by Blake Shelley
As the leaves begin to fall, we all look forward to what this season has to bring. The summer is an excellent time for rest and rejuvenation. It can be difficult to return to schedules, meetings, and classes. However, we often forget that season presents tremendous growth opportunities and the chance to break out of our comfort zones as we are freed from our mundane schedules. How can we carry this energy into autumn?
Perhaps one of the most influential experiences was the last youth retreat I attended with my church high school group. The summers following my sophomore and junior years had been filled with various retreats and Young Life camps. However, after my high school graduation, my summer was going to be relatively low-key, with the exception of the graduation trip to Hawaii that my parents had promised my twin sister and me. For the first time in years, I wasn’t signed up for any camps; I had already hit the max camp attendance for our Young Life group, and my church was only offering a houseboat retreat on Lake Shasta in Northern California. Due to my disability, I had made up my mind earlier in the year that a week on a houseboat would be nearly impossible for me, between needing a floatation device in the water and needing to be carried over the rough terrain when we were onshore. However, a few of my youth leaders were adamant that I attend. Although I wasn’t overly excited and had some significant reservations, I decided to go because I had some friends attending and knew from previous experience that my leaders would do everything they could to accommodate and include me. The first couple of days went just as I had anticipated. I was extremely uncomfortable due to the long ride in a school bus, which caused my back to tense up, and the fact that I was stuck on a boat. As I began to slip into the fog associated with self-pity, we took a hike to a waterfall that we could slide down. Determined to provide me with the same experience as my peers, leaders, and friends alternated carrying me on their backs and lifting me up the waterfall. As a person of faith, I believe that God is at work in every situation we find ourselves in and seeing their determination reminded me to seek out how this trip could improve me and my relationships. As I began to look for life lessons, I decided to step out of the boat and try to wakeboard. This experience was very empowering and filled with many faceplants. In between my epic wipeouts, there were periods of a few seconds of riding the wakes. Nearing the end of my run, I noticed that the entire youth group was on the roof of the houseboat, watching my attempt to wakeboard and cheering. As I heard their cheers, I had an overwhelming feeling that the experience wasn’t just about my attempt to ride a wake. After taking the time to reflect on what had transpired, I realized I had a platform to encourage others and share my faith. I decided to share this realization with my leader, who asked me to share my journey with the whole group the following evening. Until this point in my life, I had avoided speaking in front of large crowds; I was very self-conscious about my speech impediment and was concerned that others would not be able to understand me. Once again, I was faced with the choice to “step out of the boat.” Deciding to step out in faith, I agreed to share what I had learned that week and how it deepened my faith. As I stood there and saw the reaction of the leaders and students, my realization was confirmed. I had found my life’s purpose. I have been put on this planet to encourage others and help them to overcome challenges so that they can reach their full potential. This retreat was a defining moment in my life, as it revealed the purpose that drives all of my decisions and motivates me both personally and professionally. The act of stepping out of my comfort zone has radically changed my outlook on life, as well as the opportunities that I pursue. I want to leave you with this encouragement: we’ve all had a rough year. However, I encourage you to look back on your summer. How did you step out of your comfort zone this year? How are you going to carry it over into the remainder of 2020? Ride the wake! It might just change your life!
Blake is an author, motivational speaker, and empowerment coach. Diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at the age of six months, Blake has faced many challenges, but his support system taught him to persevere and never give up on his goals.