Calm hearts (in which I consider Psalm 131, contentment, and the sins of self)

Do we trust like this? (Photo: CKirgiss)
(Photo: CKirgiss)
Contented calm is not my natural status quo. I fret. I worry. I fuss. I fume. I meddle. I creep my fingers into the very middle of things and discreetly (or not) try to move the players and control the outcomes. That kind of life, as some of you may know, is an exhausting killer of joy, love, peace, relationships, trust, grace, and hope. Life itself becomes both a dead and deadly thing.

I do not want to live a dead and deadly life, or be the exhausted killer of all good things. So contented calm is one of my deepest desires, and has been for many years. Pursuing it is a long and painful process requiring penitent prayer, sacrificial surrender, and a willingness to embrace humility as one of the highest virtues of life in Christ. Repentance, sacrifice, surrender, and humility are as entirely unnatural for me as contented calm.

In other words: this process has high potential for total failure and minimal possibility for significant life-change. Except for the fact that I follow a powerful, forgiving, and transforming Savior. Otherwise, contented calm would be the least likely of fairy-tale endings for my life (and “they all – every single one of them –  lived contentedly calm” is a much better ending than “they all – meaning the prince and princess – lived happily ever after).

I want to be a Psalm 131 child (so much more than I want to be a Proverbs 31 woman, I confess). I want the Psalmist’s words to be a true description of me:

LORD, my heart is not proud (I do not presume that its motives are pure – I’ve dug down deep and seen the rot);

My eyes are not haughty (I know that I am not better or higher than other people – though I’ve often believed and behaved otherwise). 

[Note to self: a proud heart and haughty eyes are not just a “thing” to be worked on; cf. Proverbs 21:4.]

I don’t concern myself with matters too great or too awesome for me to grasp (in other words, I don’t play God because, Lord knows, every time I switch into control mode and try to orchestrate things to my own liking, it turns out badly. FOR EVERYONE. EVERYTIME.)

INSTEAD (an unexpectedly profound lexical marker of transformation)

I have calmed and quieted myself (not by my own power, to be sure, but by my own willingness to be shaped and molded and humbled by the Almighty God and Loving Father),

like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk (nothing against nursing-on-demand, something of which I’m a big fan – but a weaned child has moved beyond the need for immediate gratification and comfort).

Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.

[Note to self: we never outgrow being a weaned child, even when we have weaned children of our own. Weird.]

O Israel (and you too, Crystal)

put your hope in the LORD (not in money, success, fame, appearance, or really smart dead British authors)

now (this very day, this very moment)

and always (you know…ALL THE TIME).

Amen. And amen. Oh dear God – please let this be true of me.

***What are the traits of a content and discontent child – of any age – that can help you understand the deep truth of what the Psalmist is saying? For example: content children are trusting, know how to share, and enjoy discovering new things. Discontent children quickly become angry, are demanding, and often withdraw. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these lists – add your own words or phrases in the comments.

People worth knowing (in which I consider the active obedience of YoungLives childcare workers and Young Life work staff)

In a world full of bad news, broken lives, battered souls, and bruised hopes, there are still plenty of reasons to rejoice and be glad. Here are 80:

Childcare Workers: Young Lives Camp 2014 TWL (Photo: MKirgiss)
Childcare Workers: Young Lives Camp 2014 TWL (Photo: MKirgiss)

In July 2014, these people paid their way to a week of camp (which they also paid for) to watch the babies and toddlers of over 100 young mothers. Some drove an hour. Some drove a day. Some flew a ways. Some flew more than halfway across the country. All spent 6 days cuddling, cradling, strolling, rocking, soothing, reading, playing, singing, and all manner of actively humble and obedient things in order to love beautiful, wondrous, and miraculous living souls so that those souls’ mothers could live and laugh and play like other teenage girls.

While that group of people was taking care of the babies, these people were taking care of everything else:

TWL July 2014 Workstaff (Photo: CKirgiss)
TWL July 2014 Workstaff (Photo: CKirgiss)

The baking, the cooking, the setting, the serving, the clearing, the cleaning, the washing, the folding, the mowing, the raking, the weeding, the wiping, the working, the lifting, the hauling, the carrying … if it was a task of any sort, then these people did it. Over and over and over again. For a month. Without pay. Because Jesus has done something beautiful deep down inside their hearts.

