Thursday, June 28, 2012


There are a lot of fancy, competitive, expensive camps to choose from each summer.  Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney says that camp (which is also the title of his best-selling book) was the most important experience of his life. His exclusive camp in Vermont was a sleep-away camp where kids stayed for eight weeks every summer. He says that camp made him the man he became. I think that church summer camp programs have the same effect on kids. Here's why:

I just left our church kitchen filled with pride and gratitude as I realized that four seventh graders are independently fixing snacks for over forty campers and staff twice each day this week, with only enough supervision to be safe and on-time. These kids have aged out of the day camp going on this week, but they loved camp, and they have enough sweetness in their hearts to give back to camp. They have also been part of our cooking camps in past summers and so have the skills to support the camp this way.

Besides the four in the kitchen, there are eight more middle and high school students helping this week. They are playing hard, bandaging boo-boos, sitting out with campers whose exuberance exceeds the space available. They too have been part of church camps when they were younger. Some of them just returned from a week or two away at church camp. Now they are bearing witness to their faith by a hundred small acts of kindness, mercy, and love each day, as well as helping lead games, worship, service and crafts.

The camp itself is being  led by three wonderful counselors from the Lutheran camp about an hour east of here. These young people have a passion for the gospel and a heart for kids. They work incredibly hard all summer long for not a lot of money, and make a huge difference in the lives of some of the campers they counsel. Some weeks they work at camp; other weeks they go to churches like this one and put on camp at church.

It has been over 40 years since I went to confirmation camp, yet I can still tell you the names of some of my counselors. I can still sing all the words to many of the songs I learned there. It wasn't fancy, competitive, or expensive but it had a huge impact on the rest of my life. It was one of the ways my parents' baptismal promises were carried out - for that week, at camp, I lived among God's faithful people in a way that Sunday morning didn't deliver. And that's what's happening at day camp this week too!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Summer Lovin'

Spring and summer collided yesterday, with a hot, rainy, sunny, breezy, something-for-everyone kind of day. I, a decidedly indoor kind of person, was out in it as my church hosted a block party. And the crazy-wonderful weather only enhanced the event. There we were - people from the neighborhood, people from the church, people from all over the world - gathered to listen to music played by our house band, a Liberian band, an Indonesian band, and a one-man-band from Puerto Rico. Kids were playing soccer on a nearby patch of grass. Sausages were cooking on the grill. It was a nice way to kick off summer.

East met "west" last weekend as I became acquainted with the family and friends of my almost-son-in-law in Maryland. I haven't spent much time on the East coast and was charmed by our nation's capital and the people I met there. I was struck by how lush everything was; not what I expected at all, and a wonderful respite from the Texas drought. Everyone involved loved the bride or groom, which, like the music at the block party, drew us together. It was a really nice way to kick off their new family.

At Vacation Bible School last week, kids from our church, our neighborhood, and their friends and cousins from all over the place gathered to learn about the Sower and the Seed. It seems the Sower is busy - planting everywhere. Not just where there is a guarantee of success, but everywhere. Some seeds struggle in rocky shallow soil, with barely any roots, but still stretching upward. Other seeds grow in spite of thorny, clinging and clawing weeds that try to hold them back, while others are carried off by birds to eventually grow in soil that may be rocky or thorny or nourishing. Some seeds land in good soil and produce in abundance.

It seems that, in the end, we all had the same beginning. Some of us were blessed to be born into families that are good soil, rich in nutrients, with sunlight and water plentiful. Some of us are born into families where the soil is rocky, where the stuff we need to grow is hard to come by, yet somehow, against the odds, we rise toward the sun. Others of us have to fight from the first day as weeds of mental illness, addiction,  or ignorance work against us as we try to grow. A few of us were carried away from our original patch of earth by war, or adoption, or a dream of a better life to unknown soil. Yet all of us were planted by the same hand. Isn't knowing that a nice way to kick off some new relationships? 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


In every setting - school, camp, playgroups, sports teams - there is at least one child whose name is known to all. The child's name is known because everyone responsible for him (or her, but usually him) is always calling his name. This child, let's call him Daniel, is never where he is supposed to be. He is never still. He can't keep his hands to himself or his mouth shut. Everyone knows him; nobody likes him. All the program leaders have been consulted. His parents get called on the second day of camp, for "advice" about how to engage him. Counselors try to get out of having him in their group. People gossip about him: "Did you hear the latest about Daniel?" Or about his parents: "I think they're divorced. Dad is out of the picture and Mom just can't handle him. Bless her heart."

