Monday, October 31, 2011

Continuous Craziness

November is nearly upon us, and that means it's time for Parent-Teacher conferences! Since I teach 97 students, I have a busy couple of days coming up later in the week. Mercifully, not all parents have requested to speak with me, but since I'm a core subject teacher, I'm high on the list of most parents. Typically, the conferences are a source of great encouragement to me, and I appreciate the chance to communicate with parents. That said, I'm legitimately worried that I'm going to lose my voice before the day is out on Thursday. I lost my voice last year, and I had significantly less conferences. There's just something about having to adjust from using my classroom voice to a one-on-one voice that is so taxing... please pray for me; for my energy and most of all, my vocal health.

Next week is Far East (the culminating seasonal athletic competition/tournament for international and base schools in East Asia). This will remove 8 kids from my Humanities class, and 4 from my English class. It will also remove me from class on Tuesday, as I accompany the Cross Country team to their competition. Considering that the last day of class for this current week is Wednesday, what this means is that my students who play volleyball and tennis will be out of class from 11/3 until 11/14 (their first day back after the tournament). Even with the helpful idea of homework packets, this is a long time for students to be out of the school rhythm, and every year, there has been a student or two who have hit the academic skids at this point. I will most certainly be praying for these students, and invite you to pray for them, too (and also to pray for wisdom for me to know how to make the transition back to school less rocky for them).

After Far East is all wrapped up, November will be half over--a full school-week, then Thanksgiving week (which is practically a full school-week this year), and the next week, December starts. What I wouldn't give for a pause button sometimes...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Post 100

I started this blog back in April, after realizing that my previous blogspot site was inaccessible as an editor (I'd long since deleted the high school email account that I used to start the site).

Since then, I have created 100 posts. Okay, so not all were original--some were Bible passages, some were song lyrics, some were re-postings of old writings that I had done. Most, however, were new writings.

I've loved words since I was a child, and in particular, have always loved writing. I didn't realize this love until my Junior year of college, when I first discovered that I could actually write outside of class, not for an essay, not for a research paper, but simply for the sheer joy of writing. However, I held myself back by waiting for inspiration to hit, waiting for a topic to write about to come to mind. As a result, my writings gradually became less regular, and I had a few dry spells (spanning months, even a year at one point).

This past August, when I returned to Japan from several months in Washington, I resolved to write regularly once again. This has turned out to be an almost daily routine, and has been one of my best decisions. I have realized that I do not need to have some perfect topic in mind before I sit down to write--sometimes I simply need to sit down and write to think through my day, to work out a problem I'm dealing with, to express what's on my mind or on my heart.

Writing daily forces me to hold onto the thoughts that pass through my head as I bike to and from school (which is the quiet time in my day when I tend to do the best thinking). It pushes me to acknowledge my struggles and my limitations, to count through my many blessings, to strive to know God better and to seek Him first in all that I do. Well-intentioned thoughts can enter my head and then vanish without a trace the instant something else distracts me. Writing sees those thoughts committed to print. That doesn't instantly make me a better person--they are still just thoughts on a page. It does, however, serve as a reminder: "Oh wow... I did say I'd try to do this or I'd work on improving that, or I'd strive toward this goal, and man, I haven't been doing a good job at all." No, writing itself doesn't make me a better person, but it does hold me accountable in a way that simply thinking does not.

To fall short of the standards that I think but never say makes me an invisible hypocrite... sometimes so invisible that even I do not recognize my hypocrisy. To fall short of the standards that I write down for the world (and myself) to see makes me a visible hypocrite. Well, I've got news for you: Since I started writing, I'm increasingly becoming a visible hypocrite (never mind--you already knew that). That said, knowing this truth myself is a motivation to do better, to be better, to pursue what I know to be ideal, what I know to be true, what I know to be good (and most of all to pursue the Source of those things!).

Writing helps me to sort out what I truly value: what I consider important, who I want to be, where I want to go in life (and the reverse of all of those values as well). Writing tells the world that I am committed to those goals, and involves my readers as witnesses to my commitment. Now, readers--don't worry, that's not a legal title, nor does it involve any real work on your part. For me, simply knowing that people have read what I've written challenges me to follow through (and to be more prompt in admitting when I do not follow through).

Most of all, writing is how I seek to bring glory to my God and King. I'll admit, I get a little cocky about my writing ability at times. Then, I'll read something truly beautiful or profound that someone else has written, and it humbles me to the core... this happens a lot. There are so many people out there who put words together in a far more graceful and thoughtful way than I could. God has given me the ability to write not so that I can glorify myself, but so that I can glorify Him. It's when I am writing as an act of worship that my words take flight... if any other purpose is driving my writing, it looks a bit greasy (shiny, but you'd feel gross if you'd chewed on those words yourself). Sometimes (like tonight), I just need to take a step back and reflect on my motives and the thought process that goes into my writing.

Ack. Writing about writing about writing. I've gotten so meta that even I'm getting lost. So, I'll leave it at that. I'll close with these words from Psalm 19:14... this is my earnest prayer for my use of words:

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

be pleasing in your sight,

O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Arms Open Wide

by Hillsong. Had this song in my head when I biked to breakfast this morning--a great reminder of what is important to pray for.

Take my life I lay it down
At the cross where I am found
All I have I give to You oh God

Take my hands and make them clean
Keep my heart in purity
That I may walk in all You have for me

Oh here I stand
Arms open wide
Oh I am Yours
And You are mine

Take my moments and my days
Let each breath that I take
Be ever only for You oh God

Oh here I stand
Arms open wide
Oh I am Yours
And You are mine

My whole life is Yours
I give it all
Surrendered to Your Name
And forever I will pray
Have Your way
Have Your way

Oh here I stand
Arms open wide
Oh I am Yours
And You are mine

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Long Friday

I think I'm going to try and keep a running journal of what will doubtless be a long day, spanning today, tonight, and most of tomorrow. I'll be updating this post throughout the day with new entries, so stay tuned!

Entry 1: Friday, Oct. 28, 9:05 am

My first period prep time. I'm sitting at a different picnic table than usual so that I can be in the sun. Wise choice--it's actually quite warm where I'm sitting, and very comfortable as the cool breeze moderates the heat from the sun-beam. I'm taking it easy this morning because I know I've got a long day ahead of me, and I am planning on getting a decent amount of grading done at the lock-in tonight.

The freshmen are practicing their Greek Day skits for their English class in the plaza--quite entertaining. Again, this is a class of actors and actresses. I am looking forward to Greek Day!

Entry 2: Friday, Oct. 28, 1:11 pm

High School lunch. I'm out at the picnic tables again, but not at the same one (I'm one to the left--following the sun). Morning was good: open-forum discussion in Humanities 2nd and 3rd period, using questions about The Crucible as a jumping-off point for a larger discussion on freedom. I told the kids to think of applications to their own lives and to CAJ, which is a bit scary because it means that the discussion might veer off from where I hope/expect it to go. But then, there's true value in simply having a class discussion, too, wherever it goes. I can abandon my expectations and goals if there's learning taking place, even if it's not what I had planned.

On this occasion, the discussion mostly revolved around the idea of Biblical perspective and the validity of Bible class (kind of tagging onto the question of 'should a society try to enforce holiness and morality through rules and laws?' and then applying that to what they perceive as CAJ's expectations and rules). It's interesting because this was the direction the 6th period class went with our very first discussion, though the focusing question of "enforcing holiness" gave this particular discussion some traction that the 6th period class didn't have when talking generally about Bible class (as it related to their class identity).

Turns out, there are lots of kids who do not understand the purpose of learning a Biblical perspective in their classes. One girl brought up a very articulate defense of Biblical perspective, saying that "CAJ wants us to practice making connections between God and His world, and to understand that ultimately everything belongs to God." Bravo. I agree that this is the school's, and certainly my own intention.

However, most classmates didn't share this perspective. One girl said in response, "Having done Biblical perspective since middle school, I've simply learned what the teacher wants to hear and so I can write a Biblical perspective paragraph that earns me an A, but I don't actually believe myself."

Less bravo. Points for honesty, though. This girl also said that while she was Christian, she didn't see or understand the connections that she'd learned to make mechanically since middle school. She simply thought requiring a Biblical perspective created parrots who echo the buzzwords that they hear in class. I went to a Christian high school. I went to a Christian college. I learned that I could get high marks if I quoted Abraham Kuyper in my college essays. I know EXACTLY what she means.

Man, and I tried SO hard to work against this buzzword mentality two years ago when I was these kids' Bible teacher... perhaps the process is inevitable. Still, the kids raise good questions and good concerns. How can we make Biblical perspective a genuine and organic thing?

I mean, all of creation belongs to God (and these days, I'm not just parroting Kuyperian jargon--this is actually what I believe) and that, to me, is an obvious truth. You'd think it would not be all that challenging to draw natural, organic connections between God and different aspects of His creation.

Hmm... something to mull over. I'm not a Bible teacher anymore, but it is instructive in how much thought and care I need to put into connecting my Humanities and English course content to the Bible.

Entry 3: Friday, Oct. 28, 3:01 pm

Just got home, and I'm about to head to bed for a few hours. At 7, I will head over to a friend's house for a game night with a bunch of people. I'm looking forward to that. It's seemed like this year, time to hang out with friends has been much too scarce. I value these moments.

Entry 4: Fri, Oct. 28, 6:25 pm

Awake--got just over two hours of sleep and am feeling pretty well rested. This feels doable.

