As a youth director, every summer I took 5 or 50 high school students to Lakeside, summer church camp that’s not camp, which makes it the best kind of camp. We stayed in rental houses on the shore of Lake Erie, listened to people talk about Jesus, sang goofy and meaningful songs and sweated in the most unbeautiful ways. 98% of the students raved. (For the other 2%, that’s okay too. It’s not for everyone).
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I cried. A lot. Mostly behind hidden doors, but sometimes in the much-too public eye, usually after small explosions involving communion and the song Desperado.
I cried because I would mess things up. I said the wrong things. I was insensitive to young, beautiful girls when they needed the most sensitivity about things like clothes and boys. I let my principles speak louder than the practices of grace and love.
I cried because things weren’t perfect. The speaker gave the wrong impression. I took seriously the task of forming the spiritual lives of these precious somebodies and would get frustrated with roadblocks.
So at the end of the week, tired and with fake smiles plastered on, KLR and I wave goodbye to the teenagers as parents picked them up. We would drag ourselves to the nearest Applebee’s to drown our woeful sorrows of the week in a tall Amberbock (me) and Labatt (her). We would vow never to return.
About a month later we’d dig out our notes from the week and begin the planning process all over again.
After the third time through this cycle, we noticed the pattern. We decided that if you left Lakeside immediately wanting to come back, you didn’t do it right. Such weeks and required so much of your whole self – so much patience, so much energy, so much prayer, so much explaining for the 18th time why, when it was your turn for housekeeping, you must clean up the dishes.
I remember the crying and the tired and the wanting to crawl in a hole. Yes, I do.
And I remember walking into the living room during an experiment in “extended prayer” to see a young girl bowed down on the floor, intensely engaged in her reflections. I remember doing late night yoga with Clinton and Jevon and laughing so hard I fell over from my down dog. I remember Carissa sharing her struggles to fit in with the entire group and their compassionate response. I remember John raising his hand when the speaker asked if anyone was ready to make a decision for Jesus today. I remember doing “yay Gods and help Gods” in the evening and hearing Scott lift up all the other students from other churches. I remember donuts with the incoming seniors to talk and dream about the future. I remember watching Mary and knowing, she gets it.
It took everything we had to do the work of making room in the week for those precious moments to sprout.
Little did I know it would show me one of the most substantial truths of parenting. Most any worthwhile day leaves me not wanting to repeat it the next day. In fact, most days leave me sitting with a dull stare on my couch, wistful and sometimes crying.
Days are hard, not just because #2 refuses to go to bed or you burned a pound of bacon. You cry or feign excitement because it took so much of yourself to make the day happen. Good mama, you just spent the day working the ground and tilling the soil so something might sprout. Sometimes, those good moments might pass you by and in your conversation at Applebee’s all you can remember is the yelling or the bad food. But give it time.
The work and the tears – those are real. But don’t think of them as an indicator of something gone wrong, but rather energy well spent. If a parent never cried or wanted to crawl in a hole for the next day or ten, then I’m inclined to declare she’s doing it all wrong. Not that she’s screwing up her kids and they’re destined to illicit drugs, but rather I fear nothing would take root. Lots of fluff and kum-by-ya happy feelings without the screw-ups that come when the real work happens.
When my youth kids look back to Lakeside, they probably imagine what happened there just appeared out of thin air, as if on the other side of the magical gates heaven just sat down on us. And that’s okay. For them, maybe it kinda did. We never put upon the kids how much work Lakeside was for the adults because that’s not the point. That’s not their job. They simply needed to show up attentively, contribute fully and live gracefully with one another. And not take cell phones.
When my kids grow old they’ll look back at their childhood and remember practicing letters and dancing in the kitchen and bedtime stories with daddy and believe that those arose out of circumstance. They just happened. And that’s okay. It’s not their job to know how much work it is to muster up that last ounce of patience an hour after bedtime. They simply need to show up attentively, contribute fully and live gracefully with one another.
It’s a lot of work. But good work. And when you end the day over a tall beer and say to yourself, “Thank God it’s over; I don’t want to do it again tomorrow,” give yourself an ounce of grace and a night’s sleep. It’s only with a little time do those moments shine through, reminding you it was a job well done and time well spent.