The Passing Sickness

February.16.2012

We have finally recovered from a few days of stomach flu. It is never very fun for any family to deal with illness, but I think the challenges only become magnified when your family is larger. Add in the unique nature of leaving in relative isolation and it only gets worse.

My wife has become acutely paranoid to family sickness. As the Facebook posts declaring “another night of cleaning up puke” or “3 sick kids :(” start popping up, she becomes hypersensitive. Every cough from the kids is met with a quick glance to make sure no fluids followed it out. Every half-eaten meal is psychologically dissected for the true meaning of its shallow effort. Is it the start of something horrible?

I can hardly blame her though. As a mom who stays with the kids, her life is largely dictated by their health. If one kid is getting sick, do you really want to bring that ticking time bomb into a public setting?

So this round went with no exception. Stomach flu worked its way from parent to child to child to parent to child. Only one kid has remained intact, and it is almost worse that he never got it. Now we are stuck in this holding pattern waiting for him to erupt after a meal. I’m still a little gun shy every time I wrestle with the kids and he decides it’s a good idea to hover over me like a giant monster.

It’s not all bad though. Like any struggle, the light at the end is always the brightest. As sickness passes way to health, we all feel thankful for a new sense of energy and ability to control general digestion. All the things we weren’t able to do we twice as fun and even on the coldest day, playing outside seems like a pretty good idea.

February.1.2012

(As to be expected, this is the second time I am writing this post. I’m not sure what happened, but I apologize if this post isn’t as good the second time around. It’s hard to write the same thing twice and have the same connection to it.)

When I was growing up, the idea of logging and even cutting trees was pretty dramatic. All I can remember is watching grainy videos of large yellow bulldozers leveling sections of an amazon rainforest. The would show toucans and monkeys scurry away as their homes were destroyed and how this was going to ruin the environment. 

This Captain Planet depiction was all an urban raised kid from the 1990s knew about logging and forestry. Oh, and that chainsaws were awesome in horror movies. Still are really.

So when I heard that there would be some forestry work done around our house and the camp, I think my mind was filled with inaccurate craziness. Every night as I walked home, I would look at all the trees marked for removal and imagined how it was going to look like a wasteland. That giant yellow bulldozer was coming for us all.

I can still remember when I heard the heavy machinery and the chainsaws for the first time. A moment of panic ran through me as I figured I would arrive at a maze of pick up sticks at the entrance of camp. Might as well forget going to the mailbox without some kind of machete to work my way through the wreckage.

These thoughts were only compounded when I initially watched a piece of their equipment grab a tree with a claw, cut it at the base, remove all the branches, and section it into 7’ lengths in 30 seconds. 30 seconds per tree. Wow. This would be bad.

But after a few days, I realized that with that speed, came care and accuracy. They had a plan and they were sticking to it. Some trees were removed, but many were left. There was never a bulldozer or a howler monkey running for its life.

Today we went as a family to see the progress. The stacks of wood were impressive. We can now see much further into the woods which is a change as well. Our kids loved that they were able to stand beside the equipment and ask how it all worked. I’m thankful they are still of an age when giant machinery is still fascinating and not the stuff of nightmares.

The base of our driveway is the staging area for the logs, so it is a pretty busy place. It is littered with branches and sawdust and will likely be a mess for quite a while as will the places where the cutting took place. But I know in the long run this was a necessary step in being good stewards with the forest we have. When the camp was first started, these trees were not here. We are blessed to have such a rich environment to live in now. I just hope our guests can see past the immediate mess and see the bigger picture of sustainability.

I have always been intrigued by the rings of a cut tree as well. I love the idea that every tree has a story wrapped up in those circles. Each season it goes through is captured. If there was good rain, you get one kind of ring. If there was a lot of snow and stress on the tree, you get something very different.

I love to imagine how those rings would look in my own life as well. If I could see the moments of my past that were hard, how different do those rings look than the moments when I was blessed with great joy? How often do I even bother to reflect on what that history looks like?

For now though, I’m just thankful for all that is being done at the camp and the blessings we have. I hope my kids will see that sometimes a season of harvest is needed to see a better season of growth; both in the forest and in our lives.

Love Thy Neighbor

January.24.2012

When I was growing up, the concept of neighborhood came easy. My best friend lived next door and all the houses around us were families we knew and cared about. If someone needed something, neighbors were eager to help.

