Wednesday, March 5, 2014

People-Pleasing, Hypothermia, and Johnny's Grave

So the internet is a safe place to share secrets, right? I mean, it's not like just anyone can access the things we say and do on the internet...

I'm kidding. 

So many people use the internet as their laundry mat, exposing their dirty laundry and baggage in public for the world to sympathize and make excellent memes out of.

But who am I to critique?
I have a blog...

I'm prideful, a people pleaser, and am terrified of conflict.

How's that for dirty laundry?

I recognize that all of these flaws of mine are rooted in my fears, more specifically, my fears of what people will think of me.

I kick myself and pray about this for hours at a time. My identity and sufficiency are not what other people think of me. I am defined and given purpose by what my God says about me.

I am to be a God pleaser -- NOT a man pleaser.

When I was a strapping young lad, working at Prescott Pines camp, I recall a specific instance in which my desire to please man almost got me killed.

As I have mentioned in blogs past, camp is a strange world with a culture and traditions of its own.

As a counselor, you are the super star, the MVP, the celebrity in front of the camera, and everything you do is cool and exciting, and you are always on the hunt for more ways in which you can increase the status of your awesomeness.

The way you play games, the way you tell stories, your energy, your laugh, your jokes; all these things make up your identity as a counselor.

Above the rest were the legendary counselors who were infinitely cooler and vastly more experienced than the rest. Among them were such counselors as Davy Crockett, Billy the Kidd, Daisy Mae, Nomad, and the list goes on.

These counselor names have all been retired in order to preserve the memory and legacy they left in their wake of changed lives.

A quality many of the legendary counselors shared was their affinity for the game Counselor Hunt. Counselor Hunt is the super bowl of camp games. It's the last team game of the week that can either make or break a massive point lead for a team. Each counselor is assigned a specific amount of points depending on how often they are found.

The game is simple. All the counselors run off in to the woods within a designated area and hide. Up trees, under building, behind rocks, bushes, caves, anything is fair game as long as you stay within boundaries. After the counselors are hidden, the children are released to mercilessly and tirelessly hunt down the hidden counselors. Once a counselor is found, he is tagged, and escorted back to the point-keeper. As long as a counselor is untagged, he may hide or run for his life.

So simple, so awesome.

If you were like me, you were worth 500 points.
That's the bare minimum. My ability to hide was defined by how low I could crouch behind a bush. I wasn't exactly a ninja.
Davy Crockett was worth 50,000 points.
How's that for perspective?

It was embarrassing! So badly I wanted to be like the legendary counselors! I wanted to be admired, I wanted to be cool, I wanted the other counselors and kids to think I was worth noticing.
How dumb does that sound?

Week after week, I would hide behind a different bush or rock, hoping the keen eyes of the young children would not pierce my floral facade and put me to shame. Again.

So I began to plan and formulate the perfect spot. I was no acrobat, so up trees was not my forte. I was not the tiniest of men, so squeezing beneath buildings was not ideal. I was no cheater, so out of bounds wasn't my style. I had to think deeper. Literally.

On the camp were stacked piles of  log rounds from the trees felled by the forestry service. Who would notice if one of them shifted over five feet?

During my time off, I took a shovel and pick and trudged off in to the woods to find my secret sanctum. I found one of the biggest piles of log rounds and began digging beside it. Six feet long, three feet wide, one foot deep. It was perfect. I reassembled the log stack over the hole with one large log as the secret door. I could roll the big log out of the way and slip underneath and be invisible.

And with counselor hunt happening later that day, it was just in time. I remember finishing my dinner as fast as i could and running out in to the woods with so much excitement and enthusiasm. As I came upon my subterranean sanctum, my heart was pounding with anticipation.
Would I be found?
Is this going to work?
How am I going to get out of this hole?

I asked my self these questions as I slipped in to the hole beneath the nine hundred pounds of logs. Being a stud was more important than being crushed to death by log rounds.

I pulled the massive log over my head and sealed my self inside.

The silence was oppressive. I shifted uncomfortably in the tight space. I could hear the wood groan and the dirt shift as the minutes ticked by. Then I heard them. The children were near. I heard their footsteps pounding the forest floor and their shrill cries through the five feet of wood. My blood ran cold with the idea of their tiny filthy hands reaching in to my pit after me. As the pounding drew nearer, I laid still and held my breath. I could now hear words and heavy breathing coming from the children merely feet away. They spoke of the counselors who had fallen thus far and what they planned to do with the next one. After a moment, the abandoned their inspection of the log stacks, and moved on.

I was still here. I had survived. After an hour, the game ending horn blast signaled all the remaining counselors still hidden that it was safe to reveal themselves. I reached up to push the log away, but it wouldn't budge. I had to press both my arms and shoulders against it to roll it away. It was easily one hundred pounds. 

My hiding spot had worked perfectly.

As weeks went on, I would uncover the hole and make it deeper and safer until the hole was three feet deep, six feet long, and three feet wide. I was invincible. My point worth was bested only by Davy Crockett's. I was worth 47,000 points, and Davy Crockett's sat at a stable 50,000 points. The counselors and campers spoke of me with admiration and jealousy. I felt legendary.

