On July 16, Aleisha and I took some friends to the Bull Pen Swimming Hole, a lovely place near Camp Verde. We used directions found on this website to get there, but we had some trouble finding our way. Below are pictures of our excursion as well as directions on how to get there. The swimming area is lovely, there’s a 20 foot jumping rock, and the hike is less than 1 mile.
If you search “Bull Pen Day Use Area” in your maps, your phone will take you where you need to go. The dirt road is pretty rough, lots of rocks and uneven ground. It took us 30 minutes to drive the 5.2 miles back in our Honda Accord. A bigger vehicle would’ve been nice. The entrance looks like this. *there’s a “618” marker on the right*
Drive on this road for 2.18 miles until you come a clear fork in the road. Take a right.
Then continue for another 3.1 miles until you reach a large parking lot. Do not stop driving until the road ends. It’s tempting to pull off too soon. The parking lot and trail head look like this, and there’s a very large gate by the entrance of the West Clear Creek Trail. That’s the trail you want.
You need to continue on this trail for 0.64 miles until you see a stone structure. You’ll be hiking upstream, but several hundred yards from the river. Take a right only once you’ve reached the old stone house. This will take you towards the river.
This continues to a fork in the trail which is marked with a sign. Follow the sign’s arrow to the right.
You’ll soon see a piece of metal equipment and then a trail split. Stay right at both places, towards the river.
And then feast your eyes upon the beautiful Bull Pen Swimming Hole!
This is a great summer hike! The swimming hole and surrounding area is shaded, and there’s plenty of room to spread out food, hammocks, etc. Plan on a half hour to drive in and then 20 minutes to hike.
We got into Phoenix last week around midnight on Saturday night after a very long day of traveling from Oklahoma City. We get to stay this beautiful, fully furnished home, the owners of which are a law professor and a speech therapist who are traveling as a family during summer break.
We’ve both grown up in very rural areas – the kind of thing where you’re accustomed to driving a half hour to eat or go shopping. Transitioning to life in Phoenix has been (and will be) fun. Hundreds of restaurants and coffee shops sit within just a few miles. But it’s also a very sprawling city, so we get the benefits of urban life and still have a yard on a peaceful street; a small yard – right now, we’re sharing a push-mower between three families.
This morning, Aleisha and I took a bike ride into central Phoenix. There are amazing murals painted on walls all over the city. We stopped for a drink at Songbird Coffee and Tea House, and then peddled through the eerily vacant streets and passed broken windows boarded over with plywood where protesters would gather again after dark. From our house we can see the helicopters whirring around the gatherings, just a mile or so from our house.
Caleb and Stephanie Reed are the directors at Aim-Right Ministries where Aleisha is interning for the summer. They’ve been serving with Aim-Right since 2008, and we get to live in the house right across the street from them. Last night, we had them over to our place for a kabobs; we’ve been making a lot of good food this week – mostly I just do what Aleisha tells me, and it works out pretty well.
Stephen and Nicole Franke are the founders of UnitePHX where I’ll be interning for the summer. In the past, this ministry has served as a connecting volunteers with organizations who need help. On the second Saturday of each month, Unite PHX brings people together for a breakfast, they listen to the various “pitches,” and then decide where they want to serve for the day. Covid-19 has shifted operations. So instead of bringing a group of volunteers together and sending them out, we’re hoping to move the process online – this way projects could happen anytime and anywhere. It will require a lot of website design work, and that’s what I’ll be focused on to start with.
I remember trying sparkling water for the first time and how much I hated it. Somehow I’ve comet to love the stuff and have taken to drinking about 3 cans a day. There’s a La Croix beside me now, and our fridge is stocked with several others brands, but our favorite is the Aha in the orange + grapefruit flavor. I convinced Aleisha, who has always had straight hair, to get a perm! It turned out really great – so now we’re both wavy on top. She’s also been making some really cool macramé plant hangers which you could snatch up on Instagram.
One of my favorite things in this house is the sign in the dining room.
“The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with your and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
I remember sitting on a blanket in the backyard across the street after a phone call. 2,000 miles away your car had gone off course by 12 ft., and you weren’t breathing anymore; we were trying to keep breathing ourselves. I remember feeling like a slice of lime tumbled around in a glass, no control, no mechanisms to right myself or answer my questions.
Anyway, that’s been a whole ago year now. And you’ve missed one hell of a year, maybe you’re watching it, I don’t know. At night, we see helicopters flying over the protests in downtown Phoenix. Outside, there’s a virus and rioting – and inside we sit around thinking of how we might go about righting our collective self, a bunch of tumbling limes in an ocean.
