Early this week we dropped off Corynn at Forest Home’s Creekside Camp where she has been serving as a counselor for our church’s junior high girls. Back in the day, this was my very first camp; and I never forgot the guys’ barracks with nothing but burlap to cover windows and doors, the crazy games, the friends I made, the bible verses I learned to music, or the two guys from my cabin that tried to beat up the boys’ dean. I think they got sent home.
In those days they called the camp Lost Creek Ranch, and the lead staff actually put on western get-ups to welcome the students. We looked forward to an outdoor wild-west medicine show complete with fake gunfights and gross audience participation games usually involving over-ripe junior highs socks. The climax was Judge Roy Bean’s pitch for his “medicinal cure-all,” a rare blend of everything from “Lost-Creek up-chucks” to “Transcendental Nettles.” Come by anytime to see my original bottle of “Placebo Elixer,” purchased for 50-cents and proudly displayed in my office. That was the week I also went down to Mill Creek, sat down under the stars, and spent some time with Jesus. I never forgot that summer.
Fast-forward to June 1985 when I returned as a staff member not quite prepared for the changes I would find. For starters, someone decided to nix the “Lost Creek Ranch” theme. Apparently, camp leaders who dressed up like the Lone Ranger were not cool anymore with junior highers. But get this, instead of a cowboy hat and boots, I had to wear this pastel peach polo shirt - a major downgrade in my opinion. On the plus side, spending time where God had ignited my faith as a teenager was just what I needed as I prepared to leave for Princeton Seminary in the fall.
Fast-forward three decades. As we dropped off Corynn on Monday, I just had to take a quick look around the camp. Much of it appears as it did in the 70’s, except there are actual guys’ cabins now instead of those rundown barracks. Too bad, I thought. Then Kaitlin noticed that the amphitheater where so many night meetings and medicine shows were staged was gone too. In its place were a few benches for smaller gatherings, the large meetings now moved to an indoor venue. The nerve, I thought. But I listened there to some folks practicing for the evening meetings’ worship. That's beautiful, I thought. Hold on, I am going to get to the point.
As our students returned today with Andrew Kriske, Keith Wentzell, my daughter Corynn, and even Marie Claire Orban, it hit me that in two weeks, Andrew and Shelby will be at Duke Seminary, our daughters Corynn and Kaitlin will be heading off to college together, Lisa and I will be empty-nesters for the first time, and I’m a long way from junior high. So as I was staring at my empty bottle of Judge Roy Bean’s elixir today, I wanted to invite you to ponder with me again the fact that life is always changing, full of joy and necessary losses…that amphitheaters disappear, cowboy hats are thrown in the closet, youth directors discover new callings, children go away to college, and parents have to change and grow too.
So, if you feel like you’re in the midst of a whole lot of change once again, I want to invite you to affirm with me that the One we met at camp or on a mission trip, in a time of crisis or transcendence, at church, in a valley, or on a mountain peak, is still our good good Father; and that in all this the Lord will continue to be for me and for you, the true Elixer of Life. What Jesus offers is no placebo but His very real self as two or three are gathered in His name – “water in the wilderness…and drink to My chosen people” (Isaiah 43:20); and yes “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4: 14). Cheers!