In The Wild

When 11,200 feet above sea-level, sleeping in a tent, living like the early man, fishing, cooking over a fire, it is easy to feel uncomfortable and a little challenged.  Unless you’re this guy:

If you have been following my blog, you know that I spent the first week of August up in the Pecos Wilderness.  I’ve talked about wandering around lost and how hard the hike was, but what about what happened in the wild?

I went into the wild on a search, for fish, a fresh night sleeping on my new sleeping mat, and friendship.  What I found might have been a little different.  Heck, I shared a tent with the older version of the man pictured above, so how could my adventure turn out the way I expected?

Life in the wild is therapeutic for me.  I love backpacking because it gives me a chance to leave my normal life and leave it all behind.  Computers. Smartphones. Jobs. Stress.  I love being off the grid.

Guatemala was off the grid, or at least I was off most everyone else’s grid.  Living off the grid can be a challenge, especially not knowing the language, something unexpected could always be expected to happen.  But now that I am living in Colorado, I feel the need to get away, go backpacking, so that I can be challenged and refocus on life.

And so, up in the Pecos Wilderness, off the grid, we were attacked by a hungry heard of chipmunks.  Those little rodents were aggressive.  We had to lock away our food, even so they unzipped my backpack and chewed through three layers of plastic bagging just to eat three raisins.  They were telling me that the Stewart Lake campground was their home turf and I better show some respect.  Maybe they’d grown too used to backpackers and I could see why.  As I packed my backpack a troop of 15 teenagers hiked into our area to set up camp.

After a little fishing we packed our tent and trekked up to Lake Johnson.  If Stewart Lake my first step into the wild, albeit a little crowded, Lake Johnson was truly off the grid.

Other than the Rices, our backpacking partners, we didn’t see another human for a couple days.  It was just me, my dad, and the wild.

The fishing up at the high mountain lake was great, but then again, not great.  But maybe that was part of the challenge.  When I can’t just walk up to the closest Chipotle for a burrito to feed my hunger.  Providing food for myself isn’t meant to be easy.  Sometimes the fish just don’t bite.  And when they don’t, what’s going to calm the hunger pains?

Fortunately, I packed in enough food and really, caught plenty of fish.  I spent most of my time out by the lake, casting my line.  It was a beautiful time, but also invigorating.  Each night on the backpacking trip, we lit our stoves, boiled water so we wouldn’t get sick, and then hoped our food would turn out edible.

In the wild you can’t rely on your own strength, just ask Aaron Ralston.  He got stuck and lost an arm.

In the wild it can rain or not rain.  Too much one way or the other and you could be dead.

But in the wild you can also find life.

In the wild, up at Lake Johnson, I reconnected with my best friend.  Philip and I grew up going to church together, but because we live in two different states, hadn’t been able to talk in several years.

At night around the camp fire, with no computers or iPhones, we were able to engage in each other’s lives again.

Philip is currently stepping out into the wild in his own life.  God has called him into the full time ministry.  He has left his job, just months after becoming a father, and is placing his trust in God to provide for him.

There is nothing wilder than living on the edge for God.

On our last night around the fire, Sid, Philip’s dad, asked us to talk about what we’d experienced on the trip.

We’d talked about fishing, joked about all the deer that’d wander through our campsite (they would wander through and nibble on our leftovers knowing they were safe as it wasn’t hunting season).

But my favorite part was was talking about faith and community.  I don’t think these conversations would’ve happened if we hadn’t gone into the wild.  I felt focused on life, as each morning and night, around the the camp stove, we shared our hearts.

As I packed up my tent to hike out of the wild, I knew I didn’t want to stop sharing my life with the people around me.   It took going into the wild to see that my life needs true community.

This year, while I pursue my masters in teaching, I don’t want to forget what I learned in the wild.  I know that my studies will be challenging, but I’ll get comfortable. I know I’ll be connected to the grid.  But I hope that I stay connected to the community around me and not stop living in God’s wild creation.

Need Somebody? Don’t Do Life On Your Own

On July 20th I was reminded how much we all need people in our lives who care for us.  I was shocked when I woke up on Friday and found out that a madman had opened fire on the audience during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises.  I am sickened that people went out for the night to see a movie and now families have been ripped apart.

That Friday morning, after leaving for work, my dad sent me a text.  He wanted to tell me he loves me and is proud of me.  My dad is over sentimental, but I don’t really mind.  I am glad I have a family that cares for me.

Having such a loving family makes me wonder what happened to the shooter.  Why was he such a loner?  I’ve heard reports from people who played soccer with him in high school or sat next to him in grad school that he never connected with anyone.  That he was just odd.

We may never know why the shooter didn’t have a community around him, that loved him and supported him.  He probably thought he was better off alone.

I think, especially after the movie massacre, that’s utterly wrong.  We need people in our lives to help us celebrate life’s joys, to help us grieve life’s sorrows, and to help us recover after we’ve been hurt.  I pray that the people directly affected by the shooting in Aurora don’t shut themselves in.  I hope that my city of Denver and state of Colorado continues to reach out to these families in the months and years to come.

Our world may be broken, but if you and I set out to show our neighbors love and respect, maybe, just maybe we will see true healing.

I try to live by what Jesus says, which is hard, because I’m not perfect, but he commands me to “Love my neighbors as I love myself.”  How can we do that if we live in seclusion or if we just rely on our own strength?

