boundaries

 After the disappointment of our intergenerational trip to Hawaii, my aunt died. No, the two events aren’t related except in one curious way.

If you do it right, intergenerational trips like this one here with my family in Scotland can be highly meaningful...and fun

Before she passed away, my aunt told me that she had always wanted to visit the castle of our ancestors (on my mom’s side of the family) in Scotland. It was too late for her now, but perhaps one day I could take my family there.

It turns out that my mom had long cherished the same dream. So the added impetus of a dying aunt’s last request led us to attempt another trip together: my parents, wife and two sons for 15 days in Scotland.

We had a few years of distance between the Scotland trip and our Hawaiian one which helped. But more importantly, we did the following things, some intentionally and some by pure grace, which made all the difference:

We talked before the trip. In a brutally honest way, we got everything out into the open: expectations, issues of control, small irritations and more discussions about boundaries than the combined diplomatic teams of India and Pakistan regarding Kashmir.

I prayed differently. With Hawaii, I prayed mostly for safety, good weather and fun. With Scotland, I took the trip more seriously and prayed that this would be a great experience for my whole family and that we’d grow closer because of it. Two very different prayers. Two very different results.

We addressed the issue of control. On every trip my mom has ever taken, she’s planned out all the details. On this one, I did all the planning. But every morning on the trip, I laid out a map and showed the general direction for the day but allowed everyone to weigh in on what they’d prefer to see. I gave up some of my control over the plans and by the fourth day, both my parents were saying they actually preferred it when I just made all the decisions.

I recognized the deeper layers. The issue of choosing the daily itinerary may not seem like a big deal. But I realized there was more to it. I was now taking the lead for the whole family, not my parents. In an odd way, I was now the adult. That was a big moment and I was fortunate enough to realize its significance.

We paced ourselves. We stayed the first week in a 17th century manor house south of Edinburgh and the second week in a newly built farmhouse north of Perth. Thus, we had a base to cover both the south and north. It allowed a more relaxed pace that seemed to calm everyone, physically and emotionally.

We had fun. Just as I didn’t know my parents hated beaches, I didn’t know they loved castles. We spent most of the trip exploring Scotland’s many castles (including my aunt’s desired destination, Castle Fraser). My dad shed at least ten years that trip climbing every stone staircase and following my boys through long, winding corridors. That trip rejuvenated both my parents in ways I can’t express.

I could go on, but hopefully you get a sense of how intergenerational travel, when done right, can bless everyone on the trip, often in surprising ways.

The biggest surprises to me came at the end. My parents flew home a day ahead of the rest of us. Before the trip, my immediate family was excited to have a day to ourselves. But on that last evening, the four of us realized something we didn’t expect: We missed my parents.

Most surprising of all was this: before the trip, we thought of traveling with my parents more as a familial duty. That evening we all agreed that the trip – and our lives – were better because we’d done it with them.

Scotland is a long way from Hawaii.

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Crossing Borders

by Steve Brock on November 5, 2010

Barbed wire fence in countryside

Not all borders and boundaries are so clearly marked...

I once heard Ray Bakke, the “father of urban missions” and founder of the Bakke Graduate University respond to a question about the importance of going overseas to serve others versus addressing the needs of the urban poor in your own backyard. Instead of answering the question directly, Ray made an interesting distinction between missions and ministry.

Missions, he noted, is ministry that crosses borders.

Missions may mean going to the other side of the world to serve. Or it may simply mean crossing the street to meet with a neighbor who is different from you. Borders and boundaries show up in unusual ways and places.

I found this out shortly after I got married. My wife and I had recently joined a large church in an affluent area near West Los Angeles where we lived. We were a bit unsure of a church where most of the congregants lived in houses whose closets were bigger than our apartment. But they seemed like normal folks trying to do the right thing and besides, we adored the people in our “recently married” class and small group.

One day, we took advantage of an opportunity to volunteer with a group from church at downtown LA’s Union Rescue Mission (URM). I figured I was pretty savvy and sensitive about cross-cultural experiences and felt it a good way to serve those less fortunate than me. So off we went one Saturday to prepare meals for the homeless.

The leader of our little expedition was a woman that appeared to be the last person you’d expect to see working at a homeless shelter. I’ll call her Pauline. Her hair was bright: any more bleaching and it would have been transparent. Her false eye lashes created weather patterns of their own when she blinked. Her jewelry made the word “bling” seem understated. And yet, she led our group with a comfortable sense of purpose.

When we arrived at URM, I got assigned to the kitchen where the kettles looked like props from The Land of the Giants. Pauline, on the other hand, just took off. I helped prepare, serve and clean up the meal. I didn’t see Pauline during any of this until near the end of our time there. Then I spotted her. She was deep into a conversation with two of the homeless men listening intensely, fully present to them.

Then it hit me: I was Martha to her Mary (Luke 10:40-41). I engaged with the staff in the kitchen, but I was just another volunteer to them. She engaged with the guests out in the dining area in life-changing conversations.

We both traveled to the same place geographically, but I never truly crossed the border. She did.

I had an experience. She made a difference.

I found out later she regularly went down there. The staff and the guests loved her. They didn’t pay attention to her externals as I did. They saw her heart. Which is exactly what she did with them. 

You can travel the world and never cross a border that matters or you can go the distance with the people right around you. Meaningful journeys aren’t always measured in miles.

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