When the bee stings

When the bee stings, I simply go look for one of my favorite plants – plantain. And then I (apparently) don’t feel so bad!

After three weeks on this farm in North Carolina, somehow I had missed the fact that there was a functional beehive on the property. Granted, the weather since the day I arrived had been pretty chilly, often dipping below freezing. So the bees would not have been active. But today – a surprisingly warm day – I set out to look for this beehive that I heard about over breakfast.IMG_8930

There it was, sitting right next to the compost bins that I had frequented regularly. But today, there were bees swarming at the entrance to the hive and all around it. Standing for just long enough to wonder how many times I passed it unaware, I suddenly felt something in my hair.

Quickly brushing my hand through, the buzzing continued as I had no success freeing the bee from my French braid.

Running inside the garage where Joe, a fellow farm worker, was packing an order, I asked if he could find the bee in my hair. He very kindly hurried over to help. It was a struggle. The bee was stubborn.

Joe got it free. But then it flew into his hair, and our roles flipped.

Once I freed it, what did the crazy bee do? – It flew right back to my braid. What on earth?!

Just before Joe untangled it for a second time, the bee managed to perch on my shoulder just long enough to sting me.

Scared/Excited

I’d never been stung by a bee before, so I was an odd mixture of scared and excited by the predicament. Why excited, you may ask? Well, of all the medicinal wild plants I do not yet know, plantain is not one of them. I’ve known that it is the go-to plant for bee stings for years now. The only thing is, I’ve never had an opportunity to test its qualities for myself. There’s something shallow, I think, about telling others about a plant’s medicinal qualities without knowing first-hand how effective it actually is.

After the bee (poor thing) finally flew off, I found a mirror and pulled the stinger (and attached bee parts) out of my blouse. I think I got off easy because I was stung through clothing. But still, I felt the sting, and it was beginning to swell. So, off I ran in search of some plantain.

IMG_8952IMG_8954I had walked much of the property already, and not seen plantain once. The land was mostly covered in evergreen and oak, with leaves littering the forest floor – not the ideal place for plantain. But, with hope still alive, I ran down the driveway, in search of the weed I knew so well from lawns and trail paths back home. And sure enough! Several of these special plants had taken root right along the gravel drive.

Using plantain on a bee sting

All I needed was a few leaves. Within no time, I was chewing up the leaves and then covering the bee sting with said masticated plantain. Charming, I know. (Though a bit bitter, I actually really enjoy the nutty flavor of plantain, so this was a pleasant process.)

Plantain sting remedy

I would say it started to work almost immediately. The pointed pain quickly became unnoticeable just a few seconds after applying the plantain. And, within treated bee stingten minutes, I felt ready to wipe it off. Now, if the stinger had gone directly into my skin, I probably would be hurting much more and would bandage the plantain to my skin for at least 20 minutes. But just a short period of time seemed to work fine for me. A little swelling remained, but I did not feel the sting after that.

How does that little weed do it?

Because of plantain leaves’ astringent qualities, the plant causes tissues to tighten up. Kind of like the pucker effect you feel when eating something really bitter and drying (ever tasted autumn olives or raw acorns?), the tannins in plantain leaves have a similar effect on the skin, helping to pull out venom, poison, or splinters, and reducing inflammation as the tissues are drawn together.

What you need to know

The exciting thing is, God has designed this wonderful little plant to flourish in soo many different climates. It is known to grow in meadows, pastures, lawns, roadsides, gardens, and waste places from Ontario down through most of North America, in Europe, and also in Asia. I have certainly found its friendly face everywhere along my travels so far, from Maine all the way down the East Coast to North Carolina. Have you seen the broadleaf plantain? If not, I encourage you to look again right in your lawn or along the sidewalk.

plantain fibersThough there is actually a look-alike in the woods here on the property, there is one easy way to confirm whether or not a leaf is from plantain. When you pick the leaf or pull apart the stem or leaf itself, you should see several rough fibers sticking out.

(And if you have no luck finding this plant, keep an eye out for the, sometimes harder to spot, narrow-leaved variety.)

Here’s to hoping that you will never have to use plantain medicinally in this way. But if the need arises, hopefully you, too, will find healing right from your own back yard.

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Similar, narrow-leaved plantain

*While scanning the driveway for plantain, I also found some nice patches of wild-growing chives (not sure the technical name of these ones).

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Mmm -spicy!

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Not quite NYC

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I don’t know what all of you are doing with your Friday night. But my night was spent writing as I wandered a park in New Jersey, alone with my thoughts from earlier in the day (in which I got to visit Liberty State Park, NJ, this morning).

(The title of the post comes from the fact that I had planned to go into NYC for the evening yesterday… until I learned how costly the bridge tolls are. And so, I quite contentedly enjoyed NYC from afar this morning.)

