Imagine walking through thousands of acres of mountains, lakes, and trees. The mountains are vast, the lakes are clear, and the trees are towering. Looking up, there are bright blue skies and glorious clouds covering the surroundings. I looked to my left and to my right, seeing the others in my youth group thinking, “This is probably going to be the best week of my summer here at Rocky Mountain National Park.”
The first day full day in Estes Park, Colorado, the group went to the YMCA camp. There, Spider Fish, the activities director, divided us into 3 different groups. 8 students and Brent, our youth pastor, went to stain chairs to place around main camp. Kate, the youth group leader, and 3 girls went to the laundry room to help sort assorted items. Lastly, Thomas, a parent volunteer, myself and 4 others went to cover the outside chapel with sealant.
Each group worked for 4 hours before we got to break for lunch. It was chilly that day, and we were all amped up for the week. For lunch there was a huge buffet full of pizza, wings, fruits, salads, desserts, and so many other things. The guys in the group devoured half of what was set out. After lunch, my group went back up to the outside chapel. We got back to working hard, but for a split second I got the chance to look up and out at what was surrounding us – the Rockies. It was one of the greatest views I’d ever seen. I saw what I couldn’t see in Des Moines, IA, mountains that take your breath away every single time.
Later that night, after we were all showered up from a long workday, we found ourselves walking around downtown Estes Park. The group parted ways to find dinner on our own. Some of us went to a local pizza place and had some thick, cheesy, and filling pepperoni pizza. We shopped around for a while, then met back up as a whole to go play in the mountains. Halfway into the park from the small, homey church we were staying, we found a lake with a path around it. Dakota, one of the other seniors on the trip, decided to jumped out onto a rock in the middle of the water to imitate a Baptist church preacher.
This went on for a minimum of 10 minutes, making all of us youth laugh until our sides hurt. An hour raced by before the group piled up into the two 12 passenger vans to go back to our home for the week. The elevation and time change started to affect some of us, so when we got back, we all crashed for the night.
The next day, everyone woke up, got ready, filled their coffee cups and waterbottles, and we headed up the mountains to Rocky Ridge Music Center. There, Dave, the maintenance man at the camp, greeted us and sent us to a cabin. Gallons of red paint, 25 paint brushes, and 6 ladders were waiting for us. We painted 8 cabins that day, which was a lot to do in the time allotted. After a lot of laughs, bickering, and paint fights, we finally finished all of the work that we had to do. Kate documented everything that had happened that day by taking pictures of the aftermath of the paint fight. When the entire group helped Dave put the supplies, we packed up in the vans and were off to the YMCA camp to shower.
After we were showered up, we loaded up yet again and took off into the vast mountains. We found Lumpy Ridge as we were exploring the trails. Four miles up the mountain; the perfect spot was found with high rocks and an amazing view over the land below. It is like a playground for the adventurous soul. We played around for a bit before Brent led a short devotional. He talked about how important it is that we as a group are able to work together to accomplish what we came to do: to serve God and show everyone what we’re made of. How it is important to minister to one another – to build others up, laughing, talking, and taking the idea of relationship in Christ seriously. This talk definitely set the tone for the rest of the week and what we were about to overcome.
On the third day, which was our last workday, we hit up the group favorite from the years prior – Wind River Ranch. This day was always the hardest of the week because it requires the most labor. We worked in the sun, worked hard carrying logs, raking, and shoveling. I was in a group with all of the males and my friend Emma. I was a little uneasy carrying heavy logs and brush all day long, scraping up my entire body and working it to the core. After lunch, Emma and I went with some of the workers to help scoop the camps’ burn pile. We inhaled so much junk that it felt like I was a lifetime smoker. I was coughing up black, on top of being covered in dirt from head to toe. I remember thinking, “My shower today is going to be the greatest shower I’ll ever have!”
That day, I saw something I hadn’t really seen before. I saw the group work as a whole, sticking together, and holding together. We encouraged each other when we felt weak and needed a little extra push. It truly was great to see that happen. I kept telling the guys, “Work hard, play hard. If we do this, we’re going to be so proud of ourselves. Then we get to go roam the mountains one last time! You can do it!”
The last night was by far the best of all. Deep into the park was the Alluvial Fan, the most beautiful spot in all of Estes. We unloaded the vans, looked up, and saw a waterfall flowing down the mountain. As far as we could see up, was the beginning of the water, and as far as we could see out, was pure art. We all climbed up as far as we could go before having to meet back at the vans. While everyone kept trekking up the mountainside, I stopped, turned, gasped, and admired what was around me.
No words can describe how in awe I was by the wondrous creation around me that no individual could see anywhere else. I stood there in disbelief, thinking about how it was my last time seeing that same view for another year – thinking that the week had flown by too quickly and I hadn’t let everything set in until then. In that moment, I realized that this was the last time being a student on this trip and that this was the last time I would be a part of the same group.
When all of us were back at the church, we had another devotional led by Kate, talking about her past and where she had come. She talked about how we all have junk in our lives, but it’s what you make of it that brings you to who you are. When Kate was finished with what she had to say, I stood up with terror. I looked at my fellow students, my fellow friends, saw the sadness on their faces and with courage, I thanked them. I thanked them for all they had done for me that week.
That group taught me to be a leader, taught me to love others more than myself and what is really important, and most importantly, they taught me how to be a part of a family. I learned from them that family isn’t just the people related to you by blood, but it’s a group of people who are supportive of each other and help guide them to be loving and make good choices for the better of society. There was a lot of emotion that struck us all, tears that were shed, and a clear sense that we were all placed at the place, in that moment, for a reason.
My week spent in Estes Park was the greatest experience for many reasons. I can’t begin to put into words how that week changed my life; the people I was surrounded by, the places the group worked at, and the beauty of Colorado. Never will any of us forget our experience, never will I forget the memories made, and never will I forget the family I discovered from Zion Lutheran Church.