DSC_4519Forgiveness means to give up any claim to repayment or retribution.

Forgiveness can mean to relinquish a valid claim, thereby removing another’s responsibility to repay a debt.

Forgiveness can mean to pardon an offender, thereby releasing him from punishment or penalty.

Forgiveness can mean to refrain from enforcing an obligation of any kind.

Forgiveness as we are using it, in our discussion of core values, relates to the idea of pardon. It means letting go of a reaction of the mind that we feel when we think we have been wronged.

Sometimes when we feel we have been wronged, we fantasize about the moment of retribution. In our minds, we go over those fantastic scenes in fiction when someone, who has been wronged, finally gets even. Usually there is some sort of dramatic contest in which the injured party is victorious, after which he/she walks off amidst quiet gasps of admiration. Okay, maybe we all experience a bit of a thrill when a wrong is righted, and that feeling is not wrong – provided that when the “score” is settled, in favor of the one who has been injured, he does not do anything wrong himself. Otherwise it’s just more wrong… and you remember your mom’s timeless words of wisdom on this topic, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” As usual, your mom is right.

Vengeance sounds good, right? Sure. But here’s “the rub.” When we hold onto resentments, especially for a long time, it is usually because we have believed that one day we will experience the satisfaction of sufficient revenge to consider the score even. We hold on to the negative feelings because of the mistaken idea that the positive feelings that will result when we “get even” will somehow make our “investment” of time and energy in resentment or even hatred was worthwhile.

Unfortunately as long as we spend our time, intelligence, and energy thinking about something that has been done to us (intentionally or otherwise) and allowing ourselves to focus on our desire for repayment or retaliation, we are giving the other person power over our minds, souls, and spirits. In other words, you are giving the other person, the one who you feel wronged you in the first place, power over you.

“WHAT?! No way would I give that so-and-so power over me.” Well, think about it for a moment… Something happened – it’s over. You may have experienced a real injury – maybe even a significant one, and that is truly unfortunate. However, whatever happened has already happened. Your power over it lies in what you do next. You are the only one who can bring it from the past to the present, and you can only do that in your heart and mind. When you think about that thing, you bring it “back to life” over and over again. Each time you go over it in your mind, you feel wronged all over again. Each time you revisit this event, you lose again. Each time you rehash a past event, you give up thinking about something meaningful, beautiful, or empowering in favor of revisiting something that left you feeling like a victim the first time.

“Why would we ever do that? When you put it that way, it doesn’t make much sense.” True, it doesn’t. Moving on and giving up a perceived claim to the “right” to retribution allows me to free myself from ever having to think about or focus on that circumstance again. It puts the power back in my hands where it belongs.

“Okay, I get it. So what do we do when we have been the one to wrong another, intentionally or unintentionally and want to make amends? How do we go about freeing ourselves from the self-directed negative feelings of regret, guilt, or shame that we are harboring?”

The process of seeking forgiveness involves three distinct and important steps:

First, we must recognize that we did something wrong. We made a mistake or took a misstep that caused an injury to another. If we are still trying to justify our thoughts or actions, we are not ready to genuinely seek forgiveness.

The second step is to correct the mistake IF we can. In some cases we can make reciprocal amends – we can do the job we didn’t do; we can repair what we damaged; we can replace what we broke; we can return what we took that didn’t belong to us. Unfortunately, when we truly desire forgiveness, it is often for something that cannot be repaired or replaced because the damage does not involve a material object. We seek forgiveness for choices we have made that have led to a loss of trust – perhaps because of breaking a sacred promise, being carelessly disrespectful, choosing to be dishonest or dishonorable, taking another for granted, betraying a friend, or causing physical or emotional pain or injury to another. What can we do then? Sometimes we can’t do anything but put our whole heart and soul into step three.

The third and final step is to go forward and make different choices. It means we honor our promises. We discipline ourselves to be respectful. We strive to be honest and honorable in all our actions. We are careful with other people and their things. We recognize and express our gratitude. We become worthy of our friendships.

The three steps above can be simplified:

  1. Recognize
  2. Repair
  3. Change

“What if I do all that and the other person still doesn’t forgive me? I feel frustrated and angry that I bothered. What do I get in return?” Fair question. What you get is the certainty that you have gained strength and wisdom through the process.

If that’s still not enough – then I suggest you forgive the other person and move on.

