Friday, November 22, 2013

Everyone Makes an Impact

Everyone makes an impact…

The other day, I was doing team building with 12 students from Kettering University.  They were here at Grace for a leadership camp experience.  8 of the 12 were incoming freshmen, the other 4 were upperclassmen.  I had them do the whale watch.   The whale watch is a 10 foot by 16 foot deck that has a board underneath the middle, so it’s kind of like a big teeter totter.  The group needs to climb on, go out to the edge and then switch sides while keeping it balanced the whole time.

My group worked very well together, planning and communicating.  However, when they were almost done, one person climbed off before another person was in the exact middle, and suddenly the deck touched the ground on one end, so they had to start completely over.

As we looked back and discussed the experience, the Kettering students talked about how every person had a direct impact on the rest of the group.  When they took responsibility and fulfilled their role the group had success.  But one person could also negatively impact all the others.  Then they thought about how they wanted to be purposeful as they started their time in college to make a positive impact on those around them.

As I was thinking about this, my mind flashed back to a few weeks ago.  My neighbor growing up passed away.  He was twice divorced, and hadn’t seen his only daughter in decades.  He lived by himself.  Rarely did we see anyone visit.  He was a grumpy old man who hated kids touching his fence, complained to the nearby school, and built a fence inside a fence to keep them out.   In these ways, he made a negative impact. 

However, every time I went home to visit my parents and he was outside, I always made an effort to connect with him.  He was always friendly to me.  He asked me how working at Grace was going and asked about my kids.  At his funeral, waitresses from restaurants he frequented, bank tellers that he brought donuts to, and some others showed up.  My mother said to me, “It amazed me, how we all impact others.”
In Matthew 5:16, Jesus states, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven.” 

I ask myself: what kind of impact am I making?  How can I be a positive force for God?  How can I influence others around me so that it brings glory to God?

- By Ben VanderKodde

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Renewed, Restored, Refreshed: Women's Retreat Recap

"I loved being treated like a lady and playing like a kid!"
Women's Retreat 1 Attendee

In 2009 there were 66. Just 4 years later in 2013, 585 women came to a Grace Adventures Women's Retreat weekend to be refreshed, restored, and renewed over 3 weekends. In this chart you can see how our numbers have grown. Numbers are exciting but what gets us even more excited is that each one of those 585 women represents one life and we believe that one life touched by God can change the world.

Blessed with exponential growth over 4 years!
Every sponsored program at Grace Adventures has a set of desired outcomes, the things that we plan, pray and prepare for. In the Women's Retreat those outcomes are: 
·         Refresh their spirit
·         Challenge them spiritually / Equip with tools to use in personal lives
·         Time to think about themselves and their relationship to God
·         Fellowship, build relationships, networking and FUN!

Powerful worship sessions

Each weekend kicked off with a Chocolate Extravaganza and goofy photobooth. Women have a choice of more activities than they can imagine including shooting guns, zipline, climbing tower, massages, horseback rides, volleyball, pontoon boat rides, spa treatments, bike riding and paintball. Each weekend featured workshop topics designed to challenge and encourage women where they are at in their lives. We were blessed with 3 incredible main speakers; Wendy Pope, Dr. RoseAnne Coleman, and Robyn Dykstra who shared stories of God at work in their lives and challenged the women to know Him more intimately. Of course everyone loved the incredible food and better yet, not having to wash dishes!

Parable of the Horse workshop
In the midst of the sessions, worship, activities and laughter there were moments of true community building. 
One lady attending the retreat had been recently diagnosed with breast cancer and was heading to receive her first chemotherapy treatments the day after the retreat. On Saturday afternoon the ladies from her church took a moment to gather and pray for her. The Women's Retreat was an opportunity for them to grow deeper in their relationships, wrap their arms around her in love and support one another. 

God moved in powerful ways with over 7 women committing their lives to Christ for the first time and many more making decisions to surrender to him and make changes in their lives. Our prayer is that the Women's Retreat would be an experience that lives on. 

To see more pictures visit our Facebook page. If you feel like you missed out, mark your calendar! The next Women's Retreats will be in September and October of 2014. 

