kids of the kingdom

And just like that, all our campers got just a little bit smaller.

It’s always an interesting adjustment the first day or so of Older Boys and Girls Camp.  Instead of relatively independent teenage campers we’re suddenly surrounded by fourth and fifth graders.  The level of enthusiasm kicks way up, the singing at meals begins, and the counselors are always followed around by a swarm of jumping, laughing children.  There’s something refreshing about this week because it’s really just good solid summer camp.  The kids go to arts and crafts, activities, chapel, and waterfront.  They raise and lower the flag, they sing songs, they dress up the counselor.  They make gimp bracelets and they run around and do cartwheels.  There’s nothing bad about it: Older Boys and Girls Camp (especially Olympics style) is just good clean fun.

And yet for some reason, I have never really liked this camp.  Even when I was a camper – I just didn’t like it.  Maybe it’s because I’ve never been much of a fan of swimming in the lake.  Or running in the field.  Or maybe I never got anything out of dressing up my counselor.  There was just something about this camp – as a camper, counselor, and young adult staff person, that always just left me feeling a little unenthusiastic… despite all the enthusiasm.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  So far I’m doing a terrible job of talking up this camp, and this particular blog post is lacking inspiration.  I agree!  And if I’m being honest, I kind of panicked for most of the week just thinking about what I would tell you all.  Especially after the last two weeks when I’ve been on the verge of tears just opening the computer to tell you about the magic that’s happening at ECC.  And now – what?  I tell you that kids camp was pretty good but it didn’t do much for me?  Terrible!  I could tell you about the fact that my camp directors and visiting staff were so awesome this week that I had time to clean out the altar guild closet (and really, I considered doing just that) but that’s not exactly promotion material, nor is it the stuff Chicken Soup for the Soul is made of.  I mean, the closet looks amazing.  AMAZING.  But that’s not really why you send your kids to camp.

So I had to do a little bit of soul searching on this one.  Because truly – this was an incredible week at camp.  Incredible.  And the fact that I couldn’t feel the magic of it coursing through my veins – well, that’s my problem.  So what is exactly is my problem?? And why am I such a downer on kids camps?

So I searched my should, and I actually think I figured it out.  This requires a little personal disclosure on my part, so be patient with me, because it’s important to me that I tell you about this.  Here’s what I figured out:

I was never very good at being a kid.

Now I know you don’t really get marks for that sort of thing.  There is certainly no Olympic medal for being a kid.  You can’t put it on your resume (“I was really good at playing in the dirt”).  You can’t brag about it to all your friends or anything.  But I think there’s something to be said for being good at being a kid, and I wasn’t very good at it.

Now in my defense, a couple of things happened when I was younger that didn’t help my cause.  My parents split up when I was 6, and I was the oldest of three children.  Practically speaking I think I took on some responsibility as the oldest child in single parent households.  I started to worry about things a little early, and I went from a standard bossy big sister to an obnoxiously bossy big sister.  And as I got older, I was in charge a lot.  I’m not blaming my parents or anything – they were great.  It just was what it was.

That was one factor.  The other factor is who I am.  Have you ever read “The Secret Life of Bees”?  Maybe you saw the movie.  There’s a character in the book/movie – her name is May – and she has to be shielded from even the smallest bit of bad news by her sisters, because she’s incapable of hearing about other people’s pain without being in pain herself.  She has a wailing wall out in the back of her house and each time she hears about something sad she has to run to the wall and write down her sadness on a piece of paper and shove it into the wall.  She simply cannot hold the pain she learns about in the world.

I’m a little bit like May.  I’ve always had a really hard time knowing that other people are in pain.  And who doesn’t?  But my pain sensitivity started when I was really young.  The result of that is that I missed the “carefree” part of childhood.  I was never really carefree.  I was always a little worried, a little concerned, and a little sad about the state of the world.  I like to think that part of me is what helps me to be a good priest, but it sure made it a little hard to be a kid.

That’s what I found when I searched my soul on this one.  I found just a little bit of my own brokenness, and a couple of memories that helped me see what was happening around me in a different way.  Because when I realized that it was hard for me to be a kid, I realized that it was probably hard for some of our campers to be kids too.  I mean, my hope is that most if not all of our campers come from homes that are carefree and loving and joyful.  But I also know that the world doesn’t always work that way, and some of them likely come from homes where there is stress and tension and anger.  Or maybe, like me, their parents are doing the best they can but circumstances being what they are it’s just a little harder to provide that environment for their kids.