The poem was actually spurred by reading one of the park signs referring to the statue as “sacred” and as America’s most valued “shrine.” The language rather struck me. And as I mulled over it during the day, this is what I came up with. *Bonus points if anyone catches the Bible reference.*

The rain held off until later in the day, but still, the state park was nearly empty as dawn was approaching.

Cobblestone

Cobblestone road leading into the park

First glimpse of the statue, followed by the view from New Jersey’s shore.

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Street lamps lining the several-mile walkway form a lit backdrop for the statue, if viewing from NY

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Statue of WWII American soldier carrying a Jewish holocaust survivor to safety further symbolizes America as giver of justice, and help to the hurting,

NYC skyscrapers

The city lights really do glitter from afar

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The southeast gaze

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Manhattan island, viewed through the salt marshes of New Jersey’s Liberty State Park

 

Farming with a kingdom purpose!

In just a short few days visiting, this ministry hidden in the mountains of New Hampshire left an unforgettable impression.

His Mansion Ministries signHis Mansion Ministries is a place that, for 47 years, has given a home and support and Christian discipleship to people who have been really broken by addictions, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, or other similarly harmful patterns of behavior. Residents have to be seeking help enough to be ready to commit to one whole year on the farm, leaving all electronic devices and junk food behind. What a huge step to take!

During my visit, I got the opportunity to join in on one full day of work, right alongside several of the women residents and servant leaders. The work, involving things like cleaning the common areas and guest accommodations, was very structured in that all of the women worked alongside each other and went from project to project as a group. While cleaning a bathroom together, a servant leader (a young woman just out of college) and I got to talk about what it is like to jump into ministry there. She acknowledged the difficulty of being surrounded with hurting people, but shared how much support she had found from the other servant leaders (some of them graduates of the program themselves) and from the leadership team, who personally discipled her and offered needed advice in any situation.

Worship, never before so meaningful

Before lunch each day, all of the residents, servant leaders, and some staff gather for “Prayer and Share.” During this time, anyone can open up about where they were struggling OR share some of the successes they had experienced recently. What struck me most, though, was the time of singing.  Everyone had the opportunity to request a song from the printed out selection. But! Before singing, they were expected to share why that song in particular was meaningful to them.

Some of the people were very vulnerable with each other as they opened up about their struggles. But I could also tell that they were trusting in God in a way more deeply than perhaps I have yet experienced. As the keyboard started to play, I could sense the sincerity in the voices that began to sing. Though not all of the songs are what I would include in a list of songs if I were deciding, the worship that was happening in that room was more genuine than probably any I have yet participated in.

All meals shared

In addition to all of the work done alongside others, there was also plenty of time spent in the company of others at meal times. In the small dining hall, no seats were assigned. But there was often one or two servant leaders at each table. At every meal, I found myself with a new mixed crowd of mean and women residents and perhaps an older staff member. I very much enjoyed getting to know – though too briefly – the different residents. They all have such different stories and were, surprisingly, from many different states around the country.

“Not a true farm”IMG_8119

While the ministry website carefully explained that they were not a working farm, I was astounded, upon arrival, to learn of just how much of their own food they grew or raised. I was told that about 75% of what they eat comes from off of the farm! The first thing that greeted me on the chilly night I arrived was a white bull in the far pasture. Later I learned that there are a few other cows in surrounding pastures. In addition, they raised 29 pigs this year – all of whom they will butcher themselves! I was shown several massive garden plots, in addition to large greenhouses. Also, I do not IMG_8087think I have seen a more massive stockpile of firewood before in my life. They cut much of their wood from donated trees, and heat all of their buildings from this stockpile all winter. Another thing they use the wood for is in boiling down maple sap in their sugarshack when spring comes.

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It was so exciting to hear of all of these farming skills that the residents get to learn and participate in. Goodness, I still have yet to learn some of those skills. Can you imagine the sense of accomplishment and purpose that the young men must feel after having played a major role in butchering the pigs they cared for all summer, and placing the cuts into the freezer, knowing that they will provide their whole community meals for the next year?

An intriguing landscape

His Mansion Ministries was located on such a picturesque plot of land with gently sloping hills. In contemplating the possibility of serving there at some point in the future, I was rather interested in what sort of terrain there would be to hike and explore (and forage). So, I spent my last morning there hiking up to the summit of their little mountain.

IMG_8091It was a very gradual hike up a utility road to the cell tower at the summit. Once at the top, several things stood out to me. First of all, the GENERAC generator next to the cell tower inevitably brought back memories of my Dad, as he had worked with that company for much of my life. Then, I walked just a little ways past the cell tower to find the most spectacular view – framed by three wooden crosses erected on the rocky summit. The last of the mountain surprises was a little patch of chanterelle mushrooms on the forest floor – past their prime, but still having the strongest fragrance. Knowing there are at least a few edible mushrooms to scavenge certainly increased my interest in spending time with this ministry. All of these things – the beautiful mountain view, the reminder of my dad, and the promise of good foraging – warmed me more and more to the idea of serving here at some point.

