love is a choice.

I have learned so much in the past two months. Love is weird. It’s complicated, and it’s difficult. But love is worth it.

The biggest thing that I’ve learned is that love is a choice.

Love isn’t something that just happens to you. It isn’t magic. You don’t have to be at a certain point in your life to make love possible.

Love is a choice. You have to choose to love people, and continue loving them.

I have chosen to love my parents because they provide for me, because they love me, because I am so grateful for their presence in my life.

I have chosen to love my sisters because I know that loving them is the best way to show them Jesus.

I have chosen to love my friends because they are my support system, and the best way to thank them for being there for me is loving them the way Christ loves them.

I have chosen to love Jesus because He laid down my life for me so that I can have a relationship with my Creator.

There are some people in my life who I’ve chosen to love because they need it, not because it’s convenient for me.

There are people in this world who are hurting, and all they need is to know that there are people and a God who love them. They are so broken and so lost that they can’t remember what God’s love looks like when it is lavished upon them.

Until last week, I didn’t understand exactly how much God loves me.

There is someone I love very much, and God used my love for that person to show me how much more He loves even me. I couldn’t help but completely break down in tears, realizing that as much as I love this person with everything in me, God loves me infinitely more.

I know how much I am loved, how worthy I am, and because of that I am choosing to love others.

The Bible says so much about love.

It says to love your enemies. It doesn’t say that you will one day magically wake up and want to be best friends with people who hurt you. It’s something you have to choose.

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The Bible says that loving people covers a multitude of sins. Love covers insecurity, self-loathing, hurt, anger, and depression. Love covers it all. Choosing to love others brings healing.

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We don’t deserve to be loved by God, but He CHOSE to give us his son. It was a gift of love. If God can come down in human form and suffer alongside us, if He is willing to DIE for us, then the least we can do is love others who we believe are undeserving.

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The world says that people don’t deserve my love. The world says that I don’t need to worry about people because they aren’t my problem.

People who say they have fallen out of love have fallen out of lust or infatuation.

Honest and real love doesn’t go away. People don’t fall out of love. They choose to stop loving.

When love stops, people break.

I refuse to stop loving.

Love is a choice.

Make love a choice.

 

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what you really need for summer camp (that nobody tells you about)

My last post about camp was really serious, but this one is purely for truthful, comedic relief.

As I come upon my last week of camp, the following is a list of things that I’ve either wished I’ve had throughout the summer, or have been so glad that I had with me, that I figured I was bringing for no reason. Please enjoy the honest humor presented here, and, if you decide to work at a summer camp sometime in the future, I implore you to take my advice. You’ll be happier that way.

  1. A fingernail brush

This may seem obvious, but you need a hardcore scrub brush to get all the crap out from under your nails. And when I say crap, I mean literal crap. We have rough days here…

2. A cheap exfoliator

No, this is not for your face, although the stress-induced acne will certainly bite you in the butt if you are under the age of 22. This exfoliator is for your whole body, because when you are covered in sharpie, tie dye, and paint, your best hope is using an exfoliator to remove your top layer of skin. Never fear, the remnants of your kids’ works of body art will live on in the remaining layers of epidermis for the remaining weeks of summer.

3. Hand sanitizer

Wow, germs are real. So is dirt, spit, worms, sneezing, etc. Reminder, you eat your lunch outside. Probably far away from a bathroom that actually has soap in it. And you have 10 kids that have to remain in your sight. You can’t go to the bathroom to wash your hands. So you will eat all of your camp finger food with worm-gut covered hands, and you will enjoy it nonetheless. And you will definitely get a few colds.

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4. A crap ton of Day-Quil and tissues

For some reason, tissues are hard to find at camp. I have, shamelessly, wiped my runny nose on my t-shirt sleeve. It really isn’t a big deal when you consider I have plunged toilets full of diarrhea in the same shirt, but your kids will definitely call you gross. If you care about 10 year olds thinking you’re cool, buy little tissue packets and invest in a quality decongestant. Your reputation with middle schoolers will thank you.

5. Card games

Do you like losing everything you love? Buy card games! The box will be broken in under a week and half the deck will be missing a week after that, but it’s worth it to hear the anguished screams of middle school kids arguing about whether or not it is cheating in Uno to put a “draw two” on top of a “draw four wild” (this is a daily occurrence). But in all reality, card games are the best way to entertain middle school aged kids during down time. Apparently “duck-duck-goose” is “lame”, “boring” and, “Miss Elena, you look really dumb running around like that.”

