Rome…more than a Cliche’

After a breathless 24 hours in Switzerland we crossed into Milan and Lake Como… on our way to the eternal city.

Lake Como is the freaking bomb. Simply put… if you’re in the area, you MUST GO.

It exceeds the hype unlike most everything else in life. We managed a four-hour regional train excursion from Milan to Varenna, arriving before dawn. It was worth every bleary eyed moment of lost sleep to see the rose-colored sky as it hit the snow-capped peaks of the epic Italian Alps. varenna_topslider_11

Imagine a picturesque Italian village nestled in a surreal mountain landscape, add the most beautiful lake possible and then sprinkle some pixie dust. ūüôā That’s Lake Como.

After a two stage breakfast of homemade fruit croissants and local cheese, bread, and cappuccino we hit the rails back to Milan for our ultimate destination. The views of paradise firmly etched in our hearts for a lifetime.

Roma didn’t disappoint. At the risk of living a touristy clich√©’, we had chosen to take our kids to see the eternal city and the quintessential history of Rome and Vatican City. We stayed at a great little hotel near the Colosseum for three nights and made the most of every moment.¬†

We bought the sightseeing bus (hop on off)  passes and they were surprisingly helpful to have! Distances and weather often kept us from easily walking from downtown shopping in Rome to the Vatican or Forum areas without a ride and the narrated audio headphone option gave us a greater appreciation for the architecture and significant history hidden all around us.

In Rome… EVERYTHING is beautiful and old and historical. You cannot see or grasp it all… so you have to pick what and where you will go and commit.

We did exactly that. We bought tickets to tour the Vatican Museums / Sistine Chapel and Colosseum along with the Roman Forum. (a full 3 days for anyone to tackle!)

We walked the cobblestone streets around Trevi Fountain, toured the Iconic Pantheon, and we ate a lot… drank wine, water with bubbles and pounds of bread. We soaked up a golden sunset on the Spanish Steps (view below) and shopped the unique boutiques of the old city.¬†rome-on-a-budget

I would highly recommend each site or area mentioned as ‘must see’s for any who visit Rome. It’s a clich√©’ for sure, but they are all breathtakingly beautiful and somehow an essential experience for gaining a better understanding of the world and it’s abundant cultural diversities.

In Rome you will hear dozens of languages, see every kind of style as tourist from Asia to Africa, Russia to Brazil and nearly ¬†every culture in-between. There are so many diverse groups, families from every corner of the globe and all of us are in ‘awe’ of the wonder that surrounds. No one pretends it’s not affecting them… we all openly stop to stare and gawk. Inspired and overwhelmed by the power of this eternal city… as the history and beauty cast’s a profound spell over any who take the time to see.

I cannot speak of Rome without mentioning the food. It’s everything you hoped it would be and more… our favorite was a little tiny landmark restaurant, La Carbonara.¬†(English is not a guarantee here, but struggle on and order the house specialty, you will not regret it.)

The various eateries and coffee shops that dot every block are all little treasures in themselves. Food is freshly prepared or baked on the premises… it takes time, forces you to slow down and savor the moments. Another wonder of Rome… the pace of your life shifts and suddenly you’re not in a hurry, not anxious to be somewhere… like time is standing still.

That moment of slowed pulse and renewed joy is the pure beauty that is Rome.

 

 

 

 

 

European Roadtrip- Switzerland

Zurich from O’hare via Swiss Air.

Non-stop, cramped…and great food. 9 hours in the air and Christmas day ’16 was in our rear-view. The transition from the dreary – dirty – deafeningly loud Chicago to landing in pristine Zurich International was profound.

Such contrast sets the stage for your introduction to Swiss culture.

zurich

Zurich

Punctual.

Planned.

Precise.

Perfectly ordered.

You will need to know some phrases in German, and sometimes French. But in general, english speakers will get along just fine with the well marked railroads and city streets.

This is Switzerland.

A land of the clean and orderly life. Modern and and wealthy it exudes efficiency and cleanliness. Most of the buildings are crisp and new, well maintained and sharply styled. If they are vintage or old buildings, they are restored and in nearly new shape… nothing is left to rot here. Restrained in style, cities leans towards minimalist modern and it’s inhabitants indulge in all things european and luxurious… Audi, Prada, Mercedes… BMW and Gucci to name a few.

