that summer/winter life

The first time I saw the sign pointing one direction towards private staff housing and another towards Eagle Lake Camp, I felt like a subtle barrier had been thrown up between that place and the rest of the property. It was before I knew anything about camp; at first I just assumed that it was somebody’s house, separate from camp operations. It seemed like the sort of outlet one should tiptoe past in order not to disturb the residents. After we joined the Navigators camp staff ourselves, I learned that that’s where we’d be housed during the summers, and I became grateful for the subtle separation. And now that I do indeed live here three months a year, turning left at the sign that points right down towards camp, that separation has slowly diminished.

The distinction on the sign is important though: it directs the camp staff and camper families in the right direction; away from the private housing of people who live here full time without working here. Towards the business center of camp. Towards the beach and the blob, the cabins and the check-in tables. Away from the two and three year olds who are just trying to nap on a Sunday afternoon, and their mamas who need a few hours of quiet.

There is a similar distinction between the life we live at camp and the live we live away from camp. I never expected quite this level of separation between my off-season community and rhythms, and the changes we make “up the mountain”. Yet they exist. Our first summer, I expected to visit friends in the city rather frequently; if I came down every week to get our mail and we came down on the weekends, surely we’d have plenty of time to join the bar-b-ques, the Bible studies, drink coffee on our back patios of a Saturday morning together? But by the end of the summer, I had only seen one friend with any regularity, and that was because she planned to move across the country at the end of the summer.

Then August came, the tenth and final week of camp rolled around on a Sunday morning and rolled past on a Friday. Campers left, and then counselors, and then program coaches, and then we did. And I realized suddenly that the old wooden sign directing the summer staff in one direction and the families in another had never really kept us apart. The girls I’d discipled over the summer took pieces of my heart back to school all across the country and even straight up into Canada. Some of my friendships would be renewed the next summer and some would not and I realized as we moved back into the range of backyard cookouts and enthusiastic greetings at Sunday School drop-offs that I missed the summer piece of my life as much as I’d missed the winter piece through camp season.

I didn’t know how to reconcile these fragments at first. How could I maintain lasting friendships with people if I was going to be gone all summer? And how could I create real bonds at camp if I was only going to say goodbye – maybe forever – after ten weeks? And yet just like the private driveway up to staff housing that loops back around to form a circle with the road, there are unexpected connections through the pieces of my year that begin to thread them together.

Camp is an undeniable part of our lives and unless my husband wanted to change jobs, there’s no way simply wouldn’t move to camp for a quarter of every year. Yet our friends “down the mountain” have taken an interest in our camp life; they offer to come up for Chapel on Sundays and ask how they can pray for us through the summer. They ask about Grant’s role and my role and they flex their tight schedules to meet me for coffee when I do, finally, come down to collect our mail.

At camp, right when I wonder if I can keep my heart open for another season of loving hard and saying goodbye, I am met by people who have answered this same question with a warm and thorough yes. People I never expected to meet take time to learn my name and greet my toddler with high-fives. Counselors I thought I barely knew are giving me hugs, winning over love I didn’t know I had left to give. I find myself looking up strange combinations of names and numbers that make up Instagram usernames so that I can follow this one to Alaska and that one to Wisconsin through their long winters until I maybe see them in the spring.

Camp will always be seven miles from home as the crow flies and remain an hour’s drive on a good day. There will never be a complete reconciliation between these two halves of life. But the way I treat the distance matters. It makes a difference that I remain open to the love these separate communities have to give – to me and to each other. Perhaps they will always seem farther apart than they truly are, but it will always be up to me to see past the dividing ridges, to recognize how close and even intersecting these two sides of the same mountain are.

life-changing

“Like I don’t want to hype the coffee up but it will change your life,” the text read. I almost laughed. Regardless of how life-changing the coffee will be at this new place, I am just looking forward to spending an evening with this wild, beautiful friend of mine.

Perhaps because I am a word-nerd and perhaps because I’m looking forward to good coffee, I’ve been thinking about that text message all day. (Heck maybe I’m just crazy for thinking about a text message all day. You decide.) Around lunch time, laughing through a staring contest with my toddler, the silly joy of it all just landed where I needed to hear it: what if you let it change your life?

