I spent this summer in Sunset, TX working at Charis Hills Camp (http://www.charishills.org/index). It is a summer camp for kids with social and learning disabilities, such as Asperger’s, Autism, ADD/ADHA, Bipolar Disorder, etc. Its basically the most beautiful place ever. I came into this because it sounded like fun and I had friends who worked there. I had no idea that it would change my life completely. I expected growth and to see God in some way, but the questions “how did you see god this summer?” or “what did God show you?” are such loaded questions with multiple answers.
My mom is a special education teacher, so I came into this with an “I got this” attitude. After training and day one, I (very,very) quickly realized I did not got this. I was so out of my element and terrified. I did not have much experience with kids with Autism and had never heard of some of the diagnoses some of these kids had until they showed up Sunday afternoons for camp. I broke week 2…WEEK 2. Like at the beginning of the week. It was simultaneously the hardest and best week of my life. Weird, I know. Few jobs understand this emotion. I feel like this summer I went through every emotion on the spectrum of feels and person can endure…no lie. Sometimes, I went through all of them in one day.
If you ever want to learn how to completely rely on God, step out of your comfort zone. If you ever want to learn to live out and teach the gospel every day-be a camp counselor. Before coming into camp, I really began learning how much I hadn’t placed the Gospel central in my life. It was a piece of my faith-a pretty big piece mind you, but not the whole cake. When you think about it, how ridiculous is that?! Without the Gospel…what do I have faith in? It is literally everything. God showed me how to teach the gospel in different ways through different outlets. He showed me links in my own life and areas where I could grow. He gave me ideas for connections and lessons to do in various activities. It was seriously mind-blowingly awesome. I came back from camp on fire to spread the gospel and so much more confident in doing so. I learned how to convey the good news not just through John 3:16 and the Romans Road.
Our verse for the summer was 2 Timothy 1:7-For the Spirit that God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. I learned how to live out this verse to its full extent. This was previously a verse I pulled outta the mind palace verse file (yes I just made a Sherlock reference-I mean you’re welcome) when I was scared or nervous about something. I learned to not be timid in loving people, not be timid while sharing Jesus and not be timid when up to a challenge God called me to. I learned how to run on Jesus power, not Rachel power. I learned to love these kids for who they are and meet them where they’re at-whether that’s talking about the different types of grasshoppers or fighting the Galactic Empire. I actually was not expecting to love them as much as I did. They completely stole my heart. Remember when I said week 2 was the craziest week-a little eight year old bipolar boy with anger issues stole my heart, I fell in love with this kid…then he had to leave camp for behavioral issues and he broke my heart when he did so. I cried. A lot. And I don’t cry much. I learned how to be disciplined about doing my Jesus dates in the morning. Lemme tell, it gets real easy and real tempting to hit snooze when you’re that exhausted. I learned to “beat my body and make it my slave” and get up and have that time in the mornings. Did I miss a few because the ole devil snooze button? Um, yep. But I saw when I didn’t the importance of it and how much I needed that time with the King every day. I learned to be self disciplined in making lesson plans and being prepared when leading activities or afternoon Bible study in the cabin.
God showed me that His plan is best. He’ll make dreams He’s laid on your heart a reality in His timing. As some of my coworkers put it one night “God does whatever the frick He wants.” Blunt, but #TRUTH. I have always wanted to be a camp counselor and work with kids for a summer. That was a dream I always had and prayed that it would be in my future at some point. I did not plan on it being a camp for kids with special needs. Now, I could not imagine doing anything else. Everything this summer-any little thing I was worried about, God took care of ten folds over. He taught me how to focus on Him throughout it all too. I’ve learned I get really distracted by the here and now and focusing on wherever I’m at. Not necessarily a bad thing, but not where my attention should be. At the beginning of the summer, my focus was the kids. I was all about the kids and pouring into them. Not bad, just not where I should’ve been. My focus needs to be Jesus. I’m learning how to get up everyday and be completely sold out to Christ. Whatever God wants me to do that day-do that. Quit making my own agenda. By focusing on Jesus, I could pour into the kiddos much more effectively. When my sight is set on Jesus every minute of every day, life is so much fuller.
