Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Path

It’s been two weeks since we left the comfort of home to head for Trail’s End Ranch (TER) in Ekalaka, Montana; what an adventure!  These past two weeks have been challenging and growth producing.  I am adjusting to:
  •   Being away from the comfort of my own home
  •    Finding my unique role in this newly formed  community
  •    Forming relationships with a staff many years  younger  than me
  •    Learning new skills including the “how” of  leading a child to Christ (or anyone of any  age)
  •    Getting along on less sleep
  •    Having limited opportunity to connect with  loved ones outside of TER
  •    Living in the moment

We are blessed with a lovely “home-away-from-home”, a fully equipped apartment located above the garage of the home of the directors of TER. This home is located ½ mile from the central part of the camp with two ways to get back and forth – either via the main highway or via a 2-track road or path.  I LOVE this path and walk it every day, unless it rains (rare, so far).  I’m happy if I have opportunity to walk it twice during the day.

Allow me to describe “the path”:  
  • It is located on a hilly ridge that runs parallel to the highway.  It runs through leafy trees, Ponderosa Pines and “woodsy” vegetation, with open areas that offer breathtaking vistas spanning miles.  Trees, ridges, open fields and the big, blue Montana sky come together to show off God’s handiwork.
  • The hills are steep and filled with rocks and gullies and they are taxing!  It’s the best exercise I have had in a long time. I am happy to report that after two weeks of walking this path, I can now get all the way to the dining hall without stopping to catch my breath.  (Let’s not forget to also factor in the fact that we are 5000 feet up!)
  • The path is just long enough to provide a great walking experience, but not long enough to discourage me from using it every day.
  • I feel safe using this path.   In some mysterious way, this whole camp feels like “holy ground”.  Must admit, I do keep my eyes open for snakes but they have been hiding (whew).
  • I will admit, I prefer to not walk the path at night alone (if Charlie is not with me).  It feels creepy but, really, nothing about the path has changed since the daylight hours…it’s what my imagination does with it!
  •  It’s a dusty path (since we have had so little rain) and, oddly enough, that contributes to the whole sense of adventure.  After all, this is the “wild west”.  (I know, I’ve watched too many cowboy movies where the men ride onto the ranch covered in trail dust.)

This physical path is a vivid representation of my spiritual path/my journey with God:
·        God has led me through some amazing scenery; sometimes it’s been lush and rich with unimaginable blessings.  Conversely, that path has also taken me up and down rugged mountains with challenges that have taxed my strength, stretched my boundaries and drained my energy.
·        Then there have been those moments when the path was dry and dusty; the grit of life overwhelmed me.  Suddenly….God would bring me to a place where the view opened up, the vistas were clear and beautiful and once again, I stood in awe of His grace.
·        When I walk my journey focusing on the light of Christ, I feel safe and secure – like my Montana path in the daylight.
·        There have also been periods of darkness in my life, sometimes because of nothing I have done, but too often because I have taken my eyes off Jesus.
Proverbs 3: 5-6 says, “Trust in the lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.

Are you currently on a dusty, hilly road?  Or are you walking on level ground with lovely views? Either way, trust in the Lord with all your heart.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Teachable Moments

It’s been a week since we arrived at Trail’s End Ranch (TER) in Ekalaka, Montana.  The road trip was long but uneventful.  Charlie and I had many driving hours to anticipate what may be ahead; I was excited and a bit apprehensive.  We had agreed to serve the Lord by serving the children and staff He would bring this summer to TER… small task!

Now that we have been here a week, I am feeling slightly more comfortable with the rhythm we are in, although that routine will change in one week when the campers arrive.  We are in the midst of staff training and it is an incredible experience.

We are not here for the whole summer but are participating in staff training so we can be fully prepared.  The summer staff members are young enough to be our grandchildren, yet we sit in their midst, eager and ready to learn all that they are taking in.

The year ‘round staff represents a slightly older age level although we still have many years on them.  I find myself a bit more comfortable with them simply because we met them when we were here in May.   They know the camp processes well and have developed relationships with one another.  

It’s all so interesting… God brings His people together and molds them into a unified team.  I sense that synergy developing as we all learn to trust one another.

The training we are getting is much more than mere preparation for summer campers; I am learning things that will forever help me in ministering to the lost and encouraging believers to go deeper in their faith. 

This camp/ranch has every imaginable activity available: soccer field, softball field, swimming pool, high and low ropes course, the “big swing”, zip line, horseback riding, rifle range, archery, campouts, etc.  But within all of that, is a focus on leading campers to know Christ and to grow in Him.  There will be time set aside each day for specific instruction and discussion as well as chapel time, but it seems some of the most important moments come while the campers are having fun, being challenged and participating in some sort of adventure or activity.