Middle class in Switzerland is upperclass everywhere else.

The country is a superb demonstration to thousands of years of financial success and political restraint. It’s natives are friendly, competent, and prepared. No slackers here… no street bums or slums visible. It’s a huge shift in culture from the obvious decline of Chicago’s aged infrastructure to one of the most modern and influential cities in the world.

It’s a shock to step out of the Swissair flight into this near utopia. A powerful testament to the Swiss people and their ability to not only survive, but thrive in the center of so much chaos and cultural confusion that is and has been past / present / and future Europe.¬†

Yet buried in the all of the efficient and modern facade lies a simple and honest soul.

The Swiss past intrudes in a balanced way…with Railway lines and old train stations linking past and present. Gorgeous, iconic swiss villages still exist here, hiding a ¬†charming and gentle world of disneyesque valleys, lakes, and peaks. Worthy of Cinderella herself, the Swiss countryside is painted with green hills and white capped Alpine scenes. Each postcard view peeking through, just enough to remind you of the old country. Of the past and patient Swiss ways.

They hint of their passionate pursuit of skiing and climbing, hardy athletic lifestyles…of cheese and fresh food. From the simplicity of a summer marketplace to the heritage of the ‘old’ city hidden behind modern glass and steel business parks.

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Old Town – Zurich

The shopkeepers, farmers, and people less complicated are still living, working, and operating like their forefathers did five hundred years before.¬†Behind the excellent freeways… are small, tight, cobblestone streets.

Contrasting the reflective glass of a highrise are small, leaded, windows with stone buildings and slate roofs. Swiss treasures on display in their modest spaces… cheeses, custom made watches, suits, and garish clocks all dotted in-between by the finest in chocolate and fruit pastries. These clusters of old houses, shops, and churches define for visitors…the best of their distinctive past.

Life is good in Switzerland. Very good. 

Their economy as stable as any in the history of the world. Bankers, businessman, and brilliantly careful… this small nation is less in size than the state of Tennessee and has about the same population. Yet it’s political and financial strength are legendary and world ranging. Unequaled banking service and fierce neutrality mark it’s national identity. But along with all that fiscal stature are more earthy natural charms. Alpine lakes, towering peaks, and remarkably beautiful villages make for world class scenery and dream-like horizons. ¬†In my opinion… Switzerland is a ‘must-visit’ for any Yankee looking to grasp a piece of the European puzzle.

For our family… Switzerland represents more than beauty and poise, it’s our heritage. Four generations ago my paternal and maternal great-great-great grandparents migrated from Switzerland to the US. Their DNA leaving its mark on our mountain loving, cheese eating… watch collecting… Mathias clan.¬†

gruyeres-switzerland.jpg

Alpine Village

Some things are beyond cliche’ and I wanted my kids to see and know where they come from and why we’re like we are. From our family’s annual Christmas cheese fondue to our OCD desire to stay ordered and efficient… we are Swiss from the inside out. It’s cool to see your homeland and begin to understand the pull of hundreds of years of previous generations and grasp the origins of habits deeply held in our family… all perfectly¬†at ease with the ways of another place and time.

This was to be our first and last stop in Europe (we flew in and out of Zurich). It formed the context for our past and future…however, Italy was next, and it’s unique differences would represent the ‘passionate present’ of life.¬†

Blog 3 of 3 is coming next…. and we have a train to catch and some serious ancient history to discover.

PS ¬†– If in Zurich.. and it’s New Year’s eve… make the trip down to the lakefront and stand on the bridge at the stroke of midnight. Have some local¬†gluhwein¬†(a very warm mixture of ¬†mulled or spiced wine) and enjoy the spectacle of 100K¬†+Swiss natives ushering in the new year with fireworks and furs. Huddle up when you do… it’s cold out there!

 

 

 

RoadTrip Europe… an Epic Adventure and Epiphany

We long to leave our ‘mark’ on our kids. To transfer some of the essential threads of wisdom and knowledge acquired from our travels… a communication of our heart to theirs.

For my wife Paige and I… this was the trip to do it.

The sobriety of seeing our lives racing into middle age and the growing, stark, shadows of mortality… led us to take the plunge as parents. To invest in one last-epic-roadtrip, an adventure to share as a family before everyone scattered.We could see our lives forever changing with marriages and in-laws, grandbabies and graduations. All of what has been would end… and what will be was about to begin.