So suddenly, if I’m looking at Older Children’s Camp through that lens, it starts to look a whole lot more beautiful to me.  Because children playing and laughing on our front lawn is one thing, but realizing that for some of these children, those moments of joy and laughter might be a blissful respite from lives that force them to be older than they have to be – that’s something special.  Don’t get me wrong – the joy of children is special whenever it takes place.  But perhaps the word I’m looking for is transformative.  For the kids like me out there – the ones who don’t come by “carefree” naturally – their time at ECC this summer allows them to transform into the people that God intended them to be.  And for this particular group, that is joyful, happy, laughing children.

At the end of the week we had the children write their hopes, prayers, and dreams on pieces of paper to attach to balloons, and we offered those up to God.  It was really beautiful.   And I realized that I do hope these children’s dreams come true.  I hope that can continue to come to this place and discover the person God intended them to be.  I hope they can feel joy and love and happiness with reckless abandon.  I hope they can dance and sing and play and know that they are fully loved and that our world is full of goodness.  I hope that ECC can be a safe haven for every child, but particularly for those chidden that need respite from a difficult world.  I hope, I hope, I hope.

Thanks to everyone that helped make Older Children’s Camp possible – it really was a magical week!

 

illuminated

Ok folks – bear with me here.  I’ve just left a funeral and am about to get into the car to drive to a wedding in Cape Cod, but I just had to take a few moments to sit on the steps of Grace Church in Providence to tell you about the end of Music Camp and show you the video below.

We had an outstanding week at camp – full of joy and laughter, music and dancing, and friendship and love.  I’ll be putting together another video in the next couple of days with clips from the week, and you’ll see for yourself how wonderful it was to be in the midst of such talented young people.  But that’s not today’s post.  Today’s post is about sharing with you one of the most incredible God moments I think I’ve ever been a part of.  So here goes.

Despite the really wonderful week at camp that we had, we received some bad news this week.  First we learned that Sarah Keogh, a former counselor at ECC, had died unexpectedly, leaving behind two young daughters.  Her death was a shock to the community, and many of our visiting staff members and several of our campers knew Sarah and were deeply saddened to hear the news.  Her mother called to ask us to be a part of the funeral and we started making arrangements to sing music from ECC while Father Hall was called in to preach.  On the same day in the midst of making those preparations, we learned that one of our counselors had lost his grandfather – also unexpectedly.  He stayed with us at camp for the week, but missed our big show at the end of the week to leave for the funeral.  So, as is so often the case in life, while we danced and sang and laughed through our week, we were also aware that members of our community were grieving.

Part of our weekly program was chorus, which was being led by my sister Kate Kelly Longo.  She had brought with her this really beautiful piece for us to learn.  It was called “Requiem” by Eliza Gilkyson and had been written to remember those who had lost their homes and lives in the tsunami.  The music was gorgeous and the words were haunting.  “In the darkness of the soul fill our hearts and make us whole, O Mother Mary come and carry us in your embrace…”  I’ll just say that once we learned it (in one day!) there were lots of lots of tears from those of us who just felt completely swept up in the beauty of the music and singing.

Once we heard about Sarah having died, one of our staff made the suggestion that perhaps we record ourselves singing the Requiem as a gift to Sarah’s family.  It was a beautiful idea, and we started planning it immediately.  At the same time, one of our campers (Sydney) wrote a poem dedicated to Sarah in our Creative Writing workshop, and her leader brought it to my attention.  We decided to incorporate the poem, both in the video and into Music Camp madness.

When Friday night rolled around we celebrated in a big way with all our campers and counselors and visiting staff and guests.  The place was packed with visitors, the energy high, the music floating through the air.  We danced and cheered and applauded and it was absolutely glorious.

After the rest of the groups had gone we explained to our guests that we had experienced loss that week, and explained that what was to follow was in honor of those passed and their families.  We invited our guests to come into the barn.  The lights were off, and each camper and staff person held a candle in their hands.  Sydney read her poem and you could have heard a pin drop in the room.  When she finished the Requiem started, and the voices swelled, and I think it might have been the most beautiful thing I have ever heard.  The spirit in that place was so tangible – I think we all felt it.

But that wasn’t actually the big incredible thing that happened.  The big incredible thing happened later that night when the visiting staff and some of the permanent staff were gathered in the living room of the house sharing our daily highs and lows and talking about how great the evening had been.  Someone said they wanted to see the video of the song that I had taken, and so – despite the fact that we were already fighting sleep – we took the necessary time to load it onto the computer and watch.

I think we got all swept up in the moment again watching the song.  It is just so beautiful.  But then while we were watching – we saw “it”.  The music swelled, and the chorus sang “Mary fill our glass to overflowing…. illuminate the path where we are going.”

And – I’m not kidding you – when they sang the word illuminate… the choir started glowing.

