Summer

I’ve been working at summer camp for a while; 6 years as a counselor, a week and a half as a volunteer, and this past summer as internship director. Like many, I’m a different person at camp. And at this point the transition in and out of camp for me is almost seamless. I just kick into gear when I arrive and kick out when I’m done. So when I was asked if I could survive the summer, I knew the first half would be easy. I would kick into summer camp mode, with my struggles put to the side, and then deal with things at the end. In typical Kyle-fashion:

Plot twist.

At the end of staff week I found myself in a deep conversation with two of my fellow directors, Nathan and DJ. At this point the topic was camp being an escape. Staff come to camp, escape their problems, do ministry, and then leave. Campers come to camp, escape their problems, staff try to help them deal with the problems they are escaping from, and campers go home, hopefully with an impact made on them. But why should staff approach their problems differently than campers? Camp is the perfect place to deal with things because you are away from the situation. You can reflect and process in a unique way. In modern terms, you might say it’s a safe space. This was revolutionizing for me. And at the end of that conversation we prayed that the summer would be an opportunity, not just an escape. And oh boy, what journey that started me on. Thanks God.

Everything. Literally everything I had struggled with over the past 6 months was confronted over the summer. Even the bitterness was confronted literally face-to-face although I doubt anyone has any idea of that. Each time something came up, Mark, Annie, Nathan, or DJ or sometimes a combination of them were in the right place at the right time for me. I’m not really sure where I’d be now if it weren’t for them, probably a much darker place. And the tears I shed as I thanked them reflects only a fraction of my gratitude and the pain I was overcoming. Thanks in no small part to them, a strange thing happened. Peace was found in each confrontation. Not after, but in the thick and middle of each confrontation. Now I haven’t come to complete terms with everything I confronted, but these were solid starts. Believe me, I’ve still got processing and confronting to do, especially emotionally. But thanks to these friends and God, I’m in a much better place to do so. I’m ready for a new beginning, a fresh start, and some good moments.

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Spring

To be honest, I’m not sure how to tell this story. That’s why I haven’t written this post until now. But here is my attempt:

Spring cleaning. Fresh starts. April showers bring May flowers.

These are all positive expressions we use to refer to spring. And as spring quarter arrived, I was no exception. Winter had been rough. But now that spring was here people would be getting out more and things would get better. It would be a fresh start. I would clean up and process and there would be more moments of joy. I charged into the first week with all this in mind. I went to the climbing wall. I frequented the Atlas and I tried to have more conversations. It was improvement. But I had spent the last of my reserves. And only so much can happen in one week.

As a kid, I never gave up on things. And that included times when I probably should have stepped back, let go, or “given up”. At the end of the week I had given up, truly given up. I thought I had my kept expectations pretty low still, but apparently not low enough. Instead, none of the above phrases or my situational interpretations of said phrases proved true. There was no cleaning or improvements. I crashed instead of really starting over. And there were very few flowers. I quit in a way I had never experienced before. It wasn’t letting go. No, that’s much prettier. This was stone wall, done.

Let me spell it out. I put minimal effort into people, or at least as little as one can when trying to wear a mask. I trusted effectively no one and lived as a hermit. Some days I was so depressed, in my thoughts, lonely or any combination of those that I didn’t go anywhere. I even walked out of class once, in the middle of class. For context, I was the kid in high school who had to be forced onto sick list. I never missed class, snow or shine, healthy or with a flu. And in the end I skipped more classes during spring quarter than in all of high school. And being in a dark place, the bitterness I had built up during the last quarter didn’t help, and it certainly didn’t diminish.

That’s the experience I was having. It’s dark, unpleasant, and likely surprising to you. Now I don’t believe really anyone had any idea what was going on. If they knew and counted me as a friend, shame on them (to be clear, there are exceptions, and they know who they are). But that’s not the point of this story. Here’s the twist: where things got better because of a stranger.