A rite of passage from following our lead… to blazing their own path. A time to expand their lives from what they knew to what ‘could – be’. As the saying goes, “it was time to make old ceilings into new floors!”¬†

After a careful scrutiny of our schedules… it was quickly determined we only had one week to make a European roadtrip a reality. Christmas day to New Year’s day. Seven days to hit the road and rails, to fly over the big pond and back. Literally, we had only one week out of a year when all five of us could travel freely and still satisfy our work, education, and ministry commitments.

So… Christmas being our ‘favorite’ time of year… we determined to surprise them by planning the entire trip without telling them where or when we would be… just letting them know they would need a passport, 1 backpack for clothes and a pair of good walking shoes.

Three days into the planning we were exhausted. Coordinating flights, train schedules, hotels in foreign countries and sightseeing tours was intensely complicated and very difficult to sort out the ‘good’ from the ‘hype’.

As an experienced domestic and Canadian traveller, I used Southwest Airlines, my mobile Marriot app and the popular Trip Advisor¬†website for 90% of my own booking. For a European trip… this was a whole different ball-game.

Try booking rail tickets 2 months in advance for five from Zurich to Rome and see how complicated things get with Google? 

Long story short… we discovered a very simple, and very helpful social media site known as “Thumbtack“. A professional services finder, this app / site is an amazing and simple way to get Travel agencies to bid on your trip. You can give them a basic budget, dates, preferred countries to visit and personal preferences for hotels and travel and zing-zap, they get you up to five bids from different agencies to compare. It saved us thousands of dollars and took the hassle out of planning such a major trip. Highly recommended.

In a few days we had chosen our agency, locked in a budget, purchased airfare, rail tickets, hotels, sightseeing tours and had an itinerary to follow from day one to seven. A wonderful experience for us, the agency we settled on was out of San Francisco, and did a tremendous and economical job of getting us the best hotel locations, train seats, and tours we could afford. Their familiarity with the european world and specific cities we wanted to visit was so helpful and so much better than trying to figure it all out piece by piece from various websites, reviews, and articles. (Terra Travel Group link)

So how did this ‘Epic” trip go?

Tune in later to find out… let’s just say it didn’t disappoint. ( this is one of 3 blog posts to detail out our European adventure)

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St. Peter’s Square – Dec ’16

Our next seven days would become a reference point from which all of our family history could be considered. The passion and excitement of new discoveries would be forever shared between us… an epic treasure of sight and sound, flavors and feelings… an awesome and unforgettable gift for the senses and spirit to touch and absorb.

An “Epiphany” of sorts…

It reminded me of the “fullness” of God’s love for us… His desire in wanting us to experience His world with all of it’s richness and beauty, to explore and expand on our knowledge of what is good, and true, and right in life.

St. Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus says it like this…¬†“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15¬†from whom every family[¬†in heaven and on earth is named, 16¬†that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17¬†so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith‚ÄĒthat you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18¬†may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19¬†and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20¬†Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21¬†to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21 ESV) Biblegateway source.¬†

The Digital Umbilical…

Just off my latest Road Trip adventure… over 8200 miles in 22 days. We visited 14 states and two Canadian Provinces. Six people crammed into a Ford Expedition, it was tight… and it was tough. ¬†shock and awe banner art

The Shock and Awe tour (The Rubyz, Alexis Slifer)  with the Tween Gospel Alliance (TGA) was what brought the six (later seven) of us together along with a world-class Illusionist (Tom Coverly), Christian pop group (1GN), a film star (Abigail Duhon РGods not Dead) and even an emerging Christian hip-hop artist. (TJ Prodigy of Baltimore.)

Quite the crew.

Over the past summer we logged 12K plus miles, performing at each of the Creation Festivals for 2016.  On stage and in front of thousands of fans, we did our best to share the truth of Christ to a new generation. The shows were plagued by a variety of technical challenges, weather, and last-minute scheduling issues. Relationships were strained and tempers flared, but we persevered.

In between the 3 day festivals we drove and captured new video for our new Shock and Awe curriculum. (due in early 17′) The moments in-between¬†were the most intense of any tour I’ve ever participated with.

Several major issues needed to be addressed on our little adventure. Relationships, attitudes, respect, honesty, and personal faith. All were put to the test. But one overshadowing concern captured my parental attention…

malaysianpsychology.wordpress

malaysianpsychology.wordpress

The pull of Social Media!

