Young Lives Camp, Day Zero: getting ready for mamas and babies

[*note: Young Lives is the a Young Life ministry for teen mothers]

This week in Michigan, in a little tiny corner of the world known as Timberwolf Lake, a group of people are getting ready for the arrival of 100-plus teen mamas … and their babies.

Yesterday, one little tiny spot in this little tiny corner of the world looked like this:

YLives no strollers

It’s a lovely place indeed, a place where many people hear the beautiful truth about Jesus Christ and God’s love.

But this week, it’s especially beautiful, because this week, it looks like this:

YLives strollers

In one short day, this place – intended primarily for teenagers without babies – has been transformed into a place absolutely and perfectly and completely intended for teenagers with babies.

I wish I could describe the transformation. Pack-n-Plays, high-chairs, booster seats, napping cots, tricycles, bouncy chairs, swings, kiddie pools, blocks, toys, toys, toys, blankets, sheets, diapers, snacks, juice, rocking chairs, and so much more. It all must be unloaded, unpacked, sorted, washed, organized, and delivered to twelve – yes, twelve different nursery spaces.

But it’s always the strollers that get me – those colorful, joyful, inviting, ready-to-roll strollers. They are the first thing the mamas will see when they climb out of a car, van, or bus. The strollers, saying, “We are ready for you. We’ve been waiting for you. We welcome you. We love you.”

Those are powerful words for a young mama to hear.

But they are not the most important worlds they will hear this week. These are: you are loved by a God who is not just a father but also a mother, like –

an eagle who hovers over its young
a hen who gathers her chicks under her wings
a comforting mother
one who gives birth to the dew and the frost.

 

Most breathtaking of all, when in the very beginning God breathed the breath of life into humans and made them living creatures, he was like a mother, for that breath (neshamah) is derived from an older word nasham, a verb that means “to pant, especially of a woman in travail or labour.” It shows up in Isaiah 42:14 where the LORD, marching forth like a mighty hero, will say:

I have long been silent; yes, I have restrained myself. But now, like a woman in labor, I will cry and groan and pant.

The LORD – our father God – like a woman in labor.

Gracious. Mercy. Astounding.

This week, 100-plus young mamas are going to learn about that God – the God who loves them, the God who became human to demonstrate that love, the God who offers new life, the God who created all life, the God who breathes life into us, the God who hovers, gathers, comforts, and gives birth to all that is.

Bless the LORD, oh my soul, for being just exactly what and who each one of us needs.

 

 

 

 

How to make a cereal wallet

This is a cereal wallet. 

  
Actually, that is a trio of cereal wallets, which are in fact cereal box wallets – or even more precisely, pieces-of-cereal-boxes wallets, but who’s got time for such a sloggy name? “Cereal wallet” is perfectly concise and zingy. 

This is how to make a cereal wallet:

1. Cut two pieces from a cereal box that are this size (a litter bigger than a credit card, driver’s license, hotel room key, school ID, or Starbucks card) –

  
 2. Clip out a triangle from one of the cereal box pieces like this –

  
Don’t fret about perfection. Just snip-snip.

3. On a sewing machine, zig-zag around the edges like this –

  
 You know all those ridiculous colors you’ve accumulated over the years from altering bridesmaid dresses and patching baby clothes? This is your chance to use them all up. Finally. Forever. 

Be sure to do that forward-backward-forward thing (that probably has an official name) when you start and stop sewing, like this – 

  
4. Put something precious in the wallet, like a photo or a Starbucks card or a handwritten note or a dollar, like this –

  
Cereal wallets are the perfect kitschy and inexpensive token of you-are-awesome-ness. 

Important: cereal wallets are suitable for framing, public display, holding a dollar, and carrying in your pocket – but don’t swim with them. They will disintegrate. 

The end. 

You’re welcome. 

 

Clearwater Cove Day 0

CWC yl hands

In less than 24 hours, several hundred middle school students and leaders will descend on a sacred place in the Ozarks for the very first week of summer camp at Young Life’s Clearwater Cove.

Most of the world knows absolutely nothing about this.

