Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Orange Jacket

Every professional golfer dreams of winning the Masters. Winning that tournament once makes your entire career a success. Money, fame and glory are yours. But ask any pro golfer what really matters about winning the Masters and they will all tell you the same thing- the green jacket. The green jacket is unique. Only Master's winners can wear them. After one Master's champion wore his jacket on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno several years ago, Jon Stewart was quoted as saying "that's the first piece of original material on The Tonight Show since Johnny left!" The green jacket is special, and if you aspire to golf greatness you aspire to wear the green jacket.

I suppose I was about 15 when I became obsessed with the Orange Jacket. I was serving at Quaker Lake Camp as a Counselor in Training (later to be called Counselor Assistant) when I became aware of the prestige of it. On Friday night, when it came time to walk to the Campfire Circle, the QLC summer staff almost all wore their orange windbreakers that said Quaker Lake Staff Camp. It was actually a circle that said Quaker Lake on top, and Camp on the bottom with Staff in the middle. But when you looked at it, it seemed to say Quaker Lake Staff Camp. In any case, they were cool. And the ONLY way you could have one was to be one of 14 people hired to be full-time summer staff. I knew I wanted to work at QLC someday. The staff there were the coolest people in the world in my eyes, and I longed to be one of them. And I worked hard to get to that point. I volunteered every chance I got, went to all the camps and events I could, and made sure I had a good reputation with the people in charge. The first year you are eligible to work staff is the summer after your high school graduation, and so I applied. Everyone thought I would be hired, but all four boys counselors- Bill Terrell, Alan Brown, Roland Pugh and Joseph Neal- returned from the previous year (Not only do I remember who they were, but I believe I have them in order, cabins 1-4! But I can't remember what my wife told me to get at Wal-Mart today...). So I didn't get a job, even though they should have hired me as the Assistant Cook (would have saved a lot of "Robin Pots"). Neal Thomas told me I could volunteer any week I wanted to, so I was there 6 out of 8 weeks that summer. I loved it, and I felt like part of the staff. But I didn't have an Orange Jacket...

I was hired the next summer for the first of my 6 years as summer staff, and the highlight came early, when Lewis Farlow came from Beeson's in High Point and I could get my Orange Jacket. This was real. This was amazing. I had achieved my goal. I was special. I was the counselor in Boys Cabin 1. Even though the jacket was paper thin and no help in the rain, and made me sweat like a pig, I wore it every chance I got. And I knew that all the campers who aspired to do the same, to have their own Orange Jackets, looked at me with awe and envy.

The trouble with all of that was this- wearing an Orange Jacket, or working at QLC, did not make me special. When you are a camper, you believe every counselor is a hero and a saint. When you become a counselor, you wonder "how can they hire someone like me?" You continue to fail and make mistakes. As the years have gone by many of my former youth have gone on to work at camp, and I happen to know none of them are perfect! Heather Beggs Varner, the current Camp Director,will be featured in many stories on this blog once I hit the Springfield years, and they will make you laugh! I loved my years working at camp, just like I loved my years in student ministry, but I have to tell you- you'd better love those jobs to do them, or you will be miserable. Anyone who worked at camp for the glory and admiration of the campers was in for a long summer. Anyone who did it for the money in those days- well, they were just stupid! You put up with the heat, the long hours, the rotten campers (no one likes to talk about them, but they exist!), the outdoor toilets and the total lack of sleep because you feel like you are doing something tremendous, something amazing for the kids each and every week. Every week you face a new group of campers, and every week you have to give them all of your energy and love, with no holding back for the weeks still to come. You have to do work like that because you love it and because God has called you to it, or it will eat you alive. You see, it's not Quaker Lake Staff Camp. Camp is all about the campers- and if you don't get that, then no Orange Jacket can save you.

I don't remember exactly when the staff quit wearing Orange Jackets, but it has been a very long time. Today I think they have staff shirts, but I am sure the feeling is the same among campers- I want to wear one of those someday. And that is awesome! I just hope they all learn, like so many others before them, that working at QLC does not make you great. You working at QLC helps make camp great. Billy Joel once wrote I never claimed to be a hero and I never said I was a saint... If I did either of those things I apologize. But how smart were we in those days, anyway? After all, we wore orange jackets in public!

Because of Jesus,

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