirmation Camp. This goes from Sunday until Friday. It's an all day thing. I will ride the bus with my 7th graders for a three hour trip (as I was typing this, the theme song for Gilligan's Island popped into my head... "A three hour tour, a three hour tour..." I hope our trip is more successful than Gilligan's...) up to the camp. That means I am there for the duration. There will be no day trips elsewhere, or drives in the country to get away from the kids. Luckily, I will have a room in the retreat center while they are all in the cabins, so I will have time to get away.

Then, as soon as I get back from camp, camp comes to us! We have our Vacation Bible School from June 15-18, and the counselors will arrive on Sunday, June 14. So we will have four days of action packed Vacation Bible School for our kindergarteners-sixth graders.

Then comes my biggest break of the summer because, besides a wedding and, oh, I don't know other normal pastoral duties, I don't have anything until July 21-27 which is the ELCA National Youth Gathering in New Orleans. We will be taking a bus down, along with three other local congregations, and headed down to New Orleans where there is going to be around 35,000 other youth and adults from all over the country, and even some other countries. We'll be doing some massive service projects around the city, as well as participating in some LARGE group gatherings and worships, and taking part in some community life activities.

I'll get back from that sometime around July 27th, at which time I'll have to do laundry and pack to get ready to go on our mission trip to Denver on August 2-7. This is through the group Youthworks, so luckily everything is figured out, I just have to worry about getting the kids there. While there, we'll do some service projects, work with neighborhood kids, volunteer and nursing homes and homeless shelters and other service organizations. We'll be taking vans down to Denver, to transport our 30 youth and adults who are attending.

Then, I get a ten day break (TEN DAYS! WOO HOO!!!) after I get back to recuperate and do laundry before I need to pack my bags and head up into Minneapolis for the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. The Churchwide Assembly is the largest legislative body in the ELCA, where voting members from all 65 synods gather together every two years to vote on resolutions, recommendations, proposed amendments and other motions. Each synod is responsible for electing a certain number of voting members to represent them at the Assembly. This year, I have been elected to be a voting member! So I am excited to participate in this way!!

Whew! And there we have it, folks. That is what my summer is shaping up to look like. Somewhere in there I want to enjoy the summer, as well as figure out Confirmation curriculum for the coming year, and maybe even relax a little bit!! My summer is looking BOOKED, folks!

p.s. I should say that even though I will be busy, I am very excited. All of these things that I get to do this summer are things I enjoy. I LOVE camp. So camp and VBS will be no problem for me. I love the mission trips, they are great experiences and are not too stressful on me, because Youthworks always has capable and friendly staff to head things up (except for that time in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania when they ran out of tortilla chips before I could make my nachos and I had a meltdown and gave myself a time out in the van... It had been a long day). I am SUPER excited for the National Youth Gathering. This will be my 3rd, I've been to St Louis with the congregation I served as a youth director, and to San Antonio as a volunteer on the Community Life team, and now to New Orleans as a pastor! It should be a great time! And the Churchwide Assembly excites me to no end. I am an admitted church nerd. I love to go to Synod Assemblies and whatnot, and this will be my first time to attend a Churchwide Assembly. And I had to choose to be nominated for the voting member spot, so it's not like I was chosen out of the blue or that it's like jury duty and I have no say in the matter. So, while this will be a busy summer, it is bound to be a fun and exciting and amazing and memorable summer, too. I'm sure I will blog a lot about it!!!

I'm hooked

So, I was visiting a pretty cool local bookstore a few weeks ago, and I picked up a new book that caught my eye. Now, I have to admit that it's a book geared toward young adults, but once I started reading it, I've had trouble stopping.

It's the story of Percy Jackson who finds out he's not a normal kid. He suffers from ADHD and dyslexia, and has been expelled from a number of schools. But he soon finds out that this is not because he's a bad kid, it's because he's a demi-god. He has never known his real father, and that's because he's a Greek god.

So, for his own safety, Percy ends up at Camp Halfblood which is a protected training ground for kids who are demi-gods like him. He is accompanied by his friend Grover, who is a satyr and assigned to watch and protect him, as well as Annabeth, the daughter of Athena. There are other characters, like Luke the son of Hermes and Clarisse the daughter of Ares.

There are some similarities to Harry Potter - a troubled lead character, a booksmart female, a goofy and sometimes bumbling sidekick, they all live at a place apart which those on the outside (mortals or muggles) cannot find, etc. But for all of that, this book so far has managed to find a niche and a story that is its own.

