Journal Excerpts from Deer Run

The summer of a lifetime is thoroughly documented over 151 pages in my journal, recording the successes and the failures, the disappointments and the victories, and through it all the ways I’ve grown. It amazes me to see how God has so beautifully woven all of these themes together and answered every prayer. So here is an abbreviated version of that chapter of my story.

May 24th. Well, the big day is almost here — I leave for camp tomorrow. I’m so nervous and have no idea what to expect, but at the same time I feel like God is giving me a calming peace. I know I won’t come back from camp the same person I was when I left, and it feels weird knowing I’m leaving myself behind. I feel so unprepared, but I fully expect God to overcome my weakness with His glorious strength. Our theme is Superheroes, after all — “That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.” “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” In my weakest moments, God, showcase Your power through me! Fill me, that I may pour out to others. Be present and active at Deer Run this summer. Change lives that are desperate for You. Reveal Yourself to the staffers, the campers, the parents. Fill this place with Your Spirit, bringing life and health and strength and energy as we seek to make Your name known. And in those moments of stress and exhaustion when I need to get away and refuel…take me back to the dance floor at the foot of the cross. You’re all I need.

May 31st. At tonight’s devotional we washed each other’s feet. It was a really powerful experience, and more than a few of us were in tears by the end of it. We were instructed to come up one by one and wash the feet of whoever God had laid on our heart. So I was completely shocked when Mrs. Sharon, of all people, knelt in front of me and started to take off my Chacos. As she lowered my feet into the basin, tears began to stream down my face. She gently washed my feet and dried them, and then hugged me and prayed for me. I remember what she said pretty much word for word: “My prayer for you this summer is that you will know how long and how wide and how high and how deep is the love of Christ, and that you will let His love fill your life. Be married to Him, forever and ever, and when a young man comes into your life, he’ll just be the icing on the cake. I love you, Lauren, and I want you to be blessed.”

June 1st. One other thing Mom said in devo last night: “Confusion is never from God.” That really spoke to me because I feel like Satan uses my desire for control and my perfectionist tendency of wanting everything laid out to try to confuse me and distract me from the main goal. I mentioned this to Andrea, and she suggested that I write it down and continue to let that thought of control and confusion in any area of my life shape me this summer, and return to the concept every now and then throughout the summer to see what God has taught me and what has changed. Also Colin wrote me a note that had one sentence in it that really spoke to where I am right now: “Seek the things of God intimately and let the rest pan out.”

June 24th. I feel unprepared for this week, but that’s probably right where God wants me, depending on Him.

July 2nd. In a place where I’m very broken right now. I just started feeling overwhelmed last night with a million and one tangled thoughts. I didn’t sleep well last night so now I’m super tired and just trying not to be consumed with all this pointless analyzing. I have to let go and be HERE, in the moment. God…I need You this week.

July 3rd. Still struggling with balancing responsibility with relationship, the way I did the first week. I’m trying to get back in the mindset of capturing every moment. I feel like they’re slipping away, but I’m tired…so tired. Yet I feel like I’m trying to be in control, and I think that’s the problem lately. I haven’t been falling into the arms of Jesus for strength — I’ve been playing a role, going through the motions. I don’t want to be that way, God. I want — I need — to be wholly surrendered and dependent on You. So whatever You have to do, bring it on. Yeah, I prefer when things are “easy.” But if they have to be hard for me to get it, I’m ready to pay the price of my stubborn pride. For the most part, today went smoothly. But here’s the thing: smooth doesn’t mean anything if I don’t accomplish anything. So here’s to tomorrow, and pouring myself out till I’ve got nothing left. I want to make it a day they’ll remember because they experienced God, because they felt His love. So Lord, break me down and work through me when I’ve got nothing to offer.

July 6th. My desire for my life can be reduced to one sentence: My God, to follow Your lead in everything.

July 16th. There’s a battle going on in my mind. Have I poured out enough? Why have none of my kids accepted Christ? Was there something I could, or should, have done differently? Looking back, I’m not sure what I would change, but I still feel like there’s something missing. I’m hoping that the last few weeks will be the transition that I need, that they will be what is vaguely absent, that they will tie up the loose ends and give me the peace I need to move on from Deer Run. It all condenses into the one big, soul-searching question: Have I made a difference here?

July 18th. The last 3 nights I’ve walked back from the staff cabin without a flashlight, in darkness so thick I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face, to kind of emphasize the “walking by faith, not by sight” theme. Maybe if I can learn to do it physically, it will be a step in the spiritual growth process as well. Ironic, then, that the moon was slightly more visible tonight, and it’s the first time I’ve ever been afraid. Maybe it’s actually easier in the pitch black. If that’s the case, Lord, take all control and lead me. I want to have faith that doesn’t need to see the path.

July 19th. I need to start expecting God to take these prayers seriously, and be ready for the consequences. Today, for the first time, I’ve truly let this confusion and anxiety over relationships go. I guess this is God leading me into the uncharted territory of contentment in singleness. This week I have been so full that there’s really not room for my drama. After all, no guy will ever complete me. It has to be Him. I also feel like He’s helping me let go of Deer Run — after this week, I feel no regret. I’ve poured out everything and invested so much in these girls emotionally, and it feels incredible.

