This might be the sort of blog post you expect to see written by someone with an AARP card or maybe a parent with young kids – like my best friend and his wife  – but I’m neither.  I’m about a quarter-century away from the card and a long way off from being a dad; right now my aspiration to be the geeky uncle the future kiddos want to hang out with is quite enough in that department.  Despite being somewhat youthful still, I don’t move at a rushed pace as if I have a super-villain by the lapel, ready to right-cross him with the mighty Fist of Justice, and then win a race against The Flash.  The pace is more akin to the three-legged and worn steadiness of Jedi Master Yoda, exuding great bursts of physical energy only when such is needed.  This pace is most evident to me when I travel, which I recently did.  I do my best to arrive at the airport with more time than I need as I rarely run though the airport in danger of missing a flight, although that happened recently.  Only once have I actually run the length of an airport – with the walker – to ensure I made a flight on time and the subsequent exhaustion and pain made me feel like I had just run in the Special Olympics like when I was much younger; trying to talk to my parents by phone after being rushed onto the plane by the flight crew wasn’t a walk in the park either.

More often than not I slowly meander my way to the gate, one step at a time, minding my surroundings like Bruce Wayne was taught to do in Batman Begins.  Often times I take the time at the gate to rest, because you never know who you’ll meet on the plane, if a conversation will happen, or the energy it might take.  Nowadays I opt for a seat near the rear of the plane, since I generally board first, have to deal with less passenger traffic that way, and always have to wait for the plane to empty to get my walker when the plane lands.  Same goes for when I get off the plane and on to where I am going.

Time is all we have, and we don’t even know how much.  Rushing from one place to the next is rarely beneficial; who knows what – or who – you’ll miss.  Right now I’m in one of the best periods of life, as things have been forced to slow down due to my former boss’s resignation and the shift in focus to finding what is next in life after six-plus years of working in Congress.  Instead of being beholden to the tyranny of the urgent, I can take the time to search, write, question, and try to determine what the next chapter, I daresay the next Quest, will be; I am not rushing it at all.

When you rush, it’s like blinking; when you blink, you miss it.  Don’t Blink.  The slower path is often better – here’s to the slow path – the one whereby you arrive precisely when you are meant to, for the road goes ever on and on; down from the door where it began; now far ahead the road has gone and I must follow if I can…

Which path are you on and what might you be missing?

What is your name?  What is your quest? What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?” – The Keeper of the Bridge of Death

What is a Quest?  The term is defined as “a long and arduous search for something” or “An expedition undertaken in medieval romance by a knight in order to perform a prescribed feat”.  I looked a few days ago through the dictionary that sits just to the left of the dais on the floor of the House of Representatives for what it had to say about “Quest” and what I was presented with was nothing but lame jargon…on the floor of the House of Representatives?!  I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised.  Tim Keller purports that a quest is a journey upon which one embarks  – not entirely of their own choice – that either leads to their death, or they return from the journey so changed that they cannot return to their old life.  Conversely, an adventure is something chosen freely that one embarks upon and at its end is able to return to their old life as it was before they left.

Looking at an example such as the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings is a quest, while The Hobbit or There and Back Again – as it is also calledis an adventure (even if the the trailer for the upcoming film may hint  at it being a quest rather than an adventure).  Bilbo comes back to his old life as it was before he left it.  In Lord of the Rings, Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Sam, Merry, and Pippen do not – and – spoilers – Baromir dies.  Frodo and Gandalf go with the elves to the Grey Havens; Aragorn marries Arwen, becomes a father, and embraces his destiny as the long expected King of Gondor;  Gimli and Legolas become life-long friends; Merry and Pippen are now the tallest of Hobbits and in the books must return to the shire to defend it from destruction; and even though Sam marries Rosie and lives inHobbitton for some time – sans Frodo, his dearest friend – he eventually is called to the Grey Havens as he had been a  ring bearer too, never to return to the Shire once he leaves.

