We just celebrated my youngest son’s 6th birthday. If you’ve been to camp while we’re there, you may have seen him dangling from the top of the giant crepe myrtle tree outside the Ranch House. That’s the kind of kid he is. So, planning a party for him involved seeking out the spirit of adventure. We decided to tackle the Enchanted Rock cave system with Rowan, his siblings, and five of his friends.
Upon arrival, we doled out headlamps and some brief instructions to listen well, take care of each other, and not to bump heads on rocks. My wife and I, and a good friend spread throughout the group and down we went. It got dark quickly. It was tight. There were moments of vertical descent and moments of claustrophobic belly crawling. It was more than we had bargained for and required everyone’s concentration, even the kids. Did we reach a dead end? No, there’s a faded orange arrow spray painted on the rocks pointing to a tiny passage that leads into the next chamber… and further down and further in.
We had to work together. The adults were lifting and passing kids to each other during the more difficult sections. Some of the kids had brief moments of fear. But there were constant words of encouragement being tossed around. I was so proud of these kids. They were more capable than we were prepared to give them credit for. They dug deep. They showed grit and a will for adventure. They cared for and helped each other—holding hands, and making room for each other when we were in tight spaces.
Here’s the thing—my kids are amazing, beautiful, wonderful children, but they fight a lot these days. It’s kind of rare to have moments where everyone is doing the same thing and getting along well. But you know what our kids didn’t do when we were in that cave? They didn’t fight. The task was too big. The challenge of traversing this cave system demanded their complete focus and attention. There wasn’t any competition. Teamwork and trust were a must.
At some point it dawned on me that this is what camp offers to so many kids—a place to be challenged. A place to do something big that demands attention. A place where you often have to rely on teamwork and trust. A place where the complexities of the world are forgotten for a while, and you can just focus on what (and who) is right in front of you. It’s places and times like these where God is somehow able to move and speak more clearly. We grow closer to friends who live the experience with us. Often, we glimpse more of who God is calling us to be and we live into that calling a bit more.
When we found daylight on the other side, each person that exited the tiny hole in the ground let out a yell of triumph mixed with relief. The high-fiving was spirited. We were truly proud of ourselves and of each other. We dusted off, rubbed some bumped elbows and knees, and found our way back to the picnic area where we ate cake, sang Happy Birthday, and then headed back home with a couple of carfuls of tuckered out, 6-year-old cavers. Did my kids fight in the car on the way home? Probably. But I know enough to trust that adventures like these will continue to shape them for as long as they hold the memory. And I bet they’ll hold it forever. Lessons learned at camp and down in life’s caves are hard to forget.
Tom Bowyer – LLYC Director at Echo Valley