My charges (mostly girls) were consumed by an addiction to social media beyond any scale or scope I had imagined. Having raised three children of my own (college age now) and President of the largest Tween focused Media Group in the Christian marketplace, I thought I knew what was up…

I was wrong.

The current media studies & stats are wrong…the study #’s are way lower than what I witnessed firsthand. Our kids are being CONSUMED by a NEED to be on and respond to their social media. Like some unholy umbilical, our tweens are literally attaching their personal identities and self-worth to the¬†success¬†or failures of their social media feeds.

It’s disturbing how intense their need to be on Social Media is and it should gain our fullest attention as parents, pastors, and role models.

In the six or seven years between my kids adolescence and this tour… it’s clear the digital revolution has not slowed or lost momentum. It’s in fuller force than ever and it’s affecting our kids emotional, physical, and spiritual development.

Without going into details, I can say from what I observed , the level of connectivity for tweens to social media is directly forming their self-esteem, attitudes, and opinions about EVERYTHING else in their lives. They plan and arrange their entire day ‘around’ their access to Social Media. (a true sign of any unhealthy addiction or co-dependency)

Social Media has¬†gained¬†‘1st place” in their priorities. Ahead of school work, pleasing their parents, friendship, sports, even their faith.

Don’t believe me? Try taking your kids smart phone away from them for an hour or two ūüôā

After close-quarter living with our tour tweens I came away with new concerns and fresh observations for parents and pastors.

Social Media and it’s first-place presence in our kids lives is going to impact them in major ways if not slowed or reduced. (I’m sure in more ways than we can know)¬†girls on social media

1- Anxiety and Depression; It’s clear in the next decade society will face significant challenges with maintaining healthy relationship boundaries and self-worth due in part to the huge influence of Social Media. It’s propensity for abuse and criticism can’t help but increase the frequency and severity of emotional turmoil… anxiety, depression, and self-image issues.

2- Communication: Unchecked use of social media robs us of our social development! Our kids dependence on Social Media instead of actual personal interaction is likely to show up later as a basic lapse in social skills and reduced ability to function within a group or ‘team’.

3 Adolescence likely won’t ¬†end at high school (something already noted by psychologists) … instead an entire generation may enter the world unprepared for adulthood. Our social media influenced teens may soon be thrust into society with an entirely different perspective on life and their role as being at the center of it all.

4- Faith as a guiding principle may be lost in the sure to emerge, surge of adolescent narcissism and personal preferences. Faith will have to be customized to fit an individuals comfort level and not allowed to interfere with their personalized’ world view.

5- Relationships (martial & friendship)¬†will risk being serious¬†casualties of distracted social media junkies, wooed to the digital promise of fame and celebrity and under the pressure to be attractive all – the – time….Who can compete with the perfect social media post, a line of never-ending beautiful images… Who can withstand the instant regret of the real-time flashes of¬†digital¬†anger, jealousy, and shame? Relationships will be under intense pressure – unlike any generation before.

6- Reality will fade and digital fantasy will invade. Our kids believe what they read, see, and hear on Social Media. The ‘other’ voices in their lives are fading…. FAST. Their reality isn’t our reality anymore.

quotesgram.com

quotesgram.com

Parents, sorry for the ‘downer’ of a blog today… but this stuff is heavy on my heart. I’m sure your already¬†aware…. my encouragement to you is to seriously consider limiting our kids social media consumption.

It’s worth risking the rejection sure to come… be courageous and endure their anger, ire, resentment, and even hatred to slow this social media buzz and it’s hypnotizing affect on our kids.

I believe we as parents need to provide a buffer of screen-free space and time every day. A reprieve to allow our tweens to develop their own values, identity, and purpose in our families and communities of faith. 

I’m not an advocate of extreme or rigid Christian parenting at all, what I’m suggesting¬†today¬†isn’t a total boycott of social media. Not at all….

Instead I’m asking you to prayerfully consider what level of consumption is appropriate for your tween and young teen. Once you and your spouse have a sense of what’s healthy for your kids… set the¬†digital¬†boundaries in your home and determine to maintain them.

I believe no other single issue will affect your kids development, faith, and character more than cutting the social media umbilical in their tween years. 

Pastor B.