It's a pretty funny read, it moves along fairly quickly, and if you like Greek mythology (which I admit, I do) you will probably get a kick out of this book. Lots of characters and monsters from the pages of mythology make appearances in these pages, and get a humorous and modern twist. I'm just glad that it's the first in a series, so I can keep reading them as soon as I'm done with this one!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Bat Crazy

I was at a Jr/Sr High Ministry team meeting yesterday and somehow we got on the topic of bats. Not the wooden kind that you use to hit a baseball, but the furry kind that fly and have sharp teeth and rabies. One of the people at this meeting knows how much I dislike bats. The others might not have been as aware. So I had to share my stories as to why I don't like them. Then I realized that I haven't posted these stories on this blog, yet, and some people who read this might not know them. And I like to share my stories with people! Now, some of you might have heard these stories before. But I like to share my stories multiple times!

All of these stories take place my senior year of seminary. I was living in the residence hall, which was part of the main buildings on campus, which are all connected. Although recently renovated, these buildings are old, and connected to a tall bell tower. So, of course, there are bats in the buildings.

One day I was doing laundry. The laundry room in the residence hall is located in the basement of the building. I was going to check to see if my load of laundry was done, so I pushed open the door and entered the stairway. That's when something fluttered to the ground but not before brushing me on the head on its way down. I glanced to see what it was. It was a bat. And it was now curled up on the ground. That's when I let out a scream-yelp type thing (that was very manly I assure you), ran down the stairs and out of the building. When I got outside, I saw my friend Mike walking toward the family housing. "Mike!" I shouted, as I ran over to him. "You will NOT guess what just happened!!!" He didn't guess, so I told him. I think I was hoping for him to offer to come and help me extract that bat from the building. Instead, he said, "That's too bad. See ya later." and continued his walk home. As I stood outside, I realized that I couldn't just leave that bat there. I needed to do something to get it out of the building. So I mustered up the little amount of courage that I could find, walked back inside, saw the bat on the floor and walked back to my room. Once there, I grabbed a sweatshirt and headed back to the stairway. Since it was still day outside, and the stairway was well lit, the bat was not very active and hadn't moved at all from where it had landed after hitting me in the head. So I walked over to the bat, placed the sweatshirt on top, and scooped it up. At that moment, this very inactive bat decided to become a very active one, and it began chirping like crazy. I tried to hurry down the one flight of stairs that was separating me holding this bat from me being bat free, but somewhere in the middle of the staircase, that crafty little devil managed to squeeze out of the sweatshirt and began flying in frantic circles in the stairway. At this point, I started making many more noises similar to the one I had previously made, as I ducked and crawled up the staircase to get away from this upset and confused bat that was flying in circles and, according to my panicking brain, trying to divebomb me. I made it back up to the door to my hallway as the bat flew up the stairs and disappeared from my sight. At that point I determined that both the bat and I were sufficiently traumatized, so I was not going to pursue it anymore.

The second story happened a week or two before I was moving out of seminary to head up here to Minnesota. I was sitting at my desk in my room, checking my e-mail on the computer when I heard a noise. Tic-tic-tic... I turned to see what it was, but all I saw was my dorm fridge. It had been known to make weird noises, so I was not concerned. I turned my attention back to the computer. Then I heard the noise again, but it seemed to be closer. So I turned and looked again and saw a bat crawling across some papers that I had on the floor. I'm pretty sure I made a noise similar to those others, and my mind began racing as to what I needed to do. So, acting in a purely rational manner, I tossed a sweatshirt on top of the bat and ran out of the room. Halfway down the hall it occurred to me that that probably wasn't the best decision, as now there was a bat in my room and I was not. At least when we were both in the room I could monitor where it was. Now, if it got out from under the sweatshirt, it could be just about anywhere. So I walked back into the room to see the bat climbing to the top of the sweatshirt. I knew that the quicker I acted the sooner the bat would be gone, so I grabbed another sweatshirt (luckily I happen to have a lot of hoodies) and tossed it on top of the bat and the other sweatshirt. Then, without allowing myself to think about what I was actually doing, I scooped up both sweatshirts and bolted for the door. I made it out onto the back steps where two other students were chatting. I leaned over the edge of the stairs and shook the bat loose from the sweatshirts. It fluttered to the ground and laid in a small heap on the grass in the sun. One of those fellow students came over and said, "What happened?" I told her that this bat was in my room. So, calmly and compassionately (sort of the antithesis of how I had been acting up to that point) the fellow student took one of my sweatshirts, carefully picked the bat up and walked it over to a shady spot by the trees and laid it on the ground in a safe place. I quickly retrieved my sweatshirt and ran inside and threw them in the laundry.