July 21st. I’m at Pinkerton Park, sitting on the roots of a tree overlooking the river, down a steep muddy trail in a shady secluded spot. It’s so peaceful here. I needed this time. I’ve been with God all week, so it’s not like I don’t feel close to Him, but I really needed some time today to love Him in a different way. It’s been amazing to see how He has filled my deepest needs this week as I am learning to be truly content in Him alone. I’ve felt His presence this week in a different way than ever before, like we’re working together and I haven’t felt alone. It’s a deeper level of intimacy than I’ve ever experienced. It was as soon as I let go of my fear of the future and being single forever, that I reached this new level of relationship with God. I guess He was just waiting on me to trust Him all along before He revealed more of Himself to me. Funny how it took me so long to let go and reach for something better.

July 27th. I feel like God is continuing to wrap things up in my heart. I’m seeing all the change that has happened this summer, and I’m so excited about it. I remember freaking out in the weeks leading up to DR, stressing over every little detail. I remember not being able to go in public without makeup. I remember how self-conscious I used to be. Dang, I really have changed a lot.

August 2nd. Lord, I’ve been asking You to help me let go of Deer Run…but now I want to ask You to help me hold on, too. I want to hold onto the things I’ve learned, the person I’ve become, the amazing friends I’ve made and the community I’ve experienced. I don’t want to be stuck in the past, but I want to move forward to live in the present fully, in the ways this summer has shaped me and changed me. This is so hard to process…but God, You know what I need. And You really do give good gifts.

August 6th. Camp ending was bittersweet. I cried saying goodbye, but as I drove home I honestly felt more joy and excitement than anything else. I was listening to Casting Crowns, and a line from The Well stood out to me: “And now that you’re full of love beyond measure, your joy’s gonna flow like a stream in the desert. Soon all the world will see that living water is found in Me, because you came to the well.” That’s such a beautiful way to express the transition I’m making in going back to school and my “normal” life. I’m just praying that God will continue to use me as powerfully as He has at Deer Run. So instead of wasting the week and a half that I have here at home, I’m going to try to be purposeful in filling up even more and preparing for what God has for me this fall.

Published in: on August 11, 2012 at 11:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Week 5: The Breaking Point

Around week 3, people started asking, “Have you hit your wall yet?” I would give them a huge smile and say, “Wall? What wall? What’s a wall?”

Week 5 was when I discovered…THE WALL. For the first half of the week, it was like I couldn’t go any further. I was constantly on edge. Everything irritated me. I couldn’t stand for people to touch me. I always felt like I was about to scream at someone or something. My jr. staffer was a shy 14-year-old that everyone mistook as a camper, who sort of followed my group around like a lost puppy. The only time he gave any indication of being alive was when my boys would deliberately do something I had told them not to do, at which he would laugh and high-5 them.

Here are some snippets from my journal at the end of day 2: “I’m getting impatient with people.” “I feel myself getting tense and shutting people out because I’m overwhelmed.” “I want to scream.”  “Why are my nerves so on edge lately?” “I just want to scream.”

I found myself reverting back to my defense mechanism of blocking everyone else out and trying to be in control and deal with things on my own. One night I had a good long talk with Kendall and Nasser where they got to see the less-than-together side of me. You see, I don’t mind people seeing the broken and imperfect parts of me, as long as I make the choice to show them. But this was unintentional and pretty much just embarrassing. Kendall said he’d noticed that I had some sort of “sophisticated and cleverly disguised defense mechanism” that I was putting up to block everyone out. So I was sitting there at the picnic table rambling on about things that have happened in my past to explain why I was putting these walls up, and then feeling awkward and trying to apologize and amend the situation while just digging the hole deeper, and I finally concluded awkwardly, “I don’t know why I’m even bringing this up. I let go of this a long time ago, and I thought this part of me was gone.” Kendall responded insightfully, “I think you’ve chopped down the tree, but you haven’t let God into the most sensitive areas of your life to dig up the roots.” What he said really resonated with me, but honestly what made the biggest difference was just that he and Nasser were so accepting of me even when they saw a vulnerable and insecure part of me that even I didn’t want to accept.

No, my week did not magically become amazing because of that. But it was a growing experience, and I learned more about working through my emotions instead of pretending like they weren’t there. Because Nasser and Kendall saw me as important enough to validate my feelings, no matter how complicated or misguided, I realized that it’s okay to give voice to my own feelings and accept my own weakness. And that ended up being one of the major life lessons I learned this summer.

On Wednesday afternoon I was in charge of extended care, and while the kids were playing volleyball, one of the kid’s moms and I sat on the ground talking and watching one of the little girls make a sand castle. I had met her briefly earlier in the week — her son had this super awesome cookie monster shirt that said “Keep calm and eat cookies”, and I kind of fell in love with it, which she thought was funny. So we were just sitting there talking about life and camp and relationships, and it was so great just to have a real conversation after another difficult day. On Friday after closing celebration when all of the parents came to pick up their kids, she came to find me and gave me a hug and a small gift bag. When I opened it later, there was a “keep calm and eat cookies” shirt and a sweet encouraging note.

