The first weekend in March is special. This is when we host our Junior High Winter Blast!
In 2020, Junior High Winter Blast was the last camp we ran before everything shut down. It was such a rambunctious time of laughter, fun, and learning about God together. Then we faced the heartbreak and pain of a long, quiet year without camps. That last Junior High Winter Blast was such an important reminder to us. It helped us remember the joy of serving God in a camp setting. To be faithful to God’s call, even though what He asked of us was so very hard. To continue striving after Him, no matter what that looked like.
Now, we have come full circle. A spring, summer, winter, fall, and another spring where we were able to host individual families, but not camps. An amazing summer of ministry. Yes that summer did include a whole lot of hoops to jump through, but it was so worth it. A delightful winter of hosting rental camps that wrapped up with us finally being able to run Junior High Winter blast once again!
It is so good to walk out of the desert for a moment and breath in the fresh air of victory! Yes, our walk with God travels some tough places, shadowed paths, and confusing seasons. God is just as close in the darkness.
However, the joyful craziness of Junior High Winter Blast provided an important time to celebrate, to remember that God also blesses us beyond what we deserve or can even imagine.
Hmmm … so what does one do at Junior High Winter Blast?
There is the all-important game … Oreo Face!
You guessed it. One must open an Oreo cookie and stick it to one’s forehead. Then through vigorous facial contortions, scooch that Oreo down to one’s mouth for eating! The first to eat their cookie wins!
There really are not enough times in life where one sticks a cookie to their head and makes faces to the acclaim of their peers. Perhaps our days would be a little more sweet, if adults adopted this practice! Office dispute, no problem! Oreo Face to the rescue.
Of course, not every activity can involve cookies.
What is winter camp without the famous Camas tube hill?
The answer well could be, “Less painful.”
It is very important to pace yourself as you charge into outdoor activities. A bit of adventure on the tube hill … followed by a mug of cocoa in front of the fire.
But the comfort of indoor activities can only take you so far. To build those truly memorable moments for sharing with your family and friends when you get home …
Means that campers rushed back to the great outdoors!
Then they recovered in the camp lodge with a fun board game.
And zoomed back outside!
Then back inside for building tornado-like-structures with Princess Leia Freyja!
Feast your eyes on this masterpiece, my friends.
Then remember that Radiant and Polaris built this Kapla block structure in a room teeming with exuberant middle school campers, staff, and even a 113lb dog.
Then, once the Kapla Tornado had stood victorious for some time … the campers played ultimate Janga, bringing the whole thing crashing down in epic fashion!
But not everything at camp is silly, for example, chapel time!
Well, I suppose there are one or two goofy songs. But then we get to the message …
Ha! I had you there. If you have ever gone to camp or served at camp, you will know that God uses absolutely everything for His glory! Even those things that at first glance, might just appear somewhat silly. Why are campers ready to raise their hands in quiet worship with their cabin? Because they have just been running around the room flapping their arms with that same group of kids singing “I’ll Fly Away.”
Why do campers listen during chapel, ask questions about God, and actually remember some of the things that they learned? Well, besides all of our many desperate prayers, camp speakers are special. They know and love kids and work hard to present the scripture in a way that children can gobble up.
This weekend the chapel sessions were just so amazing! I’ve been a Christian for a long, long time and they held my attention just as skillfully for me as for all those rowdy kids. Epona is a big fan of the Transformers shows and comics. There are a lot of different versions of the Transformers but one thing is consistent, Optimus Prime. The same actor has provided the voice from 1984 to the present and Optimus Prime has always been “Strong Enough to be Gentle.”
The joy just kept piling on higher and higher as we watched campers having a blast, meeting friends, and playing in the snow. But seeking God together during chapel was definitely one of the best things about this camp.
The more Epona has enjoyed Transformers over the years, the more it struck her that Optimus Prime reminded her of our heavenly father in a myriad of ways. Optimus Prime’s name literally means the best of the best–Exodus 15:11. Like God, Optimus Prime is a mighty warrior–Jeremiah 20:11, Exodus 14:14 and 15:3, 2 Chronicles 32:1-22. Optimus Prime protects, sacrifices himself for, and gently cares for the Autobots. He shepherds them. Ezekiel 34:1-16 (that passage made me weep as we read it again), Psalm 100:3, John 10:1-18 and 27-30. Just like both the old and new testaments use an image of a shepherd to show us what God is like, a simple children’s cartoon can be used to show just a glimpse of God’s power, gentleness, and love.
Just as Optimus Prime is always there, showing up with strength and caring when the Autobots need him, God is always there. Deuteronomy 31:6, Psalm 94:18-19, Matthew 11:28-30, Matthew 28:16-20. There are dark moments in the Transformers cartoon, tragedy strikes, friends are lost, evil appears to win. But Optimus Prime is always there, standing strong with those he loves. These beautiful campers were so attentive (I know, gasp!) as they heard again and again that God is strong, caring, and there to save them and make them His own. What an amazing weekend to be a part of!
“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.”
“Do angels have a hometown or do they just live on clouds without a bathroom?”
“How do I know God is good, if He has never done anything good for me?”
Welcome to the crazy-beautiful gathering of insanity that is Junior Camp!
These camper’s questions give some clues about how they (and we) see God, but how does God see us? The speaker this week taught on images, specifically how we were made to be image bearers. But first, let’s jump into what camp is like with this amazing age group!
Junior campers are joyful, undignified, a bit unhinged. They are a delightful cacophony of questions and wrestling, singing and screaming, leaping and napping, water fighting and praying, weeping and laughing, all rolled up with pure joy and faith and so much hope.
For the youngest of them, it is a giant spiritual leap to raise their hand during cabin discussion and ask why God created dinosaurs, violence, and poison ivy (yes, the counselor had an exciting time trying to answer these delightful little ones). For the oldest junior campers, they are mulling the kind of soul-deep concerns that trouble and stump adults.
As you might have guessed, that first question was asked in a cabin of nine-year-old’s and the second was from a cabin of twelve-year-old’s. Each query is vital as these little ones dip their toes in spiritual waters and consider a relationship with their Creator.
This age group is about a lot more than just crazy questions. They also make bold and interesting statements. Our speaker for Junior B was The Mom, mother of eight and a campus missionary with Cru. This week she was talking about how we are made in the image of God.
She used Legos and a $10 coupon to the camp store to illustrate the idea of being image bearers. Wanting to impress on these beautiful children the fact that just because we are broken images doesn’t mean that we have lost our value, The Mom took that $10 coupon and crumpled it, tore it up, and stomped on it. Then she gave it to a camper who was celebrating his birthday that week. “Will he still be able to get $10 of stuff from the camp store?” she asked.
“Yes!” The campers knew that the coupon still retained its value, even after so many difficult times, and so did they.
Junior campers are so very funny. At one point The Mom mentioned that she was pretty old. One camper spoke up immediately at this point. “Yeah,” he shouted, “your hair is gray!” I was sitting behind their cabin and this young man’s cousin was in front of me with his head in his hands. “Please don’t ask how old she is,” he whispered to himself.
“How old are you?” he yelled in a clear, strong voice.
But you know what? It was a perfect illustration of how our value doesn’t come from our age or our hair color. We are God’s image bearers and are priceless to him. When the speaker asked if anyone knew Philippians 4:8 that same camper took a deep deep breath and shouted out the scripture word for word. Weather we are precocious or quiet, we are so very precious in God’s sight.
