Chris, Mahriyanna and I went camping with many of our friends in order to celebrate the 13th birthday of a friend. I felt happy that this teen ager wanted to include everyone who is in our extended community–most of whom live in Madison County. We really have an ever growing expanse of friends as the young people grow up and have friends who are able to drive and commute from places like Springdale. But describing this network of folks who know each other because of Bob and Joan Rutz purchasing 700 acres that is now called Living Springs about 15 years ago in order to form community–well, that is another story in itself.
The adventure for me started when my schedule opened up and I realized I could actually allow myself about 16 hours to do something I did often in my late teens–camp. Well, I mostly back packed back then, since car camping was too noisy for me. But I envisioned sleeping in my new $32 tent which I recently purchased from Aldi’s of all places, and enjoying a peaceful night in fresh, clean air. I find myself wanting to really humbled. In my backpacking days I had the best gear. My light weight, high quality tent, 40 degrees minus down sleeping bag, top of the line back pack and vibram souled hiking boots were the signs that gave me value.
So now I realize that I still felt a bit inferior with my cheap tent, but the feelings were not too strong. I left my down sleeping bag at home–the same one I used to go back packing with–because I didn’t think it would be that cold. I also realize I have the same back pack…but I was not planning to walk too far.
Okay, now that this really important information has been shared (I think I am just trying to work through some psychological challenges) jI can move on to more important things.
My first wonderful experience was having the birthday boy, come down to where Mahriyanna and I were putting up the tent. I am not that good at putting up tents, and so I was happy to leave these two to their job. His father had advised me that setting up a tent in the upper campground might expose me to a lot of noise from young people who could choose to giggle for most of the night. I was really looking forward to a quiet time, and so I chose to go the extra 1/32nd of a mile and walk down a little ways to camp in the quiet…or so I thought.
I was really pleased to talk to a friend who said he had read my blog while I was visiting Christian intentional communities. Sometimes I think no one is reading my stuff…and knowing that someone enjoys reading what I write is very encouraging. Our conversation left me feeling hopeful and glad I had come.
My beautiful $32 Aldi’s tent was set up quickly and I admired it from a distance. I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep since the night before circumstances were that I slept fitfully. I took my comfortable twin sized futon and 23-year-old sleeping bag bought from Sears soon after I met Robert down to my tent and felt very content.
I know I am adding a lot of extra details in this writing. I am really indulging myself in allowing this post to be a place where I can share memories from the distant past as well as memories from the recent past. I am experimenting in being kind of random…not characteristic of the focused, type A personality that I usually express. So if you are bored..I give you full permission to leave.
Okay, so now I find myself meeting two young men who came over and offered some gifts of fruit to our campers. I found that one of them is really into sustainable living. I got his email address and Facebook info–now we are friends on Facebook. Who knows where the relationship may go, but I sense the possibilities of someone who might like to help Robert with the projects he is working on. Expanding our community here in Fayetteville has not been a real priority for us, but meeting someone from Fayetteville almost two hours away from our city is the way God often works. We shall see.
The circle around the campfire was very big–about 20 people. I loved the songs of praise that were sung by many. It is amazing how many wonderful voices we have in our circle of friends. I dream of eventually directing a choir of many of the mostly young people who are blessed with musical talents. Again, we shall see. I have begun to dream a bit more…but am not pushing things until I sense God’s timing.
In the midst of the serene singing, one person chose to send off a bottle rocket. I felt a shock go through my system. Confusion, too. I wondered two things. Why was no one saying anything. Why was this person choosing to do this. When the second bottle rocket was release, I practically shouted, “I want to make a strong request that you don’t shoot off that bottle rocket.” The person did not seemed upset at all–neither did anyone else. I was happy that my outburst was not spoiling the party! Perhaps people were grateful that someone was speaking up.
A few minutes later, I spoke to the bottle rocket sender. “I want to apologize for practically shouting at you. I just felt a bit of shock that you would do such a thing.” He graciously smiled at me and said no offense taken. Later, he showed more kindness to me than he ever had before in various ways including inspiring me to do a rock climbing adventure. I sensed that he really was not holding any resentment against me. Since I have place a high value on both honesty and harmony, I was relieved and happy to experience this.