I guess the thing I remember most about the night you died is the silence. Long pause in the phone conversation when he told me what happened. Long ride in a mini-van, long evening in a backyard trying to stomach the situation, long plane-ride home, long wait between funeral and burial. Long intervals in a tragic movement. I remember how hard it is to breathe when you’re trying not to cry, how tired your throat gets.
Yesterday, I was reading how the truth is sometimes silence.
“Truth simply is, and is what is, the good with the bad, the joy with the despair, the presence and absence of God, the swollen eye, [constricted throat]. Before it is a word, the gospel that is truth is silence, a pregnant silence in its ninth month…”
– Frederick Buechner (Telling the Truth)
And I don’t exactly know what that means, or quite what to hope for, or what to expect from God in his presence and his absence. I know that my work is to believe – to weigh everything bad, about your death, the rioting, the sickness, in the balance against that old story about everything being remade and healed up, and if the balance won’t tip, then to jump and grab ahold of it, lean on it with all my weight.
In the end, whether or not I see any movement, I must believe the good is going on, and coming. That the silences are indeed pregnant, that this unknowing is the ground on which the knowing will strike. And this tumbling is that which will again be turned right side up. And if I never see it, if I’m drowned or crushed, it will be like a lime, leaving something good until something better takes us all.
Anyways, I’ve gone on too long. We miss you. Tell the Lord to come soon. I’m sure we’ll talk soon, and in more than these weird dreams I wake from.
This sort of process has been my experience over and over again. I see someone make something – the coolest thing ever. And it’s like they must have been blessed by the gods to be able to create like that. But then you look into it, and while it still seems magical and impressive, it probably isn’t impossible. Eventually, you do some research, buy some stuff, and realize hey, maybe I could do this too.
I think I first experienced this with songwriting. I marveled at how anyone could go into a room with a guitar and some paper, then come back out with an anthem. I started copying down the lyrics to my favorite songs, line by line – pages and pages of mimicking the process. Eventually, I did it again but didn’t copy anything. When I walked out of the room, I wasn’t holding anything spectacular, but it was mine.
It was pretty much the same with surfing. When Switchfoot released a film (Fading West) documenting surfing off the coast of South Africa, I watched in amazement at how anyone other than Jesus could stand on water, or even better, ride with it. A few years later, Luke and I dropped $20 on a used, yellow surfboard which we became really good at falling off of. We talked a group of friends (who also had no idea how to surf) into taking a surf trip, and by the end of three days, we had all felt the rush of riding (briefly) with water. We even made a video. (from which this rather discolored image was taken)
This semester I found myself in MCM-213, a media production course required for my degree program. The course requires each student to write, film, and produce their own short film. I was first hesitant and had no idea what I was getting into. Then I was excited – I had a cobbled together vision for my project. And that gave way to despair; my ideas were not working – my script was not working – things were not aligning. Eventually, the first day of shooting came, and I found myself sitting on the floor surrounded by a skeletal screenplay two hours before my main actor would want to know what to…act. I made some new stuff up, borrowed from my earlier ideas, and hoped for the best.
Filming turned out to be a blast! We filmed three separate days for about two hours each session. Brandon willingly did whatever I asked of him – Aleisha took notes of which takes were good and bad – Luke had the idea to shoot the last scene in one continuous take. And we found props and set pieces lying around our shooting locations.
Editing also turned out to be really fun. I purchased a student subscription to the Adobe Suite and watched a lot of how to use Adobe Premiere YouTube videos. I really enjoyed getting to make the mechanical choices (soundtrack inserts and video cuts…) which pushed the narrative forward. All the video was shot on my Nikon D3300, which is a very entry-level DSLR, and (almost) all the music was from the YouTube Audio Library.
After many hours of sitting in class, working on a script, filming with friends, and learning new software, I hit the “export” and “upload” buttons and declared this project finished! Now I’m back to getting Aleisha to teach me how to make macrame plant hangers, which is starting to seem less impossible.
“I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids.” (Psalm 132:4)
It is somewhat trivial in relation to worldwide catastrophe, but I sure do miss waking up in the morning to the thought of needing to be somewhere soon. Of speed walking across campus because I took too long in the shower. Or throwing my tea in a to-go mug because we’re about to be late for church. I can’t wait to be late to things again, to have groups of people expecting me to rendezvous with them.
At our house, not having anywhere in particular to be in the morning has led some of us to give up going to bed almost entirely. There have been some strange, unexpected meetings at bizarre times of the night. And usually in the kitchen, the light over the kitchen sink shining out into the backyard like a torch that never burns out. You wander down at heaven-knows-what hour past midnight, and there bump into someone else who also has nowhere else to be and doesn’t feel like sleeping.