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A few fragrant chanterelles offer the hope of more in these woods

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Unexpected view from the summit

I got lost, but not deterred

Turning around, I noticed a side path leading (what looked like) down the mountain. Thinking that I remembered the staff telling me about a different way down the mountain, I spritely headed down this small path. Some little white dots on trees along the way raised my hopes that I would eventually circle back down to the farm.

. . . even as the downward hill turned to an upward, more rocky slope, I remained confident that the trail (now marked with much more bold white arrows) would meander back down. . . . After trekking at least as long as it took to climb to the summit, I stared at a large slope in front of me. “Okay, I’ll climb this last slope, but then I’m turning around. This is definitely not leading me down the mountain!” I thought, worried a little that I may not be able to remember which turns to take on the path back.

Climbing the slope, I discovered that I had climbed to the summit of a whole separate mountain! Well phoey! This quick hike would not be so quick after all. Frustrated at all the time lost, I jogged down, retracing my steps. Until… I reached a fork in the path that I could not remember. Choosing the most promising option, I jogged down, and down, but things were not looking right. As I passed several other forks, I made quick mental notes, wishing I had taken more careful note the first time through. Eventually, I knew things were not familiar. Great. I was somewhere in the mountains of New Hampshire, on some unpopulated mountain trail, without a phone on me. Noone knew what path I was hiking. Goodness, I didn’t even know! Hearing a dog barking far downhill, I started to imagine myself following the noise down to find civilization and begging directions back to His Mansion.

But, even with growing panic, I decided to trek back to that first uncertain fork in the path. Thankfully finding the fork, I very carefully tried to recall and retrace my steps. Coming down the first time, I had not realized just how poorly marked some of the first stretch of trail was. The path from the farm’s summit must have been some unofficial trail connecting to a proper, state trail. Well, with much prayer and very carefully scanning my surroundings, I eventually was able to find and follow the connecting path back up to the farm’s summit. Never before did a cell phone tower look so wonderful to me!

Perhaps a future home

While this unexpectedly long hike gave me a bit of a scare, it certainly did nothing to dampen my interest in this ministry. If anything, it encouraged me all the more, in seeing just how much there is to explore and become familiar with around the property.

As I drove off the farm, I could not help feeling like I would be back someday. Though right then I could not imagine making the commitment to serve for a whole year in the cold, cold mountains of NH, I did know that this was the most meaningful work I could imagine committing my life to for an extended period of time. To be able to learn and practice old farming skills alongside broken people who may never have experienced community or family closeness before – that would give the work I do so much more purpose.

 

I am not that much different from them

The neat thing about this ministry is that servant leaders who commit to living on the farm need no qualifications except to be “compassionate and humble” and a person “who desires to learn and is eager to serve people who need Jesus as a person who [also] needs Him too” (quoted from their website). Having spent time in an addictions ministry just after deciding to follow Jesus two years ago, I very much understand that I need Jesus just as much as any of the residents here who have more visible needs.

Any form of sin so easily becomes addictive. And beyond that, so many idols can fill our life. Things like finding a significant other, having a secure savings account, or gaining popularity and admiration through being really talented – all these can lead to the same emptiness and brokenness as drugs or alcohol or whatever else the residents struggle with. Only in committing to follow and serve God have I found a deep sense of purpose and fulfillment and security. In the addictions ministry way back, I learned how necessary it is to have a community of believers to be open with – no matter where I am at in life. It is so important for believers to know how their brothers and/or sisters in Christ are weak, and to learn how to best love and support them individually. And here at His Mansion, they make sure to offer discipleship, not only for the residents, but for the servant leaders as well. That is something that I really appreciate, and undoubtedly would grow alot from.

I am very thankful for how God led me to discover this ministry. Though it is getting colder and colder and I am headed south for now, a more meaningful place to work I could not imagine returning to.

New connection – backtracking north

Friday, Oct 19
–Moving on
Staying long enough at Becky’s house (in the Boston area) to participate in her son’s 11th birthday celebration, as I packed up my things, I enjoyed the sounds of him strumming his new guitar while joyfully singing any praise song that came to mind. I have been impressed beyond belief by this family and how they’ve intentionally been raising their children – and without any interference by technology. Their 11-year-old son with down syndrome has been a joy to get to know. And as I listened to song after song coming from him in the other room, I could not help sharing in his joy as I thought of all the special people God has led me to along the way so far. Off I went to allow myself the remainder of the weekend living out of my car to find alone time before my next destination. It was rewarding and refreshing to use some of this time to talk with a few friends from home and reconnect with a few that I’d met along the way as well.