Entry 5: Fri, Oct. 28, 9:11 pm

Here I am, back at the same picnic table at which I started the school day 12 hours ago. Kind of a poetic bookend. The lock-in will start late, as the StuCo gym night is running late, so I will eat my dinner and wait... The game night with friends was fun (though I left before the first game was done).

A random thing I'm thankful for: the hay and alfalfa fields in the middle of the city here. I can't always see them, but if the wind is right, I can smell them. It smells like the farm, the sweet scent of fresh cut grass--and it makes me feel all nostalgic and content. Life is good. God is good.

Entry 6: Fri, Oct. 28, 11:35 pm

We just officially "locked in" for the night--29 Seniors are in the atrium, waiting for the first movie of the night to start: The Lion King! I'm excited. It's been at least 10 years since I last watched this movie. Looking forward to a great night. I miss teaching this class and so it will be good to hang out and catch up with them tonight and tomorrow.

Entry 7: Sat, Oct. 29, 2:32 am

The Lion King was better than I remembered it--so well-made!

Right now, there are 3 groups: Kids who are sleeping, kids who are watching a movie, and kids who are playing Truth or Dare. I am supervising the Truth or Dare game to, in my words, "keep it holy."

Yaaaaawwwnn... I'm getting a little tired.

Entry 8: Sat, Oct. 29, 4:22 am

Most kids are asleep. The remaining few are watching the movie "Tangled." Funny how the older we get, the harder it becomes to stay up late--the Seniors are realizing this. Earlier in the week, they'd predicted that most people would be up all night, and in actuality, about half have been asleep for a few hours. Ah, getting older...

Entry 9: Sat, Oct. 29, 6:03 am

I must have slept for about 40 minutes because one minute Rapunzel was escaping from the tower with Eugene ("Flynn") and the next, the credits were rolling. The sun is up and it is daylight outside. In about an hour, I'll wake everyone up and send some home, and drag a few (or they'll drag me) over to the gym to set up for concessions at 7:30.

Entry 10: Sat, Oct. 29, 9:05 am

For a sense of continuity and symmetry, I decided to write this entry from the same picnic table that I ate dinner at last night, 12 hours ago, and at which I wrote the first entry exactly 24 hours ago. The volleyball games will start in a minute, and the concessions have been running for about an hour. I had a Honey Milk Latte from Tully's--hopefully that will keep me going for a while. The kids running concessions are all troopers--their classmates who are working the late morning/afternoon shifts were able to go home and sleep, but this crew went straight from the lock-in to their concession duties. One of them, the StuCo president, was responsible for setting up/running gym night last night before the lock-in and has been at school for 24 hours now. I'm proud of these kids and their hard work, despite how tired they must be. Let's hope there aren't too many errors in counting out change today...

Well, I am heading back into supervise/watch volleyball... Only... 7 more hours to go? I think?

Entry 11: Sat, Oct. 29, 12:15 pm

I'm now in the stage where I am falling asleep standing up. The kids who started the day with concessions have ended their shifts and I could not be more proud of their endurance. Cool to see these kids grow up and handle their duties and responsibilities faithfully and without complaining, even when they are tired. Being a Senior means taking on hard work, and that trait was so evident this morning.

The games were good this morning--both the C and B teams won their first matches of the day and were quite sharp out on the court.

I'm barely coherent, less than articulate, and have been called back to reality several times by people who have caught me just staring off into space, but I'm surviving. It was a good morning.

Entry 12: Sat., Oct. 29, 4:00 pm

I'm home. Heading to bed. Thanks for your prayers--it was a great (and long) day.

Cool Moments

Each class has a different personality, and some topics, books and activities resonate better with one class than another.

In this case, the topic is Puritan Society, the book (play) is The Crucible and the activity is reading/acting through it together in class. Last year, my 2nd/3rd period Humanities class got really into the play but it simply never clicked with my 6th period English class. This year, it was somewhat the opposite: while some in the Humanities class really got into it, most were less than enthusiastic. My English class, on the other hand really threw themselves into it (and continue to do so: we're not quite done).

It warmed my heart to hear several students leave class today saying, "I LOVE this book!" It's certainly not an uplifting plot--it's the acting the kids enjoy. Today, I put myself into the scene as Danforth (the deputy governor who refuses to cancel the witch trials despite John Proctor's protestations). The role involved lots of energy and lots of yelling, and I gave it 100%. I did this to try and model good reading/acting for the kids (I say "try" because I'm definitely not a great actor, but I am energetic). In 6th period, the kids matched my energy at every turn. Considering the fact that this is the second to last period of the day and the class that immediately follows lunch, this is a minor miracle: last year I had kids fall asleep standing up while they were supposed to be acting.

I don't know if this will go as well next year, or the year after, but I am grateful for how well it's working now. It's moments like this that make me look forward to teaching each day!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

It's a little cool out today

It's funny and scary how fast the seasons change. From my unofficial morning "office" at the picnic table in the plaza, I've had a front row seat to these changes: From the first few weeks of the school year where it was so hot and so humid that I'd work up a sweat just by typing while listening to the cacophonous chorus of semi in the trees, to today, 54˚F, clear blue skies, and just brisk enough for me to need a jacket, and the morning is perfectly still save for the sound of me typing.

It happened just like that (I snapped my fingers for effect. You couldn't see, but I did). In no time whatsoever, it will be winter. Perhaps too cold to sit outside, and then I'll have to find somewhere else to spend 1st period. Then, Spring will come, and with it, the beautiful Sakura blossoms. Then, the blossoms will fall, giving way to green, the paper lanterns will go up, bridging the trees for a few glorious weeks, then they'll be taken down, and the school-year will end.

The seasons' changes are a reminder of life moving on, a reminder that we are never at a perfect standstill. Life moving on means a lot of things: Saying goodbye to graduating Seniors (a group I can really identify with--my first year here was their freshmen year), saying goodbye to friends and colleagues who are moving on, saying goodbye to the patterns and routines that have become familiar to me. It also means saying hello: meeting new students and new colleagues, making new friends, establishing new routines. It's bittersweet.

Fortunately, I've been granted by my Creator the ability to do more than simply write about all of this, to be more than a passive observer. I cannot stop or slow the changing of the seasons, but I can respond by carrying into each day a sense of purpose and joy, striving to pursue God in everything I do. If, indeed, I dedicate every moment to God, whether that moment sees leaves of yellow and brown falling to the ground or petals of pink and white, each passing year will reveal progress. Imagine how bleak it would be if the seasons kept cycling and we kept getting older but we never grew as people! Things change for a reason: to keep us growing. Growth isn't always easy and certainly not always painless, but it's worth embracing, and not worth fighting.

Time is short--don't assume you can just wait for life to happen to you because if all you do is wait, life will pass you by.

As the seasons change, dive in and live, and live for God.

...hmm, it's a long way down to the water...


On the first day of class,
I told my students that life is all about

We may not
wind up
in the history books,
but what do
the history books know

Our choices have consequences
which thereby open up a new set of choices,
and once the new choice is made, a new
set of consequences emerges
and so on,
and so on.

I used an example from college,
where I chose not to ask out
a girl who I liked,
a close friend of mine,
shortly after she broke
up with her boyfriend,
who was kind of
a jerk.

I think I made
the sensitive choice.
I'm a nice guy,
proud of it
(but not too proud, of course),
and yet it hurt to see
her get back together with
her boyfriend
a month later.

It's easy to ask
"what if"
"what might have been?"

"What if I had chosen
a different college?"

"What if I had made better
choices of friends during
my freshmen year
in the dorms?"

"What if I had kept
as my major?"

"What if I'd listened to my friends
and asked her out?"

Choices beget consequences,
beget choices, beget consequences...
I wouldn't be who I am
today and aside from
the occasional bout with
I'm happy with
who I am.

I am faced with so many choices
in my life
and the "what ifs"
are not borne of regret as I look back
but of curiosity as I look ahead.

How we deal with
the consequences of
our choices
makes us who we are,
and affects how
we'll make future choices.

As I stand at each new crossroad,
I cannot help
but wonder
which choice
will yield the consequences
that will form
me into the man
I want
to be?

Grant me

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Next Big Adventure

Though I don't remember it, my parents tell me I learned to walk
by holding one end of a large wooden spoon, my
dad held the other end
and one day he let go
and off I went still holding onto my
end of the spoon, free as a bird but
totally unaware.

I suppose learning to walk is
the first big adventure,
the one that enables
so many others:
jumping and of course,
to so many new places
a grounded infant could not even imagine.

I do not remember learning to read,
though I recall singing songs about
Mr. A, Mr. B, Misters C, D, Miss E
and so many
letters chaotically
racing each other to the top
of the coconut tree
with disastrous results

and a while later, Mr. Popper's Penguins, and
still later, Where the Red Fern Grows
then the Hardy Boys, and a trip through the wardrobe
the unflinching integrity of Atticus,
the burdensome guilt of Raskolnikov,
the overwhelming grace that changed the heart
of an ex-con named Jean Valjean

Learning to read
was the next big adventure,
opening the portal to so
many others, to
walk around in someone
else's shoes
again, and again
and again

I suppose that college
was the next big adventure
as I left my parents' home,
and in the 7 years since,
I have not
returned long enough
to fully unpack
my suitcase

and I went to
strange new places
like Iowa,
with road-trips
in both directions,
from sea to
shining... well, you understand--
through so many states
and even
a few provinces

At college I learned about the
and dreamed of crossing the ocean,
the wide world in front of me
but just out of reach,
the destination of the next big adventure

which began when
I started my career as a teacher
with prep and grading,
curriculum and instruction,
figuring out through
trial and error
just who I was and
who I wanted to be
in the classroom
and in life.

