Saturday, July 31, 2010

Learning by Serving

*Since getting home (and I use the term "home" loosely here since we dont have a house currently) from camp, I've been thinking a lot about the FIRST time I came home from camp. I remember everything racing through my mind, worrying about the kids being back home. I was unsure how to reconcile their lives with my life, their poverty with my relative wealth. I remember so clearly thinking that if I was really a Christian, if I loved Jesus and claimed to "love my neighbor as myself," I simply could NOT ignore the fact that there were children living in poverty less than a hour from my house.

That said, I thought I'd share a post from over three years ago after we went to camp for the first time . . . Just a quick look into my thoughts and life from then, it's such a delight for me to see how the Lord was leading us even then to where we are today!

Since we got back from Camp Grace, I've been going downtown a couple times a week and helping out with several of the ministries that brought kids up to camp. I'm sharing this fact not to "toot my own horn" so to speak, but to tell you a little bit about how blessed I've been through serving. The Lord continually teaches me, stretches me, and blesses me with overflowing joy each time I go serve in the projects and share love with some deserving kids.

I am struck each time I drive downtown by the poverty that surrounds me. Boarded-over windows, barbed wire, broken-down cars and trash litter and line the streets. When we pull up to Herndon Homes (the largest project in Atlanta) it looks nicer than I expected, it is not until Jeremy points out the drug dealers on the corner and the "dime bags" that once held crack all over the ground that I realize I've entered a whole different world, one I've never before experienced or imagined.

My heart breaks with fear and pain as I watch two year olds waddle around in nothing more than a diaper, drinking grape soda from a can, mindless of the minefield of broken glass that his little feet navigate fearlessly.

At children's church this Sunday, a beautiful young girl asks me to pray for her mom - when I ask for details she says she can't tell in front of so many people - when i ask if she wants to whisper in my ear, she nods vigorously before informing me that her mom's in jail and she has been separated from her brothers and sisters and is living with her aunt. Tears well in her eyes (and mine) as I do the only thing I know how to: pray earnestly that the Lord will show us a way out, and that he will rescue her from her circumstances.

Later, a polite and helpful young man who often helps us with our ministry reveals that he has been suspended for misbehaving in school. His mom adds that he has threatened to re-open a DFCS case on her, and he protests strongly when his mother says she's trying to get his father to pay child support (he argues that his father shouldn't be to blame)

I cannot help but wonder how any of these kids can be expected to rise above their circumstances . . .we are quick to label them lazy and "bad" from the comfort of our four bedroom homes with big yards and full fridges - but how will they know a different way to live unless WE show them. They desperately need to know that they're worth it, that they deserve more than they have been dealt, and that their heavenly Father cares infinitely more about them than their earthly fathers seem to . . .

I am excited every time I get to go downtown and spend time with these kids, knowing that in them I encounter the Lord, who became the poor and hurting as He died on the cross. . . Never before has my faith felt as vibrant and real as it does when i am serving these kids.

"The Lord of Hosts says this: "Render true justice. Show faithful love and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the stranger or the poor. . ." Zachariah 7:9-10a

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rock Your Camera

In case you haven't noticed, I'm a little into taking pictures lately. I can't help myself, my daughter is such a cute subject. And no, I'm not biased at all.

Last week, I signed up for an online photography course, in order to better my skillz.

I didn't actually pay for the part involving turning in assignments and getting constructive feedback (although I totally would have if we had any money), but I went ahead and completed the assignment anyways. I've always been an overachiever, I can't help myself.

Unfortunately, my little model has 2 obvious problems: 1 - She's no longer all that "little." For realz, what happened to my baby, when did she get all grown?! and 2 - She's already totally over me taking her picture. I went to great lengths of trickery and begging to get these few shots. I'm betting she'll actually start enjoying me taking her picture more as she gets older, right? Ha.
Baby with blue eyes taken at summer campHalf body portrait, Photography assignment
Atlanta child photography in Black and White
Blue eyes and fence, Atlanta child photography
Picture of Jayci at summer campLook at those Nike shoes and the sweet backpack. Not many people (myself included) can pull of the bubble outfit with Nike kicks. But Jayci totally rocks it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Walter