But a very small sliver of the world – and all of God himself – knows very well what is about to happen here: fun, love, Jesus, grace, hope, and real life.

While much of society is bemoaning the current trends and behaviors of teenagers, twenty high school students have given up a month of their summer to willingly, enthusiastically, and joyfully serve middle school students at this sacred place nestled atop a mountain of rock. No joke. These people right here are people you should know. They are going to change the world – while they are still in HS – because they are serving the very God who made the world.

CWC work crew

In the midst of depressing headlines, deadly conflicts, and desperate situations, these twenty high schoolers (and 36 college students, and so many others) are choosing hope, life, love, joy, forgiveness, and transformation.

God does that. He gets hold of a person’s heart, flips it upside down and inside out, remakes it into something  alive, and sends it out into the wide world to be light and love, salt and sweet aromas, in order to draw others into his infinitely welcoming arms.

I don’t know what you’re doing this summer. But these folks here, and countless others like them across the US and the world, are doing something big and bold and beautiful: they are being obedient, they are being humble, they are serving, they are giving, they are considering others as more important than themselves – and because of that, God is going to do mighty things. I have no doubt.

Clearwater Cove, tucked away in a corner of God’s overwhelmingly breathtaking creation, is ready to fling wide open its doors and welcome teenagers to a week they will never forget. Gracious sakes – the work of celebration and the celebration of work have just begun, and for many people, life will never be the same again.

The Big Cookie: the (authorized)** history of Young Life Castaway Club’s signature dessert

**update and addenda at end

The Big Cookie - exhibit A
Castaway Club’s The Big Cookie

Once there were four friends from the suburbs of Chicago who were fans of Lou Malnati’s pizza. For obvious reasons. Reasons like, oh, I don’t know, World’s Greatest Pizza of All Time. (They ship nationwide. Game changer.) On Friday nights, instead of going to the lights, they went to get Lou’s pizza. For obvious reasons. See above. They ate pizza for dinner. If their guts and souls weren’t full, they ate pizza for dessert. Chocolate Chip Pizza, that is, “a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie prepared in a deep dish pizza pan, topped with vanilla bean ice cream and whipped cream. Serves 2-3.” 1610 calories per serving. In case you’re wondering.

Some years later, one of those four friends from the suburbs of Chicago – let’s call him Russell – found himself working in the kitchen at a lovely little place in northern Minnesota called Castaway Club (a Young Life camp) alongside the main chef – let’s call him Dave. During the summer months, Castaway Club serves 3 meals a day to 400 people, give or take.

One day Russell and some co-workers drove to The Medium-Sized City just down the road a ways to eat at a new “chicago” pizzeria – which every Chicagoan knows is a slippery claim to make and a nearly impossible standard to uphold unless the pizzeria is, you know, actually in Chicago. They went hoping for the best, but prepared for much less.

That “chicago” pizzeria in A Medium-Sized City on the outskirts of northern Minnesota had a chocolate-chip-cookie-ice-cream-ish dessert on the menu. Like Lou’s. Sort of. The friends ordered it. The friends ate it. The friends thought about it. Then Russell – the only Chicagoan in the bunch – said to his friends, “Hmmm. Well. Er. We could do better than this. Way better. We could make The Real Thing.”

He wasn’t talking about making The Real Thing for that small group of friends. He was talking about making The Real Thing at camp. For 400 people, give or take.

Thus began a long process of experimenting with ingredients, temperatures, timing, pans, ice-cream, serving, and all sorts of baking-in-a-big-kitchen-for-several-hundred-people issues. With summer fast approaching, there wasn’t much time to crack the code of The Perfect Dessert.

After several months of trying all manner of bakeware, schedules, recipes, and systems, Russell, Dave, and some others – let’s call them Kristina, Mandi, Lindsay, and Brad – finally perfected what has come to be lovingly known as The Big Cookie.

The secret to its success is simple:
1. keep it simple (just cookie and ice-cream)
2. keep it hot (on the bottom)
3. keep it cold (on the top)

That’s it. Really. Truly.

Keeping it simple, though, isn’t easy. It rarely is.

