Summer's Grand Finale (part 1)

Our official working summer ended with a bang:  two packed-out weeks of family camps at Camp Berea, on Newfound Lake in New Hampshire.  A stalwart group of tired staff (who had just invested 7 weeks at Campus by the Sea) and an even tired-er leader, Paul, boarded flights at LAX Saturday night, August 3, "red-eyeing" it to Boston in time to launch two weeks of H.I.M. family camps.  Though not our preference, the way the calendar falls again this year makes it impossible for us to delay the start of New England family camps for a week, so we forge ahead. Our very impressive team pressed on, without complaint, as we headed to Camp Berea around noon Sunday, trying to arrive ahead of our eager family campers, which we managed to do.  And then we were off and running, with no time to consider our exhaustion level.  Rising to the occasion, our staff presented "This is week 1 of family camp" enthusiasm and energy, and we truly honor them for their commitment to excellence.  We are also very mindful of God's grace in giving us all strength and health equal to the task.

Paul was greeted by Nathan Scott and his parents at Logan upon his arrival and that was precious to behold the first meeting of Papa and grandson #2.  How kind of Derek and Julie to make that happen at 6 a.m.!!

One-week-old Nathan musters a sleepy greeting for his Papa at the airport.

The "Butterfly Song" is sung for the first of many times as family camp gets underway.

We are so grateful to be partnering with Camp Berea these two weeks.  The commitment of the Berea staff to serve "as unto the Lord" is evident in every aspect of the camp, and our hearts resonate with their priorities, which we share.  Both weeks of camp were "out of the park" in all ways:  full and overflowing capacity, beautiful weather overall, protection from (most) sickness and serious injury, open hearts and sensitive spirits to God's work, and fabulous teaching from Richard Dahlstrom (lead pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, WA).  Our staff were superb and served so, so well. We felt so met by God.  Above and beyond.

Staff photo from Family Camp 1 — a great, servant-hearted group of young people.

Derek, Julie, and Nathan Johnson decided to spend a good portion of the two weeks with us at camp, taking advantage of staying in the beautiful cabin we rent for housing our married staff (sans Paul and me, who stay on site.)  Birchaven (the cabin) abuts the camp property, making it very convenient but very separate.  It was a delight to all of our family campers to have the Johnsons show up to hear Richard speak or hang out in the back of the gym during the game show.  

I managed to make my way to Birchaven during any free moment I carved out during those weeks.  In fact, I surprised myself by how creative I was in finding "off the beaten track" paths to the cabin so as to not run into campers I would want to talk with.  I didn't want anything to keep me from spending the precious few moments I could have holding this little guy.  

I had an epiphany which came with a conviction as I stealthily made my way to the cabin one day.  The priority of seeing Nathan trumped my nature, which temperamentally would lead me to walk paths which would allow me to see the most amount of people.  I love interacting with people, especially those I love, and yet the desire to hold this little 8-pound bundle of new life was greater than my desire to connect with others I love.

The conviction was strong and startling.  I don't have that "I'll do this no matter what" drive when it comes to being with my Lord.  My quiet time can easily be set aside for "the tyranny of the urgent."  I can be sidetracked by a phone call, my "to-do" list, a hunger pang, or any number of other distractions.  My prayer since then is that I would have the same urgency of spending time with Him that I have had of spending time with little Nathan.  

I treasured every moment spent with him and found it very easy to worship Creator God as I studied the ever contorting face of this little guy and marveled at the miracle of new life. It's beyond me that life can be attributed to anyone or anything besides our Holy God.

Family campers seize some “Nathan moments” at the end of our talk on parenting.  

The highlights at family camp were many.  Richard Dahlstrom's talks were brilliant and inspiring. Listen to them!  They are available on the H.I.M. website here and they are well worth listening to, at least once.  It was a joy to have Richard's wife, Donna, join us for week 2 of camp.  Richard and Donna are a couple who together live the gospel.  They make marriage look good. They live life fully.  They are real and down to earth.  They have become very treasured friends.  What a treat to have these days with them.

