A group of high school girls were sharing their stories with each other, and while one wrapped hers up, her friend suggested that she tell the group about toast.
The girls told us about how in eighth grade, they made up this word to describe how they felt sometimes. They chose the word toast because it’s bland. It’s food, but it’s not good. You don’t choose toast (unless maybe if you’re sick) – you just kind of eat it if it’s in front of you and slab on some jelly in hopes of making it taste a little bit better.
But for some reason, the word toast and the feeling it described seemed to be relevant to these girls’ stories. Toast made it into the ten-minute summary of what goes on in their lives.
We were at Young Life camp for the weekend. I am these girls’ Young Life leader, and part of what I do when we go to camp is facilitate opportunities for real conversation – conversation about life beneath the surface, beyond what’s easy to talk about. So the past few years, the female leaders at my particular school have invited – or been asked by second- and third- and fourth-timers to invite – our cabin of campers to share their stories with each other during “cabin times” in hopes of getting to know one another in a meaningful way.
And even though I am supposed to know more than them and give them answers and show them the way, I find myself learning from them all the time. Somehow, in the eighth grade, these particular girls had found a simple yet profound way to describe a feeling that can saturate our entire lives, but is regularly accepted and often goes unnoticed.
One of the main reasons I love Young Life camp is because it is anything but toast. Parts of what makes it so different from that everyday pervasive blandness have, honestly, lost their glimmer over the years that I’ve been taking kids to camp; parts like the swooping feeling you get in your stomach when free-falling on the rope swing, like running around camp trying to cross off things on the scavenger hunt checklist, or even the Cheerwine slushies I used to wait an hour in line for at the snack shop.
Even some of the more important parts have admittedly become normal to me. I know that every Saturday night at fall camp, I am going on lie on my back in the grass and in the cold, and if I choose to keep my eyes open, I will look up into the sky and feel like I can see the entire galaxy because it is so clear; I almost definitely will see a handful of shooting stars as I sit there and pray and wonder what everyone around me is thinking and if they, too, can feel what I feel.
And I know that we will head back to the cabin and kids will have mixed reactions to the story of Jesus. I can predict that their responses will be unpredictable, and I know that while every cabin of girls is different, they invariably will stay up later than my bedtime – both nights.
It is the little moments of non-toastness that still captivate me. It is the things that turning all of the lights off or crafting the perfect message can’t make happen. It is the things that are well out of our control as leaders or camp staff that still feel like magic to me as I lead high school students at camp.
It is things like watching a girl who didn’t smile once on Friday night laugh the entire time at club on Sunday morning. It is a camper’s body language – still, leaning forward and oblivious to the other high schoolers giggling or throwing things around her – as the speaker talks, and even though that camper might not say a word at cabin time afterward, her body language said everything. And it’s the girl whose voice trembles as she bravely tells her story because, after only 24 hours, the cabin has earned her trust and she wants to be known by those around her.
I love Young Life camp because, no matter what happens there, it shows kids a weekend they would never describe as “not sad, but not happy.” Maybe it made them angry, maybe it made them cry, maybe it was the best weekend of their lives, or maybe it was all of the above at the same time, but it wasn’t bland. At Young Life camp, kids get the chance to feel alive.
And at Young Life camp, I get the chance to feel alive, too. I get to take a break from the demands of the everyday to witness magic happening in little moments all around me. That magic is so much more important than what I left undone at home; it’s the magic that, at the end of the day, replaces what would have been only toast in my own life story. And then, I get to go home reminded that the magic is the everyday, if only I choose to open my eyes.