This is a fun post for me to write, and fair warning, it's a long one...I simply couldn't hold back with some of these sweet pictures or some of the stories behind them. As many of you know after all these years of reading this blog, Travis is a student Pastor and we have the privilege of attending his junior high summer camp every year. Since we moved to Minnesota, I've been to all of his summer camps (all 10 of them!!) with the exception of last year, when I gave birth to Walker 2 days after he returned home. For us, this is routine and tradition. He loves to have us with him and until we had kids of our own, I loved to help him with various things, including being a stand-in camp nurse and the designated hospital driver! We've taken each of the kids to camp as babies and for several years beyond that. They didn't go with the last two years as life simply got more complex but we pulled the trigger and brought all the troops this year, for a week of family fun at JAM camp!
It was fitting that the first day of camp fell on Father's Day this year! I asked Trav if he was bummed as he wouldn't really get much of a celebration and definitely no nap or time to relax. He laughed and said this was actually the best gift we could give him, spending a week together enjoying the great outdoors and loving on students while we did it. That sounds right! This is his favorite activity of the year and I always watch him at camp and agree, this is so his element! What a special thing it was for him to have his four biggest fans and the three youngest campers with him all week. I went with low expectations, not knowing how Walker would do or how I would juggle all the kids while he was so busy, but what a surprise God had in store for us. It was such a wonderful week and such a gift to our little family. I can't wait to tell you more about it!
Trav wears so many hats during the week and is ultimately responsible for the whole enchilada. It's a lot of weight and something he loves, but hands down my favorite part of the week is hearing him teach during Chapel. I still love to sit under his teaching, he challenges me right along with the students and leaders and I am so blessed to see him serve in his strengths and with the same passion he's always had. It is also so sweet for our kids to see him in action and get a glimpse into what their Dad gives his time to when he's away from home.
On the first night, after I got Walker to bed, the kids were hanging out on the back porch while everyone was in the chapel and Ava ran over with a pen and paper and asked me, "Mom, can you spell Isaiah 66 for me? I want to take notes while Daddy talks and write about the Gospel and stuff!" Sweet girl! I loved it! She did indeed write Isaiah 66 on her paper and listened intently to her Daddy. The building we stay in is right next to the chapel so I'm able to go back and forth pretty easily. We don't always get that opportunity to hear him so that was an extra blessing all week for both the kids and I to enjoy!
Walker was the source of much of my anxiety going into camp. He is at a challenging age and not walking yet, so I didn't know how he would do with all the gravel and dirt, or the grass for that matter. He wasn't a huge fan of grass at that time! I also kept thinking about how impossible it would be to keep him clean all week and hopefully bug-bite free. And then wouldn't you know it, 48 hours before we left he spiked a fever and was clearly cutting a tooth in a big way. He was super fussy for two straight days and at different times we both considered the kids and I staying home because of it. BUT, the Lord took care of every detail and Walker woke up in a good mood the morning we needed to pack up and he was golden all week! We had a perfect weather week and the bugs never seemed to bother him at all. He napped perfectly and slept like a rock every night! All the activity and stimulation wiped him right out and although he wasn't a big fan of being held by everyone, he did love watching the action while sticking close to us. I couldn't have asked for a better little camper! He was still exhausting to care for, ha ha, but certainly way more resilient and pleasant than I had planned on. Thank you Jesus!
This was Ava's fourth JAM camp, although she was so little for each of those years, she really didn't remember much. She was so thrilled to come along and if this grin is any indication about how she felt, let me just tell you that she LOVED being there!
Carter and Ava lived in the lake, or the "big pool" as Carter called it! They were troopers with their floaties and didn't complain when I made them wear them the whole time. They probably went down that slide a hundred times, it was such a special treat for them and so many of the students were so sweet to swim with them and play with them too. The waterfront was a big blessing!
The students love tubing behind the jet-skis and we were dumb and suggested that Ava and Carter try it one afternoon too. We weren't dumb to suggest they try it, but we were dumb to do it on a windy and choppy day. They happily got on the tubes and as soon as they took off, they were hanging on for dear life! Trav rode with Carter and another staffer with Ava, but still, it was pretty bumpy and when they came back in Carter told me, "I did not like that Mom! That was not fun!" Whoops!
One of our counselors making fun of my request for a picture, haha!
This about sums it up, look at Carter's face! Ava was no big fan of the whole thing either!
Carter was very content to play in the sand and mud with the rocks and sticks, building damns and rivers. Typical boy stuff and I loved it! We did get him back on the tube a few days later but only after lots of time to just do this :)
We dipped Walkie's toes in the water, the toes of our child who screams and cries through every warm bath...He wasn't thrilled at first, but by the end of the week he loved it!
