Goodbye, Camp Ridgecrest

Dear Camp Ridgecrest:

For seven months, the surface of my laptop has worn a sticker of your name; coffee shop sojourners 2,500 miles west of your borders see it everyday.

For seven months of routine mornings, I slipped on a blue bracelet etched with the Indian name you gave me. A name nobody but you or I really understands. Wore it every day for six months until it literally snapped off my wrist.

For seven burdensome months, I wondered whether I’d ever again cross your gate. Your intimidating altogether inspiring gate.

When I tell people Camp Ridgecrest changed my life, they don’t get it. I don’t blame them; that phrase has become watered down. To say something “changed” one’s life has become commonplace.

“Disneyland changed my life!”

“In-N-Out changed my life!”

And while I’ve exclaimed these very things myself, I admit my innocent deceit; a mere amusement park or double-double hamburger cannot truly change one’s life. Not mine or yours or anyone’s.

Camp Ridgecrest changed my life. Changed it so drastically that it finally prompted the outpouring of a struggle-laden book, four years in the making.

Camp Ridgecrest gave me courage.

Camp Ridgecrest affirmed my self-worth.

Camp Ridgecrest filled me with fear and shame and unparalleled inferiority. And yet.

Camp Ridgecrest gave me redemption.

For every momentous gift Camp Ridgecrest offered me last summer, I feel entirely indebted to Camp Ridgecrest. Feel I’ve not given her nearly what she’s given me.

Even at 2,500 miles away, why wouldn’t I return to Camp Ridgecrest this summer?

TMZ at Camp Ridgecrest

A month ago, I did what I’d long put off doing: I applied. Believed wholeheartedly the illogical yet quite logical story being written before my eyes: a 2,500-mile return trek for Traveling Golden Trout to the magical place that first birthed his new name. His new identity.

The very place that wrecked and redeemed him all the same.

And yet after submitting my application, I went to bed that night unable to sleep. Physically writhed betwixt my bed sheets as pangs like ulcers struck my gut. Felt anything but the “peace like a river” I’d anticipated swimming into Happy Dream Land.

Why was this decision so difficult? As an emotionally marred introvert desperate for purpose and belonging on this earth — so desperate as to travel to and fro across this country year after year after wearying year — wouldn’t it be obvious to return to the place I found said purpose and belonging?

Blue Ridge Sunset at Camp Ridgecrest

Camp Ridgecrest has existed since 1929; it’s not going anywhere soon. The same kids return summer after summer; the same counselors do as well. A three-month Paradise of purpose in the mountains of North Carolina.

For two weeks, I stared at the contract offer in my inbox. Couldn’t respond either way.

What was wrong with me? Why wouldn’t I return to redemption? How dare I defy its extended hand?

Over the last few agonizing weeks, I’ve spoken with dozens of precious people. Vented at length over this decision. Cried over its unfairness.

When my Traveling Golden Trout bracelet recently snapped, I seriously pondered the meaning of such a seemingly random occurrence. I love traveling — surely this snap didn’t mean my name — my very identity — was broken, too.

Instead of Traveling Golden Trout, was I now Stationary Golden Stoat?

In a year of IDENTITY, it seemed beyond paradoxical not to return to Camp Ridgecrest.

Of course I should pack up my car in May.

Of course I should drive back across America.

Of course I should pull back into the gate — THAT GATE — and breathe redemption’s air once again. Her fresh mountain air.

I’m a wanderer; this is what I do. I wander. Wander from Pennsylvania to Georgia to the UK to California to Milwaukee to California again to Camp Ridgecrest to California once again, latching onto the next passing thrill before returning on my same lonely way.

When camp ended last fall, I fell into restless depression. Knew California beckoned my return, and yet so much had been taken from me over the prior three months: roommates, primarily. A place to live.

For all Camp Ridgecrest had given me, she’d taken my home. How could I repeat the same journey a second consecutive summer?

Since October, I’ve steadily regained my life of the last two years. Rebuilt floors upon the stack of cards that had crashed at summer’s end.

I found an older married couple to take me into their home in the boondocks. A home inundated with African masks and lemons.

Then found a more ideal place to live with Christian guys my own age in the city.

Found one job, then another job, then another, and another, and before I knew it was privately tutoring 12 kids at libraries and homes while also working at a middle school and a learning center.

Beyond financial security, I began uncovering deeper purpose and belonging in California. Relationships with old and new faces alike. A return to the church that reversed my story of the prior two decades. The life group who accepted me and even baptized me.

Months upon arduous months after Camp Ridgecrest’s last camper exited the gate — that epiK gate — I’ve financially emotionally spiritually found here in California what I so dramatically found there in North Carolina.


Turns out I don’t need to drive 2,500 miles to breathe redemption’s air.

I have no doubt I could’ve returned to Camp Ridgecrest this summer and been broken and blessed all over again. My story-loving soul would have loved nothing better.

And yet it’s here too: redemption. It doesn’t have to be centralized at a camp or baptism or mission trip or any other inherently temporary environment.

Intentionality and redemption can exist in normal, day-to-day life. Should exist. Desperately needs to exist when our culture has swept meaning under the rug in exchange for safe status quo jobs, surface-level relationships, and otherwise mundane existences.

