It’s really hard to believe that as of today, I have officially “missed” out on an entire summer at Camp Lutherlyn.
I use the word “missed” in quotation marks because it’s almost a little harsh. I did make it up for the afternoon of Summerfest, which was spent primarily catching up with old friends; but on the other hand, considering that I have lived there for the entire summer for the past five years of my life, to say I only made it up for one day is pretty depressing.
For those of you who don’t know, Lutherlyn is a Lutheran church camp, jointly funded by the Northwestern and Southwestern Pennsylvania synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. I attended Lutherlyn for a week every summer as a camper from elementary school up to high school, and was on summer staff for 5 years between 2006 and 2010.
I’m a big fan of the American Camp Association’s “Because of camp…” public service announcement campaign, that focuses on promoting the value of summer camp experiences for youth. I take “because of camp” very seriously, because camp taught me a lot. My time as a camper and staff member taught me a lot of “hard” skills, stuff like playing the guitar, washing dishes (I spent two summers as kitchen staff), belaying and the basics of technical rope work, how to throw a frisbee, how to build a fire, and a million other things.
But the thing that the ACA stresses even more than learning concrete skills is “soft skills,” interpersonal skills. It taught me how to live and get along with others, and how to do so without the presence of my parents; moving to college was easy after having been to camp for so many years. And I think even more important, camp taught me about MYSELF, taught me to embrace my personality, to be comfortable with my faith, and that I don’t have to be like everyone else.
To say that camp changed my life would be an understatement. Camp did not just change my life, it SHAPED my life. I could write a book (and someday may) about how my experiences at camp had an impact on my life and who I am today…
And that’s what brings me to sort of the Catch-22 of the summer.
It was at the end of last summer, after serving for the season as Unit Leader, that I thought that I might want to try something different the next year, but I also knew that I might likely end up taking summer classes instead.
If I had been on staff this summer, returning for my sixth consecutive summer; if I hadn’t needed to stay on campus to make up a few credits… I would never have had the opportunity to pursue the internship I’m doing at Saint Paul right now. I would be working at camp, and I’d be happy, but I doubt I’d be putting the finishing touches on a candidacy essay to send to the synod office.
But the question becomes, if I had NEVER been to camp. If I had NOT been a camper for umpteen years and on staff for five, would I be where I am right now? If I had not been given the opportunity to teach campers about their faith, and then to teach counselors how to share theirs with their campers, would I be wading my way through the ELCA candidacy process to become a Pastor?
At the last ELCA National Youth Gathering in New Orleans, there was a speaker who said something that really struck me. For the life of me, I can’t remember her name, or much else about her speech, but I remember this: “When life isn’t going as planned, pause and think where that alternative path may be taking you…”
I wasn’t sure WHERE my life was heading when I emailed Deb Roberts to tell her that I would not be returning to staff this summer… But now that I can see where I have gone following that alternative path, I think I’m better for it.
I’m grateful every day for my parents sending me to camp all those years. I could’ve had the latest and greatest toys, but instead my parents put that money towards awesome vacations and, of course, summer camp. What if instead, they had bought me video games with that same money instead?
I’m also grateful for that Friday morning in June of 2006 when Deb took a chance, hiring the goofy high school kid to fill an unexpected opening in the kitchen. I’m grateful that two years later, she took another chance, moving me up to the role of counselor. And I’m grateful that I got to spend my last year at camp as a Unit Leader, sharing my passion for camp with a brand new generation of staffers.
But when I say “my last year,” I know I’m lying to myself. 2010 wasn’t my last year at camp…
I’ll be back… You can’t just walk away from something that’s had that much of an impact on your life.