The summer after eighth grade, my youth group packed up and took a bus ride to Tulsa, Oklahoma for a week of church camp at Oral Roberts University.
Everyone looked forward to church camp, and we had a huge youth group of 150-200 kids. It was a week of fun and freedom: we gave each other haircuts, we got to live in college dorms, there was a giant slip-n-slide, all-you-can-eat soft serve ice cream, and, of course, lots of “Jesus Time.” It was a blast.
That year in particular was fun because I had so many friends there. This was before high school came along, so all my friends pretty much got along. I look back on that summer with a warm heart. It was the last summer before we all got old enough to learn to drive or get jobs. We could just hang out and be friends all the time. I was also going through a teenage phase that summer where I didn’t care at all what anyone thought of me. I was loud, sometimes obnoxious, I did bold things, I wasn’t afraid or embarrassed of anything. That phase ended quickly and I went back to my shy and self-concious self once high school started, but that summer I was unstoppable.
This boldness came with a certain disdain for the rules. I have to tell you, I’m a goody-goody. I love rules. Part of my rebellious phase involved breaking the rules to see what the fuss was all about. Looking back, I think I liked the adrenaline rush but not the guilty feeling. Don’t get me wrong, the rules I broke were all the lame ones because, again, I’m a goody-goody. I snuck in candy from home. I took wild dares in the cafeteria (one guy paid me $20 to eat a bowl of ketchup, and I totally did it). Yep, I was an animal.
The biggest rule I broke was in our dorm. It was after rec time, and everyone was sweaty and gross. It was raining like crazy, so we were all soaking wet and muddy, too. We only had 30 minutes before dinner to shower and clean up. Naturally, this caused a panic because all the girls wanted to primp and look beautiful for dinner so they could impress the boys (come on, we were 15). All the showers on our floor were taken, and the girls in them were taking their sweet time shaving their legs and shampooing their hair. I got frustrated and went with a friend to check the other floors our youth group was using. No luck.
Then, rebellious Eighth-Grade-Me got an idea.
Our dorm was about a dozen stories tall. During the school year, it was full of college girls, but were were only using the first four floors. When we got in the elevator, I had a plan. The top stories had to have showers, too. Why not go to the very top floor, see the awesome view, take a nice hot shower, and come back down? Who would ever know the difference?
My friend was curious and came with me. As the elevator climbed higher and higher, I felt more and more empowered. I could do anything.
As we stepped off the elevator, our jaws dropped. This floor wasn’t like the others. It was the senior floor, complete with lush carpet, curtains, sofas, and– gasp– a television. We were at camp. We hadn’t seen a television in four days. It was eerily quiet on that abandoned floor. Everything was dark except for the lobby. All inhibitions aside, I snatched the remote and started flipping channels.
The weather channel caught my eye because it was beeping hysterically. Apparently the area was under a tornado warning. Imagine that, a tornado in Oklahoma. My friend and I freaked out and, abandoning our dreams of hot showers in solitude, rushed back downstairs to see what was going on. The ground floor lobby was a riot scene. Everyone was being rounded up to be taken to the basement, but first we all had to be accounted for. I saw a group of girls lined up for the payphones, and I thought about my mom. She’d be scared to death once she saw we were being attacked by tornadoes! Surely it was all over every news channel everywhere.
I slipped in a quarter I was saving for a bag of potato chips from the vending machine, dialed my home number, and waited for my mom to answer.
Me: Mom, I’m okay.
Mom: Um… Okay. Great.
Me: Weren’t you worried about me?
Mom: I mean, not really. You’re at church camp, you should be fine.
Me: But didn’t you hear about the tornadoes?
Mom: What tornadoes?
My mom hadn’t heard about the tornadoes. The scene around me was pure panic, but the rest of the world was just fine. It blew my mind. My mom reminded me to use deodorant and hung up.
I didn’t break the rules after that. I learned that I don’t deserve special treatment over everyone else. Just because my life is a tornado doesn’t mean anyone has to notice. I gained an important worldview that day, one much less self-centered and more compassionate. I’m not only one in a billion, but one of a billion.