Camp—#19 out of the 30 day challenge to blog

When I remember my childhood camp, the memories play out like a Cameron Crowe Movie, with a Cameron Crowe Movie Soundtrack playing behind, as I walk in slow motion.

I see myself at a pick nick table early in the morning watching the sun rise.
I see myself walking along side an old wooden bridge.
I see myself sitting in the chapel.
I see myself playing carpet ball, tether ball, and playing on the “big field.”
I see myself in prayer and reading my bible.
I can see my cousin, friends, and even camp crushes.
I can see myself laughing with hysterics and hijinks
And I can also see myself crying, not wanting to leave.

My cousin John never misses a chance to make fun of me about how much I loved camp, “Remember how at Christmas you would start packing for camp?” I love my cousin John. I’d lay down in traffic for him. I take his teasing, with a gentle smile on my face. I’m not embarrassed by the fact that I used to pack six months before camp, because the reason I did still makes sense to me.

It was a combination of how much I loved camp, mixed with how much I didn’t love home. Those sleepless nights, those terrifying nights, and the lonely nights I can still remember laying in my bed, looking at my suitcase…counting down the months till camp would swing around the calendar one more time.

I remember for Christmas one year, my Aunt Mary gave me a bible with my named engraved on it. I think it was the first bible I ever owned. I must have been six or seven. It would be the first bible I would own, but it wouldn’t be the last…but it would be the one that with the years to come I would devour with an almost animalistic passion once I would experience a love from above that would let me know the best parts of camp didn’t remain within the acres known as Twin Lakes Camp…but would go with me…and live with me…and be in me for the rest of my life.

There were actually three camps in my childhood…I may get the names wrong…but I believe it was Beechwood Camp, then it was Crystal Lake, and the final place, the place where most of my treasured memories come from would be in a small town in western Indiana called Hillsboro. The name of the camp is Twin Lakes and it will hold a special place in my heart for the rest of my life.

I occasionally joke that my cousin John led me to Christ because of what happened my first year at camp in Beechwood. I remember being painfully shy, just shuffling around with my cousin John. I stuck to him like glue. He was my best friend. I think my other cousins might have been there that year…Anna, & Robin. I remember sometime earlier that week John turned to me and asked if I was a Christian. For a reason I can’t remember I simply said, “Yes.” I think the true answer in that moment was, “why wouldn’t I be”…but I had no real conception of what that meant, or that didn’t mean…except in that moment I didn’t want to be left out. One of the last nights of that week, or maybe even the last night they did an altar call after the chapel service. A time where they ask you to bow your heads and close your eyes…and then proceed to ask you to raise your hands if you want to accept Jesus…or give your life to Christ…or just want to talk to a counselor…a camp counselor.

I remember sitting there with my little bible, and my eyes closed tight, and then I opened my eyes in the middle of all this…and my cousin John was gone. I panicked. I looked back and couldn’t see him. For no reason other than wanting to find out where my cousin John was, I raised my hand…and went back to talk to one of the counselors. This camp counselor, some college aged kid, had a flowery hippie hat on, that for some reason the fast food chain Wendy’s gave out when you bought a combo meal. He said, “follow me.” And I did. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, and I started panicking about what lie I was going to make up to talk about…

We walked outside, and I was immediately put at ease when I saw my cousin John sitting there talking with a counselor. I sat down with, “Ben”, I think that was his name, but my memory is a little fuzzy with those details. I remember sitting in the shadows, and Ben was back-lit with the light pouring out from the chapel.

Ben, the flowery hippie hat wearing camp counselor, asked me…”So why did you come forward tonight.” What popped out, seemed like the easiest and most appropriate answer for a church camp setting. I said, “I want to get saved.”

What happened next is almost as funny, insane, as it is personal and profound. Ben began talking about God, and Jesus, and just simply how much he loved me. He talked about how he loves me so much he sent his son Jesus to die for me, so he could have a relationship with me…and this had to be done because my sin stands in the way of having a relationship with God. (Much like the sin of my parents still stands in the way of them having a relationship with me.) But Jesus took care of all that stuff on the cross, he paid the debt I could never pay….all because he loves me. And He would love me forever and never leave me. And as I was listening to him talk…everything inside of me went…”Yes”…not a lie…not an answer out of religious obligation…or lying out of fear of what others will think…but an answer that swelled by little seven year old heart…I said…”I want that. I need that. I want to be loved, and never left.” I prayed with him, and accepted Jesus as not only the savior of my soul but to be the Lord of my life. (whatever that meant)…So yeah, my cousin John led me to christ, and I heard about the love of God through a guy named Ben who was wearing a flower hat from Wendy’s.

