I was ten years old, bookish, fairly unathletic, hopelessly self-conscious, an easy target for teasers. I had friends, good friends, and I'm pretty sure I was well liked by most of my classmates in our small town elementary school. But I had a very small sense of self-worth, and what I remember about those days was a fairly constant low-grade fear that whoever or whatever I was, it wasn't good enough, that sooner or later whatever goodness I'd found would be taken away from me. Melodramatic? Of course: but that's who I was back then, and in some sense that's who I remain today. I'm still plagued by fears of inadequacy, doubts about my worth as a person, as a father, husband, pastor. But over the course of six days in 1984, four more years of camp after those six days, and eventually five summers as a staff member, my experiences at Camp Carol Joy Holling in Ashland, Nebraska planted seeds of faith, hope and love in me that have never died. Sometimes I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that church camp saved my life.
This past weekend, staff members from years past gathered at Carol Joy Holling to celebrate 35 years of ministry in that wonderful place. They sang songs around the campfire; they hiked the trails I know like the back of my hand; someone did the "Shishi" skit before the all ate s'mores; the ookaleylas made an appearance (does anyone actually know how to spell "ookaleyla?"); maybe someone took a trip to the doctor's office and left with more than they bargained for. Most of all, I'm sure they laughed their heads off, heard gracious words of faith from the many skilled pastors who've risen out of that staff, and, maybe, even cried a little as they thought of friends who've left us since those summer days we treasure in our memories.
We couldn't go. Finances, the academic year and illness combined to make the trip out of the question for us. I know we made the right decision not to go. But, still...
When I was a kid, I never cried at church camp, never got homesick. I did my crying on the way home, and for a couple of days afterwards. I got campsick. Every. Single. Summer. And even when I came back as a staff member, I cried every August when I drove away from camp back into the "real world." In 1997, my last year on staff, I cried at least once a day for the last week, especially after the kids left and we were packing up "my camp" for the last time.
Tonight I feel like crying a little bit, as I think of all the friends I didn't get to see this weekend. Now that we're closer, we'll be back more often, especially as the girls grow up and they get ready for their own camp experiences. But it would have been really special to be there this weekend, and melodramatic me, well, I'm thinking of all those evening campfires, playing guitar and singing "Messiah" or "Come to the Water" or "Micah 6:8" and I'm really wishing we'd have been able to go.
So, camp friends, do me a favor. If you read this, drop me a line and let me know how your life is. Where are you, what are you doing, do you enjoy it or does it suck, what stirs your heart these days? Because I'm sure that's what we'd have been talking about if I'd have been able to be with you, and tonight, being campsick, it's what I really want to hear. Most of all, take care of yourselves, friends, and remember the most important thing you ever learned at camp: you are a child of God, and we are all family.
Grace and peace,