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 “problem” with middle school ministry (how they got it wrong…again)

In case you missed it, middle schoolers (all of them, presumably) are in the news this week.

Real Simple (which I thought was mostly about food, fashion, and repurposing canning jars and wood pallets into anything and everything you could ever need or want) recently posted this story:

“Sorry, Parents. Middle School is Scientifically the Worst (and you thought the Terrible Twos were bad).”

Spoiler alert: the article isn’t very hip on early adolescents. And I quote: “middle school is not fun for anyone” and “[every middle schooler is] a surly, exasperated pre-teen.”

Bah. Boo. Piffle. Grrr.

Then there’s this from Science Daily last week:

“Mom, You Think Babies Are Tough? Wait Until Middle School.”

This sounds a little less alarmist than the other article, but equally down on middle schoolers. How thoughtful of them.

Both articles are lay-summaries of a study out of Arizona State University titled:

“What It Feels Like to Be A Mother: Variations by Children’s Developmental Stages” (Luthar and Ciciolla, Developmental Psychology 52:1 (2016), 143-154).*

You may notice that this title doesn’t diss middle schoolers at all – doesn’t even mention them by name. That’s not to say the article is all warm and fuzzy on middle schoolers. In fact, before the study was even conducted, the authors “anticipated, first, that the middle school years would be the most challenging” for mothers. (Fathers weren’t part of this study, so there’s that to consider.)

The study – conducted between 2005 and 2010 – of 2,247 well-educated American women showed that many mothers (many of those specific mothers, anyway) do/did in fact experience some more negative things and some fewer positive things when their children were in middle school than when their children were other ages.

So, therefore, hence, ergo middle school is scientifically proven to be The Worst.

The End.

Except for, well, these (and other things) that the authors concede:

  • mothers might have experienced higher stress levels because they themselves often become busier when their children reach middle school (extra-curricular activities, more friend events, extended soccer-mom chauffeuring – that kind of thing)
  • mothers might have sensed more child negative to me attitudes – which were measured by distancing behaviors because middle school is when children start naturally displaying more independence
  • mothers might have experienced less fulfillment and lower levels of life satisfaction because of their own transition to mid-life (a time of “heightened introspection and increased awareness of mortality” due to “declines in their physical and cognitive functioning” (150) or: My Life Rots)
  • mothers might have experienced more depression and parenting overload due to “contagion of stress” in which mothers internalize and worry about their children’s ability to cope with middle school challenges (perhaps because she is reliving her own middle school experience, something mothers are notoriously good at doing)
  • &c.

All of that to say – “Middle School is Scientifically The Worst” is horribly misleading and ridiculously unhelpful and eminently unfair – to middle schoolers primarily, but also to those who care about them.

But it sure makes for a dramatically catchy headline, which the world loves. And it confirms what those of us in middle school ministry know the world thinks of us: “you are big losers” (or maybe “you are demented saints” depending on the day).

But we know better. We know that we are the big winners not because of anything we’ve done or said (don’t stumble by patting yourself on the back) but because Jesus has graciously given us an enthusiastically authentic love for the kids too many people think are unlovable and unmanageable.

Guess what: we don’t care one teeny tiny bit about dramatically catchy headlines. We care about middle schoolers – each of them and all of them.

Here might be the most important statement in the study:

“This developmental transition [early adolescence] is especially difficult because junior high schools bring decreased personal, positive relationships with teachers at a time when youth particularly need connections with supportive adults.” (150)

Spoiler alert: enter – you.

The middle school pastor. The Wyldlife leader. The involved parent. The caring aunt and uncle. The interested neighbor. The loving grandparent. The faithful small group leader.

So go ahead – go change a middle schooler’s world today by showing up, being present, celebrating them, sharing real life, and breathing Jesus all over the place.

Really. Just go do it. Now. Because the only problem with middle school ministry is that there’s not enough room in our hearts for all the love for all the kids.

*The original peer-reviewed study can be accessed through EBSCO host PsycARTICLES research database. You can find an earlier public-access version of the study here.

 

 

“…(though, of course, the servants knew)…” (in which I consider water, wine, and wonderful floors)

"...though, of course, the servants knew..." (Photo: CKirgiss)
“…though, of course, the servants knew…” (Photo: CKirgiss)

[Part of a series in which I muse about life at camp.]

There she is – one of countless high-school students who are voluntarily serving at camp this summer – waging battle with an uncooperative and unmanageable sea creature. The giant vacuum. The massive yellow tubular monstrosity that does indeed have a mind of its own.

It’s enough to get anyone down.

But the dining room floor, you see, must be vacuumed after each meal. Each and every meal. Because, well, sometimes food drops on the floor, and if the food isn’t cleaned up after each and every meal, then the floor won’t be wonderful at the next meal.

And wonderful floors are important when you are trying to show middle school campers how much you really truly love them…even if they never notice the wonderful floors and even if they never know how the wonderful floors stay wonderful.

Some people might save the wonderful floors for the last big meal of camp. But at this camp (and so many others), the wonderful floors happen right from the get go. And never stop happening. No matter how tired or bored or discouraged the tamers of the sea monster may become.

