Early Saturday morning Maddy, Emma and Katherine showed up at my apartment to pack up my car and start the drive to camp. We took off and then stopped two blocks later to load up on bagels and to meet Courtney and Anna who would follow us up to Tecumseh.
Car rides with friends are one of my favorite things. We danced and sang and talked about who we would see and how excited we were to get there. The drive flew by and soon enough we were pulling on to West Tecumseh Bend Rend.
Five years ago with my co-counselors Fitzie and Glanders, we hosted the first ever CILT Winter Reunion. All of our campers from the previous summer were invited to come back for 25 hours to see old friends, interview for Day Camp staff, make connections with people from other sessions and have a re-charge of camp joy and faith in the middle of the year. This weekend has become one of my highlights and favorite traditions of the whole year. We'd been looking forward to this since July and the time had finally arrived.
Between the three sessions there were 116 CILTs in the summer of 2012 and nearly 100 of them were going to show up for this event. They were coming from the East and West, carpooling with home friends, putting off homework and eagerly jumping back into this place that they call home.
Even though they only spent two weeks together here, they are like family to one another. They shared one of the most significant experiences of their life and have stayed in touch during the months that followed. Getting to be together again is the best present.
We thought Ellie wasn't going to be able to be here and she showed up this morning surprising everyone. I had found out a few nights ago that the plan for her to be here would work out and was so psyched. Emma had to do a little preparation work for her secret gift and had to go get some water from the infamous Tippy (aka Tippecanoe River).
The crew of early arrivals helped me set up things in Lake Village and gather supplies from all over camp. These girls are gems. We would have probably been pretty content just hanging out with the group of about ten people that got there early but knew that our excitement would multiply ten fold once everyone else arrived.
Our Subway picnic lunch was interrupted by a dance party--we needed to test out the speakers after all. Moments like this when everyone is going crazy and not carrying about what they look like are my favorite. I love seeing all of these girls back together camping strong. I wish we could have dance parties like this one every day of the year.
Soon one o'clock rolled around and the party really got started. Mags spread her Camp T handshake to Joel and Jordan, they're really good at it. You can learn it too-- put out your left foot, lean back, peace sign and thumb, stick out your tongue and wave your hands.
I was so excited when Emily Kupres arrived, she is a rockstar and I have missed her since this summer. More and more great kids kept coming.
I love standing out in front of Scheumann and running to people to give them a big hug and welcome them back to camp. For the past few weeks I've been bugging them to all sign up and giving them updates on Facebook about how many people will be there. Now they were here in the flesh.
I'm also so thankful that these reunions bring the counselors back together. I love getting to be with Arielle and our other friends, especially back at camp. For two moths of the year we get to be together almost every moment of every day and the other ten months that time together is so very limited. Working, laughing, praying, dancing, playing and talking together is so natural that we easily fall back into it.
Seeing kids run to attack their friends in a mob is one of the most beautiful things. I loved watching Olivia figure out that Ellie had made it and then their mad sprint to one another. A mob of session 2 girls attacked Emma and she just beamed as they all ran to her.
One of the goals for the reunion is that all the kids from different sessions will mix and begin to get to know one another. At the same time I want the sessions to have plenty of time back together. So we play Where the Wind Blows and have a Q-tip War to start off.
We got into Team Yurt, Team Longhouse, Team Neon Hat and Team Wooden Nametag to mix up sessions for a little competition. During the summer the counselors always talk about making cross-session-friendships, "Wouldn't it be hilarious if Oliva and Tera could meet? Could you see Emily and Megan becoming friends? Henry and Sam would have been awesome working together." Now we get to watch some of those connections actually happen and it's the coolest thing.
The Teams rotated through different challenges to name counselors from last summer, play camp games as quickly as possible, put together two giant puzzles and try to make a new jump rope record. One group got all the way to 268 in continuous jumps, very impressive teamwork.
At some point, Courtney, Ellie and Olivia ran over to Jamie, me and Mags because they decided they we all matched up in pairs of resemblance of looks and personality. Do you see it at all?
Whether we match up or not, this is a pretty stellar group.
Best friends Hayden and Mags were reunited this weekend as well and he was more than a little excited to see her.
Hayden and Court are also really good at Maggie's Camp T handshake.
We had some late arrivals and a handful of people that had to check out early but this is the closest we could get to picture of all of us. There were ten counselors and about 100 CILTs that gathered together this weekend; an incredible turn out.
Next five different groups roamed all over camp to check off tasks on a photo scavenger hunt. Arielle and I went along with this hilarious group of Session 1 kids to tackle tasks that included petting a taxidermy animal (like Frederick the deer), reenacting their favorite moment at chapel ("Hallelujah He Reigns!")...
climbing under the porch to Arielle and my favorite childhood hang out spot...
choosing a location for Camp T's second Irving (if we put it here they'll be waving to each other), finding leaves as big as our faces...
and going down to the river to pray.
We all got back up to the LV just in time to get ready for our Would You Be My Friend If I Wore This theme dinner.
Our first camp meal since we left CILTs was quite the celebration. There were wigs and sombreros, tu-tus and overalls, pizza and breadsticks, around-the-room-dancing and on-your-chair-singing, capes and furry vests.
