This past weekend I went to a thing called Fall Conference with Weber State’s Intervarsity group. Generally it’s just a weekend long event where Intervarsity groups from around Utah and Idaho gathered in Park City, UT to learn about Jesus and The Bible and stuff. This was a really impactful weekend for me and I just want to share some of what happened this weekend both physically and spiritually.
Friday afternoon I packed all my things and drove over with a friend to a meeting place with everyone else to carpool. So we all piled into the car and drove down to Park City, which is maybe fifteen minutes east of Salt Lake City. It’s in the mountains and for my Colorado peeps, it kind of reminds me of Estes, maybe more like Vail or Steamboat, but I haven’t been those places in a long time. It’s chilly and mountainous and has a small town feel, but it’s really pretty cool. They even have a giant ski jump that was used for the Olympics when Salt Lake City hosted them back in ’02. Overall, I enjoyed the town for the short amount of time we were there. We stayed in a Best Western hotel, which I just have to say was a pretty bizarre hotel. The lobby was on the second floor, It had a fake tree in the middle of the lobby, and it was really confusing to navigate. I got lost several times and had a hard enough time finding the stairs to the first floor. I had to use the elevator. I will admit though that the pool area had a ping pong table, hot tub, a pool, and a pool table, and several rooms opened right into the area which was kind of neat. We checked in and went to Arby’s for dinner, and when we got back everyone else had arrived so we moved into the rooms. Then I played ping pong with my temporary roommate until it was time for the session time, which was basically your average church service. Singing, a message, more singing, and that’s about it. I’m really bad about remembering what the preachers say, but I was pleasantly surprised. I haven’t seen a speaker in Intervarsity thus far that I didn’t enjoy.
So I listened to his message and it was then time for “Campus Time,” or time for the schools to break off with themselves and get to know each other. We did two weird games. One was like “Never Have I Ever,” but the opposite. It was called “I Have a Goat.” The other one didn’t have a name I don’t think. Maybe “Mingle?” We would walk around and have to pair up with an assigned number of people connecting a certain body part and answering a question about yourself. We had hands, toes, and elbows for somewhat normal ones, and then belly and ear for strange ones. Have you ever been ear to ear with another person? I don’t recommend it. It’s really uncomfortable. Nor the bellies, because it can get real weird real fast. Luckily that was a five person group instead of two, otherwise it would’ve been basically smashing groins together. Uncomfortable, yeah? Well we did it, and it was fun. Then we broke up into small groups and talked with each other about what we were expecting about the weekend and getting to know each other and things of that nature. The highlight of the night though was the dance party. It was supposedly 50s themed, so I worked something out that made me look like a 50s nerd and I went and partied for a couple hours. It rocked. If you haven’t learned this about me by now, I get into dance parties. I’m not going to say I’m a great dancer, but hell if I don’t enjoy it anyway. There were some awesome songs played and some that I wasn’t crazy about, but it was what it was and I had a good, sweaty time. Well, that sounds bad. After that was over I went back to the room and laid down for like an hour playing on my phone and checking Facebook and stuff. I’d planned to do homework over the weekend, but the internet wasn’t provided to us and it was slow as hell either way. So I ate a lot of data this weekend. Around 1:00 to 1:30, I went to sleep. My bed partner though made sure to make it as awkward as possible though. I didn’t sleep well that night though. I woke up several times throughout the night, one time back to back with the other guy. That was weird. Brings me back to Mexico where I apparently unconsciously cuddled a guy in his sleep. If the other dude is to be trusted though, which he sometimes isn’t (jokester), he consciously cuddled me in my sleep. Whatever, this is an awkward thing to write about. No more.
I woke up towards the end of breakfast and I ate breakfast. It was decent. But lets be honest, I was a zombie in the morning. 6 hours of restless sleep and a long day of church stuff is daunting. We had “Quiet Time” and then went to another session. The passage was about the paralytic who is carried by his four friends to see Jesus, who then heals him and he walks. I think what struck me most about this story this time isn’t the healing part. Every time this story comes up it’s used to say “Have faith,” which is a fine message, but it’s boring and abstract. This time the message seemed much more exciting and personal because the speaker made it about community. The paralytic needed his four friends. He made it clear that everybody has to be a part of this story. We all have to be the sick person who needs their friends’ help, and we need to be open and honest with them. We need to be the friend to somebody and encourage and help your sick friends. You have to be radical as well. These friends went above and beyond to get their friend to Jesus, and they weren’t apathetic. They tore through a roof, and that’s crazy, but it’s the kind of faith we should have. Probably in today’s world we should be radical in different ways than destroying people’s property, but the fire is there. I’ve heard people talk about community before as an essential element to Christian life, but nobody ever said what it looked like. Community could be church, youth group, anything with other people, but this talk made it much more clear, personal, doable, and even exciting. The paralyzed man had four friends, so he said why not go find four close friends of your own to support you with anything and everything? That’s a great place to start community, even though it’s clearly not the only way. That message really spoke to me. Just the night before we’d been instructed to write one thing that’s getting in the way of our relationship with God on a sticky note and put it on a board. I’m not sharing what was on my card right now, but the entire weekend I was meditating on what God brought up in my heart. It’s a part of me I don’t let people see, and it festers like an infected cut. So I resolved in my mind that when I had the chance, I would begin seeking out those four friends to talk to.