As for kid stories, well, I guess the week was fairly uneventful. I did have this obnoxious little punk named Jake who was quite the handful, and who totally stole my heart for some reason that I can’t explain. But it was one of those weeks that I guess I had to have to complete my camp experience. God had a reason for each of these 8 weeks, and the lessons that He taught me in the brokenness of week 5 just prepared my heart for the incredible things He had planned for week 6. Tune in next time for youth camp and the Navy Babies!

Published in: on August 10, 2012 at 12:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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Week 4: Camp Deer Run

“I know You’re alive; You came to fix my broken life. So I’ll sing to glorify Your holy name, Jesus Christ.”

That song has been playing on repeat in my head for the past 26 hours, and I couldn’t come up with a way to begin this post because I have about a million thoughts and emotions going in all different directions, so there ya go. When I hear those words in my head, I see worship last night. I was sitting on the dirty floor, bits of asphalt stuck to my skin, holding one of my girls tight as she

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My original intent was to blog every Saturday. But after week 4, I couldn’t. I really tried to that week; I sat staring at my computer for over an hour. But the truth is, there were so many emotions tied up in that week that I didn’t even know where to begin, or how to tell you what was going on in my heart. I still don’t, so I guess I’ll have to content myself with a basic summary. Just know that there’s 10x more than what you’re reading here, and that although it may not sound like anything to you, this week was very special to me.

Week 4 was Camp Deer Run, our mission camp for inner city kids. I was overnight with 5 jr. high girls. We had been warned before this week that there would be attitude and behavior problems, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. But all of my girls were so sweet and polite, calling Sunshine and me “ma’am”, paying attention and just being super respectful.

The first day one of my girls ended up getting sick and going home. But other than that, I wrote in my journal that night, “Today went smoothly. But here’s the thing: smooth doesn’t mean anything if I don’t accomplish anything. So here’s to tomorrow, and pouring myself out till I’ve got nothing left. I want to make it a day they’ll remember because they experienced God and felt His love.”

God was so faithful to answer my prayer. The rest of the week so was amazing, not because of anything I did, but because I could feel Him working through me when I was exhausted, because relationships began to build. Tuesday night I could start to see all the girls becoming friends, laughing together and having a good time in the cabin at night, and it just brought a smile to my face.

On Wednesday we did the climbing tower, and there was time left over for me to give it a second try. It was the first time I’d done it since training week, and this time I made it to the top, with my girls below cheering me on. A seemingly small thing – but it was the one thing I had not accomplished during training week, and the one thing I really wanted to accomplish before I left Deer Run. Although, when I’d finished it, I didn’t feel quite as awesome as I’d thought I would. I wrote later that night, “I’m glad I can say I’ve done it, and now I know what it’s like, but honestly it didn’t make me feel that different. I guess I’ve learned to place my worth in other things.” And I really have. Looking back to where I was during training week, so much has changed in me. But, for what it’s worth, I did conquer that obstacle that had bothered me for so long.

On Thursday we did the Leap of Faith, and the first girl to go, Daija, was too afraid to jump off. Before her, the longest I’ve ever waited was about 10-15 minutes, but this girl was up there for literally an hour and 45 minutes till her poor little body was trembling with the effort of holding on. When she’d finally come down, and calmed down, and dried her tears, her first words were, “That wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be.” And when the next girl went and was afraid to jump, Daija was the one encouraging her. “I know how you feel, girl. You can do it.” And I was like, “YES! This is why I do what I do.”

We had a response time Thursday night at worship, and I was sitting on the dirty floor, bits of asphalt stuck to my skin, holding Iyarie tight as the tears trickled down her face. Not a lot was said between us. Not a lot needed to be said. And I’m quickly realizing that not a lot needs to be said about it here, either. It’s one of those moments that you can’t understand until you’ve been there.

Like when the bus pulled away Friday morning and it felt like my heart was going to break as I tried to smile through the torrent of tears. At first I had been planning to give the girls my contact information, but for some reason I felt like God was leading me away from that. After all, what do I really know about their lives? Does an inner city kid from a broken home want or need to see the facebook posts of a middle-class white girl who goes to school in Green Hills? During that week, we were the same people on the same journey. And I felt like it was better left that way as a memory. But that made it ten times harder to say goodbye, knowing that there was a 90% chance I would never see those precious smiles again.

There was this guy named Randall that I got to know that week. He was pretty awesome, and we got to have a couple of good conversations. All week I’d kept commenting that I liked his bandanna, so before he left he gave it to me, hugged me, and said, “You’ve taught me a lot.” And that, too, means more to me than I can ever explain.

And so I guess I’ll finish this post the way I finished my last journal entry from that week: “Oh God. These kids…this week…my heart…ugh. I can’t write any more right now.”

Published in: on August 8, 2012 at 11:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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why I do what I do

“Babe! I am so thankful that I had you as a counselor this week. You really taught us how to trust each other and work as a team. I loved how you pushed us past our limits this week and you didn’t let our fears get the better of us. You always had faith in us, so thank you for that.”

“Dear Babe, thank you so much for everything this week. I have grown so much because of you. The trust in our cabin was absolutely unreal. I didn’t even honestly know that a group of girls and a counselor could be so close after a week! I just have to thank God for that and everything else He did for me this week. Now I can leave camp changed and ready to live out my faith more than I ever have. I am so thankful for your example and how you trust us with secrets and everything. Telling us to trust each other is just not the same thing as showing us how to trust, and that is what you did. You are an amazing person and I see Jesus in you without a doubt.”

