Monday, June 29, 2009

Chipper

Last night, my girls were in bed with the lights out at 9:15pm. I leveled with them. I told them I was human. I was tired of feeling disrespected and unappreciated. It wasn’t a sermon, but a conversation. It went well. I was pleasantly surprised at their response. We brainstormed ways we could all do better and oddly, they have been.
Since this morning, there have been many more ‘please’s and ‘thank you’s. The girls have been much more helpful at serving and cleaning up at meals. They have been fighting less and helping me more. It might last no more than 24 hours, but I felt good about being honest with them and asking them to consider how they were treating campers and staff.
Chipper attitudes and helpful campers made the morning much easier. After my girls were off to their different activities I taught my basketball class.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this week’s basketball class. Eight campers showed up Monday morning; 7 boys and 1 girl; C.J, S.J, Brandon, B.B, Austin, Ruben, Darnell, and Mikaela.
It is expected at this age for some amount of whining and complaining, but I warned them that if they did, they’d sit out. We did passing, dribbling, ball handling drills, and relay races. Every day they played 4-on-4 and I played referee. Whistling at mostly traveling and double dribble calls, I was usually pretty exhausted at defending my calls after the ‘No I didn’t’s rained down on me.
Today, the last day of basketball class, was a blast. Everyone was excited for class and as I encouraged them to be positive and work together we had a great time. I got to play with them because we were short one player.
While calling out directions and giving high fives to players who missed a shot, but gave a hard effort, I realized, I could do this. This gets me excited. I’ve always, always enjoyed playing sports and I’ve been thrilled to pass that on this week.
S.J plays hard, works hard, and smiles often. Darnell whines a bit, is apparently grieving the death of Michael Jackson, he’s sneaky, and mischievous. Ruben rolls his eyes a bit and thus sits out a bit, but we found common ground today when I pointed him to cut towards the basket for a lay-up and he scored valiantly. Thrilling. Sweet Mikaela smiles and runs her heart out. We played girls against boys today and kicked some booty. Proud.
Seeing the confident looks on their faces and high-fives between players made this week all worth it. They soaked up the game just as much as I did. And afterwards Austin and Brandon said, “Ms. Heather thanks for teaching us. We had fun.” Awww!
As soon as the last camper walked tiredly out of the gymnasium, I sat in front of the large fan and soaked up the moment. Wow.
The weekend will be here soon. Hallelujah. What was Chippewa cabin this week, will head home back to their families. Stories may rain down about their evil counselor who made them go to bed early, clean up after themselves, and learn to solve their own arguments. Yet I am confident that somehow they’ve grown, learned, and felt important, because if so, I’ve done well.

