Please Play This Song at My Funeral

I’m no scientist or doctor, but when you’re doing pretty much anything in life, I think it’s important to breathe.

In high school, my friend Holly and I cheered together. I’ll never forget the day she moved from flier (the one on top of the pyramid) to base (the one holding the flier in the air). She is a tiny person — her heart is the only big thing about her — so the day she decided to be the muscles of the group shocked us all. I remember helping her, coaching her through the process. Bend at the knees, don’t arch your back. 

After every dismount Holly would let out the biggest gush of air from her mouth. Guuuuuuhhh. I couldn’t figure out how  such a loud noise could come from such a small person.

Then came time to add the cheers to the stunts. Yelling for our football team and throwing human bodies into the air — at the same time.

No words came from Holly’s mouth. Her grand exhales came after holding her breath for the entire stunt sequence. Ready, one, two, inhale… no exhale. No breath until the stunt ended and her flier landed safely on the floor.

“Don’t forget to breathe, Holly!” our coach would remind her during practice. “You have to keep breathing!”

Today, I need someone reminding me of the same thing.

A couple weekends ago, two of my best friends became one in marriage — and I couldn’t be happier. On the drive home from Austin, I spent time reflecting, praying, and thanking God for the people in my life.

Then Gungor’s This Is Not The End came on my car stereo. At the words, “This is not our last, this is not our last breath,” the tears began streaming down my cheeks.

Why that song? Why those words? I had heard them a dozen times before. What was it about the reassurance of breath — a job I typically leave up to my lungs and brain to work out — that broke me?

2013 has been one tough year. In desperation, I had gasped for air, taking in all my lungs could hold. I became lightheaded and dizzy, and lost sight of all truth. Instead, I started believing lies of inadequacy and disappointment. I have been holding my breath for jobs, for relationships, for provision, for heartaches, for health, for the way it should be 

Stale air continued to cycle and recycle. I couldn’t exhale because what if those last breaths were all I had.

Eventually, my face turned purple and I could not even see the life right in front of me.

I never let that last breath go to invite the fresh breath in.

There on Highway 290, I sat puffy-eyed and splotchy while this song reminded me of something I had forgotten along the way: there is another breath after this one. There is always one more breath.

Even in death there is never a last breath; life continues in the heavenly realm. Life started when Adam first drew in the breath of God, the inhale, and it continued when he exhaled the kingdom breath out into the garden.

There will be another inhale, but we have to let go of the breath we’re holding onto first.

There is always one more breath. 

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This is not the end, this is not the end of this. We will open our eyes wide, wider.

This is not our last, this is not our breath. We will open our mouths wide, wider.

This is not the end, this is not the end of us. We will shine like the stars: bright, brighter.

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The Summer I Didn’t Plan

Sometimes, there are decisions that don’t change much of anything. White or wheat. Green sweater or blue sweater. Then, there are decisions that change everything.

On one of my last nights in the South, we drove with the windows down and the summer breeze tossed my hair. We were on our way to meet our friend Allison for fro-yo at the gas station — a typical weeknight for us. It’s how we cope after a bad day, or how we celebrate a good day. No matter the reason, we are most likely sporting yoga pants and top knots — and in the case of Courtney, the infamous eskimos.

As we drove, hugging the curves of the winding back roads, I caught a whiff of a memory from my days at summer camp.

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As a child, I went to girl scout camp a time or two (but quit when I discovered being a girl scout does not equal free cookies). In high school, I spent several days each summer at church camp, but never summer camp. No, those memories have been reserved for a different time in my life: the college years.

Sure, college had its football games, sororities, all-nighters, and What-A-Burger breakfast taquitos, but one of the most defining elements in my personal development during my late teens and early twenties is summer camp.

Every summer in college and for eight more months after I graduated, I worked for Sky Ranch. Early mornings, even later nights, the lake, the blob, the dining hall, the cheers, the cabin rituals. I actually got paid (albeit next-to-nothing) to love on high schoolers and talk about Jesus.

I can still taste the gooey s’mores and hear the sound of the crackling fire under a starry sky. I remember my sun-kissed skin, the moonlight bouncing off the lake, the laughter, the dance parties, the lasting friendships. Each summer was so definitive in developing who I am today.

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That first summer, I was 19 and in desperate need of cutting some soul ties with a guy back home. Wide-eyed, I moved into cabin 32, Chamberlain Hall, my new home. Fortunately, my senior counselor was a seasoned veteran who gave me the confidence to do some crazy things for the sake of the kingdom.

At 19, I learned to live beyond my body’s physical needs and to love teenage girls like crazy. I got sweet one-piece tan lines and my first pair of Chacos; I fell in love with a boy, and made life-long friends. I learned to belay and do CPR, and discovered more of who I am than I ever had before.

That first summer, I learned who God is and how he sees me. I had my first real experience with a mentor relationship and with a Christian organization that takes good care of its staff. I stayed up late nights on the front porch of the cabin talking with girls about everything from summer crushes to self-mutilation and why bad things happen.

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The next summer, I learned about discipline and leadership, and came up with over 100 Native American names for cabin initiation with some of the best co-counselors a girl could ask for.

At 21, I learned even more on leadership and discipleship. I got creative in ways I never thought possible. I had an incredible co-leader who showed me patience  and taught me more than he realizes. I practiced mourning with the people closest to me — while still clinging to the hope that celebration is never out of reach.

That final summer, I headed for the San Juans just two days after graduation. I may have earned a college degree, but man did I have a lot to learn that summer. I never knew my heart could grow any bigger or my Sky Ranch family expand any wider until my summer in Colorado. Like my mom always says, “God is everywhere, but I think we are closer to him in the mountains.”

And I nearly missed out on all that because it wasn’t part of the plan.

I had wanted to go somewhere else, be someone else. At 19, I wanted something different, but I had a couple friends who urged me to interview with Sky Ranch. That one interview, that one decision, changed the game for me.  I know I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without having spent those years rubbing shoulders with some spiritual moms, dads, brothers, and sisters.

As I say thanks for the monument Sky Ranch is in my life,  I am reminded that Sky Ranch was not part of my planbut it was one of the best plan-busting things I ever did.

There is no place like summer camp.