Fun "Where's Waldo?"-type game: Can you find me in this photo from Skit Night? Bonus points if you can find my daughter! Hint: we're both smiling. :)
If you haven't been to Girls' Camp, then you haven't really lived! (slight exaggeration) If you HAVE been to Girls' Camp, then you know exactly what I mean: 250 young women, ages 12 to 18. 50 uber-talented adult women leaders filling a variety of positions. A Church ranch dedicated by an apostle. Four days of 85 degree weather. A perfectly-cool lake with a big dock. Cabins where campers sleep by ward. Outdoor survival skills classes. Wild and crazy Skit Night. Trail of Truth presentation in the woods after dark, with flashlights only. 16-18 year-old girls capably serving as Youth Camp Leaders. Oh-so-delicious food. Crack-of-dawn classes. Really loud morning and evening roll-call cheers. ("Hey E2?" "Hey what?") Tutus and Harry Potter glasses and stick horses and colorful bandannas and braided hair and bulky camp necklaces and sherbet-colored camp T-shirts everywhere you look. New friendships. Old friendships. And the highlight: Testimony Meeting around our ward campfires with our bishops, where the girls begin to connect their camp experiences with profound spiritual lessons that they can take home.
Transporting the young women away from civilization, cell phones, ipods, computers, TV, popular music, fashionable clothes, and all the "comforts of home" may seem like a recipe for disaster. Actually just the opposite is true. For these four days, in this beautiful setting - in the middle of a forest on a hill next to a lake - lives can change and miracles can happen. God is present everywhere you look: the stars shine brighter, the air is fresher, the sky bluer, and the trees that surround you become like comfortable friends. We quickly forget to care about mascara or cute shoes or boys or the carpool, and become enveloped in all that is Girls' Camp.
I wanted to share a few of my favorite camp memories with you, while they are still fresh in my mind. I HOPE that you'll find some little glimmer of goodness here that will apply in your own life. Following each memory, I've included a "lesson learned" from it. Come with me for a few minutes as we go back to Zions Camp in Belfair, WA...
1. Our ward had the wonderful opportunity to bring three new Beehives (age 12-13) with us to camp this year. One was a newly-baptized member of the Church, and the other two were not members. As adult leaders, we were concerned that our "longtime" girls would invite "the newbies" into their friend circles during the week at camp, so we spoke with a few of our YCLs and encouraged them to look for ways to befriend these sweet new girls. The rest, as they say, was history ...
ALL of our young women enveloped the new girls in love, and a buddy magically appeared for each of them at every turn during the week. The following questions became our girls' modus operandi: "Wanna come swimming with us?" "I need a buddy to walk to the showers with ... will you come with me?" "Can I braid your hair?" "Let's go to the archery class together!" "Come sit by me at dinner!" "Have you checked your Secret Sister pouch this afternoon?" "Hey, sleep in the bunk next to mine!" The love in our little campsite, from the beginning to the end of the week, was so thick that you could FEEL it. Our new girls' countenances radiated with acceptance and confidence, and they were soon giggling, hugging, blossoming, and joining in with the best of them. I wouldn't be surprised if lives on both the giving and receiving ends were changed.
Now, six weeks later as we're home again in our regular routine of school and Church classes and activities, the closeness of real friendship remains amongst all our girls. What is the lesson for me? When we "get out of ourselves" and focus on others, we experience incredible, almost tangible, joy. When it becomes "How can I help make this situation better?" rather than "What's in it for me?", we can change lives. Others' and our own. Thank you, young women of the E2 Crew, for teaching by your actions.
2. In the middle of free time one hot afternoon, we four ward leaders were standing outside our cabin chit-chatting. All of our young women were off swimming, crafting, throwing knives, shooting arrows, on the R.O.P.E.S. course, or enjoying time with friends in their cabins. Suddenly, we looked up, and there were three stake leaders sauntering into our camp with sly smiles on their faces and something in their hands.