Fate

I’m not sure camp counseling is my thing. Some of the counselors at ICC look one step away from motherhood with their endearing smiles and warm, affectionate nature. They sweep up crying campers in arms of love and herd them to safety. They sympathize, they sing sweet songs, they play duck-duck-goose. They are good counselors.
I don’t think I’m necessarily a “bad” counselor. Let’s just say it is not my spiritual gift.
Last night, as the staff party began down at the pool, I was coaxing 11 year-olds to brush their teeth and climb into bed. They had mostly ignored my 45, 30, 20, 15, and 5 minute warnings that lights out was approaching. Then when the time came they seemed mortified that I would be disappointed in them. I’m not a yeller. I don’t have a temper. I did my best to remain clam when I wanted to scream. The lights went out and they continued talking through my sshhhhhh’s and “Alright girls. Let’s quiet down.” The longer it went on and I tried to calm them down from their giggles, the more frustrated I became.
“Okay, worship is over. We are all going to go to bed. If anyone is talking from now on, you will go outside and stand at line call, alone, in the dark.”
It was quiet. Kinda. Clicking sounds from a bunk on the right. Feet pushing under someone’s bunk. Giggles from a top bunk to my left. Quiet. A dropped flashlight. A snapped photo, the flash blinds us all.
“Shhh, girls.”
Quiet. Pretend snoring. The crinkle of a potato chips bag. Sniffle, sniffle. Quiet. Hacking cough. Wrestling legs in slippery sleeping bag. Quiet. Quiet.
When I can’t tell exactly who is making the noise, it’s difficult to enforce punishment. These kids are pros.
By the time the bathroom runs were over, everyone was again hydrated, and cell phones were officially turned off, the staff party was over and I was exhausted.
At 6am I am waking up girls. I am helping to clean the cabin, slathering sunscreen, getting campers out the door, teaching basketball, applying Band-aids, and keeping 9 crazy girls together and happy. Last night I was burnt out and not quite feeling the love for these girls. This morning at breakfast I was fetching “Fruit Loops, not Special K. No I guess I do want Fruit Loops”, butter, orange juice, napkins, bowls, and such. Not a single thank you. Later I was fetching black shirts, borrowing sunglasses, finding James Bond theme song music and radios to organize our campers turn at flag raising. Not a single thank you. During rest period I took them outside and we told stories and ate popsicles on blankets. Not a single thank you.
I seem to be craving affirmation. A “Hey, you’re doing okay.” I feel it. I realize it. But I can’t force 11 year-olds to care or recognize how hard I am working for them. Why do I need it so badly? They are kids. They are selfish, impatient, whiny, reckless, messy, careless, and argumentative.
I wanted to write a blog about the devils in my cabin and horribly spoiled kids at camp this summer, but really, I was probably much the same. They are kids. Heather, they are just kids.
I remember making my piano teacher cry. Her name was Gabby. She was a college student, probably just trying to pay her heating bill and surviving on Ramen Noodles. Now I see.
I remember a librarian at my school, Debbie. My friend and I would bicker and fight and pull each other’s hair. She’d smile, joke with us, play with us, be with us. Now I see.
I remember in Pathfinders we despised marching, so thus the teacher, Mr. Baker was despised as well. He’d say “Left face,” we’d go right. He’d say, “Halt” and we’d keep right on marching. Now I see.
As I exhaustedly watch campers lie and cheat during dodge ball when I tell them they are out, they say, “Nuh uh, it didn’t hit me!” I remember a youth pastor who would come play kick ball with us during recess. I remember lying about getting out one day and when he confronted me about it I was so mad I started crying and ran away. Yup, now I see.
At supper the girls will be in charge of their own cleaning.. Lights out tonight is 9:15 instead of 9:45. We will be quiet at 10. If I hear a sound, EVERYONE will be standing at line call outside. I cannot resolve every argument. I cannot guarantee each of them will love me by Sunday morning when there parents come. I cannot make everyone happy. I cannot be like the counselor up the hill.
I just won’t go into camp counseling full-time. Lesson learned.
Thank you fate. Moving on.

Kristin

“Just a warning: Kristin is a bit. . .boisterous, maybe a bit outspoken, a handful.”
This is what a father told me as he dropped off his daughter and her 5 friends for Junior camp on Sunday. As they giggled, ran around, and screamed with delight, he walked out the door saying, “You girls have fun!” Ha.
Well, Kristin is a lot of things, most often, difficult. She actually reminds me a lot of how I was as a kid: center of attention, feisty, bossy. We’re doing okay. If she was my only camper it would be different. But it is Kristin plus 8 more, rounding out a lovely 9 rowdy girls.
Camp has taught me a few things I never could’ve learned anywhere else. Not in another state, with other staff, or other campers. The lessons have been site specific and I’m grateful.
I’ve learned that campers are more self-sufficient than I first believed. During blind camp I was freaking out in fear for their safety at the pool or walking from place to place. The truth is, life has taught them toughness and the ability to get through just about everything I assumed they’d need assistance with. While there were plenty of times they needed help, I found that if I just waited for them to ask, I spent a lot more relaxing instead of over-assisting.
Junior camp this week has taught me a similar lesson. Mostly from exhaustion, but partly on purpose, I realized very quickly that I couldn’t solve every problem, resolve every conflict, or ensure fairness to all. They want to earn honor cabin by having the cleanest cabin every week. That does not mean that after they partially clean-up that I go do it for them before inspection. I leave it be. When I was about to break-up a fight that I was sure would result in a bloody nose, about who got to shower first, the most assertive of the bunch, Kristen, said, “I’ll make a shower schedule” and that was that. When the girls were arguing about who would get to sit by me, I told them to resolve the issue and they agreed to take turns. When the lights-out rule was not followed and the cabin was not clean last night, I made them come up with their own punishment and they did and so today they are being quiet in their beds for every minute they took from me yesterday.
I’m learning to relax around them. Their immaturity, mood swings, and pettiness do not have to be my own. I can be who I am even amidst these cute little turkeys who threaten my sanity.
I’ve realized that helping others makes me feel good, gets me out of my head. When I start beating myself up for something I ate for breakfast, I have to help my girls clean the cabin and get them to line call on time. When I start comparing myself to the beautiful, thin, blond counselor up the hill, I have to go teach basketball. When I start hating who I am, I have other people to focus on other than myself. It feels good to serve some purpose, to be doing something to help someone else. Everyone likes to feel needed.
I’m slowly learning in the ins and outs of a dating relationship. Jeremy and I have been dating for 6 months, but most of it has been long distance. I’m learning how to communicate, to ask for what I need, to give him space, to support him, and love better. That comes with its challenges. I’m learning to be conscious of our “pduh”, or PDA, especially around campers. That makes for a fun game.
One of the greatest lessons I’m still learning is how to be my own version of spiritual. The pressure to close my eyes when I pray, or sing every song is tough when 120+ sets of eyes watch my every move. How do I be a spiritual example to young kids when I’m still trying to figure this out myself? Which leads me to another lesson…
I’ve learned that it’s okay to be honest with kids. It’s ok to admit when you don’t know the answer to a question. It’s okay to show them who you really are. Being super human with kids only leads to false expectations. Let’s not start them on the perfection parade quite yet. Being who I am gives them permission to believe they are good enough as they are.
As my girls sneak in whispers and giggle in the next room I’m learning to let things go, to take deep breaths, and do my balanced best, lessons I wish I’d learned long ago. Lessons I’m learning.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Crucifixion

