A Breath of Yosemite

BY WILL FOSTER

“...full of God’s thoughts, a place of peace and safety amid the most exalted grandeur  and enthusiastic action, a new song, lessons of life, mountain buildings, eternal, invincible, unbreakable order; with sermons in stone, storms, trees, flowers, and animals brimful with humanity.” ~ John Muir

John Muir was a man who spent countless weeks living in the Yosemite valley and wrote numerous books and kept a journal about his adventures in this magical land. I think he understood the effect of the valley on so many levels.

John Muir learned something very valuable during his time in Yosemite. It is good for a man to be out in nature, but what John also learned is that for him to make a difference, he needed to be in the city. The forest was inspiring, it changed everything about him but he knew something very important. He needed to go back to San Francisco to tell people how important the land was, and to work toward preserving the land. Among the many things that John accomplished, he started the Sierra Club and later on helped Franklin D Roosevelt define the border of what is now known as Yosemite National Park and Sierra National Forest. A hundred years later, you can still go enjoy these breathtaking places filled with mountains of granite walls, waterfalls, nature and giant sequoia trees among many other things.

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Early in July this year I had the great privilege to drive south from Seattle down to Yosemite. My friend, Andrew Steven, brought me along to work on some projects for his upcoming music release. After 4 days of driving, and three stops, we finally made it to Sugar Pine Christian Camps. I knew nothing about this camp, or the people who worked at the camp. I was a complete stranger, in a foreign place, and felt absolutely out of control of my situation.

During the drive down, I had lost my debit card the day before leaving, leaving me with a few dollars of cash on hand. Then the first day of travel I put my iPhone through a full cycle with my clothes. Two things that I love very much, money and technology, no longer at my fingertips. These things that I cared so much about, were crushed and I was heading into a short season at a camp in a place I have never heard of before, Oakhurst. It felt horrible. It was exactly what I needed, it was exactly where I needed to be.

This last year for me has been a year of depression and anxiety. I did everything to self medicate this so called situation of life with my own strategies to get through it. I hid behind my failures and stuck to my own ways and pretended like everything was okay. I had countless relationships with women that lead to nothing but a few temporary moments of pleasure. Which ended in weeks and months of pain and hurt for the women and eventually myself. Unfortunate business failures that left me using my credit card to make payments for rent. Maxing out everything, my emotions, my bank accounts, and I was completely stressed out. Anxiety overtook most of my feelings, and I just hid. I chose to only really tell people about the “good things” rather than what was really going on. My way was like a train wreck. It wasn’t too bad until everything crumpled on itself. The halting crash. It wasn’t until a few months ago in June that I really saw that there was something wrong with the way that I was trying to survive.

I started bringing people into the mess that I had created. Inviting people who I thought wouldn’t want to know about the truth. Sharing with people who thought I was a “good person.” Introducing my trash to folks. It sucks. It hurt. The result, was happiness. Joy. So, you see, it was all in good timing. I was out of control, and slowly I started to realize how much I needed something else. Freedom, but from what?

When I arrived at the camp, it was a familiar place, but not where I would be in control. Scheduled appointments, events and scheduled meals. The wifi at the camp didn’t work, and my phone (which I had replaced) reception usually said “no service” with occasional glimpses of roaming. My extrovertedness had to come out, but I knew it had to be different. I wasn’t there to show off, I found out that I was there to learn. I needed to love rather than expect to be loved. In fact, I realized that I had the opportunity for loving others by sacrificing how people loved me. I started meeting people that were staff at the camp, and had been working at the camp the previous six-ish weeks, and getting to know them and how they ended up at the camp. The month that I spent with these people at Sugar Pine I found myself constantly humbled by their passion to serve the kids and the camp. Countless hours, late hours, working to get the job done. It was awesome to hear some of the stories and I wish I could have heard more. The original plan was for me to stay for two weeks, get the things I needed to get done, and fly back home to Seattle. Again, my plan didn’t come through, and something else happened. Here I was, at this camp, and all of a sudden I was surrounded by people burnt out, frustrated, and broken. Sound familiar?

It was familiar to me because in 2006 through 2008 I worked the summers at Camp Harlow, a camp very similar to Sugar Pine. My role at Camp Harlow all three summers working with a team on videos, photos, and running audio across the camp.

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My role while at Sugar Pine was to work closely with the band lead, my friend Andrew Steven. I filled the role that I’ve tried to avoid for the last few years: a sound guy. I avoided it because I wanted to focus on photography and filmmaking. I wanted to pave my own path in my career, and I didn’t see audio as being my career. Here I was again, in a similar situation, as the beginning of my so called career. It was like a reboot, I was stuck in a place where I tried to escape. Here I was again, but why?

While at Sugar Pine the only time I would leave the camp would be to go somewhere with people from the camp, get coffee, and explore surrounding areas. Getting little glimpses into the people and their lives, ideas, and concepts. We got to explore many outdoor locations such as unique swimming holes, hidden campfire locations, lakes, abandoned pools, lumber mills, giant sequoias, star lit nights, hidden waterfalls, multiple lakes, ponds and much more. Although, the most incredible of them all was the one day that myself and five others drove north from the camp and came to a spectacular place. Yosemite National Park. This was the first time that I had ever experienced this magical place. With great company, and with all my camera gear. We drove throughout much of the park (and I imagine there is so much more to see!) and found some magical sights. 

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So, four weeks pass. The experience has ended, and the goodbyes have been shared. Many new friends all over central California, some who I will never see again. It was sad, it was hard, and tears rolled down my cheeks as I was leaving. Something felt right about the situation.

I was inspired... but why?

Just like Mr. John Muir, I belong in the city. Not because it’s where everyone is, but because I know that what I learned would be more useful shared than kept to myself. I got the opportunity to read Genesis for the first time. Learning about a lot of original sinners. I also learned that I can be more influential in an influential area for the glory of Jesus, rather than for my own glory. Right now, that is Seattle, and for some reason from there I’ve been given a large audience from all over the world. What’s the problem? I wanted my own glory, which lead to depression and destruction. Yet, what’s so beautiful about that is how my failures helped me realize just how much I need the true savior. I couldn’t do it on my own. I need Jesus. I wanted to do everything without him, with no faith in him; only in myself. Where did it get me? Well, I am obviously not as good of a person as I have been pretending to be. I got found out. I’ve had a lot of really difficult conversations about very embarrassing things. What’s amazing is that I am loved throughout and forever. I’ve seen forgiveness where I didn’t deserve it. I realize now as I have been learning more and more just how Jesus didn’t just die on a cross, but he took my place on that cross. He was that perfect sacrifice as God becoming a man to fulfil all prophecy given from God since the beginning about a Good King.

...and the story continues at Sugar Pine without me, and I get to be on a new journey back to Seattle! Praise Jesus.

Here is a photo of the wonderful people I worked alongside at Sugar Pine, the staff of Sugar Pine Christian Camps:

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And even more specifically, the event staff ready for the “Wide Open West” 

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All photos were taken by Will Foster during his time at Sugar Pine Christian Camps. Additional stories were posted to his instagram during his visit to the camp: www.instagram.com/wfstr