After serving dinner to 400 folks, the Big Cookies – pressed perfectly into their deep-dish pizza pans – go into the oven. Not a moment sooner. While they bake, thick round slabs of ice cream – cut and kept frozen until just the right moment – are rolled out of the freezer. Just as 400 folks finish eating their dinner, the Big Cookies come out of the oven, cooked so that the outside is perfectly browned and the inside is perfectly gooey. Each one is quickly topped with its own wheel of ice cream that cools the cookie innards just enough to maintain the just-on-the-edge-of-gooey stage while the hot cookie warms the ice cream just enough to make it just-on-the-edge-of-melting creamy. And then they’re served. Immediately. Without a moment to lose. While still hot/frozen. While still perfect. While still sublime.

There is no eating etiquette. Fact. Anything goes. Some people like to savor the wonder. Others like to inhale it. The only rule about eating The Big Cookie – and it’s more of a law, really, like gravity, because it’s not legislated on the front end but it proves to be true on the back-end 100% of the time – is that it must be fully consumed. Every last chip. Every last crumb. Every last drip.

Over the years, The Big Cookie has made its way to almost all of the other Young Life camps (a textbook example of market demand precipitated by word-of-mouth chatter), and each one has its own distinct personality. But the first Big Cookie – The Original, if you will – was first served in a lovely little place in northern Minnesota in the summer of 2002 to 400 people, give or take.

That was 13 years ago. The Big Cookie is officially a teenager now, but just as wondrous and delicious as ever.

On June 14, 2015, the first Big Cookie of the summer season will be served at Castaway Club, now made by a new generation of kitchen folk – let’s call them Deb and Brandon and company. It’s going to be a stupendous event. Only a very few people will know the story of how it came to be. Most will have no idea how much thinking and hoping and strategizing and trial-and-error went into making it just the perfect combination of hot and cold, cooked and gooey, sweet and sweeter. They for sure won’t realize how much work and planning is required to make such a simple looking dessert so perfectly perfect, week after week after week.

That’s okay. Local history and camp food systems don’t top most people’s list of favorite things. The Big Cookie, though…

The Big Cookie(s) ready for baking
The Big Cookie(s) ready for baking
The Big Cookie(s) - into the oven after dinner is served
The Big Cookie(s) – into the oven after dinner is served
Frozen slabs of ice cream, ready for The Big Cookie(s)
Frozen slabs of ice cream, ready for The Big Cookie(s)
Building The Big Cookie
Building The Big Cookie

IMG_8812

Building the Big Cookie
Building the Big Cookie

IMG_8815

Serving The Big Cookie
Serving The Big Cookie
Serving The Big Cookie option A
Serving The Big Cookie option A
Serving The Big Cookie, option B
Serving The Big Cookie, option B
The Big Cookie
The Big Cookie

**Wowsa. The Big Cookie is near and dear to many people. No surprise there. A few people have asked about the veracity of this story, so I thought I’d give a short background – for those who are interested. From 1992-2004, we lived in Detroit Lakes, MN – just a hop, skip and a jump down the road from Castaway Club. For much of that time, my husband Mark was on property staff while also serving as the Area Director in Detroit Lakes. We hosted many weekend camps, did many summer assignments, and knew the kitchen staff (and others) like family. Russell (his real name) just happened to grow up down the street from me. When he moved to MN, he lived with us for a while, and is as close to being family as non-family can be – which is to say he’s family. This past March I was at Castaway Club for a LYO (Lutheran Youth Organization) retreat. They served the Big Cookie. That’s when all of these pictures were taken. All those Big Cookies I’d eaten over the years, and I didn’t have a single photo memory. Weird. Anyway, Dave (his real name) and his daughter Kristina (yep – also real name) were there: she was the camp director and he was serving on kitchen work crew back in his old stomping grounds. One of them mentioned that the very first Big Cookie “experiment” had been at an LYO event a number of years ago. I was curious about just how long ago, so called Russell and had a long talk with him. All of that to say, the veracity of this story is, well, let’s call it veracious.

