In remembrance of Mark Olson, past President of SpringHill on what today, May 20, would have been his 54th birthday, below is one of his last published letters.
“Smiles are the outer representation of the long-term impact camping has on kids.”
I will never forget hearing the doctor tell me “this [disease] goes quickly. If you do not get treated soon, you could die within the next four months.” Over the next few weeks, while determining the best course of treatment and emotionally preparing for the road ahead, I also reflected upon how I have spent the time given to me. Inevitably, the question arises, “what of my life has eternal value?”
My initial response was to create two mental columns, one with the heading “eternal” and the other “temporal.” I then tried to distinguish those parts of my life that had eternal value and those which did not. This proved to be a difficult and basically unhelpful exercise.
Upon later reflection, I also found this approach contrary to what Scripture teaches. At the core, creating columns to dichotomize our existence is rooted in the type of thinking that John addresses in the first chapter of his first epistle. “The one who existed from the beginning is the one we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is Jesus Christ, the Word of life.” (I John 1:1). John was addressing dualistic thinking in which people persisted in dividing the components of their lives into that which is spiritual and that which is not.
In our vernacular we use the term “spiritual” to refer to that which is most important. We often attach great eternal value to activities such as leading a bible study, preaching a message, working at a Christian organization for “God’s purposes,” etc.
From my present vantage point (that is, struggling with a life threatening disease), I have come to believe that the faithful execution of the most menial duties of life will, in the end, have the greatest eternal value. Washing dishes with my wife will have a value that extends into eternity. Going fishing with my sons while listening and chatting about the realities of being a first and fourth grader will have a value that extends into eternity. Going to my daughter’s dance recital has a value that extends into eternity. Going to breakfast with a group of guys on a regular basis, getting to know them while they learn to know me, has a value that will extend into eternity.
Eternal value can never be defined by simply listing those things that are perceived as spiritual and those that are not. The “Word of Life” was something handled, touched, and seen. So, that which has eternal value is anything that is done in a spirit of faithfulness and service to our God. We demonstrate our faithfulness, gratitude, and love to Him by being faithful, grateful, and loving to Him as a husband is to be toward his wife by following through in the seemingly mundane and “earthly” aspects of our life. I believe this is what Jesus meant when he so closely links love with obedience – “If you love me, obey my commandments.” (John 14:15)
It is within this context that I have come to believe that everything we do to bring glory to ourselves has temporary value. This brings us back to the very first commandment, “Do not worship any other gods beside me.” Anything we do with the purpose of bring glory to ourselves (whether it be a basketball game, a business deal, a makeover, or academic excellence) is simply a form of idolatry. Everything we do with the purpose of bringing glory to God is worship of the only true God. As a friend once told me, there is a god someplace in everyone’s life.
Furthermore, this journey has confirmed for me the value and the importance of camp experiences like SpringHill and InPursuit in the life of a child. At camp a child goes through the day with a counselor, a friend, a role model. This counselor is reminded constantly that they are here to serve and to be “Jesus” for a child who may never have the opportunity to see Him again. They go to the archery range, climb a tower, go to the craft shop, eat a meal, ride a zipline, canoe in the lake, have a campfire, go to ‘club,’ sleep in a teepee, while the counselor bears testimony to who Jesus is by serving and loving the child in the midst of daily activity.
Because of this relationship, the counselor has a “voice” in which they can share in word and action the “good news.” As a result, the child experiences the love of Jesus and may respond by placing their trust in Him to remove their sin so that they can know their Creator who loves them dearly. A life is changed for eternity.
It is because of this I have very few regrets. I would not have changed my involvement at SpringHill and InPursuit, which continues to be a very rewarding way to serve my Savior. When I walk away from this disease, though, I will aspire to do less of that which is seemingly spiritual, and do more of that which is seemingly temporal but in the end has great eternal value. I will spend more time fishing with my sons and friends, take the girls to the golf course, and listen more carefully to the person with whom I am sharing a conversation.