Daniel doesn't get invited over for play dates very often. You have to watch him every minute. Sometimes he hits. He doesn't know how to share, can't play cooperative games, and leaves the yard without asking. Sometimes he takes things.  He's a bad influence. Your kid doesn't like him or is afraid of him.

Some parents have no struggle with this situation - they simply ban the "bad boy" from their child's life. Some parents have a huge struggle with the Daniels because they know, in their souls, that they are called to love their neighbor. And Daniel is their neighbor. They may wish he wasn't but he is, and so they wrestle with how to handle the situation. It's a faith issue. How do you balance this child's need for positive relationships and love with your own child's needs for good role models, well-behaved friends, and good influences?

Loving your neighbor sometimes means  that your child has to BE the role model and not just HAVE role models. It means that your kids might get a little less attention when Daniel is around. It's not all fun and games being a good neighbor. It's kind of like being a parent. Sometimes you have to do the right thing, even if it's painful.

Many years ago I had a Daniel across the street and three houses down. He was older than my children and a holy terror. He was trouble - banned from nearly every house on the street.The more places that banned him, the more time he spent at my house. One day I was planting a flat of petunias and Daniel wanted to help. Exasperated, but trying to do the right thing, I went to the garage and got him a trowel. As he planted, he seemed to settle into a peaceful place I had never seen him inhabit. So I praised his careful and gentle handling of my plants and taught him to water them. Every day that summer he came to stick his finger in the dirt, knock on the door and tell me if they needed watering or not. If they did, he watered them. If they didn't, he deadheaded them.

Daniel and I only shared one summer garden, he moved away just as it was time to plant the next year, but I learned the rewards of being a good neighbor from that relationship. What started out as a problem became a joy. Who's your Daniel?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Simply Summer

School is out in my part of the world and all around me I hear the sounds of adjustment: mothers on cell phones saying  "wait just one minute"  to impatient children tugging at the hem of their shorts; kids cannon-balling into pools as if this will be their only chance to swim this summer; ice cream trucks with their faux calliopes; dogs barking in ecstasy as children barrel out into back yards. It's a happy-crazy-wild time of year. 

Since my church offers several camps over the summer, I am probably in my busiest season. I certainly spend more time with kids over the summer than at any time during the year. I am astonished at how much time kids spend at camp each summer - and I feel a little sad that they don't get to have the long, lazy, boring summer days of my childhood where we went out after breakfast, often ate lunch at a picnic table in the shade of the house and played until we were called in for supper and sometimes even got to go out after until dark or mosquitoes drove us in. We went days without getting in the car - and I think of what a luxury that would be for a mom or dad these days. (In fact, when I play around with ways to create Sabbath space in my life, not driving for 24 hours is one of the exercises I do. Not driving is definitely a way of resting for those of us in cities of a certain size.)  
I know I have previously written about slowing down for summer, but I tracked down something blogger  Life as I Know It penned two summers ago, and I wanted to share her idea and the product of that idea: "Last week I unrolled a big piece of art paper on the kitchen table, armed them with markers, and told them to write down anything and everything they want to do or try or accomplish this summer. The only 'rule' was that once something gets written down on the Great Summer List of '10, then it must be done.
A lesson in brainstorming, goal setting and list making all in one."
She wrote that this was a much simpler list than she had predicted. And it contained surprises - archery and making whipped cream were completely unexpected.
In August she shared that they had just completed the last item on the list, "Go on a big sHiP" by visiting a historical ship in the Boston harbor. Then, in a post during the first week of school she said: "[D]o you know what happens when we don't give our chidlren a chance to slow down? They don't get the opportunity to find out who they really are. And isn't that the whole point? Of life? To discover who we are?"

I agree with Life as I Know It. That is the whole point - to discover who we are! When we bring our children to be baptized we trust that they are receiving the Holy Spirit, and with the Spirit, spiritual gifts. Discovering those gifts is their job, and you get to be their support staff on this project. So, what does the summer hold for you and your kids - or you and your inner child?

It might be time for a Great Summer List of '12.