Given my family, I was probably always a Christian, but I didn’t really know this, or at least fully recognize it, until I was about 9 or 10 years old at church camp one summer.
Tucked away at the end of a gravel drive about a mile off the road to Irvine from Clay City, Camp Burnamwood waited each year in late-July/early-August for kids of the First Presbyterian Church of Stanton to gather for a week. I first attended when I was 8 (the rules said you had to be 9, but since a) my birthday was in late September; b) all my classmates and friends were able to attend since they had already turned that magic age of 9; and c) Bro. David Rule was just an awesome man who knew when to make a reasonable exception) and last visited at age 15, the cut-off age from being a camper into a counselor.
Almost 20 years later, I returned, making the visit for the camp’s annual family picnic, this time to see my sister and brother-in-law (who serve as the week’s directors) and my three nephews (who serve as the real reason I was visiting).
The camp was exactly like I remembered it.
Well, not quite.
It was the same, only it was a scaled-down replica. The main field used to be at least 10 miles long, but now it was a more reasonable 150-200 yards. The field used to lead to an ocean, or at the very least a Great Lake, which apparently has recently been drained to the size of a large pond. I’m guessing the legendary Burnamwood Beast – rumored to be no less than three stories tall (tangent: I hate it when people describe height in terms of “stories” or distances in terms of “clicks.” I have no idea what these things mean, but here I am, using “stories” in my stories), with coarse black hair, razor sharp fangs and a thirst for blood (I can’t fully recall, but it might have even been non-Christian blood, which in hindsight seems like nothing more than a ploy to increase the conversion rates, but I digress) – is now no more than a stray dog.
In short (which is odd to say after a paragraph that was 160 words long), I have gotten bigger while my world has gotten smaller.
As I walked around the campgrounds, though, sometimes with my nephews, mostly by myself, always with a goofy smile on my face, everything just seemed to fall into place. The memories of foursquare. Sneaking into the cafeteria at night to get chocolate milk. Multiple pranks like filling sleeping bags full of shaving cream (in hindsight, we were 10 years old; what possible reason could we have given our parents to make them believe we needed that much shaving cream?). First girlfriends. First breakups.
When I was kid, church camp seemed to have two speeds: rock n’ roll fast (for things like kickball and the aforementioned foursquare) and Bible school slow (appropriate for quiet walks in the woods to pray and look over the morning’s studies). I found peace in both gears, somehow knowing God was with me as much as when I was a hellion as when I was a lamb.
I was like a little bipolar apostle, trying my best to win every single competition imaginable while also taking time to commune and grow spiritually. I would eat three plates of spaghetti, followed minutes later by unwisely entering into the water-drinking competition, only to find my stomach incapable of taking anymore food or liquid, thus causing projectile vomiting of watered-down tomato sauce and noodles. Then I’d memorize another Bible verse and recite it to the same woman who moments earlier was on the unlucky side of the vomiting incident.
I think the entire camp meant it in multiple ways when they said they’d pray for my soul.
But I know I grew during those times. While I may not be a nature lover in the sense of things like hiking the Gorge or what have you, but I learned at camp to respect the beauty surrounding me. This was echoed every morning as we sang “This is my father’s world, and to my listening ears, all nature rings and ‘round me sings the music of the spheres” (at least I think those are the correct lyrics; I’m going solely on memory, refusing to look them up on Google; some things are best left to our memories and not to technology).
Even then, I had an enjoyment of some quiet time alone, reading and reflecting, looking inward at why we are the way we are, why I am the way I am. Sure, I’ve not always been the person I want to be, but when I stray too far, I try to think back to those early mornings when the fog hung low and heavy on the Great Lake and the dew wet the seat of my shorts as I sat beneath a cross and read. I remember what it was like to stress only about kickball and cleaning cabins instead of failed relationships and mortgage payments.
(This is where my mom will no doubt tell me to go back to being childlike, to sit and pray. This is where I’ll tell her I still do.)
Yeah, Camp Burnamwood has changed some over the years, but I guess we all grow older and become a bit different. What’s important, though, is that our cores stay the same, our hearts stay true, our spirits stay strong. We may not be little boys staring with wide-eyed wonder at the nature unfolding before us, but capturing a little bit of that glory might help us along.
That church camp, somewhere off an old road in the middle of nowhere, definitely had a major impact on me as a child.
I’m feeling like it’s had an even bigger impact on me as an adult.