Much like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars is a quest, Dune is certainly a quest, as is the Terminator franchise; in these cases the main characters go through things that leaves them vastly different than when they began.  Luke Skywalker goes from a lonely and forlorn  farm  boy on a backwater word to the hero of the Rebel Alliance and the last of the Jedi Order.  Han Solo: from rouge smuggler to, Rebel hero, hunted bounty, General, and the pirate who actually has a change of heart and finds it within himself to love a princess.  Leia: from youngest member of the Imperial Senate, to Rebel leader, orphan without a home, hunted fugitive, warrior princess, and willing to risk it all to save the life of the pirate who’s heart she won.  And Obi-Wan Kenobi…from Jedi, to hermit, to teacher, to sacrificing himself for a cause greater than himself:  allowing the rebels to escape the Death Star and calling out the potential he saw in a 19 year old farm-boy who he’d spent the child’s entire life thus far guarding in secret under the guise of “a crazy old man” (who thought it too dangerous to go alone, so he gave him his father’s lightsaber).  In Dune, there is no doubt what-so-ever that young Paul  Atradies cannot go back to the life he lead as the son of Duke Leto on the water-world of Caladan once his family leaves their home to manage spice production on Arakis at the behest of Duke Leto’s cousin, Emperor Shaddam the IV.  Paul goes from a young teenager to the Duke of House Atradies after the murder of his father and subsequently  the undisputed leader of the Fremen – the native people of  Arakis – waging war on House Harkonen and the Emperor for the freedom of Arakis and the Fremen; eventually waging war across the galaxy and becoming Emperor of the known universe himself.

These stories are fraught with danger and intense conflict which bring about great transformation and change within it’s characters, but it often isn’t “all pony rides in May sunshine”  We often shy from quests because we don’t like the pain and difficulty that must be persevered though and the unknown that is the fork in the road:  deciding to do what is right or shirk from it.  It’s why some, when faced with such choices, become the hero while others become the villain of the story and such a choice leads to a destiny of “glorious purpose” bent on selfish and devious ends.  It’s why Yoda voiced concern about Anakin Skywalker and was reticent to know what came after suffering because he didn’t know if perseverance and character would result in Anakin’s life or resentment and anger and it took a generation to ameliorate that mistake amidst Yoda questioning the readiness of the younger Skywalker.

The truth though, is that human beings need quests, especially men, and Superhero movies – from Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Iron Man and the Avengers, and Green Lantern – to video game franchises, like Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda, readily support this idea.  Often though, destiny does not call upon us at the moment of our choosing and we are reluctant to get involved.  We’d rather save whales, because that’s easy…and not the universe.

And so I will end as I began: Who are you and what is your Quest; what are you searching for…and are you willing tto embrace that quest in the same manner which young Talia Al’Guhl escaped the pit…jumping without the rope?

Recently, I hopped abroad a airplane for a weekend trip to ‘The  Mitten” (aka Michigan).  While I did get to spend time with friends and family – not to mention the best plane conversation ever – none of those reasons are why I actually went.  I flew to Michigan because an aspiring film maker named Zack Arnold – who is also the editor for the show Burn Notice on USA Network – asked me to attend a special screening of”GO FAR” the documentary about his close friend, the late Chris Rush.  I’ve shared Chris’s story before and the progress that has been made in this effort to showcase the life of one man to encourage and inspire many.  So, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I hopped in the car with my brother Seth and we drove to the Michigan Theater on the campus of University of Michigan (where Zack and Chris attended undergrad together).

I’d never been in a movie theater before that I would describe as upscale or “swanky” but this fit the bill, even my brother commented on how nice the place was.  Finally getting to connect face-to-face with Zack after a year and a half of following his progress on this project and meet Chris’s father and talk with him about how I was drawn to Chris’s story by its power and potential for impact and that when there is a good story to be told I’m compelled to assist if I can.  Not too long after pizza, soda, and some cookies my brother was rather fond of, we entered the screening room and took our seats.  Zack took a few moments to tell us all why we were there, why he felt compelled to tell the story of this life but we all knew: this was his close friend, dear enough to name his son after him, who lived the life of a hero, one for whom the impossible became possible…because he was awesome.  Someone who inspired those around him to be better, just by being himself.

