Sunday, July 25, 2010

Besides You

Wow, God is so good! The way He moves never ceases to amaze me! While I have not done as well as I would have liked regarding blog entries (the past two have been written in the midst of the camp following the one about which they were written), I find that it is still good to record my thoughts and feelings, even if I am unable to recount every moment of camp. And it is also lovely to know that I have the support of friends and family praying every step of the way.

This week (well, 9 days to be exact), Cross Bar X held its high school girls’ Red Hawk camp. My cabin consisted of 5 girls aged 14-15 from the Durango area and Phoenix, AZ. I was incredibly nervous going into the week because I had never worked with high schoolers before, and I felt like I would be unable to say anything of value to these girls who were much closer to my age than the 8 year olds I had been working with. I prayed a lot before the girls came for their hearts as well as for my own ability to leave go of anything I was trying to do for myself so that God could work through such an ill-equipped vessel as myself. And work He did, in my cabin, and in the lives of other girls at camp.

Right away, we could tell that it would be a tough camp. Most of the girls were in their beginning years of high school, and many came from very difficult backgrounds, which sometimes made respect an issue. It was also very apparent that image was important to many of these girls. Their actions, I noticed, were largely dictated by the ways others would perceive them. I noticed that on the first day of camp, the girls did not participate in worship because a particular camper was pointing out and making fun of those who did start to sing. There were a lot of nasty comments thrown around, but so many times the girls who had been hurt went crawling back to the friends who treated them badly because it was better to be “in” than “out.” However, I started to see a shift in some of the girls in the middle of the week when we took them on a three-day backpacking trip in the middle of the woods to learn how to live together with the very bare minimum of equipment among the beauty of God’s creation. Once they were taken even further out of their element to a place without mirrors or makeup, I found that they were more willing to speak honestly with one another and with myself and the other counselors. We started to have real conversations about life and sadness and anger. While it was a tough trip, I remember laying in my tent on the last night of our excursion and thinking about just how sad I would be to see these girls go.

I think my biggest lesson of this camp came towards the end of the week. We were given the opportunity to share our testimonies with the girls to connect with them better and encourage them to share their own stories. As I sat down to jot down some notes that I thought would be helpful in sharing with high school-aged girls, I realized that I was so much like them. I thought about identity and the desire for approval from others, and I was reminded of the many times where I had allowed other people to dictate my value and where I had acted out of the desire to be viewed a certain way by certain people. The amazing part was that I was able to see it as something in the past. While I think that I have struggled with seeing myself as the world sees me and not through the eyes of God for years and years, this summer has been a lesson in humility and in clarity. I have come to a place where I can say now that I don’t care what people think of me, good or bad, and that is so incredibly freeing. Psalm 73:25-26 says:
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And besides you, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
In reading that, I was convicted to think not only about the place that my value is found but also the places I give value. I am praying that, even in my sinfulness, the desires of my heart would match those of God’s own heart. I am realizing that God has called me to be me, but more importantly, He has called me to be His. Nothing else matters.

Pray for:
Continued growth for Red Hawk girls as they return home
Wisdom and strength for guy counselors for high school boys' camp
Ability to serve and encourage effectively on support staff

Monday, July 12, 2010

Taste and See

Each time I sit down to write another blog entry, I struggle to find the words to describe the week, to express the place I find my heart after another camp. As the week goes on, I realize just how incapable I am of being the person these kids need me to be, and as such, I am always amazed at the ways in which God is able to teach me each and every week, even when I don’t realize it at first. He has a way of working things out so that all of the pieces of what seems to be a crazy mish-mash of different puzzles somehow fit together to make a beautiful portrait.

This week, I was excited to spend my first week on support staff, showing encouragement to the counseling staff and getting a chance to do the behind the scenes work that helps make things run smoothly. I was making plans to do some laundry, catch up on sleep, and write some letters. But, realizing that I was getting a little too comfortable with my schedule, God wanted to keep me on my toes. About a half hour before our camp meeting, I was asked to counsel for another week to take the place of a counselor who was having a difficult time. I knew right away that God was trying to push me a little bit further outside of what I wanted and where I wanted to go, so I decided that I would give the reins over to Him to go with His plans over mine.

