This past week I have been the bus captain of “Elegance in Motion,” one of Midway’s finest coaches, on a trip with 65 rambunctious middle schoolers to Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire. I volunteered with one of my first fellowship loves, FOCUS, this particular program called “Brookwoods,” and it was great to be back. And yes, its true. Peter Moore and I have the same Aasics. Except he is pushing 65.
But first, I guess I should write a blurb about Christmas. I kept blowing leaves after my birthday. Oh maybe I should write about that too. I had a 4 hour meeting with Mr Obrien at Ihop, starting at 8am. Then I spent a couple of hours talking with Susannah and eating at Moes. Then I shopped and wrapped some xmas gifts. Then I had the kitchen birthday party with my family for dinner. Then Gabe took me to Friendly’s, then to a playground. Finally, we stopped by Steve’s, where I showed off my kickball tshirt and said hello to friends. After taking her home, I returned to Steve’s where my memory failed me and I passed out on his comfortable leather couch. I woke up at 5 am and needed a blanket.
Ok THEN – I kept blowing leaves and making some cold hard cash. Lauren and Steve helped. Much appreciated. Christmas day was great. I didn’t leave the house nor did I change out of my pajamas. I gave Hannah my red jacket from the euro-trash party (well, I guess it was time you found out), I gave Aven a Nintendo DS game (that thing is ridiculously fun), I gave my mom and my dad a copy of the EP I recorded with my church, and also a photo frame with one photo of each of their children in it. In return, I got a lot of books (Jim Eliot, Richard Dawkins, CS Lewis, Dave Eggers, Oswald Chambers) and some cds (Belle and Sebastian, John Mayer, Of Montreal, Phoenix, Feist, Wilco, the Killers) and a new phone. The phone is tight. I am hesitant to be really excited about this, because it is just an electronic device, and very easily could become an idol if I care too much about it. BUT. It came with wireless bluetooth headphones and can hold a gig of mp3s. Its my new ipod. It’s very fun. It is nice to have nice things. Just as long as you don’t expect them. So I spent the rest of the day on the couch by the fire reading my new books and listening to my new music. Then my family watched the Family Stone, quite a touching family drama that investigates 21st century family dynamics with a degree of liberalism, but an overall positive message. I loved it.
Two days after Christmas, I showed up 8 minutes late to the bus at 6:00 in the morning, where 30 middle school angels sat in complete silence looking over the seat tops at me – the person who had made them late. I apologized, then introduced myself as their bus captain, and we hit the road. I had only slept maybe 45 minutes that night, so the whole day kind of blurred by in a dream. I’m sure you can all relate to how hard it is to sleep with a pillow against a foggy bus window. We picked up kids in DC and Baltimore, stopped somewhere in Connecticut for MCD! and then showed up 3 hours late to Brookwoods around 10pm. Our faithful bus driver, Friday, made a handful of wrong turns, one that took us 30 minutes in the wrong direction.
It was good to see some of the old focus staff again: Daria and Kevin and Jessica and Marc Choi. It has been 2 years since I have done a focus program. But I fell back into the groove easily. I was really excited about this week once I got my leader’s packet, because I was given a lot of leadership opportunities that typically most volunteers don’t see at a program like this. I was the eldest member of my small group (no staff members) with Kelly and Chris Puksta, so I got to sort of design the curriculum for that. And I was also the senior member of our cabin, which means I kind of got to lead all of the cabin meetings too. These kids asked the most remarkable questions too, which was a big answer to prayer. I had confessed to God that I typically have some sort of spiritual agenda when I come on things like this, as if my week won’t be complete unless God gives me an opportunity to witness to a kid or answer some tough questions. This is not a bad desire, but it becomes distorted when you try to make these things happen yourself, on your own time. I resigned my agenda in our prayer meeting, and then, God met me there. I had kids ask me some of the toughest questions about time and space, why God allows evil, works vs. grace, eschatology, and the ins and outs of sanctification. I brought my “Answers to tough questions” book by Josh McDowell, and I got to use it. It was a real blessing. Another kid even opened up his religious life story to me on the ski lift and said that he had no idea what all of this “spirituality” business was about. He had had religion imposed on him by his mother since he could remember, but it was never a choice. He had all of the head knowledge, none of the heart.
It amazed me how God answered my prayers and gave me opportunites to minister – every single day. Also, God refreshed me. He showed me that hard work can actually be spiritual rest. Its not easy skiing with the same annoying brats ten slopes in a row, but some fruit certainly came of it. If anything, what most of these kids need is so simple: They just need to be loved. So it was our job as volunteers to just be their friends for the week. To laugh at their jokes. To pay them attention. To listen to their over exaggerated tales of “ten feet of air and a helicopter spin.” To speak their language and tell them to stop calling everything “gay.” To just be in relationships with them and show them the joy that Christ has first given us.
Then this: we had no snow the first two days. Not a drop on the ground. The mountain could make snow at night, and finally opened their summit on the second day. But it was looking quite pitiful. So Dominic, the british leader from London, simply prayed for snow that morning in the early morning leaders meeting. It wasn’t anything fancy, he just said: God we would like some big fat fluffy flakes. And it sounded like one of those things that couldnt hurt to pray for, but also that we wouldn’t take it too seriously either. It’s just snow. Since the radar showed nothing and only a 20% chance of flurries, we didn’t take it to heart.
But I suppose God did. By 9 am the first flakes began to fall. It slightly dusted the roads, but nothing too significant. It just looked nice. By 11 am, I went up to the ski patrol on the mountain and asked them how much snow they were predicting, since it hadn’t stopped. They said: “We have no idea. The pilot this morning said nothing much was happening in the clouds. We are just predicting a few flurries at most. The radar really doesn’t show anything.” But then it just kept coming. By late afternoon, we had six inches, and it kept coming. The kids loved it. The mountain was better to ski, and once we got back to the lodge, all the kids went snow tubing. Plus, it was just much more romantic to walk around the camp with a fresh blanket of snow all over the ground. There are these small lamps that light the paths through the woods between cabins, and I have to say, it is a really magical place to be. I walked through a field that hadn’t been touched by anyone’s footprints and watched the sun go down.
I see God’s art in nature all of the time. It is one of my favorite things about him.
Other than these sorts of things, we had a lot of funny moments where kids got injured. I guess I shouldn’t laugh, but they just look so funny. We had a few bloody noses from sledding, and some sprained thumbs. One kid named Gus got a concussion from hitting a snow boarder and cut his gums on his braces. He was dripping blood out of his mouth all over the snow. Then later at dinner, he had blacked the whole incident out of his mind, bet us each twenty dollars there was no blood on his coat, and got upset that we wouldn’t stop lying to him about why his jaw hurt when he chewed. He had no memory whatsoever of hitting the snowboarder. That was actually kind of scary.
My only real injuries were some hard landings on my wrists, but i was fine. My most un-noble injury came at the summit, before we had even pushed off down the mountain. Jacob and I were both going the same direction passed the warming hut, and I thought he was going to slow down and let me pass. He thought the same, I suppose. And I ran into him and got shoved down the embankment by accident. The embankment was a little slope right underneath the warming hut, where my butt landed on a serrated metal grate. I got a huge bruise, and it still hurts to sit down. I was humiliated, but you have to laugh at yourself over something like that.
I also told just about every joke I could possibly remember this week. Here is my new favorite:
Q: Why couldn’t the worms go on to Noah’s Ark in apples?
A: Because they had to go on in pairs.