Monday, June 23, 2008

Confirmation Camp...or, who's the REAL turkey here?

I'm out at Camp Carol Joy Holling this week with 8 soon-to-be 8th graders enjoying the wonder that is known as Confirmation Camp. Good kids, looks like good weather, and even air-conditioning in the cush-camp quarters for us adults who don't feel like "roughing it" at night anymore!!!! (Wireless internet, even!!!!)

I have the kids for 2 1/2 hours of Confirmation instruction in the morning, and they get to do the regular "camp thing" with their counselors for the rest of the day, which gives me the freedom to travel from group to group and sit in on what my kids are doing with their counselors, or just find my own bed and take a little rest time if I need it.

It amazes me that I used to be able to do this for a whole full day here, and I'm already beat. But happy. The staff is great, the kids are having fun, learning, and acclimating, and I got a sweet picture of a group of turkeys at a worship site around 6:45 this morning!!!

I'll check in again. Until then...


Friday, June 20, 2008

My Church Kids

I love my church kids. They rock. And no, this isn't just an attempt to brownnose them, even though I know a number of them venture over here from time to time--I'd be writing this post even if that wasn't the case. =)

Two examples:

1) We just finished a week of Vacation Bible School. About 150 kids, with about 80 helpers. Of the helpers, about 40 of them were middle or high school kids.

That, by itself, just totally rocks.

There's a longstanding tradition that once the VBS week is over, the middle and high school kids stay to help clean up and tear stuff down, and once that's done...then comes The Mother Of All Waterfights in the parking lot. Today's lasted about 2 hours, in 90 degree heat. Aside from the actual waterfight (which was fun AND refreshing), the really cool thing was that there was really no need for me to be there.

I mean, I needed to be there to spend time with them. I needed to be there just because there really ought to be an adult around...just in case. But I didn't have to play Mr. Policeman--they just had fun throwing water at each other and then drying out and eating freeze-pops when it seemed like it was time to settle down. I was there as the "responsible adult" (no snickering, please) but I didn't have to act the part. I could just enjoy my time in fellowship with them.

Any of you youth who may be reading have no idea how absolutely awesome it is to just be able to spend time with you, without having to worry about so much of the crap that other youth directors I've talked to have had to deal with. Seriously--thank you. It really means a lot to me.

And how cool is it to have a job where I get paid to run around the parking lot throwing buckets of water at people?!?!?!

2) Our high school summer Bible study is one I'm creating from scratch. I've called it Faith on the Radio--The Gospel According to Hits From the 60's, 70's, and 80's. This past Tuesday was our first session, which was on faith and doubt, and how they relate. We looked at Show Me the Way by Styx and I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For by U2.

The discussion had been going great, and after looking at Hebrews 11:1, and the "doubting Thomas" story, we had sort of gotten to the point where we decided faith and doubt were two sides of the same coin. Here's the discussion that followed:

Me: So, I guess we could say that faith and doubt are two different sides of the same coin.

Youth#1: Yeah, they're pretty much opposites.

Me: Now, doubt the opposite of faith...or is it knowledge...experience...that kind of thing?

Youth#1 and Youth#2: Woah....

Youth#2: Hm. If faith and doubt are two sides to the same coin, then knowledge would be like having both sides of the coin as heads. Because you'd already know what was going to happen, and wouldn't need faith.

Youth#1: That should totally be a Facebook quote!!!!

Me (beaming inside, thinking to myself): This. Is. Fun.


Before they were stars...

Okay, I have a confession to make. I've only recently begun to watch The Office on NBC. Before March, I only knew that it came on either before or after Scrubs on Thursdays (I can never remember which, and thanks to the magic that is the DVR, I never really have to worry about it).

It is, in fact, thanks to the magic of the DVR that I even began watching The Office at all. Desperately in need of something both new and interesting to keep my attention during late night feedings so I wouldn't nod off, one day I just started going through the channel guide on the DVR. When I got to the listing for The Office, I remembered that a couple of people had told me I'd really enjoy it...and a few others whose taste I respect really enjoyed it themselves.

And as a former resident in a "cubicle hell" environment, I figured I'd probably get a lot of the jokes.

Boy, was I right on all counts.

