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  • Living as a Leader,  Outdoors

    The Joy and Suffering of Being Unplugged

    There was a time when I unplugged for a 4 or 5 days every year. When I say unplugged, I mean having absolutely no access to both cell and internet service. It was on my annual fishing trips to northern Ontario. It was a place where the armies of cell and the internet service had not conquered. These were days of pure joy, peace, and freedom. Each year, I couldn’t wait to break away from my technology chain and be free. Of course, I love fishing, being in the wilderness and, most importantly, I love being with close friends and my boys. But looking back now, I realize, I also loved, and needed, to be disconnected from my digital tethers.  It was a technology fast or, better yet, a technology Sabbath, a needed cleansing break.

    But, if you haven’t noticed, there is this onward, ambitious, hungry march of the technology army. First, the internet, then cell service conquered and now occupy my little piece of paradise. To be honest, most of the quests of this special place are thankful the modern world has finally arrived. It gives them flexibility, a peace of mind, and a way to juggle responsibilities back at home and office while being away.

    But, as for me?

    I fought the marching armies as long and as hard as I could.

    At first, I pretended, and told others, I couldn’t be reached, stretching the truth a bit about the technologies available. But hiding from reality never lasts for long – the armies always expose you.  This happened to me during a trips over the past couple of years when a friend texted my wife, and then work peers started answering emails and making calls.  My cover was finally and completely blown. I couldn’t hide from this army anymore.

    Like any effective invading army, there’s this slow but steady conquering of people’s hearts and minds. During these last few years, I’d become the proverbial frog in the kettle, slowly accepting and believing these armies are a necessary evil, believing it’s the way it’s supposed to be, even taking by faith that these armies are a good thing, that to be connected 24/7/365 is to be human.

    Until two of my close friends and one of their sons and I went on a “fly-in” fishing trip.  If you don’t know a what a “fly-in” is, it’s when a float plane takes you to a remote lake where there are no roads or trails, no other access.  You can only get there by float plane.  You stay in a remote cabin (no electricity or running water).  You’re literally dropped off in the middle of no where and you stay until the floatplane picks you up.

    And of course, there is no cell or internet service.  Which meant I was totally and completely unplugged for 4 days, 96 hours, for the first time in many years. I had found my temporary paradise once again, but not without a cost.  For it took me a good 24 hours to stop wanting to check my phone for incoming emails and text messages.  Those 24 hours were a bit challenging, creating some anxiety about all the life changing, important events I just knew I was missing out on.  The first night I even had some problems falling asleep.  During those first 24 hours, whenever the anxiety crept in (which was hourly), I spoke words like this to myself – “just enjoy it, nothing you can do” or “what can happen in a few days?”.  But what was most effective was simply praying “God, you’ve got this, I trust you,  all the people and situations at home don’t need me right now.”  The self talk was simply Jedi mind tricks, so it worked for a bit but didn’t solve the problem.  My prayer of admitting  reality – God is God and I am not, was the key of getting through the technology detox.

    But once I made it through the first 24 hours,  I began to experience peace, the absence of anxiety that I haven’t experienced in a long time.  I felt as if I was finally free from the tethers of technology and could enjoy the people, the place, and experience we were having together.  In other words to enjoy those days as a rare and incredible gift.  It was so good that I committed to not becoming a slave again to my technology. But, instead,  to be its master when back in the “real” world.

    Dallas Willard said in his book Spirit of the Disciplines “Until we enter quietness, the world still lays hold of us.”  On that weekend, I entered technology silence and was freed from it’s chains.  The glow of those 96 hours has stayed with me, but not without effort.  It’s a glow I want to keep, it’s the freedom from and mastery over this invading army.  But I now know it will require a regular dose of total and complete disconnection. Without it, the counter attack will continue the slow but steady march, and eventually I will be it’s prisoner again.

    So, I encourage you, if you’ve been captured by the technology army.  Take a true, extended technology break.  It’ll feel like you’re dropping heavy chains you’ve been carrying so long you no longer notice they were there. But when you shed the chains, you’ll experience a peace and freedom that will be so good, you will never want to be technology’s prisoner again.

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  • Outdoors,  SpringHill Experience,  Summer

    4 Ways to Mentally Prepare Your Kids for the Best Week of Summer

    It’s May!  The best week of your child’s summer is just about here.  To help them prepare for an amazing week, consider having a conversation with them about the following four ways to prepare for, and maximize, their time at SpringHill this summer:

    1. Be open to adventure and new experiences. Campers will face challenges and adventures right alongside cabin mates and their leaders. After all, we don’t go through this life alone; we get to go on this adventure together! From the heart-pumping zipline, to kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddle boarding, where campers learn how to navigate their way through the summer camp waters, and from The Gusher, a new twist on the waterslide, to our fifty-foot climbing wall, SpringHill summer experiences spurs children to grow and mature, to gain independence. When kids come prepared to try new things and be open to adventures, they experience greater self-confidence and inner-strength.
    2. Be prepared to find God in unexpected ways. There are lots of different ways to learn something. At SpringHill, we want kids to learn about Jesus, but we also want them to experience the truth of the Gospel through doing something they will remember for the rest of their lives. Kids hear about Jesus throughout their week, they see Jesus through our leaders, and they experience Jesus by doing things that require courage, community, trust, and faith. Even after two decades at SpringHill, I still marvel at how the young people find Christ not only in quiet contemplation and Bible study but just as likely on the zipline, or talking quietly at the evening campfire about God’s presence in their day. We believe those are the things that kids will be able to refer back to time and time again on their spiritual journey, and we believe that’s what makes the difference. Experience is everything at SpringHill, and we know it’s what kids take back home with them after a week with us.
    3. Look to your leader as a source of support and friendship. Our leaders are the ones who make all the difference at SpringHill. Far more than anyone else in our ministry, they embody The SpringHill Way. They are specially trained to impart God-centered values without being preachy or judgmental or overly pious, for young children and teens are still forming their ideas about faith. We designed SpringHill to have fairly low ratios of leaders to kids, both for our day camps and our overnight camps. Even when we do retreats, we have that same kind of requirement. The beauty of this design is that throughout the week, when kids and counselors are doing things together, maybe on the zipline or riding horses or participating in water activities, they’re all doing these things together. Those shared experiences become a key part of community building.
    4. Unplug and connect with peers in the best way possible. SpringHill campers have the opportunity to hone their social skills. Perhaps more than at many less personable camps, SpringHill engages kids in conversation with leaders as well as fellow campers. They’re not having discussions about what’s on Instagram or TV. SpringHill offers children an environment where they are encouraged to interact and talk to other children and their counselors. This helps build interpersonal skills and takes children away from the computer screen and into real, face-to-face interaction with others. While at SpringHill, our campers will make friends and build relationships, many of them blossoming into lifelong friends. The young people build relationships on solid foundations of trust and camaraderie through small-group time, camp activities, quality time around campfires and meals, and in one-on-one chats with counselors or between campers.

    We can’t wait to have your child with us this summer to encounter life-changing experiences.  Learn more about all the camps we offer by visiting, springhillcamps.com

  • Holiday Season,  Outdoors,  SpringHill Experience,  Unplugging

    The Great Outdoors: How Unplugging and Descreening Can Change Your Life

    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.

    Further reading

    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.

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