When I was 13, my parents encouraged me to apply for pyc. In my young mind, they were forcing me to apply for pyc, but I did it anyway. I thought that if I prayed hard enough, God wouldn’t make me go. Perhaps I would apply and be told that I couldn’t go. That is what I wanted, but that is not what happened.
When the acceptance letter came, I cried. When we went shopping for the things that I would need, I cried. When my dad helped me write my speech, I cried. You get the picture. There were a lot of tears.
I begged my dad not to make me go. He hugged me and told me it would be good for me. I didn’t believe him. It was going to be horrible. There would be 143 other teenagers there. I didn’t like the idea of that. The only teen my age who I had any real experience with was the girl who lived a couple houses down. She wasn’t the kindest person in the world, and although I thought of her as a friend, it depended on her mood on that particular day. In my mind, all teenagers would be like her.
That’s not to say I didn’t have fun with her. I did. I have good memories of her too. It was just that in the weeks leading up to camp, we had been fighting, and her family had moved to a new house. I had lost the only friend I had. How could I go to camp and then lose more than one friend? It just seemed like an absolutely horrible idea. The thought of spending three weeks living with that roller coaster of emotion scared me to death.
When my parents put me in the car with the people who would be driving me to camp, I cried. I looked out the window as we drove away with tears streaming down my face, and I could see the conflict on my dad’s face. He wondered if he was doing the right thing for a moment, but he knew that he was, and he let me go.
I felt awkward on the drive there. We were traveling with several cars and families. There were several campers in the caravan, and I didn’t feel like I knew how to talk to any of them. This made me even more uneasy. It took two days to drive from California to Oklahoma, which gave me plenty of time to accept my fate. I resolved that I would endure Philadelphia Youth Camp. I wouldn’t like it, but I wouldn’t let anyone know that I was scared or upset. I would not let anyone see me cry.
That is what the first week of camp was like. I would pretend that I was OK during the day and then cry at night when everyone was sleeping. Here’s the thing though: My dorm was awesome, and it didn’t take me all that long to figure that out.
My first 90-degree turn happened because my counselor listened. I learned how to tread water the day before camp started. The pool made me nervous. The diving board was especially terrifying. I didn’t want to be forced into anything that might kill me, so I talked to my counselor about it. She listened, and she helped me through it. She went easy on me at the first swimming class, giving me a small goal to reach. I just had to survive swimming in the area of the pool where I could still touch the ground with my tiptoes. The next class, I had to tread for a little while, but I felt safe. The next class, I just had to try the short diving board. We kept going in this similar pattern until the end of camp. By then, I was literally doing front flips off the tall diving board.
My counselor was patient with me. My assistant counselor was kind. They both prayed for me and with me, and showed me that God wouldn’t let me get hurt. The girls in my dorm were supportive too. I knew most of them a little from past Feasts. That helped me a lot. We all got along really well. We were unified and played well together.
Despite all of that, I was still apprehensive. I was 13 years old, and boys seemed like a completely different species altogether. My neighbor had brothers, but while she was my friend off and on, her brothers were something else entirely. They were often rude and scary, and made me feel small. I was small, but that is not the point. The girls in my dorm proved that I could be happy with girls my own age, but I still needed to learn how to be comfortable with the opposite sex.
The opportunity for this second 90-degree turn came during the second week of camp. One of the girls in my dorm and I decided to do an open sport activity together. An open-sport activity is where you choose which sport you want to play after dinner, and then you go with whoever is in charge of the sport and play for a couple of hours. My dorm mate and I decided on cycling. Two other teens decided to do cycling as well, and surprise: They were boys.
You know what? That is one of my fondest memories. We all rode around on the cycling course and came up with nicknames, and it was just fun. We were just four young teenagers on bikes with a couple of college students showing us around. It was awesome. We sat and talked for a while on the pavement, and all of a sudden, I had friends who were boys.
By the end of my first pyc, I had e-mail addresses for boys and girls alike. I had signatures on one of my camp shirts. I had friends in my dorm and outside of it. My dorm received the Dorm of the Session award, and I won second place for the teen talent contest in the dance category.
Then it was time to say goodbye, and I cried. When I hugged my friends goodbye, I cried. When I said goodbye to my counselor, I cried. When we drove away, I cried.
When I think back to my first pyc, two memories stand out to me of when I realized that camp was good for me: when I learned that not all teenagers are the same and when I realized I could be friends with them.
Maybe you are wondering if you should go to pyc. Maybe you have been before, but you’re not sure you want to go again. Maybe you are sure that you don’t want to go again. I hope that my experience can help with your decision. My fears and worries might be different from yours. That doesn’t matter. Camp has so many different things that it can teach you. Everyone learns something slightly different. I learned something new at every camp I went to. It’s been seven years since my first pyc, and I have been to every one since. I have more friends than I ever thought I would have. I have become a student at Armstrong College, and I helped with cycling at open sports. Basically, I’ve come full circle. I wouldn’t trade a moment of it.
pyc is where I conquered my fears, and it was liberating. You might think that this doesn’t mean that it will be where you conquer your fears, just like I didn’t believe my dad when he said pyc would be good for me. I was afraid of a lot of things. I was afraid that my peers would not be my true friends. Maybe you are afraid of public speaking, or afraid of dance class. You could be afraid of any number of things.
Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” I discovered that being friends with people was more important than being afraid of them. It paid off for me, and it will for you as well.