Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Go West Virginia!!

     When you think of snorkeling, you think of the blue waters of the Caribbean, and coral reefs populated with wildly colored tropical fish, don't you? But this week I learned to snorkel in a most unlikely place -Summersville Lake, West Virginia. This mountain lake is known for its deep, clear waters and steep rock cliffs. The water is clear enough that on a good day you can see down from 25 to 40 feet.
     Snorkeling is an awesome experience. It's the act of swimming under water with a mask while breathing through a plastic tube, or "snorkel." It takes a little bit of getting used to because one part of your brain wants to tell you, "no, don't breathe under water" even though you know it is safe. Once you relax and get the hang of it, it's very relaxing.
     The only sound you hear while snorkeling is the steady rhythm of your own breathing, and if you are in an area populated by boat traffic, the occasional passing of a boat. Of course, you have to snorkel away from the speed boat lanes and stay close to shore.
     At Summersville Lake you will be pleasantly surprised by the underwater landscape. You'll see large and small  boulders that have dropped over the years from the nearby sandstone cliffs. You'll see the sunlight filtering down in rays through the water and dappling the rocks below.  You may see a school of fish swim by, unfazed by your presence in their territory. Logs and stumps are scattered here and there that you wouldn't notice from above the water. You may even see a stack of rocks placed there by a previous snorkeler or scuba diver, as if to say "I was here." (We humans can't resist leaving our marks wherever we go. ) My favorite snorkeling spots were shallow areas between 8 and 25 feet deep with slow drop offs to put my feet down on or rocks to climb on and take a break when I need to.
       Snorkeling is easy, fun, relaxing, and great exercise too. You will experience a sense of peacefulness and awe at the underwater topography that is normally reserved for the aquatic inhabitants that call it home. If you have never snorkeler you should try it. If a trip to the Caribbean is out of the question, head for Summersville Lake, West Virginia, the next best thing. You won't be disappointed!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Trip Is On - And It's Insured!

     Should we go or should we stay?  That's the question I've been asking since my son was invited to tour Europe with a high school honors band next year.  Sounds like a great opportunity, doesn't it?  Especially when friends and family members are also invited.
     But did we want to spend 20 times what we normally spend on a vacation in one trip?  And what about terrorists - some of the cities on the itinerary have been locations of terrorist attacks in recent years?  And how about that 8 hour plane ride?  My husband has flown once in his life and was sick the whole time.  Was the trip really worth it?
   My teenage son was enthusiastic, but really wanted his friend to go too.  The friend was hesitant.  How would a 16 day absence affect his relationship with his girlfriend?  At the tender age of 16, those are the issues that are uppermost in one's mind.  Problem solved - they broke up.  One obstacle removed.
   The other boy's dad was gung ho but his mom was worried.  Was it safe traveling in Europe now?  I decided to pose the question to a colleague I work with who lives in France.  Her respose was, "Yes!  Let them go!  They will have the trip of a lifetime, see wonderful things, have wonderful experiences, and bring back tons of pictures and memories that will last a lifetime."  She reminded me that the big cities have high levels of security, and the small towns are safe.  She also commented that unlike the U.S., citizens in Europe do not have access to firearms.  It's probably safer in that regard than traveling to New York or Chicago.
    Then there's the money issue.   Even though my husband and I both have fairly good jobs, my family lives frugally. We don't buy things we can't afford. We put away money for college and a rainy day. We have saved for retirement.   But this will be a once-in-a-lifetime trip that could open our eyes to the world, and may open doors of opportunity for the students that they otherwise will not have.  This is not something that should be passed up due to the price tag.  Let's do it!
     My son who is 16 is much less concerned about the risks - he only sees the chance for adventure and opportunity.  Oh, the optimism of youth!  I'm hoping a little of that carefree spirit of adventure rubs off on me in the process.  What is life if you are afraid to go out and experience it?
     As for travel sickness, there is always Dramamine and other medications to make travel more comfortable.
     And so the deposits have been made, but to be prudent, a travel insurance policy has also been purchased.  It covers the trip cost in case we cancel due to illness, or work obligations, or layoff from our jobs, or the travel company defaults, or we miss our plane due to a car accident, or the trip is interrupted due to natural disaster, or the city we are traveling to is subject to a terrorist attack, or someone get sick and has to go home.  No sense being too optimistic.  It's always good to temper the cavalier spirit of youth with a little bit of worldly caution.  The only thing it won't cover is breakups with girlfriends.  Let's keep our fingers crossed about that one.
      The only thing left to do is to apply for passports, read up on the places we'll be visiting, and start counting down the days to the trip, which is over a year from now.  Bon Voyage!


