Reflections from Highland’s week with PASSPORTkids! Camp from Renee Purtlebaugh, Associate Pastor to Children and their Families
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” reads the last line of Mary Oliver’s well-known poem, The Summer Day. From the beginning of creation to the recognition of mortality, and all of the moments in between, she captures vividly the beauty of life and our interaction with it if we but pay attention.
The depth of this poem was the inspiration for this year’s camp experience at PASSPORTkids! as Highland’s children were invited to envision their one wild and precious life that God has gifted to them.
Camp asks a lot of children. It is physically taxing (so that we don’t get homesick). It stretches our minds and hearts so that we grow. It asks them to do some self-examination and to reflect and choose how they will go about life. It asks us to live into the definition of community where we work out our differences and continue to live and work and play together. And it asks us to ask hard questions—like what does it mean to be wild (think unique as opposed to out of control) and precious (think valuable as opposed to cute and sweet)? What does it mean to be wild and precious to God? And to see yourself as wild and precious to God?
Together, we walked through new definitions to these old words. Together, we remembered that even though God cannot solve all of our struggles and fears, God is present with us as we go through them. Together, we learned that Jesus asks us to let go of our fears so that we can be free. Together, we thought about what it means to love others because God loves us.
After each worship experience, we gathered for a church group devotion. And as is true with most any experience with 4th and 5th graders, there was plenty of silly mixed in with serious throughout. But, occasionally, we would find a profound moment and sit in it for a little while…
- In worship, we had written our struggles on slips of paper and placed them inside a plastic egg. As part of letting go, we placed these eggs filled with our fears in “bird’s nests”, baskets meant to remind us of God’s comfort and care and presence with us. As we debriefed the experience, even at this young age our children were hesitant to share the specifics of their current fears/struggles, but when asked if it was hard to give their struggle to God and to trust God with it, nearly every hand popped into the air.
- I’m not sure everyone heard her as she spoke. Her eyes became teary as she shared her revelation about fear. With quiet confidence she shared what she had learned that day. I’m paraphrasing her words slightly, as what is really emblazoned in my memory is the recognition and understanding in the wisened creases of her young face. “Some fears don’t ever go away, but we learn to let go of them so that we can enjoy our life.”
- On the last morning of camp, we read together the story of The Invisible Boy, by Trudy Ludwig, a profound tale of a little boy whose image in the story was sketched in black and white but became full color as he reached out to others and was included by new friends. Together, we reflected on the story, and when asked if our children had ever felt invisible and not included, nearly every hand rose into the air again. We wondered aloud how we might be able to generously love others, so that they would never feel invisible as we had.
Part of what makes up the wildness and preciousness of our life is that we exist in the depths of what is real. And I share these particular moments because of that realness and in spite of their lack of perfection. Even the youngest in our midst struggle with the circumstances of life, the experiences of exclusion and invisibility.
These moments reveal with stark clarity the importance of what we do as church, as a community of believers who trust in a Loving God. We walk alongside one another, bouncing between the silly and the serious, supporting, encouraging and challenging one another to live into the full measure of who God created us to be.
And so as we return home we continue to courageously ask one another, “what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” so that all might be free to experience the full and abundant life promised to us in Jesus, the Christ.
* Many thanks to our chaperones who made our trip to Crossville, TN, a reality! They include Anna Marie Brummett, Michael French, Megan Fuller, Beth Metcalf, Renee Purtlebaugh and (all the way from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) Peter Smith. Also, a very special thanks to Naomi Sipe who facilitated the creation of our cactus costumes for the camp variety show this year!”