We’ve had several departures and returns. More are coming over the next few months. This weekend, Sarah and Chris came home from a week in New York City.
After one night’s sleep, our youth group spoke in church about their personal reflections regarding community service in Staten Island. One of the speakers was Sarah. For several days, they had all worked in a food pantry and served dinner to people struggling with AIDS, HIV and homelessness. This morning, now that they’re back in Ipswich, they told our congregation about last week.
They shared stories about personalities. Tony who helps manage the kitchen, and doesn’t think that girls can lift as much as boys, so he assigns “guy work” and “girl work” according to his ideas of gender roles, but let go of his own rules when he fixed up his sister’s hair as she struggled with cancer. A little girl at dinner who didn’t seem to understand the rules of the card game “I Doubt It” until she made another player (one of the kids from Ipswich) pick up a large hand of discarded cards when he bluffed; she enjoyed the sensation of learning a new game, being a regular kid for a little bit, and winning. A man in the park told them to cherish their families and be sure to tell them they were loved; it hit home with one of the girls on the trip who had left angry at a parent.
Our youth group members talked about men and women who had lost almost everything, and then found their way back to sobriety and helping others. They talked about a pick-up game of soccer. Ferry rides. 5-minute showers. Cartons of donated vegetables and iced tea. They talked about adults and children, living with few resources, who found hope in a hot meal or a basket of groceries and toiletries.
They learned about people like and unlike themselves. They witnessed the dignity and love in the communities where they worked, and the connections made across all sorts of barriers and boundaries.
During their week, they reported squalls and floods in New York. They talked about it all. Bad weather. Rainbows. Covenants. Hope.
Especially because of the hot temperatures and sudden rainshowers, one of the metaphors that stayed with the members of the youth group was the imagery of storms. They studied storms each night in biblical passages. Then translated the metaphor of elemental weather into their own sharing with each other.
They recognized that every person endures internal storms. Tempests aren’t isolated to the people they were helping. Storms happen to the members of their own group, too. During conversations, they were challenged to name their own storms.
At the center of a storm? The promise of its calm eye. And maybe a scoop of coconut-flavored ice cream. With toppings.
Our youth group members gave examples about what serves as the source of peace and stability – the calm eye – in their own personal storms. Friends. Faith. Love of family. Music. New experiences.
And so I thought about our own family. Assuredly, we’re always in flux, and there’s usually a rising tide or hovering cloud or howling wind in the distance. That’s just life, isn’t it?
Part of the calm eye in any family tempest is connecting with each other. Reinforcing emotional intimacy, through conversation and time together, gives us equilibrium. Yet in the midst of wild fluctuations in weather and mood, it’s not always so easy to do.
So we hold onto moments like this one. Today Sarah invited us all out for ice cream. We mixed flavors and toppings, experimented and sated ourselves. Laughed with each other. Talked. Tasted each others’ concoctions. Remembered family stories. Ate too much and wanted naps afterward.
Metaphorically, since we’re in the midst of transition, there is plenty of pelting rain and wild wind whipping all around us. The same is true for any individual or family. It’s out there, always, for all of us.
But as the youth group reminded me, and as Sarah emphasized in her desire to find family time, we can also recognize and sit together inside the eye of the storm. At least for a little while. Connected. Reaching toward each other.
Eating ice cream.