Carolyn and I have one of the strangest, messiest, most beautiful friendships that I have ever experienced. Back before God convinced me to go into youth ministry, he began weaving this incredible relationship that would change my life, challenge my faith, and deepen my understanding of Christianity.
Back in the summer of 2004, after deciding on sort of a whim to spend the summer working as a camp counselor, my story and Carolyn’s story intersected. I had just finished my freshman year of college, was convinced that I wanted to be a math teacher when I “grew up,” and had finally started to get the hang of the whole camp counselor gig when smack dab in the middle of the summer, here comes Carolyn.
Carolyn loved camp. In fact, she still does, I’m pretty sure. As a bright-eyed and energetic sixth grader, everyone already knew that someday Carolyn would make an incredible camp counselor. (In fact, people tell me they knew several years before that even!) She was one of those campers that fueled my passion for youth ministry and gave me the self-confidence to pursue that passion, and the twists and turns that our friendship has taken over the years are an ever-present reminder of that calling in my life.
Carolyn was that camper that kept in touch. I went back to college in the fall, and would periodically get letters and cards (yes, real snail mail pen and paper with stickers all over) in my campus mailbox from a 13 year old camp-loving girl named Carolyn. And my heart would melt. I would instantly be taken back to the week we shared at camp.
Somehow, a young, crazy, college-aged me, left some sort of impact on this middle school camper–and that same middle school camper left a pretty serious impact on me.
In the years between 2004 and today, Carolyn and I have both grown up. A lot. Through a strange number of criss-crossing paths involving some Lutheran Youth Organization events while Carolyn was in high school and I served in youth ministry at a church near Cleveland, and a Toledo-based retreat called Teens Encounter Christ, and some of the craziest mutual friendship circles you could ever imagine, Carolyn has become one of my closest and dearest friends. She’d probably argue with me on this–just because that’s how Carolyn is–but I’m pretty sure I have learned more from Carolyn over the years than I could have possibly taught her.
Anyways, this coming Saturday, Carolyn will be coming back home from an incredible four month journey in Central America. I think these past four months may be the longest I’ve gone without seeing Carolyn in the last few years, and I can’t wait to give her the most gigantic hug in the whole world the first time I see her, and to tell her over and over again how proud she makes that crazy camp counselor in the picture above.
This afternoon, Carolyn wrote a blog post about coming home. Reading it, I was reminded of some of my own feelings and fears when I returned from a mission trip to the Dominican Republic back in 2007. More than that, though, I was blown away by the wisdom that is carried around in the head, heart, and hands of my friend. Seriously, check this out:
I wrote a letter to my future self for after I return to the States. It ends with the following. Among the memories I want to keep forever, among the knowledge I’ve gained, I also want to come home with this in mind:
“Don’t stop feeling sad if you feel sad. And it’s okay if you are happy. Breathe. And be thankful for that air. Breathe. And remember that you’re one of many breathers. Breathe. And think about what you can do with your breath. With your life. With your privilege. Remember the kindness shown to you. Remember the love your families here had for you. Love like that.
Remember that you’re not alone. That there are others out there crazy enough to want to try to change things. To believe that things can change.
Try not to forget these things. Keep pushing for change. Be foolish in loving people unconditionally.
And know that you’re probably going to mess it up. But that’s okay too. Every step is the way.
You will not be this person forever. But I hope you will remember this person.”
I am so incredibly blessed to have friends like Carolyn. Friends who inspire, challenge, and teach me. Friends who recklessly and foolishly live in the footsteps of Jesus. Friends who know me–you know, really know me–and choose to love me anyway. Friends who remind me that following Jesus is not passive–it’s an adventure!
So, welcome home, Carolyn. Welcome home.