Also in honor of Mark we have a limited number of copies of Brennan Manning’s book Ruthless Trust – A Ragamuffin’s Path to God (one of Mark’s favorite authors) I’ll send a copy to anyone who subscribes to my blog while the supply lasts. If you’re already a subscriber and would also like a copy let me know and I’ll send you one as well.43.928283-85.286682
In response to the question in my last post – “the beach or the mountains or somewhere else?” my good friend Tony Voisin answered “honestly wherever my family and friends are. I’d hate to be either place without them.” I love Tony’s answer because it highlights the powerful impact shared experiences have on relationships.
At SpringHill we define a shared experience as any new, challenging and adventuresome activity shared within the context of a small community of people, be it a cabin group, a family or small group of friends. It’s within this context that the building of the lasting foundations of life time relationships happen.
This is why my friend Tony wants to have these experiences with those he loves and it’s why shared experiences are integral to the SpringHill Experience. We feel so strongly about shared experiences that we assure all our campers participate in all camp activities together with their cabin groups. It’s why our ziplines have 6 or 8 lines so entire cabins can go down together. It’s why we have ropes courses that can accommodate an entire cabin and why we have small distinct and creative housing villages. We want to create shared experiences because we believe they build powerful and lasting relationships with others, and most importantly with Jesus.
Over the last few years we’ve also come to believe that these same shared experiences can create power relationship building opportunities for families. We’ve witnessed God using shared experiences to heal wounded families, lay the foundation for lifelong relationships and build families able to weather the storms that will inevitably come. As a result we’ve added additional summer family camp experiences at both our overnight camps.
So plan a family vacation or attend a SpringHill family camp this summer and create some powerful and lasting shared experiences. Your family will be stronger for it.43.928283-85.286682
I attended two funerals last week. I’ll admit I don’t like the reality of death. The Scriptures are clear – God created us to live forever. Instead death stole into the world, not as a welcomed friend, but as an enemy. So I have biblical support for my strong dislike of death.
But, though I despise death, I’ve come to appreciate funerals.
First, I appreciate funerals for the reasons we have them – they provide an opportunity to grieve our loss, to celebrate the life of a loved one, and to be with family and friends.
Yet there’s one more reason I’ve grown to appreciate funerals. It’s the serious perspective that can be gained, whether we like it or not, when we come face to face with death.
These funerals were for two very different people who died at two different places in their lives, one at the end of what we’d call a good long life, the other passed in mid-life. As I sat quietly in each service I asked myself two perspective giving questions. Each question had an eye on my potential funerals – one at the end of a long life and the other, more immanent, at mid – life.
The first question was simply “who’d be at my funeral and why”? The answer’s very revealing about the significance my life has had on others – whether it was positive, negative or neutral.
The second question is “what would be said about me?” Again the answer shines a needed light, showing what, if any, difference I made in the world. It also points to what I did or didn’t do with the gifts and abilities God gave me throughout my life.
So last week I not only attend two funerals, I had a needed perspective checkup on my life and how I’m living it.43.928283-85.286682
This week I met with my friend and advisor Bill Payne. The topic I sought his input on was prioritizing and managing my time. It’s become a bigger challenge as my job continues to evolve in light of SpringHill’s growth (see my post Time – One of Most Valuable Gifts). As always, Bill provided wise and practical input.
Below are the symptoms I’ve been experiencing over the last year and some of Bill’s wisdom to help cure the out of control schedule I’ve had. As you read, ask yourself – “are you experiencing any of these same symptoms?” If you answer yes, then join me in trying some of Bill’s input for yourself.
My time and schedule feel like they’re being driven and managed by everyone else but me.
I’ve had barely enough time to do all that I need and should do in my role.
To accomplished both what I need to do and what everyone else has expected me to do, I’ve cut short or cut out such things as exercise, sleep, house and home projects, reflection time and planning, time with friends and even, I hate to admit this, at moments, time with my family.
Block out time in my daily and weekly schedule as “no meeting” times to assure I have space to do both the important things and the things only I can do.
Trust my team to do their work and to do it well.
Stop trying to please everyone by saying yes to everyone’s requests and begin to say no in appropriate ways. Bill promised that saying no becomes easier the more you say it.
