Wednesday, August 14, 2013


I'm sure I've mentioned before how much I hate change, but change is also good.

I am announcing here and now that I am blogging on a new website. Personally and technically, I have outgrown this blog. I have found that Wordpress offers not only a different space for me, but also much more technical options.

In lieu of moving all of my posts and tags over to the new website, I am simply starting afresh. There will be plenty of links back here, but I am looking to move in a new direction.

Check out the new website here:

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

River Reflections

On the last night of summer camp each session, we all go to the camp's dock on Little River, high atop Lookout Mountain. In the moonlight, we can see the faint outline of the blob and it's staircase, the edge of the concrete dock, the bleachers where campers sit, the canoe shed.

Little River
We light the campfire, sing our evening songs to the strums of Shannon's guitar, watch with awe as counselors in canoes lit only by torches sing hymns as they round the riverbend, and listen intently as volunteers from each cabin read aloud their cabin's wish for the session, usually something along the lines of: "We wish we will keep old friends and new friends, make it home safely, and come back next year." The director, Mrs. Susan, gives an inspirational talk, encouraging us to love those we meet or press on through difficult times. Shannon plays Michael W. Smith's "Pray for Me" and we dismiss with hugs.

As I worked the entire summer (five sessions), I had the honor of attending five River Reflections. They provided the appropriate closure for the session and, in the case of our final session, appropriate closure for the summer. Therefore, this post presents closure for me personally: my own River Reflections.

I lived in two cabins over the course of the summer: my first cabin was for ages thirteen and fourteen, and my second housed girls eleven to thirteen. My co-counselors (fellow college students) and I often wondered aloud to each other: "Was I like that when I was their age?" We encountered strange things, like eleven year olds with cell phones and boyfriends, or thirteen year olds unable to deal with a simple disagreement. Thinking back to my middle school days, I realized so much has happened since then. If I compared my twenty-one year old self to my middle-school self, I am almost a completely different person. I mean, I'm still me. I'm still Alex, introverted people person who likes mint chocolate. But since then I have learned how to drive, I have moved away from home, started college, had actual jobs, my car's broken down, I've made friends my parents have never met, I've been out of the country, I've driven more than five hours by myself, I've done my own laundry, shopped for and cooked my own meals... I am closer to twenty-four than I am to fourteen.

Yet what was so incredibly cool is that camp breaks down the walls between my twenty-one year old self and these thirteen year old girls. Yes, my co-counselors and I are the authority figures. But we are also friends with these girls. No one is driving, no one is using their cell phones, no one is cooking their own meals, everyone sends their laundry out on laundry day and has to go searching for it the next day. We were more equalized than we would have been in real life.

This gave me the opportunity to speak into my campers' lives. I read Bible verses and prayed with them at bedtime, spoke positive words over them, and played games with them. In fact, when one of our girl's parents arrived to take her home this last session, she gave each counselor a letter she had written for us. She mentioned in the letter that it meant a lot to have someone like us to look up to. I grew to really love the girls each session. Sometimes I became apathetic towards building new friendships with them, since each group stays for two weeks or less and then a new group arrives, but God always sent encouragement my way to keep loving on them.

One of the most difficult aspects of camp by far happened because I loved these girls so much. Ironic, isn't it? Over the course of the summer, I dealt personally with young ladies who were involved in self-harm, bullying (both sides), who struggled with parents divorcing, eating disorders, who were developmentally delayed, and much more. Not only did circumstances like these require me to heavily depend on my co-counselors, head counselors, and the directors, but I was broken for these girls before God. I learned what it means to ache for someone and realize there is little to nothing you personally can do for them. I remember one night, after a particularly difficult day, getting into the shower after all the girls were in bed and just crying. There's so much I can't do, but I learned what I can do: pray and speak truth and love.

I truly learned to love on some precious girls.

Late one night, after tucking all the campers into bed, I was reading my Bible and reflecting on the day. I began contemplating on our one Jewish camper. Now, the camp itself is a Christian camp, but we accept girls of all religions who are of good character. We model Christianity through our actions and we teach it at morning watch and campfire, but many nonbelievers or other-believers choose our camp regardless.

I wondered that night whether I should encourage her sharing about her religion or ignore her differences. I knew I would respect her and her beliefs, but I wasn't sure how that would work with camp and the other campers. I debated whether or not to read only Old Testament passages at bedtime or to eliminate mention of  "Jesus" when I spoke around her.

