But strong in will...

“To Strive” 

During this journey, I’ve been reaching my hands out trying to find something to hold onto. I’ve been striving for peace. I’ve been striving for happiness. I’ve been striving for grace. Somewhere between Colombia and Kansas and Ohio I’ve realized I don’t even know what those words really mean. Along the way, I have been more focused on getting the job done and moving through the motions of getting campers to things on time or making sure everything is just right. I lost the fantastical idea of discovery and exploration. It’s not until I’m sitting in the airport at the end of the week, take a deep breath, and drink real coffee that I realize what a privilege it is to serve. These concepts I strive for are already given to me. They are already here, nestled in my bones. 

I think us humans do that a lot. We work so hard for things, failing to realize everything was right there, already achieved and happening before our own eyes. That peace I’ve been striving for has been with me since I got the phone call that I was a Peace Intern. There’s a lot of things I’ve been without this summer, but peace isn’t one of them. That happiness is found at every single camp dance, talent show, hoedown, or laughing fit at meals. And then there’s grace, who’s been there since the very beginning of creation. Before God ever created earth, ocean, cosmos, or stars, our Creator was thinking of grace. 

“To Seek” 

As I’ve entered into the wild ride that is my twenties, there’s a list of things that I refuse to stop seeking. They include: good people, good coffee, excellent music, dance parties, chances to pet dogs, sunsets, sunrises, mountains, God, and literature. The more I grow into my relationship with Jesus the more I realize that all of these things that bring me joy are meant to “woo” me. God has beautifully created these things in an attempt to seek me out— to pursue me in love and devotion. On this Peace Interning journey, I’ve found God showing up and seeking me out among the masses. She has sought me out to pray for high schoolers in a concrete gym. She has sought me out to watch people come together after a stressful day and share in communion at the table. She has sought me out in order to show me how my passion can unfold. But, how often do we seek out God? How many times do we pass up the opportunity to pursue Jesus? The answer is a lot. 

We’re so used to being chased that we never think to turn around and do the chasing. All the times that I’ve tried to hard to run away from God’s overwhelming love, I never once thought about what would happen if I turned around and began to seek out God. These days I walk outside every morning and say, “Good morning, God.” Because these sunrises and these glistening bodies of water are Her way of saying, “Here’s this piece of art that I painted, just for you, enjoy it. Cherish it. No two paintings look the same.” I grow more grateful for this feat of vulnerability every single day. I have begun to pursue Jesus in the same way He pursues me. I can’t paint a sunset or die for all of humanity, but I can pray for my neighbor. I can dance with a group of high school girls at summer camp. I can encourage kids in small group to share their thoughts. I can foster inclusive communities. Those are the things I will never stop seeking. 

“To Find” 

Boy, have I found a lot this summer. I have found heartache, uncontrollable laughter, good camp food (yes, it exists), and vulnerability. There’s so much to find. This world is wide and deep. Humanity’s story is a tale that has been scribbled in the margins of the universe. I love this life. I love this job. I love these people. Every week seems to be a new time of discovery and exploration. 

In one of my small groups this summer, the question was asked: “What does it mean to be human?” One of my campers answered, “Being human means to overcome.” What a glorious thought. After pain and struggle, the heart longs for peace. The human spirit is one that overcomes, indeed. Everyday millions of people overcome prejudice, hatred, and disregard. Everyday someone is being killed for their human experience. Everyday someone is forgotten in the margins of history books and news stories. Everyday people are falling between the cracks of justice. Within all of that darkness, we find peace. And when we find peace, we realize that it was already there. Because peace meets you where you are. It greets you at your pain threshold and doesn’t let go. The human spirit finds hope, peace, and love in every battle it faces. And that is the most miraculous thing in the world. 

