We began this week on a much needed, mid-summer break. Camp was to begin on the 4th of July, so the whole staff took the couple days preceding to try to catch up on a month’s worth of lost sleep. The camp was completely closed down, even for permanent staff, and we rested the camp in similar fashion to the Hebrews resting the land. It is strange during the summer to walk around camp with no noise and no lights. The blacktop was dark, the hum of air conditioners was relatively quieted, and even the hot water heaters got a rest. It is a different world when a place like Lakeshore is turned off. You become so used to constant noise in some form or fashion. Then everything is quieted, but you can almost still hear the hum of conversation, running and play, and fluorescent lights like ghosts of our recent past hang around after we’ve left. If you happen to be up here during those times, close your eyes in the front room of the Conference Center. If you’ve lived a summer here, you might expect to open your eyes surrounded by campers eating sugary snacks and laughing.
We welcomed campers back on Independence Day. This week, all of our camps were Elementary age. This is a rarity at Lakeshore–most weeks we have a youth age camp running, but even our Wilderness camp was Elementary this week. It is a whole different world during this high density Elementary weeks. You walk around during the all-camp gatherings and find yourself a foot taller than everyone around you, aside from the counselors in the crowd. It’s as if you’re walking through a field of tall grass, only the grass is much cuter and it will talk to you if you engage it in conversation, possibly even sit on you if you have a seat in the floor. Elementary ages are an adjustment–they don’t get sarcasm (which is a big problem for some of our staff), they constantly want to know what you are doing next, and homesickness comes in waves. But, there is such an innocence of spirit with these kids that can be really refreshing.
Camp Hope, a camp for children who’ve been exposed to drug and alcohol abuse, did a worship the first night involving water colors. The campers were asked to use different colors to paint feelings that they’ve had in their life. We spent about 30 minutes painting our pieces of paper to represent the emotions that regularly occupy our lives, good and bad. The campers were all pretty locked in to their painting, and most of them took the exercise seriously. I painted my feelings of anger in red in the shape of a flame, my feelings of guilt, green like a jumble of vines. The dark times in my life were black in a fog at the bottom of the page. My times of peace were blue in the shape of a fountain of water. The girl next to me painted a diagonal rainbow and asked me frequently which about the colors and what they meant. At the end of the exercise, the word “God” showed through whatever you had painted. They then read to us how angels, demons, things living, things dead, nothing could separate us from the love of God.
I think about all the ways we try to encounter God here at camp. So many different people, so many different activities, so many ways different people find God here. Who knows all the things that have happened that none of us have even seen. It is a powerful thing to think about how God seems to float to the surface of everything you do, if it’s done in the right spirit.
A group of Elementary kids got mass exposure to the Wilderness for their first time this week. Campers spent the night in canvas tents in the woods with no electricity or water. It was such a pleasure to see this age in a Wilderness camp (which we have never tried before). It’s something special to see this ruggedness mixed with a childlike innocence. They tend to mix together, balancing one a little towards the other. It’s like a baby bird in the woods, the rat that sneaks into the fancy French restaurant, the clean river that runs through the dessert. They have more of the other in them, than we realize at first.
The first night of the week, when many are out grilling or going to the local fairgrounds for community wide-fireworks, sponsored by the local radio station, we went out with about 150 campers to the beach and sat on the benches of the vesper area. We sang patriotic songs with our most operatic voices. Half the Activity Staff set up fireworks on the beach and lit wicks that would start the show of bangs, whizzes, and pops in every color you can imagine. We oooohed and aaaaahed as other fireworks displays went on across the river. In an isolated moment like this, surrounded by 8 year olds, enjoyed watching the college kids enjoying their chance to play with fire, you play that America the Beautiful version done by Ray Charles in your head like the soundtrack in so many nostalgic movie scenes from our childhood. There are lots of hitches and disagreements in this country. I saw people from every political affiliation complaining on the 4th about how much the US is not what they wish it was, and I certainly have complaints myself. We have done great things in our time and things we should be ashamed of. But, on that night with lights rising then falling over my head, surrounded by kids enjoying all that was around us, I was happy with my place here in that moment. I guess, for all of us, we should take those feelings and seek to help everyone here feel that way too–satisfaction and joy with these surroundings and a longing to pass it on for everyone. Then, we hope, when we look at this country we continue to build every day, we will notice God’s name subtly rising up from all the colors we have painted.
We finally got rain late this week! Thank God for that as we continue to pray for more relief from these brutal few weeks of summer we have had. We hope that our campers continue to find love, joy, friendship, and God in camp, despite the ridiculous heat.