The film spans pretty much all of Chris’s life; from his younger days as a poster child with the Muscular Dystrophy Association, his high-school experience of becoming the first quadriplegic ever to be licensed for scuba-diving, his college days at the University of Michigan, and his days at the law school at Wayne State, using Chris’s own matrix of Goals, Obstacles, Focus, Achieve, and Review (GO-FAR) to segment the story as well as showcase his love for Star Wars.   An amazing and emotional tale of real life that doesn’t shy away from success and hardship, difficulty and joy; a story that features such individuals as Tony Orlando and Jerry Lewis.  As my brother commented later: “seeing something like that, you can’t help but feel as if you have no excuse to not do something with your life”; I couldn’t agree more.

For Seth and I, it was a little odd being the only individuals invited to be part of this screening who didn’t know Chris personally, but I’m representative of the target audience as Zack later explained.  A story like this, while for all, is meant to give hope to those with disabilities and medical challenges.  As Zack said, “you understand Chris’s struggle” and he’s quite right about that.  In the end it was a great way to spend an afternoon with my brother and a privilege to be part of the next step in telling this true tale.  I have no doubt that big things are ahead for this project as the waves and ripples of Chris’s life continue to touch many others, fitting as his last wish was to be buried at sea in the Cayman Islands where he first learned to walk; not on grass, carpet, or concrete, but on the sands of the ocean floor.

You went far Chris, father than most of us ever will…and the “Saga of Rush” is far from over.

How important is  seating on a commercial airline flight?  Business types shoot hard and fast for first class, having grown accustomed to a life granted them by their acumen, success, or both.  Sometimes though, I wonder about some of first class’s denizens – how did you get here?  Look the type to be lounging and sipping a Martini or Mai-Thai you do not!  Personally, I fly coach and shoot for the rear since it is safer to wait for all the impatient people to exit the aircraft.  By the time they’re done jostling baggage and off to their next-oh-so-important destination, my walker is off the plane and I can continue on.  In coach though it’s always the “window vs. aisle” debate and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I was an aisle guy. What if you get stuck in the dreaded middle seat, sitting motionless amidst the neutral zone?

Welcome to the life of a guy named Matt Gesser, who – as hard as he tried to get a window seat – got stuck in the neutral zone on a Delta flight from Baltimore to Detroit, en-route to Tulsa, Oklahoma last week.  Like a good Dad, Matt was trying to get home for the football scrimmage of one of his sons.  A lover of both Jesus and Star Wars, it’s no surprise that he once helped with a church plant and that he works with Star Wars merchandise in his day job; the Imperial Crest tattoo on his arm is also a dead giveaway.  A husband and father of three boys, he’s always looking for inspiring stories and real life examples to share with his sons, as the eldest of the triad wants to one day play in the National Football League and the middle son, Stone, loves drawing things from Star Wars and watching Star Wars:  The Clone Wars with his dad.  It’s while sitting in that aisle seat that I met Matt.

Don’t ask me how the conversation started, I can’t remember.  I can tell you it covered everything from Jesus, Star Wars, and the connection between the Apostle Paul and The Terminator, to my story, the FENX Project, his work with Hasbro, how he moved across the country to help with a church plant, and what I hope to do once my job in Congress ends.   We talked the whole flight, one thing to another, much like Lando and Wedge racing to escape the reaction which precipitated the destruction of the Death Star II.  Towards the end of the conversation he assured me that one way or another this idea I have of traveling and speaking to share my journey with others would come to pass, and that he wanted to share my story with his sons to show them that “the impossible can become possible…”  It felt a little bit like living an episode of Touch…again.

Probably the best airline conversation I’ve ever had; who knew the neutral zone would ever be so important, that even an airline seat had a destiny?

Lex Luthor.  While not the most famous of villains in Science Fiction or Fantasy – that distinction goes to Darth Vader – he’s close, in most minds ranking equal to The Joker and Magneto (and unfortunately higher than my favorites, Ra’s Al Guhl and Darkseid); he’s the Gordon Gekko of DC Comics (unless someone wants to throw Bruce Wayne – not Batman – into that role).  Of these nefarious characters, he is the most relateable; yes, even more so than Magneto.  While some would certainly argue different as to the relateability of the character – probably because of Luthor’s stature and wealth – it’s the seven seasons of Smallville that make the case, thanks to a brilliant turn by Michael Rosenbaum.  It’s the transformation of Lex into the character the world has come to know that gives pause to ask “Would I have made the same decisions he did had I been in his shoes?”  and watch him make the smaller choices along the way that bring him to where he is as the show ends.  Which brings me to “Luthor Syndrome”.