Now that I live in relative isolation, I realize I probably took that sense of community for granted. We have neighbors here, but to visit almost any of them, it would take more than a simple walk to get to their house.

That is, except one. There is a small private cabin that is essentially in the middle of camp. The cabin was here prior to the camp being established, so that alone makes for a unique dynamic. They even have to drive on our driveway to come and go from the cabin.

During my first several years, this cabin was only used in the non-winter months. I had a good relationship with them and I hope they feel the same.

However, In the last two years, it has been a little different. One of the relatives of the family has been staying in the cabin through the winter despite not having running water or a furnace. I’m sure that cannot be an easy existence, but it typically does not impact me or the camp other than a few times that I’ve needed to pull his car out of the snow.

Our neighborly stance became strained this summer though. On one instance where I was already kind of at my wits end, I saw a vehicle going way too fast on our road, probably in excess of 30 miles per hour. I yelled as loud as I could to slow down. I knew that our kids often walk on the road between our house and camp, so that kind of driving really was not safe.

I confronted him on this when he returned to camp with as much self control as it could muster, but all the anger that should come from a father worried for his children’s safety. Needless to say, this confrontation made things a little awkward going forward.

Fast forward to last Friday. I was working in the office when this neighbor came running in.

“I need your help.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I think I have a chimney fire.”

Now, it is probably important to clarify something. While I have spent the last 6 years here trying my best to fake it till I make it when it comes to being a rural community member. I do know that the word “fire” is bad though.

I went over to the house and I could see flaming ash flying out of the chimney. The wavy lines of heat stretched two feet out of the top of the masonry. This is not good.

When I entered the cabin, I was met with a blanket wall. He had divided the house to try and trap the heat, but in the process it also trapped the smoke. I pulled back the blanket and could not see more than a few inches in front of me.

My mind raced as I tried to put together the best way to put out the fire. Would it be dangerous to put water on it? Would it make the masonry crack or explode if it cooled too fast?

As is often the case with these odd situations, I called our camp maintenance manager for advice. He told me to put salt on it. I didn’t ask questions and found a bag of ice melt on the front step. It quickly choked out the fire and slowed the heat as the oxygen was stripped out of the chimney.

Once things slowed down, my neighbor thanked me and we parted ways.

It is hard to say that helping someone in an emergency is following the commandment to love thy neighbor, but it’s a start. I like to think that I would have the same heart and intention in a less dire circumstance, but only time will tell if that is true.

January.18.2012

When it is too cold to ice skate and sled, it is still warm enough for ballet.

Going for supplies

January.17.2012

If there is one thing that I took for granted living in a more urban area, it was going grocery shopping. I remember when I was growing up and I would ride my bike to the grocery store just for something to do. Now, going to the grocery store is a much more complex situation.

Today was one of my days off for the week. As such, we began planning our trip to the store the day before. Even that seems ridiculously to me. We are going to get food, not robbing a bank. If getting cereal ever becomes an Ocean’s 11-esque ordeal, it is probably time to reevaluate your life. But I digress…

So we decided that in order to maximize our trip, we would do the following: buy some groceries, buy a present for a birthday party the kids were going to later in the week, pick up a prescription and get the oil changed in the car. It was a full slate, but when all of these conveniences live 45 minutes from the motherland, it pays to consolidate your travel.

As we started to plan the itinerary (paging Mr. Clooney to the set), we realized that our best bet was to eat a large lunch, then make the voyage. That would buy us enough time to complete our tasks and end the trip with supper at a fancy fast food restaurant. It has become a bit of delicacy in our family.

I dropped Jamie and the kids off at Wal-Mart and drove the car over to the auto shop. I had not accounted for the bitter cold of today. I trudged through the snow and wind and I could feel my face getting red and wind burned. I stopped short of Wal-Mart and checked on the prices of a new cell phone plan for Jamie and myself. I could have done it another time, but then again when you are in the urban jungle of Portage, WI, it’s best to strike while the iron is hot.

I finally made it to Wal-Mart: The holy land of small town middle America. Considering our geography, it is not uncommon to be met by Amish families at this particular location. I used to think how odd it must be for them to be here surrounded by so much “stuff” but I am quickly realizing that my existence is really only a beard and a few horses away from theirs. We are both here stocking up for the next few weeks in hopes that nothing breaks or runs short in between.

We do our shopping and the only hiccup is when our 4 year-old son gets stuck on his master plan for the day: “I want to build a robot.” It may sound odd, but it’s par for the course with him. He is a creator of things. This morning he was cutting and taping together booklets of paper. When asked what he was doing he simply said, “I am making Bibles. For people who don’t have them.”