I love love LOVE LOVE LOVE this show. The writing is smart and hilarious, the cast of characters both quirky and recognizable (yes, most office environments have someone resembling even Dwight Schrute!). And the best part is that I have 3 1/2 seasons worth of episodes that for right now are brand new to me.

For me, even the reruns aren't reruns. Yet.

So anyway, there I was, watching my very first episode of The Office sometime in March while feeding Pumpkin at about 2 in the morning. I noticed the receptionist character, Pam Beesly (yeah, that's her in the picture above), and couldn't stop thinking that she looked awfully familiar. After the feeding was done and Pumpkin was tucked into bed, I came back downstairs and did a quick internet search. I found out the actress's name is Jenna Fischer, and went to wikipedia to see what else she might have been in that I'd recognize.

When the page came up, I was about to scroll down to find her filmography, but before I could, two things caught my eye. The first was her date of birth--March of 1974. "Hm," I thought. "She's a month older than me."

The second was this sentence: "She received a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from Truman State University."

Um, that's where I went to college.

Now, I'm not trying to insinuate that Jenna Fischer and I were BFFs in college (best friends forever, for any dear readers who might be wondering), but I do know this much. I thought she looked familiar. I didn't recognize any of her work other than The Office. Truman State isn't tiny, but isn't exactly a gigantic school either (about 6,000 total undergrads). Based on our age, we would have been there at about the same time. AND, I did have some friends in the theatre department and went to a bunch of their shows to support them.

Somewhere along the line, I bet we crossed paths.

Nothing earth-shattering there, I guess...but still interesting to think about.

In mildly related news, I noticed in the closing credits that the Executive Producer of The Office is a guy named Michael Schur.

Um, that's my last name. And there sure (haha) aren't a lot of us around who share that name.

A quick search reveals that Michael is originally from Connecticut.

My folks are from Massachusetts. Their hometown is pretty much right on the border with Connecticut.

Anyone have a family tree handy???


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

And the cat came back...

This week is Vacation Bible School week at my church, and Kiddo is participating. Monday, as I was driving him home after it was finished, I asked him about the Bible story he had learned. Here was his response:

"Well, Jesus healed Daddy, I can't remember if it was ten tigers...or cheetahs...or leopards. But Jesus healed all of them and then only one came back to say thank you."

Oh, the world of a four year-old, where it would be perfectly normal for a large jungle cat to come back and say "thanks" to Jesus.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fathers' Day

I have the coolest son ever.

Friday, we were sitting at the kitchen table eating dinner, when I told Sweetie that my parents were going to be coming over later.

"They'll be dropping off a weather radio and my Fathers' Day gift," I told her (my dad had gotten us one of those NOAA weather radios where you can program which counties you get the alerts for).

When he heard the words "Fathers' Day gift," Kiddo's ears perked up. You could almost literally see the lightbulb above his head.

"Mommy? I want to tell you a secret," he said. And he walked over to her. Looking at me, he said, "Daddy, don't hear this."

I immediately agreed and tried to look like I was paying attention to my salmon filet and rice.

Now Kiddo knows how to whisper, but his whispering is almost at stage-whisper level, where he really might as well just be talking. So I heard his side of the conversation clear as day.

"Mommy, I want to get Daddy a Fathers' Day present."

Sweetie must have whispered back that the mp3 player they got me for my birthday was also my Fathers' Day gift, because Kiddo whispered/whined "NO...I wanna get him another present."

Sweetie: (unintelligible whispering)

Kiddo: "What's a good present? what does Daddy like?"

Sweetie: (unintelligible whispering)

Kiddo: "He likes Junior Mints."

So later that evening they went out, presumably to pick me up some Junior Mints. As I put Kiddo to bed that night, he was excited. "Daddy, I picked out a present for're gonna loooooove it!"

He kept talking about it yesterday, too--in fact, he couldn't get to sleep last night because he was afraid he was going to forget that today was Fathers' Day.

So this morning, I started to come downstairs. Kiddo and Sweetie were already in the living room. Kiddo said, "Wait...Daddy, stop!" I waited for a moment while I listened to some scurrying around. Finally, I got permission to enter my living room. Kiddo said, "wanna open your presents?" I said, sure, so he told me we were going to play "Hot and Cold" for me to find them.

He led me into the kitchen, and did a great job of guiding me to the corner where three wrapped presents awaited me.

