Where the Wild Things Are: Spiritual Journeys & Teenagers

“If you lead me astray, then my wanderings will bring me to my destination.” – Michael B. Johnson

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Photos taken by me


Listen & Read:

Work Song – Hozier

Head in the Snow – Asgeir

Chamakay – Blood Orange


Up in the mountains, where teenagers frolic with no knowledge of time and zipline into lakes during the winter.

Last month, me and about thirty others hopped on a coach bus in the Target parking lot with a few youth leaders and we rode for about four hours– even winding up a mountain at night with NO RAILS, although it was beautiful looking out at the black mountains and navy sky and the twinkling lights from stars and house windows. And I had one goal: to make three friends.

We got to camp and we were one of the first groups, the literal first group was only about five people, and we claimed beds with determination and moderate poise. After that, the camp was ours, for a little bit anyway. Us from the girls cabin met up with the guys and we sprawled out; taking a stroll on the dimly lit walkways, playing basketball down at the gym, sitting on the bench and listening to the stream that you couldn’t even see. Me and a few others went to find the entrance to the game room because the original entrance was under construction. Seeing the orange cones and caution tape made us all beam– it proved a challenge and meant we might actually have to climb things we weren’t meant to climb.

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After some of them climbed a couple of soda machines, I watched my group play pool, air hockey, ping pong, and other things I don’t even know what they are called as I sat in the booth and at the bar. Winding down, me and a few of my friends and youth leaders sat down in the sun room next door. Chatting about the bear we saw on the way up here, about how actually tired we are, and about the cute boys that veterans of the camp said we were bound to see. Then, a coach pulled up. Then another, and another, and two more after that. We went from a chill group of kids from a small county to being swallowed by hundreds of kids from one area, and my heart started to pound because you know what that meant?

Boys. Boys with faces that I haven’t been looking at for four+ years straight.

I prepared my friends for what we were all about to see, even though I was about the only one freaking out. It took a few minutes for them to pack their things, and then, mayhem.

They pour in like when you squeeze honey from the plastic bear- slow, but it’s like it didn’t stop.  And not just boys came, girls too, with long hair and expensive jackets and heads so far up their own asses I couldn’t even see what they looked like. Trust me, a lot of them were very rude.

But the rest of the night was full of laughs, as me and my friends sat in the booth and inspected the people we’ll be seeing for the next day and a half, with a few more buses rolling up the mountain full of high schoolers (who have blatantly never seen black people before in their entire life; up north was like an entirely different world)

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Dinner came around, and we were stood out in the cold for a good hour. We had to wait for the music to play before we were able to go in, and little did I know, wearing Birkenstocks (or the cheaper kind, anyhow) while standing in the front of the mass of hungry teenagers was I very very very bad idea. Long story short, I twisted my ankle being pushed and shoved as a swarm of kids rushed into the mess hall to be served.

“Bring ’em Out” by T.I. played as the college kids with huge trays came out to serve us our meal, with majority of us standing up on the chairs to celebrate the food we were about to be given (which kind of sounds really bad when we think about it– we were only waiting for an hour it’s not like we were particularly dying). Music played the entire time we ate and chatted and even a few guys gave girls spoons (which means like they think you’re cute or something; I never really got it). We had live entertainment, which included the camp rules and bear warnings that was interrupted by a comedy skit which ended up happening after every meal, and then we were sent to the clubhouse.

Now, thinking back on it, this was kind of one of my favorite place to go. It was hot as hell in there, but in the beginning of it (after waiting outside in the cold again and waiting for the music to start again) we all rushed in and sang songs we knew and some I didn’t know, like “The Banana Song” ,which was really weird, and “Sweet Caroline” ,which I only enjoy when I think back on all of us singing it because no other version makes my heart do the thing. Then we sing Christian songs that I know for sure I’ve never heard of and then we have a game to play and after that a few comedy skits and finally, the person to talk about what we are all really here for comes on stage.

So about now you’ve realized that this is a Christian camp. I don’t want to say I dislike churches, but they bore me and put me straight to sleep. Talking about God makes me uncomfortable, and if I hear Matty Healy degrade Christianity one more time in an interview my eyes will get stuck mid-roll. The whole religion makes me feel just so weird, and it’s just me personally, so sitting down and thinking, “Oh shit now that this guy is here, he’s about to talk about the real stuff. The stuff that bores me and puts me to sleep.” I tried to hold in my sigh.

