Life rarely works this way, in full circles.
But when it does, just glory.
Let me tell you.
In mid-April, I served as the speaker for a women’s church retreat at a camp called Twin Rocks. This was my fourth time at Twin Rocks, a beautiful gathering of cabins, meandering grounds, dining hall and welcome center located on 120 acres at the Oregon Coast.
The first time I visited the camp in the small coastal town of Rockaway, I was a sixth grader, feet big as they’d ever be, smile unmistakably huge, and afraid. So afraid. I carried fear of rejection on me like a shaker-knit sweater. I thought I did a fair job hiding my skin beneath, but those girls could see through the gaps to my soft spots. Middle school girls have a sixth sense for this sort of thing.
None of my cabin mates were friends. A girl I’d always been leery of shared a bunk with me, and I expected her to turn on me without warning, probably embarrass me by soaking my fingers in water while I slept. Girls jeered and gossiped in that dimly-lit room with the wood-planked walls. The whole week, while my girlfriends in other cabins locked arms with their roomies, shared inside jokes and sang at the top of their lungs, I felt voiceless, alone.
Being a Seagull did not suit me, and when our cabin’s dreamboat (a structure of bark, leaves, twigs and flowers that I’d poured my love into for the final good-bye celebration) sunk within inches of departure, I held back tears and continued quietly singing “Barges,” while the girls in my cabin cheered.
(It’s sweetly funny to me now, and today I would probably laugh and celebrate my utter lack of engineering skills and a ship going down in a blaze of flowers, but, then, the girls’ reaction only spoke, You are so weird. Why did you even care about that stupid boat?)
The second time I attended Twin Rocks was as an outdoor school counselor. I had worked as a counselor at a nearby camp for my sophomore and junior years, but when I was a senior I determined to go back to Twin Rocks. At the age of 17, I was already all about the redemption story.
I loved that week with a cabin full of tentative, giggly, and tender 11- and 12-year-olds. I listened and hugged and talked with them about their families and their problems. We laughed together and sang madly, and I tried to give what I hadn’t received myself from my own high school counselor who’d cared more about her (awesome) hair and (legendary) coolness than our hearts.
My third time to Twin Rocks, I was an early-30s, on my church’s annual retreat, struggling through a dark season of depression. Over a lengthy period, I felt as if my insides, everything I’d thought was me, had been laid bare. I couldn’t build my identity anymore, couldn’t piece together acclaim or even acceptability. I imagined my flesh barely kept up by the rickety scaffolding of my soul.
That year, I was studying the construction of the temple in 2 Kings, how God cared about each material and article, chose specifically every gemstone and jewel, and I believed that he was making me new with just that sort of care and attention to detail. I clung to God’s words that he would rebuild me, that he was remaking me, piece by piece.
The fourth time I came to Twin Rocks was to speak to a group of incredibly loveable women (ages 18 to 82) about transformation. Of all things, can you even believe? The voiceless 11 year-old girl so worried about her otherness, so insecure about all her feelings, all her story, all she was not — now a 41-year-old woman hearing her own voice through the P.A. system, proclaiming this God who sees what we cannot, who sets his eyes upon us, who calls us into and through our story, who shapes and rebuilds shattered things by his power and his presence.
I’ve always loved redemption stories.
Right now, in our lives I imagine other circles winding their way through, loose strands seeking their ends. Seemingly dropped to be picked up again. It’s never as neat or quick as I’d imagine, but I’m on the lookout. Maybe the circles are more frequent than we think.
And I will keep gathering up the rocks marking God’s faithfulness — touchpoints in time, stones of remembrance — though I’ll need to let these twins stay right where they are.