Learning to be a teacher,
a guide, a coach, a mentor,
an adult,
one who is responsible,
one who pays taxes,
who pays the rent,
who manages a classroom,
and gives grades
and makes difficult decisions

and though
I am still learning how
be a teacher,
how to be an adult,
I cannot help but think
that I am
ready for the next big adventure,
whatever that may be.

Father, I am
ready for you
to let go of the spoon
and we'll just see
what happens

Monday, October 24, 2011

4 Random Thoughts on a Monday Evening

1. As I biked to school this morning, I paused momentarily to admire the mallards dabbling in the river. A half hour later at school, my fellow history teacher commented on how beautiful the birds were, as he'd done the same thing--stopped and watched the ducks--while walking along the river earlier. Indeed, the ducks were beautiful in their own awkward way--they've paired off for the season and the drakes are in their fall/winter plumage: the characteristic bottle green heads, the white collar, the shiny silver wings. The ducks (females) are not quite so flashy, but their mellow brown feathering and pencil black markings have a distinct "autumny" look to them. It has been 13 years since I raised a family of ducks as pets. It's a time of my life that now seems so distant, it almost feels unreal, like something from a dream. The fact that I can still be captivated by watching ducks along the river is a very tangible connection to who I was and where I came from--a small joy in the scheme of my day and yet, I think, so terribly important in a broader sense.

2. In the past 24 hours, I've dedicated roughly 4 or 5 hours to one task: updating my class iCals. I am not a terribly organized person. I improve a little bit each year, but it doesn't come easily. Two weeks ago, I planned out the unit in my Junior Humanities and English classes through December (figuring out major assessments, topics of study and everything... all based around three solid essential questions). Last night, I started in earnest on my day-to-day planning for the unit. What gave me the final push to start this was the fact that I needed to have a homework packet ready by today for all athletes in my classes heading off to the Fall Far East tournaments from Nov. 7-11. In order to assign homework, I needed to know what was happening in class on the days they would miss. In previous years, I gave very vague instructions, such as "We'll probably be reading 'Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl', so maybe read ahead on that." This year, I wanted to be able to say "you'll miss the first 6 chapters of 'Incidents', so read ahead before you leave." And I did get to that point. It just took hours of thinking through logistics, due dates, and reading schedules to reach the point where I could confidently set specific due dates and reading check points. All of this was very important, and will pay off tremendously in the long-run for me. For the moment, it feels like my brain has melted.

3. Tomorrow, I will take my middle school cross country team to Baskin Robbins for ice cream right after school. I'd originally said that if they reached their final ice cream time, I'd buy them Baskin Robbins. However, it rained hard on the day of the last meet and nobody reached their ice cream time. I realized that while records are important, they aren't everything. What is more important is growth over the course of the whole season, and the fact that these kids learned to enjoy running and to glorify God with their running. So THAT is what I'm celebrating--in my opinion, it's a greater reason to treat them to ice cream than them achieving a particular time in the last race. I'm so proud of them :)

4. This weekend will stretch me. I really need to keep track of dates better. Long ago (as in over 6 months ago), I agreed to chaperon the Senior lock-in. They asked me before the end of their Junior year and I said yes. I don't regret this a bit. However, the date of the lock-in changed at some point (from some time in November to Fri, Oct. 28), and without double-checking my iCal (again, totally my fault), I separately agreed to supervise Senior concessions for the middle school volleyball games on Sat, Oct. 29... which happens to be right after the lock-in ends. It wasn't until recently that I realized just what I'd signed up for: I'll be staying up all night on Friday the 28th chaperoning a lock-in, and then diving straight into a full day of supervising Saturday concessions... oops. My goal for the week is to figure out how to navigate these two days without crashing. I'm thinking that I will go home right after school on Friday, sleep until the lock-in, and then power through the following 18 hours and try my best to reset my sleep schedule before the next school-week. Not perfect, but it'll have to do. I should note that I am looking forward to both duties: chaperoning the lock-in and supervising concessions.... I'm just not looking forward to the resultant lack of sleep. Oh well--this is just another lesson to me to be more organized and keep better track of the calendar!

*deep breath*

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Redefining normal, redefining strange

Though a lot of time has passed since then, I still remember vividly my first few weeks in Japan, and just how overwhelming it was to be in a new place. I remember the first time I tried to walk to school on my own: I hadn't quite mastered the art of picking out landmarks to help me remember directions and so I took a few wrong turns and wound up wandering aimlessly for an hour before finally reaching the river, which I followed to Maruetsu, which gave me the bearings to find school.

In these earliest days, the fact that I was in Japan was constantly on my mind: everything seemed so.... foreign. I was keenly aware of how I stood out in a crowd, the language was totally unfamiliar, traffic signs and shop-fronts made no sense to me... the sights, the smells and the sounds were so different from what I was used to. It was exciting, but it was also intimidating. Buying something from the combini was an adventure of epic proportions. Going to a coffee shop or restaurant by myself? Totally out of the question. Going to the doctor's office for a staff physical? Terrifying.

It's funny how all of these little things that stressed me out and intimidated me at first have become second nature--the process was so gradual that I didn't even notice it happening. This morning, I biked to the eki to buy lunch and this afternoon I will take the train downtown to Ginza for church. None of this is overwhelming--it's just part of the routine.

Every once in a while, I'll have a "Wow, I'm in Japan" moment that stops me in my tracks as I realize that I'm living (and apparently thriving) in a culture totally different from the one that I grew up in. Even those moments are decreasing in frequency as the feeling of thriving solidifies.

I remember how I used to carry a camera with me everywhere because I wanted to take pictures of everything that seemed strange to me: strange signs, strange stores, people doing things that struck me as strange, basically every shrine or temple that I passed... I took hundreds of pictures in those first few weeks (the quintessential obnoxious gaijin tourist). I think I've taken one picture (besides Wilderness Camp) in the last few months and that was of the crowd at Thrift Shop yesterday.

What I'm trying to say is everything that I used to find so strange, so bizarre, so foreign... all of it now seems normal to me. My very definitions and perceptions about normal and strange have been forever changed, turned on their heads in almost 3 years of living here. Will Japan ever truly be home to me? 3 years ago, the question would have made me laugh. Today? Well... it doesn't seem so crazy.


"Be yourself." This is age-old advice, an aphorism familiar to virtually everyone. Yet, what does it mean to actually be oneself? What does it take to reach that goal?

Some suggest that being yourself means not thinking about how you look or how others perceive you and just doing. And that'd be great, if we weren't living in a broken world. Unfortunately, just doing (and not thinking about what you're doing, or how it will appear to others) can generate a great deal of pain, conflict and misunderstanding. When we just do, we are more inclined to upset or hurt others even without intending to.

Plus, I may actually be incapable of just doing without thinking. I over-think just about everything. The mere fact that I'm writing about the topic of being myself is ample evidence of this fact.

Now, I agree that we shouldn't base our every action, or every word that we speak upon what others will think of us. Being oneself and being what you assume others want you to be are not one and the same. Considering that every person has opinions and values that they hold to, when one acts only to impress others they will inevitably sacrifice their own opinions and values at some point. With opinions... well, that's not such a big deal... as a Humanities teacher, I am constantly pushing my students to consider opinions and viewpoints other than their own to achieve a fuller understanding of the world. Opinions are changeable and it does not hurt us to walk in someone elses' shoes for a while (or wear someone elses' glasses... or whatever metaphor you like). However... when we sacrifice our deepest values for the sake of impressing others, that's an infinitely more serious loss.

You see, unlike our opinions, our values represent the foundation of who we are: where we find meaning, purpose, comfort, energy. As a Christian, my values and therefore my identity must be firmly rooted in the person of Jesus Christ. So... is this the case for me? Are my actions and my words consistent with my values? And are my values truly rooted in Christ?

Unpacking further: Do I love others? Is my first thought to serve those around me? Am I humble? Do I praise God for every good thing in my life? Am I patient? Is God truly the center of my life? Do I truly find my hope in Christ alone? Am I able to weather trials without getting discouraged?

Simply, decisively: No, not always. I feel like I'm more aware of the right questions than I was five years ago, or even two years ago, and that there's tremendous value in asking these questions and thinking them through. I also recognize that there's a pretty big gulf between knowing and asking the right questions and then actually following through on the right answers... this is where I trip up.

In striving to truly "be myself", I must pick myself up when I trip, dust myself off and keep asking these questions. I earnestly hope that it can be said of me: "Here's someone who knows how to be himself" and "His identity is rooted in Christ." I know that this will never be perfect in this lifetime, but... I won't let that stop me from pursuing this identity :)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Coping Mechanism

A re-post of something I wrote while finishing up my student teaching in northwest Iowa. Originally posted on Facebook on Sept. 5, 2008:

The sea breeze caught me as I walked along the shore today--cool and crisp. I paused to breath it in--it smelled mild, salty and damp.

I looked out over the ocean. Waves rippled gently across the surface, which stretched longingly toward the farthest reaches of the horizon, finally touching the sky at some unknown point--perhaps the edge of the world?

Over the steady crashing of the waves, I heard a gull calling in the distance. I closed my eyes and appreciated the peacefulness of the moment.

My reverie was broken when the gull landed on a powerline nearby and called again. It was not a gull at all, but a hawk.

The ocean became a vast Iowa cornfield, the cool breeze turned stagnant and humid, and the mild salty scent rotted into the tangy stench of hog manure.