Not in a big way – I don’t mean that. I’m not going to be stopping here every weekday AM for my morning coffee or anything. But I could let this expectation of great coffee fill my evening up with joy like a helium balloon so sky-bound it tugs against its string.

And if coffee can change my life, why not a silly staring contest with my toddler over lunch? Why not the contrasted flavor of sweet potatoes and a bowl of chili? Sometimes there just enough laughter involved in my grinning boy smearing his lunch across his tray (who says you can’t play with food?!) that clean up brings a memory and a smile, not a groan. On Wednesday the sky was pink with sunset clouds that hovered behind bare tree limbs. I left the sidewalk for the grass and snow, just to be more inside the sweet soft dusky beauty.

Maybe we need more moments like this. Maybe looking up at the smallest, most simple things can change our ordinary lives in the most profound ways of all.

what can I do to help?

The best way I know how to describe my community is that they are helpers. When people have babies, they bring meals. When somebody’s sick, there are offers to babysit, bring over a stash of chocolate or cup of coffee. When it’s just a long day and the kids are, well, kids, somebody’s ready to listen. They just help.

Last Saturday I stood in the kitchen adding one dash of almond milk after another to a batter that still looked too dry. S finished chopping the strawberries. “Anything else I can do?” W heard her ask and turned towards me too; “Yeah, what can we help with? You look busy.” So the strawberries got mixed into the slightly-less-crumbly batter and the teapot was pulled off the shelf I couldn’t reach and we all settled into the living room to enjoy our Christmas brunch.

I would love to summarize our year with pretty thoughts tied in a bow for your advent admiration, tucked under a perfectly-tapered, not-shedding-needles tree. But, life.

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We moved, wholly or partially, four times this year. Some of our things are still tucked in the back of a garage, cringing as passing time lessens the possibility that I will label them “necessities”. I was lucky just to find the Christmas lights. Also, please somebody explain the mystery of perfectly operational, gently packed Christmas lights that mysteriously just die in the year between. But we have two working strands and they wrap halfway around the living room and my point is really just that our year was unsettled.

In May we moved up to Eagle Lake Camp for Grant’s job. In August we moved back, and packed up our home. In September we moved out of our house and into flux, and in October we moved into the cottage. I still don’t know where our large skillet is, but the lights are stretched above the windows and the throw blankets are on every piece of furniture and it’s feeling like home now.

But our friends have been even more comforting than the cheery yellow throw blankets we tuck around our feet on cold evenings. They brought us meals when I was sick this Spring. They shared their coffee when we all moved up to camp this summer. They gave a lot in the give-and-take of monitoring our collective kiddos at the staff housing lodge. They loved us and supported us and when I try to think of this year as a whole, they’re in it one way or another.

So, thank you, friends. Thank you for memories, thank you for friendship. Thank you for putting down roots with us, sharing meals with us, wiping up spilled milk and consoling unhappy babies and drinking a quiet cup of coffee with us. Here’s to next year. Here’s to community. Here’s to crumbly scones and hot coffee.

old and new

Colorado Springs, Colorado, Anselm Society, Fanciscan Retreat Center

Maybe they were just rust spots but when I walked by slowly I felt the orange-printed echo of fellowship. These weird patio stains happened because people sat here, talking. They argued and they laughed and they encouraged and they cried and whole friendships left their tattoos on the concrete patio for the rest of us to see and take hope.

I saw a tree that had been strung with barbed wire to make a fence a decade ago or more. There was a crease around the rusted wire and dark green moss was growing into that old scar and it was beautiful. Scars have no need to end in ugliness, I thought, and the thought gave me hope.

We sat in church one week, listening to passionate teaching from Colossians, learning verse by verse the ways Paul tells us to live like Christ. “We’ve all heard that we should live like the world is about to end, like this is our last day. But what if we lived like this world is about to be made new? What if we lived like heaven was breaking into Earth?” My soul grasped at that thought and has not let go since. I realize it with cartwheel-inducing joy: that is the vision that has slowly been taking over my sight this year. Scars twisted away from ugliness towards glory? Rust stains cemented proof of relationship? This is beautiful. This is real.

