In the Spirit of Camp Withdrawals

024It’s always around this year that my heart starts to feel a very specific kind of ache. My social media feeds fill with images and video clips of staff trainings and the first weeks of programming at outdoor ministry sites around the country. My camp friends and I start to reminisce (more frequently than usual) of our own camp glory days. These days, my heart skips a beat every time I catch a whiff of campfire, and I lace up my Chacos with an extra dose of nostalgia and look for every possible excuse to break out the tie dye. Yes, it’s camp withdrawal season.

People often ask what it is about camp that is so special. Was it just a really fun job? Do I just miss my camp friends? Am I simply feeling reminiscent of the days in which I got to hide from “the real world” all summer? Yes and no.  Quite honestly, my summers at camp were some of the most beautiful and challenging months of my life, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. They were far from perfect, but they were real and they were holy.

Never has a community seen me laugh or cry harder (or more often). Camp helped me find the courage to speak publically, to dance with abandon, to play the guitar in front of people before I would have ever deemed myself “ready,” to lead children on canoes and build a campfire and make silly games up on the spot because we ended up with an extra fifteen minutes before lunchtime. Camp forced me to admit that I don’t know everything when campers asked me tough questions in Bible study about heaven and hell and where God is in the midst of suffering. Camp taught me to ask for help, reminded me that I don’t have to constantly prove myself worthy of being loved and that maybe, just maybe, I am enough even when all I do is simply show up. Camp helped me develop the endurance to push through just one more day when it was Thursday morning and my campers were homesick and exhausted and covered in mosquito bites, and all I wanted was to wash my feet and take a really long nap somewhere with air conditioning. Camp taught me to speak up when I had something to say, but also constantly reminded me that sometimes the ideas we could create together were far greater than anything one of us could come up with on our own. Camp helped me embrace the messiness: of faith, of life, of carefully coordinated schedules that had to be changed last minute because of the rain and of worship services that were poorly planned but in which we somehow managed to encounter the Spirit anyway.

It was at camp that I felt most intimately connected with God the Creator in the early morning sunrises, in the gentle lapping of the waves against the dock, in the dirt underneath my fingernails, in the gentle rustling of the leaves, and in the thunder that shook the cabins during middle of the night July thunderstorms.

It was at camp that I met the Word made flesh in high-fives covered in sticky marshmallow goo, in the friends who patiently sat with me as I cried on the back steps of the chapel, in the campers who screamed the last couple rounds of The Rock at the top of their lungs, in the co-workers who left me encouraging notes decorated with markers and glitter glue when I needed cheering up, and in the friends who loved me in the midst of my imperfections.

And it was at camp that I encountered the Spirit as mysterious and beautiful as the campfires around which we gathered in song and prayer: the Spirit who swept us into Her dance of relationship and community, who called and weaved together our ragtag bunch of stories, experiences, and personalities into one Body and then sent us back out into the world, forever changed, if ever so slightly, from our time together. And it is this Spirit who continued to sustain us in faith, love, and community, long after the lingering scent of campfire washed out of our sweatshirts and our Chaco tan lines began to fade.

Thanks be to the God who continues to call and nurture, create and encounter communities of campers, staff, volunteers, boards of directors, alumni, and loyal supporters. To all of you faithfully preparing for Summer 2016: Blessings on your journey!! IMG_3948

 

To The City That Taught Me Grace

FullSizeRender (3)I’m sitting in my favorite hipster coffee shop in the entire city of Denver sipping a lavender latte out of a mason jar. I just returned from a day hanging out in the Family Area at The Gathering Place, the day shelter where I served during my full-time volunteer year with Urban Servant Corps. I reconnected with old coworkers, chatted with this year’s full-time volunteers, and played some serious Legos with my new four-year-old friends. Yesterday I shared coffee, lunch, and life giving conversation with fellow former volunteers and housemates. The day before, I wandered around downtown and to my favorite parks and coffee shops, retracing the paths my Chacos know so well. A dear college friend and I ventured into the mountains that still leave me in complete awe of their beauty. I drank delicious coffee and good beer and soaked in the Colorado sunshine. As I type this, I am feeling gloriously content.

I also managed to miss four buses in a row as I attempted to navigate public transportation, accidentally stood up my former USC-ers at happy hour, and scheduled and rescheduled coffee dates and visits because I simply could not seem to get my life together. My friend and I got lost on our mountain trail and remembered just how out of shape we are as we attempted to hike back to where we were supposed to be. I remembered the stress and emotional weight of working in a shelter and felt weirdly disoriented as I stepped back into a world that seems like a distant dream. Visiting my old haunts felt simultaneously comforting and a little lonely when I thought of the community of people who shared that intense, beautiful, messy year with me and the far-away places around the country where they now reside.

My visit to Denver has been in many ways a microcosm of my year of service in this city. It was exciting and fun and uncomfortable and painful all at once. But through each moment of joy and of reunion and nostalgia and each scheduling mishap and recognition of privilege and pang of loneliness, I felt entirely held in Grace. Grace from my good natured USC family who laughed off the fact that I accidentally ditched them all and rearranged their schedules to meet with me later; grace from the kiddos who asked me to play Legos and handed me a pile of crayons within minutes of me entering the Family Area; grace from a city that welcomed me with a Colorado sunshine-y embrace in one moment and reminded me that I still have so much to learn in the next.

Here’s to you, Denver: the city that taught me how to live loved and to love well in return. A city that is filled with imperfection and hurt and a complicated mix of narratives of power and privilege and oppression. A city in which the Spirit of abundant Grace continues to breathe Life and Love and Mercy.
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