I really feel like I need to write about my experiences at CAMP-of-the-WOODS, a Christian camp in upstate New York. I worked there for three weeks in August, and it was an eye-opener in many ways. I think while there, I finally heard that call from God I’ve been waiting on, but strangely He was calling me away from the camp. I’ll elaborate, I promise.
So, my family has vacationed in Speculator, NY, for the last two summers. We spend a week at the aforementioned CAMP-of-the-WOODS, an outdoorsy, evangelical experience one man described as “Christian Disneyland.” My parents had been bugging me to get a job, and they thought a faith-based place like COTW was my perfect niche. I had some concerns about the camp’s “nondenominational” Christian affiliation because experience has taught me that “nondenominational” is a misleading synonym for “assorted Protestant”. Still, I agreed to go on the camp site and fill out the application. That in itself was a daunting task. Lots of essay-style questions about my faith, my current relationship with Jesus Christ, favorite Scripture verses, etc.—I had to stop myself from citing Tobit at one point, hahahaha. But before I could hit “submit”, I had to agree to the Seven Non-negotiable Essentials of CAMP-of-the-WOODS. Yep, they pledge allegiance to sola scriptura, sola fide and all sorts of Catholic no-nos in there. You don’t know how badly my conscience ached clicking “agree”, but I gave in anyway.
They were excited to hire me as a teaching assistant for the Christian Education program. I was specifically designated as an aide to special needs children, but in the absence of special needs kids, they had me work as a floater, taking on a few different jobs. My first week, I worked as a teaching assistant with the kindergarteners. I loved them all, they were so precious and sweet. I thought the week would go by without incident, but one day, the Bible lesson was about the Last Supper and Crucifixion, and what the teacher said made my skin crawl. She explained to the children how Jesus was speaking figuratively when He said that the bread and wine were His Body and Blood—a way of foreshadowing that He was about to die for us on the cross. I was half-tempted to give in to instinct and aggressively defend the truth of the Eucharistic Mystery, but I knew that would be wildly out of place. I sat there silently, red in the face and shaking with unspoken conviction. That was a painful day. Another time, some girls gossiped about who was and wasn’t “saved”. It seemed to me that putting so much stock in predestination, by necessity, indicated little faith in God’s gift of free will. I saw other, lesser offenses over the course of my time there, but the ones that stick out to me are the ones I have listed.
In any case, being at COTW made me anxious—homesick, actually, not for Baltimore but for my Catholic Church and the truth She offered. My work schedule was jampacked, and I hadn’t been able to attend Mass in weeks. I didn’t even have a Rosary or a Catholic Bible with me. I did take comfort in singing hymns like Ave Verum Corpus and Haily Holy Queen, but I had to sing those quietly. I could feel my faith being stifled and suffocated in a place where things as innocent as Crucifixes and making the Sign of the Cross are taboo.
Then one day, things got better. This is an excerpt from my diary:
Yesterday was beautiful. I heard Your call, and I only pray that You will give me the grace to answer it.
I don’t know where to begin. I do know that a) you spoke to me very clearly in that empty church yesterday, and b) You want me directly in Your ministry, somehow. Also, I understand that CAMP-of-the-WOODS has been a learning experience, leading me to a greater destination. My decision to work here this summer has been absolutely crucial to my spiritual development, though it has told me that COTW is not my place. I’ve learned exactly what I’m not.
I took a long walk yesterday, through the empty town of Speculator. I didn’t know where I was going, but something deep inside me knew that if I walked far enough, I would find You. Here at COTW, they speak Your name, they sing Your praises, they read from Your own words, and yet they don’t know You. They don’t know what they’re missing, but being here, I felt that nagging absence eating at me and challenging my faith.
Lord, I was so inexplicably afraid and desperate while I walked. I knew that I needed to find a Catholic church, that somehow that would bring me back home. On the way, I just prayed to myself, over and over:
O my Jesus,
forgive us our sins,
save us from the fires of hell,
and lead all souls to Heaven,
especially those in most need of Thy mercy.
I’m not usually one for repetitive prayer. Now that I think about it, the only other time I remember praying like that was that infamous night on a red-eye flight to Los Angeles with Dad. I was so scared, Lord. I couldn’t stop crying, and all the while, I could do nothing but pray to You and beg to be sent home as soon as we arrived to LAX. You didn’t send me home, Lord. You kept me there all week and strengthened my resolve. By the time I got back home, I knew I was not going to see my dad for a long time. It’s a harsh thought, but I know it was Your will. You gave me healing in a way that I wasn’t expecting. Lord, You’ve never failed me.
Yesterday, I went into the empty church, and immediately, I knew I was home. The smell of holy water and offertory candles brought me back and put my restless soul to rest for the first time in years, I think. I cried a little in the pews, Lord. I heard You, I felt You, and I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I cried because I’d forgotten the feeling of Your mercy and unconditional love. I cried realizing that You would choose me, a pained, wayward sinner like me, to serve You. The fact that this has been Your plan all along, Lord…incredible. In some ways, I think I really did believe that I was too far gone. Your grace is real, Lord, without a doubt, and it has the strength to melt the ice I’ve been holding in my heart for the last few years. I’ve found You again, and I love You, really and truly, not with words or with fuzzy feelings but with the whole of my existence and personhood. You have enraptured my soul, and I really, truly do sing Your name in the depths of me. I thought You were gone, a pretty fancy of my earlier years, but HERE YOU ARE. You’ve been here all along.
Lord, let me be only Yours.
Long and rambling and incoherent, I know. But God came to me, and I want everyone to know that He will not hesitate to come to You if you just let Him. Take the time, make the effort, sit in an empty chapel or quiet yourself with a Bible. You will hear His voice.
Followers of mine, I love each and every one of you. Have a wonderful night and remember that Jesus loves you.