I remember when I first drove up bumpy Rampart Range Road, my heart pounding. It was the sort of soul-splitting pound that happens only when the Lord calls me to show up and be bold. What I didn’t know in that moment when I arrived, Chacos on my feet and butterflies in my stomach, was that the Lord would use those mountains and the little hands that held mine as we hiked up and down them to entirely change the way I knew Him.
I discovered the book of Hosea my first summer during a quiet time. I spent hours pouring over its pages about redemption, rescue and grace. For the first time, I saw God as Rescuer and Redeemer—a Father knew me, even though my earthly father never truly did. Hosea 2:13 pierced me in the soul:
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.”
I began praying that God would use camp to draw girls into the wilderness so that He could speak tender words into their hearts:
You are loved.
I am with you.
I am enough.
And He did. He spoke so clearly and tenderly more times than I can count. And for getting to be a part of it, I will never stop praising Him.
I spent three summers under the same brilliant, star-studded sky at Eagle Lake Camps—two as a Rez Counselor and one as a Crew Counselor. Eagle Lake brought me to my best friend, showed me how to serve and to lead, but what I am most thankful for is that it brought me to my knees before Jesus. I learned to ask expectantly and that our God cares more deeply, is fighting more valiantly, and loving each girl way more perfectly than I ever could.
I saw campers fall head-over-heels in love with God’s word, their hearts and minds being transformed by His character, His power, and His grace. I saw God bring sin that laid in darkness into His glorious light and whisper, “you are loved, you are loved, you are loved” in their ears and in mine. I saw campers hear directly from the Lord about big plans for their lives or the lives of those they loved. I saw girls raise their hands high in worship and praise God for who He is for the first time. I saw God use the beautiful redemption story of the cross that wasn’t burned by the fire that surrounded Eagle Lake to bring campers closer to His heart. I saw girls proclaim truth to each other and watched in awe as highschoolers mopped floors, did dishes, and cleaned toilets day in and day out, singing worship songs and reminding each other that everything we do is for God’s glory. I saw my own sister come to know Christ for the first time when she came to camp.
In the mess that is program scheduling, bathroom cleaning, living in a tent with a dirt floor, and seeing the same people all day everyday for an entire summer, I saw God’s goodness more clearly than ever. Eagle Lake Camp, a “thin place between heaven and earth”, is a place where God’s whisper became more audible to my stubborn ears because I saw Him time and time again in the echoing of kid’s laughter as it reverberates across the property.
At camp, memories are best kept scribbled in journals, not on social media feeds. Kids get to be themselves and they get to be loved. They get to stare at the mountains and wonder how the same God who made them in all their majesty, would handcraft their little hands and their little hearts, creating each part with care and precision. There’s a certain magic to the simplicity of camp living and I think it’s because there’s a part of each of us that feels whole in being there—as if our hearts are saying, this is how we were made to be: in community with each other through celebration and tears, praising and singing, without need for the “quick fix” modern day inventions, listening for God’s voice in all things, and sleeping under the stars.
After all of these years, I know full well that camp matters.
Why? Because God changes hearts at camp, He revamps lives, He convicts, He guides, and He speaks tenderly to us there.
But, most of all, camp matters because God uses it to rewrite the stories and touch the lives of others who don’t know Him, who have never been to Eagle Lake, who are far from Him. Because those who have had their hearts changed in the wilderness can’t help but shout His glory and bring His light to those in the valleys.
If there’s one thing I’m certain of about God’s sweet desire to allure us into His wilderness, it’s that once you’ve been swept up, taken to the wilderness, had your heart filled by a Jesus who loves, who rescues, who sees you, there’s no other choice than to go and tell.
It’s what the Samaritan Woman, after encountering Jesus’ genuine love for her, an outsider, can’t help but do. She goes to her village and she tells. She tells of His love, of His grace, of the way He saw her, sin and all, and had compassion for her. She tells of His promise to quench the thirst she has had her entire life. And do you know what happened after she went? Many Samaritans believed. They heard of His wondrous works and they believed.
My sweet camp friend Eliza continually wrote and spoke of a phrase in 1 Peter 2:9 this summer that I’ll never forget: proclaim His excellencies.
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” —1 Peter 2:9
God’s faithfulness, the care with which He loved me and showed me how to love my campers, the way He redeemed brokenness and brought light into darkness, are all stories I will never stop telling—and God’s faithfulness abounds after camp because of the ways I continue to see Him working in my campers’ lives to use their testimonies and mine to reveal to others more of who He is.
So although the season of my life where I got to prepare meals with highschoolers all day, play capture the flag, eat dino nuggets in the Upper D, hike up to zippy rocks, or bang spoons on the table during Sunday morning pump up, has come to a close, I will never stop proclaiming the excellencies that our steadfast, sovereign, faithful God orchestrated right before my eyes. He drew me and each one of my campers into the maze of tall evergreens and wildflower-laden mountain meadows those three summers because He loves us and He wanted us to see, to hear, and to touch His glory.
But, I also think he brought us to camp because He wanted us to feel His love in the beating of our own hearts so closely and clearly that we’d spend our lives sacrificing whatever it takes to tell those who don’t know about a God who loves like that.