Young Lives Day Six: mamas, babies, friends, farewell, the finish line

They pulled out of camp this morning, all of those precious mamas and babies with their faithful and loving mentors.

Our hearts are full – full of joy for all those we met and loved; full of sadness for having to say goodbye; full of thanks for having been part of this amazing week; full of sorrow for the many young mamas and babies in this world who are not surrounded by a circle of loving and caring people; full of laughter for the fun and games and play we shared this week; full of tears for the broken world in which we live; full of hope because of Jesus.

We packed it all up today – all those highchairs and booster seats and pack-n-plays and swings and tricycles and changing pads and napping mats and carpets and blocks and sippy cups and dolls and trucks and playhouses and kiddie pools and blankets and toys and strollers.

It feels like just yesterday – and last year – that we were first staging the strollers for their arrival.

YLives strollers

And already today we lined them up, washed them down, and stored them away for another year.


Those strollers rolled many miles this week, ’round and ’round the lake, up and down the walkways, back and forth across the halls.

IMG_6200 (1)
Photo: Crystal Kirgiss, 2016
IMG_6129 (1)
Photo: Crystal Kirgiss, 2016

We cleared off the clotheslines, which looked different than most other weeks at a Young Life camp what with all the tiny little bodies creeping, crawling, and toddling hereabouts.

young lives clotheline
Photo: Crystal Kirgiss, 2016

We took our final walks through the silent prayer labyrinth of trees, soaking up the beauty of God’s creation, considering what He would speak to our hearts this week as we served – which was, in truth, a secondary task (such a difficult reality for those who “feel called to serve”) to hearing from and listening intently to His voice.

prayer trees
Photo: Crystal Kirgiss, 2016

We waved goodbye (and sometimes…often…hugged and held and cradled and cooed and said, “Gracious, you are a beautiful creation of God, you and your mama both, indeed you are!) to the many faces and fingers and hearts we met and loved this week.

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Photo: Crystal Kirgiss, 2016
IMG_6166 (1)
Photo: Crystal Kirgiss, 2016

And we felt a little piece of our own hearts pull out of camp this morning with all those mamas and babies and mentors – because how could it be otherwise? When the Lord sends love and grace into a person’s life, how can we do anything but respond with surprise, wonder, and a breathtaking gasp of joy?

The Lord was here this week. And He did mighty things.

But the Lord is also on busses, and in vans, and in cars, and back home, and absolutely everywhere.

We would do well to remember this as we ourselves pull out of camp today and tonight and tomorrow. We were privileged enough to watch – and even be a very tiny small part of God’s big amazing work here this week. Like the disciples thousands of years ago, we were invited to distribute the abundance of his love and mercy to a hungry crowd. He did the work – we simply passed it around, as faithfully and lovingly as we know how.

And now, when the week is done, we – like the disciples thousands of year ago – have been instructed to get back in the boat and go back…back home, back to the other side, back to where we came from, back to work, back to school, back to responsibility, back to daily life.

This was a powerful and amazing week indeed… because God was here. Let’s not forget that God is also here and there and everywhere, and so our service and love and kindness and caring must continue long past the moment we pull away from this place.

Young Lives is a bright and brilliant reflection of God’s love, as so many other things are.

Thank you, childcare workers, for serving so well this week.

Thank you, mentors, for loving your girls and their babies for such long and faithful weeks, months, and years.

Thank you, work staff for pulling out all the stops during this final week of your assignment.

Thank you, camp staff, for once again laying the table for the rest of us to both feast at and serve from. It took everyone to make this week happen.

But it took only God to make it real and sacred.

Bless the Lord, oh my soul – and may He bless the mamas and babies, wherever they are right now.

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.


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)

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.

Coming Home and Going Home (Post-Michindoh Post 1)

For the past month, a printed camp schedule has told me when and where to be, all day, each and every day.

That might sound dreadful. But in fact it was quite wonderful.

There was no need to decide whether to do laundry on day 3 (yes) or day 5 (no). The schedule dictates.

There was no need to wonder whether or not you really want to get sprayed off with a firetruck hose (yes) after playing in a mud pit (woot!) with 350 middle schoolers or 100 teen moms. The schedule dictates.

