If I had to point to one of the top intentional actions we took as parents to help our kids grow in their walk with The Lord, I would have to say sending them to Christian camps and going as a family to family camp would be in the top three. And truth be told, in the beginning, it wasn’t all that ‘intentional’ and forward-thinking and all those other types of admirable look-to-the-future words out there.
For the love of all things motherhood, it was six consecutive days and nights of kid care.
It was a win, win, win of epic proportions.
The first year we tried it out, our kids kind of ‘double-dipped’—they went to sleep-over camp alone in early June and we returned as a family in mid-August. It was great and hot and somewhat expensive. Still, it was a great way to try both options and see what worked best for us.
Looking back, I could have and should have been able to predict everyone’s preferences: then-8-year-old Hopey LOVED it all—the night after night of sleepovers, gone-for-a-week, ‘big girl’ camp AND family camp; at 11, Ryan was less than enthusiastic about a week of nonstop togetherness with people he’d never laid eyes on before, but found some fun to be had at late-night pick-up basketball games and the comfort of a real bed in the family cabins.
For Double and me, family camp was a great compromise of all things vacation (well, mostly…short of the clear blue waters of the tropics and turn-down service). It was completely all-inclusive, there were activities strictly for the kids, strictly for the adults, and strictly for families. They got their time, we got ours, and then when we got together again for an afternoon ride on the banana boat or waterskiing or swimming or whatever, we all had stories to tell from our morning adventures about the goofy lunchtime skits or some crazy stunt one counselor had played on another.
But hands down, the absolute best benefit to both camp experiences (10 years of kid camp, 7 years of family camp) were the counselors. Every moment of every day, there was some precious 18-21-year-old ready to serve us and our kids. And, as un-politically-correct as it is to say, these weren’t the nerds, the uncool, didn’t-have-any-other-options-for-summer-jobs kind of kids. These were the cream of the crop from top universities across the south. They were the leaders on their campuses and they had to jump through hoops just to get the gig to come to the 110-degree woods of East Texas for the summer to serve…and to help a kid try 23 times to get up on water skis.
I remember thinking after our first summer at camp, “If my kids grow up to be half this on fire for The Lord and half this willing to happily serve others, we will have succeeded.” We will be blessed among many.
The young men and women of our years at camp showed my kids that ‘the cool kids’ loved Jesus. They showed them through silly, silly songs and crazy hand motions that we still remember today. They showed them that you can be strong in your faith and dominate on the basketball court or football field. They showed them there’s honor in serving and being last and going without if there’s not enough one day and taking you on in a hot dog eating contest the next. And they showed them some of best conversations to be had were one-on-one at the end of a pier.
We eventually ‘outgrew’ family camp as the kids became entrenched in all things high school as sports camps and mission trips and more traditional vacations moved in. But the impact of those years in the piney woods of East Texas is indelibly etched upon our family. Its influence plays out regularly in the “remember when…” conversations and the “wonder what ever happened to…” asks about our favorite counselors.
There’s no doubt the imprint of Jesus was made summer after summer on my kids through popsicle stick picture frames, go-for-the-glory ping pong tournaments, and outlandish costumes for theme nights.
And a million other ways.
And just like those old camps songs you can’t shake from your mind, those precious, sweaty memories will always be ‘lifers’ for our family.
***As a footnote, both our kids eventually got to experience camp from the other side—as counselors; Ryan at Kanakuk and Hopey “Funfetti” at Pine Cove, and we inherited sweet Summer “Demolition Derby,” through marriage. A special shout-out to our Week 9 friends who made our days and nights of family camp so special—the Lottmans, Robinsons, Allens, Fitzwaters, Bakers, Alderinks, and Wallaces.
***Also, both Pine Cove and Kanakuk have both expanded tremendously through the years with multiple locations for both kid camps and family camps. Here’s a link to their respective websites for more info: https://www.pinecove.com and http://kanakuk.com