Was it a prank?? Oh, no it was not ... they were delivering icebox-cold, homemade CHOCOLATE / SALTED CARAMEL CUPCAKES to us leaders, just because!! One beautiful, perfect cupcake with a drizzle of caramel on the swirled frosting, all nestled in its own little white box, for each of us! Let's just say amidst yelps, and "OH. MY. GOSH.es", we devoured those delectible little cakes of yumminess right there on the spot, still standing. I think I even nibbled (rodent-like) off the left-behind chocolate crumbs on my cupcake paper after I turned it inside-out.
What's the lesson here?? Any ideas??! Well, for me it is this: never underestimate the power in delivering surprise goodies to people. Seriously! And there is something to be said for delivering one perfect little serving, too. It says: you are special and you are WORTH IT and I took the time to make this just for you. Thank you, stake, for spoiling us hot, sweaty, dirty leaders with a little bit of loveliness. It made a difference.
3. This year I was asked to be the First-Year Certification Leader. This means that it was my job -- with my able assistant and friend Holly -- to oversee 15 YCLs (16-18 year-olds) in their teaching 60 First-Years (12 year-olds) such skills as how to extinguish a fire, how to tie three kinds of knots, how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver, how to tie a cravat bandage, among other things.
We had a couple of pre-camp meetings with these older girls where they chose their topics to teach, and they assured us that they would be prepared at camp to fulfill their assignments. Our counsel: teach the information in the Camp Manual in a fun way, and let the girls demonstrate their knowledge back to you. What actually happened at camp was a tad different from what we'd expected.
A few YCLs came prepared to teach excellent demonstrations with visual aids and games and handouts. Some YCLs were not as prepared, but were able to pinch-hit on the spot ably because of their own personal experiences with the skills that they chose to teach. Other pairs of YCLs with no preparation presented their topics ... well, interestingly. But hey! Just because I had never thought of teaching the principles of outdoor sanitation in a Harry Potter-like English accent doesn't mean it's not effective, right? And just because my idea of showing the contents of a (very) basic (6-item) First Aid Kit didn't include using an aged relative's EXTENSIVE three-tier kit from the 1960s (outdated??) doesn't mean it wasn't another good way of doing it, right??! And reading STRAIGHT OUT OF THE MANUAL paragraph after paragraph, well, at least all of the material is being covered, right?!
What did I learn? You know, it just takes all kinds. I think that in that big group of 60 first-years, there really was a teaching style for everyone. (I, for one, will never forget "Hermione's" steps for disposing of trash in the campsite! And I totally remember the contents of a Basic First Aid Kit!) I also re-learned (sigh) that it is far better to gently offer "constructive suggestions" in patience and love, with an arm around the shoulders, than in clipped, abrupt sentences that show my frustration. I tried both and proved this, for sure. And ended up having such a love in my heart for ALL of these YCLs.
4. One of the coolest blessings of camp this year, for me, was being there with my 13 year-old daughter. We camped in the same site, but I gave her a wide berth as far as parental hovering went, as she's still figuring out that I'm as awesome as I tell her I am. Nevertheless, I LOVED watching her do her thing and experience Girls' Camp.
On the last night, my daughter and I were in a big group of girls that were rotating through the dark, wooded, outdoor stations of Trail of Truth with the aid of a few flashlights. She got separated from the girls that she was with, and as she turned around with a frightened look on her face, I happened to be right there. She grabbed on to my arm and linked hers through mine, and we walked through the rest of the activity together. We quietly shared our observations, and at the end of the trail she hugged me and told me that she was glad I was there for her. Then, she saw her friends, and was off into the darkness.
If you are a mom of a teenaged girl, you probably get the significance of this moment. Let's just say, it was the highlight of my week. Lesson learned: just BE THERE FOR YOUR CHILDREN. You never know - when they'll know - that they need you.