“Dear Babe, having you as my counselor has been such a blessing. I’ve never had someone believe in me as much as you have this past week. Having all that support from you and all the other girls boosted my self-confidence so much.”

“Babe, thank you so much for helping me grow in my faith this week. Everything you said this week led up to my one big moment. I want to thank you for helping me get to that moment because I couldn’t have done it alone.”

“Dear Babe, I am so wonderfully blessed to have had you as my group leader this week. I know that God made sure He put me with someone who understands what I’ve been through and what I’m going through. Your love and support have meant the world to me. I am now fully placing all my problems with the Lord and I trust that He has the answers and will lead me through the minefield of life. ”

“Babe, I cannot even begin to thank you enough for such a memorable week. I have truly made relationships that I will never forget. I can see the love of God in your eyes, and that’s incredible. Your stories of how God has influenced your life has me excited to see what He does with me and all your other Navy Babies.”

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When I tell people that I’m going into youth ministry to work with jr. and sr. high, I often get a response of, “Wow, you’re brave.” And they shake their heads as if they feel sorry for me. When people found out I would be working at Deer Run this summer, it was the same reaction. “Ten weeks? Working with kids in the summer heat? How much are you making?” I would answer, “Not much.” But the truth is, although the dollar sign is minimal, I’ve “made” far more than they. I’ve made friends. I’ve made memories. I’ve made myself a stronger person. And, most amazing of all, I’ve made disciples.

Yes, I’ve been exhausted and completely spent both physically and emotionally. Yes, there have been struggles and those kids that drive you crazy. Yes, it’s difficult. But the payoff is far greater than the investment.

I do what I do because of the pride on a kid’s face when they conquer their fear on the Leap of Faith. Because of the laughter and the inside jokes. Because of the way it feels when they trustingly slip their hand into mine. Because of the look in their eyes when something clicks. Because of the hands raised in worship. Because of the confidence they build. I do what I do because of those deep late-night conversations that end with a teen deciding to give her life to Christ. I do what I do because there is no greater feeling than laughing and crying and watching one of my girls be baptized. I do what I do because of what my girls wrote in those notes.

And mostly…I do what I do because Christ loved me first. How can I not share the incredible joy I’ve found in Him?!

Published in: on August 5, 2012 at 11:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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a summer at deer run…the view from the other side

This summer I met some amazing people who have loved me, supported me, and changed my life.

Over the course of the summer I was blessed with 67 precious kids that God entrusted to me to teach and to play with and to love.

I jumped off the 30-foot Leap of Faith.

I conquered the 45-foot climbing wall.

I played lots of Gaga ball.

I let my kids dress me up in crazy costumes and performed talents that they decided on.

I danced a lot.

I played paintball.

I got to worship every night.

I prayed with kids to receive Christ and got to see one of them baptized.

I told a kid who had never been to church before who God is.

I’ve learned a lot about myself and grown in so many ways, and God has been amazing in bringing up the same themes over and over to reinforce these lessons. What was theoretical knowledge before is experiential now — I’m not spouting off cliches anymore because I have lived out the truth in these lessons.

Theme: empty to fill. During training week, Mom led devotionals on that theme, and since then it’s kept coming up everywhere — at church, in song lyrics, in the way God has proved that truth to me over and over. I’ve learned what it really means to depend on God for strength and have faith that if I pour out everything I have, He will refill me with exactly what I need when I need it. There’s nothing like getting to the end of an exhausting day, high-fiving my awesome jr. staffer Brody and praising God together because we know that there’s no freaking way we could have done it on our own. One night a couple weeks ago I was sitting in the back of the camp store having a meltdown between dinner and worship. After I’d calmed down I went to the tent where worship was starting, and Caleb was leading a song we’d sung all summer long. It was the thousandth time I’d heard it, and to be honest, I’d never given it much thought beyond “oh, it’s a fun song for the kids that they can dance to.” But the truth of the words struck me in a completely new way. “I’ve got a river of living water, a fountain that never will run dry. It’s an open heaven You’re releasing, and we will never be denied.” Even when I’m running on empty, God’s strength will never run dry, and He will always give me what I need. And that kinda leads into the next theme. But when I was leaving today, crying bittersweet tears and thanking God for an amazing summer, I was listening to Casting Crowns and a line from The Well jumped out at me: “And now that you’re full of love beyond measure, your joy’s going to flow like a stream in the desert. Soon all the world will see that living water is found in Me, because you came to the well.” That’s such a beautiful way to express the transition we’re making in going back to our normal lives, and how God will continue to work through us as we empty to fill.

It is God who arms me with strength — Brody and me and the Y-Babes

Theme: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” I wrote that verse in my journal the night before I left for Deer Run. Like every other theme, it’s shown up in so many ways. One of my favorite songs we’ve sung this summer has a bridge that says “I may be weak, but Your Spirit’s strong in me. My flesh may fail, but my God, You never will!” I’ve learned that it’s okay that I can’t do everything on my own. My whole life I’ve felt like everything was up to me, and I had to somehow prove myself by taking on way more than I could handle. This summer has really taught me to trust and rely on my support group, how to ask for help when I need it, how to accept and even embrace my own weakness. I don’t have to hide or be ashamed of my emotions. I don’t have to pretend like I’m fine when I’m not. For the first time in my life, I’m really…okay with myself. Which leads into the next theme.

