06 September 2009


In the summer of 1984, one week changed everything about me, changes that are still playing out today, 24 years later. All because I went to church camp.

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,


  1. Scott, I genuinely missed you. I was very much looking forward to getting to see you, I sometimes feel like not a day has passed; if only for your writing.
    I would suppose that you're able to tell from my status that I had a sort of dawning realization this weekend. Something of great importance; something I've known all along, but only recently have I come to terms with it.
    It's often said that the kids remember their counselors, and while that my be true, I remember the kids that I had that one short summer. I'm now, though, able to absorb that, and fully process the lessons that I took away from it. It's I that most benefited from those relationships, I think. I'm ever so grateful for it.
    I'm also blessed for the relationships of the people that are, and always will be, a part of my life because of that summer. I could write a book on the subject, it's that meaningful to me. I could list the names; why it is that I fully realize it nearly a decade and a half later, I'm not sure. Preparedness, perhaps? Acceptance, more likely. Acceptance on so many levels that I really can't begin.

  2. Hey Scott, blessings to you. Ok, so I wasn't ten in 1984, but I was a camp cook in 1983 and that was my beginning to the beginnning. Before that I didn't do church stuff. After that it spoiled me for a "church for all" thing whereby religiousity heirarchy has very little meaning to me. Camp did that. You take care and I hope you can connect with camp friends in the near future. Terri

  3. Scott-thanks for this post! Good stuff! I can not imagine life without camp as a part of it. thanks for helping to make my start in outdoor ministry a good one! (who would have thought back when I was food dude and you were a site manager that I'd end up doing this full time?).

    I was in ames last week visiting amanda. wanted to stop by the student center and say hi, but timing didn't work out. hope you are well and life is good!

  4. Scott--

    You were definitely missed this weekend. So many stories shared, so many laughs, and I did see some tears shed, too.
    My grandson, Josh, experiences the same campsickness you talk about. He's never been homesick a day in his life, but he always is campsick when he comes home from CJH!
    We'll do another all-staff reunion in five years so...GET READY!

  5. Scott - we all missed you! It was a fun weekend! There was a moment late Saturday night, while a group of us was sitting around sharing some great memories and serious belly-laughs when I felt such a sense of "home." It was great to be together with such a cool group of people. Your name was dropped multiple times and folks genuinely missed you!