I’m not sure how I feel about what just happened.
Across the country at Adventist summer camps Fridays are basically the same: shorter activities during the day, preparation and cleaning for Sabbath, agape meal, down time before sundown, crucifixion play, talk to campers in small groups about dedicating their life to Jesus, and ask if they want to get baptized.
I’ve experienced this, witnessed this, and now participated in this for what feels like the thousandth time. I know that is an exaggeration, but really can you count how many times you’ve seen an actor portray Jesus dying on a cross?
As I sat among the seven year-old campers I thought, This is kinda weird. What if a non-Christian walked in the room right now?
I think they’d call the cops. I might. I realize most people understand the symbol of a man on a cross, but do little kids? Should they?
I think Christians might over do the cross symbol and crucifixion scene. I realize that this act is the climax of the entire Christian experience. I get that. But I wonder if because we’ve seen it so many times in plays, in The Passion of the Christ movie, in Christian music videos, torture devices (the cross) hanging around the necks of Christians, that it has lost its impact. Christians can focus so much on the blood and the pain, I think a lot of people are grossed out, confused, and weirded out about how grotesque Christians can be.
As if we need more sexual abuse by a Catholic bishop, another sandwich board-touting screamer on the sidewalk claiming everyone is going to hell. As if we need another play about the end of time and Christians getting shot in the head because they go to church on Saturday. These devices are fear driven and I don’t want anything to do with them. This is what has kept me from even wanting to claim Christianity. But as my own research shows, I am probably an agnostic Christian on a journey, but even still I cringe at taking that title.
The whole idea of “witnessing” or “sharing the gospel” with little kids makes me uneasy. They are too young to really understand what’s going on. I was too. I was singing Jesus Loves Me before I knew who Jesus was. I’m still trying to figure out who he is. So by the time I was 20 and sitting alone in Cambodia I realized I had not the slightest idea, and after 20 years in the church it seemed too late to go asking questions.
During Blind camp last week I had to pray at evening worship with my campers and it just didn’t feel right. This week, Cub camp, I did not have a cabin, so I helped wherever I could; in the kitchen, at the horse barn, or organizing dodge ball games. And next week is Junior camp. I am supposed to be some sort of spiritual example. I am supposed to be the one who “leads them to Jesus” or “encourages them to commit their lives to Christ” and honestly, it feels like brainwashing. They have no idea what they’re doing any more than I did at their age.
I realize that we can’t just hold out on all of life’s decisions until kids turn 21, but I suppose I am flabbergasted by how religion works sometimes. I have a hard enough time with the lingo, it’s exclusive. It doesn’t really make sense unless someone is “in the know” and once they are, they might just say it to sound like they know what they are talking about. But most people don’t.
“Sins as scarlet.” (like the Clue character?)
“Your blood covers me.” (gross)
“Our God reigns from heaven above…” (I always pictured a person chopped up in tiny pieces, like cremation, falling from the sky)
“We dwell in your righteousness and grace.” (“Righteousness” I still don’t fully understand that word.)
Or how about, “We want to make manifest your spirit within us”? (What does “manifest” mean and exactly what is coming inside of me? Is it something I eat? Or something I rub on my skin?)
“We wanna see Jesus lifted high!” (What, like on a ferris wheel or are we talking gallows?)
“We are soldiers in the army. We have to fight, although we have to die. We have to hold on to the blood stained banner, we have to hold it up until we die.” (no comment)
“You’re Emmanuel. You’re the Great I Am. You’re the Prince of Peace, who is the Lamb. You’re the Living God. You’re my saving Grace. You will reign forever. You are ancient of days. You are Alpha Omega, Beginning and End. You’re my Savior, Messiah, Redeemer, and Friend…” (I need a dictionary. I don’t even know what I’m singing/supposedly praying)
What if Christians stopped hiding behind confusing words and cliché phrases so that everyone could understand what they were saying?
What if people didn’t force religion on kids, but merely lived a life that exemplifies healthy spirituality and answered honestly any questions along the way?
What if Christianity was a safe place to ask questions and talk about doubts so that people actually knew what they believed in? Because after 20 years “in the church” I’m still trying to figure that out. Can you tell me the 28 fundamental beliefs?
I don’t have an answer to the religion + children predicament. I don’t have answers to a lot of things. But I know that something about religion hits a nerve with me. This is nothing new. This is an old conversation that crazy people like me have been having for years. But until I find a solution or an answer that makes sense to me, I’ll continue asking the questions that make some people uncomfortable.
I know how to fake it. I know how to look Christian. But I’m asking questions and seeking truth. The only thing I fear is not finding the answers and pretending that I have.