Theme: I am who I am, not what I do. And I am okay with that. This summer, all the support and affirmation from my wonderful coworkers has shown me the value in myself. I didn’t have to prove anything to these people to be loved, and I don’t have to be someone I’m not. First, for something as small as a tube of mascara or a powder compact, makeup is a huge thing to let go of. Two months ago, when I looked in the mirror without makeup, I thought I was hideous. Last week, I actually thought, “Hey, I look cute today.” What?! I’ve actually managed to get to a point where I’m so used to my real face that I feel like I look weird with eyeliner. The other thing that was hard to get over was fear of inadequacy, of what others thought of me. When I couldn’t make it to the top of the climbing tower during training week, I was absolutely mortified, especially when several of the other girls did it with no problem. So halfway through camp when I finally conquered it, I thought I would feel amazing. But…I didn’t. I wrote in my journal later that night, “I’m glad I can say I’ve done it, and now I know what it’s like, but honestly it didn’t make me feel that different. I guess I’ve learned to place my worth in other things.” Oh, and that kind of leads into the next theme too.

Theme: God is enough. I can live with very little. And even when that little falls apart, it’s okay. Not worth stressing over. I brought 4 pairs of shoes to camp, and only 1 pair escaped unscathed. The sole came off my first pair of Chacos, so I had them replaced. When the sole came off the second pair a week later, I shrugged and Brody and I wrapped them up in bright yellow duct tape. What would have infuriated me 2 months ago, I laughed about, because I’ve truly learned that security is not found in possessions. I’ve written a few posts on materialism, because it’s bothered me for a long time, but I never knew how to make a change while I was stuck in the environment I was in. Well, camp gave me an opportunity to escape that environment and cut my dependency on stuff. So I’ll hopefully be making a trip or two to Goodwill before I get sucked back into the vortex of greed and have the chance to regret it.

It’s been an incredible summer and God has blessed me in so many ways. This hardly scratches the surface of how deeply Deer Run has changed me. There’s no way I could ever explain everything that’s happened, but it’s truly been an experience I will never forget.

Published in: on August 4, 2012 at 11:34 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Little Things: Week 3

Believe it or not, it is actually possible to get used to the following: 100 degree heat. No caffeine. No makeup. Sweat. Cherry flavored cough drops. Ice cold showers.

I think the one thing I will never get used to is the amazing grace of God to keep going and the love and support of the staff and even my campers when it gets hard.

I can’t lie, I started week 3 with somewhat of a bad attitude. It was our first middle school camp, and I love middle school. It’s hands down my favorite age to work with, so I really wanted to do overnight camp. Instead, I was assigned as a day camp staffer with thirteen 8-year-olds. But looking back now, I know God had a reason for where He placed me this week. No, I didn’t get to develop super deep relationships with the overnight campers. But this week, God has shown me some amazing truth through the little things, through those moments that pop up in seemingly random places.

After doing overnight camp for two weeks, day camp was just very…different. At first, I didn’t like it as well as overnight camp because there’s not nearly as much spiritual depth as overnight. Instead of team-building activities and life lessons, it’s mostly recreation. And honestly, I was a little disappointed by the first day because it felt more like babysitting than actually making a difference. But moment #1 was a new perspective from one of the other staffers — “Day camp is just a different kind of ministry. Instead of teaching these kids, your job is just to love on them and show them Christ that way.”

There were also some new lessons that I had to learn being an adopted counselor in the evenings. Having been immersed in the mentality of leadership for the past two weeks, it was a completely new challenge to learn how not to lead. Because I’m more outgoing and generally just more vocal than the overnight counselor I assisted, it was hard to rein in my enthusiasm so I didn’t come across as trying to take over. Adjusting from one position during the day to another role at night was sometimes difficult, but I was reminded of the raging river low ropes element: it can’t be done without a leader, and it can’t be done without someone in the back picking up the pieces. Learning how to gracefully transition from one role to another was one of the big lessons I learned this week.

Another new experience for me was learning how to bring out the leadership qualities in another person. My jr. staffer was a year younger than me, and at first he seemed more interested in having fun than taking all the responsibility that comes with camp counseling. The second day of camp we sat down and talked about it, and he told me that he didn’t think he made a very good leader. I could see his strengths, though, and I really wanted to give him a chance to explore his potential and recognize those qualities. So for the last 3 days I made an effort to see him as my co-leader rather than my jr. staffer. He helped me lead Bible study discussions and went above and beyond to support me while still being super fun with the kids. Both our strengths and our weaknesses ended up balancing each other out really well; I may be a bit more mature and responsible, but that means I also have the tendency to stress out over ridiculous things, like a kid paddling a canoe into the bank or being late to an activity or making 75 trips to the bathroom because my kids didn’t have to go 5 minutes before. He doesn’t take everything quite as seriously, which could be frustrating when something needed to be taken seriously, but most of the time he helped me to chill out and live in the moment, and the kids loved him because he was crazy fun! On the last day of camp he brought a carton of my favorite ice cream that we shared over lunch, along with a super awesome ring that has now left a tan line on my thumb. When I asked why, he answered that he wanted to thank me for giving him the opportunity to step up and be a leader. Mission accomplished.

