When I was younger (and a bit naïve), I believed I could fulfill my personal mission of serving others, especially young people, through ownership in successful businesses thereby donating tons of money and free time to changing the world. But as any good entrepreneur knows, start-ups require every ounce of your time, energy, talent, and financial resources. At the end of the day, I simply had nothing left to give.
At the time, my good friend, Mark Olson was President of SpringHill. Both of us were married, both of us had four kids, and our families spent a lot of time together. Mark and his father had created not just a place but an experience at SpringHill, an experience that was both innovative and extremely popular. The ministry had finally grown to the point where it was decided to open a second camp in southern Indiana. Mark wanted freedom to travel to Indiana and spearhead the effort, but the SpringHill board was reluctant to have him do this if he didn’t provide a replacement for himself at our camp in Michigan. That’s when he asked me to take over as the Michigan SpringHill Director. Needless to say, I was both humbled and thrilled. Business with a purpose, the two things I loved.
Then tragedy struck.
Mark became ill and would pass several months later due to an aggressive form of leukemia. Not only had I lost a dear friend, but SpringHill had lost its leader, its heart. Our team worked to make sure the magic and impact of SpringHill would live on, but we would need to understand what the future looked like without Mark. Little did I know; the board had devised a succession plan long before Mark was ever sick. And I was in the middle of that succession plan.
Zero to sixty: I had gone from being the Michigan Camp Director to being the President of SpringHill in three short, fast years. It was then that I realized the opportunity before me to truly be a leader who leads as a servant. To pick up the reigns and serve a greater purpose despite my insecurity of not being Mark Olson, or even an Olson.
I knew I had a love of learning, teaching, coaching, and nurturing the spirits of others to help them become better leaders and followers of Christ, eager to share His word – but, was I ready for this?
How often do we feel like Moses, being asked to accomplish something that seems entirely too big for us to achieve? How many of us respond to those calls as Moses did, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11, New International Version).
I too asked God, “Why do you have me in this job? I’m no Mark Olson.” But something occurred to me not long after that must have been the reassurance Moses received when he had verbalized his concern: “And God said, “I will be with you…” (Exodus 3:12, New International Version).
God has a plan for each and every one of us, above and beyond what we could possibly anticipate. Each of us has a calling to become an influential servant leader if we chose to let go of our fear and insecurity. God uniquely equips us to accomplish the tasks that He’s called us to, we need only have the faith to press on.
As leaders, we must always remember we’re never quite ready for the assignments that come our way (whether we know this or not), but in humility, we must submit to God’s wisdom, seek the input from trusted advisors, and lead from a posture of listener and learner.
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”
When you read this scripture, do you happen to sing it to yourself? This, along with many other prophetic verses from Isaiah are beautifully sung to music written by Handel each Christmas season to celebrate the birth, life, atonement, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This music along with so many others capture the reverence, joy and love that stirs within us as we reflect on the life of Jesus Christ.
It’s a magical time of year that inspires kindness, service, gratitude and love. It’s also a time of year that can cause stress, anxiety and loneliness when we focus too much on the secular traditions of the season. The solution to this is to remember the “reason of the season” – the birth of Jesus Christ and what that event meant for mankind.
To help keep our priorities, focus, and intentions aligned with the real meaning of Christmas, let me suggest three ideas to integrate within your celebrations this year:
- Turn to Scripture – Take the time to read the account of Jesus’ birth in the gospel of Luke as well as his life and ministry in the other gospels. Remind yourself of these accounts and discuss them with your family. Many enjoy reenacting the nativity with their friends and families to make the events of that evening more realistic to little ones. Talk about why His life was important, the principles He taught, and the miracles He performed.
- Reflect on Your Relationship with Jesus – When we contemplate our blessings and our personal relationship with Christ, it will automatically make the holiday more meaningful as we make it about our gratitude for Him and not solely about the gifts under the Christmas tree. One way my wife, Denise, and I helped our children remember who to be focused on is by reminding them that it is Jesus’ birthday that we celebrate, with a birthday cake and all. It helped them remember what Christmas was all about and to celebrate Him with as much enthusiasm as crafting a wish list for Santa.
