Monday – Commitment

17 Aug

We began our day with some much needed sleep after a brief trip to McDonalds for Egg McMuffins to refuel.  In the afternoon, we cleaned out our travelling companion Olivia (the name of our van), and packed for our early departure on Tuesday.

We then went to our home-away-from-home First Congregational Church in Palo Alto.  We spent some time journalling, and then enjoyed our final banquet, prepared by the leaders.  Margaret Green sent over yet another plate of her “acorns”, which the youth loved.  They are dark grapes, dipped in a bit of dark chocolate, and then granulated sugar.

After our dinner,

we held our final ceremony.  Although we will have some liturgy to mark our transition into young adulthood with the congregation in the early fall, this was our last opportunity to be gathered in this chosen family.  Each person shared his or her learnings from the two years of our journey together, as well as the “now what”, the commitment to making our lives and choices matter.  Then we laid hands, and spoke of the blessings we saw that each person brought to the world – how they were the light of Christ.  And with this, each person was sent to continue their journey as a young adult, knowing that the prayers and love of our group will go with them wherever they go.

Our leaders of the day reflect:

Last night we stayed up all night in a vigil.  We spent the night under the stars and canopy of leaves discovering who we are and lestening to the word of God.  The night was long and quite chilly but the space was beautiful.  We were so tired that most of us fell asleep on the drive to breakfast. (Elise)

When we returned from the exciting but exhausting all night vigil the conscious J2A’s gulped down their McDonald’s breakfast before passing out in our really soft and warm beds.  By the time we woke up, it was the afternoon, and time to go, groggy-eyed and zombie-like, to the church to make dinner.  The leaders surprised us by cooking us a delicious feast (they have more experience so therefore take half the time to prepare it) while we spent the time journaling about what we learned and what we intend to take away from that.  After we ate, we shared together our reflections on the pilgrimage and blessed each other with compliments.  As a final goodbye, we joined in song and prayer. We set out home for our last night together (talking late into the night) and EXTREMELY early morning.  Now we are on the plane and halfway home.  See you soon!

We are extremely grateful to the First Congregational Church in Palo Alto.  As they said “any friends of Margaret Green’s are friends of ours” and they demonstrated to our young folks that the church of Christ is much larger than our small family at First United.  FCC is a beautiful facility with beautiful kitchen and full stocked youth room.

We are grateful to our family and friends at First United who made this journey possible, both these 10 days, and the larger 2 years.  We have learned and grown and shared and loved, and what more could we want for our youth than that.  Truly the Spirit is alive and at work.

As we work our way home through airports in San Francisco and Vancouver, we are working on this blog, which will be our final daily post.  It is possible that we will do one or two follow-ups with some links and extra photos, but no promises, and we don’t know when these would be posted.

In conclusion then, it is fitting that we present the words of the pilgrims:

Emi Vargatoth

This pilgrimage was a once in a lifetime experience and I am very thankful that I was able to come. The combination of being in a foreign new place and being with a group of people out of my day to day life has been a fun and somewhat challenging learning experience. I have seen great beauty in both nature and people, been given the opportunity to reflect on who I am and who I want to be during the all night vigil and I have also grown closer to the other members of J2A. This experience has helped me to grow and change. I feel like this has been an important stepping stone in my journey to adulthood.

Zack Cunningham

When I went on this trip, I think I became a lot more patient. From the multiple several-hour car rides, to the really long airport lines, it seems like waiting for the end-of-class bell or the bus will seem like almost nothing. And wow, 10-meter-wide trees are just amazing.

Nick Lindsay-Clark

On this pilgrimage I have learned so much. When our youth group went to Yosemite to see the Sequoias, I realised that some things can be bigger than life and still be living. In Alcatraz, seeing those cells has made me relish my freedom so much. On this pilgrimage I have taken a step to adulthood.

Ruth Juggoo-Webber

Through the unbelievably large trees, the long car rides, late nights, and early mornings, church services, cooking and cleaning, singing in the car, waterfalls, glacial pools, bustling cities, wildlife and smelly male feet I learned to better appreciate our beautiful world and all it’s many wonders. I grew closer and learned a lot about my fellow J2Aers (french fries). I thought it would be difficult living all week with the people I normally only see for an hour each week, but this was not the case. So close we began to feel as family would and it will be weird to not have them there all the time and to sleep in my own bed. The amazing scenery was so awe-inspiring that I am determined to restore its beauty that has been polluted by our lifestyle. The sights are so amazing that it can only be the work of God. I have learned many things… how to lead and how to follow, to help and to accept help and to open myself and be open to others. I came as a youth and I will continue to grow in my journey to adulthood.