As I walked back to my car, I thought to myself, "What a blessing it is, that the landlocked mind is entitled to wander."

Unspeakable Evil and Amazing Grace

A re-post of something that I wrote while in college. Originally posted on Facebook on April 18, 2007, in the wake of the tragic VA Tech shooting

On Monday, Virginia Tech was shaken by an unthinkable tragedy--the worst shooting in American History. In the last 36 hours, the whole nation has rallied to support the school in prayer, vigils and in remembrance of the lives lost. Police and many others are only beginning to determine just what motivated that young man to committ such a terrible act--in an angry and lengthy note written prior to the shootings, he blamed "rich kids and religion." The indictment of religion, in particular, left me with an indescribable chill of dread. Creation has been thoroughly saturated with sin, and we ourselves are no exception. But to reject the very idea of God, to outright deny that innate sense of a divine creator to the point of taking 32 lives? That is the embodiment of evil. That, friends, is Satan at work.

However, just as the fall is a recurring truth in History, a greater truth is that of redemption. God uses even the most despicable sins and tragedies as He works out His plan. This shooting is no exception. Even in the midst of death, sorrow and confusion, there is a story of grace to be found, and that is the story which I will briefly relate here:

Liviu Librescu taught engineering and math at VA Tech. A 76-year old Romanian Jew, Librescu had survived the Holocaust, fled Communist Romania, and forged a career as an aeronautical engineer & educator. On Monday, the elderly Librescu had blocked the door to his class, enabling his students to escape by jumping out the windows, before he, himself was shot and killed. This act of grace and sacrifice is a beacon at such a dark time. I can only hope that Librescu's students will live the rest of their lives in eternal gratitude to his sacrifice; that they will show such grace and selflessness in everything they do.

Even when Satan strikes a devastating blow, God's saving grace endures. It may not always be obvious, especially when grief clouds our vision and the thick fog of despair gathers around us. Even though sin is so painfully obvious in every walk of life, we must not lose heart. Even in the face of suffocating doubt, we must not reject God, our Creator. He is always there. And He will Triumph.

Nate Gibson

Easter Sunrise on Walnut Hill

This is a re-post of something that I wrote while I was in college. Originally posted on Facebook on April 8, 2007

"After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men." Matthew 28: 1-4


"Nate, time to wake up." Even though mom is not shouting, her voice is louder than my alarm, which had blared and beeped for five minutes without waking me.

Sluggishly, I open my eyes and look to the clock on my nightstand. I blink twice and the blurry red digits slide into focus: 4:50 am.

"There's coffee in the kitchen. I'll be outside setting up. No rain, so we'll be up on the hill. Happy Easter!" Mom leaves the room swiftly, and I wonder to myself just how I missed out on her “morning person” genes.

I step out of bed and dress clumsily, nearly falling over twice as I climb into my own jeans.

In the kitchen, I pour myself a cup of coffee and take a seat by the window. The sky is dark, except for the moon, shining brightly above our barn.

My brother, who did inherit the "morning person" gene, strides into the kitchen.

Setting down my mug, I grunt a jumbled combination of "Good morning" and "Happy Easter." The coffee will take a few minutes to kick in.

Fortunately, Ben deciphers my ramblings, and returns the greeting. "Dad's bringing the truck down to the barn,” he tells me, “You ready?"

I tip the mug over my lips and catch the last few drops before grabbing a pair of ratty barn gloves and stepping out into the crisp April morning.


"The angel said to the women, 'do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay." Matthew 28: 5-6


I jog down the hill to our old red hay barn, the brisk air cutting through my lingering sleepiness with every breath. The first traces of morning are touching the night sky now, cloaking the farm in an eerie shade of blue.

Ben and Dad are already tossing hay bales onto the back of the Chevy pickup. I hop into the pickup bed and stack the bales.

Dad throws the last bale on and Ben and I climb the stack to take a seat at the top. We duck to avoid branches and power lines as Dad drives up the path. Ahead, the lone, tall tree atop our hill stands out against the fading night sky.

Dad parks the pickup twenty feet from the tree. Ben and I jump down and unload the bales, then arrange them in five rows of four, with an aisle down the middle. It’s a crude sanctuary, bales for pews.

We stack several bales at the front, and place our old Yamaha keyboard on top. In just an hour, family, friends, neighbors, people from church, and even strangers will fill this cold hilltop chapel in the bonds of Christian fellowship.


"Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying... At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
'Woman,' he said, 'why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?'
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, 'Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.'
Jesus said to her, 'Mary.'
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, 'Rabboni!' (which means teacher.")
Jesus said, 'Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: 'I have seen the Lord!' And she told them that he had said these things to her."
John 20: 10-11, 14-18


Mom is setting up silver pots filled with coffee and hot chocolate on card tables in the barn. Our inquisitive horses poke their gray noses out from their stalls. Several years ago, one of our mares decided to have a foal on Easter, early in the morning. We named the filly "Alleluia.”

People start arriving at 6:30. An assortment of cars transforms our driveway, front lawn, and horse arena into a sprawling makeshift parking lot. I return to the top of the hill and begin to pass out bulletins fresh from our kitchen printer.

Familiar and unfamiliar faces gradually fill the pews of hay. Families bundled up in several layers of sweatshirts huddle together under quilts and small children run around giggling, weaving between the bales, somehow immune to the cold.

I sit down between Ben and Lea on one of the front bales. Mom, seated at the keyboard, begins to play "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" in a faux organ tone, and the sound of our hilltop chorus breaks through the still morning.

In the distance, the sun is rising behind Mount Baker, shooting vibrant rays of yellow across a mellow orange horizon. Trails of light dance off of the clouds and the mountain shines brightly as if the sky burst open right behind it.

As we sing the closing line, "Christ has opened paradise", the significance dawns like the sunrise itself. Christ allowed himself to be mocked and tortured, humiliated beyond comprehension. He died in history’s most gruesome manner, hanging like a despicable criminal. He endured an inestimable number of eternities in hell for the sins of every single person who ever lived, including each of us here this morning, and yet...

And yet, he conquered sin and even death itself, leaving the promise of redemption. Of paradise.

The sun rises high above the mountains as we worship, illuminating Whatcom County in a golden glow and the wonderful assurance of this promise is cast over our small congregation with the sunlight: Christ the Lord is risen today. Alleluia.

Cross Country and the Meaning of Life

This is a re-post of a writing that I did while in college. Originally posted on Facebook on Mar. 26, 2007

Time seems to slow to a crawl as the crowd hushes, and in that eternal instant, your mind goes blank. Although there are 200 other runners lined up beside you, a feeling of solitude passes over you. Like a tiger about to pounce, you stand poised, with one leg behind, and one ahead, toe touching the fresh line of chalk.

You are keenly aware of even the gentlest breeze--after all, your threadbare, thin jersey provides little insulation, and your shorts stop a good 10 inches above your knees. Yet, you do not feel cold. Instead, you are completely focused on one thing: the man with the pistol. He raises his right arm.


Anxiously, you shift your feet.
He raises his other arm.


Any lingering nervousness and second thoughts evaporate as you wait with baited breath for th--


Without thinking, you spring from the starting line at a full-out sprint, your legs pumping with stunning automaticity. The cheers and chatter of the spectators on both sides are nothing compared to the thunderous roar of feet pounding all around, and the rushing of air as you dash through a tunnel of runners.

Gradually, your mind takes over, and you regain control of your own legs. You dodge and weave, passing as many other runners as you can, before you settle in, pushing hard, yet breathing steady, at your race pace. By this time, you have crossed a large field, and you follow the chalk trail into the woods.

As you look up, you notice a chain of runners in front of you. Quickly, you decide that you will try to pass five of them before you emerge from the woods at the 1.5 mile mark.

As the woods close around you, you speed up slightly to catch up with the runner in front of you. Black jersey, seems to be breathing pretty hard. He slows a little as you approach and you quickly pass by him without a hassle.

As you slowly work your way up the chain, the trail becomes narrow and windey. Purple jersey is next in your sights, and he seems to be going strong and--wait! He stumbles on a tree root while rounding a corner. He doesn't fall, but this destroys his momentum. Now's your chance! You speed up again to pass him, putting a safe distance behind you before you return to race pace.

You look ahead again. Red jersey is going strong about 10 feet in front of you. From his form, you can tell that he is holding back a bit. You decide to stick with him for a while before striking ahead. He will not let you pass without a fight.

You pick up your pace a bit to keep up with him. He hears you coming, and as you expected, defensively moves directly in front of you. You shift, so as to shadow him at an angle, but you cannot think of passing him right now. The trail is too narrow, and your sudden change in pace has caused a dull gnawing pain in your side.

Without sacrificing your speed, you take a moment to check your breathing, and notice that it has become uneven, and shallow. At this point, you do as you have trained yourself to do and start playing the 3rd track from Coach's Enya CD in your head. As you start taking full steady breaths again, courtesy of Enya's hearty Celtic beat, the side-ache ebbs. It won't dawn on you until after the race what a ridiculously silly habit this is. Silly or not, it works.

You hear someone ahead calling out times. Hmm... must be the mile mark. They call out 5:55 as you run past. 5:55 is a little faster than usual, but you are still feeling relatively good.

Of course, it would appear that your red friend is still feeling good too, and you know that you will have to push yourself to the limits and beyond if you want to beat him. Ahead, you see daylight: the end of the woods. However, a steep upward climb separates you from the open trail.

