Posts Tagged ‘Lake Ann Camp’

In 1986 I was four years old.  That same year Nintendo released a little game for it’s Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) called Metroid.  Something different than what had been done before, it was a side-scrolling game like Super Mario Bros. but the player also collected various items to enhance Samus Aran:  an inter-galactic bounty hunter that roamed this non-linear world (akin to the Legend of Zelda).  Due to the game’s vastness, it also included a password feature like the Mega Man games.  I was finally introduced to it a few years after it’s release and spent hours working to saves Planet Zebes from the Mother Brain and her dreaded Metroids; something similar to a “face-hugger” from Alien.  The greatest shocker to the original came during the game’s end credits, when you realized that Samus was a woman.  Samus Aran was the first real video game heroine.   Since that time, Metroid has gone on to become an impressive franchise of it’s own, spawning numerous sequels over various Nintendo gaming systems; all of which I own or had played heavily, as Metroid is my favorite video game franchise behind The Legend of Zelda. Metroid almost became a major motion picture that would have been directed by John Woo.

Sometimes I get nostalgic for first generation versions of games like Metroid, Mega Man, and The Legend of Zelda; ok, more than sometimes.  Recently, I found a few videos on YouTube of “speed runs” though the original Metroid and Metroid II:  The Return of Samus:  incredible play-through of these games in record times.  As I watched both of these – and yes I watched both in their entirety – not only did the memories return from when I was nine years old, but a I marveled at the perfection of the game-play.  The amount of time someone would have to play the game to know it so well, where very item is hidden and the optimum method and order to collect them.  The daredevil risks taken in the game for the sake of that record time: taking certain hits on purpose and rushing in to certain areas – seemingly unprepared – long before one should but emerging victorious precisely because you know the material, obstacles, and terrain so well.  That’s preparation.

My mentor, teacher, and dear friend Ken Rudolph often preaches a sermon about David’s Mighty Men each summer at Lake Ann Camp.  In the sermon he talks of how these men where men of practice, men of preparation; they knew their craft and knew it well, for this small band could have conquered entire nations by themselves; they were King David’s “Special Forces”.  These guys took huge risks, like breaking into enemy territory just to get King David water from the well of Bethlehem, his home town, but they were prepared.  These guys were like the Bible’s version of The Expendables.

I think that faith in Christ works this way too:  the more you know of Him, the more you see Him do, the more miracles – great and small – that you experience, the more your faith is built up.  The more your faith is built up and strengthened, the more you trust Him with the life He’s given you (yes, it is a weird paradox).  The more your faith is built and you embrace the greater Freedom of trusting Him, the more you can help others by loaning that faith out to others to build them up; Revelation 12:11 in real-life.    The more your faith in Him is built and the more you can trust Him, the greater risks you can take and step out all the more into the destiny He has for you; Ephesians 2:10 in real-life.  It sounds a lot like the journey of Samus Aran in Metroid and Link in The Legend of Zelda.

Right now, my risk is spending $500+ to go to Nashville, TN on September 21, 2012 for The Quitter Conference lead by Jon Acuff – not knowing a thing about what my future will look like after early November.  The board is set and the pieces are moving towards that day.

Are you prepared to step out?  What do you need to risk?

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In the Star Wars three-quel, Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader famously tells Luke Skywalker:  “You don’t know the power of the Dark Side” as a statement of finality and admission to the grim hold Emperor Palpatine had upon Vader’s life.  Fortunately, we know that all changed shortly thereafter.    Think for a moment on the power of those two lives within that fictional universe.  Darth Vader: innocent; chosen; hopeful; hoped in to bring balance to the Force and Justice to the Galaxy as one of the greatest Jedi Knights; powerful; eager; reckless; a Hero of humble beginnings; too self-aware; arrogant; prideful; discontent; susceptible; a deceiver and deceived; fallen; enslaved; instrument of tyranny; destroyer of millions; redeemed.   Luke Skywalker:   innocent; chosen; hopeful; hoped in to bring balance to the Force and Justice to the Galaxy; powerful; eager; reckless; a Hero of humble beginnings; humbled; learned; self-sacrificing; truthful; caring of friends and family; champion over evil; agent of redemption.  Two hyperspace lanes diverged in a star system…and Luke Skywalker took the one less navigated through.  Two lives, with such an effect on an entire galaxy and a far reaching legacy that bled over into (at least) the next generation.

