One of the best parts of working with kids is getting to occasionally act like one.

I definitely felt like a kid today tubing down the river with the Sparks. Compared to our mini campers who left today (we’re all still sad about it), our rising 10th grade Sparks are on the other end of the spectrum in age, but about the same in their level of silliness.

Yet among the laughter, chatter, and singing while tubing, I kept hearing talks about “What college do you think you’ll get into?” “What’s your GPA?” “What extracurriculars do you have on your resume?” And as important as these things are, or might seem to a high school student, I did a very old-man-thing and interjected with a bit of unrequested wisdom from a 28-year-old who wants them to know that whatever they do after high school: college or no college, Ivy League or state school, you’ll be just fine… They said “thanks for the advice” and went back to splashing and chatting.

But the conversation they were having exhibits the constant push that youth face to grow up as quickly as possible. I saw it all the time during my years in youth ministry. Achievement is so important, but we jam it down kids throats until they just can’t take it anymore. It can come out in well-meaning words like “What do you want to be when you grow up?” or “One day you’ll do something really great with your life if you start working hard now.” And as friendly or well intentioned as these questions or proverbs are, what they do is miss the value of the present. They miss who the kids are right now, and what they are feeling right now.

Camp forces us (whether we like it or not) back into the present. It gives us a gift in giving our overstimulated brains a chance to be almost entirely focused on where we are right now: at Illahee, tubing down a river, surrounded by friends. Don’t worry about where you’ll go to college today, instead feel the water underneath your feet while you tube down a river. Don’t stress about what internship you’ll land next summer, instead notice the smile on your friends face and the way it invites you to smile as well. I have found that presence leads to awareness and awareness leads to joy. The formula doesn’t always hold true, but more often than not it works.

It’s not that we shouldn’t think about the future, but as a highly anxious person I’ve always reminded myself that “anxiety lives in the future, not the present.” And the longer I can be present, and can look at the world around me, I can live a happier and more productive life. It’s a mindset that can live far beyond the trees and hills of Illahee too. Feeling present can happen anywhere and I think it’s one of the greatest gifts our campers receive.

I felt present today in a torrential downpour watching girls run all over camp to their activities getting absolutely soaked alongside their friends.
I felt present today hugging goodbye all of the amazing Mini-1 campers and meeting their awesome families overwhelmed by tears at seeing their girls.
I felt present today as I walked through the rec lodge and watched the 200 or so 4-week campers snuggle up in their pj’s to rest and watch a movie: Attempting to save their energy for the awesome two weeks ahead.

I felt present all day at Illahee, and luckily not once did I think about my GPA.