You decide that this is your time to attack. As you approach the hill, you lean forward and sprint with all of your might. Evidently, red hadn't been expecting this display of energy from you, and you blow past him with ease. You reach the top of the hill, heart pounding, and realize that you had just taken a gutsy risk.

While you are now halfway through the race, and passed up red by a longshot, your charge up the hill was exhausting. You begin to feel your faster-than-average pace catching up with you. As you coast downhill back onto the grassy field, you realize that the next one and a half miles will be an uphill battle. A mental fight to the finish.

Your lungs are burning and your legs are beginning to feel like dead weight, but you force yourself to keep moving. As you follow the trail along the fence, you notice that you are approaching one of your teammates. He, too, looks as though he is hurting. As you come alongside, you summon the breath to choke out a hoarse "Keep it up, bud." After a short pause, he responds with an equally hoarse, "You too." Though Cross Country is a seemingly individual sport, teamwork and friendship reside at its very core. You notice that the trail continues on the other side of the fence, as the runners at the front of the pack fly past. A short distance beyond them, you catch a welcome sight: a chute lined with colorful plastic flags. The finish line. Less than a mile to go, you determine. With this optimistic realization, along with the encouraging words from your teammate, a second wind hits you, and you push forward once again.

Rounding the end of the fence, you become aware of someone coming up fast right behind you. Red's back. In seconds, he has passed you up, and is plowing forward with a vengeance. You have arrived at the moment of truth. You could coast to the finish now, and still wind up with your best time yet. Or, you could use of every ounce of energy and beat the red guy.

Of course, you opt for the latter. One is rarely capable of making rational decisions after running for more than 2 miles. The brain just doesn't respond well when it has to share that much oxygen with the legs. You speed up, until you are neck and neck with red. He is visibly annoyed by your determination, and leans in, in an attempt to cut you off. However, you quicken your step and hold your ground.

By now, you are rounding the final corner into the homestretch. Some 400 meters stand between you and the chute, and you realize that neck and neck won't work in the chute. Someone has to break away.

300 meters. You feel something change within your body. You no longer feel tired or sore or achy. As the tidal wave of adrenaline crashes within you, your mind once again goes blank. As at the start of the race, your legs start pumping automatically. You feel your arms flailing at your sides. You hear your parents and friends cheering you on, but they sound distant and incomprehensible.

The chute seems to draw closer and closer, and you are only aware of one thing: That you are moving faster than you have ever moved before. Red is fighting with every last ounce of strength: He was saving his energy for this very moment. The chute is approaching rapidly, much as the ground must look to a sky-diver in a free-fall. 20 meters. 13 meters. 7 feet. With one final push, you propel yourself into the chute and cross the finish line, a split-second ahead of red.

You stumble out of the chute, and lean over, hands on knees. As you gasp for breath, sweat stinging in your eyes, you hear your parents and coach talking to you all at once, congratulating you. Somebody hands you a plastic bottle. Without hesitation you unscrew the cap and drink. Water? No, too sweet... Gatorade. Lemon Lime. Greedily, you drain the bottle, as the endorphins start to kick in.

Wiping your mouth, you gesture at the stopwatch that your coach is holding. In a half-coherent mumble, you ask for your time. Fortunately, your coach seems to be fluent in half-coherent mumbling and responds to your question: 18 minutes and 41 seconds. A personal best, by 25 seconds. Chatting and comparing times with your teammates, you slowly make your way back to the chute to cheer on the runners who are still finishing, regardless of the color jersey that they wear.

Oct. 21

Some numbers for you:

I just got home after my 6th Thrift Shop. For the uninitiated, Thrift Shop is a staple of CAJ life: twice a year (once in October, again in April), the PTA organizes a two-day event in which community members can bring unwanted furniture, clothing, books, etc (especially useful in a missionary community in which a family may need to move and get rid of many household items in a hurry), and those items are sold for incredibly low prices. Over the course of the week (really, in the course of an evening), the CAJ gym undergoes an impressive transformation: tarps are laid down on the floor, shelves brought up from storage and all of the items that will be sold are put out and hung up. The gym is unrecognizable by the end of this process.

On Friday, the Thrift Shop is open to the CAJ community: students, teachers, parents, etc. The students (seniors/sophomores in the fall, juniors/freshmen in the spring) sell concessions and the Korean moms make and sell Korean Barbecue (personally my favorite part of the whole Thrift Shop experience). Various musical ensembles play (this year it was the band, the jazz band and "High Maintenance", a staff ensemble primarily made up of maintenance workers). On Saturday, the Thrift Shop is opened to the broader Japanese community, along with the concessions. As anyone who has worked at Thrift Shop on a Saturday can well attest, this is a hectic and busy day (I am usually responsible for making hot dogs and this job is responsible for my hatred of hot dogs).

So yeah, just got back from my 6th Thrift Shop. It's crazy to think I've been here that long, though I suppose for some in the community, the number is well over 60 or 70.

Another number: Yesterday marked 8 weeks since school started. This means the year is just under a quarter of the way finished. Scary thought... I have so many goals for this school year and I'm reminded of the fact that time is ticking. I can't afford to coast!

Well... I have to head out--meeting friends for dinner... but I do hope to write more this weekend in the absence of a cross country meet. I love cross country, but I can't deny that having Saturday open will be a good feeling!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Everything is meaningless!

This morning, I finished rereading the book of Ecclesiastes and was once again struck by the book's theme, which seems like it should be so simple and obvious, but often is very difficult to live by:

Everything is meaningless, apart from God. So, remember your Creator while you're young.

It's not half and half or divided in some other way, where earthly things have some independent meaning, but God just has more... no, everything is utterly meaningless apart from God.

Even good things like wisdom... when separated from the purpose of glorifying God, wisdom, too, is meaningless.

So, I cannot help but think about all of the things in my life that seem so desperately important on their own: my teaching, my family, my friends, every blessing in my life... it's humbling to realize that it is not I, myself, but God alone that gives all of these things their meaning.

It's not enough for me to say "Well I'll give credit to God later... I'll just live my life the way I want to now and then praise God when I'm older." No, such an amazing truth about the source of meaning demands that I praise now and praise often.

Father, may I never cease to recognize you as the One who fills life and every single blessing in it with meaning. May the importance of that last sentence truly sink in through my often-thick skull, that they may be more than just words on the page. May I respond in praise and worship and seek to glorify your name in all I say and do.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A nanosecond of reflection...

It's 3:29, Wednesday afternoon. The bell is about to ring and the school-day, about to end. I'm sitting on a picnic table in the plaza and I'm busy. But--I want to take a moment just to think, to reflect on what I've appreciated this week, what I'm appreciating now, and what I'm looking forward to.

What I've appreciated:

-Yesterday was a great day from start to finish. One of those days where everything just sort of clicks into place, ya know?

What I appreciate now:

-The cool breeze. It's not cold, but it's refreshing and invigorating. Also, the orchestra is playing outside over by the gym and the music is great...

What I'm looking forward to:

-Easy: Korean Barbecue on Friday. My favorite part of Thrift Shop every year (and this is... what... my 6th Thrift Shop?). Extra kimchi, please!

Well, that's about all the time I've got to spare: I have a meeting to go to. Via con dios, dear readers.

Things Change

Intent forms are out for next year and colleagues are starting to make decisions about their futures and whether CAJ will be a part of that future. The year still feels fresh, and yet already I am starting to steel myself for the goodbyes. The longer I stay here, the harder the goodbyes get: already I know that my roommate Gabe will not be coming back next year, as well as another co-worker who has been very much a mentor to me.

This is tough. I've written before about the nature of TCK life, and the role that goodbyes play for TCKs. Well, it's no less true for the adults in an international school setting... I'm determined to stay here. I'm not positive for how much longer. I won't rule anything out--I could move on in a few years, or I could be here for quite a while: it all depends on where God calls me. However, this impending round of goodbyes will be hard, and as the list of those not returning increases I am sure it will only become tougher.

I wish I could defiantly exclaim "This isn't what I signed up for!" like they do in the movies, but that just wouldn't be true. This is what I signed up for, and I've known that since the start. Should my response be to avoid friendship? Absolutely not! I need to invest in people as often and as much as I can no matter how temporary of time we will share together in the same geographical location.

Shallow pleasantries, the "how's it going?"s that nobody really means--that's not friendship. I need to approach every new friendship that comes my way over the next few years with value--cherish opportunities to become part of others' lives as they become a part of mine... to dig in and really get to know people. Sure, it'll hurt when and if we go our separate ways, but that's just a sign and symptom of true friendship.

So I think to myself: how can I invest in those around me? How can I best build friendships in a setting that I'm finding to be so changeable?

And I also think: I am so grateful that my best Friend is one who is ever-faithful, unchangeable: a true and good Foundation. Thank you, Lord.

Monday, October 17, 2011

My Best Moment in Teaching (so far)

Today was a long day and quite exhausting. Not a bad day, but definitely one of those days where my vision just didn't match reality. Frustrating when that happens.

On days like today, I return to the moments that God has given me that affirm teaching as my choice of career.

Last year was full of pivotal moments in my life, both in and outside of the classroom. The moment that affected me the most as a teacher happened toward the end of the year. I'd timed our final assignment of the year precisely so that the students would finish their presentations on the very last day of class, during our exam time. I'd set aside exactly the right number of days to work in class. However, on the Tuesday of the week before our exams, tragedy struck the CAJ community when a Senior was killed in a traffic accident while on his way to school.

We actually found out about this during Humanities. I felt like I'd had the wind knocked out of me and so did many of my students. Most of the kids just needed to sit and work through the shock during class on that day... I know I did.

