Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Back to DC by Josh Stilwell

We arrived at the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia, after an already long day of traveling. I was looking forward to chilling, eating supper and going to bed…I should’ve known better. That night began a crazily jam-packed, but amazing, week of TeenPact Back to DC. After the introductions and getting to know some people, the leaders informed us that sessions would begin that very night.

All of the speeches that week were very good. They diffidently made us think. Christopher Stio did the first session on the real nature of politics. He talked about the presidential campaign between Johnson and Goldwater. He stated that being right in and of itself does not guarantee victory or change. The second session followed right after that. We had some really deep discussions about the purpose of the law and other issues. It was really amazing, but it didn’t take long before I was ready for bed.

I was a part of the group that has to stay at a hotel rather than the dorms at the Leadership Institute. Thought this meant we got a little less sleep, it turned out to be a great experience. Traveling in Metro with all these amazing guys and girls turned out to be some of the best and more memorable parts of the week.

The week was very intense. After getting to bed around midnight, we were up at 6:00 am and enthusiastic to start the day…at least that’s what we told people. Right after breakfast, we began our tour of the D.C. area. We assigned into different travel groups. I was in Group 1 (we had very original titles for our groups) and Jonathan Showman was our fearless leader.

We were able to see the Supreme Court Building - with the Ten Commandments engraved in stone on the walls. We then got a tour of the Capital Building. That was a lot of the fun. We oohed and aahed at the statues and painting of our nation’s leader and scenes from our history. Our guide told us that there were several paintings above several doors in the building. When the original artist painted them, he knew that America’s history was not yet over. Therefore, he left some blank. Some still remain blank to this day. It got be think about what will be put in those empty frames.

Next, we went to the Library of Congress. It was an amazing place. You could feel the history that was in that building. I don’t see how anyone going into the Library could deny our nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage. Mosaic architecture was everywhere. Pictures of angels guarded the building.

We returned to LI to begin our campaign activities. After being told some the fine points of campaigning, we read the biographies of five candidates. We were all assigned a candidate and charged with trying to get that person elected. I was assigned to Congressman Edward Edwards (his name’s so nice you gotta say it twice.)

The biography said that Edwards was veteran, a pro-life activist and an advocate of gun control. It was actually kind of fun getting to play devil’s advocate on some of the issues. We had an awesome campaign team. We all worked really well together and got to build relationships as we campaigned.

We had a blast coming up with slogans, writing speeches (I was the speechwriter), making press releases and the like. One of our team members couldn’t make it for part of it because he wasn’t feeling too good. But that was no big deal. Yet.

After a wonderful supper, we learned a little bit about public speaking and communication. We then studied the Lincoln Four Step system of targeting voters. We learned how to connect with and affect voters.

I believe that some of the best parts of TeenPact are not on the schedule. For me, one of the most enjoyable parts of the week was hanging out with all the people who stayed at the hotel. Because there wasn’t enough room at LI’s dorms, some of us had to stay at a hotel about 45 minutes away.

It was so much fun just hanging out with those guys and girls. One night, while waiting for a shuttle to the hotel, two of the guys treated us to some brake dancing. We would talk and swap stories at the Metro stops. Because we were dodging crazy Washington taxi drivers, Lydia Shanks established a no-death policy for the week. We strictly prohibited from dying.

Friday was particularly special because we got to spend all day at the Family Research Council’s Value Voters Summit. We got to hear some amazing speakers, including Governor Mike Huckabee, Cerrie Prejean, Major Blackwell, Star Parker and others. Then, on Saturday morning, we got to listen to even more speakers. These included Mitt Romney and Lila Rose.

After listen to all those amazing communicators, I was ready to jump out of my seat and take action. It was very motivational for me. We also got to hear from conservative filmmakers and veterans. It was fascinating to hear their opinions on their particular field.

We spent Saturday clad in our newly issued Back to DC t-shirts, which featured the caption, “We came. We saw. We walked. A lot.” That was a very accurate statement. After listening to some more wonderful speakers, we got to go on a monument tours.