Know a man or men's group that could benefit from this experience but with more meat, shooting and no nail polish? We will be running 2 Men's Retreat weekends in March, click here for more information. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Snapshot of Camp at Grace Adventures: Challenge Camp Interview with Ross July 14-19, 2013

Snapshot of Camp
Interview with Ross
July 14-19, 2013

What is your name and what camp are you at?
My name is Ross and I am part of Challenge Camp.

What has this week been like for you?
It has been a little bit challenging for all the activities we have been doing. Like in the Dune Wars and Ga-Ga, we have to learn the strategies of winning those games.

What has been your favorite part of the week?
The challenging parts of learning about the hard things in life, and that God can help you through that. He’s always going to be there even when you have those challenges and He will never give up on you.

What’s the best thing you learned about God this week?
The best thing I have learned is that God is always there and He will always forgive you. No matter what challenge you have, you can always talk to God about it and He will help you feel better.

Would you come back to Challenge?
I would. It had a bunch of fun activities, I made friends, and learned about God.

Would you recommend Challenge Camp to others?

I would recommend Challenge Camp. If they have any challenges or obstacles in their life, they can face it with God and really come closer to God.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Big Rocks

I love boulders, really large house sized rocks. The permanence, vastness, and immovable characteristics are fascinating to me. Plus, climbing thirty feet up on a massive rock is just plain fun. It also reveals my secret desire to climb Mt Everest. A $60,000 price tag and the possibility of dying, currently keep the desire from becoming reality. Priorities can be a lot like rocks.

Do you find it difficult to do everything needed in a day? The vast majority of us would say yes (I have seven children, so yes, yes, yes!). It is simple! Today's world contains more possibilities than are probable. Each one of us must make priority decisions every day, all day long. Do not feel guilty because you can not do it. Just make sure you know what to do first.

A common illustration can help make the point. If you have not seen this before, try it out. Take a group of rocks in 3 different sizes. It works best if the smallest group is sand. Then try putting the rocks in a container that will not hold all of them. Hint: If you place the same size rocks in at the same time, it will work best. There is one order of placing the rocks in the container by size that will fit the most rocks.

Verne Harnish from Gazelles,, suggests that you schedule one or two 90 minute chunks of your day to the most important priorities. Make it an appointment on your calendar to protect the time. Imagine 90 minutes of focused time to take care of the big rocks.

The next step is to identify the big rocks. There are many ways for an organization to do strategic planning. Find one that has been successful and use it. The key is to make sure individuals know how to connect their daily/weekly activities to the priorities of the organization. Gazelles has what they call the Rockefeller Habits. This is one that works.

I find that a 10-15 minute time of focused, uninterrupted time at the beginning of each day (remember seven kids) is helpful to order my priorities for the day. Do not let the sand slip through the glass each day without moving the big rocks.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Snapshot of Camp at Grace Adventures: Interview with Avery - Rustic Warriors July 7-12, 2013

Snapshot of Camp

Interview with Avery
July 7-12, 2013

What is your name and where are you from?
My name is Avery and I am from Muskegon, MI.

How long have you been coming to camp?
This is my third year at Rustic Warrior.

What has been your favorite thing about this week?
Mainly the connection with God, meeting new friends, meeting the counselors and being around people your age and having a good time.

How have you been connecting to God this week?
I have connecting to God through our Bible study and I pray and just really try to think about getting closer to God and focusing and not getting distracted.

What was your favorite activity this week?
My favorite activity was probably Ga-Ga. Ga-Ga is really fun! And it’s a good game for everyone.

What do you think about your counselors?
The counselors are pretty much awesome. They are really funny and have a good sense of humor and they know how to cheer us up if we are down.

In your words, what is a Godly man?
In my words, I think a godly man is someone who respects life and someone who devotes himself all to God. He hands himself over to God because he feels comfortable with that.

What’s the biggest thing you are going to take home from this week?
I think the biggest thing is just live your life and be yourself. Don’t try to copy people and just be yourself.

Anything else you want to say?