Since it was my third week counseling elementary school kids, part of me thought that I had kind of figured out the way things worked. It seemed like an equation: if I did X, Y, and Z, I would make it through the week and my campers would go home happy and loved. Now, I knew that this wasn’t really true, that each of the campers was unique and had a different story, but in the midst of my lack of energy, it was easy to fall into that trap. However, this week I learned very quickly that wouldn't be the case.

In our staff devotions this week, we looked at Psalm 34, particularly focusing on verse 8, which says:
Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
We talked about the senses of taste and sight and the ways in which tasting or seeing something creates a personal experience that cannot be replicated through words. Instead of telling these girls about the goodness of God in the way that works for me, I realized that I needed to experience it with them in their own ways. For one of my girls, that meant jumping into the lake and racing back and forth, laughing all the way, as we talked about the hardships in her family. For another, it was making a pillow that she could bring home while we talked and prayed about her mom and dad. For another, it was riding horses for the first time and conquering her fears while she opened up her heart to me about her hopes and dreams. And for the last and probably most challenging camper, it meant giving lots of hugs, providing her with the great amounts of attention she sought out in sometimes unhealthy ways, and constantly encouraging her to seek her identity in the eyes of Christ. I had to learn that not only do people desire love in different ways, but Jesus is able to show people love in the very ways that they need it most as individuals, not just as another face in the crowd. When the girls left this week, they all told me how they would miss camp because they felt loved. I was nearly brought to tears as I realized how God’s perfect love for them had replaced my own imperfect, conditional love. I hope that as I continue to counsel, I am able to learn more and more of what it looks like to love like Jesus.

Pray for:
Energy for a fourth consecutive week of camp
Transition from elementary to high school aged campers
Wisdom in dealing with tough issues in the lives of my campers

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Son of Man Came to Seek and to Save What Was Lost

I think that I have the best job in the world! Each week that goes by completely drains me physically, emotionally, and spiritually, wondering how in the world I am going to be able to do this for the rest of the summer. We say here that each day at camp seems like the longest day in the world, but each week seems to fly by faster than we could ever expect. This week was spent with a group of about 28 kids from Phoenix, Arizona who came with a group called Mentor Kids, which is an organization that provides mentors for kids who have one or both parents in prison. I had been told that this was the most difficult camp all summer, but it was also the most heart-wrenching, the one that would make us all cry when they left. I definitely understand that now.

My cabin was comprised of four girls, each 9 or 10 years old. As I got the opportunity to spend time with each of them, I learned of their heartbreaking stories of severe abuse, mistreatment, and neglect. While some of their parents were trying everything they could to continue to raise their kids for the glory of the Lord, the circumstances they were coming from just broke my heart. After hearing the monologue of the father in the story of the Prodigal Son in which he described his intense love for both of his sons, it was incredible to hear the girls open up about the ways in which their fathers had let them down and simply not been there for them. It was so hard for them to really understand what a father should be like, because even the relationships that some had with their fathers were broken, centered around giving gifts to try and make up for a history of bad decisions. These girls knew that what they were being given was not love, and they desired it so much. Our cabin times were both encouraging and saddening as I could see some of them decide to pursue the love of their Father in heaven while others paid little attention, not used to being told that they were loved and still unable to understand what it would look like to be loved and not hurt because of it.

At one point during the week, I was completely down-trodden. I felt completely inadequate both in my job as a counselor and in my role as the crafts teacher for the week. In a matter of about two hours, I had dealt with a fight between two of my campers that left both of them crying and me helpless to find something to say to resolve the issue. I had also face-planted into a plot of gravel while trying to rush and grab my crafting supplies, cutting up my hand. The girls then had a hard time tying the knots needed to make their pillows, and I, with my bleeding fingers, was unable to help them. The last straw happened after our rest time in our cabins when I let my girls head downstairs to the bathroom only to find about a minute later that one of them was nowhere to be found. Not sure what had happened or what I would do, I brought my girls to another staff member and proceeded to search around camp. When I finally found her, she was near the horses and frightened because she had realized that she was all alone. I was less-than-gracious in leading her back up the hill, and needless to say, it was not one of my finer moments as a counselor.

