Thursday, May 9, 2013

Grand Canyon Stories

What kind of story are you living?
Every day we write our story. The way we live and the choices we make help to determine how that story unfolds. Three EMH students, along with EMH instructors Ben Little and Carmen and Linsey Curro, recently took an in-depth look at their stories on a ten-day backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon.

With story as the theme of the trip, the group read through the book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. “God calls us to a greater story,” said EMH Director Ben Little. “He has things for us to do in this greater story, but often we settle for much less, living out of selfish desires and fears.”

“We really encouraged the students to look at their stories and write down their observations and thoughts,” added Linsey Curro. “Each student had insightful thoughts to share with us at our debriefs.”

In a great story, characters who want something are willing to overcome conflict to get it. Who are we as characters in this greater story? And how is God transforming us through conflict?

Conflict started early for the students with their first night camping on the rim of the Grand Canyon. Expecting warm weather all week, the group was not prepared for a night of 12 degrees and wind chills below zero. Though the weather did become warmer, the physical conflict continued: the students had to descend 5000 feet from the rim down to the Colorado River, then back up, covering a 25-mile loop. Learning from last year’s course, the group arose early each morning and began hiking before sunrise. This made a huge difference in their speed and comfort of travel. The group hiked 3 to 6 miles every day but arrived at their campsites by early afternoon, allowing more time to talk, study, enjoy one another, and play in the rivers and waterfalls along the way.

“My favorite part was hiking all morning in the heat and getting rewarded by the cool water at our camps,” said Junior Becca Wade. Senior Micah Ritschard added, “I was inspired by the grandeur of the canyon and by the boundless creativity of God in the sunset.”

The physical challenges—steep and difficult hiking, carrying heavy packs, cooking and sleeping outdoors, and going without comforts they were used to—set the stage for deeper discussions about life and story. Conversations often focused on God’s ability to redeem past failures, wounds, and regrets. Mr. Little commented: “We had several nights of deep sharing and intense prayer for each other. The students were really vulnerable in talking about their pasts, sharing areas in which they want to grow and see God redeem.” As God began to heal their pasts, they discussed how they could be part of writing a greater story for their lives.

The course was transformational for Senior Tori Houseknecht.  The challenges and discussions of the course sparked a desire to begin to live seriously in her relationship with Christ and live a greater story. As an expression of her new-found commitment, she was convicted to be baptized. After a lot of prayer and a two-hour conversation with Mr. Little, he baptized her in the Colorado River.

“Baptizing Tori was a big highlight of the course for me,” said Mr. Little. “It was an honor to be able to talk about what baptism means and the journey of being a follower of Christ.”

Near the end of the course, the students went on their own for an 18-hour overnight solo, which gave them opportunity to be alone with God, processing some of the ideas they had been discussing on the trail all week. The instructors challenged them to think about what they wanted to take back with them to life after the course.

This solo time became one of the most transformational points of the course, especially for Becca Wade. As she later shared with the group, she had been struggling all school year with some doubts and questions, feeling distant from God. During her solo time, God clearly and directly spoke to her through specific scriptures, even to the point of describing her physical surroundings. This became a very personal time of hearing from God, a time of finding hope and healing.  

In the context of story, Mr. Little said, “life is very much like hiking in the Grand Canyon. When you think about traversing the entire canyon, it is so overwhelming. You say, ‘There is no way I can do that. It is too steep, too long. I am not strong enough. This weight I am carrying is too much.’ But when you take one step at a time, one day at a time, you are able to do it. This story of life is about taking the next step. God gives me the strength for this moment and then the next. He tells us not to worry about tomorrow. Just be content for today.”

Tori couldn’t agree more. The biggest lesson she learned from the course? “Live in the now, not in the future."

To see more pictures from the 2013 Grand Canyon course, visit the Ekklesia Mountain High Facebook page here.

Ekklesia Mountain High (EMH) is a wilderness program of Darren Patterson Christian Academy offered to high school juniors and seniors that integrates approximately 40 days of wilderness adventure and training plus an international mission trip into the school year. For more general information about EMH, please click here.  

Butterflies and Mastodons

Cassandra in research mode...

by Lily Mason, 4th Grade

One day we were going to have a field trip to the Nature and Science Museum in Denver.  When we got there we had lunch.  Then we went to the IMAX movie theater at the museum.  We watched a movie called Flight of the Butterflies.  It was awesome!  The next thing we did was go with our group and look around. My group went to the space place first then the gems and minerals.  The next thing we went to a special place that was the Mammoths and Mastodons.  It was awesome!  My favorite thing was the saber-tooth tiger. I took a picture by it. Then when it was over we went to the animal place. Then we went to the dinosaur place.  Then we went to the gift shop.  The things there were way overpriced… On the way home we went to Wendy’s.  I hope to go again!

by Misty Burdges, 4th Grade

The authors (right and center) with Kadyn. 