For tween ministry resources and help, check out the TGA website. (Tween Gospel Alliance)

 

 

Roadtrip Reality-Check

Looking back at the past few years, it seems each summer has become a bit of a blur.
I find myself extensively travelling. Usually gone five or six weeks out of eight each summer. This year is no exception. As I get older… the thrill wears a bit thinner, and the risks and struggles seem to grow. I miss my familiar comfy bed and family more and sooner than ever before…I miss my parish and the lives of those I serve with. I find myself longing for the green hills of TN and the smiles and hugs of my comrades at Four Winds. Travel is awesome… for a week… and then it get’s old.
I know, I’m supposed to be the ultimate RoadTrip enthusiast, but I have my limits. This summer I’m finding myself feeling more and more weary… and so with the steepest hill still ahead, I’m asking for your help. Call it the Road Trip reality check if you will…
The process of Road Tripping is awesome for sure… the discovery of new sites and experiences, the joy of travel and adventure… the thrill of being with a group. But it is also incredibly chaotic, stressful, and always includes the unexpected developments of life on the road.
As a pastor, parent, and media exec… it’s a stretch to keep everything in balance during my absence. By God’s grace… so far so good. But I don’t want to assume anything this year. With the crazy events of the past few weeks and months, I am asking for your help, for your prayers… for protection and spiritual support as we go.

 

Summer 16' S&AShow CastCrewpic - Copy (2)

Summer 16′ Shock and Awe Show Cast and Crew!

Grateful to my wife, my church family, and my co-workers for their patience and support and for carrying the extra load in my absence. (not something I ever want to take for granted, the heroic service of folks like;¬†Kevin Herrick, Shane Tucker, Anne Whitehouse Ciccoline, Mimi, and the entire 4W congregation), all of these amazing friends and family chip in to make a summer like this possible. I am incredibly thankful and dependent on them. They always step up faithfully, making huge sacrifices of time and energy to ensure our church family at Four Winds is well cared for. Without this community of faith… I would be lost.

This year will feature our longest trip yet. 20 days across the Northern USA, Pacific Northwest and Western Canada, and back to Nashville.
Please consider making the extra effort to cover our little band in prayer. We will be traveling with a dedicated, but small group of high-school/college age artists, crew, and staff as we criss-cross the Creation Festival circuit. 7-10 people all crammed into a rental SUV for thousands of miles. Facing an infinite number of potential risks, we need prayers for safety, unity, good weather, health,¬†border crossings, functional gear¬†and for stamina as we put in over 7,500 miles together… in very tight quarters. (it might surprise you to know… after 12 hours in a car…people can get a bit cranky, and crazy ¬†:)¬†crazy pose - yellowstone '15 roadtrip
We’ll be repeatedly; loading, unloading, setting up & tearing down, and then rehearsing, sound-checking, and then presenting our six hour, 3 day… “Shock and Awe Show”. Living out of suitcases and sleeping in random hotels… each time we perform, mentally pushing aside our fears, fatigue, frustrations, and every-day life¬†distractions…straining to give the best possible effort and all of it is done live.
We’ll be doing radio and TV interviews, sight-seeing, and recording our own video at some of the most beautiful places in the world. All of it in response to a desire to change the world one tween at a time. We’ll be capturing new video for the Shock and Awe pre-teen curriculum and gathering artist footage for season six of the iShine KNECT TV series.
Whenever we go out like this we always feel the increased spiritual oppression that comes with the territory. Your prayers are GREATLY appreciated. I promise to take lots of pics and to post them whenever possible.
Pray… for us by name, for the Rubyz girls (Tanner, Jessica, and Addy), for Alexis Slifer… for Tyler Hardin, for Caleb Mathias, and their parents.Pray for Tom Coverly (illusionist and host of our show) for our partners, artist’s and friends;¬†¬†Abigail Duhon,¬†1GN and TJ Prodigy, for their families… for the staff of iShine (Mimi and Robert Beeson) for the Creation Fest teams at SonShine and North West festivals… for the gospel seeds of Christ to find open hearts and fertile ground to grow.
We are trusting God to work in and through us, and believing that His strength will be made perfect in our weakness. We are asking for hearts to be changed, for lives to be saved and for the future of our nation to be re-directed by a new generation of faith filled tweens and teens. We’re also expecting to see God reveal Himself to and in each of us in totally unique and unprecedented ways.
So please make the commitment to¬†pray for us… and Lord willing, we’ll¬†see you on the other side, with testimonies of God’s faithfulness and lifelong memories to share.
Thank you.
Pastor Brad…
#CreationFest16
#iShineontheRoad
#theRubyz
#iShinelive

