Island Questions and Answers #167

On the middle Sunday night of every session, I would walk out to the Long House for the Island question and answer time.  The Long House is about 30’ long and 14’ wide, made by bending yellow birch saplings into 2/3 of an arch.  The saplings come up from both sides…and are the wired together where they overlap.  Inside it is uniquely beautiful.

The Long House would be lit with a few gas lights and a chair would be waiting, facing the 40 Island campers (ages 14-16), 8 counselors, the section chief and his assistant.  The Long House would be full!  After a few words of greeting, I would be handed a stack of unsigned questions, written by the campers and a few counselors.  Everyone knew I would respond to every question, and they knew I would say, in very straight talk, just what I thought.  I would open my mind and heart to the campers, and I think they greatly appreciated this.  There were many laughs, and there were periods of heavy thinking – You can say things to young men, 14-16, that you will not say to boys 9 years old.  The teenagers hear it all at school, often in very twisted ways.

I would sit down and sort the questions into stacks –  theological, Christian living, friends, girl friend/ wife, sex, Deerfoot, fun stuff like “Chief, how do you grow such long eyebrows?”  The questions gave me a wonderful opportunity, a spring board, to say most anything I felt it important to say.  Typical questions were about creation/evolution, free will vs. predestination, the fairness and the faithfulness of God, God’s guidance, prayer, role of women in the church, use of alcohol, friend in trouble, forgiveness, my devotional pattern, choosing a wife, sex before marriage, masturbation, pornography…you get the idea.  I would always start with theological questions and move to sex. Even after 1 ½ hours of sitting, they never fell asleep with the sex questions.  After giving my perspective, I would often ask the Island staff if they had something to add.

When there were different views on a question, I would do my best to present both views, why there were different views, and then give my view – which was sometimes “I am not sure what I think on this because…”  Every now and then I would be surprised by how a camper would respond to my answer.  I remember the camper who was stunned when I said pre-marital sex was not pleasing to God – his face said “this is news to me”.  Sometimes I could sense that what they were asking about a friend was really for them…to help guide their feelings, their actions.

I made the bad mistake one night of receiving the questions, and without reading them, telling the Islanders what the questions would be.  I could tell the Islanders were really upset by what I did.  Most of us like to think that we are unique, our questions are new – deep down we know they are not.

It was interesting to do Q & A with the staff.  Even though most had been Island campers, and many have been Island staff, their questions were not very different than the camper’s questions.   Staff members would ask more questions, very pointed questions, on my relationship with God, my devotional pattern, God’s guidance, male/female relationships, and in recent years, more about pornography.

The Bible addresses, directly or indirectly, almost every question – nothing is new!!!!  I had memorized verses in the King James Version.  I could not give the references for some, but they knew what I was saying was true to God’s word.  “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”  Jeremiah 29:13.   “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.  Proverbs 3:5-6   “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”  John 14:15   “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able ; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”  I Corinthians 10:13  The 10 commandments make many things clear.

Living the Christian life is not rocket science.  Our challenge is not in understanding, but doing what we know is right.  Human nature has not changed since creation – and thus the teachings of the Bible have not had to change.

I often said to the campers; do not expect God to guide you in special ways if you do not do what you know God has already asked you to do!   I have to remind myself of this, particularly if I want to live In Partnership With God.

Transition: struggle, pain, joy…and mixed feelings! #166

The Breaking of Bread service (Communion Service) at Deerfoot Lodge is a powerful experience for me, and for many.  The focus in this worship celebration is on what Jesus accomplished for us through His sacrificial death on the cross.

As I think I have said previously, those who have received God’s gift of salvation sit in a half circle around the table where the elements have been placed.  Worship and thanksgiving are encouraged as people read passages of Scripture, suggest a hymn, and lead in prayer.  Comments made are brief, the a capella singing is our praise, our response to God.

I have had the privilege of “leading” these services something over 325 times.  As DL Director, I opened the service, started the hymns, served the elements, and closed our time together in prayer.  Imagine standing in the middle 100 men singing It is Well With My Soul. “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows role;  Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well, It is well with my soul.” In vs. 3: “My sin, not in part, but the whole.  Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord O my soul!  It is well, it is well with my soul”

When Chief Ron became Director of DL, he asked that I continue to lead the singing at work weekend Breaking of Bread services.  After 8 years, I know my voice is clearly “going down hill”.  This past work weekend I asked Tim Daniels, long term DL camper, staff member, friend, and for many years, Director of Music at Long Hill Chapel, to sit next to me.

As we sang together I became very aware the time had come for Tim to lead the hymns.  Tim knows hymns, his voice is stronger, his range is greater.  Through the years Tim has even learned harmonies I have developed for many of the hymns!   It was time for transition, and I knew it…my tears began to flow.  This was a tough realization – but so much better for me to come to this realization than have people feeling “I just wish he would quit!”

When Chief Ron concluded the service, I stood and said the time had come for Tim to lead the singing portion of these services.  This transition was not significant to many there….but for me, a huge struggle!  I was in tears – a basket case.

As people left the area, Chief Ron graciously asked if I would still lead the hymns if Tim was unable to come for a work weekend.  It was easy to say yes.  I am thankful to God Almighty that those who have stepped into my role, like Chief Ron and Tim, are men I respect, men prepared for the responsibility and the joy of leadership.