EXPED3HEADERDay One by Jaxen

On the first day, we left FMA at the normal expedition departure time. Once at the trailhead, I gave the group our quote for the day, and then we set off along the Appalachian Trail. About halfway through our hike to Dennis Cove, we dropped our packs and had lunch next to Laurel Fork Creek. When we were about a mile from where we were going to camp, we dropped our packs again and went down to Laurel Falls. After arriving at camp, we had evening rally, ate dinner, and prepared ourselves for the next day when Andrew would be our leader.

EXPED3D3Day Two by Andrew

Thanks, Jaxen! On the second day we got up and packed, getting ready to go on our next hike. Looking at the map, I thought we were going to have a pretty lazy day. NOPE! Along the way, we stopped at a view point and took a few group pictures and Jaxen, Zoie and I took a few selfies. Next, we dropped our packs and took a nice day hike down to Coon Den Falls, which is a beautiful waterfall. After that we hiked to another view point and had lunch. Unfortunately our lunch was interrupted by an angry swarm of bees. After eating, we hiked for what felt like forever until we came to Moreland Gap shelter, where we met a few A.T. hikers. Once this break was over, we hiked the rest of the way to our camp for the night. We set up our camp and settled in. After our evening rally, I handed the book and map off to Zoie.

EXPED3D3Day Three by Zoie

On day three, after singing Happy Birthday to Ms. Chasity, we gave some time to the wise words of James Allen, “All that a man achieves, and all that he fails to achieve, is the direct result of his own thoughts,” and then set out on the day’s10 mile trek. I led our group from Moreland Gap to the Mountaineer shelter for lunch. There we admired the incredible three-story shelter put together by Bob Peoples and his crew. Warning: The water source has a snake! After lunch we headed to Elk River, where we camped and decided to bathe in the freezing cold river.

EXPED3D4Day Four by Jaxen

We awoke to a cool morning along Elk River and, after breakfast, had morning rally. After hiking a little, we took a small detour off the A.T. to Jones Falls. We stopped for lunch near Highway 19E and then trudged the final miles up to Doll Flats. At Doll Flats we ate dinner in North Carolina and went to sleep in Tennessee. Back to you, Andrew.

EXPED3D5Day Five by Andrew

On the fifth day, I woke up after sleeping without my tent fly, because it was clear and was not supposed to rain, and I really wanted to see the stars. That morning we packed our things and met at the “Leaving North Carolina” sign, where I gave our group the quote for the day, and we looked over the map before getting on our way to Stan Murray Shelter. Through the day, the hike was nice and easy going over the balds, and we had a nice lunch at a really cool barn that someone had donated as a shelter on the A.T. After lunch, we had a short, two-mile hike to the Stan Murray shelter where we stayed for the night.

EXPED3D6Day Six by Zoie

Taking down our tents on the morning of the sixth day was bittersweet because it was be the last time this year that we would be taking them down and packing our backpacks. We headed out from Stan Murray shelter up to the Grassy Ridge Trail where we dropped our packs to climb to the top. The Grassy Ridge was the highest point of our expedition and the view was beyond amazing and beautiful. Following our descent, we hiked over Jane Bald to Carver’s Gap where we met Ms. Margaret and Maura for the drive back to the school.

PEREXAlthough I didn’t go on the Level Three expedition, I had a great time on my last group expedition.

On day one, we hiked 4.5 miles to Cherry Tree Shelter on the Iron Mountain Trail. It was a slightly cloudy but warm day, and, despite the heat, there were still patches of snow in shadowy areas. I really enjoyed that camp!

On day two, we hiked 6 miles to Straight Branch Shelter on the Iron Mountain Trail. About thirty minutes into the hike, we saw a deer, and I found some shotgun shells on the ground. It was overcast that morning, but it cleared up nicely. There was so much wood at that camp! After we were settled in our camps, we spent an hour improving the water source, and all of us had lots of fun.

On day three, we hiked almost 8 miles on the Iron Mountain Trail to one of my favorite trails of all time, Feathercamp Branch Trail. It was at least 75 degrees, but all the creek crossings gave me plenty of time to splash my face and wet a bandana to put around my head. We finally made it to Straight Branch camp on the Virginia Creeper Trail, and I sat by the rushing creek, on an island, and read for two hours. I even tried sleeping out under the stars, but it started raining so I went into my tent.

On day four, we hiked 8.5 miles on the Iron Mountain Trail, five of which were uphill. It was 75 degrees again, and we were all sweating in the heat. It was the hardest hike of the expedition, but Gage, Nate, and I concluded the day with a fun, 45-minute group fire.