What is it?  It’s the condition that Lex suffers from, a condition that you and I can suffer from too.  Lex Luthor was born into resources, born into wealth and power.  These circumstances helped lead him to believe that he was special, that he had a destiny and the means to achieve it.  He felt as if that end MUST be achieved, so that he could do greater things than his father did (the whole juxtaposition of the father/son relationship between Clark/Lex and Jonathan/Lionel is fantastic and a study in and of itself, especially in an age of such fatherlessness amongst youth).  Because of his roots, Lex felt that his destiny was owed to him – that he was entitled to it – and the choices he makes are justified in light of his embracing his purpose to rule (he finally becomes President by the time the show’s finale ends).  Before I go on, I want to make a quick point:  the idea of destiny isn’t a bad one at all, it’s how we choose to lay hold of and embrace it that can be a dangerous thing; it didn’t start that way for Lex, but he let it overtake him.

Curing one’s self of this disease is a great challenge and as the entirety of Curiosity’s recon mission to Mars didn’t happen in a day, neither will this.  It’s a rare individual who doesn’t desire to be more than they already are or more than society around us says we can – or should – be.  Most if us have it in us, I think it’s hard wired; the proof lies in our love of myth, triumph, and heroes who rise to greatness (and it hits home even more when movies like The Dark Knight Rises and Avengers crush the box office…and that’s just this summer; wait till we go back to Middle Earth in December).  There is something inside of all of us that looks at what culture says about us – or what we should be like – and our response is to prove them wrong and sometimes at great cost, for there are few whom society accepts on account of themselves and those whom are accepted are the ones the rest of us are told we should emulate…often to the detriment of giving up on who we are and creating an image we don’t even want.  Add too all this the idea – espoused by many in government today – that you have a “right” to just about anything you want – thusly entitled to it – and the curing is even more difficult.

Thanks to “Luthor Syndrome” living with some sort of “disability” can be even more of a challenge.  I’ve talked before about the “conventional wisdom of society”, that folks with disabilities are “less” in comparison to those without and how erroneous such thinking is; thinking prevalent enough to warrant more and more prenatal genetic testing for all sorts of conditions and disabilities.  Additionally, there is also the dark side of having a disability, the sense of entitlement that can come with perseverance.     As much as suffering through the difficulties that can arise from having a disability can lead to perseverance, and that perseverance can lead to character, it can also lead to a sense of  entitlement.   Sometimes, having persevered, having overcome, a sense of entitlement can creep in – a feeling that says “look what I’ve done; where is my reward…the world owes me a prize…look at what I’ve been through”  When that doesn’t happen, then comes anger, disappointment, resentment, disillusionment, and sometimes, even hate.  The steely, arctic truth is that we are owed nothing, yet so many  of us (living with disabilities and without) think that we are.  I live in this tension often.

As with many other things there is a choice to be made between character – often considered to be a positive element or quality – or entitlement. It’s much akin to a fork in the timestream, or watching a parallel dimension: in one, perseverance produces character (and subsequently, hope) and in the other entitlement is produced due to a lack of character.  This sense of entitlement, if not gratified but rather spurned and crushed, can lead back to the fear and anger from which one started.  Fortunately, there is a way to combat “Luthor Syndrome”: humility.  A friend once told me that “the best cure for entitlement is Scripture”.  Therein is the truth of our state in relation to the Creator and Master of the Universe.  Andrew Murray’s book on humility has also been suggested, fortunately it’s on one of my bookshelves.

The world we live in and the worlds we create for ourselves often aren’t nice places because of “Luthor Syndrome” – how would you fight it?