But even though I was a child, what I did still makes sense to me. I said yes, and I’m still saying yes. Studying every religion imaginable in the years to come, I have found that they are all empty and meaningless …but this person…this God/person named Jesus…he still makes sense…yes in my head…but that wasn’t and isn’t the most important part…he made sense in my heart…

That night at the campfire they asked to raise our hands if we had made the decision to accept Jesus as our personal Lord & Savior…and I raised my hand. For no other reason except…I really did. And my cousin John turned to me and said…but I thought you were already a Christian. And I said “me too.” Okay, I probably just shook my head no…but the real answer in my heart was ‘me too.’

I would go home and return to life. The life I’ve already described through these pages (in previous blogs)…and I would live off the euphoric camp experience…as long as I could. Until that ran out of gas a few months later. And when it did, partially to survive the hell it was at home, I’d pull out my little suitcase, and begin packing for camp…to give myself something to look forward to.

One of those summers I made a decision to “read my bible every day”…and you know what I did it. Not everyday of course, but what I found is that by reading the scriptures as much as possible brought me closer to that indescribable feeling I’d have at camp. So now I had packing my suit case, and reading my bible that would be my anchors to get through the next year till camp came around again.

I remember having by my fourth year at camp, we were going to our third and final camp, called Twin Lakes. I went to Beechwood for a year, and Crystal Lake for two…and I was starting to get ticked off because I just wanted to go to the camp that I was building all these fun memories at…and as we pulled into this final camp ..I saw something that immediately brought a big smile to my face. It was Ben the guy with the flowery Wendy’s hat. I was home.

At the end of that week, They asked anyone who had made decisions the previous year and “stuck” with them to come up on stage. The previous year I had “for the most part” kept up with my decision to read my bible every day. So I went up on stage with a group of 10 or 15 others. The camp speaker was in front of us…and as he was preaching he pointed back at us and said…”You see these guys…these guys have made a decision to give their lives to Jesus and to follow him” and right in that moment I went…”I did?”…I remember accepting Jesus, and his love and truly believed I was saved…and had a relationship with him…but “did I give him my life…and am I following him?” I had no idea. I didn’t even know what that meant.

It seemed as though every major decision of my life happened at camp. Although I feel God ambushed me when I got saved…versus making a decision….He surprise attacked me with his love. I had know idea what I was getting into. But nothing could and still can take away from me …that what I experienced that night…was real. And I still feel that way. It wasn’t a day dream, or wishful thinking …it was literally being clobbered with the furious love of God…and I still run…I run to my idols…to my sin…but the mighty and passionate love of God is always after me. Thank God. Because like the old hymn says, “My heart is prone to wander.”

I could never get enough of camp. Even in later years as I would yet again follow St. Kyle to another church in High School…and they would do their own camp, which was a blast..I mean it was a cooler camp, with cooler activities, I mean we even had the yet to be discovered band Mercy Me as our camp worship leaders.

My fond memory is doing a video sketch with the group Mercy Me, called Bus Driver…we did this video where I acted like Chris Farely and I was their Bus/Road Manager…and I was always yelling at them to get on the bus and to shut up. That was a fun time. I remember laughing non stop with Bart the lead singer…and was overly excited when they told me…”Hey when we open up for Cademans Call in a few weeks were going to show them this video”…Even as a teenager I went…Wait, are these guys a big deal…

It turns out yes. They were and would be. I was once brought down to Nashville to be whined and dined by a record company started by the former lead member of Audio Adrenaline…Bob was his name? I can’t remember…but he wanted me to be the host of this kids show. I remember joking about his song “Big House….” and he simply went…”Oh, you comedians”…

I turned down the gig, because I had just started at Groundlings school, and had my heart set on SNL and other things…but when I was in the recording studio…Bob went…”Mercy Me…they are the biggest thing to hit Christian Music…ever”.

I laughed in that moment, as I recalled at camp one year how Bart yelled across the way for me to come inside his cabin…and I did…and the whole band was naked…”Hey how’s it going”..We laughed and laughed at all it’s grossness.

