camp: the scandal of grace

“Oh!” she’d say with mock warning, smirking into the microphone with her clipboard under her arm. “I didn’t clap that time!”

We’d all giggle or groan, and she’d say, “ready?”

There would be a pause as we collectively swatted at bugs or wiped our foreheads in the muggy dusk, then we began to follow her rhythm.

Clap.

Clap.

Clap.

Clap.

Clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clapclapclapclapclapclapclapclap.

The clapping melts into cheering, a symphony of syncopated claps, whoops, and genuine joy. An advancing mob begins to clear into silhouettes: two or three girls backed by an army of black and white. As they get closer, the roar of the crowd is deafening. They stop directly in front of those sitting on Janie Bird Square and smile sheepishly at the crowd.

Sitting on that grass, at eleven, twelve, thirteen, listening to the older girls talk about their favorite music, hobbies, or food, I was awestruck. These were the Comanche. There was a reverence, a sense of unattainable coolness. They were the girls that middle-school me wanted to be. They were bright, outgoing, funny and well-liked. You could tell from spending five minutes with them that they loved Jesus with a fiery passion. They were seeking Him, loved you, and wanted you to know how important you were to Him. They were camp celebrities, and I dreamed of joining their ranks.

Over the years, I would open my eyes at Council Ring to see strangers, skill-mates, Cabin Huddle leaders, friends, and cabin mates. I would watch them from Janie Bird, hug them, pray for them. My heart felt like it was going to explode. I was so proud of these girls, of this honor, of the legacy, of camp. Year after year the joy of the tradition and of the process stuck with me. The sound of mulch crunching, of hymns sung, seeing lives changed.

Every second Wednesday in the middle of the night, certain girls get an encounter with God that becomes forever etched on their hearts.

Mine is a story of the deepest of grace and the greatest of loves.

It begins before camp, with a desperate prayer scribbled in the pages of a well-worn journal. I prayed for myself, my friends, the staff, all of camp. Tucked into the blessings were Don’t let my pride ruin this. The crushing jealousy, the inferiority, the constant fear that I will walk away from camp with no recognition at all. I don’t need them, Jesus, I need You. 

If I was being honest (and trust me, I was), I was afraid. Pride, under the guise of insecurity, had me questioning my worth. The biggest question, the one I was almost embarrassed to ask was, would I be okay? Would I be okay if there was zero validation waiting for me?

Would I be okay if I just sought the Lord, no pretense, no expectation, just love of a God who saved me?

That’s why I was laying on the floor in my pajamas this Saturday night. Lord, make this about You. I’m not going to make it through this without You. I don’t matter. It’s all You. Make this about Your glory. Work in our hearts. Make us more like You. Do whatever it takes to teach me that this is not. about. me. 

I found Psalm 51. I knew it well, but I looked at myself, convicted at what I saw, and transcribed the whole passage.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God. Restore to me the joy of your salvation. Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.”

I believe I have been called to be quick to serve and do so unashamed, with grace and confidence, to be honest, to love everyone well and hard. For everything I do to point everyone around me to Him, which requires the willing death of my pride. My sole purpose is to glorify God. If I’m doing that, and walking with Christ, that’s all I can do. Why should I care for congratulations?

(you can read more about that here)

That was my prayer as I went to camp. Y’all, it was a constant struggle to kill that pesky pride. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t bitter every time I saw girls I thought were going to get Comanche or thought about everything I was missing out on.

But the Lord never let me forget that He was the goal here. It felt blissfully like He was beating me over the head telling me how much of an idiot I am. Jumpstart here, a conversation there, a prayer, a passing comment. The time I sat down and prayed with a friend, both of us crying. Telling stories of past struggles and saying out loud that He is faithful. The nights I spent in tears, hating my sinful self; desperate for His grace and love and thankful for Jesus. The quiet strength in my favorite staffers, when they reflected on their own lives and encouraged mine. Singing that Christ is enough for me because everything I need is in You. All I heard was a heartbeat. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. You need Jesus. Stop trying to do this on your own. Stop trying to be you and just let Me be Me.

I was trying, but even in the midst of camp–where the Lord feels accessible in a very real way–I was haunted by my sin. By that pride, by the bitterness, that I still entertained. That I couldn’t let go of, that stopped me from engaging. It felt like my fault. Five words said at campfire encounter shook me to my core: I already died for that. 

I wasn’t instantly okay with my life. I didn’t not struggle. But the peace and the joy and the encouragement consumed me. Yes, you will be okay where you are. You will be okay with nothing. Seek the Lord, follow Jesus, walk with Him. That’s everything you need. 

When that second Wednesday came, I did not deserve Comanche. I could list girls who did, but in no configuration was my name on it. I knew it was my last year. The human part of me was prepared to have to see my friends be part of something I so badly wanted. But there was one other thing I knew to be true. Truer than Comanche. It’s the most true thing ever: Jesus is enough. He’s more than enough. He is everything. He is wholly satisfying, and beautiful and I want more and more of Him more than I want Comanche.

Comanche or no, God is still God.

I went to Council Ring with no expectations and no disappointment.

Comanche is an honor that recognizes campers who uphold qualities WinShape strives to instill. Comanche tapouts are gentle, patient, kind, and servant leaders. They seek Christ. It’s the highest honor bestowed on campers.

