I’ve been avoiding trying to “sum up” life so far this summer because it’s extensive and involved and complicated and still so much in process that I don’t have a clue where to start, what to start with, or how exactly to explain the process we’ve been through and the refining period that we’re in. Due to the fact that I’m often long-winded and wordy, I’ll save you the 12 page blog and try and bullet point some things we’ve learned. Oh. But there’s some good stories to tell too. I’ll do both. 12 pages here we come!
-Our entire existence right now depends on God and other people. I mean, I believe that our entire existence always depends on God and others, but it’s really easy to trick yourself into believing that you are in control of your own life. You’re not. I’m not. It’s humbling and hard and I’m not a huge fan of the process that we must go through to realize this but really, how else do we learn but to experience? WHICH leads to my next point…
–Coldwater (the ministry we are now a part of – training is complete!) uses a model of teaching called experiential education -the goal is to provide opportunities for people to step outside of their comfort zone in order to fully engage themselves, others, and God. Through experiences such as backpacking/canoe trips, ropes course, trust/problem solving activities, etc. students are placed at the center of their own learning and are encouraged to transfer that learning to their life in a greater context. It works. Here’s my story (which, I admit, is quite dramatic and not typical in its extremity, but illustrates the point quite well, I think!):
I struggle with fear – anxiety, worry, panic – it’s been a big deal in my life for a long time. So much so that I would call it an idol. If an idol is something you go to before God, then fear is my biggest idol. When I say fear, I mean a process I have developed -this incredible ability to try and put together a mental catalog of every negative outcome to every situation I’m in and then to plan how I would react in every. single. situation. If I can’t do this, I panic – I worry because I’m not worrying, like it’s some kind of superstition to carryout. Fear is my comfort zone, as crazy as that sounds. I’ve been asking God for a very long time – What can I do to let go of this? Well – What can I do? Nothing. What can God do? Send us to the middle of wilderness nowhere. And then strip away my own personal safety net in a big way.
Coldwater instructor training included a training trip where we could experience the student aspect of the program. It was a 6 day trip – made intentionally quite difficult – that started out in the Boundary Waters (canoeing) and ended with a couple days of backpacking right back to the camp we used for training. The first couple of days in the Boundary Waters were good – I was quiet and tense, but still quite functional. By the third day we had left the Boundary Waters (no more established campsites!) and started paddling a river that, in retrospect, was not necessarily meant to be paddled. It felt like we were getting out of the canoe every 300 ft. to drag it over rocks, lift all of our gear over downed trees, maneuver around beaver dams – it was really frustrating. I was leading that day and we were 6 miles from where we were supposed to camp, it was nearing dusk, and the banks of the river were really dense with no obvious clearings to use as a campsite. There were so many things that could go wrong, most of which I couldn’t even begin to articulate, much less devise a mental plan as to how I would fix said disaster, that I panicked. I cannot be more grateful to the group of people we were with – their care and comfort were so reassuring. They set camp up incredibly quickly, taking care of all of the things I was afraid couldn’t happen. Kevin, the director of Coldwater, sat me down, looked me in the eye, and said “I’m okay with this.” which is exactly what I needed to hear, as thoughts of having ruined our new job opportunity were running through my head. He continued to encourage me for a little while and ended by telling me I had a choice – a choice to stay in my fear and let it overtake me to the point where I no longer would desire to live outside of my comfort zone, or I could choose to function through my fear. I didn’t want to choose anything (well, maybe I wanted to choose to go home), much less to choose to function in the middle of the woods, but I knew that by choosing to not only face fear but to walk through it was an opportunity to give up control and tangibly trust God to take the place in my life that fear has occupied for so long.
Two days later we switched to backpacks and bushwhacked (walking through the woods with no trail) our way to – well, I don’t know where. We got lost and ‘shwacked only 2.5 miles in 11 hours through incredibly dense forest. At about 11:00 at night, after bushwhacking for 10 hours, I stepped across a creek and fell in face first subsequently soaking the right half of my body. I started crying and didn’t stop until we found a random place to camp at about 1:30 am. This time, however, I was determined to function, determined to finish – I just wanted to cry about it while I did it :). In the morning when we woke up we realized we had gone SW instead of SE – which actually turned out to be a blessing because we had about 5 miles less walking to do to reach our final destination. What a metaphor for following Christ! It may not make sense, I may be tired, at the end of my limits, angry, and frustrated, but there’s a purpose for hardship, for God’s path leads to blessing in the end, and always, always creates growth and authentic community along the way.
-I needed that trip to tear down every single ounce of control I thought I had to prepare me for what’s happening now. There are so many unknowns in our life, so many moments that I have been afraid and worried. I’ve felt like each moment has been a stepping stone to letting go of fear, little by little. A couple of weeks ago, I was taking a shower and just wished I was back working in the bakery, but then I remembered how bored I was, how I prayed for a challenge in life, for something deep and real and intentional. I never want to live a life in which I can conveniently have faith – I want to live one that requires faith.
-We have been overwhelmingly blessed by the people in our life – from incredible words of encouragement and affirmation, to financial support, to meaningful and beautiful moments spent in prayer – we have learned the art of receiving and it is good to be loved without having deserved it. A friend recently told us that in order to learn to give we must first learn to receive, which is a much more difficult task. It is, however, the heart of the Gospel, and we are truly thankful for all of you who have poured out love as Jesus has done, did, and continues to do – on a people who did nothing to earn it, but need it so desperately.