Kim Farris-Manning

The ‘city of fog’ may be shrouded by clouds, but its insurmountable beauty and incredible history cannot be so easily disguised. Everything has been so breathtakingly new and inspiring that I am suffocating in awe. I have come to know and love not only the scenery, but also my nine wonderful companions, who have given themselves and their insight so generously to me throughout the past 10 days (and one very special night). I am grateful to them, and to you, for helping me to have such an amazingly full and intense time of learning, not only about myself, but of the world and my responsibility due. I have learned this week what I would have learned in a year, and although it is not yet finished, my journey is quickly approaching adulthood.

Logan Cornelius

I was happy that I got put out of my comfort zone. We did so much incredibly stuff: from San Francisco, Alcatraz, Yosemite with the awesome Sequoias, horse back riding around Big Sur and getting close with everybody in the group – all of which I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Elise Bisset

During the pilgrimage I saw and experienced many different and unique things. I found inner peace in the protection of the giant redwoods, felt awe at the wild beauty of the Yosemite mountains, and was shocked at the majestic ocean. The best part was that I saw all this surrounded by the comfort and support of the whole group. I learned that I can stand alone but it’s best to walk beside others.

Wendy Snelgrove

We leaders went on this journey trusting that God would carry us in all that really mattered.  Each youth has journeyed far from where they were when we began.  They are young adults now, and more and more, the path they travel is one of their own choosing, not their parents’, their leaders’ or their church community’s.  I hope and trust that they will walk this path knowing that they are extraordinary children of God, loved and supported wherever they journey.  We have challenged them to make their lives and choices matter.  Our role as leaders is a small one in the grand scheme of their lives, but walking with them has been a great privilege for me, and a journey full of grace.  I love these youth, and I love my First family, and I am honoured to have been able to serve you all in this way.

Marti Settle

I had known many of these youth as children, and then after several years absence met them again as youth.  It has been richly rewarding to get to know them as individuals, and to accompany them as they have grown through the year, and particularly through this pilgrimage.  I trust that the exclamations of amazement and excitement I heard as our group experienced California will be seeds for continued growth for the rest of their (our) lives.  A special thanks to my own family (Kate, Jamie, and Noah), for lending me to J2A and First for this year and this week.

Jenn Nelson

I have been honoured to journey with all these amazing youth.  I too have seen many of them grow over the years.  Each have shared their unique extraordinary gifts throughout our time of sharing.  The learnings and sacred seeds that have  already begun to grow will surely grow into mighty trees much like the sequoias we saw on our pilgrimage, spreading their own seeds to many around them now and in the future.  My hope for each will be that they continue to grow into the people they dream to become. I am forever grateful for the love prayers and support from my partner Carole for supportng me and these youth over the last couple of years.

Sunday – Gathering Wisdom

17 Aug

The theme for today was Gathering Wisdom. We began with a visit to First Congregational Church Palo Alto, our wonderful hosts for our pilgrimage. The youth were greeters, and were gracious. The service was outdoors in their beautiful courtyard, and the youth liked the service and the reflection. The senior minister at FCCPA has an undergraduate degree in drama, and it showed in his animated delivery.

Here’s some of us all cleaned up!

After dinner we went back to Margaret Green’s for a lunch of make-your-own soft shell tacos and fresh corn. It was fantastic and gave us an opportunity to say thank you to our personal Palo Alto guardian angel. When Margaret next comes to visit Fiona and Miranda, there will be lots of young people at First United who will want to say hello.

Our Vigil was Sunday night, so after lunch there was free time for all. The youth enjoyed the pool and a rest, and leaders ran about making last minute preparations for the vigil and putting up yesterday’s blog. Off we went to First Congregational for a hamburger supper.

After dinner we drove to Big Basin Redwoods State Park, our home for the vigil. As an activity in darkness, pictures weren’t possible. In the midst of giant redwood trees, and beside a beautiful mountain stream, we recalled our journey in J2A and on this pilgrimage, worshipped and prayed, spent two separate hours in silent meditation with clay and with pen and paper, went for a silent walk, and shared with one another a new introduction of the person we are now. We were conscious of the support of those who prayed for us at home. We were grateful for the numerous ways we had experienced God, and shared our thanks in a final communal prayer.