Since I have been coming here, I realize that Grace is a really great camp for becoming a leader. I think it could help anyone that comes here to become more of a leader and a man.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Snapshot of Camp at Grace Adventures: Family Camp Interview with Melinda and Pat

Snapshot of Camp
Interview with Melinda and Pat
Family Camp June 30-July 5, 2013

What are your names and where are you from?
Our names are Pat and Melinda. We also have two boys, Justin(15) and Trevor(8). We are from Ionia, MI and we are attending Family Camp.

How long have you been coming here?
We have been coming to Family Camp for three years.

Why did you come back this year?
Well we asked our kids this spring, what do you guys want to do for a summer vacation? And they both answered unanimously that they wanted to go back to Grace Adventures Family Camp. They have a great time. They love paintball, the waterfront, Ga-Ga, and they love meeting and making new friends here.

What is your favorite activity at Family Camp?
Melinda: I like the beachfront. My kids can play while I read a book and relax. The kids like the tubing and the Battle Barge.
Pat: I like the paintball. Normally me and my son come up and play paintball and it’s just a good bonding activity for us.

Why do you like to come to Family Camp?
The reason we like coming the most is that it is so relaxing. We can come and just spend time with our family, meet other Christian families, and just pray and worship God together. And there is no TV, there’s no computer (unless you bring your own), and you just unplug and get to reconnect. It’s a lot of fun.

How have you seen your family come closer together through Family Camp?
Praying becomes easier. We pray more together as a family. We are just able to interact better and in a fun way.

What are a few words that you think of when you come to Grace Adventures?
Pat: The first thing I think of when I step on the grounds is relaxation. I feel at ease. It feels like a home away from home.
Melinda: I think of it as a little piece of heaven. All of us here, worshiping God, playing, having fun. It is awesome!

What is your impression of the Staff?
It has been our impression of the staff that they love being here. They seem to work well together and get along as friends. It seems like it would be a good place to work. They love God and they love each other.

What impact do you see on your family after Family Camp?
The impact that I see is that we are closer. Stress doesn't seem to bother us as much and we just get along better as a family.

What makes you want to come back to Grace every year?

We just know that it’s going to be another good year. We know that we are going to be able to relax and kick back. The nice thing about Grace is that there are a ton of activities to do. You can choose to do them all or you can do nothing and still have a good time. It just depends on what you feel like doing that year or that day. I love that, my husband and I, are able to hang together and just relax. We just know that it is going to be fun and I can’t wait to see the old families and meet the new families.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Snapshot of Camp at Grace Adventures: Interview with Quinton June 23-28, 2013

Snapshot of Camp

Interview with Quinton
Rustic Warrior June 23-28, 2013

What is your name and where are you from?
                My name is Quinton and I am from Lansing, MI

What has been one of your favorite parts about this week?
                One of my favorite things we could do this week was going on the Battle Barge, which is a raft that usually about 10 people would go on and the lifeguard would blow their whistle and it is basically a free for all, pushing each other off of it, and the last man standing wins. I had a lot of fun on it.

What is the most interesting thing that happened?
                I’d say one of the most interesting things that happened was painting our swords and shields. It was cool seeing all the different designs and paintings on the swords and shields.

What is something you have been learning about this week?
                We have been learning a lot about how to be good Men of Christ. We have also learned about how to be good friends. Like if someone does something to you, don’t try to get revenge on them.

What has been something you have been learning in your bible study or campfire teachings?
                We've learned a lot about the life of King David. And how he was like the “golden image” of how to be a Rustic Warrior.

What was your highlight of the week?
                The coolest thing I think that happened was going to the range and playing paintball. I thought it was really fun.

If you could sum up Rustic Warrior in a couple sentences, what would it be?
                Rustic Warriors is not only learning about how to survive in the wilderness and learning about the wilderness but it’s also about becoming Warriors for Christ and becoming young men of Christ.

What else would like to say about Rustic Warriors?

                Rustic Warriors is really cool. It’s a great experience and I encourage and recommend it to all people!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Clearing Rocks

New Hampshire soil is full of rocks. In order to have any kind of turf you have to remove many rocks. The rocks are an annoyance. I believe leadership happens a lot like the turf in New Hampshire. As we strive to become better leaders or move the team forward, there are rocks that need to be cleared. I learned the difficulty of this at a golf course.

