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"You Mean, You Live There the WHOLE Summer?"

My family and I are relatively new to the Atlanta area. As I meet new people, of course I always tell them about my job as director at Camp Winnataska.  "Where is that?" they ask.

"East of Birmingham," I say, "About 2 hours 15 minutes from my house." At this point, their eyebrows furrow together and they tilt their head to the side. I go ahead and jump in, explaining the situation, because I can see they are confused: "Well, I work from my house during the year, doing administrative stuff, and then the kids and I pack up, and we live there during the summer." 

I get a myriad of reactions, mostly expressing moderate surprise that I am at camp all summer. I guess they see me sleeping in a tent, cooking by fire every night? While my camp accommodations wouldn't rank as a five-star hotel, I enjoy my cottage by the front gate. (It may even have a bit of that 20th century invention known as air-conditioning. Shhh! Don't tell anyone!)

I'll admit the arrangement is a bit unusual for most families. I am extremely thankful to my husband and my kids for being so understanding and putting up with hectic conditions during the summer. My husband and I spent a great deal of time discussing the pros and cons before I accepted the position. If there's anyone to thank at the end of a great summer, it's Mr. Shepherd!

So, why in the world would a sane grown-up want to spend their whole summer in hot, muggy, and gnat-infested Alabama, dirty all the time, hours from home, and out in the middle of nowhere? I'll tell you why: Because I am in the business of building the kingdom of God, one relationship at a time.

A sermon series at church recently had me wanting to stand up during the sermon and yell, "AMEN!" Our pastor was talking about the importance of relationships in nurturing faith. We all had to write a name on a post-it note and place them on the wall. (This was our cloud of witnesses!) My witness was a camp mentor. I couldn't have agreed more that it's usually not a great sermon, a devotional book, or a show on TV that leads one to faith, it's a person - specifically an older individual that takes you under their wing and lets you know, "You are a loved and valued child of God."

Camp is all about relationships. Yes, the "what you do" is important to camp, as well, but it's the "who you meet" that defines summer camp. I'd like to describe a picture to you, circa 1985. My family had recently purchased a new camera, and I probably have 1,000 pictures of the summer between 8th and 9th grade. In the picture, you can see my back, and I am in mid-hug with someone - you really only see her arm and her forehead. Sounds, like a great shot, huh? Even though you can't see any faces, and the quality is so poor that when I scanned it in, it was fuzzy and unpublishable, it represents an important time of development for me and my faith, and it is one of my favorite pictures in the world.

So, there I am, white keds and all. I chuckle at what is in my hands - a wooden basket (I suppose that was my toiletry bag?), a small teddy bear, and a hairbrush. Maybe this stuff wouldn't fit in my suitcase anymore (a common problem), or perhaps I found it after the luggage run (also typical). In any case, I am hugging one of my leaders, who happened to pull me aside and give me a big hug before leaving. I don't exactly remember what she said, but I do remember that she made me feel great - like I was THE BEST CAMPER in the world.

The leader I am hugging is still a huge part of my life. She is an amazing friend, who always makes me feel great, and she is such an an enthusiastic Christian. She chuckles at her permed and fluffy 80's hairstyle and the fact that she has a toothbrush in her hand. We love this picture - I've pulled it out at camp, and we just laugh and laugh at the moment in time - one that I had no idea my dad was even capturing.

Daily I am astounded at how much technology is changing our world, and I have no doubt it will change Christianity - how churches work, how the gospel is shared, how we create community.  What I do know will not change is the importance of Christian relationships for our kids.  I want to make ensure that my two boys, one beginning his teenage years, and one still in the thick of elementary school, are nurtured into the world of "being a Godly young man" by Winnataska's leaders and Blackfeet.  There's not an app for that!

I'm called to this profession not just for my kids, but for your kids, too. The people I meet who don't understand this calling see only the possible down sides of living at a rustic summer camp. While I could easily do without clogged toilets, yellow jacket nests, 102 degree heat index, and flash flooding during a cook out, I CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT the laughing until your sides ache, singing Taps at Grail, sunsets at Wayside, jumping off the cliff, and meeting people who will forever change your life. And with that, the WHOLE SUMMER flies by in the blink of an eye.

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