Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Value of Camp

Dearest Readers,

In May, I entered a room full of strangers, eyes searching for the three people I knew. It seems so strange to think back on that. Staff training was almost two weeks long, and we learned so many beautiful things, and I got to know the people around me more and more. But sometimes I felt kind of panicked when I looked around and realized how little I knew about the people around me--two weeks is so short to know anyone, much less over 90 people. Was I even allowed to call them friends yet?

We played a "name game" so that all of us could shed our everyday name for a camp nickname. As we played, we stopped calling someone their real name and began only using their camp name, trying to get it down before campers came. Every game we played my stomach flipped over a little wondering if it was my turn. I think I pegged too many of my mixed emotions--fear, excitement, overwhelmed, amazement--to my name. I wanted to feel connected to this group of people, and was doubting if I was even known at all.

So when I sat onstage with my dear friend Hailey, and heard names like "Milo!" and "Abuelita!" and "Taco!" shouted, I held back tears. I was honored that anyone would take time to consider a name for me at all, but it just reminded me how very new I was to all of these people, and how new they were to me.

But then I heard the all too familiar shout one last time--"I have a name!"

Silver Sunrise. That was the name presented by two of my dear friends. My friend who shares mate with me chose silver because it's the beginnings of the word Argentina (argentum). Sunrise came from the word sonrisa for smile, from the friend I raked and shoveled and made a horse trail out of dirt with.

I was known. People knew me there, even after just a couple of weeks. I could call them friends, and more than that even--soon they became family.

It was really hard to leave that community. My mom, who has known the value of camp since her college days working at Camp Garaywa, and I were talking about what a unique place camp is the other day. In a different way than anywhere else, you can be silly together and you work hard toward a common goal together and you live in community together. There's so much value in camp. It's the most beautiful mix of what it means to live.

We threw water balloons and carried campers to the water slide as many times as their hearts wanted (and our arms could) and later jumped down the slide into the lake.

We danced and dyed our hair pink and painted sparkles on our faces that ran down after a couple minutes of dancing with our diva campers. 

We washed heads and held hands when it was scary to be away from home and ran together calling for the nurse in the middle of seizures. 

We made safe places to share our hearts and talked about "what made you belly laugh this week" and let awkward silences be beautiful. 

We dressed like princesses and rockstars? and acted ridiculous just to hear laughter bubble out of lips that never speak words. 

Sometimes we all gathered to tell our favorite campers goodbye, sometimes we cried and prayed and held onto each other when we had to send them home to a place lacking in love. 

We were brave and we asked our campers to face their fears while boldly facing our own. 

We were fightalongsiders this summer. The theme for camp was "Alive!" and it couldn't have been more perfect. Camp Blessing this summer showed me a more authentic way of living--you can tell people how much you love them and you can dance your heart out and let mud stay between your toes for a while and even if you haven't showered in a couple days and look like you haven't slept, you'll still be loved. There was no judgment, just love. Like a family. And though I keep using the past tense, I know these dear ones are fightalongsiders for life. 

There's nowhere I would have rather been this summer. Here's to taking my favorite parts of camp and trying to make the "real world" look more like Camp Blessing--a place where everyone is seen as capable, even if you can't communicate with words or you learn differently or you've never worked at camp before. A place of authentic love.

Your Blogger,
Claire aka Sonrisa

Monday, July 17, 2017

Crossing the divide

Dear Readers,

Over spring break my siblings, mom, and I piled into our van and drove the 935 miles to Allende, Nuevo León, Mexico. I never wrote about it on here because there just weren't any words to describe it--amazing and incredible and inolvidable just aren't strong enough adjectives. There are no adjectives capable of describing how beautiful it was. 

But I was flipping through my journal entries this morning and decided one of our stories needed to be shared. 

One night, we were enjoying tacos at this cool little restaurant off the highway. As we were all getting back into the van after our meal, a little girl came up to me. She hesitated for a moment, but bravery shone in her eyes as she asked, "Excuse me, are you of the United States?" 

I saw myself in those shining eyes and the carefully rehearsed line. I, so often, appear that way to hispanohablantes, all trembling anticipation and nervous excitement. I told her I was, and that her english was very good. 

