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Summer Camp: This One Was for The Girls

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Kenyon chapter.

I, like many other college women, was a camp counselor this summer.  I worked 6 days a week with a two-hour break every day for nine weeks.  It was rough in many respects, but ultimately it was a rewarding experience.  When I say it was rough, I am not speaking about any aspect of the work in regards to my campers.  The problems I had with my camp experience were mostly with the organization itself, and its treatment of staff.  Along with this, I also did not always feel that the campers were put first in the camp-wide decisions. All of this was in criticism of the upper management, however, and not the amazing people who made up the ranks of the counselors and staff that actually worked with the kids day in and day out. They were wonderful.

Nevertheless, after completing the first two weeks, I flat-out asked myself if I was going to quit right then or if I was going to make it through the summer.  I thought about it for days. I weighed my options and the costs and benefits of the job. In the end, I decided to stay.

I would stay because all of the things affecting me were not affecting my girls.  My girls were all between the ages of 12-15. All of them were either going into middle school or their first year of high school.  I know what you’re thinking, middle schoolers sound like the worst age group to work with. I know this because I thought this going into my summer too.  I pictured the mean girls I, myself, knew in middle school. I thought they would be shallow and hateful and just downright too much to handle. I was wrong, so wrong.

What I found instead was that middle school was the perfect age (or perhaps my girls were just the perfect girls).  They were old enough that as a counselor you don’t have to tie their shoes or cut their meat at dinner, and yet they were still young enough that they could play like kids.  They’d run screaming through a water-relay and they’d still get excited about the night’s skit. They were also at a place where they could have deep conversations with you and with each other.  They’d ask real questions about why the world is the way it is, and they had such an understanding for each other’s struggles in life that I was re-instilled with the hope that this new generation is going to be just fine no matter what people say about the social media age.

They were so incredibly kind.  For instance, one night all of the girls in my cabin decided that they wanted to have a testimony circle together in the middle room of our cabin.  Usually, testimonies were something shared between an individual camper and counselor, but with no prompting from us, these girls wanted to lay their hearts out for each other.  They wanted to do it together to be there for each other’s hurts and trials. As a result, I had one of the most moving experiences of my entire life as 14 young women shared what many of them had kept bottled up inside for so long.  I worried about how some of the girls would react. Would they be comforting? Would they be uncomfortable with what others shared? What I witnessed instead was the beginning of healing for these girls as they cried together, hugged for so long it just became the comforting cuddling they all needed, and laughed and smiled when they realized that everything would be ok because they had each other as a community and they were never alone because they had God.

The second to last week of camp is the week I now believe I stayed for.  My girls that week were amazing. They were all so beautiful, kind, talented, and smart that you could never have imagined that the struggle that plagued nearly all of them was low self-esteem and a lack of self-worth.  As I had learned through the summer, the culture of today’s world is so hard for a girl to endure. She is told she is not pretty enough, she is too fat, she’s not athletic enough, she’s not smart enough. She’s told that she’ll never be good enough at anything she does.  As a result, the girls in my cabin that week felt like they were not enough. Not enough for themselves, their parents, or God. I was resolved to change that, and God was with me as I went through my most life-impacting moments of the summer.

Wednesday nights at camp were emotional, to say the least.  Right after dinner, we would have a drama skit that put the girls in a very introspective mood.  We would leave the amphitheater where the drama took place in the only true silence of the week. Everyone would walk back to their campfires in silence where the night would center on testimonies.  I decided that on that night, I would do things differently. My girls needed something special.

I stopped them and waited for all the other campers to pass.  I then gave them a task. They were to walk in silence until we would stop somewhere along the way, but as they were walking I wanted them to pick out something along the way that in their mind’s eye showed the beauty of creation and of God.  It could be anything they saw, heard, or smelled. I told them to keep that thing in their mind until we would stop and share with each other what we thought was special.

They did it. They walked in perfect contemplative silence as the wind rustled through the trees and the sun began to set, dousing us in beautiful golden rays of light.  Birds, that we hadn’t heard chirping during the camp songs we usually sang as we walked, called out from the woods on all sides of us. The lake on our right soon came into view and then was gone again, having been replaced by the beautiful horse trails I had never noticed before in my haste to get my girls from one activity to the next.   I stopped them at a small lake before we got to our destined campfire. Here was my favorite place at camp. The reflection in the lake at this time of evening consisted of colors you couldn’t put a name to.

I asked what they had picked out from our mile-long walk.  They offered up the birds, the sky, the intricacies in the bark of the trees, and the sun gleaming through the woods making it almost seem aflame. I acknowledged all of this, but then I said what follows.  Of course, this is a rough paraphrase because that moment can never be repeated exactly.

“I want you to think of all those things.  Not even just those, but think of all the beautiful things you have ever seen in nature.  The grand canyon, Niagara falls, every sunrise and sunset, all of it. Now, look at the pond before us.  It is beautiful, and it is good, and it was made by God. Now what I want you to know is that God created this and He looked at it and He saw that is was good, but He didn’t stop there.  It was not enough for Him, so He created us. He created you and He created me and He gave us this place. But what we can’t forget is that we are more beautiful than any part of nature past or present.  We are made in the image and likeness of God and we are always enough or Him. He thinks we are beautiful, and He claims us as his own, and we are always enough for Him. His is the only opinion that matters.  You don’t need to hold yourself to some impossible standard set by a beauty magazine or an Instagram model because those standards are impossible. You don’t need to compare yourself to anyone. All you need to be is what God created you to be.  He loves you and He thinks you are beautiful, and that in and of itself should be enough for us to feel beautiful each and every day.”

This isn’t, of course, exactly what I said, but it’s close enough that you get the gist.  It was what those girls needed to hear and from the tears shed and the number of times they asked us in the remainder of the week to go back and sit on the bank of that pond with them, I gather that it struck home somewhere inside them.  If I did nothing else this summer, I know that at least at that moment, I allowed God to work through me and show those girls that they are beautiful, and they are worthy and that God created them exactly how He wanted them to be.

My God is a god of love, and that’s what I strived to show my girls every day of my summer.  No matter the hate in our world, our God is one of love and that is our command. We are to love one another, and so I modeled that as best I could for them in full confidence that it was a healing love. Our love would make a difference in our lives and the lives of everyone we would go on to love as well.

I’m glad I decided to stay.

Image Credit: Feature,1,2,3