Saturday I traveled back to a significant benchmark in my life. I went back to a place where the trees stand a little taller, and the skies shine a little bluer.
Then I exhaled.
Though I specifically planned against working at a summer camp full-time, God had different plans for me, and thankfully I can attest to the joy brought through His great plans. The 2 1/2 years I spent living out in the country, away from bustling keep-up-with-the-joneses-city-life, were some of the best.
I was exhausted, of course. I worked a job that never seemed to end. There was always something: ants in cabins, an approaching thunderstorm, did we just run out of food?, the group’s running a bit (3 hours) late, five hour “town runs,” that girl just yelled at her counselor, this staffer needs some counsel, what game should we play?, 2am wake-up calls, 14-hour days, 9 work days in a row, etc.
But then? We played.
This place was alive with a work-hard play-hard mentality. After those 9 brutal days in a row, came possibly 4 consecutive days off! No PTO required.. let’s play! Errands became few and far between because what more could we need? Friends were set into our houses, and if one was missing, a whole houseful of other friends was within a few miles.
Internet-less and cable-less, we soaked up the outdoors on pretty days, and sat in by the big windows on rainy ones. We cooked mounds of sweet potatoes and ate loads of hummus by the time it was over, and solved the world’s problems over endless cups of coffee by morning. When a free evening opened itself, we headed to the nation’s tiniest gym to laugh in the mirrors as our favorite trainer led another workout class for us.
Some days I would come home so utterly worn down from the day, and my sweet roommate Elizabeth would say things like, “One day, we’re going to look back on this season and think, ‘what a gift.’ ” In the heat of the moment, with “trash juice” still fresh on my legs, and arms aching from setting up hundreds of chairs again, I smiled politely (maybe) and secretly wished I could one day be as positive as the girl before me. She could always see further than the hand in front of her face. I could only see my own hand, covered in blisters from endless hours sending tiny children up a towering rock wall.
“This is a strange gift,” I would mutter under my breath as the hours became longer.
Then the summers would come, and with them family and far-off friends would wonder if they would hear from me that week, because suddenly hundreds of people were under our care. Summer would come and the whole place would come to life, every room filled to the brim.
And the Lord met us there. Under the tall trees with the lake at our backs, and the sun bearing down on the hottest days, and people exhaled. This, they thought. This is life. This is away. This is needed, and no one knew they needed it until they were there.
I saw lives transformed before my eyes. One summer to the next meant growth and depth and truth taken in at last. Jesus met them there. For whatever reason, He chose to use a place, and filled it with faithful followers of Himself to show others His love. He used ordinary, imperfect, striving, faithful followers. He loved them enough to let them watch. He loved them enough to bring more people into the family, right there, in that place.
For a moment, we caught a glimpse. This is how it should be.
What a gift, indeed. May we never cease to look for the gifts.