The next day, Humanities started late due to a very powerful and emotional chapel--it had originally been intended as the farewell chapel for the Seniors, but it had quickly turned into a tearful time of praise and worship and prayer over the grieving Seniors. I walked into class emotionally exhausted, eyes still red from crying, and at a total loss for what to do about the final project--I'd timed our work-days out perfectly, and had no room to push the presentations back. At the same time, I wanted to compensate the kids for the amount of time that they'd lost and the time that they might still need to give up to process what had happened. I stood in front of the class, all of whom were just as emotionally wrecked as I was and for one of the first times that year, I admitted vulnerability: "Guys, I don't know what we're going to do. I'd love to give you more time, but I don't think I can--it just doesn't seem possible, given the fact that I've already set our presentations on the last day of class."

And then, a girl sitting in one of the front groups of desks said "Mr. Gibson, whatever you decide, you know that we will support you."

The students around her all agreed out loud and pretty soon the entire class was vocalizing their support, encouragement and agreement. That moment brought tears to my eyes once again and meant more to me than I think the students even realized. With their support and loyalty, I made the tough choice to challenge the students to work hard on their research despite everything that was happening. What's more, they were true to their word: they rose to the occasion and worked hard, supporting my choice.

That was my best moment in teaching so far. I'm thankful for these moments in my life. For every frustrating and exhausting day, I have many more blessings that I can think of.

Thank you, Lord.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

You Came to Take Us (All Things Go, All Things Go)

Yesterday, on the way home from the Cross Country Meet, I listened to one of my favorite artists, Sufjan Stevens. Since my bike ride to school is so short this year, I no longer listen to my iPod on the way to and from school. As a result, it had been months since I'd last listened to Sufjan. His style takes some getting used to--lots of banjo and a unmistakably indie feel (though folksier than most indie). However, once the music grows on you, it's pretty powerful. Sufjan is Christian, and I actually appreciate him way more than most Christian artists because he understands that all music can be an act of praise and worship to God and not every song needs to be a cliché love song to God in order to be an offering of worship and truth. Plus, Sufjan tackles the challenges of the Christian life as well: dealing with loss, dealing with doubt, dealing with sin.

Yesterday as I rode home, I listened to his cover of a few classic hymns: "Come Thou Fount of Ev'ry Blessing", "Amazing Grace", "Holy, Holy, Holy". By the end, I had tears in my eyes as I was reminded of God's goodness and mercy in my life, a goodness and mercy that I discount far too easily especially during a busy week like the one I had.

After that, I listened to the seemingly more secular album "Come on and Feel the Illinoise" (part of Sufjan's ambitious 50 states project--in an interview 5 years ago, he'd expressed his desire to produce an album for each of the 50 states. With only Illinois and Michigan released currently, he's since said that he was joking about doing all 50). On the surface, "Illinoise" feels like a tribute to the state of Illinois and nothing more--references to major cities, industries, holidays and people who are from/have lived in the state. This is where Sufjan's talent really shines, however, as he uses a musical report on the state to point to greater truths about sin and redemption.

Consider the lyrics to his song "John Wayne Gacy", which tells of the life of the titular professional clown/serial killer who kidnapped and murdered a number of young men during the 70s. Although it strikes one as a haunting and somewhat creepy song at first, take a look at the words (particularly in the last few lines):

His father was a drinker
And his mother cried in bed
Folding John Wayne's T-shirts
When the swing-set hit his head
The neighbors they adored him
For his humor and his conversation
Look underneath the house there
Find the few living things
Rotting fast in their sleep of the dead
Twenty-seven people, even more
They were boys with their cars, summer jobs
Oh my God

Are you one of them?

He dressed up like a clown for them
With his face paint white and red
And on his best behavior
In a dark room on the bed he kissed them all
He'd kill ten thousand people
With a sleight of his hand
Running far, running fast to the dead
He took off all their clothes for them
He put a cloth on their lips
Quiet hands, quiet kiss
On the mouth

And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floorboards
For the secrets I have hid

It would be so easy to revile someone like Gacy if tasked with writing a report on him (or including a song about his life on an album like this one). Stevens doesn't ignore Gacy's crime. In fact, the amount of detail he chooses to include makes this song somewhat uncomfortable--this is not a song that most people would start singing to themselves in public. Yet, Stevens reminds the listener of something terribly important in the end: he's no different and by extension, we, the listeners are no different. This echoes the truth of Romans 3:23: "...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..." Sin is a matter of the heart rebelling against God and we've all done it--all rebelled. Maybe we aren't serial killers, but our hearts have rebelled all the same. We've got some nasty stuff under our floorboards when you start digging because all sin is nasty in God's eyes (we just tend to have a stronger visceral reaction to certain sins when others commit them. Perfectly natural, but not an excuse to justify, excuse or forget our own sin). Wow. I wonder how non-Christian listeners have been affected by this song? The lyrics never mention God (save for a shocked "Oh my God") or Jesus, and yet there's a lot of truth here.

Another great example of Sufjan's unique style shows up a few tracks later in "Casimir Pulaski Day". This song is not about Casimir Pulaski or the holiday attached to him save for the fact that the final moments of the song take place on Casimir Pulaski Day. Unlike many other songs on the album, this song directly mentions God, but it hearkens back to Psalms of lament and the anguished bewilderment of Job. The premise of the song is the singer reflecting on his relationship--from friendship to flirtation to romance--with his girlfriend, who has just died of cancer ("on the first of March, on the holiday"). Consider these words, the last few lines of the song after he tells of his girlfriend passing away, staring out the window of her hospital room:

All the glory that the Lord has made
And the complications when I see His face
In the morning in the window

All the glory when He took our place
But He took my shoulders and He shook my face
And He takes and He takes and He takes

Powerful stuff, and not your standard fare for Christian pop music. However, this addresses the anger that people (even Christians) feel in the face of loss and places it in the foreground. Being angry with God is part of the Christian life. Does it mean we're right when we're angry at God, or that we can blame God when troubles come? Not at all. However, it's best to acknowledge these feelings, to cry out when we're hurt than to try and suppress the feelings and pretend that they don't exist. With the juxtaposition between awe at "the glory that the Lord has made" and the frustration of "He takes and He takes and He takes", I can't help but be reminded of Job's cry in Job 1:21: "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, may the name of the Lord be praised."

So, if you're looking for a new artist to listen to, looking for music that will make you think and will challenge you... I highly recommend Sufjan Stevens. This was what I needed to listen to on a rainy Saturday afternoon, and it definitely gave me occasion to think.

Friday, October 14, 2011

And a chapter ends

The Middle School cross country season is finished. Our rainy meet this morning at Tama Hills marked the end of the season--unfortunately, the rain was hardest during their races and so most of the team had a somewhat slower day (though they placed reasonably well). Though nobody on the team met their ice cream time (and only one got a PR), I still plan on taking the team out to celebrate at Baskin Robbins sometime next week. I'm proud of these kids, proud of their hard work and dedication throughout the course of the entire season, and it has been my privilege to coach them.

This is a very different attitude than the one that I had going into cross country--when the season started, I was busy with prep related to school (as I am every year), and viewed my work with the middle schoolers as being a much lower priority than my work with the high schoolers. It's interesting--I am a high school teacher, and in my opinion this is a fairly major part of my identity. It's what I trained for in college, even though my certification is technically grades 5-12 and given my teaching style and philosophy, it's certainly what I'm most comfortable with. Yet, I've wound up spending a lot of time working with middle schoolers through two and a half years of JAM and today, wrapping up my 3rd season of coaching middle school cross country.

From these experiences, I know full well the challenges that can arise in working with middle schoolers. Perhaps that's why I am so grateful for the team I had this year--they demonstrated a level of seriousness and maturity that I hadn't seen in past seasons. No games during practice; no stubbornness or refusing to run when I told them to. These kids rose to the occasion, worked hard and improved tremendously from week to week. Once they recognized this pattern, everything fell into place: they kept working hard so that they could continue to see improvement. I'd been thinking of stepping down from coaching cross country after this season, but I feel like I have a rapport with this group... they like me, look up to me and respect me. What's more, I genuinely like and respect them, and feel comfortable working with them (my first season was so awkward--I would avoid talking to the middle schoolers more than I had to because I had no idea how to communicate with them or what to say to them and truth be told, I wasn't much better with my own students that year). Again, this brings up a question of longevity on my part--do I want to stick around at CAJ to work with these kids through their hopefully long cross country careers? Yeah, kind of.

Anyway. It was a wonderful season, and though I know that the kids are partially relieved to have their afternoons free once again, I hope that they valued the experiences of the last month and a half as much as I did. I am looking forward to working with them (and hopefully some new recruits) next year!



Today was exhausting. However, it was also technically my most productive and successful day of teaching to date. Today, I spent significant time doing just about every important part of the job: prepping, instruction and grading. At the end of the day, I could look back and say "Wow, that went well!" That's a good feeling.

1st period this morning was my most intensive prep period so far this school year. I was starting new units in Humanities 2nd period and English 6th period. I'd been planning for this all week. I knew what questions I was going to ask to kick off our discussion--they'd been percolating in my brain for a few days. However, I didn't know how long the unit would last or what the scope would be. So, I opened a Word Document, and condensed the questions that I'd been thinking of into 3 essential questions:

1) How does a value of diversity create true equality?
2) How does "loving your neighbor as yourself" balance the tension between order and freedom?
3) What does it take to preserve and protect freedom?

