When I was a director, I inspected the Jr Camp cabins to make sure that the trash was removed, lights and fans were off, and everything was in good condition. I freely admit this is an emotional time for me as I truly love the Alabama Junior Camp experience and an empty campsite is the final confirmation that camp, for the year, is over. As the cabin head, I pause to look at the now empty beds and say a prayer for the young men and my fellow counselors and specific struggles or needs they have. These are some observations from many years ago when our camp was at Children’s Harbor but reflects my sentiments each year..
As I close each cabin I can still see the campers and counselors whose presence fills this place. I see the bunks I occupied during various camps and remember scenes of those days. I look around and see the young boys and girls who have now become young men and ladies and am so very proud of them. In Lookout Inn, I visit the space of my first counselor bunk and the place I slept the year I had the whole cabin to myself. I see places throughout the campground where during summer and winter I was blessed to talk, pray, cry, and laugh with people who are so dear to me. I feel blessed to have such good friends and experiences. Yes George Bailey, I’ve had a wonderful life.
The sun glistens on the empty pool where we played dunk the counselor (adding zombie rules) and other fun games. Even on that bright morning I could still see the shadows of a couple standing in the middle of a dark calm pool where souls were won for Christ. I can see myself walking out with a new young brother or sister in Christ, singing a song of celebration to this wonderful event and praying in a circle of love and strength for their lifelong journey.
Even during Winter Camp and the cold wind is blowing off the lake, I can still see the young people in line for the galley, swinging in the playground, on the volleyball and basketball courts, or talking in the amphitheater as I walk around the deserted campground. I do a quick mental calculation to see how long I must wait until they will return to this special place.
I stand on the empty dock where the boys and I enjoyed midnight swims. The canoes are resting on their racks from a busy week. I visit the places on the lake where souls were joined to Christ or where I had uplifting conversations with special people. It is not the place, you see, it is the people I can connect to these places. When I come back to the places I feel their presence but it is bittersweet because I am here and they are not.
Precious young people, the traces you leave on our hearts and lives bring us joy and peace. We cry when we know you are in sorrow and want to help you through your difficult times. We rejoice at your achievements and your courage to do the right thing. We recognize the sacred gift of taking us into your heart and allowing us to be part of your world.
Loving counselors and staff, there are few like you in the world who can bring love, compassion, wisdom, and genuine playfulness with such apparent ease. We share a special bond because we share special goals and have worked together for such a wonderful purpose. Your friendship makes me a wealthy man.
Why does my heart ache when camp is over? I have spent a week with some of the best people on God’s earth (young and old) enjoying fun activities and life changing moments immersed in the love and knowledge of God. Cynics snidely chide, “camp is not reality.” If that claim is true I would like to change my reality, please. It is reality – do not let anyone tell you otherwise – though it’s life is so very brief. The “very good” creation was spoiled by evil but the fellowship and love of godly people supporting each other, in whatever setting, is a taste of what we lost and what shall be reclaimed on the last day.
As I stand in Mariner’s Hall, now empty, my memory refills the room. I hear “Good Morning Campers” from my lovely wife’s voice and their enthusiastic reply. I hear society chants and squeals of joy. I hear you sing “Light the Fire” and tears fill my eyes. Then I hear only silence broken by the waves crashing on the lake outside. “Next year,” I pray, “God, please let me come back next year.”