Solo and Silent… Waiting and Delay, part 2

Driving in the desert is unlike any other place. Long – vast – uninterrupted horizon – skies that stretch beyond the edges of the earth. Barren and beautiful, it opens up in front of you with subtle detail. Sage and cactus, old washes with sandstone sides, brutal pitches of solid rock and flat-topped mesa’s the size of a small city. It looks and feels like the end of the world, the furthest reach of life. All of it clinging like a thread to survive. Cold and Hot, dry and dusty, it howls with the windswept cry of its isolation and fatigue.desert

Quite a metaphor for life.

How often do we find ourselves driving through a ‘desert’ of existence? How far do we travel on the two lane ribbon of asphalt, wondering if we’re going to make it?

God is in the desert places of our lives. It is in these vast unbroken stretches of existence that He longs to have us come near. To shut off the noise of our existence and simply ‘be’ with Him.

I found myself in such a place and in such a state. Driving for hundreds of miles… Solo and Silent. Waiting for a word from God. A whisper of divine affirmation, a word of encouragement or even correction. Anything to block the nearly silent sadness of my heart.

In these moments I let go. Somewhere between Grand Canyon and Phoenix I decided to stop figuring it all out. To stop calculating and striving, to rest and release my worry and my pain. Somewhere in the desert God touched my heart and made it new again.

Truth began to bubble up in me. Words of insight and understanding. Helpful and encouraging it captured my struggle and restored my hope. Perspective gained in a lonely vigil.

Here are a few of His thoughts that shaped me in the desert;

“The transformation is slow and steady as we move from hopeful to grateful to desperate in our pursuit of Gods voice and presence. It realigns our lives from the inconsistent and extreme to the steady and serene. The obstacles, crisis and tragedies encountered along the way become the building blocks of a divine nature that’s expanding and changing who we are from the inside out. No longer dependent on external conditions for our hope and happiness we find ourselves able to go further in faith than ever before. Not because of our strength or wisdom… But because we have abandoned the familiar safety of a life we can control, for the will of God.”¬†

“Personal Purity & Holiness are not irrelevant in the shadow of Christ’s grace. The maturing believer moves deeper with their personal intimacy and conviction to live for Christ alone. This movement inspired by the Holy Spirit pulls us away from the past / flesh towards the newness of life in Christ and fuels a growing desire to be more like Him than we want to remain as the old us!”¬†

“There is a significant difference between the superficial – external – vicarious – circumstantially based faith and the hidden – deep – internal – transformational faith that comes only at the cross of Christ. For the persistent follower of Jesus, the crucible of life becomes the forge of a white-hot faith developed in the ordinary – simple and unremarkable moments of daily living. It is in the choosing that we believe. It is in the believing that we grow and mature and expand.”¬†

“This process of “becoming” like Christ is not a complicated or convoluted path, it is rather a painfully simple series of determinations to trust God more than what we can see or feel. Designed by God to remove the dross of our inner man – it also nurtures the creation of a new heart that quietly begins to grow and glow in the darkness of our isolated existence.” ¬†cropped-road-pic-roadtrip-instagram.jpg

I believe it was in the “waiting and delay” of my journey that I was able to hear and respond to God. I believe it was in the silence and isolation that I was able to face the issues and patterns of my old self that needed to be slayed. It is in these moments of alone that we grow.

Dear ones… trust where God leads . He knows what we need.

Pastor B.

Road Trip Revival #5 “Cascade Canyon and Flanneling Up”

We awoke to another frigid dawn. (33F with frost on our car windows and reports of snow in the mountain passes) Less surprised¬†than the day before…we armed ourselves with fresh purchases of warm hoodies and winter hats.

Jenny Lake - Grand Teton NP

Jenny Lake – Grand Teton NP

We hit the road west, and ate a quick breakfast on the go… noticing the skyline clearing as the elevation rose steadily on our drive up to Grand Teton National Park.

Everyone knew what was coming next… we had discussed our group plans for a serious hike for almost a week. Reviewing the safety precautions (bear spray, making noise as we hiked to avoid startling a grizzly etc…) and talking about the epic views, what it would be like to go into the unknown.

