As many former staffers may know, it’s tempting to let our performance at camp determine our worth. With spiritual breakthroughs happening each week, it’s easy to credit ourselves for the fruit we see, rather than remember that it is God who works graciously in our weakness. For Emily “Blog Without A Dog” Rutledge, it wasn’t until she felt she had failed as a counselor that she began to understand this grace in a tangible way.
As a returning, full-summer counselor at the Ranch in 2019, Emily had been entrusted with her fair share of campers. But as she read her camper profiles at the start of Week 10, she knew this may be her most difficult week yet.
“My campers came in carrying a lot of heavy things,” Emily remembers. “Things that I could not personally relate with and things I felt inadequate to address.”
As her cabin reckoned with absent parents, the trauma of abandonment, and even the recent death of a father, Emily felt in over her head. Nevertheless, she leaned on the encouragement of her fellow staffers who continually pointed her back to the Gospel. Though she felt weak, she prayed that her campers would somehow encounter the Lord in a fresh way.
Each day was a fight to navigate difficult conversations and address tough behavior. In her hang-times, she tried to help her campers uncover the root issues they were facing, but these conversations often led to tears and more frustration. By Thursday night, Emily was exhausted and approached her girls with the one thing she had left.
“I told them that I didn’t care if they liked me or thought I was the worst counselor, but I was going to tell them the truth of the Gospel because that’s the only thing that mattered.”
With a tender and tenacious love, Emily poured herself out, explaining to her girls that she cared about their hearts more than she cared about being a cool counselor. Her entreaty seemed to be met with indifference, but Emily knew she had done all she could do: love her campers and tell them the truth.
On Friday, Emily awoke more weary than ever, feeling she had failed her girls miserably. With one day of camp left, her campers would soon leave the safety of the piney woods and return to their difficult home lives. She was struck by the unfairness of it all and felt utterly insufficient to fix their circumstances. But faithfully, God was working in her girls’ lives whether she could see it or not. Though she doubted her sufficiency, God was working in the dark.
That evening, as she stood in the back of the gym, Emily watched as her girls, unprompted by her, wrapped their arms around each other and supported one another in worship.
“I fell to my knees crying because of the faithfulness of the Lord,” she says. “I was overwhelmed because I fell so short.”
At that moment, a fellow staffer approached her and said, “Emily, look me in the eyes. I love you, and you showed them Jesus.”
“It wasn’t my friend speaking,” Emily says. “It was the Lord.”
It was one of the clearest pictures of the Gospel she had ever experienced, knowing her insufficiencies yet viscerally perceiving the relief of grace.
Like Isaiah, who declares himself ruined when he encounters the disparity between his humanity and God’s glory, Emily recalls feeling wrecked by grace (Isaiah 6:5). But just like Isaiah is purified by the burning coals held to his lips, Emily saw how Jesus—and Jesus alone—made her a worthy, beloved child of God.
She learned that, “Grace is being brought up from the ruins and God saying, ‘I want to do this with you. I want to show you favor even though you are wrecked.’”
Little did she know, this radical encounter with grace was preparing her for the difficult semester ahead. As the fall months went by, Emily’s friends suffered broken relationships, difficult diagnoses, and impossible situations. Yet instead of attempting to remedy those problems on her own, she was reminded to surrender them at the cross and carry her friends’ burdens through prayer.
“Had I not experienced this week during the summer and learned firsthand that I could never be enough,” Emily recalls, “I think I would have crumbled during the school year.”
Every Tuesday night of the summer, the Ranch would practice hanging their burdens on the cross, and Emily implemented this practice back at school. On Tuesday nights, she wrote her burdens on paper as a physical act of surrender and laid them before Jesus. By walking through broken circumstances armed with nothing but the Word of God, His Spirit, and prayer, Emily saw how darkness can be the best opportunity for growth.
“Brokenness leads to intimacy in a way I can’t have when pride gets in the way,” Emily says, as the discipline of releasing her burdens began to transform her mindset from one of defeat to victory.
To those of us who may be carrying burdens in our own strength, Emily encourages us to remember that our job is not to be strong but to delight in our weakness. After all, God’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). So even in the bleakest of circumstances, we can be full of hope, knowing that the power for breakthrough belongs to God. Emily reminds us that mustering up our own goodness diminishes the work of the cross. Because of Jesus, we are free to be weak, free to need God, free to bring our burden to Him, and free to trust in His strength.
“The Gospel is the root of this story,” Emily concludes. “Some days when I feel overwhelmed and am on my knees again in my own room, I can hear those same words being spoken over me. I am reminded of what the Lord did for me in my inadequacies. I am reminded of how short I fall every single day. I am reminded that all I had to give those girls was the truth of the Gospel, and I am reminded ultimately that that is all I ever have to give. And it is enough. It’s more than enough — it’s everything.”
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Posted Jul 9, 2020