That night was very emotional for me. Maybe it was just because I was so tired, but the beauty of those monuments hit home with me. We first went the Washington Monument. I was actually separated from my group on the way over. They claim it was my fault, but it was clearly theirs. Obviously.

At the Washington Monument, we took part in tradition by kissing the monument while everyone sang kiiisss the monument. We then linked arms and created a giant ring around the monument. It’s one thing to see pictures of the Washington Monument, but to be at its base and staring up at it is pretty special. Before leaving all of us mounted the marble benches and simultaneously jumped off as cameras clicked.

Then we went to the World War II Monument. For me, this is when the emotions started to hit home. It was a beautiful setting. The sun was just now setting. The white pillars stood there as a reminder of those who had died for my freedom. I found the Iowa pillar and just got me thinking about all the young men - people my age - who had died for this nation.

One of the intern girls reminded me that these monuments were built for a reason. Just like when the Israelites built the stone monument after crossing the Jordan, these structures were built so that the next generation would never forget what had happened.

Then we all marched over to the Korean War memorial. By that point, the sun had set and darkness had encompassed the monument. When we turned the corner, a silence gripped the group. Ghostly white figures of soldiers frozen in time met us. Their faces were filled with emotion as they stood amongst green shrubbery and tiny points of light.

Beside the ghostly figures was a small pound guarded by dark walls. The scene was both peaceful and haunting. Everyone started speaking in whispers. I just stood there, trying to take it all in. then we got to a sign, which pointed out the fact that these men had died for a country they did not know and people they had never met. It took me a moment to grasp the magnitude of that statement.

As I pondered those words, the Lord began to speak to me. I realized that as amazing at that was - and it is very awe inspiring - it was nothing compared to what Christ did. He died for His enemies. He died for me. At that point, I was overwhelmed. I literally got on my knees and thanked God for all that He had done for me.

Next, we went to the Lincoln Memorial. Our friends from the south relished the fact that the profile of Robert E. Lee could be seen on the back of Lincoln’s head. One the coolest parts of the night was getting to go the lawn outside the monument and have a worship service there. That night was defenently a highlight of my week.
Sunday we were treated to a special “home church service.” There was a special worship service. The last song we sang touched on the holiness of our God. This was followed up by a brief devotional from Lydia Shanks. She read from Isaiah 1 and stressed the importance of having a proper focus on bringing God glory as appose to ourselves. I found it very convicting.

Jonathan Showman gave the main devotional. It was on the subject of temptation. He brought out a lot of very good points. After he was done, he had us each write down some verses and then go to the rooftop to study them.

After I had finished studying those verses, I got out my notebook and wrote down all the things that my God had been teaching me during Back to DC. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t forget all that the Lord was going in my life.

We then divided up into groups based on which sites we had selected to see. I was with the group that went to the Holocaust Museum. One of the wonderful things about touring Washington with a group of TeenPacters was that we did everything from a Biblical worldview. Before we event left the Leadership Institute, we all gathered around and had a discussion on the sovereignty of God.

Visiting the Holocaust Museum was, of course, a very sobering experience. The magnitude of the onslaught against God’s people was shocking to the point of breath taking, even for those of us who had studied the Holocaust before. However, one girl in our group described the whole experience as an honor. And, in a way, it was. As we left the museum, the last thing we saw was a sign, which read, “Think About What You Just Saw.” We did.

After we left the Holocaust Museum, we had some slightly more upbeat adventures. We briefly visited the Smithsonian of American History. Though we only got to stay a few minutes (fifteen to be exact), the visit was memorable in its own respect.

When we returned to LI, we got busy on our campaigns. The elections were that night and we had a lot of work to do. There was going to be a two-hour debate that night and we still had letters to write and voters to interview. And an unexpected twist complicated things further.

Our candidate became very ill. He wanted to go through with it, but the rest of us decided that it was wasn’t a good idea. Therefore, we took some time to pray and then went to as the program director, Aaron Watson, if we could get a substitute. Aaron came back with an evil glimmer in his idea.

