The summer before I began the third grade, I attended my first camp with my church youth group. I remember being terrified as we left the church. I had never spent that many days away from home.
Little did I know, that camp visit would begin my deep history with Woodland Christian Camp. I attended as a camper each summer until I was sixteen. At sixteen I met a young man whose father volunteered as a camp dean each summer for the third and fourth graders – the same age I was when I first attended! I volunteered. For the next two years I would serve as a camper and a counselor, on different weeks! Once I graduated from high school I would serve as a counselor for at least one week of camp each summer.
Once my mother passed away and I began teaching full time, I put what was intended to be a temporary pause on my camp counselor service. However, summer jobs, marriage and children happened and before I knew it, it had been sixteen years since I was on the land I loved so much.
Last September, something woke me early on a Sunday morning. A casual Facebook scroll ended with a cold grip on my heart. The precious camp dean I served for so long and loved even longer, Joey, had passed away. Suddenly it came crashing in on me just how I had neglected the land and people who had meant so much to me. Joey had always seen the good in me. He listened to me as I thought through some tough teenage decisions. He had loved me as a kind uncle through times when I struggled to love even myself. He had reached out to me when he heard my mother had passed away. What had I done to thank him? Nothing.
Over this past week, Joey and his family had been laid upon my heart repeatedly, even showing up in my dreams. Once more, I was awakened early on a Sunday morning. Once again a Facebook scroll gripped me. This was the week of camp that Joey had always served as dean. Two dear friends who had served with Joey and I were heading it up. One was Joey’s son, Jason. I finally knew how to thank Joey.
Yesterday my husband and I took our three children to Woodland. I introduced them to old friends. Watching my children talk with Jason, who looks just like his father, felt like the completion of a journey I had not realized was unfinished. We walked through the buildings where I spent so many happy days. I introduced them to Joey through a picture Jason had posted in the main mess hall. We sat on the deck with a view of the lake where I had many a deep discussion with Joey. We walked down to the lake and sat on the dock where I remember dreaming of my future. Somehow my dreams did not include sitting there with my children. It was surreal, but wonderful.
Joey taught me one more lesson yesterday. I stood by the lake alone for a few minutes, saying my good-bye to Joey and remembering all the dreams I had during my teenage years. I realized that I wasn’t living many of them at all. My husband was only a friend during those years. I never imagined being married to him and sharing children. I am a teacher as planned, but teaching is not what I imagined. Adulting is not what I imagined. But what I have is …. perfect for me. I couldn’t imagine a husband who understands me better. He is patient when I need it and challenges my thinking to make me look at situations from various angles – much like Joey. My career is my mission field and has taught me that with God I can go farther than I ever could alone – as Joey told me He would.
Joey taught me that while I may not be living exactly my teenage dreams, I am living God’s dreams for me, and He dreams so much bigger than we can.
Thank you for everything you gave to me growing up – most importantly, a listening ear when I needed it. Thank you for modeling faith in God, even in the face of difficult circumstances. I hope I have made you proud. Enjoy your reward. There aren’t many who deserve it more than you.