We have learned much about teachable moments or “life applications”.   Examples from our training manual:
  •  “A horse stumbles and falls.  You can say, ‘When the horse fell, he got back up and continued on.  We need to do the same thing as the horse when we fall into sin.  We need to get back up and focus on God again.’” 
  • “Learning how to aim at the bulls eye shows me my need to focus on God."
Jesus was a master at using teachable moments!  Remember how He washed the feet of His disciples the night they gathered together at “the last supper”?  (In that culture, the men traveled dusty roads wearing open sandals so when they entered a home, they needed to clean their feet.)  Jesus was using a common, ordinary practice to teach them about humbly serving one another.

In John 6 we read about Jesus feeding 5000 people with a few fish and loaves of bread.  The people had gathered, were hungry and needed to eat.  Jesus was able to use this situation and teach them several lessons about God’s ways and provision.  This
     need for food teaches us a great lesson on how God provides abundantly and often in ways we could not imagine or predict.
     The next day Jesus addressed another crowd looking for food and what did Jesus say? John 6:27, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life which the Son of Man will give to you.  For on him God the Father has set his seal.”

I love being in a place and having special time that God has set aside for me to focus on Jesus and to see Him in everyday moments.  There are fewer distractions and we have specific times of personal devotions along with group instruction/discussion.  But when I return home, where the demands of life threaten to pull me into the “busy-ness abyss”, I will be looking for God’s hand in places I may not have imagined before my time out here. What is God teaching you today through the everyday, ordinary moments of life?

Monday, June 6, 2016

Camping - Connecting - Community

“It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.” (Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities).  This is how I felt about our recent tent camping experience.  Ok, I admit, that quote is a bit of an overstatement but it does make my point.

I am married to the consummate woodsman. Charlie is a true outdoors kind of guy.  He loves to hunt, co-owns a deer camp in our part of the world (Michigan’s Upper Peninsula), has led boy scouts on back packing overnights and could survive in the woods if necessary.  He gets invited on canoe trips (in Canada) every year because he knows so much!

It goes without saying that my husband had to readjust his vision when he married me….the vision of having a camping wife/partner.   I love the woods and have hiked some rugged trails with my hubby.  But I want indoor plumbing waiting for me at the end of the day. 

A few weeks ago, while we were in Montana on a church mission trip, I received a text message from one of our friends in our church family.  Bobbi invited us to join her family on a camping weekend; a weekend they spend with other families every Memorial Day weekend.

Yikes!  Since we don’t own a camper (like everyone else), it meant TENT TIME!  My normal reaction would be, “no way!”.  But there was a louder voice going on in my head, a stream of thoughts begging to be discussed with Charlie.

You see, Charlie and I know we have been enormously blessed by the community God has placed us in.  There is a "connected-ness" within our church family seldom found in other places, including many churches.  We treasure our brothers/sisters-in-Christ, no matter their chronological ages or where they are in their faith journeys.  And we LOVE that our young adult friends (most of them parents of younger children) actually seem to enjoy having us in their midst.  With those precious relationships in mind, the anticipation of connecting with community trumped the inconvenience of the tent. 

We arrived at the Indian Lake State Park campground, our car filled with all of the equipment necessary to conquer this camping event.  Being new to this whole concept, I found myself somewhat aghast at what I experienced as we drove through the campground gates.  It looked like a small city made up of campers, one after another, each having its own unique look.  There were very few tents, just lots of homes on wheels.
This isn’t my idea of camping!!!  This is moving your home into the woods with people all around!

Charlie got our tent set up in our designated space with nominal help from me.  We moved in, ready for our adventure.  There was something about sharing an evening meal with friends and later gathering around the campfire that made this whole experience “do-able”.  That night it poured rain but we stayed cozy and dry, at least until I had to head out to the community bathroom in the middle of the night.  (At least there was a real flush commode awaiting me!)

The next day was filled with many wonderful moments: more meals, games in which all ages participated, laughter around the campfire (what is it about campfires?) and conversations.  It was in those moments I began to discover what our friends already knew – I got a glimpse of the true value of crowded campgrounds.  It’s all about community.  Kids were in and out of our spaces, riding bikes, laughing and enjoying one another.  It was bean bag toss tournaments and kick ball games.  It was live streaming our church service at the camp site on Sunday morning….and so much more.

When the early church formed, the believers came together every day.  Acts 2:44 says, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common.”  I caught a vision of what that must have been like as I experienced the wholeness of community that weekend.  For a couple of days we stepped out of the demands of everyday life and nurtured relationships under a canopy of trees.

My soul was fed and I grew deeper in love with Jesus….through community.

Maybe….just maybe, I got a glimpse of what it will be like when Jesus returns and establishes His kingdom.  Looking forward….