Monday, June 29, 2009

Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own

Week 4:  June 21-27

Well, another week down.  Soccer camp was much different than what I expected or what I had experienced that first week of Bronco camp, but it was good.  God continued to show His faithfulness, despite my lack of faith.  It never gets old, does it?

I had seven girls this week, and they were crazy.  There were two 11-year-olds and five 9-year-olds.  A few of them bought stuffed animals at the camp gift shop (Berner’s Bay Trading Post/Trading Post/BBTP), and they thought it would be a good idea for two of them to get married.  So Monday night was the official engagement ceremony.  They laid out a blanket in front of the romantically lit stove, aligned the eager stuffed animal spectators on each side, made a ring/bracelet out of yellow thread, and the frog proposed (or “purposed”, as they spelled it on the sign they made to commemorate the event) to the pig.  Or maybe it was the other way around.  The wedding was the next day, but I missed it.  I think they were more excited about the proposal than the wedding.

My girls were all very different but got along great as a cabin.  One of them liked to give at least one hug every five minutes or so.  It drove me crazy.  I think God did it on purpose, since physical touch is one of my lowest love languages on the scale.  Two of them were good friends and pretty rambunctious, running late to just about everything.  One reminded me of my ex-roommate Bethany because she loved Twilight, Harry Potter, and reading overall.  Another was kind of a loner and pretty quiet.  One of them had a fantastic attitude all week and was very mature beyond her years, and the last one was a sweetheart but always had a problem with interrupting everyone. 

The girls all seemed pretty eager to talk to me individually.  One in particular poured her heart out to me as we walked all around camp after the others were in bed.  She told me about how her sister and parents were always screaming at each other and how her friends weren’t making very good choices.  She always worried about her family and didn’t enjoy being home.  I really didn’t know what to tell her.  All I knew to do was offer her hope—that God would get her through this and make her stronger, all for His glory.  I told her she just had to hang in there and pray.  It felt very much like a Sunday school answer, and I could tell that what I said didn’t seem to resonate very much, but she said that it was always a relief to be able to talk to someone about.  She told me she felt like a bottle, that all her emotions were just building up inside with no way to get out.  After we finished talking, I prayed that God would give me wisdom to know what to say to her later.  Once again, He was on the ball.  During one of the devotionals led by the head coach, he talked about how God wants us to endure through different kinds of trials, one of which included problems at home.  He said it a couple of times, and I hope that the girl caught it like I did.  I felt encouraged because he said basically the same things I did the night before. 

Oh yeah, I finally caught the Plague (cold/congestion yuckiness) that has been circulating throughout the staff.  And then I gave it to two or three of my girls.  I’m the best counselor ever.  It’s pretty much gone now, though I still have kind of a nasty cough.

The kids had soccer practice in the morning and in the afternoon.  In the evening was tournament play, where all the kids were split up into teams of four or five players each.  The games usually went pretty smoothly, though the horses wandered out into the field and between the soccer goals a couple of times.  I wasn’t around for most of the practices or tournaments, but they needed a coach/extra player during the last tournament, so I was the goalie.  Thankfully, I didn’t have many balls come my way.  It was fun to reminisce about playing my senior year, and it made me wish I had stuck around for more of the skills instruction this week so I could have learned a few things.  The coaches were incredible.  The head coach, Tom, was born with cerebral palsy.  While he had to use a cane to get around, he interacted great with the kids.  He was very inspirational, both on the field and during devotions in the chapel.  His wife Nicole and assistant Emily also helped coach the kids during the week.  In addition to soccer skills, they also taught the kids cup stacking for coordination practice.  I got to learn too, which was pretty sweet.  After the kids left on Friday, the coaches and a few of the counselors spent about two hours playing with the cups.  We built a giant triangular tower of cups that was probably eight feet tall or so.  It was awesome.

Our devotions before bed were awesome.  Much like my last cabin, these girls had a lot of questions, many of which I didn’t know how to answer.  One of my favorites was:  “Does God ever have fun?  In the Bible, He always sounds so serious.”  I didn’t really know what to say.  I’m sure God does have fun, and I guess I could have said things like He delights in us and in pouring out His love on us, but I couldn’t think of anything in the Bible that proved that God has fun.

Cabin clean up went a lot better this week than the first week.  The girls got really into it, and we even won one day!  I took a bunch of party decorations from the program office, and we decorated the cabin with streamers, balloons, and hanging beads.  I had also saved some cookies from the day before and set those and two cups of Gatorate out for the cabin cleanup checkers.  The girls were stoked, so I rewarded them with brownies and milk while they were playing on the playground the next day.

