School’s out. The sun is staying out longer. And in the past few days, social media has been overflowing with pictures of college kids in Chacos heading off to be camp counselors.
These signs of summer make me excited for the new adventures I have ahead of me in the next few months, but they also send pangs of nostalgia through me when I think about the fact that my summer doesn’t involve camp this year.
Last summer, I joined other college students and herds of kids heading to Kanakuk Kamp, deep in the Ozarks of Missouri. I spent a month sleeping in a cabin with a dozen fifth grade girls.
While they were at camp, my co-counselor and I were their moms, storytellers, and were pelted with questions only they could ask.
Example: (asked to me while I had my eyes closed during afternoon nap time) “Why is that man on the lake alone in a kayak? Isn’t he lonely?” Well Erin, sometimes people just like to have some QUIET TIME TO THEMSELVES! (We also became experts at filtering our responses…)
Just like all of them, I was nervous to make new friends and do things I’d never done before.
Before I left, someone told me that I would learn so much in my time as a camp counselor. I thought to myself, “Yeah right, I’m going to teach kids, not learn anything myself.”
Boy, was I wrong.
It was week four on Kanakomo Hill, and I had developed a bad habit of turning off my watch alarm in my sleep. Fifteen minutes before the camper wakeup call would cut the through the morning fog, I miraculously jolted awake. I scrambled out of bed, put on my sandals (because by this time I was sleeping in my next day’s outfit. Every second counts.), and slipped out onto the porch with my Bible and journal.
I opened up the Psalms and read them ravenously-the same way I gulped water after a long and humid 100 degree days. I grasped at the precious moments of quiet morning as they ticked away- at any second they would be shattered by groggy morning giggles and little feet in untied sneakers flying through pea gravel.
Never before had I come to Jesus so empty and found him so faithful to fulfill.
Going into camp that summer, I was all too sure of how inadequate I would be as a counselor. I focused on my areas of weakness and spent time measuring my strengths against everyone else’s. I worried about going to a place where I couldn’t possibly have anything valuable to offer.
But then God shook me hard and woke me up from my self-centered delusion. “My power is made perfect in weakness,” He reminded me. My perceived lack of ability wasn’t something to be ashamed of, but an opportunity to work in a strength greater than any I could provide. Instead of trying to be some all-star counselor, I was there to love the hearts of sweet little girls and point them towards Jesus in my words and actions.
Camp is a world free from distractions. No phone, no TV, and no social media means that my free time went to Jesus. I got a sweet glimpse of Christian community as God meant it to be. Four weeks spent surrounded by people who have all decided to pour themselves out brought some of the most genuine times of prayer and worship I have ever experienced. Bonded in exhaustion, we opened our hands and said “Lord fill us, we have nothing left.” And every time, He did.
For all the moments that I was frustrated with the amount of time it took to get twelve 10-year olds out the door, Jesus gave me that extra measure of patience to respond in love and not anger. Through his eyes, I could love my sweet girls for all their quirks instead of rolling my eyes at them.
I saw the body of Christ come together to love on hundreds of kids. I learned more about the simplicity of the Gospel as I saw young eyes light up when they finally “got it”.
This summer, I’m happy to be drinking coffee every morning and enjoying hot showers. But a part of my heart yearns to be back at the place where I made friendship bracelets, gave piggyback rides endlessly, and saw the beauty of child-like faith – the place where finding Jesus at the end of myself turned out to be more beautiful than Missouri sunsets.