Thursday, August 27, 2015

We traveled and we camped.

I seriously don’t even know where to begin with this trip. It was 11 days of gut-wrenching laughter, long bus rides, tent-pitching, earnest prayer, feeding the multitudes, growing relationships, late nights, genuine worship, card games, picture-snapping, sharing my heart, and missing my boys. I grew as much spiritually on this trip than I did as a camper years ago. It was an amazing experience; one that I can never forget. It’s taken me this long to process all that happened in those 11 days. It was the first time I was put in the “mentor” position and that was the most rewarding part of the entire trip. I told my girls numerous times that they were teaching me more than I could ever teach them. It has forever changed me. 

This was one of the highlights of my trip. We spent a couple hours at a mall in Calgary, Canada. We had the option to grab lunch in the cafeteria, and that is where I made this discovery. New York Fries. It's a fast food chain specializing in fries. Where fries are the main dish. And the side dish. I chose the "classic" meal, fries covered in brown gravy and cheese curds, (I'm salivating just talking about it). They gave me samplers of their other options because they could tell I was extremely excited. The other staff chose greek salads and things that adults should consume. And I ate french fries. The entire trip my mantra was, "Perks of the staff, eat like the campers." That's what I did, friends. For example, my typical mid-morning second-breakfast.... 

People, you don't understand the exhaustion. Early mornings, long bus rides, energetic teens, cooking for, cleaning up after, and continually serving 60+ bodies, late nights, sleeping on the ground and repeat. There was one point where my body went into survival mode and everything stopped functioning. Brain and body. Gone. But nothing a double chocolate muffin (shouldn't that just be called a cupcake at this point?) and a strong coffee couldn't fix! Coffee is the secret to staff survival. I liked coffee before TC.  I "liked" coffee. But I never relied on coffee as much as I did in those 11 days. I became a caffeine junky. (Thankfully, since returning home, I've been blessed with much more restful sleep and have been able to inch away from the everyday use. I'm a success story.) 

I was commonly referred to as "The Rookie" by the staff. I was the only first year staff; all the others were veterans. And it showed. I spilled all of Jordan's gold (hot coffee) early one morning. He may never forgive me for that. I should have bought him another one. I also failed to discipline, scold, or discourage the campers from doing anything. Because they never did something that I wouldn't have done 5 years ago... I appreciated every ounce of tip-toeing around the boundaries. That's what makes this all fun. "Perks of a staff, conscience of a camper?" Basically. I mean I probably said no to someone at some point, but I was also the one encouraging a camper to cook and eat the crawdad he found. 

Unfortunately, it didn't happen. 

I told the campers that I wanted to be their friend when I saw this...

You guys. They BUILT this in Canada. It was incredible. They covered the top with moss and even stuffed it in between the logs to seal up the cracks. It was so cool. They were so cool. Then they wanted to take this photo below, and their coolness factor became equivalent to their American pride. I couldn't stop smiling and secretly wanted to hide in that fort and live like Dick Proenneke did in Alaska. (That reference was for James and any other crazies that might know who Mr. Proenneke was. He was a pretty remarkable guy, and an obvious choice for James' idol.) 

I used to believe that high school kids weren't my favorite, because I was one and I thought I was over it. I am totally not. High schoolers are my spirit animal. They do hilarious things, eat a ridiculous amount of food, and make new friends so so fast. Can that be my life? 

2015 Travel Camp Staff

Do you remember last month when I said, "Just remember while you're sweating from the NE heat, I'll be freezing in my tent each Canadian night."? That was supposed to just be a cute little poke at the climate change between here and farther north. Instead it was a foreshadowing of my extremities turning blue and falling off from the sun never shining. I forgot what it was like to feel warmth. I wore 4 layers for 96 hours straight. Do you know how to do July like that? Because I sure didn't. If it had been Nov-Feb, I could have probably dealt with it, but my body was accustomed to certain temperatures that turn my skin brown, not blue. No sleeping bag can keep this claustrophobic face warm in those elements. No siree. 

Banff, Canada

But it certainly was beautiful! 


There's quite the agenda when we reach a new campsite. 

Step 1: Unload the bus. 

65 people's belongings. This is just insane. 

Step 2: Set up tents and kitchen

Step 3: KP Duty
(KP stand for Kitchen Patrol, each student was assigned to help the staff with 2 meals over the course of the trip.)

Kathy goes big on these meals. She doesn't skimp out and make the easiest meals possible, she makes crowd-pleasers. Stroganoff, goulash, tacos, pancakes, chicken noodles, biscuits and gravy, chili, sloppy joes, french toast, taco salad, ham and scalloped potatoes, and spaghetti. 

And now the moment you've all been waiting for.... The award for Best KP goes to....

Nathan, Madi, and Trevor!

They received this award due to dropping pounds of raw hamburger on the dirt in bear country and of course, my absolute favorite moment of the trip.... for starting on fire! Literally Trevor's apron started on fire and he started yelling "Fire, I'm on fire!" But no worries, folks, he knew what to do. That's right, he stopped, dropped, and rolled. The first roll didn't do the trick so I attempted to stomp it out, on him. Thankfully another roll took care of the flame and the laughter of that event can never be equaled. They win, hands down. And now the TC apron will forever remind future campers of the importance of fire safety and the brave KP heroes of 2015. 

Step 4: Feed the bears
Er, I mean campers...

Step 5: Clean up

Here's a tip: You don't want to be last in the dishes line on Chili night. You will barf. 