Over the last year I have found a group of friends who love and support one another.  We meet almost every Monday night for dinner and games.  It is a very fun time that often ends with us praying for one another.  I’m very thankful for each person in the group, because I know I am supported, and  I don’t have to live my life alone.

Do you have people in your life?  I’ve been talking about living spiritually in my blog a bit this year.  I’m finding the number one thing I need to do to live spiritually is to connect with God and let him connect you to a healthy community.  I can’t live my life on my own.  I hope you don’t either.  I know it can be hard to open up to other people, but the reward is worth the risk.

God will redeem this horrible tragedy.  I believe, “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” Paul, the man who wrote the above quote, had seen many atrocities, but also, as an early Christian leader, he’d seen Christ work miracles.  He knew that God will take what has been broken and heal it.  The scar may never fully disappear, but if we let him, it will turn into something beautiful.  And that will happen when we connect with the people around us.

The Five People You’ll Meet At The Finish Line!

Who would you want to see at the finish line after a long race?  I’m a runner and I’ve learned that just like in life sometimes the unexpected can happen while running.  A running friend of mine told me that she loves running because she constantly sees connections between running and life.  She believes it’s much more fun to run with a partner than alone and like life, it can leave you feeling empty but invigorated at the same time.  Let me take this a step further, if running a race is like living, then the finish line is like heaven.  Somehow I don’t think I’m the first one to think up this analogy, but run with me on this anyway.

For the last two months, I’ve been training for the Xela half-marathon.  13.1 miles of pure fun (I can’t say hell, this is a family blog.)  I have now trained for 3.5, half marathons and ran two.  I love training because it helps me set a goal and I run each day knowing it will push me closer the finish line.  Yet, training is hard and this year was no exception.  Fortunately the knee problems I’d been having lessened and most of my long runs went well.  The only major set back during training occurred when my training partner,  Yasi, came down with tonsillitis the week before the race and had to back out, which disappointed her and forced me to run alone.

Running alone can be fun.  I raced alone last year and finished with a rather respectable time.  But, like life, running is more fun to with other people.  For example, try to play a game of monopoly by yourself, it’s no fun; trust me.  And who really wants to spend life playing solitaire?

Back to running.  Two weeks before the race, Yasi and I went out on the Day of the Dead, November 1st for those of you not up on all of the many Spanish holidays, and ran 11 miles.  We started out around 8 in the morning, a great feat in itself for a day off, when I would’ve liked to sleep in.  Unfortunately, both life and running require early wake up calls.  It was worth it.  We jogged out of sleepy Xela, to around 8,000 plus feet in elevation,  making it back for 11 miles in around two hours.  We passed small painted churches and cemeteries alive with guests paying their respects to the dead.  Many of whom were littering the air with kites as if they were sending messages skyward to their dead relatives. As I pressed on, I wondered if the dead were up in heaven partying like they’d just finished a long and tiring race.  (side note, if you haven’t got to a cemetery on the Day of the Dead you really should.) The next week I ran 12 miles in one hour and fourty-five minutes.  I knew I was ready for my race.

So, early on the unseasonably warm morning of the 14th of November, I jogged down the colorful streets of Xela to the European style arches on Independence Street, which were serving as the starting line.  Runners were jogging up and down the streets.  Bouncing up and down to loosen their limbs.  It was like a river of Salmon all swimming up stream in their bright bright yellow half-marathon shirts.  As I waded down stream through the crowd of runners, which seamed to be much larger than last year, I still managed to find my friend Maria Marta.  Maria and I had run a 10 k together a month earlier and, with an unspoken agreement, we set off together at the starting gun.  She matched my pace for the first 10 kilometers, passing people when I passed them.  Weaving in and out through the packed streets.  Every time I wanted to slow down, she would either be right there pushing me on.  It’s hard to slack off when you have someone running right by your side.

I ran all the way until the 14th kilometer.  Maria had finally fallen behind.  Around 12 kilometers in, we’d reached the Cuesta Blanca, the big hill on the race (it’s so big cars struggle up it’s slope), and she was gone, somewhere behind me.  My heart was pounding out of my ears and my mind wouldn’t push my body any harder.  I had no one to keep me going, except my iPod.  AC/DC’s You Shook Me All Night Long blasted me onwards toward the next water station.  And then my iPod died.  I no longer had any desire to go on.  But I knew I had to press forward or it would be hours until I finished.  I had trained so hard.  I couldn’t let it go to waste.  I walked in the heat.  Ran in the shade.  Pushing my self toward the finish line.  Encouraged by my students who had come to watch.  Each heavy footfall on the pavement brought me nearer to the end.  From the Minerva Temple I could see Heaven, the finish line, and I knew I’d made it.  Euphoria set in when I realized I’d completed the race.  My time wasn’t what I had hoped for, but that’s life right?  We don’t always get what we want, but we wind up at the end anyway.

Just like life, the best part of the race was when I had someone to run with.  Finishing the race all by myself was hard.  I’d like to say I didn’t finish as well last year because my iPod died, but I really think it was because I didn’t have anyone to push me at the end.  I walked into the finishing tent alone and received my medal and Powerade.  Yet, as I looked up from the finishing line, I saw people I knew.  There was a girl I had gone on a date with, but hadn’t called back because she was crazy.  Awkward!  There were my housemates Mike and Denise, a few people from work, and several of my students.  I felt very encouraged to see them cheering me on at the finish.  It made the hard run worth it.  And I think life and heaven will be like that.  We will finish the race and see people we thought we’d never see again and it will make all of the hardships we went through worth it.