Monday, July 30, 2007

Early Church Fathers: words of wisdom

This week, I have been studying about John Cassian, a monk/priest who lived in the fourth century (360-433). His two most famous works are the Institutes and the Conferences. In the latter, he records conversations with some of the more famous monks who had fled to the deserts of Egypt when Christianity was made the official religion of the empire by Constantine. I was especially encouraged by these words from his conference with Abba Moses, where they discuss the trouble of wandering thoughts and the challenge to fix the mind on God. Since thought life is one of my most difficult daily battles, I was totally blessed by these words from a man of faith from whom over 1,500 years separates me, but with whom I am connected as a fellow disciple of Christ.

"This movement of the heart is not unsuitably illustrated by the comparison of a mill wheel, which the headlong rush of water whirls round with revolving impetus. It can never stop its work so long as it is driven round by the action of the water. But it is in the power of the man who directs it to decide whether he will have wheat or barley or darnel ground by it. Whatever the man in charge of the business puts into it certainly must be crushed by it. So then the mind also through the trials of the present life is driven about by the torrents of temptations pouring in upon it from all sides and cannot be freed from the flow of thoughts. But it will provide the character of the thoughts that it should either throw off or admit for itself by the efforts of its own earnestness and diligence. If, as we said, we constantly return to mediation on the Holy Scriptures and raise our memory toward the recollection of spiritual things and the desire of perfection and the hope of future bliss, spiritual thoughts are sure to rise from this and cause the mind to dwell on those things on which we have been meditating. But if we are overcome by sloth or carelessness and spend our time in idle gossip or are entangled in the cares of this world and unnecessary anxieties, the result will be that a sort of species of tares will spring up and afford an injurious occupation for our hearts, and as our Lord and Savior says, “where the treasure” of your works or purpose “is, there your heart” is sure to be also."

(From Cassian’s Conferences: Conference I, Chapters 15-18)

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Canada Diaries: epilogue

Something in my heart was at rest as I walked the base camp shoreline alone, taking a moment of quiet before boarding a boat and heading home. My short prayer was mainly made up of saying thank you to God for all he had done. Soon we gathered near the dock, said our goodbyes to Aly, and stepped onto the boat that would take us to Malibu Club and then back to Egmont. Our time at the Club was sweet, sitting and talking over coffee. It was the final pause before the crazy journey home.

I returned knowing something had changed in me. I had entered the week expecting to offer wisdom to some teenagers and see some beautiful sights. I had not expected to be affected in ways that ran so much deeper. It wasn’t until a day or so later that I thought back to the hope I had voiced at the beginning of the week—to walk away with a renewed sense of who I am—and I wondered how God might have answered that prayer. I realized then that he had done so in ways that exceeded what I could have anticipated or hoped for.

My time in Canada had allowed me to get reacquainted with myself, to see myself from so many different angles. I had been reminded of who I am as a mentor and minister, sharing life with teenagers for a week. I had seen who I am as a colleague, working alongside my fellow leaders. I had glimpsed myself as a friend and peer, surprised by Aly’s friendship. I had looked into my own story and love for the Word. Thanks to the rain, I had been given a chance to see who I am when trials test my mental and physical fortitude. And perhaps most uniquely, I had see who I am in the face of one who shares much of my heart, and had been granted the chance to realize how much I enjoyed her.

Of course, the view was not all roses. But the petal to thorn ratio with which I had been viewing myself for the last several months was proved to be radically skewed. I pray now that I can take that vision home and cling tightly to the one who granted it. I end these entries with the Scripture that nourished my soul as I walked through the wilderness of British Columbia. It is my prayer for myself, and for all who will read it here.

"For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."

The Canada Diaries: part 5

July 20th, Day 6:

There is a point where constant rain changes what seems important. Cameras and journals and Bibles remain hidden anywhere there remains some hope of keeping them dry. Periods of silence on the trail become more frequent. It comes with a slow resignation that the sun is not going to come out, and that the only way back to base camp is through the rain. At that point, finding the trail, eating meals, and staying warm take precedence over everything else. Still, there is much joy in doing it all as a community.

I have been completely impressed by our kids, who have hardly voiced a word of complaint. Most of yesterday’s journey, stressful though it may have been, was marked by attempts to maintain a spirit of laughter and encouragement. After a journey down a snow-covered boulder field, we finally left the snow behind us. My own spirits rose when we passed through a section of thick, slimy mud. I fell at one point, and could only grin as I looked at my mud-coated jacket and rain pants. I guess I love mud just about anywhere I find it.

