Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Grace Fall Retreat

My wonderful daughter went on her first youth retreat this past weekend at Northbay camp in Northeast, MD.  Melody is in her first year with the Grace Community Church middle high youth group, and the youth go on a Fall retreat every year.  I went along as a member of the kitchen work crew, the first retreat I've been on since 1998 when I was counselor at my old church, Cheltenham United Methodist.  It was a first in a lot of ways for both Melody and me.

The weather certainly wasn't agreeable for a weekend away, especially since being in the great outdoors is a big part of the experience.  With Hurricane Joaquin bearing down on us, it promised to be a bit of a wash out.  We did not ride along with the rest of the youth group on the buses, instead driving up ourselves.  We left at around 6:30 p.m. and headed up I-95 in the rain.  The drive really wasn't a long one, and we arrived at the camp at around 8.  I thought for sure we would arrive after the buses, but we beat them.  We were completely unfamiliar with the camp, and it was dark, so we waited until the buses arrived, which was only about 20 minutes.  Several hundred kids unloaded, and I left Melody in the capable hands of the youth counselors to find her cabin.

The dorm I was staying in with the work crew was in a different part of the camp, and with a trusty map, I kind of figured out the general layout of the camp and headed up the path towards where the dorm was located.  The path was on a hill, and it was a substantial hike in the dark.  It was only after I got to the building that I discovered that there was a parking lot there and I could've driven instead.  A nice family gave me a ride back down to the dining hall for our quick tutorial of our jobs for the weekend.  We had a crew of about 30 people, most of whom would be serving food to the youth, counselors, volunteers, and staff.  After learning about how it would work, and setting up the tables for breakfast the next morning, we were released for the evening.  This time I drove back to the dorm.

The dorm itself was fairly nondescript.  It had a large open room with plenty of couches for the everyone to socialize, read, hang out in, or just sit.  Down the hall were several rooms containing bunks for about 16 people each, with an attached bathroom for each room.  The men were on the top floor, with a duplicate level below for the women.  I unloaded my stuff in the room furthest down the hall, and that proved beneficial when only 4 of us claimed a bed in there.  The rest of the men were in the other room, where I'm sure they had to double up.  I was soon snoozing.

I woke up several times during the night, unable to get comfortable.  The beds each had a mattress on a sheet of plywood, and they were made for someone not quite as tall as my 6'2" frame could fit on.  I just could not stretch out, and my legs kept cramping up.  It was a long night.  I woke up before my alarm went off at 5:30.  I was tired, but I grabbed a quick shower, dressed, and was out of the room before most of the others got up.

I drove down to the dining hall and got some coffee in me, then proceeded to keep busy getting things ready for breakfast along with the other early risers.  Soon, everyone was working, and the smell of bacon filled the air.  The work crew ate breakfast first, then we got ready for the crowd.  We all stayed in the kitchen as the room filled up, then, after a prayer to thank God for His provision, we went into action.  Each of us were assigned to two tables, each with eight place-settings.  My tables were on the opposite side from the kitchen, against the far wall.  There were 16 hungry young men ready to eat, and I served them scrambled eggs and bacon.  It seemed to go over well, and I made two trips back to the kitchen for refills.  I visited very briefly with Melody, who was at a nearby table, and she told me how much fun she was having.  In less than 30 minutes, everyone was fed and the room cleared out.  Clean up was messy but smooth, and it was great to see everyone work so quickly.  We had the room ready for lunch in no time.

We had a couple of hours before the next meal, but I remained in the dining hall and got to know some of the other volunteers.  They all went to Grace Community Church, and most had kids in the youth group.  I got to know one guy, Gary, whose grandson was there.  Gary and I planned on going out to explore the surrounding Elk Neck State Park later that afternoon.

Lunch was more of the same, this time with chicken quesadillas as the meal.  It went even more smoothly this time since we were becoming more and more familiar with our roles and what needed to be done.  The room was quickly cleaned and readied for dinner.  Then we had a nice 3 hour break.  I was sweating and tired, but Gary talked me into going on the hike anyway.

We drove down to the end of the peninsula.  The weather was cool and breezy, with a slight mist in the air.  We started down the trail towards the nearby lighthouse.  It ended up being a two mile hike, but the Turkey Point Lighthouse was neat to see.  We then headed back to the camp.  Unfortunately, we had to take a detour due to a tree falling down across the main road, but we made it back to camp in plenty of time.  I was able to change clothes and freshen up before heading back to the dining hall for dinner.  Another smooth serving and cleanup, and we were done for the night.

I had forgotten to bring a bar of soap, and I knew I needed to fill the tank on my Jeep, so I decided to drive back up into town to get what I needed.  I found a Wal-mart, and gassed up at a Sunoco, then drove back to the camp.  It was about 8:45.  I figured I would try to pack up a few things since we had to clear out our room before breakfast.  When I walked into the dorm room, it was already dark and I heard the sounds of lots of snoring.  I could hardly believe it!  Everyone was asleep!  I stumbled around in the dark, trying to be quiet, and decided to just go to bed.

The night was very similar to the previous night, and I was pretty miserable.  I just could not get comfortable, and I tossed and turned all night.  And again I was up before my alarm.  I lay in bed for a long while before getting up, and I prayed for a great day for everyone.  Then I showered and dressed, packed up my stuff, and exited the dorm, loading everything into my Jeep.  Then I headed back down to the dining hall.  It was a repeat again of yesterday.  This time, Melody and some friends decided to sit at my table, so I had the honor of serving my daughter.  It was fun!  There were a few food fights, and the kids all seemed to be getting along very well.  Then they all went off to a worship service.  We cleaned up, got a few pictures, then said goodbye.

I spent the rest of the morning wandering around the camp for the first time, getting the lay of the land, and being impressed with all of the amenities.  When I was a youth, I went on numerous retreats to Summit Lake Camp in Emmittsburg, MD.  It seemed a bit more rustic than Northbay.  Here there was a beach, a pool, zip lines, rock climbing wall, and so much more. I'm sure the kids had a blast.

I sat down and waited for the worship service to end, then Melody and I said our goodbyes and headed back to the Jeep for the long trip home.  Before long, we were back in our neck of the woods.  Melody and I stopped for lunch, and she shared with me her journal for the weekend.  It was really neat to see how involved she was, and, in particular, how much fun she had.  She wrote, "This is the most exciting weekend ever!"  I could only smile, and pray silently to myself my thanks to the Lord for His blessings.  She was filled with the Holy Spirit.  I can hardly wait for the Spring retreat!

Have a great evening, everyone!

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