Yesterday I visited my second home, Camp Crestridge, for a little bit – to see old friends, hug some necks, breathe the mountain air, and introduce Noah to camp for the first time. We weren’t there but an hour or so and in that short time, amazingly, the part of my soul where my camp memories will always be near and dear was stirred and touched, and it was totally unexpected.
In my five summers on staff I met lots of folks, loved on a lot of campers, invested time and emotions I hardly knew I was capable of, became a part of the story for girls in difficult situations trying to figure out who they are and what they have to give, played hard, laughed a lot, cried a lot, and grew more as a young woman in those short summers because of who these girls revealed to me that I was and could be through relationships with them.
A handful of them I still keep in touch with – they call on me when in need of advice or someone to listen (and sometimes when I need them for the same) and I am always eager to hear about their adventures and what they are up to. A lot of my girls I loosely keep up with via Facebook or blog – checking in from time to time to see them happy in life, embracing their challenges, and overcoming obstacles I would never wish on anyone. There are even a couple that have left this world far, far too early. Regardless of the consistency of conversation, I think about them daily. Pray for them often. And am ever thankful for their place in my life – even if from a very far distance nowadays.
Which brings me back to yesterday.
As I was standing outside the chapel listening to someone lead the most beautiful worship I’ve heard in that chapel I just had to poke my head around to see if I knew who it was – not likely since I haven’t worked in four summers. The song coming from her mouth and her guitar was giving me chills – sure enough she was one of my former campers, ten at the time, who definitely has left a mark on me. And if you ask her, I left a mark too when I “pushed” her down in the gravel during an intense game of Underground Railroad. Clearly I never pushed a child, but that’s our thing – our bond. And she has been blessed with an incredible gift of music and she loves Jesus with all her heart. She will do great things in her life- she already is – and she’s only eighteen. (Katie falls in the “check in on from time to time” category, and it’s been a year or so since we last talked. She has sisters, Sarah and Caroline, who I keep up with somewhat regularly – they attended our wedding and Krystal’s last fall. Team Knowles, as I lovingly refer to them. And they are the best huggers ever. Period.)
Then another former camper comes strolling out of the chapel, squeals in excitement to see us standing there, and throws her arms around us both. It’s been since 2005 since I last saw or spoke with her – she I check in on from time to time, but at a distance. This is her first time she’s been back to camp in that long as well – it does my heart so good to see her.
And then she says this, in so many words:
I should have told you this a long time ago, but thank you for talking to me and encouraging me my last summer here. I probably wouldn’t be at Florida State right now if it weren’t for you telling me to go. You said I would find friends and good people there even though the school is crazy – and I have and love it so much. I remember sitting on the Cherokee bridge with you and you said “Just find some friends and go climb trees on campus!” – and that’s where I spent most of my freshman year! On Landis Green climbing trees! God has blessed me so much and has done so much in my life it’s just amazing. I was a hot-mess, like a hot messy mess, that summer and you helped me so much and I just love you so much.
My eyes are teary as I type this.
She quoted me.
Word for word.
From six years ago.
Six. Years. Ago.
How many conversations can you do the same for that you had last week, much less six years?
The meaning that those words spoken yesterday carried far more weight than simply strolling down memory lane – and far more than she could have ever imagined. It’s for kids like her that I do what I do. The one in a hundred who really hear what you say and trust your words and then do something with them. The kids who may be harder to love – really love – but are so full of love and laughter and joy, they just have to find the faith within to believe in themselves. The kids who,six years later, will be pouring themselves into teenage girls, just like you once did – and you know she will be blessed by them as she has blessed you. Kids who will keep in touch or come out of the blue to tell you that you meant something to them – even if it was a conversation about climbing trees.
I share all of that to say this – hug your campers/kids/child in your life ever single day, tell them that you love them – there’s never a time too many, help them believe in themselves by believing in them first, let them mess up and be there to listen when they end up hurt, hold the mirror up for them to see their beauty, show them the simple joys like climbing trees, acknowledge that they are children and let them be – childhood is too fleeting as it is.
It’s okay to not have all the answers, I surely didn’t at 21, but to love a child right where they are, in there hot messy messiness, is right where you need to be.
And right where they need you to be.