Heading into our third week of camp and the last one before we take a break for a week and it’s been a busy few weeks so thank heavens for that. Our camps have been full or almost these first three weeks and it has kept us hopping with wave after wave of energetic kids pouring in on Sunday and pouring out tired and grubby but also uplifted and refreshed (we hope) on Friday nights. The trick is finding a way to flow in that sea of energy and have it lift you and carry you rather than trying to be the rock it breaks against because no one can take that kind of beating for long so pick up your feet and allow yourself to be carried to interesting and wonderful places.
I love my job.
Anyway, last week saw a large and largely new group of campers join us for the week and an interesting and wonderful thing happened quietly and in the in betweens. At one point early in the week, a new camper that I had met on a field trip and whose teacher a few years back happened to be married to me ran up to me in the in between times and said rather confidently “I know you.”
I know you too. I answered.
“How?” she answered and so I proceeded to answer:
Well, you’ve been here before with your grade three class and I know your teacher from two years ago and I helped your mom register you so I know your name and address and phone number… I know you lots of ways.
That seemed to satisfy her and she ran off to her next activity or cabin time or meal or whatever it was that was happening next right then. This continued through the week and became an every time I walked past sort of a thing. I heard “I know you!” ring from across the grass, through the dining hall, and across the campfire circle. Soon other kids joined and I had a long list of campers to know and who knew me.
The first thing I noticed is how wonderful it is to be known. I am a pretty front and centre type of Director when it comes to camp and I try my hardest to be involved with the campers. I definitely get to know the kids who are homesick or struggle with behaviour and I also run morning activities so my counsellors can rest for a few precious extra minutes (this morning I ran crafts which means I ask kids to show me how to do things because I am not exactly a crafty guy) and I visit with kids when I have a minute. It is important for me to know the campers and a good measure of my work health that I do and a not-so-good sign when I don’t.
Anyway, when I am doing it right I am present at camp and this means most of the campers meet me at some point during the week and I have discovered that it makes me feel good to be known. I like being recognized and flagged down and having campers want to talk to me and as I thought about this I realized just how important it is to be known. I should be no surprise that the campers last week took such joy in being known. It made them feel just as important and connected as it did for me.
As I rolled the idea of being known around in my foggy head a small light bulb in some dim recess popped on. At first I couldn’t see it clearly through the haze but it grew brighter as the week went along and I started to use it as a mantra in what became a challenging week (a long and separate story that I will tell you if we ever sit down for a coffee together… the offer stands and I’ll buy):
I am known.
People know me because of my work at camp. My brother-in-law calls me Camp Jon and I still get junk mail with “Camp Jon” emblazoned on it after a magazine subscription in that name came to me for a few years. What I do is who I am and it has grafted itself into my identity until there is no separation between who I am here during the silly season and who I am every other day of the year. I am Camp Jon.
But then I am not always Camp Jon. I have my down times (Camp Jon is always happy), I have my low energy times (Camp Jon is always ready to go), and I have times when I would really rather not talk to anyone (Camp Jon is always ready to chat). And so I am not known here… not really, not all of me. I wonder sometimes if I would still be as popular to these kids if they knew me, I mean really knew me. If my constituents and the parents and campers knew the grumpy me, the worn out me, the bitter me, would they still show such amazing trust in me?
One of my favourite verses lies in Psalms 139 and while I often struggle with the Psalms (reading them is a roller coaster ride of highest highs and devastating lows) this piece of wonderful prose hits home is a way that rings true in my heart:
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Where I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you. – Psalm 139: 13-18
That the God I know knit me together in my mother’s womb, that the God I know knows all the days of my life is a wonderful and powerful thing. See the God I know loves me. All of me. The grumpy me, the bitter me, the happy and carefree me. All of it. I’m not hiding the bad stuff because there is no hiding. I am fully known and I am fully loved.
I got to know some of those kids pretty well last week. I found out about their favourite things, their pets, their families… I knew them. But not like that, not like a God that knows every inch of your being and what your being will become. I can’t know a camper like that. I can’t know myself like that.
This leaves me in a place of deepest gratitude. I am so desperately grateful for a love that gazes unflinchingly into the grubbiest parts of my soul and without blinking carries on.
I hope the kids who were here last week (and this week, and the week after/year after/decade after that) feel it to.
Now, if you’ll excuse me I’ve got some kids to get to know…