Sometimes, there are decisions that don’t change much of anything. White or wheat. Green sweater or blue sweater. Then, there are decisions that change everything.
On one of my last nights in the South, we drove with the windows down and the summer breeze tossed my hair. We were on our way to meet our friend Allison for fro-yo at the gas station — a typical weeknight for us. It’s how we cope after a bad day, or how we celebrate a good day. No matter the reason, we are most likely sporting yoga pants and top knots — and in the case of Courtney, the infamous eskimos.
As we drove, hugging the curves of the winding back roads, I caught a whiff of a memory from my days at summer camp.
As a child, I went to girl scout camp a time or two (but quit when I discovered being a girl scout does not equal free cookies). In high school, I spent several days each summer at church camp, but never summer camp. No, those memories have been reserved for a different time in my life: the college years.
Sure, college had its football games, sororities, all-nighters, and What-A-Burger breakfast taquitos, but one of the most defining elements in my personal development during my late teens and early twenties is summer camp.
Every summer in college and for eight more months after I graduated, I worked for Sky Ranch. Early mornings, even later nights, the lake, the blob, the dining hall, the cheers, the cabin rituals. I actually got paid (albeit next-to-nothing) to love on high schoolers and talk about Jesus.
I can still taste the gooey s’mores and hear the sound of the crackling fire under a starry sky. I remember my sun-kissed skin, the moonlight bouncing off the lake, the laughter, the dance parties, the lasting friendships. Each summer was so definitive in developing who I am today.
That first summer, I was 19 and in desperate need of cutting some soul ties with a guy back home. Wide-eyed, I moved into cabin 32, Chamberlain Hall, my new home. Fortunately, my senior counselor was a seasoned veteran who gave me the confidence to do some crazy things for the sake of the kingdom.
At 19, I learned to live beyond my body’s physical needs and to love teenage girls like crazy. I got sweet one-piece tan lines and my first pair of Chacos; I fell in love with a boy, and made life-long friends. I learned to belay and do CPR, and discovered more of who I am than I ever had before.
That first summer, I learned who God is and how he sees me. I had my first real experience with a mentor relationship and with a Christian organization that takes good care of its staff. I stayed up late nights on the front porch of the cabin talking with girls about everything from summer crushes to self-mutilation and why bad things happen.
The next summer, I learned about discipline and leadership, and came up with over 100 Native American names for cabin initiation with some of the best co-counselors a girl could ask for.
At 21, I learned even more on leadership and discipleship. I got creative in ways I never thought possible. I had an incredible co-leader who showed me patience and taught me more than he realizes. I practiced mourning with the people closest to me — while still clinging to the hope that celebration is never out of reach.
That final summer, I headed for the San Juans just two days after graduation. I may have earned a college degree, but man did I have a lot to learn that summer. I never knew my heart could grow any bigger or my Sky Ranch family expand any wider until my summer in Colorado. Like my mom always says, “God is everywhere, but I think we are closer to him in the mountains.”
And I nearly missed out on all that because it wasn’t part of the plan.
I had wanted to go somewhere else, be someone else. At 19, I wanted something different, but I had a couple friends who urged me to interview with Sky Ranch. That one interview, that one decision, changed the game for me. I know I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without having spent those years rubbing shoulders with some spiritual moms, dads, brothers, and sisters.
As I say thanks for the monument Sky Ranch is in my life, I am reminded that Sky Ranch was not part of my plan — but it was one of the best plan-busting things I ever did.
There is no place like summer camp.