The biggest growing experience for me this week happened the next morning when we were discussing during devotions the way in which, unlike the older brother in the parable, Jesus was an older brother who went out and lovingly sought us when we ran away. After a short pause, the girl who had gotten lost the day before said to me “So Jesus would have come and found me just like you did yesterday when I got lost.” I was taken aback. I realized once again just how incapable I am of doing this on my own. My own sinful nature allows me to get frustrated at the littlest things, and it keeps me from doing the job I have been sent to do: love. I am reminded of the character of Jesus and the grace he shows, even in some of the most frustrating situations, and without him, I am incapable of everything, let alone ministry.

As we took time to say goodbye to the kids yesterday morning, I was not expecting to experience the emotion that I did. However, when you are surrounded by a group of teary eyed children asking you to please come home with them, something in your heart melts. More than discipline and correction, these kids need to be loved, and I need to make sure that all of my actions are based off of that goal.

Pray for:
Health for staff, especially counselors
Wisdom in how to best serve and encourage while on support staff
Continued growth in Mentor Kids as they re-adjust to home life

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Kingdom of God Belongs to Such as These

As I wait for the next group of kids to get here, I figure I will take some time to share about this past week and the way God has been working.

I was in charge of a cabin of five girls, sweet, ten-year-old balls of energy ready to have as much fun as possible. In addition to camp activities, we spent time each day in a lesson portraying the parable of the two sons (a.k.a. The Prodigal Son, though as we discussed, the parable is about two sons and their father, not just one), which is our theme for the summer. On the first night, we host a feast for the campers with the father celebrating the return of his lost son to give them an overview of the story and place them right inside the action. Each of the following days was spent getting to know the characters of the younger son, the older son, and the father. The kids were excited to hear the characters portray their stories, and they really seemed to be able to understand where they were coming from. On the last day, we got to hear from the father, a man who deeply loved each of his sons and only wanted to spend time with them. On that last night, one of the little boys at camp asked to be baptized, so the entire camp went to support him as he made a public decision to follow Christ in our very own lake. That was the first experience many of the kids had ever had with baptism, so it was a good opportunity to explain its significance. After watching that, one of the girls in my own cabin asked to pray with me to see if Jesus could be in her heart as well. She told me that she knew that Jesus would be able to take care of her and her family, and she wanted to follow Him. It was so exciting to see her grow over the course of the week.

While my week was a lot of fun and very tiring, it was not exactly what I had expected. Unlike most of the other cabins, my campers were from fairly stable family backgrounds and had some experience with church and the gospel. I sometimes found myself feeling as though my job was simply that of a babysitter, and it was frustrating to be unable to minister in the ways that I wanted to. One of the biggest problems I noticed was the ways in which they liked to tear each other apart for things that they too struggled with. Each of them wanted to be in control of the others’ actions. When I expressed my frustration to one of the women on our support staff, she said “It always amazes me how working with kids gives us a small picture of the ways that God sees us.” I realized that even though I do not usually tell my friends to stop singing or convince them that what they are wearing is totally wrong, I am so often guilty of trying to be in charge and focusing on the shortcomings of others. I can be so intolerant of the mistakes people make, yet I am so quick to go to God for forgiveness for those very same struggles. I am reminded of Matthew 11:16-19 where Jesus says:
 But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,
‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. 
It amazes me that God looks down on our antics and somehow loves us in spite of all of our shortcomings.

However, I have also been able to see what Jesus means when he says in Mark 10:14-16:
‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.
When Jesus deals with children, he loves them by spending time with them, taking them into his arms, and imparting a blessing to them. They come to him not as sick or demon possessed people looking for healing but as ones who need to be loved. Isn’t that also how we are? We have so many needs and desires, but behind it all is the need to be loved. And if you think about the ways in which little children reach up to their mom or dad when they need something, is that not the same way we worship our Father in heaven? Even in dealing with these “normal” kids, I am reminded of the ways in which God works in and through the youngest in His creation.

Please pray for:
Energy for counselors and support staff
Compassion to deal with these kids and wisdom to know what to say
God to work through the lesson and cabin times

Monday, June 14, 2010

Our Competence Comes from God

Well, I have officially been a resident of Durango, Colorado for two weeks, and already I have seen God doing amazing things! I am here for the summer working at a Christian summer camp for at-risk youth from low income families called Cross Bar X Youth Ranch. Each week, I will be either a counselor for a group of five girls or a part of the support team to help out around camp and serve the other counselors and campers. My weeks are going to be super busy, but I want to make it a point to post after each camp so that I can take time to reflect on what has happened and so that I can share some of the great things God is doing and some things to pray for.