These two groups of people – plus so many more all across the world, at all manner of camps and schools and centers and businesses and homes –  are who we should be reading about in the news. They are the ones who should be held up as the model of humanity, as the picture of humility, as the image of community, as the example of possibility.

All of the world’s bad news needs an antidote of good news. The cult of celebrity needs an equal measure of homage to humility. The buzz of headlines needs a revised tune of faithful daily living.

For just a moment, let’s stop and collectively consider the amazing wonder of such mundane and quiet things as integrity, hard work, faithfulness, honor, commitment, contentment, service, and sacrifice.

And Love. Love that comes first from God and – if we allow it – then spills over onto those around us. Onto young mothers. Onto babies and children. Onto co-workers and campers of all ages. Onto colleagues and neighbors and family and friends.

It’s a wonder, really, that such Love manages to pierce the hate-filled darkness of the world. But pierce it, it does, sometimes in large swaths of a brilliantly blinding light and sometimes in small pinpricks of a persistently gentle glow.

We are all, each one of us, invited into this piercing Love – both as a recipient and as a conduit. The people in these pictures have experienced both. The people in these pictures have been changed by Christ. The people in these pictures have helped change the world – not by their own might or power (which is the stuff of temporal headline news) but rather by humbly surrendering to the Only Almighty and Powerful One (which is the stuff of eternal selfless being).

We would do well to seek out such people. We would do well to know such people. We would do well to be such people.

Psalm 23 for Young Lives camp (in which I consider how childcare workers reflect the character of God)

Precious Young Lives childcare worker (Photo: CKirgiss)
Precious Young Lives childcare worker (Photo: CKirgiss)

[If a shepherd can reflect and illuminate the character of God, then surely a Young Lives childcare worker can too.]

Psalm 23 (repurposed) –

The LORD is my childcare worker, I lack nothing.
He travels from far away at his own expense to spend time caring for me.
He helps comfort me when I am separated from those I love.
He holds me near his heart where I can hear his love beat strongly.
He rocks me to sleep when I am tired while cradling me in his gentle arms.
He patiently listens to my sobs and never tells me to “just get over it” or “stop that now” or “quit being such a baby!”
He keeps careful track of when I need to eat and sleep and makes sure they happen.
He checks the weather and dresses me appropriately.
He cleans up my messes – no matter how horrid – with a gracious and humble attitude.
He holds me tightly and safely while we ride on a flatbed trailer through the countryside.
He strolls me up and down the sidewalk so I can breathe fresh air and see the beautiful creation.
He takes care of me faithfully and joyfully, as though I were his own child or grandchild.
He laughs at my silliness and encourages my attempts to learn new things.
He makes me feel safe as I experience things that are not part of my daily life.
He welcomes me sincerely and enthusiastically each and every day.
He expresses joy and excitement and grace when I recognize him and hold out my arms to be held.
He makes me feel loved and safe, each and every moment of each and every day.
He does many unexpected and fun things to make me smile and laugh.
When I reject his care and love, he is disappointed and hurt, but he does not reject me in return.
He is available all the time to provide whatever I need without asking for anything in return.
He is wise. He is loving. He is comforting. He is humble.


Of rodeos, carnivals, and Young Lives (in which I consider why we do what we do)

In the Young Life camping lexicon, tonight is traditionally called The Night That Never Ends.

In the Young Lives world, The Night That Never Ends does in fact end. Usually by about 10:30. Because, well, the babies.

But still – it is a very long day (though not the longest, for in the Young Lives camping lexicon we have something called The Day That Never Ends, aka SPA DAY which is exactly what it sounds like, so go ahead and be jealous).

Pulling off The Night That Never Ends week after week after week is A Thing Neither Quick Nor Easy. And more than once at least a few people are likely to wonder whether all the work is really worth it.