Her dad, as mine would have done, rushed her away and nodded a quick "gracias" at me. Her mom, though, caught my arm: "Qué le preguntó?" 

She wanted to know what her daughter had just asked me. There was a momentary divide between mom and daughter. 

We are in Disney World right now, and there are masses of hispanohablantes. I've loved getting to speak Spanish here and there, but I haven't always loved the divides I've seen between english-speakers and these hispanohablantes. One afternoon my family and I waited in the wheelchair entrance (aka the exit for everyone else) and a woman frantically shoved past us to the cast member directing us. "Dónde está la cola? Dónde?" Honestly, everyone working at Disney World should be familiar with this phrase. And even if not, you would think it isn't too difficult to surmise given the circumstances. This cast member, though, backed away, shaking his head and saying "I don't know, I don't know." His response to the divide was flustered confusion.  I was honored to be able to explain the situation to her, but as she walked away I realized that I was only one person in a mass of people who didn't understand her, and one person was not enough. 

Later on in the trip, we sat in the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor--an interactive comedy show. Each time the monster on stage called on a guest who only spoke Spanish, and their faces got redder and redder as they were put on the spot and didn't understand the questions. 

So often, in these scenarios, the gut reaction of many to the divide is annoyance and laughter. And when it is, I so wish I could flip the tables for every single English-speaking American, and place them in Mexico, and let them feel the way it feels to be confused and isolated by the language they speak. Actually, not once did I ever feel like we were bothering anyone with the English we spoke so loudly in Mexico. We were met with only love. 

That moment with the mom and daughter was so profound for me. I didn't take for granted the privilege that I was able to understand and communicate with both. I also noticed the grace with which the mom asked me her question. All the time I hear people, in reference to the musical sounds of Spanish being spoken around them, say: "I just hope they aren't talking about me." There's this anger, almost, that they would be so audacious as to speak a language that you don't understand, that doesn't belong here. Yet there was no anger in that mom's voice, no anger at the fact that we were taking up a large portion of the restaurant, speaking a language she didn't understand so loudly that her daughter took notice. There was just grace, and curiosity, and a desire to be included. 

Especially in this season of our nation's history, the divides are growing between our borders and the countries around us. This doesn't just happen, though. It is a conscious choice. That mom in Mexico made a choice in how she responded to us. 

I want to challenge you to respond in love, too, wherever and whenever you can. Love with the way you respond and the words you use. And while you're at it, learn a couple phrases in Spanish--not just because 37 million people in the US speak it, but because it is truly beautiful. 

Con todo mi amor, 
Your Blogger

Monday, June 26, 2017

Camp Blessing

Dearest Readers,

Every week of camp has left me feeling something different, but some of the emotions are always the same. I always feel the same sadness when my campers leave. Their parents just whisk them away and suddenly the ones who have made up my world for five days are gone, and I feel very bereft. I always feel a little bit (or sometimes, like this week, a lot) of failure for all the things I wish had happened and the conversations I wish I had gotten to have. I also always feel an overwhelming sense of wonder that this is the life I get to live. That even as these precious ones are leaving, I know another group will be here in just a couple days. I feel like squeezing my co-cabin leader really hard (and often do) because she showed me so much of Jesus in our week together and getting to serve these amazing kids and love on their SOTKs (servants of the King) together is the most beautiful thing ever.

Camp has been so much more than I ever imagined. It has been simply incredible. I want the friends I’ve made here to follow me around for the rest of my life. I’ve learned a lot about living with purpose because you only have a few days with these campers and SOTKs. I’m also learning so much about praying expectantly. I’ve read so many books about missionaries and the ways God fulfills promises and does amazing things on the mission field. The same things are happening here at camp, and I want to keep praying expectant prayers even after I leave. Everything here is tailored to fit people with disabilities—even the way we applaud each other, by clasping our hands together above our heads and shouting “O”—a standing ovation that you can do sitting, even if you can’t clap or if the sound of clapping is too much for you. I love living in a world like this.

