Friday, August 30, 2019

It's still August, so it's still summer, right?

School has started. Temperatures have cooled off. And still I can hear vacation Bible school songs resonating in my head. Most of the summer, I've pulled from my repertoire of easy/action-filled/call and repeat camp songs. Especially for sites that are less than five days, I'm kind of over trying to teach super wordy songs to kids who can't read yet. But for a full week at Eldridge, I had borrowed the music video, and that's a different story. Kids can pick up on the actions and catch on at least to the chorus pretty quickly, and they can just listen to the lyrics during the verses. The overwhelming favorite song here was Even When the Lions Roar. They loved singing it, and I loved watching watching young humans announce "I will not be shaken; I will not be moved" with strong, unselfconscious eyes. The lions can roar pretty loud sometimes. We talked at length that the lions in our lives show up in a lot of ways- arguments, doubt, sadness, fear. They reared their heads even at VBS-
"Leave me alone!" she shrieked at me and several others, troubled by whatever inner lions growled at her. Then after another round of that at recess, with a friend going to talk to her and her sister yelling not to go near her when she's like that, the girl went running- not into the street- but straight into my arms. I gave her a hug for a long time. Her sister tried to come over and do the same, and for a while we were a hugging mess. The sister left; the girl calmed down. We blew bubbles. She helped me with mine because my bubble wand was all shook up and wasn't very bubbly. Afterward, I praised her for calming herself down, and suggested that next time she try using a calm voice to say I want to be alone right now instead of screaming, because when you scream, people think something's wrong and they want to help even more. "Ok," she smiled, very receptive. "Can we practice?" Oh, someone has walked down this road with her before. Fantastic. We did a quick role play. Later, the pastor told me she came up to her and said she should have said "I want to be alone" instead of screaming. Oh, my heart. Full disclosure? This wasn't a permanent fix. Learning to deal with your emotions takes time.

The same day when it was time to go, one preschooler came back to give hugs to all the helpers. every single one, including the kitchen lady whom she trailed a little while before the woman noticed she was there, as we all looked on grinning.

We will not be shaken; we will not be moved. All our hope is in You.

The last week of summer brought JOY camp at Wesley Woods. I was excited to return to my original role as a counselor. For the past several years, I've helped oversee all the groups, so I did miss getting to know what was going on with everyone. But I traded breadth for depth. My co-counselor was absolutely amazing, and our group of girls bonded pretty quickly. They contributed in Bible study, they sang a great memory verse to the tune of Senorita, and they worked on lifting each other up. Many of my older campers realized they were aging out of JOY camp and wanted to know about junior staff. So lions and all, the season ended on a peaceful, hopeful note.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

EP3-20 Meets His Hero

"If you were traveling in space, who would you trust enough to take with you?"

When the teacher posed this question in Bible study time, there were many answers of parents or siblings. Then one very astute little girl answered Peggy Whitson. And that's how I knew for sure I was in Mt. Ayr.

In case you don't know, astronaut Peggy Whitson was born in nearby Beaconsfield and went to school in Mt. Ayr. Every Iowan should be very proud!

EP3-20 met his hero. 

We had about 23 VBS voyagers with us that week in Mt. Ayr. They loved the great meals served by friendly helpers; our puppet friend; science time led by a real-life science teacher; craft time led by a mom-daughter duo; and Bible reflection time led by a resident musician and teacher, who also played Dr. Speck this week. Turns out I left the DVD with our urgent transmissions from the Starship Galaxion in the DVD player in Batavia, so Sally and Pastor Emily stepped up to act out those segments with me. This often proves to be way more fun than watching a video, especially as I handed Dr. Speck her prop ukulele and saw pure joy on her face. :)

While we somehow managed to put a hula hoop on the roof and leave a fine trail of moon sand on the carpet, we also had some great faith discussions throughout the week. A few younger kids were asking questions as they tried to figure out just who this Jesus fellow is, anyway.
"Is He an angel?"
"No, He's higher up than angels. He's God's son."
*several moments of quiet*
"Did God have a wife or a girlfriend?"
"Then how did He have a son?"
A very valid question. May we all have kids (and adults) in our churches that think through things this much. That's how you grow your own faith, by rejecting the easy answers and struggling through ideas like this. What a joy to struggle together.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019


Whenever I say the name, my mom thinks it sounds like a medieval kingdom with a castle- Bataaaviaaa. We may be getting ahead of ourselves- it's next year that the theme of VBS is Knights of North Castle.

