“Well, at my camp, we always did it this way.”
We are just over a year into this project, and currently visiting our 20th (!!!) camp in sunny Florida. We’ve seen a lot of camps and a lot of ways of doing camp. A plethora of ideas and creativity and things we never thought of have all been at our fingertips… So, you’d think we would have learned to stop saying the above phrase all the time. But, of course, we have not.
clearly not hating our time in Florida
I hope at least some of the other camp people out there are willing to admit that we always, inevitably, compare every experience to “our camp.” Regardless of the promises I made and ultimatums I gave myself before this trip started, I can’t help but go back to what I know. At 20 camps now, I have tried to take it all in, observe, and learn without bringing Wesley Woods into the picture, but I always manage to say (or at least think) something like, “Oh yeah, at our camp we had/did/made…” All this knowledge of other camps, and I am still stuck on that one, first place. I’ve noticed it in others too. Even folks who have worked professionally at three, four, five camps seem to always bring up one as their compass experience.
I’m not sure that there is anything inherently bad about this comparison, except this:
We will always view our home camp through rose-colored glasses.
Growing up as a camper and then transitioning into a leadership role at camp is super weird. I spent a good chunk of my childhood thinking literal magic happened each summer at camp, and I assumed that working there must be the most amazing, stress-free, butterflies and rainbows job you could ever have. (Are you laughing? Good.) Everything about that place was perfect. The trees were perfect. The counselors were perfect. The camp songs were perfect. Every week I spent there convinced me more that God had smiled on that place and nothing ever went wrong there.
Then I joined summer staff. I got a taste of the actual work that goes into making the “magic” happen. The trees sometimes fell in storms and were actually quite scary. The counselors were certainly not perfect – I was one of them! And those stupid, repetitive, nonsense camp songs were certainly not perfect anymore. But even though I had seen behind the curtain, I still thought the sun rose and set just for Wesley Woods. Knowing the “secrets” didn’t make it feel less like home, but quite the opposite. I was in on it. Part of the family. A piece of the legacy. It was absolutely the best job in the world – the best camp in the world – and I knew no place could ever compare.
Unfortunately, I was right.
The transition from summer leadership to an actual career in camping is even weirder. Did you know camp is a business? With profit and loss and liability and marketing strategy? (Don’t worry – it was news to me too.) This magical, sparkling unicorn I had worshiped suddenly had hard edges and bills to pay. I’ll admit, learning that it costs money to share Jesus with people was hard for me. I’m still coming to terms with it, honestly. But learning how big and dynamic the world of camping really is pushed me to come out here and experience it all. There is so much more to camping ministry than that little picture I knew so well. And yet, I can’t get that picture out of my head.
Try as I might to push it away, it’s becoming clear to me that the comparison game will never go away. My first instincts will always come from what I learned at Wesley Woods. And I think the real reason we hold on so dearly to those camps we love is that those are the places our lives were changed. That’s where we were when God said, “Hey you…” and we answered, “Yes God, I’m here.” The fact that we still work at camp means that something so profound happened in those early years that we couldn’t ever let go.
I know there will always be a Wesley Woods sized hole in my heart that I will try to make every other camp fit into. But of course, they never will. So, I’m challenging myself and all my camp friends to make a little room. It’s hard to compare our precious things to those of others and see how wonderful theirs really are. But, I know that each camp we visit is a place where real magic happened for someone else, and I want to be open to learn from their story.
Tell us about your "home camp!"
Happy New Year, friends!
Can you believe the calendar has rolled over again? It seems like we were just ringing in the beginning of 2017, and here we are celebrating *eating too much* again. For us, this is that special time of year that we spend some time living in a house without wheels. You know, the ones with separate rooms, hot water, and that water/ice dispensing thing on the front of the fridge. All this luxury has got us feeling a little spoiled, so it seemed like a good time to reflect on all the best things about life on wheels.
But first, an update.
Just like we did over the holidays last year, we are currently staying with my godparents near Memphis. Sam’s family met us in Lexington for Christmas, where we stayed at an Airbnb and tried to jam as much memory-making into three days as possible. It was bitter cold, even for Pennsylvanian standards, but we still enjoyed the Kentucky Horse Park, toured the Lexington Distillery, and helped serve Christmas Eve breakfast at a local mission. It was so good to spend time with our people, but the inevitable goodbye rolled around as always. We picked up the trailer from Campbellsville and made our way to Memphis in time for New Year celebrations.
This week we’ve tried to balance catching up on work and recovering from the holiday season at Amazon. The past few months were pretty non-stop as we worked our seasonal jobs and shoved Camp to Camp work in wherever possible. Of course, the time we spend away from camps isn’t our favorite part of the year, but we met some amazing people – hopefully lifelong friends – once again. Those seasonal jobs are necessary and not so bad in hindsight, but I’m certainly glad to be done scanning barcodes for a while.
Overall, we visited 18 camps in 2017. We were in 26 states (and one foreign country.) We drove a bajillion miles (~24,000) and stopped at more gas stations than I care to count. It was absolutely insane, and the prospect of getting to do it all again is overwhelming (in a good way.) Right now, the year ahead is largely uncharted. It’s a nerve-racking way to set out, but looking back on the year we’ve had helps us take a deep breath and know that there is a path laid out even if we can’t see it yet.
On Thursday, we head to Alabama for our first camp visit of the year. The next stop is Florida, where we will meet up with our United Methodist Camp & Retreat Ministries friends again. We’ll spend some time with family in Florida, and then another camp visit. (Yes, we are trying to stay in Florida as long as possible. Can you blame us?) After Florida, we’re on to a camp visit in Georgia, and praying for something to line up in North/South Carolina. Beyond that, things start to get a little fuzzy, which brings me back to the blessings of RV life:
Blessing #1 – “We’ll figure it out.”
I know for certain that RV life has changed Sam and I, because there was a point not too long ago when the phrase “things start to get a little fuzzy” would have spun me into overdrive. What the heck do you mean we don’t have a plan for March? It is JANUARY. You can’t just drive off willy nilly hoping that everything will fall into place!
Well, no, we can’t. Obviously we are working on solidifying plans and actively seeking camps (literally all the time.) But there is just no way to live full-time in an RV without an element of uncertainty. We have learned to be flexible, trust God, ask for help, and embrace abnormality. Life is weird. It’s unpredictable, no matter what kind of house you live in. But life is good! (I understand those t-shirts now.) Chaos is exhilarating. And, while it’s still scary, we are learning what a blessing it is to say, “We’ll figure it out.”
If you’d like to help us with the figuring it out, our long-term plan for the year looks sort of like this:
Blessing #2 – “If you can park a trailer together, you can do anything.”
Our third wedding anniversary is coming up next week. Sam and I headed out for our very first camp visit on our anniversary last year. I have to admit, I worried at first what a trip like this would mean for our marriage. Our relationship has never been normal (I’ll wait while you laugh); we’ve always had the crazy camp life and don’t really thrive on “alone time” as individuals. Still, I wondered what the stress of travel, constantly being together, and working as partners on the project would be like.