“And to Never Yield” 

As a workaholic, I never stop. I’m constantly in a state of movement. Working at summer camps is a very good work environment for me. There’s always something to be doing, Always someone to be talking to, playing with, or serving communion to (thanks Disciples). So, “never yielding” is something I am very familiar with. To this day I have been to 2 countries and over 10 states in the last 2 months (including layovers). This life I’m living is wildly inconsistent. I am leaning all the way in. I’m giving in to patience and flexibility. I’m pushing against exhaustion with a force. I’m saying “yes” more than I ever have. 

All that being said, I’m writing this from the Columbus airport and my flight begins boarding in 10 minutes. I’m headed back to Tennessee for a week at my home camp with all my great spiritual heroes. Bethany Hills is the place that got me started in this whole ministry thing— before I even realized my life has been one big feat of ministry. I am extremely grateful for this summer. I am changed. I am never-yielding. Most importantly, I am consistently changing the way I see the world and the way I live my life.

(But, I’m also looking forward to a nap in August!)

En route to another adventure at my next Church Camp

En route to another adventure at my next Church Camp

Photographing Peace

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Kamp Kaleo: Nebraska – serene, moving, and transformational.

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The Retreat at Silver Springs: Florida – loving, passionate, and tight-knit. I cannot thank you all enough for welcoming me so fully into your lives. I felt God here in a way that I’ve never before experienced.

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Camp Caroline: North Carolina – lively, beautiful, and nurturing

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Cane Ridge West: Montana – active, thoughtful, and comforting.

{post originally appeared at https://elsiecroasdale.wordpress.com/2019/07/04/photographing-peace/}

I've Been Everywhere, Man

somewhere in the Rocky Mountains – near Lincoln, MT

somewhere in the Rocky Mountains – near Lincoln, MT

I’m in my fifth week as a Peace Intern now. At this point, I’ve been to Nebraska, Florida, North Carolina, Montana, and am currently in Northern California. The latter four camps have all been since my last blog post, so I wanted to give an update on those experiences (more detail to follow in a photo diary post).

At the camp in Montana, we read a Daoist text as part of a morning reflection. A portion of it follows.

The Master has no mind of her own.
She works with the mind of the people.
— Lao Tzu

As I reflected on this portion, I felt like it connected to my own experiences as a Peace Intern. I have gained knowledge through this journey, but I have also gained wisdom. I gained knowledge through researching topics, gaining background information, and applying various lenses to the topics. Wisdom is different though. Wisdom is, I believe, less able to be qualified than knowledge.

However, much like the Daoist text suggests, I need a community to help me find that wisdom. So far, this summer has provided the perfect community for this growth. If you give a youth an opportunity to be thoughtful in a space that they feel safe to do so, you will be swept away by what you can learn.

Take, for instance, a young woman in Florida who shared that “forgiveness is for finding peace within yourself,” and then went on to talk more about the damaging nature of holding on to anger. Another example is the camper who, after learning about toxic masculinity, allowed himself to get emotional at campfire and clapped back at a negative comment about it by saying “it’s okay for me to cry, even if I’m a boy.”

There are countless opportunities every day for us to engage in difficult, meaningful, civil conversation with young people, old people, any people. Let’s do so, it’s worth it.

The world is so often judgmental, be different. The world is dismissive of young voices, be different. Be better.

A Toast to Loch Leven

Sunset at Loch Leven in the San Bernardino National Forest

Sunset at Loch Leven in the San Bernardino National Forest

Have you ever cried in a bathroom stall where your knees hit the door with your morning coffee in hand that’s filled with more tears than coffee creamer because you’re tired and haven’t had a good night’s sleep in a month? 

Have you ever sat in an airport with no music playing through the headphones in your ears because the only sound you want to hear is silence? 

Have you ever ate arugula with no salad dressing for dinner because camp food is just bread? 

Have you ever stood in the shower where the water pressure is basically a drippy faucet and wondered what the difference between grace and forgiveness is? 

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, you were probably a Peace Intern— or at the very least, a camp counselor. 

