Sunday, August 16, 2015

Taking a PRG

The Okaloosa Island pier at night.

I lie on the beach, quietly listening to the waves lapping endlessly on the shore.  The seagulls have all bedded down for the night yet somewhere out in the surf, a loud splash can be heard.  A fish jumping?  A shark?  It’s hard to be certain.  Above me, the stars shimmer brightly while a meteorite arches across the sky leaving a flaming trail in its path.  More and more shooting stars begin to shower down around me as if I had a front row seat to an enormous fireworks display.  Almost as soon as it began, it ended with just a few pinpoints of light streaking across the night sky.  I turn over on my blanket and soon fall fast asleep while the ocean breeze blows across the sand.

Each year, I like to take what I term a PRG: Personal Retreat with God.  Sometimes it’s only a few days, sometimes it’s a week or more.  I usually take it in the Fall, just before I start school again.  This year, I decided to take a week PRG down in Florida to connect deeper with God and spend quality time with Him.  It was a phenomenal experience, as always!  As a college student, I don’t have that much money so decided to camp out on the beach at night and buy food as cheaply as possible from the grocery store.  I spent most of the week on Okaloosa Island, spending time in both Destin and Ft. Walton.  By the end of the week, some of the workers at the beachside shops knew me by name as I’d stop in every once in awhile and chat for a couple hours at a time.  I found out about the best places to visit in the local area, the highschool rivalry between Ft. Walton High and Choctaw High which is rated among America’s top ten highschool rivalries, what Destin’s like during the off season, how many shark attacks there have been recently, and other random local and not-so-local facts.  It was always fun to connect with different people, listening to their stories and sharing experiences.  Every time, the conversation would steer towards God and how He’s been working in our lives.  Some of my new friends were Christians, some weren’t, some didn’t know what they thought of God or His dealings with people.

I especially remember one girl that I met on the beach.  I was intently skimboarding (or attempting to, at least) near the pier when she came walking down the shoreline.  We exchanged greetings and then spent the next nine hours together sharing our faith, our mission experiences, and what the Lord has been teaching us over the past few months.  As she shared some spiritual insights she had learned during the past year, I was amazed to hear answers to questions I’d been specifically wrestling with and asking God about.  Looking back, I can see how God perfectly arranged for us to meet up and encourage one another in such a powerful way.

A week is a long time.  There are so many stories, so many experiences, so many God moments.  I can’t share them all hear nor do I want to since it was my personal retreat with God.  I could see Him everywhere, wrapping His loving arms around my life and drawing me closer to Him.  The people I met, the ocean, the sunsets, the wildlife.  It was all so beautiful.  And the dolphins…  I love watching dolphins play and I got to see lots of them this past week.  I climbed out on the jetty near Destin one day and jumped into the surf past the end of the rocks.  A couple curious sea turtles swam near and then dropped into the shadows of the ocean.  A school of fish was swimming frantically past while a couple lazy dolphins swam nonchalantly behind them.  With my snorkel mask I could see them, lost in the deep grayness of the ocean, as they glided past not ten feet away from me.  They were huge, the ocean was huge, the rocks were huge, and I felt so small in the vast power of it all.  Suddenly, the words from Where Feet May Fail came to mind: “Your grace abounds in deepest waters, Your sovereign hand will be my guide.  Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me, You've never failed and You won't start now.”  Even when I’m tossed in the depths of life’s turmoil, God’s grace will never fail me.

The waves are still lapping on the sand as breaker after breaker race toward the shore.  Storms come and go.  The tide rushes in and then quietly recedes.  Never ending, never failing, always changing yet always the same.  Our relationship with God is similar.  We spend our lives trying to discover God, understanding who He is, pursuing Him with intense desire.  To us, God is powerful, mysterious, always new, ever deeper, and mightier than anything we can create.  Yet we’re good at creating boxes.  Boxes for people, boxes for God, boxes for ourselves.  We label them.  We cling to them.  We fear any deviation from our reality.  God is calling us to let go of our ideas, to throw away our boxes, to experience Him for who He really is.  How you relate to God may be completely opposite from how I experience God.  But that’s the beauty of it.  He wants to meet you where you’re at, whether lost at sea, enjoying His blessings near the shore, diving into the depths of His love and mercy, or questioning His very existence.  He’s waiting for you.  Perhaps a PRG may be just the thing you need to connect deeper with God.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Being a Nostalgic