Another highlight was having our first ever college group for H.I.M. Family Camp 1.  Last year we had a college group at camp 2, which was thrilling, and we reached a new place in New England family camp history to have college groups at both camps this summer.  Ryan and Kelly Plosker led the group during week 1, and their praises were sung daily.  Never ones to do anything "just to get by," they looked up information on the internet about each of the colleges these kids would be attending in the fall and talked as a group about the unique challenges and benefits each may find at their respective schools.  The students felt very personally cared for by them.  Week 2's college students had the privilege of being led by Richard and Donna, who helped engage their group in developing more of a global awareness.  Great reports came from the students this week as well.  We were so thankful for the way God provided for the students in each of the weeks—again, "above and beyond."

The college group at Family Camp 1.  A stellar group, now off on college campuses.
Pray that they'll stand firm for and in Him.

The traditions of family camp are always so stabilizing and loved:  the game show was a grand slam this summer as every camper was involved; the time of worship at the fire ring, followed by s'mores, was "sweet" in every way; the finger blasters were a "blast"; the dance night celebrated all that is good when the generations have fun together.  Banners were made by most families (thank you Guy Steele for making this happen year after year) and the banquet was a time of celebrating the powerful work of God among us. 

Guess which couple hosted the game show?  Fun was had by all.

Baptisms are among the most meaningful "traditions" of Family Camp.  Although all baptisms are significant, I don't think any of us will ever forget Meredith Grieci's.  This precious 7-year-old has Down's Syndrome and her enthusiastic "YES" to each of Paul's questions were topped only by her coming out of the water, arms held above her head in victory, beaming from ear to ear.  Ahhh . . . pure, childlike faith!  

Meredith Grieci and Mister Paul share a hug as camp ends.
Her baptism will stay with us for a long time to come.

The end of family camp comes oh so quickly.  After corporate worship and wrap up, a group photo is taken, farewells are exchanged, and the campers drive off, reminding us that there are only 51 weeks until family camp.  :)

And within hours, the 260 campers for the second family camp arrived and we did it over again. 

I'll admit there were many moments leading up to family camp that we really doubted our sanity regarding our commitment to continuing to direct these weeks.  Maybe our sanity is still in question, but the moment camp was underway, the passion for this seminal ministry overwhelmed any questions we may have had about why we were doing this.  There is nothing more satisfying or reinforcing that seeing families together, learning to live and love "Jesus-style" in the community of like-minded believers.  What can be better than hearing stories of how God is at work: healing, restoring, renewing, and rebuilding?  

Friday, August 16, was the last day of our 2013 family camp season.  As tired as we were at that point, we were fueled by adrenalin (and grace) to finish strong and to savor the incredible way we had consistently been met by God throughout the summer.  Truly.  We were especially aware of the way God molded us in to a team in New Hampshire as a relatively eclectic group—anchored by a solid core of 15 who had served together all summer—gathered to staff those two weeks.  

After sending the campers off with a heartfelt chorus of "We love you campers, oh yes we do!", we drove out of New Hampshire and the party began.  Doug and Julie Macrae hosted the team for the weekend, starting with a night at Fenway Park on Friday and ending with a steak and lobster feast on Sunday evening.  Their hospitality and generosity are legendary and communicate such appreciation and affirmation of the staff team.  It's hard to imagine a better ending to an unforgettable summer.

Donned in Red Sox gear, the staff experience the rare treat of witnessing
a Red Sox vs. Yankees match-up at Fenway.

Pretty sweet welcome to Fenway!!

Lobster races prior to dinner Sunday night, one of many unique experiences the staff had,
making for a very memorable end-of-the-summer celebration.

And so another summer of family camps retires into the memory banks of all involved, by God's grace, leaving life-changing fingerprints on the hearts and minds of all.  Our prayer is that none of us will be the same as a result of having been together at family camp.  

We were greatly encouraged to receive a beautifully written, from-the-heart letter today from a family camper, and I'll close by excerpting part of it:

Thank you for another wonderful week at Family Camp.  We all look forward to it all year long and we are never disappointed.  As our little family grows up and our needs change, camp continues to be a perfect fit for us.
My girls love their "teachers" at camp and I am so grateful for these "cool" young adults who show my girls God's love, that it is fun and rewarding to walk this path boldly, to worship Him unashamed.  These young people go above and beyond, giving their time and attention to children, making kids feel special.  Thanks again for an amazing week, for being our non-negotiable family trip every summer.  We are already looking forward to next year!

A joyful exclamation point on the end of a great summer.  All praise is His!