A camp story
Alyssa and Lindsey jumped from their top bunks, screaming at the top of their lungs because a bee was flying over their heads. They landed on the floor and sprung up to run around the cabin and continue screaming. Kadi was sprawled across her blankets, towels, and pile of clothes that had exploded from her suitcase. All of it was a heap on the floor and Kadi used it like a bed as she dramatically replayed the story of talking with a cute Warrior boy that day during bead clinic. She had already told the story three times and it became more involved with each telling. Libby and Annie sat squeezed together on a top bunk devouring a can of Cheez-um Pringles as they watched the madness unfold during tonight's cabin time. All of the girls were supposed to be taking showers but because everyone was so hyper it was taking longer than normal. I sat on the floor beside Erika, the counselor, as we filled out my coaching card, aka CILT evaluation, for today. I was fifteen-years-old and the crazy girls of Osage were my adopt-a-cabin for the week.
A camper since the age of five, I had been waiting to be a CILT for what seemed like forever. The CILTs, Campers In Leadership Training, were the oldest kids in camp. They got to live in the Longhouse for two whole weeks. It was something that everyone looked forward to and counselors promised that it was the best year of being a camper.
It has been years since I was a CILT but I still remember some of those moments like they happened yesterday.
I remember sitting in a circle in Main Field with all of the CILTs on check-in day. I looked around the group and wondered who I would become close friends with.
I remember teaching a country line dancing mini-clinic with Katie Quille.
I remember all of the CILTs jumping into the baby pool that our counselors surprised us with and singing "Baby Pool" instead of "Baby Shark" the rest of the session.
I remember when they let the CILTs lead "The Silly Moose" at closing campfire and we messed up the words.
I remember how sad we all were when they told us we had to move out of the Longhouse and in with our adopt-a-cabins for the second week.
I remember watching Toy Story and everyone deciding to call Krafty Mrs. Nesbit from then on.
I remember when the counselors let me lead the trust hike on the secret trails all the way from Main Field to the Giant Stump in the Oak Forest.
I remember leading a devotion with my little Brave girls and knowing that they totally didn't get it.
I remember pretending I was cousins with Meg Wright and climbing the wall tied together.
I remember telling my counselor Kyla that I wanted my CILT session to be great because I wanted to have a group of friends just like my sister had. But we just kept getting in trouble for being disrespectful and I was so frustrated.
I remember writing our CILT song in the Leadership Center on the last day.
I remember throwing coins into the baby pool like it was a wishing well with Krafty and Katie Quille on the last day and hoping we would one day be CILT counselors together.
All of those moments were pieces of my last year. It was one of my favorite times as a camper and some of those people are still great friends today. But it was one moment with a girl from my adopted cabin that made the biggest impact of all.
The CAC, Creative Arts Center, was packed with all of the Warrior campers, counselors, and CILTs. Just coming from trading post time, everyone was hyped up on sugar and thankful for the bit of relief that the air-conditioned room brought from the June heat. Thursday night now, I knew the girls in my cabin well and had developed friendships with them.
A counselor on stage spoke into the microphone, "Welcome to Warrior Workshop everybody! For our first game we need all of you to make a giant circle around the room. Go ahead and scoot back." As we started to move into formation I noticed that Hannah, one of my girls, had her arms crossed, her head down and was standing far away from the rest of our cabin. She had been fine just a few minutes ago but now something was wrong. I quickly told Erika, the Osage counselor, what I was going to do and then went over to Hannah. "Do you want to go outside and talk instead of playing this game?" I asked. She nodded her head vigorously, thankful for an escape, and followed me out of the chaos of all the campers.
Back outside everything was still. We could see a few cabins having a pillow fight far across the field. There were a few birds chirping but mostly all was quiet as the sun hung low in the sky. Hannah and I sat down Indian style on the dusty wooden porch. "Ok, what's going on Hannah?"
I wasn't sure how she would answer since I was just a CILT, not her counselor. I didn't know how to do this whole counseling thing. But then she just told me. All of it. She talked about a Warrior boy she liked and how he was flirting with her friend now instead of her. She told me about her friends at home and why she was frustrated with them before she came and that she didn't want to go back. Hannah told me that she was realizing that she wasn't proud of who she was becoming but didn't know how to change. I asked questions and listened and shared my own experiences. We just talked. It was simple.
"Can I pray for you?" I asked her. I had never asked anyone that before but I could feel that it was the right thing to do. She said yes and we prayed together on the porch. A prayer for the rest of Hannah's week and for when she would head back home. We said "Amen" together. We walked back through the double doors to rejoin Warrior Workshop.
I loved all twelve summers that I was a camper. I had always looked forward to finding out who my counselors would be and meeting the other girls in my cabin. I loved getting to be in clinics, competing in Gold Rush, and sharing during devotions. I loved being a camper. As a CILT, I didn't want my time as a camper to come to an end. Being a counselor was so unfamiliar. That's what grown up, mature people did.
But this one conversation with Hannah showed me that there was so much more to look forward to. Even if my CILT session wasn't perfect, even if I wasn't perfect, I could still join in this tradition of sharing hope, vulnerability, peace, and connection with kids. I believe that those relationships and conversations are one of the keys to what makes camp so special.
My story is not unique. That night I joined into a conversation that has been going on for decades. Summer after summer dozens of counselors are sitting down and talking with kids like Hannah. These men and women are choosing to get to know these kids and take the time to listen to their stories. I remember counselors like Spaz, Jill, Megan, and Susan that took the time to get to know me when I was a kid. They knew my name, invited me to be their friend, and listened to my own stories. They had a permanent impact on my life.
When I walked back into the CAC with Hannah from the porch that night, I knew that I was hooked. I couldn't wait to spend my summers as an official camp counselor. June, July, and August were going to be about more than just acting silly and hanging out with my friends. I didn't have to be perfect to wear that blue staff shirt someday, I just had to be willing to let God work through me as I shared my love for camp and life with kids.
Author Shauna Niequist writes, "Friendship is acting out God's love in tangible ways." Over the course of the summer, counselors interact with hundreds of kids. They go out of their way to make kids feel loved, included, and special. As counselors we sign-up for the opportunity to make showing God's love our full-time job.