By Caryn Blanton

“What I did on my summer vacation…”  Well, it wasn’t really a “summer vacation” – it was a sabbatical.  A what?  A sabbatical.  “Originally from the Greek sabbatikós.  Noun: Any extended period of leave from one’s customary work, especially for rest, to acquire new skills or training, etc.”  Yikes!  Rest?  New skills?  Training?  This definition definitely appeals to my high-achiever instincts and my compulsive need to “do”.  But then there’s that part about rest.  I can do this.  7 weeks with no schedule, no plan – I’ll wing it.  I will make a holy space in my life.  God will speak to me in big ways.  It will be great!     Hmmmm…

I began preparation for my sabbatical in April to make sure that I could actually walk away from work with a clear mind.  I wanted to enjoy 7 weeks without a schedule or a plan.   I didn’t want to be thinking about work or what I was going to have to jump into as soon as I returned.  I would be free like a bird! By the time I left, I was able to put everything in order and walk away feeling good.  Off to a great start, right?  Again, hmmmm…

Here’s how this period of “rest, new skills and training” started out for me: Friday, Saturday and Sunday I packed up my house on Balboa Island and prepared to move.  Monday, I finished my degree at Vanguard University after four years of study.  Tuesday I packed suitcases for a wedding and a honeymoon.  Wednesday, we left for Hawaii.  Thursday we tracked down a wedding license.  Friday we got married.  Phew!  My two teenage boys were with us for the first part but then we put them on a plane and had a week by ourselves to honeymoon.  On our way home we picked up an 8 week old puppy…we didn’t think it would be that much more work.  Yet again, hmmmm…

Upon our return we moved into our new house and unpacked boxes for a week.  I started to feel like rest was right around the corner!  Oh, wait…my relatives were all coming in for the reception party I was planning for 140 people.  I was excited but not rested…something was blocking my restful sabbatical!  Fun.  Family.  Puppies.  Blessings.  I started to think that I was not doing it right.  I’m all about doing things right.  I was failing.  I was NOT a free bird – I was lost and floundering!  This realization was not helping put me in a restful place either!  I needed help!

My new husband, Jeff sat me down for a meeting.  Seriously…paper, pencils, lists – the whole nine yards.  It worked.  We figured out what I needed to feel rested.  We made a plan.  We made a schedule.  Who knew that I actually needed a plan to rest?  Suddenly, with my new sabbatical schedule I began to fit in all the things I had dreamed about before I started.  I read books.  I looked at art and nature.   I listened to music.  I watched movies.  I went to the beach.  I “lunched” with friends.  I cooked.  I did yoga.  I napped.  I also waited for God to speak to me in a big way.  But the more I tried to hear from Him, the harder it was to hear…I was running out of time and started to panic.

Then it hit me.  I needed to stop trying.  God was already there.  God was in ALL of it – from the beginning to the end.  He was there at the wedding, the honeymoon, the move, the party, the art and music and cooking.  He was there as I read and napped and watched movies.  Now THAT is big!  God showed me once again that He reveals Himself wherever and however we need to experience Him.  He is in our doing and in our resting.  There is not one place where He is not!  It took me about 5 weeks into it to figure it out, but I did figure it out.  I’m not someone who can wing it.  I do better with a plan.  This is important.  I need to hold on to this truth until my next sabbatical in 2018.  In the end, I didn’t fail!  I rested.  I acquired new skills.  I trained.  And through it all – God did speak to me.  He was there…as He always is – in a big way!

 

 

 

 

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Spring Break 2011

May 13, 2011

Garbage! Garbage! Everywhere, garbage! It was spilling on to my kitchen floor. It was all over the Mika office. Maple Learning Center and The Hope Center had piles of it. My car was starting to smell bad from the garbage in my trunk. I collected it. The Mika staff collected it. The students and the neighbors collected it…now what? What should we do with all this garbage?

Make art, of course! That was the reason we collected it in the first place. Over Spring Break we ran a three day program talking about Respect, Justice and Beautification – values that our neighbors have decided are important in our community. We talked about why we need to keep our community trash free. We talked about the importance of reusing, recycling, conservation and sustainability. Armed with paper bags and rubber gloves we all picked up trash and counted the large items that had been dumped in our neighborhood alleys. We made tall sculptures out of garbage – creations made of newspaper, milk jugs, tin foil, cereal boxes, bottle caps and toilet paper rolls. They were amazing! We also made useful boxes from egg cartons to hold our treasures. They were colorful and sparkly.

Finally, we set out with shovels, hoes, rakes and trowels and planted flats of flowers to brighten our centers. Thirty kids in dirt and water can be a challenge but in the end, it looked incredible! We did it for ourselves, we did it for our community, we did it for God. Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to Him.” We wanted to please God by showing Him that we are grateful for His creation and that we can be responsible for caring for it too. If you ask our students, they would tell you that Spring Break 2011 was a success! If you stop by and see our gardens, you will probably agree!

Working at Maple Learning Center is the best part of my week. Recently, a new boy entered the program and I was fortunate enough to get to work with him. He was still learning English and he had a list of words he was working on. Lucy, the neighborhood volunteer mom, jumped in quickly to help me make him some flash cards with the words he was struggling with. We made it a game, and he quickly learned the words. It was fun when we both laughed at some of his mis-pronunciations and we both got excited as he did better and better. It was a joy to see him explain to his dad the progress he made in that hour.

