Jesus Calling for Little Ones: a book review

I'm getting some great feedback from THIS post last week regarding community. I'd still love to hear your thoughts regarding this. I'm trying to really soak up the last bit of summer with the girls and family before softball starts, so blogging has been a little lax. Sorry. If anyone cares ;) 

I have been a long time fan of my Jesus Calling devotional by Sarah Young, so I was excited when I had the opportunity to snag this copy of Jesus Calling for Little Ones for the girls. 

The "devotions" in this book are very brief, and include a very short verse. Just like in the devotion for adults, this is written as if Jesus is speaking directly to the kids. An example: "I know your every thought, every feeling, every hope and dream." This is a little confusing, even for Blythe. I previously had purchased the Jesus Calling for Kids devotional for my older nieces, and my sister said the same about it confusing them. However, that book had a little more "meat" to it than this one does. And that's really the only disappointing thing about this book-- I just wish it had more. 

However, it is very durable-- a board book, the illustrations are cute, and the devotions/lessons for the girls are straight from scripture, which I love. I like reading it to Becks especially. We also have the Jesus Calling Storybook Bible, and I really like it a lot. I don't think you can go wrong with anything Sarah Young produces, but this one is definitely for little ones, and I was thinking it would be good for Blythe too. 

A copy of this book was provided for me by BookLook Bloggers, but all opinions are my own. :) 

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what does it take?

I want you to read this post and then answer the questions for me. Because I'm super curious. Like a cat. 

I have been thinking a lot about community. Not the neighborhood you live in, but the deep-in-your-bones-being-known-by-others community. 

I've been thinking about it on a lot of different levels, and then last Sunday our pastor spoke about unity, which goes hand in hand with true community. He shared that in Greek "accept" means to "see another person and to open your arms to embrace them."

It got me thinking about times in my life I've experienced that kind of unity and community. I realize that community ebbs and flows throughout life.  In high school I was fortunate to have a wonderful group of friends in "the Union S. guys", and I found true community when they embraced me and modeled authentic male christianity.  wrote a piece in college about friendship/community, and it was about these guys.  In it I said: I now realize the beauty of moments with friends and how, when you let them happen to you, it's like letting a psalm happen to you. This happening fills your mouth and becomes prayer-- a deep kind of prayer-- a prayer that happens with every memory of a living room conversation. Open your mouth and He will fill it and things that are not prayer become prayer, and moments that are ordinary pierce us and fill us and we become holier because of them.

I was terrified to leave that community I had found, and yet at college the depth of friendships and raw, authentic community I discovered left me nearly breathless. I found honesty and passion in my roommate, Renae, and I knew ours would be a friendship that only got sweeter over time and distance. I remember one of the first conversations I ever had with her. She was in tears on her top bunk [we weren't roommates yet], and was holding a picture in her hands. It was her brother. He was five and he had just learned how to ride a bike and she wasn't there to see him. And as I crawled onto that bunk with her and listened to her heart breaking, I knew that our hearts would break together and heal together many times over the next four years, and I knew that in her I had found community. 

And then I became a Resident Assistant my junior year. At first we just had meetings with our staff of 8, but quickly those meetings bled into meals and coffee and late LATE nights sitting on the hallway floor laughing and crying together. Those meetings turned into rallying behind our very sick/pregnant mentor and boss, and they turned into retreats where we shared our deepest fears and our biggest excitements. We held losses in our hands and we carried each other through them. We could not have been more different [ask anyone who knew us!], but we sat together, and broke bread together, and we accepted one another in the way the Greek means to accept one another: by opening our arms and receiving and embracing. 

apparently being an RA meant dressing up a lot, too. 

And again I was terrified to leave this community and these friends. I was better with them. I was better because of them. But life happens. And we grow and move and change. And Brent and I married [a NEW and WONDERFUL kind of community], and we moved away from everything and everyone we knew. And if I'm being honest, times got dark for me. I was so terribly lonely. At the end of the movie "Into the Wild", the main character says, "Happiness is only real when it is shared." I knew I was lonely for friendship and to be known, but I don't think I understood just how thirsty my soul was for community. 

So Brent and I stepped out. We invited people over. And one of those couples just so happened to be as desperate as we were. And what happened was beautiful. And seven years later we still consider them our community. [More on all of that and them here]. And then at work something happened and this random group of people that I taught with became another type of community for me. Again, we were different and in all different places in life, but we found joy in our time together. We shared struggles and we shared questions and doubts. We shared lots and lots of laughs. And then Brent and I went out on a limb and through a really crazy "placement night" joined a small group at our church. The couples we met with were wonderful and all of us shared how deeply we had been needing each other. 

