Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lessons Learned

There seem to be several themes running through my life as of late. This advice, these words seem to be casually interwoven into conversations I’ve had, films I’ve watched and books I’ve read recently, so I figured I’d share them.

Lesson #1 – Emotions are neither good nor bad, only the reality of where I am. A good friend of mine recently wrote to me, “where dealing with your emotions is concerned, just not to judge yourself--not to limit or gauge your feelings or decide whether they are trustworthy. Of course they aren't. And of course, you know, they are. Just be willing to feel whatever comes along…”

Somewhere in the past few years of my life, I somehow subconsciously learned that “emotions are bad,” mostly because they tended to get me into more trouble than they seemed to be worth. So somewhere in the past couple of years, I became this logical, overanalytical person who—while well-protected and preserved and perhaps a bit wiser—had forgotten how to be in the moment and create and feel—even if it hurt.

This may be why I haven’t been able to write a decent song in six months.

Lesson #2—Just do the next thing. Take one day at a time. I seem to remember Christ saying the exact same thing while teaching His famous Sermon on the Mount. The reality of those words rings so much truer for me right now. The big picture may inspire and enervate, but it can also drain and make despondent. Sometimes it’s better just to not concern myself with things I have no control over, and to simply make do with the things I can make choices about.

Lesson #3—Prayer changes things: mostly me. I am sick of people decrying the “church answer.” I have the right to say that, because I used to be one of the church answer’s most vehement opponents. However, I can’t even tell you how many countless times this bare fact persists in presenting itself to me: prayer is powerful and absolutely necessary if anything—especially me—is going to change. The most useful thing about prayer is that it gets the focus off of my own problems and agendas and allows me to lean into the Father and unknowingly become selfless. Because as we all know, the moment you become aware that you are being selfless is the moment that you’ve lost it again.

But faithful, earnest prayer automatically puts us in a proper posture of humility and mystery and connectedness before God. Prayer is not a religious exercise…it’s a passionate discipline that positions ourselves where we ought to be. Where we are meant to be.

Lesson #4—Serving other people also changes things: mostly me. I am discovering again and again how ineffably lazy and self-absorbed I am. Being attuned to other people’s needs and doing the right thing to serve and help people is the best way to learn how to love. Just doing it. Nike was right.

Lesson #5—Acting on fear is a subtlely self-destructive way to live. This is more of a process, rather than a lesson. I don’t think I’ll ever truly learn this lesson, only chip away at it for years to come. Acting on fear is the kind of thing you learn to do day by day until it becomes instinctive. And then we adults have to spend the rest of our lives unlearning fear and moving toward honesty.

It is fitting that the first thing Adam and Eve did when they made a mistake was that they fled. Out of fear. To hide. Human beings like to hide from one another. Fear of loss, fear of being found out, fear of being completely seen, fear of death… this subtle fear drives so many of us, but it’s so subtle that we don’t even realize it half the time.

I didn’t mean to end on that downer. But I suppose the counter-lesson would be...

Lesson #6—I want to live a free life. By free, I don’t mean unlicensed, unrestricted, and do whatever I want kind of life. That kind of uninhibited freedom, I have learned, is not freedom at all. And I’m actually starting to believe that.

I mean the kind of freedom that is based on the values of this kingdom that God is supposedly establishing… a freedom that is not afraid to try and fail, to forgive, to trust, to move forward, to hope. That kind of freedom.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Dear Frankie review

It’s been awhile since I did a (real) film review (HSM does NOT count), but this one was so unexpectedly compelling that I simply had to share.

I saw a little-known film called Dear Frankie last night. I always saw the preview for it on my Finding Neverland DVD, and wanted to see it. It’s about a mother and her boy Frankie, who faithfully writes letters to his father, whom he believes is sailing on a ship called the Accra. The mother Lizzie—played by Emily Mortimer—intercepts these letters and writes him back twice a month. Suddenly, Frankie discovers his father’s ship is about to dock in their home port at Glasgow, and so his mother hires a stranger—played by Gerard Butler of Phantom and 300 fame—to stand-in for his absent father.