Camp is important in so many ways. It isn’t just the chapel sessions that help children stretch and grow.
Having an adventure away from home for a whole week is an amazing accomplishment for kids this age. One of our guy counselors said that his favorite thing about the whole week was watching a camper who was homesick talk to his mom on the phone and then decide to stick it out for the rest of the week. By Saturday, this young man had gone from not being sure he would make it through the week to standing up at the Friday night sharing time and saying how much he loved camp. It is such an honor to watch children grow in strength and independence.
Camp is also a great time to try something totally new.
Who knows but that you might be a Ga-Ga Ball champion!
You will never know if you never try.
Some of these girls found out that they were incredibly talented at Ga-Ga Ball and some that it was something hilarious to do with a cabin full of girls who would soon become friends.
By the time this game was over, all were dusty, exhausted, and smiling.
Here, Princess Leia Freyja has strategically positioned herself between the girls playing Ga-Ga Ball and the boys playing Ultimate Mountain Croquet so that she can encourage one and all and of course get the maximum number of gentle pats!
These pictures were taken from the day that campers did, The Gauntlet!
No, this is not as terrifying as it sounds. Each cabin spends a set amount of time at an activity and then moves on to try another.
The campers go from disc golf, to archery, to mini golf, and finally Ga-Ga Ball as a cabin. Not only does this introduce them to some of the different activities that are available for the week, but it also helps them to bond as a cabin and make new friends.
The cabin who accidentally sends all their frisbees way way way off into the forest and then must spend an eternity crashing through the underbrush together looking for them together … stays together!
Of course the beautiful thing about doing an activity with your cabin is that one need not be fabulous at mini golf or croquet to have fun! This camper and her counselor are using the frisbees as fans.
After The Gauntlet on Tuesday came Pond Day on Wednesday!
These girls know how to leap into an activity with gusto!
While we certainly missed being able to travel to Lake Chelan, it was a delight to watch the campers enjoying the pond.
Weather it was jumping from the dock or taking a kayak out for a swim, this was a great way to cool off.
Everyone spent the long, hot afternoon getting exhausted at the pond before returning to camp for showers and a movie.
Thursday was horse day!
Campers got the chance to go on a trail ride with their cabin.
It was so fun to watch each child meet their horse before setting out on a ride.
You never know how God plans to use you during any given camp. I found myself going into a cabin discussion thinking that the Lord would use me to give a pair of very tired counselors a break or perhaps to have a profound theological discussion with this group of campers. What did God use me for? To make those counselors burst into uncontrollable laughter, of course. Apparently, I was the Lord’s comic relief as He worked within that cabin in very mysterious ways.
Laughter is good medicine and so I guess I won’t argue with God and ask for a different assignment. You see, this cabin was asking really tough questions. To let those counselors have a much-needed rest, Bomber and I took on one of their cabin discussions.
The campers were confused to see us. “Where are our counselors? We have LOTS of questions!” they said.
When I explained that we would love to discuss all their questions, these girls had an answer for us right away!
“No, we’ll wait for them. All of our questions are for our counselors.”
Instead of a deep theological discussion, the campers ate cookies, rolled around on the floor sticking their feet in the air, and talked about the camp dog. We did have a good prayer time and shared stories about those who have sacrificed for us and times we have sacrificed for others. But our discussion wasn’t anything like what I expected.
When I met those two counselors on the path after their rest, I explained that apparently their cabin had bonded with them more than they thought. They saved ALL their questions just for them!
The weary counselors bust into laughter. They laughed and laughed and laughed. They tried to stop but instead laughed some more. They stared at me and stared at each other and couldn’t stop laughing. It was very clear that God had not called me to help with the great spiritual questions of the world, but to remind two amazing young women that God had given them exactly what He needed to work in the lives of these highly inquisitive girls.
From watching the whole camp try to tell a pair of identical twins apart to having a cabin discussion that was so incredibly rowdy and loud (lots of wrestling occurred) that the neighboring cabin (one that was on a separate hill) came over to check on them and make sure they were all alive, the counselors had many favorite moments from this week.
One favorite moment was having a perplexed camper at the mini golf course ask, “What size are normal golf balls?”
“These are normal golf balls,” I explained.
“But they said this was mini golf!” the camper said.
Some of our favorite moments are things that we find out later, after camp.
When a camper had to go home a day early, it was so hard to say goodbye. Later, her mother wrote a note that amazed us. Apparently, this young woman had decided that she didn’t want to go to camps anymore after having a bad experience when she was younger.
Then camp wasn’t even an option in 2020. When the summer of 2021 rolled around, this mom started searching for a camp that was open and found us. She talked her daughter into giving camp one more try. This camper never shared her concerns about being here, she simply decided to give us a chance and jumped into the week, hoping that all would go well.
Her mom wrote that she loved her time at camp and was already talking about coming back next year. Although we had no idea that this camper was coming reluctantly, it was such a beautiful thing to be a part of her journey as she took a risk and learned to love camp again.
You never know what kids are going through behind the scenes.
The camp speaker touched on this when she talked about broken images. Each of us is made in the image of God, we were lovingly crafted and reflect something important about our Creator.
But the world we live in is hard. It is packed full of people who are making their own choices and sometimes we wake up battered and bruised. Whether it was something a parent or friend did or one of our own foolish mistakes, there will come a day when we look at ourselves and doubt that we carry God’s image at all. We don’t see it. What we do see is pain, struggle, suffering, and shame.
But what does God see?
A precious person, made to be like Him. A person He longs to welcome home as His child. A person that He sent His son to rescue. A person He is waiting for, like the father in Jesus’ parable who was waiting for his angry young son to finally come home.
God is like that. He is the worried shepherd who notices that one sheep is missing. He is the woman searching her house for that single, valuable coin. He is the broken-hearted father watching His son storm out of the house. He is waiting for us to take a step on the road back toward Him so that he can rush out to meet us. He longs for that moment when He can pull us into His arms.
Luke 15:20–“So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
I was in the meadow at dusk, watching the campers sing “I’ll Fly Away.” They used the entire meadow. The worship leaders were back at the fire pit but the campers had flown.
The motions for this song involve spreading your arms like wings and rushing around the room. The campers flung their arms wide and zoomed all the way to the end of the mowed grass in the meadow. They were just little dots in the distance flying and flying and flying.
Camp is a raucous affair.
Whether it was the identical twins “multiplying” in their skit on the story of creation, the Squirrel Cabin’s skit that was so unintentionally funny that Scruffy literally wept with laughter, or the fact that a camper was actually injured while doing the motions to a song (yep, he tripped on a root while “flying away” landed on a bench and hurt his leg), the camp experience is undeniably rowdy.
Trauma Trooper, the camp nurse, actually quantified some of this. She treated eight bloody noses, used nineteen icepacks, twenty-three Band-Aids, treated twelve lumps and bumps, nine bites; stings; and rashes, and had five instances of vommiting.
But even amidst all this rowdiness, or perhaps because of it, God’s message rang clean and clear.
You are made in the image of God. Nothing can change that.
No amount of pain, injustice, sin, or destruction can alter the fact that you are made in God’s image.
No force on earth can reduce your value and even more than this, God wants you as His very own.
Rush into His arms child.
Come on home.
Luke 15:5-6–“And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’”
How did a weird tangent during cabin discussion about the omnipresence of God lead to a scary story about the boogie man, morph into lots of dancing, briefly shine as a fairly accurate reflection of the speaker’s theme for the week, and then result in the camp’s winning skit?