On Thursday night, the soccer group had a campfire out on the beach.  We all sat around for a couple hours and reflected on the events of the week.  The coaches then had the group say nice things about each person.  When it came to me, one of the nine-year-old boys stood up and said, “I think Reagan is really pretty.”  When everyone started laughing, he went on:  “That’s right!  I said it!”  It was hilarious.  Too bad he couldn’t have been about 12 years older.

The kids walked out Friday, so Saturday was a wonderful day of rest and relaxation for me.  I spent a few hours talking to some of the counselors about different spiritual issues.  Once again, the Lord answered my prayers for Him to reveal Himself to me.  For various reasons, I had really been struggling in my faith this last week and wanted evidence that God was really there.  I started reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis—which has been fantastic so far—but I still felt like something was missing.  But hearing about the ways in which God has acted in the lives of others was the most effective way to get the point across, and He knew it.  It is so refreshing being around the people here.  Everyone is so genuine and open about their faith.  Talking about God and spirituality seems almost as natural as breathing, and I feel like I’m learning new things every time I talk to someone about it.  I’m hoping that won’t be lost once I leave “the bubble” – one of the three in which I live at this point.

Today was also a glorious day, but I’ll get into that in the next post.  Thanks to all of you for your letters, prayers, and many words of encouragement.  Next week I’ll be counseling for Colt camp, which is for the 7- to 9-year-olds (the “ankle biters”).  Good times. 

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Love and Peace Or Else

Week 3:  June 14-20

Happy Father’s Day, and big up to my Dad back in Oklahoma! I miss you.

Work staff week is over, and now it’s on to camp #3. We have four different camps this week: basketball, soccer, wilderness, and horse. Here’s the best part: I’m counseling girls in soccer camp! Those of you who know me well are aware that I have zero athletic ability and have only played/hated soccer my senior year of high school. As far as I know, though, I won’t actually be playing, just herding the girls from place to place and leading devotions. The schedule is supposedly more lax than regular camp, so I will probably have a little more free time, and it won’t be as stressful. But I guess I’ll know for sure when the time comes.

Maverick #1 (ages 12-15) week ended yesterday. Even though I didn’t counsel last week, I still got to be involved with the kids during my free time station hours (inflatable boxing, sky trolley/zipline, etc.). They seemed like awesome kids, and the counselors could attest to that. We all heard amazing stories from each other about how God used situations or chapel topics or evening devotions to work in the hearts of the kids or the chemistry of the cabin. He never fails to carry you when you just surrender everything over to Him. That continues to be the biggest lesson I’ve learned (over and over) so far.

Friday was Crud Wars day. This game is basically an organized outdoor food fight. Two teams at a time grab one substance at a time (flour, wet dog food, spaghetti noodles, shaving cream, etc.) and throw it at each other. Once everyone is finished throwing one kind of thing, they move on to the next one. The kids were told that morning that they wouldn’t be doing Crud Wars this week; instead, they would be playing a “better” game called Madness. At dinner that night, Jon-Michael got up to make an announcement. He said that Pat, the head cook, had forgotten to save food throughout the week for Crud Wars, so that was the reason we wouldn’t be able to play. Even though she had made this frustrating mistake, he had decided to forgive her and we should too. When he turned around to announce that we should all forgive Pat, she threw a pie in his face, and the madness began! The cooks had just set out huge bowls of slop on the tables, and Pat threw the first handful at a camper’s face. A massive food fight ensued for about the next five minutes and then moved outside and morphed into actual Crud Wars. Only a handful of people knew this was going to happen in advance, so it was definitely a shock to most of us. The dining hall was a disaster, and it took about two hours to clean up. We all had fun doing it, though, and it was worth it. Apparently it was the first food fight ever at Echo Ranch. We made a memory!

Friday night chapel was one to remember. Several of the counselors performed the Lifehouse skit (look it up on YouTube), and it really hit home with most of the people there. After the skit was over, Tim and Kirk (the guys counselors who lead worship) got up to sing “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”, and Kirk couldn’t get through it without crying. This started a chain reaction of tears among the kids, which lasted throughout all of Jon-Michael’s message afterwards. Many even left during the talk and then came back at the end. At the end of the message, he played the song from the skit (“Everything” by Lifehouse), and the kids and their counselors just sat and wept. Honestly, I’m still not sure what I think about it all. I believe that many of those tears where a genuine cry out to God after realizing what He had done for them, some were a form of empathy for friends, some stemmed from indirect peer pressure, and others were the result of physical and emotional exhaustion. Some were probably a combination of all of the above. Jon-Michael explained it well: these kids are so tightly wound all year long between camps, and they needed a way to release it all. That night was the night to do it. Whatever the reason, I’m glad the kids got the opportunity to let it all out. It seemed to provide a great way to present the gospel and show God’s love and comfort to those who were hurting. I hope decisions and changes that were made last beyond camp, as I hoped with my girls from the week before. But that’s not in our hands – all we can do is give it over.