Aurora

Ah cubbies.

I remember cub camp at GVR in Colorado. I remember wanting to be exactly like my counselor Dani. I don’t remember anything specific, besides the fact that I thought she was beautiful and so cool. I remember that playing capture the flag was my favorite part about summer camp and I rarely got homesick. I remember singing songs at campfire and never wanting to go home.

What I don’t remember about cub camp are the petty arguments, the whining, and mood swings. This is new to me. Well at least being on this side of it is new.

I knew long ago that cub camp would probably not be my favorite week. I’ve never been that sweet, nurturing girl who wants to hold babies and babysit. I’m the youngest in my family so I haven’t really grown up around many kids. I think this would be different if I was an older sister, but either way, I don’t really think kids are that cute.

“This is exactly why I am not having kids!” I exclaimed in a crowded and noisy gymnasium yesterday. Rainy day schedule was in full effect and that dumped about thirty 7-9 year olds in my lap. What to do with 30 kids? Dodge ball.

But you see dodge ball with kids is different, because apparently they never get hit. Ever. “Nuh uh!” and “It didn’t hit me!” is about all I heard the entire hour. Or “I hit him and he’s not going out.” Yeah, what do you say to that? Who do you believe? I wanted to cry. I almost did until Marty, a boat driver and father of three, strolled in like a Catholic saint and took control. Well, not entirely. If anything, he showed me that you really can’t control a cub camp dodge ball game. You just do your best and don’t take anything personally. When they frown, cry, or stomp away angrily, they get over it a few minutes later and love you again. Yikes.

I get so frustrated that these kids lack logic. Upon telling Marty, he firmly, but realistically reminded me, “Umm, they’re kids. What do you expect?”

Once I stopped expecting them to be little adults, the week progressed more easily. I didn’t have a cabin this week, which was fine by me. If ever there was a week I would want to skip this was it. I can connect much more easily with older kids. I think it is the logical part of me. I am not a very funny person. I am not the life of the party, the playful one. I think too hard.