We also had some close encounters with wildlife in the form of two very intrepid raccoons, but all escaped unharmed, and with more stories to tell!

As the dawn broke, we stood in awe of the coastal redwoods surrounding us in our campsite, the tallest trees on earth. They were the pillars of our cathedral, holding up the sky. We cleaned up and took a few photos, but the sun was brighter than it appears here. Somewhat cold and very tired, but calm and bonded together as a group, we ended our vigil. Blessings to God from whom all things flow!

Our leaders of the day reflect:

On Sunday we went to church and the Minister was so funny.  I have never seen the story of Jonah told in a comedic way.  It was legendary. (Logan)

Today we attended church at First Congregational Church Palo Alto.  It was a fun outdoor service. In the evening we left for our all night vigil.  Out in quiet, dark nature we were given time for silent reflection, prayer and singing together. As I sat under a tree much bigger than any in Ottawa, listening to a nearby creek with the stars as my only light, I though about who I am and what I would like to accomplish in my life.  After watching the sun come up again we were a tired, dirty group, but I think we all though it was worth it. (Emi)

Here’s a slideshow which includes some extra pictures (as well as the photos above!)

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Saturday – Rejuvenation

15 Aug

Saturday was the 7th day of our pilgrimage, and the Jewish Sabbath. So we had a slightly easier day too, with the focus on relaxation and rejuvenation.

We drove down scenic Highway 1 in California to Big Sur country. This is the land where mountain meets ocean in dramatic fashion. In keeping with our Sabbath theme, we let horses do the work today. Each of us was assigned a horse, and we got on using a stump. Here is Logan demonstrating.

We had a beautiful ride to the beach, through a small stream on the way. The scenery changed dramatically from inland to coast. Here are all of us at the beach.

Our horses were beautiful and strong, and so individual. Each had his or her own personality, and we marvelled at how quickly they made themselves known to us. Many more pictures of our horseback riding experience can be found below.

After saying goodbye to the horses, we went back north and stopped at Point Lobos. After our usual picnic lunch, we explored in groups of three or four. The coastal scenery was beautiful.

Now, those of you who have donated to the pilgrimage may have wondered when your postcards will arrive. The answer is – later than we intended! We bought postcards, we purchased most of the stamps we needed (not all, due to a counting error on Wendy’s part) and we finished writing all the postcards on Wednesday. However, it took us until Saturday to get them all mailed, having finally located both a place to buy stamps and a mailbox. A mighty cheer went up in the van as Marti mailed the very last set, as looking for a mailbox had become a pervasive chore. In any event, you should all have your postcard before we see you next Sunday at church, and let this blog also permit us to again say thank you – we couldn’t be doing this without you, and the experience has been worth every penny.

After the mailbox success, we returned to our home base in Palo Alto, and did our final food shop. The luggage and bags of food were piled quite high in the van, so some team effort was required. Here are the boys holding the bags of food from the last seat while we open the doors, so nothing would fall out as we unloaded.

After some journalling and reflection time, we hit the hay. (Not literally though, we left that for our friends the horses!).

Oh.  Here’s a lizard.

Our leaders of the day reflect:

Today we went to Big Sur, and rode horses for an hour.  It was pretty bumpy and our legs felt weird after we were done.  After that we took a hicke on a rocky beach and sprinted back and forth on the rock hills.  (Zack)

Today we went orseback riding in Andrew Molero.  We were led by 3 cheerful guides, and our groups soon grew from 10 to 26.  It was an interesting experience, because for the duration of the ride, each of us was called by our horse’s name, which, along with the hard work the horses were doing for our benefit really formed a connection that I was reluctant to break at the end of the hour.  It was a magical feeling and the scenery was beautiful, although the sleepy car-ride following was cherished almost as much. (Kim)

To note: as we post this we are just about to embark on our overnight vigil. Prayers are always welcome but will be especially welcome tonight. We will post again tomorrow and include our activities of today (Sunday). Blessings to you all!

Saturday – horse photos

15 Aug

Here are more photos from our horseback adventure….

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Saturday / Sunday

15 Aug

We got into Redwood City last night, and everyone was tired, so we decided to blog later today.

We are now off to worship with First Congregational Church in Palo Alto, and later to Margaret Green’s for lunch.  We have ‘down time’ this afternoon, so will catch you up on all of our activities then.