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6. Bug spray

If you are in the woods, you will drink this in your coffee every morning. (Don’t do that, it’s toxic.) Seriously though, bug spray. Use it. Your ankles will thank you.

7. Earbuds

Bring them with you EVERYWHERE. After the kids are all gone, you never know when you have to show people that you absolutely do not want to socialize any more and DO NOT want to answer “how were your kids today?” for the 50th time that day.

8. A stash of some sort of plastic bags

Every other Friday we go on a field trip. It is often an amusement park. It is often 1+ hours away from camp. After riding countless roller coasters and eating pizza and other such junk, once on the bus your kids will inevitably say, “Miss Elena, I feel like I’m going to throw up.” And trust me, despite rushed and fervent prayers, they will throw up. You’d rather be prepared than puked on. I know what I’m talking about.

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9. Granola bars

Specifically, nut-free, dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free, Free-trade, eco-friendly, flavor-free granola bars. There is never a time you won’t be hungry. I promise this is true. A bowl of cold cereal and a cup of hot coffee just don’t cut it in the morning.

10. An extra water bottle

Somehow, every day at least one kid will show up to camp without a water bottle. They will beg for a drink from your bottle. You will oblige. You will immediately regret it when they drink all your water while you are dehydrated, and you remember that said camper  wasn’t at camp yesterday because they were throwing up. LOL. Goodbye health. Bring a spare water bottle for your inevitably dehydrated camper. Your immune system will thank you, and so will the massively chewed up nozzle of your favorite water bottle (yeah, they still do that at 10 years old…).

If you end up working at camp anytime in the future, heed my advice. Your sanity can’t afford not to.

***This post is written for pure entertainment and is in no way a negative reflection of my time at camp. I love my job and the camp I work for.

the truth about working at a Christian summer camp

Working at Camp Sonshine this summer has hands-down been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. They warned me when I applied, but I didn’t believe it. Now I understand.

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My campers don’t believe I have a real job. They say I am pretty much just a camper, with few more responsibilities than they have. I don’t have the heart to tell them just what my responsibilities entail.

Friends back home don’t believe I have a real job. They don’t understand why it’s so difficult to keep in touch when I’m “just taking care of kids for a few hours a day”.

I want to explain why Christian summer camp isn’t just summer camp, and why it’s so grueling. I work 12-14 hours a day during the week, and that doesn’t even include the other tasks I complete on the weekends and after I get back to the house after work. The work I do far outweighs the hours I’m paid for an the amount of sleep that I get. Here is a quick peek into my daily life as a Christian summer camp counselor.

4:45am: The first alarm goes off in my bedroom. It’s somebody’s scheduled shower time.

5:15am: My first alarm goes off. I barely register enough to snooze it two more times.

5:45am: I get out of bed to brush my teeth, put in my contacts, and put some clothes on. I pray there is a bathroom open, or will be one soon. One of the bathrooms has flooded due to the house being old, so we are down to two bathrooms for 24 girls.

5:55am: I resort to brushing my teeth at the kitchen sink because the bathrooms are all being used.

6:00am: We leave the house. It is a 30 minute drive to the church where our campgrounds are. I read my devotional and listen to worship music on the ride there. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a 15 minute nap in.

6:30am: We arrive at the church. We eat breakfast; cold cereal and much-needed coffee. I try not to be dependent on the caffeine, but I have a long day ahead of me. Some days I have two cups, just to stay awake.

7:00am: The first meeting of the day. We have a group devotional and prepare for the day. We receive paperwork for all the campers, and pray over them.

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7:30am: The real work begins. I am on indoor crew, which means I disinfect water fountains and trash can lids, and finish cleaning whatever was not completed the night before. After those tasks are completed, I help make sandwiches for the staff lunches.

8:30am: We move to arrival areas and the campers begin arriving. Many of them are still bleary-eyed from just having woken up minutes before. Others are energetic and more than ready for the day. I have been awake for three hours.

8:30am-4:30pm: I work with 11 year old girls all day. Sometimes I have 5, sometimes I have 14, and I’ve had many other numbers in between. The conflicting interests of pre-pubescent girls are difficult to navigate. I deal with everything from girls telling me that their parents are dead or in prison, to girls who just want to talk about why they named their dog a certain name, with every kind of conversation in between. It’s incredibly draining.