There is a guy at Walla Walla who likes to climb, Xander. I had gone to the climbing wall a few times over the course of the quarter, but each time I left shortly after arrival for reasons which I won’t go into on a blog post. During those few times, Xander and I had exchanged belays a few times and he invited me to join him and some friends climbing one weekend. It was a incredible! I got outside, had a fun time, and was active. Then I got invited again. And then I was invited to join his group of friends in climbing Mount Adams. More context: I’ve been itching to try mountain climbing for years. More like over a decade. And here I was given that opportunity. Everything else I had experienced in the past five months said that I shouldn’t have had that chance. But it was given to me and I took it. It wasn’t just that I was climbing or mountaineering. It’s largely that I wasn’t remotely close to Xander but he included me and I am forever grateful to him for that. To me, what he did is about as genuine and authentic as it gets.

Between these moments I still struggled through the weeks and even sometimes during these adventures. But the moments gave me a flicker of hope. When the quarter drew to a close, I was asked by a few people who knew some of my struggles if I could survive the summer. That’s how bad I was still doing. I was in survival mode. And I told them I could survive at least the first half of the summer…

Now please, go read my next post.

Winter

Winter in Denmark is very much like winter here in Walla Walla. It’s cold, cloudy, and quite frankly gray. Streets are devoid of life and you may wonder if people cease to walk anywhere, opting to simply teleport instead. And the very things that are the same between these two places 5000 miles apart contribute significantly to what makes coming back in winter so hard.

Returning was…is terrible. I left in the middle of the school year, on Christmas Eve (arguably the most important holiday to the Danes), and honestly was not ready to return. Behind me were my best friends, my girlfriend and a wonderful place that had a home in my heart. I left people I loved, a culture I loved, and a home I loved. I didn’t notice these so much at first. Of course the goodbyes were rough, but it took time nonetheless to realize the full weight. Here’s how it played out:

Arriving home was a blur. I was excited to spend Christmas with my family and I arrived to “Welcome Home Kyle” on the Christmas tree with hugs all around. Following Christmas was a blur to sort through all the things I returned with and had left behind before Denmark and then pack for college once more. Not much time for thought. When I arrived on campus, not many others were around. I came back from break early. However, some were here and I was invited to go bowling Saturday night. I think that night was the most I was my “Danish persona” since coming back.

The first week of classes is very much a blur in my memory. It’s as if time still ran at the same speed in Denmark. Side note, while Danes are quite chill and simultaneously timely, time raced for me over there. It’s what happens when you spend 90+% of your waking time with other people in social situations on some level. Except instead of being super social during that first week, it was speedy hellos, finding classes, and “professor, I’m gone next week. …” Not that they could do anything about that. Anyways, point is I hardly remember that week. Week two was amazing even though I got so sick I was bed-ridden for a day and some time. I was in Norway to teach skiing and then in Denmark for one last visit. I’ll keep it at that since that’s not the focus here.

Week three was another blur because now I was trying to catch up on week two. And when week four rolled around, reality finally started catching up with me. Life start crashing. My self-esteem, which had built up so much in Denmark crumbled away to dust in what felt like a week. My social confidence as a dean and the responsible adult in the room faded. And my will to be with people vanished like the fog that never lasted past noon. I pulled a 180 and was caught completely off guard. Each moment, each attempt to save face and bring people into my life didn’t seem to go anywhere. Internally, I was emotional and I couldn’t explain any of it. I was critical and annoyed at things that never really affected me before, and even at things that were positive for me in the past. I dug deep into a depressed introverted take on my normally ambivert personality.

Quite frankly, I was awkward. Due to the busyness of the first three weeks, it was during week four that I began to catch up with people. Not in the sense that I had long conversations about where life had taken us, but in the sense that I was literally starting to catch people from my past life for what felt like the first time in months, years. And the moments were all over the place. Sometimes I just stared. I didn’t know what to say or how to approach them. Did they value the friendship that was seemingly there as much as I did? Sometimes I approached for a reunion, only to get cut off by a friend of there’s who was present, and not from the past. Some seemed to take interest in the moment, but like many returned student missionaries I got a sense of lacking genuineness. Others were extremely kind and in a their own ways reached out to me. At the time I was very grateful for that, but then it got complicated, for whatever reason. I thought I was getting people I could depend upon. I mustered up the courage to try to invite them into my life, to do things together. And it almost never worked with most of these people. For some it did at first, but it didn’t last. So on I floated, with no foundation, no esteem, and no sense of social direction or belonging.

