Well, here I am back at home. Project is over...and yet, in so many ways, it isn't. We may be gone, but we can still participate in what God continues to do in Milwaukee by prayer, and the kingdom work He has prepared for us is just beginning! I'll continue posting reflections on project in the weeks I have before going back to school.
It's already hard to remember what happened Tuesday. I mostly sat around until people got back from touring the city; we soon had dinner. I was in finish-the-newsletter-at-all-costs mode, and I mostly needed pictures from people. I announced that they should meet me in the office before training to do this. Things quickly went wrong, however, as many didn't have any pictures I could use in the newsletter. Also, I managed to get Heidi's memory card stuck in my computer's card reader slot, and temporarily entered get-Heidi's-memory-card-out-of-my-computer-at-all-costs mode. I quickly decided to take my laptop apart (almost as much out of curiosity as hope of getting the card out), and had people who happened to be at Wal-mart pick up some precision screwdrivers for this.
So I spent training night disassembling my computer. This was extremely cool, but not very helpful as the memory card reader was underneath the motherboard as I got at it, and therefore unaccessible without destroying my computer. I eventually managed to get it out by bending a paper clip into a little hook and getting it behind the card, then pulling it out. Back to the newsletter! I quickly got pictures together and had Sarah Hoffman, my mom, and Cheryl all proofreading it. I stayed up until 12:45 on that thing, but the next morning it was DONE! After a trip to Kinko's (now Fedex Office), my work on that was pretty much done; the staff would pick the newsletters up and pay for them. Hallelujah!
The rest of the morning and much of Wednesday afternoon was occupied by cleaning up and finishing various tasks. It was good to make a huge dent in my to-do list, but kind of depressing as it was a reminder that we would soon be leaving. At 3 we went to the Sprecher brewery for a tour; Sprecher is a local company that produces European-style beer as well as various delicious sodas. The tour was pretty short, but afterwards, we got to drink as much soda as we wanted and bought some bottles on our way out. Consequently, we were pretty much stuffed for dinner on our floor that night.
The final weekly meeting was more of a time for reflection and free-form worship. Along with the usual songs, we had some guided prayer time, "station time" where people went around the church and worshipped in various ways (I didn't fully understand that part), and even communion. My ability to participate was limited by my being glued to my computer keeping things running as the meeting slowly derailed from the schedule we'd set up. It was stressful, but I did get to journal a bit during prayer time before the preselected music ran out, and for some reason I just felt a sense of satisfaction, like God really had shown up and I'd been a part of it. After the meeting I packed a bit, and picked up the printed newsletters! Glorious!
Thursday the women had something planned for us, which they claimed had been in the making since before our surprises for them. I don't know about that. A few of them led us on an adventure around the parking lot to stall for time, then led us on a circuitous route around COAH ending in the social lounge. Bah! They underestimate the male sense of direction! The event itself was a nice breakfast where the men, for once, got to eat first! Unfortunately, Anna had jokingly told us earlier that we should eat before their surprise for us, and we all believed her; Bryan stuffed himself in case he couldn't accord lunch. Nonetheless, we all tried to eat as much as we could (which, for me, was one sausage) and it was really nice of them. After breakfast they appreciated each of us individually as we'd done on our cards for them and gave gifts. I got a tie with chili peppers on it to celebrate my love for spicy foods (my dad will be proud and jealous). Even though things didn't go very smoothly, I really appreciated their heart behind it. Thanks, project ladies!
I can't really remember the next two hours or so. I think we were packing and hanging out on the 4th floor. But just before noon, we headed out to a retreat at the Wisconsin Dells! Everyone else was pretty much pumped; due to my aversion to swimming I didn't really care too much, but I figured I'd find stuff to do. It was a two-hour drive ending in lunch at Culver's. So filling... We met up again and headed to where we would be staying: a luxury condo at the Kalahari resort, basically a whole house to ourselves! It was probably the fanciest place I've ever stayed. it had two floors, a deck, five bedrooms, an elevator, and a whole home theater with a universal remote that I claimed as my baby and used to blast peoples' iPods through the surround sound speakers. Even better, many of the staff were back, including Dave and the Ryghs!
Pretty soon everyone else went to the waterparks; I got caught up on life back home using the wireless internet and then read some C.S. Lewis while listening to Christian music on the speakers. It was just the thing I enjoy on retreats: protracted time to spend alone with God, and it really got me back on track and ready for the last few days of project.
