Priceless

By Sylvia Dickson

 Our seniors have graduated with pomp, circumstance, and joy. The closing of this chapter in their lives mandated the tossing of hats in the air, hundreds of hugs and congratulations.

Priceless

CharlotteFor the past several years I have helped conduct our Senior Exit Interviews. This is their opportunity to give us a report card. Each area is rated and commented on: home, school, sports, activities, and work. All, except for a couple, gave us an A.

The prevailing comment in all areas was that we care. What does that look like? We want them to succeed. We spend time with students; we listen to them; we tutor; we know their names; we follow up; and, we provide a safe, welcoming community—a family atmosphere.

Pricelessmarcus

God entrusted these young people to us for a season. Now He has opened new chapters in their lives, continuing their stories. We pray for them; we have high hopes and trust they will remember the many priceless things they have learned at FCA—mainly, that each one is priceless in God’s eyes.

One of the Proverbs says that we are to train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. We have countless alumni contact us, or come back to campus and tell us that the scriptures, the Christian role models, the healthy emotional and spiritual input have shaped their lives. Things they learned in Bible classes, Christian Worldview and Christian Family Living still speak truth in their lives today.joe-richards-boy

Priceless

 Our students are very important people. God made a place called French Camp Academy, and made a place for each young person who comes here. They are part of the hidden treasures and’ riches stored in secret places* God is calling us to value, cherish, and prepare for His kingdom.face-painting

These young people are precious. We tell them that. We give them High Fives and Atta’ Boys for jobs well done. When correction is needed we tell them, You’re too precious to act like that. When they are sad, we tell them God is always with you and will never leave you alone. When they are anxious or confused we pray with them and tell them, God knows you inside and out and will answer you, because He loves you.

 Priceless

 

*Isaiah 45:3

Ideally Speaking

By Sylvia Dicksongirl runner

Then
I have vivid memories of May Day in grammar school. Well, possibly it was one May Day. Schools probably don’t host May Day activities anymore, but for my classmates and me, it was highly anticipated. For one thing, we got out of the classroom and into the sunshine.

Another name would be Field Day, but to me, that just doesn’t sound very inviting even though we ran races, kicked balls, played Red Rover, softball, and had snacks. I remember in first grade running with determination and speed to win the 10-yard dash. How marvelous I felt when they handed me a blue ribbon. It’s funny that I couldn’t make the track team in high school.girl-in-red

On that May Day in first grade, something else happened that wasn’t exhilarating. My mom and dad picked me up from school to take me to live at a “home” for children with respiratory problems. Even though I had just won the 10-yard dash, I was not a picture of health.

So, as a 7-year-old, I left home to live in a dormitory with about 20 other girls. Boys lived in another dormitory and we were all under 12 years old. All of us went to school together in a 2-room schoolhouse. As a miniscule first grader, the playground seemed huge. If I went back today, it would probably look half the size.1aa boy with blocks

I was only there for 4 months, but being away from my family, thrown into a group where I had no privacy and no escape from them was hard. We wore uniforms of white shorts, shirts, and sandals in the summer. If the weather was chilly we added a light sweater. (I don’t know what was worn in the winter because I wasn’t there).

This was not a normal situation. Of course, the ideal is for children to be in a family with a trustworthy mother and father. The children at this home had no relationships with the adults. Everything was scheduled down to when and where we took baths, no variation in clothing, and lines for going to meals, school and play. Staff strictly supervised during their shift and left.
1aa Marla & girl

 

NOW
As I watch our students at FCA come and go, I see normalcy. Again, the ideal is an intact mother and father family. However, French Camp is a community that gives a lot of freedom to try new things within a safe framework. We have relationships.

Adults interact with students in normal ways. Students have relationships with house parents, teachers, and other staff members: healthy, wholesome, god-honoring relationships.1aa bike a thon

Some of our young people have never experienced ideal livingliving as God planned. Just being a kid—riding a bike, throwing a ball, catching crawdads in the creek. They lost their youth to the bullies of a parent’s drug or alcohol abuse. Others became victims of neighborhood decline, or death of a caregiver. Still others made bad choices—skipping school, disrespect.