And then, you guessed it, it was time to move on. It didn't seem fair. So we packed up and left community once again. By this point I knew change was hard for me, but I also knew community was essential. But it didn't come as easily. And it seemed to be avoiding us. At one point, a few years into our move, we made a trip back to our old stomping grounds in Louisville. And I wept. There was something in my heart that ached for our time there. I chalked it up to some type of "homesickness" and moved on. Fast forward to this past summer when we visited those same haunts: I reminisced without a lump in my throat and I walked our old streets with dry eyes. What  is the difference? I asked Brent. 

He responded with one word: Community. 

We had finally found it in Missouri. And because we were living in community, I could re-visit our old spaces and not feel so alone and so desperate to have that time back. You see, a few years earlier when we went back what I felt in those spaces was not some intangible thing; what I felt in those spaces was the community I had experienced when we lived there. I felt Meagan and Shane and the other interns. I felt my team of teachers. I felt our small group. But more than that, because I lacked community back home, I felt a void, and I could do nothing but weep for community again. 

That trip was a catalyst for us, as we realized how despondent we had become by not having people we could do life with. And we got busy in good ways and we clawed and scratched our way into people's lives and we attached ourselves to them. I am only minorly exaggerating, because it became that important to us. 

I picked up a book called "Creating Community" by Andy Stanley and Bill Willits, and in it they say, "We are a culture craving relatinship. In the midst of our crowded existence, many of us are living lonely lives… Being married does not exempt someone from the emptiness associated with isolation… [We are] acquainted with many people, but [we are] known by none… We live and work in a sea of humanity, but we end up missing out on the benefits of regular, meaningful relationships." I felt that crowded yet empty existence when I moved to Louisville. It was crippling at times, even though I was a very happy newlywed. The writers go on to say, "When we live in isolation, we can easily lose perspective on life. That's because there is no objective voice calling us toward balance." 

I had had community before, and I knew what I was missing. But what if you've never experienced it before? What if you didn't know what you were missing? If we look to Christ we see that He is and always has been a part of community in the Trinity. If we are bearing His images, it only makes sense that we should feel like we are missing something if we aren't living life with others. 

John Ortberg said:
Sometimes in church circles when people feel lonely, we will tell them not to expect too much from human relationships, that there is inside every human being a God-shaped void that no other person can fill. That is true. But apparently, according the the writer of Genesis, God creates inside this man a kind of "human-shaped-void" that God Himself will not fill.
In his book, "Everybody's Normal Till You Get to Know Them", Ortberg dives into studies that tracked thousands of people over many years. 
Researchers found that the most isolated people were three times more likely to die than those with strong relational connections. People who had bad health habits (such as smoking, poor eating habits, obesity, or alcohol use) but strong social ties lived significantly longer than people who had great health habits but were isolated. In other words, it is better to eat Twinkies with good friends than to eat broccoli alone. 
Don't you love that? And if you are like me you love it because you have experienced those good friends and you know, without seeing a stitch of research, that they are good for your body and soul. 

But beyond what is good for you, community is good for the world. If we, as Christians, are living "for the life of the world" then bearing the image of Christ means showing others true community. Francis Schaeffer said, "Our relationship with each other is the criterion the world uses to judge whether our message is truthful-- Christian community is the final apologetic." 

All of this came crashing to the surface for me last weekend, and not just because my pastor spoke about it: one of my RA colleagues got married. And Brent and I traveled to go see her say "I do" and another one of those RAs was in her bridal party and it was all I could do to keep from running up to the front of the church during the ceremony to embrace them. My throat caught at the sight of them. These were my people. I had walked through a lot of life with them. At the reception I grabbed them and we had little five minute conversations between cake cutting and dancing and merry-making. And do you know what real community is? It is hugging a friend you haven't seen in a couple years, looking her directly in the eyes and saying, "But how are you?" And it is her, not saying, "I'm good. Busy, but, you know! Good!" Community is her spilling her heart into your lap, even if you just have five minutes, you both getting tears in your eyes about something she has gone through, and you asking her tough questions before it is time to go. It is picking up where you left off, and knowing that where you left off is a place that will constantly be a spot of healing and growth and joy. 
Jess, the bride, back in college helping me dig out my car. 
Becker,  the other friend at the wedding…. and I never got a picture with her because we were too busy catching up… getting to know Brent on one of his visits. She loved him because I loved him. That's community, too. 
Jess and me last weekend! 

I left that wedding reception with a fat soul, and a reminder of the importance and beauty of real community. 

When have you experienced real community? What were the factors that contributed to that community? What is keeping you from living messing with people right now?  Is it true community if we are only sharing life with those similar to us? 

