I keep a picture of myself as a seventh grader on my desk.
It’s such a bad picture. I went through this phase where I considered wearing my dad’s old work shirts to be a solid fashion choice. A too-big Bill Blass button down, a white turtleneck peeking out, the collar not smoothed down, some dangly earrings, and bad 90’s bangs. The uncomfortable smile of someone not at all sure how to be a person, how to carry herself.
I keep it in my sight line at work because I like to remember whom I’m creating for. It helps me remember what it was like to be a seventh grader, and why what I do matters to other seventh graders.
The girl in this picture on my desk was a good kid. A little overdramatic. Pretty good at tennis. She had some really great friends, and an incredible family that she didn’t appreciate. She read books while she did her hair in the morning, while she ate breakfast, and on the way to school. She was raised in the church (her mother’s water broke during the fourth stanza of I Surrender All), but was beginning to ask questions about faith and God. (Her youth minister was excellent, and he helped her walk through many of her doubts and concerns.)
The 7th grader in the picture on my desk went to church camp that summer, completely unaware that it would (and this is not hyperbole), inform the rest of her life, well into adulthood. She did not yet understand the power of removing oneself from the world, of setting aside time and energy to listen for God to speak. She encountered Jesus in new and different ways. She treasured these times.
The girl in the picture on my desk needed room to question and consider in an environment that looked different than her normal, everyday life. She longed for a certain retreat that only came with getting on a bus and driving 13 hours to a college campus another state over. Every year, camp became a milestone, a marker on the road that she traveled, trying to walk in the same footsteps as Jesus.
Camp forced me to make hard decisions. In the retreat of camp, 9th grade me heard a voice telling her that there was more to life than not making the cheerleading squad. In the retreat of camp, 11th grade me heard that she wasn’t honoring herself, her family, or her God with choices she made, something she already knew but was easy to ignore in the loudness of everyday life.
I look at the girl in the picture on my desk, and I am so grateful to be her. To have had the opportunity to live and love in the space I was given. I’m grateful for a moment on the gymnasium floor on the campus of Louisiana Tech in Ruston, where Jesus made himself known to me as a seventh grader. I’m grateful for an extended lunch in the cafeteria at Baylor University, where a youth minister spoke words of truth into a soul in desperate need of them. I’m grateful for countless moments on the rec field and in the dorm rooms, moments that matter deeply in shaping who I became.
Camp is a time-out to “carve out” and “set aside.” A time to distill your life, to strain out all the excess and find yourself with the God of grace, expectant and eager, terrified and trembling. Camp matters only in the context of the other 51 weeks of the year, but now, in a world of near constant distraction, it’s more important than ever. It provides for students a place to put down the burden of living in amusements, a place for focus, a place to hear in the certain quiet.
And that’s why I keep a picture of myself as a seventh grader on my desk. It’s to remind myself that, as I help craft the GENERATE Camp experience, that this is who I’m talking to when I create a piece of production, or work on a script. It’s not to raise the level of noise in world. It’s not to continue to earn a paycheck so I can go to the dentist.
I keep that picture on my desk to remind myself who I am, where I come from, how I got from there to here, and the role that the camp experience can play in the life of teenagers.
And for what it’s worth, I’d LOVE nothing more than to see the teenagers in your youth ministry at GENERATE Camp in 2016. For more info about GENERATE, click on the link below. Or if you have questions, feel free to call (888.969.6360) or email Angela (firstname.lastname@example.org).