As I reflect on these months I have realized two key problems, among many. First, friendships operate differently than in Denmark. There is much less of a middle ground there. If you’re friends, its solid. You know you can count on a good friendship. If you aren’t friends, you’re likely an acquaintance or less. From my perspective, I probably took this approach to friendships coming back, being colder with those I deemed acquaintances and overextending myself towards those I deemed friends. Second problem, I came back in winter. As I mentioned earlier, winter here in Walla Walla is very much like winter in Denmark. And unfortunately this is a significant contributor to problem two. In winter, people gel up. They move indoors to warmth and their friend group solidifies. People have figured out who they can count on from the fall and they cling to these rocks. Showing up in the winter without these fall experiences that provide the foundations that everyone else has…well, you can see where this went.

Full disclosure, I don’t know how to write on. This story is not pretty. There’s no happy ending and no miracles. There are moments of joy, but the grand picture is still dark in my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I had some fantastic moments in the winter. I started having conversations in person with future student missionaries to Denmark. Those are among the brightest highlights to my return experience. There are also times of just crashing at a friend’s house down the street in the evenings or skiing on the weekend. I don’t know how to balance these experiences. What I know is that as a whole picture experience, returning has been among, if not, the hardest whole experience of life thus far. So like me at the end of the quarter, we’ll wait for Spring.

Continuing the story…

The Return Journey

How often does one hear in detail the account of a great journey? Often it’s over time that the processed and sorted account of a trip, reveals itself in pieces: a story here, a story there. Sometimes the authentic, raw, and true account with all its intricacies surfaces years later: a book or a lecture. I would like to try to make an account of my return journey as authentically and accurately as possible, and as close to the current reality as I feel I can. I do not know where this will take me, and I do not know of precedent for such an account given a similar path. But perhaps this will bring to light some of what people may go through on the return of their own great journeys.

Where to begin… returning. The first return flight didn’t particularly feel like returning. In fact, it was more like a short vacation. I knew I was soon going to be back among the students and friends of Vejlefjord and even on campus for a few days in a matter of weeks. Following a rushed goodbye to my girlfriend in Frankfurt as we parted ways for our holiday travels, I landed in Calgary where I got picked up by my dad. The 5.5 hour drive home consisted of stories, sleeping, and catching up. I walked in the door to be greeted by a “welcome home Kyle” sign on the Christmas tree and hugs all around. Christmas day itself was a blur, and the day after my family went on a several day adventure in northern Montana. We spent the nights in a cabin that was well, freezing. The following week was another blur of packing and then driving the 8.5 hours to school and moving into my apartment. I received “welcome back!”s and “you got a haircut!”s as I navigated classes and campus that first week. And some people were incredibly kind to the returning Kyle, genuinely asking how I was doing being back. But I wasn’t really back.

The flight to Norway felt like another return trip, just going home, the end of a vacation. And that week in Norway, teaching, skiing, being sick, all of it was so sweet. As a surprise, I stayed on the bus past Oslo and set foot back on the campus of my beloved school. Over the next few days, sickness subsiding, I made my real, final goodbyes. This time it was real. This time, I knew I wouldn’t be back, at least not the same way, to the same place. I took a late night train to the airport from Hedensted, barely 8 minutes drive from the school. It was dramatic. Some of my closest friends and my girlfriend came to see me off. The clack of wheels on tracks. A goodbye. A whistle. A goodbye. A screech of brakes. Two goodbyes. The pfss of hydraulics as the door opened. A long hug and a kiss. Then three fast steps and numbness. Click clack click clack. Bye.

This flight was real. It was the end but it didn’t settle. It didn’t really register. It was almost impossible to believe and really process, even over the 9+ hour flight from Copenhagen to Seattle. I hardly remember the next week. It was another blur, full of homework, class, odd jetlag, and more homework. And then things slowly started to get real. I wasn’t in Denmark. What do I do? What’s up, what’s down, what’s right, what’s wrong? Do I hug? Do I say hi? Do I pry into peoples lives? Do I share mine? Moments of intense loss and what I could only describe then as “I miss Denmark” came and went at the most random of times. Of course, it was never when people asked how things were going. And I was trying to be authentic, in the moment. So how could they know as I got my coffee or walked between classes? “I miss Denmark” was like a code. One time it meant the country, another time, the school, and another, the people. Layer after layer of complexity came with it. But of course, it couldn’t be interpreted, barely even by myself.

