Blog: August 2013
It's late August, the "dog days" of summer, and I'm already feeling the changing seasons, subtle changes on the landscape.It has been an amazing summer for the UrbanTrekkers, full of summer paddling trips on our local rivers and in the coastal bay; trekking over 2,000 miles through five national parks in the Rocky Mountains and high desserts of Colorado and Utah; traveling to mid-coast Maine for kayaking and hiking, swimming and diving at the old rock quarry; and going out on lobster boat to bring in our dinner. It’s been full and rich…relationships have grown and students have been transformed.
We wrote hundreds of words in our journals and took thousands on photos. When posted on Facebook, these photos received hundreds of likes, shares, and comments. I love and appreciate the technology of Facebook that allows us to reach thousands of people with pictures and stories of our adventures. The day we return home from a trip, the pictures go up and the responses start to follow; they are kudos for a trip well done and an experience shared.
However, once these experiences are shared, the excitement post-trip is fleeting. Facebook doesn't stop to allow us to reflect, instead it moves on quickly to the next posting. After a day or two the experience is quickly buried and forgotten. This saddens me. I'm not ready to move on, I don't want my Trekkers to move on yet, I want more time for the experience to marinate and to be savored. We need to reflect more; we need more time to appreciate the exhilarating feelings that go along with a grand experience. I want my Trekkers to reflect on these experiences for more time to recall what they felt as they hiked the Great Sand Dunes, explored the Canyonlands, or kayaked the rocky shores and islands of coastal Maine.
These expeditions are where the best lessons are learned. It’s where we are tested and the real self is revealed. They are lessons from the land, ancient voices from the past that leave lasting messages on the landscape for us to decipher, but only if we stop, listen, and reflect. I’m not ready to move on so quickly…I’m going to give this summer more time to simmer for both me and my students.
Keep on trekking,
If you hang around the UrbanPromise community for any length of time, chances are at some point you will have the opportunity to meet Adrian, a recent graduate of the UrbanPromise Academy and one of our most avid Trekkers. And my guess is if you speak with Adrian, you will come away from the conversation impressed and humbled by his candor, his faith, and his ability to articulate how UrbanPromise has changed his life.
However, if you continue your relationship with Adrian, you will begin to see not only his past struggles and current successes, but also the trauma in his life that continues to affect him every single day. He will tell you how hard it is to simply remember to do his homework once he walks out the doors of UrbanPromise and is faced once again with the norms of his life in Camden.
Recently, I had the privilege of bringing Adrian on our first ever two-week UrbanTrekkers expedition to Colorado and Utah. On this trip, we talked regularly about metaphors that we drew from the landscapes around us as we travelled through high mountain peaks in the Rockies to the harsh and beautiful deserts of red rock and sand in Utah. One of the metaphors that Jim pointed out our Trekkers was that of the delicate balance of life in the desert and the flowers that survive there. He asked students, “How is it that in an environment like this, with hardly any water, blazing sun, and no soil, such a flower was able to grow?” The Trekkers talked about the flower’s adaptations to its environment, its hardiness, and its ability to cling to the minutest amounts of resources that it needed to thrive. We all agreed that while flowers are beautiful no matter the setting, there was something uniquely precious about noticing the beauty of a flower in the desert.
Around the campfire one night, we asked students to journal about the “lessons from the land” we had learned. When it was Adrian’s turn to share, he stood up slowly, intentionally. He spoke to his fellow Trekkers about the imbalance in his life between who he can be on Trekker trips and who he is drawn to be by his environment in Camden. He told us, “I come on Trekker trips to be who I truly am, who God made me to be.”
Whether Adrian sees it or not, he is the desert flower. He fights to thrive in the harsh environment in which he exists in the city of Camden. He struggles to withstand the blazing sun and lack of soil in his surroundings that would sooner destroy his life than give it to him. He clings with all his might to the resources that UrbanPromise gives him. He recognizes the value of the friendship and guidance of mentors who love him, and he takes every opportunity to travel with UrbanTrekkers and see the world beyond the walls of his day-to-day existence. As Adrian continues through life, I promise you, if he uses these resources effectively he will thrive inspite of the environment into which he was born. And as he does, something will make you stop and notice him the way you might a flower in the desert. There will be something uniquely sacred there to see.