I’m feeling nostalgic right now.  As my summer here at Indian Creek Camp comes to a close, I reflect back over the many experiences I’ve gone through during the past few months.  It’s definitely been a fairly different summer from what I was anticipating, but that’s not a bad thing.  Perspective is nice.  Hindsight is 20/20.  This Spring I had several options I considered for a summer job and yet I chose to do summer camp one last (I’m pretty sure, anyway) time.  Did I impact the kids like I was hoping?  Was I able to share Jesus amongst the hectic schedule and craziness of camp life?  Some answers I may never know.  But I do know that God called me here this summer to grow me in ways that I didn’t even know I needed growth in.  It’s been a wonderful experience over all with lots of time spent out on the lake teaching kids how to ski and wakeboard and many quiet hours at The Point watching sunsets.  Each week this summer was just a little bit different, keeping life interesting and lively.  During the younger kids’ weeks, the energy is ubiquitous and days are nonstop.  With the older teens, the atmosphere is more chill but the drama increases in conjunction with their age.  Family camps were super busy as we catered to the different families and their various needs.  Blind camp was, well, eye opening to say the least.  We would have to lead the campers everywhere and more often than I’d like to admit, I would forget to tell them about the end of the sidewalk or a hand rail sticking into their path.  I’ll never forget one of my campers who would always respond to my apology with a quick, “It’s ok, you didn’t mean to!”  Complete dependence on other people and yet he was so quick and willing to forgive.  The blind campers were genuine and real with their emotions.  Nobody could laugh as hard or cheer as loud as them.  You could take the mic and simply say, “Hay-low folks!” in a deep Southern drawl and they’d start cheering and laughing.  Hispanic camp was amazing.  Just when all our camp staff were dragging at the end of the summer, they brought new energy into our lives.  They live to love and love to live!  Everything we’d been doing all summer was taken to a whole new level with canoe races and blobbing challenges and archery competitions.  And soccer tournaments.  Of course.  The ICC staff had a team and we lost 2-1.  But hey, we were on the scoreboard at least.  After the sun went down, a large group would gather together on the hill and dance under the moonlight.  I somehow got paired up to dance as well, joining in with the laughter and picking up some more Spanish words here and there.  50+ camp was full of about one hundred sassy seniors, as they like to call themselves.  Never have I seen so many elderly people with so much spunk and pizazz in one place before.  They wanted to tube and ski and ride horses and don’t even think of asking them if they are alright or need help!  Comedy night with them was hysterical.  I was driving the pontoon boat during one of our outings and an older gentleman asked me how I could stand to be around such crazy people.  I quickly responded that I couldn’t and that was why I was sitting in the driver’s seat.  This summer has definitely been filled to the brim with memories that I will cherish forever.

Over the years I’ve realized that I’m a Nostalgic.  We look at life just a little bit differently from most people, giving us advantages in some areas and holding us back in others.  We’re focused on the past.  We love new adventures mainly because we want to make new memories.  We enjoy talking about past accomplishments and we LOVE to tell stories.  Our life is one long story.  We don’t open up to just anyone though because our stories make up who we are.  They are precious to us.  If we tell you our past, feel privileged!  We can sometimes become good friends with someone and yet they have no clue about seven-eighths of our life experiences.  This is because we want to guard our past, not revealing our mistakes and protecting our achievements.

We realize that our personal story is just a small piece in the large puzzle of life.  For this reason we have an acute appreciation for history.  We can never recite dates or names very well from sheer memorization, but we will spend hours attempting to understand what was really going on during a certain historical event.  While most people ask what year Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue and how many ships he had with him, we ask about what drove him to keep searching for new land.  Did he know it was there from Norse accounts?  Was he just gambling, hoping to find riches in the new land?  Did his past, full of lust and debauchery, push him to compensate by doing something great that people would long remember?  What was going through his mind during those long hours and days filled with nothing but uncertainty and ocean mist?  What about his crew?  We put ourselves into the shoes of a lowly deck hand, not yet fifteen and trying his endurance out on the high seas of adventure.  We see history through our emotions.

