This past week I was cleaning out the large collection of correspondence I've kept since I was 10. Birthday and Christmas cards from grandparents, letters in rough cursive from grade school friends, graduation well-wishes, thank you notes, postcards—you name it, I kept it. Every couple of years I go through the box, select those that still touch or amuse me, and recycle the rest.
Although the stack shrinks with each sorting, there is one batch of correspondence I don't think I'll ever throw out: the notes my mom sent me during my summers at sleep-away camp.
I was constantly homesick during those weeks. Although I don't possess any examples of what I was writing home, I can easily recall or imagine what preoccupied my adolescent heart at the time. I was worried about making friends, anxious about learning to ride a horse, and downright terrified of poison ivy. I felt intensely out of my element, but knowing that my mom was thinking of me helped me feel less isolated in my sadness and gave me courage to press on. She pointed me to the truly eternal promises in God's Word, reminding me with Bible verses (especially Psalm 139) that Jesus was always with me and knew my sadness, and that I had nothing to fear because he knew me and would protect me.
I couldn't see then, at the age of 12 or 13, what my mother could. I couldn't appreciate how the challenges and victories of summer camp would impact my character, my friendships, and my relationship with Christ. But I can see now how those days in the Wisconsin woods ingrained in me a sense of God's majesty, evident in his creation and his provision. Sunsets, stars, and campfires became touchstones for me—I couldn't explain how, but in encountering them, I encountered God's presence.1