Planning this trip was a logistical puzzle, which wasn't helped by my overall reluctance (some might say severe procrastination) in regards to planning these five weeks. The two weeks at the end of the trip were set a year in advance, but other than that, we needed to plot our own course. Where would we go? What would we do? How long would we stay in one place? What would we see? How would we get from here to there and everywhere? Here's what we did know:
1. We wanted to do a few things, slowly.
2. We wanted time to just be together in a relaxed way.
3. We wanted to have an element of the trip be about serving others.
Enter Youthworks service project in Madson, Wisconsin.
I stumbled upon Youthworks (founded by the authors of the Sticky Faith books, which I love), and happily discovered that they organize service trips for families. Their aim is to draw families closer together through faith and service. The days are spent in Bible study, family meetings, socializing with all the other participants, preparing, serving, and cleaning up from group meals, and serving out in the community. These trips allow families of all sizes and ages the opportunity to serve the community together. We are all size and ages. For sure.
As soon as we arrived? Screeching and howling and wailing because of the BEE!
It got him right under the eye, poor baby. Hi, all you new people! We are such a lovely family. Truly. Just please pay no attention to the fact that our five-year old looks like a PRIZEFIGHTER. Our first project: sorting and hanging donated clothes for the Community Action Coalition's thrift shop.
Here's a few things we learned:
Winter in Madison is serious business. Spencer got an education in sorting women's clothing. He had no IDEA what things were. Jammies? Pants? Shirt? Skirt? He just had no idea. Owen perfected the art of retail display: short sleeves and long. Pants and skirts. This took lots of thinking. Landon and Carter brought us piles of clothes to hang. And provided artistic renderings of our progress. And played hide and seek in the piles of clothes. And look closely....we also found Nemo!
And Grenouille! #oddmomout
This requires strategy.
We discovered that there's a specific thrift shop way to hang pants. Who knew?
And, lastly, we learned that collecting crabapples can keep energetic children very well occupied during lunch.
Carter and several kids found $10 in a pair of pants, which we told them to donate at the front desk. When they returned to sorting, here's what went down:
Quote of the Day:
Me to all the kids: Doesn't it feel good to do the right thing?
Chorus of angelic children: YES! Yes. Yes! YES!!!
Carter Pett: NO.
And later on, I learned that I am really bad at this game.
The next day, we hit the service project JACKPOT and got to go to Miss Penny's house. Miss Penny is a disabled adult that lives in senior living apartments. She needed handyman work done, a thorough cleaning, and, as she put it, "The MOST important job of all...I need people to eat this cake." We are ON it, Miss Penny.
Spencer and I tackled cleaning the place while Jason and the rest of the boys headed to the hardware store for supplies. When they returned, Carter made friends with a woman sitting in the lobby. Her name is Miss Millie. They sat and chatted for an hour and a half. We would periodically check on them, and she would shoo us away, saying she was having a great time. When I asked them what they were talking about, Carter responded, "You know, birds, feathers, the regular stuff."
Many thanks to Miss Millie for occupying Carter, because with him out of our hair, (and Landon happily playing with Miss Penny's cat toys), we were able to scour the kitchen and the bathroom, vacuum the apartment, disassemble a chair, put together and clean her china cabinet, and hang curtains.
Oh. And also break her scentsy pot. AND I DID IT! I couldn't even blame the CHILDREN!
Fortunately, she was very gracious about it.
Now. I'm going to be straight with you. This project was hard on each of us for different reasons. We had extremely tired little kids who were again acting feral. Which makes me so on edge I can't even tell you. The bigs and Jason slept (poorly) in a hot church basement each night, so they were also quite tired. We were one of two families that came on our own...the rest were from the same church. This is a new organization, so there are lots of things yet to streamline in the way they run their trips. If we were to structure our trip again, we probably would have done this first when we were all still fresh (and did not still have lingering after-effects of eau du RV). BUT. That being said...
We met very, very nice families. So sweet. After a day, all of the boys had made fast friends. There were even two other Carter's there!
We learned the kinds of projects that we can persue together as a family when looking to serve at home.
Our kids got to hear and practice what it means to see, listen, love, and serve in ways that Jesus asks his believers to do. Sometimes that means washing windows. Or wiping tables. Or preparing meals. Or playing with little kids. Or sticking your hand inside a stranger's toilet to clean it thoroughly, because she can't do it herself, and it's the loving thing to do.
AND, Carter got to use his big, friendly, gregarious, curious personality in a BIG WAY with Miss Millie. And if our time in Madison, with all its highs and lows, with its irritations and feral children and exhaustion, happened JUST for this moment when Miss Millie came to her balcony to see Carter off, well, then that is just more than enough for me.
Love God. Love others. The end.
PS. Trust me. He's loving people ON THE INSIDE.