“It don’t matter at all where you played before, California’s a brand new game”

 The camp years are going to be a challenge to write about. Many people reading this blog were a part of our life then and are still today. We still live in the same community and it’s very likely I’ll run into someone in the grocery store and I’ll stand there at the check-out wondering if they read the latest post. And we have family and friends who still work for the organization that Dave worked for. . .

But there are terribly important things that we learned through the years we spent at camp. And some of our former co-workers have become very dear friends. They’ve been through fire with us and we are closer because of it. Good and bad, the camp years changed me.  

* * * * *

There is a season of our life that I look back on with pleasure.

For two wonderful summers, back when we were teachers, we left Southern California and headed for a little camp outside Cascade, Idaho where Dave was the director.

We had about a dozen regular staff, and a new round of volunteers came every week to cook, counsel, do music and speak.

Dave and I and our two little ones at the time lived in a two-room cabin with a half bath. We ate every meal with the campers and staff. Took showers in the staff bathrooms. Played board games late at night in the dining hall.

We have stories of bears, bobcats and moose from those days. Stories of activities that seemed like a good idea at the time, but really were total insanity. Adventures in hiking, swimming in the mountain lake, feeding chipmunks out of our hands.

Of course, Dave’s work was exhausting. Depending on what other staff were around, his job could be anything from chopping wood to running game time to preaching. Sometimes all. And there was plenty of conflict. But nothing that left you scarred.

Many of the people we worked with had known Dave since he was a little boy. They had watched him grow up. Some had driven 700 miles each way to see us get married. They were proud of him.

And I remember feeling so very loved.

* * * * *

I was discouraged that Dave had to give up seminary. But it had to be done.

My mom told me at some point that year that the school of hard knocks is often better preparation for ministry than the classroom.

I knew she was right. But after a decade of dealing with chronic pain and then addiction, I thought we were wrapping up that form of education.

When Dave was told about the director position at a camp an hour away, I was hopeful and yet apprehensive. I wanted to go back to camp ministry. I had some concerns. Dave had some concerns. We prayed, asking God to close the door if it wasn’t for us.

But God kept opening doors and within a couple of months, we were moving. And Dave was now both director and program director at a camp in Poulsbo, Washington.

* * * * *

I have been a frustrated employee many times. Just in the past few weeks, I’ve not exactly been pleasant, or had pleasant words to say about my job — exhausted from long hours and tight deadlines and covering vacations. I’ve been pushed far beyond my regular working hours, and I haven’t been very happy about it.

But at the end of the day, even in the busiest times, we all go home. Hopefully to be rejuvenated. Sometimes not. And I’m sitting down to dinner with my family, not my boss and his family. And I can ignore the phone. And I can take walks freely. And no one in my neighborhood cares about how I spend my time.

I have also had moments of frustration and even anger about things my husband has dealt with as an employee. I’ve crabbed about benefits, raises, promotions, office politics, and anything that just rubbed me the wrong way hearing it second hand.

But I have never had access to the boss’s wife — neither mine, nor his — to vent.

* * * * *

When I was a kid, my family flew around the world to live in a strange country. We had read stories of snakes, and jungles and tropical diseases. In my imagination, we were going to live in grass huts without electricity or running water.

I think that’s why our new life didn’t shock me. It was so much better than I had dreamed.

We lived in a house, with electricity, with ceiling fans. And the food was different, but it was good.

But there was a culture. Not just the native culture — the missionary culture — that we had to learn. There was a way of doing things that had been going on long before we arrived . . .

. . . I used to be jealous of the beautiful hospital compound in the jungle, three hours away from our home in Chittagong. To me, it was a haven, far from the smells, sounds and stares in the city. Acres of tamed jungle where kids rode their bikes and climbed trees and swam, separating only for the forced siesta in the afternoons.

But the “culture” was even stronger there. Where you lived next door to your co-workers in a secluded compound.

I know now what I had only the faintest inkling of then, that the jungle compound with its American-style houses, and darwans (unarmed guards) who carried messages to your friends about meeting at the pool at rest-time, and where you played Capture the Flag in the darkest night was not a haven.

Because sometimes the culture is a faulty facade that covers pain: disappointment, anger, loneliness, bitterness and even horrific sin.

* * * * *

I have always envied people who don’t seem to care one bit what others think about them.

People who can deflect criticism because they have so much confidence in themselves . . . or in their calling . . . or in God . . . that words, looks, gossip —  like water off a duck’s back . . .

In 2004, the idea of living on a compound still held some charm for me. But looking back, I have to marvel at my hopes for our life at camp. For our marriage. For Dave.

We had stepped into a refiner’s fire.

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