Grinning like a kid who had just been given fireworks, Aaron laid out a strategy for us. He said that we should hold a press conference and announce that Edward Edwards had tragically died and that his widow would now run in his place.

Naturally, we all loved the idea, but we had to move fast. The press conference would be in just a few minutes and we had to select a “Mrs. Edwards”, write the press announcement, put together a new biography and write a speech for our new candidate. This was harder because we were understaffed. Two of our people we sick and another had to leave early.

However, we managed to get it all together. We were still writing notes as the press conference began. Of course, our announcement woke everyone up. We were informed amidst the laughter that we had just made Back to DC history.

Our “Mrs. Edwards” did a wonderful job in the debate - as did all the candidates. The questions asked were not easy. There were times when I certainly didn’t pity the people who had to give answers. But everyone held their own and it was fun to watch.

Of course, the hour came when we learned how had won the election. Unfortunately, we did not win. But that didn’t really seem to matter to anyone. We had had a great time building our campaign.

After the excitement of the elections, things began to cool down as they gave us airport instructions. We then made our final trek to the hotel. When got there all the guys gathered in one of the rooms and we prayed for each other. We prayed that the decisions made that week would be long lasting. We prayed the fire that had been lit would never die. And we prayed that our God would be glorified through it all.

We woke up the next morning bright and early (which was no longer a big deal to us) and headed back to the Leadership Institute for the last time. From there a shuttle would pick us up and take us to the airport. At LI we ate breakfast amidst a stream of goodbyes. The morning basically consisted of hugging this person, shaking this person’s hand and promising to keep in touch with this other person.

It was so great getting to me all those wonderful people. And later that morning, Aaron gave us an excuse to tell everyone just that. We all taped pieces of paper to our backs and wrote each other notes on them. This was all done under the stipulation that we couldn’t read them until after we got on the plane.

Before long, it was time for my group to head out to the airport, but only after a stop at Starbucks. I had fun fellowshipping one last time with the people in the van. Before we knew it, we were on the plane. After a brief delay in Chicago we made back home…and into the real world. Now it’s my responsibility to act upon everything I learned.

October 2009 Niche Article

Lessons Learned While Camping

Recently, my family spend twenty-four hours camping at Lake Aquabi near Indianola. While we were technically not “doing school,” God taught us so many lessons over that brief period of time that I almost thought I should be able to count it as a school day!

Lesson #1: “Remember there are still chicks in our nest even when one chick is missing.”

At first I did not want to go camping because Joshua, our oldest son who is seventeen, was in Washington DC for a TeenPact event. I knew it would not be the same without the whole family there with us. However, the Lord gently reminded me that I had four more children who would enjoy the family time together. He also reminded me that my oldest is now a young man and as he goes to Bible College, and even eventually gets married, he will no longer be part of many of our family activities. Josh believes the Lord has called him to be a pastor and, as a mom, it is my job to step back and encourage him to pursue the goal God has given him. As it turned out, we all missed him very much on our camping trip, but we had a very nice time with our younger four children. It was also exciting to see Joseph and Josiah rise up and help their Dad with many of the things that Josh would have normally helped Jeff do, such as put up the tent and gather firewood.

My five children will not always be in our home. Someday God may give them homes and families of their own. As they leave our nest, I need to learn to adjust and to remember that I need to continue mothering the children still in our home and trust to the Lord those He has led elsewhere.

Lesson #2: “Trust God when scary things happen.”

We had no sooner packed our van, pulled out of our driveway and gone half a block when my worst nightmare occurred. My husband Jeff very calmly said, “The brakes just gave out.”

Since Jeff has quite the sense of humor at times, I thought he surely must be joking so I asked incredulously, “Are you serious?”

His clipped “Yes” and the look on his face told me that he was very serious indeed.