My third story takes place just around a week after my second one. It was late, I had been spending a lot of my time packing hoping to be ready to load stuff in the U-Haul truck which I had reserved to move out of Iowa and into Minnesota (that's another story entirely). My room was starting to look bare, and I was physically tired and emotionally drained from saying good-bye to good friends. I was sitting in my room at the computer, once again, when I heard a noise and saw something out of the corner of my eye. I turned and looked into the little hallway in my room, to see what it was. Nothing happened for a few seconds, but then a bat flapped against the wall, and rose up a couple feet from the ground. This time I did not make any screamy/yelpy noises, but I think I said something like, "Are you %@$^ $$% &&%#% $@#$% **&^^% KIDDING ME?!?!" I didn't think that I had it in my being to handle something like that right at that moment, so I picked up the phone and called my friend Shana. "You will not believe this." I said into the phone. "What?" Shana asked, probably thinking I had something fun or exciting to share with her. "There's a bat in my room!" After a brief conversation, Shana said she would come up from the apartments and help me take care of this bat. So a few moments later she came into my room, and we figured out what we needed to do. I suppose I should tell you that until Shana arrived in my room, I was perched on a chair wieldng my tennis racket should the bat get any ideas. When she got there we took a small box and placed it over top of the bat, who was now lying still. Then we took an empty cereal box I had in the room and flattened it and slid it under the box and the bat. That's when the bat started to get active and to chirp and to move around. As we made our way to the back door, the bat tried to escape, and it's wings kept slipping out in between the box on top and the cereal box. Thankfully we made it outside without the bat escaping and we set it free. It flew around in circles for a few times and then raced off. As we were throwing away the boxes, we noticed that the cereal box happened to be for Boo Berry cereal, which has bat shaped marshmallows. We thought it was quite fitting.

So those are the stories I shared with the ministry team yesterday. I have to admit, though, that they are better in person because there are actions and noises that accompany them. But those are a few of the stories as to why I don't like bats and have considered them to be my archnemesis for the past several years.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A different kind of day in May

I am the youngest of three boys. But it was very rare that I felt that way as I was growing up. I often had another brother or sister, or two or three, around the house. When I was born, I came into a house with two older brothers and two older sisters. At one time, I remember having two older brothers, and three younger brothers and one younger sister. Some of them stayed for just a night or two. Some stayed for a couple of weeks or months. A few stayed longer than that.

You see, until the time I was 13 years old, my parents were foster parents.

So besides my brothers Stephen and Aaron, I had quite a few other brothers and sisters. We've tried to remember all of them, and that's almost an impossible task, but here are some of the ones that I remember more vividly: Steve, Carlos, Lana, Lacey Dawn, Amber, Carmen, Jenny, Todd, Renae, Michael, Kevin, Jackie, Janet, Amy, Mike, Nick, Matt, Mark, Timothy, Daryl, Dawn, Jeremy, Brian, Brandon, Trisha (I think... those last four were siblings and four extra kids in the house was a bit much, so unfortunately Jeremy and Trisha, the younger two, were put with a different family in town). There were others whose names I don't remember. Like the boy who came to stay with us while Lana was there, and she shaved his head (it was a mutually agreed upon decision). And there are a few others whose faces I remember, but the names escape me.

But even those that I do remember are quite a few. And to have that many rotate in and out of one house in 14 years or so, doesn't give any sort of continuity or stability for these poor kids. A friend who works in the foster care system shared a little bit of information with me: The average young person living in foster care experiences one placement change a year. A young person who spends most of their life in foster care will likely have lived in at least 17 different places in his or her lifetime.

That's unfortunate, isn't it? That during a time in their life that would most likely be tumultuous and full of transition and uncertainty anyway (c'mon, it IS childhood and adolescence!), they'd be forced to endure even more by bouncing around from house to house, and family to family, hoping for a nice spot to land.

Well, May happens to be National Foster Care Awareness month. So why not go and make yourself aware of Foster Care and the young people who are affected by it? And then see if there is a way that you can get involved to help out.

You know, I don't know what happened to most of my foster brothers and sisters. I know of one or two that were adopted, some by family members. A couple contacted my parents years after they left our house, some of them now with children of their own. But as for the majority of them, I have no idea what happened to them. I'd like to think that they went on to lead happy lives. Maybe they did, maybe they didn't. But, I hope, for the time they lived with us they knew that at least two adults cared for them and wanted the best for them.

Why not be an adult like that in the lives of youth in foster care? Go here to find out how you can be!!