–SQUANTO STAFF 2015: THE BEGINNING–
What a summer it was. I’ve now been home for approximately 43 hours. It’s been really difficult to process all that has happened in the last nine weeks, but this blog post is about to serve as my first attempt.
As I turned onto West Shore Rd. for the first time at the beginning of this summer, I distinctly remember my entire body letting out a sigh of relief. I remember my foot suddenly getting heavier on the gas pedal in an effort to get to camp as quickly as possible. My limbs were tingling from a lack of oxygen. As I pulled into the parking lot, I realized that I had been holding my breath in anticipation. I think the easiest way to walk myself through the summer is cabin by cabin, so here goes nothing.
Staff training week went so smoothly. It became evident very quickly that our staff was destined to become a tight-knit family. We spent a lot of time sitting through discussions and presentations or completing work projects to get camp ready for the summer. The highlight of staff training was our trip to Cape Cod though. We road tripped out to the Cape and upon arrival, spent our day at the beach. We lounged, played some wiffleball, splashed around, indulged in some ultimate frisbee, and exchanged a whole lot of laughter and joy. We stayed for one night before road tripping back to camp to take care of the last minute details. On the last morning before campers arrived, we were all awoken with coffee, donuts, and cabin selection. This was when it became finalized that I would spend my summer in Village 3.
With that, we were finally ready for Pathfinders week! Despite being nice and settled into my cabin already, I spent Pathfinders living in Lodge 5 with Miss Katrina. Pathfinder campers are just little 2nd and 3rd graders so there aren’t quite so many campers. For this reason, each counselor was put into a pair and we had the pleasure of co-counseling with a second counselor! My cabin had such an interesting dynamic due to the fact that we had two extreme extroverts but four introverts. Tag-teaming with Katrina was amazing. We were definitely a co-counseling pair made in heaven. Her and I worked off of similar standards and conflict management styles. Needless to say, we had an awesome week together and it was the perfect way to introduce me to counseling!
Trailblazer I was my first week counseling solo and I was incredibly nervous. I didn’t really know if I was ready to take on the challenge, but I was aware that the kids would pile into my cabin even if I wasn’t ready. I quickly learned that I didn’t have much to be afraid of with this cabin. They were absolutely incredible. The group of girls that I had been blessed with were goofy, excited, and loved camp so much. They were ready for any and every activity with a joy that was unmatched. Although they rarely allowed me to get the sleep that I thought I needed, I realize now that their silly conversations and joyful giggles from across the room each night filled my heart with joy. Perhaps one of my favorite parts of this week though came during “The Call” which is an opportunity that we present to campers each week. During The Call they are invited to sit with a counselor to voice their questions on faith and to sometimes give their lives to Christ if they choose. I had two campers come to sit with me who I barely knew, but it was evident that God had sent these children to me specifically. As they began to talk, one of the girls revealed that she came from a non-Christian home and wasn’t sure how to deal. This is a story that mirrors mine and it was so reassuring to me as I had begun to wonder what my purpose was at camp.
–JUNIOR HIGH I–
I walked into this week on a high of confidence because the week before it had been so wildly successful. This was another incredible cabin, but it also proved to be an extremely difficult week for me. The dynamic of this cabin was a little awkward at times. The friendships that were formed seemed to split the cabin down the middle and although the girls got along as a whole, there was a pretty clear divide that was hard for me to navigate. Over the course of this week I dealt with medical situations, some heavy emotional baggage, and general exhaustion. Although I was fully aware that as the kids got older, they would be bringing more baggage with them, I wasn’t prepared for what was unloaded on me. A camper informed me of a struggle with self-harm that they had been facing. As I attempted to navigate the conversation, I felt weighed down by the reality that I simply couldn’t relate. As I walked away after that conversation I absolutely broke down. I didn’t know how to live with the knowledge that was just given to me and it suddenly felt like prayer simply wasn’t enough. I sat down with the assistant camp director so that I could report the issue and I was blessed by words of reassurance and comfort. The day didn’t seem to get any easier as we dealt with the emergency of a camper running away. The camper was located and brought back, but leadership had to make the unfortunate decision to send the child home. The air around camp that evening just felt thick with hardship and exhaustion. It was one of the best and worst days ever. The enemy was certainly trying to beat us down, but we held firmly to the light. I spent the rest of that week trying to love campers with a new intensity. God showed up big time during that week.
Ahh Trailblazer II. This week was the definition of a mid-summer slump. We were down several staff members due to CHIC and so it seemed that we were all pulling the weight of 5 people in order to keep camp afloat. The week was absolutely draining and it felt like there were never enough hours in the night to sleep. Despite the difficulty of the week, I was blessed with an incredible cabin. This cabin had a real thirst to know the Lord and an unmatched love for camp. When I felt low during this week, I needed only to turn to my very own cabin for energy and encouragement. We survived this week and at the end of it, I looked around at the staff that had survived it with me and simply beamed with pride. We were exhausted, sweaty, and perhaps a little too joyous at the end of the week, but we had poured our hearts and souls into that week. We overcame so many difficulties as a staff. We were basically indestructible after that week.