The other night around 1:30 I headed down towards the kitchen and found Aleah baking two different kinds of brownies. Just kind of gave her and a few words and a wave and kept walking. Mom heard the dog up on the counter getting into food and jumped out of bed to scold her, but instead saw Luke at the bar eating ice cream. On Saturday night/Sunday morning, Mom came through as I was cleaning some fish I had almost forgotten about. The night before last, from my bed I heard someone trying to get comfortable on the couch – I don’t know they ever made it to bed at all. And just a minute ago, which was two minutes to 1, I ran into Aleah mixing up some cookie dough.
So many nights I’ve wished I could make time stop – I had so much to do: reading, writing, watching, making – and had to give it up and go to bed. Or else I disregarded the numbers on my alarm clock and then stumbled tiredly through the next day, wishing I just had time to work and sleep. Tonight I have both, but not as much motivation, not much to say at all. It feels like I can’t get momentum, like I’m stuck here with everything but inspiration. Maybe it’s the going out, the sense of urgency, the limited time and energy that create a space for making something good. I’d be ready to have that back again.
Until then, I sit at my desk and window overlooking the back yard below. And I imagine whatever might be out there in the woods looking up at the face illuminated by a computer screen, fingers meandering over keys, eyes staring back like a princess waiting to be rescued from her captor’s tower.
A few nights ago we were at Aleisha’s place for board games and food that never got taken to a cancelled Christmas party. The ten of us sharing in the warm company of friends and the cold cheer of hot chocolate poured seven or eight favorite songs ago.
We were scheming about Christmas, that good time when far-off friends come back home from far-off places, if only for a few days. And Colson brought to my attention that with Mike coming home, three of our group of four would be around, and that we should play Madden like we used to, or almost like we used to. Always the four of us – the “armchair ballers.”
All ten of us were around a rickety table playing a word game, and John Mayer had taken his position in the queue. He was singing Free Fallin’while the hot chocolate got even colder. We talked and laughed at the memories – always the Kansas City Chiefs and blasted Tyreek Hill, that lighting bolt of a man I could never defend. Someone threw out a name, a possible replacement to pick up the controller and remake the foursome.
At the suggestion we kind of shrugged. Someone else said, “He’s alright, but he’s no Gabe.” And at that moment, I heard John Mayer in the last verse, clear as Christmas lights, cut through all the chatter, singing out,
I’m gonna leave this,
World for a while,
Almost as if the first sentence was answered by a second. And from thinking about what was, my mind turned to what will be again. For it is written,
“I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and first earth were passed away; . . . ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them’ . . . And he that sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’”
“This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus. Then I heard a voice from heaven say, write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. ‘Yes’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.’” (Revelation 21 and 14)
And I refused to think for one minute that I will not sit again in great armchairs alongside my three brothers.
For the last couple of months, I’ve been working at the radio station at Toccoa Falls College (we record stuff in our studio but don’t broadcast live). In the past, I’ve always set aside a day (or two) for work, cramming all my classes into the other days. This semester, that didn’t work out. When you go to a small school, you take the classes on whatever days you can get them. I’m enrolled in five.
Communication Ethics – Rhetoric of Media – Communication Theory – Research Methods – Old Testament Theology.
And when I’m not in class, I’m usually down in the basement of Forrest Hall in the communication department. As the radio station manager, I co-host my own podcast show, oversee four other shows, and do some of the producing. It’s really quite fun. The wage is quite minimal, but it covers the gas it takes to get to school.
Last week on Friday, I sat down with Dr. Curt Wanner to talk about the value of education, about what college should really be about. Dr. Wanner is one of my professors, the dean of the school of arts and sciences, and pretty cool guy all around.
In this conversation, we talk about: producing (instead of finding) ourselves, learning how to think instead of what to think, and the value in setting ourselves on paths with unclear destinations.
I hope that you find this conversation interesting and helpful.
Tonight, I’m gonna get on an eastbound airplane and go back home. Aleisha, Isaiah, and I were slated to be camp counselors with Mike next week at the ministry where he’s serving for a year. That was yesterday morning. Yesterday afternoon I went to Walmart and bought a watch for camp. Yesterday night they bought us tickets to the funeral of Mike’s best friend. We’re only buying two tickets – so it feels like maybe we’re cheating the airline. The amount of weight we’re dragging down the tarmac and into the cabin will far exceed our carry-on items.
It’s seven twenty four a.m. here in Arizona. I just woke up from a dream in which our friend had died and we were all trying to figure out what to do. And then Brandon called me from back home. And no matter how hard I tried to snap out of it, the nightmare didn’t end. We’re three hours behind the Carolinas, so I presume that scene has been playing out over and over in bedrooms all over Oconee county. The nightmare will not end.