The last section of the trail, however, was a low point for almost everyone. Having found a puddle where our campsite was supposed to be, we decided to press on for another hour and a half (which became two) through thick Alders. The soaking wet journey through a never-ending mass of face-whipping branches was almost too much. Thankfully, our campsite was a beautiful, rocky area overlooking the foggy valley below. Dinner was delivered to our tents again, and Aly crawled in later to join our little warming hut. She and I laughed rather hysterically when, after deciding to sleep in bras rather than wet shirts, we found that our trail-ripe bodies were too sticky to be comfortable. We cracked up and put our shirts back on, realizing that it was we, rather than notoriously giggly high school girls, who were breaking the wilderness silence with late night snickers and (partially) stifled guffaws.

Today began with more Alders and finally dropped us onto the familiar logging road that would lead us home. We did a short solo hike on the last section, where I pondered the week and the Scripture that had started to be woven into the way I see my world. When the boats finally came for us at the dock, I rode back to base camp on the smaller craft with Aly, and we had a few minutes to express a shared gratitude for friendship as we waited for the others to arrive. It caught me by surprise to discover such a kindred spirit in her this week, and I hope that someday I will find myself sitting across the table from her, drinking coffee and talking about life and faith.

When all were on shore, we made our way to camp, several of us taking a freezing cold but much needed shower before eating dinner. With full bellies, we headed down to a gathering with the other groups, who had likewise endured longs days of heavy drops and light drizzles, chilling winds and thick clouds. It was good to hear stories and to sit in an atmosphere of joy and laughter about the experience. Our group ended the evening huddled in a tent, talking about what we surrendered on the mountain two days before (I confessed that I had not been able to do it), shared what it is we hope to take home with us (other than soggy clothes, of course), and spent some time affirming one another. Despite droopy eyes, it was a beautiful time. Now we cram into a tent for one last time, and I am suddenly realizing what a family I have found and how sad I am to leave them. I feel like I should be heading home to find them all a natural part of my daily life.

They gave us dry sleeping bags for the night. Nothing could feel better.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Canada Diaries: part 4

July 18th, Day 4:

Our boots have been wet since the first day, and I think we are all starting to feel it as we wake up in colder temperatures and slide the soggy things onto our feet each morning. The sky was a dull grey when we got up today, and the rain began to fall early. As we ascended the snow fields on the way up to Point Erickson, our last major marker before summiting Zion, Dane followed alongside the group and told the story of Rumplestiltskin. It was a great distraction as we made our way up wet snow under muted skies. The rhythm of my steps and the ice axe are starting to settle in my mind, and they mark the passing time like a natural metronome. Step, step, axe. Step, step, axe.

We were blessed to get a beautiful, albeit foggy glimpse of the surrounding mountains from Point Erickson, where we huddled together near a rock and awaited the impending rain. Eating our Beyond bars, I sat and laughed with Abbi and Aly. When the rain came, a deeper cold began to settle in on us, and we got up and started moving toward the summit. The rain increased, and a steep drop required that we rappel, which took an exceedingly long time. With the wet starting to penetrate even more, it was clear that body temperatures were dropping. When we stopped on the summit for lunch, socked in by thick fog, I found myself trembling rather uncontrollably. Sarah was doing no better beside me.

We had all carried a rock up the peak from camp this morning, each planning to symbolically let go of something before God by throwing it off the summit. As I sat there shivering, I realized that I not only don't know what to give up, but that my heart is not in a place of surrender. The rock will go home with me, and for today I simply picked up a pebble, and I cast my right to complain about the day off into the thick, white air surrounding Zion.

The trip from summit to camp 4 should have been a short one, but another rappel made the process long. By the time we made it to camp, having stood in the rain for nearly the entire day, Dane, Rob, and Aly told the rest of us to immediately try to get warm and dry in our tents while they made dinner, which they delivered to us. The possibility of being dry is almost lost, but spirits raised immensely inside the tents once bodies started to thaw and food was in our bellies. Aly made good on her promise to join our tent and help keep warm. Nothing like telling pee stories and spooning to bond a group of girls together quickly.

I am realizing the miracle happening under my nose: I have had poor (though not absolutely terrible) sleep for days now, and both mind and body are doing well. God is gracious indeed.

