The camp that I attended growing up culminated in a two-week session for the oldest campers. Two weeks of joy, laughter, and all things camp. It felt like the perfect amount of time. For that reason and many others, this August session has really resonated with me. These girls have been all in. They love this place, they love each other, and we love them.
A camper came into my office today lamenting that she has to go home tomorrow. “All year long, I’ve been waiting to get here! I had a calendar that I could rip off each day to count down day by day. And now it’s over!?! I don’t want to go home, but at least I get to start counting down till next year!!” It made me chuckle. I hope to see her next year too!
We often talk about the choices we make at camp. Choosing to use kind words if a cabin mate is frustrating you. Choosing to pull your kayak skirt if you find yourself upside down in the swim lake. Or choosing to do something that seems initially scary like going down the zipline or streak. And today, we made a choice to have fun in the rain. Morning activities trucked along despite a steady sprinkle all day. We apologize in advance for any moist, unorganized clothing in the trunk. Consider it a memento of a final-day-well-spent.
After wet activities, our afternoon included watching the folks from Gymnastics, Drama-Production, Dance, and Puppetry perform their shows. It’s always fun watching girls do what they love and do so with pride and joy. Lots of tumbles, backflips, and more maneuvers that I can hardly pronounce, let alone attempt. The dancers danced to hits and our puppeteers wrote their own play including a musical number of “Delta Dawn.” It was great.
For dinner, our Junior Counselors, with the help of an awesome kitchen staff, put on our final banquet. The checkered tablecloths came out as we were transported to the Italian countryside. Spaghetti and homemade meatballs with endless breadsticks and tiramisu made for a lovely night. Following our banquet, we made our way in the misty rain to closing campfire at the Woodland Chapel.
One of the greatest honors at camp is being chosen to give the final “wish” at closing campfire. Campers vote on who they think would be the best person to represent their hill to speak. One camper from each hill, two junior counselors, and two counselors stood before the entire camp to proclaim their wish. It’s not their own wish, but a wish for their people, their hill, their cabinmates, their friends, and ultimately their Illahee Family. I think of it as a benediction, a challenge to take home. They always inspire and usually leave a good bit of us with watery eyes.
Tonight, the three campers, Janie from Hillbrook, Colston from Heigh Ho, and Juju from Pineview spoke beautifully, challenging us to take different aspects of camp back home.
Janie reflected on the kindness she has experienced at camp and encouraged Hillbrook to stay kind when they return. Colston emphasized the amazing friendships she has formed and challenged Heigh Ho to be good friends and to keep up with one another for the sake of helping one another know joy. Juju reflected on the times where she has had to show courage at camp, and asked Pineview to be courageous when they face whatever challenges they might encounter in the future. The JC’s (Abby and Hannah) and Counselors (Emma and Temple) voiced similar sentiments about the growth they have experienced returning year after year. Abby and Emma emphasized how camp taught them what a true friend looks like, and how true friends build one another up rather than tearing them down. Temple and Emma, both second year counselors, mentioned how experiencing Illahee as a camper and now counselor for over ten years has challenged them to be “Cultivators of Joy.” I can confirm from working with Emma and Temple for the past 10 weeks that they are just that.
I get songs stuck in my head easily. For the past day or so, “May it Last” by the Avett Brothers has been the one. The song’s lyrics voice the ups and downs of life, and the songwriter asks that the good times of adventure, of joy, of walking in light might last, saying:
There is a sea, and I am a captain
Something unknown, waves high as mountains
There is a key and there is a light
Here’s to times that I catch it, may it last through the night
I have a friend (and fellow Presbyterian pastor) whose name is Steve. I helped Steve this past February in leading a week-long kayaking trip in the Bahamas with a group from my old church. On the final night of the trip, sitting on a remote beach on a deserted Cay, he said something along the lines of “trips like these are way too much of a commitment to not have any lasting impact when you return home. I hope you return to a familiar world with new eyes, new perspective, a transformed heart, and renewed soul.”
Now nobody asked me to give a wish. It’s a good thing because I talk more than my fair share around camp. But my wish to these girls would echo those words of Steve and of these amazing girls who stood before camp tonight. I have confidence that their wishes will come true. I think you’ll notice something different in your daughter when they return. There will be some residual dirt under their fingernails, a few mismatched or lost socks, a new piece of art gained, or skill learned, and most importantly a head full of memories, plenty of stories to share, jokes to tell, and a bit of kindness, joy, and courage that we hope and pray walks with them until they return to these heavenly mountains of Illahee.
May these girls’ kindness, friendships, courage, and joy last through the night.