Saturday, Oct 20
–Well, there goes that
Only two hours after I decided to finally pull off my ipad screen protector, I dropped my hard metal speaker on the front and broke the screen. So now life on the road just got a little bit more challenging. Namely, it won’t be easy to simply take snapshots of whatever info I need when around an internet spot. Nor can I download podcasts to entertain me (ooo, this is going to hurt as I am just about to clock in many hours in the car on my way south.

BUT, to be honest, I am actually a bit relieved how this played out. I think, in my lonely or restless moments here in Boston, whenever it was convenient, I would turn to my ipad for its podcasts. Even though I have no idea who most of the people on the podcasts are, I think there was something comforting in the familiarness of their voices, and the continuance of the stories or topics being covered. Now as I give it some thought, I can see why I kept going back to these shows in my free time. Without the continuance and consistency of the same people or places while on the road, those familiar podcasts gave me a sense of connectedness to others’ stories that I have known since before leaving Wisconsin.

To further be honest, I had felt like I was not making very good use of my time and letting my time be used more in meaningless ways these past several weeks. So, last night I had asked God to help me overcome distractions and to show me where I really should be investing my time. And so, I am not at all surprised if this was God’s way of helping me out. Yes, I am frustrated at the inconvenience and the hassle of ordering yet another (this will be round 3) screen to replace it whenever I have an address again. But I am also very thankful that God intervened when I asked, because, frankly, I have been lacking willpower and initiative lately to set and reach goals.

Sunday, Oct 21
–Apples and onward

Waking up the next morning in a chilly car, I did not feel like getting up right away. So, staying tucked under my piles of blankets, after putting my Bible down, I reached for a long-neglected book that I’d taken with me at the start of my travels. And I very much enjoyed passing the morning hours in that way, without the temptation of other distractions. Now I am realizing that if my ipad were still functioning, I’m not so sure a book would have held the same appeal as it did this morning.

Boston orchard gleaning

IMG_8077IMG_8081This afternoon was spent driving north to an orchard/farm (which just so happened to be on my way to NH) where the Boston Gleaners were harvesting today. It was mighty chilly up on the ladders and at the top of the far hill (see photo above). As my second time out with this organization, I have to say that the people I’ve met there are a unique kind. In my experience, those who volunteer to help others who have more needs than themselves generally are people who are quite inspiring in getting to know.

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2,560 lbs of apples gleaned by just a handful of people in 3 hours!

After a numbingly cold three hours and three huge bins of apples later, I was off to His Mansion Ministries in New Hampshire. The same fellow who had clued me in to the Boston Gleaners had also mentioned this ministry to me when he heard what my trip was about. Apparently, his sister had struggled with an eating disorder for 15 years, and finally found help through the Christ-centered discipleship program offered on this missional farm. I arrived after dark and was kindly shown to a wonderfully clean and tidy private dorm-style room.

Oh! After even just several days living out of my car, there is something so luxurious about a heated room, warm shower, and prepared bed. I will sleep well tonight. And I am so excited to meet the residents and staff tomorrow and to get to work alongside the women here for a few hours as I get a feel for their routine of life here. I hope to learn what would be involved in taking on a servant leader position possibly at some point down the road, because I have never before heard of so wonderful of a ministry that is a culmination of so many things that I consider to be important in life.

 

Challenging my ideals

As I shared previously, I reached out to Becky on Saturday and was met with the warmest hospitality. But to be completely honest, I could not have prepared for the shock that met me when I first walked into her home. -Specifically, the sight of her kitchen.

Walking from the entry hallway, what met my eye as the kitchen opened up was a collage of colors and shapes and figures and words. The kitchen walls were lined with shelves. These shelves, however, were not home to the usual dishes and pantry items. Instead, little lead painted figures about an inch high sprinkled the shelves, arranged in little scenes. These were positioned in front of all sorts of vintage knickknacks with some books or historic posters or advertisements mixed in. (I would share photos to try to help you understand the flurry of colors, but they are on my ipad, which went out of commission recently.)

Becky, with a smile, studied my face as I tried to take it all in. Then she explained that her vintage stove had stopped working a while ago. And with a son with down syndrome, she decided not to repair it, knowing it would just be a safety hazard that would have to be guarded again. And so, the oven shelves were used for storage, and the top was covered with a cloth. What she did have was a microwave and a working (but also vintage) refrigerator – which she very warmly said I should feel free to help myself to any of the food inside.

