Thursday, June 19, 2014

Storms, Ignorance, and Memories

Can you believe that June is already almost over?

In a week and half, July will be upon us, and before we know it, we'll be sitting next to our buddy in Starbucks with an iced-venti-no-water-light-berry-very-berry-hibiscus-refresher-sub-green-tea and, staring at the street, murmur in a heat induced lethargy, "Can you believe that the summer is almost over?"

Or maybe that's just me.

Thus far, the Las Vegas summer has been exquisitely dry, but honestly, what do I know? This is the first summer that I have spent away from Prescott in seven years.

I'm having forest withdrawals.

A few of my students and former camp staff chums asked me a while back, "Why don't you blog more camp stories? Those are great."

Camp stories forever chronicle the pride-induced humiliation of my character development as well as the more embarrassing chapters of my discovering my spiritual gifts.

This is the story of how I discovered my gift of controlling the weather.

Just kidding.

This is a story that has been affectionately named "Johnny tests God" and is also well remembered as one of the worst natural disasters ever to blight Prescott Pines Camp.

This story takes place earlier in my camp career, as most of my humiliating camp stories do, during youth camp. Camp was on a fiery roll; the energy was high, the campers were involved and stoked, the staff were organized and enthusiastic, the band was rad, and the speaker was great. It was a great week of ministry.

Thursday was always a big day being as it was the last full day of the week of camp, so we always want to end the week with a bang.

It was water day, and the water games were intense and wickedly successful, the mud pit was deep and smooth, and nobody had gotten hurt. Towards the end of water games, dark black clouds that threatened the horizon began churning far off in the distance.

Being covered in mud, a little bit of rain would be fun as well as functional, washing the mud away.

With splotches of residual clouds drifting high above, a tiny sprinkle began to drop on to us, lightly kissing our mud-caked, adrenaline filled bodies, but after a moment, the spritz stopped, leaving us still very much covered in mud and discontentment.

As the field echoed with disappointed sighs and huffs, I turned my churlish eyes to the heavens and voiced my disappointment to the skies. I shook my fist and addressed the creator of the universe with a voice that burned with ignorance and pride.

"Is that all you got, God?!"

My rebellious exclamation echoed through the trees of the quiet forest. The breeze that whispered through the pine limbs gasped and held its breath, and the forest stood still. In the distance, a squirrel cried out in terror.

In a swirling barrage of violent buffeting gust, the foreboding oppressive cloud titans that crouched in the distance began closing on our position from all sides. The four winds that had graciously blessed us with a lovely breeze all day had betrayed us and transformed in to the harbinger of meteorological doom.

Brace yourself. A storm is coming.

Entranced by the sudden change of weather, we gazed up at the kaleidoscope of spinning clouds that converged upon us.

In my ignorance, I had doomed us all.

Then all at once, the wind stopped. Above us was a thick canopy of black clouds that blocked out the high afternoon sun. I stared at the new sky and tilted my head, wondering if we would get more than the previous spritzing.

And then I heard it. A quiet whistle and a soft thud. Between my feet landed something very out of place in the middle of an Arizona summer. I knelt down and picked up a gnarled piece of ice the size of a golf ball.

That's when we should have started running.

Have you ever had a bucket of water poured on to you? That's how the rain came. Not in progressively increasing levels of rain, but in thick sheets of rain that soaked you through in seconds. Golf ball sized hail pelted us from above, laced within the sheets of water. It only took one massive clap of ground shaking thunder to inspire us all to run for cover.

It was every man for himself, man versus the scornful mother nature. I remember running through streams and puddles, not being able to see through the stinging rain and onslaught of welt-inducing hail that beat upon
my cold wet flesh. I made to the MAC and tore open the door. Inside looked like a refugee center. miserable and frightened Arizonans consoled each other as water ebbed under the doors and covered the floors. The sound of gallons of water and hail pounding on the roof of the 65 year old building was near deafening.  

I was dripping wet, covered in welts, shivering from the sprint and the cold. Several of the other summer staff found me and ran to me.

"Johnny, this storm is so bad! Where did it come from?"
I didn't answer.
"We have to get to the Depot. The radios are in there as well as the other staff."