The next minute or two, until Jeff was able to maneuver the van to a stop, was one of the scariest of my life. The children in the back seat were scared, too, but thankful they stayed silent as we all prayed. Praise the Lord that no other vehicles came through the two intersections we went through and that no child ran out in front of us. As frightening as it was, though, throughout the whole thing, I had peace that God was in control.

We still ended up going camping. We took another vehicle and managed to arrive safely at Lake Aquabi only three hours after we originally anticipated arriving.

Lesson # 3: “Just because we go on vacation doesn’t mean we leave our sinful nature home.”

Even though we had a lovely time together at Lake Aquabi, there were moments when our sinful natures reared their ugly heads. Two of my children argued several times while we were on our camping trip I wanted to just overlook it and distract them instead of dealing with their hearts on the issue. After all, we were on vacation, even it if was a twenty-four hour one! But then I realized that just because we were on vacation did not mean we could overlook and ignore our children’s sins.

Likewise, I struggled with my own sinful nature several times over the weekend. I became impatient with different member of my family more than once. I nagged my husband (more on that later). I ate s’mores to the point of gluttony. Several times I found myself needing to pause to ask the Lord’s forgiveness.

Lesson #4: “We can be nice and show respect to others even if they don’t treat us the same way.”

We had to have had the nosiest camping neighbors in the whole place! They laughed and talked loudly long into the night. Even when the DNR came at 11:50 PM and asked them to quiet down, they continued to be loud, oblivious to all those sleeping in tents just a few feet away from them, including us. At one point I turned to my husband on the air mattress next to me and told him, “I want to go home” and, at that moment, I meant it with all my heart. I was ready to take down our tent, pack up and head home in the middle of the night. They were very loud into the wee hours of the morning.

The next day, we had several opportunities to interact with these camping neighbors. We chatted several times and shared sharpened sticks with them (for roasting marshmallows). Our children learned the valuable lesson that just because someone annoys or irritates us, that is not a reason to be unkind to them. It was basically an opportunity to 'return good for evil,' although "evil" seems like too strong of word to use for their lack of consideration for us

Lesson #5: “Hiking is a lot like life.”

I almost subtitled this lesson “Contrary to popular belief, Iowa is not flat.” On Saturday morning, the six of us walked around Lake Aquabi. The hike itself was only a little over three miles long. However, keep in mind that the trail went up and down steep hills. The trail was also uneven and had many roots and stones along the way. Towards the end, Jennifer, our youngest, and I were getting really tired. The last mile felt like it would go on forever…and ever!! But we had to get back to our tent and so we had no choice but to keep going. Even though we were tired, Jennifer and I encouraged each other along.

Joseph, Josiah, Jessica and our dog Pooch enjoyed running ahead and they were back at the tent resting by the time we arrived. Jeff went much slower than he needed to because he made sure that Jennifer and I were always in his sight. He looked back often to make sure we were okay and often dropped back to walk with us. Jeff jogs several times a week and could have easily been the first one back at the tent. However, he chose to stay with the slowest ones in our little group to make sure we got back safely.

Life is like that, too. Often the trail of life gets long or steep or bumpy or narrow and we want to give up. Yet we, as Christians, can and should encourage each other to keep going when the trail gets extra tough. The faster, more “fit” Christians can edify and encourage the younger or more “out of shape” Christians along life’s often difficult road.

Lesson #6: “Nagging my husband puts a wedge in our relationship.”

Sigh! I try hard not to nag my husband but sometimes that part of my sinful nature rears its ugly head. When we arrived at our campsite, it was warm and I had my window down. I forgot to roll it up before Jeff turned the vehicle off. When I noticed this, I became concerned that a raccoon or some other critter would get into our station wagon in the night and into our food supply. Since Jeff had the only key, I wanted Jeff to turn on the car again so I could roll up the window but every time I asked him, he said he would do it later. I asked him at least ten times throughout the afternoon. Looking back, my timing was often terrible. I kept asking him when he was busy putting up the tent or gathering firewood or some other needful activity. Eventually, he himself rolled up the window but I put a temporary wedge in our relationship, however small it might have been. It is very hard for a husband to feel very loving towards a wife who is constantly nagging him to do something that he just can’t or doesn’t want to do at that moment.