On day five, we spent another day at Miracle Springs, the first camp we stayed in on our very first expedition back in September. It was really special to end where we started. We built shelters and stayed in them as practice for the solo expedition. Mine wasn’t half bad until a bird fell through the roof and a mouse decided to get in my sleeping bag around 11 p.m. Nate rightfully won the shelter competition – his was really good. At that camp we also learned some edible plants.

On day six, we hiked three miles back to FMA and really enjoyed the traditional after-expedition supper – I ate so much!

This final expedition, added to every other expedition, has helped me recognize how physically and mentally strong I truly am. The mountaineering part of FMA will be something I’ll never forget.

BUCHANANAt FMA, we don’t have much of a problem listening to instructors, but some of us, including me, have trouble doing what our parents say at home. We don’t argue with instructors, but often argue with our parents. Our parents wonder why, and I’m going to try to explain.

First off, if we argue with FMA staff, we lose the argument and receive a consequence for making a poor choice. I think our parents won’t give us consequences in the way FMA staff does. If we argue about instructions we have received, or if we fail to follow them, it results in our being sent to our rooms, or in earning weekend work hours. When we argue with our parents, we might get sent to our rooms, but we won’t get any other consequence except maybe hurt feelings. Overall, I think our parents don’t give us consequences as consistently.

Another reason could be that we live and work with the staff day in and day out and don’t want to form bad relationships with them. Of course, we also live with our parents, but we know they will always love us. At FMA, the staff is here to teach us, not to like or love us, so it’s not in our best interest to create bad relationships with them.

Lastly, we argue with our parents because we believe we can get out of whatever we are arguing about. At FMA, we might argue, but we still have to do what we are arguing about, and all we get out of arguing is feeling angry about what we could have just gone ahead and done anyway.

Hopefully, at the end of this year, we will take what we have learned about successful working relationships home with us and will show the same respect to our parents that we do to the FMA staff.

BROWNThis quote says to me that if I focus on my education my knowledge will grow; if I focus on learning music, I will get better at playing an instrument. This idea works both ways, so it also means that if what I focus on leads me to being lazy or uncooperative, I will choose not to work, and I will accomplish less. For me right now, this quote simply means if I want more good in my life, I must focus my mind and effort on the good that will bring a positive outcome. What I am focusing on now is putting better effort into my homework and being less impulsive toward others.

MEIDINGER_AHabits are like a cable that contains myriad threads that bind. They are created when we repeat a thought or action every day, making it stronger and stronger until it is almost “unthinkably capable,” or, in other words, like muscle memory. When we create a bad habit, we need to replace the threads of the “cable” with the continuous repetition of the thoughts and actions that will allow us to build a new better habit. Horace Mann taught that habit is like a cable, and we weave a thread of it every day until it becomes so strong it is very difficult to break.

This year, all of us have developed a habit or two that has made us stronger in some way, whether mental or physical.

During this year I have taken it upon myself, with the help of others, to develop a habit of controlling my anger and overcoming my impulses so they will not get the better of me. I have developed a set of mental tools that help me if I begin to get frustrated. So far, I have been doing better. I just need to keep working at it, because that is all it takes in the end.

MEIDINGER_ZReturning to Freedom Mountain Academy for my senior year has given me a wonderful opportunity to enrich my character and focus on my academics as opposed to being overtaken by a dreadful case of “senioritis.”

As time until graduation draws nearer, I hope that I shall continue to build on the virtues that I have embodied. I shall my make my last days of school memorable by taking each day head-on, making the most of it, resisting the temptation to focus all my time and energy on the unknowns that lie ahead, and focusing on what I can do to enrich myself enough to be ready for what is next to come.

I must continue to practice detachment, forgiveness of myself and others, and patience.

DELANEYWhat I hope to accomplish during these last two months at FMA is to earn grades of at least B in all my classes. I plan to do this so I can set myself up with a good GPA before starting my sophomore year back home in Colorado.

It is not only the grades, though. I also want the discipline, time management skills, and self-confidence I gain from doing my schoolwork.

Another thing I want to gain in these last months is to develop the outlook that school and work are less of a burden and more of an opportunity. What I mean is that I want to have the mentality that if I put my mind to something and really work hard for it, I can accomplish it. Even though I may not want to do schoolwork, I need to push my negative feelings aside because they are definitely holding me back.

Right now, I have the idea that the easiest and best thing I can do is to get ahead on my schoolwork, so that is what I am going to do.

The last thing I want to accomplish is to get all my homework done and turned in on time. I want this because I would like to develop time management skills and to enjoy my weekends without work hours.

All of these achievements will allow me to take pride in my work and in myself and to earn self-confidence by proving to myself I have the ability to do it.

These are my goals for my last two months at FMA.