Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"Standing outside the fire...."

"We call them fools
Who have to dance within the flame
Who chance the sorrow and the shame
That always come with getting burned

But you got to be tough when consumed by desire
'Cause it's not enough just to stand outside the fire

We call them strong
Those who can face this world alone
Who seem to get by on their own
Those who will never take the fall

We call them weak
Who are unable to resist
The slightest chance love might exist
And for that forsake it all

They're so hell bent on giving, walking a wire
Convinced it's not living if you stand outside the fire

Standing outside the fire
Standing outside the fire
Life is not tried it is merely survived
If you're standing outside the fire

There's this love that is burning
Deep in my soul
Constantly yearning to get out of control
Wanting to fly higher and higher
I can't abide standing outside the fire…"

-     Jenny Yates/Garth Brooks

I just left the fire -- but I am getting ahead of myself.

Last Friday morning I was standing in the middle of a dusty pasture with over a hundred other campers, counselors, ranch hands, and parents standing within the fire. 

To some it may have looked like a summer camp's session-end highlight…the rodeo.  But I knew better.  From the moment Garth Brooks' voice came over the loud speaker underscoring Cliff's hysterical play-by-play, I knew this song,
"Standing Outside the Fire" would keynote today's post.  

I was watching the best -- be their best.  Everyone of us was there to discover what the fire of Love's demands would reveal of our best selves.   Campers were letting that unimaginable love for their horses reveal a deep inner trust in God's choreography in the arena.  Because of this love for, not only their horse, but for their fellow campers and counselors, they were allowing an enormous animal to carry them into the rodeo ring as fast as it could, make "on a dime" turns around barrels and poles, pivot in a keyhole, and bring them flying through a cloud of dust, at breakneck speed, to stop just before a metal gate. 

This same love was inspiring counselors to stand in 90+ degree heat in jeans, boots, and long-sleeve western shirts encouraging, comforting, calming, and cheering on each rider through three long hot hours of competition.

Ranch hands, dressed as clowns in wigs and clingy polyester circus garb, ignored the heat as they cavorted in the arena between events, refilled water barrels, cleaned up trash, and helped with logistics as needed throughout the morning.

Parents stood by, cheering -- and praying -- as their precious children mounted those  gentle giants and tore past them thorugh the open space between arena fenceposts at speeds they could not have even imagined them capable based on reports in letters sent home mid-session.

For me this wasn't just the highlight "end-of-session" event, it was a symbol of everything camp stood for.  It was a snapshot of what camp is for each of us - every single day of every single session. 

Camp is about "standing within the fire".  But it is a fire of love.  It is about letting love burn away any selfishness -- and the desire to exist within one's comfort zone …and discover what remains when you do.  In this fire of Love's demanding, we discover the gold in human character as the dross of self-interest and complacency melt away.

As I was standing on the sidelines, waiting for my opportunity to step more fully into the flames, I noticed a young girl who was weeping from her place astride a beautiful mount.  She didn't think she could do "it".  Riding into that arena, cantering around barrels and poles, flying out through the gate at the end - had her paralyzed with fear.

Cliff had called her name from the announcing booth, spectators were cheering her on, her counselors were encouraging her, comforting her, praying with her.  She just couldn't make herself do it. 

The crowd quieted, Cliff called the name of the next rider and all attention moved to the new competitor in the arena.  But on the sidelines our little rider was still sitting in her saddle weeping, her counselor comforting her with prayers of encouragement -- words of love. 

As I watched, a group of about nine small campers dressed in hiking shorts, jeans, dusty tank tops and mountaineering boots gathered around our young rider and her horse.  Softly they began singing the words of a familiar hymn of comfort and healing. 

With the attention off of her for the moment, she could listen to the inspired thoughts her counselor was offering, she could let the message of love from the hymn penetrate her fear.  Before long she was smiling and we heard Cliff's voice announcing her name as the final rider at her level in the event. 

She rode out into the arena head high and a bright smile on her face.  Parents, fellow campers of all ages, counselors and rodeo clowns alike all cheered her on as she trotted through the poles and cantered lightly out of the arena.

We were all aware of the fire she had been through - because at some point over the ensuing weeks we had each (and all) faced our own version of the flames.

Every brave rider, each trusting parent, all of those selfless counselors, persevering camp directors, and full-time staff had faced at least one moment in which love had pushed them out of their comfort zone and into the flames of self-consuming love.

A trusting, prayer-filled camper who has fallen out of her raft and been pulled into a suckhole while running the rapids of the Arkansas River. The self-denying counselor who dove into the raging cold water from another boat family to pull her out.  The mountaineer who fell back from leading the climb beside her best friend, to take the hand of a lagging patrol-mate who was feeling "like a loser" at the end of the line.   The bunkhouse parent who rose early each morning to make sure that the campers in her cabin were supported in countless spiritual (and practical) ways before they had even stirred from their bunks. 

The camp director who stayed awake all night in the lodge the night before a day off (his one opportunity to "sleep-in") in order to avert a bear's interest in the camp's dumpster.  The teen who wrestles with her own deep spiritual questioning while still serving the principles of the very faith she questions, because it is the most loving thing to do.  The full-time staff who work sixteen-hour days in order to make sure all campers have made their planes on departure days.  The counselor who has been up well before dawn feeding and readying the horses for a full day of riding and still has the spiritual stamina to stay awake with a camper who is homesick -- singing hymns, reading Bible stories, and praying long after the camper has fallen asleep.

Each of these remarkable spiritual heroes has stood in the fire of love's demanding - an unlimited adventure in discovering who they really are…the All-in-allness of God's being just waiting to be drawn upon each moment.  Dross consumed -- gold revealed.

I am so honored to have stood next to each of you within the fire.
"…Standing outside the fire
Life is not tried it is merely survived
If you're standing outside the fire…"

Always with Love, 

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