Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Someone you need to get to know...

...my 13 year old. I've talked about my (teenage!) son before. (That's him on the far right in the "Vote For Pedro" shirt, along with his friends, Holden and Sean.) He's pretty amazing if I do say so myself. Yes, there's the sighs, the rolling of the eyes, the things one would expect from a teenager but there's also something different. I'd like you to experience what I mean for yourself. I am reposting (with his permission) a blog entry that he wrote last night about his experience last weekend at Fall Forward, a retreat our church has for 8th graders to equip them for leadership. As a parent, I was floored...as a (sometimes) writer, I was drawn in...as a Christ follower, I was moved.

Fall Forward: The Retreat that Changed My Life Forever
Current mood: reflective
Category: reflective Religion and Philosophy

Well...Fall Forward. What an experience. It all started Friday: the 14th, at River Valley Church. Right across from Penn. A bunch of eighth graders packed their things into a trailer and got in two separate vans to head to the retreat!

Before I go any further, let me explain what Fall Forward is. It is a retreat for 8th graders. It was for them to discover who they are in Christ and learn to become leaders among the Jr. High.

So, when we arrived at the lakehouse (the one that belongs to the Ryans), we all unpacked our things and the guys went downstairs, while the girls went upstairs. (The guys weren't allowed in the upper room, and the girls weren't allowed downstairs, while the main floor was "neutral". A few girls did not obey this rule. But all the boys did. haha.)

Anyway...the rest of the night was spent playing outside and watching football (a little bit). We swam in the lake for a while, and I realized after getting out that I had not packed a towel. After funtime was over, it was time for our group meeting, which was basically the only religious thing we did while at the lakehouse. That night's lesson: Giving what you have to God's will, and to others who need it most. The lesson was pretty solemn. Two girls began crying halfway through because guilt was dawning on them. Yeah, the lesson my uncle (the pastor for Jr. High) had prepared was that powerful. As we closed our eyes, and my uncle led us in personal prayer, a lady came in (unbeknownst to us) wearing mime paint and hobo clothes and carrying a bag containing bread, a candle, a little grape juice, and matches to light the candle with. As my uncle slowly asked us to open our eyes...my friends and I jumped back and began laughing. Even through our laughter though, the mime lady kept a straight face and performed her pantomime skit. The hobo-lady put down the bag slowly, and lit the candle. Even through my friends' and my constant snickering, something was itching at the back of my conscience. The lady took out her tiny bits of bread she had to eat, mimed a prayer over it, and brought it to her mouth. But she stopped before she took a bite and looked around, gazing at each of us in turn. I couldn't help but joke around, even with my uneasy feeling. But my amusement towards the skit quickly faded away as she turned to each one of us, again in turn, and gave us each a piece of bread. She smiled kindly at us as she did this, and it made me feel sorta guilty for goofing off, so i stopped. Next, the lady brought out the grape juice, mimed a prayer over it, and stopped before she took a sip. She again turned her head to look at each of us, and let us each dip our bread in the bowl of grape juice. like a mini-communion. But communion was not where this skit was going. The lady again sat up and prayed, right there in the middle of our group circle, and then slowly came up to each and everyone of us. She began wiping taking facepaint from her own face, and smearing a little bit on each of us. Before turning to the next person, she would pat us each one the back and give us each a gentle smile.

It was when she did this that I realized what was going. It dawned on me what this lesson was really about. And as my uncle had us bow our heads, he explained to us what it was: To give everything you may have to others, so that they may see God and so His will be carried out. This hit tremendously close to home for me. Since I found out I will move, I have been saying things like, "My church in San Diego doesn't have a youth group!" or "It can never teach me what I have learned here at River Valley!" and stuff like that. Yet, that night, I realized that that was the reason I had to move. The reason I was called to move. I had been moved to Indiana in the first place to meet all my great friends, and get to know God to an even deeper level than I couldn't have possibly imagined. And now, I was being drawn to San Diego to use that to bring others to Him. Even if it meant leaving everything behind. And that was what "Fall Forward" meant; at a spiritual level. It was not just learning to move forward at the beginning of Fall. But it literally meant what it says: "Fall Forward, and God will catch you". Pretty much. That was what was taught the next day.

