"We are meant to live in joy. This does not mean that life will be easy or painless. It means that we can turn our faces to the wind and accept that this is the storm we must pass through." - Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Acceptance was one of those values that spoke to me instantly when we, as directors, worked together last fall to select what we would reflect on in our writings for 2019. For me, acceptance is one of the beautiful gifts of living in a Christian community. My heart sings each time I witness a new community form and, in my time at Suttle Lake I've been blessed to experience it many times over. I've watched numerous communities learn how to embrace and love each individual with their unique gifts and quirks. It's an amazing blessing to watch a campfire unfold where calm fire builders, boisterous singers ready to dance, reserved campers not quite ready to sing, dramatic skit actors and a prayer lifting up thoughtful reflections are celebrated for their contributions that complete the circle. Our staff focuses much of our effort in providing hospitality and creating learning opportunities that will be a catalyst for such experiences.
I thought an article about these experiences at camp would be easy to write. Then, in my personal reading, I encountered a chapter titled "Acceptance: The Only Place Where Change Can Begin" in The Book of Joy (a dialogue between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams). I was challenged to think of acceptance in a new way. It was empowering to read stories of how these two wise men were able to keep perspective during personal hardships so that joy, beauty, healing, and reconciliation could be mixed with frustrations and pain. Their personal learnings and the spiritual practices they shared resonated with me as I was moved to process my own experiences of grief, discord in relationships, and the ups and downs of life. I was reminded that the ways I experience different circumstances are powerfully influenced by my own reactions. I'm presented with the choice between criticism or growth, anxiety or peace, anger or curiosity, judgment or acceptance, fear or compassion. I re-read this chapter (more than a few times) and I heard this lesson again in scriptures that I encountered.
There may be much that I cannot control, but my response and attitude is within my control, especially if I've done the work to be centered in Christ. When I'm aware of God's presence and can be fully present in the now, I'm able to respond with grace towards myself and others as well as learn from the past and gain clarity for the full range of actions I could take moving forward. When I am at peace with who I am as a child of God and where I am in this worldly journey, I can more easily accept what is happening, trust God with all that I cannot control or influence, and recognize how God might be inviting me to respond. I can also more clearly see others as children of God, recognizing their pain and struggles and celebrate God's light shining through them, even when I'm not happy with their response.
The more I've learned about acceptance on a personal level, I've also recognized why experiencing acceptance in a community setting like camp is so powerful. Acceptance has the potential to change someone from the inside out. When individuals are supported in finding their inner strength, acceptance takes on a new depth, empowering individuals to share their own perspectives and gifts. Communities are able to support one another in their individual imperfections, struggles, and learnings, and together recognize how these lessons may urge them to future actions.
This aspect of acceptance is deeply rooted in our experience of Christian community and our call to follow Christ. It takes practice and an ongoing personal commitment to potentially difficult inner work with God. Experiencing acceptance equips individuals to engage in the struggles of our world and shine the light of Christ. I, too, have been blessed to witness this kind of acceptance thrive at camp. I’ve heard grateful campers share their own transformations after experiencing acceptance. A teen that was experiencing depression amidst his parents split was able to turn anger into questions after a caring mentor took the time to listen. A single dad facing an unexpected lay off found vital quiet and support to transition from fear into possibilities. Two grieving widows shared a cup of tea and turned tears into laughter and joy. A quiet middle schooler found confidence after experiencing the support and encouragement to play the guitar during worship. A family troubled by struggles in their neighborhood were able to engage with other church members to reach out to neighbors in need with compassion. I'm grateful that camp provides a safe space to begin and continue this journey.
Creating accepting and loving communities at camp is a powerful vehicle for God's spirit to work. Our leadership team at Suttle Lake is being very intentional this summer, to train staff on how we can best facilitate community development, support campers in their struggles, and offering resources for campers and staff alike to learn and practice centering before and during meltdowns. For our traditional children and youth camp sessions, we have created a new role of a camp inclusion specialist to facilitate these experiences. A "Sacred Space" will also be available with spiritual practices to provide campers the opportunity to try these exercises or simply for moments of individual centering, either in times of transition or when an individual needs space and time away from the group. I'm eager to witness how God's Spirit will be known in these efforts. I invite you to take part in creating safe places where acceptance can be experienced at camp and other communities you are engaged in.