I've also grown a mustache. Holla.
Anyway, I thought I would share a couple thoughts/things that happened to me while I counseled last week at Adventure Camp, a retreat whose purpose is to basically keep 11-14 year-old kids busy from Monday to Friday.
1) I guess I never really thought about this before, although it is pretty obvious, but I have noticed that my relationships with women have changed since I married Alyssa. Not that I am pursuing other women or anything, but I've taken note that there seems to now be an emotional barrier which cannot be crossed in my friendships with people of the opposite sex. This is puzzling to me, because I usually attempt to truly and deeply know my friends. Alyssa will always remain my most intimate partner, my best friend, and my closest confidante, but this week I began to notice that I now have the label of "married guy," which at times left me alienated and distanced from not only the other counselors but the campers, as well.
2) I met a moderately autistic child this week. His name is Austin, and he is a child of God. Austin was at camp last year, too (although I wasn't able to be there--I was in Perry County), and, from what I've heard, was very closed-off. He vomited when he got too nervous, he never went more than knee-deep into the swimming lake, and he spent a large amount of time quietly sitting on his bunk. This week, however (largely because of the efforts of my new friend Don, who is one of the most talented counselors I have ever known), I saw Austin open up and really have some fun. He ran and played games with the other kids, dunked me in the lake, and even made it past the dock to the Blob (the camp's water trampoline), where he spent 10 or 15 minutes jumping on the trampoline and being launched into the lake from the Blob's balloon-like appendages. And he never once got nervous enough to vomit.
In a camp comprised primarily of white, middle class kids who have difficulty leaving their video games and cell phones behind for a day and complain about their single mosquito bites and how their parents won't buy them new computers, Austin is a miracle of God.
3) Our final night of camp, the campfire talk was given by Steve Lewandowski, the site director for Blue Mountain. Steve is a big, burly, sporty guy that I've known for almost 8 or 9 years now. He's the kind of guy you think is probably involved in pro sports. He's rough, rugged, a hunter and fisherman. His abrasive, up-front personality has earned him both praise and disgust from a lot of counselors from a lot of different camps. He is almost the antithesis of me. I respect the hell out of him.
This week, the theme at camp was "Heroes," and how they don't always have to be well-known and grandiose people. Anyone can be a hero. Really. Look at the story of the poor widow's offering (which was actually included in our curriculum for the week). Steve spoke about using our God-given gifts to bring light into a dark world. Pretty simple metaphor. But powerful.
It rained us out of our actual campfire, so we crammed 30 kids and 8 adults into the small multipurpose building, where we sat on the concrete floor in the dark and listened to Steve tell us his life story--about growing up in church without really knowing was God wanted for his life, and spending years and years working every thinkable job, from a counselor in a mental hospital to a wildlife caretaker, without understanding how to use his gifts. He finally came to the understanding that his entire life had been one big experiment in preparation for God's true calling for his life--to be a site director at a church camp facility.
Near the end of his talk, Steve pulled out a single candle and lit it. It provided just enough light in the room to cast a dim orange glow over his face. "I'm using my gift," he said. "And it's bringing a little light into the darkness. But can you imagine if you all used your gifts, too?" He called the kids to line up, and one by one, reveal to him their God-given gifts. He then lit a candles and placed them in each camper's hand. As each child approached Steve at the front of the room, I heard them mumble: "I'm good at drawing." "I'm a builder. When I'm outside, I want to build things." "I love to be around animals."
Then the counselors got in line. I stayed in a corner in the back of the room, thinking frantically. I couldn't think of one useful thing that I had been gifted or good at. A thousand half-hobbies. Even music, which I was at camp to lead, is not my passion. Sure, I like to play the guitar. But a God-given gift? I'm not that serious about it.
When all the counselors had gotten candles, Steve spotted me in the corner, and I knew that he was about to approach me. He took a few giant strides across the room, got a few inches from my face, and placed an unlit candle in my hand.
"What's your gift?" he asked me.
"I'll let you know when I think of it," I told him.
He raised an eyebrow and stared through me, and took a deep breath.
"Desire," he whispered, and lit my candle. Years' worth of crying out to God flooded my head.
I have never, and likely will never have anybody sum up my burning for Jesus the way Steve did. Desire is my gift. Maybe I will eventually learn how to use it.
The room was now brightly lit. When everyone is using their gifts for God's purposes, Steve said, we give light to others. No one has to walk in darkness. He then asked everyone to blow out their candles, and then approached the counselors in the back of the room, lighting their candles once again. "When your counselors came to camp, they had their candles lit. They were using their gifts to help you. To inspire you." He then moved to where Austin was sitting, cross-legged and slack-jawed on the concrete floor.
"And I think we can all say we have gained much inspiration from this...gift of God." He lit Austin's candle, and one by one the campers began to light their own candles from Austin's. The entire room filled with light once more.
I've counseled two different camps for about five years now. I was a youth pastor for two years. I grew up in a youth group. I have never seen anything like what I experienced this week as a counselor.
Peace be with you all, and I will return to my regular (short!) postings next week.