As I lay down to sleep that night, I stayed awake a good while just wondering what all the next week would hold. Certainly, something very different from what I had been accustomed to on the farms and with all of the other families I had visited! But, despite the unfamiliarness of her way of life, I was also very excited to better get to know this woman, who so openly and exuberantly invited me into her home, and whose faith visibly shaped her and her family’s lives in some rare ways.

Or perhaps not so unfamiliar

A mile walk with Becky and her 11-year-old son to church the following morning gave plenty of time for conversation. I had to admire her for her testimony and for how she, as a single woman, spent time studying in Japan, and later ventured to Johannesburg South Africa, where she later ended up marrying and raising a family in their early years together.

At church, I learned even more about this unique woman through another woman, who had been visiting the church for just 2 months. She told me that Becky is the reason she had kept coming to the church. She shared how Becky had shown her such a Christian warm and hospitality – yes, she used that exact word! – which made her feel welcomed and loved as part of the family of believers there. That gave me quite a pause.

Quick aside for those who do not know me well. The past year especially, I’ve been gaining an appreciation and value for old skills that bring people together. -But also, for the lost art of hospitality. Through the testimony of Rosaria Butterfield (you will hear more on her as I progress in my travels), I learned how valuable and powerful it can be to simply invite someone into your home for a meal. And with this in mind, I have done whatever possible to learn the skills of cooking and to practice hospitality whenever the opportunity presented itself through my (shared) apartment back home. And still, on the road, I eagerly soak up all the tidbits I can from other women (or men) who have skills in the kitchen or in creating a welcoming environment in their home for guests. The ideal I had formed in my mind was that one of the most powerful ways a woman has to show Christ to others is in her home, is through her welcoming hospitality, and yes, through simple and nutritious, home-cooked food.

HOWEVER. Here was this woman, with an almost completely nonfunctional kitchen, and yet God had been using her in the lives of others (and let’s not forget whose bed I was staying in – in my own life too!) to show them Christ’s love. Just as I had found in other Christian’s homes – if not more so here – Becky had a heart for others and was making an impact in their lives, just not through home/meal-centered hospitality.

Intentional about technology

One of the very unique things about this family is how intentional Becky and her husband have been to keep the internet and most all technology out of the home. Books by Neil Postman and other titles pertaining to the decline of education and the impact of media can be found throughout her home. Their family has sent their children to, what sounds like, a unique, classic-style school up until highschool – one that keeps all technology out of the curriculum. And Becky has taken it upon herself to homeschool her 2 older sons through highschool, even teaching some group Advanced Placement courses for other homeschool friends. Up until this past year, not even a cell phone made an appearance in their home. Now, her 15-yr-old son has a cell phone, but it is set up just to use the internet as a tool to search things related to horses (his line of work).

What their family is doing must be working. Their 18-yr-old son is in his first year at Harvard, so proficient in Chinese that they had to find an outside tutor for his area of study. Their 15-yr-old son was competent enough at age 14 to travel alone to and work at a BnB south of London. Now he takes on 40 hours a week of horse care in stables in addition to working through high school courses. And their dear 11-yr-old son, who has down syndrome – perhaps he has impressed me the most. He is able to read surprisingly well and to form written sentences on his own. But he was most charming by how engaging he is in conversation. Goodness, I think he knows more about history than I ever will, as he, with his wooden reenactment musket, told me of some major battles Washington was involved with in the French and Indian war. Though Becky certainly had some difficult moments with his stubbornness, her youngest son actually seemed surprisingly mature and engaged for most of the time. She attributes his progress to the many prayers of her church and to the complete absence of technological entertainment while growing up.

Intentional about historical perspective

In my last post, I this family’s unique (in comparison to the rest of their church) convictions of nonresistance. Well, they found a really interesting way to get their family involved with others in conversing about this important issue.

As a whole family, they have for a number of years been participating in historical reenactment surrounding the Revolutionary War. But, instead of perhaps the typical colonial outfits patriot military outfits, Becky would sew red coat uniforms for her sons and they would reenact as British soldiers. Now, many at the events they frequented would come up to them and say things like, “Oh, redcoats? So you’re the bad guys.”

But to this, their sons got very practiced at responding that, “Well, we read how Jesus tells us to pay our taxes. So, if I had been living in this time period, I would not be fighting against the British rule, but respecting their authority. But, I also would not take up arms to join them like I am dressed up now because of how Jesus tells us to love our enemies.”

In this way, they raised the eye of many Christian homeschoolers, nominal christians, and non-christians alike with their undervoiced Biblical perspective on the history of the “nation under God.”

This family had an understanding of how much media shapes our understanding of history. Another example of their intentionality around this issue is in how they would allow films into their home. I think they owned a total of 15 films. And Becky shared how intentional they were to have discussions surrounding the films they did chose to allow in their home. One example would be when they watched the “Sound of Music.” They read the book first and then challenged their sons to see how many points they could count that departed from the historical account. They would take this approach with several other films too.