Friday – Stewardship

14 Aug

We began our day with a quick early morning trip to the grocery store to replenish our food supplies.  This extremely important task accomplished, we ate breakfast, made our picnic lunch and started out on our day.

Monterey Bay Aquarium was our first destination of the day.  On our walk there, we incorporated some holy humour into our day, posing with an engaging pirate.  Arrrh! There be J2A!

We were greeted by staff with stuffed animal seals and crabs, our first exposure to the extremely knowledgeable and helpful folks we met all day.

The Aquarium is a fascinating educational facility, both teaching and inspiring.  We saw many wonders, including jellyfish, dragonfish, coral and (true) fish.  Our pictures are not capable of doing justice to what we experienced, but a google image search of Monterey Bay Aquarium will yield photos that will knock your socks off!

Following some important shopping time and a break for lunch, we went onto our next experience, a sailing adventure through the Aquarium on the Derek M. Bayliss, a beautiful sailboat.

During the wait on the wharf we had time to relax and to watch the sea otters and sea lions play and sleep.

Once onboard the ship we engaged in some experiments and learning experiences.  We saw a beautiful crab and snail.  An isopod went into a collection jar as one being and then, as Jenn was holding it, it gave birth to babies.  The miracle of life on the smallest scale. We also saw whales and dolphins.

We learned that phytoplanton in the sea is responsible for the majority of oxygen production on earth, and so is the foundation of most life on earth.  We learned that the ship will pick up and tag all garbage it sees in the ocean.  Fortunately our day included not a single piece of garbage, so local education and enforcement measures are working.

Globally, the situation is not as good.  Plastics continue to go down storm drains and into the oceans, where they do not biodegrade.  The jar of plastic in the photo below was taken from the stomach of a single dead baby albatross.  The stomach of the baby fills with plastic, which it is unable to regurgitate, and it feels full because its stomach is full of plastic, so it starves to death.

Fortunately, we have choices to make, and action can be taken.  Our call as Christians is to acknowledge that “We are not alone, we live in God’s world” and as stewards of a world that does not belong to us, we must make choices that respect the sacredness of all life.

We concluded our day with our closing reflection and worship time.  As we have not blogged about this yet, here are a few details.  Each day the youth receive a journal page for that day.  The page includes a brief description about what we will do and why it is meaningful.  There is a quote or more for reflection – sometimes the Bible, sometimes a sage like John Muir, sometimes other writings.  And then there are a series of questions.  Some of the questions repeat each day (i.e. Where did you see God today – in nature, in yourself, in other people, in our group?), and some are specific to a particular day’s theme and activities.  We read the page and questions aloud, and have a brief discussion.  At the end of the day we provide time for journalling, we discuss the day and what that day has brought us, we sing, and we pray.

Today, we are thankful.

Housekeeping note: we were asked some time back to sign the blog pages.  Our leadership team has evolved a distribution of labour in which Jenn sorts through all the photos of the day and selects them, Wendy writes the blog, and Marti uploads and inserts all the photos.  The youth leaders of the day (2 of them) write their own comments.  Now that you know it is Wendy writing, I’m going to indulge in a brief personal message – Wendy Ann, I love you and you are in my prayers, and I miss you!

Leaders of the Day Comments

Elise Bisset: Today I saw whales for the first time on a sailing trip.  No words can describe a whale, to see it moving in and out of the water with such ease is breathtaking.  Even without the whales, the sailing was wonderful.  I believe it’s the closest you will ever get to flying, gliding over the water with the wind in your hair.  With moments of excitement and others of pure peace.

Nick Lindsey-Clark: Today was the first full day in Monterey.  In the morning we went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  there were lots of types of water life there.  My personal favourite was the jellyfish.  It looks so peaceful and beautiful yet still really dangerous.  then in the afternoon we went sailing.  We saw some whales while on the boat.  We also learned about the environment.  I did not know that plastic straws were so bad for the environment.  I have decided to stop using plastic straws.  I had a very fun day.  I have learned about how wonderful the ocean can be and what we have to do to protect it.

Friday – extra photos

14 Aug

More photos from our day at Monterey Bay Aquarium and sailing with the Sealife Conservatory Trust…

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Thursday – Interconnectedness

13 Aug

The theme for today could have been “Awe – part 2”, because we were certainly in Awe.  Instead, the theme was Interconnectedness, as we acknowledged that while what we were experiencing was humbling, we too are part of the amazing web of Creation, part of the Sacred Song.

