Big confession: I hated summer camp as a child. As an Adventist young adult, it feels sacrilegious to admit that out loud – but it’s true. I hated walking in lines, the high, singsongy-voice of our camp counselor, the lack of personal time (yes, I was 12 and needed personal time), the girls in my cabin who wore lipstick to campfire, and the plastic mattress cover that stuck to my face at night. And now, as the Big Lake Office Manager, it feels like an even bigger abomination that part of my job description is to try to convince kids to come to camp while I secretly lick my wounds from well over 15 years ago. But, the truth is – camp did change my life. It just changed my life in ways I didn’t expect.
I was 17 years old when I started working at Big Lake and this is what I expected my summer to look like: make friends, get a tan, maybe a boyfriend, and have some meaningful, mountain-top experiences with God. Instead, I worked in the kitchen, gained 10 pounds, was on the WORST softball team ever (Go Whitesoxs!), and started having some serious doubts that God cared for me. The summer that changed my life was my 2nd summer. I was hired as a girl’s counselor, along with my best friend Stacey and I was sure it was finally going to be the BEST summer ever.
Things were fantastic until mid-July when my parents drove up to camp to tell me they were getting a divorce. I was devastated and heartbroken by the news and didn’t know whether I should stay at camp or go home. Ultimately, I decided to stay on and finish out the summer – and it was the best decision I ever made. In those last few weeks of camp, I was given a glimpse of the character of God. Staff members showed up at my cabin door every morning, took my hand, and helped me get through the day hour-by-hour, sometimes minute-by-minute. People shared their own stories of broken families and offered me small glimpses of hope and light at the end of the tunnel. Darla and Monte Torkelsen checked up on me constantly, making sure I was okay. And God finally showed up. Or, maybe I showed up for God. I finally got my mountain top experience. It was more like a sinkhole of despair – but the outcome was the same. I knew viscerally and sincerely that God had his hand on the small of my back and was guiding me along the way. I remember sitting on the floor in cabin 31, crying into a Kleenex box, and being aware that while I was really sad, I was also filled with great hope and peace about my life.
Big Lake changed my life – and not in any way I expected. And maybe that’s why at 30 and 13 years into my Big Lake career, I can honestly say I believe in camp. I believe it’s good and important for kids to go to camp and have an adventure that is all their own. I also believe it’s good and important for the staff – who, like me – show up expecting one thing, and get something totally different, totally unexpected, and totally life changing.
Big Lake Office Manager