On Tuesday night while my overnight girls were in the shower, I went in the kitchen to finish off some tiramisu ice cream. Another jr. staffer was in there as well, so we ate ice cream together and talked about how the week was going, and then we prayed together before going our separate ways. Moment #2. It’s the little things — I love getting to spend one-on-one time with people and getting to know them, and this guy is such an awesome model of Christ’s love. His joy is contagious.

Thursday morning I got up early to have a few minutes of quiet time before breakfast, and for some reason I just started stressing about the details of my life and asking God, “Is this going to work out? What am I supposed to be doing with my life?” Mostly in regard to relationships, because for some reason that’s something that is very difficult for me to surrender. And then moment #3 hit me: I sound exactly like my campers wanting to know my schedule. I learned early on that if I tell my campers my schedule, they won’t pay attention and they’ll ask me like a thousand times. So finally I just stopped telling them altogether.

“Babe, are we doing archery today?” “Maybe.”

“When are we going to the camp store?” “Sometime today.”

“Why can’t I see your schedule?” “You don’t need to see the schedule. I’m the one who has it, and that’s all that matters. I’ll tell you what you need to do when you need to do it. Do you trust me?”

Oh God… do I? Talk about a good dose of humility.

Thursday night I had a really awesome talk with one of the guys just sharing our stories and talking about what God has done in our lives. He told me that he has struggled with homosexuality for the past 5 years. Homosexuality is something that really isn’t talked about much in the church, and Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction dare not talk about it for fear of being judged, or they can’t reconcile their sexuality with their faith and so end up leaving the church altogether — so I was fascinated to hear what his journey has been like. He also shared with me that he feels like it’s part of God’s plan for him to be married one day, which wasn’t something I was expecting to hear, because I wasn’t really sure how all that works out. So I was like, “This sounds super awkward, but I’m trying to understand what’s changed…what are your desires now?”

He answered simply, “My desire is for God. I don’t want to be defined by my sexuality either way.”

BAM. Moment #4 hit me in the face. Should any of us be defined by our relationships, straight or otherwise? Our identity should always be found in Christ alone regardless of “orientation”, and that’s something that I have to work on learning just as much as he does.

So yeah, that’s my week in a nutshell. There are so many other little details that I would love to share with you, but these were the moments that helped me to grow the most spiritually. For now, it’s bedtime.

Published in: on June 30, 2012 at 11:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Endurance and Patience: Week 2

Where do I even begin? As it turned out, that verse that my sweet girl gave me last week has become my sanity. “He will strengthen you with all power according to His glorious might, that you may have great endurance and patience.” And He has been so faithful. Of all the lessons I’m learning, the biggest one is how to truly rely on God moment by moment for my strength, trusting that He will give me the exact amount I need right when I need it. Until now, it’s just been a concept, a theory. But this past week there were times when I had no idea how I kept going. I’ve been sick all week and hardly had a voice. There were times when I literally had to stop where I was, right in front of my girls, lift my hands and count to 5 and say that verse. There were times when my girls asked me questions that I had no idea how to answer, and somehow the right words came out. I’m learning that when you pour out everything you have, God will refill you.

At the beginning of the week I was constantly stressing and counting kids and trying to do everything right and pushing through the day to get to the end. But on Tuesday God really started convicting me to live in every moment and take advantage of every opportunity, to let the little things go and truly give my all. Suddenly trips to the nurse were no longer an inconvenience but a chance to talk with one of my girls one on one. And when I started seeing everything in this new light, I started seeing the purpose in all these intricate details that God had planned out since day one.

One girl in my group would never do anything on time. One morning we woke up at 7:00 and still didn’t make it down to breakfast until 8:10. Endurance and patience. She told me that she always heard me when I called her name and she just chose to ignore me. Endurance and patience. She cut down the other girls until they cried and then put her hands over her ears when I tried to talk to her about it. Endurance and patience. Another girl sought attention in being “accident-prone” — she would “spill” her cups of water on people about 5 times a day, “accidentally” slice open a paintball and smear it on her face, &c. She hurt herself constantly and had to go to the nurse for every little scrape, which was about 3 times a day. She whined about everythingShe was ridiculously disrespectful to me and all the other counselors, telling us to shut up and calling us liars when we had a schedule change. She pinched another girl and lied about it, and then acted like the victim even though we all saw her do it and refused to sit at the table with us. Endurance and patience. One night all of the girls somehow decided I was in love with one of the other counselors and thought it would be cute to run down to the showers screaming, “Babe loves ____!!!” Endurance and patience.

The days were so frustrating, but somehow there were moments of grace in the evenings that made the rest seem to fade away. Thursday night Caleb was leading “Give Me Faith.” I was pretty overwhelmed, so I slipped out of my row into the side aisle and knelt on the ground, singing the truth of the song with a more desperate need for God’s strength than ever before. “Give me faith to trust what You say, that You’re good and Your love is great. I’m broken inside, I give you my life. I may be weak, but Your Spirit’s strong in me. My flesh may fail, but my God, You never will!” When I raised my face from the ground and glanced over to my row, what I saw put me over the edge and the tears just rained down. All six of my girls were on their knees, eyes closed, hands raised, singing their hearts out. It was the moments like that that kept me going, when I could see past the frustrations and obnoxious behavior and look with God’s eyes on the precious hearts that He is calling back to Himself.