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

God Can Move Mountains - and Sometimes Concrete Steps

    If you read my last blog post you know I recently participated in a church project where a group of church members spruced up the outside of an old home in an impoverished neighborhood.  Of all the tasks we were charged with that day, the most daunting was the removal of a large set of cement steps that was not being used and was no longer needed.
     My husband is quite the handy man, having done lots of repair and remodeling on many homes.  He was sure that with a few hours of jackhammering he could break up the steps and have them out of there.  The plan was to replace them with some nice shrubbery.
   But after about 3 hours of jackhammering, he had barely removed a fourth of the stubborn mass.  Apparently they were very old, and the older concrete gets, the harder it gets.  Also, they had not been poured around a wooden form but were solid concrete.  These things were not budging, and my husband was getting tired.  Besides, we needed him to help with the other work that still needed to be done.  Our work crew was blessed with a lot of women who knew how to do yard work, but we couldn't run a power saw. There was lattice to cut and another set of wooden steps to rebuild.
  So what to do? I am not one who bothers God with my every little problem.  I figure he has more important things to do and leaves the day to day issues up to me to resolve. But this was not a little problem - this was big.  The steps were now looking pretty bad.  Chunks had been removed here and there and they now even uglier than they were before, and probably a hazard for anyone to climb on.  So I decided we needed help.
     You know the Bible verse: "If you have the faith of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain 'Be though removed' and it will be cast into the sea."  Well how about some concrete steps?  We had already approached a couple different bobcat operators who were running up and down the street delivering mulch.  "If you could split them in two we could possibly pick them up," they had told me.  But they were not even close to being split in two.  We were getting desperate, so I did the only thing I could think of.  I prayed.  "God, we need your help.  Please send someone to help us get these steps out of here."  And then I waited and watched through a few more hours of futile jackhammering, while the steps dissolved at the rate of about a half inch an hour.
     But wait! Who is that coming down the street?  They mayor!   "Hey, Madame Mayor!  Can you call someone to come help us get these steps out of here?"  She was immediately on the walkie talkie calling for help.
    All that jackhammering had managed to knock a few inches off at the top and bottom of the steps.  A neighbor had offered a steel chain, and our crew had already done the dirty work of crawling under the porch and wrapping a it around the steps.  The bobcat arrived, they hooked up the chain, and lifted.  The steps rose about 6 inches off the ground, just enough to allow the bobcat to drag it out into the road and drop it there.   Now it was the city's problem!
    Thank you Lord!
We knew you'd help us.  Oh, and thank you Madam Mayor.  God sometimes uses the most common of people to move mountains.  And sometimes he uses them to move concrete steps.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Impact Your Town, Impact Your Life

  I spent the day yesterday working on a community project called "Impact Massillon 2016."  The town of Massillon was founded in the 1700s by a New Englander sheep farmer who was looking for a more temperate climate for his frail wife.  It was named after French clergyman Jean Baptiste Massillon.  It's a small working class town on the Tuscarawas River which grew into a thriving wheat trading city in the early 1800s when rivers and canals were the main routes of transporting goods.   During the first part of the 20th century many European immigrants came here to work in the local steel mills.  Now it's a middle class city of about 30,000, known mainly for it's high school football tradition.  (Ever hear of the Massillon Tigers?  How about Paul Brown?  He grew up and started his coaching career here.)
    Impact Massillon is a yearly project when the local churches combine efforts to spruce up a run down neighborhood in the city.  The leadership team decides what neighborhood will be the target of the effort, probably based on condition, need, and proximity of nearby parking for a large group of people. The churches sign up, and each church is assigned a house or houses to work on based on the number and level of difficulty they sign up for.  The homeowners must also sign up to participate.
   The churches are responsible for buying their own materials and some of the local merchants offer discounts for the project.  The churches recruit their work crews and the planning begins.  Volunteers and home owners alike sign waivers releasing the project from liability in case of accident or injury.  In order to increase the sense of community and decrease a sense of competition between churches, everyone wears the same project t-shirt on Impact Day.  The churches are encouraged to purchase t-shirts for the residents too in order to make them feel included
    When work day arrives, the street is blocked off to outside traffic.  Hundreds of people arrive early in the morning. The sound of hammers, saws, and power tools fills the air.  Dumpsters are placed at strategic locations for construction waste, and bobcats buzz up and down the streets, delivering mulch and carrying away yard waste, rocks, broken concrete, and dirt.
   At lunch time everyone takes a break.  The residents are encouraged to join the work teams for lunch, and a brief Bible study is held in order to emphasize the reason for the project:  We are doing this to show that God's love is for everyone. We are our brother's keeper.  We are meant to follow the commandment "Love thy neighbor" in our own cities in true action, not just in words.
   Then it's back to work. The projects range from "easy", which would be picking up refuse, redoing landscaping, planting some new plants, and spreading mulch, to "difficult" which could be rebuilding a porch, painting an entire house, or building a retaining wall.  Some crews finish their work in a few hours, others take several days.
  We had a "medium" project which involved some major yard work, cutting down lots of weeds, mowing grass, trimming trees, porch repair on 3 porches, painting 3 porches, removal of concrete steps, building 2 flower beds, and planting shrubbery. It took a crew of 15 (including 11 adults and 4 teenagers) about 8 hours to finish, with the help from 5 or 6 high school boys from a neighboring church.  I am especially proud of our young people who worked tirelessly without complaint.  I think these types of projects are invaluable in teaching altruism and volunteerism to young people.  Our residents, who are renters, did not interact with us too much but the homeowner, who is handicapped and not able to do the work himself,  joined us for lunch.
    It was an awesome experience. We accomplished much in just a few hours.  When help was needed, folks from other crews offered advice and manpower.  Most of all, a sense of community was formed.  It is my hope that the residents of that neighborhood have a renewed sense of being loved and cared for by this community.  Billy Graham's latest DVD was passed out as a witness to the reason behind the work.  I was a little hesitant, a little doubtful, a little wary to become involved in this project, but I am now glad to say that I participated in "Impact Massillon 2016" and am looking forward to doing it again next year.  "Impact Massillon" impacts lives.