The amazing powers of God as He works His wonders in Middle School Camp through rowdiness, confusion, and more beauty than we can possibly imagine. I will get back to The Boogie Man Boogie, but first, let me paint a picture of life during a camp for this amazing and delightful age group.
First, Princess Leia Freyja greeted incoming campers at the registration tent. Check-in looked a bit different this year due to COVID restrictions, but the individual car-loads of people coming through the line six feet apart only made it easier for the camp dog to make sure that everyone had the chance to give her belly rubs.
Once campers got their stuff settled into cabins, they played a game of Whomp-Em on the lawn. Not only did campers work to learn each other’s names, but they got the joy of whacking each other with a pool noodle!
Once most of the campers arrived, it was time to head down to the fire pit and meet all of the staff.
Campers listened as all the counselors, support staff, cooks, nurse, and speaker share their favorite “Soup or Hero” with the group and introduce themselves.
Of course, Princess Leia Freyja took the opportunity to meet all the campers one more time, just in case one of them had failed to give her a pat at registration.
Clearly, the girls in Robin’s Roost did not miss any opportunities to give Princess Leia Freyja loves and snuggles.
A very important camp activity is running up the hill to the cabins and back down to the main lodge or the meadow, then up the hill to get some forgotten item, then back down. The counselors do this healthful sprint more than their campers as they accompany them up and down and up and down. Here Hiccup and Samurai start the week out with a few trips up to the Squirrel House with their campers.
On Tuesday, campers enjoy The Gauntlet! No, it is not some terrifying medieval challenge. The Gauntlet is simply an afternoon spent traveling between five fun activities in cabin groups. Our new disc golf course was one of them.
The Gauntlet also features another kind of golf. Mini golf!
Campers also got to play basketball …
While taking important breaks to pet the camp cook’s visiting doggy.
OK, dog patting finished, the campers moved on to more activities!
Extreme Mountain Croquet!
And slip-n-slide! Oh, wait. That wasn’t part of The Gauntlet at all. It was fun though and should definitely be included in our documentation of Tuesday’s events.
Don’t these girls make you want to jump on the slip-n-slide and give it a whirl?
Sure, you hear a lot about how stressful junior high is. But in many ways, the middle school years showcase the best of both worlds. The frolicsome fun of childhood with the thoughtfulness and spiritual depth of adulthood. This hilarious group of girls remind me of all that is wonderful about working with junior high students.
On Wednesday morning, Scruffy and Princess Leia Freyja led the campers on a hike to view the mountains across the meadow.
Yes, this gorgeous view is well worth the hike. But something even more amazing happened on the way there. Truly, God uses the strangest things for His glory!
During the hike, one camper kept peering at each flower we passed and asking if it was a rare flower. Lupine, Scarlet Paintbrush, fading Sunflowers. None of these were rare, although they are all lovely.
She had a family member back home who loved gardening and this young lady really wanted to show them a photo of a rare flower. My heart sank. We do have rare flowers here at Camas Meadows, but the Wenatchee Larkspur weren’t blooming yet. We also have several species of fragile flowers, the Mountain Lady Slipper and Trillium which are unlikely to grow back if picked. But these bloom earlier in the year and were long gone. I knew that there was one more rare flower in our meadows, but I didn’t know how to identify it and had no idea when it bloomed. Nonetheless, I prayed about this camper’s desire and then we continued on our hike. Even as I admitted that seeing a rare flower was unlikely, the determined camper paused to investigate every blossom. We rounded a corner in the trail and saw a group of DNR workers across the meadow. They had scattered small flags everywhere. What on earth were they doing?
They were marking the exact locations of some rare flowers! The Wenatchee Mountains Checker-mallow. I had not even thought of trying to find one of these blooms as this was that pesky flower I was unable to identify. A simple hope and prayer. A girl wanting to see a special flower to show her loved one. God saw this and answered in such a beautiful way. Not only were they blooming, but there was a plant biologist with a master’s degree in rare plants on hand when my feeble plant knowledge failed. When we are weak, He is strong! So here it is, the Wenatchee Mountains Checker-mallow in all its quiet beauty.
When I looked up this flower later, I was shocked to see that it only blooms in five locations around the Wenatchee area. To be fair, I was told this during my much grumpier teen years and had forgotten, failing to absorb the importance. Camas Meadows has the largest population of this rare plant in the world. Not only is the flower rare, it is also endangered. One website claimed that the Wenatchee Mountains checker-mallow was “the rarest known plant in Washington State.” Whether that is true or not, I would say that God answered this camper’s hope and prayer with a vengeance! We even got to have a lengthy chat with the plant biologist as she personally pointed out various blooms for me to photograph.
God’s work is mindboggling and lovely. This week He even answered my prayers about the camp photos. Catching the perfect moment, a lovely smile, the warmth of a hug, the essence of camp ministry, that’s hard to do. I was trying to get pictures of the Eagle’s cabin playing basketball, hoping for some wonderful smiles. Well, what I got were expressions of grim determination as they worked hard to get baskets.
Until my niece threw a ball that smacked right into me!
This amazing photo was the result.
We laughed and laughed about my near maiming.
Then I was blessed with this beautiful picture to send home to her mom! Yes, God answers prayers and He also uses all of our fumbles for His glory. If my lack of flower knowledge does not stop Him and my propensity to be in the way brings Him glory, what will the Lord use next?
Well, it was pretty sad that we couldn’t bus the campers to Lake Chelan for Lake Day this year. Lake Chelan is amazing, it is one of the top 5 clearest lakes in the entire United States. Nonetheless, we decided to help kids to cool off in whatever way we could. This resulted in the amazing Pond Day. Not only is the pond not Lake Chelan, but our lovely canopy tent was thrashed by the wind whipping across the meadow and broken. How on earth could God use that?
Good times with friends are not limited to days when you swim in crystal waters and the tent remains unscathed. That is such an important lesson for all of us, young and old alike. Resilience is vital to our walk with God and being able to find the beauty in the broken (and sometimes muddy) world around us.
Once we arrived at the pond, the campers actually jumped into (ha ha) to pond day activities with gusto.
It was wonderful to cool off, spend time in the sun with friends, and perhaps get a glimpse of a foot-long goldfish lurking in the shadows.
Nope, not one of the giant goldfish. But this camper has definitely spotted, chased, and even caught them before. Then again, he lives here and has all of the goldfish capturing advantages.
Another favorite Pond Day activity was kayaking.
Campers paddled around in the far side of the pond, while others swam in the near side.
Of course, if Pond Day swimming wasn’t their cup of tea, there was always Princess Leia Freyja to watch as she frolicked in her natural habitat.
What is her natural habitat? I think that position of honor is held equally by both “couches” and “soggy places.”
But whether it is a couch or nice patch of mud, Princess Leia Freyja knows how to get where she’s going.
Just point your snout in the direction you want to go …
… and leap!
Which incidentally, is also a great way to start the Pond Day fun!
On, Thursday, we tried something we haven’t done in years. Horseback rides for junior high campers!
Yep, middle school students still love horses!
I even got the chance to ride after I finished taking horse photos. I love to watch the camper’s faces as they meet the horse they will be riding and then start out on their journey around the meadow!
