Thin Places (an excerpt from Journeys; the adventures of a Nomad)

The following is a short excerpt from the second draft of Journeys; the adventures of a Nomad.  Hope y’all enjoy!

The summer following my sophomore year of high school, I received the opportunity to journey alongside forty of my classmates and friends to a weeklong summer camp at Young Life’s Saranac Village in upper state New York.  …

In the early morning hours, we boarded the bus and I began to open my eyes to those that surrounded me; we were an eccentric group of high school kids.  We had the jocks and the preps, members of the marching band and drum line, shy kids who kept to themselves, drug dealers and users, skaters, punks, and everything in between.  And as we began our journey towards the hills of the Adirondack Mountains of New York, we began to form a bond that crossed all the lines of our high school society.

We slept throughout the night as the miles flew beneath us. After a quick stop midmorning, we continued on our way, somehow ending up heading in the wrong direction for several hours. By lunchtime, when we were supposed to be arriving at camp, we were completely lost and still several hours from our destination.  After receiving directions from one of the locals in the area, we headed back onto the road hoping to catch the first night’s activities.

I don’t know if our bus driver missed the turn or forgot where we were going, but we were forced to make a quick turn around when we spotted a sign that simply stated “Canadian Border 5 Miles, Have Passport Ready.”  As night fell around us, we entered the wilderness and back roads that surrounded the Upper, Middle, and Lower Saranac Lakes.  For several hours we continued to wind our way up and down roads that we were sure contained our destination, even as someone shared that this was exactly like a scene out of Jeepers Creepers.

Unbeknownst to us, the light that stood at the entrance of the camp had burned out, leaving the driveway shrouded in darkness.  Although we had found the correct road, we continued to pass by the entrance, unaware that our destination was within reach. After stopping to ask for directions from a cop standing in the rain under a lamp post, we arrived at Young Life’s Saranac Village.

We piled out of the bus, unloaded our things into our cabins, and fell asleep after an exhausting twenty three and a half hours of traveling, to wake several hours later to see the beauty that surrounded us.

As I stood outside the cabins the next morning, looking out over the path that led down to the shores of Upper Saranac Lake and the Adirondack Mountains beyond, I felt a physical presence that I had never felt before. Within the golden rays of the sunrise reflecting off the waters, throwing a golden hue over the camp, I felt something looking over the islands and mountains that rose out of the waters before me; it was a physical presence up on the hill beside me. Everything seemed small as the air moved in peaceful breaths around me. It felt as if a friend was standing at my side, welcoming me back with open arms.

It wasn’t until I returned to this place, three years later, that I discovered the words to describe what I felt as I stood there.  There are places where the beauty of nature and the untamed wilderness allow us to feel a spiritual connection to something bigger than ourselves. These places where it feels as if the physical and spiritual worlds intertwine together were described to me as “thin places.”

And in that first morning at Young Life’s Saranac Village, I stumbled into one of these thin places and knew that there was something more.

I write this because it was just over 11 years ago that this adventure with Young Life changed my life. There is so much more to this story that is yet to be written out in words, but it has remained in my heart and has shaped my life.

I share it today because this morning, I was frustrated.  I was upset and angry. And yet, I have been surrounded by the beauty of nature each and every day for the past six weeks up here in Montana. When times our rough, we each need a reminder that God is and will always be present. Especially in the Thin Places.

This also goes out to an amazing man who showed me what it meant to give your life for something bigger. He has continued to be a positive influence in the lives of the youth and a pillar of faith in my life, even though our paths parted years ago. He was and is more than a Young Life Leader, but a mentor, friend, and brother in Christ.

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Children of God

I’m what church people would consider a “bad Christian.”  I don’t do daily devotionals. I don’t read the Bible as much as I ‘should.’ I don’t have a home church. I am not currently active in a set community of believers that meets up once a week or so to discuss faith.

I church hop.  I travel around too much to consider a single church home. I’ve participated in Catholic Mass, a Baptist service, and a Non-Denominational sunrise service.  All in the past couple months. I was born and raised in the Roman Catholic Church. Went to Catholic Heart Work Camp several summers in a row. Was active in my church Youth Group and Youth Choir, and was part of Young Life at the same time.  I lead middle school youth through Wyld Life.  I served at Summer Camps, did missions trips, and went to a Southern Baptist university. I consider myself non-affiliated to any single denomination.  And yet, sometimes I feel like I have deserved the title of “Bad Christian.”

Yesterday morning, while sitting on the steps outside the office waiting on the rest of my team to arrive to head out on project, I pulled out my Bible and turned to a random page, and began reading.  And this is what I read:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
– John 1:1-13

I reread it. Several times.

I read it again this morning.

You see, I’m not a “good” Catholic. I’m not a “good” Christian. All I am is a child of God.

A child that was reborn through the waters of baptism in Lake Heartwell, in front of a beautiful group of friends. A community. A family of believers.

I noticed two things today. Two things that never really registered, but were always there.

First: I have nothing. I have no light of my own. No love. No waters of life.

You and I are like the moon. Everything we have is a reflection of God. We are each a light in the darkness because of the light of love that God pours out in our lives. All the love I share, all the hope that pours forth, is from God. I am just a vessel, a witness of his works in this world.

And I have been blessed to be part of the story.

Second: No matter how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ I am, I will always be a child of God.

I recently became an uncle once again. My sister and brother-in-law are adopting a beautiful, little baby boy. He is part of our family. I know this not because of blood, but because the love that pours forth from his parents, his mother and father who have brought in into their lives.

I see this. And I know this is only a fraction, a reflection of the love that God pours out onto each one of us. He is our Abba. Our Father in Heaven. I am His adopted son. We are His children. Sons and daughters.

It took watching the joy in my sisters smile, the love in her voice, for me to realize how powerful, how beautiful it is to be adopted into the family of God.

It doesn’t matter if I’m a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ Christian. God loves me just the same.

And He loves you too.