While at the campfire, I noticed activity near my tent in the camping area below. A vague sense of curiosity crossed my mind, but also perhaps some denial was in place. I got engaged in some wonderful conversations including one where I asked for and received some prayer and counsel from friends who I had greatly respected in the past, but had not connected with as much I would have liked. I discovered that as a couple they complemented each other beautifully. One thing I noticed was that the man lovingly and respectfully invited his wife to give her feedback at every opportunity. I felt blessed by their presence and was told that I could call any time if I needed some counsel. I chose to take them up on the invitation just two days later, and in a very short time was able to feel at peace about a situation. One more very valuable thing that can happen when people spend time together with out a rigid structure.
Chris arrived about 8:30 having been at band practice til about 7:30. I felt content to be in the presence of my two children. Even though I didn’t interact with them a lot since they were with their friends, just being in the same circle was greatly satisfying. The minute that Chris got out of his car, a nine year old boy who knows Chris’s loving heart came up and said, “Will you share my tent with me…otherwise I will be alone.” Chris’s hearty, enthusiastic reply was, “Sure. That will save me having to set up my tent. Thanks a lot.” I felt touched and warm knowing that my son was willing to nurture a young boy even though at age 24 Chris could have easily desired to be with his own age group.
Ten o’clock was the time that some of the young people were ordered to be in their tents by some of the parents. So many of the kids decided to go to bed…but not to go to sleep. I was tired, so I gratefully walked down to my tent glad to get away from the noise that I was promised I would experience.
To my shock, I realized that there was a group of very loud young women who had set up their tent near mine. Their shrieks of laughter and expressions of blissful fun were a shock to my system. “Who are these loud girls. They must be drinking or something. How can they be so loud at this time of night. What are they so happy about, any way!” were some of my judgmental thoughts.
In the past, I would have probably self-righteously come out and told them that I was trying to sleep and even though I would be civil, I would be firm. They would either feel guilty and try to suppress their fun, or experience rebelliousness and not want to nurture me. Either way, I would end up tormenting myself and thinking about how much they hated me–and not have been able to sleep.
Instead, I thought, “They do seem to be having so much fun. They aren’t really hurting anyone. I don’t want to quench their spirits.” So I took my bedding and stuffed it into the back of my tiny Ford Festiva, trying to make a bed that would be comfortable. Not only was it not comfortable, but the noise in that part of the campground was deafening as well. I heard quiet, serious murmurs from the tent beside me. Loud giggles and screams echoed from a tent about 30 feet away. Cars were still driving up and shining their headlights into my car.
I tried to stuff toilet paper in my ears, but the noise and discomfort were too great. “So much for sleeping in the quiet, fresh air of the great outdoors,” I grumbled to myself. But instead of suffering too much, I decided to pray and talk to God about many things which I have now forgotten. I feel so grateful that I have learned more and more to be at peace with things that would have in the past sent me over the edge. Although I did try to control the bottle rocket situation, I realized later that safety was at stake and that is why I reacted so strongly. So even though I was supremely uncomfortable, I was happy that everyone else was having a great time! I did learn later that others did not get much sleep either.
However, I do yearn to camp in a place where there are more boundaries so that everyone can get their needs met. I dream of making part of our land, or perhaps some part of Living Springs into a subscription campground where people come who have made agreements to camp in a certain way can have a safe, quiet time. Yet at the same time, venturing into the great unknown of camping in a public campground has rewards like meeting the fruit-bearing folks.
At around 4am, I awoke from a fitful sleep to find total silence. I reluctantly determined to get out of my warm, but really uncomfortable bed and traverse the 1/32nd of a mile to my tent below. Fortunately I had a head light which Mahriyanna had lent me. She is so prepared, having brought two flashlights. I nimbly walked the rocky, uneven path, hoping that people would not awake to find me dead at the bottom of the short but steep trail. Even at 59 I have great balance and rarely have accidents. When I do fall, I amaze myself at how I can do so gracefully with very little injury if any.