Dang, was I right about the stress. Being married is a challenge on its own, and then we decided to shove all of that into a tin box on wheels AND broadcast it to the world on our YouTube channel. No matter how much you tell yourself, “we’re in love, we don’t need space, we never fight, this is going to be perfect,” life doesn’t work like that. A small space does grate on you sometimes. Being business partners is different than being marriage partners. Creative differences exist even when you’re in love. Backing a trailer into a campsite is a whole new kind of communication. But you learn. You make space for each other. You trust each other. You say, “I messed up and we ran into that mailbox. I’m sorry.”
We know so much more about each other now than we did a year ago. RV life has pushed us to practice our vows every day. We’ve always agreed that love is something you actively choose to do on a daily basis, and nothing will prove that to you more than arguing in rush hour Chicago traffic with everything you own dragging behind you. Even with all the stress it brings, I would choose this experience every time. Being husband and wife rules, and I know we are better at it because of this journey.
If you’d like to help us with the being married, we like going to the movies and eating sushi. (I’m just kidding. Mostly.)
Blessing #3 – “Jesus is THE COOLEST.”
This should probably be the first blessing, but I’m not going to rewrite the blog at this point, so here it is. One of our favorite things about traveling is always being in a new place for church on Sunday. Incidentally, this is also one of our least favorite things. For all the “everyone is welcome here” rhetoric that circulates the Christian community, going to a new church is a terrifying experience. (Right?! Am I alone here?) Every Saturday, I get so excited and research churches for an hour and decide where we are going to visit that week. Then Sunday morning rolls around and my hair looks like garbage and I remember we drive the -ugliest- truck and… things fall apart. I feel judged before we even step in the door. I know everyone is staring at me and silently shaking their beautiful, righteous heads. I can’t experience worship or “fill my cup” because I am too busy FREAKING OUT.
And then He is always there. Not just on those terrifying Sunday mornings, but at each camp when we are petrified of what the staff will think of us. On travel days when we are sick of the car and ready to jump down each other’s throats. Then a lyric comes up on the screen, someone shares how much they love camp, a moment stands still and we laugh uncontrollably – and Jesus is there. I cry (I always cry) and feel indescribable peace. He never lets me miss a moment. When I am cowering into myself and carefully spreading mortal on my brick wall, He says, “No, you’re going to miss it. This is why you’re here.” Those are the moments that fill your soul. The whole journey is worth it because you were there, in that place you had no other reason to be, and you didn’t miss it.
In other words, Jesus is the coolest.
I could count way more than three blessings of RV life, but I think I’ve counted enough to get myself excited to be back in the camper. I can’t wait to see how the rest of our schedule shapes up and what moments stop us in our tracks this year. We appreciate all your prayers, and as always, we would love to hear from you! What are some of the blessings you can count today?
Things cost money. I didn’t want to be the one to break this news, but it’s true. Even if you take off in a camper to chase your dreams, you still have to pay for stuff. Bummer, right?
Choosing to make a life on the road involves a lot of “figuring it out.” At least for us, the biggest scariest part of the decision was figuring out how we would pay for it all. We knew two things for sure; we wanted to be able to serve each camp as we learned from them, but we didn’t want to be another burden to the camps either. So, we work alongside staff at the camps and try to become a part of their community, but we don’t really make money from it.
“Okay, then how the heck do you pay for stuff?”
Like many full-time RVers, we rely on multiple income streams to make this project sustainable. The key for us is that they are flexible, allowing us to work our schedule around the camps’. Some allow us to work from wherever we are, while others are temporary but require us to park it for a while. For the past year, we have been able to travel full-time through:
Back at home, Sam worked full-time at a camp and I worked a couple different part-time jobs. Obviously, we had to leave those when we started traveling. I will admit, it’s a pretty gut-wrenching experience to quit stable employment as 20-somethings with a ton of student loan debt. We had great support from our previous jobs though, and they encouraged us to pursue this calling. One of those employers actually worked it out so that I could maintain a remote position with them as an independent contractor. If the majority of what you do is on a computer or could be done online, there’s a possibility that you could take that job on the road. This has been a huge help for our journey, as I am able to complete projects when we have time off from camp or on travel days, and that steady monthly income helps keep us sane.
I work in content and design. Sam is a photographer and videographer. Is that what we thought we would end up doing when we paid a ton of money for our degrees that have nothing to do with that? Not exactly. But life happens, you start out, you find out what you can do and what people need, and you make it work. I went to school for English and psychology (stop judging me I can hear you) and Sam went for social studies education. I was supposed to be a counselor. He was supposed to be a teacher. Long story short, that didn’t happen. But would we have been able to do this project if Sam was teaching full time and I was knee deep in grad school homework? Probably not. God prepared us for this in those years of figuring it out. I tried finding work writing and ended up finding a niche in nonprofit marketing. Sam took a summer job at camp and ended up discovering his calling to camping and love of media.
As unexpected as those jobs were, these skills open us up to the possibility of finding work on the road. We’ve been able to freelance projects for a variety of clients, including some of the camps we visited. There are also plenty of online resources, like fivrr.com, that connect people who need things done with people who can do things. Having a creative skill is a huge plus for the “traveling marketplace,” and that can be what draws people to this lifestyle. Again, there is also the freedom to take on projects when you have time, and freelancing lets you try something new all the time. This income isn’t huge, but it’s still another great way to keep going. Assess your skills and consider how you can fill a need while (partially) filling your wallet.
I would say most people who adopt the RV lifestyle utilize “workamping” as a source of income. Workamping is short for “work camping” and typically involves working to pay for a spot to park your camper and the utilities that come along with it, with the potential to make a paycheck for hours worked beyond that. This can look like a lot of different things. The most popular version is working a season for a campground or park, but those usually don’t pay enough and require too long of a commitment to be compatible with the focus of our trip. Our friends that do these jobs love them, but March – August is kind of an important season in camping ministry. We just can’t justify giving up that time. We do, however, work what we call “labor gigs,” which are shorter seasonal jobs that need manpower and hire workampers to get it done.
We just finished our first season of the beet harvest, which is a pretty infamous job among full-timers. When you say, “we’re going to work the beet harvest” among workampers, those who have done it laugh and those who haven’t ask, “why?!” The harvest is certainly among the harder workamping jobs, but there’s a reason people go back every year. (Spoiler: It’s the money.) It’s a whirlwind job that happens in October (and some select employment before) in the northern midwest. We worked for American Crystal Sugar in Reynolds, ND and put in a total of 16 days. That is 16 consecutive work days on 12-hour night shifts. The work is not hard, but it is work. At the entry level, your three main jobs are signing in trucks, putting beets in bags, and shoveling dirt. Not hard, but not Disneyland. You will be tired and very ready for a day off by the end of it. You will also be standing outside for your entire shift, so that is a factor to consider depending on your physical limitations.
This job also involves a lot of uncertainty. There is no way of knowing how many days you will work, what days you will have off, or when the harvest will be done. Overall, it’s the best money you can make in two weeks and we valued the experience. We were able to meet people from all different walks of life and it helped us practice mental and physical perseverance. These kinds of jobs are great for putting money away and can get you through for a while if you live frugally.