Our crew of counselors for the weekend: Sam, Morph, Maggie, Jamie, KJ, Hayden, Arielle, Lesem, me and Carolyn. They are all such awesome counselors and I'm thankful that they would take the time to come hang out and help for this reunion. I couldn't have done it without them.
After dinner we played "Finish the Camp Song Lyrics" with representatives of each session. Do you know the next words of "Kings and Queens and Bishops too, want to wish the best to you so..." or "Our God is greater, Our God is stronger, Our God is..."?
For the first time ever at a CILT reunion we had a White Elephant Gift Exchange. Everyone brought a funny/random/cheap/creative present to trade. When it was your turn you could take a new present from the fireplace or steal one that had already been opened.
Arielle grabbed this chicken sweater and I know she'll wear it all the time. It was fun to see what people opened up--a karate trophy, a ping-pong ball gun, giant stuffed animals, onesie pajamas, old CDs and VHS tapes, a painted gourd...
a whole bag of Session 2 sock puppets that looked like each person, a brand new Bop- It Extreme that Ellie brought and I stole...
an accordion for Jamie, a whole stack of Oreos for Katherine...
a make your own Pet Rock kit from Anna, a bag of Pretzel M and Ms, a whoopee cushion and so much more.
Then the time came for Paper Plate Awards. First up was the Best Triad of New Friends, sets of three girls that didn't come to CILTs together but became best friends. Session 1- Tippy Trio Emma, Jocele (not pictured) and Maddy, Session 2- Kendyl, Rebecca and Kathryn, and Session 3- Emily, Kristen and Tera.
Best Nick Name to One S Jes and Best Laugh to Jenny.
We couldn't decide who should get the Strongest Man award so we settled it with an arm wrestle between Dan the Man and Luke Robertson.
The audience cheered them on, yelling extra loud for the guy they knew the best, but in the end...
Luke reigned victorious and got the prestigious title.
Best Sherpa Walk Participant to Henry Papineau and Best Sneaky Photographer to Olivia Odle.
Most Likely to Bring A Knife to Camp to Tommy Thompson, Most Impressive Entrance to Tim Whalen and Best Composer to Susan.
Clare and Emma won Best Friends with the Biggest Height Difference. Traveled the Farthest went to Emily from Nevada and Ben from Maryland.
We gave out a Mr. and Miss Congeniality Award for each group: Session 1- Quinn and Victor, Session 2- Isaac and Emma, and Session 3- Amy and Sam.
We put together so many activities and events for this weekend, but my favorite part is just getting to be with all these kids again. During the summer, two weeks goes by in a flash, but now it seems like two weeks together would last forever. It made me so happy to be back with all these kids that I've grown close to and gotten to know so well. Kids like Katie, Emma, Emily, Amy, Elaine and Kristin that I've been able to stay in touch with over the past few months and was so thankful to see in person again.
We played Human Ladder which always proves to be hilarious. Their course instigated a traffic jam behind the giant log that they had to navigate their way out of and then back to the other side of the room.
Each Session got the chance to perform their cheer for the other groups. If you've never been to Camp T, every age group has their own cheer that they perform all summer long and it rarely changes from year to year. But CILTs is different. Each session of kids writes their own original cheer and each one is uniquely awesome with a rap, stomp, dance moves, dubstep, song parody or special props.
"Look, if you had two weeks to have the greatest experience of your lifetime would you take it or just let it slip?"
"The CILTs are here now, now to chapel and we pray, pray for needed rain, reign down on these kids, kids running around, round for the weeks we have, have you seen our hats, hats that will make, make you glad we came."
"Moved down to the River now we're CILT frat, that's because we wear those brown shirts, and our guys are living in that great Yurt, wooden name tags yeah we're lookin fine, I wish every little camper could be mine."
I was glad Jamie, Arielle and Morph wanted to jump back in with every Session to do their cheer with them. "It all just comes right back to you," Arielle said after we sped through Session 1's long cheer and somehow remembered most of their dance moves correctly.
We played Bubblegum Pictionary and, my personal favorite, the Newlywed Game to see which session knows one another the best.
We walked with our friend crushes to Scheumann for ice cream sundaes and Kangaroo Maddy and Dignan started a dance party to Alvin and the Chipmunks.
Our last group event of the night was watching the Reunion video of all the photos and videos I took while they were at camp. They were layered with the graduation songs they recorded on their last Friday and other favorite songs of the summer. It's amazing how all those clips of memories and special moments can take you right back and make you feel like you're there again. I wish we could live in summer all year long.
I never had a CILT reunion with other sessions the year I actually was a CILT. I always think it would be so interesting to see a movie like this from 2003. To see other kids on the Longhouse porch or with the CILT counselors, to see that they went to the lake for CILT time while another session hiked to the Gish Adventure outpost or took a bus to Arielle's house. You're so used to thinking about just your group but in this video you get to see a clearer picture of the whole summer.
The girls headed back to Whitetail to write love tank notes and have devotions together. We also had to try out a trick we saw on Instagram and I was impressed that they could balance so well. This night really is the biggest slumber party ever and it's so fun to have everyone together in one room.
We got to share kind words, check in on our faith, sit in circles and talk, share food, remember old stories and stay up late.
I love the community we create in this culture. It's hard to match this support, loyalty, friendship and intentionality anywhere else. We finally turned off the lights and fell asleep as Jamie sang the goodnight song to us. There was still a full day ahead tomorrow.