I have been in love with camp all of my life. I remember going there as a young kid, driving up the dirt road, watching the sunlight reflect through the trees, smelling the air. Because the air smells different there. and I loved it. I can remember being seven, and being overwhelmingly content to just sit and stare and take it in. Camp was this place where there was constant excitement and that excitement got me hooked. I was sick of being bored every five seconds, I loved the stimulation. I loved the routine. I loved that I could tell you exactly what order we did everything in, and which parts were awesome and which parts were hard. Most of all, I could tell you about the lake, because the lake offered something that I havent found anywhere else. The sun shines on Ness Lake in a way that I dont think it does elsewhere. It explodes. The water is clean and cold and deep. It sucks you in and surrounds you and takes the breath out of your lungs. I could sit beside that lake all day, feeding it my brokeness. As I grew up I lived out the school year in dire anticipation for the summer to come, not because school would be out, but because for one week I would get to go back.
I would get to be free, I would get to feel love like it is supposed to feel elsewhere. Love is something that we have screwed up. We dont love people like we are supposed to. We dont care for them or give to them or appreciate the small stupid things about them that make them beautiful like we should. We cant. We are so human. But at camp, somewhere behind the excitement and the realness and the dedication of the summer team, there is love. Real love. It comes from God, that part is simple, but at seven or nine or even thirteen I didnt understand, so I tied this crazy desire to be around it- to being at camp. And though I can make sense of it now, the mystery of camp still captures me. The allure of the sun shining through the trees and exploding on the lake will hold power for me forever.
Every year summer comes back to us and I made my summers about going to this place that changed me until eventually I wandered my way onto staff. I was a leader for many summers and eventually moved up into the senior team, being responsible for the staff and to ensuring they had what they needed to do their job effectively. Something happened to me as I continued to pour into the place I owed everything to. I broke. My commitment to being used by God to show other kids the love that I felt there took everything from me. I literally gave camp everything that I had, all of my heart, all of my passion, all of my efforts, to make it the best it could be. Where I saw issues, I poured into solving them. When there were complications, I laid out detailed ways around them. When I felt passionate about something, I advocated for my heart boldly. Amidst the painful dynamics, I dug in and worked through and had the longest of long meetings desperately trying to make it work, and I failed at it constantly. It is broken and messy out there in the world of christian ministry. People are under appreciated and walked on. And I dont mean just me, I under appreciated and walked on people in order to accomplish what I set out to accomplish there. I didn't mean to, but it happens, and it killed me. It tore me up. Doing what had to be done when I didn't want to do it, not that way, but there was no way around it. I became the good cop and the bad cop to teens who were too caught up in their own mysterious desire to be there to understand why we were doing it.
I became this machine. This person who would build instant and strong relationships with people that ran deep into the summer and ended abruptly in the fall. I became so close and in love with Jesus that I couldn't handle not sharing with everyone what I was learning and demanding that others upheld the standards he was laying out for us, then I dropped them the minute I forgot that my relationship with Him is a product of my commitment to his presence instead of my commitment to an organization.
I am working hard to change that. To be a person of my word when my word looks like being there for people and caring about them beyond my role and beyond where we are. I want to care about them because of who they are, because of how I see God in them and how much it reminds me of our frailty, of our need for Him. But I fail at this everyday. And camp showed me that. It also showed me that not everyone cares. People don't get it and people are selfish and people put themselves first and let their commitments run shallow. Camp teaches you about grace by showing you the grossness of human nature. The dark underbelly of christian community. It sucks to see that side of people, it sucks to see that side of myself. Camp is painful. When the blurry alluring clouds roll away, the reality of doing a job that you are not equipped to do stings.
When you're in the middle of it and all you can see it how impossible facing the day will be, when you're in that conversation that breaks you as its happening, when you're dealing with a situation that makes you want to scream because nothing else is working. These are the moments in which you reconsider it all. If it's worth it, if it actually accomplishes anything or if we all just hope that it does, and have been told that it does for so long that we no longer question it. It is in these moments when you need to step back, take your heart out of it for a second to assess what is going on objectively. Because when you do that, if you can do that, it's obvious. Every person who has ever been there, who has ever experienced what God does when you allow him to get your attention, can tell you that its worth it. It's not always fun, but it is always beautiful.
Camp gives me a better understanding of who God is and what his followers are capable of doing when they surrender to his will. It teaches me about being part of a community with a unified purpose. It shows me how to be blown away by the faithfulness of God as the team grows and interacts with kids and witnesses him do incredible things in the lives of people. It is in this place of being stretched beyond what you can handle and being challenged in the ways that you can only fail in that God shows up and makes beautiful things out of us (shout out to Gungor). I love camp in a way that I can't understand. I love ness lake in a way that allows me to ruin myself for it with no hesitation and no regrets. The place that I love broke me and I will never stop loving it. Because behind the humanity of the staff, behind the chaos and the organized ruthlessness and the under-appreciation, God is there and his love takes over and inspires people to be more in love with him than we thought we could. He heals the brokenness and he uses people. Being a part of that is something that I will never forget.
But now I need to heal. I need to take a step back and see how much God is elsewhere. I need to recover from the empty, drained zombie of a person that I have become who has no sympathy for people and who looks cynically at the world and its brokenness. I need to break the allusion that God only lives at camp, that he can only use people there. I need to break away from the fear that I don't have the strength to follow him with reckless abandon without the structure of camp holding me to it. I need to find him in the real world. I need to pour into things that I don't yet love. I need to learn about the different levels of who God is, all of the other characteristics that I have been closed off to in my despiration to be a part of what he did to me at camp when I was seven. Camp will forever hold a place in my heart. A place where I will drift to when I need to remember about the simplicity of love, the realness of it. A memory that I will attribute much of my growth to. The person I am today would not be here if it were not for ness lake. The things that I have gone through there I wouldn't change for the world. Not to say that I wouldn't change things about camp, "but only that it has moved me chemically more than anyone or anything I have ever encountered, that all other places seem pale beside it" (modified F. Scott Fitzerald quote).
"In the end, only three things matter: how much you
loved, how gently you lived, and how
gracefully you let go of the things not meant for you."