Last night we were leaving our apartment for worship band practice when we were bombarded with calls, texts, questions, speculation. It’s funny how we demonize reporters for spreading a story before they have the facts straight. When something big enough happens, hardly anyone is above that. People from different states, old friends, everybody’s grasping. Did you hear? Are you by yourself? What did they say? Is it true? I’ll call you back. Pandemonium. Shock. Wildfire.
We gathered in the back yard at Caleb and Stephany’s house. And sat on blankets under a tree – crying, praying, staring at the airplanes flying out of Phoenix. They brought back some tacos.
I had to think of that that old Caedmon’s Call song, “Hold the Light.”
Standing round a willow weeping,
We were praying in the backyard,
In the chill of the night the friendship light
Reminded me, who we are,
Will you hold the light for me,
We called our parents and made some arrangements. Isaiah and Aleisha will stay here in Arizona so that the kids can have counselors at camp. Mike and I will fly out tonight around midnight. We finally came home, exhausted. I sat at the kitchen table with a pen and did all I knew to do. It was called “holes.”
At the beginning of 2019, I transferred from Tri-County Technical College (which is near Clemson University) to Toccoa Falls College (which is in Georgia). TFC is a four-year, Christian, liberal arts college in Toccoa, Georgia.
I transferred in as a second semester sophomore and am planning to double major in Mass-Media Communications and Biblical Studies. At TFC, every major offered is supplemented with a required minor in Biblical Studies (30 hours), so I’ll only need to add about two classes to get the double major – i.e. two degrees for the price of one.
TFC has an attendance of about 1500 students, so it’s a fairly small school. This creates a really unique atmosphere where everyone kind of knows each other. Campus is not overly fancy or glorious, but it is really nice – it feels friendly. A lot of the groundskeeing is done by students, the parking lot is small and never full, you can get hot tea in the coffee shop for $1, all my professors know me by name – I guess it feels welcoming in a way that my last college didn’t. I love how every Wednesday at 10 a.m. everyone migrates to chapel. No classes are scheduled over this hour, and the college stops to worship together.
My favorite thing about TFC is the people there. At my old school, unless you went to the cafe with someone, you were probably gonna eat alone. People walking past each other across campus didn’t really acknowledge one another. You could sit beside the same people in class for a whole semester and never really talk to them. It’s been really different here, and I’m really thankful for that. On one of my first days, before I knew anyone, some kids came up to me and invited me to eat lunch with them. Since then, I’ve made lots of great friends. Today, five of them drove to our house for Sunday lunch – it was a party. My family got to see who I hang out with, and my friends got my mom’s wonderful food instead of the campus cafe’s.
The smallness of the college also presents some challenges. The communications department has only two full-time professors and is located in the basement of the guys’ dorm building. The professor who will be teaching most of my classes is on sabbatical this semester, this means I had to take all Bible courses this semester and start major-focused classes in the fall.
I commute to school three days a week. A day for me usually looks like this:
8 a.m. – Arrive on campus and do homework in the coffee shop…or sleep in.
9 a.m. – Foundations of Spiritual Formation (with Professor Killian)
10 a.m. – Chapel on Wednesdays…discussion group otherwise
11 a.m. – Introduction to Old Testament (with Dr. Turner…my favorite class)
12 a.m. – Eat lunch in the cafeteria
1 p.m. – Introduction to New Testament (with Dr. Herringer)
2 p.m. – Introduction to Theology (with Dr. Vena)
3 p.m. – Come home…or do homework in the coffee shop
On Tuesdays, I usually go to a coffee shop called Brews on the Alley. This is my set time to catch up on class reading and homework. They play really good music and have a great tea selection. There’s a kid named Elijah who comes in with his mom on Tuesdays – he sometimes asks me to play chess with him. He’s five years old and incredibly bright.
And on Thursdays I work at Dienner’s Kitchen as a waiter. This is where I make money to buy gas and food and things like that.
And about a month ago, this girl agreed to go out with me. She lets me drive her places in my car and doesn’t get upset when I take wrong turns. She’s pretty cool.
The other day my good friend Andrew Martin told me to check out Andrew Yang, a 2020 presidential candidate. Martin is someone with whom I love talking politics and all things abstract. He’s great at helping me understand ideas, and he’s currently attending Clemson University to become an structural engineer. Tonight we sat down and talked about what makes Yang such an interesting candidate – specifically his idea of the government giving every American $1000 per month.
In our conversation we hash out the pros and cons of the UBI, and Andrew tells me who he’ll be voting for in the next election.