Another Summer, Another JAM Camp!

Since junior high camp is so fresh in my mind, I thought I would start my backwards glance at the month of June with my own thoughts about another year of camp.  Remarkably, this year was our 7th time to lead JAM camp at Grace.  I can't hardly believe that!!  I remember when Travis came on staff and we faced that inaugural summer with the prized tradition of JAM camp (it's named after our junior high ministry) handed to him.  We had no idea what it entailed to pull one off, but it was clearly communicated to us by students and parents that this was the "holy grail" of student ministries and whatever we decided to do, we better not mess it up!!  I'm sort of joking, but not totally :)  There was some serious pressure to continue it and to make every summer better than the last one.  Thankfully, my man LOVES the idea of summer camp and had a few camps under his belt before we moved to Minnesota.  But even with his love for camps and adventure, there was a huge learning curve and we quickly realized the beast that camp planning is.  We basically rent a camp facility for the week and we bring our own staff, counselors, programming, worship, rec choices, etc. in addition to tons of students!  It's SOOOO much work, but we are grateful that the Lord has continued to bless it and that He's shown Trav where changes needed to be made and how to best communicate those over the years.  We always have lots of people, with lots of opinions about how it should run, and it will never be all things to all people, however I do think it's a pretty great camp!  And after another year in the books, I can say once again that the results of camp always outweigh the work! 
So, without further ado, here some of my personal highlights from JAM camp 2012...
We returned for our 4th year to a camp in southern Minnesota and the Lord gave us an incredible week of weather!!  It was sunny and hot, with no rain and only one terribly hot day.  It was a perfect week for playing in the lake and being outside!  For 4 years now, Ava has enjoyed coming for a week of camp with the junior highers and for Carter, this was his 2nd year.
 It was my easiest packing year so far, I was finally able to leave some of the baby gear at home, but it was definitely NOT my most relaxing week!  ha ha!!
 These two little nuts were BUSY BEES who required constant monitoring.  They wanted to be outside 24/7 and thought nothing of taking off to explore the grounds on their own.  I did a whole lot of chasing this year!  Not to mention activity planning of my own :)
 But as you can see, they were pretty happy with most of my choices for them!
Oh man, do we love this kid!
Not to mention this little princess! 
3rd summer wearing that hat, 4th summer wrapping up in that towel :)
And the 2nd summer we had the joy of bringing Grammy with us!!  I somehow managed to talk my Mom into coming again as our camp nurse and let me say it publicly, THANK YOU MOM FOR AGREEING TO DO IT!!!  First of all, it's extremely helpful and wise to have an actual nurse filling that role!  I got stuck with it for two years and both years, I spent more time on the phone calling her and asking her what to do, than I did off the phone.  We usually have at least one or two incidents that require judgement calls, in addition to a slew of kids on all kinds of meds.  It's SO NICE to have my Mom with us to do what she does best.  Secondly, it's totally fun for the kids to have Grammy with us all week!  They loved waking up to see her everyday and playing with her whenever they want.  And finally, I LOVE having my Mom with me all week too, mostly because she makes me laugh constantly!  And with a week of junior high and senior high kids, there are plenty of opportunities to do that :) Especially when "imagined injuries and mysterious illnesses" are involved!  Most kids that come visit the nurse have legitimate reasons to be there.  However, there are always some who just need a little drama in their world or who are simply homesick and looking for a little comfort.  We do our best to determine which camp they might fall into and help them through it, but at least several times a day after a student comes to visit us, we wait til they leave and then burst into laughter over whatever they just told us.  We've decided we need a bottle of "magic medicine" to treat some of these kids.  For example, one student came to tell us that he "didn't really sleep all night because his cabin was loud, and now he didn't feel very good."  Hmm, ok...Not too sure what you think we can do about that??  Perhaps it would be a better idea to actually sleep at night???  Or at least take a nap during free time??  At that point, it would be nice to just hand them a pill and tell them, here you go!  Here is your magic fix!  Seriously, I'm joking about that but it is interesting to see how much our society has moved toward this "I need a pill to fix it" idea.  The camp nurse is a busy lady, way more than when I was a camper!  We've decided next year we need to make some more modifications to her job description!  Thanks Mom!!!
Can anyone spot Carter???