We went to small group and talked about the passage and what we got out of the sermon. Then we had lunch/free time. We went to a local place called Shabu Shabu House which is a little hard to explain. The tables all come with pots of water and the server comes out and sticks a bunch of spices, sauces, vegetables, and other such ingredients in there and boils it, creating a kind of broth. Then he brings out meat that you stick into the broth, cooking it, and you dip it in sauce, and you eat it. I was skeptical, but it was phenomenal. “Shabu shabu” means “swish swish” in I think it was Japanese. But yeah, we ate there, had a ton of fun talking and learning about the food and sharing baby photos among other things. Then we went walking around and ended up in a T.J. Maxx, an overpriced ice cream store, and then McDonald’s because I didn’t want to pay $3.00 for a kiddie size cup of ice cream. Would rather pay $2.50 for a nice sized McFlurry. So I had my ice cream and then went hot tubbing and swimming, which was also really nice. Even though I tend to avoid pools, I had to hot tub, and it got crowded and boring so I swam a little bit.
But then it was time for seminars. The first block had the choice of “Dating and Relationships” or “Lust and Pornography.” The “Lust” one was far more crowded and it was stuffed to capacity full of guys and girls. I was honestly surprised. I figured that most people would find the talk way too awkward and embarrassing to want to sit through it and I figured it would be primarily men in there. Both were false. One presenter was female and one was male and they shared some really disturbing and mind boggling statistics about porn as well as sharing their own histories with it. The man talked about the extreme toll his addiction to pornography had on his marriage when he came clean about it, and the woman talked about her own body image issues and how it impacted her marriage as well. It’s not just a male problem, it’s a female one too. They opened up a Q&A about the topic and I don’t remember many of the questions, but they were just looking for resources and how to help other people with it and it somehow got into a discussion about sexual orientation. Either way, it was really fascinating seeing so many people come to listen to such an awkward discussion. Porn is so widespread and available now that it’s super easy to access for everyone of any age, gender, or anything else. It’s also treated as normal; it’s just something that people look at and it’s not a big deal. Well, it is a big deal. I’m not an expert on this topic, but everybody I know acknowledges it as a harmful thing. Science points to it being addictive and can lead to sex addiction, and it can affect chemical levels in your body. For married people or those in a relationship, people are hurt when their partner/spouse watches it and it can ruin that relationship. I have heard of potential health benefits and many people claim it’s good stress relief, but people say the same of smoking. It eases anxiety, but it builds up a dependence which leads to addiction and likely other issues. Moral of the story, lust/porn=bad.
The second seminar was either “Spiritual Disciplines,” “Seekers,” or “Evangelism.” I chose to go to “Evangelism,” which was a good choice on my part. We took a little quiz assessing our personalities and where we were spiritually and where we thought others were spiritually to best look for how to talk to people. It all depends on where they are in their life, where you are in yours, and what you’re good at. According to the quiz, I was highest in Intellectual, Interpersonal, and testimonial, which is to say that I’m best at saying smart things and using resources and numbers and stuff, connecting with people, and sharing my own experience. I’m less good at approaching people in a direct manner, inviting people places, and doing service projects, which I think is all pretty true. But it points you to resources and how to approach people, which is super helpful. Then they opened up a Q&A and people asked more personal questions about how to talk to the LGBTQ community, Mormons, nihilists, atheists, family, coworkers, etc. I had a question that I didn’t get to ask, but I feel like I got a better feel of what I can do and what I need to do, which was important for me to find out.
Then it was dinner time, and there was nothing super special about that, so we went to the night session. We listened to the speaker talk, some worship music, and I personally was exhausted so I went outside a little bit to keep myself awake. This talk, from what I gathered while not drifting to sleep, was about healing a lot. The speaker spoke a lot about friends he had who appeared to be one way but were really another. One friend was secretly cutting herself, another had been sexually assaulted, another had been abused by their father, and all of them put up a front to keep themselves from having to deal with it. They would be sarcastic, be super sweet and caring, be extremely charismatic, have a lot of intelligence, anything to take their identity off of their problems and put it on something else. Another great talk because we all do the same thing. Some of us use humor, some of us use intelligence, or popularity, or being nice, or smoking, or anything to fit in with another crowd so we don’t have to be broken. And the other part of that is how they all turned out. Everyone dealt with their struggles and became successful, happy, and even came to know Jesus’ love. He also wanted to invite people to come to Jesus, so everyone sat down and those who wanted to make a first time commitment stood up. Then people who wanted to recommit stood. And finally, those who wanted to do way better stood up. I didn’t stand for any. I have already done the first one, and I felt I had to do something else before I could stand for the second one, and I already feel like I’m doing the third one right now. Of course I can do better, but I, for some reason, chose not to stand. I found that really relatable, and I’m guessing most people did. We broke up into small groups afterward and I basically remember saying the same thing I’m saying right now.