It seemed like such a simple plot device, but there were a lot of beautiful moments in the film. One thing I appreciate about foreign-made films is the faith that so many of the directors apparently have in the intelligence of the audience. Foreign films tend to be a bit more cerebral. Everything is understated, layers of character—like in a good painting—are subtle and implied, never spelled out. The cinematography was both lovely and delicately unassuming, a breath of fresh air after all of these popcorn flicks and three-quels this summer. I am so over summer blockbusters at the moment.

Also… I hardly ever cry in movies. I am not a chick-flick kind of girl, and I am definitely not a cry-during-a-chick-flick kind of girl either. But this film did me in. It has the emotional resonance and payoff of Finding Neverland, but none of the imaginative detours (And also no Johnny Depp). However, the casting was absolutely superb. The kid Frankie is certainly the heart of the film, and his vulnerability and indefatigable hope that he conveys is pretty amazing. The mother is surprisingly sympathetic—you would think, “C’mon, she’s just lying to her kid!”—but her motives and emotions are so much more complex than that and Emily Mortimer made her totally believable. And of course Gerard Butler’s scruffy ruggedness decked out in his black leather jacket certainly more than makes up for any supposed Depp-deficiency ;)

And Scottish accents are always a plus.

But if you’re in the mood, go out and rent or buy Dear Frankie. It’s a simple, beautiful human story.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

photo shoot

So we had our band photo shoot last night. I must say, I absolutely loathe any picture taking that requires me to take myself seriously. Perhaps this is why most pictures of me feature either a big toothy grin, or a goofy smile, because I’m much too self-conscious to actually pose. So doing the whole serious “I’m a serious musician/rocker” staredown with the camera was awkward on many levels for me. However, going back through the prints, I did notice one Angelina Jolie-ish picture of myself—not to say that I look anything like Angelina—but I was definitely doing some weird puckering up, lip protrusion thing…

Don’t know how that happened.

Anyway, our awesome photographer Alicia from Orlando CityBeat met us at the photo location. The location was at the back of this abandoned produce store, painted a bold, vibrant green. A couple of discarded couches completed the trendy yet tortured indie-ish look. There was also some sort of crumpled marsupial skeleton from the Cenozoic Era, I’m sure…anyway, I actually had a great time hanging out in that abandoned parking lot with my fellow Oaks, just posing and trying to look natural.

I mean, who doesn’t hang out in abandoned grocery store parking lots with instruments on a Tuesday afternoon, right? What could be more natural than that?

Seriously though, Alicia got some great shots, and I am excited for when we decide on the photos so we can start sending them out and uploading them to our sites. The guys are plugging away at the recording. Since I’ll just be doing bgvs, I probably will be the last one to record on any track. I remember when I recorded Intricate with Syd… doing the background vox were actually my most favorite part. I feel like I have more control over and confidence in my voice in a recording setting, where everything is so exposed. It was even more fun than the lead vocals in a way, because whereas the lead vocals were kind of set in stone in my head (with a few exceptions) as far as what I wanted to do, recording the background vocals was much more of a creative, improvisatory experience.

I think maybe I haven’t enjoyed recording keys as much may be because I’ve never recorded keyboard tracks on an instrument that I actually liked to play. Maybe when I get my Roland SX700 digital piano that will all begin to change... mwuhaha…

Monday, August 27, 2007


I recently returned to New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton. I bought it in a used book store in Gainesville a couple of years ago, and have periodically picked it up when I was in the mood. The book came highly recommended by Nichole Nordeman, whom I adore along with Sandra, Sarah and Norah in terms of piano songstresses (is that a word?). Since her last recommendation Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking On Water significantly contributed to my current views of faith and art, I figured I would give ‘ole Merton a shot, knowing next to nothing about the guy.

Since I started reading Merton several years ago, I began to notice how frequently he is quoted by other writers.