There are the gravelly rodeo paths to navigate with all those strollers:

Rodeo Road: Young Lives TWL 2014 (Photo: MEmerick)
Rodeo Road: Young Lives TWL 2014 (Photo: MEmerick)

There are all the costumes to gather and don:

Here there be cowboys: Young Lives TWL 2014 (Photo: MEmerick)
Here there be cowboys: Young Lives TWL 2014 (Photo: MEmerick)

And then there is a carnival to set up – in silence, in darkness, in 30 minutes flat – while campers are otherwise occupied:

Here there are party lights: Young Lives TWL 2014 (Photo: CKirgiss)
Here there are party lights: Young Lives TWL 2014 (Photo: CKirgiss)

And there is cotton candy to spin. And funnel cakes to dust with sugar. And ice-cream sundaes to scoop and serve. And during all of that, all those babies to be cared for and cuddled and loved and held.

I don’t suppose there is anyone who more deserves a personal rodeo and carnival than a group of young mothers who spend their days caring for a young human being who is entirely dependent upon them. Personal rodeos and carnivals aren’t come by just like that. You can’t order them online or download them as an app.

But here, there are rodeos. And costumes. And carnivals. And a whole lot of state-fair-type food.

And because of almost 100 childcare workers, there are several hours in this Night That Never Ends (But Really Does Because, You Know, The Babies) during which over 100 young mothers can laugh and play like children.

We believe rodeos and costumes and carnivals and state-fair food are worth every ounce of effort because they translate thus: All of this for you. And you are worth all of it. 

And it’s true: every young mama and baby here is worth every single ounce of energy and effort and love that is expended, and so much more than that. For just like everyone else that has ever lived, God knit each one of them together before they were born, he knew and loved them before they were conceived, and he came and died for them before they’d ever heard his name.

All of this crazy nonsense on The Night That Never (But Really Does) End is just a tiny overflow of something deeper, richer, wider, higher, and more magnificent than any one of us can ever truly understand. But if rodeos and costumes and carnivals and state-fair food that are presented with excellence and a joyful smile can reflect even just a sliver of that overflow, then we will have done today’s job well.

That is why we do what we do, and it’s an amazing why to be sure.

Young Lives on flatbed trailer rides (in which I consider stunning acts of love and kindness)

If you ever happen to find yourself serving as a childcare worker at Young Lives camp, you will discover that keeping happy for several hours 100+ babies aged 6 weeks to 36 months is no small thing. That’s a lot of happy…and also a lot of diapers, a lot of sippee cup refills, a lot of holding and bouncing and cuddling, a lot of board books, a lot of snacks, a lot of stroller rides, a lot of soothing and calming and cooing, and a lot of a lot of other things.

So if while serving as a childcare worker at Young Lives camp you happen to have a flatbed trailer that is suitably decked out to take a bunch of childcare workers holding a bunch of babies for a long ride through the nearby magical forest, and if you happen to then end up at a small homemade pen of someone’s pet chickens and kittens and ducks, well, that could go a long way towards keeping up the happy for a while because, well, chickens and kittens and ducks.

But if you don’t happen to have that kind of flatbed trailer or small pen of pets, then what would be equally awesome would be if someone who really cared about young moms and babies (and who also really loved Jesus, because that’s where real love for young moms and babies comes from) decided to make that kind of flatbed trailer and also to build a sturdy pen to hold his pet chickens and kittens and ducks that he kindly brought to camp from his own home that is more than a mere mile or two down the road.

Yeah. That would all be pretty awesome. So I guess you could say that today was pretty awesome and that both childcare workers and babies were pretty blessed – which shouldn’t come as a surprise since God is in the business of awesome and blessed.

In other words, Young Lives Camp Day 2 was a flatbed-trailer-magical-forest-chickens-and-kittens-and-ducks type of smashing success. Times a thousand.

Young Lives TWL 2014: the view from here (Photo: CKirgiss)
Young Lives TWL 2014: the view from here (Photo: CKirgiss)
Here we have chickens (Photo: MKirgiss)
Here we have chickens (Photo: MKirgiss)

Here we love babies and mamas (in which I consider Young Lives Camp Day 1)

Six hours. That is how long this sacred space in the netherlands of Michigan has become even more sacred because, well, mamas and babies, of course. Over 100 of each.