Phil Coulson, Agent of the Strategic Homeland Intelligence Enforcement and Logistics Division (SHIELD), and supporting character in the Iron Man films and, more importantly, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers.    One man. No special abilities. A greater hero than the Avengers combined…because he combined them.  He believed in The Avengers, the heroes, when they didn’t believe in themselves.  His death served as “The Push” that was needed to coalesce the Avengers into the Family of Heroes the world needed them to be in order to defeat Loki and the Chitauri invasion.   Coulson knew a push was going to be needed and was at peace with and willing to have his death be that catalyst.  His sacrifice saved New York City – and the world – more than Iron Man’s willingness to fly the alien bomb into space.

This is all thought-provoking and inspirational pondering;  the type of fictional stories that inspire and spur on humanity; giving us hope the world will continue to spin on.  Such inspirational stories in real life are rarely like this and they involve homeless men, a wake, and telephone poles even less.  Nevertheless, one such story does involve a homeless man, another a wake, and yet another, a telephone pole of sorts.

Peter Bis lived on a bench near Union Station in Washington, DC.  Peter Bis was an institution on Capitol Hill. Peter Bis always referred to himself in the third-person.  Known by many on Capitol Hill as a friendly homeless guy who talked to everyone and actually remembered you, he recently passed away.  There’s actually a memorial spot under the tree near the bench he used to sleep on where people have been leaving flowers and messages (which I recently visited).  From interns to congressional power-players everyone knew him and often chatted with him.  I used to see him all the time when I was an intern with the Heritage Foundation seven years ago, as his “Sheldonian Spot” – long before there was a Sheldon Cooper – was less than a hundred feet from the front door of my intern housing that Heritage provided.  While saddened at his passing and the loss of this quirky institution of a man, I didn’t really grasp the extent that was Peter Bis until I realized that articles were written about him, in memorium, by National Review, The Washington Post, National Journal, and The Huffington Post (linking to a article in Roll Call).  The area that many consider to the the most powerful square footage in the world – as far as power, politics, and influence goes – has mourned the loss of a homeless man; a single life who spent most of his days on a park bench.  That’s inspiration.

A dear friend of mine will sometimes tell the tale of something that happened at his father’s wake years ago.  A young man arrived at the wake, one my friend had never seen before.  He slowly approached the casket and just stood there for what seemed an eternity.  Standing there, this younger man broke; the dam burst and the emotional flood water swept forth with great intensity.  My friend watched this both intrigued and mystified.  As the young man turned around and walked back down the aisle my friend asked him: “how did you know my father that it would produce such a reaction?”  The younger man explained:  “I didn’t have a Dad growing up and your father was the only man I ever knew who took time for me, who talked to me like a man, like a son, who invested in me; I’ve never forgotten that”   Therein was a life to emulate.

Telephone polls aren’t considered to be inspirational either but I happen to know one that is, it’s at Lake Ann Camp and I climbed it…and then jumped off.  Even though I’ve already told the story, it’s told from my point of view.  It isn’t told from the viewpoints of any of the thirty-plus people who watched it happen.  Recently one of the Reborne Rangers from Alpha Week 2012, Maggie Syme, posted a  picture to Facebook of what the scene looked like before my climb of that dastardly telephone pole.  The caption she included with the photo said “The most inspirational moment of my life; Thank you, Aaron Welty”  I saw  that photo – with that caption – and I was speechless.  Yes, I conquered The Leap.  Yes, it was hard – seeming near impossible at moments – but I’d been through tougher things; things I’d even talked about earlier that week.  In being taken so aback my this, I thought, and even said, “it’s not like I saved NYC from an alien invasion like The Avengers did.”  Later, Maggie told me that she cried long and hard after seeing me make that climb and leap because it had impacted her that much.  I’ll never forget, Katie Decker, another Ranger, leaning over my exhausted body as I lay face down on the ground, telling me “you just changed my life”.  At the end of the week, Josiah Wyse, whose incredible story I’ve also already  relayed, told me that there were two moments that week where I left him without words: one was bequeathing the lightsaber, the other was this climb.