Kiddo was so excited as I brought them into the living room. I opened the first one--it was a Mounds candy bar. "They didn't have Junior Mints," he said. "Do you like this kind as much as Junior Mints?" I assured him that I indeed did (which is true--dark chocolate and coconut goodness...mmmm....).

I opened the second one. It was a can of Moxie. "I know you really like pop," Kiddo said.

Then came the third one. It was like a little snow globe, only instead of white snow they were sparklies. And inside was a bear holding an American flag. "Do you like it?" Kiddo asked, expectantly. "I picked it out all by myself."

Here’s a picture of it:

A little context…we’re trying to watch our money, so Sweetie and I had decided to forego gifts for each other on Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day, and just stick to cards. Sweetie later told me that when they were at the store, Kiddo had seen this figurine on the shelf and had begged and pleaded with her to let him get it for me. She looked at the small, overpriced and...well, kitchy figurine and tried to explain that I had already gotten my present, but he wouldn't hear of it. Kiddo insisted that I’d “really, really like it” until finally, she relented. He just wanted to have something for me that was just from him. It was an act of pure giving, and pure love.

Pure love and pure giving through no deserving of my own, other than the fact that someone else has claimed me as their own? (Yes, I try to be the best dad I can be, but I labor under no pretense that I deserve the unconditional love Kiddo has for me. It is truly a gift--one that I cherish and cling to, but not one that I deserve.)

Leave it to my son to remind me of the wonder that is grace.

It will be many years before he realizes exactly how much that kitchy little teddy bear American flag snow globe figurine means to me.

Thanks, Kiddo. You're the best son a dad could ask for.

(And thanks, Sweetie for playing along and helping him make this such a special day. I love you.)
Some pictures from this last week of what makes me such a lucky dad:

Kiddo and Pumpkin on our back deck last week (while Daddy was mowing)

Kiddo's ready to run me down on his new "big boy" bike (with training wheels...)

Pumpkin "posing" by the posies (okay, they're not posies, but allow me some creative license here!)


Friday, June 13, 2008

On camps and tornadoes and shelters

In the past 30 hours, I've gone from incredibly sad to incredibly angry.

From all accounts, the scouts and their leaders at the Little Sioux Scout Ranch Boy Scout camp in Iowa did everything they could yesterday when a tornado ripped through the camp. It sounds as though they handled the situation as well as they possibly could have. Many of them ought to be hailed as genuine heroes for their actions in helping take care of each other after a horrific event.

But they were let down by their facility.

From what I've read, all of their buildings had slab floors. There were no underground storm shelters.


I know it's the Boy Scouts. I know they operate on shoestring budgets. Believe me, I understand. I work for the church. But I don't care how little money your organization has...if you're in the midwest, and you don't have the money to have an underground storm shelter, you don't build the camp. There's a reason they call it Tornado Alley in this part of the country, for crying out loud!

I was a camper and later a counselor and sorta "middle management" for Camp Carol Joy Holling, a Lutheran church camp near Ashland...all told I spent the entirety of 5 summers there on staff, and 6 other partial summers as a camper. I was a counselor during the infamous summer of 1993, with all the floods and severe weather. This camp depends on the church for its funding...not exactly a cash cow. But it does have underground storm shelters for all its campers on all its various sites. To hear of what happened in Iowa just absolutely rips my heart out, because it frickin' didn't have to happen.

The kids that were killed--and many of the kids that were injured--it wasn't because they were caught outside hiking. They were prepared. They had taken shelter. They were inside a building.

But their shelter let them down.

I love kids. I think the ministry that comes from camping can be some of the most life-changing stuff God has to offer. I don't get mad very often. But I'm hopping mad right now, because what should have been just a scary close call ended up killing and injuring kids. And it didn't have to be that way.

So, what to do?

If you're a parent, I urge you to make sure that any camp you send your kids to is ACA (American Camping Association) accredited. There's pretty stringent guidelines that camps have to follow to receive their accreditation, one of which is ensuring adequate underground storm shelters.

And if there's a camp that you support or send your kids to that isn't ACA-accredited, ask their board of directors why not. And then offer your support--whether it be in labor, money, or both. Even if you don't pick up a shovel to directly dig a shelter, any volunteering you do for them is money saved for them that they can spend in other storm shelters.