Not everyone understands why there is so much love here for young mothers and their children. Not everyone understands why a bunch of teenagers have given up a month of their summer to work for free doing things like taking several hours each day setting beautiful tables for these mothers and babies, tables that have real linens, proper place-settings, polished high-chairs, toddler cups with bendy straws, and a full pack of baby wipes…

Young Lives pre-dinner table (Photo: CKirgiss)
Young Lives pre-dinner table (Photo: CKirgiss)

…even though it will take only about 15 minutes of dinner activity for the table to look like this…

Young Lives post-dinner table (Photo: CKirgiss)
Young Lives post-dinner table (Photo: CKirgiss)

…and for the floor to look like this…

Young Lives post-dinner floor (Photo: CKirgiss)
Young Lives post-dinner floor (Photo: CKirgiss)

…which is a wondrous tapestry of broccoli, rice, chicken, salad, bread, juicy puddles, and a mama’s pair of sunglasses.

Indeed: even if the mealtime experience weren’t such an adventure in patience and grace, still not everyone understands why this week of loving teen moms and their babies is such a very, very big deal.

This is why: because, well, mamas and babies. Isn’t it obvious?

Mama and babe. Mother and child. A whole crowd of them. What could be more wondrous and sacred, especially for a child of God and follower of Christ?

For you see: the LORD loves children, so much that he carefully and purposefully knits them together while still in the womb. He warmly welcomes them, even when his friends and followers try to push them aside for being too young, too noisy, too distracting, and too much trouble. He considers them precious enough to be the incarnated identity of himself. God Almighty. Creator of all. A babe. A babe! Why do we love babies? Why indeed.

And the LORD loves mothers, so much that he himself is often described in those terms. He is like an eagle that rouses her chicks and hovers over her young (Dt. 32: 11). He comforts his children as a mother comforts her child (Is. 66:13). He gives birth to the dew and the frost from heaven; he is the mother of the ice (Job 38:28-29). And then there is this: he entered the world as a helpless babe, not formed directly from the dust of the ground, but rather ushered into life out from the womb of a mother, a living breathing flesh-and-blood human mother. And this: when shepherds and Kings met the Messiah of the world, they met him  not as a king surrounded by advisors and subjects but as a babe with his mother. And this – oh, do not forget this: when he hung on the cross, preparing to breath his last breath, he yelled out to his friend, “My mother…do not forget my mother! Take care of her as if she were your own! Because I love her!”

We love mothers and babies here at Young Lives camp because God loves mothers and babies, and we are commanded to love as he does. Really, that’s all there is to it. That’s all there is because that’s everything there is. God’s love is everything. And we want in on it, not just for ourselves but to share it with others so they can be in on it, too. That’s it. That’s the whole story.

Not everyone understands. I get it. But God does amazing things anyway – and this week is going to be full of those amazing things indeed because, well, mamas and babies, and more importantly a God who loves them beyond what any of us will ever understand.

Mother and child: Young Lives TWL 2014 (Photo: CKirgiss)
Mother and child: Young Lives TWL 2014 (Photo: CKirgiss)




The amazingness known as Young Lives (in which I consider why we are all a-flutter on Day 0)

Tomorrow, 100+ teen moms and their collective 100+ babes, plus 70 or so mentors, will descend on a place in northern Michigan that really doesn’t matter much (there are, after all, lots of beautiful places in the world) except for the fact that it has been consecrated for the Lord’s work. And His work this week is to really truly fully love a population that doesn’t always get loved that way.

Tomorrow is known as Day 1 in camp speak. Which makes today Day 0. Which means today, 84 childcare workers arrive – people aged 16 to 70-something, who pay for a full week of camp in order to love and care for a young mama’s baby for 6 days so the mama herself can be a teenager.

It blows me away every single time I see it happen because, well, 100+ babies and teen moms.

In 24 hours, a thousand things need to get done. Strollers to be lined up. Highchairs to be hosed down. Toys to be sterilized. Nurseries to be organized, stocked, and set up. Carpets to be cleaned. Supplies and clothing and more supplies and clothing to be sorted. Prayer spaces to be created. And that doesn’t include all the other things that need to happen for any other week of camp – cleaning, mowing, prepping, straightening, beautifying, and also maybe a bit of resting.