But he just started talking, and stuff just started to make sense. He didn’t tell those stories to try to somehow weave it into something in the bible like some type of puzzle. Like, I understood it. I wouldn’t say it clicked, but I at least wanted to listen to him. And after it was over, we had a quick prayer, and then we had about twenty minutes until it was time for bed (whatever time that was). That’s the thing about this camp– they eased us into it. That was the literal only time we talked about Jesus and all the things he’s done. It wasn’t shoved down our throats like usual and we definitely didn’t have to listen if we didn’t want to.

This happened the next day and the morning after that– a meal, some comedy, a few songs, a game, some more comedy, talks about God that were actually worth it to me, and essentially bed (after a talk with our leader about the talk about God we just had). But between these chunks of our day that happened four more times, we had time to just do whatever.

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You know, I wish I was a better writer, or I had a camera crew that followed me around, so you could really see how chill the entire thing was. Yes, there were times that weren’t so chill, like the games we had to do, like throwing flour at one another and running backwards around the gym while singing Taylor Swift, or on our last night where the front row of us were ducking and dodging the pieces of fresh fruit that were flying everywhere after being hit with a sledgehammer, or even when we would say hello to the girls from other schools and they would look at us and keep going on with their day like we were the homeless on the side of the road… yeah that wasn’t very chill.

But eliminating the times where we felt inferior by snooty girls and when we had actual coins thrown at us (that literally happened– you know, our group was truly bullied by these privileged rich kids now that I think about it), and replaying it in slow motion, it was awesome. I wore shorts in the mountains in January just because my mom wasn’t around and I cracked jokes and I watched my friends zipline into the shimmering cold lake and I freakin’ MADE FRIENDS like that actually happened. And on our last night, after were got the chunks of pineapple out of our hair, they told us to go outside, at 11:20 pm (I snuck a peak at the clock on the projector), and sit for fifteen minutes to “reflect” on our time here.

Doesn’t that sound horrific? In the mountains, in January, at night, for fifteen minutes. And we were not allowed to talk, which really pissed me off as my friend shooed me away and I was sat on the concrete alone in the dark. But after the initial ten minutes of agitation that I had to sit and shiver with no one to talk to, I actually did reflect, and I listened to that same creek that we listened to right when we got there, and I saw the gigantic black trees in front of the stars, and I’m not saying I would ever sit out in the cold again (like I can’t believe we were forced to do that), but by the end, I wasn’t really that relieved that it was over… I mean, yeah, I kinda was, but at least it was relaxing for even a little bit!

The next morning, we had a meal and then clubhouse and then we were off to pack. And that was it. Luckily enough for me, the three friends I made on my trip were in my own group and they went to my own school, so it wasn’t necessarily the image I saw of friends (I, in fact, saw friends from schools hours away and we would write each other and visit during weekends) but it was actually better, because like I said, those other people from other schools weren’t especially nice.

For the next half hour on the bus ride, as texts came in from the phones we haven’t seen in over 36 hours and actual roads appeared, I was really really sad. I didn’t even want to look at my phone, even though I did tell everyone I could about my trip. Reality was just too real. I had a little spiritual journey with teenagers that were just as lost as me. It was just a weird thing.

We had The Varsity on the way back. Then we were home officially, back in the country, back in the Target parking lot.

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Maybe if I didn’t care so much about the rednecks that roamed the hills and the girls in Patagonia’s and bean boots, I would have had an even better time, but of course, I’m only a teenager, I am like biologically forced to care about people that literally don’t matter.

I never really wrote down what happened at camp, and even though I left a lot of things out, like when I threw up after like a three minute jog or when my new friend taught me how to play pool and I was actually really good, I hope you enjoyed to read it. This was like an official diary entry.

And even though you may be too young or old to be in Young Life, you should go on some type of spiritual journey, even if you don’t believe, you can call it a journey for yourself, where you just learn about you and you watch the stars and the trees at night and you listen to the stream and you spend your time with people you don’t know that well.

Just make sure– no phones.

And also, boys and high strung girls aren’t important enough to block your journey.

Your adolescent,

Ken x

p.s. we did some serious, shameless, hardcore stalking the night we got back. My friends and I literally found every guy we found attractive on Instagram and Twitter. It was very… intense. And heartbreaking (not) when they didn’t bother to follow back.

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Where the Wild Things Are: Spiritual Journeys & Teenagers

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