I loved summer camp as a kid. Horseback riding. Cavorting in the lake. Fashioning tacky crafts from macaroni and matchsticks, paper plates and plaster of Paris. Gathering round campfires singing Clementine, Kumbaya and my favourite, Dat’s vut I learned at da school, yuh, yuh! That one began (hand on head) with, “Mine hand on mineself, unt vut haf I here? Dis is mine knickerbocker, my mama dear!” That ditty then moved through all obvious body parts, reversing faster and faster, until some of us collapsed in laughter.
In our plywood cabins, we talked long after lights-out. Some campers – no names – snuck out to join friends in theirs for snacks of dining-hall snitched, pocket-stuffed food with chilled ghost stories for dessert. (This after the counsellors, certain we slept, had slipped from their cabins to gather in the dining hall for Dixie Cups and board games.)
I recall bed-making and cabin-tidying and washing mountains of dishes by hand in large outdoor laundry tubs, with adjacent bedsprings for drying racks. Damp tea towels became lethal weapons for flicking flies and towel-whipping friends – and not always gently.
Dining hall rules prohibited elbows on the table. That degenerate habit brought stern judgment from one’s fellow campers. “Kathleen, Kathleen, strong and able, get your elbows off the table,” followed by a yelled run-on-sentence imposed at the whim of the dining hall jury: everyone else. “Dash five times around the dining hall…blindfolded!…with a pickle in your mouth like a cigar…and your hands in the air…backwards…ON YOUR KNEES!”
Not many chapel services from those early years at church camp remain in my memory. But the sense of feeling loved, accepted and embraced by the staff still warms me. So does the certainty that Jesus was behind all that. That it was his love our leaders shared. His love that counsellor Sharon, who radiated joy, said brought hope and meaning to her previously sad life of abuse.
I recall the kindness the canteen guy showed when (trembling) I returned the unpaid-for licorice sticks that somehow ended up in my paper sac. And the compassion with which my counsellor daily sponged away the pinkeye pus that, overnight, had glued my eyes shut.
I anticipated camp more than chocolate. Heaven? Not so. My concepts of the after-death home of those who love and follow Jesus sounded boring beyond comprehension. Picking flowers and playing harps? I liked flowers, but I had no clue about harp-playing.
Today I anticipate heaven with greater certainty and delight than I once did summer camp. Not because of mansions or golden streets or pearly gates. Nor because so many beloveds will meet me there. I anticipate it because I know one thing alone will surpass my best imaginings, my highest hopes, my fondest dreams.
That one thing? Meeting the Saviour I love, and who I’ve seen reflected in so many of his followers. Jesus, whose death on the cross and subsequent resurrection opened wide the gates of heaven for all who believe, confess their sins and live out his love daily, wherever and whenever.
Until then, I pray to share that love with others, like those camp leaders shared it with me.