When I am tempted to nag my husband, I try to ask myself, “What is the worst case scenario?” Usually, it is not nearly bad enough to justify my nagging. In this case, the worst case scenario, if the car window had not been rolled up, would have been that a critter could have gotten into our food and we would have had a bit of a mess to clean up and we would have had to go into the nearby town to buy more food. Neither of those things are worth me becoming a nagging wife.

Lesson #7: “God’s creation is amazing!”

Since we love nature, we truly enjoyed the fact that most of the weekend, we were outdoors. The whole weekend we marveled at God’s creation. What human being could possibly come up with so many shapes and sizes of trees? And who could imagine that there would be so many shades of green? The wild flowers were abundant and colorful. The lake was beautiful, especially in the morning when a light fog drifted across it. There were so many different kinds of birds. The chorus, “What a Mighty God We Serve” kept going through my head as we looked around at God’s creation. If, for no other reason, the camping trip was worth it just to be able to admire the beautiful world God made and to stand in awe of our Creator.


I could include a few more lessons like not bringing one’s dog on a camping trip and watching out for tent stakes sticking out of the ground but since those don’t necessarily have spiritual applications, I decided to leave those out. I am thankful for the opportunity our family had to go camping and for the lessons we learned, or were at least reminded of while we were camping. I praise the Lord that He is faithful to teach us these things as we go through life, even on a family camping trip

Friday, September 18, 2009

Family Update

Dear Friends and Family,

The children are packing to go camping. I am glad they all old enough to do their own packing. We plan to leave shortly after lunch. We will probably go to Lake Ahquabi but are also considering Yellowbanks and the Ledges. Nothing like making last minute decisions. :-)

Josh won't be going camping with us because he is in Washington DC! He has wanted to go as long as I can remember. The Lord provided the money in a very special way and he was able to go with Teenpact. They will be at a conference, do sight seeing, spend some time on Capitol Hill and more. Yesterday we received an email from Senator Harkin for Josh talking about his contact with him. Since Sen. Harkin and our family are on opposite ends of political spectrum, the conversation must have been interesting. Sen Harkin referred to "your views and concerns regarding the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child" in such a way that I am quite sure that Josh told him exactly what he thinks of it (respectfully, I am sure). I remember someone telling me (when Josh was about 12) that carrying on a conversation with Josh was like pulling teeth because he was so shy. I think we can safely say that Josh is no longer shy. :-) Apparently, he is now confronting Senators on Capitol Hill. The Lord has really used Teenpact to help him overcome his shyness.

Soccer season started a few weeks ago and, as usual, all of us are enjoying it very much. The children love both the playing and the social aspect of it. Jeff likes coaching the 14 to 18 year old teen boys. I enjoy visiting with the other homeschool soccer moms. It is interesting to hear the conversations on the way home. The boys talk about the score and who made a great pass and who made a goal, etc. The girls talk about what their friends said and did. Who said God didn't make boys and girls different?? :-)

The girls have started taking piano lessons with Alissa DeFord. They are really enjoying their lessons and dearly love their teacher. So far they are practicing diligently without any reminding on my part.

After a year of agonizing, praying, sleepless nights and struggling, Jeff and I made the decision for our family to start attending Bethany Baptist Church. We have complete peace about going to Bethany but leaving Altoona Baptist was the hardest decision we have ever made in our lives. Leaving the people we have fellowhsipped with and worshipped with for twenty-two years was heartbreaking. We still have many dear friends at Altoona Baptist and will always hold the church near and dear to our hearts. We are really enjoying getting to know the people at Bethany and really believe it is a good fit for our family.

Off to pack for our camping trip. I hope all of you have a good weekend.

Jeff, Kim, Joshua (17), Joseph (14), Josiah (12), Jessica (10) and Jennifer (8) Stilwell
"Failure is not final; it is merely the opportunity to start over again wiser than before."
Author Unknown