The biggest issue is trust. Young people come to a-wally-readingus not knowing who to trust because they have never been able to trust. As I talk with our students, I have learned one of the most important parts of FCA are the relationships they form with adults.

Comments from students show that they can be real; talk about things that matter and be heard; know forgiveness is on the table ready to be accepted; feel safe; be given second and third chances; know that the staff truly cares about them; and, that we want what is best for them.hat-day-boy

FCA: ideal? Maybe.

At this time, in this place, God’s plan for us at French Camp Academy is good and perfect. No matter our status—staff or student—we are here because He truly cares for us. He is in every conversation, at every event, in the depths of despair, and the heights of joy.

We are His family and He always does what’s right. He is our loving Father, faithful and true. This is the message we live out at French Camp Academy.

 

 

 

A PLACE OF RENEWAL

by Sylvia Dicksongirls with plant

There is a certain beauty to the winter landscape: stark silhouettes of bare branches brushing against a gray sky, empty fields bathed in crisp, winter sunlight, nippy mornings coated with glittering frost. However, what we truly long for, after waking in the early dark of winter, is to throw open our windows and feel warm spring breezes brushing away the sleep from our eyes.

Spring is a time of renewal. Daffodils spring from brown turf, trees dress up in spring green, the urge to fly a kite or plant a garden takes hold. We long to freshen up and fix up. Out with the old and in with the new.

daffodilsAnd so it goes, year after year. Our souls, bodies, and all of creation long for renewal. So many years of frustration and futility! How long will it last?

At French Camp Academy we see firsthand the ravages of sin and the bondage to decay. Students come to us from families fractured or destroyed by sin. They come to us looking for a place of renewal.

Why Renewal?boys and wisteria

In God’s Word, we see that even though Adam’s stomach was full, his purpose in life defined, his success certain, he wanted more.

When Adam and Eve broke the only commandment their Creator had given, they received a horrible shock. No longer could life be lived free from fear, pain, and destruction. A new law went into effect with the immediate verdict, “Guilty. Condemned to Die.”

The Beginning of Renewala-another-boy-in-church

Redemption and renewal are themes that guide French Camp Academy. We live out lives renewed in Christ before our young people, showing them “… there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

We tell them that even though mother ora-boy-painting father may have deserted them, God will not. We tell them that Jesus Christ came to free them from sin and give them new life: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3: 19).

The Work of Renewal

House parents and Historic area personnel work with students to reveal God’s plan for renewal. Teachers, coaches, work directors, radio personnel, all work at chipping away the chains of sin.a-girl-with-horse-web

In the afternoons and on Saturdays, you can see students and staff working on different projects. Horses must be fed, the bed and breakfast freshened for visitors, and the conference center readied for the next group. WFCA trains students in broadcasting. At Rainwater Observatory, students learn how to work telescopes and help with astronomy programs.tennis-player

Every aspect of FCA contributes to the accomplishment of our mission of being a Christ-centered home and school, serving young people and families for the glory of God.

Effects of Renewal

Lives built on the certainty of God’s redemptive work become stable, fruitful, and fulfilled. Hope takes root and enlivens minds and hearts. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (I Cor. 5: 17).katy-octavious-farida

The cords of sin and evil that so easily entangled thoughts and emotions are slowly unraveled and tossed into the flames. The stagnant water of sorrow is drained and lives are refilled with fresh water. Grins replace groans, direction replaces destruction, clear minds replace cloudy thinking.

Sometimes the renewal takes place quickly, sometimes slowly. But all around us we see God renewing lives at French Camp Academy.

‘Tis the Season

aa-at-bat-smallBy Sylvia Dickson

The crowd watched as the batter stepped up to the plate. On the first pitch, he took a hefty swing at the ball—and missed. Strike one. The second and third pitches were called balls. Then a strike and another ball. The next pitch would be the final one for this batter.

The anticipation rose. Would he strike out, baseball-triowalk, or send the ball soaring into left field for a base run?

Just as in a game of baseball, our work with young people at FCA is full of anticipation, cheering, and let downs. What is most important though, is the strength and encouragement we get from God’s Word, knowing that He is calling all the plays, and we’re all in it together.