This was a huge “lollipop moment” for some; a moment that was much more significant for them then it was for the one doing it, and it wasn’t a walk in the park for me at all.

Mind your surroundings, be aware of the power and impact of your life; be an inspiration to others and invest in them.

Reborn Rangers praying before I began my climb.

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.

As I type this, Charlie Company of the 2012 Reborne Rangers has arrived at Lake Ann Camp and is learning their first lesson about conflict and teamwork in the face of the impossible on the paintball field as the final week of Reborne Rangers for 2012 begins.  I am still mulling over and telling the tales of week Alpha to friends who find themselves wishing they were there with me; to see what I saw.  Looking back, it’s accurate to say that the last day of Reborn Rangers Alpha 2012 was the most challenging one, as I wasn’t prepared for what awaited me throughout that day.

That morning, after breakfast and hearing from Chris, I tagged along as the Rangers headed out to a new physical challenge:  The Leap.  I thought I knew what The Leap was, I was so very wrong.  I thought The Leap was a event out on the challenge course at Lake Ann Camp that I had facilitated years ago involving slabs of tree trunk functioning as “lily pads” which the Rangers had to safely traverse while abiding by whatever restrictions their wise counselors put upon them.  This is not what The Leap is; The Leap is more, much more.

As I walked through the wooded area to our destination, with light filtering through the trees while leaves swished and crunched beneath my feet, I saw all the Rangers gathered in a large circle ahead of me.  As the circle drew nearer, I looked above me dazed and a bit confused.  Far above my head were cables strung between trees in proximity to what looked like small telephone poles about thirty to forty feet in height; and what was that red thing dangling off the cable, was that a ball?  I stood there somewhat speechless and amazed as the situation was explained to us:  Each Ranger would don a climbing helmet and full-body harness hooked to a rope and proceed to climb one of these telephone-like poles to a platform at the top.  Once atop the wobbly and wooden platform the Ranger would jump off into nothingness and attempt to strike the red ball hanging in mid-air from a cable.

As I contemplated what was going to transpire here, I began to think what many would consider “the unthinkable”:  Could I, in all of my physical weakness, instability, and pain, actually do this?  It’s not like I was 17 again, or even in my early twenties like when I was a counselor here; could I climb that AND THEN, somehow, jump off?  Something in me said I might be able to and that I’d regret it if I didn’t attempt to.  So I asked Chris what he thought: ‘The Youth Pastor in my says yes, you should do this and that it would be a sight the Rangers need to see; but the Program Director in me is conscious of the time constraints we’re under.  If we did this, what would you need?”  I explained the inherent stability issue, that  I would need one of the counselors already positioned on the platform located thirty-plus feet in the air to help me get on the platform and then to help me exit the challenge.  This wasn’t normal procedure and not everyone involved was 100% in support of the idea of me doing this but we forged ahead.

As the morning minutes spun on and the time for my challenge drew ever closer, I watched Ranger after Ranger climb this pole and leap into thin air like it was the most natural thing in the world.  To watch one such as Katie Champagne pull what amounted to “Spider-Man”, I just thought “how is she doing this?” Never doubting her ability or that of any other Ranger, but uneasy about my own.  As the last of the Rangers ascended and jumped, I handed all of my “pocketfuls of tech” and my lightsaber to Josiah Wyse so I could then get harnessed and helment-ed; one foot, then one arm, after the other.  I watched as the guy counselor for Rangers, JB, climbed the pole and fastened himself to it; waiting for my arrival.