I learned so much from doing life with our kids. The way their brains worked was beautiful. In the past, I’ve worked with special needs kids, but they were all pretty low functioning and typically didn’t realize they had disabilities. The kids this summer knew. They knew they were different. They knew what was up. They remember hearing that they have Autism or Asperger’s. They remember first getting their diagnosis. They remember being in disbelief and angry with God. Their whole lives society has told them the way they think is different or wrong. To say God broke my heart for them is an understatement. I remember one of our teenage boys sharing his testimony one day (cried that night-tears for days as a camp counselor man, geesh). He talked about first hearing he had Asperger’s and his journey with God to where he was at now. Many of them by the time they went home had learned how to share the gospel and were being discipled by some of our male counselors. It was amazing!! One of my favorite guys who was there for four weeks told me before he left that he was sad to go, but ready to get home and share the gospel with friends and family and all that God had shown him while he was there. Cried then too. That is why we drop out dignity and act a fool. That is why we do what we do. That answer right there. Kids on fire for the Lord, ready to go and share. Waddup discipleship.
I don’t know how many of you know much about Autism or disabilities of this nature, but typically a characteristic of it is logical, concrete thinking. Thinking outside the box, idioms, sarcasm, etc. are much harder to understand. When you think about it, telling someone with one of these diagnoses that someone named Jesus died on the cross to save them from their sins, then rose from the grave, went to heaven and is coming back would make no sense to them. I can hardly fathom it and wrap my brain around it (which isn’t saying much)! There is no logical explanation to someone dying and coming back to life. There is no logical explanation to someone going to heaven then coming back to earth. There is no logical explanation to how someone could take on the sins of everyone in the world, past, present, future nor why they would want to. There’s nothing logical to Jesus. That’s the point though. Nothing is impossible with Christ. These kids got it, they understood, which made me think-how much stronger must their faith be than mine? My brain can handle outta the blue, non-concrete ideas, some of them, it’s hard for their brains to work that way. It amazed me to watch them and see how hungry they were. They worshipped and soaked it in without holding back.
The final thing I learned this summer was living out Philippians 1:21. I learned what it meant to live for Christ and how dying to myself is gain. I had read this verse and heard it preached before. I’ve even read a book by Matt Chandler (To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain-recommend it). Living this out though made it hit home on a whole ‘notha level. I had control of the reigns at the beginning of camp. I was trying to live out what God wanted me to do via Rachel power, which was a no go after week one. I learned to die to myself and die to my efforts and wants. There’s no room to be selfish in this kind of job, well really any job, but especially one like this. I learned more what living for Christ meant and what that looked like in my own life. I learned how dying to myself is gain. I learned how to life live fully for Christ. Before, it was a back and forth, tug-o-war with God and my life. I wanted to turn it all over to Him, but there were still parts I didn’t know how and didn’t fully know what this looked like. I’m still learning, it will be a lifelong lesson I’m sure, but I’m seeing it through new eyes and a new energy. Dying to yourself and living for Christ is worth it. He’ll take you where you never expected to go, and it won’t always be easy, but that’s why its so beautiful and awesome. The low points make you stronger and closer to God, the high points make way for worshipping without holding back and thankful for who He is. A powerful, dangerous, mighty, merciful, loving, Savior.
I hated leaving camp, but I was ready to come back and see what God had in store for this school year. I came back renewed. A lot I learned this summer I had heard before, but it hit me in a different way. I’m ready to start a new chapter in life with everything I’ve learned. I’m ready to live out Philippians 1:21 and 2 Timothy 1:7 daily. I’m ready to implement sharing the gospel in my life at school. I’m ready to run hard. I’m ready to bring the girls I’m discipling along with me. I’m ready to do life different.
Living for Christ. Gospel focused. Dying to myself daily. To live is Christ, to die is gain.
Be open to where God’s taking you. It may be the last place you imagined, just go with it-He’s got this!! Trust me, I feel like I learn this the hard way.