Mostly these two just had the time of their lives, every afternoon from 1-3!
Judging by the first night's response, we were off to a great week! These two were in Heaven.
With each passing day, this little guy was so worn out and tired for each nap and especially at bedtime. That alone was a major answer to prayer! I have cuddled with each of our kids on that back of that porch, because they've all come to camp as babies. This year it really struck me about how much our life has changed from our first year and how many summers we've been privileged to do this.
I snapped this one afternoon because it was so sweet and reflective of us bringing the kids with us. This is the chapel porch and where we hang out while worship and teaching and crowd breakers happen. It gives us a good buffer zone to be a part of what's happening and yet, not a distraction. Ava and Carter's little camping chairs are a precious addition.
I walked around one night with my camera, taking in the beautiful sunset and the gorgeous glow it cast over the camp.
It really is such gorgeous place, so serene and peaceful.
I was so thankful for a little chance to soak this up while Walker was in bed and the big kids were helping prep for the night game.
"Helping prep" is probably a relative term!
Camp is exhausting, but it's also really great in so many ways. I'm so glad Trav convinced me to come and bring the kids. The Lord reminded me of that decision all week as I counted the blessings He poured out on us while we were there.
It didn't take Walker long to work on his selfie game after being around so many teenagers!
Here's my attempt to keep him on a blanket...he lasted all of 10 seconds on here before he fled for the gravel, dirt and rocks! 100% boy!
Mail time is always a daily highlight!
Even for my own kids, thanks to my faithful cousin Jenny. She sends them a package every time and they just love it.
Every night we gaze upon a sea of neon colored students, waiting for their names to be called or to participate in some crazy crowd-breaker. I think most of them love this time of night, but if I was a student, this would have been my most feared time of day. I would have hated being called up there for any reason!
However my own kiddos were not exempt from the hilarity, we always make the students "do something" to get their mail and Ava and Carter had to dance to get theirs. Clearly THEY were not afraid of the spotlight! I'd like to say that's their father's influence on them :)
Thank you Jenny!!
Travis is such a great Daddy and he did special things for the kids all week, like bring the bubble machine along to let our kids play and squeal as they got covered in bubbles!
He has pockets of time here and there when he isn't needed or busy and he graciously gave those up for us. I love this picture of them!
One of Walker's favorite times of the day was at night, before Chapel started. While the kids were doing crowd breakers and lined up in the grass for mail time, he crawled through the ranks looking for their booklets and pens while pretending to write in them! Ha ha! He was thrilled and those sweet campers were always kind to hand their stuff over so that he could enjoy it! Maybe he'll love writing like his Mom??
After free time every afternoon we have some sort of group game, the messier the better. Travis LOVES these games, I tend to keep my distance from the chaos!
It delights him to no end to chase those junior high kids and torture them with whatever game they are enjoying. On this particular day it was mess fest, which begins with white t-shirts on everyone before they start playing games with kool-aid soaked sponges and giant kiddie pools and buckets filled with chocolate! The laundry queen in me cringes at the thought :)
This is the face of the girl who was told by her Mother to just watch the game, as I assumed she would likely get hit by something/someone and it would upset her, not to mention cover her in all things messy. Well, she was having none of my reasoning or caution and after some tears, I relented and let she and Carter join in.
And naturally they LOVED every second of it!
They also loved the lake time afterwards to wash all that chocolate off!
Please take special note of my kids, front and center and loving it every morning during announcements!
The highlight of the week for me was being able to lead our counselors in devotions, encouraging them and thanking them each morning for all that they are doing to serve. They are rockstars all week and they put tons and tons of work and energy into each day, so I loved the time I could pour back into them. My kiddos were able to do cabin clean-up inspection during this time and Walker was napping, so it was a sweet 45 minute window I had to just be me! We looked at some leadership lessons from Hebrews all week and I loved to hear their insights as well as pray with them and for them all week. We had great counselors!!
And here is my darling man, rubbing those cramps out of his leg muscles...Ha ha! I gave him some grief for not stretching and not remembering how much older he is while trying to keep up with 14 year olds :) I like to think I am his constant reality check, he might describe my ministry of truth-telling in another way! LOL! He sure is cute though!
The quintessential look of summer!
Spontaneously after breakfast one day we took some family pics and they turned out to be my favorites from the entire week!