I am asking these questions because I really want your answers. Please don't be silent on this one! 

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a book discussion fifty years in the making

Last Monday I shared that I was anxiously awaiting Tuesday, when Harper Lee's "Go Set a Watchman" was released. [And then I took a week off blogging, which wasn't the plan. ] Here is how it went down: 

Tuesday morning came and I was giddy with excitement. Giddy. However, I knew the book was going to be delivered UPS, and since we are usually towards the end of the route I knew this meant I wouldn't get the book until after three p.m. This was probably a good thing, since I wasn't going to be able to read it until Brent got home from work anyway [think toddlers running around with knives and such]. At about 3:30 I heard the truck, and seriously met the delivery man half way up the driveway. [A friend had texted me earlier and said I would probably punch him out of impatience or kiss him out of excitement. I kept it on lock though, I am happy to report. ] 

I tore it open.
And I held another Harper Lee novel in my hands after all these years. 

The girls were both awake at this point, even though one of my friends sent me a text that read, "I prayed that babies would sleep today so you could read the book!" I sent my sister a text, and she proceeded to call me a nerd and remind me that the book was not Jesus. That sister of mine. 

And then Brent came home and immediately told me to leave the house with my book. We'd discussed this back in February when I had pre-ordered my copy, and he is a good man. Where I would read the book was hotly debated: I didn't want to waste driving time, so any coffee shop was out, as I would have had to have driven at least 30 minutes for one [yep. Rural.]. I debated going to Grandma Pat's to read it, as she is my book lover and it would have been quiet, but again, driving time. So I settled on my parent's basement. Two miles away. And I figured they knew how important it was and would leave me alone, but would also bring me food if I got desperate. 

My emotions were all over the place. To say it was a minor panic attack would be a little dramatic but…. 

When I was saying goodbye to Brent for the evening, I told him I couldn't wait to start and also that I didn't want to start at all. This was really the end. There would be no more [or are there more yet to be found after Nelle Harper dies?!]. I said it was the end of an era [as any good Friends watcher would quote in such a moment], and told him I was worried that it would take away from my love for "To Kill a Mockingbird" in some way. His response was perfect, "You'll enjoy it no matter what, and if it isn't awesome it will be nice in some ways to know that Harper Lee doesn't poop gold." 

And with that sage advice, I was off. 

And here is the deal: my mindset reading the book was that this was not a sequel, but rather that is was a writer's workshop for an author trying to figure out how to say something she wanted to say. And in the pages of Watchman I found just that: a writer's workshop. 

If you didn't take English classes or don't remember your English classes, a writer's workshop is simply a place where a writer can explore, can revise, and can play around with approach. It's a place to be bad [to write the crappy first draft] in order to be good. 

And here is my broad take-away from the book without ruining anything for those who want to read it: It is not "To Kill a Mockingbird," and it shouldn't be. It didn't ruin my childhood connection and adoration for Mockingbird, and actually it worked quite well with my adulthood [more on that in a moment]. It is definitely clunky in places, and not nearly as beautifully written, but there are moments where Lee's voice is strong and wonderful and I felt like I was back with my old friend. And of course people are going to be hyper-critical of itespecially if they approached it as a true sequel to Mockingbird, which it is not and has never been claimed to be. 

I was [not so patiently] waiting for some of my trusted English-colleagues to finish reading Watchman so I could get their take on it, and one of them responded: "I think this [book] is evidence of how important a good editor is to a writer! I don't believe you and I would even know the name of Harper Lee if her first manuscript had been published [instead of Mockingbird]…Obviously Lee was a phenomenal writer-- I just never knew how much we had to be grateful to her editor who was wise enough to read this manuscript and then point her in the right direction!" 

I couldn't agree more, and this is what I have shared with others who have asked me. In this first approach, Lee is much less accessible. The older Jean Louise is not as likable as young Scout. If you've paid attention to the media on this at all, you know that our beloved Atticus is a bit different as well. I still like him. Is he still the Atticus for which we should stand up when he is passing? Debatable. 

I think Lee's approach in Watchman is much more impassioned; you could sense her anger at times. I think in this book, as many writer's do on their first approach, she is looking at things directly and facing them square on. Which is more difficult to read. When a writer can step back a little, take away a little heat, it allows the readers to participate more and feel less whacked by it all. And that is the achievement she found in Mockingbird. When I was in college I took a lot of writing classes, and I figured out something about my own writing: I usually needed to delete the first paragraph [or five] that I wrote. My beginnings were always flat or too intense because I was looking at my subject straight on. One of my professors told me, "Still write that. But then go back and delete it and write it again and I guarantee it will be stronger the second time." If she would have been able to hand me "Go Set a Watchman" and then "To Kill a Mockingbird" as proof, I would have completely understood. 