I was like a ghost in a way. People don’t know how to react to us upon our return. How can they? We have changed, they have changed. And in all reality very few of these changes are actually known. What if you saw a ghost of your past, but then it was to be a part of everyday life? What would you say? “How are you?” “What’s the weather been like there…wherever you were?” So I really can’t blame people, and I can’t blame myself. Now what? I write.

To be honest, its still hard. Nearly 4 months after crossing the US boarder and arriving home, I still don’t know have answers to these questions. There are enough complexities that I could write a book. Funny story, someone actually did that. Its called “Re-Entry” and while its not so personal of an account, and is from the angle of returning from being a long term missionary (likely a third world country), it is somewhat relatable. I don’t intend to write a book, but I will write nonetheless. The return from a great journey, is another journey of itself. And on I charge.

There and Back Again, a Student Missionary’s Tale

Disclaimer: I wrote this two weeks ago.

Nearly a year ago, I stood at a pullout on the Chinook Pass near Mount Rainer. A tourist family took my picture, and I took there’s. A week ago, I stood at the same spot, taking a photo with my dad. He was driving me home from Sunset Lake Camp. I must be crazy. I went straight from Sunset Lake to Denmark to Sunset Lake again. I rather like the pattern though. A week and a half at Sunset Lake, nearly a week at home, and weekend camping trip later, I’m back in Denmark. A short trip to my home country.

Similar to Bilbo Baggins, I’ve gone there and back again. It’s been an adventure, that’s for sure. One that’s filled nearly 75,000 words in my main journal of the year. So many stories. So many moments. It’s been fantastic and interesting. I hear that I’ve grown a lot, although I’m not so good at introspection so I can’t speak much for myself. It’s no surprise though. Change is a part of the process of being a student missionary; of throwing yourself into an environment unlike any you’ve been in before.

I noticed some interesting things while in the US, or rather people have noticed some things about me. For starters, some people didn’t recognize me. Example: when I got to Sunset Lake Camp, one friend stared at me point blank for nearly a minute before figuring out who I was. And there were multiple others who stared from a distance before greeting me. I found it hilarious! (Last time they saw me, my hair was past my shoulders. Now it’s short.) Oddly enough, people also pointed out I lost weight. Now I certainly haven’t been watching my weight, and we eat 5 meals a day at my school (fine, 3 meals, 2 half-meals/snack-times), but I lost a substantial amount apparently. My mom was concerned, as moms do. I’m a growing boy after all. However, one of the most surprising things was that I developed an accent. I heard this first from an Australian at camp. “You have a most peculiar accent. It’s quite different.” Surprise! I never expected that. In fact, I thought the students at the school spoke English with no accent most of the time. I knew that my English was shifting towards Danglish, but an accent?

All in all, I’ve had a great time in the US. While it went by much slower than expected, I still expect the next few weeks before school resumes to fly by. Here’s to the next 5 months, and the plans God has in store. And here’s to more blog posts and vlogs, because I am so far behind.

“We”

It was a simple statement. I had said something along the lines of “but here, we do things this way…” Kenney, one the students here at Vejlefjordskolen, cut me off.

“You said ‘we’.”

“What?”

“You said ‘we’. You’re adapting into our culture!”

It was a simple conversation. But that short exchange spoke volumes. In that moment I realized just how comfortable I was here, and how much I have adapted. In that moment, I counted myself as one of them. I didn’t think about or even plan to say ‘we’. I just did.

One of the struggles for me here has been adjusting to the culture; not only the culture of Denmark but of the school. The students are great and I love this place. But it can be hard to tell at times, especially as an authority figure, just how well I fit in and have adapted. Since I got here, I’ve been writing a journal almost every night. Every time I open it, I see the first few thoughts I had of Denmark. It’s a reminder of just how naive and excited I was about this place at the beginning. That’s not to say that there are multitudes of problems that I didn’t know about, or that things are significantly harder now than they were at the beginning. Just that problems have shifted significantly and they feel small when I look back. Now, my life here feels much more natural.

That simple conversation brought the transition to light. I further realize just how much I have changed and accepted. When people ask me, “why did you decide to stay?” I tell them, “I’m not exactly certain why. Now, it’s more like, why not? It feels very natural.” I know I’m right where God needs me to be right now, and I’ll continue to be as long as I can.

