Twenty-four summers ago, I had an experience that changed my life forever. Upon the recommendation of my next-door neighbors (Peg and Anne, I can never thank you enough), I became a camper at Camp Tecumseh.
I will never forget my first check-in at Camp T. I made the journey to camp in my mom's blue mini-van with my mom, my brother Brian, his best friend Scott, and Scott's mother Carolyn. Most of the journey was pretty unremarkable, but as we turned onto the winding hills of Springboro Road, the heavens opened up and an intense hailstorm began. Chunks of ice the size of quarters pelted our car as we navigated the camp roads for the very first time. We were basically driving blind. Even once we pulled into the makeshift parking lot set up in Main Field, no one was able to get out of their cars until the storm was over. The storm was so heavy that the all-camp picture from that night, taken hours later (after dinner), still shows large piles of hail on the benches in front of Mount Wood.
If I'd known anything about God back then, I might have thought that He was trying to get my attention.
While not every Tecumseh camper has a story that dramatic about their first check-in, I think my first week at camp was pretty typical.... in that it was utterly amazing. I was in Catawba cabin, and Stork and Kristen were my counselors. I was a pretty shy and awkward kid, but they made me feel so loved and accepted that I immediately knew that Camp Tecumseh was something really special.
I remember opening campfire and standing up to cheer for "our neighbor to the west, the great state of Illinois!" (a habit which became so deeply ingrained in me that I still sometimes find myself standing and cheering for Illinois at opening campfires, even though I have now lived in Indiana for 17 consecutive years). I remember clinic raps and subsequently choosing to try archery for the very first time. I remember discovering that the tree outside Catawba cabin was laden with fresh mulberries and eating them straight from the tree. I remember the delicious coolness of a soda during pop stop, somehow unmatchable by any other drink at any other time of the year, and the amazing anticipation of being able to pick any treat I wanted during Trading Post time.
I remember learning and laughing over the silly songs of flagpole. I remember going on a campout in the woods and waking up to Stork singing "Alligator!" at the top of her lungs. I remember learning about hoppers and shared responsibilities. I remember singing graces in the dining hall, holding that "Ohhhhhhh" what seemed like forever at the beginning of the Johnny Appleseed blessing. And oh, I remember those meals in the dining hall, where a picky eater like me pretty much subsisted on bread for the week (this was long before the introduction of today's improved menu and awesome salad bar).
I remember the hike to the lake, which seemed to take an impossible, breath-draining for-ev-er at the beginning of the week, but made me feel strong and at home by the end of the week. I remember how "the Braves had the beat" and we proudly stood on our chairs to announce it. I remember trust hikes through the dark of Main Field and feeling intensely close to the other girls in my cabin.
I also remember chapels in the Green Cathedral, reading song lyrics out of dogeared blue folders. I remember feeling something stir inside me as I looked out at the sunshine over the Tippecanoe River. At night, I remember sitting with my cabinmates around a flickering candle for devotions. I learned about the "I Am Third" motto for the first time--putting God first, others second, and myself third. I remember my awe the first time I saw "the coming of the great chief" and heard the reading of the Sagamore Creed at closing campfire. I remember learning more about the heart of God and His love for me during that one week than I had in the rest of my church-going life combined.
I remember: "The flicker of the campfire, the wind in the pines. . . . For love is for those who find it, I've found mine right here, just you and me and the campfire, and the songs we love to hear."
Perhaps most importantly, I remember being "Welcomed to the Family." Even twenty-four summers later, I still get a lump in my throat ever time I sing those words, as I think of all the campers and counselors that have gone before me and will come after me. More than anything else, Camp Tecumseh is family--generations of family that go on and on, loving each new set of campers with the love that has been passed down to us. And that's what makes this place so amazing.
And all of that is why I came back here as a counselor in college, and then dragged my college boyfriend along for the ride, and then that college boyfriend and I got married and brought our kids to live here full-time. But today, all of that is why I am so, so excited that twenty-four summers after I first drove up Springboro Road, I will be pulling my own blue mini-van up to Catawba cabin to drop off my oldest daughter, Bryn, for her very own first resident camp experience.
Even though she lives at camp, I know that this week will be an experience like none other for Bryn. She'll be cheering her heart out with her cabinmates at opening campfire tonight (which is a distinctly different experience than sitting in the back with me). Tonight, before bed, she'll join her cabinmates in devotions over candlelight, led by counselors who love God and have felt their own lives changed by the goodness of this place. She'll be sitting front at center at chapel tomorrow morning, getting that perfect view of the sun over the Tippecanoe River. And on Saturday morning, when I pick her up, I know that she will be a better version of herself. That's the power that camp has.
There's no way that my parents and I could have known that a week at camp, twenty-four summers ago, would change my life. But see, now I know about Camp Tecumseh. We are in the business of changing lives. I would dare to say that every kid who comes to camp leaves changed--because we serve an amazing God, and He uses us to change each precious life, each in exactly the way He desires. Love does amazing things, and Love overflows here at camp. Some kids will go home with a deeper sense of faith, some will go home more self-confident, some will go home with new and lasting friendships, some will go home changed in ways that I can't begin to predict.. I can't wait to see what camp will do for Bryn. She's about to embark on an experience to last a lifetime.