This is, somehow, the beginning of something. There are whole wide reams of sight and knowledge to rediscover. Lean into this with me. Look for the newness. Look for the magic. Don’t all our favorite fairy stories end with the world being regained, recovered, evil fought back and goodness reinstated? I know there will be a new heaven and a new earth one day but let’s not write this one off just yet. Maybe if we look closely, his kingdom is coming on earth as it is in heaven. Coming right here in this old imperfect globe.

Colorado Springs, Colorado, Anselm Society, Fanciscan Retreat Center

cliff jumping

There is a cliche I’m tempted to use when I try to describe the passing summer: harder than I thought but better than I expected. I think cliches are better expressed in stories. After all, aren’t cliches just familiar sentiments that we’ve chosen the same, typical ways of expressing? But our stories are all different.

I was the girl who camped with her friends instead of going to parties with them. Once we all slept on the lakeshore after gazing in awe at a meteor shower. It rained on us around midnight but we just ducked under our covers and laughed it off the next day when we shook the sand out of our blankets. One July we packed up and drove to the north shore of Lake Superior. We left at 3 am because we didn’t have reservations and we were banking on being there in time to get two non-reservable campsites. It was a gamble, but we were all together in a too-loud pickup truck eating fresh donuts and trying to keep each other awake and we were willing to take the risk.

The nights were cold and the days were foggy and even so the next morning we girls walked up to the boys campsite to see Caleb striding confidently out of the tent in a swimsuit. The rest of the boys trickled out after him, swaggering a bit with their damp towels over their shoulders. The river we camped on was horribly cold for July and even so there was a definite wall of colder water where the river met Lake Superior and somehow all the same, Caleb planned to go cliff jumping.

Sheri calmly declined. There may be a moment when peer pressure has caused Sheri to cave but I have not seen it. Anni and I looked at each other with wide eager eyes. We had no resistance. It was cliff jumping or a slow death of shameful cowardice. We got our swimsuits and followed the boys. We could hear our hearts pounding over the crunch of our flip-flops on gravel so we sang Dive by Steven Curtis Chapman to pump ourselves up and drown our fear.

We hovered on the edge of the gravely ledge while the boys jumped in line. Once, twice each. I looked down; I shook; I wavered. I thought of how cold the water would be. Worth it? And I imagined the adrenaline-filled glory of coming up the steps to my friends cheers. Worth it?

And then I jumped.

The water was harder than I pictured. It stabbed the soles of my feet and stung the undersides of my outflung arms. I fell farther than I imagined: There were deep heavy layers of water above me when I tried to swim back up. The breath I couldn’t breathe in caught in my throat as I tried to push the waves aside, to resurface. But the glory overwhelmed me. When my feet left the rocky soil I felt the wind in my hair. I felt myself falling with helpless joy. I scrambled onto the rough shore visibly trembling; there was an overwhelm of laughing courage inside so strong I barely heard the offered cheers.

Our feet squeaked against our wet flip-flops as we walked back to our tents. We were cliff jumpers.

That is how I would describe this summer. The long, arduous hours I expected were longer, more painful than I thought. They built resentment and frustration. I’m exhausted when I wake up every morning at 6. The weeks of E teething have been impossible. The times I spend with Grant have been rare, interrupted, disconnected, frustrating.

But the beauty has been overwhelming. Our marriage is stronger. We learned that “being in love” can’t carry us; we learned how to fight for each other in cups of coffee and spontaneous sushi dates and saying I’m sorry. I learned to play with Erik more; we read books and play chase and sometimes seek out the other littles to give me a break. The woods that looked like nothing but a dead burn scar this spring have been washed with the magic of wildflower meadows and red raspberries and baby Aspens like a thick green blanket. The close community has shocked and warmed me like the adrenaline and applause when I climbed out of Lake Superior four years ago.

This summer has stung me like hard cold water on my skin and emboldened me like laughing courage shared with old friends. Here’s to the life we create at camp. Here’s to the hard things we couldn’t imagine and the glory we feel and cannot fathom. Here’s to being cliff jumpers.

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^ Anni and I, at Lake Superior. 2014.