This will be our second year as workampers for Amazon. This job is called “Amazon Camperforce.” It helps support the Christmas season demand for the company, so they offer a lot of incentives to ensure they can hire the staff that they need. They pay for your campground spot, the wages are good, and they do make sure you feel like a valuable part of the team. There are a couple different locations that take on Camperforce employees; we have worked in Murphreesboro, TN and will be in Campbellsville, KY this year. Amazon is a workamping job most people go back to each year. The days are definitely long and you will walk SO MUCH (10-15 miles a day), but you get what you put into it. It’s possible to make the work fun (I bet I can pick more items than you) and you do get scheduled days off (hallelujah), so you can easily make friends during your time there. We met people who we now consider lifelong friends working this job, so as tired as our feet and brains are by Christmas, we think it’s worth it.
The hardest part of Amazon for us is all the time spent in your own head. As you work, there is nothing to listen to and not much time to talk to others. Not sure about all the other 24-year-olds out there, but I’m not great at silently letting my thoughts wander for 10 hours without spiraling into the occasional existential crisis. For a few reasons (mostly the existential crises), we decided to do six weeks at Amazon this year instead of three months. It means less money, but more brain cells. Still, between Amazon and the beet harvest, our workamping money is really what makes sure our bills are paid and we can eat.
I am an ambassador for the health and wellness company Plexus. In addition to using and sharing the products in my daily life, I work as a team leader to provide support for the health journeys of my teammates. This is a passion that took me by surprise, but has been an unexpected financial blessing as we travel. It offers us a little extra money for unexpected expenses like breakdowns or campground fees. If there are products you believe in and love or a passion that you could share from the road, it’s worth considering how you could utilize that to support your journey.
Patreon is an online resource that allows artists to fund their creative projects through the support of others. Essentially, it is crowdfunding for creatives. We use Patreon to give people who value our project and its goals a way to be a part of it with us. Ideally, people who value your work can discover it on Patreon and support your creative work through monthly giving. For us, our Patreon supporters physically get us from camp to camp by putting gas in our tank. If fully funded we would also be able to use this money to increase our production quality with new equipment. This is a more difficult tool to really reap the benefits of, but if you are creating something you think other people might care about, it’s worth a try. We haven’t really mastered the art of it (pun intended), but we sincerely love Patreon and its mission. We double love the people who have committed to sponsoring us. You guys are the best.
Amazing, Generous People
As you can tell from this list, we kind of run in a hundred different directions to make this lifestyle work. It works for us and we love the ever-changing nature of our day to day. We are able to live a life we love, work toward something we are passionate about, see beautiful new places all the time, and still pay our bills like upstanding members of society. We started this trip out of a desire to share something we love, not to run away from anything. It’s important to us that even while we are on this crazy adventure, we maintain our commitments and pay our own bills… including our mortgage sized student loan payments. So, we do a little work here and a little over there and it all adds up to living a life we wouldn’t think was possible if we weren’t living it.
But to be honest with you, even with all our jobs all over the place, we still couldn’t make this work without the amazing, generous people who have been a part of our journey. There’s just no way we could have fixed that exhaust manifold in Texas (and then again in Pennsylvania), or made it all the way to California(and back), or even had a nice computer to edit videos with after ours crapped out in Michigan. God has taught us gratitude in a huge way. Our friends and family at home have prayed for us and given us dollars we did not earn. Camps along the way have not only made sure we were well taken care of, but often provided for us financially despite our wish to not burden them. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who has contributed to this journey. You keep us going. Literally.
We aren’t your typical full-time RVers. We aren’t retired or simply working to fund our travels. While we have come to love this lifestyle and community, we set out on the road with a mission. We always come back to that purpose – to serve God and share camp. Especially when we doubt, we have to remember what got us into this mess. That is what keeps us motivated when the hours are long, we’re running in a hundred directions, and a relaxing Sunday at home sounds pretty darn good. In reality, we probably work more now than we ever did in our “normal” jobs, but there is something different about this. Something fulfilling, but at the same time full of longing. I don’t necessarily know when life will start to look “normal” for us. I’m not sure if/when we will have 9-5 jobs, a house, or a vehicle made in this century. But this work we are doing right now is working for us right now, and I’m okay with that.
If you are considering making a living from the road or have any questions for us about how we travel full-time, please reach out! We would love to connect with you. If you have tips for us, those are certainly welcome as well. We can’t wait to hear from you!
Reaching the end of summer at camp is a lot like running a marathon and finally making it to the finish line… and no one is there. No cheering fans. No trophy. Not even one of those cool banners you get to break through before you collapse. You look around, panting, and before you can reflect on what just happened, someone is shouting at you to get up and start running again. Get ready, friend. You’re not done yet.
I’m halfway convinced there could be a decent career path for me in post-summer “grief counseling.” In camping ministry, summer really is the big show. It’s the fruit of the labor. The harvest. It’s a heck of a lot of work to make summer camp happen, but you did it, and the plans have come to fruition, for better or worse. (If you’re still planning summer while summer is happening, we need to talk.) And then it’s over. Praise the Lord. You made it through another one. But wait…
Where is everyone? What just happened? I still have work to do. Fall programming happens when? NOW? Didn’t we just have staff training? I think I was supposed to fix something… three weeks ago. Where did summer go?
Did any of that even make a difference?
Ministry is hard. It’s not hard for the same reasons that brain surgery is hard, though. I’m guessing here, but I assume brain surgeons think their job is hard. You have to know a lot about brains before you go poking around in there. There’s a pretty high level of skill involved. And if you mess up, well… It’s a hard job. But being in ministry is rough too because at the end of the day, you don’t get to walk into a patient’s hospital room and say, “It was a success! You’re fixed. Off you go.” There isn’t an endgame in genuine ministry. There is no “you did it right.” (I could probably come up with a “you did it wrong,” though.) In ministry, you make it to “post-op” and everyone is just gone.
Did everything go okay? I think so. Were lives changed? Maybe… Will everything that happened here have a lasting effect on the campers and the staff and the volunteers and make them better people with better lives or at least do something to change the trajectory of their life toward Christ-inspired joy in some way?
I’ve always struggled with this part of working in camping ministry. I thrive on praise. I love to hear that I have done a good job and to see the finished product of my hard work. That is not flowing in abundance in this line of work. Sure, people say thank you. Events happen without massive failure and that is good. But it’s almost impossible to know if you have really achieved the task you set out to do.
Did I show that person Christ? Did I help them in a meaningful way? Did I make them feel loved, accepted, powerful, forgiven, and worthy? Did I change their story?
Ministry is hard because it isn’t life or death work. It’s life or life abundant. It’s without Jesus or with Him. It’s “yeah, life is pretty good” or “I am redeemed, dearly loved, and part of the big picture.” And one of the hardest parts is never really knowing if you have done your job. Because your job isn’t really hire the summer staff, schedule the meetings, plan the activities, raise the money, make the nametags. Right?
I had a past camper reach out to me out of the blue recently. She was part of a cohort of campers that have been a huge part of my life, so we’ve stayed in touch, but we usually just catch up and occasionally reminisce. I wouldn’t say I have an active role in many of their lives at this point. They know if they ever need someone, I will be there, and that’s good enough for me. Anyway, one of them sent me a message and said she needed to tell me something.
