My Life-Changing Journey to a Christian Camp in Northern Wisconsin

Greetings, all! Tonight, I am part of ChicagoNow’s “Blogapalooz-Hour: Volume XXXI.” Our editor, Jimmy Greenfield, has prompted us to write about the following prompt in 60 minutes or less:

“Write about a time you followed the road less traveled and it made all the difference.” 

Jimmy’s disclaimer: The famous Robert Frost poem idealistically wants taking the road less traveled to have been a good thing, but life doesn’t always work out, so also consider writing about a time when it didn’t work out.

So I have decided to share my story of how I ultimately decided to work at a “Christian camp” in Northern Wisconsin the summer after I graduated from college. (I put “Christian camp” in quotes because the camp I worked at is formally called an “Outdoor Center for Leadership Development.” However, in my humble opinion, any three-month experience involving log cabins, lakes, canoeing, and children is camp to me, and that is a wonderful thing. :))

The reason why my going to a Christian camp was a “road less traveled” for me was because, growing up, my family was not an outdoorsy family. The closest we got to the woods was Walt Disney World Resort’s Wilderness Lodge, and we didn’t even stay there–we just had one meal there. Simply put, we were “resort people,” not “tent” or “RV” people. When we moved to Minnesota, the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” I was in the fifth grade and thought it was all pretty scary–all I knew was Minnesota’s NBA team was called the “Minnesota Timberwolves” and, based on their NBA logo, Minnesota was a barren, dark, Northern hinterland with pine trees, cold weather, and wolves. Not to mention a giant man named Paul Bunyan who carried an ax with him everywhere, plus an ginormous ox who followed him around named “Babe.” So I wasn’t ever looking forward to exploring the wilderness, really. Things have since changed a bit for me, thanks to friends who welcomed me to their lake homes and cabins where I learned to waterski and the like, but still–going camping, or, thinking of being without a shower for more than 24 hours, used to turn my stomach inside out.

Until one day, when I was sitting in a “Prison Epistles” class during my second to last semester at college. My classmate and lacrosse teammate that I sat next to asked if I’d ever been camping, and I said no. She dropped her jaw and said I wasn’t leaving college until I went camping, and that I needed to follow her to the college camp’s office immediately following the class. I was intrigued by her persuasiveness, so I followed her to the college’s camp office where I sat down in the camp director’s office and found out they were hiring camp counselors and staff for the following summer. He asked if I liked housekeeping, because I could clean up camp, or if I liked caring for teenagers, because they had some openings in a high school counseling program with high school juniors and seniors doing service projects all summer like cleaning toilets, building fences, taking care of horses, and working “shop.” Because I had counseled high school girls at basketball camp for four years and took a woodshop class in middle school, I told the camp director that the camp counseling/service project gig sounded like my best bet.

But there was one catch: The application deadline to work at the camp next summer was on Friday (today was Tuesday). So I had to decide in four days if I was going to apply to work at a camp with little to no experience working with high school students in the wilderness, aside from the survival tips I gained from reading Hatchet by Gary Paulsen as a child. (FYI: If you loved this book as much as I did growing up, mental_floss recently published some fun facts about author Gary Paulsen at this link). All that to say, I felt inadequate and unequipped to apply for the job, but still had a feeling it was the “right” thing to do, so I prayed that God would help make the decision clear for me. Much to my surprise, he did, in the following three ways:

1. Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. 

This devotional has been #1 on the New York Times’ Bestseller List for a good reason. A combination of personal devotional thoughts and Scripture readings makes for meaningful “solo” times–at least it does for me. Especially on December 9, 2010. This was one day after I left the camp director’s office. I read this devotional thought, and it was like God was speaking directly to me:

December 9

Be willing to go out on a limb with Me. If that is where I am leading you, it is the safest place to be. Your desire to live a risk-free life is a form of unbelief. Your longing to live close to Me is at odds with your attempts to minimize risk. You are approaching a crossroads in your journey. In order to follow Me wholeheartedly, you must relinquish your tendency to play it safe.

Let Me lead you step by step through this day. If your primary focus is on Me, you can walk along perilous paths without being afraid. Eventually, you will learn to relax and enjoy the adventure of our journey together. As long as you stay close to Me, My sovereign Presence protects you wherever you go.

Psalm 23:4, Psalm 9:10, John 12:26

After reading this entry, I couldn’t believe it–God was calling me to be uncomfortable! To step outside of my comfort zone! What did it mean?! Well, it definitely meant one thing–I needed to call my mother.

2. My mother.

My mother can’t swim. Nor did she ever want to go camping when I was growing up. I think I inherited my fear of the wilderness from her, but to be sure, I called her to see what she might think of my thought to go to work at a camp all summer–she is one of the wisest people in my life and I trust her judgment completely, so I wanted to see whether there may be any hint of irrationality in my thought or discernment process. When she picked up the phone, I said, “Mom, I’m thinking about working at a camp all summer. It’s in the middle of Northern Wisconsin, and I probably wouldn’t make very much money, and I’d be cleaning toilets and cutting down trees with high school students. What do you think? Should I go?” There was a brief pause, and then, “Sure! I think you should go!” That was confirmation #2, enough to get me to submit my application on that Friday.

3. A sermon at Parkview Community Church.

The weekend after I submitted my application to work at the camp the next summer, I was at church listening to the sermon. There was a guest speaker, and to my surprise, they were preaching on Isaiah 40, particularly Isaiah 40:3, which is all about preparing the way for the Lord in the wilderness: “‘A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.'” This was clincher#3. Thanks be to God, I was going to work at a camp in Wisconsin!

And oh how glad I am that I listened to God, took a risk, and went. There were amazing highlights like cliff jumping off of 30 feet+ cliffs into Lake Superior, canoeing 27 miles in three days, shouting at the top of our lungs in celebration and praise to the Lord, food fights, bonfires, praise and worship songs, high ropes courses, ziplines, and beautiful sunrises and sunsets. However, working at camp was not all smiles, sunshine, and warm fuzzy feelings. I remember during my first staff meeting I went through an entire roll of toilet paper crying my eyes out because I had no idea how I was going to counsel high school girls going through more serious life issues than I’d encountered. Then there were the 5:30 a.m. wake up calls to run 2 miles and swim 1 more. So why am I glad I took this journey? First, because it helped me to trust God more. I prayed, and He answered, in really obvious ways. Second, because I learned how to implement basic wilderness life skills like cooking over an open fire, building a tent, navigating a 27-mile canoe trip with a wet map that had been torn in half, and how to use a compass. Third, because through the blood, sweat, and tears of working at this Christian camp in Northern Wisconsin, I drew closer to Jesus than ever before.

So If you’re struggling through a “life-changing” decision, I highly recommend the three points above: read Scripture, pray, listen to sermons, and talk to your mother (or other friends/family/mentors close to you).  I’ve always been told by trusted friends and mentors that through prayer, reading Scripture, and checking in with your friends, family and church community, you can confirm if what you’re feeling called to do is truly what God is calling you to do. (There’s an awesome her.meneutics post about this by Sarah Bessey.) What’s craziest is that, most of the time, what God calls you to do won’t be comfortable. It will most likely feel awkward, or different, or uncomfortable. But with God, all things are possible* (*My husband’s editorial note: “Please read this verse [Matthew 19:26] in context.” :))

So my prayer for you is the featured image above: Go out on a limb with Jesus and trust God to do something new in your life.

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