My nightstand clock shows it is close to midnight and I am trying desperately to relax enough to fall asleep. The summer heat has drifted upstairs throughout the day and now the master bedroom is how I imagine the inside of a dryer must feel. I toss and turn in futile attempts to make myself more comfortable.
I kick all the blankets to the end of the bed and focus on breathing deeply. My pulse begins to slow and my eyes start to feel heavy. Victory is near.
This is the exact moment that a small arm lands hard across my chest and reminds me that I am not alone. My daughter stealthily climbed into bed over an hour ago, discovered no barriers between her and sleep, and is now fully sprawled across my bed.
I gently lift her arm off my shoulder when I spot the friendship bracelet, her “pretty”, handing off her delicate wrist and I remember back to when she first displayed her treasure just two weeks ago.
The Next Generation’s Summer Camp
Created with love, she proudly flashed the gift the moment she jumped into the car during Camp Check-Out. That last day of summer camp valiantly fought off the rain, but succumbed to the humidity to the point that when I arrived to retrieve her and all her gear, she greeted me with sweaty hair pulled into a messy top knot and her shirt covered in ice cream and dirt. All indicators of a successful week at summer camp.
The bracelet, a parting gift from one of her camp counselors, weaved strands of green and yellow thread to form a diamond pattern surrounded by an orange background. Interwoven blue, yellow, green, and orange triangles bookend each side as each thread threads around my daughter’s wrist.
I pulled her and her luggage into the car and listened to her begin her talks of swim time, craft cabin creations, and best friends, whose names she never seemed to learn. As she spoke, I listened and thought back to my own days spent at the same camp.
My Time at Camp
In 1999 I traveled from my home near Knoxville, Tennessee to New Life Camp in Raleigh, North Carolina to serve as a camp counselor. Having spent previous summers working in an office setting, I deemed the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college the perfect year to embrace an adventure.
New Life Camp began in 1950 with the sole focus on ministering to children through an extensive summer camp program. They have since expanded and now offer a variety of programs that serve their surrounding community.
At the time, I knew a few friends would be spending their summers there as well, which helped comfort any nerves that I had about journeying so far from home. Also aware of its rich legacy, I hoped that I could contribute in some minor way.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, the camp would teach me a lifelong lesson on the value of service.
Acts of Service
My camp days consisted of marching to meals, group games, lake time, visits to the craft cabin, raiding the snack shack, and worship nights around the campfire.
I sweat more than I ever had, slept in a cabin lulled to sleep by the sound of a box fan, and ran after a group of kids all day long. All uncomplicated and straightforward work. All utterly fulfilling.
The camp staff started as a group of strangers from all walks of life and quickly transformed into a tightly knit family reveling in all the joy that comes from a summer with play as the sole item on the agenda each day.
Every week we participated in theme nights like 80s night and Christmas in July, where we caroled from cabin to cabin after lights out, and united over shared victories and struggles. We connected over our shared purposes: caring for the kids, tending to homesick hearts, lending a listening ear, and occasionally drying tears.
Many times we sat on the wooden dock after all the campers had left and laughed as we downed cream sodas and counted stars overhead. The makings of an ideal summer.
Back in my overheated master bedroom, it is way past midnight and I feel that I am finally relaxed and comfortable enough to sleep. I gently trace my fingers over the bracelet that decorates the tiny wrist limply lying next to me.
I drift off as I think about the comparisons between my summer of service and the fragile bracelet dangling from my girl’s wrist. Like the various strands are woven together to form a single thread, the act of serving intricately intertwines people together.
Service strives for the goal of achieving the common good.
It develops friendships with a purpose and collaborations with a cause.
Acts of service towards others change our perspective. It replaces our self-fixated lens with one that’s focused outwards to the needs and concerns of those around us and more often than not results in positive ripple effects.
I am thankful for that simple summer with its enduring impact. May I always remember that some of life’s most significant rewards come by way of serving others.