I have been a counselor at the greatest camp in the world for the past 4 years—Westview on the James Camp & Retreat Center. I have the best job in the world where I get to play ALL day. Well, I really have the responsibility to live, learn and share experiences with a group of 10- 14 campers with a co-counselor and help each camper thrive in camp life, but playing outdoors all day sounds so much better. I get an opportunity to connect with a child between the ages of 6-17 to share with them the importance of being outdoors and the importance of giving thanks to God because of all the beautiful nature he has provided us with, an outdoor ministry.
I am quite good at what I do. The children gravitate towards me like I was the sun itself. I’m fun, loving and I always listen. This gift comes in handy, especially with the girls. I have noticed that there has been a strange trend in the new generations where they don’t think that they are worth as much as I think they are. Each girl comes through my cabin with a bag full of clothes and a different story, not to mention background (nationality, cultural setting, social status, etc.) I never try to pry into any of their personal lives, but sometimes during our vespers, which is kind of like a bedtime story attached to a bible verse, I get a deeper understanding of these girls. For example self-esteem issues, divorce, death in the family, problems with boys, girls, I get it all.
But how do you place into their psyche that they are beautiful, intelligent, and worthwhile young ladies? That was my challenge. It’s so easy to tell a young person these words, but it’s so much harder to make them believe it. I have a theory that as a young girl you get your respect from your mother and your self-esteem from your father. My father told me I was beautiful every day and my mother had no problem telling me when I was in the wrong. But what’s the difference between my childhood and theirs? What is it that I am missing here that I could offer to these girls?
An ear to listen was the most common answer I received, but was that the defining moment that they believed what I was saying was true? One experience that comes to mind is a time when I had a cabin full of girls who were crying because they thought they were the reason for their parents’ divorce. This issue was a reoccurring theme throughout the entire summer and with that comes body acceptance, not feeling smart enough to be anybody important and feeling depressed.
Now I know that I am not, nor was a doctor, but I can speak to these girls about my experiences. My mom and dad were divorced when I was 5 years old, so I was younger than most of these girls. I was so confused when I saw my dad pack his things and not utter a word. I remember he kissed my cheek and went out the door. My mom would complain to her friends about court stuff, but I had no idea what that meant. Then all of a sudden I got to see my dad every Tuesday and Thursday. I just knew that I was the reason for my parents’ divorce. I thought I was too dumb to figure it out and I wasn’t what they were hoping for in a child. I went to a very dark place at such a young age just like these young girls.
So I started to draw negative and positive attention to myself. I maintained an A+ average through elementary school, but I was always called to the principal’s office for something. My parents had to pay attention to me now. And they did, very sternly and it hurt, a lot actually. So one of my teachers noticed the drastic change in my behavior and put two and two together. She assured me that the situation between my parents was not and could not be my fault. She promised that if I continued to make good grades, remained respectful to everyone and continued to smile, everything would be alright.
I took her word that day and it comforted me so much that I genuinely tried to release my feelings about the divorce and remembered that they are still my parents who love me no matter what. I told this story to every girl who ever cried about a divorce. They needed that guarantee that this wasn’t their fault or battle. Their parents would love them unconditionally no matter what and no divorce would ever separate a bond between parent and child.
Don’t you know how pretty, how smart, and how kind you are? Is the question I like to remember whenever I doubt my value as a young woman. Sometimes I have those moments where I think that I am unattractive, unintelligent and cruel, but those thoughts are not true, nor will they ever be. I have touched the lives of so many campers throughout my years at Westview and I know that teaching them how to love themselves is the most important thing any young person can learn. So as you go through your day think of how you can impact someone’s life by showing appreciation for their inner beauty, their intelligence and their kindness.