In the last three weeks I’ve authored a series of blog posts in an attempt to forever capture the spirit of the events at Lake Ann Camp during Alpha week of Reborne Rangers 2012.  Why go in the first place?  Why take an entire week off work in the midst of a busy legislative season and an election year?  Why book an expensive plane ticket on short notice and go through the hassle of missing a flight and flying out early the next day while the world slumbers?  My love for this place aside, I went because someone thought I had something worthwhile to say, and had I not gone I’d be a step behind on my own journey of discovery and acceptance; not willing to live out my own admonition to the Rangers to “take your first step into a larger world”.  Put another way, I was supposed to go if for no other reason than the many “lollipop moments” that occurred.

When I began wrestling with the question earlier this year of “if I were to go, what would I have to say?”, the single theme that kept coming up was:   illustrating the importance of destiny and purpose to avoid wandering about like Scott Pilgrim before he met Ramona Flowers and “The League of Evil Ex’s“.  What’s more, the ability to use the circumstances of my own story to illustrate this concept; that and my love for “The Wars” (Star Wars) and general Hero/Superhero culture to attempt a 21st Century equivalent to Paul on Mars Hill in Acts 17.  What better way to begin than with the “snap-hiss” of a toy lightsaber?

With that as my launchpad, I explained the significance of the lightsaber, Lake Ann Camp as an arena of conflict in spiritual terms, and the Reborne Rangers program as a training ground for transformation.  In sharing my story with them, the faith built up in me through various events and circumstances could be loaned out to them for their own edification and encouragement toward embracing the story that is being written in their lives instead of living their lives through the story of someone else; Revelation 12:11 in real life.

I spoke of how my story began in an operating room and not in a maternity ward because of the circumstances of premature birth and the need get out into the world ASAP.  How the doctors didn’t expect me to live through the night and presented my parents with a grim assessment once I did, putting before my mom and Dad the choice if they wanted me (or not).  Moving through childhood I mentioned the mystery of a number of the scars my body carries because I was too young to remember how I got them.  Nevertheless, my memory of Shriner’s hospital at the end of 1996 is still very clear as I talked about much of what happened back then and what it was like to be confronted with my own mortality and stark spiritual reality as a young teenager and to carry that as life goes on – how it changes the way you “mind your surroundings“.

As I neared the crux of my address to them I talked of my desire as a Jr. Higher to be in Washington someday, working on Capitol Hill because two friends saw something in me and called it out when we were kids and how all of that brought me to where I am today.  “When Paul wrote Ephesians”, I told them, “he wrote two verses that we know very well (Eph 2:8-9), but he also wrote the next verse – Eph 2:10 – and when I encountered it a few years ago, it rocked my world.  ‘For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which He has prepared for us in advance'”  I explained that this verse implies destiny, puts forth the idea of individual purpose, and shouts from the rooftops that “there are things on this earth that you are meant to do that nobody else can do; there are problems to which you are the solution and prayers to which you are the answer – find out what those things are!”  To illustrate this idea, I mentioned Frodo’s conversation with Galadriel in the Fellowship of the Ring.

I went on to tell the story of attending an events in DC earlier this year wherein I got to see James Earl Jones (the voice of Darth Vader in Star Wars and Mufasa in The Lion King) interviewed live on stage.  I explained that in  attending this event, I learned that James Earl didn’t have a relationship with his dad growing up and how that affected him.  Further, I talked about how interesting it was to me that a man without a father would go on to to voice both the most notorious father to grace the silver screen in recent memory and the best fatherly portrayal I’d ever seen; one that tugs at me even now, because I see so much of my Dad and I in it.  I went on to posit that what my Dad and I have done with the FENX and media coverage over the last few years is part of Eph 2:10 for our lives as father and son, something we were meant to do together.

I thought it important to discuss the issue of disability, difficulty, and healing and how that ties into my purpose, my destiny; putting forward the idea that the “Greater Miracle” wouldn’t be a complete healing of this physical pain and infirmity, but that I have persevered for 30 years with it.  In perseverance I have learned dependence, knowing that I need to depend on the Heavenly Father much like I depend on my earthy Dad.  If my Heavenly Father is looking out for my welfare more-so than my earthly Dad, and my earthy Dad built me a rocket-car, how much more can the Heavenly Father do?  More than I can ask or think  (Matthew 7:9-11 and Eph 3:20 fused).