Of course, many more people have been part of The Big Cookie story than those mentioned above. For example, there was a summer kitchen intern that year – let’s call him Jon – who probably constructed more Big Cookies than he can count. And probably every other property staff person has at one time or another been part of the extravaganza known as Big Cookie Night (which is, er, well, the night they serve The Big Cookie). Add in countless kitchen Summer Staff, hundreds of dining hall Work Crew … and everyone who’s ever partaken of The Big Cookie (because let’s be honest, after you’ve eaten it the first time, you are part of The Big Cookie Family forever). I knew Big Cookie Loyalty and Love ran deep – but even I’ve been surprised by exactly how deep it runs. Really, it’s just one dessert of one night of camp that many people experience only once in their lifetime…but often it’s the small things that become The Big Things, isn’t it?

About that letter to Christians in Indiana: in which I look deeper

A few days ago, Jesus penned a letter to all the Christians in Indiana and any others elsewhere who might be reading (which I think might have been code for All the Christians America, but that’s just a guess – he kept that a little vague).

I didn’t get the letter until today, which makes me wonder what’s wrong with my mail service. It was addressed to me, after all. I also wonder how many other important missives from Jesus I’ve missed. I thought I had them all, but now who knows?

If Jesus were here, I’d want ask him something – after first confessing all the ways I continue to fail him, each and every day, in spite of passionately loving him and desiring to follow him closely. I’m basically a schmuck. Layers and layers and layers of selfish, petty, blechness filling up my guts, just waiting for a chance to spill out all over the place.

It’s a real problem.

Thankfully, there is also the gracious breath of God nudging aside space to fill up layers and layers and layers of my soul, meaning there is hope each and every day for yet another layer of schmuckiness to get peeled away. At least that’s what I read in an earlier letter. Maybe that’s changed (as this letter seems to imply) and I missed the memo.

This is the thing I would ask Jesus, if I were looking him in the eyes:

Are we really, each and every one of us, as hopelessly and horribly debauched as all that? I know we are each a complete and total mess, especially deep, deep down in the most hidden places, broken beyond human reckoning. But has that beautifully redeemed collective brokenness really grown into nothing more than angry, combative, petty, arrogant, entitled, and unbreachable barriers between you and the world while leaving a legacy of only damage, pain, and isolation, like you said? If so, we might as well all call it quits now because I can only assume the Transforming Spirit of the living God has fled Indiana

If I were looking Jesus in the eyes, and he said such searingly difficult things of me, I wouldn’t say nay. He sees things inside I do not.  He might have even stronger things to say. But I know he wouldn’t give up on me. At least he never has in the past. I also know that he wouldn’t strip my identity and take delight in sweeping me and everyone else into a dust pan of shame.

I know there is much too much yapping, carping, nit-picking, and less-than-neighborly goings-on (not just in Indiana, by all account). I know that a good amount of all the yapping, carping, nit-picking, and less-than-neighborly rhetoric might be so much stinky hot air because many yappers and carpers don’t read the thing they are yapping and carping about – regardless of which angle their yapping and carping may take.

But I also know there are countless disciples and followers of Christ who are not primarily angry, combative, petty, and arrogant full-of-themself screamers whose sole accomplishment is to erect unbreachable barriers between the world and God Almighty.

I was in the presence of 50 tonight – young adults who joyfully and faithfully give up hours each week to share life with middle school and high school students, listening to their questions, attending their events, celebrating their uniqueness, and breaking down barriers.

They are reflecting Jesus to those around them. They are bringing salt and light to a bland and dark world. They are spreading the sweet aroma of Christ wherever they go. They are spilling over with the love of God and changing the world.

But their faithfulness is quiet. Their service is gentle. Their voices are soft. They do not scream and thrash about.

Instead, they follow Jesus, step by step, day by day, faithfully, humbly, joyfully. Even here in Indiana.

They, and countless others, feed the hungry, clothe the poor, comfort the broken, welcome the children, reverently serve and partake of the Eucharist, pass the peace with sincere warmth and concern, humbly refill the coffee pot again, engage in deeply personal conversations with those who are lonely. And so much more.