- Do It Unto the Least of These – In Matthew we are taught the importance and significance of service toward one another. In Matthew 25:40, Christ teaches, “Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” When we take the time to serve and love one another, we are, in essence, serving and loving God. Take the opportunity to serve – even in small ways; you will discover God’s love for you and for those you serve.
Let us approach this Christmas season with purpose and joy. Let us truly exclaim “Joy to the World!” and “Hark! The herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King!” as we sing beloved Christmas hymns and songs throughout the holiday. Let us be inspired to apply His gospel in our lives each and every day!
For many, the holidays are a time of joy, family time, and festivities; but for others, the holidays can be a source of anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses due to certain holiday stressors. As the holiday season approaches, we can take this opportunity to shed light on my favorite way to relieve stress and be truly present for the holiday season by unplugging and experiencing the great outdoors.
Mental illness ends up affecting up to 80% of the population at some point in our lifetime according to the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. That’s a pretty staggering number when you consider each of these people as individuals. No doubt every one of us has either experienced or know someone close to us who has suffered from some form of mental illness. With the pressures and expectations many of us and our young people are experiencing, mental health awareness is more important than ever.
Adding to the normal stressors of the holidays, today’s prevalence of technology and social media hasn’t helped. Don’t get me wrong, technology can be a good thing – it allows us to connect to others more easily than ever before, it provides access to more information than we could have ever dreamed and helps different areas of our lives progress and develop in positive ways. However, as with anything – what can offer blessings, can present some curses as well.
With each of us becoming more and more reliant on technological devices and the applications on them, it’s no wonder behaviors have changed…not all of them for the good. Any amount of research on social media and the impact on one’s mental health will uncover countless studies that all point to similar findings: too much social media negatively impacts our self-esteem human connection, memory, sleep, attention span, and mental health.
What’s an Antidote?
Everyone’s health and circumstances are uniquely theirs. However, there is one common antidote that can help: unplugging and spending time in the outdoors. For over 20 years, I’ve witnessed the transformation of many lives, as people from all kinds of backgrounds and circumstances spend time in God’s creation at SpringHill. Granted, there are a number of critical factors involved in these transformations – the presence and recognition of God’s love being the most significant. However, the location and environment of SpringHill Experiences are not an accident. Being outside, amongst nature and the beauty of the outdoors, is a healing component to our souls.
In fact, the previously mentioned consequences due to social media can be reversed and improved by increased time spent outside! Time outdoors connects us with something greater than ourselves. An A Huffington Post article written several years back cited multiple findings that proved the following seven things about spending time in the outdoors:
- Getting outside makes exercise easier
- It can spur weight loss
- Nature increases brain function
- It increases our vitamin D intake
- Helps the aging process
- Wonderful for stress-reduction
- Makes us happy
The health benefits are apparent, and we also know that this is no accident. We were meant for connection with God, and what better way than to spend time in his creation?
Decreased Screen Time + Increased Outdoor Time = A Healthier, More Joyful You
The facts are out there: getting out from behind our screens and into nature does wonders for both our physical and spiritual selves. It’s why cell phones are off limits during our campers’ time at SpringHill. There’s no constant checking of social media to distract them from Christ’s message. Instead, kids find faith in having fun in the outdoors and building friendships. And, it works – they wouldn’t have it any other way.
By enjoying the beautiful environment around them, without technological distractions, they are encouraged to interact and talk to other kids and their counselors. This helps build interpersonal skills and takes them away from the computer screen and into real, face-to-face interaction with others – not to mention increasing their ability to appreciate God’s creations that are all around them.
I’ve seen it for myself. The power of unplugging and, instead, exploring, racing, tumbling, connecting with real people, and taking in the beauty all around us. It is our hope that disconnecting with technology and connecting with nature and loved ones will not only help manage the stress of the holidays—but manage the stress of everyday life.
To me, there are few more important topics than this, and so I wanted to make a few recommendations for those of you interested in deeper insights regarding technology, its effects, and our innate need to connect with nature.
- Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, by Sherry Turkle
- Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, by Richard Lou
- The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age, by Richard Lou
Happy Holidays! I know the weather often presents a challenge connecting with nature this time of year, but it’s never too early to start looking ahead to the summer at SpringHill. I’d love to talk to your group about how we create the SpringHill Experience.