To wrap it all together, I simply explained:  “If you follow Christ and journey where He wants you to go it will often be filled with unexpected adventures to places and through things you could not imagine.  For once you leave this place and venture outside, the wisdom of Hobbits will ring true – ‘Home is behind, the world ahead, and there are many paths to tread; it’s a dangerous thing going out your front door, for if you don’t keep your feet there is no telling where the road will take you’  If you ask the Father ‘what story are you writing in my life?’ and follow where that leads, then you will be able to follow Obi-Wan Kenobi as Luke Skywalker did and ‘ take your first step into a larger world'”.

People need to know how important this idea of purpose is; there’s a reason that it’s one of the prime things individuals struggle with, that’s because it’s fundamental to who we are.  It’s a large part of the answer to the question “why am I here?”  If a life like mine, with all it’s uncertainty, perceived difficulty, and other challenges can be forged into something that illustrates purpose, plan, and destiny in a way that helps someone else embrace their own, then it makes the overgrown trail…that takes a lightsaber to blaze, worth more than it was moments before that “lollipop moment” happened; even if the wise words of Optimus Prime are often apt – “Destiny rarely calls upon us at the moment of our choosing…”

What is Ephesians 2:10 for you?

Sometimes the telling of a tale doesn’t end when you expect it to because there is more story to tell than first anticipated, as shown by  Peter Jackson’s announcement regarding what is now a trilogy of Hobbit movies.  So it is with Alpha Company of the 2012 Reborne Rangers.  When we last left our intrepid band of young heroes they had gone to lunch and I was face down upon leaf covered ground trying to get my body to calm down after successfully jumping off a telephone pole thirty-feet-and-some-change into the air.  In retrospect, if that doesn’t live up to Joel Clark’s motto of “do it for the story” I am not sure what does (even if it isn’t jumping off a skyscraper construction crane in South Africa).    I felt like after that experience I’d given it all and there was nothing left – no more wisdom or challenges –  and once again, I was wrong.

By the time I got my bearings enough to just sit and rest at lunch, the Rangers were on to their next challenge:  Goliath.  After eating what I could for the sake of needing energy, I slowly made my way out to the the Goliath challenge,  just to watch this time.  Watching this larger team of 24 assemble itself into six smaller squads of four is interesting, as you get to witness wherein the bonds of what will be life-long friendship in many cases has really formed; adversity, difficulty, and challenge does that.  Continuing these friendships is somewhat easier than the first group of Reborne Ranger had it because of Facebook and other social media tools such as Skype.

Goliath is the only high adventure challenge at Lake Ann Camp that I haven’t done; I missed the chance to do it in 2005 because I was in Washington, DC during that part of counselor training for the summer.  I think it’s about 30-40 feet tall from the ground to the bell at the top of the challenge.  While most of the high adventure challenges at Lake Ann Camp are more “solo” oriented, Goliath is a team challenge from start to finish.  First, the four teammates climb a rope net to reach the first rung of the large ladder. Next, the team must find a way to traverse vertically up four horizontal beams held together by cables.  Finally, the squad needs to fund a way to enable one of the team members to ring the bell suspended ten feet above the final rung of the ladder.  Ringing the bell is even tougher when your counselors decide who get to be the one to attempt the “jump shot” and it’s always the most in-obvious choice (oh the wisdom of counselors).

While not all the Ranger squads successfully rang the bell, every squad came close.  As I sat and watched these challenges unfold, and engaged some of the Rangers in conversation about things they learned so far this week, I began to recover from the exhaustion that came from The Leap.  At the same time though my mind was racing because I was still piecing together what I thought would be my final address to the Rangers later that afternoon as part of their commissioning/graduation ceremony from the Reborn Rangers program.  As the hours ticked by I kept watching, talking, and thinking; reaching back to some of what I discussed earlier in the week about the purpose and destiny  for every one of these Rangers.

