Farewell, Summer

I’ve always loved the idea of summer more than summer itself.  When I think of summer, I think of possibilities.  Maybe I’ve read too many YA novels, where the season often represents an idyllic in-between time when anything is possible.  Maybe that’s why I love YA novels so much.  Everything in your life can change between May and September.

Benjamin Alire Sáenz describes it this way in his book Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe:

I loved and hated summers. Summers had a logic all their own and they always brought something out in me. Summer was supposed to be about freedom and youth and no school and possibilities and adventure and exploration. Summer was a book of hope. That’s why I loved and hated summers. Because they made me want to believe.”

In reality, summers are less glamorous.  They’re hot, humid, and don’t even get me started on the mosquitos!  Growing up on an apple orchard, summer meant long hours of tedious farm labor: crawling up and down ladders and digging up weeds in the dirt.  Even when I worked as a camp counselor and the season was everything it’s promised to be, I never got enough sleep, was perpetually dirty, and there were always campers to care for.

Every year, I go into the warm months with rose-tinted glasses.  I’m filled with so many ideas for all the people I will see and adventures we will have.  Every year, I reach the middle of August and realize all I did was sit at home, mow the lawn, and read a lot of books.

This summer, though, I wanted things to be different.

This summer, I wanted to believe.

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Up North

We Minnesotans have a vague term to refer to any vacation at takes place north of the Twin Cities. (Another vague term to refer to St. Paul and Minneapolis.) My mom has meetings and events for work this week that spans much of the northern half of my beautiful state. She let me tag along and I am now enjoying my one vacation of the summer. So here I am… Up North.

This morning, we drove to a little town called Grand Marais on the shore of Lake Superior. Due to meetings taking up her time, I had the chance to wander on my own most of the afternoon.

Guided by my instincts, I found myself perched on a rock along the shore of the vast lake. Waves pounded below my feet. Children laughed and splashed in puddles under the watchful gaze of their parents. Groups of tourists trundle by, heading to the nearby lighthouse.

It has been a hectic few months. I graduated college and plunged myself into a full-time job. Hanging over my head are nagging questions about where the future will lead.

Sitting by the lake, the huge life decisions faded away for the first time in months. For a brief half hour, there was only my bare feet, an encouraging book, and endless water.

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Tomorrow, we plan to hike small mountains, discover waterfalls, and drive five hours to our next stop: International Falls.

All Hail Queen Brandi

You know those summer nights that have you grinning from ear to ear?  That was me last night.

The thing about Brandi Carlile is that she’s got a voice that reaches into your soul.  She digs into your roots, unearthing all insecurities and nostalgia and takes you back to a place you thought no longer existed.  She finds beauty in simplicity.  Her music is raw cuts to the bone.

As a graduation gift my older brother took me to see her at The Cabooze in Minneapolis.  It was an outdoor show and couldn’t be more perfect.  The openers were Anderson East and Iron & Wine.  I had high hopes for the later, but they were just too mellow for an outdoor show.

Brandi was such a treat.  Most of her songs center on the themes of home, innocence, and change.  I’m a pretty nostalgic person and her music hit me dead center.  I’ve been to several concerts over the past year, but this was definitely a favorite.  I’d see her again in a heartbeat.

Photo courtesy of my older brother.  Edited by me using the VSCOcam app.
At one point during the show, she strayed from the set list, pulled an eleven year old boy on stage to sing her song “Keep Your Heart Young”.  It was one of the night’s highlights.  Photo courtesy of my older brother. Edited by me using the VSCOcam app.

It’s been a great year for concerts.  My next one is The Oh Hellos in October with a college friend.

What’s the best concert you’ve ever been to?  Tell me about it in the comments!

Sonshine 2015

When one of your favorite bands plays at a music festival a mere twenty miles from your house, you can’t not go.  Right?

Yesterday, I attended the annual Sonshine Music Festival with my old roommate, Alli and one of her childhood friends.  I’ve wanted to go for a long time, but this was the first summer I’ve managed to be in the crowd.  Usually, the festival takes place in Wilmar, MN–near where I went to college.  This year, the event moved not only towns, but states!  It’s now in Somerset, Wisconsin–just across the river from home.

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Alli and I after Rend Collective’s set

Although the festival goes for many days, I only went for one.  Because of the location shift and a brutal thunderstorm in the middle of the night, attendance was low.  Alli, has been to Sonshine many, many times and was shocked at how small the crowds were.