During quiet time on Wednesday, I was just chillin in my bed letting my thoughts wander when suddenly I felt like God was showing me that something would happen with my girl GG this week. I wasn’t sure why, because there was no real reason to think that — we hadn’t really talked or anything, so I didn’t know what was going on in her life. And to be quite honest, I was kind of hoping it would be one of the two more difficult girls so I could feel like I’d accomplished something. But God showed me GG. So later that afternoon when she was homesick and didn’t feel like playing in the creek with the other girls, I chose to see it as an opportunity instead of a difficulty, and we sat out and talked one-on-one for a while. The conversation never really focused around God, which disappointed me a little, and I was kind of afraid that was my chance and I missed it. But that wasn’t the case at all.

Friday night after worship, four of my girls came to talk to me, all emotional and saying they wanted to be closer to God and recommit their lives to Him. But truthfully, I wasn’t really feeling it from all of them and I didn’t want to push anything that wasn’t sincere, so I told them that we could talk one on one later, hoping that I would get a better feel for what was going on in their hearts. As it turned out, in the excitement of bonfire and smores and hayride and showers, three of them changed their minds and didn’t want to talk anymore. But one girl kept reminding me over and over, “Can we talk after showers? Can we talk before bed? If I brush my teeth quickly, can we talk?” And that girl was GG.

We had a good long talk on the porch of our cabin, wrapped in a fuzzy purple blanket, because all serious talks need fuzzy blankets, about how to live a truly surrendered life and trust God with everything, and how to reach out and take hold of the abundant life that Jesus promised, not just for eternity but now. And because of everything that God has done in me this week, I wasn’t spouting off cliche Sunday school phrases or telling her to repeat a prayer after me. It was raw, it was honest, it was personal, and it was such an incredible moment as GG and I sat there sharing and learning and praying together. Yeah, I’m the college kid and she’s the middle schooler. I’m the counselor and she’s the camper. But we’re in this together now, on the same journey, reaching for everything God has for us. And it was the most awesome feeling in the world.

“Come away with Me, come away with Me. It’s never too late, it’s not too late, it’s not too late for you. I have a plan for you, I have a plan for you. It’s gonna be wild, it’s gonna be great, it’s gonna be full of Me!”

Published in: on June 23, 2012 at 10:46 pm  Comments (1)  
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Purple Penguins: Week 1

Well, the first week of camp is officially over! I had six 10-year-old girls (the Purple Penguins) and they were all super sweet. This week had its frustrations and stressful moments, of course — there’s always that one time when someone forgets something and we have to walk all the way back to the cabin, or you know, sometimes that happens like 5 times a day. But overall I feel like it went really well.

One of my girls, Ella, had a prosthetic leg, but she was such a trooper about climbing the steep hills and even did the Leap of Faith and the climbing wall. She has got to be the sweetest, gentlest girl I have ever met — most mornings she would share a Bible verse with me and say, “I just thought that might help you get through the day.” And she would randomly give me shoulder massages, and she always offered to pray before we ate, and all around she pretty much just stole my heart.

Sunday night, the very first night of camp, my group was playing Power as kind of a get-to-know-you game. Later on when we met for worship in the tent, Ella was reading her Bible and she piped up, “Hey Babe, you know how we were just playing Power? Well I just read a verse about power so I thought that was cool!” It was Colossians 1:11 — “May you be strengthened with all power according to His glorious might, that you may have great endurance and patience.” As it turned out, that kind of became my theme verse for the week. I would silently chant to myself, “P-O-W-E-R, we got the power…endurance and patience…endurance and patience…”

There’s no greater feeling in the world than being a role model for these girls. It’s a huge responsibility, but so very rewarding. It’s so cool to see how they start copying you in everything — yeah, even hiccups. They all thought it was funny how I always hiccup randomly, so one day 3 of them mysteriously got the hiccups that were so obviously fake. It was such a small thing, but it reminded me how much they look up to me, and I pretty much got to define the word “cool” however I wanted to.

Playing paintball this week was super awesome — the third day none of my girls played so it was just me and Curly’s guys, which they thought was pretty cool. The guys on my team kept going, “Yeah, we got Babe!” and the opposing team made me their target. With everyone shooting at me, I got out in the first 5 seconds with a paintball welt on my butt (sitting down is mildly uncomfortable, in case you were wondering). Second game I was determined to lose the girl stigma, so I got a good angle on this one guy and totally lit him up. I felt bad because I hit him 3 times before he could yell that he was out, but after the game I cleaned him up while he was being all tough and trying to look like he was in pain, but also trying to look like he was acting tough. (If you’ve ever played a sport with preteen boys, you know what I’m talking about.) He was really impressed, and from them on Curly’s group always high-fived me as I walked by with random comments of “Babe is hardcore,” or “For a girl, you’re pretty tough.” My girls decided they wanted some of that attention as well, so the next day they faced their fears and decided to play. (Lesson learned: use crushes to your advantage to push activities.) That game I got a super awesome welt on my left leg that made me even cooler in their eyes. This time, all my girls ran over to help clean off the paint and blood, and I was the one trying to look like I was in pain, but also trying to look like I was acting tough. 🙂

Thursday night we did the Mr. and Ms. Deer Run pageant. My girls dressed me in this horrendous 80’s button-down, a purple feather boa, a silver cape, bright red lipstick and way too much blush. For my talent I decided to goofily sing opera, and I told my girls they all had to get up on stage with me and dance really dramatically. They balked at the idea, lest the cute guys in Curly’s group see them, so I was like, “For real? You’re gonna dress me up like this and make me look silly all by myself?” I made them get up there and do it, and it ended up being a lot of fun.