But the funny thing is that Merton himself says in the author’s note that “This is the kind of book that writes itself almost automatically in a monastery…That is why the book could have been written by any monk. It expresses the preoccupations that are more or less in the minds of all contemplatives—allowing for differences of temperament and personality…The book does not claim, either, to be a work of art. Practically anybody else with the same interests might possibly have written it better…”

I love the credence that Merton lends to the universality of the human experience of God. It may be shaded an infinite number of ways, but it’s still all part of the same gradient…

“Prayer and love are really learned in the hour when prayer becomes impossible and your heart turns to stone.”

Monday, August 20, 2007

High School Musical...and other musings

If you are acquainted with any middle school or high school girls, chances are you know what they were doing this particular past Friday night. Yep, you guessed it. High School Musical 2 premiered on the Disney Channel at 8p.m, which featured as the centerpiece of our youth group get together (well, along with a chocolate fondue machine and a charming game of hide and seek in the dark…hehe;)

I initially resisted the charm of the original movie, mostly because I felt like I would be betraying my much cooler, hipper indie roots and classical and jazz snobbery—I mean sophistication—by succumbing to the predictable chord progressions of pop music. However, much like Tracy Turnblad unapologetically belts out in this past summer’s musical smash Hairspray, “you can’t stop the beat!”

And you can’t. I loved every second of HSM2 in all its summery, exuberant, dancing and singing glory, even with the clichĂ© plot contrivances and cheesiness. We also warned the high schoolers that boyfriends like Zac Efron’s Troy Bolton do not exist in reality. Boyfriends do not constantly plan sunset picnics, feed you cake, and skip merrily with you through the sprinklers. It just doesn’t happen.

But regardless of the movie’s flaws, I still found myself enjoying the energy, choreography, the cast’s chemistry and the singing.

It made me realize: the movie musical has not only been officially revived, it’s skipped its way joyfully down high school hallways, theater aisles and iPods with its effervescence.

I think the first hint of the genre’s return was Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. Not a true musical—only one or two of the songs were original if I am not mistaken—but the whole campy singing, dancing and acting amid a sumptuous and innovative backdrop. And we ladies all loved hearing Ewan MacGregor’s buttery vocals soar, of course…

Soaring butter? Wow, I need to work on my analogies…

The first true musical movie horse out of the gate in recent times—wow, I think I’ve momentarily inherited my mom’s gift of misuse of idioms—was Chicago. The director and all-star cast magnificently translated this stage production onto the silver screen, which also garnered critical and public acclaim.

Recent forays into movie musicals such as Phantom of the Opera, RENT and The Producers (which I heard was disgraceful) fell short artistically but still momentarily satiated the hunger of most loyal musical theatre fans.

Now with the critical and box office success of Hairspray and the High School Musical phenomenon, it seems that world is once again ready for movie musicals. I honestly think the success of Broadway shows like Wicked as well as Disney’s presence on the Great White Way have made musicals more appealing to younger families with kids, broadening the market. American Idol has also made singing cool again, even if it is recycled karaoke.

I really am hoping that more original musicals get produced… So much of what’s done these days is a mere revival of a stage musical. Not that I don’t love seeing these stage productions translated into film, but it would be awesome if today’s musical theatre composers and filmmakers collaborated to bring something fresh and original… it happens all the time on Broadway, but 99% of the people who live in the rest of America and don’t have the time or money or interest to go to NYC don’t ever get a chance to experience it…

Here is a great link: It’s a production company/recording studio that constantly crank out new cast recordings from musical theatre shows and it’s really good stuff.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

a run of crazy dreams

I have been having strange dreams lately and I’m in a foolish enough mood right now to share them with you, effectively silencing all doubts you may have about my sanity.

Dream #1: I dreamed I was hiding out in a run-down apartment in some city (it felt like Europe but I wasn’t sure)… with Nicolas Cage. We were in the process of making bombs. This might not be the sort of thing I should confess on a myspace blog, but I don’t care. Anyway, the apartment was extremely cluttered, what with our bomb paraphernalia and other random furnishings strewn about the place. It reminded me of Mark and Roger’s apartment in RENT.