The Canada Diaries: part 3

July 17th, Day 3:

We have officially left bushes and forests behind and are headed into the land of rock and snow. It began raining this morning and didn't let up until the afternoon. As a result, the first half of the day consisted of a cold and wet journey across a boulder field and up a steep, snowy slope via handline. The fact that we had to ascend the handline one by one meant long periods of standing still, waiting in the snow. It was uncomfortable, to be sure.

However, the long wait also meant a little time to chat with Aly, who stood at the bottom of the whole deal, since I was last in line and stood with her as we watched a kid go up in front of me. I shared with her that I seem to be wrestling with myself today. The other leaders are all highly trained in mountaineering, so it is a challenge (albeit a good one) to fight the battle of believing that being loved has nothing to do with be seen as competent. It was good to talk to her and to voice my thoughts. It is indeed a battle within myself now, but I see a good deal of potential for growth in it.

One the journey up, I recieved my first glory wound of the trip: a black eye a la ice axe. Just like the golf club incident long ago, I was simply standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, and caught the tip of the axe as it swung around on the pack in front of me. They all seem to think I'm hard core for not being all that upset. I'm just excited that it wasn't my eyeball and that I'll have a good story to tell.

We had "snow school" today, where we learned how to self-arrest with an ice axe, should we ever lose our footing and find ourselves hurdling down a steep snow field. The importance of the whole thing became a reality when, as we headed up a long and ridiculoulsy steep snow slope, Fedya slipped and had to employ the arrest. I must admit that I was frustrated and afraid on that particular hill. I finally began singing "In Christ Alone" and just staring at things step by step, and it made things at least a little better.

We are camped tonight on a snowy ridge near some glacial water, a beautiful, idyllic blue. As I stepped away for a moment to stand on a rock overlooking the valley below us, I found myself using our theme verse for the week as a prayer. From Ephesians 3, I prayed that I might be rooted and established in love, knowing who I am, and that he would give me power to grasp the measure of his love. It was awesome. That passage is coming alive to me this week.

Tonight we ate the meal I was carrying, so my pack will be just a little lighter tomorrow. Excellent. Aly prayed with me before I made my way to the tent, asking God to grant me the sleep that eluded me last night. I go to bed now both thankful for her friendship and hopeful for rest. And of course, looking forward to tackling the girls awake in the morning...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Canada Diaries: part 2

July 16th, Day 2:

Having set up camp sort of in the middle of our journey through the bushes last night, we began our day by whacking through the rest of them, dodging roots and crawling over logs. After a couple hours of untangling ourselves from branches, we stepped into Yashir forest, a never-ending cathedral of gargantuan trees, green mosses, and cascading streams. The journey was steep, to say the least. Were it not for the fact that I was floored by the beauty of it, I might have found the constant upward travel a little tiresome. But how can you complain about a chance to explore a place like this?

Slowly, as we emerged from the deepest parts of the forest, we began to see glimpes of our greater surroundings--a giant cliff face and boulder field to our right, and snow-capped peaks to our left. Being in a rather silly mood, my conversation was a mix of wisecracks and oohs and aahs. The view opened to us fully as we crested a ridge, and we paused on a large, warm rock in the hopes that our still-wet boots might dry during some quiet time. Dry they did not, but the sunshine and views were welcomed.

Less welcome were the flies that began to swarm as we made our way down the ridge, toward the lake where we set up camp. When they had handed us bug nets at base camp, I wondered if it was a bit silly. I am obviously not from around here, because tonight I think I might have gone insane without it. Those who did go insane were Sophie and Fedya, who leaped into the freezing waters of the lake after the sun had set, which was in my mind the only thing that could have warmed them after the frigid dip. Apparently they are more warm-blooded than I am and seem to be totally unfazed. Even more insane was the image of a group of fairly well-adjusted people, leaders included, attacking a candy bar with a wooden spoon while wearing mittens and a beanie. It's amazing how true colors can come out when chocolate is involved.

It would surprise most of the others, since I am a rather outdoorsy Colorado native, but tonight will be my first night in a tent set up on snow. I chose it over the one on the rock for that very reason, a chance to try something new. Hopefully it will be a place of satisfying sleep.

The Canada Diaries: part 1

July 15th, Day 1:

After a good deal of long and diverse travel, we are finally on the trail. I have come to British Columbia with Youth for Christ, bringing with me two girls from my hometown, and meeting up with a larger group from Oregon. We arrived at base camp yesterday via boat ride, and were greeted by counselors jumping and screaming in the same way I did so many hot summer days working as a camp counselor in Texas. Camp songs, crazy skits....yes, I was definitely back in the land of youth ministry. To our group of four leaders was added a fifth: our guide, Aly. In the evening, while gathered around a campfire, we were all asked what it is we are hoping for this week. I replied that I am hoping to have a renewed sense of who I am, of who God created me to be and what he sees in me. It sounded a little heavy alongside Dane and Rob's business oriented goals, but it was the only answer I could offer with honesty. I am curious how God might go about answering it.

