I remember having a conversation with one of my best friends, Jack, our senior year of high school. We were musing about the different things that we should do over the summer before we went off to college. We reminisced about the adventures we had: climbing the ski jump, being evacuated from a town in danger of wildfire, trekking out to the deep woods to settle into prayer cabins. The subject veered toward the future and he asked if I would want to be a camp counselor with him. With a hint of wit he added, “The best dads are camp counselors!” Well, I did want to be a good dad but the thought of being away from home for an entire summer in a place that I didn’t know without an escape plan didn’t sound very appealing. For a kid who had never moved and went to the same school for 13 years, this was quite the leap out of my comfort zone. So I said, “Yeah that sounds pretty cool” while thinking, “Yeah I’m never going to do that.” Little did I know that about a year later I would be doing just that. All on my own. Kind of.
I don’t blame past Ben for being scared of heading off to camp. He hadn’t gone through much change in his life and he was pretty dependent on the people who had supported him over all these years. But he needed a good shove out of the plane. Camp was that shove and these are a few of the things it taught me.
- There is an end to me. For pretty much all of my life on this earth I have been able to coast smoothly from one day to the next. I’ve never experienced financial ruin or emotional terror or excruciating pain. For all that I knew, I could walk through life with the strength of my own two legs. Well that’s a stupid thought. There is an end to me, a place where no mental, emotional, or physical strength on my part will keep me going. This hit me hard around the middle of my first week with kids. It was then that God showed me that I simply cannot love these kids on my own. At the end of the week I wrote, “The moment my soul wanders from Christ and the Gospel is when I become weary. I need to not lose sight of him.” Jesus showed me this about thirty times a day. There is an end to me, a wonderfully broken end; the perfect beginning for true faith.
- Professors aren’t the only qualified teachers. “When’s free time?” “Hey is free time soon?” “Can’t it just be free time nooowwww???” These words haunt me in my dreams. Okay, that’s a little dramatic but seriously it’s amazing how many times they can be repeated. This came up in one of our chapels set aside for the staff. We had broken up into groups and were talking about what the kids were teaching us that week. One of my fellow counselors said, “These kids are teaching me how annoying I must be to God.” We all chuckled a little but then it hit us pretty hard: these kids are a bunch of crazy mirrors. I’m just like that kid who needs someone shouting encouraging words as he struggles up the rock wall. I’m just like that kid who misses home so much that he can’t see all the wonderful things around him. I should be just like that kid who is way too excited to go sailing. Jesus paid attention to children for a reason, maybe we could learn a thing or two from them.
- He is always working. I remember sitting in the Loony Bin (chapel for the little ones) and wondering if anything that the speaker was saying was hitting home for these kids. We went back to the cabin afterwards and the kids were just wired. I pondered if the walls were made out of rubber because they were literally bouncing off of them. I struggled to settle them down and began to do our nightly devotional. About three seconds in it became glaringly evident that I wasn’t going to keep any of their attention. Completely exhausted and frustrated with myself, I let them have some flashlight time and turned off the lights. I remember lying there and thinking, “What am I doing here?” It felt like I was there to merely corral the kids and keep them quiet. And maybe that’s the only reason God had me there that night. But the beautiful thing that He started showing me was that no matter what I was feeling or seeing or thinking, He was working. It doesn’t matter how young or old they are. It doesn’t matter if I see results or not. All that I’m supposed to do is sow the seeds. God’s the one that comes by and waters them. And it turns out he’s pretty sneaky at watering.
- Rest is sacred. Mornings became my sanctuary, that bench by the lake my refuge, and the 24 hours at the end of the week my saving grace. These were the times when I could just sit and let God fill what had been drained. Honestly, the sweetest moments and times when I have felt most loved happened while sitting on that bench. This wasn’t time to numb my mind with social media or be endlessly entertained by Netflix or YouTube. This was time to be with the only one who could pick me up again and walk with me through another week. Work is good for the mind and the body. Rest is sacred for the soul.
- I shouldn’t be you (and you shouldn’t be me). If you’ve read some of my previous posts then you might know my struggle with insecurity and people’s opinions of me. I think this originates from experiences in high school and is fueled by my over analytic mind. But the great thing about being up at camp was that no one knew me. I could pretty much be who I really am. And it felt great. I even started doing things I never thought I would like acting on stage and dancing like a fool. Camp has a strangely beautiful way of tearing yourself away from all you know while teaching you more about yourself than you ever knew. And what I learned was that when I stop trying to be you and you stop trying to be me, a universe of ideas of who God intended you and me to be opens up.
I encourage you to step out and do something new this summer. Maybe that looks like being a camp counselor but maybe it’s more like taking a road trip or doing random nice things for people each day. Whatever it is, I hope you learn how cool you are and how sweet it is to just get by with Jesus.