Trusting the weather to stay clear… we set off to hike the famous “Cascade Canyon Trail… a good 12-13 mile round trip hike with over 1000 vertical feet. Rated “Strenuous” it would be hard for sure…especially for us flatlanders! (folks who don’t live in the mountains)

Everyone was a bit nervous to get started. We loaded up our backpacks at the Jenny Lake visitors center, water bottles and an exotic assortment of cliff bars as we talked about all the ‘what if’s’ of hiking in real wilderness.

I noticed Tanner was unusually quiet as we all got our gear together. She seemed to be shrinking into her flannel shirt as the moment grew near. I could tell she was afraid, the frustration from our day at Yellowstone still cloudy in her eyes. She pushed her lips tight and grunted a shy reply… she didn’t want to go. Intimidated she couldn’t make it up the steep trail and as our designated fashionista she wasn’t really ‘into’ wilderness stuff. I gently encouraged her that we were ‘all’ going together and promised we wouldn’t leave her behind if she got winded on the climb.

Tanner

Tanner

Reluctantly… she got up and started moving slowly to Jenny Lake. The others excitedly babbling about seeing a bear or a moose, and Tanner just tucked her head a little deeper into her collar, head down… wishing she could be anywhere but here, with us.¬†

But things were about to change…

We headed across the¬†crystal clear mountain¬†lake, using the shuttle boat (I highly recommend) to reach the trail head to the very popular Inspiration Point (tourist hordes) and the Cascade Canyon Trail, (much higher, longer and less traveled) which was our destination. We had a good 5-6 hours of hiking ahead and according to the rangers at the trail-head, bear and moose were active on the trail. I felt Tanner withdrawing even deeper… so far from her comfort zone. I sympathized… remembering how I felt in New York City.

An hour later we were reaching the crest of the first major climb, a brutal 55 minute ascent. Tanner was head down (between her knees) with puffy eyes and tears. Wheezing, and ranting her anger at being forced to go on this hike from hell. I tried to encourage her, explaining the worst of the hike was over… and how proud I was of her sticking it out. She huffed at me. So I moved on, silently asking God to ‘show up’ for Tanner.¬†

30 minutes later she flew by me almost skipping… laughter and Broadway strains of Les Miserables flowing off her lips. No tears, no sadness… just exuberant joy! What the heck… ?

I stared in amazement as Tanner was leading everyone else up this canyon trail. Full of happiness and energy, pushing us all to keep up! She and Addy climbing rocks, investigating the sights and sounds of a pristine alpine ecosystem with the unrestrained enthusiasm of a ten-year old! Whoa….¬†

Some prayers get answered right away… I guess ? Wow.

By the end of the day, Tanner was a convert. Already planning her next adventure…. and excited that she had tried something so ‘un-like’ her! What a surprise… she was more than she seemed, not just an urban diva… she was a woodland mountain climbing machine ! WoooHoo ūüôā

Cascade Canyon Trail

Cascade Canyon Trail

I couldn’t have been happier for her if it was my own daughter. I cried a little as she ran and ran… and ran! Like some kind of dam had burst inside of her, freeing something vital and life-giving. Something precious and pure.

The mountains do that…. the beauty of creation invades our minds and breaks through our broken hearts. Restoring and renewing even our darkest places and spaces.

God was in these mountains… whispering. Calling, answering… touching.¬†

Alexis saw her elusive moose… drinking quietly from the cascade creek, sandwiched between the Grand Teton peaks as if we were in some kind of surreal postcard come to life. God’s gentle reminder… He wants to satisfy our deepest desires and most intimate longings. The moose a long-term bucket list item for Alexis… and here in this remote corner of creation, God was speaking. Affirming His presence.

The trail to Cascade Canyon is one of my most favorite places in the world…. it was and always is a life-changing experience for all who make the journey.

Kind of like life…

Peace out, Pastor B.

PS – and “Flannel Up” is now a code word for those of us who made the iShine Road Trip of a lifetime together... coined by our very own Tanner ūüôā It’s a symbol of how we can choose to trust God – when we get put in awkward or uncomfortable positions and choose to stay in them, believing He will in time make something awful – become¬†incredibly¬†beautiful! Thanks Tanner for being such a courageous and amazing young woman!