I used to work as a Chaplain at an air cadet camp. For three summers in a row I ate mess food, tried to convince cadets they weren NOT seeing faces in their shoes after a thunderstorm and try out a different church every sunday with raging hormonal, yet faithful, youth. It was some of the best and hardest summers of my life.
My first summer I was 22. An amateur supreme and out to prove myself. I had done two years of Bible School and a bit of time as a youth pastor, and somehow that qualified me to advise CO’s and work with Doctorate-educated officers. Intimidating? Oh yeah.
I think the hardest part was in our counselling office during evening shift when a youth would unload on me a problem at home, the fact they couldn’t stop cutting their wrists or that their homesickness (after seven hours) was more than they could bear. I didn’t know what to say. Was I supposed to convince them of my view? In 30 minutes, was I to make their world…perfect? After three years, I realized not at all, I just needed to listen. All they wanted was to be validated, heard and appreciated. Lesson One.
One of my favourite parts of the experience was being able to create Lifeskills lessons that I taught daily to the basic cadets – those who were at camp for the first time ever. The youngins. Self-esteem. Dreams. Relationships. I took great pleasure in attempting to mold their young minds, give them opportunities for ice-breakers, skits and games and try to leave atleast one nugget with every lesson. After the 50 minutes ended the rooms wreaked of sweat and my throat was hoarse. But it was worth it. For in their eyes I could see a bit of hope that what I was saying was true. That they did have a purpose. That they could learn leadership. That their life as they knew it, good or bad, can and will change. Something was seeded though I may never know it. Something always catches in what we speak. Lesson Two.
As civilian staff and officers mixed in the mess hall, the bar or the backyard campfire, I was challenged in how I was to be “normal” yet also remain my identity and expectations of a chaplain. Not an easy task. Everyone has a stigma and perception of what that role should look like, and I had to learn that through fun and flame, I was Lani, a Chaplain, take it or leave it. I didn’t have a doctorate. I didn’t go to seminary. I just loved helping people and God. I had to be me. Lesson Three.
Tonight after work I walked by that same cadet camp. I now live in this town where I used to work. The July sun was shining and a cool wind blew. I could hear the rustle in the same poplar trees I used to teach under. I plopped on the grass, laid back, head in hands, and remembered those amazing moments of my life. I could hear in the distance “all the way up and all the way back, left, right, left…” I smiled. I could see cadets lining up for supper and a cessna taking off from the runway.
I took the time out of my hectic schedule to relive some amazing moments. Soak it up. As I walked back I heard a young female officer shout to some boys “Gentleman, you need to get away from the ladies’ barracks!” Smile. Some things never change!