Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Summer of '96

in a few short days my husband and I will be gathering in our special place, Tall Timber Ranch, for a reunion of all staff as we honor the retiring camp directors. I worked on summer staff several times and have made life long connections with amazing people-- some of whom I have not seen in about 18 years. Getting ready for the reunion has sparked lots of special memories... this is just one...

A little red compact loaded to the gills, boxes and suitcases precariously stacked, each niche filled with one more thing we could't live without. My almost 15 year old daughter tucked into the front seat beside me, fiddling with the radio, finding only static and finally negotiating a cassette tape from the box at her feet. 

"Not too loud" I made it a suggestion, choosing to ignore the eye roll. We would share a small room for three months and I remember thinking if we didn't establish rules during a 4 hour car ride, the summer was sure to be challenging. I knew it was going to be a challenge regardless. 

For the previous several months she'd been living with her aunt, before that, her dad. My opportunity to work at our church camp for the summer and my invitation for her to join me would provide us a way to try living together again and see if we couldn't make this relationship work. It had been strained since the divorce and that was putting it politely. It was my heart's cry that somehow we forge ahead and build something between us we could honor. 

The job opportunity came on the heels of my recent engagement to the love of my life. We'd been dating for two years and the proposal had happen on a church retreat at the camp. That same weekend I had spied a notice on the camp bulletin board, advertising for summer staff. Working at a church camp, cooking in the vast kitchen appealed to me, so I had taken an application not really sure how that would fit in with any wedding plans I'd be making. With the encouragement of my fiance however, I submitted the application and was delighted when hired. The next step had been to ask my daughter if she would like to come with me for the summer. It was truly an answer to prayer that she'd agreed. 

Tall Timber Ranch is located in the middle of a glacier wilderness area. Bordered by rugged mountain ranges and glacier fed rivers, it had been serving and blessing kids of all ages for several decades. All my previous visits to the camp had been in winter, when snow was often piled to the eaves of the cabins. That year would be both my daughters and mine first visit to it in summertime. We would share a room in one of the lodges, live, work, worship and play in community of other summer staffers, most of whom were college age. 

The first week of orientation and training kept me much too busy to worry about what my girl was up to. Not that there was much cause for worry. Being in the middle of nowhere without any of the worldly distractions, surrounded by some stellar people, it was the perfect place to thrive. 

It wasn't long before she had bonded with several of the college age staff. She helped out in the craft room, volunteered with the primary campers, and celebrated her 15th birthday that summer. She also got to experience being a camper for one week. Some days I barely saw my daughter but I knew she was being loved on, and I breathed thankfulness every day for the quality of people who were impacting her life. She was officially a 'Camp Kid".

The summer flew by, weeks of intense heat, vicious mosquitoes, long days, short nights. Working in the kitchen from early morning till clean up after dinner left me exhausted but grateful for every knot in my aching shoulders. I was part of something bigger than sore muscles or tired feet. Lives were being changed, as some kids met Jesus for the first time, other's experiencing an up close and personal relationship with Him-- something deeper than the flannel-graph Jesus of Sunday School. 

As we approached the end of summer and with a wedding date set for September, I walked with my daughter down to the river. With cool sand beneath us, our toes bracing glacial river flow, I dared to ask what had been surging in my heart for weeks. Did she want to come back home with me? Was she willing to make an effort to be a part of a new family structure? 
Thankful beyond words, I heard her shy answer, "yes." 

The Summer of '96. We met amazing people, people who have stayed in my heart, my memories, and my life forever. Being at Tall Timber with my daughter gave us a place to heal our relationship and grow closer. It was wonderful. Some parents send their kids to summer camp; I took mine with me. 

me with my beautiful girl; she smiles much better now!

 coming next: Summer of '97-- I took my husband to camp!

1 comment:

thank you so much for taking time to read and comment! have a great day!