Singularly focused on the challenge at hand, I walked through the circle of Rangers to the pole, where Doug Champagne strapped me in.  Suddenly Chris appeared to my right and asked me the same questions he’d asked every other Ranger he knew, past and present:  “What challenge are you facing back home?  What does climbing this represent?”  Considering the events in my occupational sphere and the knowledge that I’d be out of a job at the end of the year, continued employment was foremost on my mind.  Then, the climb began.

The thing about this pole is its pegs: the first 1/3 of the climb features longer, sleek, black, metal pegs upon which a persons feet can perch, even if they are unevenly placed.  While challenging, because my feet stick out at an awkward angle like the webbed appendages of a penguin, it’s do-able; more-so because of the assistance from Doug.  It’s the next 2/3 of the pole’s pegs that look down on you and sneer like a rouges gallery of supervillians in all their tiny and rounded “snubness”; these pegs screamed impossible.  By the time I reached them, all that kept me going was the words of a personal prayer inspired by the Green Lantern Oath:  “In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night, I cannot escape His sight; He who loves me with all His MIGHT, casts out all fear…Jesus Christ, the Light.”  My strength began to fade and I knew my feet would stage a protest if I kept going, not to mention feeling like my body was hugging the pole as if it and I were the only physical objects in my entire universe (for all I knew at that moment, we were).  I hadn’t given it everything so I kept climbing, one hard earned peg after another.  By this time I knew I was still hearing the voices of the Rangers below me trying to talk to me and shout encouragement, but so much of that became jumbled as I blocked out everything around me and could only think of the next peg and not about how much my legs were hating me for doing this to them.  One peg, then the next.  Most of the time my legs wouldn’t cooperate and I’d have to pull my body up at uneven angles so that my feet would end up far enough above a peg so that just the heel of my skater shoes could rest on them.  One peg, then the next; over and over.  Now the arms wanted to give out, but I was much nearer to the top.  Physically I wasn’t screaming the Green Lantern Prayer, but mentally it felt like it; one part of my brain was doing that while the other part kept repeating the Litany Against Fear from Frank Herbert’s Dune:  “Fear is the Mind Killer, I will face my fear, I will let it pass through me so that when it is gone only I will remain…” I wasn’t sure if I could keep climbing; my body had about had it but my spirit hadn’t given up yet and that was the key, much like using whatever item you find in the dungeon to defeat the dungeon boss in any Legend of Zelda game.  I kept going; peg after peg, weak penguin foot after penguin foot.

Finally, I reached JB and the top of the pole; only then did the Green Lantern Prayer stop, but only for awhile.  JB reached out his hand to grab me and help me onto the platform.  Since the sun was directly facing me though the trees, I couldn’t really see him.  With his hand reaching out, the moment had a Terminator/”come with me if you want to live” vibe to it which I of all people can appreciate.  As I stepped out on to the platform, I finally had an idea of how high up I actually was…and all the Rangers were about four stories below.  This was the point of no return, there was only one way off this bird paradise.

Ever so slowly I turned around and faced JB, my back to the sun shining through the trees and the edge of the platform.  Using JB for support I backed toward the edge of the platform, keeping my sight on the guy who had his grip on me.  It flashed through my mind that I had a small idea of what Peter might have been thinking the feeling when he stepped out of the boat on to the water, eyes on Jesus.  I felt my heels go over the edge of the platform and I gripped JB’s arm ever harder as he said “Count it down, then let go…3…2…1…”.  I let go.