There he is!  We took a toddler with us to camp, but by the time we left, he morphed into a little boy! 
Cars, balls, and anything dangerous was the name of Carter's game this week!
He was the one who kept me on my toes, always begging me to go "owwsiiiidddde???"
So grown up, and yet, never too big for a cheese stick and a danimal :)
Back to free-wheeling down the hill!
 The building that we get to stay in is right next to the chapel, which is totally fun for my kids because they get to see the students all the time.  I believe they were waiting for mail time in this photo :)
 My cousin Jenny faithfully sends us mail EVERY year and my kiddos loved it this year!!  We make the students do embarrassing things to get their mail, so of course we had to do it too.  They asked for a funny story about us dating, so Travis filled them in on my horrifying story about throwing up all over him while we were on a Ferris wheel together...Yes, so happy to re-live that and share it with all the kids!  Ha ha!
This little girl was missing her dress-up gear in a big way (making do with that necklace and her headband) and Jenny seemed to have a solution in mind for her!!
She got a hula skirt, fairy wings and a wand that she religiously wore for the rest of the week during playtime!  Thanks Jen!!  You nailed it :) Carter also loved his squirt guns but wouldn't stand still long enough for a picture, imagine that!
 Best camp director and Junior High Pastor I know!!  7 years of camp pictures together :)
 The lake was a popular place to be this year!  Ava played in the water one day, but Carter was not a fan so we stayed in their little pool mostly.  It's a nice lake but unfortunately, it's pretty rocky on the beach and the shoreline...Kind of hard to run around on with little feet.
Beautiful to look at everyday, however!
With the addition of our kids, camp has turned into a different experience for me over the years.  I used to be more involved, part of lots of activities, and present for all the chapel times, but now I pop in when I can when I'm not playing with these littles or if it's something we can do too. 
It was a hard transition to make the first years, especially with babies, because I felt like I missed everything and I was stuck inside a lot.  But each year has become more flexible and I've embraced the freedom to participate when I want and just enjoy watching from the sidelines.  Now it's fun in a new way, watching my kids take it all in and look forward to the fun they get to have. 
 I love to give them a front row seat to the shaving cream war, where they can watch all the craziness unfold!
Of course their Daddy was a big target!! 
 Carter was trying to take it in...
...but they both had a good deal of curiosity over the white stuff all over their Dad!
 We always set up a big slip and slide afterwards for the kids to enjoy and wash off with. 
 It's chaotic fun at it's best!
Ava decided she wanted to try it and her first run with Trav was a hit!
 After some convincing, we even got Carter to do it and he loved it too!  You can't tell from these pics, but it's a very long slide and it goes incredibly fast!
My friend Lisa's son, Cayden.  This was his last camp, which was sad, but I think he had a fun week too!
 He loves my kids and they love him too.  We will miss him greatly!  He volunteered in their rooms at Church a lot and has never been too cool to play with with when we came over.
 Thanks for loving Ava and Carter, Cayden!  They sure love you!!
Carter enjoyed the big swings this year, which was fun for him!
He's getting braver by the minute and it's so sweet to watch.  I love this picture of him!
Of course Ava already knew she loved the swings and she had a blast there all week.
Carter came to camp sick, with croup.  It suddenly came on the night before we left, so we were at the pharmacy right before we left!  He did pretty well, considering I know he didn't feel good.  Thankfully he slept very well all week, but he was a little fussier than normal.  It cracked me up to see his little head pop up every morning, always with that paci and giraffe :) He's tough, but he's still my baby!!
Ava, on the other hand, played hard and slept hard!  She was out like a light every night and took some great naps too.  Camp wore her out and by the end of the week, she had a bad cough too.  I'm happy to say that it's getting better by the day, but she definitely played herself out!!
Cute pic of some shaving cream war casualties!
 Our program time at night was so fun!  They did some crowdbreaker games every night that involved some serenades to popular songs.  This was a sibling serenade night, we had 19 sets of siblings at camp this year!  My cousins kids Emily and Natalie were lip-synching to a Taylor Swift song :) Hilarious!  It was a big hit all week!