There were no "Hey, Boo," moments that made me want to cry from the sheer brilliance, but there were moments of beauty none the less. And moments that made me reflect and think, long after I was done reading them-- and THAT is vintage Harper Lee. 

[This may contain a few spoilers if you are still wanting to read "Watchman"]
Here are just a few bulleted thoughts and questions: 

/One thing that was interesting for me while reading the book was when Jean Louise realizes she disagrees with Atticus, and that realization about crushes her. No matter how highly we esteem our parents/role models, at some point we go through this weird disillusionment, and to walk with a friend [ahem, fictional characters can be friends, right?] through that was insightful. Atticus Finch is not perfect. None of our parents are. What do we learn from that? 

/Uncle Jack was a completely different character in this book, but fascinating none the less. Hard to follow at times and in need of editing, but still interesting. And his last interactions with Jean Louise left a lot of thought-provoking "nuggets". Two that stuck with me were, "Your friends need you most when they are wrong," and "Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends." Jean Louise wants to run from the ugly truths she has uncovered, but Jack is encouraging her to stay, as this is the time her friends, her family, and her town really need her. What can we learn from that? Could Jean Louise, in her current hot-headed state, have been much of an influence for good? 

and my favorite
/Uncle Jack tells Jean Louise, "You're very much like [your father], except you're a bigot and he's not." Jean Louise gets a dictionary and reads the definition, "Noun. One obstinately or intolerably devoted to his own church, party, belief, or opinion." After she reads it, Uncle Jack goes on to explain his reasoning by telling her, "What does a bigot do when he meets someone who challenges his opinions? He doesn't give. He stays rigid. Doesn't even try to listen, just lashes out… You said, in effect, 'I don't like the way these people do, so I have no time for them.' You'd better take time for 'em, honey, otherwise you'll never grow." In our highly political and highly volatile/polarized country right now, we find it easy to point fingers and to shut ourselves away from it all instead of entering conversations that, though they may not change our minds, may help us grow. One of the main reasons this version of Jean Louise is not as likable as young Scout was is because of this very point Uncle Jack shows her about her character. Where do we need to make time for someone we disagree with? How does this thinking play into our culture now? 

There is a lot more, but that's the surface of my thinking while I read the book [the first time]. 

Spoilers over. 

After five hours with only one break to grab a quick bite, I finished the book. I closed the back cover and my throat caught a little because it was over. 

And because Harper Lee, in fact, doesn't poop gold.  

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Tomorrow is a big day.

"Go Set a Watchman" is released. If you haven't heard let me inform you, in brief, why this is a big day: [Nelle] Harper Lee wrote "To Kill a Mockingbird." [Moment of silence to acknowledge its greatness]. Then she never wrote another word. When reporters would approach her she would say something like, "The book said what I wanted to say," and add no additional comment. I've always thought if I wrote a book like Mockingbird, that is often ranked right below the Bible on lists of most influential books…THE BIBLE!!… I think I would have shut my mouth too. BUT THEN-- last fall her older sister died, and they found a manuscript to "Go Set a Watchman", a "precursor" or sorts to Mockingbird. I have tried to avoid reading too much about it, but I know it's been getting mixed reviews.

Here is the deal: I don't care if it's terrible. It is Harper Lee. And it isn't a fifty-year-later-Harper-Lee, it is vintage Harper Lee. Actually, it is pre-Harper-Lee-Harper-Lee. I want to read the book thinking of a young writer who was trying to figure out how to say what she needed to say, which she finally, apparently, figured out in Mockingbird. Is this book her "crappy first draft" [as Anne Lamott would say]? I don't know. But tomorrow I get to hold it in my hands.

Are you a FRIENDS fan? A SEINFELD fan? Imagine if those two shows announced a reunion season? [And it wasn't just a Facebook hoax!]. Your excitement would be like 1/20th of my excitement for this book :).

I've written about "To Kill a Mockingbird" on my blog several times, trying to explain why I love it so deeply. And since tomorrow is a day I thought would never come, I'm going to re-share a couple things I wrote about it to celebrate!

January 26, 2011
First, let me re-share the post where I try to explain why this book is so great:

all images from google images
If I had to make a list of my favorite things this book would be very, very high:

There are far too many reasons to take the time to list right now; however, I have spent the past month or two teaching, reading, and studying this with my sophomores. I had them fill out a little slip for me today, letting me know if they would recommend it for another group of sophomores. All but two of my students said they absolutely would.