… Livin’ On A Prayer

“It’s the ebbs and flows that drive me on.”
~Me, last blog post

Last November, a seed was planted in my head. I had been talking with Gabe about our futures after we finished our respective times here at Vejlefjordskolen. I had expressed my concern for how the skits would carry on next year when Gabe had an idea. “Kyle, why don’t you stay another 6 months.” He said it as a statement; a rhetorical question that wasn’t meant to be answered in any way but, “yes, I will ask to stay”, which, by the way, is what I began to do. I asked my advisor about my classes at Walla Walla University (WWU) and how missing fall quarter would affect getting my degree; it wouldn’t really. I asked the financial office about finances; not a big deal. I asked the student missions office; as long as I understood it was a go and I had their support. So I talked with my boss and planted the seed. He said to come back in a few months after prayer and consideration and with more experience in the culture.

I prayed and thought, and then thought and prayed some more. This was big. I was about to give another 6 months of my life to this school. The result could be amazing and detrimental at the same time. While it would create continuity from one year to the next here, it would put me back in college in the middle of the school year.

In January I was called into a meeting with the head dean. We talked about my time here thus far and what my plans for the future were. A few weeks later I was offered an extension on my contract. I accepted.

Prayer is powerful. Prayer is influential. Prayer is connection. Prayer is life; spiritual life. You can not have a fully developed relationship with God without prayer. In any ministry, you have to live off of prayer, in a way. You need that constant stream of thought between you and God to even partially understand His plans and mission. And this constant connection provides you with the support to ride the current through the ebbs and flows of all aspects of your experience in life.

I do not know what the future holds. Nor do I know exactly what God has in store, but I can take a guess. I’m guessing that I am meant to stay here another 6 months. I’m guessing that He will continue to support me through the ebbs and flows. The current and support drive me on to further my efforts for God. I will continue to live on prayer. I have opened the door and am stepping through.

Your move God.

Halfway There…

The past 7 months have been quite the adventure, to say the least. I have been pushed mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Denmark is amazing. Vejlefjordskolen is the amazing. The people that I’ve met here are amazing. I have learned to take command and lead teenagers, to make jokes with another culture and nearly another generation, and to sit down and listen and talk with students about their lives and struggles. And I am still working on these skills. I learn more every day. I have worked to bring about a skit culture here. It’s slow, but they are gaining interest and attention. I even started learning guitar and training parkour.

I have been here 7 and a half months now. In 3 and a half months I’ll be heading back to the US. It has got me thinking. I’ve thought about my time; what I have and haven’t done. What I can still do; what I will do. As I write this, I’m writing the next skit for Alt-Service which is in a little over a week. I’m also sitting in the dean’s office, listening for noisy students in the night. When I look back, I see ebbs and flows. How my relationship with God, the students, and my peers has shifted.

Oh believe me, there has been highs and lows. There was the success of the first Alt-Service. My, that went so well! I wasn’t expecting that sort of response. It wasn’t inherently mind-blowing, but it exceeded my expectations. And then Gabe suggested we write skits. That was a first for us, and it also exceeded our expectations for success. There was the time I climbed a tree with a student and his climbing gear, simply because we could. Or when all the volunteers got together and made a campfire and swapped memories.

But then there are the other times: the lows. The times where things aren’t perfect. There was the time that we didn’t get as good of feedback on the skit. There was the time that I had to say goodbye to departing volunteers. There are the times that I don’t spend as much time with God and I feel the lack of connection. Mostly recently, there were multiple accidents on the ski trip, one of which resulted in a friend being hospitalized (they will be fine). I learn to move on from the experiences, but it doesn’t remove the experience of learning. The struggle will always be a piece of my past.

It’s the ebbs and flows that drive me on.

Devinsupertramp Status

For years, I have followed and watched the YouTube channel, “devinsupertamp”. Most of his videos are actions videos, but with a fun, silly, and often somewhat dangerous twist. You may remember a while back when I made my second vlog; it was in this style. Last December I made another devinsupertrampesque video, but this time with zorbs. You know, those giant inflatble balls that justify hitting your friends and enemies with great force, launching them into oblivion. As someone says, there’s nothing quite like knocking your friends around like Mario does to Koopa Troopas in Super Mario. Anyways, here’s the video I made. Note: this not a vlog.