Over the last few weeks, and this week especially, we over here in my corner of the world have been getting ready for our church youth group's summer camp. This particular event is something that, even at nearly 30 and now as a leader rather than just a camper, I still look forward to every year, because it is always so life-changing for all parties involved. I love every facet of it, from the planning to the execution, seeing the kids all arrive at the church, either full of plans or scared out of their mind at just what exactly is going to happen, and most importantly, I love seeing the way God grabs ahold of every open and willing heart up there, young and old, and moves in all of them in a very big and defining way. In fact, I love it so much, I actually wrote my first book to be in the setting of a camp very similar to one I went to when I was in youth group myself. This post is kind of going to be a double-plug. I want to tell you about the book I'm always referring to when I talk about my writing, but I also want to talk to you about how camps like these can create the ultimate defining moments for kids, and how I feel every teen should experience them at least once. Last but not least, if you live in or close to Southern Oregon, I'd love to invite you to ours, which is coming up next week!
So first and foremost, let me tell you a bit about my book, and throw out a few excerpts. The book itself is called "Take It or Leave It," and is part of what will eventually be the Unwritten Series. It's primarily about a 15-year-old girl named Ashlie, and the adventures, both literal and spiritual, that she and her friends go on and experience over the course of a week at youth camp. That being said, here is excerpt #1, the preface for the book, which explains why I chose to write it how and where I did:
"Growing up in church, my summers as a teenager greatly revolved around youth camps. I loved camps; I would have been happiest if my parents had packed my trunk and sent me off to one that lasted all summer. Youth camp was somthing I looked forward to all year round, and just like Ashlie does in the book, I packed and repacked, shopped and shopped, made lists and plans, the whole nine yards.
One of the reasons I loved camp so much was that it seemed like it gave everyone a chance to create a different world for a week - certain 'playing fields' were leveled out, and often times you'd wind up hanging out with people you wouldn't ordinarily spend time with. Youth camp was a week you could be anyone you wanted to be. It was a result of summer camps that my relationships with some of my best friends were formed.
For me, youth camps maked some of the best times in my teenage years - some of the fondest memories with my friends, and some of the closest encounters I'd ever experienced with God. It was at camp that I had my 'adult conversion,' the point in my life when, as a young adult, I recommitted my life to Christ and knowingly promised my heart and my whole life to Him regardless of my peers and circumstances. These are the times, experiences, and choices that God used to help start the process of forming me into the person He wanted me to grow up into. It was at camp that I chose to let God dictate and write the pages of the story of my life; it was there that I realized that He alone was the Great Author and could write a better story than I ever could.
These are just some of the many reasons that, in writing the Unwritten Series, I chose to have the first book take place at a youth camp. I know I'm not alone in my camp experiences and the impact that they made in my life, and who can't relate to a bunch of friends hanging out at camp? I hope that as you read the pages of this book that you'll not only laugh with Ashlie and her friends as they deal with all that camp entails (the good and the not-so-good), but also that you'll open your heart to see how the choices that you make even in the middle of what seems like 'just another good time' can change your whole life. The other thing I pray is that you'll catch the heart of the message, and learn to take those experiences with you as you move on in your life.
Let God write the story of your life and take you where He wants you to go."
The life of a young person is chock full of defining moments; the good, the bad, and the ugly. It's part of what builds our character. I feel that in the setting aside of 'regular life' and spending a week in a setting such as camp with an open heart can create one of the most defining moments in your child's life. It certainly was in mine. Over, and over again. As with anything, your heart has to be open, but that is one of the reasons that settings like these are so great - even those with the hardest of hearts at the beginning of the week can find themselves softened, broken, and forever changed by the end. Every single event of every single day can play a huge role in this. Here are a couple other excerpts from the book, from the middle and from the end, that best sum up for me the feeling of needing to change, the difference one can feel, and the reason it is so important to take it with you. I'll try to tie them together as best as I can to keep from showing you my whole book and making it too long, but is very much a glimpse into the heart and mind of a hurting, confused young person - one very similar to many that we know in our lives, and one that I also know we can all relate to - and the journey that takes them to the point of change.
"After dinner we had about 45 minutes of free time before the Bible study was going to start, so I decided to take a walk down to the lake. I told Kayla where I was going (so she wouldn't worry again) and double-checked how much time I had, then headed off toward the water.
As I walked, I thought about everything that was going on around me. The more I though about it, the more I realized that it was all pretty much drama that didn't need to be happening. Even me being kind of ticked off at Kayla the way I was (still). It was all unnecessary. The problem was, I didn't really know how to let it go, and beyond that, I wasn't sure if I really wanted to. I had a hard time understanding why people like Kyle and Kayla could let go of things so easily and move on, whereas I would say that all was forgiven, but it wasn't always true and I knew it. I was as bad as Christian (something I really didn't want to admit) and his stupid grudge against Kyle. Good grief, what was wrong with me? Maybe, something inside me said, you should listen more closely to the messages you hear...
...All of a sudden, before I knew what was happening, I started to cry. I cried and cried and cried. I wasn't sad, though. I realized why I was so drained, and I was mad....I'd had enough! I didn't know how I was going to make it through the rest of the week unless something started changing, and soon.