Many commented on the timeless themes and lessons in the book, saying that if someone reads it with an "open heart they definitely will learn something." Many talked about how the character of Mrs. Dubose taught the kids a lesson on courage [Atticus says to the kids, "I wanted you to see something about her--I wanted you to see what real courage is... It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do... She died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew."], or how Atticus taught the kids to stand up for what is right, no matter what.

Many mentioned Atticus' advice to "learn a simple trick...you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." Some loved the theme of justice, and fully understood the symbolism in the sin of killing a mockingbird, or they connected to Atticus' closing arguments saying that "all men are created equal in a court of law."

Others liked the simplicity and innocence of Scout realizing that Boo was "real nice", and that "most people are once you get to know them."

A few of my favorite things about the book are these lessons/themes as well, but I also appreciate the beautiful way in which Harper Lee wrote the book. I have never felt like my kids really understood foreshadowing, but I now know that all of my sophomores understand. There is no way to read this book and not get it, because Lee weaves it into the plot so effortlessly.

However, anyone who has read the book or watched the film know what the true beauty in this book is: the characters.
You cannot help but fall in love with Jean Louise "Scout", and Jeremy Atticus "Jem" Finch. Seeing the world of good and evil through their eyes, the reader falls back into his or her own childhood and learns along with them. The tomboy Scout, in her overalls and bare feet, narrates the story and over the course of the two years in which it takes place, grows up and learns, as the book jacket suggests, of the human dignity that unites us all.

But there is also their dad, the lawyer, Atticus Finch. He is "same in his house as he is on the public streets," and in my humble opinion is one of the best literary characters every created. I wish he were real. I wish I could sit and talk with him. Gregory Peck won an academy award for his portrayal of him in the movie, and although he did do a phenomenal job I think it would have been hard for anyone to play that role and NOT win an academy award because Lee did such an unbelievable job of developing his character. One of my favorite moments in the book is when he is leaving the courtroom, and all of the blacks in the balcony stand up and one of them says to Scout, "Miss Jean Louise, stand up; your father is passing." I wish we had more people like Atticus Finch to stand up for these days.

And these are just three of the characters. I didn't even mention Miss Maudie, or the kids plucky sidekick, Charles Baker Harris [Dill], or Dolphus Raymond, or Calpurnia, or Heck Tate...the list goes on and on.

It is truly a work of art. Something that I think everyone should read at some point in their life. My students were a bit skeptical when we started the unit, thinking that I was slightly obsessed/crazy, and if I liked it so much that they couldn't possibly enjoy it. But I'm thankful they were wrong. I'm thankful they have got to walk in the shoes of the Finches and learned about the human dignity that unites us all too!

November 19, 2011

As I mentioned recently, I'm reading/teaching "To Kill a Mockingbird" again with my sophomores. As I've said before, I'm slightly obsessed with this book. I could probably come up with 80 reasons why I love it. [And if you delete "slightly" and "probably" then those sentences are true]. However, when I came home from school/work, I looked out my front window and saw this:

They are totally stopped in the middle of the intersection at the corner where I live. And they sat there for approximately four or five minutes, just resting and talking and pointing [and being watched, little to their knowledge :-)]. They are maybe 8 or 9 years old. Finally, when whatever they were trying to accomplish with their stop was accomplished, they road again, all the while in the middle of the street.

Now what does THAT have anything to do with why I love "To Kill a Mockingbird?"

Scout and Jem Finch get to meander all over their neighborhood. At the beginning of the book Scout is a mere 6 years old, and Jem is almost 10 and yet they are all over the place with their sidekick, 7 year old Dill Harris. Their "summertime boundaries (within calling distance of Calpurnia) were Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose's house two doors to the north of us, and the Radley Place three doors to the south. We were never temped to break them. The Radley PLace was inhabited by an unknown entity the mere description of whom was enough to make us behave for days on end; Mrs. Dubose was plain hell." The adventures they are able to have within these parameters are formative, and they are many. Which brings me back to the bike boys outside my house the other day.

In those two boys I saw someone else: First, because I had just been immersed in the book that day, I saw Scout and Jem. But then, I saw my sister and I riding those same streets, not afraid to park in an intersection, and not afraid of being a couple blocks from home. We were safe. And we were always being watched…in a good way. Just like I was looking out my window at the boys, others looked out their windows at us, and if anything were to happen they would have been there for us, just as I would have jumped to those boys' rescue.

Once I made this connection, I realized there were so many other parts of the story of "Mockingbird" that I could relate to from my own childhood, and I began to understand even more my deep connection to the characters.

