September 9, 2012

At Camp: Friendship, Innocence and a Moment's Peace

[The boys in this post were renamed and yes I know this is long]

Affray and dissension were inevitable. Trying to keep jr. high boys who are tremendously different in background, temperament and sense of humor, to name a few, from killing each other is a genuine task. When squabbling cropped up amongst my clan of boys I always second-guessed myself in how I was handling it and thought, "Gosh, how in the heck would someone else handle this? Should I let him say that? Am I being too lenient?" At the end of the week, though, all my boys went home with fully-attached limbs (at least to my knowledge) and intact egos, for better or worse.

As a cabin leader, you become pretty good, say, during mealtimes, at deterring astringent speech, being ever watchful of the easily-heated emotions of some of the boys. Some had short fuses. James' epistle talks of tongues being like fire. How is it that the short wick of some lad seemingly-attracts the blazing words of another? A spitfire. I, too, had to be careful not to add any flame of my own, since by day three laziness and scant patience can overwhelm.

Coteries, and other anti-shaloming, characterized my group dynamics from day one, up until late Friday night, the night before camp ended, the night God broke in. I want to tell the tale of a phenomena that took place on that Friday, something that I'll probably, hopefully, never forget, evidence, for me, that God had truly moved and worked among my jr. high boys.

If you've been keeping up with my other camp stories, you know of the absurd trouble I had with some campers. Some cabin leaders went for team spirit, decking their cabins, faces and anything else they could find with appropriate colors and team symbols. Or maybe they went for funny or cool so campers would like them. Ya... I didn't really do any of those things, at least with true cabin-leader zeal. All I was trying to do was keep my campers hidden, that I might "sneak" them under the radar of the directors and other overseers, so I didn't get in trouble for their cruel behavior, as if I had somehow turned them into little beasts. Ok, I did more than this, but I'm trying to paint a picture here. You get the idea.

So, Friday. I wish it hadn't taken all the way till Friday for my kids to get stirred up by God. But, alas, it did. Friday is better than not at all though.

My friend and fellow intern Ellen could tell you, I was baffled. Friday night session was specifically carved out to be a time to "commission" the kids to go out into their world, since it would be happening whether they wanted it to or not the next morning. It was going to be a night of praying that they would be bold and true and diligent, all those "commissioning" characteristics. But my kids, my crazy boys, made it something else indeed.

All the other sessions, Monday night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday night (including all the day break-outs), with their hip songs and funny sermons, did absolutely nothing, as far as transformation, spiritual-seriousness and overall God-awareness was concerned. But their heart's soil mustn't have been rock-hard because something finally broke, allowing the Holy Spirit to fall just as the tears would from their eyes. I think God was slowing spinning seeds.

During that final ministry time I watched as some of my kids, the spiritually-acute ones, responded to the commissioning calls. They went forward. Awesome. I wasn't surprised. But then I watched as the "immovables," the rebels, got up and shuffled across the floor as they made their way up front. I concentrated on them, wanting to make sure they weren't goofing off or distracting. To the contrary, they got prayer. I watched, like an animal researcher taking in some profound and rare mystery, something beautiful, something abnormal. Tears fell. Hugs, no! Grasps exchanged. Grace received. Reconciliation offered. (these short sentences are the sub total of a colossal moment and, obviously, reveal my literary inability to capture the magnitude of that hour properly) Wow... I was blown away.

I would of had to answer "No.." No, I didn't see it (Isa 43:19). It seemed God had used the commissioning hour for unprecedented things. He does what he wants doesn't he? "I will be who I will be," he proclaimed to Moses all the years ago. He hasn't changed much.

My previous expectations floundered with reality.

More could be said, so much more, but I want to end with the most memorable part of that camp for me, after the commissioning night finished, in that in-between time after cabin time but before bed. For the camp as a whole, the night ended in a tangled fray, something not relevant here nor appropriate. What's important here is that three boys from my cabin who, up until that moment and for all I knew, hated each other, became friends. I couldn't tell you how it happened. It was truly batty.

A hundred yards from the cabin there was a massive--and I mean massive--tire swing. The three of them and I, after the others went inside the cabin, walked there. And what did we do? you ask.

We played...

We simply played.

Jordan climbed on top of the tire, sat down, straddled it and hugged the pole. He was terrified. It was funny. Marcus wiggled his way into the hallowed inside. His body bowed as he snuggly laid flat. And Bo hung about the thing, dangling then whipping his limbs wildly to scare Jordan. I started to push them, in that tire, attached to that huge pole connected to the moon, it seemed, that swung back and forth and back and forth. They started counting each time I pushed. Bo said, "Push us seventy times!" "Psh, your dreamin'," I thought.

For the first time all week, there was Friendship. Innocence. Peace. (now read those words again, slower) Those good things seemed tangible, like the Kingdom had actually come. I paused, listening for the trumpet, yet nothing, which reassured me that God answers Jesus' prayer still today in small and beautifully penetrating doses: "your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Mat 6). God's Kingdom can be here now. And it was, then.

But, it pissed me off that I hadn't seen these kids like this before, as they should be, as kids, playing and goofing off, with no external worries, without the cussing and showing off, bullying and crude jokes, over-bearing adult supervising and other sabotagers. Kids grow up so damn fast in our world, where parents are stuck in adolescence and children act like adults. I want kids to be kids, stripped of peer and parental pressure and the broken circumstance. I want them to play. I want them to laugh that innocent laugh and I want them to grow up doing the same.

I ended up pushing those boys seventy times, and if it would of made that moment last forever, I would of never stopped. No way.