Researchers say the sense of smell holds the longest memory.
I believe it.
This weekend, I enjoyed a long walk down memory lane.
I exited my vehicle and stepped into the dusty parking lot, exhilarated at the prospects of sitting in rocking chairs alongside old friends and disconnecting from recent stressors.
Registration went smoothly as a familiar face greeted me with a hug and issued my cabin assignment and name tag. I was ready for a Camp Team Member reunion.
I walked around the grounds with a million thoughts competing in my mind.
I smelled the musty chapel and was instantly transported to 26 years ago when I first entered this space as a tween girl. Stained glass windows are present no longer (and are missed) but the clear glass replacing them enhances the natural beauty and I accepted the change.
I caught the fresh, fishy aroma of Lake Griffin and breathed in deep.
I entered a cabin (#3) and caught my breath in the delightful smell of old carpet and mildew and plastic.
I was home.
Other senses caught me, too:
The rustling of the plastic mattresses, easier to clean than to rest comfortably.
The sight of the beautiful cross on the lake, newly lit with LED bulbs that glowed blue at night but still somehow felt the same.
The feel of the itchy grass, mosquitoes and wind in my hair.
The camp food: predictable salad bar, mystery meat (Chinese style) served on spaghetti noodles with a garlic breadstick?; breakfast waffles and bacon.
They were all served on classic trays and don’t forget to “Stack yo’ dishes!!”
The camp snacks: Zebra cakes and chilled root beer from a glass bottle. And the nacho bar and ice cream sundae bar because I think I must still be a teenager who doesn’t need to count calories.
Every step I took, I sunk into Camp a little more deeply.
I set foot here and am instantly filled with a thousand memories of people I met, people I loved. Of looking for God and peace and purpose.
Veggie Tales. The Fruits of the Spirit song. (I can still sing it!) Indiana Jones’ Leap of Faith. Caedmon’s Call.
I see the ghost of my past self, sneaking out of my cabin just once, trying desperately to appease campers and fellow Team members. And getting caught, scared to death I’d be sent home.
Going to breakfast on Monday mornings in pajamas because there were no campers until the afternoon. 100 team members piling into busses for Wet’n’Wild water park, Christian concerts and Sunday morning church. Garfield’s restaurant where we colored on the paper tablecloths and Chili’s for Saturday dinner where we obnoxiously sang their baby back rib song.
We listened to morning devotions as the sun rose over the lake, shining directly into our faces as we tried to pay attention to the speaker.
I sense the spirits of those who have been before me; those who found Jesus, their Calling and for some, even their spouse here.
I see in my mind the empty chapel before me filled with children and teens worshipping, laughing, crying, dancing.
Silly and obvious dance motions to old camp songs.
“Pharaoh, Pharaoh”, anyone?
Bare feet behind the altar, leading worship on the keyboard.
Makeup free fresh faces, pony tails and messy hair, sweaty bodies grateful for the roar of air conditioning, arms raised praising God.
Praying for our campers, and for each other.
Weekly communion–with big loaves of Hawaiian bread. Savoring the blessed leftovers; grateful for the late night snack.
This sacred space whispers of peace, joy, Love.
I feel time becomes different, shifting from chronos to kairos. Linear to circular. Human time to God’s time.
My daughter begins to learn 4 square here. I explain the rules and demonstrate the proper serve.
“Mom, are you crying again?” she observed several times over this weekend.
And then I find the prayer room–now housing stacks of chairs–where I remember earnestly praying that I would someday have children who would be as blessed as I in this space.
I am reminded: God keeps promises. Faithfulness is a standard God has demonstrated first by example.
I had forgotten the intensity of God’s love somehow. This Love that passionately calls to those who have been cast aside, marginalized and considered afflicted.
Camp is a place where God reveals through nature and through other flawed, spirit filled humans consistently:
You are loved. You are special. I want you. You are Mine.