Anyone who was at Camp Grace this year knows that there's no way I wasn't going to devote an entire post to Walter. I've actually known Walter for a year or so now, because he comes to Metro Kidz and lives in one of the housing projects we work with. He's a little older than most of the kids at Metro Kidz, so I didn't know him all that well before camp and had only heard snippets of his story. This past week (the older kids week) Walter came to camp, and he shared his story, his heart, and I'm telling y'all he brightened every single one of my days at camp.
The best word I can use to describe Walter is resilient. I actually can't stop thinking about his resilience, especially tonight. I've been sitting here feeling a little lonely, and grouchy, and basically wallowing in a little bit (ok maybe a lot) of self-pity. Things aren't going as perfectly as I'd hoped with the house and renters and moving etc, not to mention that I miss Courtney, Jayci throws more and more temper tantrums every day, and Adam and I haven't been getting any time together . . . But then I think about Walter, and his heart, and his smile, and his story, and I realize how much I have to be thankful for, and how little I actually have to complain about.

Walter lives with his dad and brother, since his mom passed away a few years ago, in a low-income housing project in Atlanta. After his mom's death, Walter would admit that he was very angry, and he still struggles with his anger today. He has been in trouble in the past for breaking a kid's arm, and beating up several other kids in fits of rage. Despite this, Walter truly is working on his anger issues, every time he felt himself losing it at camp he would come to me and remind me how hard he was working on it and tell me "you need to get him." Which, I would add, is a highly preferable method to breaking arms at camp.

This week, Walter pulled a football jersey out of his bag when he was unpacking at camp. When his counselor asked him about the jersey, Walter shared this story: When he was 12 years old, he was on the playground with his friend (who was 16). There was a certain girl who had a little crush on Walter (just meet him and you'll understand why); unfortunately for Walter, this girl's father had gang affiliations and he was not happy about his daughter's choice (for reasons Walter left unspecified). Apparently, he confronted Walter and things escalated to the point of gun shots being fired. Walter's friend, according to Walter, took a bullet and sacrificed his own life to save Walter's.

That, my friends, is way way more than any young teenager should have had to see, experience, or even know anything about. I cannot imagine the kind of place I would be in mentally, physically, emotionally, if I had lost my mother and a close friend (who sacrificed himself and died right in front of me). But Walter? He is a joy to be around. His grin is infectious, he loves being the center of attention, and he loved everything about camp. He made friends with the Hispanic kids and they taught him how to say all sorts of fun things in Spanish; he killed it in the belly flop contest; he flipped over his canoe, resulting in his "shoes smelling like boo boo;" and he sang Justin Bieber like a champ, even though he insisted he didn't know any of the words.

Maybe Walter is the person he is today because he understands the meaning of sacrifice. When he hears the story of Jesus dying for him, he knows what that means and what that looks like. His life is a testimony to the reality of grace and second chances.
Walter is, unfortunately, the exception rather than the rule with this kids. He's the kind of kid who rises above his terrible circumstances. The truth is that most of these kids have seen and experienced more than any kid should ever have to. But not all of them have the resilience and joy that Walter has in the face of those circumstances. So pray with me for Walter, that he will continue to work on his temper, that he will continue to grow in his faith and continue to rise above his circumstances. And pray too for all the other kids at camp. The ones who don't get their own blog post because they fly under the radar. The ones who are hurting silently and who wont have the strength to avoid the bad influences in their neighborhoods. The ones who need Jesus and HOPE just as desperately as Walter does, and just as deeply as I do!
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." -Jeremiah 29:11

Monday, July 26, 2010

The summer that flew by

Seriously, I cannot believe that camp is over, everyone (well besides us) has gone home, and we have to wait another year before we get to do it all again! I miss hearing the kids laughing and splashing and even fighting already. I did, however, catch a nasty little stomach bug yesterday, so I'm just plumb TIRED too. Luckily, we're heading to Florida next week for a little recovery from the summer. Of course, we're bringing the boys (Zack and Sabo) so that makes it even more fun (and probably a little less relaxing). Anyways, I need a few minutes to organize my thoughts, but I promise I have some good posts coming for y'all soon - Please don't give up on me!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sometimes I Need Reminding

I know I've already mentioned this a time or two or twenty, but this week at Camp Grace is our first-ever teenage session. The kids here this week range in age from 12-17, which is not only a wide range, but also a slightly frightening one for me. Not so much frightening like they might beat me up (which they clearly could) but more because 16-17 years old is just an age that intimidates me, they're getting too old to just automatically think I'm cool, which means they probably know I'm NOT . . .