My sister was in my dream, warning me in her sisterly voice that I should not be making bombs, but her tone was such that you’d have thought we were kids and she was warning me not ruin my dinner by eating ice cream. Well, she must have blabbed to our landlady, because our landlady sent us repeated warnings over an intercom about how she suspected Nick Cage and I were making bombs and that she was going to inform the police if we didn’t stop.

She made good on that threat and while the police were on their way, Nick created a diversion to draw the cops away from me and I escaped down some secret stairwell. (I have always wanted to evade someone by using a fire escape… ) Anyway, he managed to lose the cops and we were supposed to meet up at our rendezvous point at a white car.

I—for some reason—stopped by a little cafĂ©, because I saw my friend Jenny there. I actually ordered some food to go and stopped and chatted with her, but I was feeling nervous that the cops were going to catch up with me. And as I saw the sirens, then of course I had to make my escape.

I don’t really remember more than that… I do not recall a bomb actually exploding…Now I’m thinking that if we were actually terrorists within the dream, then some harm might have come to that landlady, but seeing as how we spared her life, I’m more inclined to think we were freedom fighters and had some noble end to our means. But maybe that’s just the Machiavelli in me.

Dream #2: I dreamed I was in a world where we could freely talk if we remained within this weird bubble-like chamber. It was a dark, colorless room with this enormous bubble encasing us. We were all dressed in these white outfits (kind of like in that movie The Island). Once we emerged into the real world (like the Matrix), we were not allowed to speak about what was really going on. As we were leaving the bubble, my companion explained to me that in 2 years, everyone on the planet was going to perish because of a mutant gene (like in X-Men), except whereas in X-men the mutant gene bestowed superhuman powers, this mutant gene was fatally degenerative. My friend confided to me that while we were allowed to talk about this impending doom within the bubble, it was absolutely forbidden in the real world.

We left the bubble and were treated to a seven course meal in this crowded, brightly lit restaurant. Our table was lavishly set, and we had several waiters attending to us. As I had just found out about the mutant gene, I desperately wanted to warn everybody, but I was not allowed to. I just remember having this uncontrollable urge to pull a Chicken Little and say “hey people, the sky is falling!” but as I attempted to, all the waiters (who happened to actually be minions of The Man and pseudo-Secret Agents) took me down as I was trying to share the truth.

I actually have a pretty good idea of what these dreams mean, but if any of you wanted to venture a guess, that would be most lovely.

Also, if you have ever had any crazy, flipped out dreams like that, feel free to share with the rest of the class!:D

Friday, August 10, 2007


“Our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in "muchness" and "manyness," he will rest satisfied.” –Richard Foster

Okay, so when I was at CIY, to demonstrate solidarity with the high schoolers, I committed to fasting from DVDs for one week. Now to many of you, this may not seem like a big deal. To me, it actually was. I realized that since my frenetic college days of waking up at 8a.m. and staying up until 3.a.m. to finish a paper, talk on AIM, update my facebook, practice on the piano, talk on the cell, talk with the roommates etc. have long been over. I have officially joined the 9-5-in-a-cubicle sector of humanity, and after my daily (semi-daily?) run and dinnertime, I find myself too tired or unmotivated to either a) spend time with people or b) participate in some solitary creative or edifying activity (i.e. reading or learning a new Chopin piece).

So what do I do? I watch DVDs. Now this may be in the form of Office episodes on DVD, the occasional Jack Bauer fix or just a plain old movie. Why, you may ask? Probably because I suffer from one of the debilitating plagues of our generation: the need to be entertained. Recently, I have been reading a lot lately actually, but the default activity remains thus: popping in a DVD.

So I was actually quite serious when I said I realized I just wanted to give that up DVDs for a week. So I did, however microscopic of a sacrifice it may be. I celebrated the breaking of the fast by watching the Bourne Identity with my mom and sister. My mom is in the Jason Bourne kick, having just watched the Bourne Ultimatum last weekend. I don’t remember anything about the Bourne Supremacy, because I just remember getting sick when I watched in the theater (I think my Michael Bay-induced nausea crosses over to Bourne movies as well); however, let it be known, that in my own long history of 24 loyalty, I am at a loss to determine who would come out on top in a fight to the death: Jack Bauer or Jason Bourne.