After that happened, the night’s event shifted to “Extended Worship Night” where it was just worship song after worship song for a long time. So I went to that for a long time; I think the entire thing. I sat alone intentionally because I’d been meditating on one thing since the first night that hadn’t left my mind. And so I stood there for a while singing the songs, but eventually I just had to sit down and be alone thinking about it and praying about it. Some guy, I think the same guy on two different occasions, came and sat next to me and prayed over me and then asked if I wanted to talk about it, and I said I didn’t. He said he was available and I should talk to someone about it and left, and I just kept going by myself. When I was finally done, I stood back up just as “Cornerstone” was starting. Don’t tell me there wasn’t some God in that room taking care of me. The second I’m done praying about something super personal, my favorite worship song comes on? Yeah right. I finished out the night and went to call a friend about the issue. The person was busy most of the night, so I sat alone in a stair well looking at Facebook and playing Trivia Crack until I got a phone call. It took a long time, but eventually I got the phone call and I talked to this person for a short amount of time and confessed my problem to them. I’ve never had to do something so hard. Admitting something to another person that you’ve never told anyone before and sort of pretend doesn’t exist is excruciating and after it happens, it suddenly changes your view of yourself. After I was done with the phone call, I went to the bedroom and started pondering what I’d just done and whether it was the right thing, and I started slapping labels on myself because suddenly it wasn’t just in my head, it was in someone else’s and it was real, next to tangible. My bunk mate came back and we watched Blood Diamond in bed. Then I went to sleep at 1:30 in the morning again.
Thankfully, that night was much more peaceful, but no more restful. I was still super tired. I ate breakfast and talked about stuff with some people. The night before I’d been sitting in the room in a chair while another roommate was lying in my bed in my spot. It wasn’t his bed. The nastiest part was this guy had been chewing tobacco in our room and spitting it into two cups and leaving them around the room, making it reek of tobacco and nastiness. Then he got the brilliant idea to chew tobacco IN MY BED. I asked him not to and he didn’t, but I was nonetheless shocked that he even tried. So I stayed around into “Quiet Time” talking with friends, but then relented and went to do the study time. It was the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Nothing really amazing. Then session time and discussion of this passage and just talking about who we could minister to. We’re all missionaries and we all have someone to reach out to. To be real, we live in Utah and Idaho, which means there’s a lot of people who don’t know Jesus. At least not the Jesus in Christianity. So we identified different people we were feeling called to speak to. They also talked about different events happening with foreign missionary trips to Kenya, China, and Mexico, and they had a fundraiser for people in Mexico. We took a big group photo that was far too difficult to take with 100+ people who can’t listen to the rules. Stop talking, smile, stay still, move where the photographer wants. Not real hard, but apparently it was. Whatever. We got the picture and had a final small group and campus time. Small group was the same where we shared about our weekend. The leader got us all silly headband things too, and I got one that made me a “tentacle head” as I called it. Then at campus time we threw around a white and purple stuffed cat saying what we’d learned that weekend. It was thrown around many times, and it finally came to me towards the end. I tell you man, it was an awesome speech. I quoted Shia LaBeouf and everything. I don’t remember all of what I said, but I touched on the four friends thing and the being broken and evangelizing. Just do it. We’re our own worst enemy and we judge ourselves more harshly than anyone else. So just take a chance and do it.
We packed everything up and drove home. That was essentially it. It was an amazing weekend and it was a really life changing one too. Ever since I’ve felt really different about myself and others. I don’t find myself as hateful, not that I was a really hateful person before, but I felt I’d let stuff go. I was still stewing in my realization that I’d come clean to someone and I was still sticking labels on myself. I just didn’t really know for sure who I was or what I wanted. It was surreal. I didn’t find myself craving friends or becoming frustrated with people, and I just overall felt pretty peaceful. It was like coming back from any “spiritual high” experience, but this time I wasn’t really feeling the hangover, or the drastic return to normalcy. There as a new normal for me that only I was really aware of, and it was really bizarre. I still feel that way a little bit and I’m committed to not letting this trail off like every other time. I’m really happy I went and I’m very interested to see what my future holds.