As we prepared to leave, we noticed huge lines at the registers. Through the murmurs of the crowd we hear that the “computers are down.” Considering the technological era we live in, it was about the vaguest description of the situation I could think of, but I later pieced together that what they meant to say was that credit and debit card payments were down. Uh oh.

Total panic in the current financial paradigm of Wal-Mart. You can see on the faces of most people in line that they live and die by the plastic with little plan B. Thankfully we pay our church offering every week by check and the checkbook was still in our family traveling luggage. God saves us from personal chaos again.

Before a riot begins, I make my exit. Time to get the car. Back out into Siberia…

We finally get everything loaded and eat dinner. Just as we are settled in and prepare to make the drive back home, Jamie suddenly remembers we almost forgot the prescription we needed filled. A near crisis averted.

It was at this moment I realized something. We are the modern day equivalent of frontiers people. We make this journey to the big city general store to refill our pantry, our medicine cabinet and to maintain our lives. Forget something and it will hurt. Remember something and it is a victory. Every trip is different. Every trip is an adventure. Especially with four kids in a Wal-Mart.

On diversity…

January.16.2012

[Context: A group of 40 people were at camp this weekend from a church in the Milwaukee area. This is the conversation I had today before breakfast with the pastor’s wife, Linda. These moments in the dining hall before anyone else arrives tend to be amazing.]

Me: Good morning!

Linda: Good morning. How are you?

Me: I’m good. Just struggling to get this fire going. You and your husband just came in last night, right?

Linda: Yes. He feels it’s important to be in the pulpit, so we had to wait until service was over.

Me: Well, I’m sure the people here appreciate it. Not a lot of pastors would make that time after a full day on Sunday.

Linda: Oh, we enjoy it.

Me: How big is your church?

Linda: The building is about 3,800 square feet but our attendance is about 100 people soaking wet.

Me: Really? Considering the diversity of this group I thought it was a much larger church. Even in this group, it seems like you have every race, age and demographic covered.

Linda: We are really blessed. We have been at the church for 20 years now and when we first started we prayed that we would be a church of diversity.

Me: I think that one was answered. We have a lot of different groups come here, but usually they are all the same cultural background. I mean, in Wisconsin it’s mostly the same caucasian crowd every time, but occasionally we serve hispanic, korean and hmong groups as well. It is rare to see it all intermixed so completely like your group.

Linda: It wasn’t always this way. Over time we had a few families join that had adopted children of different races and it let visitors realize that this was a place where this was a part of who we are.

Me: That’s wonderful and kind of sad.

Linda: Sad?

Me: It’s sad that it means there are places they might not be a part of a church because they are different.

Linda: Yes. That’s why we were praying. [warm smile] We pray for your family often too. Your little kids are just precious but we know you probably sacrifice a lot by being out here.

Me: Thank you. That means a lot to me. Getting to visit with groups like yours is what keeps us going. I love that my kids get to see so many different people even though we live way out here.

[Conclusion: From there, she carried on with setting tables and I continued to struggle making a fire in the fireplace. I didn’t remember until later that it was Martin Luther King Day. It was good to hear that diversity can occur in a church not out of some false intention or feeling of obligation, but instead of a pastor’s earnest prayers to serve everyone with the love and grace of Christ. I need to have a heart like this whenever I have multiple groups at camp that I desire to see live and fellowship together during their time at this place.]

Blogging is so 2003. Or earlier. I have lost count, but this is probably the fourth or fifth attempt I have made at keeping some form of a digital journal. They all start out with good intentions. I do well for about a month and then I remember that we are still slave to a 24 hour day that is divided by a great wife, four active kids, a demanding job, all along trying to growing closer to Christ in all I do. The prospect of writing anything down for “fun” clearly falls off that list quickly.

This latest attempt is not something I really wanted to do. I was not inspired by someone else’s great writing or a movie. Instead, this boulder was pushed off the cliff by a simple question by my grandma a few weeks ago.

During the great holiday extravaganza that is Thanksgiving and Christmas, I offered to drive my grandma home from my dad’s house as it was quite late. I don’t get to spend much time with my extended family, so it was really good to have a simple one-to-one conversation with her.

While most family conversations follow the formula of how the camp is great, the isolation is hard, but my family and my church get me through, this conversation had a curveball. After my biography, my grandma simply asked me, “Do you write anymore?”

