I’m in it for the long run.
After three summers, nearly 180 days, at Eagle Lake, that may be obvious. But it’s even more soul-pervasive, life-impacting, than that.
Camp is the persevering ascent of thousand foot mountains, tangible and intangible.
It’s the will-defying, discipline-building miles that graft trails, skies, songs, prayers into the soul.
It’s the distance-defying phone calls that keep relationships authentic and heart fibers entwined.
It’s the glorious redemption of miles driven with that earnest initiative that is to dial and courageously offer any wisdom and experience to the now scattered girls I once started my mornings with, dug holes with, hauled bursting bags of week-old eggs and tomato stained rotini with, harmonized and filled out the work hours in gracious music with, singing ourselves out of discouragement or pain, ran with, cried with, dreamed with, confided in, pursued with.
At Eagle Lake I realized that when I quit trying to perfect relating and loving in impressive sprints, and instead build a foundation for the marathon relationship, by God’s grace, I suddenly resonate with Jesus’ perspective on forging enduring relationships.
Eagle Lake is wondrous because it isn’t experienced in a vacuum. Implanted in willing heart soil, its treasures, “rooted and established in love,” spread their branches out to bless, so that people who’ve never set foot on property delight to sit in its shade months, years later. The enduring, treasured maintenance of counselor-camper relationships can be a glorious reality. It’s an investment I’ve seen unbelievable returns on, to the point that at my most vulnerable, I’m being received tenderly by the people I counseled. Heard, understood, known in such a way that demonstrates what seems too good to be true- they got it. These campers passed on not only the truth in words, but the manifest comprehension of what it looks like to love well, agape, devoid of self-interest and replete with sacrifice, honor, and trust.
But it’s beauty is that it extended past that.
Over the course of the summer of 2014, my “return summer” on Crew, Katlyn Kincaid, the first woman I knew to pray comfortably with pauses in order to speak genuinely to her Creator, imparted some beautiful truths from a blend of her rich experience and with a life-changing book as a framework: 1000 Gifts. A manifesto of Gratitude in All Things artfully, gracefully penned by Ann Voskamp as she counts the gifts sweet and hard that God gives, it sought to live in the tension of the apparent ‘good and perfect gifts from above’, and the rest of life’s circumstances, also from above and, for all their dissonance, utterly perfect. The ugliness of loss, unmet expectations, mundane-ness, inexpressible longing—all these were also gifts, aches meant to point us to the Lord and forge within us holy contentment.
“I’m thankful for everything,” is a swift, over-generalized, oversimplified wash to attribute to the God who is so, so present in the details. Could not the picture enliven with precision such that every stroke of the brush was yet another intentional, captivated act of giving. Love, inherently self-giving, implies a generous spirit, and suddenly when I look at the other side of all the gifts, I see the one reaching for me knowingly, setting his affection on that ineffable essence of my soul with thousands of gifts meant to somehow incarnate that love. I read slow, savoringly, secretly relishing my half-week convalescence in the infirmary with the stomach flu that let me absorb just a bit more of these fresh truths.
It was too good to keep to myself.
That fall, whether by untamable enthusiasm or sheer persistence, I surrounded myself with a half a dozen girls, got them the books, and begged them to work through this. I processed so much all over again with them, and watched each of them start their own enumerations of God’s giving to them, a careful record of their experience of Him. One of these precious sisters bought 10 copies of the book a few months later, brandishing it to any friend who expressed even mild interest. One had “Eucharisteo”—the Greek for thanksgiving—tattooed onto her foot. Another brought friends week in and week out, believing or not, to see how good it was. Yet another started meeting with a girl to hash out these truths from the beginning again, structuring their discipleship meetings around this book. And my relationships with all of them were all the more deep and substantial.
Suddenly the texts started popping up, even after graduation and leaving the school where this group had become a tribe of Eucharisteo. Now distant in my solitary urban post-community grad-school starting season, these messages comforted and reminded me of the truths I once had preached. They said things like:
“Thankful for Thankfulness…as the key that opens the door to see the most truth reality that all is gift from our Gift Giver. All is grace. All is gift.”
“Inhale with prayer. Exhale with Thanksgiving.”
“Thankful to have transportation with a job as hectic as mine.”
And thankfulness as a tradition with my running partner for the last mile we run together each day. And as a question that my fiancée knows will pull me out of any pouting emotional rut. And what I have learned to be an incredible rope to grab hold of when I am in stagnation, complacency, discontent.
Because when I start counting all that God gives, the number indicates I’m far more loved than I was even aware of. And that gratitude is always an option as I live in the glorious tension of an unideal world juxtaposed with “Christ in me, the hope of glory.”
The long run surpasses description. I can’t shake the feeling the fullness of my heart for Eagle Lake has fallen short of articulate expression, because in this Holy Place, God grants gifts that cultivate perseverance more than I can give word to. But may the Spirit interpret this to your conscious understanding as referential, an arrow toward a God of all-encompassing, ultimate, redeeming self giving.
And maybe your journey to (your first) 1000 could start today.
Because God is in it for the long run with you.