On Friday, Shanna, another counselor, was sick and needed a sub for her cabin. I took them to breakfast, to activities, to the bathroom, to the nurse for imaginary boo boos. Aurora caught my eye. At about 3 feet tall and 7 years old, she is about the cutest tom boy I’ve ever seen. Her cute little jeans could just about fit my fore arm. She was sick and laid her head on my shoulder. She spoke in a soft sweet voice. She only wanted fruit loops. Her little hand took mine as we walked from place to place. She looked up at me with her sweet, innocent Precious Moments eyes and said, “My tummy hurts. Will you sit with me?” All of her r’s are w’s. Life is simpler, but intense. Walking slowly with her up stairs that must look like mountains, I realized, This is why people have kids. Life is simpler, sweeter, well, at least until they are not on drugs and kicking and screaming again. By mid-afternoon Aurora was just fine, punching her sister and crying because she stole someone’s candy and got caught. Okay, okay, kids are cute in short spurts. Ask me at the end of the summer.

A father tells me, “Just wait until you’re married. Your whole perspective on kids will change. I didn’t want kids either.”

Yikes.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hiccup

I threw up.

I haven’t done so in 7 months. I haven’t done so daily for over a year. Better, but still healing. Weary. Tired of fighting a 3 year battle that sometimes seems to be making no forward progress.

Journal: “Anger. Frustration. Hatred. Existence. Somewhere else-ness.

I hate feeling sick and bloated.
I hate feeling full.
I hate feeling out of control.
I hate my fixation with food, hunger, food, and exercise.
I hate feeling less than 100% to the people around me.
I hate that this is my struggle, still.
I hate that people around me have to put up with this.

That’s a lot of hate. I seem to hate many things right now, mostly who I am and where I’m at. I get easily frustrated with myself. It is hard to forgive what I’ve done.

Anne Lamott says, “Not forgiving someone is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

In that case I’m both drinking and waiting to die because I can’t forgive myself and I’m carrying a lot of frustration and hatred towards myself.

HB, I forgive you for lying and starving senior year. We had much to learn.

HB, I forgive you for needing counseling. It’s okay, it really is. Five counselors later, we all need a little help.

HB, I forgive you for taking the last 3 years to heal. Take the time you need.

HB, I forgive you for bulimia; for the binging, force feeding, and in the end, throwing it all up. Life happens. Pain happens. We keep breathing.

HB, I forgive you for struggling, for hurting, for being less than 100% all the time, for existing, and wanting to disappear.

HB, I forgive you for the abuse, force, hatred, comparisons, lack of nourishment, and lack of love. You are forgiven.

In considering what I struggle to forgive, I see that first and foremost I have hated myself most for STILL struggling with an eating disorder. I am still talking about this, still writing about this. I need to give myself grace and time. I need to slow down and take what comes.

If I could tell the end from the beginning, if I could see the exact time and date that healing came and ED was no longer part of my life, I would relax. I would accept that healing will come and take it a day at a time. If ED recovery, as predicted, takes 7-10 years, I’m not even half way. After more than 3 years I’ve learned so much, grown immensely, and I’ve lived well. Not perfect, but well.

Where will I be four years from now? Seven years from the start, the minimum of average recovery would put me in March 2013? I’ll be 25 years old. Will I be healed by then? What if I am not? Will hope, faith, and love hold out for this weary traveler?
March 2013. That seems a lifetime, an eternity, so far, so long. Can I sit with the pain long enough to heal, long enough to whisper a hopeful, “It’s gonna be alright”? Can I keep learning, walking, and stretching instead of being continually angry with myself for not being healed now?

It will be work. It will require purpose and awareness. Healing is work. Healing is a process. Healing will come.”

I could spend the next 2 weeks hating myself for throwing up, instead, I’m moving on. I’m riding the waves. Sure I went 7 months, that’s good. This is not a major fall. This is a hiccup and I am always, always moving upward because I cannot forget what I’ve learned along the way.