Down for the countDSC_6489

How are we doing? What is our record at FCA? To answer these questions, we asked some of our students, past and present:

    The Lord used so many staff members to show me what a young, Christ-like lady should look  like. For my entire high school career, I was prayed for and invested in.

    I know I am loved here. I don’t have to worry about providing my own food or wonder who will take me to the doctor.boy-with-bat

    I can be a child again.

    Staff members patiently worked with me on my anger and helped me learn better ways of relating.

    When I mess up, I have to have consequences. But they are not angry, abusive consequences. Actually, they are helpful, and I am forgiven.

In baseball, boxing, and basketball—you win some and you lose some. Not so at FCA. All of our students are winners. In their struggles to overcome the hard things and their efforts to change harmful attitudes and behaviors, we see God’s grace at work in each life.juliette-s-blonde

And the Winner Is

When a young person leaves FCA, he takes a solid, healthy knowledge that Christ offers hope, peace and strength that cannot be found in the world. From our perspective, that is winning. Transforming lives through the redemptive work of Christ is our focus. God’s plan is for us to Keep our eyes on the ball and trust Him.

Do we always hit a home run? No. Most of our hits are base runs or walks, with some strike-outs thrown in. However, we know we are on the right team—that God has picked each student and staff member by His grace to be here so that He can accomplish His plans for our lives

From the Heart of a Child

by Karen Cates, FCA staff memberracing-car-boy

I am always looking for opportunities to share nuggets of truth with the students and invest God’s Word into their lives so it will accomplish that which God has purposed and desired (Isaiah 55:11). The unexpected and awesome twist is how much these children speak truth back into my life.

The Pain
Somehow I pulled my lower back and was suffering from sciatic nerve pain. Then my grandchildren were with me for a few days. Without thinking, I lifted the walker with the baby in it, hurting my back even more. I am certainly not young anymore. As my husband jokingly reminds me, the ole gray mare ain’t what she used to be.horse

The next morning I stretched my muscles and took some medication before taking one of the boys to an appointment. It was difficult to get in the tall vehicle. I let out a sigh of frustration. The young man asked what was wrong and I simply told him my back was still hurting and it was hard to get comfortable.brown-eyed-boy

The Prayer
He immediately began to pray aloud.  Dear Jesus, please touch Mrs. Cates’ back and heal it. Make the pain go away so she will feel better. In Jesus Name, Amen.

As I listened my own prayer went up: Father, you have told us we must come to you with the innocence and faith of a child. Your heart is for these little ones and I ask, for the sake of your Name, please show this child You hear his prayers. My pain is insignificant, but the building of his faith is for eternity.karen-cates

The Praise
We got to Starkville and I got out of the vehicle and walked to the door and I realized there was no pain. I moved, stretched, reached up, squatted and exclaimed—God heard you!

He looked at me questioning, What!

He healed my back! It doesn’t hurt anymore. I can move!

How?! He exclaimed.

I don’t know. He’s God! He can do anything! I answered.emmaline

The Purpose
As I contemplated all this on our way home, I thought how easy it is to just take a pill, complain, live through it, call a friend, and then, maybe, ask God to do something.

Through faith, this child’s first response was to pray. It was automatic and as natural as breathing. How my heart was convicted. Why isn’t that my first response?

DSC_0872Had I not just written a devotion on the presence of God in our lives from Daniel 10? When we get up every morning, are we like Daniel in that we fall on our face with no strength or desire of our own, overwhelmed by the presence within us, worshipping with no thought of our own until He picks us up and orders our day for us?

Oh, what conviction! When I fail to acknowledge that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is ever present, do I mourn? Do I just rush through the day pushing Him aside for the worldly demands and fleshly desires of my own will? Am I like the nation of Israel with a divided heart?”1boy & girl with ball

The Promise
God used the heart and faith of a child to remind me of my neglect. He is all I need. If we do not live this in front of those He has entrusted to our care for this short time, how will we be able to share hope for hurting hearts?

French Camp is definitely a place of hope and healing, not only for our children. God continues to daily teach and strengthen those He has called that we may demonstrate: I have a hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, 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).

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Know My Anxious Thoughts

charlotte-angelby Sylvia Dickson

Many of our students were involved in a Christmas play at the church. It illustrated how God changes hearts and how important looking beyond the surface is.