So, now we have arrived at Thursday night. Skit night! Yep, we are back to The Boogie Man Boogie. What exactly was the speaker’s theme that was so inexplicably illustrated by The Boogie Man Boogie? Finding your identity in Christ, of course!
Princess Leia Freyja is not surprised by God using strange things for His glory. After all, God uses her fuzzy presence and sloppy dog kisses all the time. Why not The Boogie Man Boogie? In fact, I overheard one camper explaining to her mom that she had been homesick on Wednesday but felt better because there were dogs!
So … back to chapel. This week, Chaos (the speaker), taught on finding your identity in Christ. One of the verses she used to help illustrate this important truth was 1 Samuel 16:7.
“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
The junior high years are such an important time to hear this message. I think that each of us struggled through middle school, wondering if we would ever be pretty enough, athletic enough, smart enough, think of witty comments fast enough, or finally get cut off jeans (in my case) so we would have value to those around us. But Chaos reminded the campers this week that none of those external things are what give us value. Our identity is in Christ alone. It is by the great value that He placed upon each living soul that we must judge our worth. He is our redeemer, the great shepherd who would leave the ninety-nine to go in search of the one.
We enjoyed a wide variety of skits on Thursday and many of them used scripture. Including this very rowdy wedding ceremony that quoted key animal-related similes that are of course highly romantic.
Song of Songs 4:2a–“Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn, coming up from the washing …”
Exodus 9:17-18–“You still set yourself against my people and will not let them go. Therefore, at this time tomorrow I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt, from the day it was founded till now.”
I Corinthians 13:13–“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
” But the greatest of these is love.”
John 14:6–This is the way … nope, let’s try that again. “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life …”
“…No one comes to the Father except through me.”
And some skits tried to answer the great mysteries of the universe.
Such as, “Why don’t airplanes have e-brakes?”
But finally, we come to the terrifying but very spiritual story of The Boogie Man Boogie.
Once upon a time, Hiccup and Samurai were the fearless leaders of the Squirrel House. One of the discussion questions was, “What does God being omnipresent mean to you?” An eager camper leaped forward with an explanation.
Eager Camper–“When it is 3:00 am and I hear the boogie man rat-tat-tating on the window, I know that God is there.”
As you can imagine, the cabin discussion deteriorated fairly quickly after that. But it did result in much debate, laughter, and further discussion. The campers discussed the Boogie Man and his rat-tat-tating for the whole rest of the week.
Then it was time to think of a skit. The campers knew exactly what they wanted to do! Their counselors explained to Boo Boo in an interview after camp that their entire skit outline consisted of this short but expressive list: “Boogie Man, scared, God, and also dancing!”
Amazingly, most of these highly-active young men were actually paying attention during chapel and had also memorized the Bible verses for the week. So the campers knew just the verse that would connect The Boogie Man Boogie to finding our identity in Christ!
In their skit, when the Boogie Man leaped into the cabin of sleeping campers, they immediately judged him by his outward appearance.
But all he wanted to do … was Boogie.
And so they did!
1 Samuel 16:7–“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
And that, my friends, is how a cabin discussion became a scary story, galloped off in a wild tangent, morphed into an amazing illustration of the camp speaker’s theme for the week, and won the Camas Meadows Skit Competition!
That is how God uses the rough and rowdy insanity of middle school camp in the hearts, minds, and dance moves of kids at camp. Not only were their skits filled with scripture, many of these campers raised their hands to show that they wanted to become followers of Christ that week. Many more indicated that they wanted to recommit to following the Lord.
God is ever at work in the strangest places and most baffling ways. Isn’t He amazing!
2 Corinthians 4:7–“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”
As I sat in my writing chair doing cabin assignments, I heard the sound of an acoustic guitar on the hillside above our house. Worship in the outdoor amphitheater, which is a fancy name for a collection or old log benches that circle the inner slope of a natural bowl in the land between Squirrel Cabin and Mountain Panther. The sound of singing filled the forest with energy as it drifted through our windows. This was the first time I’d heard camp-style worship since March of 2020. I am so grateful that the Lord has called us to serve once more through the crazy beauty that is called camp ministry.
It can be challenging to jump back into something that has been lost to you for a year. Yes, camp was still ministering to individual families in 2020, but we hadn’t hosted a large group for over a year.
But the call was so very clear: in the remarkable way that God provided speakers, nurses, cooks, and counselors. So many small and large miracles have made camp possible this year.
From the camp intern who started having specific chapel session ideas long before we told her that we needed a speaker for our last Junior camp, to the experienced guy counselor who surprised us and just showed up at staff training, the Lord has amazed us with His provision.
When the staff applications stopped coming in, I crunched the numbers. We didn’t have enough experienced girl staff. I showed Scruff and we both stared at the cold hard facts. Would I have to counsel cabins this summer instead of take photos, edit photos, post photos for parents, and write the blog? How would people react to not having the daily updates on life at camp that they had grown accustomed to? We prayed, again. Once more coming before the Lord in desperate need. Then Scruffy got a message from a girl counselor who had just finished her degree and felt inexplicably called to reach out and ask if we had enough girl staff. What we didn’t know, she’d had camp on her heart since February and finally sent a text that she’d had on her phone for a long time. God knew and God was preparing His people to serve in mighty ways.
Scruff could think of one more person to ask about counseling, but he knew she currently had a great job. He almost didn’t send a message, but in the end, didn’t want to say no for her. So he asked. She had just given her three weeks notice since she’d accepted a new position. The camp we needed her for most, well, that fell right between jobs. She was free for that precise week of camp.
There were two weeks of camp where we still required a cook. Out of nowhere, God laid our on the heart of someone we would have never asked and she volunteered to come and serve at camp. Choco, who has been working a different job this year and hardly ever has days off, suddenly had some time off. He and Partake dedicated a huge portion of that precious time to camp in helping us with worship, an unending string of maintenance issues, and the more complicated camper check-in and check-out schedule that Covid-19 guidelines require.
Again and again, we watched Him provide for the summer in a cascade of small but deeply-needed miracles. Finally, we were training staff at camp once more. Counsel staff and support staff, all learning together. The art of washing dishes, leading cabin discussion, unclogging a toilet, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Service of every kind, vital to camp ministry, this was the week where we gave them the tools needed for the job.
During staff training, something happened that reminded us of the long-lasting power of giving of yourself wholeheartedly in ministry. Epona, one of our interns, was teaching on how impactful small acts of kindness are to campers during their week. Years and years ago, when she was a first-time camper, she was super-excited about her horseback ride. Garmin, her counselor, drew a picture for young Epona of her horse. Epona still has that picture to this day. It was so meaningful to her, she kept it for twelve years.
Well, it has been a long time since Garmin was at camp, but on a whim, Scruff decided to text her about how that one sweet act both encouraged Epona as a girl and gave her a tool for teaching future staff about how to connect with their campers. Scruff was shocked to see that he hadn’t messaged Garmin since 2013, but he sent the text nonetheless. Well, Garmin messaged back saying that she totally remembered that week of camp. Not only that, but she was particularly discouraged that day and had asked the Lord for word of encouragement. Then, here was this text from Scruffy telling about how her week at camp so long ago is still having an impact in campers lives as Epona teaches the staff using Garmin’s simple act of love as an example.