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4:30pm: Daily debrief. My team talks about our day, and what went well and what didn’t. Days average an 8 on a scale of 1-10. Some days are a two and we just cry about how frustrated we are. Working for kids who don’t know that all we want is for them to understand how much God loves them is heart-wrenching.

5:00pm: Indoor crew again. I clean bathrooms. Correction, I plunge toilets that are full of diarrhea, clean floors on which toilets have flooded, and puzzle over how some of the messes that have occurred exist in the first place. It can be nausea inducing. But it’s the kind of satisfying work where you can see the fruits of your labor, in contrast to the camp day.

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6:30pm: Finish cleaning and get dinner. Susan works hard all day to cook for hundreds of staff that are famished after a long day of work. Somehow, despite the massive amounts of food, we are still hungry afterward. Sometimes we have meetings at dinnertime, that last until around…

8:00pm: This is my scheduled shower time at the house. We are just now leaving the church to go home.

8:30pm: I call the shower. I pray for hot water. There is rarely hot water.

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9:00pm: I finally get around to responding to the various messages that have been sent to me throughout the day. I struggle to keep up with friends and family back home. I want to talk to them, but I’m just so exhausted that there is no energy.

9:30pm: Many nights, I use this time to get ahead on camper cards. Camper cards are personalized notes to each child in my group, including a group photo. A single card can take anywhere from 15-20 minutes. With an average of 10 kids every week, I am looking at about four total hours of work on these cards during the week.

10:00pm: I finally turn into bed. I fall asleep within seconds from pure exhaustion.

4:45am: The first alarm goes off in my room. I’ve had about 6 and a half hours of sleep. It’s time to do it all over again.

This is what my days look like. 5 days a week. Saturdays and Sundays I basically sleep all day, trying to catch up on what I’ve lost and preparing for the upcoming week.

It is such a difficult job. But I’m not complaining. God put me exactly where He wants me to be this summer, and even though I am exhausted and drain every ounce of spiritual energy that I have every day, God sustains me by placing the most supportive leadership staff around me. I can’t even begin to describe how grateful I am for the people who pour into me day in and day out. They genuinely care.

My goal is to care and love just as much as they do someday. And if that involves working 60 hours a week, I will do it gladly and without complaint. I can’t wait to see what God does with the rest of our summer.

 

radical change.

God is doing something radical with my life right now.

Back in early December, He spoke to me and told me that He was going to turn my world upside down, but I’m not sure that I believed it entirely. I kept feeling this pressing voice from the Lord: “Just wait for my timing. I’m doing something radical with your life, but you have to wait.”

Now that it’s June, I can look back and see that every word from God was true.

One of the first things that God told me was that He was going to move in my relationships. He said that everything I thought I wanted in a relationship, everything that I imagined I would want in a man, that He was going to give me the exact opposite. I’m finding that “opposite” is exactly what I needed, and so much more than I could have asked for.

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I was beginning to doubt my decision to become a costume designer. Doing it was fun, but I felt so burnt out when I finished a project. This spring, I worked for two different children’s theatre companies and discovered that I couldn’t get enough. God has changed my heart from simply a design track to wanting to teach youth theatre more than anything.

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I had no idea what I would do with my life this summer. I didn’t feel like going back to working at JoAnn Fabrics was really where I could make the most impact. God opened so many doors to make it possible for me to work at Camp Sonshine in Silver Spring, Maryland. I thought I was going to make an impact here, but after just one week I’ve learned that the camp leadership has made an impact on me more than anything else.

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If you are doubting God’s plan for your life, I encourage you to just listen to His voice. If He’s telling you something, believe it. He’s telling you the truth, and His plan will come to fruition. I promise. You just have to wait on His timing, and trust him implicitly.

I am so excited to see how God moves in every aspect of my life this summer. I am ready for the radical change that He is promising me.

what i’ve learned about guarding my heart (pt. 2)

I didn’t plan for there to be a second part to this blog post, but recent circumstances have brought to my attention that there is so much more to guarding my heart than I had discovered in this blog post.

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I recently had a conversation with a very good and very wise friend, who always speaks truth into me when I need it most. In this case, the truth I needed to hear was that my motives were pure, but as I was guarding my own heart, I wasn’t letting God guard it for me.

The reality is, as Christians, we only give God parts of our heart. We often neglect to give Him all of it. If we don’t give God everything we have, how can He safeguard it for us?

