In the summer of ’97, I took my first solo mission trip. But when you’re 13 years old and being raised by a single mom, you don’t just go on a mission trip. First, you have to raise support to afford the mission trip. You’ve got two options: ask people for money or earn it. We couldn’t afford to do without either; so we drafted a support letter and sent it to anyone and everyone that we knew. (This concept of asking people for money has always been a little uncomfortable for me. Have you ever had to do it? It just makes my stomach twist and turn.) The more appealing option was to earn my support. I’d babysit, clean and take on any odd job put in my path. Not only were we trying to afford the trip here, but we had all my supplies to consider, too. The last of the support barely made it in the nick of time, which was a very nerve-wracking and faith-building experience.
The organization that I went with was clever in that they always had about two weeks of boot camp training to survive before skipping overseas. In these two weeks on Merritt Island, there were construction courses to take, camping skills to learn and a daily obstacle course to conquer. The boot camp was designed to develop survival skills that would cater to the needs of the team with the most primitive destination. Our destination was Ireland, but we were trained to survive in the Amazon. This place was NO. JOKE. By 6:00AM every morning, they had me scaling walls, jumping through tires and swinging from ropes. For two weeks I was covered in a layer of sweat, a layer of dust and a layer of swamp. What I wouldn’t have given for a shower! Instead, we pumped water (which smelled of sulphur) into our buckets and gave ourselves bucket baths (all the while swatting mosquitoes and avoiding lizards). The bucket was essential that summer; not only was it my portable bath tub, it was my personal washing machine as well.
The concept of team building was brilliant; because once we got to our destination, we had bonded into a strong unit and were a much more effective force. America, you’re welcome. We were the most well behaved, respectful gaggle of teens who has ever represented you. While we were working at two youth camp facilities, we weren’t the ones actually running the youth camps. We were the teens in the background fulfilling construction duties and improving the grounds. And so, one day I was handed a shovel and directed to move a pile of dirt about five feet to the left. Five. Feet.
Hold it, I thought. You mean to tell me that I did all of this asking for money, all of this babysitting, all of this house cleaning, all of this bucket bathing, all of this rope swinging, Atlantic crossing, tent residing… just so that I could move a pile of dirt in Ireland five feet to the left? My pride was suffocating me and I’m pretty sure my brain lost a little oxygen that day. And so like a good, Christian, 13 year old girl, I spiraled into a pitiful, Woe-Is-Me tizzy. With every shovel full of dirt that I moved, I declared exactly one thing in the world that I hated.
And I hate these purple hard hats.
And I hate these awful construction boots.
And I hate sweat.
And I hate spiders that jump.
And I hate…
Except the problem with my pitiful game was that I actually don’t hate that many things. These shenanigans couldn’t have lasted more than a half hour before I ran out of juice. I noticed my mood progressively worsening and decided that this attitude was going to make for a very long day. With a big sigh and a quiet, “I’m sorry, Lord,” I turned my pity party around. This time with every shovel full of dirt, I stated one thing for which I was thankful.
And I’m thankful for pretty postage stamps.
And I’m thankful for tweezers.
And I’m thankful for my family.
And I’m thankful…
Do you know that not only for the rest of the day, but for the rest of the summer, I never ran out of things for which I was thankful? The Thankful Game was contagious. Our team played it back and forth with each other for weeks during our projects. Then it spread into the lives of my friends and my family once I got back home. I’ve been playing The Thankful Game for 14 years now. It’s great on a road trip and it’s great on a hard day. It is with tears of wonder and tears of joy that I can admit that I have never run out of things to be thankful for.
(Okay, I know ending a sentence with a preposition is frowned upon, but – darn it! – that’s how I’d say it, so that’s how I’m leaving it!)
To be continued…
love reading about these areas of your life that have inspired you
You always make me smile, and my dentist says I have a pretty smile. When it gets hard here, I will try to remember the Thankful Game. 🙂