I grateful laid out my bed and climbed into a quiet, warm place where I could stretch out my legs. Quickly falling asleep, I soon awoke to the melodious but very irritating voices of girls in the camp site adjacent. “Why do they have to get up so early,” I wondered. I was tempted to go out and ask them to be quiet. But I soon realized intuitively that it was light outside. I say intuitively, because with my tent windows completely closed, I could not discern how much light was outside. But it certainly wasn’t light.
Still tired and not wanting to get up, I tried to pray as is my habit in the morning before I rise. But then I could hear voices from our campfire above mingling with the girls’ voices. Then I could hear the voices from another group of campers on the other side of me. I was rather amused to be hearing all these conversations of happy folks who shared a love of nature with me. Resigning myself to not being able to either sleep or pray, I wandered outside.
There is a sense of camaraderie that exists between those who have spent the night camping together. I liked it. I yearn to live in a community where we gather for breakfast each morning along with sharing prayer, scripture reading, and other ways to connect with each other and with God. In fact, I wished we could have done that this morning. But we were a loosely knit somewhat anarchistic group. Yes, we have a lot of love that we share. But not quite as much unity as I long for. I wasn’t about to insist on morning devotions. I was feeling too relaxed and peaceful!
Soon it was time to go rock climbing which was the main activity of the day. We had some experienced rock climbers in the group who were going to lead us. I was ready to go home. Not sleeping well for the second night in a row put me in a kind of grouchy state, and I felt important duties of home, like unwashed dishes and an unfinished conversation calling me.
“I’m going home now, ” I announced to a few people, including our fearless climbing leader. “Don’t go now,” he firmly replied. “Just try one climb. I’ll set you up so you can be first in line. Then you can go. You’ve come this far–you just have to try climbing.” I was somewhat shocked that this young person was so insistent that I would stay.
“Okay, I’ll come along,” I reluctantly answered. I was happy that I was so wanted…yet also torn about this situation. One of our campers had gotten to know the noisy ladies who camped near my tent. He invited them to come along on our adventure.
“Why did he have to invite outsiders to join us,” I grumbled to myself. Even though we weren’t a totally tight-knit group, still I just wasn’t in the mood to have people I didn’t know join us. Let’s face it. I was just in a bad mood due to lack of sleep and for various reasons lack of peace.
I found myself following one of the new girls, and decided to engage in conversation. I was delighted to find that all of these girls were on staff at college ministry groups in the Conway area. My resentment of having intruders join us turned to joy and satisfaction as we talked about Jesus, evangelism, and our common passion to reach out to people even though they believe differently. Being in relationship and building trust with people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus is something that is very important to me, and I found with her also. We agreed that these relationship are not conditional–that is, we don’t have them in order to “win souls” as important as that might be. Because I was accepted and loved by Jesus followers before I surrendered my life to Christ, for the first time in my adult life I was open to learning more about this Jesus.
This 24 year old young woman really inspired me as she told me about how she is the team leader of five others are part of Campus Crusade for Christ. She also lives with three other women in a kind of community setting. I introduced her to Chris and Mahriyanna, and we exchanged contact information. Once again, here we were miles from civilization, yet meeting people who shared a similar passion for Jesus.
I felt energized after talking to Kendra, but still a bit reluctant to climb up the sheer cliff even with the help of ropes. Yet when I once again said I was going to leave, my young friend (who is also a salesman) said, “You’ve come this far–you can’t leave with out giving it a try.” Normally I am pretty courageous and daring…but for some reason I was not feeling so confident. But others around me also urged me to stay and try. Another young friend handed me a harness and before I knew it, I was being helped by him to put it on. Looks like I was going up.
I watched as a girl went up the same rope I was going to be climbing. She made it to the top with great effort. I wondered if I would embarrass myself…but I wasn’t too worried. All I could do is try. So when my turn came, I started up with a little bit of coaching from my faithful belayer. A belayer, if you don’t know, is a person who is also in a harness connected to the rope that I am using for safety. I don’t have to use the rope, but it is both a safety measure and a way that I can be pulled up with the belayer’s help when I can’t go up by my own strength. I felt safe because of the steady hand of my belayer, the strength of the rope, and the security of the things that the ropes were tied to up above.
