“It was so great,” my daughter told us while driving home. Her sister and I had just picked Snopes up after a week at camp. “But I didn’t have a ‘mountaintop’ experience,” she added thoughtfully. “You know, some life changing experience like I hear people talk about.”
I was surprised when my daughter signed up to serve at the camp. Not because she’s one to shy away from serving. She genuinely enjoys helping. Her natural giftedness centers on caring for others. My surprise at her signing up to serve for a week at camp had nothing to do with serving, but everything to do with “camp.”
My kids, though I desperately tried to make them, don’t much like camp. I’ve forced them all to try. Because camp – in so many ways – is good for kids. But my efforts have been in vain. I know one of them doesn’t like it because of the food (stubborn). But this child doesn’t like it thanks to me.
When she was in third grade, I might have filled in her older brother’s birth date instead of hers when signing up for camp. (Proof positive – I’m a recovering flake.) Unaware of my gross error, I wondered why Snopes was several away cabins from her friends. I couldn’t believe so many had signed up for camp that year to warrant eight third-grade girl cabins. That should have been my first clue.
A few days into the term, I unsuccessfully tried to log into the camp website using her birthday. When I called the camp for help, I was surprised to realize that logging in was the least of my problems. Thanks to my typing error, a naive and tender 9 year old was in a cabin with savvy tween fifth graders. I begged them to move her to an age-appropriate cabin. They couldn’t. The counselors and staff did their best. But the two week grand adventure I envisioned turned into a two-week nightmare. She lived it with all her positivity, but came home a shell of herself. I won’t go into details, but it was not good. She bravely went back the next year, because I made her get back on the horse. But that was it. No more camp for her. In fact, the thought of camp brings to the surface some powerful emotion, even today.
So, when she told me that she signed up for Camp Barnabas, I was floored and excited. She was overcoming her fears to do what she loves most, care for people. And what a great place to go. Camp Barnabas’ mission as they care for the disabled: “(We) show our campers that they can live a life of ability and they were beautifully, wonderfully and perfectly created with a purpose. We want to show our volunteers what it looks like to serve others the way Christ calls us to serve, to look past physical appearances and instead, look at the heart…These experiences change perspectives, redefine disability and become life-changing.”
As the day to leave got closer, Snopes’ anxiety level grew and she started to get physically ill. I had mother-moments of wanting to race in and save, but I didn’t. “You can do this,” I told her. “This is in your zone. It’s a different kind of camp. You’re going to serve. It won’t be the same. I promise.”
And I really hoped it would be.
I missed her while she was gone. I worried a tiny bit. I bought her donuts last weekend. Then realized when I got home, she wasn’t there to eat them. Her sister and I cleaned her room. We organized her closet, arranged her drawers, did little things for her that she’s been meaning to do herself. We needed her and felt a bit lost without her. But she needed to be gone. Because it was great. Hard, but great.
So, when the buses finally arrived back in Dallas and she got off, we hugged. A long, not-letting-go hug. She’s a young woman, but she’s still my little girl. Then she hugged everyone good-bye, we loaded her stuff in the car and headed home – enriched by each and every story she recounted.
“It was so hard much harder than I expected,” she started. “Just the physical effort alone was much more than I imagined.” She told us about the first few days, how she had to fight back tears and fears. “It felt like camp. And I thought I had really made a huge mistake. I wanted to come home so bad. But then, then we started working.”
“Our job was the Dining Hall and the bathrooms,” she told us. “The permanent staff showed us everything we were supposed to do – it was so gross and disgusting and hard. We went to bed after midnight every night and got up at six. We had to work the dining hall in two-shifts per meal. So much work … but the bathrooms were the worst And somehow I always ended up with the toilet duty.” Their week of campers were wheel-chair bound. She learned all that accompanies bodies that have limited mobility and function control. A be a bit more challenging that cleaning dishes or toilets at home.
“But the most amazing part … At the beginning, when I was homesick and sad about my decision – I was so tired, I wasn’t sure I would be able to make it a week. But then the campers arrived.” And here’s where her mountaintop she so desperately wanted came in a form she didn’t expect.
“The cars came. And these amazing people started to get out. We had to get all of their stuff and carry it to the cabins. Heavy stuff. Trunks. Wheelchairs. And all uphill. I don’t know how we did it. But we did.” She was talking so fast, it was almost hard to keep up. “Somehow, out of no where – I got this surge of energy. We did stuff I didn’t know I could do… And we got to meet all the families. They were so wonderful and nice and loving. … And the campers … I thought they were going to be kids, but they were older. Some were nonverbal, some couldn’t move, some had feeding tubes, but they were all – in their own way – amazing.”
She barely stopped talking for thirty minutes. Recounting every detail – most of which centered on the incredible people/campers she had met and the deeper relationships with friends. They were living out loud the oxymoronic truth of life’s secret sauce.
How could selfless love and service – even physically demanding service – build up and energize rather than deplete? How can pouring out result in a filling up – filling up to the point of overflowing?
I don’t know, but I think it has a lot to do with the One who says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts; and my ways are not your ways.” (Isaiah 55:8) I think it has a lot to do with the greatest command, “Love others as I have loved you,” that on the surface appears questionable. Because in what realm would loving others hide the mystery to our own fulfillment?
“That mountaintop experience you wanted…” I say to her as we drive up our street, almost home. “Sweetheart, you lived it. … You got to see up close and personal the true mountaintop, lived out loud each time your exhaustion was replaced by energy. Each time you were filled by being poured out.” We all savored the moment, “You lived what doesn’t make seem sense. We think that we are happiest when win or when we get things. But we’re actually happiest, the most complete, when we’re giving.”
Hmmm… there’s so much more to consider. But we stopped there. Grateful for a much better camp experience than before. I guess it’s best to let my kids fill out the own forms.
Thanks for walking the road with me.