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)

Here we love babies and mamas (in which I consider Young Lives Camp Day 1)

Six hours. That is how long this sacred space in the netherlands of Michigan has become even more sacred because, well, mamas and babies, of course. Over 100 of each.

Not everyone understands why there is so much love here for young mothers and their children. Not everyone understands why a bunch of teenagers have given up a month of their summer to work for free doing things like taking several hours each day setting beautiful tables for these mothers and babies, tables that have real linens, proper place-settings, polished high-chairs, toddler cups with bendy straws, and a full pack of baby wipes…

Young Lives pre-dinner table (Photo: CKirgiss)
Young Lives pre-dinner table (Photo: CKirgiss)

…even though it will take only about 15 minutes of dinner activity for the table to look like this…

Young Lives post-dinner table (Photo: CKirgiss)
Young Lives post-dinner table (Photo: CKirgiss)

…and for the floor to look like this…

Young Lives post-dinner floor (Photo: CKirgiss)
Young Lives post-dinner floor (Photo: CKirgiss)

…which is a wondrous tapestry of broccoli, rice, chicken, salad, bread, juicy puddles, and a mama’s pair of sunglasses.

Indeed: even if the mealtime experience weren’t such an adventure in patience and grace, still not everyone understands why this week of loving teen moms and their babies is such a very, very big deal.

This is why: because, well, mamas and babies. Isn’t it obvious?

Mama and babe. Mother and child. A whole crowd of them. What could be more wondrous and sacred, especially for a child of God and follower of Christ?

For you see: the LORD loves children, so much that he carefully and purposefully knits them together while still in the womb. He warmly welcomes them, even when his friends and followers try to push them aside for being too young, too noisy, too distracting, and too much trouble. He considers them precious enough to be the incarnated identity of himself. God Almighty. Creator of all. A babe. A babe! Why do we love babies? Why indeed.

And the LORD loves mothers, so much that he himself is often described in those terms. He is like an eagle that rouses her chicks and hovers over her young (Dt. 32: 11). He comforts his children as a mother comforts her child (Is. 66:13). He gives birth to the dew and the frost from heaven; he is the mother of the ice (Job 38:28-29). And then there is this: he entered the world as a helpless babe, not formed directly from the dust of the ground, but rather ushered into life out from the womb of a mother, a living breathing flesh-and-blood human mother. And this: when shepherds and Kings met the Messiah of the world, they met him  not as a king surrounded by advisors and subjects but as a babe with his mother. And this – oh, do not forget this: when he hung on the cross, preparing to breath his last breath, he yelled out to his friend, “My mother…do not forget my mother! Take care of her as if she were your own! Because I love her!”

We love mothers and babies here at Young Lives camp because God loves mothers and babies, and we are commanded to love as he does. Really, that’s all there is to it. That’s all there is because that’s everything there is. God’s love is everything. And we want in on it, not just for ourselves but to share it with others so they can be in on it, too. That’s it. That’s the whole story.

Not everyone understands. I get it. But God does amazing things anyway – and this week is going to be full of those amazing things indeed because, well, mamas and babies, and more importantly a God who loves them beyond what any of us will ever understand.

Mother and child: Young Lives TWL 2014 (Photo: CKirgiss)
Mother and child: Young Lives TWL 2014 (Photo: CKirgiss)

 

 

 

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.

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.
Amen
(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.

Our Father… (Michindoh Post 16)

[This post is sixteenth 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’.]
 

Scripture refers to God as “Father” often enough for it to be one of His main names and attributes.

For some people, that’s problematic. “Father” does not always – in some cases does not at all – equate with trust, protection, and love. In such cases, there are emotional hurdles that must be leaped repeatedly before new life in Christ can be embraced.

But God the Father has some motherly attributes that are overlooked at our own peril and loss.

In the poetry of Job, God calls himself the mother of the ice who gives birth to both dew and frost.

God protects his children under his wings just as a mother hen protects her chicks.

God helps his offspring fly on his wings just as a mother eagle helps her eaglets.

God comforts His children just as a mother comforts her children.

God loves and nurtures His people so they can learn to rest contentedly in His arms just as a weaned child rests in her mother’s arms.

God gives us new life. God rebirths us. God welcomes us into the kingdom of his household.

God is Father as only God can be.

At the same time, God births, nurtures, and loves with a mother’s heart.

For teen moms, created in the very image of God, this is beautiful and breathtaking truth.

 

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.

Day 0 (Michindoh Post 14)

[This post is fourteenth 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’.]
 

Day 0.

Today, this must happen in preparation for tomorrow’s arrival of 100 teen moms and their babies:

unload the storage closet (in which is stacked and piled highchairs, bouncy chairs, baby swings, booster chairs, toys, rocking chairs, changing tables, and so much more);

wash everything that is in said storage closet – maybe twice;

divide and deliver all the cleaned stuff to one of eight different nurseries;

deliver mini-fridges to each camper cabin;

put safety plugs into every outlet in every camper cabin;

make beds for every teen mom;

and more. Much, much more.

Here we go.

Hang on tight.

Hope in the Lord

Pray without ceasing.

Amen.