One summer during college I worked at a golf course. At one point my job was to dig an irrigation ditch on one of the holes. The boss wheels out this machine obviously built decades earlier. The ditch digger had an auger in front that did the digging. I stood behind the machine with a belt around my waist to control how fast it dug. The machine would dig. I would get in a half squatting position to keep it from going too fast. Bottom line; 10hp motor versus my legs.

The ditch digger worked like a hot knife through butter; when there were no rocks.
Remember this is in New  Hampshire,
the Granite State,
the soil was full of rocks;
fist sized,
bucking bronco,
stuck in the ground rocks.
I had to constantly strain against the pull of the rocks coming out of the ground. The sweat rolled and my legs ached from the effort.

It sounds like my own leadership efforts. When things are going well. It is smooth as butter. But when the challenges arise. I can barely hold on.

Sometimes the rock would be too large for the machine to dig out of the ground. Then I would have to stop. Step out of the machine and grab a shovel to remove the rock. Stopping always felt like a set back. When I got the rock out, it was actually quite satisfying. The process of stopping also gave my legs a break and I was ready for some more wrestling with the machine. What started as a setback, gave me a break from the routine and a sense of greater accomplishment.

Everyone of us has opportunity to improve our leadership; remove the rocks. This will not be an easy process. It will require hard work and struggle. Pick one thing you want to improve in your leadership this week. Take ten minutes to write down three action steps you will take to remove the rock.

Realize that sometimes the rock is bigger than you can handle. Break the routine; find a coach or mentor who can help you. Do not be afraid to take the time to stop and remove the rock. Ignoring it will not make life easier.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Snapshot of Camp at Grace Adventures: Interview with Jonathan June 16-21, 2013

Snapshot of Camp
Interview with Jonathan
Pathfinder June 16-21, 2013

What is your name and where are you from?
                My name is Jonathan and I am from Fremont, Michigan.

What has been your favorite thing about camp this week?
                My favorite thing about camp has been the deep discussions we have gotten into after our teaching sessions. The counselors are just open to questions and we went really deep into the Bible.

What is something you learned this week that has really impacted you?
                Tuesday night we had a worship service and Chris, the drummer of the worship band, just emphasized a verse from a song ‘I may be weak, but your spirit is strong in me. My flesh may fail, but You, my God, you never will.’ And that just absolutely hit home with me.

How did that hit home?

                Well, I've always found myself to be physically weak. It’s always been me having to use my mental abilities to compensate for my physical weakness. I have never thought of using God as a source of strength before. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Sunday, June 16, 2013


Sometimes we are given instructions and we continue to go our own way.

Correction from Grace Adventures on Vimeo.

A lesson that reinforced Proverbs 12:1 in my life...

Friday, June 14, 2013

Snapshot of Camp at Grace Adventures: Interview with Anastasia June 9-14, 2013

Snapshot of Camp at Grace Adventures
Interview with Anastasia
Quest Camper June 9-14, 2013

This week at Grace Adventures we had Quest, Pathfinder, and Discovery camps. This is part of an interview with a Quest camper, Anastasia. Quest is an intensive leadership development camp for High School Juniors and Seniors where their camp experience is handed over to them to plan, perform, and process their own schedules and activities as a team. After completing a week of Quest, the students can come back to Grace and serve as Counselors in Training or Jr. Wranglers in the cabins and help to lead Bible studies and activities with the staff.

What is your name, where you are from, and how long you have been coming to camp?
                "My name is Anastasia, or Ana. I am from Chicago, Illinois and this is my 9th year coming to camp at Grace Adventures and my first year at Quest."

What is something you have been learning this week?
                "Well, when I came to Quest I wasn't sure exactly what it was going to be like. One of the things we do is make up our entire schedule, all by ourselves. Basically all of us, Juniors and Seniors in high school, make up the entire week of camp, all the schedules, we cook our own meals, and plan an overnight backpacking or horse trip. I was not expecting that at all when I came here. Honestly I have been feeling so overwhelmed this week but I think it has been good because before I would hear people say things like “It’s good to be pushed out of your comfort zone. That’s when you learn new things.” And I think at camp before this, I was never really pushed so far in my limits. I mean, I did fun things here at camp, good things that taught me things but this week has just pushed me so far out of my comfort zone.  Out of what I have been used to that while it has been stressful, I think that in the end they’re pushing us so that we learn how to become better people and how to plan with other people and work with other people."