Although every kid who comes to camp is (technically) not able to afford camp, we usually have a wide range of backgrounds and situations. The kids this week are not only breaking my heart with their stories, but they are reminding me over and over again exactly why I'm here and why we do this camp.

Because one of our campers? Is a momma with a 2 year old baby at home. Last night I watched another camper suck her thumb with a huge real tattoo on her arm. At least 5 of the kids have lost their mothers in the last 5 years. They have fathers in prison or whom they've never met. A 12 year old put out on the street by her mom. A 14 year old who ran away from home and his family hasn't bothered to even try and find out where he is or if he's ok. A brother and sister with a father in prison, who just lost their mom, and moved into their cousins' already crowded home. . .

But the best part of my week so far? Watching the 17 year old mom slowly, but surely, let her guard down and enjoy herself. Seeing Sabo and Zack get blobbed by Adam, and having the girls (and Walter) sing Justin Bieber songs. Watching them laugh at their counselors doing synchronized swimming routines. Giving big hugs and seeing Jayci run up to see her "friends" every chance she gets.
Giving these kids a chance to actually be KIDS. That's one of our goals here at camp, and let me tell you that there is redemption, and a newness to His mercy, that comes through every single day when the kids let their problems disappear even just for a few minutes.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Over My Head

This week's theme at I Heart Faces is "Over My Head." This shot, in my humble opinion, could not be more perfect for that theme! I love the look on DeMarcus' face as he concentrates on climbing the pole 50 feet in the air . . . It's such a cool moment watching these kids try new things and overcome their fears. Oh and Adam's just chilling 50 feet in the air watching it all. He's the high zip pro. I mean, I know for sure I would panic if I had to stay up there on that platform for a few hours every week!
This week is our first ever older kids week at Camp Grace, I'm so excited about it - and I can't wait to share more with y'all about the special activities and games and everything we have going on this week at camp.

"If anything is over my head, it is also under HIS feet."



And visit I Heart Faces for more cool and creative "Over My Head" entries this week!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

JUMP


This is Michael, one of my favorite campers from this week. I love his face in this shot, and the picture reminded me of last summer when Broken Voices first released our episode of their video podcast, called Jump. You can still watch it on their website (episode 3, Jump), and I think it's a great look at our story, and our hearts, and camp too . . .

I hope you've been enjoying my plethora of pictures, I seriously cannot believe that there is only one week left of camp. I'm especially excited about this week though because our boys (Zack and Sabo) will be here, and it will be our first time ever having camp for slightly older kids (ages 12-15 come to camp this week). So if you think of us, pray for wisdom and fun and for Jesus to show up in a big way!

Friday, July 16, 2010

When I Grow Up

When I Grow Up from Breakthrough Urban Ministries on Vimeo.


I loved this video so much that I am sharing it today instead of a picture. But seriously, you should watch it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Our Country

I've never been all that patriotic, which makes sense seeing as I'm a Canadian living in America. But for this reason, I wasn't planning on participating in this week's I Heart Faces challenge. However, I felt the need to share a little bit more about another side of our country. One which needs much prayer and healing. One which I believe, as Christians, we can no longer ignore.

These kids are AMERICAN. They were born in raised in America's cities, not in some slum in Africa. Yet, many of them won't be eating three meals today. They celebrated the fourth of July to the tune of gunshots being fired overhead.
Some of them are homeless.
Some of them have fathers in and out of jail. Or have never met their fathers. One year we had an entire cabin (10 girls) and not ONE of them knew their father.
Some of them have big grins and killer dance moves, despite abandonment, abuse, and hurt.
Some of them have sisters with different fathers, all of whom are in prison.
Some of them were abused so badly as children that they still suffer from physical and mental repercussions.
Some of them were born addicted to crack.
Some of them don't get enough to eat. Some have never been to the dentist. Some of them have been evicted so many times they've lost count. Some of them live in homeless shelters. . .
But regardless of who they are and what they suffer, these are America's children. Let's take some time today to think about the country we live in, and the others who live here with us. And pray. Please people, pray. And/or if you want to "do" something, just let me know and we'll get you involved!

*Oh and visit I Heart Faces for more patriotic pictures and stories!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Jayci, As Promised

See? Sometimes I do keep my promises, even if it IS a day late. Here's a few recent pictures of Jayci, from camp and from our week off. Sometimes I look at her and am shocked by how grown she is. When/how did this happen? My sweet cousin managed to come all the way from Ohio to help me with her at camp this week. But y'all, I don't know what to do because every single time she even sees my cousin (or any nanny we've had at camp) she starts screaming "hold you mommy" and panicking. What do I do about this? I usually just run away as fast as possible, but should I slowly pry her away and talk her through it? Should I stay with her the whole time? I'm lost, for realz.



