I was 20 years old when I signed up to be a camp counselor at a Lutheran Christian camp in northern Wisconsin. I had never been so tired and stretched beyond my limits. And I had never been so changed by a single summer.
My kids are at Camp Wartburg in Waterloo, IL this week, so here's a shout out to those counselors and all who labor at a camp this summer. You gave up a college summer to serve kids. You sacrificed leisure, a job that pays more, or an all important internship for swim time with screaming kids and camp food.
These are lessons I learned as a camp counselor:
Responsibility. Until camp I was only responsible for myself. My grades, my dorm room, my money, my car. But at camp, you are entrusted with other people's children! Hundreds of them! Their safety, nourishment, hygiene . . . and most of all faith. I had to get my stuff together and quick.
Sacrifice. A few hours of sleep on a cot or short mattress. Eating last and fast. Cleaning up puke. Giving all my energy to a new group of kids every week. Counseling a 13 year-old living with the pain of divorce. Dealing with a child's depression, ADD, or anger issues. It prepared me for parenthood and taught me a lot about selflessness. It's not about me.
Limits. At 20 I had lots of energy. I thought I could waste it. I quickly discovered my limits. Physical, emotional, and spiritual. This led me to a greater dependence on others and on God.
Self Reflection. My limits led me to serious self-reflection. I was pushed to my max and found that I'm not always patient or nice, strong or generous. Short on sleep and always around people, I felt stripped of any crutch that I leaned on or anything I would hide behind. I was not as loving as I thought I was. My self-reflection revealed the severity of my sin. It also showed me the severity of God's grace.
Community. I have always been very self-sufficient. Running intense programs for thousands of kids required teamwork. I came to depend on others. Their encouragement and support were not just helpful, but absolutely necessary. We were a cohesive community. We were bound by faith, living in close proximity 24/7, and doing life-changing work. That summer gave me close friendships that I hold dear to this day.
I've always believed that camps provide the most effective environment for impacting the lives of kids. Get them in nature, away from family, school, and technology. Then you can get to the core of what really matters.
Major shout out to all camp counselors. And hey, maybe you'll find a spouse by the end of the summer. I did.