(Just a few of the beautiful kids that I got to work with this past week at Springhill)
Last year around this time, I never would’ve guessed that my summer would be as jam-packed with God’s goodness as it has been.  Going on a mission trip, competing at a national dance competition, writing for my school website and writing center, working at a kid’s camp, and overall, just going outside of my comfort zone, I am literally astonished at the growth that has taken place in my life within this very short period of time.
As I wrote about in the past few articles, multiple people keep telling me “I’ve changed.”  That my once OCD/perfectionist personality is being replaced with a charismatic, free-spirited, genuinely happy person, and to tell you the truth, it scares the living daylights out of me that I am becoming like this, but I couldn’t be happier and more in tune with the call that God has placed on my life.
Deciding to take risks this summer and finally try all of the things that I had been afraid to do in the past, the surmount of lessons God has revealed to me is growing.  Choosing to work at Springhill Camps with young children (when you aren’t really a “kid person”), for instance, marks the top of this list.
From a young age, I have basically grown up as an only child.  And outside of my two half brothers that I don’t see very often, children (other than my cousins or now nieces and nephews) besides myself were relatively nonexistent in the home.  As a result of this, you could say that I didn’t necessarily learn to not like children, but I wasn’t really around them enough to know.  In fact, my parents have even told me in laughter that since the age of two, they knew that I didn’t really want other kids around.  Asking me if I wanted a little brother or sister to play with, I sternly stated, “NO!” no matter how the question was proposed.
“Amber, would you like a brother or sister to share ice-cream with?”
“Amber, are you sure you don’t want a baby sibling?”
“Amber, can we at least talk about…”
“No!” you get the idea.
But before you start getting some misconception about me being this terrible person that dislikes all kids all the time, let me set the record straight.  I don’t dislike little kids; I just connect better with older children (hence wanting to teach High School and College, aged students).  And in sincerity, I want to learn how to connect and love and be silly with younger kids, but it is a process that I am slowly working on.  So, with that being said, that is why despite my initial feelings, I chose to work at a children’s camp.  Not because I over the top wanted to, but because I knew that God was going to reveal some things to me that couldn’t be experienced anywhere else.
Arriving at my first day of camp in Dalton, Ohio, I was overjoyed, overwhelmed, and overexcited to say the least about my upcoming experiences.  Being welcomed by a generous team of kind-hearted, God-loving, and selfless-seeking individuals, the already established team of Counselors, welcomed me into their clan from day one and made me feel like part of the team.  This week, however, was certainly not easy as I suspected, and therefore, was proven to become one of the most challenging experiences that I have ever endured in my lifetime.
(Me and my new friend Emily are so silly.  Thumbs up for this family that provided wonderful food and hospitality)
From making new friends, to living with a fabulous host home, singing crazy camp songs 24/7 (can you say “LIKE A BANANA” enough?), and getting to serve as a light to over 75 kids, my week was certainly blessed, but at the same time, it was heartbreaking, convicting, and ever so gently healing.  When I witnessed a child with cerebral palsy going down a water slide with his counselor, for instance, I started crying as the kids at the bottom of the slide cheered for his victory.  Then, later that day when we got to share our testimonies with the campers, I couldn’t help myself from tearing up when I realized just how detrimental our impact meant to the establishment and resolution of their faith.  The silly skits that we sang became less about repetition and trying to remember the song and more about actually realizing their importance to this group that might not otherwise ever hear the Gospel.  The overwhelmingly loud and crazy contraptions of learning how to set-up, teardown, and engage with a Rockwall, Flying squirrel, Infiltration x, EuroBungy, and more helped me to separate concern for self, from concern for others.  And above all, the constant noise of childlike giggles, major chaos, and unforeseen circumstances of craziness taught me to trade in my orderly conducts of ducks in a row for a more adventurous, life-filled and child-like faith set of endeavors
(The awesome team that I got to work with, feat Christmas in July festivities)
When my Dad then picked me up from camp to go home, he, his mom’s neighbor, and my nephew welcomed me with glistening eyes while pondering eager questions as to how my trip went.  “What were the kids like?” the neighbor inquired.  “Why didn’t I get to go?” questioned my nephew.  “Are you tired?” asked my Dad.
