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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.

summer

Closing Thoughts on a Great Summer and What’s Next?

Wow, what a summer we had this year. With fall in full swing and new extracurriculars having inevitably taken over, each of us is feeling the pull of competing obligations and priorities.  Have we already forgotten what happened at SpringHill?

I hope not – I sure haven’t.  From the middle of May, until the final SpringHill Experience is finished in the middle of August, I feel as though I’m shouldering a great weight: the responsibility for the lives of all these people. But at the same time, I’ve also just lived four months off the inspiration and energy that comes from working with such an amazing, embracing, talented, committed, and diverse SpringHill community: professional staff who worked hard the prior eight months to have us ready for summer and then served tirelessly almost every day, all day, for four straight months.

Last year, when our summer ended, we said goodbye to nearly 27,000 children and teens and 950 young adult leaders in over 130 SpringHill locations throughout nine states. Yes, at SpringHill, we pack 80 percent of our direct missional work into four months.

Like anything that is hard work and requires much of us, it’s both fulfilling and difficult to have it come to an end…temporarily.  As happens when finishing a long race, or accomplishing a significant goal, or coming off an adrenaline high, finishing a SpringHill summer means coming off the mountain. It means adapting to a new season of planning and steady work, looking ahead to what’s next.

So, what is next?  Where do we all – campers, leaders, etc. – go from here?

As we tell kids at SpringHill, you can’t stay on the mountain forever; you have to go back home. For us too, SpringHill summers don’t last forever. We have to go back home (or to the office) and begin hosting retreats and getting ready for another summer. There’s new work to be done, places to go, people to meet.

My hope is that we will all reflect on the life-changing experiences that occurred this past summer – those that happened to us personally and those that we witnessed.  I hope that we can reflect on two separate groups of questions that have been asked of SpringHill as an organization, but could be asked of ourselves as individuals having had the SpringHill experience:

  1. Why do we exist? What purpose do we fulfill, what difference do we make in the world? If we ceased to exist, what hole would be left? The answer to these questions is, typically, expressed in a purpose or mission statement. At SpringHill, we answer this question with our mission: “To glorify God by creating life-impacting experiences where young people can come to know Jesus Christ and grow in their relationship with Him.”

 

  1. What’s most important to us? What are we most deeply passionate about and willing to sacrifice and suffer for? At SpringHill, we answer this question with an acronym we have for our core values: ARCH, which stands for adventurous faith, relationally focused, contagious joy, and holy discontent. These core values define the kind of organization we are, as well as how we work with each other and all our stakeholder groups: kids, families, allies, donors, and staff.

Now that it’s Fall, I hope we can each reflect on why we exist and what is most important to us with new perspectives and inspiration.  I hope those quiet – and not so quiet – moments of personal faith-building help answer those questions with clarity that carry all of us through the rest of this year and onto another amazing SpringHill summer.

If you’re interested in creating similar experiences for your youth group or faith group, check out one of my workshops.

God

Adventurous Faith: How Taking Risks Allows God to Make a Difference in Our Lives

We are now reflecting on this past life-changing summer with kids of all ages throughout our SpringHill camp programs!  Many people wonder what makes SpringHill so special, so effective.  There are several reasons I could share to answer that question, but undoubtedly one universal explanation amongst all our campers is the sense of adventure that they experience during their time at SpringHill.  Ultimately, these moments connect them to God in a different and significant way.

Some of the biggest spiritual lessons happen while engaged in some of our high-adventure activities.  One of the stories that comes to mind is of a middle-school girl describing her experience at SpringHill. She had been a regular for years, and I just sort of casually asked her one day what it was that kept her coming back to SpringHill.

Very seriously, she said, “Every time I come to SpringHill, I encounter God. I have an experience with God and my faith grows.”

And so I pressed her: “What exactly is it that happens every time?”

“You know,” she said, “it just happens when we’re doing camp stuff.”

I smiled as she elaborated. “Like this last summer, I was on our zipline and I had been struggling … should I really trust Jesus? I mean, really trust Him with my life? And then we go on the zipline and the leaders talk about how, for us to go down the zipline, we have to trust the cable that goes across the lake, trust the harness that we’re in. We have to trust the pulleys that will go down the cable. We have to put our trust in them. If we don’t do that and we don’t take the step off the platform, we’ll never get to the end. We’ll never get across the lake. But it requires this trust.”

