They Killed the Biggest Bear

I pointed Harley’s face towards the creek at the edge of the woods, speaking into her ear with quiet intensity. She lowered her head, wriggling away from my grasp. Then the lights came on. Her ears shot forward. Her eyes froze. Her hackles stood up. Growling,  she strained against me, but I did not let her chase what she saw. “Good dog,” I said, “Stay here.”

Below the cabin we were renting, down by the creek, sprawled a lumpy black bear, fat and fluffy enough to have come straight out of the Samsung washing machine commercial. He was gathering mouthfuls of corn out of the plastic dispenser and chewing them with rhythmic chomps. He didn’t look around.

When we spoke to him, he simply took up another mouthful of corn as if to say, “Hello human, your presence is annoying, but it will not distract me from getting what I want.”

He was there to feast, and feast he would.

100% unconcerned.

It wasn’t until the next day that I noticed a change above the cabin fireplace.

Blonde-haired Jed, 5 years old and full of wisdom, was glad to explain the changes to me. “That one was ‘tacking,” he announced, poking his small finger towards a wide new bear skin on the cabin wall. Pointing at the other bear skins, he continued, “That one was not ‘tacking, and that one was not, and that biggest bear was ‘tacking and they SHOT IT.”

I remembered meeting this huge bear last summer. He’d arrive each night to feast at the corn dispenser, sprawling on the ground and licking up the kernels with cartoonish apathy. Then he’d waddle away at daybreak, down the drive and up the mountain road. I’d watched him waddle by me at very close proximity–the fattest, fluffiest, tallest black bear I have ever seen.

Now the legend was dead, shot in his tracks even though he’d tried to put up a fight. 

I remembered another black bear I’d met on a grassy mountaintop nearby.

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Baby Mountain Bear, I’d called that one. Small, quick and fluffy. I had only noticed Baby Mountain Bear because of the dew drops raining from the tree he’d been hiding in. That little bear had scurried to safety the moment he heard a human coming. When I looked back after hiking past him, he had clambered down from the tree and disappeared.

Cabin Bear, fat, lazy and unnaturally bold. Willing to let his enemies watch him sprawl in the dirt as he feasted.

Baby Mountain Bear, small, quick and scared. Not willing to let his enemies catch a peek at him.

There is a corn dispenser at the fringe of my forest, too, but it takes the shape of a cartoon tee shirt I used to imagine myself wearing that says, ‘Cactus Recovery Program’. It’s the way I used to explain my cold responses towards people who triggered my fears. I can go back to this tee shirt any time and put it back on. It fits me well, and is comfortable. I can be a cactus any time I want to.

But I’ve learned that as a cactus, you actually grow spikes on the inside, too. While your exterior spikes prick people and keep them at bay, your interior spikes cut down your destiny every time it tries to rise. You’re not living where you’re meant to live. You grow more and more confused.

Abnormal habits feel normal so very soon. Remember that.

Figure out how you were created to live and live that way, no matter what! No matter what appealing gifts your surroundings offer you. No matter what feels good. No matter what feels easier.

You were created to rule the wild mountaintops, not for a placid partnership with your enemies in the valley. Know who you are, and live that way!

Don’t let your enemies feed you.

Don’t let your enemies make you tame.

If my hike had a soundtrack…

The air was the perfect flavor of pine and clean wind as I sauntered along the smooth, shaded path past Lake Hebron that warm-but-not-too-warm day. The loons cried their short-lived daytime conversation and a bandana’d youth sat contemplatively underneath a fir tree, watching the reflection of clouds sweep across the slightly rippled water.

His iPod played a soulful tune and I thought it was a perfect soundtrack for the moment.

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I often thought I should have a soundtrack for this hike.

Not only a soundtrack, but an entire video recording of it that I could look back on if I ever forgot how incredibly, miraculously blessed I’d been to experience this.

In case I forgot the Me I Used To Be.

If I had a soundtrack for this hike, it would have begun low, building slowly in tight-stringed suspense. There would be lots of creepy segments in this first soundtrack, that would make you want to look over your shoulder or stand with your back against a wall. There would be tense notes–lots of them in fast succession. There would be a happy, frolicking piece. And then a mournful, low bar, full of pain.