Staff training is beautiful that way. Young staff learning from older staff. Stories of camps of the past retold for a new generation. That video on how to unplug a toilet being shown just one more time! It’s not just the older staff teaching either. The younger ones have things to say as well and are constantly challenging us and brightening our days with their questions and insights. As someone who just sent her youngest son to staff training to watch him listen to lectures on both the magic of working the camp dishwasher and the simplicity and power of the gospel, I am so grateful that my sons can receive this training. Watching staff both receive and give to one another as we prepare for this crazy thing called camp ministry filled my heart and reminded me why we do what we do. Thank you Father, thank you for giving us the chance to serve You in this crazy and lovely way!
1 Timothy 4:12–“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”
Are your kids about to zoom off to summer camp but you’re not sure if they’re ready for a week away from home? Well, here are five things you can do to get them geared up and ready to go!
#1 Prepare them for some independence
Attending a week of camp is a huge right of passage for a child and a big step in their independence and growth! I was a camp counselor for many years, married a camp director, and worked training camp staff for years after that. Nonetheless, when our oldest went to camp I was shocked at how hard it was to let him go. We literally live thirty seconds away from the cabin where he stayed. It was still so very difficult and so incredibly good.
Up until that time, I had always been on hand. I talked to other adults for him when he was shy. I dished up the kinds of food he liked. I could tell by that slight weariness in his eyes when he was getting sick. I knew that he liked me to read to him at night and sing a song.
But you know what? Camp counselors can read and sing, too. During that week of camp, I saw something beautiful occur. Our son became part of a group of boys, thundering around with their counselor, totally independent from my hovering, having a total blast. He learned to go with the flow without me there to explain everything and smooth the way. He learned to advocate for himself by asking his counselor for help if he needed a buddy to walk the dark trails with or forgot his toothbrush. My heart ached and swelled with pride simultaneously when his counselor said that he woke with a nightmare and then fell back to sleep as his counselor stood beside his bed holding his hand. My little boy was growing up.
Prepare your child for this adventure by telling them to ask for help, think of strategies if they miss home (write a letter, read a good book at bedtime, snuggle favorite stuffed animal), and assure them that this week will give them vital skills for life and their relationship with God for years to come!
#2 Pack the right clothes
Camp is a place for running through the grassy meadow, pounding up and down the twisty dirt trails, or even playing a game of ga-ga ball immediately after a thunderstorm has left the ga-ga ball court slick with mud. Pack accordingly. We’ve had kids who only pack designer clothes, flip flops instead of tennis shoes, or even high-heeled snow boots with furry accents but no real tread. Prepare your child to enjoy the outdoors with a good pair of tennis shoes or even hiking boots. Sandals are fine, but if they wear them all week their feet will hurt and they might trip on the rough terrain or roll an ankle. Pack clothes that can get dirty. Pack for a wide variety of weather conditions. Here in the Cascade Mountains it can reach freezing temperatures at night even when it is sweltering in the daytime. Shorts and t-shirts, socks and sturdy shoes, long-sleeved shirts and pants, a sweatshirt and pajama pants for lounging about, a modest swimsuit, a thick blanket to drape over their shoulders during the campfire, and plenty of clothes to change into. They will get grubby fast and packing a few extra outfits will be perfect for after that impromptu pine needle fight.
Pro Tip: Teach your first-time camper how to make bundles of clothes so that he or she can find an outfit for each day easily. Fold a pair of pants, a shirt, undies, and socks. Stack them on top of each other with the smaller items inside. Roll them up into a clothing burrito and then wrap a strip of masking tape all the way around the bundle. Have bundles for cold days and hot days. Now finding new clothes every day is easy and your camper is more likely to actually put on something fresh!
#3 Pack the right equipment
A flashlight! So many campers forget that it is dark here in the forest. Yes, we have electricity when the generator is on and for a few hours after that as the batteries give us power for a while. But eventually, the power goes out and it is quite dark. A flashlight and extra batteries will help your camper to go back and forth between the mail lodge and their cabin, rummage through their suitcase after the lights go out, or even read a book quietly in their bunk without disturbing the rest of the cabin.
Some camouflage, dark clothing, or even a black cape/gorilla mask for the night games. It sure puts a damper on playing Mission Impossible when you only have a bright white sweatshirt and get captured right away. Do you have a retired soldier in the family? See if they might donate their old camo for your camper’s night game adventure. Head to the thrift store to see what’s been donated or ask grandma to sew a black cape with a hood. At the very least, pack one set of dark clothes including dark shoes and socks. Your camper will smile when they dig through their suitcase and see that they are ready to plunge into the night in disguise.
A sleeping bag and pillow. Yep, sometimes campers forget these important items. Make sure that yours is prepared. For younger campers, a special stuffed animal can make their bunk feel like home. I have loaned out many stuffed animals over the years and of course the camp dog is always available, but a stuffy from home is a special touch.
Toiletries! Yes, they will still need to brush their teeth, run a comb through their hair to remove pieces of bark and lichen, and maybe even wash their faces and hair. Sometimes campers arrive hoping that all of these things are behind them. Our counselors will kindly urge a continuation of basic hygiene, but it sure helps if they have a toothbrush!
A good book. There is very little down time at camp, but we do have one hour of FOB (flat on bunk) in the afternoons and some campers have trouble resting. A good book can also help them settle down at night if they are all revved up after all their adventures and can’t sleep.
A Bible, notebook, and pen. Yes, we have Bibles that your camper can borrow, but it is always nice to have your own and a notebook and pen can make the chapel sessions even more meaningful as your camper jots down things from their week.
#4 Leave some things behind
Does your camper think that they cannot live without their phone, a fine collection of stink bombs, a pair of matching machetes, or their five angry cats? Yeah, they will be fine without those. One of the main benefits of camp is disengaging from the digital world. So, leave that phone behind and bring grandma’s old camera or a single-use disposable camera instead. And the stink bombs, yes, pranking at camp is a fine tradition but all pranks must be cleared by the interns and anything that destroys property weather through a horrible stench, sticky duct tape residue, or a mountain of shaving cream … well, these pranks do not gain approval. If your camper is longing to hone their wilderness skills and learn to use a pocket knife correctly, sign up for our spring break survival camp. But for all other camps, leave those knives at home. Yes, my sons once smuggled a pet chicken into their cabin, but I found her and brought her back home. Please leave your pets behind and enjoy Princess Leia Freyja, the camp dog, while at Camas.
#5 Be ready for different
Camp is not like school, home, or church. Camp is different. That’s one reason we love it! Sometimes campers are alarmed by this. I have fielded many questions from children about camp. “Where are all the video games?” or “Why are there hand motions to the songs?” or “Why are kids pounding their cups on the table, chanting, and racing around the lodge during dinner?” or in the case of my sons, “Why do I have to wear shoes?” Get your camper ready to enjoy something different. They’re going to love it!
Boo Boo aka Kristen is the granddaughter of the camp founders, the daughter of the camp’s first director, and the wife of Scruffy (the current director). She began her career in camp ministry in the dish pit with her best friend at the age of fourteen. They were terrible dishwashers but eventually got the dishes clean after swamping the floor with an inch of water and screaming whenever they had to touch discarded food. Her three sons are now involved in camp, too. The oldest is a counselor, the middle son is cook’s assistant, and her youngest is following in her footsteps with dish pit adventures of his own. Please shoot her a message or call if you have questions about camp or your camper. She has also been known to track them down for you, take reconnaissance photos while hiding behind trees, and post those reassuring pictures on the camp facebook and instagram pages so that you know your camper is alive. She believes that camp is a vital adventure, both for childhood health and joy as well as for our growth as followers of Christ.