It was a perfect July afternoon–hot and sunny.  I dressed for the weather in breezy shorts and a tank top, but still managed to sweat gallons.  I can’t count how many bottles of water I consumed just to keep hydrated.

Heat complaints aside, it was really fun to see all the different bands.  I got to see Remedy Drive, a group that played at several youth conferences I attended in high school.  We watched Children 18:3, who hail from Morris (my alma mater).  I’ve seen the band’s members lead worship several times, but never perform.  They went CRAZY.  We hid in the back of the crowd to prevent getting trampled by overly enthusiastic fans.

The best part of the day, though, was Rend Collective.  Hailing from Northern Ireland, their music is folksy and hard not to dance to.  Although they’ve become pretty famous in the Christian music sphere over the past few years, it hasn’t affected their heart for worship.  Their concerts aren’t performances.  They’re all about celebration, authenticity, and family.

During Rend Collective’s time on stage, all my troubles melted away.  We were lucky to be in the front of the crowd, as close to the stage as possible.  As they played song after song, I couldn’t stop smiling.  Despite being relatively reserved most of the day, I jumped and shouted and danced without a care in the world.  The set wasn’t about putting on a good show–it was about celebrating the honor of serving a wonderful God.

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Rend Collective

We didn’t stick around for the big closing act–the Newsboys.  I know they’re one of the biggest bands on the Christian music scene, but honestly… I’m not really a fan.  We watched a few of their songs, but they completely lacked the heart and soul of Rend Collective.  So while the other Sonshine attendees screamed and shouted excitedly, we packed our chairs and headed to the car.

All in all, it was a day well spent.  I love attending concerts and they’re even better when they’re bands close to my heart. I ended up with my worst sunburn of the summer, but wouldn’t change a thing.

Want a taste of Rend Collective’s style and philosophy on music?  Check out the following video.  It’s got the same spirit as their live shows.

A Great Day for a Parade

One of the greatest delights in small-town Minnesota are summer festivals.  Every town has one.  If you wanted, you could attend one every week of the summer.  These festivals often feature a special 5K race, a craft fair with all kinds of food stalls, and an evening parade.  Since I was in marching band back in high school, I played my flute in all the local parades.

This past weekend was Wannigan Days–a particularly special event, as it features not one town, but two!  Every year, St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin teams up with Taylors Falls, Minnesota.  The towns exist in different states, on opposite sides of the St. Croix River.  The multi-state participation, in addition to the gorgeous scenery, makes for a memorable time!

The thing about small town parades is that they’re SO small-town.  Elected royalty from all the local communities dress up, smile, and wave on their platformed floats.  Businesses and organizations make appearances, tossing frisbees into crowds and handing out magnets.  Political candidates smile and wave, slapping “VOTE FOR ME” stickers on audience members.  Marching bands play patriotic anthems that are slightly off-key.  The local football team blasts kids with super-soakers.  Finally, all the fire trucks from the surrounding towns steamroll by, signaling the conclusion of another year’s show.

My mother is a member of the Falls Chamber of Commerce, an organization that strives to unify the communities and promote local businesses.  Every year, they have a float in the Wannigan Days Parade.  This year, they were relatively short-staffed and I was enlisted to help.

The parade was relatively short–ten blocks down the main street of St. Croix Falls, cross the bridge over the river to get to Minnesota, and four blocks through Taylors Falls.

My job was simple: Throw candy.  One of the prominent chamber members bought $250 of treats, so I was free to lavish it on all the happy children in the crowd.  It was an easy task.  All I had to do was smile and toss handfulls of goodies to everyone under the age of fifteen. As I was going to sleep last night, all I could think about was how happy the kids were.  They line up along the curb with bags in their little hands, waiting.  Barely able to contain themselves, they bounce up and down.  Their little eyes absolutely glow.  Sometimes, I teased them.  “You want candy?” I asked.  “I don’t know if you’re excited enough!!”  Of course, this only made them squirm more.

Just imagining their faces makes me smile.

I remember being one of those kids.  When you’re little, you wait ALL SUMMER for parades.  When they finally come, you take your position on the edge of the street and are like, “THIS IS MY MOMENT!!!”  My brothers and I were ruthless.  We would dive-bomb and shove each other out of the way just for a little piece of candy.  When it was all over, we would spread our bounty on the carpet at home, count them up, and make trades to get rid of the varieties we didn’t like.

These events hold a special place in my heart and I loved every second of being part of them again.  As my old marching band teacher always said way back when: “It’s a great day for a parade!”

