Summer Camp, teens, Youth

Opendoor Youth Camp: Overflow

CAMP OVERFLOW ||You may have heard about it, you may have sent your kids to it, you may have been a counselor for it, or you may have been a camper yourself. And if none of those apply to you, then I am truly sorry…because it is pretty awesome.

For the past 6 years, Shane & I have been bystanders watching the Opendoor Youth Camp: Camp Overflow from home like everyone else. Cheering the tribes on, stalking the numerous pictures and videos being posted from leaders at camp…and pretty much having major FOMO. Let’s be honest, we’ve all had it. And if there were a Camp Overflow for adults, every last one of us would be there with tribal gear & sleeping bags in tow.

So when we were asked to step in this year as Camp Mom & Pop, it really wasn’t a hard decision at all. Aside from the fact that it was a little intimidating because our predecessors were amazing and left big shoes to fill, we were honored & excited for the chance to be a part of such a monumental week in the lives of our youth.

Little did we know that it would be just as life-changing for us as well.

One thing we didn’t realize before signing up was the amount of preparation that goes into this camp. As an onlooker, one thinks it’s all nuts and bolts kind of preparation, but that isn’t even the half of it. From a counselor’s weekend retreat to times of worship and prayer, we spent just as much time spiritually preparing our hearts and minds as we did our lists and schedules. It was incredible. But man, did Satan ever fight against us. He saw what we were about to do, and he did everything he could to stop it. Playing on fears, planting seeds of doubt, whispering lies…no one was off limits or left unscathed by his attacks.

The battle was great…but our God is greater.

Finally, the first day of camp was upon us. That time for which we had all been waiting and preparing had arrived along with 190 campers. And they.were.PUMPED. We just hoped and prayed the coffee & red bull would give us enough energy to keep up with them all or that the heat would slow them down. In the end, I think they just put us on an even playing field.

But we were ready and expecting big things to happen this week…and we were not disappointed.

Tribal Wars started off strong with Mike, Romeo, Charlie, & Juliet competing for the much-coveted Golden J. To most, it may look like a Jordan sneaker spray painted gold; but to them, it ranks right up there with the Stanley Cup. And they fought hard to win it. The weather was hot, and the campers grew tired as the week progressed. But like the refining fire in Job 23:10, the wars tested strength and endurance to reveal true character; and in the end, Romeo came forth as gold.

Golden J, that is.

The thing about the Opendoor Youth Camp is this. From the second the students step foot onto the campground and turn in their phones until the one in which they board the departing buses, God is at work. Throughout the Tribal Wars, free time, small groups, and services…as fun as they are, God is at work. Some students and leaders don’t even understand why or how they got there; but clearly, it is because God is at work.

And man, did He ever work last week.

He worked as:

  • Pastor Aaron Kennedy preached a message on recognizing our calling.
  • Pastor Michael Chandler spoke on water baptism and baptism of the Holy Spirit.
  • 90 students & leaders were baptized.
  • 34 accepted Jesus as their Savior.
  • Pastor Tyler Braden reminded us that there is always room for us at God’s Table.
  • Students soaked in His presence and wrote down the things He was saying to them.
  • Elder Elliotte Pearson challenged us to never lose the awe of God.
  • Coaches gave their testimonies.
  • Pastor Tyler spoke on dying to self and finding our purpose beyond the Table.
  • Students & leaders gave testimonies on all God had done in their lives during the week.

From the first day to the last, we could see the reservations slowly stripped away. With each service, another heart was forever changed. Many, if not all, stepped off of those buses feeling like they aren’t worthy of all God has to offer. Like they don’t belong…and if people knew what they were really like, they wouldn’t want anything to do with them.

But as each speaker reminded them throughout the week, Christ is calling us all to something. No matter what hard things we’ve endured, God never wastes that pain. He uses it and allows it to produce true joy. And as ashamed as we may feel, God isn’t scared of our mess. Just because we may have messed up in our past doesn’t mean we don’t belong. We will always have a place at His Table. But to get to where God is calling us, we can’t stay where we are. We have to move.

And move is exactly what these students and leaders did this week.

I wish I could capture the feeling in that room each service. But no picture, video or words can ever do it justice. The tangible feeling of the Holy Spirit’s presence was as if He were sitting right beside us…and all around us. I’ve never felt it quite like that before, and I know I wasn’t the only one.

As I made my rounds each night to check on the girl’s cabins and pray over them, I was met with the same question over and over. Is it real? Is what we felt real? Was the Holy Spirit really there? Did we imagine that?

And I knew without a doubt that it was real. Because there is just something about this camp that is different than anything we’ve ever seen. All of the spiritual preparation, the prayer, the intercession, the worship…we invite the Holy Spirit and God Himself into our midst, and He shows up.

You may not ever have the chance to experience a Camp Overflow in person. But as one of our young people said in his testimony at our Sunday Overflow Service…please, send your kids. If you have the chance, send them. It not only changes their lives, but it changes the lives of those around them.