Then the yell came as I was free-falling though time and space, no control over what might happen in the next sixty seconds; the Green Lantern Prayer returned.  Arms out as the descent began to be controlled, I found out later I was rocking somewhat of a “Spider-Man” or “Ninja Attack-hug”  pose of my own; be you more of a Spider-Man or Scott Pilgrim fan.  Closer and closer to the ground I came, as the adrenaline was still coursing through my veins and my muscles still wanted to punish me.   I don’t remember a whole lot after that, just a lot of people wanting to talk to me and posing for a victory photo before collapsing on the ground to let my body catch up to where the rest of me was.

All I knew at that point is that it was done, I had beaten The Leap; the impossible had become possible and I was told I had been awesome, and the pictures did not disappoint.

Yet, this was but the beginning of what I considered, “the toughest day”…

After two weeks of being back in Washington, DC, I am still processing much of what happened during Reborne Rangers 2012 Alpha at Lake Ann Camp.  It’s a challenge to be back in the concrete jungle after a week like Reborne Rangers; safely planted, for a time, in a place where God’s presence clearly is and things are happening.  To enter back into such an environment of uncertainty is difficult; to leave the safety and rejuvenating effect of “family” is something I did not want to do.

Reborne Rangers is a program that builds, and doesn’t stop building.  Not only does it help mold, craft, and build young leaders; the program builds on itself as the week progresses and Wednesday was clearly a “building day”.  I was thankful that I wasn’t the only “Alpha Ranger” that the current recruits heard from, as Sarah Anderson was also at Lake Ann that week.  Her journey is powerful and genuine, illustrating the Lord’s desire to pursue someone and enable the one pursued to be used for great things as she and her husband Tyler prepare to go India to do mission work; as Sarah told the Rangers – “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies those He calls”.  (As an aside, having both Sarah and Tyler visit me in Washington this week was a great blessing; a little bit of Lake Ann on the road as I took them though the Capitol Building and talked about the spiritual heritage of our nation and the leadership that came out of that heritage for so many years.)  After hearing from Sarah, the Rangers heard from Ken Rudolph, my mentor and teacher of 15 years.  Ken took the Rangers though how to use a Strong’s concordance to look up the roots and definitions of various terms in the Scriptures as to equip them to be able to craft their own devotionals, sermons, and Bible studies.  I had a flashback or two of learning that skill alongside Sarah and the others in the first Rangers group years ago, a skill that I never quite honed to the point I could (or should have).  Ken also instructed them in his own methods of building a sermon and how all of that is structured; an inside view of the preparation he does consistently to be able to reach into the lives of students five nights a week, eight weeks a year at Lake Ann Camp.  As Reborne Rangers is a program that builds upon itself, these skills are not imparted for the sake of the skills alone; the Rangers then had to use what they had been taught to construct their own thoughts on a passage in the Word and present it later that evening after they spent the afternoon studying, researching, and writing on the beach of Lake Michigan.

That evening, I traveled out to Lake Michigan to listen to the few Rangers who would be chosen to share what they had studied earlier on the beach.  Traveling with me was Cheryl Tinsley, a high school teacher who would share her story with us later that night, a story stranger than fiction, a story that would end up on the Discovery, History, or Weather Channel today; a survivors tale.  As the Rangers lumbered up the embankment from the beach and met us in the parking lot, I had the feeling that few actually knew what awaited us at the end of our journey to an even higher elevation.  I tend to not handle these things well, not to mention an apprehension when it comes to uncontrolled heights because of my struggle with physical stability, so assistance is often needed.  To solve that problem, enter JB:  one of the counselors for Reborne.  The solution was a classic one, the most fitting solution one can imagine considering my involvement:  The Skywalker Carry (just without the blue backpack).  JB handled the assent very well considering the extra weight, and the stability was impressive…most impressive.    As an aside, to stand upon this dune and look East is to see pristine fresh-water sea and to look to the West is to see the closest thing to The Shire of Middle Earth that I can imagine (or ever will see unless I actually make it to New Zeeland).