“Do you remember that time that one summer around a fire at worship when you had us write down something we were afraid to fail at and then you said to give it to God and then we crumpled our papers and threw them in the fire?” (Classic. I know.)
I tried to remember the specific night she was talking about, but I truly do not. This camper remembers the night vividly. She told me what she had written and burned, how many times she had thought about it, and the impact it has had on her through the years. It meant something to her. Something huge.
I probably pulled out that exercise at the last minute. I probably thought, “The kids are going to think this is pretty lame, but I don’t know what else to do.” I probably looked at Sam when the kids were in their tents, while we watched the fire go out, and said, “Do you think that went okay?”
“It was just on my mind again and I really wanted to share it with you. Never ever stop doing what you’re doing; you have quite literally changed my life.”
Y’all know I cried, right?
God used me. That prayer that sits near constantly on my lips was heard. He did something in someone else’s life through me. Hearing that and knowing it for certain is a moment I now treasure. (I totally get why those moments are rare now though because that stuff will go to your head.) And it came at the perfect time. As we meet people along the road, my first goal is to encourage them in their ministry. I want them to know what they do is so important, and not to quit, and to know that they are making a real difference even when they can’t see it. But I needed to know that too.
So here we are at the end of another summer. We ran the race and there’s not much waiting for us at the finish line except the start of another race. Here, it’s so important to know that when we ask God to use us, He never really says no. Heck, most of the time God says, “get ready,” and we are the ones digging our nails into the dirt. You might not get to see the finished product, but God is with you in the work. And every now and then, someone will send you a message that says, “Hey. Remember that night? I saw God there with you.”
I’ll take that over a cool banner any day.
We’re just about to wrap up our time here at Bay Shore Camp in Sebewaing, MI. Summer is officially underway and what we like to call “the chaos” has begun. We’ve been hearing from friends around the country who are getting their camp season started to, and it gets us so pumped about this ministry. Camp families are growing, burdens are being lifted, and people are experiencing the excellent joy that comes from God. This is the good stuff, y’all.
We are firm believers that a little bit of crazy is what makes the camp world turn. After all, what camp session is complete without a roll in the mud and something involving a rubber chicken? That chaos factor, the tendency for camp to be just one notch louder/sillier/bigger, is what sets the stage for kids to get PUMPED. How will we be different that the everyday? How will camp be a true experience instead of a week of babysitting? One huge thing you can add to your camp program to “amp it up” is music.
I know. You’re giving up on me here. “Music? No kidding. Of course we have music at camp.” Hang in there. We know music is already an integral part of most camp programs, but the types of music and the ways they are used can make a huge difference in how they alter your camp experience.
Having a good, eclectic playlist of “pump up music” at camp is like having a first aid kit on field game day. It’s a good idea. You are ready for any situation. Use it in the dining hall as a low backdrop to conversations. (Yes, it’s noisy. It’s fine.) Blast it while campers are coming into session and encourage dancing to get the moving before they have to sit still and pay attention. On the bus for an hour? Turn it up! Put every single game to music. Minute to win it games, capture the flag, I don’t care – put some Family Force 5 on that. I can’t explain what a huge difference this makes in the energy for both participants and spectators.
Have a “camp sanctioned playlist” that your counselors have access to and put on current Christian music whenever there is a dull moment. You’re not only psychologically bringing up the energy – you’re introducing your campers to music that they will (hopefully) enjoy enough to listen to at home. As much as we love “Rock, Sword, Shield,” – no one is jamming to that on the weekends with their friends, and at camp we are trying to offer tools that campers can use to lead a Christian life when they go home. Introducing a wide variety of artists and genres (and sweet dance moves) at camp is an excellent way to show them that Christian music isn’t always lame. (You don't have to use exclusively Christian artists, but base decisions on the artist, not the song. If you wouldn't play all of Shakira's music at camp, don't play one of her songs. Kids have the internet.)
The second way you can use music to “amp up” your program is a little less about energy and more about focus. We can (and should) use music as part of our daily programming at camp, but it is also an integral part of the spiritual development we teach.
Lyrics are powerful. The songs we choose to use during times of study, prayer, and worship at camp are significant far beyond how popular or catchy they are. This is where we as camp staff have to choose wisely and prayerfully the words that will be on our campers’ lips. What an amazing, yet daunting, task.
It’s my personal belief that not all Christian songs are worship songs. Let me be clear that this isn’t about “cultivating an experience” or manipulating our campers into a certain state of mind. However, I believe that songs from the first-person, which cry out to God or proclaim His glory to Him, are those that bring about the most intentional space of worship. We teach our campers that prayer and worship are about talking to God and offering Him praise. Songs that allow campers to say “I love you, God” and “God, I need you” out loud give them the chance to see how those words feel in their mouths. Sam and I purposefully choose songs like this for worship, and then always instruct our campers to ask themselves questions about what they are singing. Do I believe these words? What do I have to say to God? What do I need to cry out to God or praise Him for today?
This has been amazing for our camp worship experiences and for the transformation of our campers. We may not always sing the super popular song of the moment or have extremely high energy sessions, but we can help our campers truly understand the meaning of worship. Then we will have a dance party.
We’ve put together two Spotify playlists for you; the pumped up playlist is your go-to high energy mix, and the intentional worship playlist has some great songs for a transformational worship session. What songs do you think should be added to these lists?
We're coming at you with a quick blog post today amid the chaos of THE FIRST DAY OF CAMP! This is game day. This is the big one. This is our Super Bowl. Camp people wait all year for that official summer kickoff and we LOVE it.
But registration (aka camp check-in) is rarely our favorite part. No matter how much excitement you've got flowing, people tend to turn into zombie lunch ladies as soon as registration begins. People have to wait in line, they're grumpy, the kids are bored, and Dad can't remember the last time Sally had a tetanus shot. It's just not fun. So here's the good news and the bad news:
Registration is really important to the camp experience.
This is your first impression – for Johnny and his mom and dad. From that first moment when their mini van rolls up and they start trying to figure out what this place is all about, it's on. They need to know where to go and what to do, but they also need to know that this week is going to be awesome, inspiring, safe, and beyond their expectations. It's a tall order, but we have a few pro-tips for camp registration day to help you get through to the fun part.
1. Do It Online and Do It Before
When it comes to paperwork and camper registration, we have it so much better than the camp staff who have gone before. Technology makes it possible for us to take the pressure off of parents on Sunday afternoon. They don't have to take the time to fill out paperwork in front of you when they arrive, and if it's all turned in online, they don't to worry about forgetting it (and neither do you.)
As much as you can, integrate online forms that are sent to parents as soon as they sign their child up for camp. Depending on the registration system you use, this may be an easily integrated option. Make sure to assign a staff member to check up paperwork status prior to camper arrival; they can contact parents and ensure that everyone has their “stuff” in when they arrive to camp. For those inevitable few who still forget, have a station with a laptop or iPad set up out of the flow of traffic. There is certainly a cultural shift involved, but making it clear that information must be turned in online and prior to registration will revolutionize that first day flow.
2. Stadium Level Energy
This isn't the DMV, people – it's SUMMER CAMP. We are about to put on the most insane week of the summer; you don't want the first moments of it to feel like everyone's slowly dying. Get your summer staff GOING. Get a staff RedBull fridge, offer incentives to the most enthusiastic staff member of the day, do whatever it takes. This should be a party. Get some music bumping, offer refreshments, let cheering and dancing abound – the more awkward, the better!