Truthfully, this decision devastates me. To let go of a place so distinctly impacting on my life — it’s brutal.

And yet it’s beautiful. God’s redemption stories never cease to amaze me, whether from another life or my own.

I can’t wait to share the entire story. The last couple chapters of Struggle Central will do just that.

Even in the midst of certain struggle, there is always redemption.

Goodbye, Camp Ridgecrest. You’ve given me so much. I can never repay you or say “thank you” enough.

Here, our paths mournfully part. Until that giant lake blob in the sky.

To invoke the words of a soul-tugging campfire song…

God made Camp Ridgecrest; that’s why I love you.

Camp Ridgecrest sign

Travel well,

Traveling Golden Trout

  • Lauren Francis

    This is great! Camp is near and dear to my heart as well.

    • TMZ

      Yeah, camp has been responsible for so much of my life-growth these last two years. Gonna be brutal to let go of this summer.

  • I totally get this. After two summers working CentriKid Camps, I decided not to work a third summer– even after having already been placed on a team. It was one of the toughest decisions of my life, and a lot of people didn’t understand. But as you described, there was no peace about returning to camp at that time.

    It’s a decision I’m glad I made. I needed that summer to find redemption in some of those every day ways. I did work camp again, for two weeks this summer, and it was great to be back for that short time. I think God guides us to the right places of redemption for the right times in our lives. I’m glad you’ve found yours.

    • TMZ

      He definitely guides us to those right places of redemption just when we need it. Blows my mind, time after time. Glad you got to return to camp, if even for a short season. Maybe that can be my story again someday…

  • Grammy

    This was beautiful! This was an excellent glimpse into your soul, but also caused me to reflect on my own life. Miss you!

    Love, G-ma

    • TMZ

      GMA, I love you. And miss you, too. Hope FL is fulfilling all your dreams. Thanks for the kind words!

  • Rebecka

    Beautiful story. I’m too tired to write a comment that makes sense today, but I enjoyed reading this!

    • TMZ

      Grateful for your continued support, nonsensical or otherwise!

  • MLYaksh

    A revelation that we all need- “Intentionality and redemption can exist in normal, day-to-day life.” Thank you for the reminder. And I’m excited to see what God has planned for your summer this year!

    • TMZ

      A revelation I’m still very much coming to grips with myself. Will be another summer of growing much unlike the last two, I’m sure.

      Good to see a comment from you again, Mitchell! My blog has missed you.

  • Jennifer Vaughn

    I can imagine that you lost hours of sleep pondering over this particular decision in your life. Anyone that has been blessed to know you knows how much these past few summers have meant to you and how big of an influence and impact they have had on you- on your heart and on your soul.

    It is never easy to purposely leave something so great behind. It’s also not easy to intentionally move forward when God shows us how to and when. A very hard place to be in the middle of and that will certainly pull every part of you in two completely opposite directions. One that I am sure left you with tons of pros and cons to dwell upon. I know it was a tough decision and leaves room for uncertainty in some areas (like what and how this next summer will ever exceed the past few etc.), but I also know that until we surrender even our greatest experiences to God, we’ll never get to the next greatest adventure He has in store for us.

    I have learned that there comes a peace through the tears and heartache, even in giving up or not continuing on those great roads we’ve traveled before, when we know that God promises us a future filled with hope.

    Hope that whatever we may be leaving behind or what God is moving us away from (even for a short time) does not mean that everything is over. Our life is not defined by just the blessings of the past, but the present and the future for sure! Hope that this is not the end and that God is already there ahead of us looking back at our life… He is just waiting on us to meet Him there.

    I know you will miss your camp and summer experiences, and that you are eager to see what God’s writing out for your next chapter. As one page’s last period is found, another page finds boldness and excitement in the story yet to be read. Your life is ever evolving in the Master’s plans, and what a great planner He is! 😉

    Those days that you may rethink your decision or miss certain times – pull out those precious memories and growth that you know so well, as well as the promises that God has fulfilled in you!

    Camp Ridgecrest, without a doubt, will always have a very special place in your heart, and I believe it’s a place/experience/life-change that will still shine throughout different areas of your life. I think it will always be close in heart and spirit with whatever the next journey is for you. Too much greatness to stay buried. In your own little ways, I have no doubt that you will find the exact way, or words, to keep it alive in you always.

    Praying for all that God has for you and your future (especially with your book release) !

    Love you and miss you!


    • TMZ

      “God is already there ahead of us looking back at our life… He is just waiting on us to meet Him there.”

      Favorite part of this comment. Although the entire blessed thing has got to be one of my favorite blog comments of all-time. Am so blessed by you, Jenn. This decision reminded me of BPC/UGA all over again, and yet I’m striving to believe better things remain on the horizon. As it was then, it is now, and so it shall ever be. Hope.

      Miss and love you, too. Treasuring your prayers. Keeping you in prayer as well; all the very best this Easter season!

  • LC Peaceful Copperhead

    God give us hills to climb and strength to climb them…

    • TMZ

      Amen and AMEN.

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