As I looked at the questions, it dawned on me that any of the 3 would make an excellent prompt for a unit essay. At this point, I realized that if I ran this unit till Christmas break, two months would allow me to cover a lot of ground and that all of the topics that I'd been hoping to cover before Christmas break could easily support these essential questions (Puritan society, The Crucible, American Revolution, Slavery/Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Civil War). So, I made a list of assessments, with the final draft of the unit essay (engaging an essential question utilizing examples from literature, history and class discussion) being due on Dec. 9. From there, I worked backwards and all of the pieces more or less fell into place: a factual presentation on a historical event, an open-forum discussion, a current event report, a group skit about a current global issue in the analogical style of The Crucible... all of these things would feed into our final essay. The schedule I created for my English class was similar, minus the history assignments (though I did tell the class that I expect them to draw on knowledge from their U.S. History class).

I finished making copies of the unit schedule just a minute before 2nd period started. It was nerve-wracking glancing back and forth between my watch and the copier, but I felt so good about having the unit mapped out. Even if things change dramatically as we get into the unit, it's easier to adapt from existing plans rather than to rely on total guess-work to make changes.

For the next few hours, I was in instruction mode: I introduced our new unit in Humanities by facilitating a class discussion over the students' current perceptions of the terms "freedom" and "equality", asking them to draw on their own personal experience and opinions. I told them to jot down the ideas that came up in our discussion as it might be valuable down the road in their writing (or at the very least, informative to show how their understanding of these terms deepen and grow).

3rd period, I took the Humanities students to the computer lab to do some basic research on famous witch-hunts/examples of scapegoating throughout history (persecution of Jews during the Black Plague, persecution of Koreans after the Kanto quake, etc.). This activity served as a helpful follow-up to the students' report on blacklisting and McCarthyism that they'd submitted that morning, and an illuminating introduction to the events of The Crucible. Though Arthur Miller intended the play to serve as a parable against the hysteria of McCarthyism, the Salem Witch trials were indeed real historical events and not without precedent, or antecedent.

My World History students also spend the period in the lab--having wrapped up our introductory discussion to our unit on government (in attempting to ascertain why there's so much variety in the way governments are run, we examined the question of whether humans are naturally good or naturally evil), I started the students on their first assessment: researching an Imperial Chinese Political/Ethical philosophy (Daoism, Confucianism or Legalism) in small groups and then preparing a high-quality skit that demonstrates life according to these philosophies, and shows how these systems attempted to deal with the brokenness of man. The freshmen worked hard and got a good start. Those kids always work hard--what a fun bunch of students. I can't wait to see their skits.

6th period saw a similar discussion to 2nd period Humanities, although the personalities of the students in 6th period took the discussion in slightly different directions. It will be interesting to see how the ideas develop and take shape differently between the Humanities students and the English students.

7th period, I went into grading mode as I worked on World History tests. I spent several hours finishing up the grading, then watched JV and Varsity Volleyball games.

I'm wiped out now, but man--it was a good day. Insanely busy, but good. I love the feeling of having a plan in place. I can sleep soundly tonight. That is, till 5 something, when I will wake up for cross country...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Getting the worrying out of my system

Prepping new units, updating grades, meetings after school that conflict with cross country, writing college recommendation letters... these are the activities that have occupied my time this week. I enjoy being busy, and in many ways I thrive when I'm busy... but when that feeling of busy-ness approaches inundation I start to immobilize pretty fast. I tend to not have the greatest coping mechanisms for feelings of stress as I lean more toward flight than fight. Problem is, when you run away from stress that comes from having many things to do, those things will still be there when you get back, only now you've wasted valuable time running away.

I've been reasonably productive today, but still, there were moments where I really did feel like I was juggling torches in a warehouse whose floors had been soaked in gasoline and I knew I'd have to let a torch drop and just accept it. For example: overestimating the time it would take my Juniors to finish their fill-in-the-blank vocab test. At this same time last year, it took the Juniors most of the class period to finish their vocab tests (these are long tests, by the way--typically a 3-4 page story with our vocab words left blank). The students sped up as the year went on, but that group as a whole tended to be very thorough and many students double-checked and even triple-checked their answers to make sure they were correct. Little things like that--they take time.

Different story with this group: the first few finished after 10 minutes, and then a deluge of tests came in between 15 and 25 minutes. Meanwhile, I'm trying to grade the tests during the period (I always managed to do this without any hassle last year... since I wrote the tests myself, it takes me 45 seconds to a minute to grade each one) and signing kids out to go to either the lab or the library to work on a report I'd assigned earlier in the week (at least I'd assigned something to my Humanities students--my 6th period English students had nothing that they were working on and wound up having most of a class period as a study hall after they finished the test--a giant しょうがない moment (shouganai translates roughly to "It cannot be helped")). Next time, I'll plan something out for them to work on after finishing the test.

So, I'm juggling torches. Somehow I manage to catch all of them just in the nick of time, and nothing has burned down so far, but I'm starting to feel like if another torch gets thrown into the mix, everything will go up in smoke. That's not a fun feeling. I just need to keep moving and not freeze up or run away because if I do either of those things, the torches will hit the ground and I'll get burned... bad.

Okay, that's enough worrying out loud for the time being... I've got prep to do!

**After I posted this note, I read through a verse that had come up in a class discussion earlier today with the Freshmen:

Matt. 7: 25-27

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"

This isn't an invitation to blow off my work, to procrastinate, or to pretend my duties don't exist, but it is a reminder that God will provide for me in my busy-ness. I'm not on my own in tackling a zillion different things, nor could I even begin to accomplish everything I need to do on my own strength. I simply need to do my best and leave the rest up to God. Will it be challenging? Yeah, for sure. Should I let my busy-ness consume me? Absolutely not.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

To Him Who Created and Sustains me

This song has been running through my head this morning as I prep a unit on government and leadership for WH. What better leader than One whose compassion never fails, who is wholly good and wholly faithful?

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
there is no shadow of turning with thee;
thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;
as thou hast been thou forever will be.

Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
all I have needed thy hand hath provided;
great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
sun, moon and stars in their courses above
join with all nature in manifold witness
to thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
all I have needed thy hand hath provided;
great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
all I have needed thy hand hath provided;
great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!


I've been back in Japan for two months... school's almost been going for 7 weeks... SWOW is over and done... Middle school cross country ends on Saturday... Thrift Shop is less than two weeks away...

All of these truths point to the larger fact that the first part of the school-year is done. My brain is still in "early-school-year-mode" so this is a somewhat disconcerting realization. I'm sure it'll catch up eventually, but for now time seems to be moving much too fast for me, almost as though the passing of a second in my mind is the passing of a week in real-time. I spent so much of my life wanting time to fly by, impatient for the NEXT big thing, whatever that might've been and now I would do anything to slow the passage of time... to savor and enjoy each moment.

Since high school, each passing year of my life has seemed to speed by faster than the one before. Generally, I could anticipate how much faster each year would feel, but this one has thrown me for a loop: this feels significantly faster than the year before. What this boils down to is the reality that I can't count on time slowing down for me--I need to be proactive in savoring each day, in taking time to appreciate life as I'm living it. I need to live, rather than letting life happen to me. It's comfortable to wake up each morning, and fit myself into a formula, a routine that is familiar and then more or less go into autopilot mode, but where's the joy in that? I need to be present in the present... need to take risks... need to actively live each second as an alleluia to my Creator and Sustainer. If I don't do this, then I'll find myself at the end of the year, and maybe it will have been a successful school-year on paper, but what will I have learned? What will I have really accomplished? Will I have grown or changed as a person having just gone through the motions?

If my worries and concerns seem vague or confusing to you who may read this, don't worry--they are vague and confusing... incredibly tough to articulate. The bottom-line that I'm now coming to is this question for myself: What does it mean to be present in each and every moment, each and every day? How can I strive to do this each and every day?

I'm open to suggestions!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Wilderness Camp, Days 3-4

Day 3: Thursday, October 6

I'm not sure what time the rain stopped. The reason I'm not sure is because the dripping sounds continued even after the rain had ceased, and I almost certainly mistook this sound for rain whenever I woke up and turned over in my sleeping bag. It wasn't until I actually poked my head outside the gazebo just after 5 am that I realized the dripping sounds were coming from the trees and that the rain itself had stopped.

In fact, the first sight that greeted me was a ray of sunlight shining down between trees in the woods nearby. This would have been a beautiful sight on any morning, but it was so desired, so welcome on this morning that the sunlight seemed even more vibrant--truly a gift from God.

Everyone woke with high spirits that morning upon seeing the sunlight and realizing that the rain had stopped. We ate a cheerful breakfast and started hiking just after 8. The leaders set a brisk pace through the woods, but everyone kept the pace. Everyone was genki! At one point, we came to a ridge atop a rather steep slope and noticed that we had two options: Option #1 involved following the trees with white ribbons tied around the trunks, a gradual decline that looped around the ridge in a downward spiral. Option #2 involved following the blue ribbons, a sharp decline that seemed to dive right over the edge of the ridge and straight down the steep slope. The leaders polled the team and everyone seemed to be in favor of option #2. I looked at Kelsey and she shrugged. "Just be careful," she advised the kids as the team began filing down the slope.