Then stop feeling guilty when I say no.
Finally, stop over playing my desire to please, a good quality I have, until taken to the extreme – which is trying the impossible – to please everyone all the time.43.928283-85.286682
Every year over the Christmas holidays I take time away from work and spend it with family, doing needed projects around the house, and readying myself for the New Year. One exercise I do in preparation for the upcoming year is to set personal goals, as well as layout plans to achieve those goals.
As in any goal setting exercise, I always begin by evaluating the past year. After a conversation about 2011 with my good friend Jack McQueeney, Executive Director of the Navigators’ Glen Eyrie Group, he sent me the following list of thought-provoking questions to help me evaluate 2011 and plan for 2012. I share them with you in hopes that they’ll be as helpful to you as they have been for me.
- What is the greatest lesson you learned this year that you never want your kids to forget?
- How might you have behaved or acted differently this year if you had to do it over again?
- Looking back over the year, what did you set out to do that you didn’t do and why?
- What key discipline did you live out this past year that had a significant impact on your life? What was the impact?
- What are you most proud of this year?
- What were the key surprises (good or bad) that happened this year?
- Which relationships in your life grew this year and which regressed?
- If you could go back to the beginning of this year, what piece of advice would you give yourself? Why?
- Looking back, what was the overarching theme for the year?
- What will be your overarching theme for next year?
Are there other questions you’ve found helpful to answer in evaluating your life? Please share them with us.
It’s personal because in December 2010 I asked God to direct how He might use me during 2011 and beyond in a way that I wasn’t anticipating. Then on an early morning run God provided a simple answer – I was to combine my commitment to encouraging others to read the Scriptures with my love of reading the entire Bible each year. I’d do this by publishing my journal entries for each of my daily readings, first via a blog then in book form. My goal’s been to encourage all my family and friends to join me in reading the entire Bible.
So I’ve been journaling daily this past year with this goal in mind, praying that God would somehow use this gift to help others grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ.
Now Volume 1 (Days 1-90) of Reading the Bible through in a Year is ready for you. The reading schedule takes you through the Old and the New Testament side by side. It’s my favorite schedule because the Old Testament helps us better understand the New Testament while the New Testament brings the texts of the Old Testament to life.
If you’re interested in receiving Volume 1 and being on the list for the next 3 volumes simply subscribe to my blog (upper right corner of my blog). If you have any technical issues in subscribing please feel free to contact Lynn Fischer at firstname.lastname@example.org
Merry Christmas and a fruitful 2012.43.928283-85.286682
Have you ever had the opportunity to talk with someone who has just experienced a true life saving miracle?
Denise and I did this past Sunday when we met with Heather and Jeff Perry in a Starbucks in Carmel, IN. In October Heather was in a coma lying in a hospital ICU as medical staff worked to figure out why her body was shutting down.
The Perry’s literally stood toe to toe with death but God rescued Heather through miracle upon miracle (I won’t share Heather’s story, it’ll be her privilege to do so one day). As Jeff and Heather shared their story and their incredible faith in Christ as well as the faith of family, friends and acquaintances, for a moment, that table in Starbucks became holy ground.
As we talked we began to discuss two questions which I’m continuing to wrestle with.
The first question’s simply “how do people come toe to toe with death, staring it right in the face, without believing in or having a relationship with God?” Maybe I’m just weak but I can’t fathom it. Not because I’m particularly afraid of death but because without God neither death or life has any meaning. As Francis Schaeffer once said, “without God we’re just time + chance + matter.”
The follow-up question is “how does a person come toe to toe with death and then walk away doing so without believing in God?” Trying to answer the existential and metaphysical questions that would naturally arise from having a near death experience would drive me crazy without the foundational knowledge of God.
Yet the overriding feelings Denise and I had as we left the Perry’s was simply a deep gratitude for God’s graciousness and awe of His mighty power in Heather and Jeff’s life. We accepted it as an early and beautiful Christmas gift.43.928283-85.286682
Saturday night Denise and I had a chance to bring parts of our two families together – our immediate and our SpringHill families. In particular we had 18 members of the SpringHill family from the Indianapolis area join us to watch our daughter Christina dance in her first Butler ballet – The Nutcracker.
