Oh for the glory days of summer sleep away camp, when life was as easy as a hay ride and some boondoggle. 

For 6 consecutive summers I went to “Circle C Ranch”, a Christian camp themed as an old Western town complete with horseback riding, swimming, group cheers and endless merriment. Stripped of television, walk-mans, playing cards, heck, even shorts, we were free from the ties that bind and Jesus reigned from at least the time Mom said goodbye until the entire extended family showed up on Saturday to watch us campers show off our poorly acquired equestrian skills.

It was actually the early morning sound of endless crinkling plastic bags that brought these early childhood memories back the other day. From ages 8-13 my mom had sent us to camp with 6 days of outfits, pre-packaged in individual plastic bags, each with a little note of instruction: “Here is your outfit for Tuesday!  Put the clothes back in the bag tonight and remember: Change your undies! Love you!”

In order to really spice things up mid-week they always sprung “theme night” on us. In my 6 summers I think I experienced Hawaiian night only once…because what else would a Baptist Christian camp choose as their theme? Billy Graham trivia night? (Eh, I would’ve owned it. Answer: Who is Cliff Barrows?). No, it was the Christmas-in-July theme that reigned and they were seriously asking kids to tap into their imagination here. Come on man, I have 6 bags of prepackaged outfits and a caboodle with me. What kind of costume do you expect me to come up with? I can’t tell you how many times I was the Virgin Mary wearing a bed sheet while the girl in the bunk below me whistled O Holy Night for the duration of the theme dinner.

Now when you send 8-13 year olds off to camp, cash isn’t the first thing that they should carry. What better way to prevent loose change falling out of little ones pockets than to issue pre-paid tear cards to spend in the snack shop? It’s here I had my first brush with judgment as well as with basic Dave Ramsey principles. What are you jokers doing? Did you not SEE the penny candy? Enjoy your melting ice cream. I’ll be snacking on Swedish Fish from now until September, fool.

Horseback riding was never good news for mini-Meg. Nary was there a summer that my horse didn’t take my pre-pubescent self on a terrifying trot through a quiet meadow leaving the rest of my cabin mates in their perfectly assembled line while the wrangler (aka coolest guy at camp) rescued me and dried my tears from my near death experience. I mean, trotting 100 yards was traumatic (and incidentally made for some pretty terrific, albeit exaggerated stories). Let me just say, by summer #6 my skills improved enough to keep an egg balanced on a spoon while sitting on a slowly moving horse. Home video might suggest it just took me 6 summers to figure out how to cheat and put my thumb on it. Giddy-up.

Between horses and archery (I never once hit the target and was yelled at more than once for pointing my bow and arrow at my fellow campers), I wasn’t the best at a physical challenge, though I wasnt bad at it all. I really loved swimming… just never at Circle C. Why was the chlorinated pool always so salty? And why did that cabin full of 5th grade boys look so highly suspicious?

There were some things I was great at. To this day, I still get amped when I hear 4 little words: SADDLE UP YOUR HORSES. Steven Curtis Chapman’s epic anthem “The Great Adventure” is synonymous for: Welcome to Chapel, campers! Megan Griffiths will now wipe the floor with anyone who thinks they can un-seat her in an epic reign of Sword Drill domination. Step aside 6th graders and losers with tabs on the Word of God. This little fire ball is armed and ready with a broken in Precious Moments bible.

The days started with “God and I” time. The town bell sounded and for 15 minutes, we were to sit silently in our beds learning the fundamentals personal quiet time. No whispering. No giggling. No shenanigans. (Megan, that means you. Really. Cut it out.) We went to Morning Chapel where we sang songs with hand motions at the top of our lungs (lots of spelling was involved – I didnt realize until summer #4 that we were actually spelling O-B-E-D-I-E-N-C-E), had mid-afternoon group devotions and ended with an Evening Chapel night-cap. Monday night the gospel invitation was compelling, yet gentle. By Friday night, Circle-C leadership knew they had one last chance to make sure these little souls were going to see eternity and they pulled out all the stops: Lights, smoke and a terrifying hand puppet skit all set to Carman’s “The Champion”. That dramatic display had me renew my statement of faith 6 summers in a row.

In case you aren’t familiar with Carman and this song describing spiritual warfare, let me share a nugget from his website: “How can we classify his music? Is it pop, comedy, Broadway, rap, country, rock or soul? The answer is yes–to all. If there is any original trademark to Carman’s repertoire, it is what we could only identify as a ‘story song’. A combination of drama, rock, comedy, funk, satire, acting, singing, and preaching, all woven together by an unpredictable wit that can only be described as a full length feature film in 7 minutes. A style not duplicated or even attempted by any other artist in any other musical genre.”

The only thing more terrifying than Carman and the hand puppets fighting demons was the 20 yard middle of the night outdoor dash to the bathroom afterward. I was practically defying death, as the distinct possibility of a demon was waiting for a 10-year-old caboodle carrying blonde girl sans any line of defense.  

It’s good thing Mom packed extra undies 😉

(PART 2 will be posted later this week. I promise this is going somewhere).