I digress…

But reflecting on my use of time during the past week, I realized that I really did enjoy not relying on DVDs to fill that those two hours before I head to bed. I spent more time listening and reflecting and reading. I even had time to work on some songwriting material (shock of the year!). At first I was uncomfortable without people, noise, or activity to fill the silence. It made me realize how blatantly fast-paced and noisy our culture is. Even at CIY, there is constant activity and music and interaction and images. We are constantly taking in information, entertainment, visual stimuli, but how much of it actually transforms our character? How much of it is absolute nonsense that simply needs to be stripped away for simplicity’s sake?

Especially after having traveled to Africa three times, and seeing how stripped down and bare and beautiful a lot of day-to-day living is, I am often aggravated how easily I can slip back into my American mindset and not allow those cross-cultural experiences to affect my attitude toward consumption and materialism. I often lack the discipline and selflessness to live simply.

I do not want this entry to be another rant against the lamentable state of American culture and my subsequent capitulation to it…But there is truly something to be said for living simply.

I love what Richard Foster says about simplicity: "Simplicity, then, is getting in touch with the divine center.” Simplicity is not supposed to be an end in and of itself—one of the downfalls of asceticism.

Instead, simplicity is the means by which we engage with God. It is the stripping away of all that is unnecessary so we can be receptive to Him. It’s placing ourselves in an economic, social, spiritual—and even physical—posture where can best reflect who He is—never hurried, always listening, gracious, generous, at ease in solitude, and fully engaged in relationships.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

animal battle

This is one of the craziest things I have ever seen and I can't believe a tourist who uses his video camera about once a year was lucky enough to capture this on video.

Buffalos rock.

my blog is rated...

So apparently they have a blog rating system (like they do for movies). My rating is: G.

So my blog is in Little Mermaid territory... not even Goonies or Hook!


Monday, August 6, 2007

post-sermon thoughts

I heard a sermon this week based on Matthew 16:5-12, and I couldn’t help but be slightly disappointed at the limited scope of the sermon itself. The speaker talked about being on your guard against the “leaven” of the world, or the culture, opinions, perspectives that we mindlessly “intake,” because if you put something bad into your mind then something “bad” will undoubtedly come out. I am not denying the fundamental truth of that statement—Jesus teaches that very thing in Matthew 15:11, just one chapter before. And the speaker did offer some useful reminders of how it’s important to slow down and take time to engage with God. But I think I was tired of the same old sermon which cautions Christians about listening to this or that type of music or watching this or that type of movie. I think the text in question speaks much deeper into what a life bent on following Christ should look like.

Honestly, I think that if Jesus had said “be on your guard against the leaven of the Romans,” than deeming Jesus’ words as an exhortation for cultural purity would undoubtedly be appropriate. We could possibly take Jesus’ words to mean “Be on your guard against what movies you watch, and what books you read and what you do in your spare time.” However, Jesus said “be on your guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” I was amazed that the speaker never once explained who the Pharisees or Sadducees are, because understanding who they are is critical to understanding the passage.

Learning the Framework

I think one of the major weaknesses in many Christian churches today is that many teachers within the churches do not adequately prepare new and younger disciples in Christ how to think through the broader scope. What I mean by that is, we are taught that so-and-so is right and this-and-that are wrong, but we are never given a complete framework as to why this is so. We are often taught morality, rather than what the kingdom of God truly is or what a life of discipleship should look like. This is why many 18 year olds abandon their churchgoing habits as soon as they set foot onto a university campus—I have seen this firsthand. They are not equipped spiritually or intellectually to deal with the onslaught of worldviews in a secular environment—they haven’t been taught the framework or how to think, nor how this translates into action and life.