Soon everyone got back and changed, then we had a huge dinner out on the deck. Everyone then went to the Tommy Bartlett waterski show, which was great fun. A ridiculous plot involving rivalry between an evil fraternity and a summer camp as used as an excuse for increasingly crazy waterski stunts, up to the classic pyramid. The second half was more of a variety show, with juggler-comedians, acrobats, and two guys who did stunts on top of 50-foot poles with no safety lines (not everyone could watch that part, but I thought it was amazing).
After we got back we spent the night just enjoying each other's company and playing various games downstairs. We also gave out presents: the long-awaited project T-shirts, a CD of songs chosen by everyone that Erica made, picture frames, and my newsletters! We all signed each others' frames; my signature consisted of my first name written twice at the same time. Everyone eventually started watching The Princess Bride, which I respect as a classic movie but am personally sick of, so I went to bed.
Friday morning we made a timeline of project and the time leading up to it and asked everyone to share favorite memories. It was really cool to see how God had been at work removing obstacles for people to come to project, and then radically changing them and teaching them when we were there. After this we scrambled to get out of the condo by 11 for an afternoon of more water fun! Which for me meant sitting in the car with all the food, keeping it ventilated so the pop didn't explode (which it will do under extreme heat; I know this from experience). I finished The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis; remind me to write another few blog posts on it later. It was an amazing description of God's purpose for suffering and the fallen condition of man.
Before dinner some of us went on a tour of downtown Wisconsin Dells, which was pretty much the quintessential tourist trap. I've concluded that the tourist trappiness of a place can be measured by the proportion of its buildings that sell souvenirs and memorabilia, and here it was at least half. (Many more were old-timey portraits...seriously.) I didn't get anything, but it was interesting and I was treasuring every chance to be with people this close to the end of project.
For dinner we went to a pizza place, where we all got antlers to wear. (I wore mine backwards and upside down like a gangsta moose; they looked like pigtails) I also distributed final evaluations, which thankfully got turned back much more quickly than mid-project evaluations. After dinner we all headed back to COAH for one last night there; my car went on a bonus drive around to see the city one last time. At COAH everyone gathered in the lounge (which was being converted back into an office) to sing worship songs and say goodbye to the people who were leaving early the next morning. It was a tearful, yet joyful time of celebrating God's goodness and all that he'd done this summer. Knowing I would soon have to say goodbye to my project friends--who are really as close as family--was worse than actually doing so.
This morning was the beginning of moveout day. I was woken up by Aaron leaving for the airport around 6:30, and got to say one last goodbye to him and Tim before my room became a single. I quickly packed and took care of the last remnants of my job (bringing final evaluations to the office), then basically wandered around waiting for people to leave so I could say goodbye to them. It was as depressing as it sounds. Eventually we all hung out on the womens' floor (the very first time I'd set foot on it the whole project; crazy!) so we could say goodbye to people as they left. Our numbers dwindled down as noon approached, when I would leave. There were six of us left when I did so, packing into Ariel's car as I had done coming to Milwaukee.
On the way back, we listened to the CD Erica had put together, which contained songs that everyone chose to represent project. I met up with my parents at the McDonald's where we'd gotten lunch the first day; I was so glad to see them! We talked about project and just enjoyed being together again on the way back. Right around the Minnesota border, we randomly passed the Ryghs' van on the interstate, which was bizarrely awesome. Soon after I was home! I got to see my sister again for the first time since her graduation.
So, that was my summer project. If this post seems a bit cursory, know that though I don't really show it like the others on my project, saying goodbye was really painful. I've found fellowship in my project friends like I've never had before, and by serving together I've come to appreciate their faith and gifts. Having this second family torn from you in a day hurts, a lot. At this point it's tough to go over the past few days in too much detail; it just reminds me how much I miss everyone. Hopefully it will be better after a night's sleep and my return to Hope Community Church tomorrow!
Finally, a word of knowledge for my brothers and sisters on project, who I know miss each other at least as much as I do: this summer we served, and will continue to serve, a God who is unchanging and eternal. His power, wisdom, and love were the same at the beginning of time as they were when He died for our sins as they were this summer as they will be forever! So even as we miss each other, a lot, know that He is the same God the rest of summer and beyond as He has been the past eight weeks, and He will never leave us!
Finally finally, I managed to host the newsletter online for all to see if you don't manage to get a copy: find it here.
Composed ~10:20 PM, Saturday, August 7th