After setting off from base camp by boat, we arrived on shore and began our day on an open logging road, later moving onto a narrower trail through the tall trees. Ever since getting off the boat at base camp, I have been struck by how green and lush it all is. We don't see too many rainforests in Colorado, mainly because it seldom rains. Here in Canada, on the other hand, we have already gotten a taste of rain, which began falling not long into our hike and made for a very wet lunch. However, the skies cleared up as we made several stream crossings (our boots are officially soaked) and bush-whacked our way to camp. I say "bush-whacked" having had the term redefined for me today. I'm not sure I've ever been smacked in the face by so many wet branches before. The experience was saved from being irritating by a long session of laughter and question-asking with one of the kids from Oregon.

After dinner, I took my turn telling my life story. There is something powerful about telling that tale to teenagers, recounting my own time of being transformed at that age. I emphasized to them something that has become more and more important to me: we must tell our stories. We must be telling the stories of God's work in our lives and in our world. Each of them will have a chance to practice that this week, and I am excited to hear the things they have to say. I am especially looking forward to hearing the stories of my co-leaders, who have exceeded what I could have hoped for in this potluck sort of arrangement.

Early leaders meeting tomorrow. To bed with me.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

GMF goes retro

When a friend and I drove into Green Mountain Falls on Saturday, excited to hike a nearby trail, we happened upon a gem of an event! It was the annual hot rod show! Music blasted loudly from the gazebo, and the lake was surrounded by at least a hundred shiny classics. Most of the town was out to see it. Here are some shots of a few of the awesome automobiles.

Doesn't this things look like it could be some sort of batmobile?

This one looks like a cartoon character, as if it just might start talking at any time...

For some reason, this car just makes me think Dick Tracey.

Look closely and get a laugh from what is painted on the back of this fine car...

small town Sunday: home again

I've been gone too long. From a jaunt around the southwestern part of the state, to a trip home followed by a backpacking venture, and on to a journey to Arkansas and back, I have missed too many small town Sundays. As I sat in the pew last Sunday (I'm a little behind on writing), I joyfully recieved one of God's birthday gifts to me: the chance to be in the quiet of Green Mountain Falls again.

In a rather rare occurrence, I arrived early to the service. I eased into the pew behind my artist friend, and was soon joined by another woman who is always full of warm greetings and interesting conversation. She calls me Kate, a name that only a few seem to pcik up naturally. The artist told me about how she was recently commissioned to do some work for an Indian reservation, and was laughing about the mess of wood and tin and paint that currently fills the rooms of her house. Both of them offered me my first birthday greetings of the day with smiles, and I grinned inside.

The woman teaching the children's sermon offered a lesson about being the light of the world, doing so by showing different kinds of light: she lit a candle, struck a match, and held up a light bulb. I leaned over and asked my neighbor if she thought we'd get to see a blowtorch. When the pastor returned to the pulpit, he remarked that the lesson was a good reminder to make sure the building was up to fire code. In that case, perhaps the blowtorch wouldn't have been such a great idea, but I was a little disappointed none the less.

The main event for the day came after the service. The church recently acquired the town's old community building, hoping to restore it and put it to use. In celebration, there was a gathering at the building, including some words about the woman for whom it was named (Sallie Mae Bush) and, of course, food. The best part was that the congregation made the quarter mile journey to the building as a group, a mass exodus from church to community center that filled the entire two lane street and stopped traffic. The police actually blocked the road for a few minutes, just to allow the momentous event to transpire. It looked like a cross between a parade and a victory march, young and old marching toward the building in their Sunday best. I could not help but smile, depsite the fact that my schedule for the afternoon made it so that I was one of the cars held up by the march, rather than one of the mighty throng of walkers.

Yes, I had been gone too long. But despite the fact that a week is seven days long no matter where I go, it just doesn't feel the same when I'm far from my small town Sundays.

Monday, July 02, 2007

artistry in the sky

Yesterday, while out for my first Colorado bike ride in far too long (and a birthday ride, at that!), Carrie and I looked up to see the most amazing display of cloud and light in the sky. We couldn't stop staring at it! Here are a couple of the many that came from my camera-happyness.