The Transition

It’s been just under 3 weeks since we took a deep breath, held hands and stepped off the driveway and into our minivan, then drove up to the north woods of Wisconsin and into the adventure of this next year.

The question I’ve received the most is, “How is your transition going?” We’ve heard that this can be a hard year for families, even from the get-go. It’s very busy and the crazy starts to happen almost immediately. We’ve been living the crazy for our entire marriage, though – working in 3 ministries at the same time does not provide one with a “normal” schedule – and with the heads up, we were prepared to roll with it. So how has it been? Honestly, it’s been… fantastic. The only thing I don’t like about this place has to do with the gazillion mosquitos constantly biting us. Poor Noah must taste like chocolate to them because he has well over a hundred bites. They shouldn’t be this bad for much longer; the dragonflies are assembling, much to our delight.

Other than that, it’s just lovely. Forest Springs is beautiful, the people are fantastic, and our entire family has been welcomed with open arms. The boys have already found themselves several “big brothers” whose names they shout out every time they see them, followed by hugs and silly conversations. Our LTD class connected very quickly (which doesn’t always happen) and we are super excited to spend the next year learning, growing, and serving along with them. The Director of Educational Ministries, Norm (or “Normie” as the boys affectionately refer to him) and his wife have already become our friends and we are thankful for them and their leadership. We are also getting to know some of the staff families here, and we really like them (and it seems they like us, too).

Our first several days here consisted of LTD orientation, then for the past two weeks Dan has been immersed in the Counselor Training Institute (CTI), along with the rest of the LTD students and all of college students who are here for the summer to work as counselors. I’ve been a camp counselor for 1-2 weeks every summer for the past 18 years (a couple of times in other countries, too), and let me tell you, I have never seen anything like CTI (although granted, I’ve never worked AT a camp for an entire summer). CTI is so thorough that it carries with it up to 8 hours of college credit. Here’s a snapshot of Dan’s days during CTI: 7:15: breakfast. 8:00-noon: classroom instruction. 12:00: lunch. 1:00-5:00: practical training concerning activities here (such as waterfront, archery, air rifles, low ropes, nature education) or sometimes more classroom instruction. 5-ish: dinner. 6:00-9:00 or later: classroom instruction. He has had a couple of days (or at least partial days) off, and the boys and I have eaten most meals with him in the dining hall, so that has helped immensely with us not feeling too overwhelmed as a family. I’ve also gotten to sit in on a few of the classes, and was even able to get certified in First Aid and CPR, but I really have no idea of the amount that they have covered, only that it’s A LOT… Dan has definitely felt overwhelmed with information, good as it is. He’s actually at one of the other buildings studying right now, as he has to take his CTI tests tomorrow morning (they have 4 hours blocked out for it), and it’s pretty intense. If you would pray for him as he finishes up CTI, that would be awesome.

Summer camps kick off on Wednesday afternoon and Will, Aiden, and Josh are attending the first one, Kids Quest, for 3 days. We’ll get to see them around and at meals but they will be staying in cabins with counselors, and we are hoping that they make some good friends and enjoy actually being campers. We have had a chance to experience a lot here already, and they absolutely love it. We also visited the local elementary school last week and then decided to sign them up for summer school as well, which started today and lasts for the next few weeks. Several of the teachers they will likely have in the fall are also teaching summer school, and we are hoping the boys will feel more at home once school starts as a result. The school seems wonderful, with really stellar staff, and I don’t think we could ask for a better place for the guys to be this next year. It’s the one year that all of our children will be in elementary school, which is yet another gift from God. His timing is so perfect – Dan and I never would have thought to plan what we are doing for this particular year, nor did we plan to have 4 children in such quick succession that they could all be in elementary school simultaneously. But God knew, and He made it happen.

There are many, many ways that God is showing us His care, not only during the past few weeks but during our entire transition of the last several months. We’ve been blown away at the encouragement from everyone we know in St. Louis, in spite of their sadness to see us go, and were able to walk forward are continually in awe of how God has provided for us (through many of you reading this!) and has placed us here for this specific year. It’s humbling and exciting, and we are eager to see it unfold!

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Joshy: now and then

I love this child.

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He loves animals and just recently started thinking about becoming a vet.

He speaks with a British accent 87% of the time.

He loves to help me make crepes (his favorite food), and he eats at least 3 times as many of them as I do.

He doesn’t like chocolate chip cookies (my favorite food). What is up with that?

He just lost his third tooth.

He calls his science teacher “Partner” because of the time their class divided into pairs and they ended up together.

He’s hilarious.

He’s constantly surprising me with his insight and maturity, even when I wonder if he’s listening.

