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