What was a fun thing that happened this week?
                "I think one of the funnest things for me at Quest this week was the time we got to spend out on the trails riding our horses. Both yesterday and this morning I think we got a good 2 hours in of just riding the horses on the trails and during that time we are just relaxing, enjoying the beauty of God’s creation, and having fun talking to each other. We didn't have to think about making our schedules or the planning of this week, we just got to have fun on our horses and enjoy the beauty that is around us."

What are you going to take away from this week?

               " I was talking with my counselor Danica about this and she was just encouraging me to reflect when I get home about the experience that I had and look for all the things I can learn about myself. The way I like to lead, the things I am good at, the things I can work on. I think I will find a lot of things I can learn about myself, and ways to relate to other people better and communicate better with others and to have a better experience with other people."

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Pursuit of Happiness

Are you a 'giver' or a 'taker'? Your answer makes all the difference in living a satisfied life. Ask any number of people; "Do you want to be happy?" The vast majority will answer, "Yes!" Do you see the trick? Satisfaction and happiness are not equal. 

A great article online at The Atlantic drives this point home:
In the article they point to new research coming out that connects giving and taking with a meaningful live:

"...over a month-long period, the researchers found that a meaningful life and happy life overlap in certain ways, but are ultimately very different. Leading a happy life, the psychologists found, is associated with being a 'taker' while leading a meaningful life corresponds with being a 'giver'."

I have been married for 20 years to the same woman. In my job I needed to fill a seasonal position. The position was very important, being in front of over 10,000 people. It required a specific skill set that my wife fit perfectly. She was hesitant to take the position because of the stress it would put on our family. I persisted and she relented. The three months required did not go well. My wife performed exceptionally well. But the stress took a physical and emotional toll on our marriage and family. I made a mistake by taking advantage of the convenience she provided in filling the position; lesson learned the hard way. The times of greatest satisfaction in our marriage are the times I focused on giving and not taking. 

Any relationship that has power can greatly abuse the taking/giving paradigm. Ironically, taking, the pursuit of happiness, rarely leads to happiness and never long-term satisfaction. Are you a leader? Do you take or give? I believe strongly in the power of a servant leader. Servant leadership by its very nature requires giving. Research backs up the power of creating meaning by giving.  Especially as a leader, you can help create meaning in others lives by giving.

Take a few minutes and write down the different relationship roles you have; Spouse, Parent, Friend, Work, Community, etc. Make the roles column headings. Then think through what is my taking/giving percentage for each role. Underneath each ratio write down what you can do to shift 10% towards giving. This is not scientific, but I suggest you will be most satisfied in each role when giving has reached 80% or higher. Of course a satisfied person is most often a happy person.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Are You Dull?

The task list is daunting, even overwhelming. Winter Blast retreats wrapped up merely 2 weeks ago and this Friday we’ll be welcoming the Men’s Retreat, both my responsibilities. In addition I’m recruiting, interviewing and hiring 40 college students all while prepping for summer camp.

Last week I set it all aside for 3 days to learn, grow and be sharpened. Grace Adventures is a part of the Christian Camp and Conference Association (CCCA) and last week was our Super Sectional where over 500 people from 70 camps in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio gathered at Gull Lake Ministries. I went to workshops on bullying, spiritual experiences in camping, marriage in ministry and parenting fears. In the general sessions I heard from a dynamic speaker and raised my voice in worship. I played (and won) a giant game of Hungry Hippos and Twister. I shared meals with other camping professionals walking the same path and we laughed, commiserated, advised, comforted and prayed together.

Ascent & PACE interns with some hungry, hungry hippos.