This town of 499 people (I guess I made 500 for the week?) sees about 25 people come to the United Methodist church on a Sunday. So it was pretty neat then to have 21 kids on the first night, with a few more along the way. I told the kids the first day that their "homework" was to bring a friend, and I had at least one kid introduce their homework to me. :)

One of our young friends came bounding in the second night, and I about fell over when he said his name. I had just seen it on the page of one of our solar system books- he shares a name with a constellation. Another boy, a mythology fan, was excited to tell him the story behind it.

We had some great help here, and they were flexible enough to try new things. In years past, they had not served a meal with their VBS- but it came very naturally to them, and throughout the week they were willing to take on all sorts of leadership roles. The pastor has a penchant for science, and the kids really enjoyed that part of the evening!

The last night, we invited families to come for a short program, and they saw how the kids, in 4 days, had memorized Ephesians 3:20: "Glory to God who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by His power at work within us." Amen.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Neighbor VBS

"What is Bible school FOR, anyway?" inquired a curious little girl while chatting with me at the summer lunch program where the Bible school kids had come to eat.

I told her things like learning about God, hearing Bible stories, making crafts, and playing games. But what struck me was how her question "what is it FOR?" and the answer "to learn about God" is the same no matter how old you are.

We had a very intergenerational VBS at Vanderwilt Park this year. In fact, you could argue we didn't have many kids. There were three who fell in the "normal" VBS age. But we had a mom who brought her itty bitty boys, and we had my grandma and her sister, and we had a crew of other amazing helpers, and everybody there from 2 weeks old to 4,264 weeks old learned something about God through this encounter.

I, for example, learned for the umpteenth time about God's goodness- during a week with such divided ages,  He sent us an early childhood specialist and a speech language pathologist to play with these little boys while the older ones did Bible study.
Kids of all ages enjoy VBS :) 

We learned about flexibility. They've been doing some work on the park, and so we avoided vast open spaces of dirt, and then moved a few times through the time to account for construction folks noisily building dugouts nearby. No matter where we were, we found shade and simplicity.  We decided to forgo the canopy again this year, and it worked just fine (no rain!)
My grandma brought crafts. Here kids are making toys that can be donated to the animal shelter. Notice the dramatic sky that did not rain on us! 

We learned that pizza ministry is powerful ministry. A wonderful woman from church has volunteered each year to bring us pizza on the last day. Boy, do we all feel loved when there's a tradition like this!

The most important thing is we were together. We had no question about "who is my neighbor" when we got to the Good Samaritan story- it was us. It was each other. We had snacks together, and sang drowsy music together Wednesday morning when everyone was on the sleepy side, and enjoyed cuddles and caretaking together with the littles. Having a foundation like this enables us to go out and share that sense of being a neighbor, of feeling God's love and the community of others, with everybody.

Relatedly, this week, we got an amazing donation from Osky's Central United Methodist Church (my home church.) Their VBS had been the week before, and they graciously chose MUMM to be the mission they supported. They invited me to come speak about what we do, and it was so powerful to watch this future group of world-changers care about those in their own community so other kids could have VBS just like they do and could go to camp just like they do. Many, many thanks to this community of faith for all the love and support of MUMMs (and me)!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Looking at the world through rose (hill) colored glasses

Rose Hill, Iowa. Population 168. Driving into town, you're greeted by the remnants of a burnt trailer. The town does not seem, at first glance, to have much to offer. But God lives here.

Earlier this summer, if you pulled up to the White Oak Venue around lunch time, you'd see some of God's family there serving lunch. These volunteers brought the (wholly secular) summer lunch program to their community. But many of them are also involved in other ways to serve here in this community hub- Bible study, an addiction recovery support group, and a weekly after school program for youth. This is an outreach of New Hope in neighboring Oskaloosa (which deserves to have its story told as well- check them out here, this is another amazing place where God works.) Since it was summer and the after school program was no longer in session, they wanted a way to continue to connect with the kids. Spencer had helped me out with VBS in years past, so he asked MUMM to come help out. This is exactly what we do. They'd never done VBS here before, and Spencer asked if we had to have a minimum number of kids. Recalling lots of small beginnings, I said if we had one kid we'd do Bible school.

Bonnie and I want this band to come with us everywhere we do VBS. 

Well, we had two kids the first day, another day we found the "one kid" statement a reality, one day we were joined by a family of three, another day we invited in two from outside where they were patronizing the only pop machine in town. So seven kids, never all at once. But if there's one thing I've learned in my years in this ministry, it's that it isn't about the numbers. When you have two kids, you can spend the first half hour playing and talking before jumping in to programming. You can all have an instrument during a musical jam session. You can get to know each other much better, and kids will share things with you. For example, one day we did a worry prayer. I asked them if they wanted to share worries they were scared about before we prayed about them.

Answers I was expecting: The dark. Grades. Bees. Fitting in at school.
Answers I got: Custody. Jail. My soul and demons.