This morning before closing celebration we were all sharing what we’d learned throughout the week. Most of the girls were repeating stuff from Bible study, like, “You can’t hide from God” or “God gives you strength” but one girl shared, “I really liked pillow talk because I learned that it’s okay to be yourself because God made you that way and everybody’s different, so we shouldn’t worry about being different.” Another girl chimed in, “Like dancing at the pageant, I was really nervous at first but I had fun because I decided not to worry about it!” I think that was possibly the most rewarding moment of the week. If they can grasp at 10 years old what it’s taken me 19 years to figure out, it’ll save them a lot of confusion and heartache later on. I just pray that that truth will stay with them and continue to take root and grow.

Last night was the last night of camp, so after worship we had a bonfire and made smores. Caleb was playing his guitar, and my girls and I were part of the group that was sitting around listening. I had one girl snuggled in my lap watching the fire, with precious Ella behind me, her little hands gently rubbing my back, and I started tearing up as it hit me how many pieces of my heart I’m going to give away this summer. I can’t believe the first week is over so soon. God, keep these precious girls safe and close to Your heart. I love them so much.

Published in: on June 16, 2012 at 4:11 pm  Comments (1)  
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Low Ropes and Leadership

On Monday, Grant and I worked together facilitating low ropes for the Grace Chapel youth group. The first few initiatives that we did were frustrating because we had 4 girls and 4 guys, and getting them to work together was like mixing oil and water. When we did the Rapid River, they kept leaving their blindfolded people behind because they refused to hold hands or touch each other. At one point a blindfolded guy asked the girl before him, “Where are you?” She answered shortly, “Right in front of you!!” as if she didn’t realize that he didn’t know where “right in front of him” was.

One thing, though, really hit me. This one little dude was the leader of the group, and at the end he unknowingly did something really powerful. The girl behind him was blindfolded, so when he put one foot on the bank, he was like, “Let me scoot the block closer to you so you can reach it.” I made sure to take note of it and bring it up in the debriefing.

Leaders don’t leave behind. If you’re leading and you look behind you and there’s no one there… you’re not really leading at all. Leaders keep track of those following them and bridge the gap to bring them to where they need to be.

On an unrelated note, today was the first time I facilitated the Leap of Faith for a group of middle and high schoolers, which was super rewarding. One girl cried, but she did it! The other one that stood out to me was this one little dude who started getting terrified halfway up and saying he wanted to come down. I convinced him to take “two more” steps, and slowly but surely he made it to the top and sat on the platform. When he had reached the ground, one of the older guys came over and gave him a big hug. I was unfastening the carabiners on his harness, so I heard as the other guy whispered in his ear, “You did so great! I’m so proud of you.” It was such a sweet moment to see the gentle affirmation of the other guy as the climber, legs still shaking, grinned from ear to ear. And then it hit me — I get to do this all summer long.

Published in: on June 9, 2012 at 10:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Minefield

“Katie! Katie, I can’t hear you!” I hesitated, not sure what to do. I adjusted my blindfold and took a tentative step forward.

“Take a step to the right!” a girl’s voice shouted. Was it Katie? I wasn’t sure. They sounded alike from 15 feet away.

“Katie, is that you?” I called. I stepped to the right and ran into a tree. Then I heard my name.

“Lauren, keep coming forward!” More confident now recognizing her voice, I took a few steps forward, straining to hear her next instructions. “Duck down a little…now step over a rope…”

When I finally made it to the other side and removed my blindfold, I looked back at the minefield and high-fived my partner who had guided me across by shouting instructions over the voices of 5 other people.

Once we had all made it through the minefield, Andrea told us why we had done that particular activity as a team. “Life is a minefield,” she explained, “And we have so many different voices shouting at us. Sometimes they just make it difficult to hear over the noise, but sometimes they can sound deceivingly alike. To make it across the minefield, you had to know your partner’s voice and trust that they would get you across. In life, we have all kinds of voices shouting at us: parents, peers, teachers, the media. But there is only One person whose instructions are meant exactly for you and for your unique situation. Only One voice is going to get you across the minefield.”

The minefield was one of many team-building games we played our first day of training at Deer Run, but to me it was the most powerful. I had just experienced the awkward feeling of standing there, unsure where to go or whether I should move until I was sure I heard Katie’s voice, so with the memory of those feelings fresh on my mind, the application truly moved me.

God, where do I go when I can’t hear You? There are some times when all I can do is wait in the silence, trying to block out the other voices, becoming frustrated and scared when I can’t make out Your voice. But in the end, two things will get me across: I have to know Your voice, and I have to trust that You will lead me safely through life on the path that You have planned for me.

Published in: on June 2, 2012 at 10:03 am  Leave a Comment  
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