5. Every morning at 6:45am, our Ward Camp Director ( my dear friend Beth) would have the fixings for hot chocolate on the camp stove for us as we sleepily headed off to our Early Morning classes. I loved this little luxury, and felt cozy inside as I settled onto a log bench down the trail in the little amphitheater Wednesday morning for Dawn's "spiritual" class.
For the next hour Dawn taught, and we girls and leaders discussed, the idea that "all things bear witness of Christ". It was a beautiful experience, sitting there amongst the towering pine trees, with the sunshine peeking through, girls wrapped in quilts from their cabins, birds singing, scripture pages shuffling and being read from, and the distant strain of the young women Instant Choir preparing "Walk Tall, You're a Daughter of God" for that night's fireside.
That morning, I really GOT the concept that Dawn shared with us. Evidence of Christ is everywhere around us, particularly in His divinely-created beauties of nature, and in the God-given talents of others who so freely share them. I made a little promise to myself that morning on the bench, with camp mug in hand, that I would try to continue to look for Christ more purposefully when I returned to "normal life". And guess what? I have. When I open my spiritual eyes and really SEE, it is true. He is all around me.
6. Every night at camp, I would lay on top of my sleeping bag in my bunk and in those few minutes before I was "out like a log", I would have this repeated thought: "Okay, tomorrow I will try to be a little more like Beth / Lorri / Holly..." Let me tell you why:
First of all, we were privileged to camp under the leadership of Beth, our Ward Camp Director. Not only is Beth my dear friend, but this woman runs a TIGHT SHIP at Girls' Camp. She can unload and set up camp (with the help of our young women) in what seems like ten minutes flat. She breezes about with an air of authority while at the same time has such a love for all of the girls. In her non-nonsense way, she can address squabbles (usually between sisters) quickly and directly and have everyone leave happier and like they feel they've been heard. She is, in a word, amazing. The rest of us adult leaders pity the woman who, some year, will replace Beth as the WCD ... she is an institution.
And then there's Lorri. Lorri is a RESOURCE FOR ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING. You want to know about natural remedies for female problems? You want to know how to make a flowered headband? You want to know how to make bread, start-to-finish in an hour, or how to set up a blog? Lorri's your gal. She has such a command of the Internet, and through her years of research there, has become pretty much a walking source of Knowing How to Do Stuff. Couple this with the fact that she shares her knowledge so freely and happily ... Lorri doesn't know the meaning of the word selfish. She loves to help you figure something out. Plus she's super laid-back and has a wickedly-dry sense of humor, and is happiest quietly contributing behind the scenes. Yep, she's a Girls' Camp Keeper.
And Holly. Holly and I ended up doing many of the same things together this summer: Ragnar Relay with our husbands, all the pre-camp preparation for Camp then camp itself, a week at Lake Coeur d'Alene together with our families, then helping our young women train for their Walk to the Temple. With anyone else, it might have gotten to be a tad much, but we kept looking at each other toward the end of the summer and laughing, "Hey, and I'm not even sick of you yet!!" Holly is, in a word delightful. And lovely. Girls of all ages are drawn to her because of her gentleness, her constant smile and laugh, and her love of jumping in and participating in everything. And, there's this other thing about her ... she has this uncanny ability to always look clean and fresh as a daisy ALL WEEK LONG at camp. I don't know how she does it!! What a talent!
All in all, an intense study of female greatness for me that week.
Other things that really touched me: seeing my bishop-husband in action with the young women (he always prepares something "out-of-the-box" that leads to something spiritual), serendipitous talks on the path / picnic table / dock with fabulous women from around the stake, pushing myself to earn the Mile Swim bead, quiet conversations one-on-one with young women that just sort of "happened", the raising of the American flag so touchingly each morning, singing and more singing ... and the best part, seeing our ward young women try new things and blossom and make spiritual connections and grow.
Ahhh, the miracles of Girls' Camp. My three camp necklaces are re-hung in the back of my closet, my hoodie is folded on the top shelf, and my mess kit has found its place back in the garage, until (hopefully) next year...