We visited Mariposa Grove today, inhabited by Giant Sequoias, the largest living things in the world (but not the tallest – we’ll see those later on this pilgrimage!).  Words and pictures fail us.  Any picture which included any human to give a scope of size could not include the trees.  Huge does not begin to describe what we saw.

We began our hike beside the Fallen Monarch, a tree that had fallen centuries ago, and yet is still preserved.

We stopped by the Bachelor and the Three Graces for a morning worship.  Many thanks should be said here to Pat Mayberry for writing Called by Earth and Sky, which we sang together under breathtaking trees.  Taking pictures of the full height of the trees required lying on the ground.

Giant Sequoias are fire resistant, and fire scars often leave natural holes in trees.  Here are all the youth inside a tree that is “too small” to be named.

Unfortunately, two of the giant sequoias have had man-made tunnels cut in them.  They make a nice picture, but we are grateful that humans have learned that these trees are not indestructible, and we must not harm any more.

We stopped along our 6 km trek for snacks and for journalling.

This particular hike was too much for Wendy and her feet, so she took a tram ride to the top of the mountain.  She missed some of the trees, but had a wonderful experience with a deer.  Note, these photos were not taken with any kind of zoom lens – the deer and Wendy looked at one another from a distance of only a few feet.

Our group is forming closer and closer bonds.  We closed our day with a discussion of where we had seen God.  It certainly wasn’t hard for anyone to answer the question – God is very clearly all around us, and Alive! in everything we are experiencing.

Our leaders of the day reflect:

Today, a meaningful moment was when we saw the tree with the hiking path tunneled through it.  We stood in a lineup for several minutes before taking a photo of ourselves standing in front of it.  It was pretty amazing that the tree could survive with a gaping hole cut through it, but it was a pretty enormous tree. (Zach)

Today we went to Yosemite and saw some Giant Sequoias.  I thought it was ridiculous how the ‘Grizzly Giant’ sequoia branches were wider than any other tree in the grove that was not a sequoia. (Logan)

P.S. We didn’t have internet yesterday, so if you want to read yesterday’s post, please scroll down.

Thursday – extra pictures

13 Aug

Some additional photos from our hiking in Mariposa Grove…

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Wednesday — Awe

13 Aug

We began our day with Margaret Green’s famous homemade waffles.  She is an angel of a host, and clearly loves the energy of all the young people filling her home.  Waffles were accompanied with homemade jam, Canadian maple syrup, about 15 maps she made a special trip to AAA to get, a cooler, some towels, and “do you need some sleeping bags or warm blankets?”.  Truly she could not be more grace-filled.  Here we are, ready to go.

After a long drive in which some of us slept…

We arrived at Yosemite.  Here’s the gang stretched across a fallen log.

We began our activities in Yosemite Valley with a hike up to Lower Yosemite Falls.  The fallen rocks provided many opportunities to try our hands and feet at rock-climbing.

We moved on to a short hike to a swimming hole.  The water was glacier fed and cold, and it should be admitted there was some swearing as we dove in!  But being good Canadians we persevered and enjoyed some chicken fighting in the water.  Nick, despite his shivering, refused to get out and demonstrated the correct posture for the tree pose in yoga.

After much laughter, and feeling refreshed and inspired, we drove late into the evening to get to our destination.  To keep our spirits and energies up, an impromptu campfire (no fire, just songs, don’t worry!) was held in the van.  The wonders of God are truly awe-some, and the beauty all around us was compelling.

Our leaders of the day reflect:

Today we got to experience Yosemite National Park for hte first time and although the four hour drive was rather long it was well worth it.  As we drove higher and higher up the mountains the view got more beautiful than the last one.  From large, soaring cliffs to cascading waterfalls and bright green trees it was quite breathtaking.  We hiked around for a while and swam in a freezing cold glacier lake ( I however, thought it was too cold and was happy observing from the shore).  It was a great day, where I got to see the raw untainted, lush beauty of nature at its wildest best. (Emi)

Today I witnessed thundering waterfalls and silent trees.  Yesterday, our tour guide at Alcatraz, John Ellis, said to us: ‘These rooms may be empty of furniture, but they are filled with stories.’  This place may have been empty of commercial aspects, but its stories more than filled the space.  The glacier pool where we swam was refreshing as was the rest of the day.

(We didn’t have internet, however, and hence are posting this a day late).