As the soundtrack for my hike went on, the suspenseful notes would lessen and the smooth notes would gain the upper hand. There would be not so many creepy segments. Not so many tense pieces. But the mournful bars would continue, transfusing pain into the listener.

There would be short bursts of heavy metal. A few screams.

Lots of upbeat parts.

The final segment would start hauntingly beautiful, maybe just a solitary oboe or maybe a windy flute. There would be pattering and low, persistent whining notes and maybe a few screeches of nail on a chalkboard. Then there would be a clash of cymbals and the soundtrack would take on a folk song vibe. Another clash, and then a long piece on the piano, building momentum. Then a loud, long clash, with drums. And then my soundtrack would be one continuous dance party, ending with the Hallelujah chorus.

Well, I don’t have a soundtrack for my hike, but it would be a lot more concise to explain if I did. I could just pop in the CD and everyone would experience the same feelings with me. Instead, I’ll have to use words to share the story, which is what I know.

It will do the same thing, just take longer.

I jumped out of my reverie when my feet hit a paved road. This was Pleasant Street, and it would take me to Shaw’s Lodging in just 1.6 miles.

I hadn’t gone far before Poet, the owner of Shaw’s, zipped towards me in a trendy SUV. There were already three hikers inside, but my pack just fit under the dusty hatch, and I slid my boney self into the back seat.

It was stinky inside that car–sweat, mostly.

Poet had the air conditioning on and didn’t seem to notice. But I took the time to consider that it was us three feminine hikers in the back seat who were making it reek. Somehow that just didn’t seem right.

Poet dropped the two girls off at the post office, then gave me and Turbo, the third hiker, a tour of his hostel. It was colorful and clean inside, with tablecloths on the tables, plenty of towels in the bathrooms and bedspreads on the bunks.

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“This is a really nice hostel, Poet.” I said, and he thanked me.

After hanging my hammock outside in the tree line, rustling through my food box, and making a quick tour of the small, friendly town, the sun had almost fully dropped below the horizon. I carried my box of coconut caramel ice cream into the dining room and ate it while uploading YouTube videos.

AJ and Poet bantered in the kitchen, and the hikers had settled into their typical 8-o’clock calm. A few sat playing scrabble at a table adjacent to mine and drinking Maine craft beer. They congratulated me on my voracious ice cream consumption and after awhile decided to stroll to the quick-stop for pizza. I had the dining room to myself.

I stared out the window at the luminescent glow of headlamps inside the tents scattered across the yard, and thought about how far my heart had come.

I remembered my first hostel visit. It was at Top of Georgia.

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Even though Renaissance greeted us with his famous flair and gave us a highly entertaining tour I had been too shy to really relax and join in the community there–too scared to hang out in the bunkhouse with the other hikers.

I’d sat on the porch in the damp, biting air instead, listening to the upbeat chatter coming from inside and eating spam and ramen. I could still taste the feeling I’d had then–that numbing, unshakeable belief that I was young, weak and clueless, and would never make it to Katahdin. I’d felt like a giraffe in a pet shop that March day.

Now it was August, and I couldn’t begin to list all the miracles I’d experienced in that six month span.

All I knew was that this place of dreadlocks and backpacks and new faces felt cozy and comfortable. Like home. How big my muscles were, how light my pack was or how much knowledge my brain contained didn’t matter anymore. I was equally comfortable alone on a wind-swept mountaintop or in another strange town in a sea of new faces.

It’s still hard for me to explain it. If I could play you my soul’s soundtrack you’d understand. But that’s impossible.

I guess I’d better get started on my book.

But in the meantime, you might be interested to know that there IS an actual Appalachian Trail soundtrack coming to an orchestra near (or far away from) you!

