Reminders of Camp
My girls are at camp this week. It is a fantastic camp, full of exciting activities like waters zipline, kayaks, rock wall, archery and more besides. My youngest isn’t quite ready to brave an entire day with a group of kids without me, so I got to tag along with her on the first day. This meant that I was able to go wading in the creek with her. Much of that time was spent with me teaching her how to skip rocks. There is a constant symphony of birds chirping in the evergreen trees that are so abundant on the 300 acres this camp sits on. Loud speakers play Chris Tomlin and other Christian artists all day and there is a never ending stream of various camp songs being chanted by excited kids walking from one activity to the next.
With the exception of the first day, I have spent most of the time sitting in a 100° car, listening to the sounds, the music of birds reveling in nature, kids building new friendships and developing confidence that only comes with being challenged. It’s a time out of sorts, a time to forget about the world, and it is making me remember that the legacy I want to leave is not about the time clock. In fact, it is not about a clock of any kind. The legacy I want to leave includes learning to skip rocks while the phone waits in the car, memorizing hand games like the one my girls currently love, (“double this, double that, double this that! “), singing worthwhile songs because music is a love language and catching salamanders and tadpoles in creek beds. The legacy I want to leave includes my girls having the memory of their mother sitting seven hours in the car for five days so that they could both play independently while also feeling safe, protected. The legacy includes not freaking out if they show up with a mosquito bite even though I know those things carry deadly diseases and not teaching them to believe the world is a dangerous place; it’s about encouraging them to do the water zip line even though knowing the landing might sting a little because <em>doing</em> the water zip line gives them a reason to believe me when I tell them they are braver than they seem, stronger than they think and loved beyond their wildest imaginings. The legacy is about making shapes out of clouds and painting them on the ceilings, about blowing dandelion fluff so they know that making wishes is always worth the while.
Growing up, I learned a lot of things. A lot of them were painful and hard to swallow. I learned that pain was real, lasting and that it has the potential to shape a life. But I also learned about love and faith and the value of a close knit family. I learned that love was always worth fighting for and that, despite all the pain, life is beautiful. The older I got, the harder to believe that became, though. See, I was hurting and I was in a very dark tunnel for many years, a tunnel so dark the thunderstorms drowned out the sound of the birds. But I never gave up the hope that a rainbow was forthcoming; that hope was there even when I was at my lowest point. Whenever I got close to giving up, a miracle would burst through the clouds to restore my faith and humankind and in the power of love. Teaching my daughters to actively seek the sunshine is a crucial piece of my life because one day I will not be there and they will have to have the tools to find their way out of their own dark tunnels.
Learning to see nature as a refuge, a safe haven, is one tool I have come to rely on. Creek beds and the heat of the sun on your skin, catching snowflakes on your tongue and dancing in the rain, picking apples in orchards and carving pumpkins—in every season, there are diamonds capable of reflecting enough light into the darkness to keep you walking forward. Yet, the chains that bound me for so long taught me that in order to look for the diamonds in nature, let alone appreciate them, I had to first believe I was truly loved. I had to believe I mattered because if I didn’t, none of the diamonds would matter either. Feeling safe allows me to feel loved. Right now, my girls need to know they are not alone, that I am here. So I sit in this car, listening to the sounds of camp, while they play and grow, reassuring them that I’m not far, but also giving them time to discover how healing the scent, feel and texture of nature can be. Perhaps one day when I’m not in the car and they feel threatened by sadness, the memories of time spent outside will encourage them to take a walk in a creek or to rest beneath an oak tree, thereby gathering up natures diamonds.
The smell of honeysuckle tickles my nose right now as I stare out the car window at the bushes by the creek. The sent calls forth memories buried beneath stark fear and pain, calls forth memories of a blond haired little girl with my name taking delight in the tiny droplets of sweetness that leaked from one honeysuckle vine. Just out side my window is an old evergreen tree upon whose bark lies moss. It is sparking memories of a child who, 25 years ago, enjoyed peeling bark from trees, who even today finds joy and climbing the branches. Falling out and breaking a limb would hurt but living life trapped in a cage made of fear, scared to venture outside, hurts worse. Walking barefoot along the rocks hurts but it simultaneously provokes a spirit of adventure, of innocence, of freedom that makes the sharp rocks worth the travel. Nature is raw and rustic and when we get out in it we find ourselves a little uncomfortable at first, until we notice how melodic those birds sound or how refreshing the water in the creek feels.
I was a mother before I really learned to appreciate nature and to recognize it’s soul restoring abilities. I never went to camp. The very idea would have terrified me. There were too many dangerous things: rocks, heat, BEES. I craved safety above all else and I was too scared to see beyond the dangerous side of nature. So I stayed tucked away in the safety of my room, reading and writing, and pretending to be much more of a girly girl than I probably really was in my heart. I was too scared to notice how the light from the sun sparkled on the water, too timid to climb fences, to hurt to rest beneath a tree. I was too busy fighting to convince myself I mattered, that I had worth, to care about the leaves changing colors around me. Time wasn’t as valuable because I didn’t feel like my life mattered. It wasn’t until I had daughters that I branched outside my comfort zone and discovered that the world of make-believe, no matter how masterfully created, cannot compare to the beauty of real life. Real life includes the breeze through the trees, people who will laugh and cry with you, the freedom of an open gravel road and moments unhindered by technology. Life has butterflies and sometimes the lions defy logic by befriending a lamb, inspiring awe that transcends the darkness. I’m ever conscious of how long it took me to appreciate the healing properties of the biggest gift I’ve always had right outside my door and I want to teach my daughters to embrace it, to climb high and take risks because the journey itself is the prize.
I’ve been criticized, even as recently as this week, for being overprotective, staying at the camp all day has been called “ridiculous.” I’ve been accused of keeping my girls in a bubble. And maybe I am. What I know for sure, though, is that we don’t forget what we learn in childhood and that things like playing fashion shows and talking about boys and puberty creates an atmosphere of security and hope and love that can then help my girls remember that the world is a gift, one with beautiful people, natural smells and awesome sights, all waiting for them to enjoy.
There are two days of camp left. Two days to enjoy a time out from everyday life, to focus on creating lifelong memories and friendships. But even after camp is over, my girls and I will carve out time to play, to talk, and to unwrap the gift of life, standing amazed that our chains are broken.