I love this picture for so many reasons.  I've been asked before, why do I go to camp with the kids?  Why not stay home and avoid all the work?  I'm not sure I have a short answer for that, but this moment is one of the reasons.  It's good for us to be together as much as we can.  Ministry takes their Daddy away a lot, so whenever we can join him, we try to.  It's good for the kids and I to feel like we have a part of what Daddy does, even if it's just to support him and pray for him while he serves, but it's also good for Trav when we are there.  He can feel free to invest in the students with us around, and not feel guilty about us being stuck at home or feeling neglected.  I'm so grateful that the leadership of our Church also encourages us to go to camp and to be involved, without pressuring us either.  They value our ministry as a family and recognize how important it is (more than ever before) for kids to see what a healthy, (hopefully) God-honoring family looks like.  It's beneficial for them to see our marriage at work, to watch us parent and to see us being stretched and pulled in many directions.  Hopefully they are able to see that we love the Lord and we value His Word and our time with Him.  I also hope they see that our kids take priority over ministry.  Travis is a husband and Daddy first, not just a youth pastor.  He loves the students well, but I appreciate that he also demonstrates his loyalty to us as well.  Families are falling apart and many of our kids come from broken homes these days....
...we certainly aren't perfect and they get to see us in stressful situations sometimes, but I hope we also set an example for them in the way that we love each other and serve the Lord.  Before we had kids, we brought our dog Ryley to camp with us.  He and the kids serve a similar purpose, they open up lots of conversation with students who can relate to or are drawn to them.  I've had some very sweet conversations with students because of the door that playing with our kids, opens.  I'm so thankful that Travis includes us as part of his ministry team and that he doesn't view the kids as distractions, like other people might.  These years will be part of Ava and Carter's stories too, how they view their Daddy and Mommy and what they think of the Lord.  It's a constant balancing act to know when we need to back away and when to participate, but I'm grateful that Travis has such a laid back personality and that he is willing to let Ava and Carter climb and play on him, even when he's doing some last minute prep :) They sure love their Daddy!
Ava sat and listened to him several times throughout the week and did a great job being still.  I often wonder what that's like for her??  I didn't grow up with a Dad who was a Pastor or ever feeling like I had to share him.  It's something that I pray about for both of them...Thankful that the Lord will use this experience someway to draw them to Him!
I'm also grateful for the many upper classman and 20's who come back to be counselors for us.  They do an INCREDIBLE job and it means the world to the students who get to be loved by them, and led by them.  It's so great for our students to have older, Godly examples to emulate and watch because they really are wanting to be like their counselors someday.  Our staff has done an excellent job at being choosey about who we bring and who is willing to live up to the standards we require for the week.  The group we had this year were wonderful and a huge blessing.  That job is not an easy one!
 The highlight of the week for us is always on the last day, when we hear about what camp meant to them and when we get to witness some kids get baptized.  It truly is amazing what happens in the course of a week.  I heard a sweet lady say recently, that God meets lots of kids at camp and I think she's right.  For junior high students especially, to be away from home for a week, away from distractions, siblings, parents, etc. it really is one of the first times they show some independence and begin wrestling with what the Lord means to them personally.  Lots of them ask incredible questions, begin reading the Bible on their own, and make decisions toward what will be a lifetime journey with Jesus as their Savior and Lord.  They may be young, but they are capable of depth and insight and it is a joy to watch that unfold.
 There is quite a bit of craziness that happens at camp and we enjoy that, but it's all a gateway for kids to encounter the Lord and begin to grow in their faith.  If we have to cover ourselves in shaving cream or jump in chocolate filled pools just so we can break down barriers and build trust, we will!! Clarification, Travis will!  Ha ha! Ultimately we long for each student for know, love and trust Jesus Christ for the rest of their lives and everything we do is toward that end.  The Lord was working this year and we have heard some big stories from kids who experienced Him in a personal way.  We praise Him for that, He is the one who draws people to Himself and anything that is good about camp is because of His grace and provision!  More of Him, less of us...Definitely the way we prefer it and the truth behind any successesful years we have.
It was a great week and we survived! 123 kids and 30 staff or so??  It was a huge group, our biggest yet, but I'm glad it's over however because we are exhausted :) Can you see why??  We did stop for a little treat on the way home,  because I think these campers deserved it and my Mom and I couldn't take the whining and crying anymore!  Ha ha!  So, another summer and another JAM camp under our belts.  To God be the glory for 2012, great things He has done!!   

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