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Camp Confessional

“Any questions?” Phoebe asked into the microphone headset, staring at the sea of people in front of her. They were all blinking quickly, trying to process what they’d just heard, some were even crying, which Phoebe secretly loved.
She had just finished giving her testimony, which is a summarized verbal autobiography, mostly about your spiritual journey and such. Phoebe’s testimony was long but it didn’t feel like it, her words sucked you in, the way she spoke about Jesus with such elegance, and talked about the hardest things in her life with a smile on her face, it was like being drunk.
You see, Phoebe found God at the mall, she had an epiphany, or her “God moment” as she calls it, when she threw a penny into the fountain in the center of all the shops. She cried and she laughed and she was angry at herself for not recognizing Him, but she was saved, in the middle of Almeida Mall.
She gave her testimony that night as a part of a youth conference, she was there with the summer camp that she counsels for, and the director asked her to give her testimony, so she did. She was not nervous, but excited as she sat on the edge of a stage in Nike shorts, her Dad’s old t-shirt, and Chacos. All the people in the audience, mostly teenagers her age, looked at her with awe and amazement.
“Now,” Phoebe began. “This may seem strange, but if any of you need to talk or just need someone to listen, feel free to pull me aside. I know we’re all pretty much the same age, but someone did this for me once, and it helped, so if you need that, or anything really, juts let me know.”
She was cheerful and grinning, having just spit sentences of awful things she’d done, that they’d done to her, terrible stories. She told them about the week she spent in at Louisiana truck stop picnic table, and the day her youth minister told her Jesus hated her, all of it with a smile so bright it blinded the front row.
“Okay,” she clapped her hands together, “We’re going to sing a few songs before we break for showers.” Phoebe hopped up and grabbed a guitar, strumming it for the next 45 minutes, singing “Jesus Loves Me” and a handful of Brandon Heath songs along with the whole auditorium and the other people on stage, banging on drums and shaking maracas to the tune.
After the singing, her friend Mikey said an eloquent goodnight prayer and the teenagers scattered towards the bathrooms, tears in their eyes from singing so loudly for the Lord that they couldn’t hear themselves anymore.
“Hey,” Phoebe heard called from behind her. “Phoebe?” She turned around to face a tall, brunette boy, exactly her age with deep brown eyes, standing in basketball shorts and a t-shirt, with a desperate expression.
“Hi,” she pushed her hand out.
“Colton,” he smiled, shaking her palm delicately.
“Do you need to talk?” She whispered as she moved closer to the beautiful boy.
“Yeah,” he scratched the back of his neck nervously. “I do.”
Phoebe slipped her hand in his and started to walk, “Come on.”
She led them to the edge of the giant lake that was smack dab in the center of the retreat grounds, they sat down and he huffed a breath of relief.
“What’s up?” She asked sweetly.
Colton turned his head to her, 16 years of life mapped out on his face, and he spoke. His words were harsh and painful and courageous. She fell in love with the way he said “Jesus” and the way he looked at her, and on the way back to the cabins, she fell in love with him, broken pieces and all.

***

Phoebe and Colton promised on the last day of that retreat that they would return each year, and talk by the lake about life, love, and the pursuit of hopefulness. And they did.
It wasn’t until three years after their first meeting, all 19 years of her were hanging over her eyes attached to her eyelashes, and all of his problems turned into muscles that decorated all the skin on his body, that they actually said what they’d spent three years trying to verbalize.
The summer sun was vicious, both dripping in sweat and tears, having come from an emotional worship service, they walked down to their patch of grass by the lake. That year, Colton was having trouble connecting with God, so he asked Phoebe for guidance.
“Well,” she said, blonde hair touching her damp but exposed shoulders. “You need to find what brings you closer to God, you know? What makes you smile so wide it hurts because you can feel His love around you?”
“Yeah,” Colton blinked, staring at the feckless on her cheeks. “But how?”
She pondered this, “Umm.” Her hand under her chin, supporting her thoughts.
“Well, what’s yours?” He asked. “What makes you feel God’s love?”
“Music,” she said with a plain smile. “I have like 6 Pandora stations of different Jesus music that I listen to in the mornings and at night, I dance around in my room with the bathroom light on, and it makes me happy.” She giggled, a little embarrassed.
Their fingers fumbled together like they usually did, all mixed together. Colton studied her face like it was a map of the constellations, and he was looking for one specific star.
“I think I got it,” he said, still staring at all the years of her.
“Yeah?”
“Yeah,” he said quietly. He got up and dusted the dirt from his knees, pulling her up with a gentle hand. She turned and saw the light from a lamp post reflect off of the dark green lake water.
“Look,” she said, pointing with the forefinger not hugging his hand at the rustling water. “Ugh, how does it get any better than that, Colton?”
He glanced at the water and then back at her. “It’s okay, I’ve certainly seen better.”
Phoebe gawked at him, “What in the world is better than that?”
Colton moved into her, “I wish I had a mirror handy so I could show you.” He said softly, his breath hitting her warm face.
She was even more confused, searching for the answer in his face. His hand moved to hold her neck, tickling the baby hairs. “What I’m looking at right now,” he confessed. “That’s what gives me faith, hope, that’s what makes me believe in God.” Colton’s face crept closer to hers, her eyes swelling with water. “You.” She closed her eyes tightly and tears escaped them.
“The blue in your eyes is the reason I pray. You are grace, you are joy, you are light, and I love you.” He said, with his lips moving against her cheek.
Phoebe pulled him close and buried her head in his shoulder, holding him like she thought he’d vanish. He kissed the top of her hair and held her like he’d always wanted to.
She pulled her face up and stared into his eyes, “To love another is to see the face of God,” she sung softly. “And right now, God looks a lot like you.”
He swallowed hard and clutched her to his tight chest, her arms hung themselves around his neck like a collar, and they stood there in the lamp post light, draped over each other, staring at God’s face until it was so dark that they couldn’t see the lines next to each other’s noses. Then, they carried one another back to the cabins in the black night, so deep in love they couldn’t see the top anymore.



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