Hands clutching the tray of steaming buffalo wings, I walked down my assigned tables of campers and counselors for the week. The din of fresh campers filled the dining hall as counselors began the arduous process of getting to know their campers through a series of basic questions, which sometimes went as smoothly as molasses or as roughly as sandpaper rubbed against a piece of gravel. It was my seventh week working as a waitress for The Wilds Christian Camp in the mountains of Brevard, North Carolina, and there’s a strange aspect about the seventh week of a ten-week-long contract. The nagging feeling of incompetence fades by about the third or fourth week, but you’re still at the point of nervousness—you realize the possibility of dropping a steaming hot plate of food on a camper isn’t past avoidance, even for the best of waitresses.
You also acquire a mental portfolio of questions to ask your campers when there’s a lull in serving. Coming into this summer, waitresses were regularly reminded we weren’t just there to serve food but an experience, a ministry. Part of that is investing in the kids any chance you get. Of course, your means are limited. At the most, you’ll only ever get five minutes during each thirty-minute meal to chat with your tables, but I viewed each week and aisle as a challenge. This people-pleaser relished the weekly process of winning over every table, whether through bribing them with fruit snacks or simply through charm.
But during week seven, I’d see my hubris crumble at the presence of seven snarky teenage boys. I’d meet the strongest resistance I had met all summer long yet. Their counselor was somebody I’d had assigned to me week two, and it’s always helpful when you have comradery with the counselors also battling to know their campers. His name was Xavier, and he was known that summer for having one of the most unique cheers, which aesthetically resembled a slower rap song—his words, not mine.
So on Monday night, when we typically serve pizza and wings, I walked through my aisle, offering warm smiles and warm food. All five tables were responsive, with bubbly kids and voices trying to outtalk each other, except for that one table. I stopped at Xavier’s table with their wings, introducing myself and starting with the time-old, tried-and-true question:
“What are you all looking forward to during this week of camp?”
About half of the guys stared straight ahead and continued devouring their food, zombified stares occupying their faces—whether out of exhaustion from seven-plus-hour rides or boredom, I’m not sure. The other half snickered, with maybe one teenager responding with “Camp.” More snide snickers passed around the table after that as Xavier and I shared a slightly amused but also worried look. But, convinced progress would be made, I confidently left the table, brainstorming more questions I could dish at them at the following meal.
Tuesday breakfast and lunch passed with generally the same results until dinner. It was pizza casserole night, and I knew my table of boys had just come back from “lake day” earlier in the afternoon. Now, the lake at The Wilds isn’t just any lake. As soon as you approach the border of the lake, you directly face an inflatable abject object of horror named the Blob, made for the terror and thrill of bouncing small humans off the Blob while being launched off yourself. You can also brave the water zipline, a jump-off tower, or a water slide with a runway you can use to tube into the water. Normally, if the kids are still nervous about camp by Tuesday, lake day will open their timid hearts right on up. So very intentionally, as I walked past with five overflowing bowls of pizza casseroles for my tables, I paused by Xavier’s table to ask my question:
“Hey, y’all! How was the lake?”
And, to my dismay, I received simply two “Goods.” Yet, still unrelenting and unwilling to accept just an anticlimactic “Good,” I frustratedly asked,
“Well, what did you do there?”
That question released another avalanche of snickers as one teenager with hair that mimicked the head of a rambunctious broccoli turned to me and said,
The table erupted, and I may or may not have turned a little red as I commenced what felt like a walk of shame down to my next tables. Later that night, I asked my roommates for prayer. I felt as if I was failing at one of the few jobs I had as a waitress that summer, and I just kept thinking, If only I had the right questions. Then I could get them to talk. And what an absurd, pride-fueled thought that was. If only I had opened my clenched hands sooner and given God the power He had all along.
Another regular day passed. Little did I know the infamous appearance of “The Butt Chip” was about to commence. On Wednesday nights, on a bi-monthly rotation, the kitchen serves quesadillas and tortilla chips. It’s such a good meal I’ve absolutely considered asking for it as a death row meal if I ever were to be in that situation. So, naturally, the dining hall was abuzz with famished anticipation for one of the best meals of the week. That night I had to wear more formal clothes for the chapel coming up before serving dinner, so I had a nicer blouse on, paired with black stretchy bellbottoms that have hundreds of miniature pastel-colored flowers on them. Here’s another helpful fact that’ll provide more context for the atrocity approaching: I ate before I served that night. At The Wilds, you eat and serve on a rotation with an “aisle buddy” that you have, so unfortunately there is the rare opportunity that you’ll carry food you recently ate with you when you serve.
Feeling tentatively more confident and ready to socialize with my tables once more, I marched my platter of quesadillas down my aisle, frisbeeing plate after plate to each counselor at the end of each table. As I turned around from my last table on my aisle, I passed Xavier’s table, only to feel a miniscule tug on my sleeve. Surprised, I turned to look at one of the more stoic teenagers as he cleared his throat solemnly and slowly.
“Um, ma’am. You have a butt chip.”
I paused, leaned my head forward a bit, and said, “I’m sorry. What?”
“Well, you, uh . . . have a tortilla chip. On your behind.”
And for some reason, embarrassment wasn’t my immediate reaction—although I guarantee you all, it was an emotion felt thoroughly throughout the course of the night. Instead, I began laughing and tried discarding the chip that acted like a leech on my pants. And as soon as the entire table noticed that I wasn’t upset or mortified, they too began to laugh with me. I bellowed, “My word! You guys are way nicer than I would’ve ever expected you to be. If I were still a camper, I would’ve milked that for every minute I could’ve. My goodness, I would’ve gotten the entire table in on it and referred to my waitress as ‘Butt Chip Girl.’”
Nearly crying laughing, Xavier assured me his table would never allow such a grave wrongdoing as that, and I thanked them all profusely. With a timid shuffle, I walked to my other tables and continued serving, but I beamed the entire time. Internally, I felt nothing but relief. This table I thoroughly believed I hadn’t made any progress with cared enough to not humiliate me on a grand scale. Somehow, I felt as if I had bonded with them over a misfortune as small as a tortilla chip stuck in an unfortunate place.
Looking back at my past summer of ministry at The Wilds, I can confidently state that that was my favorite experience I ever had waitressing. How gracious our God is to allow His mercy and goodness to be shown through embarrassing blessings! However, serious word of advice. Be very careful the fabric you choose to wear when eating tortilla chips; both those items might function like Velcro more than you know.