In seemingly long gone seminary days 3 couples headed over to someone else's house over Labor Day Weekend while the owners of the home were away on a real vacation. They pigged out on appetizers from the freezer section, embarrassed themselves by making stupid comments to the teenage ice cream truck driver ("Stay cool" said the overweight, middle aged woman in the bikini top), left weird things in the bathrooms for other to see (apparantly Preparation H is a rite of passage into your 30's) and laughed until their sides hurt especially when the quieter ones finally got in their one-liners ("my wife can...").
Anyone who has left any academic setting where they have found community and steps in the real world knows how much 'fat camp' friends are worth. I remember working in a church in between college and seminary and I stopped coming to worship because I had no one to sit with and no one even noticed. Not their fault, but we all know when we're staff, we are not family.
One of the blessings of having come through a couple of valleys is it becomes clear very quickly who are the friends who wait for you to come out of the hole, who are the ones who are only helpful when you are in the hole, and who are the ones who will walk into, through and out of the hole with you.
These are the 'fat camp' friends.
Not all of my 'friends for the journey' were at that initial fat camp back when my biggest visible flaw was that I had a bit too much weight around my middle to be saying, "Stay cool!" to the 18 year old (by the way, I meant temperature because it was beastly hot but as you can tell from reading, that is not how it came out). Some I have added since then and I am grateful for it. It is also true that since I am no longer a couple, I lost one. That came as a complete surprise.
As I move through interviews the question often comes up how do I take care of myself or how do I hold myself accountable or how do I keep myself going in the sometimes trying atmosphere of the church. I try to give an answer that sounds intelligent. Something like, "I enjoy my family and friends and I have people in my life that I can turn to who will tell me when I am right and when I am wrong. I know who I am and have emotional support outside of whatever church I am serving in and so I am not defined by what certain people think of me."
I say something like that but what I really want to say is, "I have fat camp friends. Stay cool!"