I was kind of stunned. I am not and never have been a writer of any great consequence, but my family knows that I enjoy it. Or at least I did at some point.

After trying to figure out just what the question meant, I stammered out, “No. Not really.” 

I couldn’t see my grandma’s face as I was driving, but I swear I could feel her expression. It wasn’t disappointment or any amount of disapproval. She had been the mother of a large family and probably understood my situation. But it felt like she was almost heartbroken that I wasn’t doing something I enjoyed.

So that brings us to this. I’m sure this outlet is ripe for content. From my conversations with friends, I know my life is kind of unique. I look forward to sharing it and hopefully reuniting with my love of writing. At least for a few months…

Happy 4th of July!

July.4.2007

Just some photos of us celebrating the 4th of July!

It is hard to believe just how cute Leah is getting. She is learning words so quickly and the way she reasons through things is pretty amazing to watch.

We had a lot of friends come to watch fireworks with us. They were also generous in their popcorn donations to our child.

Beautiful sunset in Harrisville. I’m not sure the name of the lake, but it was pretty. There was also a rainbow as the sun went down.

Leah and I doing some pre-fireworks sparklers. I’m surprised how brave Leah was with them. Even with the sparks hitting her arms, she didn’t really flinch. And I only had to tell her not to touch the sparks once or twice.

Decent fireworks for smalltown America. I give it a B- considering their obviously limited budget. D- on the sulfur smoke coming across the lake into our lungs.

Leah did surprisingly well during the fireworks. She struggled at first with the very loud noise, but once we wrapped the blanket over her ears and held her, she watched in amazement. When it was over, I asked her if she like the fireworks and she replied with clapping and excited laughter. A great night for all of us.

The Wonderful Cross

June.24.2007


A cross in an interesting symbol. For me, it is a sign of grace, joy, hope, and unconditional love. On a daily basis, I see the cross and I am relatively unaffected by the overall power of the message of the cross, there is one place that has always had a cross that has brought me to my knees; Pine Lake.

The old, rugged cross that overlooks the worship area has been an icon both figuratively and spiritually for many that have stayed here. Even for myself, it has been a place of profound spiritual commitment.

With this said, it is probably expected that I was nearly brought to tears the other day when I heard from one of our guests that the cross has fallen over.

I suppose it is an inevitability that a wooden cross in the outdoors will at some point collapse, but that doesn’t make it easy. As I collected the pieces of the fallen and broken cross, I realized that these pieces of wood represented much more to me than just a symbol. It was a monument of my original commitment to Jesus Christ.

As I found out about this news on Saturday, I really had no time to create a suitable replacement. We had a full camp with Grandparents/Grandkids running around and a majority of my staff taking a day off.

Thankfully, and probably by a bit of divine intervention, there was a man from the camp who had worked at Pine Lake in the late 80s. He too had made a commitment in front of the old cross and understood the importance of this symbol to our ministry work here.

After several hours of work, this man with the help of his 10 year-old son and a few others, a new cross was constructed. He had used the same dimensions as the old cross but used a pine tree for the wood. While this may not be the strongest wood (actually, probably the weakest found here), it does make sense that Pine Lake has a pine cross. And it does look very nice.

The remaining top piece of the old cross is now at our house. It will have a place in our home for as long as I live and will serve as a reminder of my commitment to follow Christ daily.

This morning while I was driving to work I had a realization about my small group. We aren’t getting anywhere. Let me explain.

I have been mentoring, teaching and just plain hanging out with the same group of high school guys for the past 3 years. Since they were freshmen I have been a part of their lives and now they are juniors. It’s amazing how much some of them have grown.

And at the same time, it’s sad to see how far some of the other guys have fallen away. For a long time now I have done my best to try and maintain the group by doing fun things. We play videogames together, we play Risk together, we just have fun. And I think that is important.

But at the same time, I am not here to be their friend alone. I need to really refocus myself to be a spiritual mentor to these guys. Pretty soon they will be graduating from high school and the greatest fear I have is for them to move on with their lives and not have an understanding of how to maintain their own faith.

So tonight I am hoping to start something new with these guys. I have always been a firm believer that more meaningful discussion occurs around a campfire than any other place I have ever seen. No distractions and everyone feels somewhat safer since it is difficult to fully see everyone. At any rate, I am hoping to just have a good heart-to-heart with my guys. About life, direction, and of course, God.