Once at the top, three were chosen to share what they had worked at studying on the sands of a Great Lake earlier in the day.  From Gideon in the Book of The Judges to the Wisdom of Solomon in Proverbs and beyond, those chosen exhibited well the gifts of intellect and oratory given to them.  Is there room for honing and improvement?  Of course there is, but upon a good foundation they are.

Enter Cheryl and her gripping tale of survival.  At Lake Ann Camp there is a flagpole that the Jr. High program gathers around every morning during the many weeks of camp to begin their day.  On this flagpole is a plaque dedicating the spot to four individuals who were involved in a wilderness expedition accident during the summer of 1980.  Of this accident there was only one survivor and Cheryl was that one.  The four of them set out in canoes upon Lake Michigan and during this expedition a sudden storm came upon the lake, capsizing their canoes.  Three of the individuals succumbed to hypothermia that night and passed into eternity, despite efforts to keep them going.     Cheryl eventually came in contact with land and wandered for 5+ hours until help could be found, and this is after treading water and fighting hypothermia herself for many hours prior.  It is so evident that she believes she was preserved to be able to tell this story to those like the Rangers, so that the legacy of those who passed in the accident can live on in others.   The motto of Reborne is “Life is a Stewardship, not an Ownership” and this idea comes from one of the individuals who perished in that accident in 1980.

Thursday was the day wherein my Reborne Rangers 2012 experience took on a whole new level and I learned even more of the reason why I was supposed to be there all week that week, that reason was because of a young man named Josiah Wyse.  Josiah’s amazing story began an entire year before I ever met him, and it began at Lake Ann Camp of all places.  A year ago Josiah came to Lake Ann Camp as a Sr. High camper.  What no one knew was that Josiah arrived at Lake Ann Camp with a fully written suicide note in his back pocket, intent on acting on the idea under-girding that note after camp was concluded.  As the story was told to me, the young Wyse was “giving God one week to show him that his life held meaning, was worthwhile, and that someone else actually cared.” And to Lake Ann Camp he came.  By week’s end – through the words of Ken Rudolph and the love of his counselors and fellow team-mates –  he was imbued with the sense of worth and courage to stand before the camp, tell the tale, and throw the note (Death’s written claim upon his life) into the fire and allow the light to burn Death’s claim into oblivion.    It was after this amazing series of events that Josiah was chosen to attend Reborne Rangers a few weeks ago.  I was made aware of this story last year shortly after it happened and I was just amazed, as I had never heard something quite like this coming from Lake Ann ever before (and that is saying something).

It wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon of that week that I put all the pieces together and realized all of this and that realization was overwhelming as I further understood some of the behind-the-scenes reasoning as to why I felt compelled to talk about some of my darker experiences as a teenager:  someone needed to know that they weren’t the only one whom Death had tired to take as a teen and had lived to tell it.  In spending time with Josiah that morning, we talked of the power of his story and the impact it can have on others to show them God’s power and the importance of life; it helped that it tied in well with my comments on purpose and destiny from earlier in the week.  I am certain he understood, and does so to a degree the average teenager isn’t quite capable of; fortunately, Rangers are anything but average.

Thursday afternoon was the pinnacle of the Rangers Alpha week as the students traveled to downtown Traverse City to engage in street evangelism, to take their previous hours of instruction and training and apply it in field exercise.  Prior to embarking on the bus I shared with them a bit of what it’s like to work amongst the chaos of Capitol Hill and how, when things get intense, two questions often invade my thinking in a given situation: 1) Is someone dying? 2) Is an individual’s eternal destiny at stake?  If the answers to either of these questions are “no” – which they are 99.9% of the time – then it’s “not a big deal”.  It’s a reminder, a call for perspective.   I shared this because what they were about to go do actually encompassed #2:  the eternal destiny of some individuals WOULD change that day, so this WAS a big deal.  Knowing also that many of the Rangers were nervous and fearful – because this IS outside the comfort zone of most people – I imparted to them my scripturally sound homage to the oath of the Green Lantern Corps:  “In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night, We cannot escape His sight; He who loves us with all His might, He casts out all fear, Jesus Christ the Light” (Little did anyone know how well those words would serve me a day hence.)

