Wednesday, October 24, 2012

All who are thirsty, all who are weak

It has been far too long since I last wrote a substantial post.  I've been busy.

That's actually a colossal understatement.  I've been swamped.

...and it hasn't been good for me.

I'll be the first to admit that I tend to go a little stir-crazy when I have too much free-time; when I've got too much time on my hands, I tend to fall into old patterns of laziness or procrastination.  Yet, the place I'm at right now is not all that productive, either.  Right now, I'm spread so completely thin that I am every bit as slow in finishing what I need to finish as if I had put things off.

Actually, what scares me more than the lack of productivity is the lack of time to rest and grow in the LORD.  I have not had a true Sabbath in nearly two months.  I've had SUNDAYS, yes, but those are partly dedicated to prep and grading, as well as the myriad new responsibilities I've gotten involved in at church.  Necessary, but not restful in the least.

I hadn't even realized the spiritual dry spell I'd been going through until my brother asked me a while back if I was taking any time just to meditate on the Word and to pray.

I replied that, well, I do devotions, but as I tend to do them last thing before bed, I speed through them so I can just go to sleep.

Truth is, I've not taken time out for the relationship that I profess to be the most important one in my life... and the impact of this has been terrifying.  I consider myself a fairly hopeful person, but I don't know that I've ever felt quite so hopeless as I have over the past few weeks.

I've had times of heavy work and stress before, but in the past I'd always carved out enough time for prayer and for nurturing my relationship with God that those stresses had stayed more or less in perspective.  Without God, stress is terrifying.  Without God, stress seems unbeatable; insurmountable.  Without God, accomplishing the tasks I need to accomplish lacks victory; instead it just feels like a quick breath before the next wave hits.

I've been approaching my stress all wrong.  I need to start by being still and trusting; laying my cares and my burdens at His feet and then simply listening.  That requires time... and time requires letting go of things that I think are necessary.  Here's the fact: if it's not God, it's not necessary, no matter how pressing it may seem.

My goal as this month ends, and a new month begins is to set aside time... to not merely make devotions an item on a checklist to be finished as quickly as possible.  Growing a relationship requires time; time to speak and time to listen.

I suspect this will not be natural or easy for me, given where I'm at right now... but it is vital, and it will be my victory over the stress, exhaustion and feeling of profound weariness and weakness that I've been fighting through recently.

Please join me in praying for a renewal in my heart and soul, whatever it takes.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Wilderness Camp, Fall 2012

Another year of Wilderness Camp come and gone!  Here are the things that have been on my mind since I got back yesterday:

My History with Hiking:
For all the time I spent outdoors as a child, I was never much into camping.  On the odd occasion I would try to sleep outside, I’d always change my mind after about an hour of trying to fall asleep and head back inside to my warm bed.  I enjoyed hiking, but every hike I did up until my Senior year of high school was simply a day hike: packing light, hiking with the intent of returning home for a warm dinner.  The first overnight hike I did, up and down Mt. Excelsior in late October 2003, was miserable: the peak was at 5712 feet (1741 meters) and the entire hike was done through several feet of snow... with snow falling as we were hiking.  Our cabin at the top was not well-insulated and all I remember is the feeling that I couldn’t stop my teeth from chattering as I tried to fall asleep.  The whole hike, up and down, took less than 24 hours.  It remains, to this day, THE most demanding physical experience I’ve ever been through, and is not something I’d ever do again.  

3rd year as a leader:
With this background in mind, I sometimes marvel at the fact that I’ve become a Wilderness Camp regular at CAJ.  Yesterday, I returned from my 3rd trip up into the mountains of Western Tokyo and I fully intend to go again next year... and it is not out of a sense of duty or resignation to the inevitable; I genuinely enjoy Wilderness Camp and I am wholeheartedly looking forward to going again.  

This year, I was technically the senior adult leader.  My co-leader, Victor, is several years younger than me, and this was his first time going as a teacher (he himself went as a CAJ student years back).  Yet I say “technically” because Victor has a wealth of experience with the outdoors and with camping--experience I am very much still trying to build.  Needless to say, I was grateful to have a co-leader who was comfortable with so many of the technical aspects of camping.  This was even reflected in the nicknames we were given by our team: the juniors called Victor “Breath of Life” in reference to his ability to stoke a fire by blowing on it.  They called me “Spice of Life” because, in the juniors' words, I "kept things interesting and fun".  This is the 3rd time in three years where I’ve received this exact feedback from my team--of course I’d love to someday be recognized for having expertise and knowledge about camping, but building to this takes time, and I must not forget that being the “Spice”, setting a positive tone, is important too. 

