When camp is over: thoughts on going home

I suppose that on this day, and last week, and next week, and all throughout this summer, tens of thousands of people will at some point go home from having worked and served at camp.

Substitute “mission trip” or “service project” for “camp” and add tens of thousands more to the tally.

Re-entry into real life for campers can be tricky to navigate – metaphorically speaking, anyway. Thanks to Siri and smart phones, it’s been ages since I’ve heard of anyone actually getting lost going to or leaving from camp, which is a good thing, but also has eliminated some of the camp adventure factor. I’m nostalgic about the lack of atlases on long road trips.

But re-entry for camp workers and servers is often even trickier to navigate, for at least several reasons: we were at camp for a long time; we lived in a large community of fellow workers/servers; we are going home to a family that doesn’t understand or buy into similar beliefs and motivations; we face challenges and difficulties at home that will make ‘living out my faith’ less normative and less, well, let’s say ‘glamorous’ for lack of a better term.

Working at camp and serving campers is a thousand times more exciting, motivating, and satisfying than being at home and serving family, friends, and neighbors.

For one thing, there is always music playing in the background. Loudly. (Unless it’s time for reflection, in which case it’s perfectly subdued.)

For another, there is a large cadre of fellow workers/servers to carry you forward, pump you up, and cheer you on. (And sometimes one who gets under your skin and you secretly wish would decide to give up, throw in the towel, call it quits, and get on out of there.)

Throw in some daily devos, adventurous movie-set-ish surroundings, and some regular one-on-one mentoring from a cool and winsome young adult (or a formerly cool, winsome-ish older adult), and it’s easy to see why the thought of ‘going home’ doesn’t always lead to a song and dance.

But home is real. Home is where life happens. Home is where Jesus is, lives, and waits to walk through life with us. Home is sacred. Home is real. Home is blessed (even when it’s not). Home is where the biggest miracles of all happen.

Home is where we are challenged and learn to do the most difficult things of all.

Yes, getting up at 6:00 a.m. every morning to cook for 5oo people is challenging and difficult. But learning to be gracious and kind, every single morning regardless of how early or late it is, to the person in your family that regularly drives you to the edge of rationality — that is a miracle of home.

Yes, learning to work as a unified group with 8 other distinct people (read: love some, could take or leave some, can’t stand some) every day for a month or a summer is challenging and difficult and requires you to ask for the Lord’s grace and patience each and every morning (for a month or a summer, that is). But learning to work and live as a unified group with however many other people are in your household or dorm for the rest of your time living therethat is a miracle of home.

Yes, pushing through the days when you are tired and frustrated and just want to give up or slow down or push off is challenging and difficult and requires you to dig deep down into your soul’s reserves of strength and commitment. But learning to push through the days when you are tired and frustrated with the everyday, mundane, boring, non-camp-ish, adventure-less (we think), pointless (we assume), blahblahblah (we snivel) details of life for the rest of your life — that is a miracle of home.

It’s not hard to be changed at camp. It happens all the time.

Being changed for life – that’s the point. That’s what God wants for us. That’s what Jesus does for us…if we are willing to surrender and serve and listen and obey when we get back home, just like we did when we were at camp.

Big things happen at camp. People are transformed. People meet Jesus. People fall in love with God. People work harder than they ever worked before.

But really big things happen at home. We learn to obey. We learn to listen. We learn to exercise patience. We learn to extend grace. We learn to love, deeply, truly, impossibly, faithfully, and without end.

Do not miss the miracles of home once you’ve left camp. If you do, you will also lose all the miracles of camp, and that would be a tragedy indeed.


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.

“We clap our hands! We rustle in praise!” (in which I consider the trees of field and forest – and also camp)

[Here I muse about life-at-large while being here-at-camp.]

camp /kamp/
1. here; this place
2. where claps of joy and rustles of praise endure forever

Here we have community. Here we worship. Here we serve. Here we grow. Here we see God at work. Here we feel Jesus’ love. Here we taste the Spirit’s power.