As we boarded the bus and lumbered down the road, my good friend Josue Valdez sitting in the seat across from me, I was once again taken back into the past, returning to my own memories of the Thursday wherein I was a Ranger on that same bus with Josh Call, Lynnea (Campbell) Strout, and Becky…thirteen years ago.  I recalled our own fear, trepidation, and uneasiness, but also our joy at being used to bring someone to Jesus.  For Josue and I, our role in this “live-fire exercise” was a role of support and prayer, lifting the arms of these Rangers as Aaron and his son lifted the arms of Moses in battle.  As we arrived in Traverse City and the Rangers prepared to leave in their small teams, Josiah ran back and grabbed me, asking for prayer from “Yoda” (which was gladly granted).  I told him that my  prayer was that the Lord would use him and specificity his story to reach another in need of the Hope that Christ offers.  Having prayed this off he went, as Josue and I wandered around keeping an eye on the Rangers as best we could and praying for them.  There’s no doubt that it was a stretching time for all of them as some of them found us as we wandered and rested, asking for us to pray for them on the spot to ward off fear and discouragement.

Upon return to Lake Ann, as we all sat together in the training room eating burgers, the stories began to flow.  Lizzie and her team telling a humorous story of an encounter with a homeless man.  James describing a woman he met as “being a lot like Sheldon from Big Bang Theory” (I laughed aloud at that one).  Katie Champagne sharing aspects of her unique journey with a woman who responded, saying:  “I think I was supposed to meet you.”    As the time of sharing continued, Josiah began to tell the story of wandering the area with his team and how, just as they were crossing a crosswalk, all he said was “I’m going in” and he was gone.  He’d eyed a young man named Max, and for some reason felt compelled to try and share Jesus with him.  As it happens Max was wrestling with some of the same things that Josiah wrestled with a year before and it is in these moments that Josiah saw his opportunity and  took it: to share with Max his own saga, from where he was to where he is now and what helped him get there, sharing Christ along the way.  His story was used to change the trajectory of Max’s life for eternity, as Jesus became his and Max became His.  Hearing this, part of me was floored yet part of me wasn’t as the Spirit asked a simple question:  “This is what you asked for though, isn’t it?” (To which there was no honest retort.)  After the time of stories and rejoicing was over, I gave young Josiah the best hug a small Jedi can, fully confident that the Lord would continue to use his story to reach others (we were all unaware of how soon that would actually be).

Upon the end of such a long and exhausting day, Josue and I ventured out with “The Commander” for some late-night pizza and a better time of fellowship, laughs, thoughts, and wisdom could not have been had.  We could only imagine what it must have been like for the folks behind the counter to see an an older guy, a Mexican, and handicapped man to walk into a pizza joint late at night; in the end, it wasn’t a big deal…but the Saga of Rangers was far from over.

Stay tuned, next week, same bat-channel for the trilling conclusion!

Aaron

On Wednesday evening of this week, I missed a fight for the first time.  In almost thirty years of flying I have never missed a flight.  I was to catch a flight from Ronald Regan Airport to Detroit Metro to spend time in Michigan, a well-worn routine.  While this summer flight to Michigan generally happens in August, part of the reasoning for an early trip was needing to get to Lake Ann  Camp next week to speak to the Alpha week of Reborn Rangers 2012, a special leadership program that has run each summer since 1999; the other reason, because my family was already planning on being at the Watchtower in the Upper Peninsula (the lake house in the middle of nowhere) and extra travel on their part to retrieve me wasn’t going to happen on my account.  In preparation for this  flight, I made sure to do two things: (1) to book a cab ahead of time, and (2) check with the TSA to make sure that I was allowed to pack a toy lightsaber into my carry-on bag for use at Lake Ann Camp later on.  I checked with the TSA and booked the cab; that cab never arrived. The company tried to track it down, never did, and sent another cab.  This second cab whisked me away to the airport, but to no avail; TSA security took their time making me wait for a special screening – since I can’t go through detectors – and did nothing when I clearly heard my name being called for this flight to Michigan, which happened to be the last flight to Michigan for the night.  Rushing to the gate was an exercise in futility as I realized the door was closed and the plane moments from pulling away.