Intentional with family conversations

I was very encouraged to hear how closely their son chose to keep in contact with Becky, even while living away from home at college. He talked through things he was encountering that ran counter to his faith at college, and would find guidance and support from Becky, herself a Harvard graduate, having experienced even in her time the intense (unreasonably silencing of other opinions) pressure to celebrate and approve of the LGBT lifestyle.

Beyond her conversations around college, I was also really impressed by how Becky would keep the door open to honest conversations with her children around the home, and throughout life. During one of our late-night conversations, she shared with me how she saw herself on level ground with her children, before God – all equally imperfect and capable of making mistakes. And so, with humility, she would tell her sons that she wanted them to approach her whenever she was not acting very Christian-like – honoring God through her choices/attitude/behavior.

This vulnerability and support within the home was something that was very absent in my childhood. But the more I learn, the more I see how important and central it needs to be within a home in order for children to see a need (their parent’s or their own need) for Christ in everyday life – the part of life that matters most! Becky’s example was incredibly encouraging. And her family’s life shined the effectiveness that it has had so far.

What I took away

Though it was neat to have a chance to visit historic downtown Boston, attend a weekly swing dance, and get to hear Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (Horns!!) by the New England Conservatory’s orchestra, the chance to get to know Becky and her family better was definitely the most valuable part of my stay in Boston. (Oh, in case you are wondering why you haven’t heard anything about her husband – he was away all week with international work.) She always was willing to talk and was very encouraging when I told her about my next step in the journey – to visit His Mansion Ministries. In learning more about my me, she gave me a few new things to consider as to why His Mansion could be a very good place to serve and really grow.

More with Less CookbookIn addition to her encouragement towards my travels, she also generously sent me along with a few other special items. She knew that I got so excited when I learned she had a copy of the “More with Less” cookbook, and that I was reading through it all week. Well, when it came time to leave, she told me that I could take it with me. Wow! That is definitely my list of most valuable gifts I could have received! I am so excited to take it with to the next farms and try out all sorts of different recipes from its pages.

Becky also knew how much I admired her library of antique reading material. Most of the books lining the shelves were geared toward children to young adults, written from the late 1800s to around 1940 I believe. I learned from Becky that the modern versions of the classic Nancy Drew stories actually have changed details (things like Nancy’s father’s permission being asked first by the guy who wanted to take her out). I had not realized that! (Knowing this, Becky had some original copies of Nancy Drew on her bookshelf.) Furthermore, things like the Girls Annual or Mrs. Strang’s Annual for Girls were actually put out by Christian organizations way back when they started to realize the push of culture on girls to focus on their looks and buy into the consumeristic mentality. The stories and articles contained in those books and volumes were from a simpler time when many values were still intact. And each story from the volumes would carry the lost charm of generations past – in a way that felt almost like the scenarios could be relived today.

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Anyway, Becky generously gifted me with two of these (original print edition) volumes that she had multiples of. What a treasure – and one I hope to pass on for generations if they hold up.

Special in so many ways

A week seemed like too short of a time to spend with Becky and her family. But, that is often how I’ve felt when saying goodbye to the people I’ve met during my travels. There are so many things I will remember from this visit, though. And probably most significantly – God uses everyone differently and gives us each sometimes very unique gifts to use to reach the lives of others. Becky’s life looks very different from the many families I’ve met so far, but her life is certainly just as – if not more – radiant of an example of Christ’s love to others as I have ever seen.

Renewed excitement/People again!/Do they need to know?/ A week in the Prius

Wouldn’t you be excited to be in a new city, rich in history, far across the country from where you live??

Well, the first few days of my stay, as I previously mentioned, were clouded by an uneasy lack of purpose. However, several days in when I found a library to charge my camera in on Tuesday night, things really turned around when I had the sudden idea to log onto meetup.com. In Wisconsin, I had found some really unique interest group that led to memorable times and meeting some really interesting people. So, if I’m going to be lingering in Boston for a little while, why not browse and see what sort of events people have organized for drop-in strangers.

It did not take terribly long before I found a number of interesting events posted. “Whoa, I’d better be careful,” I thought, “or I could end up lingering in Boston for much longer than a week.” With several activities lined up for the following day, I went to bed with a new excitement.

Wednesday, Oct. 10th

The day started off well by accidentally stumbling across several (tasty) apple trees around an abandoned grocery store in the town of Medford. After helping myself, I set off on a brisk hike at the Middlesex reservation north of Boston. Then, with the prospect that evening – finally – of ‘people interaction,’ I scouted out a gym to shower at. (I never knew getting clean could be so easy in a city. It sure beat my river/lake baths on previous trips.)

