(2008, at O-Shack)
I had felt lonely and sad for a while. It was the summer before my sophomore year of high school and I wasn’t doing much with myself. My mom signed me up for a week of High School Camp at Westminster Woods and I was excited, but nervous to go. I hoped to meet some nice people, but I just wasn’t sure what to expect. When I got to camp, I was startled to walk out of registration and have strangers dressed like X-Men yelling excitedly, “WELCOME TO CAMP!” I felt overwhelmed when I sat down in my cabin for the first time and one of my cabin counselors prompted, “so tell us the story of your life!” I brushed the question off, because I was so unsure of myself and had such a negative self-image.
I had never before experienced such real love and joy from people I had just met. I remember getting in the car when my mom picked me up on Saturday morning and I wanted to tell her every joke I had laughed at, every game I had played, every friend I made, and everything I had learned. I had gotten a glimpse that week into something different than I’d ever experienced. Camp was a special place because it helped me to feel happy when I hadn’t in a while. It helped me to make friends and feel comfortable in my own skin. It helped me to see that regardless of how I viewed myself that people saw value in me and that I was beloved.
So I took every opportunity from then on to be at camp. I went to Decemberfest, did Bridge, counseled, went to High School Camp, and repeat. Being at the Woods broke down my walls that I had built from shame and feelings of inadequacy that kept me from others and kept others from me. Losing these walls forced me to face how I felt so broken and incomplete and unlovable. But receiving the space to express all of these things did not push people away, but brought them closer. God was using this space to knit me back into the person I was supposed to be, a person who struggles still, but a person who is ultimately happy and knows they are loved.
(2017, with all my Lead Counselors)
Then, in 2011, I applied for summer staff. In my head, I had a very specific plan for how I would ideally do staff. I would do it for my four years of college: I would like to be a Lead Counselor and coordinate program. But of course, things didn’t go exactly as planned. But, also of course, they’ve been so much more amazing than I could plan. I couldn’t ignore the tug of staff and have done seven years and counting.
Over this time, I’ve been blessed with so much: I can’t count the times I’ve laughed until I’ve had tears, stomachaches, or until I can’t stand. I’ve have people believe in me enough to give me chances to lead even when I didn’t think I was capable. I’ve also had to opportunity to follow some incredible leaders and learn from them how to be an organized, compassionate, and thoughtful leader. I have had times to be real and raw with others about my fears and for other people to accept those parts of me and for me to not feel alone. I’ve built amazing friendships that are ones that pick up without skipping a beat every summer. The friends that I’ve made from staff also compose most of my friends when I’m not at camp. I’ve also been able to build relationships with campers who come year after year.
Through all this, my time on staff, I have gained the knowledge that I am braver and stronger than I ever thought I could be.
(2017, praying in Adventure Camp)
I’m not really at the end of my camp story just yet, just at the end of the story so far. There’s a certain spot on the drive to camp, a right turn onto Green Hill Road. Every time I drive past this point, it feels like heavy blankets are being lifted off of me. That turn tells me that I’m close to camp, a place that is safe and happy. It’s hard to stay away from that feeling for too long. I’m so excited to return this summer for year eight of staff!
I’m a lot less lonely and a lot less sad then when I first came to the Woods, but I’ve learned that doesn’t mean that I can’t feel that way sometimes. Those feelings are a part of being a human and what we do with them is very important.
Camp at Westminster Woods has formed a foundational part of who I am: My friends out in the world are the ones who I met on staff. So much of what I do as a classroom teacher is influenced by what I learned from coordinating program at the Woods. When I had to evacuate from my home because of wildfires, camp was the safe place that I went.
I keep coming back because camp is a place that is safe, joyful, and makes me feel whole. I also keep coming back because I feel like I still have something to contribute, something that was given to me when I first came to camp. I come to camp with the hope that campers can also see that they too are beloved.