Like Maycomb, the town I grew up in and the town in which I now reside seems to be stuck in a simpler time. Scout describes Maycomb early in the book:
"Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks; the courthouse sagged in the square…People moved slowly then. They ambled across the square, shuffled in and out of the stores around it, took their time about everything. A day was twenty-four hours but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with…closed doors meant illness and cold weather only."
And this is why two years ago Brent and I sat down and began talking about our dreams for our future. More than just I-would-like-to-be-here-in-my-job-then and I'd-like-to-have-this-much-saved-for-this-by-then, we talked about what we envisioned our daily lives to look like. When we began thinking about our children, we inevitably came back to the images, smells, and adventures of our own childhoods. We wanted open screen doors and a town square, and a slower pace, and larger boundaries for our kids to roam. Though we didn't express it this way, we realized we wanted them to be able to have a Dill Harris in their life and a Radley house surrounded with mystery on the outskirts of town. We wanted them to be able to walk to school and stand up for a Walter Cunningham because they knew where he came from. We wanted them to be in a town where people came out of their homes at one in the morning to help out when a neighbor's house caught fire. We wanted them to be able to walk next door and have cake with a Miss Maudie. And ultimately, we wanted them to learn about the human dignity that unites us all, and that most people are "real nice" once you get to know them.

And so we loaded a Uhaul and moved. We moved away from a lot of convenient things, and a lot of great friends, and an excellent job. We moved away and returned to "Maycomb," where we felt our dreams for our future children could take flight in its pot-hole filled streets and cracked sidewalks; where the courthouse sags in the square and people are a lot more likely to amble through life.

Are there days that I miss Louisville and the city? Yes. Are there times that I wish there were more people from my generation for Brent and I to spend time with? Absolutely. But then I think back to these dreams we discussed, which were such a big part of what brought us here. I realize that though we may feel like we are sacrificing having more people our age around, our kids will have the opportunity to learn that real courage is knowing "you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what" from a "Mrs. Dubose" in town. They will get to learn that a "Boo Radley" may just be the one to save them. And I hope they will also get to learn from an "Atticus Finch" who is still worth standing up for when he passes.

I surprisingly don't know who those two boys were on their bikes the other day, but I'm glad they chose to take their rest in front of my house and remind me of my memories so that I could remember my dreams.

And tomorrow, when you try to reach me and I am completely and utterly unavailable, you know why :)

Now: DISCUSS. :) Are you a Mockingbird fan? What are your thoughts about this publication?

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8 things I learned from being a church-camper, OR 8 reasons you should make your kids go to camp [Part II]

Yesterday I shared about my love of  obsession with church camp. I said that church camp deeply and profoundly shaped who I was as a teenager, and who I still am today. I began sharing the top 8 things I learned from being a church-camper, and what I think are the top 8 reasons you should make your kids go to camp. Be sure to read yesterday's post for the first four. Here are the last four:  

// I learned how to be a mentor. 

I quickly discovered that if having a mentor was so important, then that meant I was also called to be one. And camp provided me the perfect opportunity to take steps in that direction. From the moment the kids were dropped off with their luggage, I was there to welcome them. I was there to appease their homesickness. I was there to laugh with them. I was there to listen to them. I was there to show them the love of Jesus.

You would be amazed at how quickly deep bonds can form when you open yourself up to this role-- when you step into that sacred space of letting Jesus use you. Over the years that I served as a counselor, I held some broken girls in my arms. I prayed with some girls who were meeting their Heavenly Father for the first time. And I learned how to get myself out of the way of the work of Christ.

In the real world, you don't simply sign up, and you aren't simply handed a list of 18 girls that you know you're specifically going to pour into. Sometimes you have to seek this role out. Sometimes it will happen naturally. But, if we are taking the call of Christ seriously, we will be making disciples in some way with our life always. Church camp showed me how to walk with someone into the sacred space of their life, and how to point to Jesus through it all. And that is all that mentoring--that discipling-- really is.

// I learned how to worship. 

I grew up going to church. I held a hymnal in my hand on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday nights. But it was in a little brick chapel building at camp that I learned how to truly worship. I finally understood why people reached their arms up to God while they sang-- it wasn't because they were showing off, or crazy-- it was because they wanted to exalt the King of Kings. When you immerse yourself in Christ and who He is all week, and you surround yourself with people who are doing the same, you start to get a grasp of how truly awesome He is. And when you begin to grasp that, you have to worship. 