In fact, we see life through our emotions.  It doesn’t matter to us whether we are driving a Maserati worth over a hundred thousand dollars or a beat up pickup we got at an auction for 700 bucks.  We simply remember whether we were driving into the sunset while holding hands with someone we loved or whether we were driving home from our best friend’s funeral.  We don’t have to have the fanciest clothes, the coolest phone, or the classiest meals.  As long as it works, we’re happy.  And if it doesn’t?  Sometimes those experiences make the best memories…  What’s more important to us is that we have someone to share memories with.

We don’t mind being alone though.  Emotions can be overwhelming sometimes.  We’re not introverts by any means.  We love people.  We love being with people.  People make things interesting and provide us with a reference point for our feelings.  But we must have our alone time.  It takes us longer to process things because we think of everything from an emotional viewpoint.  We take even the simplest of decisions and begin weighing them by their consequences five years from now.  “Should I go out to eat with my friends tonight?  I just went out a couple nights ago and if I go out again, this may become a habit that eventually takes control of my life.  I’m really tired right now though.  Besides, my secret crush from two years ago said she might come and I don’t want to make things awkward again.  On the other hand, if I don’t go, my best friend may take it personally.  I don’t want him to feel like I don’t care about him and don’t want to accept his invitation.  Maybe he won’t include me next time because he thinks I don’t like eating with the group.”  And the conversation inside our head goes on and on and on.  When it comes to larger decisions in life, we often have to completely stop life and process it for awhile.

We don’t like being vulnerable which makes us afraid to love.  Regrets kill us.  We live and relive our past mistakes as if thinking about them will change what happened.  We want everything to be perfect and beautiful because that’s how we want to remember it.  We attempt to dive fearlessly into the future but somehow get tangled in past mistakes and end up belly flopping.  We’re really good about staying in control of situations, never letting our guard down until we’re sure we can trust those around us.  We have numerous acquaintances; everyone seems to know who we are.  When we first meet people, we are quick to engage them and figure out what they like and dislike.  Because we’re so in tune to emotions, it doesn’t take us long to strike up a lively conversation with just about anyone.  And we love it.  But we have few friends.  Few people are trusted with knowing our fears, our heartaches, our excitement, or our inner thoughts and feelings.  We’re afraid of getting hurt.  We like to keep people at a safe distance because we want to have fun and make beautiful memories without the fear of something going wrong.  We are envious of those who can fearlessly try new things without the fear of messing up.  That fear is one of our biggest crutches.

I’m not sure if you can relate to any of that.  Maybe none of this describes you, or perhaps you’ve resonated with everything.  Being a Nostalgic can sometimes be frustrating.  But the beautiful thing about life is that we honestly don’t have to stay the same.  I often take an introspective look at my life and work on mending the things which keep me from reaching the highest potential God has created me with.  I want to fully live, not being held back by anything.  Strive to thrive, as I like to say.  One of my favorite songs by Casting Crowns talks about fearless warriors in a picket fence, reckless abandon wrapped in common sense, deep water faith in the shallow end, and being caught in the middle.  We want to be bold.  We want to dare, to believe, to reach out and follow God no matter what.  So often though, we’re held back by our timidity, our “common sense”, our fear of failing.  As I wrap up my summer camp adventures, I’m ready for whatever’s next.  Because I know that as I keep following God’s plan for my life, fully embracing life as it comes, I’m going to make memories that will last a lifetime – and beyond.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Friends