I am an incredibly independent person. I always have been, since I was little. I’ve had a few close friends, but always kept myself guarded and secure. I am an open book, personality wise, but am very private when it comes to things that matter. As I got older, I found myself opening up more and letting more people into my life, revealing more and more of my heart. I never believed that I could be hurt by anyone. I was very trusting.

When I was first hurt by someone who I cared about very much, I shut down completely. I vowed to never open up like that again. I put my heart in a concrete box with an impenetrable lock, and wrapped said box in barbed wire. Nobody was going to get in and hurt me again.

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I thought that by doing this I would be protecting myself from emotional hurt. It worked, to a certain degree, but there was one aspect of this method of protection that I didn’t consider: with such heavy armor, nothing could get out either.

I realized, that for the past three years, I have been squeezing little bits of love out of my heart, giving a little bit away to each person I care about, but I wasn’t able to love them with my whole heart.

I spoke to my friend and he told me that because I was so stringently guarding my own heart, I was impairing my ability to love others, and receive their love. He told me that the key to guarding my heart is not to lock it away until I find “Mr. Right”. The key is giving God my whole heart, and loving others through Him.

Love isn’t about me, or other people, for that matter. Love is about Christ, and his plan for the universe. No matter what happens, no matter how I feel, God’s plan is much bigger than anything, and that’s what I want for my life.

Yes, I can still get hurt. We live in a fallen world, and hurt and heartbreak is inevitable. But now I know that when God is holding my heart, love from any human being is insignificant. The filter of His love and protection lessens the pain of any hurt that I could experience. Through Him, I can love people deeper and more honestly, because that’s the way that Jesus loves people.

It’s not something that is changing immediately. But through God’s grace, I’m learning. I’ve given my heart to Him, and I’m letting him direct my heart and my path.

I’m absolutely terrified of what could happen. I’m terrified that I’ll get hurt, or love the wrong person. I’m terrified that I’ll hurt someone else.

But even greater than that, I have faith. I have faith because my heart is in God’s hands, and I know that he will guide my every step.

Guard your heart. But don’t lock it away.

things are sometimes not that great

I’m not sharing this because I want pity.

I’m not sharing this because I want attention.

I don’t need pity, and I don’t need attention.

I’m sharing this because others need to know that they aren’t the only ones.

About every other month, I have a mental breakdown that involves crying hysterically and having anxiety about things that don’t really make sense. I panic and lose all faith in God, others, and myself. It is at these times that I feel the most vulnerable and the most alone.

Unfortunately, today was that day.

It was a beautiful day, and I was so filled with the joy of the Lord that I couldn’t contain myself. I wanted to shout from the rooftops about how good God is and how happy I was.

This afternoon, one little thing went wrong and I lost it.

I didn’t think anybody wanted me, that I wasn’t good enough, that I will never be good enough, and that my life is effectively meaningless.

I’m okay now. I’m recovering.

I won’t go into why all of these things are absolute untruths that do not come from God because I’ve written about it before.

But the fact is, it happened. And I know others have experienced this.

I just want you to know that you aren’t alone. If you need to talk to somebody, I’m here. I get it. Whatever you experience during these breakdowns, whatever you think about yourself, they aren’t true. You are worth it. And it’ll be okay.

I was kicked out for worshipping.

Every Wednesday night on campus, a group of students gathers and walks over to a courtyard across the street in a business/residence plaza to pray, meditate, and worship.

Tonight was our first night back after break, and it was a much smaller group than usual, only 9 of us.

Towards the end of our session, we were singing out to God, marveling about his grace and holiness:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come…”

We prayed, and when we were finished praying, we looked up and a security guard was leaning against a column, looking at us with curiosity.

“I hate to do this,” he said, “but some residents are complaining about the noise. Your singing really echoes over here. Don’t mind if you sing, just move it farther away from the building.”

We respectfully complied, and moved out from under the courtyard.

As we sang more songs, I got to thinking: We just got kicked out of the building for being too loud with our faith. 

It was an incredible realization, one that I will never forget.

I am so glad we got kicked out for being too loud. Every day, I want my faith to be so loud that people are complaining about the noise and kicking us out of buildings. I want my faith to be so evident that people notice, and they are drawn to the sound of my voice connecting with the creator of the universe.

I want my faith to be a scream that nobody can ignore.

I want to get kicked out of buildings for my loud faith more often.