He’s tenderhearted and compassionate.

Then

He spoke with a baby accent 100% of the time.

He said things like:

“My want vanilla ice cream.”

“God is bigger than the whole night world!”

He had the most kissable cheeks.

He looked like this:

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Isn’t this picture the best?

I love this child!

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The Announcement

Yesterday we made an announcement in front of our church family that we are excited to now be able to share with the world at large – We are transitioning from youth ministry to camp ministry!

We’ve got a new website that we’d love for you to check out: www.thehartkechronicles.com. It’s even got pictures!

There you’ll find more details regarding the what, where, why, and when of this adventure upon which we are embarking, and how you could possibly be a part of it. Here, though, I’ll try to lay out in a little more detail as to why we are doing this.

First off, we love where we’re at. We’ve been serving in the student ministry at our church for years (18 for me, 14 for Dan), and we love it. We love the students we get to hang out with every week, and we love the former students that we used to get to hang out with – even if we haven’t seen them in years, they still hold places in our hearts. We love the volunteers and staff that we serve alongside. We’re grateful that God has allowed us to spend so much time with such fantastic teenagers, and amazed that He has used two people who were very awkward and dorky teens themselves in the ways that He’s used us. (Let’s face it, we’re still awkward and dorky!)

So why would we leave?

Rewind 10.5 years ago, to our honeymoon. We were driving around in Colorado, talking to each other and to God about our future. I believe we may have even asked the question, “Where do we see ourselves in 10 years?” We asked Him to be very clear with us if he were ever to lead us from the youth ministry at our church. We didn’t ever want to leave for the wrong reasons – if it got too hard, for instance – but we also didn’t want to stay just because it’s what we’ve always known or because we were scared of change.

God has totally answered that prayer. Every time that we’ve explored paths we might potentially pursue, God has closed the door or very clearly told us to stay put, that He wasn’t yet done using us where we are. So we’ve stayed. And we’ve continued praying, waiting, dreaming and talking.

Four years ago Dan and I were back in Colorado, visiting the camp we take our high school students to every summer (in order to see a new facility they’d built so that he would know what he needed to bring for camp), and we started talking again something we’d just written off as a wild dream – starting a camp. We LOVE camp. Camp is a week, and a place, and an environment like no other. In the last 18 years, I’ve only missed two Jr. High summer camps – the year that I had a 3 week old baby, and the year that I had a 2 week old baby – and I cried both times because I couldn’t be there (even though I was very happy to have my newborns). The idea of doing camp as a family, with our four boys, sounded awesome! It also seemed unattainable, but we decided to ask God to lead us in that direction, as we sensed that He has built us for that sort of ministry.

We also asked Him if He would allow us to stay at our church for 4 more years. We’d just started leading the college ministry, and we wanted to be able to invest in that for a good chunk of time. I was also getting a new small group of freshmen girls whom I adore, and I wanted to be able to see them through high school if possible. There were a couple of different opportunities that we explored, a couple of doors we thought might be opening, but they all turned out to be “no”s. So we kept waiting, and asking, and listening. One of the things that we discovered during this time is that it’s really hard to enter the world of camp ministry without some sort of training. Most people do this by working or interning at camps as college students, and then they just continue to grow in their experience and connections in the camping community.

But, though we spend a lot time with college students and keep similar hours to them, we are no longer college-aged. We’re thirty-somethings with four kids. We’ve got more than thirty years of youth ministry experience between us, but we’ve never lived at a camp. How were we ever going to get that experience?

Then, a couple of months ago, a friend (and elder of our church), mentioned to Dan that he is on the board of a camp in Wisconsin that has a Leadership Training and Development (LTD) program for people desiring to go into camp ministry. He connected us with the director, we applied to the program and on January 2 we drove up there with our boys. All of us felt like this was the door we were supposed to walk through, and God has kept it open, so we are continuing to obey and walk through it.

This isn’t a decision we’ve made lightly. We are sad to leave a place and a ministry where we have loved, and been loved by, so many. Our families are here; our friends and our children’s friends are here. We are tempted to be anxious, because the LTD year promises to be a hard one. It’s extremely busy; Dan will be in both a classroom environment and also learning by working at the camp, hands-on training and experience in many areas that will be invaluable. We are not able to be employed during our year there, so we have to raise financial support, though the camp provides our housing and around 60% of our meals. Also, we have no idea what lies beyond this year of training. It’s scary leaving Dan’s job of the last 14 years to go into something so entirely unknown. Yet because it is the Lord who is leading us into this, we know it will be good. We trust that He will enable our family to weather the difficulties of this next year and come out stronger, and that He has even prepared us for some of them during our years of youth ministry (which also has its difficulties).