The Comanches of years past stand before us in half-and-half face paint and remind us of the joy of the Lord and his salvation. Then, after explaining what being selected for the tribe means, they ask us to please close our eyes. A quietness sets in. The fire crackles with respect, the cicadas seem to be still. You can almost feel the prayers and the pride. I was nervous, yes, but not completely for my sake. I couldn’t wait to celebrate the tapouts.

And then someone touched my leg. My sweet tribal leader was grinning at me when I opened my eyes. God, You are too good. The weight hit me all at once. I couldn’t understand how or why. I just walked down the stairs and faced my cheering peers, introduced as the person I’d always wanted to be. Lord, what are You doing? 

“This is Emily and Sarah, your newest Comanches.”

I am a Comanche.

I can’t even.

Jesus has a sense of humor, you guys. He convicted me of my self-obsessed pride ripped me apart and tore that pride to shreds until the only thing I knew how to tell Him was how good He was. Then, with the greatest irony, He handed me the very thing I thought my pride hinged on just to humble me and give me a deeper desire for Himself. 

This was not something I earned. I am at a loss for words except to say that we serve a gracious God. To be recognized as I was makes me feel tiny, dwarfed by the power and love and sweet, redeeming grace of Christ. Humble? Yes–but more than that. Gloriously small. There is no room for my ego anymore because I am overpowered by the Lord, and that’s a beautiful thing. Like the Israelites crossing the Jordan, this is what I will remember and say, “God is so good–look at what He did.”

They had to teach me how to drink out of a CamelBak, they talked me through building a fire, they gave me a bandana. They talked me out of my stupor enough to pray with me. We gathered into a huddle and humbly went to the Lord.

We say amen aloud, but no one stops praying. “Alright girls, are you ready?” I slip my hand into Emily’s and remind myself to breathe deeply and try not to cry.

Clap.

Clap.

Clap.

Clap.

Clap clap clap clap clap clap.

This was it. This was the moment that has defined camp for me for the past six years, and here I was living it. I was totally overwhelmed. Thank You thank You thank You. This is all You, You are so good. You are so gracious. I don’t deserve You, Jesus. As we rounded the bend, someone behind us whispered, “Remember what it was like to be the one on the grass.”

Boy, did I. I knew I was not the only person who was going to remember this moment. Somewhere out there was a thirteen-year-old who was watching me and wishing they knew what I was thinking. I was thinking about Jesus, I was thinking about how to walk, I was thinking about what they were thinking. I was cooler than Taylor Swift to some of those girls. I was a role model. They wanted to be my friend, they wanted to know me, they wanted to be me.

I am humbled, but I hope not. Don’t be me. Follow Jesus. Be like Him. Me? I’m human. Not only am I just a mildly awkward seventeen-year-old, but I’m sinful and weak and at the mercy of the Savior. I promise you He is far greater than anything you or I could muster on our own. He loves you. He’s so worth it.

I didn’t get much sleep that night. I journaled, I showered, I cried. I cried a lot. How did He love me enough to give me this? How much grace was I worth? How was He so good to me? How was he so merciful to use me in my shortcoming?

I still don’t know. I didn’t deserve it. I never could. You may look at me from the grass and see a role model, a hero. From here, I see the grace and love of Jesus and nothing else. He’s drawing me closer to Himself, just as He is you. I’m not a leader, a distant superiority, I’m just a small, small human pointing you to a big, big God (I pray). I wake up every morning and fall at the feet of Jesus. I have nothing to bring but the fact I can’t do anything.

Every single day He shows me more of Himself, more of what that Wednesday night means in my life, more of His grace. I’m still so in awe. I want to tell you everything, but I can’t begin to articulate it. Reading the words “live a life worthy of the calling” make me cringe in conviction; but it also makes me want to run toward Jesus, because I know that if I am going to be worthy of the calling, if I am going to live at all, it’s got to start with Him. 

So please, join me in this. Let’s follow Christ. It’s not glamourous. It’s not always easy or fun. But he is so, so good and so, so faithful and walking with Him is the sweetest and the best thing we can do. To him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever.

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Ephesians‬ ‭4:1-3, 15‬ 

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3 thoughts on “camp: the scandal of grace

  1. Sarah,
    I found your blog through a friend who got tapped out this year and it wowed me. Pride and fear of what others think of me is something I struggle with much more than I like to admit. Your story gave me hope and reminded me of a prayer I need to pray often. Reading your blog filled me with so much joy! Thank you.

  2. Wow, this was impactful.

    Thank you for your courage to verbalize what it’s like as someone who struggles with pride.n
    Not enough people are willing to get to the bottom of it and I think you’ve done it beautifully!

    It was also a lot of fun to relive my own Comanche story through your narrative and be reminded of what the Lord spoke to me that night, because I haven’t been mindful of it in quite a while.

    I hope your camp experience from this summer overflows into this school year for you as you’re more mindful of Him than of yourself.

    Proud of you!

  3. Sarah, I am so challenged and humbled by your writing. When you get “old” you sometimes forget the joy of your salvation as you rest in the peace. You forget the urgency of total dependence and the overwhelming gratitude of experiencing His faithfulness. It is easy to go through life without pushing to be constantly growing in a relationship with Christ. You have reminded me to push, to not settle, to run from complacency. Love you, my friend.

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