The lodge is empty, quiet, hollow. Normally, at this time of year the entire building echoes with giggles, shrieks, shouts, singing, the clatter of forks on plates as heaps of pancakes are consumed, and the rhythmic pounding of cups on tables as counselors teach another generation of campers that super annoying cup game. In case you were wondering, I am an expert at the cup game. But this skill will do me little good this year.
Camas Meadows has provided our own summer camps every year since 1986 when my father left his pastorate to usher Camas from a purely rental facility to a place that planned, staffed, and ran summer adventures for kids ages nine to eighteen.
Not this year.
This year, we are grieving the loss of a summer ministry that has been a part of Scruffy’s life for the past twenty-one years and part of mine for the last thirty-four. Yes, as a girl I slept in the corner of Robin’s Roost Cabin (before it was Robin’s Roost) on a make-shift bed while my dad ran staff meetings. Camp has been the focus of my summer since before I was even old enough to be a camper.
One time, I drove past an orchard that was being cut down. The trees were in the full-blush of spring bloom. Covered in a glorious snow of pale-pink blossoms. Full of beauty and life and the potential for a fruitful year. But they had all been cut down. They lay on their sides, in full bloom, dead. All of a sudden, I find myself feeling like that orchard.
Camas has run summer camps when forest fires raged in the Cascades, after my father’s sudden death, and even during Scruffy’s first summer when he was hired in May (with a landscape architecture degree and three year’s experience working at a Christian music warehouse) and had all of one month to prepare.
This summer, a global pandemic has forced us to rest the land.
We, as a people, are not used to resting. It has been shocking as business grinds to a halt and anxiety skyrockets. If Scruffy is not a camp director, if I am not Boo Boo (camp director’s wife, camp blogger, camp photographer) with all of the vital tasks and important daily details that this job brings with it … what are we?
In the Old Testament, God commanded the people of Israel to rest the land every seven years. If produce grew on its own, it was available for the poor and wild animals to eat. Then every fifty years came the year of jubilee, where the land rested once more, but in addition, property that had been sold was returned to its original owners. The people and the land both rested before the Lord in obedience as a sacrifice and expression of faith.
Why haven’t we rested the land before this? Well, we are not under Old Testament law … and rest is difficult, expensive, and simply does not come naturally. There are a million and one things to do and so many people that we do not wish to disappoint.
But this year rest has been forced upon us, and though painful, there is good here, too. Good amidst the sorrow of seeing a quiet summer and an empty lodge. As we were discussing these difficulties, another camp director told Scruffy, “We consider this our year of jubilee.” I do not want to miss this opportunity to trust God and learn the important lessons He has for us in this time of upheaval.
This sudden quiet is a forceful reminder of the incredible value of our calling. As Scruffy and I have fielded phone calls, emails, and facebook messages about camp, parents and kids are showing us again and again that Camas Meadows has played a vital role in not just their enjoyment of a fabulous and fun summer, but in their walk with God as well.
With so many children being separated from their school friends and spending more and more time inside in front of a screen, the need to get out into God’s creation with a bunch of new buddies has never been higher. It hurts to hear the hopes of parents and children alike and to have to tell them that this year a summer camp experience is not an option. But if we ever doubted the vital nature of camp ministry, this has shown the need so clearly. Kids need the woods, new friends, leaders they can look up to, and a week-long encounter with Jesus.
There are indeed moments during the hustle and bustle and constant insanity that is summer camp when I am overwhelmed. Will I ever have an uninterrupted conversation with Scruffy again? Who exactly thought up a schedule that doesn’t allow for a day off from May until the end of August? Will my sons ever stop singing There’s A Hole At The Bottom of the Sea? Why did Zoboomafoo think it was OK to have 26 verses in this song?
But oh what we would give for a splash of insanity right now. Camp is a wild, intense, passionate experience with God. Yes, it brings about bone-deep weariness. A weariness that I am seeing more and more as a badge of honor and the mark of a job well done. This forced quiet has caused me to take a good long look at the fatigue that I so often struggle with during the summer and see that there is a great and mighty worth in that struggle and the work that is accomplished.
God has provided something we did not ask for, want, or even consider possible. A quiet summer, resting the land, thinking upon our calling and the nature of the work He has placed us in. I refuse to waste this opportunity. Yes, it is shocking, painful, and something I have never done before. But we could spend this quiet in anxiety and fear or we could pour it out like a drink offering, a jubilee to our Lord. As Scruff and I walk through a meadow filled with wildflowers, we are reminded of God’s faithfulness and care. As we stand in the empty lodge and long to serve the rowdy hordes of campers once again, our calling becomes crystal clear. As we listen to birdsong in the morning and the low hoot of owls at night, the deep import of camp ministry settles upon our hearts. This time of reflection is important.
After so many busy summers, perhaps a moment of quiet is vital, lest we grow weary of doing good and forget why we lead water fights and insane songs and encourage kids to throw cheese slices dipped in mayonnaise at each other in a competition to see how many will stick. The camp belongs to the Lord. He is faithful and we can trust Him with its care. So now, we will let the land rest. And when He calls us into service once more, we will be ready. Stronger, more focused, absolutely certain of our calling. Sometimes, rest is actually faith, worship, and trust.
This was our biggest Jr. High Winter Blast yet with 49 campers, 15 counselors, a big kitchen crew, and several hundred snow ducks! (Yes, this was before concern about the corona virus increased. I know you were worried about all those ducks, clearly not practicing social distancing!!!)
Parents and youth leaders urged weary vehicles up the snowy camp road and into the parking lot where the rowdy fun immediately commenced.
What was the very first game of the weekend?
The chair game, of course!
The goal is to keep the person in your chair from escaping when the person with the empty chair calls their name. This allows staff and campers to learn each others names.
It is also more than a little bit entertaining to watch.
Of course it isn’t camp if you are not outside. So Scruffy took the campers who were bold, brave, and had two working legs, on an amazing hike into Poison Canyon. Down, down, down … and then ALL the way back up!
Poison Canyon is just a wee bit steep. Hiking here causes Princess Leia Freyja to whine with concern and give everyone revitalizing slurps.
Here she is, looking worried for the health and safety of others. Which is actually a fairly common expression for our sweet camp dog.
During the amazing hike, some campers played board games in the lodge or worked on crafts.
Others built a tower of Kapla blocks that rose all the way up to the second story! Campers reached through the rails on the second story balcony to place the final block, until I got out my camera and the invisible power of its nearness seemed to cause the tower to fall right as I snapped a photo!
On the first evening, Scruffy dusted off that Watchamabob favorite of old, the Chocolate Marshmallow Drop.
The participants were ready and eager to go.
The chocolate was gooey and drizzly!
The results: stickiness overload!
The benefits: eating a marshmallow if you actually succeeded and of course the pure and unadulterated joy of having chocolate on your face!
Of course, Watchamabob naturally morphs straight into–all the camp people know the answer–worship!
Hand motion songs first, then quiet worship, and then the lesson.
Our speaker this week was Faramir, and he spoke about turning points.
Of course, he told an amazing story about the time that (although he is terrified of roller coasters) he let his youth kids talk him into riding a super scary roller coaster since he was trying to impress them. Then the operator saw that no one else was in line, gave them a cheery smile, and sent them around the track a second time! The point of no return. That moment that the front car on the coaster (yes, his youth group kids talked him into sitting in the very front) is hanging over the edge of the precipice and it is only a matter of time before the other cars follow. Sometimes we come to a point of not return in life. A time where we must decide the course that we will follow. Faramir did a wonderful job of urging kids to make a decision to follow Jesus when they come to these important turning points in their lives.