As a camp staffer, you follow a hierarchy of needs similar to Maslow's. First and foremost, you ensure your campers' safety. If that's taken care of, then you can attend to their comfort. Once you've done that, then your campers are in a position where you can help them grow.

It's easy, and tempting, especially when budgets are tight and you rely on the giving and goodwill of others, to skimp or cut corners on the first and focus on the second two.

But that's unacceptable.

Lives change at camp. Camping has been a BIG part of my life for many years. I met Sweetie working at camp. I count many of the folks who run Camp Carol Joy Holling as close friends. I have supported that camp in many, many ways over a number of years.

But I still maintain...if as a camp, especially in the Midwest, you're not able to provide underground storm shelter, you ought not to be operating until you can.



Thursday, June 12, 2008

Camp Tornadoes

Last night, we had a number of tornadoes tear through the area. The sirens a few blocks away from our house went off four separate times between 7 and 10 PM, and at one point, based on what the weather guys were saying, I was fairly certain our part of town was going to get hit.

We're fine, thankfully. There's flooding in the area, but none at our house. And no confirmed tornado touchdowns in Lincoln, though a number of funnel clouds were spotted in the sky above the city last night.

One of last night's tornadoes made national headlines, as 4 Boy Scouts were killed and 48 injured at Little Sioux Scout Ranch, a camp in Iowa, north of Omaha off of I-29. Another tornado was reported near Greenwood Nebraska, and was reportedly headed toward Ashland, which put Camp Carol Joy Holling, the camp that Sweetie and I met at, right in its path. We haven't seen any news from that, so I suppose no news is good news right now...especially since there's a few of my youth group kids at camp right now. In the past, this also would have been the week that I would have been at camp with my confirmation kids, but I changed from the traditional week our church had been going because it always would have fallen over Sweetie's and my wedding anniversary (number 8 this year--woo hoo!!!).

And while I DO love camp,'s always gonna take a back seat to my anniversary.

But it did get me to thinking back to my days as a counselor and site manager. One night in particular. It was the summer of 1996, and I was the site manager at Main Site (now called Trailhead). Basically, what that meant was I was kind of in a "middle management" position. There are 5 sites at camp, each one with its own program. The site managers oversaw their team of counselors (anywhere from 5 to 15 counselors, depending on the site), and reported to the Program director, who oversaw everything.

On this particular evening, we were supposed to go to Inspiration Point for fun campfire, followed by evening worship. Inspiration Point is on top of a big hill, and offers a beautiful view of the surrounding Platte River valley. But the clouds had been doing funny things all afternoon, we were under a bunch of severe weather watches, and some nasty stuff apparently had started to form in the central part of the state, a couple of hundred miles away. I consulted with the Program Director by walkie talkie, and together we decided that it would be best to move fun campfire to a spot closer to the storm shelter. The kids (and counselors) were a little disappointed, but I told them we could do it there, or we could do it inside, or not at all.

Kinda like some of the "choices" I give Kiddo--my choice, or two choices I know he'll hate.

So anyway, campfire finished, smores were consumed in mass quantities, we moved a short way to an outdoor worship spot (even closer to the shelter), and began worship. Each day, a different group of kids (guided by their counselor) is responsible for planning evening worship. It's a great way for these kids to actually put some thought into what worship really is, how it's structured, what the different parts are...stuff that they may do over and over at home, but don't really think about what it is or why it's there. If there are pastors there with kids they've brought, often they'll be asked to speak at evening worship.

This particular night, it was Pastor Joe Marek giving the mini-sermon. I sat in the back row with my walkie-talkie glued to my ear as I half listened to Pastor Marek talk about grace in our lives, and half-listened to our program director give us site managers weather updates. There were severe thunderstorm warnings a county to the west of us, and while the existing storm looked as though it would pass to the north of us, they were worried that it was growing to the south at the same time as it was heading east, so we might not be out of the woods.

Suddenly, our program director said, "confirmed tornado near Greenwood, headed toward Ashland. Get your kids to shelter STAT and check in immediately after."

I froze for just a second.

Pastor Marek was still preaching.

How does one go about interrupting a preaching pastor? And when would I ever again have the excuse to do so?