A new emotion I felt this week was frustration at unchanged hearts. I’m getting to live in a world this summer where people with disabilities are viewed as perfect and beautifully and wonderfully made—and it’s amazing. But we also get new volunteers each week, and sometimes that isn’t the way they see our campers. I’ve struggled this weekend with so much anger and hurt and wondering at why I can’t better communicate how much I love these people in a way that makes everyone around me love them, too.

I started writing this to process that—the impossible struggle of living in a world that doesn’t view these people the same way. But last night, we stood outside and let the rain run down our hair and onto our feet and worshipped, and God changed my heart. I realized I had been focusing so much on all the wrong things.

The night before one of my friends had encouraged me in this struggle—she told me that this battle to try to convince people to see what to me is so obvious but to them is just not is like the way God tries to tell the nonbeliever about His love, or even our own stubborn hearts. He must get oh so very frustrated when He has told me I can trust Him and it’s the simplest truth to Him, and yet for me it will be a struggle to understand for my whole life.

We have little “mailboxes” where staff can write each other encouragrams, and one of my friends wrote and assured me that God was the one who got to change those hearts, not me. Another wrote just with encouragement. And I was held this week as I cried over this failure that hurt really bad. I was met with so much love. That’s what I should be focusing on. This week was really hard, and I do feel like I failed, but camp is probably the perfect place to fail and to hurt, because you are met with an overwhelming amount of love and truths.

I am working on letting go of the fact that I can’t change all hearts to match mine. But I’m also going to celebrate the beautiful gift that there are so many people who see these dear ones with the same eyes—and I get to be surrounded by them this summer. What a joy.

Your blogger,

 Claire (or my camp name—Sonrisa)

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

For the right to dream.

Dearest Readers,

I think if you had asked me what my biggest dream was when I was 6 I would have answered, "To be a princess."

I loved princesses because I loved everything pink and girly and sparkly. My mom sewed me flannel bloomers so I could continue my trend of only wearing dresses even during Minnesota's freezing winters.

When I was 12, had you asked me what my biggest dream was, I would have answered, "To be a veterinarian." I was obsessed with animals, and when I rode horses refused to use a crop because I couldn't bear the thought of hurting them. My parents had to distract me from roadkill because if I saw it I would spontaneously burst into sobs.

At 19, I have a myriad of dreams and hopes for my future, but being a veterinarian and a princess aren't included (though I still wear dresses pretty much daily and would leap onto a horse this very moment). I dream of getting to walk beside families like my own and offering encouragement. I dream of being brave and working as a missionary.  I dream of speaking Spanish without a second thought. I dream of writing words that make the world stop for a moment. I dream of changing the way people view disability. I dream of walking out of an orphanage with my child. I dream of raising up little world changers and teaching them from the breakfast table like my mom taught us. I dream of so many things...

And I do not take for granted the ability to dream these fantastic, wide-open dreams. Women didn't even get the right to vote until 1920, friends. So many of the girls before me didn't get a chance to dream. So many girls in other countries don't get to dream big dreams. Let us never take for granted the ability to dream.

So here's to the women who came before us. To the women who moved across the country in a covered wagon and raised their families through the challenge. To the women who marched for our right to vote. To the women who fought for our right to work. To the women who fought for our right to stay home with our babies. To those who still fight to end the wage gap, to those who champion women's education. To the many women around the world who don't get a choice in who they marry. To our moms who taught us to be brave and to be capable, and to our future daughters who I pray we will enable. (Whoa turning this into a poem now)

Thank you for allowing me to dream with my princess dress on.

Here's to the girls. When we raise girls up, we lift society up.

Your Blogger,

Thursday, January 5, 2017

What I learned: Fall Semester 2016

Dear Readers,

My college attempts at blogging have pretty much failed. There are just so many blogs out there where girls my age reflect on their days at school, and I didn't want to add my voice to the chatter. So I keep refraining from writing reflections on the semester for your sakes, dear readers, only to find that my soul is aching to put my words somewhere beyond the messiness of my journal.

I have long admired Emily P. Freeman, author and blogger over at Chatting at the Sky. In the midst of the busy of the semester I usually lose track of blog reading, but as I've gotten caught up over this delightfully long Christmas break, I found her "What I Learned" lists for each season. It was a simple, lovely way to recount the days past, and when I thought about reviewing my semester that way it seemed a lot less daunting. So, here is my What I Learned list for this semester. I hope you'll start one, too.