Keep on trekking,
In the last two weeks, I have traveled over 2,200 miles with 14 teens, and 5 other chaperones through three states in a 21-passenger rental bus. We consumed approximately 90 apples and oranges, 125 bagels, 150 granola bars, 80 hot dogs, 225 ounces of baked beans, and 60 Trekker Pizzas. Our gear included 12 tents, one portable gas grill, 40 water bottles, and 20 sleeping bags, sleeping pads, whistles, headlamps, and Crazy Creek chairs. We traveled from sea level to more than 13,000 feet of elevation, in temperatures ranging from high 30s to low 100s. We visited five national parks; Rocky Mountain, Canyonlands, Arches, Mesa Verde, and Great Sand Dunes. We hiked a total of 18 miles, climbed aboard a 600+ ton mining truck, and did 10 loads of laundry. We showered a total of four times, and got to bathe in one lake and one freezing cold river. All that to say, I have come away with more than one story to share.
In many ways, this trip was my orientation to the UrbanTrekkers program. It was very much a learning experience for me to observe the other leaders and interact with students and staff to see what direction to take the Trekkers program down in Honduras. However, along the way, I found myself involved in something far bigger than a “program;” I became a part of the family that is UrbanTrekkers.
When asked to share what it means to be a Trekker, I was blown away by some of the responses of our students. Check ‘em out… Being a Trekker is about being committed, courageous, and confident. It’s more than just camping or hiking, it’s a living experience- stepping out of your comfort zone, meeting new people, going new places, experiencing YOU in the world while expecting God to meet you there. It’s different from the usual and all about embracing new things. It’s about having a positive attitude, grit, and perseverance. Trekkers are vibrant, thrifty, prepared, and committed to their morals.Being a Trekker is up there with being famous! It’s about gaining confidence in yourself, and knowing who you are. It’s not giving into fear. It’s family. It’s community. You learn decision-making skills and build character while expanding your horizons. And as Mr. C says…Once a Trekker, always a Trekker.
One person in particular helped me to see the true meaning of being a Trekker- her name is Faith. Faith was someone I saw right from the get-go illustrating the characteristics of a true Trekker. She was committed, confident, positive, and vibrant. Yet the thing that impressed me most about her was her inquisitiveness. In the aforementioned list of Trekker traits, you have to be ready to explore new places and embrace new things. Well, I think that the ability to ask questions and find the answers is just as adventurous as climbing to the top of a 13,000 ft. mountain ridge. Faith never faltered in her willingness to ask deep, thought provoking questions about faith, ethics, people, and how it all relates to everyday life. Don’t get me wrong- Faith knew how to confidently and respectfully share her thoughts and opinions, but she was also open to taking time to examine her own beliefs, to figure out exactly what it is that she believes.
I was on the same hiking team as Faith at Independence Pass. At first our group wasn’t sure if they could make it to the top. Round trip it was 5 miles of cold, high altitude hiking after several nights of fitful sleep. Needless to say, there were a lot of complaints at first, but we made sure to replace those with camp songs and lots of trail mix/water breaks. When we reached the first ridge, students had the option of staying put, or finishing the hike at the second peak. Some of the Trekkers decided to sit out the last leg of the journey, but not Faith. She was ready to move mountains. She couldn’t wait for me to finish my montage of photos and get going. In fact, Faith’s enthusiasm was so strong that it spread to rest of our hiking team, which eventually conquered that last peak.
At the end of our time in Colorado, we were given the opportunity to reflect and look back at how we had changed since the beginning of the trip. Faith’s final journal entry brought tears to my eyes and a fire to my soul. She expressed how much this trip had meant to her- from developing new inter-city friendships to experiencing the beauty of the Delicate Arch, Sand Dunes, and the other parks. She vulnerably shared about the mountains she currently struggles with, and how God had moved to meet her here on this trip. To hear her passionate desire to live fully for God each day made me proud to be part of the Trekker family. I know her determination to conquer the mountain is what makes her a Trekker. In the end, we both reached the same conclusion; FAITH really can move mountains….
Keep On Trekking,