The next day, we went to a Bible camp further into Michigan. There, we played games. Games that challenged our thinking skills, motor skills, and were just plain fun. But by the end of almost each game, each and every one of us in my group found a spiritual or deeper meaning into these games. And after lunch, they took us to the very thing my Uncle Paul had warned us about. The thing would challenge the very core of our bravery. The thing that may push us farther than we ever thought. The High Ropes Course. Basically, we were harnessed to a steel wire above us, a good distance above the ground, with a bunch of obstacles we were to traverse. The very first part, and the part that was the most nerve-wracking was climbing up a ladder, with your harnessed attached to a knot that on each step you had to move above your head, and then climbing up a pole with a few metal bars for steps. I made it up there. Then I looked down. It had seemed a little lower from the ground. It had seemed easier on the ground, too. I went to the first obstacle. I couldn't do it. I just stood there, at the first step of the first obstacle (we had a few paths to choose from), and I just couldn't do it. For some reason, I could not trust the harness to hold (although it was ensured to be perfectly safe). I ended up zip-lining down to the ground, having absolutely no self-respect for myself in me. I walked back towards the group of people who had had their turn before me, hoping they would not ask me the question I did not want to be asked "Why'd You stop?" Of course, many people asked me anyways. I was on the verge of tears. Yes, I was that ashamed of myself. But I held them in.

When the group was finished, they had a discussion of the spiritual meaning behind all this. And yes, this where they brought in the "Fall Forward" concept. They were talking about how the harness was like God. And how trusting in the harness to keep you safe was like trusting God. Being able to "Fall Forward" and he will catch you. Of course, my case was different than everyone else's. I hadn't been able to do it. And there was a reason for that...which i just realized today. (Two days after that Saturday). Being not able to trust in the harness perfectly portrayed how I did not trust in God. It showed me exactly how I had been in a direct application to the situation. The reason I had no faith to trust the harness, was to show me that I had had no faith to trust in God.

Later that day, we got to learn about spiritual gifts. Although I had already read about these before, my Uncle handed out a test, after the lesson. It showed us supposedly which gift we most likely had. My highest scores: Teaching and knowledge. Of course, I expected this. Not because I was full of myself, but because I, for the past year or so, had been reading the Bible for fun, taking deep and richer meaning in what I read. I had gotten involved in reading about apologetics, which is the process of proving through logical, scientific, and any other means, that the Bible is not false...or even to the extent that it is definitely true(once you prove to them it is not false), to non-believers. I had gotten into scientific analysis of the Bible. Risky territory, for it is easy to get too entangled in mixing up God's Word, but he kept me very alert and cautious through it. Anyways...so, i expected to get knowledge at least. But teaching was one of the things I didn't really expect. Sometimes, when I speak on stuff like that, it is hard for me to choose the right words to say to people. Yet, it came through as my other highest score (equal to knowledge). And again, it all connected to moving. It showed me that I have a gift. And that I needed to use that gift for the Lord. I needed to share the gift with others, like the mime-hobo-lady had done with her things. I needed to let go of the harness and use my gift wherever even if it is dangerous for me, because, like the harness, God will catch me when I choose to "Fall Forward". Everything tied in. Everything made sense.

Although the very next day was uneventful (spending it mostly sleeping and watching TV), It gave me time to think over the significance of the weekend. Fall Forward had been exactly what I needed to get through my pain and sadness at the exact right time I needed it. I got encouraged to move, so I did not have to live in constant fear when I moved To San Diego until I learned all this by myself. He allowed me to go on this retreat so that I may not be afraid to do all that I have written about today.


laura said...

WOW! I cried as I read what your son wrote! Tell him that God spoke to me as I read his heart. WOW! To see God in the heart of this young man! That was so awesome, I have to read it again!

travis said...

whoa. i'm totally floored. landen's got a gift for sure. well, let's just say he has many gifts! i'm honored to have him as a nephew and humbled by his intelligence and emotional vulnerability. as laura said, WOW!