Indian Creek Camp

Well, here I am at Indian Creek camp. I’ve been looking forward to working here for several months now. I’ve always wanted to work at a summer camp, but always found other jobs that seemed to keep me from it. By now I am actually beginning my third week in Tennessee, but camp is a busy place in the summer and I haven’t been able to find much time to write.
Week one was staff training week. Fifty staff ages 17-20 something make up the crew here at camp. The first week was spent cleaning, organizing, learning about each other, and camp.
Week two, our first week of actual camp was blind camp. This was the most extreme cultural experience I’ve had since going and coming back from Cambodia. I am so far removed from the blind community it was an incredibly humbling and eye opening experience to spend the week with them.
Let’s delve into what I journaled at the beginning of the week: “I guess I had no idea what to expect, but independence, humor, and understanding have caught me by surprise. Registration had me nervous awaiting campers. First came Lily, 27, a skinny, frail, Kentucky girl with the thick accent to match. With a squinty smile and half-opened eyes rolled back in her head, she is thrilled to be back at camp for her second year. This community of other blind people is the highlight of their year. There’s something truly humble, dependent, and human about her reliance on me. Not even 24 hours into our very temporary and new relationship she’s sitting naked in front of me asking me to check and see if she has started her period, something I hadn’t ever considered would obviously be difficult to do on your own.
“Next to come was Joni, 25. Wow I like her. With a big smile, sweet voice, and little body, she shuffled into our cabin bringing graciousness, kindness, a sweet heart, and a joyful spirit. She asked a lot of questions about who was coming to camp and when the camp store would be open. She’s been legally blind for many years, but completely blind for only 4 years. She has been coming to camp for 14 years. This is community and friendships. This is where she met beloved Louie, her fiancĂ©. She says, “Thank you so much. You’re very sweet Heather,” or “Aww, bless your heart” (What is it with southern people always saying that?” Sweet. She’s grateful, thankful, and does not want to be a burden on anyone. “Well, there is no use complaining,” she tells me, “I’m very blessed to have what I do and getting angry only raises your blood pressure.”
Listening to a conversation among blind friends, they say, “Ya know, when I’m around mentally handicapped people, it makes me remember how truly blessed I am. I’d much rather be blind. It’s gift really.” To my surprise everyone nodded and agreed. They are so accepting of where they’re at.
Next to come to the cabin was Kelly, 27, a big girl with spunk, wit, sincerity, and independence. Confidence and calm comprise her character like mother love of the cabin. “Ah, it’s going to be okay. Don’t worry about it sweetheart.” She does her own thing, doesn’t need much help, and gets involved. She asks me about my favorite books and music. She is upbeat, positive, and matter of fact: “The only difference between you and I Heather is that my retinas didn’t develop fully like yours did.” Oh.
Kelly accepts life as it comes and does her best with where she’s at. “Cool beans” she responds, or “Okey dokey.” After our first meal taking orders, getting food, cleaning spills, wiping mouths, and clearing plates, I finally got my own food and Joni said, “Okay, I’m ready to go.” Without missing a beat, Kelly said, “Wait, Heather have you eaten yet?” I hadn’t and she said, “Oh girls, this girl needs to eat. We can wait.” Ahh, understanding.
Last to enter our cabin was Sheila, 35, and only 4 foot 7 inches tall. She strutted into the cabin and I quickly realized she has some eyesight. Sure on her feet, she still needs some help, but she moves confidently and tells a lot of jokes. She laughs. She brings cookies and Slim Jims to share. She holds my hand as we walk. With more wisdom and experience than I’ll ever claim, I’m humbled to be holding her hand.
With four campers ready for action, they left me a little bit exhausted. I wanted to protect them from every possible bump and turn. They take it all in stride. I can’t imagine leaving them alone and frankly, they’re just fine without me.”
The week ended and I am still amazed at what just happened. How was I so blessed to earn their trust, to share in their lives, and to learn the lessons they came to teach me? They rode horses, jumped off the high dive, water skied, painted ceramics, laughed, sang, and lived, just differently than I am used to.
They took my arm when we walked places. I served them food. I took pictures with their cameras that they’ll never see. We talked about what it’s like to be blind, to date, to make friends, to live.
I didn’t expect to be inserting tampons, wiping mouths, teaching a 27 year-old how to salute the American flag, or give a 3 a.m. foot rub to a sobbing camper with a foot cramp. Oh the joys. Oh what I have left to learn.
Bring on the cub campers!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Oy

Yeah, I'm at summer camp in Tennessee. Apparently working at camp is busy, busy. Might not be blogging much. Having a crazy good time though. Will write more later.

Deep breaths.