Yesterday was a good day. The counselors had their “praise and prayer” session in the Loft after all was said and done. Most of us practically fell asleep during the prayer part, but it was still great to finally relax with people our own age. Afterwards was chick night with the nurses (Denise and Laurie), a few counselors (Nikki, Amber, and Skylar), and the work staff head person (Erin). We spent the next couple hours gabbing and eating ice cream and sharing funny stories… and just having a blast.

Like I kind of touched on in my last post, I had a much harder time feeling connected to and hearing from God this week. It was frustrating, but this is the way we grow. He continues to teach me, even when I’m not aware of it. Jon-Michael told a story on Friday night about a man talking to a woman on an airplane. He asked her, ‘If you got to Heaven after you died, and Jesus weren’t there, would you still want to be there?’ Following that story, I realized that I have come to the point where I truly want Him above all else. It came to me while I was talking to Him at the top of the sky trolley, and it made me cry. It’s an indescribably wonderful feeling – blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. What else in this life really matters apart from Him? How could I desire a life on earth or an eternal life in Heaven without Him there? I couldn’t.

I posted Denise Pritt’s “ERBC 2009” album to my Facebook profile. Make sure you check it out to see pictures of Echo Ranch Idol, the food fight, and other junk.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Miracle Drugs

Week 3:  June 14-20

I've been loading up on Vitamin C since I got here, so I have yet to get sick like almost every other counselor here. Sweet. I have also continued to abuse the free coffee/tea bar. It is a glorious thing.

This week I have been cleaning bathrooms, washing dishes, setting tables, painting walls, and hitting kids with swimming pool noodles. Tomorrow I will be cleaning outhouses! Despite the drudgery of the busy work, God has been teaching me to have a servant's heart. I'm not sure whether that is something you learn or something you just make a conscious decision to have. The Bible says to do everything for the glory of God; in this way, men will see your good works and praise the Lord. Maybe joyfully scrubbing toilets will have that effect. Maybe not. If nothing else, maybe it will elicit my praise.

When someone gets mail at camp, they are required to stand up in front of everyone in the dining hall and sing (and dance to) “Gray Squirrel.” If you are not familiar with that song, it goes like this:

Gray squirrel, gray squirrel,
Shake your bushy tail.
Gray squirrel, gray squirrel,
Shake your bushy tail.

Crinkle up your little nose.
Stick it down between your toes.

Gray squirrel, gray squirrel,
Shake your bushy tail.

Good times. I’ve done it two or three times now. The “shake your bushy tail” part requires you to turn around and shake your rear end at your audience, but it’s not so embarrassing anymore. Keep on sending that mail!

I have gotten to help lead worship a few times in chapel, and that has been a blast. Our silly skit night also went really well, including my part as Susan Boyle in “Echo Ranch Idol.” I wore a frizzy-haired gray wig and drew bushy eyebrows on my face. There will be pictures someday.

Hope everyone back on the homefront is doing well. Thank you for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers! Love to all.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Crumbs from Your Table

I accidentally posted content from "Vertigo (1)" into "Vertigo (2)", but the second one is, in fact, updated. So make sure you read it!

It's a strange experience, being thrust back into civilization after hiding out in the woods for two whole weeks. I felt a little like Thoreau in his value of Walden Pond. Once you get to this kind of place, you get used to living simply. There are more important things to worry about than seeing movies or hanging out at Target or getting stuck at traffic lights. You learn to appreciate the company of others who have nothing to hide, or the beauty of the sun setting behind the mountains, or the magnificent bald eagles you see flying overhead, or the fingerprints of God on the faces of the children you meet each week. These are the things that make life on earth worthwhile.

There wasn't a whole lot to see back in town, to my surprise. Juneau has a very "small town" feel to it. The streets are lined with little shops and restaurants, probably to attract tourists. The scenery is breathtaking. The mountains are a lot farther away back at camp, but you are right next to them once you get to Auke Bay/Juneau. Two other girls and I spent about 20 minutes searching for an open coffee shop before the concert, but to no avail. We had to settle for coffees at McDonald's, but I guess it was worth it. Everyday Sunday did a pretty good job, though I didn't know any of their songs. After the show was over and I had successfully withdrawn cash from the ATM machine (yay, now I finally have real money!), we all headed over to Fred Meyer to purchase our respective necessities. I finally bought some eyeliner to replace the one that disappeared into the abyss of nothingness and shampoo to replace the bottle I never had. I also picked up the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Best Of" album because it was $7. Who could pass that up, right?

