Week 9: July 26-August 1
Bronco 2 (ages 10-11) camp was this week. It was weird to come full circle, back to the age group I first counseled. I feel like I have changed since that week of camp – not in personality, likes and dislikes, or level of maturity – in a way that reflects how God has been working in my life. I have seen His glory, witnessed the power of His truth. I can recall several instances of answered prayer when I thought things would never work out. I know now that God truly is trustworthy. I always knew He was, but I never really handed Him the reins in my life to the extent that He could work as much as He should have been able. I’m beginning to take bigger leaps of faith now, trusting that He will direct my path and not lead me astray. It’s all easier said than done, and I’m nowhere near a full understanding of God (who could ever be?), but even these small steps have and will continue to change my life for the better. I hope and pray that it doesn’t stop at the boundaries of Echo Ranch, the “bubble” of life lived through faith and experiencing God like never before. I know it doesn’t have to and certainly should not, but it’s going to be a bittersweet homecoming nonetheless.
Sunday was one of the best and worst days here for most of the counselors. I think it was a combination of physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion, apathy towards counseling, and the long weekend. We never really know what to do with ourselves when we have free time. Sometimes it’s nice to feel useless, but after getting used to going and going for several days in a row, week after week, the abrupt end in scheduled activities and responsibilities is always a sort of shock. I also missed my mom and hadn’t spent some real quality time with God in about a week, neither of which helped my mood at all. I knew that I had no desire to counsel this week and wasn’t ready to take charge of another group of kids. So I decided to buckle down and lock myself in a cabin to kick it with Jesus for awhile. It was awesome. I read Jeremiah 6 and came across this verse:
This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16
This verse is so simple, yet so profound, and it hit me really hard that particular night. In my prayer journal, I paraphrased it this way:
“When you get to the point where you could make either a good or bad choice (or any choice at all), STOP. Look around you. Which way does the Bible direct you? Which way does God tell you to walk when you ask Him? If that is the way you choose, your soul will be at peace.”
I had been feeling convicted about some of my decisions and attitudes before that, and reading this verse just showed me that choosing the right way really wasn’t as complicated as it felt. All I had to do was look for the biblical way and ask God where to go. Waiting is difficult, but God wouldn’t leave me hanging forever. As I continued to read and pray (and after a brief visit from some of my campers who had arrived early), I could feel the stress and frustration with the past and coming weeks being lifted off my shoulders, and I returned from my personal monastery a seemingly new being. What made it even better was walking into the dining hall and seeing five people wearing ridiculous dress-up hats, drinking tea, and eating candy, chocolates, and Girl Scout cookies. Naturally, I put on a funny hat and joined them. We stayed up late talking, laughing, and playing “Truth or Truth” (since no one was really up for the “Dare” portion). Our questions to each other – both funny and serious – led to some pretty good discussion, which uplifted all of our gloomy moods. Needless to say, the day ended on a fantastic note.
Monday, as usual, was relatively awkward. And most of the counselors, though not wholly dissatisfied with life, weren’t feeling up to counseling this week. But we had 123 kids to counsel this week (more than any other week so far), so we sucked it up and did our jobs. In addition, with so many counselors who had recently left, we were pretty short on work staff (only one counselor was assigned to work staff) and had no idea how we were going to pull this week off. But God certainly provided helping hands. Several people from Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other places all said awhile back that they would be available to come and help out this week, even before we knew this week would be the one we needed help the most.
I had one of the easiest cabins ever this week. Almost all of my girls had been to camp several times, and I had one girl who is a staff kid and another who used to be a staff kid. I had another girl whose mom used to be a wrangler at the camp. All of my girls were saved before coming to camp as well, though a few of them didn’t seem to understand what salvation really meant. It was encouraging to see what they had learned about the gospel message by the end of the week. My evening devotions have gotten pretty redundant in that I always focus on what it means to be saved. There is so much confusion these days on how one knows he is a Christian, how to get to heaven, and the fact that Jesus is the only way to heaven – especially among youth. I’ll admit that I sometimes get annoyed repeating the same thing over and over, but I know they need to hear it. I just hope that being able to recite all the “right” answers didn’t stand in the way of the excitement of getting to know God better, for them or me. Even though it was repetitive, I did get the opportunity to explain the gospel several times throughout the day to different girls, rather than just talking about it during devotions. The girls also had a lot of questions about God, so it was fun being able to pull from knowledge I forgot I had and God’s inspiration to give them answers. I love the childlike faith these kids have, the simplicity of their questions, and how easily they accept your answers.