Soon enough, the time came to head out to Pine Chapel for the Rangers’ commissioning ceremony.  As I slowly walked down the path to Pine Chapel, I saw that almost all of the speakers from the last few days were back again to address the Rangers one final time:  Jim Dourty, Cheryl Tinsley, Doug Champagne, Ken Riley, Ken Rudolph, Chris Howard, and myself – all of them wore the Rangers shirt for Summer 2012, a symbol of what these students were about to step into.  As Chris handed me my shirt I was reminded of the last time someone bequeathed a Ranger shirt to me, 13 years prior.  As I took my seat next to The Commander, Doug hefted a wooden mallet I call “The Hammer of Thor” and began striking a bell with it as the Rangers filed down in two columns to their seats; 26 strikes total, one for each of the twenty-four students and their two counselors.

As the Rangers were seated, the addresses commenced and Jim Dourty was first at bat.  Drawing on some of what he had talked about earlier in the week, the telling of his time in combat and relating it to the spiritual life, Jim explained to the Rangers that, as Rangers, we’re leaders and targets on the spiritual battlefield; life from here on out would not be easy and difficult things would happen.  He also made it clear how proud he was of these students and that he considered it an honor to stand with them as a Reborne Ranger.  I was up next.

As I walked the short distance with my trusty walker and locked my feet in to sit on the back of it to address the Rangers, I reminded them of my words from earlier this week about the unique purpose and destiny that is at work for (and in) each one of them.  I told them that because Christ is the greatest Superhero of them all, and because we are to be like Him, we can he heroes too.  That with heroes, there is so much work to do that there is only enough down-time to iron the cape and then it is back to the skies.  In the midst of this, I heard the quiet and familiar tones of the “Warp Whistle” of both Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. 3 fame; my phone was ringing.  Someone was trying to call me and I had no idea why, and everyone heard it.  Ignoring the call, I continued addressing the Rangers; this was their first step into a larger world, a new reality, and as they stepped into the new world Jesus would be with them…always.  I couldn’t have been prouder of this group of teenagers; all they had been through this week, all they had learned, they were ready to join the ranks of Rangers from summers past.  Drawing my lightsaber, I saluted them then walked back to my seat.

As I sat down and switched my phone to “buzz mode”, I tired to shake the sudden onset that something wasn’t quite right.  My phone buzzed again and I ignored it, trying to focus on the other speakers who were addressing the Rangers.  It kept buzzing; it hadn’t gone off like this all week long and all of the sudden it was exploding, and taking me from where I was – Ranger graduation – to somewhere I didn’t want to be:  Distracted-ville.       I honestly don’t remember much of what the others said in their final charge to the new Reborne Rangers.  After the final words wrapped, the counselors were called upon to be the first inducted into the ranks of Reborne Rangers, signified by the individual striking the mallet against the bell and receiving their shirt and congratulations from the speakers who just addressed them.   Afterwards, the counselors called their students up one at a time to strike the bell, receive their shirt, and be congratulated.  It’s an emotional thing to be a part of this after watching these teenagers grow, during this intense week, further into the individuals the Heavenly Father has for them to be.

After the ceremony concluded I sat down to pull out my phone and the uneasy feeling returned.  There was a message for me to call the office in Washington.  Finally getting in touch with the right people I learned that my boss was resigning that night and that things would be different when I got back to town.  By this time, the Rangers had left Pine Chapel, but the speakers were lingering.  Slowly getting up from the bench I shuffled over to them, explained the situation, and Chris, Doug, Cheryl, and Jim all prayed for what might lie ahead.  I realized later that it was no accident that I was at Lake Ann Camp when learning such news, there was no better place for me to have been.  That night as we sat down to dinner I ate my first steak in who knows how long; it was great.

Chapel at Lake Ann Camp on Friday nights is intense.  Instead of it being just 200+ Senior High campers, it’s almost all the programs, combined. Jump Start, Junior High, Fresh Start, Senior High, and Reborne Rangers are all represented.  As I arrived at Chapel late I saw Ken Rudolph sitting outside the building preparing to preach, so I sat with him; I love talking with this man of God.  We talked a bit about the news I got from Washington earlier – I love that my Lake Ann family watches out for me – and we prayed for the situation, Ken’s preaching, and that lives would be touched and transformed that night.  Then it was time for Ken to go under the lights again and preach with everything he had in him (and he did).