Camp has started again, this time for 12- to 15-year-olds. I'm on work staff for the week, so I get to do things like mop floors and wash dishes and paint ceilings and scrub bath houses. It's not always the most fun thing ever, but I'm doing my best to have a good attitude about it. The Bible says to be joyful in all things. Lord, help me!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Vertigo (2)

Week 2:  June 7-13


Wednesday was Crazy Hair Day. I didn’t do anything too wild, but a couple of my girls stuck sticks or other foreign objects in their hair. Since we failed miserably at cabin cleanup the day before, we made all kinds of decorations for the cabin, including a welcome sign on the front door, verses posted on the walls, and some Famous Amos cookies for the cabin cleanup checkup crew. I gave my 3-5 minute condensed testimony in chapel that morning, which went pretty well. I included a verse that has been significant to me over the last several days:

“…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:3-5

I read it Monday night, and it encouraged me every time I felt like I just wanted to give up – which was just about every night as I sat in chapel with loud music and rowdy girls. If this kind of work doesn’t blow some suffering, perseverance, character, and certainly hope right into ya… Then something is wrong. And God was faithful to answer every desperate prayer and guide me through the whole thing. It was incredible to see Him work right in front of my face time and time again. But I’ll get to that.

I had been feeling really discouraged about the lack of connection I had been making with the girls. I wanted to spend quality time with each of them, to find time to get to know them on a personal level. With all there was to do, it seemed like it couldn’t be done, and I felt like a failure. After the girls were dismissed to their skills classes, I went back to the cabin and started crying. Then I really felt like I should just pray for my girls. I prayed over each bunk in that room and bawled my ever-lovin’ eyeballs out. I felt such a burden for them—I knew that, even though I could try teaching them as much as I could this week, I couldn’t protect them forever. I knew that struggles would come in their future. I wanted to be able to guide and shield them from the oncoming storm of life. And then I realized that that wasn’t my place. So I surrendered it to God. I told Him that I knew I couldn’t protect them and guide them through life’s troubles, but He could.

After my breakdown, I decided to run back to the dorm to get ready for bed before free time and chapel. Feeling a little more encouraged and empowered by God’s touch, I really wanted to tell someone about what had been going on with me and my cabin. I prayed that God would provide someone to share these things with. I walked into the dining hall, visited with people for a couple minutes, came back down, and then ran into the girls’ CA (camp assistant), Alison. She asked me how I was doing, and I said I was alright. Then she asked if she could pray with me, and I told her that would be great. Almost as soon as she started, I started crying. She knew the exact words to pray and the condition of my heart. When she was finished, I told her about everything that was going on with me and my girls: I was worried about connecting with them one-on-one, I had just prayed for each of them, and I felt lost as to how to give them spiritual guidance. She was so encouraging and told me I had been doing a fantastic job. When I went downstairs, I realized that God had just answered another prayer within 5 minutes of it being uttered, and I started crying again! I probably looked ridiculous brushing my and wiping tears from my eyes at the same time, but I couldn’t help it. He didn’t leave me hanging.

I had “lifeguard” duty that night during free time. I wasn’t too excited about going to sit on the beach by myself for an hour, but it turned out to be one of the most refreshing times of my whole week. I sat on a log, stared at the water and the sky, buried my feet in the sand, and scratched the letters of “Reagan <3s>

I had my “mom” Lyn come talk to the girls during our cabin devotions that night. It was great to hear her testimony and way of telling the girls what each of their memory verses meant.


Thursday was definitely my favorite theme of the week: Tacky Day. I rocked a blue dress with a floral shirt, a bright beaded necklace, polk-a-dot rain boots, and sunglasses. It was also a great day for connecting with each of the girls – I was a little more lax than usual and made sure to talk to almost all of them about where they were spiritually. I talked to one girl who believed in God and Jesus Christ but who had never asked Him to live in her heart, so I told her I woul be happy to pray with her whenever she wanted. I thought she had forgotten about it after awhile, but she came up to me later to say that she and one of the other girls (to whom I had also talked) would like to pray with me later that night. I was ecstatic.

I had promised them all week that we would make s’mores as a cabin, so for “cabin time” I grabbed the supplies from the pantry, started a fire in the stove, and let them go crazy. It was a blast. They also won both of their Quiz Quest matches that afternoon, so that was a plus as well.