The first part of my journey was challenging. I could hardly find any place to grip and pull myself up. I depended a lot on the belayer to pull on the rope so that I was hoisted to my next foot or handhold. But I was willing to receive the help. But about a third of the way, I found it was almost effortless to find places to grip and pull myself up with my own strength. I felt like Spiderwoman as I crawled up the rock wall to the top. It was only about 30 feet, but I still had a sense of accomplishment as I gazed out on a beautiful view of the valley. I felt grateful that people had pushed me to do this minor, but still satisfying feat of physical agility.
My friends on the ground congratulated me and some said I was a natural. I realized that I long more experiences like this where team work combined with physical strength and agility were utilized. I have not yet embarked on a ropes course, but I am putting that on my list of things to do in order to build trust and connection in people, including our community.
I took a brisk walk alone and enjoyed the quiet beauty of the brightly colored leaves and the many cliffs that were a trademark of this beautiful place. I imagined how it might be to have a gathering of Jesus followers similar to the Permaculture Gathering I had attended more than a decade ago in North Carolina. Using a technique called Open Space Technology, this event was so wonderful because anyone who wanted to could present a class or activity relating to the topic of permaculture. Yet people had total freedom either attend organized events or just hang out and enjoy the natural setting of Celo Community Land Trust. This was my first exposure to Open Space and I was hooked! I am going to dream of a conference where we ask the question, “How can we unite as Jesus followers to help make the kingdom of God visible in Northwest Arkansas. I can see just inviting campers to Horseshoe Canyon Ranch who want to meet other who have a passion for this topic and utilizing the common areas such as the barn and pavilion. I get excited just thinking about it! All in God’s timing though. I am not going to push it!
I had a few other meaningful conversations before I had to leave at 2:30 in order to be home for a landscaping job I had committed to. As I packed up my tent and other belongings, I felt peaceful and content. I forgot to say that I almost bailed out at the last minute even after deciding to come on the trip. I kept wanting to go home. Even when I was having trouble sleeping, I considered just packing up and leaving–but the thought of trying to find my way home in the middle of the night on lonely country roads definitely discouraged me. I felt as if I had let the Holy Spirit guide me the whole way. Even though part of me–perhaps my flesh–wanted to leave–because I was surrendered to Jesus who could see the bigger picture and a better ending to the story–I ended up having a wonderful, inspiring, rewarding time.
I don’t believe that God controls my every action, or has everything planned out ahead of time. But I do see Him as wise father who loves me so very much. If I am willing to listen to His guidance and admit that I do not always know what is best for me, life is rich beyond my greatest expectations. I am finding that more and more as I learn to be lead by the Holy Spirit. Life has always been an adventure which I gladly embrace, but as I continue to deepen my relationship with Jesus, more and more I find joy in every thing I embark upon–even the difficult moments.
I feel very grateful to be part of a group of friends who include me in many activities which I choose not to participate in. Yet I am free to come and go without condemnation. I am glad that my children have so many activities to choose from including camping trips and service activities where they can get to know each other, interact with people of all ages, and experience life together. I continue to dream of deepening our connection and cooperation in ways that reflect the love of Jesus and attract others to our beautiful way of life.
When I used to perform at children’s parties I would often say, “If you don’t have a dream, how you going to make a dream come true.” Even though my life was not surrendered to Jesus, I still knew that it was important to have a vision of helping the world be a better place. Often when I take a trip especially out in nature, I would have revelations which lead me to do things like travel to India or embark on a new career in music. Life changing revelations which, even though I did not have a clear relationship with Jesus, I think came from God because he knew my heart. He knew I was disillusioned with Jesus because of the experiences with church and Christians. This brief trip to Horseshoe Canyon Ranch which lasted only about 22 hours was chock full of revelations and insights and experiences with God which have enriched my life. Having an intentional relationship with my beloved Savior just makes life fuller, richer, more glorious than before my life with Him.
I feel grateful. Thank you, Father. And thank you, friends, family and community for your part in this beautiful experience.