Nobody performed perfectly. Mistakes were made, lines dropped, and scenes disrupted. But everyone applauded, and thanked the actors for their performances. arista-with-baby

In this play about love and forgiveness, we ALL were living it out in our relationships with each other that night. Some of the students were upset about forgetting a line or two. Others came on stage at the wrong time—or forgot to enter. It was organized chaos at times.

I, being the director, tried to keep a close eye on things, but I couldn’t keep up with it all. (Fortunately, I had 3 assistants who were also keeping up). Corralling 22 youngsters helped me refocus on how dependent I am on God’s attention to my life.

God doesn’t have to keep up. Every day is written by Him and executed perfectly: brettAll the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16). God knows when I sit and when I rise (v. 2). He knows my thoughts before I think them. When I make a mistake, He’s there to show how even that works according to His plan.

Our play, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson, was a hit. Family members and friends smothered their favorite actors with hugs and accolades of praise. To cap things off, parents decorated and hosted the cast party, where more kudos were handed out.

It was all great fun and the slathering on of love smoothed over any mistakes made. In my nighttime prayer, I thanked God for His unbelievable love and forgiveness that He made possible through Jesus, His Son. I also prayed, aristaSearch me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (vs. 23,24).

Our young people learned a lot about themselves and others and about God as we went through the process of putting on a play. Being faithful to the lives where God has placed us, loving each other, and forgiving one another are some of the important lessons this group was exposed to. Now we just hope that they will transfer those lessons to real life.

I believe they will!

4-ladies

A Glorious Task

dsc_1144By Stefani Carmichael 

One February day in 2013 I arrived in French Camp for the first time. My husband, children and I had driven along the Natchez Trace. The trees glittered with icicles and snow, an uncommon sight in Mississippi. The small town greeted us with log cabins and children making snow men and throwing snow balls. We had an awe-filled first impression.

That summer we returned to French Camp with a U-Haul. We were moving in to become dorm parents to teenage girls. God had placed a burden on our hearts to help in whatever way we could.

You might think that as time wore on, my impression of French Camp would be less awe-filled.grace-payton

After all, reality quickly set in. Trying to love and help up to 16 teenage girls in addition to your own family comes with a unique set of challenges and difficulties that most people could not imagine.

Year two of the job was even harder as I walked through a difficult pregnancy. My morning-noon-and-night sickness came on at the smell of any food (or other substances like trees, lotion, and baby powder). It made cooking for my hoard incredibly difficult, and so did the fatigue that set in later.

boys-with-christmas-propsI have watched house parents around me bombarded with medical problems, surgeries, and various other struggles plod away still caring for those in their charge, as if we were not already caring for those who have been beaten and broken in the world, watching those far too young face their share of troubles.

This year I have watched new house parents come and see both the captivating first impressions, and the stark realities of the job. Yet they voiced something quickly that I think we all have felt. Sitting in houseparent meeting one of them said, “We thought we were coming to help them, we didn’t know we were coming for us.”shea-at-lunch

Because somehow, this place really does help all of us. But it is not the place itself that helps us.

We were reminded recently by Edwin Faughn at Rainwater Observatory as my girls and I stared in amazement at the vast night sky, French Camp is only a dot. It is a dot in Mississippi, which is a tiny state in the United States, which is a country in this world, which is orbiting around just one of the stars in this vast universe.

DSC_0864This location is not what helps us. But, in this location are so many people indwelt by the Spirit of the Living God whose glory is declared by the vast heavens he created. As we all come together here and take off our masks, we see ourselves and each other as we truly are.

In this tiny town of French Camp, many lives have been changed. God has changed children’s lives, but he has also changed ours. He has shown us just like he showed Gideon that sometimes we need to face a battle where the enemy far outnumbers us so that we can see that God is the one who brings the victory. girl-in-glasses

How big is your God? If we must carry everything ourselves, then the weight of our problems is far too great and crushes us. But we don’t have to carry everything ourselves. If we look at everything from a different perspective, we realize the size of our problems compared to the size of the God who made this universe and we have hope. Because that God can handle our problems. He gives us hope, working His awe in us and healing both children and house parents alike.