What a true privilege it was to serve as a family and to just take part in what Trav was up to all week. I've always considered part of my ministry to be taking care of things at home so that he can freely serve without guilt or worry, but I also know that it means something for students to see us interact in front of them too. Watching our marriage and our relationship dynamics at play is important for students to see, while also humbling and sometimes sobering. I know it's important because we hear from them and I see the sweet notes they write to Travis, mentioning the impact that's had on them. The same goes for they way they see him in action as a Dad. Believe me, they are seeing the real, everyday stuff from raising kids...we are not a perfect family, our kids are VERY normal and we are flawed parents too! But I hope they always catch glimpses of grace and patience and love as we try to model Godliness in all things to them. Sometimes the Lord reminds me of how rare it is for a lot of them to see a "traditional" Jesus-centered home. I take that seriously and it drives me to pray that He would help us stay faithful and Godly, while also being authentic and honest about our own shortcomings and struggles. So much of this "fishbowl life" can be overwhelming and crushing even when comments are made or criticisms felt, but on the flip side of that, the Lord is SO gracious to give us opportunities like this one to serve and enjoy our kids together. We are works in progress and we certainly don't have parenting/ministry/life all figured out! One day at a time and one event at a time...that's usually my mantra for survival and perspective. This was a great week for the five of us and for that, I thank Jesus and praise Him for His grace to us!
How cute are these boys??? I have no idea what they were doing or how Ava got in the middle of it, but those sweet guys humored her and posed with her to make her feel included!
Don't believe the stereo-type that all junior high boys are lame! I know way too many that are SO great!!
My sweet girl! She sure loved being with all these students and she lit up like a light bulb every time any of them paid attention to her or included her, which was often!
Of course the classic JAM camp game has to be our annual shaving cream war and giant slip n slide afterwards. It's mass chaos and tons of fun and everybody loved it!
I did keep the kids away from the shaving cream so they wouldn't get it in their eyes, but the slip n' slide was a green light for them!
Poor Trav is always an immediate target, but he brings it on himself believe me! He's always chasing kids down!
He also loves to help them get it out of their eyes with a giant water gun :)
Patiently waiting :)
They wanted some shaving cream on them and one of our volunteers obliged them!
And then the real fun began!!
I LOVE him!!!
They went a million times on this thing, it's a huge slide and they were maniacs like everybody else.
I am very grateful to Raschelle, Trav's co-worker, who made the kids and I feel very welcomed and supported all week. Thank you, thank you for loving on us and making this week so fun!
Not to mention providing a steady stream of snacks and candy to my crew!! They LOVED that most of all! Ha ha!
We are also indebted to Corrissa, our camp nurse and JR, who runs everything technical and a million other things too. Camp would never happen without the time and effort they poured into it. Having a great team is invaluable!! And we like them in real life too, so score!
I think they like us back :)
Trav did have Ava and Carter come up and thank the students who were so kind to them all week and who specifically bought them bribes for their cabin clean-up competition. I wish I would have video-ed it, they both spoke and said precious things.
It really did mean so much to them to be there and to be a part of the week. I can't thank the students enough for playing with them, including them, being patient with them, talking to them, and helping me! It was impactful for my own kids and a blessing to Travis and I. Carter even prayed for the group on the morning of baptisms! I cherish these God-given opportunities we've been given as parents, what a privilege to see our kiddos soaking up this week as well.
We've had one or more of my cousin's kids with us every single year we've done camp!! So fun! This year it was Bette and we loved our time with her!
Seeing kids be baptized on the last day is always a sweet ending to the week...
This year there were 8 students and I enjoyed hearing all of their testimonies about why they wanted to go public with their faith and obey Jesus' example in baptism.
Again, I am always reminded to never underestimate what the Lord can do in the life of a teenager. I love that their families come and watch too, it's a special day!
Carter was most sad about camp ending and not being able to see his FAVORITE counselor, Delaney!
Ringing the dinner bell one last time!
Such a fun group!
Bonus points if you can find all three of our kids in here, too!
As is tradition now, we come home from camp completely wiped out and literally spent from a wonderful/exhausting week! We spend that Friday night barely speaking because we have no words left with a strong desire to just lay on the couch and stare at the ceiling. Travis almost always gets sick with some sort of respiratory thing and sadly this year was no exception, although in a twist of dramatic fashion he got the Rotavirus instead! Unfortunately that meant 10 days of misery for him...yikes! Praise the Lord the kids and I did not follow suit, I know that was His mercy on us, but my poor husband was down for the count and the week of vacation we were planning on turned into a week of him in bed. Not what we were excited about, but definitely what the Lord ordained instead. The upside to it was that he did get some forced rest! I, on the other hand, felt like I endured camp 1.0 AND camp 2.0 by the time it was all done! Ha ha! Really glad that it's all a memory now...
We are thankful for another year of camp with junior high kids, high school counselors, awesome volunteers and an incredible staff. We loved it and our kids bring it up weekly, still. They can't wait for next year and now that the memory of rotavirus is fading, neither can we :)