Back in college, when I still thought college was the most stressful thing that could happen to me, I developed a pretty workable self-calming practice. When the tension in my shoulders knotted too tight and my heart raced down the track at unpleasant speeds, I would go sit in the dim corner of my dorm room where my desk was wedged between the loft and the window. There I would sit upon the hard wooden chair, close my eyes, and focus my attention on the most calming, peaceful place I could imagine: Camp Fowler.
In my mind’s eye, I found myself beside the quiet, lapping waters at Lakeside Lodge. I could see and feel a soft wind filtering through the trees, and I saw the reassuring colors of the sunset at another day’s end. Sometimes I could feel the chill on my legs at Morning Watch, or the rough Adirondack stones beneath my seat. Many times I would find myself in the Chapel, at Vespers, songs still reverberating through the rafters. After a few restorative moments passing through this beloved, safe place I would return to college life with less tension, a restored perspective.
Throughout my life I have continued to recall the serenity and the sweetness of Fowler during wild and chaotic times in life. I am thankful for the kindness and the gentleness of those memories. And while it has been years and years since I’ve walked the paths or sat on the porches at Fowler, it is a vivid and hopeful place in my heart. It sustains me.
During the pandemic, when it became apparent that many camps, including Fowler, would not be able to hold their camp sessions, there was a deep sense of loss for many. My own heart broke for campers and staff alike. But many camps, including Fowler, began to do fun and creative things to engage campers through social media outlets. One of the dearest things that Fowler did was to mix a video of a dozen or so staff members singing the Good Night Song for campers.
At my house, we’ve always called this song the “Nite Nite Song” because back when I was a new momma, trying to come up with enough lullabies to sing my babies to sleep, this was the one that first camp to my lips, and it is the one that has lingered for 12 years now at bedtime.
Lay down my dear campers (or, insert the name of your child), lay down, take your rest.
Won’t you lay your head, upon your savior’s breast.
I love you, but Jesus loves you best,
and I bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.
When I worked at Fowler, this goodnight song closed our Vespers service each evening. The staff would sing it to the campers, over and over, inserting cabin names to be dismissed a few at a time until it was just the staff and some guitars closing out the day. The song often began rowdily, the staff either ramped up by the day’s activities, or exceedingly ready to send the campers off to bed. However, as the last stragglers left and the din drifted cabin-ward, the melody often slowed; the harmonies were further stroked. We’d draw into a group and sing goodnight to one another. The acoustics in the chapel, under the pointy, pine ceiling are perfect for singing goodnight and meaning it. This was a lullaby and a benediction over us, over the whole camp each night, and we loved and received it.
Every night we reminded one another, and all of those dear, dear campers, that we loved each other. And more importantly, that Jesus loves us best. What a gift.
Little did I realize what I had done for my heart when I stored away that little lullaby. I loved that song very much when I worked at Fowler, often humming it without knowing it, all throughout the day. And now, in these twelve years of parenting, it has remained special, a tender close to each day.
Nearly every time that I sing the Nite Nite song to my children, I find myself back in the beloved, calming space that Fowler was for my crazed, anxious college moments. While I sing to my children even now, I can imagine myself beneath the lofty rafters of the chapel, or on the chapel porch overlooking the beachfront and a twilight lake flanked by backlit mountains. I still sing today with the good memory of good friends and co-workers, and the harmony of music, of work, and of play.
Sometimes, maybe these days in particular, life can spin a little fast, or a little off-kilter. I realize that many of you read these posts in the morning and so this might sound a bit strange, but I think what we all might need right now, and every day, is a lullaby. We need a gracious benediction at the end of each day to remind us that we are loved, and most importantly, we need to be reminded that we are loved by the savior.
May you dwell in this good news today and be at peace.
* Thank you to my friend, Jeremy Bork, who captured the lovely photo of Fowler’s Chapel-by-the-Lake.