After getting a call from a special couple back in WI, I headed to a potluck I learned about through meetup. There, an older woman was speaking on how she was able to climb 48 peak of more than 4,000 ft. in New Hampshire. She, in fact wrote a whole book on her experience. Her talk was fully engaging! Also at the potluck, I was able meet a number of interesting people. One woman who led hikes at locations all over the world shared tips on how to find and participate in group hikes along the Appalachians. And another man I met (who included foraged mushrooms in his dish) clued me in on the Boston Area Gleaners. This, I got really excited about! I ended the already fulfilling day by popping in on a swing dance held at MIT. The music was great, and I got to share some wonderful dances.

My ponderings:

How much info to give…       do they really need to know?

So, at the potluck (unlike the swing dance) where there was time to get to know people, I encountered a bit of an awkward problem. With people who asked, I excitedly shared the journey I was on, working on farms. But then I got asked what brought me to Boston. “Well, it is just a buffer of extra civilization between farms,” I explained. But, I had never considered the possibility that people would inquire where I was staying…

Now, with others who I had gotten to know along the way – people who I shared alot in common with (shared faith and values), I eventually just spat out that I had done some travelling out of my car, knowing they’d understand. But for some reason, when I was, now, PRESENTLY living out of my car, I felt especially hesitant to reveal my living situation. Among this group of hikers, perhaps I thought I would get pity. Perhaps shocked looks. I don’t know. But, I decided to just redirect the conversation as best I could without going there.

Except for the last conversation of the evening. I started chatting with someone who I found had some similar values in life. After talking awhile, eventually the fact that I was living out of my car seemed to come out naturally (-probably because he also had done extensive travel just out of his backpack, and had plans to renovate and move into a van – impressive!).

So, I guess it is not the fact that I am embarrassed for people to know that at the moment I am living from my car. Instead, it is fact that I assume people do not share my values in life (and thus, would consider my choices shocking or ridiculous or shameful) that causes me to prefer to keep this fact hidden as I talk with people. And I rather think there is no need to bring it up unless specifically questioned by people I become better acquainted with, for the sake of honesty.

Thursday, Oct. 11th

For the first time in a while, I just let myself sleep in. It was nice to take things at a more relaxed pace and research the new opportunities I had gained from all the socializing the past evening. Having learned about a unique ministry in New Hampshire that involves farm-based living as part of a Christian addiction recovery program, I excitedly contemplated the possibility of a trip back north to visit this place. Then, when I discovered that there were frequent opportunities on the weekend to participate in gleaning, I excitedly signed up for the first trip I saw! After exploring one of Boston’s free museums (the Boston Commonweath Museum), I was able to catch up with several people from home. With a new sense of purpose in finding volunteer work (it didn’t hurt that it was on a farm), and from being able to reconnect with family, I ended the day with much contentment.

Friday, Oct. 12th

Loads of apples

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Such a nifty contraption!!

Today, there were apples – lots of them! 6,960 pounds to be exact. Actually, the Boston Area Gleaners did not gather a single apple from the ground. Instead, we were trained to ever-so-carefully pluck them from the trees and gently place them in our gleaners baskets. After 3 hours of help, we were allowed to gather any apples we wanted from all the (perfectly fine) apples on the ground, though.

It was all women who showed up for the apple glean on that cold, wet day. The other volunteers were older women. And the 3 people working with the organization were younger women – all of whom seemed like very interesting people, I might add. I even learned that one of the gleaners employees was really into Renaissance music, and sang weekly at a church in a really interesting blend of vocal chants and improvised piano music. (I later got to attend this unique concert and really, really enjoyed it.)

 

As the day wrapped up and I was wandering through Wegmans (that mesmerizingly strange grocery store of the East) before bed, a young man struck up a conversation with me as he noticed me staring wide-eyed at an entire self-serve buffet table spread with olives, olives, and more different types of olives, along with their complementary condiments. We ended up chatting for a whole hour there in the grocery aisle. Though I was trying to stick to an early bedtime, I was in no rush to end the conversation. Having come, earlier in the week, to realize just how difficult it was to be in a new place without any connections to people, I sought to find any commonalities I could as we chatted. Coincidentally, he had, apparently, spent the whole past week holed up inside trying to get a side gig going when he wasn’t at work. He even admitted that he came to Wegmans specifically to interact with people. In the end, there were just a few commonalities. But,  with both of us interested just to talk to another person, I ended up being able to share part of my testimony and encourage him to look into the Bible to see the way Jesus shows us to live and what we should value and be working towards.

Saturday, Oct. 13th

One downside of living out of my car is that I feel temperature changes acutely. Friday night brought poor sleep as the temperatures finally started to drop in Boston. This flipped me into a new mode, and I started making emails and calls to try to figure out my next stops.