Because what happens at the Opendoor Youth Camp, doesn’t stay there. It’s a ripple effect that starts that week and continues on even after everyone has returned home…and it is life-changing. For the students, for the leaders, for their friends and families, for everyone.

Some will go on to lead in ministry, some will go on to volunteer in churches, some will lead others to Christ simply by example, but ALL will be used by God.

Because no matter where we go or what we do in life, we will always have a place at His Table.

“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galations 2:20

.

.

.

• Cover photo: by Megan Holland/Opendoor Church

Mom of Boys, Motherhood

What If I Don’t Always Love Being A Mom?

March marks two important anniversaries for me…

The day I became a mom and the day I gave birth for the very last time.

As you may know, we have three children (four, if you count their father…and sometimes I do); and two of the three have birthdays this month, the oldest and the youngest. Like bookends, they mark the beginning and end of a bittersweet season in my life as a mother.

And just as birthdays often do, they’ve made me a sappy mess. Lingering a little longer at bedtime, looking at pictures of days gone by, and crying over silly things that shouldn’t make me cry, I once again reflect on those early years of motherhood when everything was new and exciting, yet terrifying just the same.

I’m not going to pretend I enjoyed pregnancy or giving birth, because I didn’t. And for a long time, I thought that made me inadequate for the job. I didn’t glow and gush like other moms I knew; so obviously, I had taken the initiation test and failed.

But then I realized it wasn’t a prerequisite to motherhood. One didn’t have to love the gestational period to actually love her children or be a good mom (and my husband seemed to love it enough for the both of us). So I embraced “not loving” the process because I knew that I would adore the result.

And I did.

But not every second…or even every other second. In fact, there have been many seconds I haven’t loved. And just as I felt like a failure for not loving the swelling, bloating, peeing, sickness, moodiness, and exhaustion, I once again felt shame and defeat for not loving every dirty diaper, spit-up stain, and sleepless night.

Because what good mother doesn’t savor every precious moment?

I felt like I had to be the only one who struggled with forming sentences after another exhausting night and frantically searched for a shirt that didn’t bear the mark of an upset stomach or snotty nose. And certainly, I was the only one who blindly tossed crackers in the back seat to stop the blood-curdling wail or drove around the block a few more times to prolong a much-needed nap (the kid’s…not mine). I had no doubt I was the only one who struggled with breastfeeding. And for sure, I was the only one who cried…a lot.

So I felt guilty.

I felt guilty for not loving it all in spite of the mess.

I felt guilty because I had experienced the heartbreak of losing a sweet, precious life before meeting him…or her. (So shouldn’t I just be thankful to have a healthy child to wreak havoc on my life and heart?)

I felt guilty because there are other women who cannot have children yet so desperately want them.

I felt guilty because there are moms who have experienced the joy and pain of childbirth only to lose that same child shortly after or far too soon.

I felt guilty.

And that little sentence pretty much sums up motherhood.

We feel guilty…

For all of the seconds we don’t love.

For all of the moments we miss because we have to work.

For all of the lost tempers, forgotten promises, and “not right nows”…

For all of the unhealthy meals served simply out of convenience.

For all of the things we said we’d never do as parents.

For pretty much everything.

And while I wish we had a magic pill that could take away that guilt, we don’t. But there are no perfect parents who love all the moments either. We are not alone; and the more we share our struggles, our frustrations and fears, the more we will realize just how “not alone” we are.

Thank the good Lord, some precious women came into my life that helped me see this. Had it not been for their “realness” and transparency, I don’t know what I would have done during those early years of motherhood. And He continues to send just the right people to encourage me throughout each new and challenging season.

But it starts with having the courage to share what we feel is unsharable. Instead of pretending we have it all together and are loving every second, let’s admit we don’t and ask for help. When we strip away the stigma that struggle means failure, we open up the pathway to healing and strength.

Satan would love nothing more than to convince us that we are a mess. He wants us to quit before we even start. He tells us that what we see on social media is everyone else #winning….except us.

But he’s wrong.

All we see is what everyone else wants us to see. The highlight reel of their lives. The beautiful, “perfect” moments…..that took 537 pictures to get it right. Nobody posts the wet bed, the gum in the dog’s hair, the sassy mouth, or the knock-down-drag-out they had on the way to church. The hundreds of moments we absolutely do not love.

Nobody.

And that’s ok. But we have to remind ourselves that what we are seeing is not the full picture and to stop comparing.

God doesn’t want us to live a life full of shame and self-loathing. He made no mistake when He made us the moms of the children we have. But oh, how precious it is when He blesses us with those little special moments….the ones that remind us why we do it all.

Our job isn’t to be perfect parents and create perfect children. Our job isn’t to make others think we are amazing.

Our job is to lean on Jesus and do our best, plain and simple. And if we can help others along the way by sharing our struggle and unloveable moments? That would be pretty awesome too.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in my weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

 

 

Encouragement, faith, Inspiration, Letters, Life Lessons, Mom of Boys, preteens, realtalk, teens, transparency

An Open Letter To My Teenage Self…

Dear Preteen/Teenage Me,

First things first…

I know that this may come as a complete surprise to you, but you do not become rich and famous, marry Bret Michaels, or live in Beverly Hills. You finally meet him one day, but that’s as close as it gets.