On Saturday, every cabin participated in an epic broom hockey match-up!
An afternoon well spent.
Although Princess Leia Freyja was quite dissapointed that Scruffy wouldn’t let her play. She totally understands the game. The first person to run through the gauntlet of smacking sticks, grab the puck, and wildly charge between people’s legs with it in their mouth as their tail wags happily … is the winner!
After hockey, snow duck production went into overdrive!
Sweet Tea, our wonderful camp cook, let campers use her new snow duck makers. They look like salad tongs with half a duck on each side. When you pack them with snow and squeeze the duck halves together, voila, a snow duck! It started with just a few ducks watching the hockey game.
Then two stern leaders in parlay were discovered having a serious discussion in the middle of the ping pong table.
But what is a king without his army? So, two opposing armies of ducks were born.
One side consisted of bald ducks and one side was made up of ducks with charming hair made of lichen. There was also a spy in the midst of one army and a few ducks who really loved Legend of Zelda and created this iconic monument.
Of course, after all of this hearty snow duck creation, it’s also nice to just sit on the couch with friends. A whole lot of friends! Which inevitably turns into a competition. Exactly how many campers and counselors can fit on these particular couches. And a dog … there should definitely be a dog on the couch. Don’t worry, Princess Leia Freyja was happy to help out.
We didn’t let them sit too long. There were still more strange and baffling games that absolutely needed to be played!
OK, these two sisters are ready to go!
What is this? Obviously, some kind of face off between two determined campers. But why?
Hmmm … not sure that this makes things any clearer.
Well, balloons are always fun.
OK, more balloons more fun.
Aha! A chase, a mighty battle!
The goal of this game was to hop after your opponent and pop their balloon without allowing them to stomp on yours.
Princess Leia Freyja seemed concerned.
But the campers had a great time!
Finally, it was Sunday and time to clean up the camp and present cabin awards. No, we do not normally ask the campers to mop with their cute toesies. But when presented with a mop, this cabin of girls begged for permission to mop their own way. They also charged out of the bathroom and seized the camp photographer so that their triumph could be captured on film!
While the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place cabins received bags of candy in various yummy sizes, the staff team got something even better.
A bag of russet potatoes!!!
Little did they know that in a few short weeks Scruffy would walk into Costco to find every single bag of potatoes gone!
Or perhaps they did know, deep down inside. Either way, the potatoes were received with great joy and were distributed among the staff while the candy was distributed among the winning cabins.
It was such an amazing weekend. Not only were many snow ducks created, wild games played, God’s beautiful forest enjoyed, and songs sung at a tremendous volume … but several campers raised their hands to follow Jesus for the very first time. And please do not discount the vital role that a weekend of camp plays in the life of a young Christian who already knows the Lord. Without the encouragement of fellowship, teaching, and the fun of being with a whole herd of rowdy young believers, their Christian walk would be much more difficult. Through the grace of God, we were able to provide a safe place for these 49 children to learn about their Lord and rejoice in the beauty of following Him.
Ephesians 2:4-5–“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.”
CamasCon is our strategy board game camp. A way to connect Christian Geeks and Gamers with each other, some amazing games both new and old, and with their Lord through the awesome chapel sessions.
This of course necessitates the arrival of many games. So, so, so, many games! Games with beautiful cover art and massively thick rule books.
Games with fascinating miniatures and intricate pieces of all kinds.
Games with adorable Medieval villages and towering cityscapes.
Games with cool spacecraft.
Games with galloping camels.
Actually, there’s more than one game with galloping camels!
Games with fearsome lady pirates and their unique pets.
Games with intricate maps of the world, both realistic and fantastical.
And everyone’s favorite, games that employ both cute, wooden meeples and ferocious dragons!
Amidst all these games, are competitors of all kinds. New gamers, lifelong gamers, non-gamers who simply wandered in, and even individuals who work in the gaming industry. Though they employ many different stratagems and love many different genres, they all share a passion for table top board gaming and the way it brings people together.
In a world where our eyes are constantly glued to screens, a board game provides fun, competition, and a way to actually look another human being and see them for what they are, beautiful sons and daughters of the Lord.
This year our speaker was Chris Gwaltney of Love Thy Nerd fame.
With Choco leading everyone in some amazing worship
The campers took a moment to step away from the fierce competition, let go of the fact that Scruffy probably was a Cylon even through he swears to his humanity, and come together as the people of Jesus Christ, called to love in His name in a broken world.
After a beautiful weekend together, the CamasCon campers left refilled, refreshed, and ready to try out all the new games they learned on their unsuspecting friends.
Perhaps your passion isn’t strategy board games. But something that CamasCon always reminds me of, is that God made each of us uniquely. After creating us to be like none other upon His world, God then desires to use our passions and abilities for His kingdom. So what about you? How do you connect with others face to face? And are you willing to use that hobby, talent, gifting, or even geekiness for the Holy Kingdom of God?
2 Corinthians 4:7–“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”
2019 marked our third annual Mountain Muse Christian Writer’s Retreat and this year brought us the fabulous (and award-winning) Becca Whitham to be our speaker!
I wanted the Mountain Muse to be similar to reading a great book on the craft of writing and then jumping right into the creation process immediately afterward. So Becca, brought us together for short sessions on the craft of writing and then released us into the wild to write or wander, whatever our creative process demanded.
For some, that meant rushing to the computer to get to work.
For others, it meant chatting with the speaker about their plot or characters.
And for others, it was a walk in God’s glorious creation to get those creative juices flowing.
This stunning view is only about a mile from the camp and was well worth the hike there.
Add in worship time with Choco
And the loving attentions of Princess Leia Freyja our Mascot
And the weekend was just what I had envisioned. A time for writers to gather, learn, encourage one another, and relish in some much needed quiet so that they could create.
Princess Leia Freyja is all ready for next year’s retreat! What about you?
We were just finishing up Staff Training and one of the younger counselors pulled Scruffy aside. The choices and struggles of someone else had left this amazing young man feeling the despair of standing by helpless as a loved one spiraled deeper and deeper into heartache.
Then Scruffy got a difficult email from a teen camp parent that night. Their family had recently faced a tragic loss and she wanted her child’s counselor to get a head’s up that all was not sunshine and roses right now and her teen might need some extra care.
So we took our staff to our home church to sing on the last day of Staff Training, already heart-sore over the weight that we knew these teenage campers would be carrying when they came to us on Monday for a week of fun, camaraderie, and teaching.
We were in charge of leading worship and sang some crazy fast songs before settling in for a few of the powerful worship songs that sound so amazing accompanied by drum, piano, and acoustic guitar.
Then the guest speaker, an army chaplain and good friend, opened the Word to talk about pain. Scruffy and I wept through his story of a staff sergeant who lost her son to an accident. He then told of driving up to the home of two soldiers who had lost their baby to SIDS. Several officers stood in front of the house, afraid to knock because they didn’t know what to say. When he arrived they sighed in relief and rushed him forward. He was the chaplain! He would know exactly what to do!
Only, he didn’t.
He knocked on that door at a loss. He’d been a Christian long enough to know that belonging to Jesus does not erase the pain and platitudes only make the suffering worse.
