by Lizzie Klein Posted Jul 20, 2021
Every week at Pine Cove, hundreds of counselors pray for God to move in mighty ways in their cabins. Of course, God hears every single one of those prayers and answers them all in different ways! Often that looks like the Lord intentionally putting a counselor in a camper’s life who understands exactly what they have been through.
Alli Edelman was thriving in her middle school career. A devoted student and volleyball player, her life looked pretty great from the outside looking in. But her world was shaken in the fall of 2018 when her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer… again. Her mom had beaten cancer the previous year after months of surgeries and radiation therapy, and Alli was crushed at the thought of her going through it all again.
“We knew what to expect that time, and we knew how hard it would be,” Alli says. “I felt kind of helpless. I didn’t really think that there was anything I could do to help her get through. I couldn’t be the doctor to take it out of her.”
After a year full of fear and confusion, Alli came to Week Two at the Timbers hoping to escape from the heaviness she was experiencing at home. She wasn’t sure what she was looking for, but she could feel that something big was about to happen. Little did she know the Lord would end up providing exactly what she needed.
Alana “Cheese Jerky” Essex was excited to see what her first summer as a Timbers counselor would hold. But she was also bringing in insecurities of her own from the past year. Her freshman year at college had not gone the way she had planned, and when she arrived at camp, the idea of leading and shepherding campers was a little overwhelming.
“I definitely felt like I was still working through things,” Alana says. “The thought of me helping girls work through their own hardships made me feel very undeserving. I just felt like, ‘Man, this is such a big job and I don’t know if I’m the person to lead these girls when I don’t even feel like I’m leading myself.’” Soon she’d be surprised at how well God had actually been preparing her to lead.
One of the main ways counselors lead and pour into their campers is through hangtimes. This is an opportunity for campers to get one-on-one time with their counselor and talk freely about their relationship with God. On the first Monday of the summer, God put it on Alana’s heart to start the week with Alli.
As they talked, Alana quickly realized that God was working in the conversation. Alli was quick to be vulnerable, and her mature spirit took Alana by surprise. “I was blown away by her because I honestly felt like I was talking to a wise friend, not like I was talking to a camper,” Alana says.
As the conversation deepened, Alli revealed that the past year had been challenging largely because of her mom’s recent breast cancer rediagnosis. Alana began to understand that Alli being in her cabin wasn’t a coincidence — Alana’s mom also had cancer that same school year.
“I had always hoped that somehow I could use my mom’s experience with cancer to encourage someone else,” Alana says. “And it was just so sweet because [it was] my very first hangtime. Even though I never thought that God could use my suffering, He did.”
The Lord spoke through Alana as she shared with Alli her own journey of having a mom diagnosed with cancer. She also shared a passage that had comforted her in the hard moments of the past year. Philippians 4:6–7: “Don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything with prayer and petition, present your requests to God and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Alli was in awe as she experienced the intentionality of God in a way that she never had before. The Lord knew that, in that moment, Alli needed a friend who could understand exactly where she was coming from, and that is exactly what the Lord provided. “The fact that the Lord connected us in that way, that we were able to just bond right then and there, was just so amazing, such a God thing,” Alli says.
Their hangtime set the tone for the rest of the week. Alli and Alana continued to have conversations about what it looks like to trust the Lord in a world full of unknowns. Alana felt hope radiating from Alli, and it was evident that the Lord had worked in the heart of her camper by reminding her of where her true worth was found: in Jesus. Alli left camp with a renewed sense of hope, feeling seen and loved by the intentionality of the Lord.
“Just knowing my worth was in Christ, my worth wasn’t in what I had gone through or what my family had gone through, but just in Christ and that He defined me, the world didn’t define me–it was so great,” Alli says.
Though that week of camp ended, the impact of that first hangtime and the influence counselor and camper had on one another continued. Alana and Alli have stayed in touch, grabbing breakfast, getting fro-yo, and even having a hangtime again the next year at the Timbers. Alli and Alana’s moms are now both cancer-free — praise the Lord! — and Alana continues to be encouraged by the faith demonstrated in Alli’s life.
“I can hear it in her words and I can see it in her life,” Alana says. “I think she has proof of God’s love written all over her. It’s so cool to catch up with her because it’s always going to be centered on Christ, and it’s always going to be about what He’s done in her life and what He’s teaching her.”
The suffering that Alli and Alana experienced was hard to make sense of at the time. But at camp, the Lord showed them how He can use trials and insecurities to produce stronger faith and lead us into life-changing relationships. While their story is beautifully unique, it’s just a snapshot of the intentionality the Lord continually shows during camp. It is through the intertwining of our stories that we see God enter into our suffering and speak to us in ways we could never imagine.