Years later I would learn how Rich Mullins would do similar pranks on people. And in that moment I went…”What’s with these Christian Musicians getting naked as pranks?”

Well the tradition stuck, as my group The Color green would have similar pranks we’d play on the Youth Pastor at camps…His name was Rick Wise…and he’d be in his cabin alone reading his bible…and one by one we’d come in his cabin naked…saying “Hi rick”…eventually when all five of us where in there naked…he’d look up…and start screaming.

Wow. Off topic, huh?

A couple of years ago when I was at some Dove awards thing for honoring musicians…Rich Mullins was being inducted into the hall of fame, and Rich’s family graciously let me tag along. I saw Bart, from Mercy Me, there and I went up to him sheepishly and said…”Hey do you remember me?” And he grabbed me and hugged me…and said…”Of course I do”…He went on to tell me how he had seen my commercials and was excited for me and the whole Ragamuffin movie…but the best part was talking about my old youth pastor Rusty…and learning what God was doing in his life, and how he was learning about Grace….and how Bart was learning about grace. It was a beautiful moment. A moment where my past and present collided. And the common bond, grace, was what tied the two together.

But even though the other camp had all these fancy facilities, and fancy bands, and fancy activities. My heart belonged to another, Twin Lakes Camp in Hillsboro Indiana. So for at least 2-3 summers I went to both.

One summer, Ben gave me his flowery hat, and I wore that for years to come. I remember being heart broken when I lost it. It was a real momento and a symbol of my faith. But that’s all it was. It’s okay that it disappeared. And the same goes for camp. It was a sad last summer I had a twin lakes when I knew it would be my last. But it was time to move on. Because the best part of camp, the reason I loved it so much, I was taking with me. No, not the memories, although they are special, but it’s Jesus. He lives in me.

Traveling with The Color Green, and speaking as a wanna be vagabond evangelist, I have been to many, many, many camps. But the memory of the romanticized shangri la of Twin Lakes still held strong in my heart…until a few years ago.

I remember I was working on the Rich Mullins movie, and I was in town to do a script reading…but before all of that…I got my rental car, picked up St. Randy…and said…come on a drive with me…we drove the 90 miles or so to Hillsboro, Indiana…I had familiar feelings swell in my heart as I saw the sign for Twin Lakes…we pulled in the gravel driveway. Forever and ever the sound of a gravel driveway will make me think of that camp. But there were many buildings I didn’t recognize there. It wasn’t the same. It was newer, and much smaller than I remember.

It didn’t take me long to walk around the camp. It was small. Matter of fact there was almost nothing to it. I had forgotten, or never really realized. And as I took, no more than an hour walking around the camp, and inside the darkened chapel, and to where my old cabin/ trailer used to be…I couldn’t help but feel so sad…everything I felt for this place wasn’t here anymore. It was like a ghost town of my past. It was a lovely reminder that what makes a place special has nothing to do with the geography, or the structures, but the people, the experience, and what’s going on that the human eye can’t see. What’s going on, on the inside of the human heart.

I bought a sweat shirt and a carabiner with the logo of the camp. That I still have. Still wear, and is still on my key chain. It’s my own “tree of remembrance”…to remember my childhood, to remember my safe harbor as a kid, and to remember and cherish maybe the best times of my life, but most of all to remember this is where the greatest love of my life and I met…my love affair with Almighty God.

For no other reason than I love Rich Mullins & Camp…I’d like to end this post with what Rich Mullins said about camp…

“It used to be I only got born again every year, about once a year. That was when I was going to camp you know you go every year and get born again again. Those of you who are young enough to go to camp and rededicate your life every year, keep doing it. Because by the time you get to college you’re gonna have to re-dedicate your life about every six months. Then you’ll graduate from college and it will become a quarterly thing. By the time you’re in your 40’s and 50’s you’ll do it about four times a day.”

It may be silly that I went to camp every year from 7-18, and sometimes twice in a summer, and even sillier that I used to pack six months before camp every year. But I say do your homework. Find out what continually stirs your passions and heart for Christ. Keep on doing it, no matter how silly it is to others, because at the end of the day Christ is where we find life. Not in ourselves, or anywhere else but Him for that matter. So go out and be stupid. Go be silly. Because all that matters is if you are really alive, not how silly you look.

St. David, of those who packs his suitcase six months ahead of schedule

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~ by David Leo Schultz on October 23, 2015.

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