In the midst of Ken’s sermon, I stepped out to try and contact my parents to let them know the situation in Washington.  Once I couldn’t get a hold of them I quickly hung up the phone as I realized that Ken was telling the story of someone who was at Lake Ann Camp this week; Ken was telling a packed house the story of Josiah Wyse.  Realizing this, I hopped up off that bench and ran back into the chapel to find Josiah at the end of a row of seats near a window.  We just sat there together as Ken told the tale and watched the light come on in the minds of many of the campers as they realized that Ken was talking about someone who was in the very room with them; the room just came alive after that.  This was a moment in which tears were acceptable as the story of Josiah’s life, that would have ended in darkness, in fact, did not and the story was now being used to facilitate real-life impact in the lives of hundreds in the room with him.  There are few, if any, proper words for such a moment; just awe, really.  There is no doubt in my mind that some of those who took to the stage that Friday night were moved by Josiah’s story, what the Lord had done, and won’t be the same as a result.

Glory Bowl:  A time to enjoy a large fire that makes the inner pyro of most guys jealous and, more importantly, to share what God has done in the lives of campers that week.  It’s a Lake Ann Camp tradition that happens every Friday night after the combined chapel.  I’ve learned that Glory Bowl is much longer than I remember it.  More than anything though, the Glory Bowl confronted me with the reality of how much pain teenagers are in these days; I just couldn’t believe it.  From additional stories of struggling with suicide, drugs, abuse, and even homelessness, story after story just hit me like a smooth stone to the forehead; I just don’t remember it being like this when I was a camper, if it was it was to a much lesser degree.  Yet, in the midst of all this pain, the new Reborne Rangers rose to the occasion and more than once went to comfort and encourage these campers who were clearly hurting and the Rangers’ actions served as a great indicator of growth in their lives.  As I drifted off to sleep that night I was saddened that my time at Lake Ann Camp with these Rangers was drawing to a close, but there was one last nagging thought on my mind and I fell asleep without a resolution to it.

Saturday morning came bright and early and with it, that nagging thought.  As the Rangers gathered in the training room one final time before breakfast, to exchange contact information and spend moments together as as team, I just watched; sometimes laying on the floor to rest.  These teenagers had arisen to the “Avengers Challenge” – taking a group of leaders in their own right and forging them into a team.  I may never know what it was, or multiple things, that served as “the push” but they had done it.    And the time to give them one final charge and pass the torch was quickly approaching.

As breakfast was ending, the cinnamon rolls having been gleefully consumed, I asked for the attention of the Rangers.  As I stood there, I reminded them of what Jim Doughtery had shared with us the night before about being spiritual targets and the reality that tough things would happen.  I explained that hard things were happening to some of us and relayed the basics of what was happening in Washington and how I would be affected.  I reminded them that we had spent time ironing our capes this week and it was time to go back to the skies again.  Then I did what no one expected:  as I talked about passing the torch from one generation to the next, from one of the first Rangers to those newly minted, I asked Josiah to stand.  As he stood, somewhat bewildered, I explained how there has never been a story quite like his happen at Lake Ann Camp before and I wanted there to be a symbol for the passing of the torch that they would all remember.  With that, I removed my lightsaber from my belt and handed it to him.  For a few seconds no one spoke, they knew what was happening and couldn’t believe it.  In fact, Josiah didn’t want to take it but I assured him it was being freely given.  With that, the nagging thought fled so very far away.

It was tough to say goodbye to these new Rangers, my padawan learners.  The same could be said for my Lake Ann Camp family old and new.  Sharing in the staff Glory Bowl later that morning I urged those at Lake Ann Camp this summer to enjoy every moment, as there would come a time when life would take them away from Lake Ann Camp and on to other things and the encouraging and uplifting environment would no longer be the norm.  It was a joy to get to be a part of that once more and hear what happened that week in other programs.  As the staff Glory Bowl was ending I knew my time was ending too.  I slowly walked my way to from the chapel to the trailer to retrieve my luggage as my ride pulled up.  At that moment who should be walking down the gravel path but the Commander himself, Ken Rudolph.  Introducing him to my brother and sis-in-law and saying farewell for now, I got into the car and we drove off…

…but I’ll be back, you can count on that; thus ended one of the greatest weeks of any summer at Lake Ann Camp and I got to be there for it.