When I was in college I spent two summers as a camp counselor at a faith-based athletics summer camp. I didn't have children then, I didn't have a boyfriend, and at 18 and 19 years old I had no idea what life would look like 6 months, much less 16 years, later. Still, I remember with perfect clarity the moment I resolved in a very matter-of-fact way that any children in my future would attend camp, no matter what I had to sacrifice to make it happen.
Fast forward a few years. This summer EB was just old enough to attend camp for the first time. While the decision to send kids to sleep-away camp can be a tough one, for our family there had never been any question that she would go. And, lucky for her, she happens to be exactly the type of kid that camps like this are made of. She loves competition in every single form. Cabin vs. Cabin, Tribe vs. Tribe, Camper vs. Camper, Boys vs. Girls. She's in. In fact, on the 6 hour drive to camp she asked from the backseat of the car "Mom, how do I win camp?" This kid is all in, all the time.
I knew deep down that she would have a great camp experience. I knew she wouldn't be homesick. I knew she would make friends. I knew that the two weeks she was away would only whet her appetite for everything that is camp, and that she would greet me at the end of the term with a request to stay for a full four weeks next year. That all happened, and none of it was a surprise.
At closing ceremonies I sat next to EB. We listened to a fantastic family devotional with hundreds of other campers and families, the substance of which I will never recall. But halfway through the talk, EB leaned over to me and whispered.
Mommy, did you know that when you're at camp, and you sit outside and look around, you can see billions of things that God made?You're right. Camp is a great place to notice all those things.And did you know that when you look at all those trees and the lakes and the birds and the cabins and the rocks and the swimming pool and the sky - did you know that God loves you more than ALL that stuff?Well, yeah, I do know that.Yeah. Me, too. I learned that this week.
Can I admit that my first reaction was to feel a bit of a pit in my stomach? She learned that this week? Hadn't I done a better job telling her - showing her - how much God loves her? Hadn't I taught my first born how special she is in the eyes of our Father?
But as quickly as my angst rose up inside, a wave of calm and steadfast joy began to swell and replace it. Of course she had been told how much God loves her. And she knew it in her head before coming to camp. But my EB. My athletic, spirited, nature-loving spark. My full of energy, full throttle daughter. Turns out she needed to experience that relative love. She needed to sit right smack in the middle of God's creation, dig her toes into it, wrestle with it, discover her place in it, and realize that she is the Eternal Winner. That out of all that stuff that God created - all that awesome, cool, beautiful stuff - he selected her as First Place. She won the blue ribbon. He picked her. And she knows it with her head and her heart and every fiber of her being.
And that, EB, is how you win summer camp.
People asked me before she left how in the world I could "send her away for two weeks." People ask me now whether I "survive[d] her being gone that long." And let's be clear - I missed her dearly. But as God often does, He affirmed our decision by doing far more than we could have ever imagined or guessed or requested in our wildest dreams. (Eph. 3:20)
Photo courtesy Ben Evans Recreation Program Collection (Record Series 5801-02)
Seattle Municipal Archives