Saturday, July 10, 2010

At the end of a break

I unintentionally turned my week off from camp into a week off from blogging too. Sorry about that, for all 5 of you who were disappointed not to see lots of camp pictures this week. But don't worry, to make up for it, here's a whole slew of my favorite pictures from this week.

We had a really good week off, although I dont feel any more rested than I do during camp. But I suppose that comes with the territory of having an almost-two year old who wakes up before 7 every morning. Bramp.

It was really good, however, to take a week off to readjust my focus, and recenter myself on Christ. Has anyone else noticed how easy it is to start doing "good" and loving and Christian things/activities in my OWN strength rather than in His strength. The truth is that even if I accomplish this "successfully," there is no victory in serving or giving if I am not doing it out of the Spirit's strength within me.

For all those who are praying for me, for our family, and for camp - one thing you can be praying for us these next two weeks is that we remain dependent on Christ to love and serve and even to have fun with the kids through us.

Ephesians 4:32-5:2
"And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma."
One of our elective classes camps out one night every week. Somehow I manage to end up down there every time they have a campfire . . . it may or may not have something to do with the fact that they make s'mores. Just saying.
Colette and me: She's our fearless leader, the camp director herself. She rocks, for realz.
This is Robert, one of the kiddos from last week who I just love to pieces. He has some issues as the result of some pretty serious abuse as a child, but he's been adopted by an amazing woman (who I SO admire) and is a great kid. I love him.
Chrys, one of the many kids who have been at camp every single year that I've been there. Four years people, that's a long time!
My sweet girl D'Meira, who somehow finagled her way into coming to camp two weeks in a row with two different ministries.
On the high zip. Kudos to them for conquering a fear which I have yet to face. Just don't tell the kids I haven't done it, especially since I constantly reassure them that it's super-safe and fun and easy and . . . frightening. But I usually leave that last part out.
I love everything about this picture. Particularly Libby in the background - it's basically all the most wonderful things about camp in one snapshot.

Joshua, one of the many kiddos who stole my heart last week. He never stopped smiling, for realz.
Chianne feeding the horses during photography class. I'm good at keeping them focused on the task at hand, obviously.

*Side note: See! I told you I'd post lots of pictures today! Oh and coming up tomorrow, some new ones of Jayci, since I'm feeling like she's been a little neglected on the blog as of late.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Counselors

One of the many wonderful things about camp is the chance to meet so many wonderful new friends, we have new counselors every year, and they often end up being some of my closest friends. One of the girls who was a counselor is going to be living downtown with Adam and I in a few months (eek! So excited, more updates about moving downtown coming soon!) :-) This is Amy, who I'm sure will end up being a bigger part of this blog when we're living together in a few short weeks.

*Oh and keep praying for us as we continue our house hunt and decide for sure what neighborhood and home we should be moving into . . .

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Oh Look! A Picture with me in it!

Since I'm usually the one IN the pictures, I rarely find myself in front of the camera. Well except during my photography class, when they often snap lots of less-than-flattering pictures of me. Luckily, I'm in charge of which pictures make it into the slideshow and which ones get "accidentally" deleted. Just dont tell the kids.

Anyways, here's a few that I let the kids take with my camera this morning before they left. I miss the kiddos already! We have a week off this week, and the next "batch' of kids will arrive July 12th . . . I can't believe we already only have 2 weeks of camp left. Seriously, it's flying by this year!
*Please notice Jayci in this last one . . . what in the world is she doing? I promise I have a strong hold on her and would never drop her, even though she's practically upside down!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Masked Menace and Lil Ro

I feel a vague sense of dejavu like I've written about this already, and I apologize if I have. Anyways, my sweet friend Erica makes these awesome capes and Adam requested that she make him one for camp. In case you were wondering, the CG is for Camp Grace. Anyways, once Ro saw Adam's cape, he had to have one of his own. So a couple times a week, they bust out their capes and pester the kids and such. Adam even decided last night that he was going to wear his cape while he plays nurse and bandages cuts, and looks after imaginary injuries (the kids have lots of those -- and dont worry, we have a real nurse here too).


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