The chapel was one of the few air conditioned buildings at camp [back in the day], but I know my goosebumps weren't from the chill, they were from encountering a God who was reaching down to me and rejoicing over me with singing [Zeph. 3:17]. But I also learned that worship wasn't just about music, or lifting my hands, or praying. It was a way in which I lived. Worship was how I could wake up in the morning. Worship was how I could clean. Worship was how I could interact with others. 

When you have a God who is always with you, and in you, worship becomes a part of breathing. And my very breath learned how to worship while I was at camp. 

// I learned about community. 

I mentioned yesterday I was/am social. Friends were and still are important to me. But at camp I learned the difference between friendship and community. I learned what it meant to do life with people. I learned that in community you hurt together and you heal together and you laugh together and you challenge and you encourage.

When you are walking with people in this way, when you are washing each others feet, you constantly are reminded of how faithful your God is. A lot of the people I entered into community with through camp are still in my life today. And when I say "a lot", I mean that. And there are many, many others that are no longer as close, but whom I know I could still call in a heartbeat, and whom I know would still respond in whatever way I needed them to.

And that is community. To live messy with people. And it is something we all ache for and should seek out and find. Since camp I have gone through seasons in my life where I have had really strong community, and other times that I have been thirsty for it. And it is no coincidence that the times in my life I am closest to God are the times when I am doing life with people. I may have never known I was missing it had I not gone to church camp.

// I caught a brief glimpse of a heaven. 

Okay. I know that sounds cheese-ball of me to say. But really, you guys. If you haven't been I can hardly explain. Here is what I think it is: camp is bathed in prayer. I am learning more and more just how powerful prayer is. And I know that every single person who entered that camp ground was prayed for. And I know that every single building and area of that camp ground was prayed over. And I know that every single lesson and devotion was prayed about. And prayer is powerful. And that camp ground is holy because of it.

At camp our minds were constantly being pointed to Christ. At camp we worshipped with our very movements. At camp we didn't worry about social class [or hygiene!], or makeup-- we were the body of Christ. And when everyday you wake up thinking about and worshipping God with others, that's a little bit of heaven, I think. Small scale, I understand, but heaven none-the-less.

When you gather around a campfire under the stars and worship for an hour or more and don't want it to ever end, you begin to understand the lyrics to Amazing Grace that say, "When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise than when we first begun." And I think that church camp is the reason that that line of the song is my favorite. God's grace is amazing, and I once was lost and I am found, and grace relieved my fears, and grace will lead me home. BUT, the part I am most excited about? When I've no less days to sing God's praise than when I first begun.

Church camp showed me the beauty of an eternal God, who is not in heaven so that I can have a wonderful eternity, but who is on the throne so that I can worship Him forever. 


I learned a lot more. And there are more reasons you should send your kid to camp, but that scratches the surface. I am so thankful for the wonderful camp I was able to go to, but I know it was not the camp or the people that were ultimately special, because I have friends who have these same stories that lived across the country from me growing up-- It was Jesus. 

And here is a little hint: a small Christian college was like AN ENTIRE SCHOOL YEAR OF CHURCH CAMP but with homework and deadlines. It. Was. Awesome. I think during puberty and during college are important times to be immersed in community, and have mentors, and expand your world, and learn social skills, and worship. And I am so thankful I was immersed. 

What did you learn from camp? 
And I hope you have awkward film pictures of yourself as well from that time. [I can't find my big "camp box",  or I would have inundated you with a lot more ;). You're welcome.  ] 

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8 things I learned from being a church-camper, OR 8 reasons you should make your kids go to camp

When I was growing up, summer meant a lot of things to me. It meant late evenings playing in the fading sun and getting sticky from humidity and dirt. It meant bike rides and vacations. It meant the swimming pool and skin that smelled faintly of chlorine for weeks. And it meant church camp.

If you were a church camper, like I considered myself a church camper -- devout and passionate-- then you'll understand it when I say: church camp deeply and profoundly shaped who I was as a teenager. And not just in the ways you might think.

I started going to week long camp in fourth grade. Week long! In fourth grade! Now that I am a mom, I can't imagine sending my FOURTH GRADER to a week long camp. But my parents did. And I am so thankful. That first year was a little tough. I was homesick, but my sister was in my cabin and that first night that I didn't know if I could make it she crawled in my bunk with me and scratched my back and sang me a song. I felt safe, and at home, and I fell asleep. And I never looked back.

From that point forward, I counted down to church camp. And when I say counted down, I mean I put it on my calendar the instant I knew the dates, and then on each square until it arrived I wrote how many days were left. 88 DAYS UNTIL CAMP! 75 DAYS UNTIL CAMP! In neon gel pens. Until the date in June or July arrived. Obsessive. One year I even took a notebook with me and recorded every moment of camp. Everything. What I ate for breakfast. The names of everyone in my cabin. Their birthdays. And of course their addresses. What activities we did. How I felt each moment. What songs we sang every night in chapel [and what I wore!]. Who the "mission moments" speaker was each day. What silly joke Leroy shared in line for the cafeteria. What cabin got to go first for lunch for the best "cabin inspection." Everything. It's comical.

