[This is the third installment in my story of finding grace. Part 3 of 3]
I was early, a couple of hours early, despite the fact that I had gotten lost on the way. The dirt road slowly crunched under the tires of my red ’91 Ford Probe. Turning the corner, I took my first look at the place I would call home for the summer…an open grassy field, a cluster of beige cabins made of cement block, an old farm house, and some tall trees. It wasn’t much to look at, but this humble little summer camp would end up changing my life.
It was the summer of 2002 and I was 21 years old. Disillusioned with legalism and starting to realize I may have been brainwashed, I still showed up at PRBC in my ankle length skirts, waist length hair, and a long list of standards and beliefs. I came to camp thinking I was going to be sharing Jesus with children. I had no idea that I would find grace, freedom, and normal people who loved God in ways I’d never seen.
Since I was two hours early, I helped the full time staff set up the staff lounge for our training week. Oh staff training! I still get nostalgic just remembering the old, white, plastic tables set up in a U shape in the musty, slightly drafty staff lounge. We sat there for hours each day learning everything we needed to know, the brave tipping back in their chairs, with our Nalgene bottles on the tables, twirling chewed pens in our fingers, flies buzzing in the window screens. They were some of the best days of my life!
Here I was, thrown together with all these “normal” young adults, sticking out like a sore thumb, and they just accepted me. They might have asked some questions, but they never rejected me or made me feel like I was different or not “part of the group”. Acceptance was not something we (the people in my “cult”) were good at. We could judge and condemn and alienate with the best of them, but graceful acceptance was a foreign concept. It felt incredible!
Summer camp challenged me, stretched me, and strengthened me. I had a lot of firsts. Listened to Contemporary Christian music (rock beats were bad), watched a PG-13 movie (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), made friends with boys, and decided to go to college.
I had been given a false definition of grace during my teen years. We were taught that grace was: the desire and power to do God’s will. My summer at camp taught me that grace was something God gave me because He wanted to, even though I didn’t deserve it.
As I realized that God wasn’t waiting for me to perform before He blessed me, I let go of silly rules and found freedom. I clapped and swayed to contemporary praise music and discovered a worship that I didn’t know existed. Believing in people’s acceptance of me, I let my crazy side come out and participated in skits and planned pranks. Boys became my friends as we hung out, talked, and even flirted. I bought a couple of pairs of capris (gasp!). And I experienced freedom!
Before camp ended, another girl and I went to the mall and got our cartilages pierced. Upper ear piercings were looked down on in my old circle. I wanted mine pierced to remind myself of what I had learned, so I would remember not to judge others and that I was free. (Ironically, I was literally chased through Cedar Point after camp by a “friend” who felt the need to confront me about the worldliness of my decision.)
After I left camp, I went to college, something my dad had always wanted me to do. And the next summer I went back to camp, and the next, and the next, and the next…
Now, 13 years later, guess what I’m doing this summer?
I’m going to camp! With my kiddos in tow, I’m heading to camp for the summer to be the health officer. And maybe God will use me to show someone else grace, acceptance, and freedom. Maybe I’ll get my cartilage re-pierced…you never know. 🙂