It’s a camp tradition to have a bonfire on the beach the last night of camp, so after chapel everyone headed down to the waterfront, sang worship songs, and listen to Jon-Michael share the gospel. At our cabin devotions that night, I asked the girls what they thought about what was said. Naturally, they had a lot of questions that I can’t really remember now, but that wasn’t as important as what happened a little later. Two of my girls became Christians that night. We clapped and cheered like the angels in heaven. (One girl then asked us to quiet down because she had ‘sensitive ears,’ and I very nicely told her to get over it because this was more important.) I wanted to find the Bible passage that talked about the angels in heaven rejoicing each time a sinner repents, and after I found it, the girls asked me to read some more. We stayed up awhile later reading the story of the prodigal son and the one where Jesus healed the paralytic. The girls ate it up. I loved seeing the eagerness in their faces. Where does that joy over the Word go as you get older?


The last day of camp had finally come. I was in charge up hooking kids up to the sky trolley (zipline) that morning during free time, and I had a blast talking to the other campers who weren’t in my cabin. Very few of them were ready to head back home. Several of them were scared to death of being 50 feet off the ground, and it felt awesome to encourage them to the point where they finally took that leap of faith. I only almost fell off the platform once. Good times.

I had the chance to give each of them a Bible before they were all packed up. The girls absolutely loved them, and two of them asked me to sign theirs. A few of them just sat on a bunk, flipping through them and reading verses here and there. Their zeal for the Word will never cease to amaze and inspire me.

It was hard to see those girls go. I didn’t think I would be too sad to see that tractor pull away with all of them on the trailer in the back, but of course, after all the hugs, waves, and goodbyes, I started crying. (It didn’t go unnoticed. Just before they were out of earshot, I heard one of them yell, ‘Reagan’s crying!’) It got worse as I did the final cabin cleanup. What now? What would the new believers’ families think? Would they read their Bibles? Would they make good choices when they got older? Would their love for growing in the knowledge of God continue? Once again, I had to remember that I wasn’t put in charge of their future. God would protect them.

That night, all the counselors from that week and those on work staff gathered together to discuss our respective “highs” and “lows” of the week. It was a great time for “soul-grabbing” and being authentic with everyone, which is right up my alley. I shared about how God had been faithful to answer my prayers that week and the ways He had taught me that I could not handle everything on my own. Others had similar testimonies. After everyone had shared, we prayed together. It was such a powerful experience to hear the things the Lord had laid on people’s hearts.


Jon-Michael talked the night before about how counselors take off their “counselor clothes” when the camp week is over – and then go crazy. Saturday was the culmination of the madness. We all went into “camper” mode yesterday, which was pretty funny. It was definitely a good day to practice our “silly skits”, which we will be performing this Tuesday night. One of them is called “Echo Ranch Idol,” in which I will be playing the part of Susan Boyle. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, look it up on YouTube.) I’m pretty excited about it.

While having free time was wonderful, I was feeling a little bummed about being “useless” – without real responsibility or accountability to anyone. I also felt very distinctly that I hadn’t really grown in my relationships with the other counselors, so I prayed that I would be able to connect with them. When God answers prayer, He answers prayer. It was awesome. Everyone gathered in the dining hall that night to play games, eat corn dogs and pretzels, and just hang out. I sat and talked about God, the Bible, and personal/spiritual weaknesses with four other counselors that night. I don’t remember any other time in my life where I had truly experienced such fellowship with other believers. We weren’t being forced into a Bible study; no one had told us to go talk about Jesus in a small group with our list of required questions; we were just being real with each other. I don’t know what could be better than that.


This morning I got to help lead worship in chapel, and tonight we’re heading into town to attend an Everyday Sunday concert, go to Fred Meyer (the local Wal-Mart), and make a zillion phone calls. Should be a great break from living in the middle of nowhere.

I received a letter from Ashley, a CD from Josh, and another letter from Nina this week. They were great – thank you! And keep sending them!

I have learned and grown so much this week. Among many other things, I have become entirely convinced that God is faithful to complete the work He has started in and through us. When you pray, He will answer you one way or another. And when He answers, talk about it! This is how we bring glory to His Name. I have loved being able to share answers to prayer with others over the past few days, and I don’t want to stop. I hope this has encouraged you to do the same.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Vertigo (1)

Week 2:  June 7-13

Wow.  So Bronco I (first camp for 10- and 11-year-olds) week is over.  I can now say that I succeeded in being more tired this week than I was during my last post...  But it was all worth it.  This is going to be long, but I'll just start from the beginning.


I could not start a fire in the stove inside my cabin to save my life.  I had to get help from my teammates more than once on getting a fire going that day, and I had to endure the ridicule of my girls.  Oh well.  It builds character, right?