Overturning the Paradigm

I believe that many times when Jesus took the time to teach through parables or through plain instruction, that He is often telling these 1st century Jewish men and women a new way to think and a new way to live, thinking beyond the limited scope of what they thought the Torah and prophets and Law have been communicating. I think Jesus did some serious paradigm-busting during His three year ministry. Knowing that has forced me to reconsider every parable and teaching that Jesus ever spoke, because it could be some paradigm or assumption of mine needs to be completely overturned….

Looking at the Text

Back to the passage. Jesus said “be on your guard against the Pharisees and Sadducees..” Well who are the Pharisees and Sadducees?

It is important to understand that the Pharisees were not amoral crazies, running around dancing in pagan celebrations and wreaking moral havoc on society. About 6,000 members-strong, the Pharisees were a Jewish sect, deeply devoted to purity, traditions, and the study and interpretation of Scripture. The Sadducees were on the opposite end of the Jewish sect spectrum (try saying that five times fast;) They held a more literal interpretation of Scripture, and denied anything that was not clearly taught in Scripture, particularly the resurrection of the dead or angels and spirits… It should be known that the Sadducees were often wealthy and held high positions in society. So the Pharisees and Sadducees made up a substantial part of the religious community in 1st century Palestine.

The thing that strikes me as that both of these groups were composed of Jews. Jesus wasn’t saying “Be on your guard against those amoral outsiders…” He was essentially saying “be on your guard against the teaching of religious people.” Hmm... almost like Jesus is warning against religious conservatives and liberals..?

Up until this point in history, all that mankind has ever known of God is religion… All mankind knew was “if you do this, you will earn this.” “If you are good enough and say enough prayers and make enough sacrifices then you can earn eternal life.” Historically, that’s all the world had known, until Jesus showed up—Logos on earth.

Gospel of Grace

The Pharisees and Sadducees were still living under the assumption that they could earn God’s favor… That they had to achieve moral perfection in order to be pleasing with God. But the whole purpose of Christ coming to earth was to overturn that assumption and unleash God’s grace into the world through sacrificial love on the cross, to bring salvation to all people. Isn’t that the heart of the gospel? I believe when Jesus told his followers to be on their guard against leaven, He was warning them against cheap religion and instead pointing them to Himself, the gospel of grace manifested in a person, the true Bread of life.

Even more interestingly enough, this whole discussion of leaven comes directly after Jesus feeds a crowd of four thousand. After this exhilarating time when Jesus is healing the crippled, blind, mute and many people and He’s teaching with incredible insight and authority, He further amazes the crowd by feeding all four thousand of them a meal from seven loaves and some fish. Not only that, there are seven basketfuls of leftovers. It’s almost like Jesus is demonstrating firsthand what God’s abundant grace looks like in physical form. And then after this miraculous event, Jesus takes it one step further and teaches about the “leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” It’s almost like He is showing the difference between what the cross accomplishes—lavish abundance of God’s grace and love in our lives (bread) and the stale, pale imitation and religion of the Pharisees and Sadducees in contrast.

I am not a biblical scholar nor have I read extensive commentary on this passage, so please know that it is completely possible that I am way off base here... But it truly seems that Jesus is urging people to abandon the temptation to think we have to be good enough or do enough good works to please God. God is not impressed with outgoing religiosity. He is not impressed with how many years I’ve been going to church, youth group or campus ministry. He’s not impressed with how many mission trips I’ve been on, or how many times I’ve led worship. He loves me because I am created in His image, and my relationship with Him is restored only because I have accepted Christ as Lord…And I have done absolutely nothing on my own strength that is worthy of that love and grace.

And it’s often harder for “religious” people to understand that fact than for “sinners.” That’s why the prostitutes and thieves and tax collectors came running to Christ—because they already knew how broken they were. They’re already wearing their sin and brokenness on their sleeve. We religious people hide our brokenness and pride with our good works and our sunny dispositions and our ability to always have the right answer for everything… That’s why it’s almost always easier for the prodigal son to accept the Father’s love, than for the elder brother to…

I think it is absolutely critical when we study a passage of Scripture to always consider how the passage points us to Christ crucified, buried and resurrected, and what that means for the community of people that are supposedly following Him. There is nothing in this world more compelling or sobering than a Man sacrificing Himself for love and forgiveness.