Camper arrival sets the tone for the week. By ramping up the energy in those first moments, you're not only showing them that camp is going to be super fun, you're showing them that YOU are excited about this week too. Kids are like tiny human lie-detectors. They will know in an instant if your summer staff are not “feeling it” this week. Right away that sets the tone that the staff don't want to be here and if they don't want to be here, they definitely don't care that I am here or about what I need. This is bigger than excitement. This is about showing our campers that they matter to us and that we are genuinely psyched about them being here.
3. Campers Here, Parents Here
Something we've seen recently that we really like is separating campers and parents (temporarily) early on in the process. There will be time for visiting the camp store and checking to make sure Timmy didn't forget his socks, but you can cultivate some independence right away too.
Once you've made sure you have the completed liability forms, see step 1, have staff round up campers and their luggage in groups and head off to meet their counselors in the cabin. Parents get to go through the rest of the registration line without entertaining their 10 year-old, they can ask questions, and you can even offer a “parent orientation” for newbies. Meanwhile in the cabin, campers are feeling out the situation without mom or dad's hovering to add stress to the situation. Counselors get a chance to hype kids up and help them feel integrated so when parents come around for their tour, they see their child excited, adjusted, and part of a group.
This is a totally new concept to us that we wish we would have thought of first. What better time is there to get kids signed up for camp than right after an amazing week at camp?! At registration, let parents know that they can lock in their camper's spot for next year when they pick them up. Send them home with the form or at least a flyer with the camp schedule so that when they are back at the end of the week, they are quickly and simply ready to go for next year. The camps we have seen do this require a short form and a deposit, but offer a free tshirt and a locked in price in return. Who doesn't love free swag?
5. Every Time is Someone's First Time
This step has a prerequisite that you know how to genuinely encourage and train staff. When campers and parents start arriving, everyone on your team should be committed to the mission and prepared to greet people with that mission in mind. There will be parents who barely even say goodbye to their camper, but there will also be moms and dads that don't trust these “kids” with their baby and still aren't convinced they are leaving without that baby in the car. Teach your staff to treat every encounter with a parent or camper as though that person is a first-timer. Even if they have done this for 15 years, they deserve to be paid attention to, have their questions answered, and to be confident about what's next.
Stress the importance of interactions and relationships on this day. Every encounter is significant. Prepare your staff to make eye contact and be reassuring even when they are full of butterflies themselves. Teach them to get down on their camper's level and to speak professionally with parents. The more your team can prove they care in those first few moments of camp, the better everyone will feel about the week ahead.
We hope you can incorporate some of these tips at your camp registration! If you haven't already started welcoming campers this summer, get excited! The campers are coming and the hard work is all going to pay off. It's like camp Christmas! And even if camp is well underway where you are, remember – every time is someone's first time. We are pumped for you! May your summer be full of joy and your registration be a party.
This weekend we were able to help with Family Fun Weekend at Bay Shore Camp in Sebewaing, MI. Every summer, the camp welcomes the community to come out, bring a tent or RV, and enjoy a weekend with their family – completely free. It’s an awesome outreach of this ministry, and we were so glad to be here in time to help out. So, the weekend wraps up Sunday morning with a casual worship service for those who are still around, hosted by one of the local churches. We showed up (late as always), sang a few songs along with a Bluetooth speaker, and looked out over the beautiful Saginaw Bay.
Because I am still more of a 4-year-old than a 24-year-old, I sometimes have a little trouble paying attention in church. I know, I’m a sinner, but an hour is a really long time, okay?! This morning, the little girl sitting in front of me was experiencing the same difficulty, so we spent a good amount of time making faces at each other and kicking cottonwood “snow.” It was great fun.
For a moment, I felt overwhelmed with the knowledge that this little girl, with her long blond hair and string bean legs, hasn’t really started the “life” part of life yet. The pastor started talking about Gideon and about having a different view of yourself than God has for you, and I thought about this little girl. She’s not worried yet. She’s not ashamed yet. She doesn’t feel responsible, guilty, afraid, or worthless in big ways yet. You could tell by her silly demeanor and soft eyes that, for the most part, her life was more good than bad and more hope than sorrow. I was so happy for her.
I started to pray for her. Nothing serious or specific, but just that God would use her life. I prayed that peace and silliness would last for her and that she would be guarded against darkness. I’m still not sure why out of all the kids I spent time with this weekend I wanted to pray for her, but even now I feel so drawn to her serenity. I wanted to protect it and keep the world from squishing her joy. I asked God to give her strength and community, and to make sure she goes to camp.
Yesterday was the “official” six-month mark on this project. We left for our first camp on January 10. That was 12 camps (technically 15) and 15 states ago. Something like 13,000 miles ago. It’s been a journey with a lot of things we expected, but more that we didn’t. We’ve been in awe of nature and seen amazing ministries at work. We saw Austin, White Sands, Picacho Peak, and fell in love with Prescott, AZ. We’ve been to San Diego, LA, and Vegas. We visited Death Valley, Moab, and Park City. We saw hot air balloons, an ocean, lakes, and mountains, mountains, mountains – and most importantly made THE BEST new friends. I’m overwhelmed already by the life we have lived together these past six months. But, we’ve also had awful fights, been lost and stuck, and let hopelessness/laziness/frustration take over. We’ve let our social anxiety get the best of us, been afraid, and not built relationships the way we wanted to. All the while we’ve been asking ourselves the same question; “what the heck are we doing here?”
I know that we had a lot of high hopes for this project – and we still do. We want to achieve the things we set out to do, no matter how many times we have to revise the how. But we’ve also learned humility in big ways. There’s been a lot of letting go and a lot of saying “whatever you want, God.” It’s a really big, hard moment when the depth of your passion for something doesn’t match up with the world’s response to the work you do. But we can’t let it go. It matters too much.
Through all the gray areas on this leg of the journey, one thing has become so clear. It was clear to me this morning, praying for that sweet little girl to have joy in her life, to know Jesus, and to have a community that supports, protects, and loves her. Camp is important. For kids who haven’t had to deal with “life” yet, and for people who have been hardened by it, camp can change everything. We love this ministry because it’s all about the good stuff – healing and joy and family and courage and Jesus. Camp exists for that one little girl with soft eyes, so that she can know she is loved and forgiven by the most amazing God and so that she can have honest relationships with people who will love her like Jesus. That’s too good not to share.
This summer, I would love to share the stories of people who have been changed by camp. As we serve in the thick of camp season, I want to be able to write about what all the work is for and encourage other “camp people” that it’s all worth it. If you’d like to be a part of that, please send me your camp story and a photo to email@example.com or share on our Facebook page.
For me, the greatest joy of traveling for a living is meeting new people. We’ve been fortunate enough in our full-time RVing experience to make real relationships and what I hope will be lifelong friendships. It feels as though each camp we visit adds to a family that is forming around us, cheering us on and uniting behind the desire to bring camping ministry – and Jesus – to all new people.