The 4-6 field trip was SO MUCH FUN!!  First we drove there. I rode with my dad, Lily’s mom, Lily, and Dezi.  We had so much fun in the car!  It took awhile to get there.  When we got there, my dad and I forgot out lunch, and bought pizza, a pretzel, Mtn. Dew, and root beer.  We saw Mammoths and Mastodons, Wildlife, and rocks and minerals.  We watched a movie at IMAX.  It was about butterflies.
Tori captures a moment overseen by a ? (big bird!)
Three butterflies came out of nowhere and popped in my face!  We saw lots of things.  A security guard came up to me and asked if I was a superstar!  He asked me to give him an autograph!  …Stuff at the gift shop was expensive. On the way we went to Wendy’s. The trip to the Denver museum was fun.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Reality Discipline

Looking for a challenge in life?  Here's one:  get yourself put in charge of helping one or more young humans grow up to live meaningful lives and be responsible, confident, stable, able contributors to society and culture.  Oh wait, that's called parenting!

It is a challenge, isn't it?  Certainly one of the most challenging elements in our parenting is discipline: babies just do not arrive knowing right from wrong, how to respect others, how to share, how to wait patiently, how to develop purpose and vision for a meaningful life - in fact, it can be safely said that babies arrive and begin to grow up with a firm two-part belief system: "it's all about me," and, "I want it now!"  So inevitably parents are challenged by the need to discipline in the finest sense of the word:  to disciple, to instruct, to guide, to correct, and to challenge our children that the best things in life usually require diligent effort and perseverance to achieve.

So the need to discipline is obvious, but how do we do it?  What approaches and methods are effective? What discipline contributes to abundant life in our kids, and what kind of discipline mistakes should we avoid that might tear them down?  We should admit right now that this subject is way too big for just one article, so our purpose here is to provide some overview and a beginning collection of links to help our thinking as parents.

Discipline does not occur as a separate element apart from other elements of being parents; in fact, it is essential that we recognize the integral nature of our discipline practices within the overall context of our parenting.  Parents who are concerned with their effectiveness are probably working at developing at least the following essentials:
  • Parents view their roles as Moms and Dads as one of the most important roles of all. Parenting is not an "after-thought" that happens in the leftover bits of time found here and there, but is an integral, cherished, and vitally important part of who I am as an adult with children.  
  • Parents have a vision: they are aiming to help their children develop a particular set of ethics, a particular kind of vision, a particular understanding of what makes for an abundant life.  From a Biblical perspective, this would include teaching our children Biblical morality, emphasizing the importance of loving God and caring for our neighbors, deferring to others, sharing our resources generously, being good stewards of our time and our abilities, viewing the world and all it contains as God's, and developing a vision for life that is bigger than our own narrow desires.
  • Parents make developing an affirming relationship with each child a bigger priority than correction.  There is an acute awareness that rules without relationship leads to ruin. Parents invest in being students of their children:  what unique elements of God's image does each child bear? What talents have they been given?  What interests? What abilities? What enthusiasms? 
  • Parents work at developing a strong sense of family identity.  What does it mean to be a "Smith"?  What common ground does each member of the family share with others?  In addition to studying each child, parents are studying the family as a whole: where are we healthy?  Where do we need to develop more?  What kind of family are we becoming?
  • Parents make it a priority and a privilege to enjoy their children and and their family life.

As parents continue to develop  healthy foundations, discipline becomes easier and more natural, and specific techniques can be used to great advantage with each child.  In his book, Have a New Kid by Friday, psychologist Dr. Kevin Leman recommends an approach he calls "Reality Discipline."  Others have labeled similar ideas "natural consequences." The basic premise is simply that the world in which our children are growing up has real consequences for wrong and selfish actions and attitudes.  Employers do not retain employees who cannot be trusted, or who are lazy.  Relationships are troubled when people are selfish, or fail to tell the truth, or try to manipulate to get their way. Difficulties multiply for those who are motivated by greed or misplaced ambition.  Those with a lack of concern for the well-being of others who violate other persons or their property are imprisoned.  In short, God has made the world and we humans to function in certain ways that lead to health and well-being for our communities, and when we fail to function in that manner, we experience the consequences.

"Reality Discipline" features some specific ideas and techniques, but centers around the thought that parents should allow their children to simply experience real-life (or similar and appropriate) consequences for their actions.  Reality Discipline helps parents avoid threatening, yelling, or manipulating.  It does not require a battle of the wits, though it does sometimes require quick thinking and creativity.  It also has the advantage of linking to and teaching about real life.

Disciplining our children well is a big subject, with many books and articles "out there." Here are some links for further thought on "Reality Discipline" and some related ideas:
  • To get some more insight into Reality Discipline, click here for a series of articles from Focus on the Family that give an overview of Dr. Leman's book and some ideas for implementation in your family.  
  • To learn more about Dr. Leman, or to acquire your own copy of the book, click here.  
  • For a free video series on YouTube featuring Dr. Leman, click here.  
  • For a short personal example of how natural consequences proved effective in our family, and for some Scriptures connected to parenting, click here
  • For some creative thoughts on the application of natural consequences and ideas from other moms, click here. (This site, Not Consumed, also features a number of articles and perspectives from single parents.)
  • For some ideas oriented toward different ages, and some perspective on guarding against unsafe natural consequences, see the Search Institute's Parent Further website here.

As you can see, there is an abundance of readily available help from Scripture, from fellow parents on the journey, and from professionals for thinking about how to structure our discipline so that the corrective and guiding part of our work as parents contributes to our joy and to our children's well-being.   Each of our families is different, each child is different, and we each need wisdom as parents to do the task well.  What a blessing for us that when we need wisdom, we can ask - "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."  (James 1:5, NIV)  Here's to joyful parenting, discipline and all!