Monday, November 07, 2005

Fall Retreat (Warning: LONG)

It has now been a week and a day since I returned from Crusade’s annual Fall Retreat. This year we moved to a new location, a small conference center on Lake Placid, IN, because we have officially outgrown the place we’ve had retreat at in previous years. I think the max capacity of the old conference center was around 200 (which we overfilled last year) and this year we had 370 students plus staff. In case you didn’t already know this: 370 is A LOT of people to have on one retreat. That being said however, it didn’t feel like that many and there’s certainly room for more at this new conference center.

I was originally planning on driving myself (~2 hrs) or catching a ride with other Cary Quad guys if my car wasn’t needed, and neither option panned out. My car wasn’t needed, and because I wasn’t going to get off work until 5pm on Friday, all the Cary guys would be gone before I would be available to leave (turns out a couple of cars of them left late, but can’t plan for that). So on a tip from Chip (oooh, that rhymed!), I called Bekah and secured a ride with the Meredith people (or “Mer’dith” or “Merrrdith” as they’ve taken to calling themselves).

Then Friday rolled around and, as always, things got complicated. Not too complicated, I just somehow messed up my neck at some random moment (I think I was getting out of the car) and needed some help from Chris so that I wouldn’t leave for retreat in pain. Because of my work schedule and her classes and tango lessons, the only opportunity for me to see her was to rush home from work to grab my stuff and then speed walk (I’d jog but there was no practical way to do that with my duffel bag, laptop case, and sleeping bag in arms) over to Windsor as a detour on my path to Mer’dith. She was able to work on my neck (and somewhat painfully because she had to rush) for a few minutes and it was apparently enough to make the difference.

After meeting the Mer’dith people in the hall lobby (and quietly slipping a small rubber gecko into Tiffany’s pillowcase), I piled into Mike’s car and we left for Lake Placid. We missed check-in before the first session started, but we were able to make good enough time to not miss any of the meeting itself. Our speaker this year was Rick James, an author on staff with Crusade who was the main speaker at Big Break a couple of years ago and I was very impressed with. After the session and our first meeting with the D-Groups (discussion groups, think of them like mixed-gender small groups designed to help people connect with others at the retreat and give them a time to ask questions/share what they’ve learned) I was able to secure some tent space with Brandon Shafer (a Cary guy) and almost help Chip prepare Encouragement Boards for the people he didn’t previously have pictures for. I say “almost help” because I had agreed to help set up his computer so he could edit the pictures and print them, but by the time I got all my stuff from the various Mer’dith cars (spread all over, of course) and dropped it off at the tent, he was already all set up. Oh well.

One of the nice things about being out in the middle of Nowhere, Indiana is that on a clear night the stars are absolutely beautiful! I wandered out onto a small dock on the lake that gave me some space away from the trees so I could look up and saw the milky way, Venus (brighter than I’d ever seen it), the Pleiades, Orion’s Belt, and I think I might have even spotted Andromeda (but I’m a little rusty on some of my astronomy, so I’m not sure). The water was very still, so when I took a picture from that dock of the dining hall across the lake, the clarity of the reflection was amazing. Then I took the same picture from the same spot Saturday afternoon and did a little fancy editing that replaced the daytime-water with the nighttime-water for a cool effect (sadly, the coast is very straight, so it looks at first like I just have a top/bottom split going, but if you look closer you’ll see the night water follows the coastline):

During the course of the night, I soon learned that somehow that weekend had suffered a fluke of Indiana weather, because for just Friday and Saturday nights it became really cold, but the weather was back to normal when we returned to Lafayette. I figure my sleeping bag is rated to around 45 degrees (that’s only a guess, it doesn’t have any labels that tell) and Friday night got down to 27 degrees. Basically that resulted in me waking up shivering or even outright shaking several times trying to stay warm (my friends who had the good “mummy bags” slept quite comfortably though). The second night I piled on just about every layer of clothing I’d brought (not a lot, considering I wasn’t expecting to get very cold and packed light) and used my duffel bag to seal off the top of the sleeping bag so that I’d have a more “mummy bag” like experience and it helped, a little. I still was very, very cold by morning.

Saturday went by very quickly, between the morning session (and fighting sleep during Rick’s talk because I’d gotten so little due to the cold), the D-Group Olympics (featuring such games as a relay race while tied to others with saran-wrap and the towel flip, where everyone stood on a small bath towel and had to flip it over without stepping on the ground, which we almost succeeded at by stacking people up on each other’s shoulders and becoming very *ahem* friendly as we clung to each other for balance). To clarify “friendly,” I’ll mention that my forehead was on Ara’s cheek the whole time, Anna (who was on my shoulders) said that her head was pretty much embedded in Tomas’s stomach (he was on Ara’s shoulders) as she leaned in towards the center of the group for balance, and Allie (on Nate’s shoulders) clung to the whole group to keep our weight in the center. Here’s a couple of shots from the relay race (sorry, I don’t have any pictures of the towel flip, but a friend will hopefully give me some soon).
Ara and I:

Allie and Anna:
I spent the entire Free Time and Dinner Time (minus food for me) shooting and editing the videos for the Cary Guys’ skit during the Talent Show that evening. I won’t be posting any of the videos from that because they require too much explanation, but the whole thing turned out pretty funny. During the skit I had to sit in the sound/projection area and run our stuff off my laptop instead of being up front with the guys because we were having codec problems. Here are a couple random pictures from the show:
Amy was one of the MC's:

The Mer'dith Guys (doing Matrix-style special effects):

The Mer-dith Girls:

Amy and Keri (the Talent Show MC's):
Then I spent most of the night (literally) working on Encouragement Boards. For those of you who don’t know, E-Boards are small poster-boards that each have a picture of one person from the retreat and their name and are posted on the wall of the main meeting room. The idea is that you go around and write encouraging little notes to people you know, which can be anything from “Hey, you’re pretty cool” to, well, practically a whole letter to that person, all depending on what you want to say to them. The problem with these big retreats is that if you know any real fraction of the people there (say, a quarter), that results in a LOT of writing to do. I’m guessing I wrote on between a fifth and a quarter of the boards there (and tried to say something personal instead of giving everyone the same bland, generic message), so it took me a long time. I started work on the A’s around 11pm and eventually called it a night (with about a dozen left over for the morning) in the middle of the N’s around 4:30am. I thought about staying up just to finish those last dozen or so, but by then my brain was beginning to shut down from exhaustion (making personal notes hard to create) and I knew some of them would be relatively long. Poor Bob Mann, here he is just starting to work on E-Boards for the first time on the retreat about 3am:
I got about 3 hours of cold sleep and somehow had energy the next morning to keep awake through the morning session and finish the E-Boards just in time for the retreat to end. The ride back to Purdue with Chip was cool because we hadn’t been able to hang out much lately and had a lot of deep topics to talk about. Right after I got back to Purdue I had a couple of free tickets to a musical performance at Elliot Hall called “Blast!” (think of it as a Stomp spin-off of sorts; lots of really cool percussion music), so I offered the second ticket to Chris and we had a great time (and got some good planning done for Operation Alpha, my next post after it was over).

Yeah, so all that just to describe one weekend. Uff-da! Quick note: most of the Romania team is now home (my parents don’t get back until later this week) and apparently everyone’s doing well. So thanks for your prayers for them. I don’t know when I’ll be able to get the post on Alpha together (Wednesday afternoon, hopefully), but I promise you’ll love the pictures.


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