Y’all, sometimes camp is hard. For the most part it’s all communing with nature, campfires, and gooey marshmallows. But it’s also hearing stories that fill your head so full that when you finally come back to reality, you realize you’ve ran 4 miles— when you only meant to run 2. It’s also a powerful vespers that leaves you tossing and turning in your bunk. It’s the hard climb upward to your mattress at the end of a long, hot day of no air conditioning. 

It’s easy to become burnt out after a rough week, but then there’s laughing and dancing. Those two things combined with mountains painted in sunset orange have the tendency to renew your spirit. After four weeks of camp, my body is letting me know how tired it is. But nothing is more sore than my heart. I’ve heard so many stories about loss, heartbreak, discrimination, and downright hatred that my morning runs are filled with plenty of material to chew on. After it’s all been said and done, I can’t help but be grateful that we provide at least one week of healing, love, and grace for these kids. My mind can’t even fathom what would happen if we weren’t here doing this work. 

As I approach the halfway point of my summer, I am reminded of all the beauties and intricacies of camp. I am reminded that high-school kids are hilarious. Inclusive communities are all around, if you create the space for them to be. Living in the south, I am in a constant state of divisiveness. Being at camp helps me realize this isn’t true everywhere. I have become more aware of my own ability in creating these spaces. This harkens my spirit to continue this throughout the rest of my coming weeks of camps, but also within my own divisive reality back home. 

A tradition at Loch Leven is to have a toast before every meal. So, here’s a toast to Loch Leven: 

To laughing until I cry. To friendship bracelets. To starbursts. To patio talks. To vulnerability. To small showers and big spiders. To lizards that hide in the bushes. To meeting “that guy”. To chakras. To that scary swinging bridge. To no cell service. To Target. To the movie theater skit in the talent show. To great counselors. To great directors. To strawberries. To tent-talks. To sleeping under the stars. To shabbat-shalom. Thank you. 

Wake up

A redeeming sunset after a rainy day at KBY.

A redeeming sunset after a rainy day at KBY.

“Still, I check my vital signs
Choked up, I realize
I’ve been less than half myself
For more than half my life”

In a job where new people and places could quite easily turn into a game of revolving doors, it’s been especially important for me to recognize where I end, and others begin. The words written above are from my favorite musician’s (Sleeping at Last) most recent song, Atlas: Nine, the final piece to a series cataloguing the nine types of the Enneagram. This song was released on the final day of my very first camp of the summer (Chi Ro kiddos in Anadarko, Oklahoma). Cocooned in my sleeping bag-- I cried, then got really angry. I was angry at the way the lyrics neglected to affirm me and the way he had exposed everything I’ve spent my life trying to conceal from everyone. My friends tried to explain the bright side of the words, but I was not having it. So, I spent some time at my home camp, Kum-Ba-Yah in Kentucky, processing with my minister, Anne. 

“There’s so much
worth fighting for
You’ll see”

I reflected on my relationships, broke down my afflictions with conflict. I was starting to see parts of myself I never knew existed. My second week of the summer came to a grand crescendo as all that I had known camp to be seemed to come together with divine design. The last time I had seen the graduating seniors was when they were freshmen and I was the one saying farewell to my time at KBY as a camper. I had counseled the rest of the campers when they were in Chi Ro a couple years back. And one of the directors, billy, and the beloved Sugar Bear, were celebrating their 10th summer at camp together. Their first year was the first time I had ever been to KBY and quite honestly the year that everything changed for me. This was billy’s last summer at Kum-Ba-Yah for a while (sending all the love and shalom to you in this new season, billy, you changed us all). All in all, this was a week of reclaiming missed opportunities for fellowship from my time as a camper, creating a space for others to fully embrace who they were meant to be, and of reconciling with myself for all the things I haven’t been brave enough to do. Reconciling with myself for not knowing myself well and for not always standing up for what I believe in. 

“So show me what to do
To restart this heart of mine
How do I forgive myself
For losing so much time?”

