Thursday, June 29, 2006

Interesting Thursday Morning Details.

1. Not only am I going home for the world's largest wedding next week (320 attendees and counting...cousin Kris and Desiree know the whole town of Newcomerstown, Ohio,) I will be enjoying a "Day at Cedar Point" with the Baker/Casey/Welch/Whiting clan. And besides hanging out with my riduculously crazy family, Isaac is going to join in on the fun. Woohoo! Anyone else in for a good day of craziness at America's Roller Coast? A week from Monday? Be there!

2. Toad the Wet Sprocket and The Verve Pipe are playing a free show in Arlington on August 13th. "Can't be held responsible....she was touching her face..." Welcome to the 90's...I'm Kennedy, I'll be your VJ. Anyone want to join me for a free concert in Arlington that will make you feel like you're 15?

3. My office is gradually becoming blank and empty. I have about 14 more hours left in the Arlington YD office before I officially start in my new role as Communications Director in Burlington on Monday.

4. I actually bought groceries this week. And I ate a real meal with the groceries I bought, including a chicken caesar salad and an orange-pineapple smoothie. I would like to say that buying groceries is a great way to improve your quality of life, and I totally recommend it.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Deschutes River:
A How-To Guide to Surviving (and Enjoying) a Week of Whitewater Rafting with Eight Teenagers.

Step #1:
Co-Lead the trip with one of your good friends and mentors.

For Greg and I, this is the 3rd river trip on which we've worked together during my two years in Washington...and we have a 4th trip next month. So--it's beginning to feel breezy spending six days in the backcountry with smelly teenagers and 800 pounds of gear. (Okay, maybe not a breeze, but at least we know each other's strengths and weaknesses well.)

When it's day six, and you're dirty and exhausted, it's important to have a co-leader you can be honest with and depend on. On the last night, when I'm at the end of my rope in dealing with a difficult student, I can go to him and be encouraged. I say: "Kenny doesn't want to come to group time." He says, "Well. Let's pray about it. It's the only thing that will make a difference anyways." Nice.

Also, as two sarcastic adults, we mutually agree that it's nice to have another Christian brother or sister you trust there to say, "Hey. Quit being a jerk."

Step #2:
Develop creative and seemingly rule-breaking methods to entertain the students on the long van ride.

Within five minutes of stepping into the van on Day 1, I said, "Hey. I rode in this van to Sacramento last fall, and we discovered that if you put a gum wrapper into the air vent in the last row, you can time it. It's fun."

The kids loved the idea, and within a few short hours and a stop at the dollar store, the game had developed beyond a gum wrapper game: it began to resemble some sort of elaborate Mardi-Gras-type of entertainment. Shreds of crepe paper were blowing all over the van by the handful.

Too bad they had to pay the consequences of a stopped-up air vent a few hours later. Then all I heard was, "Heather, it's hot back here. Why did you let us play that stupid game?" My response: "Does anyone want to play Electronic 20 Questions?"

Step #3:

Be Energized by the Small Things.

On night two, I was beside myself because dessert consisted of Pound Cake, Fresh Strawberries, and Fresh Whipped Cream. This was ridiculously glamorous compared to the backcountry desserts I'm used to (trail mix, instant pudding, or jelly on tortillas.) My overjoy with the situation proved just how important it is to fully appreciate these luxuries when they're there.

In the absence of showering or morning espresso, I greet my backcountry day with joy each morning thanks to foaming face wash and a lexan french press. Somehow, washing your face and making fresh coffee every morning off sets any of the seeming uncomfortabilities. Washing your face and making coffee in the backcountry is like becoming a whole new person. I think I might write a song about that...about how foaming face wash and a french press can save your life...well maybe not your life, but at least they're centering.

Step #4:
Invite along a few of your favorite kids.

This is technically my last hurrah in student ministry with Arlington YD as Arlington YD staff (before I move into a new position as Communications Director on July 1st.)

Fortunately, I was able to spend the week with two girls I've worked closely with over the last two years. It was so good to realize that my two years in full-time ministry has amounted to something significant where they're concerned. Our relationship has grown so deep! I was talking to our river guides about the students, explaining where they were at in life and what they're home lives are like. I realized that I was saying, "I've known these girls since they started high school." I suddenly knew I was a bigger part of their story than just a fleeting friend or mentor.

Even more exciting was that another week together on the river only deepened our relationship, and I'm confident that our mentoring relationship with continue even after I'm in my new position. I have so much energy to continue investing in them and discipling them.

Step #5:
Value your sleep.