There was no need to debate the pros (lots) and cons (none that matter) of a late night dance party that required trekking to a building on the far side of the lake. The schedule dictates.

After being home for exactly 42 hours, I desperately miss the dictator.

I want a cabin bell to send me to bed at night. I need a staff meeting to wake me up in the morning.

Most of all, I want someone else to decide when and what I will eat three times each and every day.

Last night I spent 75 minutes in the grocery store during which I was essentially paralyzed by all the choices and responsibility.

I don’t want to plan and shop and cook for two. I want to eat my meals with thirty fellow work-staff friends. And I need a saner person than myself to set a weekly menu.

I’ve done the camp thing enough times to know that when it ends, I will deeply miss both the sense of purpose and the close-knit community.

But I’d forgotten how lost and aimless the first few days back home can be. Sure, it’s nice to be back in my own bed. But it would be even nicer if I could bring my own bed back to camp where I just spent a very sweet month indeed.

So here’s to Michindoh. Here’s to Wyldlife. Here’s to Young Lives. Here’s to community living and common purpose.

I quite miss them all because coming home, though lovely in its own way, doesn’t hold a candle to Going Home, which is what the last month was really all about.

“When the younger son finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.” So he returned home to his father. and while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” (from the 15th chapter of Luke’s gospel)


A three-dimensional gospel (Michindoh Post 20)

[This post is twentieth 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’.]

On the last day of Young Lives camp, in the final minutes of the last club of the week, almost 350 people – all the mamas, babies, leaders, mentors, childcare workers, and work staff – gathered together as a group. Because the work staff was, well, usually working during the week, and because the childcare workers were usually, you know, caring for children when mamas were busy during the week, this was the one and only time for such a collective gathering.

It was beautiful to behold.

Breathtaking, actually.

So much life, so much love, so much compassion, so much passion, so much energy, so much promise, so much of God’s beautiful creation, all in one place.

I wish I could describe it to you. I wish I could give you just the smallest glimpse of what it looked like. I wish I could help you feel for just one moment the Spirit’s overwhelming presence in that place.

But I can’t.

The special lens that allowed me to compress all of those seated folk in the whole of that seating arena into a single viewing frame did just what it promised: compressed all of that life and love and passion and energy and promise into a flat, squished, distorted, lifeless image.

Last gathering (Photo: CKirgiss)
Last gathering (Photo: CKirgiss)

It’s like a futuristic class picture gone awry.

In truth, the side-sections of the room are sharply angled, not flush with the middle section.

And the people seated in the side-sections are normal size, not miniature mashed versions of those in the middle.

And the faces are radiant images of hope and joy and life, not stoic plasticine molds of the real thing.

And the babies are wiggling, giggling, screaming, cooing bundles of babyhood, not lifeless and silent dolls.

But truth isn’t easily contained in a finite, two-dimensional space.

Certainly Jesus, who is truth itself, is much too incomprehensibly marvelous and indescribably wondrous to fit into any two-dimensional space.

So we do our best to wisely comprehend and to humbly describe Him in three-dimensional ways…
by being his hands and feet…
by telling his story…
by living his love.

Because of grace, there is every hope that our reflection of Jesus will be more true and beautiful than my camera’s reflection of the last great gathering at Young Lives camp. And let me tell you – it was true and beautiful indeed.

Washed Clean (Michindoh Post 19)

[This post is nineteenth 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’.]

How do you mark the week, the day, the moment that a heart turns towards home, bursting with joy at the promise of new life, new hope, new identity?

A thousand different ways.

Or perhaps just a single way.

Washed clean (Photo: CKirgiss)
Washed clean (Photo: CKirgiss)

By rubbing dirt between the palms of hands.

By placing dirty hands under gently poured water.

By listening to a strong yet quiet voice speak these words:

You have been washed clean by the blood of Jesus Christ.

So that’s what we did this morning. Poured water over the brave and beautiful hands of teen mothers while faithful mentors held their babies nearby – and while angels danced and sang for joy.

What was lost is now found. What was blind now sees. What was stained is now clean.

All and only because of Jesus.

…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. (First Corinthians 6:11)

Young Lives camp is over. But the joy of New Life is just beginning.

The other rooms (Michindoh Post 18)

[This post is eighteenth 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’.]