Week after week, I would retreat to my hole with books, snacks, my Gameboy, a sleeping bag, and assorted pleasantries to keep me busy while I bested the merciless campers. Every week, I would spend an hour reading and eating snacks, or maybe training up my Blaziken, or sometimes even taking a nap until the horn blast signaled my safety. I would muscle open the entrance and smile in victory at the exasperated faces of surprised campers. I was the man.

Before we get to the climax of this lengthy anecdote, I should preface it with this statement: if you don't like the weather in Prescott, just wait five minutes. The weather at camp could change in minutes going from hot and sunny to frigid pouring rain.

The day was beautiful. Sunny and warm. Birds called out and the wind danced between the trees making the warm sun pleasant. It was the last game of counselor hunt for the summer, and it was the perfect day to celebrate victory. As the hours ticked by, the anticipation increased. Dinner had arrived along with miles and miles of dark black clouds. Thunder signaled the coming of a July downpour.

And then the rain began to fall.

Sheets and sheets of water smothered the Arizona forest. Within an hour, the rain had died, and the clouds had left, but the damage was done. The forest floor was ebbing with tiny streams of flowing water and eight inch deep puddles of frigid mud. My mind explored the worst of possibilities. Did my hole fill in? Did the logs collapse in with the mud? I finished my meal and sprinted out to my hidden hideout. As I drew close, I was relieved. The log pile was intact. I rolled the massive entrance log out of the way and my breath froze in my lungs. Inside my three foot deep cavern was three feet of brown, filthy, frigid water.

My heart stopped.

What was I supposed to do?

I ran back to the dining hall where the legendary Davy Crockett sat along with some of my fellow camp staff. I leaned in close and whispered "Davy, my hiding spot is filled with water." He looked at me and nodded. "Ya that would be crazy if you hid in there."

What he meant as a warning, I took as a challenge. The other counselors nearby heard the warning and followed me closely in to the forest. As we approached the flooded forest fortress, the comments begin to fly.
"Holy cow. This is where you've been hiding all summer?"
"Ya, but it's full of water."
"Like three feet of water."
"Three feet of freezing water."
"I don't think it's a good idea."
"Dude, do it."

I had already decided. I had invested too much to back down now. I nodded to my fellow counselors and stepped in to the watery pit. The cold water stung as it touched my skin and I felt the muscles in my legs tense. I lowered myself down in to the water up to my waist, and the cold stole the breath from my lungs, and my hands had already begun to shake with cold. As I slipped chest-deep in to the water, my teeth began to chatter and my shoulders began to feel stiff. I looked up at my onlooking friends. They looked as if they were watching a friend being lowered in to the ground for a funeral. I finally settled all the way in to the water, only my head above the surface. I nodded to Matt as he rolled the log over the entrance of the hole, and I laid in wait for the game to begin.

The pit was not filled with books or video games like before. The only sound I could hear was the chattering of my own teeth and the pattering of rain as it began to drizzle again.

I had never felt so cold in my entire life. I could no longer feel my legs, and my hands had quit shaking and no longer felt cold. Was I just getting used to the cold? Was I warming up the water?

The game began and I heard the shrill squeal of children on the hunt. It was going to be another successful day of counselor hunt, and I would finally earn the admiration of all.

I heard the pounding of the rampant packs of campers, and I tried not to think about how cold I was feeli-- wait I don't feel cold anymore. I remember staring up at the logs above me and my eyes feeling heavy. So heavy.

Water up my nose woke me up.

I fell asleep.

Why do I feel so drowsy?

I can't keep my eyes open.

By the festering bunion of Moses,

I'm going to die in this hole.

I dug my own grave.

I imagined my own death in that hole, campers forever wondering what happened to Johnny Ringo, and the unfortunate child who would find the skeletal remains of the foolish young counselor who wanted so badly to be liked.

It would make an excellent camp legend.

I had to escape my self inflicted fate. I would just push the log out of the way and crawl out of the hole to safety. I tried to get in position to shove the massive log out of the way, but I couldn't lift my arms. My legs were white and cold and weak. I couldn't prop my shoulder against the log. I was trapped. The only thing I could do was call for help. So I tilted back my head to call out for help, but all i could muster was a frail and weak

I couldn't call out for help, I couldn't get a full breath of air.

I was not going to die in a hole. Especially not in one that I dug myself.

I gasped in a mouth full of air and yelled as loud as I could


Someone must have heard that. I heard the pounding of feet and the tittering of young voices as they followed their ears to my hidden hiding spot. They began dismantling the log pile, chucking my hard work to pieces. Finally one of the kids rolled away the large log and beheld my pale cold head and yelled

"I found Johnny Ringo!" and pushed my head underneath the water in an aggressive tagging movement.

I was saved. Kinda.

It turns out that I had given myself hypothermia and embarrassed myself in front of everyone. Everyone had a chance to see the shivering blue form of Johnny Ringo staggering to warmth.

It's crazy to think about the lengths we will go to earn the approval and admiration of others whose opinions don't affect our lives at all.

Through Christ, we have purpose and a new identity. We know that because of Christ, God is fully satisfied with us and views us as righteous. Be a God-pleaser, not a man-pleaser.

I hope you can kind of see the connection I'm making with this ridiculously long and stupid anecdote.
If not, I hope you enjoyed laughing at my misfortune. I wish I could say that is the only embarrassing camp story I have, but alas, I am afflicted with chronic thick-headedness

Nate T B