So I stood up, and walked slowly to the front, where he was standing. "I'm so sorry to interrupt," I said, "but I need to talk for a minute." Pastor Marek stepped aside. Turning to the kids, I said, "we'll finish worship, but we need to do so inside. Kids, hold on to your songbooks, and I need you to find your counselor. Please don't talk unless your counselor is asking you to check in with them. Counselors, when all your kids are accounted for, come to the Holling House basement with not go inside until you have told me your name and that you have all your kids AND I have told you to go in. We need to do this quickly. I'll see you in a minute."

In a matter of a minute or two, all fifteen counselors were with their kids and were checking in with me at the door to the basement. We squeezed everyone inside, on the floor of the basement, and I had each counselor do one last head count. In less than 5 minutes, we had about 100 kids, 15 counselors, a couple of pastors, and a site manager who was trying to look strong but was shaking inside all in the Holling House basement. I checked in with the Program Director, who was in her own tornado shelter in a different part of the camp.

Only then did I tell the counselors that our area was under a tornado warning.

And then we finished worship. In the middle of the storm, not knowing what was going to happen, we worshipped. And when we were done, we sang some more songs. songs of praise, songs of joy, some goofy camp songs...songs to remind us that God was good.

Everyone's pillows, sleeping bags, etc. were down in their tents, and the Program Director said that once this line of storms went through, things looked as though they were going to be relatively calm for the rest of the night, so I didn't worry about trying to force the kids to sleep. Instead, we continued to sing. As time went on, we moved into quieter music, more contemplative, more peaceful. A few kids leaned against the wall and started to snooze.

Finally, about two hours after we were initially called into the shelter, we were given the all-clear and I let everyone go back to their tents. The tornado ended up doing some damage to some fields--twisted trees, destroyed pivots, that sort of thing--but stayed away from our camp, as well as other populated areas.

So last night, when I was in the basement with my family, feeling fairly certain that at any moment a tornado would be bearing down on my house, I listened to the weather guy saying there was a tornado "near Greenwood, headed toward Ashland." Transported back twelve years, I re-lived worshipping in another basement, also fairly certain that at any moment a tornado would be bearing down on where we were.

And after the news of the camp in Iowa, I prayed. And to be honest, I cried a little bit.

It was a strange night of emotion and memories.


***Quick update: After I posted, I checked my email...there was one from Camp Carol Joy Holling letting me know that all the kids are safe, and that as far as they could tell there was little to no damage from last night's storms. I can breathe a little easier now...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

...and rocketships...

Over time, Kiddo has developed what can only be described as a liturgy for bedtime. He begins with two structured prayers, then goes into his own personal petitions. The whole thing lasts 3 or 4 minutes. Here is a word-for-word transcript of Kiddo's bedtime prayers:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into pantation (he hasn't quite gotten the hang of "temptation")
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
Forgive my sins and when I'm awake
Show me the path of love to take.

God bless mommy and daddy and Pumpkin and Kiddo.
And make Kiddo a good boy, and Pumpkin a good girl.

(the next part is a sung echo song)

May the Lord bless and keep you (may the Lord bless and keep you)
May his face shine upon you (may his face shine upon you)
May his blessings go with you (may his blessings go with you)
And give you peace (and give you peace)

Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen.

God bless Ellie and make her feel better. Amen. (Ellie is a girl that Grandpa's church prays for. She's 2 years old if I remember correctly, and has cancer.)

God bless Pumpkin and the whole world. And rocketships. Amen.

God bless C (his aunt) and make her feel better. And share her blessings. Amen.

And help Pumpkin get a good night's sleep all night. Amen.

If only we all could be so faithful to prayer, and have such a reverent sense of the power of familiar and repeated liturgy.

I kid you not, the kid doesn't deviate from his liturgical script. Night after night, day after day, he faithfully comes to God and prays for all of these things.

Even rocketships.


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Tornado warning

Well, we had some pretty wicked storms pass through about 8:30 PM. Here's a picture looking north, about 5 seconds before the tornado sirens started going off:

As I hustled inside, I snapped one last shot to the northwest:

A few minutes later, the high winds and torrential rains hit. Luckily, as far as we can tell, we missed out on the hail--the TV stations were saying our area was getting 2-inch hail. We ended up spending about 20 minutes under the stairs in the basement, in what Kiddo and I decided was our "weather cave," which of course made us "weather bears." (Fear not, Sweetie was there too...she just snapped the picture!)

Looks like another wave may be making its way toward us...could be a long night.