You can see for yourself.  It goes from dark to light, and only for the portion of that verse “Illuminate the path where we are going, have mercy on us all.”  That’s it.  And I promise you, there are no gimmicks here.  There were not lights that we turned on for that line, no one was shining flashlights up at us during that part.  It just happened.  I can’t explain it.  But I’ll tell you what – we all had goosebumps on our arms and tears in our eyes watching it.  We watched it over and over, and there’s no denying it.  “It” happened.  Whatever “it” was.

I hope you’ll watch the whole video, but if you are short on time, start the video at 3:53 – the illumination starts at minute 4 and you’ll want the build up.

Like I said friends – God was present in the barn.  Watch for yourself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiz0-XGFp5U

 

 

supporting sparkle

Well I have a story from this week (Teen Camp) that I’m going to try to share though I’m not sure if I’ll do it any justice.  I’m going to try anyway.  But before I dive into this story, I have to say quickly that this is one of a hundred stories I could tell you from just our few first days of camp.  These days are just SO FULL of goodness, and the joy is abundant.  So I’ve chosen one story – as I’ll continue to do over the summer – but know that for every one story that cracks your heart right open there are a hundred more.

So first, let me tell you about Nugget.  Nugget is one of our kitchen staff.  He’s pretty fabulous – full of energy and fun, always willing to help out with whatever needs doing, and he’s great for morale at camp.  People love Nugget (I mean, he calls himself Nugget) and they love being around him.  He is certainly looked up to by the campers and younger staff, and he’s respected and loved by the adult and visiting staff as well.   Everyone at this camp is a cool kid, but you know what I mean when I say Nugget is one of the cool kids.  If we’re looking to get everyone excited about something, if Nugget’s on board the rest is easy.  We’re very lucky to have him here.

Now let me tell you about Ben.  Ben is one of our Visiting Staff children this week, which means his mom is helping out with the running of our program.  Ben is 6, and he’s adorable.  Since he was a little boy he has liked dressing up in tutus and dresses and heels – it’s just kind of a thing for him.  His parents have been incredibly loving and supportive, and allow him to just be who he is.  But as he has gotten older, he has started to realize that he’s different that way, and that at times he will be made fun of or not accepted when he’s wearing some of his favored attire.  He has started to hide his affection for them, and tends to only dress that way or wear jewelry when he’s home with his family.

This week his mom brought along a bracelet-making kit as an activity for Ben and his sister for a point in the week when they might get bored, but on the first day Ben started asking for it.  She gave him the kit, and he made himself four bracelets, which he was incredibly excited about.  He put one on each wrist and each ankle, and slept with them on all night. In the morning when they were getting ready to leave the room, he started removing the bracelets.  When his mom asked him why he was taking them off he replied “I don’t want to be made fun of.”

Mom looked at him squarely and said, “Ben, you will not be made fun of here.  You can wear your bracelets.”

He was doubtful, but decided to keep just one – a particularly sparkly and shiny one – wrapped around his ankle, and left his room for the day.

He went about his day at camp, as everyone else went about theirs, and later in the day he met up with his mom for a meal.  When she asked him how his day was going and if he was having fun, he looked up at her and said:

“Nugget told me he liked my bracelet.”

Now listen – Nugget didn’t know.  He didn’t know that Ben was a little boy that was trying to find his way in an already confusing world and that he was struggling with being who he is in a society that wanted him to be somebody else.  He didn’t know that Ben’s sparkly bracelet wrapped around his ankle was a tremendous act of courage on a casual day at camp.  He didn’t know that by complimenting the bracelet he would offer Ben the incredible gift of knowing that one of the cool kids thought his sparkle was cool.  Nugget was just doing what he does – smiling, encouraging, and accepting.

That’s what we all do here.  We allow people to be exactly who they are.  We allow them wear their sparkle, to share their dreams, to take chances, and to be courageous.  We encourage one another to come out of our shells and try something that petrifies us.  We compliment each other, applaud each other, and lift each other up in moments that the rest of the world might try to cut us down.  And once we start loving one another in this way, there’s no stopping the momentum.  Love begets more love, support begets support, and courage begets courage.  We grow and we change and spread our wings under God’s watchful care.

I chose this story because it encapsulates what is taking place at this camp in this sacred little corner of Rhode Island.  This is what we are talking about when we say we are making disciples here: we excel at loving one another.   And the more we foster that community in this special place, the more able our young people can be courageous in the rest of their lives.  Maybe, eventually, Ben can wear his sparkle out of the house at home because he knows – in some corner of his mind – that Nugget thinks he’s cool.

And he is cool.  That little boy sparkles.  We all do here.