And this evening I -finally- reached out to Becky, whom I had met briefly while in Vermont. (It was really interesting how God led us to meet. Because of their convictions of nonresistance, their 18-yr-old son had singed up for volunteer relief work in Texas through a Mennonite organization. Through this time, he got to know many Mennonite children. The family I was staying with in Vermont wore headcoverings, so when Becky and her sons were roadtriping through the mountains and saw the family outside, their 18-yr-old asked his mom to stop to meet them.) I knew very little about her except that she was uniquely intentional in her Christian faith and in raising her children, and she was exceptionally friendly – inviting me, after just 10 mins of conversation, to visit her if I passed through Boston.

Upon calling her to ask where her church met on Sunday, she immediately asked if I had a place to stay and invited me straight over to her house, where there was a guest bed waiting.

Well! I had not anticipated such warmth and hospitality. But, dreading another cold night in my car, I very happily took her up on her offer.

And so, my week of car-life in Boston came to an end.

A rough patch

As my second Sunday with the church family in Maine drew near, I still did not feel ready to head to Boston. But, knowing that autumn was getting colder by the day, I made plans anyway. To be honest, saying goodbye to this special family was one of the harder goodbyes of my journey so far. After knowing them for just a month, I already felt so at home with them. So, to have no idea if life would bring me all the way to Maine at any point in the next few years was rather sad to think about. And, not knowing anything about what life in Boston held made the transition all the more difficult.

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Leaving the ‘fully bloomed’ colors of Maine behind to enter a primarily green Boston area was like rewinding the seasonal clock. -A good feeling in my race to escape the approaching cold!

So, why Boston, you may ask? Early on in my journey, The first believers I found fellowship with way back in Illinois gifted me a book by Finny Kuruvilla called, King Jesus Claims His Church. I am a number of pages from finishing it, but what I have read so far has been really informative, challenging, and thought-provoking. The model of church that he presents falls in line with many of the things I’ve been coming to understand as important as well. I should also mention that I got to hear Finny speak at the Kingdom Fellowship Weekend I got to attend in Pennsylvania back in August, and I appreciated his message. And so, I drove down on a Sunday to try to catch their afternoon service.

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Well…

 


A sidetrack at a little beach in southern Maine to break up the long drive made me miss the entire message portion of the Sunday gathering. But still, braving the awkwardness of showing up late, I ventured into the meeting home to join in the communal meal and to meet some of the believers there. Thankfully, they were very welcoming. One of the neatest things I discovered within this congregation is how they have intentionally chosen to live nearby to each other. For example, two families share the home we were meeting in. And then in the house next door, at least one other church family lives, along with a single man, I believe. And within this gathering (they go by “Followers of the Way”), there are two other locations where people meet, where they also live mostly nearby to each other. This is certainly a different way of doing church, as it sounds like they are almost daily in each others’ homes visiting, eating, fellowshiping, and generally helping each other out.

Okay, so now what?

So, I visited the congregation I was hoping to visit in Boston. Now what? It was 8:30pm when I left their home, feeling quite tired from travel. I just wanted to sleep. And so, after scouting out the area a little bit, that is just what I did. With the weather still pretty nice out, I decided I’d just live out of my car in Boston for a few days before contacting Becky (the woman I met for 10 minutes on Sunday while in Vermont). Besides, after just having spent most all of my time the past week and a half with a family of 11, I was liking the idea of some alone time to refocus.

But to be honest, those first two days in Boston were some of the hardest, emotionally, for me. Yes, I was able to get out and jog through some lovely river trails each morning, which definitely helped my mood. And, I even stumbled into this charming surprise on my first morning there – a musical fence along the Mystic River. It was certainly a lovely treat to just be able to linger for a long while pulling out little melodies from the pipes. (I tried to capture it on video, but the sound did not carry the most successfully at a distance –Mystic River musical fence).Mystic Musical Fence

Okay, nothing looks so rough about that, you might say. Well, yes. There was lots of freedom those first few days with no plans. But this time actually, having no plans was part of the hardest part. I was craving connection with people and missing those back home a bit. People, after all, I do not think are made to live nomadically, separated from their community of family and friends. Perhaps part of why this was setting in now of all times was that Chad from the family I had stayed with in Maine had sent me off with the final encouragement to search for a home church to be able to settle in and commit to. And I do see the value in that. That was not necessarily my goal in setting out on my travels. But more and more as I see the community that others have, I feel more deeply how far I am from those who have become my church family and community.

Realizing this was what was throwing me off, I did reach out to a few people back home for a phone call, which was a huge encouragement. But from Sunday until Tuesday evening, this uneasy sense of disconnect/lack of purpose persisted and really stole a large portion of my excitement of being in a new city.