The Summer I Didn’t Plan

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 planbut it was one of the best plan-busting things I ever did.

There is no place like summer camp.

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Kick Drum Heart {11n11 Throwback}

It was 7:15, still another twenty minutes until our tuk tuk would arrive.

My belly was stuffed  beyond contentment with chips and salsa. Yes, Mexican food in Cambodia. Some of my teammates were anxious to get home for toilet’s sake. Others wanted to take advantage of the shopping opportunity the street vendors boasted. We crossed the busy street and strolled by the river.

My senses at full attention, I took in the city life, flashing lights, smells of food, trash, and everyday living. As Westerners, we were targeted by the children selling trinkets and souvenirs.

“Lady, lady, you buy book from me? Give you special price for scarf!”

I was annoyed and angry. Annoyed to deal with them when I was fully set on enjoying my tourist moment in peace without having to fend off hagglers. Angry that someone forced these children to spend their nights on the crowded streets of Phnom Penh.

“Just let them be children!” I screamed on the inside.

I knew buying something from them would be fueling the industry, but if I didn’t the children would suffer for it later, most likely through physical abuse. Lord, what do I do for the least of these?

Within seconds, I found myself in camp-counselor mode, asking names and ages, performing silly handshakes and high fives. We heard some music from a nearby bar. I couldn’t help but dance and the kiddos joined me. I taught them everything from the cabbage patch to the fist pump and even threw in some swing dancing just for kicks.

Their laughter made my heart flutter.

The dancing continued as sounds of Justin Bieber filled the air. Baby, baby, baby, ohhh! I realized I was having more fun in this moment than I have in awhile.

It is all too easy to brush these people off as pests getting in the way. These kids are God’s workmanship. We are called to serve the ‘least of these’, but we don’t have a time card to punch when we are on or off the clock. And it service doesn’t always require money, love will do.

While on his way to restore the life of a synagogue ruler’s daughter, Christ stopped to ask his disciples who touched his cloak. The disciples thought this a silly question considering the size of the crowd closing in around him. It is like walking through Times Square on New Year’s Eve and saying, “Hey, somebody touched my jacket!” Really, Jesus?

Christ took note of everything around him. While the death of the righteous ruler’s daughter seemed to be the top priority to everyone else, he stopped to heal a woman who had been told her sickness was incurable. Everyone had given up on her, everyone but Christ.

Until that night, I honestly didn’t care for Cambodia. I was there because it was the next country on the list, my heart still beating for Thailand, fast and strong. But each time I leave a country a piece of my heart stays there. The Lord continually fills me up with his love, restoring me, allowing me to give my heart again. As I pour out, he fills up. So my heart turns within me and I am ready to love Cambodia.

There’s nothin like finding gold between the rocks, hard and cold. So surprised to find more, always surprised to find more. –Kick Drum Heart, Avett Brothers

Want more stories from my World Race experience? Check ’em out here.