After I had written the first draft of this IPWG, I received an e-mail from Jeff Mould, DL staff member years ago.  After serving as a camp director in California he is moving 3,500 miles to become the director of Northstar Bible Camp in Willow, Alaska – 1 ½ hr north of Anchorage.  Transition.  In some ways easy, but in others, really tough.  Daughter Joy shouted for joy, son Evan dissolved into tears.  His wife Tami writes “as time has passed, each of us, in our own way, is growing more excited.  As God answers prayer, it is clear He is leading our family to Northstar.”

In reality we live in transition all of the time: we graduate, get a job, are promoted – or laid off.  Marriage is transition – as is the birth of each child.  I remember when our son, Dirk, was first able to ride a bike.  We rode together, and then one day he asked for a race.  He got ahead – but his chain came off – and I won (for the last time!!!)  And I remember when he rebuilt a VW, and got his driver’s license – transition…and mixed emotion.

There is transition in Christian living.  We transition from not knowing about God, to knowing about God, to knowing God in a unique way, made possible through His gift of salvation.  As a Christian, I transition from a very basic understanding of Jesus loves me, to an ever increasing understanding of the implications of this truth for my thinking, for my living as God’s man – as evidenced by how I worship, give, study, love, forgive, etc.

As we live In Partnership With God, may we work toward transition – not run from it.

The ultimate transition?  Into the presence of God.  May we hear “well done, good and faithful servant!”

Tom Smith: ordinary name, extra ordinary man #165

At the beginning of a Columbus Day work weekend, I saw an unfamiliar face at the other end of the dining hall.  I knew he had never been to DL for a work weekend before, because of his face.  He looked like he had lived through a stroke. On the left side of his face, his eye did not look normal, his cheek sagged, and his upper lip hung down over his teeth.  I remember wondering who he was, what his limitations were, and how he related to DL.

Tom was assigned to work with me in the maintenance building.  The job is to show workers where to get what they need – and to get un-needed supplies back to where they belong.  The inventory is huge!  The hardware store is 15 minutes away, their prices high.  Many contributions/purchases are in bulk: 50# boxes of sheet rock and deck screws…1”, 1 ½,” 2” – up to 4”.  Nails, spikes and lag screws up to 12”.  There are hinges, hooks, bolts, washers, copper and plastic pipe/fittings, gas lamps, a variety of lubricants and adhesives.  And there are hammers, tape measures, 3/8 portable drills, levels, generators and extension cords.

Most workers put the 3” deck screws they did not use back in the 3” deck screw bin. But a real mess occurs when un-needed supplies are mixed with other un-needed supplies…and soon there may be 1”, 1 ½ “ screws, a few 10 penny nails, a variety of lag bolts and a hinge in one bucket.  It is very tempting to dump and run!

As we walked toward the building, I learned Tom was the father of 2 DL campers, and his family lived near Albany. Tom’s walking and speech seemed normal.  After taking a few minutes to orientate him to where things were in the shop, I handed him a bucket and showed him where he could sort the mess.   Tom went to work.  I checked with Tom.   Few words…incredible focus!  When able, I worked on my own bucket.  Soon Tom was showing others where to find supplies and tools.   At the end of the work weekend, we had worked through 18 buckets/containers of mixed mess…and saved hundreds of dollars!   We had also told everyone….put your stuff back in the right place!!!!

Eventually I learned Tom Smith is a doctor in the Pulmonary Intensive Care Unit, continues to work, as needed, in the Emergency Room and teaches in the Albany Medical College.

His story:  Tom was 45 years of age, and returning to Albany from providing medical care in a New York State prison.  He could feel something strange happening to his face.  The diagnosis: Bell’s palsy – the nerves on the left side of his face would not function.  Recovery time: normally 1-2 weeks.

In the meantime, he could not blink his left eye and his vision was blurred. He needed to wear an eye patch.  Sometimes he drooled.  Eating could be messy.  Clear speech was not easy.   Sometimes Tom bit his upper lip so hard that his teeth cut deeply into the skin – blood.  Yes, many thought Tom had had a stroke.  Tom’s boss pointed out that patients did not want to see their doctor looking as he did, so, until back to normal, he should stay home.  Electrical shock stimulation of the facial nerves was tried – the only result was incredible pain.

After staying home just four days, Tom asked if he could work in the emergency room.  Patients in the ER are thankful to see any doctor!  Permission was granted, and Tom focused on injured and dying patients, particularly those who struggled to breathe.   Eventually Tom stopped drooling and was able to remove the eye patch, but he knows his face still looks like he has had a stroke.  The emotions Tom feels seldom show on his face.  This is hard.  It has been 12 years.

Tom works In Partnership With God.

Tom Smith, MD, serves his Master in the ICU and ER, where the line between life and death is thin.  Many need the warmth of Tom’s touch, the warmth of his heart.   Skill….and empathy.

Tom Smith, MD, serves his Master at Deerfoot Lodge.  He cleans the shop on Friday night to be ready for Saturday morning.  He is happy to hand out tools, sort screws, or build bunk beds.  I missed a work weekend.  Tom was ready.