It takes lots of rooms besides cabins and a dining hall and 9 nurseries to pull off Young Lives camp.

There’s the club room – where in the mornings real people tell their real stories and where at night someone tells the gospel story.

There’s the war room – where every morning the leadership team works through each event and detail and moving piece of the day ahead.

War room (Photo: CKirgiss)
War room (Photo: CKirgiss)

There’s the resource room – where each minute of each day people are ready to provide whatever a mom or nursery worker might need.

Resource room (Photo: CKirgiss)
Resource room (Photo: CKirgiss)

And sweetest of all, there’s the quarantine room – where babies who have a sniffle or a cough can rest quietly and contentedly in the strong and gentle arms of a loving and caring adult.

Quarantine room (Photo: CKirgiss)
Quarantine room (Photo: CKirgiss)

This might be my favorite room of all. It is a picture of a trusting but weary believer who has learned to rest contentedly in the strong and gentle arms of a loving and caring God.

LORD, my heart is not proud;
my eyes are not haughty.
I do not concern myself with matters too great or awesome for me to grasp.
Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself,
like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk.
Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.
Children of God – put your hope in the LORD –
now and always.
(A psalm of David for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem)


A day of miracles (Michindoh Post 17)

[This post is seventeenth 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’.]

Sometimes when you’re at Young Lives camp with 98 teen moms and 94 babies and and 43 leaders, the weather gets kind of bad.

Sometimes it rains after you get into the dining hall to eat breakfast – and then stops just when it’s time to go outside for field games.

Sometimes it rains (pours, really) when club has started – and then stops just in time for campers and leaders to walk back to cabins for good conversation.

Sometimes the power goes out after club music is done and the talk is about to start (in a room that isn’t very deep, with a speaker who has a very strong outside voice and thinks things like power outages at camp are adventurous and exciting) – and then comes back on just after the closing prayer is finished.

Sometimes it rains when campers and leaders are in the cabins having good conversation – and then stops just in time for them to walk across camp for a sweet dance party.

Sometimes it rains during a sweet dance party – and then stops when the sweet dance party is done, just in time to pick up babies and walk them back to cabins for bed.

Sometimes the power goes out after moms and babies are safely back in their cabins at the end of a long day – and then comes back on just in time to give final bottles and baths before snuggling under the covers.

Sometimes you need 94 extra towels (that you don’t have) for exactly 94 babies (that you do have) – and when you gather and search and compile and count everything you can find in every place you can access, you find exactly 94 extra towels.

Sometimes all of that happens in a single day.

And when I say sometimes, I mean today.

Welcome to Young Lives camp.Welcome to Jesus.Welcome to the miraculous.

An awesome place to be. An awesome God to follow. An awesome thing to see – even (or especially) when it’s dark because the power is out.

Transformation (Michindoh Post 15)

[This post is fifteenth 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 transformation from middle school camp to teen mom camp is moving right along.

By tomorrow this pile of things will be fully laid out into 1 of the 9 nurseries:

Nursery (Photo: CKirgiss)
Nursery (Photo: CKirgiss)

This will be another:

Nursery (Photo: CKirgiss)
Nursery (Photo: CKirgiss)

These are 7 of the 50 or so totes full of bedding for teen moms:

Bedding (Photo: CKirgiss)
Bedding (Photo: CKirgiss)

These are 7 of the 25 or so work staff who are making beds for teen moms:

Work Crew (Photo: CKirgiss)
Work Crew (Photo: CKirgiss)

This is 1 of the 100 or so beds the work crew are making:

Making beds (Photo: CKirgiss)
Making beds (Photo: CKirgiss)

These are 5 of the 50 or so pack-n-plays for naptime:

Pack-n-Plays (Photo: CKirgiss)
Pack-n-Plays (Photo: CKirgiss)

These are 3 of the 40 or so baby bops for snuggling:

Baby bops (Photo: CKirgiss)
Baby bops (Photo: CKirgiss)

And these are all of the strollers, three rows deep, washed, dried, lined up, waiting for their precious cargo to arrive:

Strollers (Photo: CKirgiss)
Strollers (Photo: CKirgiss)

It’s not just another day at Michindoh. It’s Day Zero. And we are almost ready to roll.