During the course of this summer, I have slowly fallen in love with Center Hill Lake here in central Tennessee.  Yesterday morning, it was just as beautiful as ever.  I was helping out with the teen Sabbath School for family camp at ICC and we were out on the lake with kayaks and canoes.  The sun was shining brightly overhead and there was hardly a cloud to be seen.  Large herons flew inches off the water while little songbirds flitted about the lakeshore.  Everyone was laughing and splashing each other to cool off.  Monique was leading out and she wanted to illustrate God’s saving grace by having us submerge the canoes and then flipping them back over.  I was with two teen girls and one of them earned the nickname of Tippy by the end of our trip.  For her, the goal was to see just how far we could put the gunwale down into the water without actually sinking the canoe.  Honestly, we did quite well but sitting in the water at such an awkward angle is not conducive to long-term floating.  Suddenly, we found ourselves underneath the canoe instead of on top of it.  To further illustrate our helplessness, we tried to empty the canoe ourselves.  The three of us literally got under the canoe and tried to use the buoyancy from our PFDs to get the canoe high enough out of the water to empty it.  It didn’t work.  We tried scooping water out, but every time we flung water over the side, our movement would cause another wave to fill our sunken ship.  So I realized there was only one thing for us to do.  One of the girls slid onto our upside down canoe, grabbed my hand, and through half a dying whisper said, “I’ll never let you go, Jack.”

We called for help from one of the canoes that were still upright.  They quickly pulled next to us and we were able to slide our canoe on top of theirs.  They helped us flip it, empty all the water out, and then successfully get back into our “dry” canoe.  I’d like to say that we stayed dry and got back to the boat ramp without any other mishaps, but then again, I’m glad I can’t say that.  Life’s not about being perfect and staying dry, it’s about having fun and living in the deep end.  We definitely came paddling into shore as if we were just floating in formation with paddles in our hands, since our canoe was floating just beneath the surface of the water.

As the illustration pointed out, life can often be like our canoe adventure.  You may be resting on the mountain of Perfection, living the dream, when suddenly everything goes wrong.  Your life becomes swamped with doubts, temptations, heartache and failures.  You strive your hardest to right the wrongs, to clean up the mess, to empty the baggage that’s holding you down.  Yet you fail.  You fail over and over again.  It is only when you stop struggling alone and call for help that you can be saved.  And that’s when you realize that some of the biggest blessings God places in our lives are friends.  People who are there for us no matter what.  People who can help us piece our lives back together, emptying the water out of our sunken hopes and dreams.   One of my favorite songs by Andrew Peterson contains this heartfelt cry.  “Give us hearts to find hope, Father.  We cannot see how the sorrow we feel can bring freedom.  And as hard as we try, Lord, it’s hard to believe; so give us hearts to find hope.  Give us faith to be strong.  Give us strength to be faithful cuz life is not long but it’s hard.  Give us grace to go on, make us willing and able.  Lord, give us faith to be strong..”  I have personally found that no matter how dark the circumstances, no matter how hopeless the future, God will bring light and joy through it all.  And He’s often done it through my friends.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Worship

Evening meetings here at the Kentucky-Tenn campmeeting had finished.  High above us, the moon shone brightly while clouds scuttled beneath its glow.  The night was quiet all around, save for the excited chatter of people heading for their various places of lodging.  There were about four of us gathered together on a porch with our guitars out, jamming to old favorites like “Go Light Your World” and “Give Them All to Jesus.”  One of the guys had graduated Thunderbird Academy and knew a lot of the friends I had made last summer in Arizona.  The other guy is leading out in a canvassing program here in Nashville this summer and I just met him a couple days ago.  The girl we were with I had met three years ago in a class at Southern, but hadn’t reconnected until this week.  But there we all were together, hardly knowing one another and living different stories, praising and worshipping God through our music.  Random people would join us in singing a song or two before heading off into the night.


And that’s when I met Natalie, a young girl who was there with her mom and two siblings.  She was probably no older than five or six and had the cutest little smile ever.  Wanting to play guitar with me, she sat down by my side and wrapped the strap over her little neck.  While she strummed a rhythm on the strings, I continued to play chords with my left hand as we sang “Here I Am to Worship.”  She grinned excitedly as we played and sang the chorus.  “Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down, here I am to say that you’re my God.”  As I looked at the group around us and then down at the sweet, innocent face of the girl playing beside me, I realized that one of the greatest blessings in our lives is the ability to worship God.  Not because we’re great.  Not because we’re talented.  Not because we have to.  Simply because we love Him with the innocence and fervor of a child.
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