When you set off the fire alarm at winter camp

Sometimes you make mistakes that make you feel like the messiness just keeps piling up in life.

And sometimes you have a hearty crowd to see the mishap happen live.

These are some truly remarkable young women right here.

Over the weekend, I went to my church’s winter camp as a leader for the freshman girls group in the high school ministry. It was a few days packed full of fun, craziness, and helping kids learn the importance of loving others. As with most of our activities within the high school ministry, there were a variety of games, some of which involved a bit of ridiculousness.

On Saturday, we got a full rundown of some rules that were specific to the venue that hosted us for the weekend. One of those rules was not to pull the fire alarms unless there was an actual fire emergency. We were all warned about the trouble and fine by the fire department that would ensue if an alarm was pulled when there weren’t any flames or anything. Ruben, the guy in charge, also told us that, because we knew all of this and because there wouldn’t be any planned fire drills that weekend, any alarm meant that there was a real fire, and we all needed to evacuate and head to some location that he mentioned.

Essentially right after that reminder speech, we went to our meeting space for a few games and a message for the high schoolers (there were also students in the fourth and fifth grades as well as students in junior high). We played a game called “Poser” or something like that, and as soon as a pose popped up on the screen, you had to mimic it. The judges chose the worst poser each time, and that person was out. I was right next to an exit door, so when the handstand pose was shown, I decided to use that to help keep me balanced. Here’s the prob: There was a fire alarm right next to the door, and I definitely hadn’t noticed it.

I think you know where this is going.

Somehow—a way that I will never truly know—my foot managed to hit the alarm and pull it completely down. I honestly didn’t really feel it too much, but when I was standing upright, I looked over and saw my co-leader Kate’s face with a sheer look of horror and panic on it. I was wondering what she was worried about because I thought maybe I had accidentally opened the door somehow, but I didn’t think that was such a bad thing.

Then a piercing and persistent noise began that let me know that I had done something much worse.

The moments that followed were filled with chaos, people making jokes to me about my little slip-up, and others trying to assure me that it was just an accident and that surely I wouldn’t have to pay the massive fine to the fire department. I already started mentally preparing for that fine and thinking of how I could convince them to let me get on a monthly payment plan.

One of the other leaders had sprinted down to the main office of the camp (in the cold and misty rain, mind you) to let Ruben know that it was a false alarm and to see if he could please call the fire department so that it wouldn’t send a truck full of good-looking firemen out. Even though we didn’t get to see the eye candy, it was actually a much better situation for me, because it meant that I didn’t have to pay the enormous amount of moolah to cover the fine.

At least I know how to dress like a penguin when the situation calls for it.

I’m not going to lie—I do a lot of clumsy things in my life, but this one affected more than just me. I mean, all of the elementary and junior high kids had already started evacuating their buildings, and some of those poor students probably thought it was a real fire, which likely freaked some of the younger ones out quite a bit. And that wasn’t the only thing I did that pointed out my flaws that weekend—I also spilled a bunch of batteries everywhere when I was trying to turn off an electric candle, spilled Cinnamon Toast Crunch all over the cabin room floor when I was trying to clean up, got lost on a morning run in an area that I didn’t know (and ended up having to hop a fence because of it), and took my girls into the closed dining hall to get some tea to take back to our rooms (but, as it turns out, we were not allowed to be in there at the time). It’s also possible that I stole a book that I thought belonged to our student ministries leader but doesn’t.

But all of my flaws and all of my failures are part of who I am.

I know I’m not perfect, and I’m very aware that I never will be. Sometimes I try to be, but I’m way too human for that to be possible. One thing I’ve been trying to focus more on lately is loving others well. I want people to know that they are valued, that they are loved, and that they matter and that nothing can change that—including the things they do that make them feel ashamed or maybe even stupid.

I’ve also been trying to love myself better in spite of my failures, as well. How can I expect these precious young women to believe what I’m telling them and live lives that reflect it if I can’t even do so myself? It took years, but I’ve gotten to a point at which I can kick fire alarms and accidentally break rules without beating myself up about it. I used to think that some of the things that made me me—like my quirks and klutziness and lack of heart-stealing beauty—made me not good enough for guys to love me. But what I have to remind myself of often and what I continue to remind the girls in my group is that it doesn’t matter what guys (or anyone else, for that matter) think of us because God made us as we are to be the people we’re supposed to be.

I guarantee that I’m going to mess up many more times in life. Heck, I’ll probably make multiple mistakes today alone. It is Monday, after all. But mistakes often lead to lessons, and lessons often lead to growth. We won’t always know why they happen to us or because of us, but those mistakes and those failures and those moments when you want to crawl in holes and hide for a while are all integral parts of our stories. I think that getting knocked down and getting back up again (you know, like Chumbawamba, though I’m not sure if the subject matter is the same here) is bold. It takes courage, and it takes accepting and admitting that you aren’t as perfect as you’d like to be—and that’s OK.

Even if you end up kick a fire alarm or two along the way.

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