Good sleep is a mandatory prerequisite to enjoying your week. All of the following situations will result in bad sleep and grumpy leadership:

1. setting up your bed on a slope. (you'll end up four feet below the tarp, or worst-case, in the river.)
2. setting up your bed in a rocky area. (this sounds obvious, but when your other option is "tall grass full of snakes," it's sometimes an enticing option.)
3. bringing along a sleeping bag that doesn't wrap around your head. (you need it to double as a bunker in the event of a windstorm. it needs to effectively guard your head on all five sides while still allowing adequate ventilation...otherwise, the inside of your sleeping bag gradually develops a fine layer of gritty sand as the night wears on.)
4. forgetting to check your self-inflating thermarest sleeping pad for holes before the trip. (otherwise, what you get is a really flimsy piece of foam that gives off the impression that you're enjoying backcountry luxury while you actually feel like you're sleeping on an anvil.)
5. forgetting to bring your ear plugs. (on night one your kids may wake up at 4am and start talking loudly and refuse to shut up, which directly result in three hours of sleep for you.)

Step #6:
Pick a river with sweet whitewater.

85 miles of river can have some very high high's, like when you're hitting fun Class III rapids like Boxcar (pictured here.) There can also be times of flat, slow-moving water with wind pushing you upstream faster than the current is pushing you downstream.

The real highlight of a week of whitewater? For all of the girls, it turned out to be an unexpected swim!

On our final day on the river, the boys boat had planned to flip their boat on purpose. They chose a "stopper" wave on a Class III rapid named Colorado. They even did two practice flips in calm water and pawned off all of their excess gear, which was loaded in the girls boat.

Plans went awry, however, when the girls pounded through Colorado first and executed a textbook move termed "royal flush" where the entire boat is emptied of all passengers, including the guide, but the boat itself manages to stay upright. Somewhere between the time when I saw students flying through the air towards me and the moment when I actually planted myself back in the boat after some strategic kicking to keep us off of shallow rocks, I laughed at the irony of it all. We had no intention of flipping, yet we had, and the boys had to miss their planned flip because of the need to round up all of the gear that was strewn across the river (most of which was theirs.) By the time we were all safely back in the boat, we were all laughing hysterically. The girls thought it was incredibly fun, and it became their high for the week!

Unfortunately--we will never live down denying the boys their flip which, "could have happened and should have happened if they hadn't had to take care of all of our gear." Somehow, we all felt very empowered by the warrior princess nicknames we had given each other earlier in the day. There was something sweet about hearing the boys say their highlight was doing a "practice flip" and hearing the girls say their highlight was "catapulting out of the boat on that sweet hole in Colorado!"

Step #7:
Always remain confident that God is in control.

On a week-long trip, something's always gone to go "wrong," and it's always going to be a significant moment.

On Day Four, we had to hop a shuttle to portage around a Class VI rapid (Sherar's Falls.) It wasn't until we were leaving camp the next morning that we discovered the oars for the gear boat had never been unloaded from the shuttle trailer. Suddenly, we were without any way to move our hundreds of pounds of gear. So we prayed. Then Greg climbed a mountain and got a wee bit of cell service, enough to contact the shuttle driver and get the oars sent on their way. In the meantime, the kids were playing games.

I settled down on the beach to read my Bible. Kids started gathering around me, and it was distracting my reading, so I asked them if I could read aloud. I was in 2 Corinthians, so I started explaining about Paul. Kids started asking questions. Within ten minutes, we were entrenched with a deep, theological discussion on the nature of Christ, the Holy Grail, the early church, the validity of the Bible as a historical document, Jesus' interactions with the Pharisees, and on and on. The conversation lasted several hours, continuing during most of the morning's float down the river. It was the most significant spiritual discussion that happened all week, and it was a direct result of forgetting the oars.

So...sometimes when we think things are "wrong" we end up being exactly where God wants us.

Step #8:
Praise God that He has called you to a place and a time where you can do all of this as service to Him!

One whole week in the remote pieces of God's creation always provides plenty of time for spiritual rejuvination for me personally. When I'm out tackling the rapids and voyaging through canyons, how can I help but praise Him?

And when I'm feeling that strong of a connection to the Lord, how can I help but share it with the students?

So, thanks to Greg, Dave, Laura, Anastasia and Zach for co-leading a great trip down the Deschutes. And thanks to our eight students, who braved the wilderness with us.

Please be praying for them as they continue forward after this small piece in their own spiritual journeys!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Battle.