I am not sure how much time we saved by taking the blue path, or if we actually saved any time: sure, it was a direct route down the mountainside, but by nature of the decline, we had to take it slow with lots of stops and starts. Whether or not it saved us time, it certainly added to the feeling of high adventure! We would half shuffle/half slide down the slope for 5-10 feet, stop against a tree trunk to steady ourselves and regain our balance before shuffling/sliding down to the next tree. We repeated this process over and over, hopping from tree to tree until finally we came to one last steep slope with our desired path running along the very bottom. Some kids bounded down this slope, some slid on their butts and some surfed with the loose dirt acting as a wave. We all arrived back on the path safely, though our hiking shoes were perhaps twice as dirty as they were when we'd started on the blue path.

A short while later, we arrived at a paved road, the first sign of civilization that we had seen since the first day. It was here that I received my worst (and only) injury of the trip as I skidded on a slick bit of pavement in a tunnel, and skinned my knee. Lame, lame, lame. I guess I should be thankful that I didn't take a spill on a steep mountain path, but if you're going to skin your knee while hiking, it's embarrassing to have it happen on a concrete sidewalk at the base of the mountain :P

We ate lunch near the Tama River and enjoyed a chance to soak up some sunlight and skip stones in the water. At this point, we were only 15 minutes or so from Okutama Bible Chalet, our final destination. However, we still had one more day of hiking, and so would be venturing into the hills on the other side of the river before ending at OBC.

In choosing our route the week before, we'd been told that at this point in the route, we'd have the choice of hiking or taking a cable car. When we informed the leaders for the day of the option, they quickly decided to take the cable car. This was a good choice, since we needed to get to our campsite as early as possible for the day's activity and despite our brisk pace in the morning, we were running late. The road up to the cable car was, in my own opinion, the most physically challenging part of the hike. I can handle the steep trails in the woods--the trails that feel more like a scramble than a hike--those are fine. However, the road up to the cable car was a kilometer straight of 15% incline. Unrelenting, constant, concrete uphill marching. The only point in the entire trip where I felt physically winded was at the very end of this stretch. We took the cable car up to Mitake-san--the ride took less than 10 minutes and saved us perhaps an hour of hiking.

The view from Mitake-san was incredible! Unfortunately, this was the point (really the only point) in the trip where I was somewhat disappointed with the kids (well, a few anyway). One of the leaders for the day was feeling hungry. It's Wilderness Camp... one can be forgiven feeling a certain level of hunger the whole time. That said--we'd had bigger portions of food than we did the year before, and we even had an extra set of snacks with us at that point due to not having taken a snack break during the rainy day before. Point being, we were still well-supplied for food. Anyway, this particular individual was in possession of the team wallet which was supposed to be for transportation expenses (such as the train, the bus and the cable car). When we got to the look-out at Mitake-san, there were small shops and places to buy food. The temptation was too much--this leader bought food for herself and several of her teammates using the transportation funds (about half of the team refused to let her buy them food, not wanting to compromise their Wilderness Camp experience). Though my co-leader and I reminded the team that we did in fact have extra snacks, the lure of the mountain-top shops was too great.

I'll admit I was a bit annoyed. I didn't show it at the time, not wanting to pull down the team's morale, but I felt like it was a selfish decision. However, I've since had time to think about it and I realized that there have been countless times in my own life where I've made selfish, bad decisions or given in to one temptation or another. The only person who has ever avoided temptation and selfishness completely was Christ himself... if I'd been in the desert for that long and someone offered me bread, I'd probably have taken it in a heart-beat--I'm that weak. What was the lesson for the day, anyway... integrity in leaders? What right did I have to be angry, having so many times failed tests of integrity myself? So, ultimately, I could forgive the bad choice... I do think that in future years, I'll need to make a point ahead of time to clarify in no uncertain terms that the money should only be for transportation, and that buying food simply isn't even an option. I believe in giving the kids decision-making power and leadership, but I also think that freedom involves some clear boundaries (no giving up, for example).

We arrived at our campsite, 日の出山 (Hinodeyama), at a few minutes till 4. The guy in the front of the pack scaled the final set of stairs quickly and moments after he disappeared from our line of vision, we heard what sounded like a bunch of people shouting for joy. It took maybe 2 seconds for us to recognize the familiar voices of another group of Juniors coming from the mountaintop. The kids in my group sprinted up the stairs with their packs still on and what followed was about 10 minutes of hugs, excited chatter and earnest "I missed you"s: truly a joyful reunion, and you'd have thought that these kids hadn't seen each other in years (as opposed to 3 days). Turns out the group at the top had camped out at the campsite we were now approaching the night before (after hiking late in the rain), slept in, done their activity for the day and were now finishing their debrief and getting ready to leave.

As we said our goodbyes to Team Wolfpack, as they called themselves (complete with a "team howl"), we had a chance to survey our surroundings. Without a doubt, this was the most beautiful place that we'd stayed on the entire trip: To the north, west and south, we had a view of the mountains and to the east, we had a panoramic view of Tokyo.

I gathered the kids and introduced our activity for the day: They would spread out and spend an extended period of time on their own. They could journal, read their Bibles/a laminated sheet of verses and quotes about integrity that had been prepared for them, and simply sit and think. I introduced the activity by reminding the kids that in today's society, they rarely have an opportunity to simply be by themselves--that even while they are alone, they're not really alone because they are plugged in to the outside world and their friends via the Internet and their phones. The kids accepted the challenge and spent several hours by themselves.

While they were doing their solo-time, Kelsey and I set up fly sheets around the gazebo and prepared our final dinner of the trip: Macaroni with tuna. The sun set and we were treated to a beautiful view of the Tokyo city-lights. This was the first thing that the kids noticed when we called them back in, too, and if the kids had been anxious or upset about spending time alone, those feelings evaporated as soon as they saw the view. Several kids even asked if they could keep the laminated sheets we'd given them, and after dinner (which we ate sitting on benches outside the gazebo, facing the city) we had a powerful debrief time. The kids talked about learning how much they took for granted in their lives, and appreciating the chance to sit and reflect on their lives. One girl even expressed gratitude for the rain from the previous day, as it had caused her to appreciate the sunny weather and beautiful views of this day even more. Several kids started to make plans to come back to Hinode later in the year to camp out for just a night, and one girl remarked that she wanted to take her own kids up to see this view someday.

Several of the kids settled down for the night outside, as the stars started to come out at about 9 pm. They went to bed happy and well-fed, feeling enriched and blessed by the day's experiences. It was a good day.

Day 4: Friday, October 7

I'll be brief with this final entry. The activity for the final day involved Kelsey and I leaving early, and the kids hiking the last leg of our journey on their own (I should note that we'd informed the days leaders about this the previous night). Of course, we weren't going to ditch the kids completely--we would hide out on a ridge just below the campsite, wait till the kids moved out and follow them at a safe distance. I woke up to find that a few of the kids were already awake, watching the stars and the city-lights, so we couldn't make a completely clean getaway. At the very least, all the kids thought that we'd truly left, and didn't realize that we were staying behind to follow them.

The name of the game for the next stretch of time was patience: waiting for all of the kids to wake up, waiting for them to eat breakfast, waiting for them to pack up... all of this took about two hours. Fortunately, we had a beautiful view of the sunrise from the ledge we were on--we also think we saw a flying squirrel just before sunrise! We saw something scale a tree just in front of us and moments later, a dark shadowy mass leaped from the tree and sailed down into the woods below.

At just before 7, we heard the kids moving down the trail. We went up to the campsite, picked up a few things that had been left behind (including my jacket, which had been hidden under someone's sleeping bag) and set out down the trail after the kids. The hike down to OBC took exactly 2 hours, to the minute. The most excitement came at a point when the kids left the road to take what they thought was a shortcut (several of the kids had worked at OBC during the summer and remembered that it was possible to hike up to a cell tower from behind the camp complex). Turns out it was the wrong cell tower--still it made for a fun detour, as the kids had to drop a good 10 feet from the woods down a bank to get back onto the main road. This involved dropping their packs, a few of which hit the ground with a large crash that initially startled Kelsey and myself ("What on EARTH are they doing?!" we wondered). In the time it took Kelsey and I to climb down the bank to the road below, the kids got a head-start that we never recovered.

The rest of the hike was spent along paved roads (for most of the time, just one long, winding mountain road) and though there were spots on the road where it doubled around and we could see nearly half a mile ahead, we never saw the kids in the distance. We worried that they might've tried another off-road shortcut and that we were way ahead of them (we weren't exactly taking it slow down the mountain), but it turns out they'd just been moving really, really fast. When I think about how fast of a pace Kelsey and I were setting, I can't help but wonder if the kids were almost jogging down the road. Between this point and the end, the only detail worth noting was the random crab that we found scuttling along the road, still a good distance from the base of the mountain. Very odd seeing a crab out of the context of the water-side...

We reached OBC at 9:00 am, just 6 minutes after the kids. We unpacked our bags, reunited with the other teams (we were the third team to arrive), and then hit the ofuro. After we'd cleaned up (which is a GREAT feeling after days of not showering), we debriefed one last time. The kids all agreed that this was a powerful and meaningful experience for them, despite the fact that it had been tough and stressful at times. As I listened to the kids share what they learned over the past few days and how they thought it would impact their everyday lives, it reinforced in my mind just what a positive and important learning experience wilderness camp truly is. We closed our meeting in prayer, dedicating the trip to God and thanking Him for the beauty we'd gotten to see and be a part of, and then went our separate ways. I returned home sore, exhausted and hungry, and it has taken me a few days to recover... however, I do not regret going for even a second. As long as I am at CAJ, I'll go on Wilderness Camp. I'm glad to be back in civilization, and definitely glad to be sleeping in my own bed again, but a small part of me is already counting down the days until next October, when I will have the opportunity to head out into the woods once again...