But we are excited, too! This is an adventure! We’ve been asking God to help us to walk in faith, and He is giving us an opportunity to do exactly that. Camp Forest Springs is a community that we are looking forward to being a part of, a place where we will be challenged and stretched and encouraged. We are excited to see what this next year holds, and we pray that we will grow as a family in this next year and beyond, closer to one another and closer to Him.

If you’ve read all of this, thank you. This blog is where I will post my (sometimes rambling) thoughts, as well as stories about our family. So if you like reading such things, come back! Once again, though, our website is where you can find more succinct information about what we’re doing and how you can join us.

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An Ale! (Let’s Go!)

Dan and I are leaving today for Haiti! From tomorrow until July 26 we will be in Anse-a-Galet, La Gonave, with a team of college students. This is the same town where we have gone for the last two summers, as well as several times when we ourselves were in high school and college, but this trip is different in one key way. Our goal in the last couple of years has been to identify how we could best partner with existing missionaries and locals in Anse-a-Galet, and we have seen a real need for reaching out to teens there. Youth ministry is dear to both our hearts, and over the last couple of decades we have watched the lives of various teenagers here in St. Louis changed as a result of seeing God’s love on display through adults loving, teaching, and investing in them. We’ve also seen that on a smaller scale in Haiti, as there are several young men whom we spent time pouring into when they were kids, and whom the missionaries there invested in more intensely, who are now grown up and are themselves walking with the Lord and serving their community. Yet there isn’t really a ministry for young people there, and our prayer is that God would raise up indigenous leaders who also have a burden to share the love and hope of Jesus with the youth of that area.

In light of that, our team this year will be running an afternoon camp of sorts for teens. Our goals are to build relationships, teach the word of God (we will be walking through the book of 2 Timothy), and have honest discussions pertaining to what we are learning together. The men on our team will take turns teaching, and then we will break up into “family groups,” which hopefully will allow us to get to know those in our groups more than we would otherwise, as well as talk about the lessons as a smaller group. Along with this, Dan is intending to spend time with a couple of young men that seem to have a heart for youth ministry, and to instruct them somewhat on what that looks like, even beyond what we will be doing while we are there. This isn’t something that we want to at all dependent on us, or to only happen when American teams are there, but to become a regular ministry, something that we can help begin and then step back and support. We are going into this not really knowing exactly how it is going to play out, and we would greatly appreciate your prayers for God’s leading and provision in it, and for us to hear and follow Him instead of our own ideas or agendas.

Besides the two of us, our team this year consists of 3 people who have never been to Haiti, and 6 who have been before. This is exciting since they have already begun to build some friendships there, and in returning are able to be even more of an encouragement. Please pray that our team would work well together, would love each other well and thus exemplify the love of Christ, and would have discernment in our conversations with the Haitian youth. Pray also that we would have a deep love for the people in our family groups, and that God would allow relationships to be formed in the relatively short time that we have there.

Once again, our four boys are staying with my parents, and Dan and I would appreciate prayer for their safety, for willing and obedient hearts, and for extra strength and energy for my mom and dad, as well as others who will be helping them.

Thank you so much for loving us and praying for us. If you would like to partner with our team financially, you can visit www.efree.org and click “Online Giving”. We are grateful for you!                                   

Love, Dan and Jamie

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Twenty-thirteen

Happy New Year!

“Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” – Isaiah 43:19

“This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The LORD’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I have hope in Him.’ The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.” – Lamentations 3:21-25

I’m excited to see what God does in and with this sweet little family of ours this next year. I’m so grateful that I get to live this life with them!

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Wuv, Twue Wuv

“Mawaige. Mawaige is what bwings us togewoe, today.”

A week ago, Dan and I celebrated with our dear friends David and Alison as they pledged their love to one another for the rest of their lives. Dan officiated (and did a rockin’ job!), while Alison’s darling grandpa led them in exchanging of rings and vows (so beautiful!) and it was a sweet, simple, and lovely ceremony. David’s sister Heather read the following by C.S. Lewis:

“If the old fairy-tale ending ‘They lived happily ever after’ is taken to mean ‘They felt or the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married’, then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from ‘being in love’ — is not merely a feeling, It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be ‘in love’ with someone else. ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.”  – from Mere Christianity

This is so true, and so well put.

Dan and I just celebrated 9 years of marriage on Thursday. We watched our wedding video with the boys, and I was reminded again of how giddy with excitement the two of us were on that day. We were almost like a couple of little kids on Christmas morning! I practically giggled my way through my vows, I was so stinkin’ happy.