If we don’t look at it through that perspective, through the lens of the cross, it is possible to totally miss the heart of the gospel—and to instead take in “leaven” that comes from religion…

Friday, August 3, 2007

movie preview

So I am really excited about this movie coming out. Unfortunately it doesn't come out until December:( The casting of Nicole Kidman as Mrs. Coulter, Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel and Eva Green as Serafina Pekkala seems absolutely perfect. The little girl playing Lyra has no prior acting experience in films, so we'll see how that works out... that might actually be perfect for the raw, unrefined, reckless nature that Lyra possesses... And I hope they do Iorek Byrnison (the bear) justice...Hopefully the powers that be at New Line Cinema will inject the same kind of life and believability into Iorek as they did with the famous CGI Smeagol/Gollum...

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

more CIY thoughts

So I am sitting at home sick, bored out of my mind right now. I finished the HDM trilogy and the Harry Potter book and am not sure I am up to starting a new book at the moment. I may attempt to start the Two Towers. I have never read the Tolkien LOTR trilogy before... I finished the The Fellowship of the Ring a month ago, before HDM and Harry Potter stole my focus... So I may do that...

So after CIY, we were supposed to go do a high ropes course on Saturday, but lovely Tennessee rain thwarted those plans. The ropes company told us the ropes needed a full day to dry out, so they were giving us a full refund. Josh and Patrick were trying to research things we could do instead, since we had that entire Saturday to play with. We ended up picking the Piney Falls park, which supposedly had this towering waterfall that fed into this swimming hole after a short hike. So we piled into the vans and drove for an hour to this park.

The directions were a bit unclear, and we took a wrong turn into the woods. The road led right to the front porch of some secluded house of a bewildered Tennessee man (whose name was Yank, no lie). I am sure he appreciated having two 15-passenger vans and a minivan caravan into his front yard. I thought he was going to whip out a shotgun and aim it at us. No joke.

Luckily, we circled through Yank's front yard unscathed, and finally found the parking area where we were supposed to get out and start the half mile hike to the falls.

We reached a clearing with one path leading off to the left and another to the right. The website had said to take the beaten path, so we did, except it led to the top of the waterfall, not to the bottom, where we wanted to swim. Still, it was a spectacular view, albeit a little scary.

So we went back to the clearing and made for the other path which said "Loop Trail." Now, we should've realized that this name fittingly described the path we were about to take, but it was the only other path we saw, so we decided to go for it.

What was supposed to be a "half mile hike" ended up being an hour+ of scrambling and slipping over moss covered rocks, fallen tree trunks, streams and muddy, slippery hills. It was kind of fun at first, like something out of Lord of The Rings-ish, but after awhile, I thought to myself, "Oh no, we're going to end up on the 11 o'clock news... the church youth group who disappeared into the woods and never came out." Many of us fell numerous times, and had bruises, scratches and cuts to show for it.

And then after what seemed like it would never end, the rocky river bed finally led us to this enormous swimming hole, with an 80-foot tall waterfall pouring into it. The place looked even a bit sacred and untouched, as though few people before us had gone swimming there.

We spent about an hour there, swimming and jumping from the short cliff into the water. I only did this once... Josh said he was going to go ahead and look for a shorter path back to where the vans were. Turns out, there was a shorter path, and it would take us all of 10 minutes to reach that original clearing where the paths diverged. When we reached that clearing, we realized that the shorter path had been hidden by fallen trees.

I thought about how life is often like that. Sometimes God leads us down the Loop Trail, the path that's difficult and long, and we get all bruised and scratched because of it, when all the while there was this hidden path that could have taken less time and involved less pain. But I somehow think that the 80-foot waterfall and the tranquil beauty of the swimming hole would've seemed less beautiful or less sacred if we had taken the easy way. Looking back on it, I am glad we took the hard way... there was a lot of beauty and mystery that we saw along the way... And part of the fun was just sticking together and being "lost" together....

And that is what the waterfall taught me.