I met this composer after I collapsed onto a bench in Madison Hut after a 14 hour race across the presidential range one Sunday last month, and he shared his incredible vision with me over a lukewarm pile of homemade dinner leftovers from the hut kitchen. You can find out more about his Appalachian Trail Symphony here: http://keanesouthard.instantencore.com/web/home.aspx

 

 

My Selfishness as it Relates to Hamburgers

It all happened when I was mid-burger, 2 minutes in and 3 minutes left on the clock to consume the 67% remainder of the tomato-lettuce-cheese-pickle-beef creation in my hands.

I sat there with the tomato-y mayo dribbling down my hands and thought,

“How selfish I am! Here I am, scarfing down a 1/4 lb burger at the speediest (and messiest) rate known to mankind, and I’m hardly even tasting it!

How often do I eat a burger? Rarely.

How often do I eat a burger with the PERFECT ratio of pickles to tomatoes? Even less often.

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And I’m just here gobbling it down like my dog would do, and worrying that I’ll choke it my haste!

Now, IF I, as a Christian, am the bride of Christ… and IF all good things in life come from Him, it would make sense that He gave me this burger.”

So I put myself in Jesus shoes (well, I tried at least) and suddenly I felt so small and ashamed.

Here was Jesus, creating a masterpiece of a burger just for me, and watching me to see if I liked it.

And there was me, chowing down in a terrible rush and not even tasting what I was eating, much less thanking the Lord for all the work He put into it, and for choosing to give it to me.

Preposterous!

I have a ways to go towards living in the heavenly kingdom, especially when I’m late for my second job of the day.

But I have decided that this earth’s–and, sad to say, especially North-East America’s– style of enjoying food is not for me. I’m going to live out of the peace of the kingdom I was created for, and take time to taste my food no matter how late I am.

And thank the Giver.

So if you want to join me, come on over! We can have some coffee, and take an entire half-hour out of our day to drink it while it’s still hot.

And to soak in the warmth of thankfulness.

Because we are so very cared for, and so very BLESSED!

Victors

Tonight, the headlines irrevocably declare: “120 Dead in Paris Attacks, Worst Since WWII”.

Terror is spreading across our planet, and the people of this planet, like ancient wooden ships adrift in a storm, scatter. Some cry, some shout “Revenge!”, some huddle in the paralysis of fear. Some hold up signs that say ‘NOT AFRAID’–a distinctive message to their enemies, but the sign-holders are powerless to make the message true within their hearts.

We the people– the meant-for-another country people. We the foreign exchange students, so to speak. What are we doing?

If we’ve been trained to fight, why are we afraid?

If we are truly selfless, why not choose to feel pain with the hurting instead of jumping into our closets of self-protection?

If we really believe God’s power makes us unstoppable, why not walk towards the danger instead of running away from it?

We are never victims.

We are always promised joy.

We are always promised rest.

We are always promised protection–the definition of which only Jesus knows.

We are never victims.

We are victors.

We the people pray for Paris tonight.

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We also pray for peace within ourselves.

 

Never, never, let us accept the title of “victim”, Jesus. Never let us stop receiving peace from you, and fearlessly giving that peace away.

Courage

Isn’t it crazy that even when everything I know and see is on the downstream side of insanity, just hanging on to hope by a thread, Jesus’ name is STILL ‘Deliverer’?

Even when I feel like a skittering mouse, MY name, because of my divine heritage, is STILL ‘Courageous Victor’?

I’ve thought to myself, “Maybe I’ll find a syringe of courage on the other side of a challenge, kind of like the proverbial gold at the end of a rainbow!”

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Guess what? I haven’t found a crumb.

I guess courage comes from an unseen source, like the very air we breathe.

Always surrounding me.

Always enough.

Always ready to make me STRONGER THAN BEFORE I ASKED FOR HIM TO HELP.

Victory on earth is so different then Jesus’ definition for His victories (which are happening all around you, unseen.)

Close your eyes, and look with His, and you will be encouraged.

Turn your eyes away from darkness, and live out your name!

COURAGEOUS VICTOR!!!

Independence Day, All Day, Errry Day

Do you know what it’s like to be free?

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Does it feel like a triumphant march, bold, brazen and unstoppable?

Does it feel like an entirely new government, a government that actually has your best interest in mind?