Going back out in to that storm was not my idea of a good time, but we had a job to do.

We ran to the Depot through the storm, being crushed by the weather the whole way. When we arrived, leadership pointed to us and said, "There is a group of girls still on the field under a cover of trees who are too scared to come here." Without discussing a plan, we sprinted away back to the field. Now the hail was all different sizes ranging from tiny rice sized pellets to racket ball sized monstrosities. We barreled over bushes and rocks, splashing through brand new creeks that had formed in a few seconds. When we got to the field, we found the group of five girls huddled under a canopy of branches, shivering and hiding from the hail. Using out shirts and towels, we created makeshift umbrellas for them to hide beneath as we escaped back to the depot.

We returned to the depot and collapsed in to a few chairs by a fireplace. Then the power went out. We were surrounded by darkness and the cries of surprised campers.

After an hour of darkness and meteorological onslaught, the storm subsided to an icy drizzle that lasted through the night in to the next morning. Sidewalks were covered by newly shifted earth, and buildings were filled with rain. I spent the rest of my Thursday brooming multiple inches of rain water out of the dining hall.

Unfortunately, the power stayed off all night and wasn't restored until the last ten minutes of the final Friday morning chapel.

As miserable as this story sounds, in the years to follow, I met hundreds of campers who were there that day who hold that as one of their favorite camp memories despite the cold rain, painful hail, and inconvenient power outage.

Just to clarify, I don't actually believe that the sudden storm was God punishing me or that my pride inspired the peculiar weather in the least. Looking back, it was an exciting memory filled with adrenaline, fear, action movie-esque scenes of rescue, and incredible feats of nature.

Nevertheless, I don't shout at the sky anymore.

Nate T B

Monday, June 9, 2014

Weddings, Funerals, and Joy

Well that was stressful.

May came and went like a hurricane, full of chaos, death, tears, powerful moving currents, surging waves, highs and lows, and then--


I had every intention of blogging all May, keeping you all updated with the events of my month of mayhem, but alas, my mind was elsewhere.

Let's see here.

Last blog, I told you guys about Michael and Amber's wedding. That was the very first week of May, and then I dropped off of the grid for a bit. On May 8th, I got the news that my uncle Marty had been shot while in Afghanistan.

This news was more than devastating: it was confusing and terrifying. Uncle Marty, or CSM Martin Barreras as the internet calls him, was always the family hero. He was the invincible family legend that filled us with pride. If you Google him, you'll find pages and pages of awards, medals, missions, stories, accomplishments, operations that changed the course of human history forever including the rescue of PFC Jessica Lynch.

As a child, when my pals and I played soldiers in the street, I pretended to be Uncle Marty.

Five years in the Marines, twenty two years as an Airborne Army Ranger, Uncle Marty was the American standard of "man". He was humble, a lover of peace and family, loyal, but unstoppable in combat. The very idea of him being wounded in combat was somewhat hard to believe. This is the man who removed shrapnel from his own chest with his field knife while sitting in a MASH hospital years back.

I remember asking him once "Tio, why did you switch from the Marines to the Rangers?" to which he replied jokingly, "Because I wanted a challenge."

And then we find out that he died. That was a weird feeling.

Especially because I hadn't seen him since I moved to Nevada. I didn't really get to see him one last time.

It did my heart good to hear that one of the last things he said to the family before he left was "Quit your sniveling: I'll see you soon."

And because Uncle Marty was a follower of Christ, I know that still to be true.

His funeral was to be massive. Hundreds on
hundreds of people whose lives were changed by him.

It was scheduled to be in Tucson on May 24th; the same weekend I was being a groomsman in my friends', Paul and Marie's, wedding.

Flip the stress switch.

After fighting with the airline company for five and a half hours, three of those hours being on hold, and $275 later, I rescheduled my flight to Tucson for the funeral and then back home from Phoenix where the wedding was taking place.

The wedding was simple and lovely. It was a light hearted, fun wedding that definitely captured the essence of Paul and Marie beautifully. My groomsman outfit for this wedding was under $100 compared to the $800 tux I rented for Michael and Amber's wedding.

Good thing I rented.