We had dinner together at a local Butler hangout, Binkley’s, and then went to the evening show at Clowes Hall on Butler’s campus. For Denise and me the entire evening was a blessing and a blast.
Afterwards I thought about how so many people seek a separation between their work and their personal lives. I understand this desire but not always the degree people can take it.
Because there’s something wonderful (maybe sacred is a better word?) when there’s a healthy integration between our work and personal lives. It’s what Denise and I experienced Saturday night. We experienced a great blessing when SpringHill staff, board members and other supporters enthusiastically celebrated with us Christina’s first Butler Ballet.
And it turns out to be more than just one evening, because we have these incredible friends who now know Christina, live near her and will be available to her (and us) during the rest of her years at Butler.
And this would not be possible if I kept a strict separation between my work and personal life.
Yes, it’s healthy to be able to step away from our work, but to build artificial walls between work and personal life isn’t, and often keeps us from receiving the blessings of an integrated life.
To strike the right balance between these two parts of our life requires wisdom, prayer and reflection. But when the right balance is struck, as it was on Saturday evening, it’s hard to imagine living any other way.43.928283-85.286682
We often talk about SpringHill staff as “our team” but when we speak about staff and camper alumni, volunteers, donors, ambassadors, board members and ministry partners we tend to speak in terms of family. The SpringHill family’s large and diverse and I’ve grown to love and appreciate it more every year.
Part of my work includes spending time with SpringHill family members both when they attend a SpringHill Experience and with them in their homes, their places of work and at their favorite coffee shops and restaurants. The places where we meet are as diverse as the members of the SpringHill family which makes being with them one of the most enjoyable parts of my work.
For example, this week I’ve had the opportunity, along with Todd Leinberger our Great Lakes Region Vice President and my wife Denise, to spend time with these SpringHill family members:
Scott, a successful commercial real estate business owner, a competitive tri-athlete and a very active member on a number of ministry boards
David (in photo above), who’s responsible for all the tire, wheel and jack engineering globally for Ford Motor Company
Paul and Cindie, long time friends of Denise’s and mine from our church in Grand Rapids. Cindie works with teenage moms and Paul owns a wealth management and financial advisory business
Our friends Scott and Karen who’ve given much of their lives to a number of global ministries and businesses
And later this week Denise and I will have dinner and see Butler University’s Nutcracker Ballet with 18 of the SpringHill family in Indianapolis (look for my next post)
Every time I have coffee, lunch or dinner with a SpringHill family member I’m blessed because I learn something new, gain greater perspective on SpringHill and better understand the world in which the SpringHill family lives and works.43.928283-85.286682
Why do I journal? Why do I keep a journal of my workouts and health, a fishing journal, a work journal and a journal of my spiritual life? Simple answer – I can’t help myself.
But there are reasons I can’t help myself. They’re the things I’ve experienced over the past 30 plus years of journaling.
First journals have created a record of the activities and events I’ve been a part of and the associated reflections I’ve had so I can refer back to those moments at a later date.
Second, writing helps me process what I’m thinking and experiencing by bringing clarity to a topic, situation or season of my life. Some people talk things out, I write them out.
Finally, for what it’s worth, I’ve created a record of my life that one day my family and friends may want to experience and share.
More recently I’ve converted some of my journals from written only to photo journals with some writing. For example I’ve converted my fishing journal to a series of photo journals because capturing the moments of a fishing trip in pictures has become more important than creating a detailed record of the number of fish we’ve caught, the type we caught and where and how we caught them. I use Shutterfly to create these journals and I’m happy with the results.
In my written journals, apart from this blog, I still write them out with a pen in an actual journal. Somehow it feels more intimate and authentic doing it this way. Plus my handwriting reflects my mood, physical condition and the environment I’m journaling in, making my entries more reflective of the moment.
So now you know why I journal. It’s really not a compulsion in my life; it’s more like the act of breathing.43.928283-85.286682