These kids are thinkers. And this is how God works- through conversations, through small moments spent on big ideas. There is a fantastic group of kingdom people planting seeds in Rose Hill. Pray for the gardeners. Pray for the garden.

We took our crayon resist art to the great outdoors. 

Just behind the concrete slab were some lilies to consider. Beautiful blooms take time. 

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Camp Psalms

This year, my fiance and I are working our way through the One-Year Bible, reading the whole thing from cover to cover. At the end of June, we were nearing the end of Psalms. After making it through Leviticus (long lists of things you shouldn't do) and 2nd Chronicles (long lists of kings who did those things anyway), it was immensely refreshing to get to some poetry- even if it does sometimes reveal a brutally honest look at the whole gamut of human emotion (and a sprinkling of obscure musical terms, selah.)

Also at the end of June, Cherie, Bonnie, and I spent a week with 35 JOY campers and their awesome counselors. We stayed outpost, which meant we cooked over an open fire, walked in a lot of mud, and never had the problem of air conditioning being too cold. This was a big change, but it was a neat experience the kids really enjoyed. What I especially enjoyed was watching growth in campers I've now known for years. It is amazing to watch kids you once comforted comfort others when they're down. Because in one short week at camp, you get to see the whole gamut of human emotion- and a sprinkling of obscure musical terms (Oh kaway oh wuh? A tikki tikki tumba?)

Psalms + Camp = Camp Psalms.

Psalm 7:47, a lost psalm of JOY camp
1 How long, O Lord, will the others talk and shine their flashlights long after lights out? Yet Thy mercy is great, and the morning brings pancakes for talkers and sleepers alike.

2We bring our praise to You; we praise You with song, with hand claps, and with elaborate hand motions.

3 The swimmers and hikers raise their voices unto You. The righteous teach patience and safety to the young, and the cadence of their voices becomes like each other.

4 The birds, bullfrogs, and the lawnmowers, they sound Your praise, and the junebugs and the goats.

5 And when I am stuck in the muck and the mire, You are the polka dot rain boots that bring me out of the midst of it.

6 When Your waters pour from the sky, You are as raincoat and dry socks to us.

7 You have chosen us first for lunch in the presence of our rivals, and always are there seconds in Thy bountiful kingdom, as long as we walk and show courtesy to our neighbors.

8 All the superheroes and TV theme songs sing Thy praise to You, O God.

9 You tie us together as knots in a friendship bracelet, O Lord.

10 Your backpack and Your water bottle, they comfort me, and I shall follow the sound of Thy voice and Thy count-off.

11 We shall remember all You have done for us, O Lord, and as the forests echo with the shouts of chapel, we shall live as though each day is Easter.

12 You provide for me in my weariness a hammock under shade trees on a breezy day. You anoint me with sunscreen and fill my ear with birdsong- You restoreth my soul.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

(In)dependence Day

Happy 4th of August!

It doesn't have quite the same ring as 4th of July, and there are many fewer fireworks, but it's still a great day to celebrate dependence- which is what I did on Independence Day this year. Not many places want VBS over the 4th of July, but I had a hunch that my Osky site would be just fine- and so they were. It was a small bunch- six girls- but we didn't lose them on the holiday. We all enjoyed celebrating together as a small, close group.

How did we celebrate dependence on Independence Day? Well, it takes a village to raise a VBS.

-Each day my grandparents came, bringing tables, drinks, and other necessities, to help Bonnie and me set up. We discovered this year that with some strategic shade, we could do just fine without the canopy tent we've used in years past. (Tying the puppet stand to a tree so it didn't fall over and having a pond-like puddle from lots of recent rain were two finishing touches that really pulled the outdoorsy River Rampage theme together here in, well, the outdoors. No fancy decorations needed here!)

-Since my extension cord just won't go that far, we didn't use the video portion of the puppet show. Instead, some friends did a fantastic job of acting out the parts. Not just anybody can pick up the part of Jean Michel McDiver, expert survivalist or Max Breezy, meteorologist- but I preferred their live performances to the video.

-With such a small group, we pretty well turned craft time into a team building activity. One person held the cardboard tubes, the other rolled the duct tape. It was a great hands-on reminder of how we need each other!

-We rocked the boomwhackers and other instruments for a sound story about Zaccheus. Making music together is another great way to become a community quickly.

-Normally we eat at a summer lunch feeding site, but this year it wasn't open in July. When I checked to see if we could send someone to pick up lunches, they offered to stay open for us for the days we had VBS! That was really above and beyond- so impressive. The last day of VBS, a friend from church brought us pizza and homemade cookies.

Seeing so many hands working together always reminds me of what church really is- God's people working together to support each other and share God's love with each other. I love joining together God's children of all ages to do just that!