I do not believe in coincidences.
When I was nine years old, I attended Redwood Camp for the first time. My parents were going through an extremely messy divorce. To help me escape and relax through this troubled time, my mom sent me to camp, where I bonded with an empathetic counselor, someone who patiently listened to the fears and challenges my friends at home could not always appreciate. This solace brought me back to Redwood year after year.
When I was too old to attend as a camper, I began volunteering in the Redwood Camp kitchen. And finally, during college, I returned as a counselor. Within my first week of counseling, I found myself sitting on a familiar bench one night beneath the stars, cradling a nine-year-old camper who wept over a broken relationship with her father. This experience repeated itself several times throughout the summer. It seemed my cabin was a magnet for such kids. My painful past, which at one time had been a source of shame, was transformed into a beautiful account of survival that I could use to encourage campers going through similar experiences. Was this a coincidence?
During and after my college years at UCLA, God provided me unique opportunities abroad. Not only did I get to study in France – I also got to spend some time working on a hospital ship in the African country of Liberia. Returning to Redwood Camp for the summers, I was able to minister to several French-speaking campers as well as to a Liberian refugee who had come to Redwood as a camper. I missed Africa dearly that summer, and this girl’s mannerisms, accent and smile eased my spirit. We ate fried plantains (a common Liberian snack) on corndog day, and I loaned her one of my vibrant pieces of Liberian clothing so we could dress alike for twin day. Of all the summers in the 100 years of Redwood’s existence, Vivian came the very summer after I returned from Liberia. Coincidence?
I do not believe in coincidences, because I believe God ordains that people will cross paths at specific places and times, plans for a heartache in one person to stir hope in another, and uses small children to teach adults. Although my time at Redwood has ended, the summers I spent there remind me to look for purpose in encounters and to expect meaning in every situation.