The week has been hectic, gathering up students and paperwork for our river trip that leaves Sunday. It's my last responsibility in the Arlington office, so I'm definitely wanting everything to go well. Of course, "going well" is always a loose definition the week before a trip.

i.e. Something as minor as "final numbers" shouldn't be as difficult as it always is. Here's a hypothetical example of what normally happens in the days preceding a trip:

Bronco: "How many students do we have today?"
Me: "Well. We have paperwork from 2. I have 6 verbal confirmations with no deposits. I just talked to Karlie's mom, and I think she's interested in going, but I haven't seen a deposit yet. We have medical forms from Jack and Jenny, but we have no deposits. And I just talked to YD Adventures, and they need to know a concrete number tomorrow for prepping the gear."
Bronco: "Have you talked to Bobby?"
Me: "No. Does he want to go?"
Bronco: "I saw him at school today, and I think he's interested."
Me: "Okay, I'll call him. Can you track down Jimmy and Jon? I think I saw them hanging out by the bus stop earlier. We need their paperwork."
Bronco: "Okay, I'll try to get them on MySpace."
(enter Stuart)
Stuart: "Hey, I just talked to Jimmy, and he's decided not to go."
Me: "Why?"
Stuart: "Because he just started dating a girl in Marysville, and he doesn't want to leave her for the week."
Me: "Wasn't he dating someone a different love of his life last week?"
Stuart: "Yeah, but apparently this girl has a car, so I think it's going to last. He gets really mad if you refer to her as 'sugar mama.'"
Me: "So is Jon still going to go?"
Stuart: "Only if we let Ben go."
Me: "Ben's graduating this week. He's not even our target demographic anymore. Do you think Jon would still go if Alex goes?"
Stuart: "I don't know. I'll call Alex and see if he's up for it. Last I heard, he had his grandma's birthday party next week and couldn't go."
Me: "Okay. Thanks. And if you can think of any girls, we need some. So far we have 1 1/2. "
Bronco: "Who's the 1/2?"
Me: "Bethie. She says she doesn't know yet, because she won't make any decision any further than 48 hours before we're leaving. I'm going to show up at her mom's office this afternoon and say that we have to have them today or she can't go."
(phone rings. Stuart answers.)
Stuart: "That was Jesse. He says he can't go because he just got a new job and they want him to start on the Saturday we get back. Apparently, they can't wait to let him start on Sunday, because they'll give the job to someone else."
Me: "That's ridiculous. We'll be back by 3:30p."
Stuart: "Yeah, but it's apparently some construction deal and they're going down to Tacoma and camping all week, so he has to leave with the group on Saturday morning because his car's not fixed yet."
Me: "Lord. You know. You know this trip is going to be powerful and amazing. Please show us who to invite and please open the hearts of these kids who need to hear Your Truth."

In real life...we leave in 72 hours. We have 8 kids confirmed and 2 vacancies. Pray for our 8 kids to follow-through...pray for the 2 potential...and pray that the Lord will reign victorious in the lives of these kids this week and next.

Monday, June 12, 2006

On Sunday

I leave for a seven-day trip with the Deschutes River, where we'll spend 5 days in a raft, covering 96 miles of river.

It will be rad.

I can't wait.

Friday, June 09, 2006

A Big Rock.

"Quiet Time" has been overwhelming lately. Every time I try to sit and think and pray, I end up in one of two places: falling asleep or feeling paralyzed. To cope with it, I turn on the TV. TV allows you to do something while being awake, but it's certainly unfulfilling. I want to be doing something, but I'm incapable of sitting still without going catatonic.

Being rational and also being a former psych major, I say to myself, "What is the root issue here?" So I delve into myself as self-counselor (a common malady of people with 20 hours of Psych classes.) Self usually ends up skipping past "root issue" and pointing me straight towards solution:

A few months ago, self's solution was "mountain cabin in Alaska." This plan seemed like the perfect solution for a few weeks. I would live in a cabin at the base of a mountain. In my backyard would be a Class III river and ski lift. I planned to write books all day and travel as a speaker. My friends would visit me winter or summer to participate in their extreme sport of choice. This lifestyle would be funded by marrying a pilot for Alaska Airlines, who would be excited to have a home base for his travels. Also, it would result in lots of free tickets for me to visit friends and family who are far away. That was a few months ago. Eventually I realized the 4 hours of daylight in winter and the 4 hours of dark in winter would not leave me happy or healthy. I compromised the solution by deciding Washington was the best of all possible worlds. Self must be seeking a new solution, however, because today its plan is "move to Nashville and become a country songstress."

Obviously, the root issue is that whenever I try to figure out why quiet time isn't going well, my solution becomes "move." (I believe this is called escapism.) It doesn't really address the problem.

