Indiana and Ohio: Building Emotional Room

Many apologies to those of you who were anticipating a blog post from me last week! When I left Bedford Christian Camp in Southern Indiana I was fairly emotionally drained. I wasn’t sure how I was feeling and what to do with many of the experiences and stories shared with me.

Location of Bedford Christian Camp in Indiana.

Many high schoolers I met have problems and hardships much deeper, and more real than many adults have. I heard stories of depression, drug abuse, and strained familial relationships (three very hard life experiences 16-year olds shouldn’t have to deal with).
As someone who hasn’t lived lives even remotely as stressful, I felt compelled to be empathetic, to listen, and to comfort. Yet, I’m no professional counselor or well versed in pastoral care. Which means, I was offering all I knew by listening and being present, but by listening I felt for them and for their struggles. I was unsure how to process hearing stories where many of these youth have felt so alone and hurt… I couldn’t give them advice or wisdoms from my experiences, I had no real way of taking away their pains—and they knew more than I did.

A beautiful rainbow I saw from the deck of the dining hall in Bedford, IN.

The youth weren’t going through the issues alone, they had counselors and doctors and pastors and parents and friends. But they were struggling with their spiritual relationships, their connection to a higher power or community. That is what camp gave them, and that is part of the power of camp. Community.

I saw a hawk and snapped a pick before she flew away.

I’m not sure if I realized this until I was in Ohio, my home region, serving a camp that has transformed in so many different and beautiful ways over the past four years. I worked as secretary for the past three years at Camp Christian and I didn’t hesitate to volunteer for so many administrative needs during the week. Partially because I like to stay busy and feel needed, but partially because I was a little afraid to let myself be emotionally burnt out again. I had no problem volunteering to lead dances and songs and activities, my physically energy was replenishable. But my emotional stamina and patience was reaching max capacity.

The location of Camp Christian in Magnetic Springs, Ohio.

Therefore, the more I stayed busy leading workshops, helping out in the nurse’s office, and helping facilitate dances, the less emotional energy I was expending.
AND THEN, I had this liberating realization (brace yourself for its clichéd nature) that in an intentional community, we all have different gifts and talents. AND, those differences fill in the gaps where some of us lack. In Ohio, I was in need of pastoral care… and I received from some of my dearest role models in life. They allowed me to drown myself in work and stay busy and feel needed…and when I finally began to be OK? The other counselors and directors were there for me! They listened, they understood and they were empathetic. The same techniques I used when I didn’t know what I was doing.

A candle left after a serenade at Camp Christian in Ohio.

Then, they affirmed me, they lifted me up, they appreciated me, and they humbled me. I felt spiritually rejuvenated and reinvigorated.
So much so that when Friday’s worship service rolled around, I felt comfortable and willing to engage in prayer affirmations with campers. It was probably one of my best moments at camp this summer. I no longer felt too emotionally drained, I had built room for these youth, not by decompressing or forgetting other youth and hardships, but through a community that could help me fill in the gaps.
And just by praying with and affirming others, I finally felt emotionally free again—a feeling I hope I carry with me throughout the rest of the summer.

The evenings were gorgeous at Camp Christian in Ohio.

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One Comment

  1. Robert R. Howard
    Posted July 3, 2017 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Hi, Joe, sounds like you experienced noth side of something called a “ministry of presence.” Listening empathetically as someone unburdens their soul shares strength, and, yes, reels in strength from beyond you. An empathetic listener may not be able to solve the problem, but the act of compassionate listening itself, as you experienced later, gives immense help. As you did in Indiana, bless you.

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