When I sat down in a brand new rocking chair at Headwaters to interview Hilary Monford during my week out at Family Camp, I didn’t know that my sliver of time would turn into a counseling session.
See, my last summer on LLYC staff was, well, a disaster. By the time I got out to the Canyon for work week, my eating disorder had escalated to new heights. And of course I was hired as a cook that summer! I spent record-breaking time in the Bible each day, but really I felt like a god. As a cook, I had access to whatever I wanted to eat (or never eat), whenever I wanted. And for all of you staffers who weren’t allowed access to the kitchen (read: had to eat what was served), I inwardly sighed, “Suckers!”
From the outside, I fit the camp mold perfectly. I was fit, healthy and spiritual. But I was also sick.
I described to Hilary that first summer the new ranch house was open at Echo Valley. But instead of this state-of-the-art facility becoming my ally, it became my worst enemy. Granted, this was a heavily eating disordered era in the Canyon (our poor kitchen director, Mary Echols), but I was in control. Or so I thought. But by week four, I was a mess. I’d exhausted all of my self-will, been caught in the walk-in freezer with cookie dough in hand – poor Wade Everton walked in and said in shock, “Oh, I thought you didn’t eat that stuff.” Because normally I didn’t, but when I did, I sure made it count. Then, always counteracting my indulgence, I forced myself to organize a run to Leakey. But a 13 mile run couldn’t fix this inner-beast and neither could I. Finally, when I felt like I was drowning, I knew I had to talk to Kevin Mayne. I told him everything and by that evening we decided it would be best for me to go home and get some help. I can still remember that it was the first night of a new session – chicken fried steak dinner, which requires all hands on deck. As I gathered my things from the kitchen, I saw Kevin Mayne, battering meat and covered in flour. “As an executive director,” he said, “there should be no job I am above doing.” My tears kept rolling. I love that man.
As we rocked on the back porch, I told Hilary that since that summer, my relationship with camp has never been the same. I’d always felt like I let people down. After all, I am a Remuda two-timer; age 20 and 28. I’m not proud of that, but that’s the road I took. And that road also involved holding camp at a cautious arm’s length.
Then, a few years ago, my husband and I returned to the Canyon for a weekend retreat. We fell back in love with camp. And, finally free from food and exercise obsession, I was able to simply be in that majestic place. We both were. So, we kept going back.
Most recently, we helped break-in Headwaters. That’s when I met with Hilary in order to hear about her camp experience, only to tell her mine! Half-way into our talk, she grabbed her keys and said, “We are going to the Echo kitchen.” I followed. And something amazing happened. I walked into a kitchen sort of like my own at home, just bigger so it can feed more folks. I saw sinks, hoses, grills, mixers and pantries. All put there for a purpose, with no personal vendetta against me. Even the walk-ins didn’t attack me when I entered. I’m not new at this, I know what exposure therapy is, but this journey took away any power that kitchen had over me. Finally, it was just a kitchen.
Hilary reminded me that I can’t out-sin God. And that any shame I have from that time in my life is not mine to carry. So I will keep going back to the place I took a chance on 20 years ago. To that Bluff where I asked God to take this wayward heart and make it like His. To that Hole that baptizes me with each leap off the cliff. And I will keep taking my children there and pray they return again and again throughout life.
I know plenty of us former campers and staffers left on a sour note, but what God showed me this past week is that we shouldn’t leave before camp truly ends. Are we willing to return, all of these years later, and let God work on our hearts in that place where we grew, worshiped, were stretched, convicted and yet simultaneously spoiled with love? I didn’t know if I would ever drive through those H.E.B. Foundation Camp gates again. But, boy, am I glad I did. And I’m glad to know that He isn’t done with me yet!