I kept any papers I received at camp in my bible until the next year. I developed my film immediately upon returning home, and that week of waiting to get the pictures back was excruciating. I cried when I had to say good bye to the camp grounds and my friends every year. I cried again the summer after my junior year of college when I realized I couldn't be a counselor due to my schedule, and would therefore NOT be going to camp for the first time in 11 years!

But beyond the FUN and the JESUS, there was a lot more about camp that shaped me. Here are the top eight things I learned from being a church-camper, and what I think are 8 reasons you should make your kids go to camp. 

// My world grew exponentially. 

I grew up in a small town. My class in school consisted of roughly the same 50-60 kids from kindergarten until graduation. To say my social experience and choices were limited is an understatement. And for a girl who is social, learning that there were people beyond my town was crucial to my ability to make wise choices when it came to my friendships. Let me try and explain: Friendship and social interactions were super important to me. And if, in my adolescent mind, my choice of friends were limited to the 150 kids that were in my high school, then I would have felt "forced" into making some poor choices just to have a social outlet. But by going to camp, I was exposed to a whole other world. There were kids in ALL the small towns around me. And a lot of them were like me! And some even shared my passions-- for sports, for reading, for being a good friend, and most of all for Jesus.

I found that kids my age really could pursue Christ, and that discovery allowed me to be okay with a social level of friendship with my friends at school. I still had great friendships within my town, but the deepest and most lasting friendships were ones I developed outside of it. Church camp exposed me to this bigger world. That lesson has stuck with me: there are always experiences and people and places beyond my "reality," and if I put myself out there I can discover them.

// My social skills developed.

Like I mentioned, I was/am a very social person. I was an extrovert from early on [my mom would argue I was NOT an extrovert as a young child, but I would counter that I think I was just rude]. Church camp gave me a safe place to learn the art of conversation. Every day, at any given moment, I could strike up a conversation with anyone I wanted. I learned how to ask questions about them. When you only have 5 days to get to know a person, you learn how to get past small talk pretty quickly. If I wanted an opportunity to speak or lead or share, I could do that.

As I got older I realized the beauty of this super-intense week of close social contact. The "real world" isn't like that. You can walk past the same person at work all year and never say more than, "Hello," or "How are you doing?" without really listening or speaking to them. Even for, and maybe especially for, an introverted person, a place like church camp, though exhausting, is a place to push yourself beyond what makes you comfortable in a conversation. It was there that I learned to ask, "How are you doing?" and really mean it, and really listen.

// I learned how to be a "long-distance" friend. 

This ties in closely with the first point, but if I wanted these friends that I made at camp to be my people, I had to learn how to pour into them all year until we made it back to camp.  So I wrote letters. To people who lived fifteen minutes away from me. One year I literally hung every letter and envelope I received from my friends on my wall. Later, when email and instant messenger were easily accessible, I could connect with these friends every day. And a small few I could call every once in awhile, even though it was long distance rates.

We celebrated birthdays together. We had sleepovers. And when we could all drive we went to bible study together and had Fourth of July celebrations with bonfires. The addresses we had written when we were just 6th graders became tangible places we could drive our beat up cars. We prayed with each other. We went to prom with each other. And when we left for college we returned to our emails and phone calls. And then Facebook was invented.

And I kept learning how to ask them about their days. Why did you decide on that major? How is your relationship with your mom going? What are you learning about who God is? 

And one of those long-distance friendships developed into THE long-distance relationship I had to keep putting effort and time into. And I'm so thankful that I had learned that art because I had friends beyond my town's boundaries.

// I learned how to seek out mentors.

Church camp is probably the first place where I saw the importance of and the reality of what a real mentor is play out. For a week there were these people who were older than me that were pouring into me and giving their time to me and listening to me and challenging me. I clung to that. I saw the beauty in that and I wanted it for the rest of my life.

I had older women pull me aside in the middle of the day and say, "Kelsey, let's pray about that thing we talked about earlier." I had counselors who would stay up with me until midnight just to hear my stories and share theirs. And these women would keep in touch with me, and check up on me, and pray for me throughout the year- and some beyond that.

To know there is someone in your corner that is not a parent is incredibly powerful. At every stage of my life since then, I have sought our mentors.

           //stay tuned tomorrow for the last four… 

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