I know such things could and should happen to a greater degree – but still they are happening. Week after week, day after day, minute by minute, by people who aren’t waving placards or shouting platitudes or taking broad swipes but rather people who are intent on following Jesus as best they know how.

Admittedly, disciples of Christ make missteps along the way, sometimes serious ones. Our rhetoric sometimes fall short of gracious. Our actions sometimes fall short of kind. Our service sometimes falls short of humble.

But Jesus continues working in us, stirring our hearts towards his work, and drawing our souls deeper and further into his. He’s amazingly faithful that way.

Even in Indiana.

 

Copyright 2015 Crystal Kirgiss
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any organization or institution she is affiliated with.

Expect Dragons (in which I leverage the lessons of certain dead British authors)

Sketch by J.R.R. Tolkien (The Art of The Hobbit)
Sketch by J.R.R. Tolkien from The Art of The Hobbit

**In my ongoing quest to leverage my love for dead British authors (whose writings continue to be long-lasting and meaningful) in the realm of life and ministry (which on occasion runs the risk of being short-lived and shallow), I have compiled:

Seven Principles for a Lasting and Meaningful Ministry, also applicable to Life and other Meaningful Endeavors, based on the writings of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, and G.K. Chesterton, authors now long-dead but whose Devout Embrace of Christ lives still in various and sundry essays, tales, poems, letters, and diaries. MMXV.

PRINCIPLE #4: EXPECT DRAGONS

“As you like,” said Chrysophylax, licking his lips again, but pretending to close his eyes. He had a very wicked heart (as dragons all have), but not a very bold one (as is not unusual).
–from “Farmer Giles of Ham,” J.R.R. Tolkien

But perhaps if he had known something about dragons he would have been a little surprised at this dragon’s behaviour. Most of us know what we should expect to find in a dragon’s lair, but, as I said before, Eustace had read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons.
–from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis

Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.
–from “The Red Angel” in Tremendous Trifles, G.K Chesterton

Here be dragons to be slain, here be rich rewards to gain . . .
If we perish in the seeking . . . why, how small a thing is death!
–from “Desdichado” in Catholic Tales and Christian Songs, Dorothy Sayers

So, here’s the thing about dragons: they are hands down, entirely, thoroughly, exceptionally, and superlatively bad, wicked, evil, nasty, foul, no-good little stinkers. Period.

Except here. Except now.

Our sophisticatedly nuanced world offers us dragon riders, dragon trainers, and dragon fighter-pilots. Nothing against these tales or their authors (Naomi Novick’s series about draconian aerial warfare during the Napoleonic wars is supremely delightful), but this recent domestication of dragons portends something infinitely more perilous.

On the one hand, we fail (or refuse) to recognize dragons for what they really are, convinced that if we just handle them gently enough, feed them plenty of tasty bits, and cajole them with sweet songs, they will somehow cease to be dragons — as though we have the power and the wisdom to be undragoners.

On the other hand, having lost sight of real dragons, we now see dragons everywhere, squinting our eyes crooked-like and viewing things from inverted angles until – beware! – every kitten, tree, and cloud is branded a dragon — as though we have the capacity and the discernment to be dragonlords.

We surely do hate dragons . . . especially if they are of our own imagining.

We surely do love dragons . . . even if they threaten our very soul.

And by they, I meant it.

Sin. Self-enthronement. Me-centricity. I-fullness. God-emptiness.

It is a dangerous path we tread when we forget that Christ died because of dragons and instead focus our undivided attention on kittens, trees, or clouds, as though they endanger our very existence.

It is a perilous turn we take when we neither recognize nor admit the power of dragons, and instead head off into the forest with a knapsack of jelly sandwiches and a flapping paper shield, as though life were naught but a make-believe quest.

Dragons are. We ignore and forget this at the cost of our ministries and our lives.

But– Christ is. Christ will be. Christ forevermore. We live and minister within that brilliant truth, regardless of the cost.

Expect dragons, dear friends, and then prepare to willingly see them slain.

© Crystal Kirgiss 2015

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.
Amen.

 

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)