Last week, that was my life. I had the privilege of serving as a counselor for the first time for the youngest group of girls at Maywood Christian Camp, the 7-9 year olds. In our cabin, we had 9 of the best pee-wee campers I could imagine.
In the week leading up to camp, I was getting pretty excited. I went to Maywood as a camper for 7 years, and I enjoyed it, but it was never my favorite thing. I never hated camp, but I just didn’t seem to love it quite as much as everyone else. So, I was somewhat surprised by the growing excitement I was experiencing.
Camp begins on Sunday, but the staff goes over on Saturday to get everything set up. So, Saturday afternoon I drove over to Maywood and began unloading my stuff into my new home for the week. And as soon as I got my stuff set up in the cabin, I started regretting my decision.
I looked around the cabin at all of the empty beds, and quickly began asking myself why I was dumb enough to volunteer for this. All of the camp horror stories I had heard came rushing back. “The pee-wees are the WORST! They get homesick and cry EVERY NIGHT!” “Some of them will ask you to give them a shower because they’ve never taken one by themselves.” “They act like babies and hang all over you all week. They can’t do anything for themselves.” And the winner for most encouraging statement is- “I will NEVER be a pee-wee counselor again!”
How on earth did I forget all of these stories long enough to agree to this? If there had been an easy way out for me to turn around and go home, I probably would have taken it. Suddenly, I wanted to be anywhere but here. But, I knew escaping wasn’t possible, so I decided I would have to endure whatever horrible week I had just signed up for. And although I really wanted to go home, I had a little bit of curiosity inside me too. For the past week, I kept having this feeling that something big was going to happen at camp. I didn’t know what it was, but it was that type of feeling that you just can’t shake. It was so persistent that I text my roommate and asked her to pray about the week, because I had a feeling something was going to happen. So, curiosity killed the cat, but kept the counselor.
And man, am I glad that I didn’t find that way of escape on Saturday. There were so many emotions over the course of those 7 days. Having kids look to you as their authority was really weird at first, because just two years ago, I was a camper following orders of counselors. And after the first couple days, I figured out something pretty funny. 9 times out of 10 when a counselor gives you an answer to your question, the answer is whatever they want it to be. There are a LOT fewer rules counselors are going by than I thought. Like when you ask if you can go back to the cabin, I get to make a judgement call on that. And whatever I think the answer should be, is the answer. How equally scary and awesome is that? And all this time we thought counselors all followed the same rules…
When you have kids running up to you and tackling you with hugs and asking to walk with you or hold your hand, it gives you the kind of joy that consumes you. I looked at these kids and could remember how cool I thought my counselors were, and then realized I’m the same age that my counselors were. And then I laughed because I remembered thinking my counselors were SO old and it would be FOREVER before I got to be as old as them. But there I was, as old as they were, and in charge of 9 little girls. And as exciting and fun as it was getting to hang out with these girls, it was equally exhausting. By Thursday, I had resorted to making them all lay down for 15 minutes in hopes that they would fall asleep and take a nap. With the exception of two girls, I didn’t have much luck, so we were up running around again.
But it was the middle of the week, and I still had that feeling that I was missing something that I was suppose to be noticing. I had been praying for this week for several weeks, asking that, among other things, God would show me something new. Something I needed to learn. And by Wednesday, when I still couldn’t seem to figure out what I was suppose to be learning, I was getting pretty frustrated. It was that feeling you get when you’re looking for somebody in a crowd and can’t seem to find them anywhere. I was getting ready to admit that my “gut feeling” must have been off this time. And then I saw it.
Friday night, our last night at camp, I was in the bathroom getting ready for our evening Evangelistic hour, when I looked beside me and noticed our youngest camper next to me. I had grabbed my blowdryer and started blowdrying my hair when I noticed this little girl had gotten her mom’s blow dryer and began blowdrying her hair for the first time all week. So as I started blowdrying my hair, I began to look in the mirror over at her to see what she was doing. And as I suspected, she was imitating every move I made. She watched intently as I moved my fingers through my hair, and lifted different sections of hair, and then she imitated, perfectly, every move I made. At first, I smiled to myself, remembering how I, like her, had watched the older girls at church get ready on retreats or at camp and tried to copy what they did once I got home. I remembered how much I longed to be just like them. And then it hit me.
I wouldn’t call it a life-changing revelation, but it was something that affected me. This little girl was watching me ever-so carefully, and concentrating really hard on trying to do exactly what I did. Why? Because she wanted to be like me. Just like I wanted to be like the older girls at church years ago. And is that not what God wants from us?
He sent Jesus to live on this earth, not only to die as the sacrifice for our sins, but so we could have a physical person to look at and see the kind of person we are suppose to be. We have the ultimate example of the person we should strive to be, but we don’t even spend much time trying to imitate Christ.
Instead, we pick out people of this world and say “I want to be like her.” We point out people like Carrie Underwood and say, “I want my legs to look like hers.” And we pick out Chuck Bass and say “I want a man like that.” And we point to rich people and say “I want to have as much money as them some day.” And we look at fashion trends and spend time and money trying to recreate those outfits to make sure we aren’t wearing clothes that have gone out of style. But why? Why do we waste so much energy on things we know aren’t going to help us at all eternally? Sometimes we mock Adam and Eve for eating of the one tree they were told not to. But then God gives us one example to follow, and we spend all of our energy following everything else we can find.
It’s the curiosity they have and the boldness they have to ask those questions.
It’s the desire they have to obey and please those in authority. I can’t count the number of times my girls came and grabbed my hand and led me over to the area they cleaned to show me how well they cleaned.
It’s the willingness they have to serve each other. When someone mentioned that they lost a shoe, girls all over the cabin were yelling “I’ll help!” “Let me help you find it!” “I’ll grab my flashlight so we can see under the bed!” We never had to ask these girls to help each other. They genuinely wanted to serve each other.
It’s the time and energy they put in to trying to imitate the examples they are given. Whether it’s instructions they were given or someone they picked out that they want to be like, they didn’t have to be begged and prodded to practice this behavior. They saw what was expected of them, and they wanted to try their best to be the person they knew you wanted them to be.
They weren’t too big to ask for help and be open about their struggles. If they were hurting, they wanted their friends to know. They didn’t try to hide it and pretend like they were strong enough to handle it on their own. They were open and honest and weren’t afraid of judgement from each other. I realized this when one of my girls climbed in my bed and told me she hadn’t gotten to see her mom in a while because she was in prison. Woah. How many adults do you know are that willing to be open about what’s bothering them with someone they’ve only known a couple of days? It was beautiful and refreshing the kind of acceptance and love these girls offered to each other. They weren’t judgmental, so they didn’t fear judgement from others either.
Jesus knew what He was talking about when He told us to be like little children. And God was serious when He told us to be imitators of Christ.
It’s amazing the lessons you can learn from spending a week with 9 precious little girls. And it’s even more amazing how much your heart can long to be back with those girls, even when it means sleeping in bunk beds, dozens of mosquito bites, and gross camp showers. If I could, I would pack my bags and do it all over again. But since time only moves forward, I will hold on to these sweet memories made and long for the day we get to do it all over again. Until next time, girls of Haran. Your counselor loves you.