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Downtown Taylors Falls. Taken mid-parade.

Contrasts

Last week, I had the opportunity to run two different day camps.

The first was at Rockpoint church in Lake Elmo, Minnesota.  It was a gorgeous facility, with a fancy McDonalds style slide leading the way into the childrens area.  We had 75 kids total, and oh boy, were they a handful.  Just about each of my eight person team had a problem child or two in their groups.  Each day, we battled for the kids’ attention and focus.  Each day, we just barely walked away in one piece.  By the time three o’clock rolled in and the kids rolled out, my staff would collapse from a day of fighting inattentive listening and bullying.  They’d roll around on the floor for a while, until I came by and made them help clean up.  It was a wonderful church, with fantastic staff, volunteers, and our host families were fantastic.  But, oh boy, those kids were a handful.

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On Thursday, after the last parents pulled their children from the bouncy castle we so kindly hauled down from camp with us, I sent my high school staff back to camp with a couple of my Program friends, who had kindly come down to get them.  Then, with my team of five collegiate staff, we progressed to step two.

None of us really knew what we were getting into.  The only information I got from Shamineau was that we were running a two day long kids program at an Ethiopian church in downtown Minneapolis.

It turns out, the programming we were in charge of was for an annual international conference for the church of one of the Ethiopian people groups.  We were given a few rooms upstairs in the old church.  Throughout the days, we could hear the conference going on–countless voices singing praises to God in a language we did not understand.  We had no sound system, no internet access, and no real outside space.  Some of the basics of day camp–snack time in the mornings, 
Kid Snippets videos in the afternoons–that I now view as luxuries, were absent.

The day camp itself was absolutely chaotic.  Throughout the days, kids came and went as they saw fit.  At the beginning of the first, we had 35 youngsters.  By five o’clock that evening, when our work was over, we had fifty… the youngest was three, and the oldest was twelve.  The second day was less hectic, but similar.

When we arrived at the church the first day, I had the opportunity to meet the pastor.  His English was rather good, although I could tell he was not wholly comfortable speaking in it.  Right away, he shook my hand and said, “You are Amelia?  I’ve heard your name.  We are so happy to have you here!”  What he next explained to me has stuck with me.

“The people of this church, we are immigrants from Ethiopia.  Culturally, we are Ethiopian.  We were raised Ethiopian, and that is how we live out our faith.  We worship in our own language and teach in the ways of our home country.  But our children, they are not Ethiopian.  They were born here, they are Americans.  The culture they are growing up in is different than our own.  We do not know how to teach them to follow God in a way that is relevant in their culture.  That is why we are so happy to have you here.  You can teach our kids.  We wish we could have you all the time.”

I’ve never worked in intercultural ministry before, so I was shocked to find that the pastor (and people of the church) thought so highly of us.  When I look at myself, I definitely do not see a teacher equipped to raise up children in a way pleasing to God.  No.  I see a twenty one year old who doesn’t know what she’s doing with her life whose summer job is to run around like a crazy lady in churches trying to keep kids entertained.  But here were people who, within minutes of meeting me, saw me as someone with spiritual authority and knowledge, someone equipped to do what they could not.  It was incredibly humbling.

And the kids, oh my goodness, those kids were thirsty for Jesus.  They’d be rowdy and rambunctious during activities, but the second we started telling Bible stories and sharing about God’s love, they quieted down and began to listen.  Seven little girls decided to follow Jesus for the first time, and nine rededicated their lives to Him.  They asked questions, they soaked in every word.  They understood that the chance to truly learn about God doesn’t come around often, and they took advantage of our presence.

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Me withs some of the girls

It’s amazing to contrast the beginning of my week to the end.

The Rockpoint kids had everything.  They had an amazing church building, all the best equipment, a gym, an outdoor playground, space to run around in, and every kind of game imaginable.  But they weren’t content with that.  They fought constantly.  They didn’t listen.  They thought their own selves were more important than the good news we came to share.  Don’t get me wrong, there were some fantastic, wonderful kids in the bunch.  But, as a whole, they were frustrating and exhausting.

Then there were the Ethiopian kids.  They attend church in an old, creaky building that has little air conditioners in the windows, no gym, no balls or game equipment, and the only rooms available to them are awkward closets and corners of offices.  They have no children’s ministry, no teaching.  Their parents aren’t able to feed them spiritually in the way they need.  And they, lacking little, were so grateful.  They were so attentive, so respectful.  Yes, a lot of this I do attribute to cultural differences, but at the same time… there was a genuine eagerness to learn about God.