It’s a special kind of opportunity to meet another person who shares your passions and endeavors. A few months ago in New Mexico, I got to meet Ashley. Ashley and her husband work in Christian camping, are raising two beautiful (and silly) children, and maintain a home that welcomes you in and says “you’re family.” Ashley and Ford were wonderful to just hang out with and get to know, and I have so much respect for people who open their home earnestly to others. Sam and Ford had a great time talking about woodworking (check out Ford’s insta) and Ashley and I bonded over things we love – blogging and food.
Ashley is the hospitality guru behind Food and Fellowship – a blog about preparing delicious, homemade food and serving people with grace and love. For Ashley and her family, a table is not a flat surface with legs – it is “ the heart of the home, where love is expressed through food… where the body, mind, and soul are nourished and sustained.”
First of all, Ashley’s cooking is divine. It’s the kind of food you put in your mouth and think, “Is this a sin?” Her blog is fun to read, easy to follow, and will have you cultivating fellowship around your kitchen table like. a. boss. Ashley loves cooking for people, making them smile and laugh, and having honest conversations. I talked with her about my desire to have an “open door policy” no matter what our living situation is (entertaining in 70 square feet is NEAT). Sam and I have hosted a few guests since moving into the camper, but I want people to know they are still, and always will be, welcome in our home. Providing a safe place for others to land is a core value Sam and I share. Our door and our arms will be open for you, no matter what. Our door is just a little smaller now…
Ashley inspired me to try my hand at food blogging. I wanted to try coming up with my own recipe and sharing it with others this way. However, I am NOT A COOK. I should not be trusted. I still can’t figure out why there are two utensils both called spatulas (WHY?). No one should take culinary advice from me. But I have a blog and a camera and no one stopped me, so here it is!
Sticking with the “camp” theme, I wanted to make a meal that fills you up with memories of cooking over a fire, starry nights, and summer. I have always loved “hobo meals,” tin foil pouches filled with hearty ingredients and cooked over coals. As a kid, ground beef and potatoes was my JAM. As an adult… potatoes make me feel a little guilty. After a little brainstorming, I think I actually found a way to combine traditional camp food, entertaining guests, and healthy choices all in one recipe. It’s was like magic, friends. May I present, The Healthy Hobo.
The heart of hobo dinners is basic ingredients that meld well together. For this rendition, we went with ground turkey, sweet potatoes, onions, and peppers. I mixed yellow bell and poblano (and a teeny bit of serrano) because I am a pepper enthusiast, but really any pepper will work. The ingredients can easily be prepped beforehand so you and your company can just make a foil pouch, scoop in the goods, and chuck it in the campfire. These foil pouch meals also work great in a toaster oven for rainy nights.
Pick your favorite picnic basket and some baggies, then get your veggies read for pouch-filling:
Sweet potatoes peeled and cubed.
Peppers sliced (or diced).
And there you have it! Fill that basket up with your baggies, meat, foil, silverware, and tongs, and you have a beautiful bounty that you can present to your guests like a cornucopia. Very impressive.
CRAP. DON’T FORGET THE MARSHMALLOWS. That fluff is important.
When the party gets going, everyone can pick and choose what to fill their pouch with and nestle it into the coals. Be prepared – these will take a while to cook, but the conversations around the fire are the fun part. It’s good to flip the pouches every few minutes and peek inside about 15 minutes in – base the “doneness” on the sweet potatoes. When the pouch is good to go, just pop it open at the top and dig in – no need for dishes! We like to sprinkle ours with a little salt and some shaved parmesan, but you do you.
Be sure to round out the meal with a roasted marshmallow (or 4) and a healthy portion of laughter around the fire.
The Healthy Hobo
A health(ish) spin on the traditional camp hobo dinner. Feeds 4-6.
If you’re looking for a quick way to get conversation going in a room full of camp people, ask this question: “What is the best camp game?” After the yelling dies down and you get that one guy out of a headlock, you’ll be in just about the same place you were before. Everyone has their go-to games and each camp has it’s tried and true list of games they teach counselors every year. When you’re in a pinch and need to get a game going NOW, you’re going to play that same one that you’ve been leaning on since summer one. And it works. So, what’s the point of playing new games? And why are games so important to begin with?
Camp games, along with just about everything else we do at camp, are intended to facilitate experience, conversation, and relationships. From the “time wasters” around the table to the crazy competitions on the field, the games you play with your campers should be integral to the transformation you want to see in them at the end of the week. The point might not always come across as clearly as an initiative breakdown – “we each had a role in the game like we all have a role in the body of Christ, etc. etc.” – but you should know the purpose and impact of each activity whether you’re letting the campers in on it or not. Building trust, encouraging creativity, emphasizing the importance of diversity, removing barriers, developing confidence, and creating memorable moments are just some of the “side effects” of playing a game.
The more games you can add to your arsenal, the better. As someone involved in youth ministry/camping/any social setting, you become an asset to your team when you can facilitate purpose-driven activities – especially ones that are new and exciting. When week 8 rolls around and your senior high campers are getting sassy – “I already know ~the point~ of this game, Sara – you can hit them with a challenge that gets them functioning as a team in new ways (and you can have the last word which is fun).
I know there is no way I could sit here and serve up THE list of camp games. That would make me camp Yoda and I would be getting paid lots of money for my knowledge and gracing others with my presence (I’m not). I can however facilitate a conversation on what games Sam and I love, the categories we see games fall into, and what games YOU love at your camp. Check out some of our favorites, then share yours – and how you use them to create transformation at camp.
The GTKYs (Get To Know You Games)
These games are the foundation for building your team. Some “getting to know you” will happen organically, but facilitating it through games helps level the playing field and discourages cliquing.
Toilet Paper Game
Passing around a roll of toilet paper, tell your campers someone forgot to place the order and that’s all the paper you have for the week. They should take the amount they think they will need to “make it.” After the paper has been passed, explain that each person now has to share a fact about themselves for each square of paper they are holding. (Make sure to gather paper up and recycle at the end.)
The TP game is one that makes everyone laugh. Your returning campers get to be in on the joke, and your newbies just think it’s funny you’re talking about bathroom habits in the first 30 minutes of camp. Pro Tip: Set a timer during which each camper has to say their personal facts – otherwise you end up with the kid who filibusters the game.
Have the group walk around the space, weaving through each other while saying/chanting/singing the word “mingle” over and over again. When the facilitator shouts “GROUPS OF 4 (or whatever number)” they should immediately cling to those closest to form a group and sit down. The facilitator then says a direction such as “share your favorite book” or “share a time when you won something” and lets the conversation progress until they are ready to yell MINGLE again.
I mostly love Mingle because it is hilarious to listen to everyone chant like the birds from Finding Nemo. Cracks me up every time. It’s also great for getting people to have face-to-face conversations with a variety of people early on. Pro Tip: Consider the group size and directions as inverses – groups of nine should have directions like “share your favorite ice cream” while groups of two or three can have directions like “share something you are excited about and nervous about for this week.”
The Active Games
Games with energy drive excitement and teamwork in your group, and competition is healthy for group dynamic (nothing bonds kids faster than determination to win an imaginary prize). Keep in mind that active games are inherently the ones where the playing field divides – adding silly/awkward/chaotic elements to active games keeps certain kids from stealing the show.