As a Peace Intern, one of my biggest preaching points has been centered on identity and storytelling. I explain empathy and communication through the lens of stereotyping and the danger of speaking for the oppressed. This is something that lands near and dear to my heart. Maybe it’s our country’s political climate or the rise of social media, but people in our society have a crippling inability to enter into vulnerable spaces with one another. We don’t talk to each other anymore. We don’t ask questions or share stories. So many people feel alone. I believe peace is something that blooms from within; you can’t have genuine peace with others until you’ve found peace within yourself. Every camp has been unique in its own way, but I’ve found one universal truth across the board—camp is always the safest place in the world for young people. In Alabama, I was met with passion for justice, love, and extraordinary light shining deep from within the staff and campers alike. We gathered around the ever-widening Table and asked what it meant to show up for one another. The answers settled, like sediment in a still river, on the word ‘beloved.’ Stripping ourselves of the names we’d been given by this world, we began to understand the impact of a Love so great that it asks for nothing but our authentic selves. A few came to terms with their sexuality, many faced their fears and anxieties in the face of vulnerability, and others summoned enough courage in themselves to shed light on the questions many are too fearful to ask. (Have you ever asked what the star over the manger actually was? Hint: probably wasn’t the North Star) Ultimately, authenticity is all any of us can ever ask of one another. And that’s a hard lesson I’m learning to breathe life into. 

“We were born to try
To see each other through
To know and love ourselves and others well
Is the most difficult and meaningful
Work we’ll ever do”

Since my first listen, this song has started to grow on me. Partially thanks to all those I have forced to listen who have heard only hope in the words wake up. Slowly I am starting to hear the hope too. I’m rolling up my sleeves, ready to face all that crosses my path or crawls to the surface. High schoolers are better at this than most people, at least at camp anyway. They are able to show up to the Table, knowing and accepting themselves and others as beloved. We can no longer afford to be silent in matters of peace. We cannot keep putting off the conversation. We cannot, as the Church, fail to show up for God’s beloved children. I am rubbing my eyes and allowing the authentic me to come into focus. Three weeks in and I’ve got a good feeling that I won’t be the same person I was a month ago at the end of all of this.

As we move forward in this summer and our lives, I invite you to reclaim who you were before the world got its hands on you. I invite you to remember. I invite you to wake up. 

Whoever you are, just know I love you. 

P.S. Thank you to everyone who has sent me letters and care packages! You are an incredible encouragement to me! 

What I'm up to this summer...

The view from my cabin at La Foret.

The view from my cabin at La Foret.

As all great stories begin, we were sitting at a Red Robin in Colorado Springs.

That morning I was in Kansas with Chi Rho kids (and all the grace that comes with that). Five days before that I was in Colombia visiting internally displaced communities and wrestling with the idea of peace. And after all of the plane naps and swimming pool slides and variations in climate,  I’d made it to Red Robin in one piece, ready to take on my first week of CYF. 

After various discussions on burgers, donuts, and all things life and luxury, we departed back to La Foret where I met the camp staff and youth leaders that would become the spiritual foundation of the week. It’s weird how one night of freezing to death and using a couch cushion as a pillow can bring you into a positive mindset for a week of camp. 48 youth and 14 staff made up the dream team of seamless transition times, easy registration, and a week of even parts laughter and tears. Through workshops on social movements, LGBTQIA+ pronoun inclusion, and B.Y.O.Q. (Bring Your Own Questions; that actually turned into a three-person sharing of life stories and a discovery of a hidden identity), I learned more than I taught, I laughed uncontrollably, and heard a sentence that has altered my existence on this planet. 

When asked by airport employees, random parents at camp, or any random heartbeat that wonders what I’m doing this summer I have a hard time explaining what Peace Interning is. I give them the usual tagline about social justice, peace, and the Gospel. But, that doesn’t even scratch the surface, right? I can’t explain camp dances, waterslides, or getting matching manicures in small group with “Joaquin Who’s Bringing the Good Juice”. I also can’t seem to fit in all the crazy spiritual conversations with high school kids on the side of a mountain about the human experience— which by the way, they know quite a bit about— the tears shed on Saturday when friends part for a year, or the way a camp worship makes me want to recommit my life to Christ all over again. 