Does it feel like a fireworks show, loud, colorful and unpredictable? Maybe just a tad dangerous?

Does it feel like a crackling fire, the comforting presence of friends, and more food than you could ever eat?

Every time July 4th rolls around, it’s  impossible for me to join in the festivities without thinking, “THIS! It’s my inheritance every. Single. Day!”

The brazen “Oh yes I will stick a feather in my cap, and call it macaroni…. no matter what you think” heritage of our American forefathers (look up what those lyrics mean sometime, by the way) reminds me of the freedom I have in Jesus to be outrageous! He allows me to be 100% awkward, awesome  and unique, and calls it “Perfect!” Because He made my spirit perfect, and that’s what He values the most.

A new governing entity reminds me of the freedom I have as a member of a heavenly kingdom. The rules are unchangeable as the tick of time itself. Always in my best interest. Always reliable. Always present, no matter where I am. What could be easier, or more refreshing?

Fireworks remind me of the explosive majesty of my King’s power. First a tiny spark, then a sudden blast into the air, then a full-on display of beauty for all the world to see. Dangerous? Oh yes! No king would earn his title without being dangerous. Unpredictable? Yes again, because He can. And because He is the Creator of all that is. Unforgettable? How could He be anything but? Beautiful? As the Maker of all beauty seen and unseen, experienced and imagined, time past, present, and future… how could He not be? And I am free to bask in that unforgettable, unpredictable, dangerous beauty every single day!

A crackling fire makes me think of the Lord’s spirit inside me. Warm, lively, comforting… yet ready to burst outwards and upwards in a whoosh of unstoppable power the minute it gets the fuel it needs.

Friends snuggled up by my side make me think of the comforting presence of my Jesus. Always there. Always secure. Always the same. Always trustworthy.

Abundance of the best of foods reminds me of the benefits of being a part of the most wealthy family known to the history of all that is! Unstoppable promotion is mine! Unstoppable resources from the unlikeliest of places! Unstoppable flavor and zest!

The dog is in the basement, howling. She doesn’t realize the powerful imagery of the fireworks exploding around us. But I do!

It is all of God’s people, as they should be, united in celebration of one victory… and the power of their unity is lighting up the night sky for all the world to see.

Tell me, what does freedom look like to you?

just call me Moe

You know what’s so weird?

I’m spending this entire year of my life in the wilderness field… well, the rest of my life, hopefully. And it’s the thing I’m the least cut out for.

Seriously though. I’m introverted, preposterous and afraid of heights and drowning. Just the other day, a mother called me to talk about her concerns about adventure programing. It was very uncanny to assure her, “Don’t worry, Ma’am. We practice challenge by choice. I’ve never cliff jumped in my life.”

People look at the pictures when I return from a trip, and hear the stories, and think, “Wow! What an adventure! You must be very brave!”

They picture me as this, sometimes.

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But in reality, I’m more like this.

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Just call me Moe.

You know, short for Moses.

I can relate to him a little, in a small way. I often beg Jesus to give someone else the task of prophesying. Embarrassingly, I pretty much don’t give Him an option when it comes to cliff jumping.

I look ahead at my summer that is quickly filling up with mentoring opportunities and think, “Why me?”

FAITH.

That’s why. His spirit, making me unstoppable. Saying what I didn’t think of on my own. Doing what I couldn’t do.

Being sure of what I hope for, and certain of what I cannot see. The heritage of being God’s kiddo.

Isn’t it amazing to be able to do things way beyond yourself?

The things you love, even though you’re not good at them?

Isn’t is amazing to be a part of the impossible?

And if He has His way, He’ll get me off that cliff yet.

But He Always Offers Rest

2 weeks ago, I was part of an amazing scouting adventure in the Florida Everglades. A recon. Research, networking, exploration and a harvesting of as many Glades skills as we could scavenge.

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My co-guides and I all knew it would be, to borrow the favorite expression of my friend Kathy, a very “interesting situation”. New adventures just are. But we weren’t prepared for just how interesting our situation would be.

We set out under the dire predictions of being de-limbed and then eaten by an alligator, or suffocated and then eaten by a snake, or swept out to sea, or dehydrated.

