Last summer God presented me with the most amazing, unexpected surprise of getting to go as a LEADER to Young Life's Frontier Ranch. It was a marker experience, and I don't want to miss getting some of the details down. Just last night I was touched by adult testimonies at our Fort Worth YL Leader's dinner, generations of Young Life woven through many of our city's finest. I cannot, cannot say enough about Jace and Dayna Thompson and the ripples of their servant leadership in our city. Incidentally, I first met Jace (well, watched him anyway) as he was on Programs (aka the funny guy) at Frontier during my first stop there in high school. His and Dayna's day-to-day faithfulness not just to Young Life kids and leaders but to Jesus can't be underscored.
"Hey TJ, I know this is a long shot, but I was wondering if you might be open to taking a group of high school girls to Frontier Ranch this summer..."
Aaron's voice kept talking on my voice mail, but I hardly listened to the rest of the message.
Aaron's phone call came in mid-May, camp was set for June, and it would involve some tricky planning for our kiddos' jam-packed summer and completing the online training to officially serve as a Young Life leader.
But as I told Aaron, "I don't even have to pray about this."
My heart had been primed for high school girls just days earlier in our church's high school ministry class during Senior Sunday. I listened as senior after senior got up to share with the younger students, challenging them with the wisdom they'd gleaned through high school. What I heard most - "get involved in small groups, and latch onto the leaders."
Listening to those students share, it pained me to think of teenage girls floundering through high school with culture as their guide instead of God's unchanging Word. Comparing themselves to Instagram and SnapChat stories rather than resting in the truth that they are fearfully and wonderfully (and perfectly, and specifically) created.
So when Aaron called, I seriously didn't have to pray about whether or not to go. And never mind that Fort Worth would be going to FRONTIER RANCH (!!!!!), and that one of my dearest friends Heather was right there, where her husband Jay Mac oversees the camp. I hadn't been back to Frontier since the early 90s - more than 25 years ago. I attended as a camper during high school and then a couple of work weeks during college, but my marker experience was a month of Work Crew, summer of '90. Two life-long gifts came from that month ~ a heart friend in Heather, and setting a routine of daily morning quiet times.
The other God-ordained dynamic of this summer's trip is that is was with girls from Southwest Christian School. Branson just transferred to SCS last year, so any other year I would have never been asked. But now I had a connection, and that very same week when Aaron asked me to go, Hudson decided to transfer to SCS as well. So all seven of the girls I'd take to camp would be sandwiched between Bran and Hud's grades at school. And then we bartered for an 8th girl to go - a graduating SCS senior. What a God-send for Kirsten to join us as our unofficial (but practically official) "junior leader." Kirsten is energetic, optimistic, adventurous, and spiritually grounded ~ an incredible asset to our cabin.
It's difficult to reign in the emotions I felt going back.
- Getting off the buses, welcomed by an energetic work crew and Heather's family (and videos - sweet ML!) nearly took my breath away. Then going into the dining hall for the first dinner. As work crew crashed in dancing and singing through the aisles, I had to choke back sobs (and luckily, for the sake of my table, I did) with the flood of memories
- Time with Heather - we snuck away a few times to catch up and visit, and this girl is a gem. Heather's friendship was foundational to me at a time when I needed a good friend. We met through YL in high school, then worked in the dining hall together on Work Crew. We were stuck together like glue. Her friendship transformed my senior year in high school, and though we haven't lived in the same town since we both married, our friendship continues to run deep
|so funny, Jay Mac|
- Building friendships with the SCS girls
- Camp speaker, Andy and Angelyn from Kansas - Andy learning SO many kids names, so relatable and kind and a clear communicator
- I CAUGHT THE TRAPEZE
- I knew before I even left for camp that my biggest challenge would be experiencing Frontier without Branson and Hudson (and Corbin!) there. I was right
- Experiencing Frontier Ranch again, 25+ years since the last time. Pristine, manicured, inviting
|we made it! adorable Sami - best bus buddy ever|
|sand-volleyball, right outside our cabin, where my girls spent any downtime|
|devos are just better with goldfish and sugar|
|thank God for Kirsten! newly graduated, she was my unofficial co-leader|
|Real life - one of the most powerful events throughout the week|
|Aaron, Kirsten and me|
|Fort Worth's (fabulous) group|
Corbin and I have been on committee for more than twenty-one years here in Fort Worth. We've served in different capacities, some seasons more involved than others. But seeing Young Life played out in schools and clubs is messy. It just is. Some events are well planned and some are thrown together last minute, but it's messy because relationships are messy. And for years we've cheered on our Fort Worth staff and leaders, knowing they work in a challenging and often difficult arena. But being at camp reminded me that at the core, Young Life is excellent. The camp staff and summer staff and work crew allow kids "an extravagant resort in the middle of God's extravagant creation to proclaim to kids God's extravagant love in Jesus Christ" (Ty Saltzgiver - years on YL staff, author of My First 30 Quiet Times, which is the booklet that set my habit during work crew).
Jim Rayburn, Young Life's founder, left us with some oft-repeated quotes:
“You don’t put the greatest Message in the world in a brown paper bag"
“Excellence in all ... if Disney can be excellent for profit, Young Life can be excellent for Jesus.”
This excellence was demonstrated at Frontier and spills over into local ministries across the country, including our beloved Fort Worth. I am continually encouraged by God's work through Young Life - what a privilege to get to be a part!
Lastly, besides taking part in the adventures of all things Frontier, besides getting to watch say-so unfold, besides meeting amazing people from all over the country (esp Topeka - who knew there were so many amazing people from Topeka?!), perhaps the best part about going as a 44-year-old leader is that my campers were extra-protective (or felt sorry for?) and took GREAT care of me during the initiating, pitch-black, freezing-water-sprayed-on-us, water-slide-into-the-pool-fully-clothed obstacle course!
|Frontier bid our buses farewell with this parting sunset... until we meet again|