The fire sparked and flames reached for the canopy above, dripping with the darkness of the night. While it wasn’t two in the morning, all of the campers were moving as if it were. Friday night. The last bonfire of the summer, the last day of camp.
Where did it go? I wondered.
I helped my girls shuffle and slide onto the bench behind cabins 20 and 16 and in front of cabin 15. As they sat down, I thought about my interactions with the counselors standing around me. Matt of cabin 15 had just earlier helped my little brother, Jimmy, prank me with shaving cream in the face and getting the white foamy substance in the deep canals of my ear, all through my hair and all over my glasses and backpack. Since my day had been rough to begin with, while the prank had been in all good fun, I’d reacted emotionally and walked away to the bathroom, trying not to cry…but when I watched the video later, I laughed, and when each of my campers hugged me later on in the day, they’d asked me why I smelled like shaving cream. I just smiled at them.
Kevin of cabin 20 and Matt of cabin 16 had been helping me all week, whether they knew it or not. Whether it was lighting a fire or helping my campers stay in line, or maybe even dropping a pick-up line as a joke, they’d made the week ten times more enjoyable.
The fire cracked and burned through cardboard boxes and dried leaves, logs and branches. Two of the girl counselors, Amber and Rachel, got up in front of the campers as they sat shoulder to shoulder with one another and began singing Heart of Worship by Matt Redman, and as I listened to Matt of cabin 16 singing next to me, Amber singing in front of me, and tons and tons of twelve to fourteen-year-olds singing the words of love and worship, my heart-ached, and I began to cry.
I cried like I had earlier in the day, when I’d watched the Lifehouse Skit, performed by Ian of cabin 13 and Emily of cabin 7.5, who was also my accountability partner for the summer and one of my favorite people to talk to. It was all ending! The summer was over. Tomorrow we’d all go our separate ways and never be together again. All I could do was sit there, soaking it all in, as the air filled with lifted hands and beautiful words, “I’ll bring You more than a song.”
Gracie was in my cabin, and when the song ended, when Kyle was asking campers what they were thankful for, she took the microphone and expressed how thankful she was that she’d had her sister as her counselor, which dug into my heart in the strangest way, because I’d come at the week hoping, praying, I’d be able to reach out to her, since she’s so closed off to me at home. This week I’d learned something about my family that paralyzed me, a secret that had shattered my heart and driven forgiveness out of my mind. But as the week went on, God stirred up my thoughts to rest on Him, and as I sat on the bench, struggling not to give into hatred and anger and fear, listening to my campers say how thankful they were for the friends they’d made, their wonderful counselor, and camp BaYouCa, God comforted me with the fact that He is the One who saved me from who I was, saved me from a dark part of my life that could’ve killed me, so He is entirely and completely capable of healing my heart in this area, of healing my family and bringing my sister’s heart into His arms until all of her has been surrendered to Him and she feels nothing but security, love, safety, and worth.
I was right when I said that I wouldn’t leave this summer the same way I entered into it, but I was wrong when I was convinced in my own mind that I would be able to handle the change. God had given me these people, these counselors, these staffers, these campers, for this span of time. He’d used them in ways I never saw coming. He used them to push me and pull me and yank me this way and that until the questions were exposed and the doubts were found out. He sought out the nasty parts of my heart that I’d kept hidden from Him. He broke through wall after wall until I had to face Him and confess that I don’t know how to love the unlovable, I don’t know how to truly be patient and gentle. Gentleness is not my nature. Compassion is not my default. And now that I know, now that it’s out, I have no choice but to accept the challenge of allowing God to change my heart once again.
Emily, one of my campers, complained of being cold. I took off my jacket, feeling the cold of night caress my skin as I handed it to her. But the cold didn’t bother me, because my heart, though battered and bruised from the spiritual fights I’d been experiencing not only all summer but especially the past couple of days, was warm.
All week the speaker, Conroy Lewis, had been talking about how, when we decide to stop being lukewarm and actually take up the charge to live for Christ the way the disciples did, when we remembered our brothers and sisters across the world who are being shot, tortured, kidnapped, arrested, and the like for their faith, whose families suffer and their bodies are broken, life won’t be safe anymore. Faith is not for the weak-hearted, I’ve learned, and now that I’ve been confronted by fearlessness and just how easy it is to be fearless at camp BaYouCa, even in the Shire, I cower as I consider what it will take to be truly fearless for Christ.
In wrestling practice, it took everything I had—physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I’m beginning to realize that following Christ and knowing Him and pursuing Him is the same way…it takes everything I have. It takes deliberateness, intentional action, preparation. It takes physical readiness as well as mental and emotional readiness. God’s word describes life as a war, a battle between the forces of good and evil where Light is ready, prepared, powerful enough to overtake the darkness…so shouldn’t I, just as seriously, see life that way as well? Does that mean I can’t enjoy things? Definitely not! But it does mean that some things are going to change, it does mean that I’m no longer the priority, it does mean that things are going to get much harder, but it’s okay, because God will enable me to take it, and when I can’t, He can.
Peter, in his letter to Christians dispersed in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bythynia, he challenges his readers to “prepare their minds for action” (1 Peter 1:13). It’s a call to be holy, to be fearless. And then, in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he says “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). WILL be persecuted. There’s no maybe about that statement. In other words, those of us who claim that we’re followers of Christ are literally setting ourselves up for persecution, for exclusion, for denial, for pain, and for suffering…
To be honest, I’m scared out of my skin, because I understand now just how crazy this is, this life, this decision to live for Christ, to love others through Him, to give when everything has been taken away, to endure when a happy ending is impossible, to be willing to bend but refusing to break under the weight of the world, “to entreat when slandered, to become like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things” (1 Corinthians 4:12, 13).
“Wait, what’s the real danger here? You’re just being part of a religion. Most people do that. A lot of religions go around and witness to people or whatever.”
But it’s more than that. It’s changing everything, taking every thought captive and forcing it to submit to the influence of Christ, being the love that’s lacking because I know what real love is, claiming God’s word to be the only truth, and God to be the One and only God, refusing to retaliate when someone defiles you, going against the grain of the world. And to think I’m only scraping the surface of what all of this means. My chest is filled with both massive fear and great expectations. Is God grand enough to enable me to do this, to change everything, to give everything? Is He strong enough to handle the things I never thought I’d ever experience in my lifetime? Will I mess up and fall on my face?
The answer? Yes.
But I have confidence that Christ is able to pick me up when I fall, to lead me when it’s too dark to see, and to stay with me when the rest of the world has walked away.
I want to prepare my mind for action…and I want to start now.