My boss and I sat in the middle of the main gathering center of camp. A room which is, for the majority of each summer, filled with the laughter and delighted shouts of campers; filled with out-of-this-world loving and ridiculously weird counselors; filled with joyful dancing; filled with prayer; filled with broken-down-I’m-so-physically-exhausted-give-me-strength-God-please staff worship; filled with introductions; new faces; new revelations; renewal; meeting our Savior.
We sat in that transformative room and I cried. I could not handle what had been placed into my weak hands.
I was a camp counselor for high school girls in the summer of 2013. I leaned on my co-counselors, I laughed with fifteen-year-old girls about the most whimsical and childlike of things. I watched my campers grow close to one another, I swam into the (very) murky lake alongside them, I shared every meal with them, I tucked them in at night, I struggled to pull them each out of bed every morning. I loved them. I talked to those girls about where God is in the midst of the cruelty and evil in our world. I helped them to understand the gospel; God showed them truth in a world of lies. I sought out their stories each week; I heard these girls’ struggles – I carried their struggles.
Maybe I was naïve, but I just have to say, you would not believe some of the things these young girls had already endured. So many dark things that I knew nothing about except for that they were not of the Lord. Countless times I had no words to speak, no wisdom to share.
This insecurity came crashing down one afternoon about four weeks into camp when I was, long story short, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally spent. I had cycled between leaning on God (and those were always my best days) and leaning on my own ability (the hardest days). That day, in a time of crisis with one of my campers, I chose – in my panic – to deal with the problem on my own.
I won’t go into details of my camper’s situation but it broke me down in a way that I had not yet experienced. This one specifically broke me down because I was already holding onto so many previous campers’ hurt. I carried all their burdens on my shoulders when God was calling me to simply help my campers lay their burdens at His feet. My heart hurt so deeply for each of them.
She shared with me every part of her story and I could see how truly lost, broken, and hopeless she felt. Not only did I have no idea of how to comfort her, but I also could not handle the thought of someone so young losing herself in so much depression, abuse, and darkness. After a bumpy conversation and a weak prayer, it was dinnertime. I walked with her along with the rest of my cabin to dinner before leaving to go find my boss.
We sat in the middle of the main gathering center of camp. I cried tears of confusion – where was the good in all this hurt? – I cried tears of inadequacy – how are You using me in this?
My boss made me pray through my tears. Which was difficult, mostly because I sound like a babbling toddler when I try to speak while I cry. God worked through my boss in that moment – of course all I needed was to talk to Him.
“I am inadequate,” I cried to God. “I am not capable.”
“Lies,” God spoke.
“Help me, Father. Give me the words to speak. Even if it is not to solve her problems but simply to give her your inexplicable peace.”
“Let me use you,” God spoke. “Stop holding on so tightly to your own abilities, let me work.”
The enemy fed me lies while the Holy Spirit fed me wisdom. The enemy told me I was not wise enough to comfort my broken campers and not righteous enough to share God’s beautiful World with my campers – and he is right!
Praise God for that truth – there is a beautiful paradox within it.
As the enemy hissed, “you are not enough,” my Yahweh whispered,
“In me, you are wise enough. In me, you are blameless. Let me use you.”
My next conversation with my hurting camper was one filled with more of His love and less of my fear. I’m not saying that her life turned around right away and that now everything is perfect. I do believe, though, that she and I both experienced the unlike-anything-else comfort of God through prayer together.
Jesus knows our suffering. He died for it on the cross, he carried the weight of it, his bones broke and his heart ached because of it. Life on earth is never going to be easy, and if you are seeking Christ, it is never going to be comfortable. But there is so much beauty in those difficulties, in those uncomfortable-what-are-you-teaching-me-God moments.
Camp was a lot of those moments – darkness being illuminated and pain being redeemed and joy being so, so full.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. Psalm 23:4
Every day that summer, I sweated and sunburned in the Texas heat for ten hours a day. Every evening, I greeted the warm night air with a gracious exhale.
“Thank You, God, for carrying me through another day. Thank You for giving me the words to speak and the ears to hear.”
-Hunter Folsom // @hunterfolsom