For the past two weeks, I have been training for the summer and some of the challenges it may hold. When I first arrived in Colorado, I was in a pretty rough spot. The reality of being away from home and out of contact with friends for two and a half months really hit me, and I was incredibly discouraged, to the point that I even convinced my parents to hold off on buying me a plane ticket home in case I needed to come home early. I am not used to being such an emotional person, so crying on the plane ride the whole way here was not my ideal way to start out the trip. I had to pray that God would get me through even the next few hours, because I couldn’t see how I would be able to do anything useful, let alone counsel needy kids in the state I was in.
Thankfully, God came to my rescue as soon as I arrived. Something that has really struck my heart over the past two weeks is the fact that I can do nothing without Him. I think that I am so used to being in situations where I can rely on my own strength and get by relatively unharmed. However, God is making it incredibly clear to me that this summer is going to be about Him, not me, and the way He is going to speak to these kids. It is such a relief to know that not one minute of this summer is going to take place without his guidance, and even though I am utterly incapable of doing anything right, with Him all things are possible!

I came into this summer desperately needing to hear from God and to understand His heart. He has really been faithful to me thus far, even in my unfaithfulness. I am thirsting for His word more than I ever have before, and I find comfort in relying on Him and coming to Him in prayer. I am learning what it means to have my heart broken for the things that break His heart, and I am so excited to continue to grow in love with Him and to be the aroma of Christ to these kids!

Please pray for:
Health for our counselors
Cabin time and 1-on-1 time with the campers
Growth as a staff community

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.
Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
-2 Corinthians 2:14-3:6

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Broken words

Why is it so difficult for me to sit down and write? I am an English major, someone who loves to express herself through writing, at least in theory. I am completely capable of thinking outside the box in order to make a new argument and make my mark on the world of academia. I can place my voice in the character of another to portray emotion for one who has been silenced. But I am utterly incapable of using my own voice to express my own thoughts and feelings for others to hear. I fear that what I have to say is invalid. I am burdened by the ears that seem to grow ever larger and more frightening with each word that escapes my mouth. I am afraid that love does not, in fact, conquer all, and that I will be left alone by those who see me for who I am, my soul bared and raw. Or worse, I fear that I will turn around and realize that there was never anyone listening to begin with. After all, who am I that anyone should be mindful of me? When all is said and done, it is just easier, neater, safer to suck it all back in and say “I don’t know.”

And there are so many things I really don’t know. I don’t know why God places people in our lives without revealing to us why or for how long they will be there. I don’t know why we so desperately need to be loved by one another but always expect the worst from those we love the most. I don’t know what it looks like to really be vulnerable with someone, to understand what it is like to be a part of a mutually loving relationship and yet somehow trust in the unknown. I do not know why we are given a picture of perfect grace compared with which everything else in our lives seems so broken.

But maybe that brokenness gives us wounds from which we can pour out our very lives so that we might understand what it is to be filled with the healing blood of the greatest author of all.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Fear of Man

"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." ~Isaiah 55:9

I am beginning to realize just how hard it is for me to believe these words.

My head tells me that there is truth in the promises You make, that the plans You have for me are better by far than anything of my wildest imaginings. My mind's eye can see all the ways in which You might use me, might mold me into the child You want me to be. I understand that there is nothing for me in this world if I do not have You.

But my heart is yet sinful. I place my hope not in You who will never fail me but in the people who always seem to let me down. My heart aches to be loved, to be filled with tangible faces, even if it means trading in Your completeness for a broken image of Your grace. I fear their judging eyes and sharp tongues, but even more, I fear their absence. Amidst this crowd of people, I still find myself alone.

Yet it is here, in this loneliness, that I can hear Your voice calling me to Your side, calling me to fulfill Your dreams at the expense of my own. Grant me the courage to toss aside all that I hold dear in pursuit of that which will never let me down! Return to my soul the only life worth pursuing!