The campers showed up in the late morning.  I had 8 girls in my cabin:  Chandler, Jimmie, Michaela, Samantha, Laurel, Maggie, Kelley, and Ashlee.  (One of them sounded exactly like the babysitter from The Incredibles – no joke.)  I also had a JC (junior counselor) named Lauren, and she was a huge help.  After getting a group picture, we all headed over to the opening rally and then had lunch.  We then did lots of other activities and things that I can’t remember now.

After chapel that night, we all came back, and I had one of my teammates make a fire for us.  The counselors are required to lead a devotional before the campers go to bed, which was actually my favorite part of the day.  When we were all ready for bed and had the fire going, I had my girls drag a few mattresses off their bunks and onto the floor around the stove so we could talk.  I asked them what they thought about the message in chapel and if they had any questions about God or the Bible.  Let me tell you, kids can think of the craziest questions.  “What if the people who wrote the Bible were wrong?”  “How do we know it’s real?”  “How did God begin?”  It was a great time to connect with the girls and get a feel for how many of them were familiar with the church and the Bible.  The night wasn’t so pleasant after bedtime, though.  I had told the girls it was okay to wake me up if they had any problems during the night or needed someone to take them to the bath house.  I had been informed earlier by the nurse that one of the girls was a bed-wetter, so I let the whole group know to let me know if they needed a new sleeping bag or anything else in the middle of the night.  One of them woke me up around 1am to take them to the bathroom.  Right after I got back, one of the girls walked up to me to say that she had wet the bed.  Awesome.  I had her put her wet clothes in a trashbag, took them to the laundry room, and made sure she was squared away before I went back to bed.


Each day following Monday had a theme, and Tuesday was Camo Day.  I was excited because it meant I got to wear my new camo shorts for the first time, though I think I was the only one in my cabin who dressed up. 

There’s a time during the day that is specifically set aside for “cabin cleanup.”  According to the rules, you are supposed to have your cabin sweep the floor and outside porches, clean the shelves, make their beds, and hang up decorations on the inside.  The “cabin checkers” walk around about an hour later to assign points to each cabin for the quality of their work.  I did a rough sweep of the floors and had the girls make their beds, and they made a welcome mat out of leaves, sticks, and pine cones, but that was about it.   We failed cabin cleanup and got the lowest score of all the cabins.  My girls and I were pretty bummed, but I told them we would just do an awesome job for the next day.

After rotations (scheduled activities), the campers did a scavenger hunt, in which each cabin team raced all over camp.  Instead of hunting for items, though, campers had to complete tasks as a group, such as doing the hokey pokey or making a pyramid.  Those of us from the lower 48 (as they call the U.S. mainland) learned very quickly that Alaskans don’t do too well in the sun and heat.  It had been pretty warm and sunny all week, and it wore the kids out.  I couldn’t believe how much more energy I had than all these kids.  Most of my girls couldn’t run at all after 2 or 3 minutes of playing.  One of them in particular was always last and refused to walk more than about 11 steps per minute.  She complained the entire time, but it got to the point where I actually wanted to strangle her at the very end of the game.  She had been whining and dragging her feet the entire time, but she somehow found the energy to sprint to the end when another team was right on her tail.  I was fuming but glad it was finally over.

Throughout the week, Bronco I campers play a game called Quiz Quest.  This took me back to the glory days of Bible quizzing, so I was pretty excited about it.  Each cabin competed against each other and quizzed over questions about their memory verses they learned at the “flag raising/lowering” at the beginning and end of each day, their skills classes (canoeing, cooking, sports, horsemanship, etc.), and morning devotions.  They were also asked questions about the chapel messages, testimonies, and the people who spoke.  Like Bible quizzing, the campers sat on a bench and had to stand up when they wanted to answer the questions.  If cabins wanted extra points, they could memorize verses from a list given to them at the beginning of the week.  My girls memorized 10 verses total, so we got 1000 extra points (100 points for each verse) that day.  That definitely helped, in light of our failed cabin cleanup and the fact that my girls weren’t that good at quizzing.  Two of my girls actually choreographed a dance for Genesis 1:1, which was hilarious.  It will be posted to Facebook later this summer.