So, there’s a rubber chicken and running around and passing things between your legs… Why don’t I just let Ultimate Camp Resource explain:
“1) Start with 2 teams. 2) One camper is given a throwable object [rubber chicken], their team then forms a circle around them and that person throws the object. 3) After he/she has thrown the object then he/she goes around the circle saying everyone's name in order of the circle. Every time he makes it around the circle it counts as a run. 4)Meanwhile the other team is chasing the object. Everyone forms a line behind the first person that has gotten the object. They then pass the object between their legs until it reaches the last person, where it is then passed overhead back to the first person in line. [we always do an “over under” pattern to the back and to the front] 5) When the first person gets the object the team yells out, and the other team stops counting runs. The first person in line that retrieved the object now has a circle formed around him and he throws the object and the process reverses.” (UCR)
We once had a camp counselor so obsessed with this game that he bought himself a personal rubber chicken to make sure he was always ready to play. It gets intense, but is hilarious and different from the typical Monday night kickball.
Each person is armed with half a pool noodle. The object is to tag the other player with the noodle – but only on the butt. When a player is tagged, they hold their noodle over their head and come out of bounds for a new noodle. With a new noodle, they are back in play.
The 12-year-olds and I always ALWAYS laugh at the name butt tag. You can call it something more appropriate if you want to, but it is just plain fun no matter what it’s called. This is one of those games that gets everybody looking and feeling ridiculous, which is awesome for breaking down barriers and opening the group up. There’s no winner and plenty of chaos – what’s not to love? Pro Tip: Anyone who gets crazy/out of control with the noodle sits out the rest of that round.
Have everyone break off in pairs and link elbows. Designate one team to start – one person chases the other person. The person being chased can link arms with one of the other teams by saying the person’s name and then linking arms with them. The “third link” must then run, as they are now the one being chased.
Most people know this one, but it is so simple and perfect for being in a pinch that I had to include it. It is a magic game that most groups will just keep playing FOREVER until you stop them. I love it because those who are not “running inclined” can just link up again quickly but still participate. Pro Tip: If you notice a chaser is struggling to catch anyone, yell SWITCH and the runner is now the chaser (so the former chaser can link up again and catch a break).
The "What Do We Do Now" Games
I hate wasted time. There’s definitely a time and place for free hangout time, but those moments of sitting and waiting when you see the boredom setting in are the perfect time to bust out one of these. You can use those otherwise pointless periods to laugh together and create “campy” memories.
Everyone sits in a circle with their hands on the table/ground in front of them. Each person places their left hand on the other side of the person to their left’s right hand (so that the hands in the circle now alternate mine, not mine, mine). The goal is to tap the table one hand at a time in the circle (it’s way harder than it sounds). Ramp things up by going faster or double tapping to reverse the direction.
I don’t know why this game is so fun. It makes no sense, but it’s addicting. Once it’s introduced, campers will start to do it on their own whenever they are bored. Campers facilitating their own productive activity? Sign me up.
Everyone stands in a circle facing each other. One player yells “ninja” and the players freeze in their best ninja poses. Beginning with the player who declared ninja, the players take turns attempting to swipe one of their neighbors’ hands. The other player may move to evade the attack, but both players must freeze in the pose the move leaves them in. Next, the defending player takes their turn attempting to swat one of their neighbors’ hands. If a player’s hand is swatted they have “lost” that hand. The goal is to be the last player with a “good hand.” Important note: players may move their arms and bodies only when attacking or defending, but their feet must remain planted.
This game has a cult following (including Sam) that I do not understand. However, it is the perfect game for standing around in parking lots or whatever other moments when you’re like “uhhhhh, NINJA.” It will not let you down.
The "Why Did We Ever Teach Them This" Games
There are camp games in this world that once you have introduced them, you can’t take them back. Your campers will shun all other activities and want only to play these games for hours on end. They will drive you absolutely insane, but for some reason they build a bond between your campers that you don’t know how to facilitate otherwise – so bring on the spoons.
Spoons (AKA Demon Musical Chairs)
Players are dealt a hand of cards and spoons are placed in the middle of the table – one less than the number of players. Dealer draws one card at a time from deck and passes it around the circle. Each person can pass the card or keep it and pass another. When a player achieves 4 of a kind, they grab a spoon and everyone else must grab a spoon. Person without a spoon is out.
There is always blood with Spoons. Okay, almost always. People will murder each other over this game, but it is all worth it for the memories they’ll make in the end – right? Pro Tip: Don’t play with forks.
This is one you can either buy a set of cards for (PHARISEES) or create your own with a normal deck of cards, as follows:
Narrator – “Everyone go to sleep. (Everyone closes their eyes.) Mafia wake up. Point out who you want to “whack.” (They silently indicate a player.) Mafia go to sleep. Doctor wake up. Who do you want to heal? (Doctor selects a person. If same person as mafia selected, they survive.) Doctor go to sleep. Detective wake up. Who do you want to investigate? (Detective points to a person and narrator nods if they are mafia.) Detective go to sleep. Everyone wake up.”
The narrator then recalls a tale if a player was in fact “wacked” and they are out of the game. If the doctor was successful, “it was a quiet night.” A strangely serious discussion then ensues in which the townspeople (everyone participates to keep identities a secret) decide if anyone should go on trial. That person can “defend” themselves on why they aren’t mafia, but are put to a vote and if voted as mafia, executed. (I know, I don’t understand how this one makes it at camp either.) The rounds essentially continue that way until one team wins – by killing off the other team.
I know this one is definitely a hard sell (all the killing), but I can’t say enough how much high school campers LOVE this game. From a facilitator standpoint, mafia lets people be creative and put on a character, which I think ironically gets them to be themselves more. It will also reveal the good liars in your group, which is useful information. (I’m kidding – kind of.) Mafia is great for late nights and takes some focus/commitment to be played well. It’s hard to explain, but everyone loves Mafia. Pro Tip: A quick Google search will offer a bunch of twists you can add to mix things up – or come up with your own!
Games For A Reason
I know I said that all games we play at camp are for a reason, but these are some of my favorites with immediate turnaround. I love games and object lessons that have a-ha moments – I often take time out of Bible studies or devotions for these games.
Divide group into teams of 4ish. Wrap the team together using a roll of cellophane. Then, have the teams perform a race/obstacle course, timing each team. Team with the best time wins.
Super simple, but the breakdown is KILLER. Discuss with your group what made the game harder/easier. Ask what would happen if one person chose to veer off on their own path versus everyone going together toward the goal. The point here is to bring the team to an understanding that striving toward the goals of the week together is going to be an easier ride, and that one person can easily derail the whole production.
I See You See
You’ll need a couple printed out pictures of objects/plants/animals. Everyone needs paper and a writing utensil. Have a volunteer come up and describe the image using only shape words (i.e. draw a circle on top of a line next to a square). Compare the original to the group’s drawings. Try a couple times with new volunteers.
This one is a little difficult to get the “describer” to play along, but worth it for the lesson (and the hilariously bad drawings). I love to use this with groups before a week filled with worship, small group, and chapel lessons to encourage them to discover their own beliefs. In the same way that their image of a cake is not clear or perfect when received through someone else, their understanding of God/Jesus/faith and their own beliefs won’t be 100% when it comes out of someone else’s mouth. It’s important for campers to trust leaders, but it’s also extremely important for them to see their own understanding of what they believe.