It is for the best.

And contrary to what you may think at this moment, 42 is not one foot in the grave. I know it’s hard to believe; but you are actually going to love your late 30’s & early 40’s, and I mean that with all my heart. The confidence you gain through experience and maturity will help you grow more comfortable in your own skin, and it is liberating. There is a freedom with age that cannot be duplicated in youth.

That being said, you are living some of the best days of your life, and you don’t even know it. Hindsight is 20/20, so here are a few thoughts I’d like to share with you on your teenage years…

1. Enjoy school. While it may seem hard at the time, it’s the easiest thing you will ever endure. Yes, it’s boring. Yes, you have tons of homework. No, you will never need to know the hypotenuse of a triangle to change a diaper or land that dream job, but it’s a rite of passage so suck it up and endure. A roof over your head, good food in your belly, and no bills to pay. Stop wishing those days away. You will have the “opportunity” to work the rest of your life. Good grief, don’t rush it!!

2. Appreciate the skin that you are in. Be thankful your parents won’t let you wear makeup at 12. You don’t need it!! Your skin is glowing and without wrinkle. Why cover it up? There will be plenty of time and money spent on beauty products in the years to come, not to mention, tutorials galore on which makeup is best and how to contour until you are unrecognizable.

Stop trying to look like the girls on TV. Your body is going through numerous changes right now. Give it time. You will grow into those curves you hate so much, and freckles are not a curse. You are beautiful just the way you are.

But please, for the love, use sunscreen!!!

3. Wear what is flattering not just what is fashionable. All fashion trends do not look good on all people, and this is true no matter the decade. If it doesn’t look or feel fantastic, just don’t…or you will look back on pictures one day and wonder why you did.

That.is.all.

4. Quit worrying about boys. There will be plenty of time for boyfriends and relationships someday. Your worth is not measured by what a boy thinks of you. Jesus thinks you are precious and beautiful, and that’s all that matters. Spend these days making memories with family and friends, and stop wasting emotions and tears on boys who are hormonal and lack maturity and common sense.

It’s a proven fact that the brain of preteen/teen (sometimes older) boys goes through an enormous amount of change during these years causing them to say and do stupid things. (I know, I have two of them right now) So bypass this stage and catch them on the upswing! It will save you a lot of heartache.

5. Cherish your friendshipsRecognize good, healthy friendships and hold them close. Nurture those relationships and make the effort to keep in touch even when life takes you separate ways. If not, you will reconnect years from now and mourn the time you’ve lost and the memories you could have made.

And while we are talking about relationships, learn to extend grace to struggling friends but cut ties with toxic people. Neither of those becomes any easier as you grow older, but both are extremely important. Knowing the difference is key.

Find your tribe and love them hard. 

6. Be kind. Popularity is fleeting and matters very little in the grand scheme of things, so don’t waste your time, money, or energy trying to keep up with that crowd.

Instead of dwelling on your own problems, look for those who are sitting by themselves and join them. Let them know that someone sees them and that you care. You have no idea how far a kind word can go to lift the aching spirit of a lonely soul, so open your eyes to those around you and listen with your heart. It could significantly impact a life. Not only theirs but yours.

7. Listen to your parents. They actually do know what they are talking about and don’t say “no” just to make you miserable. Believe it or not, they love you more than life itself and desperately want to protect you. Let them.

Someday you will thank them. Someday you will want to talk to them every day even though you live 13 hours apart. Someday you will want your mom by your side when you are sick or having your first…second…and third baby. Someday they will be the first people you call when you need a listening ear, a comforting word, sound advice, or prayer. Someday you will realize they were right.

And you know that list in the back of your journal? The list of things you will “never say or do to your own children”?

You say and do them all. 

8. Chase your dreams. Don’t settle for what is practical or makes sense. Most successful people don’t follow the safe route. They find what sets their souls on fire and pursue it with every ounce of their being. So do that. Don’t wait. Start now.

If you are passionate about what you do, you will never work a day in your life.

9. Seek Jesus. Every day. Don’t just go to church and check boxes. It’s not about following a list of rules. Dive into His Word, and seek Him daily. Build a relationship with Him stronger than any other relationship in your life, and you will never regret it.

Will it always be easy? No. Will life be perfect? No, God’s not a genie in a bottle. But no matter what happens, you will always have Jesus and the peace and comfort that only He can give. He will see you through whatever you may face…and that’s a promise.

And lastly, but certainly not least….

10. Be thankful you don’t have social media!!! You have the wonderful opportunity of screwing up without the whole world watching. Don’t take that for granted! It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

The bottom line is this. Life is hard no matter how old you are. Pros and cons accompany any age, but the key lies in what you do with them. Embrace every stage and live it to the fullest or you will look back and wish you had.

We get one chance at this thing called life, and we need to make it count.

So buckle up, buttercup, and enjoy the ride.

“To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!” ~ Emerson