(What can we say, we have great friends!)

And then we set out, and reality began.

Everything we tried to do in the front country was a fail.

I’ll just graze the tip of the iceberg by saying that the journey which should have taken 22 hours took 32, and by that time, our SUV was toast. If you ever need to buy tranny fluid on a southern trip, just ask us. We know all the good places between North Carolina and Florida.

Somewhere along the line, we met many locals of various character, called 20+ hotels which had no vacancy, made fruit salad and packed gear in the parking lot of a shady auto body shop, and slept overnight outside of Wal-Mart in the canoe trailer.

Not necessarily our customary wilderness trip practices.

We were all thrilled to finally set into the wilderness on Sunday afternoon,

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and lay our weary heads down on our squeaking therma-rest mattresses that night at South Joe Chickee. From there on, our journey was a breeze. And I mean literally. The wind was at our backs 80% of the time.

Coincidence?

Never.

I know Jesus too well for that.

The tides were in our favor, we met dolphins every day, we didn’t get eaten by alligators or pythons, and we didn’t get blown out to sea. Every day brought a gorgeous sunrise and sunset,

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every corner brought another spectacular view,

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it only sprinkled rain once, and we never lost our way.

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Our struggles during our road trip to the Glades gave us a head start in trusting each other…. in being real. No day went by that there wasn’t conflict, struggle, Jesus-words, restoration, and freedom, and celebration among us.

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Paddling across the Gulf of Mexico towards the end of our trip, I thought it over. We had come, each of us, from a battle. We had come on assignment, not knowing what lay ahead, or how hard it would be. We didn’t know there would be rest…. but there was.

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All I could think of was these words from the Maker.

“The people who were spared from the sword found grace in the wilderness, where I led them to find rest. I have loved you with an everlasting love, that is why I have called you to myself with loving kindness. I will build you up again–you will once again be strong! You will once again be joyful, and join in the dances of those who are carefree. What you plant will bear fruit. Those who realize what is happening will cry, “Let’s spend more time with Jesus–let’s worship the Lord!” (Jeremiah 31:1-7, paraphrased)

And that’s what I love about wilderness. No matter why you come, no matter who you are, Jesus is there. It’s His place to do what He wants, and amaze everyone.

We came, essentially, to work.

But He’s always offering rest.

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He’s always offering relationship, restoration, and peace.

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And He’s always offering joy.

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Who wouldn’t want to receive such a gift?

 

That Bum On My Couch

I was in the second-to-front pew at church the other week, and I was feeling the morning blues.

Do you know what I mean? That sandy-eyed, groggy-voiced, brain-not-quite-awake feeling of sluggishness that isn’t really ready for 120 decibels of worship music being emanated directly in front of oneself.

Don’t get me wrong, the band was great. I liked them, really. I’m usually the type to get into the celebration spirit right away…. but that day, I just…. wasn’t.

I tried desperately to focus on the positive side of life, like the two adorable little girls dancing in front of me, carefree as could be. It helped a little.

Then the pastor took the stage, and he told a story.

“Imagine going home from church today,” he said, “And finding a bum fast asleep on your couch. He is stoned, snoring, and you have no idea who he is. What would you do?

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Hmm. Let me guess. You’d try to make him leave. Maybe pat him on the shoulder, say “Excuse me, sir. You’re in the wrong house.” But what if that didn’t work?

You’d get a little more violent, maybe go so far as to poke him, maybe even raise your voice. “HEY, SIR. THIS IS NOT YOUR HOME! YOU NEED TO LEAVE!”

But what if he just went right on snoring? What if he rolled over, looked you in the eyes, said, “Excuse YOU, but this IS my house!” and went back to sleep?

Would you shrug, assume he was right, and just live your life around him? What if he invited his friends over, and they all claimed that this house belonged to them as well? Would you accept that?

You see, friends… your level of persistence shows what you truly believe.

If you truly believe the bum does not belong in your house, you will fight back harder, call your buddies to help you drag him out of your house, maybe get the police involved. You would take as much time as necessary to evict him.