It was a powerful weekend of tears, laughing, hugs, love, heart break, reuniting with family, and saying goodbye to others. I saw friends and family from forever ago, and saw two of my good friends become one. It was a very moving weekend.

I got back home Monday night and slept for a long long time. Tuesday, Wednesday, and then leave Thursday night to Indianapolis.

I was pretty excited. I had never been that far North. Or East actually. I might sound like a desert rat when I say that I had never seen that much grass and lakes everywhere. My face was stuck to that plane window like a piece of gum under a desk. I was so blown away! And it was so cool there! It was maybe 90 degrees at its hottest, and the sun didn't go down until after 9:00 pm. It was a different world.

Oh and I saw a lightning bug for the first time in my life. Whoa. They really do look like they do in the movies.



The wedding of Charles Levi Whitton Storm and Abigail Ruth [Storm] was a beautiful, classy wedding in a small Indiana town in Miami county called Peru. Sounds exotic, yes?

It was a beautiful little town with grassy hills and wooded highways inhabited by friendly people with cute mid-western drawls that almost tempt you to adopt their accents just by talking to them.

The wedding was traditional and beautiful, and I didn't mess up! Yep, this was the wedding I officiated. I was wearing a borrowed suit coat and other pieces of formal attire I had collected throughout the years, and I didn't look too shabby.

It was definitely a new experience to be standing on stage with the groom during the wedding. I've been a groomsman, a best man, an attendee, but never the one officiating the wedding. The only role I have to do now is be the groom. More on that in a year and eleven days....

Standing on the stage with Chuck as Abbey came down the aisle was more magical than watching the groom as a groomsman. Right before Abbey stood at the head of the aisle, Chuck and I were quietly chatting about how nervous he was, but as soon as Abbey came in to view in her beautiful white dress, I doubt he even knew I was standing there. While they stood on the stage together, holding each others' hands, looking in to each others' eyes, it was so odd watching them communicate without saying a word. As I spoke, I watched them giggle at each other's telepathic jokes and tell each other how good they looked on this wonderful day without even opening their mouths.

It was romantic and friggin' adorable.

And then the long sleepy trip back home to peaceful, warm Las Vegas.

That was a crazy month. Lots of traveling and even more money spent. It had plenty of ups, and definitely a few downs that kept things exciting, and that has the potential to make an emotionally stable person very unstable if allowed.

Emotions are tiring and require self control. the smallest thing can effect them. Many times, its hard to look at a situation and confidently say "Ya, I'm okay. I got this" because we all know that, deep down, we don't got this.

The burden of human limitation magnifies the beauty of the sovereignty of the living almighty God.

At camp, there's a high ropes course.
Nothing fancy: Climb a tree, high wire walk, walk a log, and a trapeze jump. Good, terrifying times. The first year it was put up, I got to be one of the lucky first to try it out. My contact fell out on the log walk, and I cried.

Not ashamed.

The first time I had experienced this terrifying test of nerves and balance, I had little faith in the thick rope connected to the harness that held me tight. It was terrifying thinking about plummeting forty feet to the forest floor to my death. But that rope wasn't going to break, and that harness wasn't going anywhere. I was in the hands of Guy Deckard, the man belaying.

As the years went by, I did the high ropes course more and more until I was skipping across that wire and doing push ups on that log. The rope had never failed me, and I knew that I was in the secure and never-failing grasp of that harness around me.

The God that I worship and serve in Las Vegas is the same God in Indiana, and is the same God in Afghanistan. There is no moment in the history of matter and energy where the Almighty God has not been in absolute control of all things. Even when my knees got weak, and I felt like falling, God was holding me, and had a plan. he knew whether I was going to fall or not, and I was always safely in His hands.

There's a heart condition that describes an unconditional trust in the absolute sovereignty of God.
It's called Joy.

Happiness is an emotion affected by outward circumstances. Happiness is affected by the weather, the outcome of your sports team, the health of your relationship, your success at work.

Joy is a conscious recognition of God's unlimited power and active intervention in your life every single day whether you are at a funeral mourning your hero, or at a best friend's wedding.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
                                      Hebrews 13:8 

Nate T B