And then I thought about her faith. I don't know how devout her family is, but Judaism as a whole is a very intriguing religion. Jews must have the most hope and faith of anyone I know. Case in point: they believe that the Messiah has still not come - and that God is still silent. He has not spoken to the prophets since Old Testament times, and they are still waiting patiently for their Redeemer. What awesome hope is that!

While I praise her hope, I am heartbroken that she is still waiting for the Messiah. "Hope deferred makes the heart sick," says Proverbs 13:12.

I chose to read from the Old Testament when I put her room to bed, but I didn't shy away from Jesus. He, of course, fulfills and proves the Old Testament. And I came to love her as person, not seeing her religion, but seeing her heart, seeing her likes and dislikes, loving her humor and smiling at her jokes. I pray her experience at camp planted a seed or maybe watered a growing one, but I know God is working in her.

This summer, I worked on the ropes course and co-taught a few knitting classes. And if you know me, I am not much for heights. At all. But I signed up for the ropes course because I love the thrill of the adventure. I'm tired of being boring.

We went through a week of intense training on the elements, sometimes going through each element (zip line, V-swing, climbing tower, swing by choice, etc) as many as ten or twelve times and then training on each element for two or three participants before sending ourselves. It was very intense. I faced a number of fears, learned boundaries and restrictions (my own and those of the course), and grew to trust Adam, Shannon, Ali, and others I worked with and on whom I depended.

We also learned something I had never heard before about ropes courses. I cannot tell you how many times I heard Adam express some or all of the following statement to girls on the elements:
It's okay to be afraid. Fear is your body's normal and natural reaction to heights. The ropes course is a challenge by choice. So, you make the choice to push yourself to try new things even when it's scary. Or, you can make the choice to be lowered. If you keep going, you might like it, but you can come down if you don't want to keep going.
Camp's ropes course philosophy can be summed up in two mantras: Challenge by Choice and the Full Value Contract. It's your choice to be challenged and how far you want to go - we can lower you at almost any point. The Full Value Contract exists to make sure each participant is treated with fairness: each person gets the same opportunity.

In life, we don't always get to choose our challenges. But we are given a choice in how we react to them. And often, we are afraid. Unlike some believers who assume that all fear is bad, I think a certain level of fear is good. I'm afraid of going outside in the woods in the dark by myself. That is a healthy and good fear because it keeps me safe. We know that if God has called us to something, he will be with us and will protect us, and we don't need to be afraid, but fear is normal. We can also learn to overcome fear, as I eventually slid off the zipline platform like it was nothing by the time I had been on the zipline a thousand times.

I gave a morning watch devotional one morning about how God's got us, mentioning both the big storm we had the night before and the ropes course. Just like the ropes on the course can hold up to 5,000 pounds and the cables are the same strength used to hold up airplanes, God is not going to let me go. I used Psalm 91 as my key passage. Verses 9-10 read: "If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home."

I'm learning how to be a more adventurous person. I love adventure. Secretly, I love thrill-seeking, but don't tell my mom, haha. However, there is no way I could pursue the adventures I'm after, like Thailand, college graduation, life after college, moving to a new place, a new teaching job, a Masters?, a family?, etc., if I did not believe wholeheartedly that God's got me. And he will not let me go.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Crumpled Pieces of Red Paper

Of the many things working at camp has taught me, the fact that I am growing up too fast is consistently evident. Case in point: One of the songs played at camp dances is N*Sync's "Bye, Bye, Bye." Do you know when that song was released? Thirteen years ago. How is that even possible?!? That was my jam back in the day - how is it over a decade old?

As I pondered this, I was reminded that there are only six short months until I embark for Thailand and then, 3-4 months later, I will be college graduate. And it's pretty terrifying but exciting and adventurous and all that. What a great God, to have brought me thus far and to keep leading me onward. I am blessed.

With all that is happening in my personal/interpersonal life with this whole growing up thing, God spoke to me today about the growth that has happened in the area of my spirituality. 

After exchanging Secret Santa gifts (today is Christmas in July at camp), we had a Pajama breakfast before heading to the gym for camp church. All the counselors are a part of Counselor Choir, so we gathered on the stage in our new navy Christmas in July shirts and sang Christmas and worship songs with Mrs. Amy, who leads church each week. (She is also our camp mom for this session.) 

Then Mrs. Amy led a discussion on Jesus as our peace and pulled from several verses to illustrate this concept. Our key verse was John 14:27, which says, "I am leaving you with a gift--peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid." 

