Chapter 1

It was -20 degrees this past Saturday.

Never have I experienced temperatures that painfully low, and I don’t feel any sort of sentimental inclination toward experiencing them again anytime soon. It’s about 40 degrees today, so as fresh and miserable as is the memory of frozen nostrils and burning skin and breakable hair, the particular feeling is not relevant in this very moment. But although the cold isn’t quite so bitter, the current weather has managed to compete in terms of misery and discomfort–on Monday night about six inches of snow fell, and then when the temperature rose, the snow turned to slush and it rained all day Tuesday. The rain turned to ice, turning the entire campus into a skating rink. Or rather, a slipping and sliding rink of pain and humiliation.

For the past 24 hours, watching people attempt to walk from any one point of campus to another has been wildly amusing (until, of course, you’re faced with the realization that you as well must–at some point–step foot out onto the dreaded, seemingly ever-stretching sheet of frigid death). It is quite possibly the most helpless feeling to take the first step from Point A, with your eyes fixed on Point B and your soul revving with determination, only to find that your feet fail to grasp the earth and you are sliding, flailing, trying desperately to balance yourself, and then crashing to the ground in all your pathetic glory. Laugh, cry, snap your head up to see if anyone witnessed the tragedy (a very likely scenario), and then push yourself up and continue the wretched journey before you. I’ve experienced this a handful of times within the past day, and I’m aching down to the bone.

Talking about the weather is always a somewhat boring (yet classic) conversation starter, so now that we’ve made it past that bumbling introduction, I’ll explain why the weather over the weekend is relevant: if this was a typical college campus, I suppose that the weekends would belong to the students, and any of us would have a variety of options regarding our choice of activities. But, this is not a regular college campus, and for seven or eight weekends in the winter, we run Snow Camp. The student body possesses a wide variety of responsibilities, from indoor activities supervising (setting up and tearing down the gym, playing hours of Gaga or Black Light Dodgeball or some other unique, energy-draining invention) to working dishpit (there’s always someone breaking into song as they scrape some camper’s half-eaten chili macaroni into the trash). We counsel, sing, cook, clean, answer questions, jump around, freeze in the cold, and count it all joy. Even in the exhaustion and the non-stop craziness, we’re all working together for the sake of the Gospel.

This weekend will be week five. Up until this point, I’ve spent three weekends working Command Center, and one Par as a Unit Leader. They’re pretty different jobs, but with ultimately the same goal: be flexible and helpful and encourage the people around you.

Command Center is essentially the Snow Camp help desk. We listen to maintenance and housekeeping talk back and forth on the radio, give Styrofoam cups for coffee to youth leaders, glare at–I mean, kindly confront–individuals without a lanyard (our identification/child protection system), click people through the meal line, reunite counselors and campers, answer questions, and everything else. Some shifts are loud, chaotic insanity, and others are dead quiet, but a lovely opportunity to get to know fellow students and staff.

Unit Leading is a strange sort of exhaustion-inducing privilege. There are six male and six female unit leaders each week, whose job is essentially to counsel the counselors. We check up on our counselors (typically six to ten, split between three different cabins) throughout the weekend, bring them tea and chocolate, make sure that they’re staying with their campers, and just generally attempt to keep circumstances and relationships between counselors and campers running as smoothly as possible. On Friday and Saturday night are rounds, where we drop in each cabin at about one o’clock in the morning, take all phones and medications and algebra textbooks (yes, all of those–we want campers to be focused and enjoy the time with each other). This can go very smoothly, or quite terribly, as I experienced with one cabin full of sobbing girls, all with phones and medication which they were entirely unwilling to give up, but which I had no choice but to take. Finally, after almost an hour, I made it out alive with a plastic bin full of contraband. After meeting up with the other ULs and UL coordinators, I headed out on night watch with the two coordinators and the male unit leader. We drove around the campgrounds in the subtle twelve-passenger night watch van, listened for strange sounds, watched for escaped campers, locked cabin doors, and then finally all headed back to our beds at around three o’clock in the morning. That was only day one of Snow Camp. Those few days were a long, intense blur, and possibly required the two weeks of recuperation in between, but I’m looking forward to the whole experience all over again this weekend (not that I can really expect what to expect).

The past few weeks, or the past few sets of days between Snow Camp (because the weekends are a life of their own) have been interesting. I was unusually distracted and frustrated, and those feelings were particularly heightened when Star Wars came into the office to “talk about something kinda serious” and informed me that the music director, we’ll call him Mr. Green, mentioned that people would probably assume that we were a thing when we sang together, so he had suggested that we talk it out to make sure we both knew where we stood. Well, I thought that we knew where we stood, but I was forced to make it clear once again, since Star Wars thinks I’m “really cool” and wants to keep getting to know me. I’m honored (I don’t say that sarcastically) and I think he’s cool too, but I don’t want any pressure to move beyond friends. It’s challenging though–I’m really not getting any better at potentially hurting people’s feelings (when it’s best for them, of course). We did sing together, on Valentine’s Day, and although I felt slightly bad for avoiding him aside from when we were actually onstage together, it simply had to be done to avoid unwanted appearances and implications.

All of what you just read was written two days ago, and it is unfortunate that I am just now sitting down to wrap it up. I’m sure that I have plenty more to add, but I don’t want to keep my adoring fans waiting (greetings, my wonderful family who I envision reading these posts aloud around the dinner table, slightly horrified but mostly amused by my tales and speculations), and I’ll try to post again as soon as I have opportunity to spend time simply typing out my thoughts, circumstances, and considerations. Week five of Snow Camp is now underway, and I’m running around campus doing the best that I can with my varying responsibilities.

Also, I did get a valentine from an international student. Not from a German (don’t worry, my sudden and cringe-worthy “a dream is a wish your heart makes” phase of this year has fizzled out), but from the sweetest little Japanese guy I’ve ever met. It made me smile.