Things You Didn’t Notice
Collect a nonsensical list of observations from around camp (i.e. how many lights are in the dining hall, what color is the sign at the barn, etc.) and quiz the group (usually in teams). Whoever gets the most correct wins. They won’t get many, but this is the point.
This one goes deep pretty fast. I ask the group to discuss what was hard about the game, and lead them to the conclusion that they just don’t normally pay attention to or notice little details like that. Our week together could be very similar to this game, where we don’t notice the people around us or what they are going through, or very different, where we take time to focus on others and get to know them for real. This is a great way to have the “you never know what someone is going through” conversation with a tangible concept of how it feels to have not noticed something right under your nose.
These are some tried and true Richardson favorite games – in fact, I’m sure some of our past campers are reading this and groaning at the thought of playing them AGAIN. So, we need your help to grow our camp game collection! What games are famous at your camp and how do they help you transform lives?
“What’s it like living in a camper?”
Sam and I get asked this all the time. We usually say something noncommittal like, “Oh it’s fine,” or “You know, pretty great.” In reality, I think this move may end up being one of the best decisions of our life together.
A few things set this lifestyle apart. They are the unique challenges of camper living, but also the experiences that we believe are strengthening our relationships and character. Let’s go ahead and put them in a list. (people love lists, right?)
In downsizing, there is frustration, but there is also freedom. Moving into the camper, we had the challenge/privilege of getting rid of our “stuff.” Even in our less than two years of living in our first home, we had acquired so much… crap. I’m not sure what else to call it. At the time, with all that space to fill, those things seemed like an important part of our life. But now, without them, what has really changed?
I wouldn’t say we have achieved minimalist status yet. We kept a good amount of stuff in boxes back in PA for the potential day when we have a house again. The more time we spend living in the trailer though, the more I forget what is even in those boxes. We still have what I would call too much. We’re constantly looking for a new spot or a way to make another nook serve a purpose. But letting go has become something that feels good instead of scary.
Our best advice on downsizing is to do it several times. Take on one room at a time and go through everything – keep, store, release. Then do it again. And then one more time. You’ll truly feely your addictions and insecurities. After you’re done feeling dirty about how madly in love you are with things, you get to enjoy saying “this is all I need” (and in reality it’s still more than you need.) For us, it brought us closer to being able to say, “God, you are all we need.”
One beautiful thing is that now we know our life together isn’t built on objects or a physical foundation. We did love having a house where we could serve others and people were always welcome. Being there let us establish roots and a community (that we miss every day.) But in the letting go, we have been forced to trust God and rely on each other. When the setting is constantly changing and you strip away those extra comfort things, you turn to relationships and people become the center of your life.
On a similar note, 70 square feet is not the Taj Mahal. Pro: It is amazing to only have one room to clean. Con: There is only one room. You sleep in it, eat in it, work in it, get ready for the day in it, relax in it (just kidding we don’t relax.) For the most part, we enjoy the functionality of our space. We’re used to it and we like it. But then there are the days when we really “feel the space.” Usually it’s when Sam is editing and dinner is cooking so the toaster oven takes up the whole counter and ingredients are everywhere and I’m trying to mop the floor because I can’t eat dinner when the floor is dirty and Peyton is running back and forth and knocks down the fold-up table and something spills or shatters. I have never had a better look in the mirror than recognizing how out of control I feel in those moments. There’s a running joke that if you pray for patience, God will give it to you. So, if everyone could stop praying for patience for us, that would be great.
The positive half of this situation is that usually (when I’m done crying) we have a good laugh about it and try to spend more time outside. Feeling cooped up reminds us that we are meant to be outside and that our lifestyle allows us to do that. And you truly can’t take yourself too seriously when you are balancing mixing bowls on the space heater.
As much as you can, keep your space clean. I am the number one culprit of the mess in our trailer; I leave a trail of chaos everywhere I go. But, it really does help to take 20 minutes and put everything away. In a camper, everything must have a place. Try as much as possible to only use the space for one purpose at a time. (this is a kitchen, now it is an office, etc. – instead of this is a kitchenofficebedroomplaypen) Go outside whenever possible. Oh, and don’t be afraid to use the bathroom as a panic room. A toilet doubles as a chair when the lid is down.
Of all the expensive counseling and self-help books in the world, nothing will impact your marriage quite like parking a travel trailer. I’m sure there are important lessons about teamwork and communication in here somewhere, but mostly you will just know the taste of rage and someone will end up spending some time in the “panic room.” If you are still married when the trailer is where it needs to be, congratulations. You’re going to be just fine.
It feels amazing to know that this is our home. It’s teensy and 40+ years old and something is always broken, but it is ours. When asked, we always recommend choosing an older RV/camper that you can reinvent. It certainly won’t save you much, if any, money (see this blog), but there’s nothing quite like looking around and realizing you crafted something you love.
Our three top tips for your home on wheels of choice: make it functional, choose amazing colors, and violently remove any and all carpeting. Transitional features sound great, but consider whether you are actually going to want to convert your bed into a table every day (nope.) Think about the purpose of every space and object, and if it doesn’t have one, set it on fire. Or, just get rid of it, that works too. A coat of white paint changes everything. Any chance you get to make the space brighter, do it. And as far as carpet goes, just get rid of all of it. Trust me.
There are a lot of reasons we love camper life. It helps us focus on what’s important. We get to see amazing things all the time. Even with the chaos, it’s a ton of fun. But one of our favorite things is that we get to be part of a huge community of people who have also decided to be done with the way life is “supposed” to look.
Making the camper our full-time home has, at times, been a source of anxiety for us. We’ve worried a lot about what people think and whether it was a responsible decision. I consider those completely healthy reactions and I hope that anyone considering a giant life change thinks about those things a little bit. For us, those were insecurities we had to come to terms with so that we could pursue the work we had to do.
I often look to the story of Moses in those times of fear. When God asked him to go to Pharaoh, Moses didn’t just feel unqualified, he was by most standards actually not the best man for the job. He was probably going to look stupid. He would probably not be able to do it alone. There was a really good chance that he would mess it up big time. People people probably thought Moses was a little crazy. Moses had ONE MILLION excuses. But, in the end, God worked through him. (There was some other complicated stuff in the middle there, but you get the idea.)
Living outside of the standards we know are expected of us is very nerve-wracking. We definitely have those moments of “we should probably be focusing on careers and buying a house and thinking about the future” and even more frequently find ourselves thinking “is this really what we should be doing with our lives?” But I know that because there is fear in this, there is freedom in it. If it all felt easy and safe, how much could it shape our lives or change our hearts?
I think living in the trailer is a “camp” experience for us. Camp draws us out of our element. It takes away the things we have built up and know to be true. It makes us recognize our addictions and insecurities and lack of control. In all of that is when we see clearly, build foundations in people and relationships, and trust God the most. Maybe in making camp our lives, it became our distraction and dependence, so God had to take us out of that safe space for transformation to happen. If that’s the case, I’ll take the paring down and the uncomfortable moments and the uncertainty, because I know what God can do through camp.