Story time with Mitchell: The Gentle Art of Belly Flops

This past summer, I volunteered at a church camp in High Hill, Missouri. I’d like to say that hanging out with preteens and enjoying some Jesus time were my main reasons for going, but I don’t think you’re supposed to lie, especially about things like Jesus and church camp.

I really went up there to hang out with my 8 year old nephew and my brother because they live outside St. Louis and I don’t get to see them often.

My nephew’s name is Rance and my brother and his wife adopted him from a Ukraine couple several Christmases ago. My brother, Matt, was speaking at the camp and doing his children’s minister thing. I just wanted to hang out with Rance and do the Blob.

Everything was going normally, the boy campers were sizing up the girl campers and deciding which ones they wanted to awkwardly stare at all week before having the courage to ask for their phone number on Friday… you know, typical things 12 year olds do.

One of the days early in the week, one of the counselors and my brother announced that there would be a belly flop contest during free time that day. When free time came, there was a small congregation of preteens nervously wandering around the edge of the pool.

I am no stranger to belly flop contests. Years ago, in fact when I was 12 or so, my old youth pastor Dan showed me the perfect form of a belly flop during our church camp at Lake Texoma.

The contest began and it looked like kids were falling from the sky and landing on their stomachs. There’s a certain sound flesh makes when it hits water at just the right way. There was no order, no lines, just pure and delightful chaos.

Finally, for the sake of competition, we (myself, my brother and another counselor Josh) divided the kids into separate categories and lined them up: the little guys, the chunky guys, and the girls divisions. There was even a division for Rance, who was much younger than the campers and still wears a life jacket most of the time; he was in the life jacket division.

So these kids lined up and just did belly flops for a solid 15 or 20 minutes. It was insane. But the most beautiful part of all this was there was no prize involved. No award for pinkest belly or best splash. Kids just lined up and partook of the tradition of the church camp belly flop contest.

There were a few kids that stood out. This scrawny blonde boy named Ollie probably averaged one belly flop every 2 minutes, and they were all fantastic. (Pictured)

I was standing in the pool by the lifeguard as she watched on.

“This is my worst nightmare,” she said, “if one of them drowns it’s your fault.” I was okay with the responsibility.

As I stood there though, I just watched the kids having so much fun. I wondered to myself when was the last time I had that much fun. I wondered if I cared about anything in my life as much as those kids cared about belly flops right then. I couldn’t think of a single thing.

I learned a lot that week about how awesome kids are and how much they have to teach us, but probably not as much as I learned how to love simple things the way they do. I did a belly flop for them and I taught some of the boys in my small group the form that Dan taught me when I was their age.

They probably won’t go bragging to their kids some day about that contest, but I will. That they taught me how to have fun again and how to care about nothing, which is really caring about everything.

I used to think that life was about acquiring memories but those kids taught me that memories are to be made and given away.

For more writings and humor, follow Mitchell Richards on Twitter @MitchellWords.

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