Another great joy of mine is seeing my 14-year old son, David interacting with the kids and making connections. I would never have known that he could tutor or teach unless we had come to Maple. Volunteering gives people the opportunity to discover their God-given gifts, and what better place to do it than in your own community!

About 5 years ago, I was thinking to myself, “Some day I’m going to sink a bunch of money into Costa Mesa.” Well, then about 2 years later, I started attending The Crossing and heard about the Maple Learning Center. I quickly learned that developing relationships was more important than just sinking money into a project. I’m so excited to continue to get to know the Maple families, and if I ever come into money, well you can bet I’ll give some of that to Maple too!

Janice and her son David volunteer weekly at the Maple Learning Center

Taken from Bob Lupton’s Theirs is the Kingdom

I’ve always been competitive. Growing up I used enormous amounts of energy trying to beat my older brother at arm wrestling, chess, arguments, and anything else I thought I had a chance of winning. My competitiveness during these developmental years prepared me well for the business world I entered as an adult. The name of the game was winning, and I thrived on it.

My competitiveness reached its peak one day in my twenty-sixth year. I was flying door-gunner on a helicopter in Vietnam, and we were on a search-and destroy- mission. Suddenly the ground beneath us came alive with enemy fire. The intense battle that followed demanded the ultimate in combat strategy, skill, and commitment. The stakes were never higher and victory was never more exhilarating. I accepted with pride a medal for heroism in aerial combat.

It was only later, while still in Vietnam, that I began to understand the implications of my competitiveness, as I flew back from another “successful” mission, I realized that the emotions I experienced were the same I once felt while wrestling or debating. They were more intense because the stakes were higher, but they were unmistakably the same emotions. I was taking human life and feeling the thrill of victory. This thrill was inversely proportional to the agony of defeat—in this case death and maiming.

I began to suspect there was something wrong with a system in which my winning was building upon the defeat of another human being. When I returned to the United States I was unable to put this new insight behind me. I began working with disadvantaged people who were losers in a competitive economy. I saw young men, broken men, crippled by too many years of defeat. They could not find the inner strength to try competing again for jobs in the marketplace. I saw their children compete for education and job training, and weaken in the heat of the struggle because their bodies were poorly nourished and their spirits short on dreams.  And although I felt unpatriotic for thinking such thoughts, I wondered if all was well with an economic system where winning meant defeating another human being. Could it be that among human beings cooperation was a better way than competition?

I pray that one day God will bring in a new order in which human beings will rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Perhaps on that day we will refuse the gains made at the expense of others and our success will be measured by the quality of our servanthood to humanity.

Team Esperanza

April 25, 2011

Feldro Esperanza has been a faithful Amigo at Maple Learning Center for years. Recently he has been showing up and participating in many Mika events. Feldro made a bold move a few weeks ago and decided to mentor a group of teenage boys. This means he will be dedicating several hours each weekend to walking through life with these guys. No small feat – these guys are a tough group. Not the “academic” type. Definitely not “jocks”. Actually, these guys don’t really fit in to a regular crowd anywhere other than the center. We gathered the boys and their families for a meeting to get things rolling with Feldro and they had a LOT of questions for him…”Why do you want to spend time with our boys?” “What are you going to do with them?” “You do realize these boys are very ‘different’, don’t you?” Feldro was not intimidated. He is up for this task – he is creating “Team Esperanza” – yes, it’s his last name but it also means “hope”. That’s exactly what he will be bringing to these boys and to their families.

Marriage

April 18, 2011

I wanted to know to what the experts say about how to have a healthy marriage so I did what any normal 28 year old would do, I googled it.  The first website of “10 Things you can do to have a Healthy Marriage” listed the number one thing at Spend Time with Each Other.  That’s exactly what our newly formed Marriage Initiative committee thought too.

For two years, Mika participated in the National Healthy Marriage Initiative through Futuro Now and taught classes for youth, single adults, and married couples on healthy relationships.  A year after the classes ended several couples from Mika’s target neighborhoods decided they wanted to continue encouraging healthy marriages and took it upon themselves to make it happen.

One example is Luis and Lydia, a married couple who, a few months ago, decided that it was time for Luis to give up his second job and join his wife in mentoring young couples in the Baker neighborhood. Luis and Lydia demonstrate what it means to prioritize family and to serve one’s neighbors.

When the planning team came together there was talk of retreats and weekend seminars, but quickly it was brought up that the couples they know simply needed a night together – away from the kids, away from the house, and a time to have fun.  So a date night was planned!

Pictures of each couple were taken as they arrived to the romantic setting and servers were dressed and ready to work.  One of our neighborhood leaders catered an Italian dinner and couples had the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company.  There was a brief time of sharing from Pastor Christian Parra and his wife Olga and then the couples were asked to face their partners and share things they love and appreciate about each other.  It was a powerful and special time of connecting for each couple.

This is the just the first of many events for our Marriage Initiative team!  They recognize how important it is to spend time with one another and feel passionate about encouraging the couples around them.

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