The camp week in itself was pretty typical. We did Sweet Dreams again (where we “sneak” out at night to find a plate of cookies hidden in a predetermined location), which the girls loved. It was also pretty hot this week, so we broke out the slip ‘n’ slide once again. Bronco camp also includes a “crime” that is committed at the beginning of the week that is related to the theme (“Wild Wild West” this week) and a kangaroo court at the end of the week. For the crime, one of the wrangler’s “stole” Jon-Michael’s fancy belt buckle given to him by his “Grandpappy”. At the trial, it was decided that the criminal masterminds behind the plot were Skylar and Alicia (the two counselors from Texas) and Naomi (the counselor from Arizona). They were “syruped and sanded” (having syrup and sand dumped on them) as their sentence. I got called up as a suspect, but thankfully I was let go at the end.
One thing that wasn’t so typical is that about half my cabin got sick this week. One of the girls had a horribly sore throat all week and cried more than once about it. On Thursday night before chapel, she was coughing so much that she thought she might throw up, and I felt so frustrated and completely helpless. I had been asking God to really help me feel for these girls because I really felt like I didn’t care anymore, so maybe that was Him breaking me. I don’t know. But our time spent waiting around for the nurses to come to our rescue was time well spent. It gave me time to connect with her a little more one-on-one, which I probably needed more than she did.
I feel like God has been teaching me to remember the good things He has done when I feel like the situation is hopeless. After a few days of counseling and frustration, Nikki (one of the counselors) and I decided to do a joint devotion one night after our evening devos with our cabins. I let my campers make s’mores over the stove in the cabin, and I could not keep the fire going for the life of me. It was still a productive night, however. I was able to share a brief version of my testimony with them, and as a result, four of them wanted to share theirs. I loved hearing that several of them really did understand what Jesus did for them, even at such a young age. At our “big people” devo afterwards, we talked about Psalm 77. It begins with David’s desperate cry to God, who couldn’t feel more far away. “I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint.” But it goes on to say: “Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.’ I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.” Sometimes it’s easy to forget the victories during those times spent in the valley. During counselor devotions the following day, God brought the topic up again. Randy, the staff worker who leads our devotions, had us read Joshua 4:1-7. In this passage, the Israelites are commanded by the Lord to set up stones as a memorial to something He had done for them. We spent the whole session remembering the victories the Lord had accomplished this summer. I know it’s not a coincidence when the same topic on God keeps coming up in different places, and it’s something I have definitely needed to hear lately.
I got the blessing of seeing a clear, starry sky on Thursday night. This wouldn’t be a huge deal at home, but for the past couple months, it has never gotten dark enough to see the stars at night. I couldn’t believe how shocked I was to be able to see them as I walked back to my cabin around midnight, and I went down to the beach so I could see even more. It was strange to think that the Big Dipper hanging in the sky in Alaska is the same one I see back home in Oklahoma or at school in Illinois. After being here for nine weeks, it’s hard for me to register that I am thousands of miles from anything familiar – I feel like this is my third home now.
After hiking the kids out on Friday, the counselors were able to wind down once again. I spent the evening with Nikki, Mandy, and Alison taking goofy pictures and making peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. Saturday was also very relaxing, with time to sleep in a bonfire debriefing session about what life would be like after camp. As we sat around the fire, we talked about things we missed from back home and things we would miss from here after we left. We discussed how no one from home would understand what it’s like here, try as they might. We talked about what God had done in our lives here at camp, how He had worked in the lives of the campers, and how He would continue to work in us once we got back home. It made me more excited than ever for these remaining weeks of camp – seeing what He would do and whom He would save. But I’m also excited to go back home with a more solid faith and hopefully boldness in sharing the gospel. I want my life to reflect that change, and I want others to desire the same passion that has been given to me. The change doesn’t have to stop here at camp.
I’ll be on work staff for Maverick 3 (ages 12-14) camp this week, which I’m both happy and sad about. I’m bummed that I won’t be counseling because Maverick is my favorite age group to work with, but I’m also glad because Mandy and Nikki, two of my better counselor friends, are leaving this week, so I’ll get more time to hang out with them and say goodbye. Hopefully we can make some good memories working in the kitchen and taking goofy pictures and sanitizing outhouses (or cleaning the girls’ bath house with a hose and a broom, like Mandy I did a couple weeks ago). Either way, it will be a good week if we just surrender it to God. It’s that same painful message that hits me over the head every single week, yet taking up your cross daily is something you can only do on purpose.