“Sweet Dreams” is the name of a kind of stealth mission that each cabin performs when they are “supposed” to be in bed.  Earlier that day, a staff worker told each of the counselors to pick a place to hide a plate of cookies, and they would take their cabins to find them later that night.  The idea is that the counselors are supposed to trick their campers into thinking that they had gotten one of their friends to hide some cookies for them, and they were supposed to sneak out of their cabins to obtain them without getting caught.  My girls loved it.  I told them that I had told Jon-Michael (one of the camp directors) how well they had done during the game, so he stashed some cookies for us on top of the swing set.  We sneaked around the outside of the cabin, through the forest, ducked in the trees because “someone’s coming!”, and sprinted down the beach along the treeline to the swingset.  After finding the plate of cookies by the slide, we went back the way we came.  The whole thing kind of backfired a little while later when my girls went to the bath house.  Girls from another cabin said that they had just gone on a mission to find their cookies, so I had to do much more lying than I would have liked afterwards to convince them that the game was real and that maybe Jon-Michael wanted to reward each cabin for doing well.  I think they bought it for the time being, which was fine with me.  I thought it was sweet that they really wanted to thank him for the cookies, which I made sure he knew about before they did.

Devotions that night were pretty intense.  I stayed up for a couple of hours with the girls, explaining the how Jesus’ death saved us, how Catholics can be Christians too, how to become a Christian, and other things they had questions about.  One of the girls wanted to tell me that she had just asked Jesus to forgive her sins (though she was already a Christian), and I learned later that week that another one of the girls asked Jesus into her heart that night.  The faith of children truly amazes me.  It seemed that a few of them couldn’t even fathom the idea that God might not exist.  They laughed as they said, “If God didn’t create the world, then how else would we be here?”  Their innocence and assurance of the truth was incredible to witness.

While the Lord saw fit to bless me with a non-bed-wetting cabin that night, I guess He thought it would be good for me to get woken up three times by a girl who couldn’t sleep.  After about 20 minutes of lying in bed, she came up to me and told me she couldn’t fall asleep.  I told her that she just needed to try.  The second time, I got up and prayed with her and tried to comfort her.  The third time (in my infinite patience), I told her that I couldn’t help her and that she just needed to go lie down and close her eyes.  She finally fell asleep a little while later.

This is good for now.  I’ll try to finish this week’s recap later tonight or tomorrow.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Do You Feel Loved

Week 1:  May 31-June 6

I'm not sure I've ever been as consistently tired as I am right now. All the staff have hit the ground running since we got here. Best part is, I know it will only get worse! But I think there's something to be said for finding God in the midst of exhaustion. When it comes down to the point where you physically have nothing else to give, God will sustain. And while I'm not excited about that process, I am eager for the outcome.

The progressive dinner was a blast. The counselors were divided up into 5 groups, and we traveled around the campground to different staff workers' homes. We ate their delicious food and talked with them about camp and where they're from. It was fun getting to know each of them a little better.

A few days ago, each counselor was assigned a "parent", or staff worker here at camp. My "mom" is a woman named Lyn, and her husband is Ray. They are two of the sweetest people I have ever met. And she had me make a list of all my favorite things so she can buy them for me when she goes to town. I made sure to include that I love coffee, hot tea, chocolate, and mugs. This is going to be a good relationship.

Last night was the counselors' graduation from orientation. We were given a small Bible, staff t-shirt, and lanyard that had keys and a CPR mask attached. Afterwards, we sang worship songs and then listened to a short message on when Jesus washed His disciples' feet. The theme was humility and servanthood here at camp. After the message, all the "parents" washed their "children's" feet. Many of you know how much I hate feet, so I felt sorry for the workers - but I couldn't believe how joyful and willing they were to do it for us. It really was a beautiful way to get the message across. Lyn prayed for me and gave me a huge hug. I realized then that it had been a week since I had hugged my real parnets goodbye.

Today is our last day before camp officially begins. The counselors are going on horseback rides at 2 and 3pm, which I'm pumped about. The kids will get here tomorrow around noon, and then I'll get to play "Mommy" to a bunch of 10- and 11-year-old girls for the week. I'm feeling more excited than nervous right now, but that is certainly subject to change over the course of the day!

Oh, yeah, we also got trained in first aid and CPR, so now I'm certified to bring people back from being almost dead. And tonight each of the counselors were assigned our "JC", or junior counselor. The JCs hail from Scottsdale, Arizona and are part of a ministry team of high schoolers who will be helping out with camp this week. My JC's name is Lauren, and she will be shadowing (stalking) me all week long.

Thank you all for your continued prayers. I really can't say that enough. They are so needed. God is going to do great things.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of

Week 1:  May 31-June 6

So, camping, right? Talk about building character. In order to promote a teambuilding experience, all the counselors went on a two-day hike (Monday-Tuesday) through one of the state parks of Alaska. It was also so we could see the Sourdough camp, which is a “fringe” camp of Echo Ranch that focuses primarily on hiking and living out in the great outdoors. We walked for maybe 20 minutes or so from the place we were dropped off to the Sourdough campus, and I thought, with joy, that we were done for the day. I soon found out that we had a long way to go. I have no idea how far we actually hiked (in miles), but I recall jokes about ending up in the U.S. mainland. As bad as I’m making it sound now, I really did enjoy it for the most part. I got to see God’s creation in the raw: I walked over it and under it and climbed on top of it and tripped over it and got stuck in it. And the nature was absolutely beautiful.