So often, the Bible talks paradoxes like the last being first, blessed are the poor, and rich men giving up everything to gain everything.  Day camp this past week reminded me of that.  Where there is much, there is little true seeking.  Where there is little, people are eager for the Lord.

All in all, it was an exhausting week, but definitely a blessed one.  I had a blast working with the kids, was encouraged by my host family, and deeply loved my team.  Here’s some photos of us working throughout the week…

Took my team home to my family's apple orchard on Monday!
Took my team home to my family’s apple orchard on Monday!
Tuesday night's adventures included Nelson's ice cream in Stillwater!
Tuesday night’s adventures included Nelson’s ice cream in Stillwater!
Water Day
Water Day

The Brule

On Sunday morning, I blissfully asleep in my bed at camp.  Then, suddenly…

“GET OUT OF BED!  PACK FOR TWO DAYS ON THE RIVER AND ONE DAY AT THE CABIN.  YOU HAVE TEN MINUTES.”

The lights were on, my boss was out the door, and my roommate, Alex, and I were out of bed without hesitation.  Still half asleep, we blindly shoved clothes into our bags.  In no time, we were running from Thorwall to the parking lot and jumping into the fifteen passenger van.  Our fellow program staff members were just as bleary-eyed and sleepy.

Three and a half hours later, we arrived at our destination in northern Wisconsin.  After dumping all our bags at the campsite, we headed to the canoe rental place.

What were we doing in Wisconsin?  Answer: The Brule.

Basically, we were placed in canoes with our summer partners and, over the course of two days, paddled 45 miles.  We put in eight hours of endless winding turns the first day, followed by five and a half hours of crazy rapids the second.  Our bosses only gave us a bag of rice to eat, but we smuggled a handful of Clif Bars.

By the end of the trip, we had all fallen in at some point.  We were jostled against rocks and slammed into trees.  Kristine got pinned under a log that had fallen across the river and didn’t appear for a while.  She was really freaked out after that.  At one point, my partner (Eva) and my canoe was stuck between some rocks and, for five seconds, was convinced that the paracord rope attaching my paddle to the boat was wrapped around my ankle.  The current pushed me in front of the boat and I thought I was a goner.  But, thankfully, I was free.  After that, I was so shaken up I could barely stand to get the canoe out.  It took six of us to get it free.

The moment when we rounded the bend to see Lake Superior was a beautiful sight.  Suddenly, the 45 miles of wear and tear fell away and we paddled with renewed vigor.  We strode into the lake in the sunlight and, oh my goodness, it was beautiful.

To recover from our journey, we spent a day at our boss’s cabin.  It was a wonderful time of relaxation.  We played games, watched movies, went on pontoon rides, made a puzzle, and went in the sauna.

Now, the counselors are here and training is finally swinging into gear.  Our days are filled with getting to know people, planning, and making sure things are going as they should.  It’s strange being on the programming end of things, but so far, I’m loving it.

Here’s the Brule! Taken from: https://birkhola.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/ee238-dsc_0016.jpg

Back to camp!

I like to stay on the move.  It’s just no fun staying in one place for too long.  After a couple of days of recovery from my Boston trip, I packed my bags once more and hit the road.  Destination: Camp Shamineau, one of my favorite places on the planet.  It’s my third year on staff and this year, I move from counselor to program staff.  My technical title is Day Camp Director.  After a few weeks of training, I will be spending the next couple months leading day camps around the state of Minnesota.  Every week I will be given a team of high school and collegiate staff and we will be sent to a church to run camp.  I’ll miss working directly with kids, and I’ll definitely miss being part of the goings on at main camp (games, friends, getting thrown in the lake, etc.)  But this a brand new experience, and I’m up for the challenge!

I arrived yesterday and, right away, we got to work inventing skits, learning the layout of storage spaces, driving camp vehicles, and getting everything prepared for this weekend’s retreat.  It’s Memorial Day Family Camp and we’re understaffed–only this year’s Program, the past year’s Interns, and a couple of volunteers are here.  Last night, we were working until one in the morning!  It’s exhausting, the camp life, but so incredibly worth it.  We get to hang out with kids and spread the love of Jesus Christ!  What better summer is there?

So, stay tuned for more camp adventures!  Posts may be infrequent at first, but since I’ll be in host families most of the summer, I should be able to write frequently.

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Lake Shamineau, taken last summer