Today all of this happened (plus so much more):

Work crew delivering strollers (Photo: CKirgiss)
Work crew delivering strollers (Photo: CKirgiss)
Work Crew cleaning high chairs (Photo: CKirgiss)
Work Crew cleaning high chairs (Photo: CKirgiss)
Work Staff delivering supplies (Photo: CKirgiss)
Work Staff delivering equipment (Photo: CKirgiss)
Work Staff sorting equipment (Photo: CKirgiss)
Work Staff sorting equipment (Photo: CKirgiss)
Work Crew clearing prayer space (Photo: CKirgiss)
Work Crew clearing prayer space (Photo: CKirgiss)

…so that this could exist (and so much more):

Strollers ready for riders (Photo: CKirgiss)
Strollers ready for riders (Photo: CKirgiss)
Young Lives Prayer Tent (near frisbee golf hole #6) (Photo: CKirgiss)
Young Lives Prayer Tent (near frisbee golf hole #6) (Photo: CKirgiss)

And with only 30 minutes until childcare workers arrived, this was happening:

Property and Work Staff prepping sod (Photo: CKirgiss)
Property and Work Staff prepping sod (Photo: CKirgiss)

…because every minute is useful when you are prepping for tomorrow’s arrival of mamas and babies and today’s arrival of childcare workers, who were greeted just as if they were a busload of teenage campers (though they were maybe only 1 or 2 cars of 2 of 4 people)…

A warm Young Life welcome (Photo: CKirgiss)
A warm Young Life welcome (Photo: CKirgiss)

…and whose suitcases were carried, even if they were just one person rather than a full cabin of campers:

Work Crew helping with luggage (Photo: CKirgiss)
Work Crew helping with luggage (Photo: CKirgiss)

Humility is a strange thing. It is active. It is visible. It is real. It is earth-shattering.

But mostly, it is obedient – obedient to a Father who loves us so deeply that the only possible response is to love and obey in return. We so often do these two things, loving and obeying, poorly. I pray that this week, we do them well. Not because we are awesome (oh gracious, we are not); not because we want to be noticed (please Lord, protect our hearts against such desires); not because they are the magic cures to a life of difficult trials and problems (love and obedience just as often invite their own trials and problem).

I pray that this week we do them (loving and obeying well) just because we should. Just because God told us to. Just because that is what we are commanded to do. That is reason enough. More than enough. No matter what the situation. But especially when 100+ teen moms and their babies are going to be arriving soon. Oh yes – especially then.

Bring fo(u)rth freedom (in which I consider a better reason to celebrate)

Friday. Fourth of July. This date couldn’t fall on a better day. Because, you know, Friday. The weekend. Stuff. Duh.

Rejoice! Be glad! We are a nation of freedoms (an increasingly debatable point). We are a nation of prosperity (also debatable, depending on one’s definition of that slippery term). We are a nation of rugged individualism that celebrates the self-made and the successful (indeed).

I do love a good BBQ, parade, and fireworks display – and also waving those little stiffly starched flags.

But so much more than that do I love freedom. Freedom. Freedom from brokenness. Freedom from hopelessness. Freedom from darkness. Freedom from self-centeredness. Freedom from self, period.

If you set aside time today to read any important historical national documents about the true significance of this national holiday (and let’s see now, who wouldn’t set aside time for that, between the BBQs, the parades, and the fireworks, hmm?) – and even if you don’t – please do set aside time today to read another short, brilliant, piercing lyric that celebrates the freedom that really matters.

Psalm 32 (CKirgiss)
Psalm 32 (CKirgiss)

Celebrate forgiveness – for confessed sin is set aside, put out of sight, erased, blotted out.

Celebrate righteousness – for those who are forgiven are cleared of guilt, washed clean, made new.

Celebrate a powerful Lord – who is our hiding place, our protection, our glorious song of victory.

Celebrate a wise God – who reveals the best path for life, advises us, watches over us.

Celebrate a loving Father – whose unfailing love surrounds those who trust him with pure hearts.

In truth, it matters little that today is Friday or that today is July 4th. What matters is that today is today, and so all God’s children can, and should, celebrate.

Rejoice! Shout for joy! The Lord reigns supreme, and we are made free.

"Unfailing love surrounds those who hearts are pure." (CKirgiss)
“Unfailing love surrounds those who hearts are pure.” (CKirgiss)