Sue Woods celebrated her 40th year as a camper. She has not missed a single season since 1978, sometimes coming two or three times in a year. Sue is not just a camper, she is family. I have spent more holidays and summers with Sue than members of my birth family. Sue was there when the camp first started, a rustic, primitive wilderness camp. She came to camp on a bus packed with others from the state institution for the “mentally retarded”. They came to cook a S’more over a fire, wiggle their toes in the grass and sleep on the earth under the stars. Today, Sue lives in a group home called “Home Life”. Sometimes she comes to camp with her housemates, and sometimes she leaves them at home. A lot has changed in Sue’s world over forty years. Somehow, while camp was growing, Sue transformed from a stocky little blonde, to a slightly balding, a bit rounder, gray haired woman with chin hairs. Over time Sue participated a little less in water fights and adventure hikes, preferring to hang out in the breezeway listening to Bible stories or participate in a rousing, no rules, ten player UNO game. She continued to proudly hold up the fish she caught, posted her newly created art and gloated over her bowling score card. However, these activities were last on her lists of pleasures at camp. She had her chair. Sue religiously rose every morning, brought her folding chair out to the corner of the field, and positioned it so that she viewed the mountains. From her post, she would watch the sun come up across the tree tops. She would close her eyes and let the sun bathe her face. One knew by her peaceful smile she was in communion with her Creator and His creation. Frequently, a laugh or a giggle would burst forth and then her demeanor returned to a quiet stoic pose. Once the breakfast bell sounded, Sue would clutch her little red purse (that had nothing in it) and take a deep breath, let it all out and then half run to the morning meal. She belted key words to the “Johnny Appleseed” chorus; “thank Lord…giving me…I need…sun, rain, apple seed…good me…amen”. When the meal was over, she would return to her chair and await the next invitation to activity. Sue didn't talk much. In fact, Sue didn't talk unless you talked to her first. Food topics would grant more conversation opportunities than politics. Careful to get to the point, she mostly answered in one word responses. "Would you like to go paddle boating, Sue?" "Yes", and then immediately she was off to the river. Staff had to learn to not ask before they were ready to go. On talent show night, she would put on the costume of her choice look in the mirror, giggle, and then go sit in her chair. It wasn't important to perform. The joy was in looking in the mirror and having a laugh at what she saw. I'm not certain if Sue's spirituality conforms to a denominational preference, but I do know that when you sing the line “Jesus Loves Me” she will echo the next line as matter a fact as her own name, "this I know". Labeled as autistic, it is common to see Sue sit a little off from the group. She isn't annoyed by other campers, just doesn’t need them to complete her camp experience. She will share a bunkhouse with the rambunctious young ones (at camp so that parents could have respite) and the snoring older ones (whose parents are long gone). Her great escape would be the nights she camped outside (now atop a mattress) on the ground under the stars. You could hear her giggle half the night. Like her chair, Sue's little red 1950's purse was a Sue trademark. Sometimes she would show up for campfire in her pajamas and still be holding her little red purse. On dance nights, Sue would dress to the hilt with heels and beads to adorn her dress. It was not important to coordinate her purse. She liked her red purse. Sometimes she would just hold it and giggle, and rock her body back and forth. I don’t recall her ever really dancing, however, she seemed to make a ritual out of the pre-dance prank. Waiting until a group of men entered the showers, Sue would sneak to the door and turn off the lights. She would giggle and run back to her chair as they all screamed for the staff person to "find the lights."
The 40th Year Version of "Everything I know I Learned from Sue” (while sharing camp together): Begin each day with fresh enthusiasm. Breathe in, let it out and then go eat a good meal. Never say, "No" to an opportunity to catch a fish, make a craft, or explore a new trail. Dance, or at least, dress up for the occasion. Be content with your purse, even if it is empty. Giggle out loud without caring if anyone knows the reason. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself in the mirror. Find pride in who you are but never take yourself so seriously that you forget who He is and that He made you exactly who you were meant to be. Show off when it shows God's glory, but remember performance isn't everything. Slow down. Stop. Sit. Let yourself rock. Position your “chair” for maximum awe. Contemplate the hills and the valleys and God's faithfulness to provide. Never worry. Say "yes", to ice cream making, watermelon and S'mores. Speak less, listen more, and use your words to say what you mean. Get up and act when it is time. Live so you don’t have to use words to communicate love and hospitality. Know your comfort zone, but don’t be afraid to leave it. Stretch. Trust. Soak in God's amazing plan for everyone to celebrate life and community. Giggle together. Sing together. Pray together. Give thanks together. “The Lord is good to me, AMEN.”