“When is the earliest flight tomorrow?” I asked the girl behind the Delta counter. “6 am, and you might want to be on that one”, she replied.  Calling my Dad, I explained the situation and after conferring with him, elected for the 6 am flight.  With my next move decided, I grabbed my bags and walker and slowly made my way out of the airport to a cab, feeling a bit deflated and defeated as the cab drove me home to The Sanctum.  Upon arrival home, an out of state friend calls and I explain the situation, considering the possibility that there was a reason I missed that flight beyond a cab driver’s mistake; her affirmation was simple “there’s probably someone you’re supposed to meet tomorrow” and I left it at that.  Later that evening I posted about the debacle on Facebook and a friend mentioned “sounds like you might be living an episode of Touch”; the FOX show about an autistic boy who can see the connections between people – expressing what he sees through patterns and numbers – and his struggling father who aids the boy in ensuring that certain lives cross at the proper time.  I went to bed that night knowing I had to be up at 3:45 am to catch another cab at 4:30 am for this 6:00 am flight.

Awaking the next morning, I got ready for the long day ahead and packed some last minute items.  As I was going about this task, a verse from the Book of Genesis exploded into my mind in song form – thanks to all those years of listening to GT and the Halo Express – Genesis 1:27, so I began to hum and sing it as I went about my business.  In short order I received a text message to my phone informing me the taxi I scheduled was en-route to my location.  I hurried out the door with bags and walker to meet the taxi in front of my apartment building.  As I approached the car, I noticed the identification number: 127.  I stopped, looked again, smiled, and got in the car; maybe I WAS about to live a television episode.

Upon arrival to the airport, personnel were kind enough to get me through the security line quickly and no TSA agent went rummaging through my carry-on to inspect the lightsaber traveling within.  Past security, I stopped for breakfast at the McDonald’s near my departure gate and had to execute the child-like stunt  of sneaking under the barrier to get in line.  This caught the attention of a man standing in line named Mark, who helped me pass the barrier once he caught on to what I was doing; there aren’t too many in line for McDonald’s at the airport at 5 am on a Thursday.  We got to talking about still being child-like when you grow older and the wonderful gentleman offered to pay for my breakfast.  It’s afterwards that we began to talk about why he was in town and where he was from.  I learned that he was in town to talk to members of the Minnesota Congressional Delegation about some hunting and conservation issues.  Asking what offices he visited, he mentioned two offices where I knew folks who worked there and we talked about who those people were and my connections to them.  Unfortunately our conversation was cut short as he had to catch his multi-stop flight back to Minnesota.  Reflecting on that, the small voice in the back of my mind insisted I contact him to share the story of my own journey with no idea the effect such a tale might have.  Considering the last time that clearly happened, a “chance” meeting which lead to The FENX Project appearing on NBC around the country, I have complied with that prompting and hopefully it encourages him in the midst of a world where there is less and less to smile about.

On a lesser note, during my flight I heard a young lady in my row ask the person next to her why it was that the “superhero base” in The Avengers was a “flying, invisible boat.”  I seized the opportunity to set her strait and explain it’s from the comic books and you need to sometimes do things to keep the fanboys happy; besides, it is Joss Whedon we’re talking about.  As one friend later remarked to me, “And you wondered why you were on that flight…”  With this whole “adventure within an adventure” behind me, who knows what next week at Lake Ann Camp might bring, but I know I’ll be meeting some folks for the first time whom I am meant to connect with.

Riding Towards Eternity,

Aaron