Step 6: Free time 

Step 7: Sing

Step 8: Lesson time

Step 9: Hot chocolate
I have zero pictures of this because it was cold, dark, and I was busy pouring hot chocolate. 

Step 10: Prayer Group
My absolute favorite time of the day! Even though it started an hour after I usually go to bed at home, these girls were worth every minute of sacrifice. 

Each of these girls were brilliant and beautiful. They were embarrassingly gracious to me in my inexperience and lack of wisdom. They were incredibly honest with me. They expressed words that had never been spoken outside of our tent. They shared their fears, loves, concerns, desires, regrets, environments, doubts, hopes, sins, dreams and their hearts. Each girl brought something different to the group and we benefited from our differences. We laughed together, prayed together, cried together, and grew together. Saying good-bye was the hardest. I desperately wanted to bring them all home with me. 









They were definitely the reason I needed to be on TC. So blessed to have mentored these sweet things and my "momma" heart holds them so dear. They've been covered in prayer 100 times over. 

Step 11: Bed (finally) 
Technically, there was no bed involved; we slept on the ground. But after a long day, that ground was magnificent. 


I shared my testimony one night of camp. It was the first time I'd actually taken the time to write it down, (shocker I know, because obviously I write a lot). And it was the first time that I'd formally given my testimony. For many years I thought my story was dull or uninteresting because I had an easy childhood. No extreme tragedy, emotional trauma, unspeakable sin or deep hurt. So I often felt my story wasn't worthy of being told. But eventually I realized that my testimony has never been about me, nor will it ever be about me. It's about Jesus. It's always been about Jesus. He is the story. The same Jesus who covers the convict-turned-Christian, covers me too. Jesus is the plot-twist, the hero, the climax, the happily-ever-after, the conclusion of every Christian's story. Isn't that amazing?! 

Just about the time I realized I didn't need a "dramatic" story, God gave me one. Married the summer after I graduated high school, pregnant on the honeymoon. Oh gracious. He taught me plenty through that, too. But you know the cool thing? Jesus saved me when my story was plain, and He saved me when my story was insane. You know why? Because it's His story, not mine. I don't know about you, but that's incredibly freeing. 

I always cry when I speak in front of people, it just happens. One-on-one, no issue, I don't cry. Some of my closest friends have never seen me cry. I don't understand it, I just don't cry in conversation. But you give me a stage and have rows of people... And I bawl. I cried when I gave my cousin's bridal shower devotion; I'm sure that was a real encouragement to her... Regardless, my goal was not to cry while giving my testimony. Fellow staff member, Joe said that crying might make me seem genuine. I told him that it would make me seem weak. (This was only the surface of the sarcasm and banter that I experienced with the staff. They totally have my humor and it made the trip quite enjoyable.) I told Joe to yell, "WEAK!" at me if I started tearing up. When I cry I ramble and I try to make everyone laugh so I'll stop crying, and I didn't want to have to do that. I wanted to be able to keep the focus and give them a glimpse of Jesus at work in my life. I practically succeeded. I did have to yell at Joe once to help me out. 


Hysterical moment of the trip:
"Thur's a bur!"

I'm telling you, these kids were soooo funny!

The man below is Wayne, our bus driver. He was more involved in our camp than any other driver in the past. He helped with KP, joined in on activities, and had a love for my camera. He asked to try it out the first night and he consistently grabbed it and caught some great moments of the campers. Heck, he did most of my job for me! ;) I appreciated his hilarious demeanor and his silly jokes. 

Also, that picture is from the human maze. Jordan and I tried it and it took us 45 minutes to give up. We lost track of our kids and failed to complete anything worth mentioning. 

Sweet Sandy was my partner in this adventure. We spent many hours chatting, strategizing, laughing, and growing. She convinced me that I could get a tattoo. She taught me how to play Euchre. She gave me resources for Prayer Group. She braided my hair for goodness sake. She was a joy to be around. And look how adorable she is >
Together we discovered a passion for tea. We found a place called David's Tea in Calgary. We spent more money on tea that day that I had in my entire life. But now we love tea. And it was worth it. Also we tried things called "tea pops". It's tea with carbonated water and it was delicious. Except we had to get on the bus after that and my bladder threw a hissy fit. I had to use the "heel trick" because I made that a thing when I was desperate. But still we were an hour from camp and I was going to lose it. I had to do the forbidden act. I had to use the bus bathroom. I'm sorry I let my team down. It was unacceptable and next time I will resist the temptation to guzzle a tea pop before our bus ride. 

There are several things that stand out to me about what God taught me through Travel Camp.  Service. Honesty. Prayer. 
Serving on TC meant giving up my family for 11 days, it meant being uncomfortable and being afraid of this new experience. 
I've wasted too many years seeking the approval of others, hiding my faults because I wanted to appear confident. Not being honest with people, myself, or God.
I experienced some of the most meaningful and powerful prayer while on TC simply because I was intentional about it. 
Because I was willing to serve and sacrifice, God used that to open up my eyes to things I wouldn't have grasped at home. It was a tremendous time of growth in my life and I look forward to the things that will come out of it. Even my selfish motives going into camp were flipped on the head. 
Thankfully, it's Jesus' story, not mine. 

There were so many memories that haven't been told and I only hope you get to hear them all someday. It was a remarkable 11 days. But the journey has only just begun. 

It's His story, growing on the farm...