I woke up to the sound of my alarm clock clashing with the creak of the springy folding bed that, along with two 2” inch mattress pads and a sleeping bag, served as my place of rest in the office located in the front of the camp lodge. The only camp dad for 70 or so girls on what was, for many, their first overnight stay, I was able to have a bit of quiet and privacy to write, read and prepare myself for the next day.
After washing and getting dressed- t-shirt, long pants, boots, a red bandana, name tag and trusty flat cap- I greeted the weekend kitchen staff and began to help them put frozen French toast sticks and sausage links onto large trays for baking. The girls would be hungry, and they would need the energy to get through the weekend. I did what was needed, trying to say prayers in between each placement.
Later that day, I would be helping girls roast marshmallows, play tether-ball, and learn how to safely hike down steep trails. And then I would wake up and do it again, with a sense of peace all the way through.
As I drove home with my oldest daughter asleep in the back seat, I wondered why it was that I felt such a strong sense of peace in my duties. It was a peace that would carry on as I was serving during AFCon’s Divine Liturgy, and then later as I helped prepare the kitchen for 150+ day campers the week after AFCon. I would lead another hike, this time to teach Juniors how to find a good walking stick, and how to think about their strengths and areas of growth as change agents. How is it that I found this peace in working with campers, but lost it as soon as I returned to my normal duties?
In talking to one of the camp directors, she hit the nail on the head when she said this to me:
“It’s nice not to be in charge all the time.”
In my life, I have a lot of duties and leading to do. I am responsible for providing economic stability for the people I love. I have a lot of leadership tasks and duties in making my living. I am a source of support for many people. I spend one evening a week teaching people how to become better leaders.
I think the best lesson I got in leadership, and in being a positive presence, was from being a part of campouts. I was the one camp dad on staff, who helped make sure fires were adequately extinguished, who got sticky hands from roasting marshmallows for dozens of girls and their leaders, and who kept them safe on the trails. In those moments, all I could do was breathe, pray to be blessed with adequate wisdom, and simply serve with passion. I realize that leading is often about quietly serving with passion and enthusiasm, rather than out of control or a desire for power.
In the days where I suffer from severe doubt about being able to make a decent impact on someone’s life, I have to remember the faces of the girls who frantically tried to blow out their flaming marshmallows, who smiled as they walked to the campfire circle with their new friends, and who came home happy, telling their families about what they learned from their leaders and aides.
We can all fall into the trap of thinking that impact has to be something dramatic and major.
But stepping back and being a calming presence for them, rather than a leading one, isn’t a bad way to go, either.
After all, we’re not really in charge.