A camp story
As a Senior in High School I was given the chance to be a mentor to middle school girls in my youth group. My youth pastor Sheila, who had been my leader for years, encouraged me and a small group of my friends to start leading these younger girls. Jordan and Morgan quickly became my girls when we all got paired up but really the whole group belonged to each other. We were the mentor girls.
That year we planned lock-ins, made a music video, saw Superchic[k] in concert, wore skirts over our jeans like Superchic[k], ate a progressive dinner, competed in Wal-mart cart races, camped out and slept in a tent, had devotions in the youth room, played ultimate challenge in the church parking lot, and sang together in the balcony on Sunday mornings. When I graduated and left for Hope College saying good-bye to those girls was one of the hardest parts of leaving.
Being a role model for someone else had been a transformative experience. It taught me that life isn't all about me. It was a paradox that I would benefit from giving away my time and energy. I started to see value in living my life for someone else.
As a counselor for the oldest girls in camp I wanted to give my campers a mini-version of the same experience-- setting them up to have the chance to be a role model and leader.
My friend Rachel was a counselor for 9-year-olds that summer and we decided to schedule weekly buddy cabin sleepovers. One memorable sleepover was in the beginning of the summer. My girls had just finished the Pathfinder night swim. The last activity period of the night we had been diving and playing water polo as the sun started to disappear. The girls had brought along their pajamas to change into and brushed their teeth in the pool house sinks. Out on the lawn we each picked up our sleeping bags and pillows from the pile we'd left behind. We walked around the curve of the gravel road to the tennis court. Rachel and her Creek girls were already there running round with their flashlights excited that tonight was a special night.
The first five minutes of each sleepover was always the same. Both groups would be uncharacteristically quiet and shy as they approached the unfamiliar age group. Rachel and I would pair the girls off. Noelle from Teton meet Kelly from Creek. Lizzie from Teton meet Maggie from Creek. Each pair would find a spot on the court to sit and talk. After the first few minutes a bond was formed and the girls couldn't stop talking to their new friend. They suddenly had so many stories to tell each other and all thought that their partner was the best one.
When it was time for devotions we arranged our sleeping bags in a giant star shape, everyone next to their new buddy. Rachel started off highs and lows. We went around the circle filling each other in on our days. That night we also asked each girl to name their favorite chapel song. There was an overwhelming number of votes for Prince of Peace with a few Light the Fire, Pharaoh Pharaoh, and Blessed Be Your Names thrown into the mix.
Together we sang the familiar words of Prince of Peace- a mix of the little girls voices that sang extra loud on the words they remembered and these veteran campers that were used to years of chapel and songfest. I put out a list of the names we sing in the chorus, "Lord of Lords, King of Kings, Lord of Everything, Emmanuel, Lamb, Messiah, Redeemer..." We see God embody these names during different parts of our life. What name is he in your life right now?
Each girl shared how God is their friend or their Alpha and Omega or Mighty God right now. As we listened to each girl we heard the perspectives of different ages that we usually miss out on during devotions. Although these girls are six years apart they can still connect and learn from each other in this conversation.
It is a late night for everyone and when their heads hit the pillows they are ready to sleep. I walk laps around and through the circle telling a cloud journey, an old camp tradition, under a sky bright with stars until I hear their heavy breathing.
I woke up on the tennis courts to water dripping on my face. I hit a button the side of my watch and the numbers 4:28 glowed in the dark. Rain. In the middle of the night. I shook Rachel. We both looked up at the dark clouds rolling in over the moon.
Together we woke up all of the girls. "It's starting to rain," we said, "Grab your stuff, we've got to get back to the cabin. Hurry girls." Sleepy campers are difficult to wake up at 7am but they're even groggier in the middle of the night. With sleep still in their eyes, they struggled to crawl out of their blankets, find their flip-flops, bundle everything up and start walking in the direction of the cabin.
I heard the first crack of thunder as I was picking up Anna's stuff along with my own. She had developed a reputation in our cabin for being impossible to wake up and I knew this was going to be a challenge. We had a five minute walk through the rain back up the hill to our cabin in Lake Village. The rest of our cabin was speed walking by now and I told them to go ahead. As the rain fell harder they sprinted back to the cabins, back to their beds, back to where it was dry and warm.
The rain started to fall harder and there was water on my face but I didn't have a free hand to wipe it off. It was a five minute walk through the rain back up the hill to our cabin in Lake Village. Anna would pull herself up from the ground to walk for about a minute before collapsing on the gravel road. She would curl up in a little ball and somehow drift into sleep. Each time I would stoop down beside her, careful not to drop any of our blankets or pillows, and say, "Come on Anna, you can do it, we're almost there. You've got to get up. Let's go. Keep walking." She stopped to sleep on the ground by Irving, in the middle of the lake hill, and in the middle of the long road in the woods. One of the times I was trying to wake her up she growled at me before hiding her face again.
I was near the end of my rope- exhausted, cold, and tired when Anna suddenly got a miraculous burst of energy in the Oak Forest and sprinted back to the cabin. I came through the door a minute after her and dropped the armload of soaked overnight stuff in the middle of the floor.
All of the girls were already in their beds back to sleep. Anna was on her bare mattress fast asleep as though nothing was wrong. I was thankful that my own bed was still made up with sheets and quilts. I crawled between the warm layers to fall back asleep until breakfast.
The rest of the week whenever Creek and Teton crossed paths the girls would run to their buddies. They sat together during one chapel, were partners at the Lake, and yelled to each other across Main Field. When I got a letter from Noelle a couple weeks after she returned home she wrote, "I was walking in downtown La Grange yesterday when I heard someone yell my name. I turned around it was Kelly, my Creek buddy! She ran over to me and we talked about camp for awhile. She takes guitar lessons at the same place as my brother so I might get to see her next week. It was so cool to see her again."