I had no idea on May 31, 1994 how my life was about to change. I was eighteen years old and had a lot on my mind. Like many young people my first year in college was a whole new experience. New friends. New schedules. New responsibilities. I struggled as I learned to negotiate all of these changes and tried to figure out how the puzzle pieces would start fitting together; if I could even see them at the time. I had always been driven, but I also left a bit to circumstance, if not to providence. “Something will come up” was a response heard in my home growing up on more than one occasion.
The few days before I left to take on the role of camp counselor was a mixed bag of emotions. Two of my friends tried to convince me I could make more money painting houses with them than chasing after kids in the woods. I ran into my high school girlfriend at a party and felt weird about it. After a breakup with a college girlfriend the month prior, I was convinced I needed a break from girls altogether. Girls scared me most of the time anyway, so no great loss. I missed my new college friends, and knew that a few of them because of their grades would not be returning. Adventure into the unknown was what I needed. I knew it. Plus I had given my word and signed the contract, and even with my friends pleading to paint houses with them, I knew I had to honor my commitment. Then June 1 came.
A friend of mine named Sue (yes she is a girl, but no worries there, she took pity on me as a friend) drove me to camp after I got dropped off at her house. I was anxious. Nervous. Worried. What was I doing? Where was this place? Why didn’t I say yes to my friends’ offer to join them? I thought to myself maybe this would not work out and I could still spend part of the summer painting houses. Well, we were almost there. No turning around now.
I was greeted immediately by two people who gave me big hugs, so glad to see me – Shawn (future camp director and pastor) and Erika (the current camp director). The people I met in the first few hours were amazing. Eclectic; maybe a little weird; but genuine; nice; fun. I met some guy named Jeff in the boys cabin (we would later be called G-Geoff and J-Jeff and were inseparable. Our close group of friends and their kids still refer to us this way). Another guy named Dave played guitar. (We ended up going to seminary together. He’s now a pastor in South Carolina). Some girl named Tammie (who I thought was cute but didn’t come to camp to meet girls) had a nephew born that day. (I married her three years later; our nephew John turns seventeen June 1, 2011.) Our director Penny and her husband Glen inspired me and helped me figure out who I was; where God was leading, and which puzzle pieces fit, now that they became clearer into focus. Then there were the campers, the pastors, and the camp itself, and eventually a second camp, and another set of friends that continue to inspire. Those were holy days. And the holy irreverence (as we called it) helped shape those days and brought us together. Did I mention my new friends were weird? Well, as it turns out, so was I. We have pictures.
This is not meant to be a happily ever after story, even though my family life, many of my close friendships and my life’s work all can be traced to June 1, 1994. My phobia of girls ended then too. I hope this reflection is just the beginning, where the puzzle pieces can start to come together for all of us.
What changed for me was not church camp, though these days unfolded there. What changed for me is the way I see church as a result of camp.
It started with those hugs by two people I never met before, who were so happy I came. Suddenly my anxiety left and I could be myself, almost in a moment. I’ve heard the story of Jesus differently ever since. Maybe you have or haven’t felt that way before, but I have tried to emulate it ever since. Maybe the change came when I realized everyone around me was a little weird and I was too. It took the edge off trying to be cool or be somebody I wasn’t; I’m a child of God and so are you. Maybe it was that people were honest and open about their own insecurities, God questions, life questions, relationship problems, that I saw that whoever we are, wherever we come from, whatever we might project about ourselves, we really are not all that different; we are all a little weird, and thank God for that. Jesus died for that; for you.
• What if we welcomed people into our churches with such a warm hospitality of gratitude?
• What if we shared a life together that was that open and honest?
• What if we realized our weirdness is not something to be ashamed of, but is God’s way of making us real people, risen into the life of Christ, with stories to share?
My guess is we would grow deeper in our understanding of Christ and his life, death and resurrection in ways we would have never imagined before as the Bible became not a dusty book on the shelf but as alive as the people a Living Word opened to new life.
My guess is that we would be less concerned with doing things right, and more excited that new faces were among us, just as weird as we are, ready to grow and live and thrive.
My guess is that the things we spend time (I still spend time) worrying about in order to run the church would be less in the forefront of our minds because the Spirit would “daily add to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
As I write this, it is May 31. June 1 is tomorrow. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? No turning around now…
“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34)