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.



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!

I’m baaaaaack….. (or: Why Middle-Schoolers Are the Awesomest)

Wyldlife boys Wyldlife girls

It’s been a long summer. A long and full summer. A long and full and amazing summer. Mostly because I got to spend 5 of the 10 weeks with awesome middle-schoolers.

That’s right: “middle-schoolers” and “awesome” – all in the same paragraph, same sentence, same phrase.

The reactions I get to spending half my summer with middle-schoolers range from eye-rolls to offers of sympathy. The reactions I get to the fact that I spent half my summer with middle-schoolers – and loved every single second of it – range from disbelief to concern to condolences, as though there’s a direct and quantifiable connection between my love for middle-schoolers and my impending mental demise.

To which I say: phooey.

And phooey again.

Middle-schoolers are simply delightful beyond words, and if I could bundle them all up and bring them home with me, I would (though that would require a pretty big supply of Axe and neon nail polish).

To every middle-schooler I met this summer: thank you for being you.

And to every middle-school doubter out there: you don’t know what you’re missing. Fact.

Lost and Found (Michindoh Post 9)

[This post is ninth of a series in which I reflect on spending a month at camp for Wyldlife (middle schoolers) and YoungLives (teen moms). You can follow by subscribing to this blog below. All posts are categorized as ‘Michindoh 2013’.]

The busses just pulled out. 350 campers and leaders are on their way home.

We are left here to rejoice in the way we saw God at work – and to cope with the empty space left in our hearts by those who just departed.

It’s hard to say goodbye.

Sure, tonight we might get to relax, and tomorrow we don’t need to rise for an early breakfast. But we will miss the faces we were just getting to know and the smiles we were just growing used to and the souls we were just starting to love.

Those 350 middle-schoolers left behind a deep well of joy and hope and grace and love.

They also left behind this:

Lost, not found (Photo: CKirgiss)
Lost, not found (Photo: CKirgiss)

. . . shirts and shorts and shoes and all manner of stuff that a middle-schooler may not miss, (but the mother who bought it might).

It’s this way at the end of every camp week. Kids are so busy running and playing and laughing and dancing and hanging out and having fun that lost items of this-or-that often go entirely unnoticed. Unmissed. Unseen. Unsought. Unclaimed.

The items in this pile that are expensive, clean, stylish, and attractive might someday be claimed.

The items in this pile that are ripped, worn, smelly, and dirty will not.

Thank goodness the same is not true of God’s view towards humanity.

He is never too busy holding the stars in place or breathing life into the universe to not notice a lost soul.

And He does not consider any lost soul – regardless of whose it is, where it has been, what it has done – to be a merely this-or-that item, not worth the effort of seeking and finding.

Jesus came not to condemn the world but to redeem it. Jesus came to offer hope to those who know they are broken. Jesus came to show us how to live.

Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. He does not distinguish between those who appear to be clean, stylish, and attractive and those who are obviously ripped, worn, and filthy.

He seeks them all. Unceasingly. Lovingly. Faithfully. Gently.

And when He finds even just one – well, then the cosmos is momentarily shattered by the joy within His heart and the celebration throughout the heavens.

We once were lost. We now are found.

Nothing will never be the same.

Home-away-from-home sweet home (Michindoh Post 7)

[This post is seventh of a series in which I reflect on spending a month at camp for Wyldlife (middle schoolers) and YoungLives (teen moms). You can follow by subscribing to this blog below. All posts are categorized as ‘Michindoh 2013’.]

Going to camp for a month is no small thing. Besides all the packing for the destination stay, there’s all the preparation for the departure site. Read: who will take care of things at home while we are gone? And by “things” I mean the lawn and the dog, neither of which is self-sufficient or hibernatorial. In 20+ years of fairly consistent camp assignments, neither the lawn nor the various dogs have ever been left unattended. I consider this fact to fall somewhere on the miraculous end of the camp prep scale.

One of the blessings of camp life is leaving the things of home back home where they belong.

One of the challenges of camp life is feeling at home when not really at home.

There are several possible ways to accomplish this, some of which are beyond foolish (we’ll just skip over those, shall we?), and others that are tried and true.

1. Avoid the sleeping-on-a-lumpy-mountain-top syndrome, or conversely the sleeping-on-a-lumpy-but-flat-inner-tube debacle by bringing your own pillow. Or two or three.

2. Avoid the what-exactly-is-scrunched-around-my-neck-and-face nightly worries by bringing your own blanket. Or two or three.

3. Bring craft materials. Lots of it. Because there will probably be some six-year-old girls at camp who will require a special diet of sidewalk chalk, glitter, markers, glue, and various doodads. In large daily doses.

4. Bring books. Lots of them. Because there will probably be some . . . oh, let’s just be honest. Because you can’t leave home without them. And by “them” I mean ten. Or maybe twenty. Or more.

5. Find the nearest thrift store and buy a $1.99 string of gigantic illuminated Christmas stars to drape across the front of your camp abode. (Also: probably buy some more books.) Nothing screams sophisticated and classy like a $1.99 string of gigantic illuminated Christmas stars. That blink.

Christmas Stars in June (Photo: CKirgiss)
Christmas Stars in June (Photo: CKirgiss)

The stars are really the icing on the creating-a-home-away-from-home-sweet-home cake.

More importantly, they are a reminder that we serve the one true God who, at the beginning of all things, spoke the stars into existence, stars that are counted and named.

They are a reminder that we hope kids meet the Creator who laid the foundations of the world while the morning stars sang together and the angels shouted for joy.

They are a reminder that we follow the only fully human/fully divine Messiah whose birth was announced to shepherds and kings alike by a brilliant star.

They are a reminder that we are very small – much smaller than a single real star of the universe – but are still beloved by the Almighty God.

When I  gaze at the night sky – the moon and stars that You lovingly made and placed and named – I can only cry out: “What are we, Lord, that You would consider us worthy of even one short moment of Your love and attention? Who am I, Lord, that You would become a helpless babe in order to rescue and rebirth me?”

My home-away-from-home sweet home blinking stars are tacky beyond words.

But they are also quirky and delightful and joyful beyond words.

They make me smile, even as they help me remember Who we love and why we are here.