I am continually thankful for the hospitality, the conversations, the nitty-gritty of set-up and take-down, and most of all, I am grateful for a swift-moving Holy Spirit. I am continually reminded of grace, forgiveness, mercy, and kindness on this journey. We are all walking along this journey with bags on our backs, knotted-up and torn heart strings, and hurried minds. All of our humanities are tied up in one another’s humanities. So, the next time someone asks me what I’m up to this summer, I will tell them that I am exploring our humanity through a lens of peace and justice, with Jesus, and with a belly full of camp food (and a couple bruises from tennis and waterslides). 

I Was Not Prepared

Sunset over the beautiful Calamus Reservoir at Kamp Kaleo

Sunset over the beautiful Calamus Reservoir at Kamp Kaleo

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been accepted as a Disciples Peace Fellow this summer. It means that I’ll be spending my whole summer traveling to various summer camps across the nation – spreading ideas about social justice and peace to young people all over the United States. Part of the reason I chose to pursue this opportunity is because I have so much faith in the power of youth to positively impact the world. The past week has only served to solidify that belief, and I’m sure that the weeks to come will continue to bolster my faith in the next generation.

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.
— 1 Timothy 4:12

I am a preparer. I was prepared to present my workshops. I was prepared to deal with any backlash I could have received. I was prepared to sleep less, to be more energized, to constantly be out in nature. I made lists. I packed carefully. In my opinion, I had done everything that I could think of to be prepared for this journey.

I was not prepared, however, for my first week of camp. I was not prepared to be loved, and to give love, so fully this past week. I was not prepared for the joy I would feel when campers connected to the workshops I was giving. I was not prepared to bond so readily with strangers, only to have to leave when the week was over. I was not prepared to let go, knowing that I would likely not be back soon. Overall, I was not prepared for the emotional rollercoaster that would be my first week, and I don’t know if it will get any easier to leave each camp. These campers are astounding individuals who are thoughtful, who care about others, who have a passion for peace.

I feel honored to be able to do the work that I am this summer, it’s already been so transformational. Thank you Kamp Kaleo, for making sure that my first ever week at camp was one to remember. Here’s to feeling a little more prepared for the end of this week, with the understanding that there are some things you can’t prepare yourself for.

{This post originally appeared at https://elsiecroasdale.wordpress.com/2019/06/10/i-was-not-prepared}

Peace Intern Pen Pals

2019 Peace Intern Pen Pals

For the past two years DPF has asked our friends and supporters to volunteer as Pen Pals for our Interns for the summer. The response has been amazing! Many of you responded and followed through to great effect. Our Interns certainly felt your love and support.

So, we are continuing the Peace Intern Pen Pals Program again this summer! If you (or your church or youth group) would like to participate, please send an email to Rebecca Littlejohn, our Pen Pal Program Organizer. You can choose the level of commitment that works for you, from sending one letter or card to one intern to sending care packages to all three interns. Once we know what you’re up for, we will send you an assignment, including the date for your letter or care package and the intern’s name and address for that week.

Everyone loves getting mail at camp, and when you’re at camp all summer, it’s even more important. Thanks for helping us support our Interns throughout a long, exciting (but exhausting) summer!

Sign-up by May 27 and support the 2019 Peace interns throughout the summer!

Welcome to the New Blog!

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Follow the Interns!

Welcome to the new “Follow the Interns” Blog!

This will be the place to keep up with 2019 DPF Peace Interns (Heidi Holgate, Elsie Croasdale and Courtney Sells) as they spend the summer traveling far and wide to Disciples Church Camps in order to share the Gospel imperative of peace and justice.

From June through August our Interns will be traveling to twenty-four different camps/conferences across twenty different Regions, plus attending General Assembly!

Check back here at the beginning of the summer to hear what our Interns are up to.

Oh, and if you are looking for previous year’s Peace Intern Blog Posts, they are all still available on the old website by clicking here!