“So what happened?” I asked.

“The leaders said…it’s the same with Jesus. We need to trust Him. We need to be able to step out with Him and know that He has us, holding onto us so that we won’t fall. So I stepped off the platform, went down, and got to the end of the zipline, and I realized, yeah, this is what I need to do with Jesus. I need to trust Him just like I trusted the cable and the harness and everything else that comes down the zipline.”

That’s SpringHill, in that young girl, in that moment. This experience describes how kids find God more intimately when they stretch themselves, have fun, and find a sense of adventure. Those are experiences that aren’t readily available throughout the rest of the year.  As a result, these experiences and memories create something altogether new and exciting, activities that transform into an extremely impactful, spiritual moment.

Learn more about the SpringHill experience by visiting www.springhillexperience.com

summer fun

Five Ways to Create the Best Week of Summer

Endings are always good times for reflection. As this summer comes to a close, I wanted to think about what made it great and how you can create the SpringHill Experience year-round. We’re still crunching the numbers from this summer, but last year, 27,000 kids experienced the best week of summer at over 135 SpringHill camps throughout eight states. From the middle of May until the final SpringHill Experience, our staff lives for four months off the inspiration and energy that comes from working with such an amazing, embracing, talented, committed, and diverse SpringHill community. It’s this dedication, in addition to the following five ways of creating the best week of summer, that leave our staff and campers feeling rejuvenated, inspired, and transformed each and every year.

  1. Find and Embrace God in Everything – At SpringHill we believe God is found in all things, even—and especially—in the unexpected. Would you ever think in a million years that you could learn some of the biggest spiritual lessons of your life on a zipline? Well, believe it or not it happens all the time at SpringHill. 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. These are the lessons kids remember—the connection they feel to God experiencing new and challenging things with the help of friends and leaders that truly care about them.

 

  1. Unplug and Experience Even More – 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, the children find faith in having fun in the outdoors and building friendships. And, it works—they wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

  1. Embrace Those Around You and Make Lifelong Friends – Each summer, SpringHill campers have the opportunity to hone their social skills. Perhaps more than other less-personable, other summer options, SpringHill engages kids in conversation with leaders as well as fellow campers. And they do talk, but not about what’s on Instagram or TV. The kids learn to converse articulately while building interpersonal skills through real-time, face-to-face interaction with their peers and counselors, who take on a big sister or big brother role at camp. These kids make friends and build relationships, many of them blossoming into lifelong friends. They build relationships on solid foundations of trust and camaraderie with campmates and counselors through small group time, the vast array of camp activities, around the campfire and meals, and in one-on-one chats with counselors or between campers. These relationships, the kind only built at camp, are a critical component to each child’s “best week of summer.”

 

  1. Integrate Daily Inspiration and Feel More Connected to God – We welcome kids from all backgrounds and denominations to SpringHill experiences. While we are respectful of everyone’s individual beliefs, we don’t water down or wash out the Gospel, the Good News. What we do is focus on the fundamentals, the core of the Gospel. This creates a sense of unity, of embracing all kids and universally accepting all Christian core beliefs. Each day, SpringHill kids will have study or story time, and will participate in small group discussions with their leaders. All children are challenged to think for themselves and, as a result, come home with a greater desire to pray and read the Bible. Integrating the Good News within fun activities makes their experience that much more impactful.

 

  1. Try New Things and Gain Greater Confidence – From the heart-pumping zipline, to wall climbing, rope ladder, giant’s swing, kayaking, canoeing, stand-up paddle boarding—where campers learn how to navigate their way through the summer camp waters—and The Gusher—a new twist on the waterslide—to our fifty-foot climbing wall, SpringHill summer camp spurs children to grow, mature, and gain independence. Activities are a mix of high and low intensity and are tailored to the needs of all ages. As a result, kids will be challenged to think for themselves and make good decisions. They will be challenged to overcome fears and try new things, thereby building self-esteem and confidence. This confidence is not only felt at camp, it stays with our campers when they return home.

When kids experience these five things, they have a transformative summer. That’s exactly the experience SpringHill experiences provide. We offer an environment where kids learn, grow, face fears, build confidence, make new friends, and most importantly understand their special relationship with God. To learn more about providing the best week of summer to your child, check out one of our workshops:  https://springhillexperience.com/workshops/