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Camp Images from my Foggy Head June 20, 2009

Posted by markgeil in Church.
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We’re home from camp. Exhausted, exhilarated, enjoying home, and ignoring chigger bites. If you know me, you know camp is one of the highlights of my year. Amy and I help run our church summer camp each year; we’ve done it since 1998, we think. This year we took 105 kids who had all finished 3rd through 5th grade. We pack about as much camp as you can into a single week, and it’s a grand gamut of action, emotion, battle, victory, and growth, both for the kids and for me.

Even though I can predict how I will feel on this Saturday after camp, it practically knocks me over each year. I have images in the fog of my head that are individually disparate but collectively powerful. Here are a few, written in the hope that they’re somehow coherent.

Catwalk

The “high ropes” experience for our kids at Woodland Christian Camp is called the Catwalk. It’s a long telephone pole that spans two trees a good 30 feet off the ground. Secured in a climbing harness, each kid climbs a ladder, then climbs a tree, then steps on the pole and realizes that it looks a lot higher looking down than it did from the ground, and that it’s actually round and not flat. Then they try to cross. The image in my foggy head is of one of our 3rd graders. He had been sobbing just two nights before, terribly homesick, having never even spent a night away from home without his parents, but we talked him into staying. He woke the next morning with a whisper, “I did it.” Now he faced a new challenge on the high ropes. He climbed the ladder, then climbed the tree, then put one foot and then another on the catwalk. The hardest part is letting go of the tree and stepping onto the catwalk, away from safety and into uncertainty. This is the image in my foggy head: bright sunlight filtered through high tree leaves, illuminating a trembling hand, fingers slowly extending, feet moving in tiny shuffles, drawn breath, letting go.

Campfire Declarations

We played the same song every morning before the kids went out for their quiet times. It’s an endearing sight for even the hardest of hearts. A hundred kids, together but alone, sitting on a step, or a dock by the lake, or on the grass in an open field, reading their Bibles and jotting down notes and bowing their heads and praying. Our morning send-off song was “Here I Am” by Shaun Groves. The chorus is a bit of a spiritual progression: “Here I am, save me / Here I am, change me / Here I am, mend me / Here I am, send me.” Thursday night, I was selecting songs for our campfire singalong. I picked some of our usual get-up-and-boogie sillier songs, and then was moved to revisit “Here I Am.” We sang the verse together, the kids in the sweetest of voices. Then we prayed the chorus. This is the image in my foggy head: the last few chords on the guitar, followed by silence, then the spoken words, “here I am, save me,” then a handful of children standing from their seats, making the words their own, declaring their salvation. Then the next line asking for life-change, and another group of children standing, boldly declaring their need for something different. Then the words, “Here I am, mend me,” and then the children who needed mending, standing at their seats, declaring their dependency. They represented broken hearts, or broken families, or broken lives, and for them to stand was no small feat. Finally, the largest group of all standing as I spoke, “Here I am, send me.” Ready. Ready to go, ready for a mission. These are the ones who will change the world.

My Burden

Arriving home from camp is bittersweet. Mommies and little sisters run to embrace their haggard, sleepy children, and they always ask, “How was camp?” and the few words that follow are never enough to sum up the week. Luggage is found, or not, and kids say goodbye to new friends, sometimes unsure if they’ll see each other again. But then, there are the ones who don’t have the sweetest of homes to which to return. The ones who linger, waiting to be picked up because someone is late or has forgotten. We have kids with sick parents, or incarcerated parents, or no parents at all. They are my burden. We cram as much love and safety and acceptance into them as we can in one week, but as I drive home I’m aware that for some of them, we’re throwing them back into situations that are lacking in love, that rarely feel safe, and that hold more rejection than acceptance. I pray for them, but I confess that I worry about them. This is the image in my foggy head: playing in the pool, a silly made-up game that basically involved dragging a group of girls around the deep end, but with lots of giggles and smiles, and then the words from one of the little girls who had such a need for a guy to just play a silly game with her, who deserves so much more: “I wish you were my dad.” She is my burden.

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