By the time our 5th anniversary rolled around I was 20 weeks pregnant with our 4th child. There had been many times during those 5 years that we had ceased to feel “in love” with each other. And there have been more times since then. However, looking back, Dan and I can both see that God used the times where we were farthest from being in love, yet continued to love each other (even when it was hard, even when we sometimes hurt each other), to actually grow our love. Loving beyond our feelings, learning more of how each of us need to be love, and relying on the grace of God in our marriage has resulted in a stronger, deeper, truer love that the love we had on our wedding day.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. Dan and I are still very much in love, but we now know that those feelings come and go. I still get giddy sometimes when I see him; he can still make my heart do flip-flops. There is still no one else that I’d rather hang out with then him. He’s still my best friend and favorite person in the entire world. We still flirt with each other. We’ve gone from having 850 people cheer during our first kiss to 4 boys who laugh and egg us on when we kiss for the zillionth time. We’ve learned how to fight well instead of avoiding conflict, how to love each other even when we’re exhausted, how to encourage each other when we discouraged, how to listen to each other’s words and really hear each other’s hearts. It’s amazing.

God, thank You so much for giving Dan to me and me to him. For using us as a couple in ways that we marvel at, for the crazy boys You’ve given us, for our families who support us, for the joys and the trials that You’ve used in order that we might better reflect the perfect love that You have for Your people. It’s all grace, and it’s all good. Thank You!

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Saying “I love you”

When Dan came home from work tonight the boys and I had lit candles on the table, dinner on the stove, Steven Curtis Chapman’s It’s All About Love album in the cd player, movies from the library and the gifts/cards they’d made in their classes, all ready and waiting. Lest it sound too “Leave it to Beaver”ish, I’d broken up a number of fights, raised my voice multiple times, and it was nearly 8 pm. We were glad he was home. Before doing anything else, though, Dan suggested that we gather around the candlelit table and take turns telling one another “I love you.”

It was astounding.

Dan began, starting with me and moving through the boys oldest to youngest, speaking words of encouragement and gratitude and ending with “I love you.” Then I took my turn, doing the same. The boys listened and their eyes shone. Will followed, telling his dad things that he loves about him and saying, “I love you.” He then looked at me, took a deep breath and started wiping his eyes.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” he said, wiping away.

“Do you want to take a break, buddy?” Dan asked. “Maybe let Aiden have a turn and then we’ll come back to you?”

That sounded good to him, so Aiden took a turn. He spoke very thoughtfully and sincerely, his clear blue eyes shining brightly in the candlelight. “I know I don’t always obey you, Mom, and even sometimes when I try I still don’t. But you are the best mom that God has ever given me, and I love you.”

He continued on, telling Will that he is “the best big brother I’ve ever had,” and then hugging him.  Josh is “the silliest” and Noah “the cutest baby brother that I asked God for.”

“Wow, Ai, you made it all the way through!” Will said, impressed, and so took another stab at it. He did it without crying but also spoke very sincerely. After he told Aiden “I love your imagination and your drawings” they hugged again. Seeing our two oldest, completely headstrong and competitive boys sharing verbally with one another their love and then spontaneously and genuinely hugging each other is something that struck very deep inside me. Will told Josh that he’s “the craziest silliest” and Noah that he “loves the memories of when you would lay down and snuggle with me.”

Josh, anytime that anyone would speak to him, listened but made silly little faces and sounds in response. It seems that he sometimes uses silliness as a cover when he is uncertain or perhaps afraid of messing up.When it was his turn to speak he tried to talk nonsense, but we gently and firmly told him that he needed to use real words, and could just say “I love you” if he wanted. So he did, very sweetly and a little shyly, using each person’s name and most of the time making eye contact. I wonder why this was a little hard for him. He doesn’t hesitate to say I love you multiple times every night before going to sleep… perhaps it was because he didn’t know what to say in addition, even though he didn’t need to. He’s one of those kids, too, who though it seems is just being goofy and not paying attention, is actually drinking in every word.

Finally it was Noah’s turn, and he spoke much as Josh had, and without using the words poop or butt, I think. It really was remarkable, though. It wasn’t something Dan and I had talked about or planned on doing, just a spur of the moment thing that, with four crazy, hungry boys, could have been rather frustrating or fake. Yet it was beautiful, honest, and a gift.

Despite all the times I fear that I fail to love my boys well, or struggle with frustrations both trite and heavy, God reminds me often that ours is a family knit together with love. And even though we tell each other every day, I will treasure this particular Valentine’s evening of saying “I love you.”

~1 John 4:18-21

18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot[a] love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Posted in Aiden, brothers gotta..., Dan, Family, grace, Josh, Noah, parenting, Will | Tagged | 4 Comments