I know that meant I needed to change, too, and that thought made me cry even harder, because I didn't know what I needed to change, and I sure didn't know how. Plus, there was still a big part of me that didn't really want to. I was comfortable with my life the way it was - I didn't handle change too well, especially when it directly affected me....
...I wandered around the lake, over to what I now considered to be "my spot" and sat on the bench. I looked out over the water, and allowed myself to fully think about everything - to get completely lost in my thoughts. This time, however, I tried to do what Kayla had suggested, and compared all the various things that had happened at camp with the sermons that were being preached. I realized that there were a lot of similarities between the two. However, the things that I was feeling or thinking were the things that Kayla and Kyle had been advising against - the things that they said I should be giving up to God.
I just wished that I knew what it actually meant to do that! That was the problem - I really didn't understand what they were talking about. It was so easy for them, because they had always been that way, but for me, I'd never completely understood the whole "Christian lifestyle" thing. I'd never really gotten the heart behind it. So when they started talking about turning things over to God like it was as simple as telling your friend, I didn't get it. Was it really that easy? It must be, for everyone to be able to do it and talk about it, but would it be like that for me? I wasn't sure, but I was determined to find out. I decided, as I headed back up to camp, that during Bible study that night, nothing was going to keep me from paying attention. If God was trying to tell me something, I wanted to hear it...
...It was at this point in Kayla's message, I felt as if I had just been slapped. Not in a bad way, but it was like I had just been zapped straight in the heart with the realization of what she was talking about. I finally understood. In my mind, I was seeing and hearing all kinds of conversations that I'd had with kayla, Kyle, and Christian during the last few days. I remembered looking at Kayla and wondering how she could always forgive me and mean it, how she never held a grudge agains me and was always there when I needed her. I remembered wondering how on earth Kyle could possibly let Christian just get away with being so horribly, how he could just take it in stride. And I remembered what Christian had said about really listening to the Word and realizing how closely it kept applying to his immediate situations. It all made sense. It was God's love. In each situation, although they were all different, God's love came in and He helped work everything out. I couldn't believe that it had really been that simple all along. I focused back in on what Kayla was saying, not wanting to miss a word of it, and knowing that God had planned it just for me, even if Kayla hadn't...
..."No matter wehre you are in your life, in your Christian walk, or hey, even in your youth camp 'drama,' you're never out of reach when it comes to God's love. He meets you at your point of need...when you give your heart and your life to God, you enter into a relationship with Him that is tailor-made just for you, and no one can take that away"...
...That evening's events had made my heart too full, and I decided that all I wanted to do was spend more time alone with God...I made my way back down to my beloved lake spot, and knelt down beside the bench. I was crying once again, but no longer was I embarrassed by it, afraid that someone would catch me in a vulnerable moment. Instead, I was fully immersed in my emotions, completely caught up in the rebuilding that I could feel going on in my heart. I spend a long time knelt down like that...When I finally got up and made my way back up to my tent, I felt like a completely new person. I knew that, sure, I was going to have various struggles along the way, but for the first time in my life, I no longer felt like I was dealing with everything alone. That made me happier than I had ever felt in my life...
...Up at camp, we were told that we had the option of leaving our experiences there - putting them on a shelf and walking away - or taking them with us and letting them spill over into the rest of our lives. I did just that. I took those changes home and applied them to every area of my life, and the result has been more amazing that I ever could have imagined."
I'm sure we can all sit down and remember at least one defining moment in our life, where we made a decision that affected every other area of it, and hopefully they're good memories of great moments. I know that this is kind of a long entry, but I really wanted to share my heart with you, and as a writer, I do that by sharing my writing with you. There's something about sharing that which comes from the very depths of your soul that can make you the most vulnerable, and your message the most impacting, and that's what I hope I've done in my book and what I'll do with my blog.
And now for the other plug. Starting first thing Monday morning our youth ministry, Circle Youth Ministries will be having our youth camp. This is going to be an amazing time, full of friends, fun, food, and most importantly, the Word of God, preached in a passionate and relevant way by the awesome Pastor Randy Goudeau. This year promises to be the best yet, and we're so excited to see what God is going to do. Most importantly, if you're a youth or young adult-aged person, we'd love for you to be there. If not, but you know someone who is, please get the message out. After experiencing so many camps over the years, and watching so many young people changed forever, I'd feel selfish if I didn't extend the invitation as far as I could. Think about it, pray about it, and most importantly, please be praying for us while we are up there, for open and willing hearts, and for God to move in a mighty way.
If this sounds like something you'd like to be a part of, let me know, or you can learn more about it yourself by clicking here.
Also if you're interested, my book "Take It or Leave It" is for sale through a few websites, including amazon.com and Kingdom Keys books (which happens to be part of my awesome parents' company), as well as directly through me. If you want to purchase a copy, either for yourself or someone else, please let me know. In the spirit of camp, summer, fun, and simply wanting to get them out there, I'm currently offering them at $7 locally delivered/picked up, or $10 shipped.
Thank you for spending time with me today! I hope you enjoyed the glimpse of "Take It or Leave It" and I hope that you'll be praying for us this coming week, whether you're there with us or not. We expect to see great things, walking with confidence in the fact that we serve a great God.
Until next time, I'll still be laughing.