–JUNIOR HIGH II–
Junior High I was a tricky one for me. The girls in my cabin had highly conflicting personalities and it seemed like I would never be able to provide a comfortable environment. During this week I dealt with bullying and extreme homesickness. As the week carried on, I started to struggle with my cabin more and more. I had several campers who were seeking God with a lot of intensity, but also a few campers who were clearly only at camp for the fun and games. I was feeling drained because I simply couldn’t find a healthy balance. During this week, I also faced my first (and hopefully only) real emergency as a lifeguard. The inflatable slide (Aquaglide) flipped onto its side while in use one afternoon. By the grace of God all of the campers and staff involved walked away unharmed, but shaken up to say the least. Our incredible lifeguarding staff responded quickly, efficiently, and appropriately. It was during this moment that I was ready to throw in the towel. I was afraid to get back in the water because I was afraid that things wouldn’t turn out as well if something were to occur again. With the encouragement of a few staff members and a little strength from God, I was able to continue on with my responsibilities. The incident definitely made me better and for that I am grateful. This week during “The Call” my mind was blown again. God placed two campers before me who I related to on such personal levels. From loss to growing up in a non-Christian home, these girls essentially seemed to tell me my own life story. Perhaps the greatest moment though, came at the end of the night when one girl pulled me aside to tell me that while I had been talking to her about God and my experiences, she had felt God for the first time. It was the most humbling experience of my life and the only response I could give was to pull her into a hug and weep tears of joy.
This week started off on a particularly sour note. I hadn’t been expecting to receive a cabin and I was honestly a little disappointed when I was handed a piece of paper telling me I would have a cabin. After three difficult weeks, I was just feeling exhausted and in need of real rest. On Sunday, as the campers piled into my cabin, I felt ready to take on the week even if I didn’t really want to. As the campers lined up for area sign-ups that evening, I received some heartbreaking news that two of my co-workers were being sent home. I had grown particularly close to one of them throughout the summer and I struggled to come to terms with a decision that I did not agree with. The week was suddenly looking as if it was going to take on a very somber tone for me. I made it through the rest of that evening with a smile painted on my face. I was feeling determined to give my campers the best week of their lives despite my personal emotional baggage. The next morning when it was finally time for me to say goodbye to my co-worker, Sabrina, I finally allowed myself to breakdown. What a special human that God had brought into my life. This situation was definitely a “make it or break it” moment for our staff. We could either rally around each other and make it, or we could turn and divide on each other. Luckily we chose the former.
My cabin was the best possible group for me to be with that week. I had an autistic girl in my cabin and she was such a joy. She made it absolutely impossible for me to be upset for too long. The way the other girls in my cabin loved her, and me made it possible to get through it. I also got to spend my week co-counseling with one of my favorite people. As I reflect back now, I see that all of the events unfolded exactly the way God had intended for them to and I am grateful for the way that this week helped me to become a better person.
Senior High week was the week I had been anticipating throughout the whole summer. I have always been better with older students and so I was expecting this week to be a home run, luckily I was not wrong. My cabin was everything I could have ever hoped and dreamed of. They were kids who loved God, loved camp, and loved me way more than I could ever deserve. The week started off so well with our very first devo. I decided to follow the Lord’s leading and I opened up by giving my testimony and asking each of them to do the same. We were able to be so genuine with each other and it was evident to me from the beginning that God had huge plans for this week. On Wednesday night, some of the staff performed the “Everything” skit for the campers. If you aren’t familiar, you should look it up on youtube. It’s a really powerful depiction of Christ’s love for us. I had the privilege of acting in this skit in the role of Jesus. After we had completed the skit, I sat backstage for awhile and I just sobbed. It felt wrong to me that I had stood up in front of campers, playing the role of Jesus when I hadn’t really been feeling it myself. Throughout the course of the summer, I felt as if I had been continually emptying myself out for campers but it felt like I was never being filled back up. At this point I had begun to wonder if God had abandoned me. As I sat and expressed all of this to two co-workers, they sort of laughed at me. They told me of all of the times that they had seen God working through me and as I tried to process their words, I sobbed a little more. I was confused as to why I was the only one who couldn’t see God in myself. By the end of worship, I worked really hard to pull myself together. It was time for “The Call” and as I went to sit and wait for my campers, I felt God urging me to be open with my campers about the breakdown I had just experienced. As we sat down and began to talk, I opened up to my campers about my struggles with self worth and the fact that I had been feeling so spiritually empty this summer. Their response was definitely what God had been waiting to show me. They each began to expose the things that they struggle with that separated them from God and the rest of us were simply pairs of listening ears. As the conversation dwindled, I felt lead to pray for each camper individually. God spoke through me to each and every camper and it was incredible, but the thing that really took me by surprise was what happened when I closed the prayer. One of my campers looked up and said, “Miss Kristen, would it be okay if we all prayed for you now?” I sat in silence as every single girl spoke beautiful prayers over me. God left me sitting in complete awe. This summer was a huge lesson to me about what it looks like to work for the Lord even when we feel like we have nothing left to give. When we persevere in His name, the reward is so great. As I left my campers that Friday night, I could do nothing more than cry. What a phenomenal week it had been.
–THE FINAL WEEKEND–
It was extremely hard to cope with the fact that the summer was really over. It had been one of the most challenging, amazing, fruitful, and fastest summers of my life. I tried to relish every single moment I had left with the people I was so blessed to be surrounded by. Although I was blessed with many loving friendships this summer, there was one pair that seemed to carry me through the toughest parts of my summer. From late night Catan games, to being the actual Trifecta of the waterfront, my friendships with Lydia and Nils were my rock this summer (other than Jesus, of course). As we sat around at the staff banquet, we made the insane decision to hike Mount Monadnock for sunrise the following morning. Despite the 2am meeting time, we decided that it was absolutely necessary to play one final game of Catan together. With just an hour and a half of sleep under our belts, we loaded up into a van and pointed the headlights toward Monadnock. The hike was absolutely incredible and as we sat at the summit at 5:30am waiting for the sunrise, I knew that I wouldn’t have wanted this summer to go any other way. If I took absolutely nothing else away from this summer, I can at least rest assured that I walked away with two incredible best friends. Cheers to summer 2015 and all of the things it brought along with it.