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The joy of Christmas gifts usually lasts for days. Sometimes the paper and the mess lingers as well. Today is El Dia Reyes, or Three Kings Day when we celebrate the arrival of the three kings, bearing gifts, who came to worship Jesus. Today I am thinking about all the big gifts that don’t come wrapped in beautiful paper or topped with a sparkling bow. The gifts that had to travel a distance to awaken in my heart.

I am a reading teacher by trade and by passion, but I haven’t been paid by a school in quite some time. My energy has been on raising my daughter and just when I thought I was ready to return to a school, the pandemic hit. I became head teacher of a school of one. I honestly never thought homeschool was something I would explore for any period of time. I am a huge public school supporter and had worked in public schools for over 10 years. But, here we were and it wasn’t so much a choice as a necessity. It was daunting, confusing and down right exhausting. Overwhelmed by other’s expectations, I found myself ignoring what I knew was right for my child, what my training had told me was solid instruction - following a school district’s path. Fast forward to this past summer when we were faced with the decision to homeschool or not. We were at Camp and filled with summer freedom and Family Camp grace. I chatted with other homeschool families and we made the jump.

This time around we are completely untethered from the school system. We are free to receive the gift of this time. Emma is thriving as we explore her passions and learn about engineering and ornithology as a family. We spend hours outside with books in hand asking and answering questions. We solve endless math equations on paper and mentally. The world is our classroom and we are free to roam through. Now I will admit there is plenty of “wrapping paper” strewn across the floor of our lives. We are continually unwrapping this gift and finding how it fits into

our next days. However this gift, that took so long for us to take fully in, has become central to our lives and we are ever thankful.

Updated: Jan 7, 2022

July 2021, I picked up my 15 yr old nephew, Roberto, at the airport on a Friday afternoon. He was going to be a teen staff at the Family Camp where my husband Ed, our two sons and I attended every summer for a week for 17 years.

Roberto and his mom, Ed’s sister Sandra, attended for 9 years and Roberto staffed last year and staffed again this year. Family Camp was a place for our family to review our year, reconnect with our little family, make new family
friends and rejuvenate our individual and family faith. It was our calm in the storm of life. It was our holy ground. Now that Ed is gone it is where we visit to relive the wonderful family memories we had for 17 precious summers.
Saturday, my son Jordan and I drove Roberto to Family Camp for staff training one day before the families arrived on Sunday. We were proud to deliver the next generation of Riveras to continue the tradition.

Before we left Jordan and I took Roberto up to the chapel to see the memorial tree planted for our beloved Ed. Ed was the greatest husband, dad, brother, son and friend. Ed passed away suddenly from a genetic heart defect on August 1, 2020 while doing one of his favorite things, riding his bike, with one of his favorite sons. He left for heaven just 3/4 of a mile from our house. He almost made it back to our house but instead God took him home. We blew bubbles and said prayers around Ed’s tree. Roberto helped us hang a memorial cross in a nearby tree. The cross, made of two sticks, twine and decorated with painted letters, hung in our family room since 2010 when our KK Family gave it to us. That was also the 1st year Roberto and his mom Sandra came to Family Camp so the cross had even more meaning.

We left the cross, said good bye to Ed’s tree, looked out from the view from the chapel on the hill remembering how we use to run down the hill so many times at the end of each summer. We tried to imagine what Ed’s view of Family Camp must be from heaven. Family Camp was a little taste of heaven for our family. The brick we bought our last year at camp says what Family Camp did for us.

Thank you to the Brasley Family for inviting us. Thank you God for 17 summers of family love that will fuel us until we are all reunited in heaven.

Updated: Jan 7, 2022

The funny thing about lifelong friends is that no matter how long you go without seeing each other, it is always easy to pick up right where you left off. This is something that I’ve noticed over and over again as the world has been opening back up from the pandemic and it has become easier to travel and see those who live far enough away that travel restrictions prevented any real contact. Regardless of the time that has passed or the world-changing events that have taken place, true relationships will hold strong.

It’s been great to be able to catch up with people who I care about, but this has led me to an interesting personal observation. I am consistently much more inclined to share about the positive aspects of my life than the negative. This may seem obvious, but I couldn’t help but wonder what was causing this, and more importantly, why it was bothering me so much. Naturally, when I’m reconnecting with others, I want to hear that they are growing, succeeding, and thriving. Why then, would I not tell them about the ways that I am growing, succeeding, and thriving? Also, I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I am reaching out to reconnect just to burden them with my own issues. And yet, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of falsehood in this. If these are truly my dear friends, shouldn’t I be willing to share my struggles with them, as well as my triumphs?

Ultimately, this has had me thinking about my time at Camp Koinonia, where at the end of each day, I would share about my experiences with my family or (once I became a teenager) with the staff. It was always foundational to these sharings that we not only spoke about our high points, but our low points as well. I have found that I got enough practice with this while growing up, that even into adulthood, sharing only the high points of life just seems unnatural. As a result, I have found that camp has led me to be more open and honest, and in return, has allowed others to be more comfortable being open and honest with me. I am grateful for that. It is certainly not the only blessing that I can count from my time spent in that strange and wonderful place, but it is the one that I find myself appreciating most often.

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