Here there is grace abounding.

And also there, “there” being every place that is not here.

Camp does not have exclusive rights to community, worship, and growth. Camp does not have a corner on God’s work, Jesus’ love, and the Spirit’s power. Camp does not serve as the sole epicenter of the Divine Presence.

Rather, camp brings those things into sharp relief. Camp focuses our attention on what is always present. Camp directs our heart and mind to things of eternal reality. Camp unleashes the joy that we oft reject. Camp spills over with reminders of the ever-here ever-true God.

For that, we are grateful and blessed.

But if we do not take home with us the focused attention, eternal perspective, overflowing joy, and knowledge of the ever-here ever-true God, then we will have lost what cannot be measured. We will be less faithful followers of Jesus than the trees of the field and forest.

Dear Lord: let us clap for joy and rustle for praise, today and always, here and everywhere. Let us be more fully alive than trees of the field and forest. Let us live, in every way and place and moment, as your beloved children.

(Hear our prayer.)

Clap your hands! Rustle with joy! (Photo: CKirgiss)
Clap your hands! Rustle with joy! (Photo: CKirgiss)

You will live in joy and peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands! (Isaiah 55:12)

Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice! Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise! Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy! Let the trees of the forest rustle with praise before the Lord, for he is coming!” (Psalm 96:11-13)


Laundry day (in which I consider what it means to be washed clean)

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

It is laundry day at camp, a day during which the dirty clothes of the entire work staff will be washed clean. There are four sets of washers and dryers on the property. Three of the four work. The dryers take approximately 1.5 hours to fully dry a medium-sized load. There are eight hours until dinner. It’s going to be a race against time. And dirt.

Laundry day (Photo: CKirgiss)
Laundry day (Photo: CKirgiss)

There is a lot of laundry smashed into the bags of this hill. (I lift my eyes to hill – where does my help come from? My help comes from the detergent.) The mesh bags hold the dirt in – even hide it to some extent.

But the dirt is indeed in there, even if it is not easily seen. That’s the nature of clothing. Wear it and and it will need to be washed. Period.

I will wash these clothes today. And then I will wash them again next week, and the week after that, and the week after that … much like God washes me over and over and over again.

Yes, we were cleansed once and forever, 2000 years ago at the cross of Calvary. But the old self is indeed still resident in the soul, even if it is not easily seen. That’s the nature of life. Live it and it will need to be washed. Period.

What miracle is this that the God who graciously and undeservedly cleansed me to my very core (cleansed me fully, at the cost of his own wholly pure life) should faithfully and patiently continue the cleansing, day in and day out, until the day I breathe my last and finally stand in his presence?

It is a miracle beyond comprehension. It is a miracle playing out before my very eyes. This laundry. My sanctification. Indeed.

“You were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (I Corinthians 6:11)


“…(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!

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.

Oh boy (Michindoh Post 2)

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

Announcement: I love middle school boys.

(I considered opening with Confession instead of Announcement because it carries a certain amount of sophisticated narrative weight, especially in today’s memoir-crazed literary culture. But it also has certain pejorative implications that would be both unfair to and untrue of middle school boys. They already get enough bad press. Hence I will announce.)

I am living in the midst of 150-ish middle school boys this week. And while I do feel a certain genetic affinity for the 200-ish middle school girls in whose midst I am also currently living, I am most definitely drawn to the boys in greater measure for reasons quite beyond my comprehension.

It might be because at this age they are (for the most part) not yet entirely caught up in the swagger that looms just over the horizon.

It might be because at this age they are (at least some of them) seriously trying to engage in the whole confident-solid-handshake thing.

It might be because at this age they are (in some cases) still willing to try things that will be considered totally lame in another year or so.

Or it might be because underneath all of the nascent manhood that they are tentatively donning in various forms there still exists a boy who is not beyond needing – and often accepting – love, comfort, and protection.