Team Platypus:
My team this year, “Team Platypus”, was an outstanding and fun bunch.  Everyone was excited and enthusiastic from the moment the teams were announced, and this dynamic carried all the way through the experience.  We had quite the variety on the team--some who loved hiking and others for whom this was their first time setting foot on a mountain.  Even the expectations about the experience varied wildly: one guy remarked afterwards that he thought the whole thing was going to be a lot more challenging, while one girl said that she underestimated just how challenging it would be.  Still, through all of this, our team managed to bond and encourage each other every step of the way.  We pushed through the exhausting and steep stretches (stairs... so many stairs), and several of the guys were faithful about going back and grabbing several of the girls’ packs after making it to the top themselves.  Together, we marveled at the beauty around us while we were not on the move.  Sleep was scarce as the team talked late into each night, building inside jokes and getting to know each other outside of the typical school setting.  
For my part, I always enjoy getting to know the students in this slightly different context.  Even though it’s only one group and roughly 1/5 of the entire class, I come away feeling like I understand each class so much better having gotten to know a handful well.  This year is no exception--the class of 2014, I am finding, has a close-knit family feeling to it.  They are like siblings: They tease each other a lot, but it’s rarely mean-spirited (and someone is always quick to point out if a comment crosses the line), and there’s genuine affection behind the statement “(insert name or personal pronoun here) is so weird”, which seems to be a class motto of sorts.  I can’t really compare them to other classes I’ve taught--as I’m finding with each passing year, every class is a completely different entity than the one before it.  What matters is that this class is fun to work with and to be around--I’ll miss them next year!

I feel like the mark of a good year of Wilderness Camp is one in which the students say that they would consider hiking again (even if only a day-hike) and also in which they hesitate to part ways from their teammates.  Such was the case this year: our team’s final debrief felt as though each student was trying to cling to those last few moments, talking through as many of the team jokes, challenges and memories as they could before we said our final prayer, took our final picture and went our separate ways.  I want to learn how to be more intentional in facilitating this--I think I have the ability to unite and rally people; to give authentic opportunities for team-building and bonding--but it’s not a process I’ve ever really reflected on or broken down.  This is something I’ll be thinking and praying about over the next year, because if each team could part on the note that Team Platypus did, life would be good, and I’d love to develop the ability to facilitate this more purposefully.  

Highlights from the trip:
This post is rather haphazard compared to the three-part saga I wrote on the experience last year, and this is because I feel like it would be redundant to do a blow-by-blow of the entire hike.  In a nutshell: 

-No wrong turns this year!
-The best quote of the whole trip was one girl asking a guy in the group if he planned to take his future family hiking.  When he said yes, she replied that God had just told her that he was not “the one”.  
-The waterfall on the first day was beautiful (especially one point where the sun was shining through the trees in such a way that it looked like strands of heaven had fixed themselves to the rocks and trees around us).  
-The waterfall felt steeper this year for some reason.  
-Day 2 felt way shorter than it did last year.  No rain makes hiking feel faster.
-Another thing that makes hiking feel faster: a talkative team!  There was a constant stream of jokes, riddles, singing and general conversation that made the days fly by.
-I was not expecting that typhoon on night 2--it was not on any of the weather forecasts I’d been checking as of Tuesday morning.  Likewise, it was supposed to rain all night on our final night and instead we had clear skies and stars: weather in Tokyo can change in an instant.  
-Rain aside, the weather on the mountains was mild at the worst.  In fact, it was unseasonably hot most of the time. 
-We saw a mountain goat!
-Singing praise songs and hymns around the fire on top of 日の出山 on the 3rd night was one of the best experiences in my life.  
-Aside from one moment in the night when I woke up with ants crawling all over my face, sleeping outside under the stars (and with a view of the Tokyo city lights just in front of me) on the 3rd night was another highlight of my life.  
-It was a good year.  Can’t wait to go again!