Beginning to drift in and out of focused thoughts and dreams through the clear glass window, my nephew tapped my arm, and despite my overwhelming tiredness, he continued to ask me questions.  But instead of saying I didn’t want to talk, or simply being short with my answers like normal, I pushed myself and began to treat him like one of my camper’s.  Singing songs at the top of my lungs, giggling hysterically, and playing along through skits, I had never seen so much joy light up in his eyes as they similarly reflected in mine.  Never before had I had so much fun with my nephew as he questioned, “Why are you like this Amber?” and God’s conviction hit me head on.
As I tried to shake off the feeling and understand these changes that were occurring in me, it is no surprise that when I got home at 11:30 p.m. that Friday night, my body and soul were drained physically, mentally, socially, emotionally, and spiritually in more ways than I could ever explain in words.  With a broken voice from yelling, watering eyes from emotions, and a heart that was weary, I could do nothing but weep into my mother’s loving arms.  And why?  Because for the first time in my life I realized the pure joy that children bring and how seeing this world that we live in through their lenses can make all the difference; a conviction’s worth of a difference.
Giving all that I could this past week made me realize not only how much I should be honoring these children of God, but also how much I have not treated them in a way that Jesus would call me to.  Of course, I have never been unkind to them or rude intentionally, but specifically to the children in my family, I have tended to avoid them, think they were annoying, and get jealous of their presence since a very young age.  And this is wrong, and I know it is wrong, but never have I been convicted so much in realization to see that how I acted this past week was how I should be treating these children in my life all along.  I have an opportunity to share Jesus with them, and if I fail to do that for selfish reasons, that certainly does nothing for my character.  But likewise, just because I have realized this flaw doesn’t mean that it is going to be an immediate change.  Certainly though, what it does mean is that from here on out, I am going to try my best to keep this spirit with me when I interact with children.
If God loved me enough to die for my life, I should be willing be to like Jesus to these kids (as He asks us to) regardless of whether I am a kid person or not.  And though it took everything out of me to be that way, I want to become that silly and carefree person that acted like a child, for “the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those” who embody that childlike Spirit.  Because God opened my eyes to see the world through his filter and I wept as I realized that these children are GOD’s and SO VALUABLE in his eyes. Though it was so HARD for me to be loud and crazy all week, just knowing the joy we brought to them as God asks us to was humbling.
Despite these convictions, I began to fully comprehend that Jesus cares about these children and so should I, but I don’t know howI don’t know how to be crazy all the time and contain so much patience that when the 15th kid in a row asks to go to the bathroom, you don’t mutter, but just smile, nod, and take them.  But I want to know how and so this has become my prayer.
And in all honesty, I might never be a “kid person” that can talk to them, be silly, and have never-ending patience with ease.  But what I do know is that with God’s mighty hand, diligent answers to prayer, and strength, I will learn to be.   I will learn to be silly, I will learn to be carefree, and I will learn to be a light.  Because this past week and even this past entire summer, I have no idea how I have done what I have and if it weren’t for God, I wouldn’t be to the place where I am now. But if these experiences, in summary, have revealed anything to me, they have revealed this; that this person I am becoming is just a discovery of my true self and who God created me to be.
It has dawned on me that I am notthis OCD person I once thought I was, nor am I the confines of that box that people have tried to put me in. I am SO MUCH MORE than what the WORLD sees and what I have allowed myself to embody based on their misconceptions of that.
So today, it is my prayer that God will continue to reveal to me the sincerity of who I really am and how I am called to love His children regardless of the measures that it entails.  That I will not only keep this patience and apply the happy spirit that I learned this week to the rest of my life, but learn to truly reflect the still small child that now looks at me for guidance, prompting for the little girl inside of me to reply.
So as she stutters to find her words, the little girl speaks: Conviction comes with healing, and to that path, though it may come with trials and hardships, you will soon be complete.

(Me and my nephew Levi feat Amber’s dance competition makeup, and emoji-filled faces)
Agape, Amber