One of the 7th-grade boys here is homesick. Seriously homesick. To such an extent that his body aches, his stomach churns, and his head throbs. This afternoon, while his cabin mates enjoyed the lake, he lay on the bank, knees drawn up, arm over his face, desperately missing his family.

I love that he wasn’t afraid to cry about it. That he didn’t feel the need to swagger and sway in falsely tough skin. That he didn’t worry what his friends and cabin mates would think of him. Not every middle school boy would be so transparently honest about his feelings. And not every group of friends would be wise enough to realize that the true issue was sadness rather than weakness.

But these friends were. They neither mocked him for being a baby (he isn’t) nor assumed that a barrage of encouraging words — or well-placed punches, which are sometimes the same thing in middle-school-boy-world — would eliminate the issue (they wouldn’t). Instead, they simply sat by him in turns, first one, then another, letting him know they noticed, they cared, and they weren’t leaving him to deal alone.

If only we would all be so vulnerable with the Lord as that 7th-grade boy was with his friends. If only we would let Him see our tears, would reject disingenuous swagger, and would cast aside the fear of being perceived as too weak. Or too broken. Or too hopeless. Or too lost.

If only we would all be so discerning with those who hurt as that group of boys was with their friend. If only we would offer first and foremost our presence, rejecting the desire to fix, casting aside the need of being perceived as very spiritual. Or very wise. Or very wonderful. Or very awesome.

I thought about these things today only because of what I saw happen in a group of middle school boys hanging out by the lake.

That might be one reason why I love them so much.

Where it’s at (Michindoh Post 1)

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

Yesterday (June 8) 350+ middle school students and their leaders pulled into a beautiful and sacred space known as Michindoh, located in the mitten state, specifically the lower mid-palm region. It would be cooler to say “in the thumb” or “on the ring finger.” But we are where we are, which is the lower mid-palm region. I would argue that in real life, the lower mid-palm region is where it’s at.

So what if it can’t point, can’t oppose, can’t wear a ring, can’t snap, can’t tap, or any of those other things that fingers and thumbs do.

Without the lower mid-palm region providing a place from which fingers and thumbs can do their business by connecting them to the arm to the shoulder to the body to the brain that tells them what to do, fingers and thumbs would be entirely pointless, really.

Michindoh – like every other camp run by God-loving Jesus-following folk – is nothing more than a place from which those who are the hands and feet (or fingers and thumbs) of Jesus can do their business, which is loving God and following Jesus among (in this case) middle schoolers and teen moms in the hopes that they see something about the Christian life that is so utterly attractive, appealing, and sweet they can’t help but notice.

If it were by our own power that God-loving and Jesus-following folk hoped to reflect an utterly attractive, appealing, and sweet life with Christ, all would be lost (which, in fact, is exactly what all God-loving and Jesus-following folk once were). For there is nothing about the inherent essence of anyone that could ever possibly accomplish such a thing. On our own, we are appalling, repellant, and (I suspect) as far from being a sweet aroma as the east is from the west.

But with the Spirit’s presence drenching our souls in His love, grace, forgiveness, and re-creation, suddenly (miraculously, undeservedly, assuredly) the beautifully attractive, appealing, and sweet Jesus can shine through – even if just a tiny bit – into a world that is far too dark and much too broken.

That’s why we are here, joyfully settled into this lower mid-palm region of the kingdom, working together to be the fingers and thumbs of a hand that will (by God’s grace) point people to the face and feet of Jesus. Should they choose to look, in His face they will see his endless love for them reflected in His eyes. Should they embrace that love, at His feet they will fall in sweet surrender to the God-man who gave up everything in order to give new life.

I cannot image being any other place doing any other thing for any other reason – being in the lower mid-palm region of the hand of Jesus is really that big of a deal.

Week 1, night 1, 8:29 p.m. (Photo: CKirgiss)
Week 1, night 1, 8:29 p.m. (Photo: CKirgiss)
Week 1, night 1, 8:37 p.m. Let's do this. (Photo: CKirgiss)
Week 1, night 1, 8:37 p.m. Let’s do this. (Photo: CKirgiss)