What about your spiritual life?

When temptation, fear, sickness, depression, shame, and the 1,000 other tools of the enemy sneak their way into your ‘house’…. do you accept them?

Do you politely try to evict them, and if they do not obey the first time… or the 12th time…. just assume they are meant to stay? Or do you hold FAST to your knowledge of what is yours, and fight for it until everything is set right?

Do you BELIEVE that God can if He wants to?

Do you believe that He might not be able?

Your level of persistence shows what you truly believe in. “

And that is what I learned on a half-awake Sunday morning, from the second-to-front pew.

10 Reasons Why YOU Should Take A Canoe Trip This Summer

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1) If you love nature

If you love to explore wild, un-touched parts of God’s creation, if you love to see the sun rise and fall on each new day, if you love the taste of the rain, the smell of the forest, the songs of a feathered choir, the gentle rocking rythm of the current against your canoe, if you want to effortlessly spy on a trout, or an eagle, or a deer or heron or bear quietly going about it’s business from your watery vantage point, COME ON A CANOE TRIP!

2)  If you want to get up close and personal with Jesus.

If you’re tired, if you’re wounded, if you’re restless, if you’re running, if you’re seeking, if you’re on fire with a message from the Lord, COME ON A CANOE TRIP!

3) If you want some peace and quiet.

If freedom from all schedules and technology, or floating quietly between solemn mountains, or solo time on a rocky beach or dappled forest floor, or worship around a campfire, or staring up at endless stars as you fall asleep sounds revitalizing to you, COME ON A CANOE TRIP!

4) If you love adventure.

If navigating a boiling rapid, or learning to read a river map, or orienteering through the wilderness, or cliff-jumping, or rapelling, or learning how to make your campfire stay alive through a rainstorm sounds like fun to you, COME ON A CANOE TRIP!

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5) If you want long-lasting relationships.

If you want to lay your burdens down and be held up through it all by people who truly care, if you want to have meaningful conversations that do more than just skim the surface of reality, if you want to encourage people, if you want to be encouraged, if you want to be prayed for, if you want to struggle, laugh, cry, rest, pray, eat, sleep, sweat and play with a group of people who start as strangers and end as tight-knit friends, COME ON A CANOE TRIP!

6) If you love camping.

If you love the smell of wood smoke, picking out the perfect spot for your tent,

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falling asleep with the cool night air in your lungs, cooking food over a crackling fire, digging and using a latrine… COME ON A CANOE TRIP!

(Ok, I’ll admit, that latrine bit was purely cynical. But if you DO love it, I’d LOVE to have you!!!)

7) If you like to work out.

If you love to paddle, or if you love to hike, or if you love competing to see who can haul in the biggest dead tree for the campfire, and if you want to see how much stronger your muscles are after a week of exercise in the fresh, clean air, COME ON A CANOE TRIP!

8) If you like to sport a good tan.

It can’t rain for seven days straight, can it? If you love the way the reflection on sunshine off the water transforms your skin into a deeper shade of brown and fills your body with energizing vitamin D, COME ON A CANOE TRIP!

9) If you like swimming.

If the thought of water games like gallumping and splash wars, or the thought of a peaceful late afternoon swim after a day in the hot sun sounds refreshing to you, COME ON A CANOE TRIP!

10) If you want to learn something new.

The wilderness always has a fresh, new metaphor in store for what God wants to say to you and me…. each and every day! If you believe that technology can be distracting and demanding, and want to leave it behind and go to a place where Jesus is the primary teacher….. COME ON A CANOE TRIP!

“The wilderness is God’s place. He can do what He wants there, and no man can mess it up.” Dan Lapp, Trail Blaze Outfitters LLC

This is a statement I firmly believe in, too…. because I’ve experienced God’s transforming power in that setting so many times myself! There’s a reason Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days before starting His ministry… and there’s a reason He often went to a mountain alone to pray.

Being temporarily stripped of cultural noise, time, deadlines and expectations is a powerful experience! Would you like to try it?

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To see a list of available trips, or to schedule a private one for a group of your own, visit TBO’s website. We can’t wait to meet you!