The theme for the conference was ‘Like Iron’ from Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”  As leaders it can be easy to get caught up in what must be done, today and in the weeks to come. We can lose sight of the bigger picture of our job, ministry or organization. In taking time to fully engage in the CCCA conference, I chose to be sharpened personally and professionally and returned better equipped to lead in my role.

What do you do to “get sharpened”? Consider these ideas to further your professional or personal development.

Attend a conference.  CCCA is an easy one for me because it’s specific to camping ministry. Think outside the box. I’d love to attend conferences on public speaking and story writing to make me more effective.

Listen to a new podcast or webinar. If you have a 20 minute commute, run or get ready in the morning this is an easy way to get new information. Michael Hyatt writes and does podcasts on intentional leadership. Tim Elmore at writes on leading the next generation. CPYU sends me a weekly email rounding up articles on understanding culture to impact culture. Twitter is a great way to find new articles, authors and speakers.

Read books, blogs, magazines or newspaper articles. In my last post I mentioned that our staff is reading TheAdvantage. Other books I’ve already read or have started this year include Eats, Shoots and Leaves (on grammar), Everybody’s Normal Till You Get To Know Them, Imagine: How Creativity Works and Victory Over Darkness. Many leadership experts will release their yearly booklists which I find to be a great resource. I also ask my supervisor, friends and other camping people what they are reading for ideas.  

Network. Find someone doing what you’re doing and build a relationship.  For me, a relational driver, this is key. I am so thankful to have met other people in camping ministry who are program directors, associate directors, and guest service representatives. We email, call and sit down in person when we get the chance. It’s nourishing for me personally but also in my job function. I get new ideas, encouragement and inspiration. It’s also nice when you can bring up a strange camp scenario and have someone genuinely say, “I know what you mean.”
Over 500 people from 70 camps at the CCCA conference. source

So what about you? Are you dull or are you being sharpened? What is one way this week that you can explore a new topic or idea to grow in your leadership?  

Monday, February 25, 2013

What Drives You? - Principle Based Leadership

Picture This
I love this picture for many reasons; the effect of the contact between the two horses is cool, and it looks dangerous. In fact, most of the comments and questions I get about this particular picture are around the idea of danger. The truth is that the filly in the picture was two years old and it was the second time she had ever had a saddle on. She was rearing and fighting to get away from that scary blue tarp on the ground and had no aggression towards me or my horse.  There was no real danger. However, she felt like she was in danger and thus her reaction.
Leaders Make Choices
As a horse trainer, I had to make a choice working with this filly. Was I going to react, get mad, and “discipline” the filly for not going across the tarp and acting this way? Or was I going to act out of the horse training principles that I know to be true to help her work through the flight or fight instinct that was controlling her at that the moment?  I chose the second, and within a very short time the filly was calmly walking and standing all over the blue tarp. As the crowd watched, it responded with a roaring applause (and she still remained calm on the tarp). As leaders, we have to decide if we are going to lead from a principle based platform or an emotional based platform.
Emotional Driven Leadership
Many leaders are also passionate, emotional people. The question is what drives their leadership? Emotionally driven leaders focus on themselves. They react to circumstances and situations based on how it affects them. Therefore, they are hard to predict and are very inconsistent in their actions (or lack of action). They are concerned about what others think, live in the present, don’t seek out others’ opinions, and often take credit for what others do.  Whether you’re a horse, a child, a student, or an employee, following an emotionally driven leader is difficult, draining, and discouraging.
 Principle Driven Leadership
Principle driven leadership is just the opposite. These leaders focus on those they are leading. They respond rather than react. You can predict how they are going to respond as they are consistent with their actions. They are concerned about living with integrity, want to empower others, focus on the future, and they give credit to others without expecting it themselves. As a follower you feel equipped, encouraged, and empowered to carry out what you have been asked to do. In John 13:13-17 we see Jesus modeling to his disciples and he says, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor messenger greater than the one who sent him.”
 What Drives You?
So what drives you? If you have a hard time figuring it out, look at those you lead. How do they respond to you? How do they lead others?  Luke 6:40 explains John 13:16 this way, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Your followers will “tell” you what drives you.  For more reading, I recommend David Cottrell’s book, Leadership Biblically Speaking – The Power of Principle Based Leadership