So--ignoring self's fantasy solutions, I refocus and revisit the problem. The problem is "being overwhelmed with busyness to the point of being ineffective in everything." Sound familiar? I've been in job transition for 2 1/2 months, so I've been straddling two offices and two sets of responsibilities while simultaneously training as a whitewater rafting guide and raising support. Not only have I become ineffective at all four of these tasks simultaneously, I have become an inconsistent relational being (i.e. relatively incapable of carrying on an interesting conversation and keeping up with friends and family across the globe.)

Last week, becoming fed up with this state of life, I said, "No more!" and began to adopt my personal mantra of, "If everything is important, then nothing is!" I started using that cheesy analogy about filling up a jar with the big rocks first and then the little rocks and then the sand and then the water in order to make sure your priorities are in order.

By Saturday night, I was sitting around a campfire with my staff and my kids and Bronco asked us, "What do you need to surrender?" I immediately said, "my schedule." So I threw this stick in the fire and said, "God, take my schedule. Show me what the big rocks are. I surrender my day-to-day to you, because you know that I stink at organizing it myself."

It felt good to say it outloud. It felt good to watch that stick burn. It felt good to feel that word "surrender" and all that it implies. But Monday still came, and the paralyzed feeling still pervades. It seemed for a few days that even though I'd "surrendered," all I'd really done was recognize the problem, not really surrender it.

Blah! When will it end!? When will I cease the catatonic life and embrace some sort of movement? The answer is YESTERDAY...

Because YESTERDAY, I stumbled upon my friend Lauren's blog. She shares a plan for her summer which includes her and a friend reading through the Bible in 12 weeks. This caught my eye because it was meaty and bold. (You can read about it here.) Suddenly, this was something I could get my hands on that didn't feel overwhelming, because it's a BIG rock. If I spend 2 hours a day the whole summer reading the Bible, then my schedule will certainly be surrendered and the priorities will have to flush themselves out accordingly.

AND--the 12-week idea is contingent on finding someone to do the read-through with you, so that once a week you can talk about it and offer extrinsic accountability. It just so happens that this Friday marked Friday-morning-coffee-buddy Erin and I's end to a 4-month meandering through Captivating (which was much more about coffee and counseling than it was about Captivating.) I asked Erin if she would embark on 12 weeks through the Word with me, and she gave a resounding "Yup." Because she also is wanting something meaty...and neither of us have ever read through the Bible before.

So. By August 31st, Erin and I will have read through the whole Bible. Meaty? Yes. Big Rock? Yes. Catatonic? Absolutely not. I'm praying wholeheartedly that God would do something to me through this process. It's the first thing I've considered in 2006 in which quiet time is not overwhelming. I can't wait.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Flight Booked!

I will be in Ohio from July 7th to July 12th.

On the agenda:
A Backyard Cookout at the Baker home
Cousin Kris's Wedding
Worship @ Grace UMC
Cedar Point
A day in Put-In Bay
A visit with the extended Casey clan

Not too shabby.

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Gig...

Andy, Bethany, Jonathan and I had a blast performing for the 45 people who joined us for the Songwriters Showcase last evening.

The afternoon started early, with a last-minute run-through, gathering up the sound equipment and getting it all set up. It was stressful! Because...we had not thought to recruit roadies...apparently, you don't know that you need roadies until you have none. We discovered this need while we were rounding up all the gear, setting it up ourselves, doing a sound check by ourselves, and still trying to relax before the performance. (So if you have an interest in being our roadie, we pay in coffee.)

The set started with Beth and I performing four of my original hits: "Little John Lennon" (an ode to the Christmas present I made for Dad), "Invisible Children" (my social activism song about children sold into slavery), "Driving Home" (my pensive grown-up song, which seems to be generally liked, despite my hesitancy to ever become 'melancholy coffee shop songwriter'), and the ever-popular "Barrista Boy."

After a quick break, Andy and Jonathan launched into a lovely 45 minute set, and Andy even took a few moments to share the story of his personal faith with us. He even did plenty of shameless self-promotion for his platinum-selling album "River Side Songs." Okay...maybe not platinum....but soon to be! (I think 1 1/2 copies were sold at the event!)

So, if you weren't able to make it, I'm sorry you missed Gig #1 for Heather and Gig #2 for Andy. Andy said that the event was surely more exciting than his first gig, which was for an audience of 5.

Stay tuned for more gigs. I had fun. Maybe I'll recruit a band and go on tour...anyone know a good kazoo player?