By Kate Robertson, National Alumni Board
Long-time campers and counselors may be familiar with a favorite evening activity during summer camp: Christmas in July. I wouldn’t say that it is a tradition, but who doesn’t love being woken up after lights out to the sound of sleigh bells, horses’ hooves on the camp road, Christmas carols playing, a tall fir tree decorated with lights and a roaring fire in the lodge? Not to mention Christmas cookies, hot cider, cocoa and the reading of the Nativity by firelight. It’s always a hit.
One summer, however, the counselors and staff decided that instead of Christmas in July, they would hold Thanksgiving in June. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, so I was thrilled. But I wasn’t so sure how it was going to fly with high school age campers.
I needn’t have been concerned. It was a hit. All day campers rotated through the kitchen to help with dinner preparations – stuffing, pies, mashed potatoes. A parade was organized – with “floats” created by each program – and held along the upper camp road before the church service. Our gratitude meeting was rich with stories of spiritual grace, thanksgiving and healing. Our meal was softly lit from within by the glow of gratitude, and from without by the candles on each table. After dinner there were board games and stories by the fire. Campers and counselors gathered around the piano to sing the first Christmas carols of the season.
It was truly lovely, but the most extraordinary moment – for me – came at the end of the night. I was heading back to my cabin when a young man called to me in the dark. I stopped and waited for him to catch up. When he reached me on the lawn, under a midnight blue sky sprinkled with a million stars, there were tears in his eyes. He reminded me that his mother had passed away earlier that year, and that his biggest fear was that he would never experience a real family Thanksgiving again. At least not one that would feel like home. He said that Thanksgiving had been his mother’s favorite holiday. He then went on to say that after many years of being a camper, this day had been the best camp day ever.
He explained that at some point during the day, he’d realized that the best gift his mother had ever given him was insisting that he come to camp every summer. And that all day long he had felt her love for him in every activity, every demand upon him to be his best, every opportunity to bring his most unselfish self to the table.
By the time he finished sharing his thoughts, we were both in tears. I’d known his mom. She believed in camp. Even when their family budget was very tight, she made sure that her children were able to come to camp for at least one session. She had the humility – and the love – to apply for camperships. She volunteered in every way she could.
I don’t remember that we ever repeated that evening activity, but for me, every day at camp is Thanksgiving in June – or July, or August. Like many campers, counselors, staff and alumni, camp is home for me. Camp is the place where my heart finds heavenly rest. Camp is the place where I go – no matter where I am in the world – when I pray. I close my eyes, I feel the warm Colorado sun on my shoulders, I hear the sound of children on the lawn outside the lodge, the soft whisper of a mountain breeze through the pines, and I know that “all is well.”
This place is not geographical; it is spiritual. And I am grateful. I am grateful for each camper and counselor who has shared a healing at camp, either silently or audibly. I am grateful to each donor who has helped a camper find her way home. I am grateful to every parent who entrusts us with the care of their child’s heart, hopes and happiness each summer. And I am grateful for generations of Adventure Unlimited staff, trustees and alumni who have filled this place with their love for Christian Science healing and their commitment to the Andrews’ vision of a spiritual home for each of our hearts.