When the door opened, he walked inside, full of the knowledge that he absolutely did not know what to do or say in the face of such grief. Nonetheless, he encountered something amazing. Kneeling by the couch and the grieving parents was the staff sergeant who had lost her son two months before. Her tears, her understanding, her fresh and terrible grief was exactly what this young couple needed. Not words, not assurances, not false happiness or the statement that something good was sure to come. They needed exactly what Romans 12:15 commands, someone to weep with them as they wept.
As we searched the pew for Kleenex, hands held tight, Scruffy turned to me. “Do you know what Van Helsing’s theme for chapel is next week?”
I answered that I did not.
“Broken,” Scruffy said. “His theme is broken.”
We had not hauled a single suitcase or sleeping bag up the dirt paths to the cabins. We had not smiled at a single parent, sent a single counselor to greet their new camper, or checked in anyone whatsoever with the camp nurse. But Scruffy and I and the speaker himself walked out of the church with just a tiny bit of fear and trepidation. What on earth was God planning for this week of camp?
On Monday, registration was in full swing. Scruff had just finalized the cabin assignments (there are always several last minute changes to be made) and needed a moment to pull aside one of the counselors and let her know what the mom of her camper had written about their difficult circumstances. With various people asking where he had gone and when he was coming back, Scruffy found a quiet corner and relayed the message. The counselor was amazed. The same exact rare tragedy had occurred within her family, that very year. For just a moment, they paused amidst the hubbub. God’s care was so clear and powerful.
And so we jumped into the week. During that first day, Van Helsing asked each camper and counselor to sign a commemorative pot he’d brought to camp.
He knew what would happen to the pot and yet found himself growing more and more attached to it as campers and staff drew little pictures, encouraging messages, and signed their names in their own unique ways.
During chapel, Van Helsing brought up something that had been made so very clear to Scruffy and I during church the day before. The world is full to the brim with hurt and heartache. It will not spare something, simply because it is precious to us. He had everyone stand up who had ever had a broken bone, a limiting physical condition, a bad sunburn, baldness, or bad gas. Eventually, all were standing. In one way or another, we are all broken.
And then he did the unthinkable. Van Helsing took that unique pot, the one with all the signatures, doodles, and sweet notes. He put it in the volleyball court beneath a giant tripod that Choco built, and he dropped a 40lb weight smack on top of it.
But the beauty of Romans 12:15 is that not only are we to weep with those who weep, but we also rejoice with those who rejoice.
Even with such a brutal reminder of the sorrow that surrounds us as the whole camp stared down at that poor broken pot, that honesty made it almost easier to relish the crazy fun that is camp.
Don’t underestimate the value of a week of water fights and crazy singing, cabin competitions and night games in the forest, taking a hike out in God’s glorious creation and racing to eat a marshmallow covered in spicy mustard. This is the only break that some of our campers get, their only week to be a child.
Amidst water fights, sand castle competitions, swimming at Lake Chelan, and even paintball and slip-n-slide, the campers of each cabin guarded a fragile blown egg that they had decorated and named.
As you might expect, during the Eggstreme Egg Challenge, more than one of these delightful mascots were broken.
Here, a guys’ cabin mourns the loss of their egg after they chucked it down the dock at Lake Chelan in a bold attempt to win the latest challenge and get the egg to the end of the dock and back.
As the different cabins struggled to keep their eggs from breaking during the rigors of the Eggstreme Egg Challenge, Van Helsing continued to both smash items with the 40lb weight and speak on brokenness.
He asked one cabin to bake a truly amazing cake. They made each delectable layer a different color, spread flavoring between, frosted it with care, and applied a gorgeous decoration of sprinkles. Then they put the name “Love” on the cake and Van Helsing spoke on broken hearts.
Even though the human heart is precious and designed by God for love, friendships and romance can be fraught with peril. But as one boy shouted out when the wrecking ball demolished this lovely confection, “Hey, that’s still good cake!” He attempted to eat it out of the dirt, and indeed, the girl’s cabin that baked it had brought their forks to the demolition.
I couldn’t help but stop and ponder that campers words. Isn’t that just like Jesus when we come to Him shattered. Perhaps it was our own mistakes that dealt the destruction. Maybe the sin of others running rampant through our lives or just the ugliness of a fallen world leaving casualties behind. But we are broken and we know it and yet when He sees us shattered and wondering if there is anything worth salvaging, the Savior shouts out, “Hey, that’s still good cake!”
Yes, so many kids in both Christian and non-Christian homes struggle with this heartache.
When Van Helsing asked a cabin to watch out for this special unicorn all week, they were concerned. “You’re not going to smash Dude, are you?” But when Van Helsing spoke on broken dreams, Dude’s fate was sealed.
We had so many different and amazing campers that week. Campers who were bold and loud, raising a hand in every discussion and always ready to give the speaker something to think on as he addressed the camp. We had campers who were so shy they wouldn’t talk at all. Each of them faced their own struggles and God was faithful to give help when we asked. Like that moment in staff meeting when we realized what it meant to a shy camper every time we used her name. Seeing a bold camper ask for help and a quiet camper stand up and speak in front of the whole group. Watching these kids learn and grow was a true honor.
Teens today face difficulties that have sent many an adult into a tailspin, but it is so hard to talk about what is truly and deeply tearing you up inside.
All those crazy illustrations, from a beautiful smashed cake to carrying around an egg named Lil Sassy, brought out laughter and tears and the ability to pause a moment and address that real thing inside that life has shattered.
If a decorated egg needs to be smashed so that a cabin can hold the pieces and speak of that family tragedy, the bully that was supposed to be a friend, that addiction, the terrible heartache that is making it so hard to trust God, well … smash away! Sacrifices, honesty demands sacrifices.
Those silly eggs, that shattered toy house, the sad and broken unicorn, they gave us a moment to laugh and then to weep because so much more is broken with us as a people than a tasty cake or a little egg with dog hair glued to its crown.
As amazing as each cabin egg was, as lovely and tasty as that gorgeous cake appeared, none of them compared to the value of each beautiful teen we were privileged to serve during the week.
And the hard truth was that, yes, they were broken, too. We all are broken.
Teens absolutely need those carefree moments and delightful rowdiness and fun. This is a balm to the soul.
But they also need honesty. So many teens are deeply hurting and they don’t appreciate the adults around them glossing over their pain and giving them platitudes instead of our hearts. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
But when we gather the strength to both rejoice and weep together, to face what life has dropped on us, to be honest and real, then we can look at the climax of the story. Jesus Messiah, broken in our place, broken for us.
And what about that young camper who was struggling through the rubble of a family loss? She debated about whether to share or not. I don’t blame her. It is difficult to be that honest, so hard to bare your heart. But eventually she talked with her counselor. As they spoke, strange coincidences started popping up. Both the camper’s family and the counselor’s family lived in the same town, faced the same trial, and even had the same name! They realized that they were actually cousins and would have never known if she hadn’t taken the risk and told her story. God not only gave this camper a counselor who understood her particular struggle, He introduced her to her family. A young woman who was a little older, had been following the Lord a few years longer, and was facing the same brand of hurt.
Even broken, especially broken, with such a Savior standing in our place, we absolutely do have the strength for what we face. For He has the strength and in the end, His strength is what will win the day.
So yes, Sr. High Teen Camp was an amazing week. A week where we rejoiced, wept, and were broken.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” –2 Corinthians 4:7