After a couple of hours of hiking (and swatting off 259 mosquitoes or so), we took a lunch break next to a lake that had a floating dock and rope swing that was suspended from a tree. While I opted not to swim in the water, I did swing on the rope. I did not die, even though I thought I would.

After spending a couple of hours by the lake, we continued our hike to the campsite, which was unfortunately reserved by someone else (whoops). So we hiked on a little farther until we got to a second campsite, which basically consisted of a fire pit, and that was it. Bathhouse? Please. This was my first true camping experience, and needless to say, I will never forget it. Yes, I roughed it for real. I made my bed in a tent; I peed on the ground; I slept without a fan. And I had a blast with the other counselors. We roasted hotdogs over a big fire, talked, laughed, made s’mores, and sang worship songs. We also prepared our testimonies that we would be giving over the next couple nights, which was kind of a challenge for me. As most of you know, I haven’t had the most dramatic life, so my personal testimony is anything but exciting. But, as I was told to do, I just wrote down what I knew.

We got up the next morning around 8:30 (about 5 hours after sunrise, believe it or not), had breakfast, and continued the journey to the horse camp, another one of its “fringe” camps. Thankfully, I did not feel as if I were hiking uphill the entire way this time, and the hike itself was much shorter. We arrived at horse camp around noon, ate a scrumptious lunch that consisted of chili, cornbread, honey butter, and oranges, and then learned about that camp. When we got back to “base” camp, everyone took a shower and was very happy. They say it’s been oddly warm and sunny up here lately (in the 60s and 70s, zero clouds). While it’s nice for us counselors (especially those from down South), they say it really messes with Alaskans, who are more apt to get dehydrated and suffer from heat exhaustion. So, while I selfishly hope the sun stays out the entire summer, I guess I really should start praying for rain—for the sake of the kids. Maybe rain can be a form of suffering for Jesus too.

That evening, the counselors with last names A-L shared their testimonies with the other counselors and staff. It was a really powerful experience—it’s amazing how many different kinds of people God chose to bring together for His purpose. Everyone had a different story, a distinct background, a separate experience to bring to the table. I’m excited to see how all the parts of the body end up becoming one.

Wednesday was pretty chill. We learned about “canoe safety” and how to save canoe-faller-outers from the icy Alaskan waters of death. The water is about 40 degrees out here. Sweet. The rest of the counselors and I shared our testimonies that evening as well—which was pretty intense once again—but great to see the way God has moved in people’s lives.

Yesterday (Thursday) was busy! We learned special camp songs and their motions, discussed the camp’s “philosophy and goals”, and talked about how to best share the gospel with our campers. It was a great discussion and prayer time for those of us who are pretty nervous about being Jesus to a bunch of rowdy kids. Bu He tells us that, if we trust in Him, we will never be disappointed—right? Then we practiced the sky trolley/zipline, which was a complete blast. Hopefully I will be a little better at putting harnesses on the kids than I was last night. Pray for me. Afterwards, we practiced our “silly skits”. I volunteered to be Susan Boyle for the “Echo Ranch Idol” skit. I’ll do my best to get a lot of pictures.

Today is the second-to-last day of orientation, praise Jesus! We got our training in first aid and bathroom/kitchen cleaning, practiced puppet songs, and will be going to a progressive dinner in the staff workers’ homes tonight.

I would just like to say that I really enjoy the bottomless cups of coffee and tea they give you up here. You can walk into the dining hall at any hour of the day, and it’s right there waiting for you. They also offer a “free corner” where they leave all the extra dessert. Awesome.

I decided to include a few travel tips for everyone's benefit:

1) Make sure that the thing you thought was shampoo when you bought it is actually shampoo. My turned out to be a giant bottle of conditioner. At least I'll have really soft hair.

2) Spent that extra $1 on the "nice" towels. I bought the cheapest towels ever at Target, and you would know it as soon as you saw their lint all over my body.

3) Weigh your suitcases before going to the airport. My giant one was 61.8 lbs (you want to keep it at 50 lbs and under for the standard rate) and therefore an extra $50 of baggage fees.

That is all. Thank you for the prayers, and please keep them up as the campers will be arriving next Monday. Love you all!