Summer Camp

June always says summer camp to me. Even now, living on the other side of the world, I can almost smell the freshly cut grass and newly-filled pool. (Ah! essential essence of chlorine!) I actually spent a lot of time at camp as a kid — all summer, in fact, since our family lived on the campgrounds. But there was always something kinda special about “my” week of camp each year. I can see it now…

As buses and cars arrived, small luggage hills sprouted amid the chattery mix of excitement and trepidation as we all milled around waiting for the bell to ring. Then we’d troop inside for registration, hoping for a good spot in line, maybe even engaging in a bit of “insider trading” — to get in a particular cabin, with a particular counselor.

And then there was the rush to the cabin — preferred bunks go fast, you know! Beds to make, luggage to stow, and cabin mates to meet. Hopefully best buds were a given (as per aforementioned “insider trading”!) But there were always some wild cards, too — people you didn’t know at all, or not very well. (Or maybe too well!)  In the evening we’d gather around like an awkwardly thrown-together stepfamily, scoping each other out and wondering — “Can I be myself with these people?”

Fast forward to Friday night. Trekking up to the campfire site with the same people — except now they feel like sisters instead of strangers. After all, by this time you’ve slept (not!), eaten (too much!), eschewed all modesty (don’t ask!), and short-sheeted the counselor’s bed together. You’ve lived a whole week with these people and you discover that (gasp!) you feel… at home with them! (Note: this is, of course, describing the best of camp weeks. Most veteran campers have had at least one of the other kind, too, but we’re trying to forget those!)

And then comes Saturday morning. Packing. Cleaning the cabin. Saying goodbyes. One week ago you didn’t know most of these people. Now you’re hugging, exchanging addresses (now I guess it would be cellphone numbers), promising to write, betrothing your firstborn children… and maybe even crying. And then walking away with shared experiences and memories, some of which will mark you forever.

Yet … you walk away. Camp is not home, and you can’t stay there forever.

One could go to camp (and a few did) refusing to engage, dead set against enjoying oneself or making new friends. (Later, as a counselor, I was convinced that some kids actually insisted on being homesick.) One could go and say “I’m going to go home again on Saturday, so what’s the point?

You could do that. And you’d still get home at the end. But you’d miss out on an awful lot along the way. The memories, experiences, friendships. The chance to learn more about who you are (a pretty good diver) and aren’t (foot races — not so much!) And maybe even a bit about who you are meant to be, and where you are headed. (I am, in many ways, who and where I am today because of camp experiences… but that’s another story.) Most of all, you’d miss out on that taste of what it’s like to belong.

That community of belonging… yeah, that’s where we natural-born aliens are headed. (Only better.)

But it’s also where we are, today. Because God’s Kingdom isn’t just a Place we’ll get to “someday”… it’s a Journey that we’re on right now.

So… ya wanna race me for the top bunk?

What life lessons have you learned from summer camp (and other temporary experiences)? 


Natural Born Alien

One day at the supper table, we were talking about identities. Specifically, when you were born and raised in one country but are a citizen of another — how do you answer the question “Where are you from?”

Eleven-year-old Hannah, especially, struggles to think of herself as “from” or “belonging to” anywhere but this Asian country she has lived in all her life. Yet however much we may try to adapt to our host culture, she has been raised much more as an “alien” than a native.

I can’t remember now who said it first, but someone pointed out that she is, in fact, a natural born alien.

And so am I. Born and raised in one country, yet a citizen of Another. Like Hannah, I struggle to live fully here while always remembering that I am on my way Home.

How about you? When do you most feel like a natural born alien?