She then passed out pieces of red paper that counselors had torn up earlier and had both campers and staff write something that was keeping us from peace. We would then crumple our papers and pray for peace, bringing those things before God, before bringing our papers to the cross at the front of the gym. Head counselors taped the pieces of the paper to a large wooden cross in the front. Mrs. Amy and one of the older campers were singing "Lord, I Need You" acoustically.

I wrote the thing that I feel has been holding me back this summer on my slip and followed a group of campers up the cross. When I got up there, I waited for a group of campers to get their papers taped to the cross, and I looked up to see a little slip of paper that read simply: "not being perfect enough."

You guys, I broke right there. I handed my piece of paper to the head counselor and started to weep. That was me. That girl who wrote that she wasn't perfect enough, whoever she is, was me a few months ago. Just a few months ago. And I still wrestle with that little girl inside me who just can't do anything right, who is broken and hurting and falls down over and over and over again.

I wept for that young woman who thinks that God doesn't love her because she isn't perfect enough. I wept because I don't know who she is and I don't know how to help her. And I wept for myself. For the pain and the struggle and the fighting that it took for God's grace to finally break through my clouded vision. Even at this point in my spiritual growth, with a much healthier relationship with God's grace and a much better perception of how he relates to me, I still don't understand. There is so much about forgiveness and grace that I don't understand. SO much.

But I know one thing: I'm not who I was. I'm not the same person, the same doubting and shame-stricken girl. I am blessed. When I related the story of a broken friendship to a co-counselor just this week, I was able to present the story as grace-filled and, ultimately, God-honoring. Because it is. When I realized that I was not in the same place I was before, that I have overcome, I was able to praise God for what he has done. He is not finished with me, but he has done so much in me already! Hallelujah!

Could I beseech you as my brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for mentors in my life? I am blessed to be here at camp, but sometimes I find it difficult to discover the presence of strong Christian mentors and build deep Christian friendships. Pray for unity and openness among the staff. I am honored and humbled to be able to share this with you tonight.

With love.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How Ropes Taught Me Patience

As of yesterday, I have been here at camp in Alabama for one month. When this current week comes to a close, I will be half way through the summer, halfway through my job working here at a camp for girls. How did it go by so fast?

A long time ago, it seems, when I was in counseling with a Christian counselor at my college, the question was posed: "Do you love yourself?" Now, I grew up being taught that JOY comes from loving Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last. So I kind of shrugged off the question and moved on, going on about the fact that I like who I am becoming or something equally strange and cheesy. Whatever.

Yet my counselor kept going back to the question. Later, or in different sessions, or the next semester, he would ask. Again. "Do you love yourself?" 

So I asked what that meant. Aren't I always supposed to put myself last? I asked God to show me why I needed to love myself and how I could do so. You can see some of the posts I've written about the realization <a href="">here</a>, but to summarize, I learned that 1 Corinthians 13 applies to me too. The adjectives in that chapter should define the way that I treat others and the way that I treat myself.

Fast forward to camp. My very first week in Alabama was staff orientation, and I began training on the ropes course. My goodness, that was tough! It was several hours each day (usually 9am-4pm) of not only training on each element, but also going on each element multiple times so everyone had a chance to train well. I was exhausted. One afternoon, while I was training high in the zip line tree with my friend Ali, I was taking a little longer than some of the other trainees. Ali remarked between participants that I was being really patient with myself. 

I don't think I realized it at the time, but it came to me slowly later. And I almost broke down. I was being patient with myself. Patient. You know what love is? "Love is patient, love is kind..." I was astounded. Here I am, learning how to love myself 50 feet up in the air. 

A couple weeks later, when I was asked to train in the rappelling wall window for the advanced class, I mentioned to my friend Kat, who has been doing ropes for a number of years, that ropes course is teaching me to be patient with myself. And as I continued to train, it was proven true. You must remember each specific aspect of the element; which way to clip into a harness and when to flip the carabiner; which way to turn and hold the belay device; when to use a screw gate, a rapid link, or an auto lock; how to get the best helmet adjustment, etc, etc. Yes, a lot of it becomes muscle memory after a while, but like I said in introductions for this new group of campers, I've been doing ropes for an entire four weeks. I have noticed improvements, such as the amount of time it takes me to five point check a camper and clip in my belay device or my ability to get a helmet fitting just right, but I am still learning. I am so grateful for the people I work with who challenge and encourage me and make me keep trying. 

I am thankful that this often difficult experience occurred at this time in my life. I am grateful for all the times I have learned to overcome and press on and achieve things I thought I could never do. And I'm grateful that I have learned one way to love myself: and that that is to be patient.