“When the campers saw the wonderful floor, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the teenagers on work crew knew), they said to their leader, ‘My school food is okay, and the cafeteria is alright – but something about this place is different. Awesome. Wonderful. Every day is the best day ever.”  This miraculous sign at camp in the midwest was not the first time Jesus’ love had been displayed by teenagers. And those same teenagers believed in him even more deeply.” (John 2:9-10, paraphrased)

Let us taste His goodness. Let us drink His love. And let us do it in a banquet hall with wonderful floors.

The light shines in the darkness (in which I consider the importance of tiki torches and water balloons at middle school camp)

It is 11 pm on the first day of camp as I write this.

The beautifully explosive middle school descent (also known as Day One of Camp) was a smashing success. They are here – all of them, in all their glory. And because they are here – all of them, in all their glory – it seemed wondrously wise to celebrate. Late at night. In the dark. Long after dinner, games, gathering, and discussion.

Because what could be better than a late night celebration (aka obstacle course) in the dark? Look here and see what I mean:

Night games (Photo: CKirgiss)
Night games (Photo: CKirgiss)

Can you see it, the wildly energetic celebration of life (extended across one parking lot, two football fields, one patch of woods, a forest path, and a beachfront) right there in the very dark of very darkness? Those blue lights on the left are flashlights, guiding small groups of the larger raucous crowd across a hilly field. Those two lights on the right are tiki torches, also known as The Official Starting Line. There are lots and lots of people there, mingling in the darkness, so ready to take off running. Look.

Night games in detail (Photo: CKirgiss)
Night games in detail (Photo: CKirgiss)

There. Do you see them? Masses of middle schoolers, lined up politely and patiently (relatively speaking).

Truth: the world is full of people living in the very dark of very darkness. They run from one light to another, hoping to arrive safely, hoping to find friends along the way, hoping to find something worth living for. Mostly they are hoping to find a place where the light  is more than just a tiny spot of world-centric bobbing and weaving.

They are looking for the only light that satisfies, the only light that pierces the darkest of dark, the only light that is steady and constant and true, the only light that embraces wholly, the only light that breathes love.

They are looking for Jesus, even if they don’t know it yet. And we are desperately hoping to reflect his light in the very dark of very darkness – rather than reflecting ourselves, which is an ever-present danger in a world that celebrates self.

And though the very dark of very darkness can sometimes overwhelm and suffocate, it does not have the last word because
the Light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.

We are for Jesus. We are for light. And against all reason and rationale, Jesus is for us.

Sing! Shout!  Let the celebration begin!

 

 

 

Here there be octaball (in which I consider beautifully shattered silence)

[Part of a series in which I muse about life at camp.]

Here there be octaball (photo: CKirgiss)
Here there be octaball (photo: CKirgiss)

In 3 hours (180 minutes / 10,800 seconds) masses of middle-schoolers will descend upon this place. And what a magnificent descent it will be. Loud. Energetic. Excited. Boisterous. Caffeinated. Frenetic, some might say.

Glorious, we would say. Because with those masses of middle-schoolers will come life as only middle-schoolers can live it.

And in this place here, those masses of identity-formational stage of life middle-schoolers will (by the grace of God) encounter life as only Jesus can give it.

It is quiet right now. Beautifully, soothingly, breathtakingly quiet – not because all is at rest, but rather because all are at work. A Sabbath kind of work. A worshipping kind of work. A restoring kind of work. The kind of work that is absolutely necessary in order folife on earth to meet life in Christ.

It is quiet here – even in the octaball court. (Which is both miraculous and creepy.) But soon – (wonderfully, excitingly soon) the still silence will be beautifully shattered in a way that only happens at camp.

Be still, my soul – in peace, in thanks, in adoration – and in preparation for the earth-shattering explosion that even now is barreling down the highway in this direction. We await in expectant joy!

The Best Week of Your Life (in which I consider the miracle of summer camp)

Michindoh Day 0 (photo: CKirgiss)
Michindoh Day 0 (photo: CKirgiss)

The miracle that is summer camp defies description on so many levels, even before summer camp has begun.

In 24 hours, 300+ middle-schoolers will descend on a little plot of sacred space in the mitten known as Michigan. So in fact the miracle we await will be twofold as miraculous summer camp collides with miraculous middle-school and creates a breathtaking explosion of awesomeness.

The excitement and anticipation and energy and total stupendousness of what’s to come is almost too overwhelming.

But not quite – because there is work to do. The miracle that is summer camp, you see, does not happen on its own. Not even close.

So today – 36 hours before campers arrive and the collision begins, and 8 hours before the full staff arrives – a small group of people started to work. Hard. Even though the work doesn’t officially start yet. Because that’s how things happen at camp. People step in. People step up. People step out, marching to the sacramental beat of an incarnated Savior who fully embodied and faithfully modeled humble service and grace and joy and love.

Welcome to camp, Day 0. We look ahead. We anticipate We catch our breath in sweet expectation.

And we work. Because without work – sweet, sacred, blessed work – the miracle that is summer camp cannot happen.

Let us rejoice and be glad!