1. Telling my own story scares and thrills me. 

In August, right before the school year began (I mean RIGHT before--on move-in day) I spoke at the CP Prep for Life in Texas. I woke up hours in advance to go over the words I already knew and a breath-stealing fear lasted all day. But looking into the moms' eyes as I spoke and they nodded and laughed and even cried, I knew it was so, so worth it. That conference was the most incredible part of my semester. Truly. (Oh and notice how I claimed it as my story? This conference gave me the courage to do that, too.) 

2. Sophomore year is my favorite year (so far). 

I love having roots. I love getting to know & guide the freshmen. I love love my upper level Spanish classes and the wonderful new friendships I've made through them. At last, people who want to speak in Spanish all the time! I love having a Little Sis in Swannanoa. I loved being a rush counselor in ST, too.  I guess you can say I've felt that "sophomore slump" as well, if you consider the many times I procrastinated work until midnight, though... (but it can only go up from here because I'm done with chemistry, right?) 

3. Gratitude for where I am in life

Okay, so this one might not deserve to belong to the past tense, but this semester has continued to teach me gratitude. It's so easy to look forward to the future with fear (I'm practically halfway finished with college! PANIC) or excitement (Oh my goodness look at that sweet baby I WANT ONE), and I'm a big fan of looking forward to things. Sometimes I feel like I spend my life looking forward to things--college, summer, study abroad, the weekend, etc. This semester God has been teaching my heart to first be content with today as I wait on tomorrow. One week in October my parents went to Israel and I spent my nights at home with my brother and sister. After only one week of school + managing everyone's schedules, I was thankful for the mamas and realized I don't really want a baby right now, hehe. :) 

4. I hate diagramming sentences. 

I'd like to say I'll never do it again, but I am an English minor, so we'll see. Is my writing any better after one semester and diagramming 7 pages of writing? 

5. The Gilmore Girls revival hype was better than the actual show.

Now, this sounds like I'm being negative--I'm not. I rate the show 8/10, and seriously loved most of it (the musical thing was a little bizarre?), but I truly loved the hype. Our local popsicle shop turned into Luke's diner for the day, and I skipped my first class (sophomore slump? Maybe) and went with my sister and brother to stand in line for over an hour for a hot cup of {strong} coffee. So worth it. It was so fun. 

6. Elections are hard. Disappointment is harder.

It was thrilling to wake up November 8th to go vote. I texted my friend in Arizona a triumphant selfie with a thumbs up captioned "About to go vote the first female president into office!", and there wasn't a single doubt in my mind about the outcome. Until about 2:00 in the morning the next day. I want you to know that my disappointment isn't about my candidate losing, really it isn't. It's because my heart is aching that anyone would support a man who has belittled women, African-Americans, Muslims, Spanish-speakers, and--the one that hurts my heart the most--people with disabilities. Maybe Trump voters don't make fun of people with disabilities, maybe they don't believe in that dumb wall, but the moment they clicked a check beside his name they condoned his behavior, and that doesn't just hurt--that makes me want to scream. But I know that just as every person Trump has threatened is made in God's image and perfectly loved, so too are the ones who voted for him. So I refuse to let your vote dictate how I love you, and I hope you'll do the same for me. I guess I learned a lot from this election. 

7. Pluto is one year away from being a "senior" dog. 

He had his yearly wellness visit yesterday and they informed me, without a hint of emotion, that we were there for his "senior wellness visit." My face dropped and my eyes filled and I blurted out an ugly "Oh." The technician looked at me out of the corner of her eye with a brisk "Sorry." before she took him away for bloodwork. Maybe I need to work on being less dramatic but man, I love this pup. And if I hadn't already decided not to be a vet, I would have made that decision yesterday. 

8. I will never be able to take enough pictures of trees.

Here's to grass and the leaves that crunch and the trees that are just as beautiful in winter as in summer and fall. 


Thanks for hearing my thoughts! I hope this Spring is wonderful and full of joy and hope. 

So much love, 

Your Blogger