This post was less about making a point & more about writing out all of my feelings about camp. If you actually read it all the way through, thanks for bein’ a pal! If you read it all the way through, not knowing it was going to be so long, I apologize. Go get yourself a cookie and pat yourself on the back. You deserve it!
Once upon a time, when I was 11 years old, I went to The Pines Catholic Camp for the first time.
Side note: I just freaked out a little bit because I realize now that was 10 YEARS AGO. Oh my. Someone get my walker.
It’s funny when you look back on certain moments in your life; you don’t realize that the big things are going to actually be big things until they’re long over. For example, I had never been east of Dallas until this 6th grade fall retreat. I had never been to a camp before. I had no idea that this place would have such a huge impact on my life, that I would be forever changed, and that the Lord would do so much in my heart there. Truth be told, I can’t even tell you what that first retreat was about. However, I can tell you that I had a great time with my friends, I went down the zipline, and I started thinking, “Maybe summer camp would be fun!” And that thought alone changed my life in so many ways than I realized it would at the moment.
All I knew about summer camp was what I had seen in “The Parent Trap.” So, really, I had no idea what camp was actually like, let alone how the Catholic faith would be incorporated into it. But the next year, I did something uncharacteristically courageous of my then-12-year-old self: I asked my mom if I could go to camp that summer, alone. I recognize this as divine intervention, because I was THE shyest kid in the world around people I didn’t know. I would never talk in groups unless I knew someone, because I never really knew what to say. But I guess even at that age, I knew there was something special about this place, and that I wanted to be there. My heart is full when I realize how much the Lord would have in store for me that summer, and the next 7 after that!
Summer 2005. Yikes, amirite?!
That summer changed my life in so many different ways. Not going to camp with any of my friends from home allowed me to be more vulnerable. My counselors were amazing, and it was so important for me to see that college students actually thought being Catholic was cool. Most of all, I was able to really encounter the Lord for the first time. I was going through a really difficult time in my life during my first summer at camp, and God used those two weeks in Big Sandy to lay the groundwork for a lot of healing in my life. At the end of those two weeks I cried because it was over, but I immediately started my countdown for the next summer.
The summers of 2005-2008 brought me so much joy and so much love, some great birthday celebrations, and lasting friendships — some of those friendships I still keep to this day. Each summer I got a little less awkward (I think…) and a little more comfortable with myself. I learned more and more about the faith. I was definitely that camper who absolutely loved her counselors. They were the women that I wanted to be when I grew up. They made sure I knew that I was loved: not only by them, but by our Lord. They gave me some amazing advice that I still remember to this day, and introduced me to some of my favorite verses in the Bible. When I was a camper, all I could think was, I wonder what it would be like to be a counselor when I get older!
I love reflecting on my time at camp because, now that it’s over, I am able to see God’s plan at work the entire time, and there is no greater joy than that. During my last summer as a camper, I had no idea that while my time as a camper was ending, a whole new chapter of my life was waiting to begin not even two years later, in the exact same place!
Summer 2007. Best cabin ever!
I was never a counselor-in-training, choosing instead (after talking with one of my counselors!) to go on a mission trip to Mexico with my high school youth group. However, after seeing so many friends I had been campers with go through the CIT program, get their camp names and then go on to work as SWAT, I knew that I wanted to follow in their footsteps. When I was finally old enough to be able to apply for SWAT, I jumped at the opportunity. The moment that I received my first offer letter to work at camp, my heart swelled with joy. I couldn’t wait to get out there and be back at camp! But again, I had no idea what the Lord would have in store for me in that summer and the next three to follow after that. Similar to my first summer as a camper, I only knew two of my coworkers going in to my first summer on staff. Officially introducing myself by my camp name and getting my first staff polo were such surreal experiences for me. How incredible to be able to serve at the place that gave me so much during middle and high school!
SWAT 2010…St. Therese, pray for us!
Summer 2010 can be summed up in three words: service, humility, and community. The only thing more amazing than the community of The Pines campers that I was apart of is the community of The Pines staff. I had never experienced anything like it. I have met the most amazing people during my time working at camp, and have learned so much about choosing joy and dying to myself for the sake of love. Being on SWAT was a wake-up call for me, and helped me grow in humility and in service, following the model of St. Therese. My SWAT sisters & I grew so close to each other and they are still some of my best friends to this day. I could write an entire blog post on my SWAT experiences alone. After the month I worked at camp in summer 2010, I was more than ready to come back the next summer!
From experience, I can confidently tell you that every camper at The Pines thinks about what it would be like to be a counselor. Every camper wants their own camp name and a group of friends as close-knit as the staffers that serve them each day that they are at camp. After 4 years, I can also confidently tell you that the bonds the staff have with each other are as authentic as it gets. If I am called to marriage, you can bet that much of my bridal party will be sisters that I met through working at The Pines. Ever since summer 2005, I had dreamed of being a part of this amazing group of people and being a counselor, getting to give back to a new generation of campers and hopefully making an impact on their lives in the way that my counselors had done for me. In summer 2011, the Lord fulfilled that desire of my heart — times ten!
My co’s, Ally/Quaffle & Elizabeth/MMMBop, from one of my favorite cabins of summer 2011!
Summer 2011 was, in a word, incredible. In another word, it was challenging. Staff training was so much fun, but so scary — I was convinced that everything was going to go wrong, every day, all summer. I was terrified of being a bad counselor. However, I was surprised at how naturally being a counselor came to me! I had 8 amazing cabins that summer full of beautiful young women and precious little girls, and I got to co-counsel with some truly amazing women. Being a counselor definitely had its challenges, but the Lord used each of the trials I faced to strengthen me and help me grow as a person. I can honestly say that, even in the midst of all the craziness and unpredictability at times, I loved every minute of it.
Coming into that summer, I was between colleges and had absolutely no clue where I was going to be in the fall. While experiencing everything that comes with being a first-time counselor, I was also trying to figure out what school I was going to be at (and if I was going to be in school at all.) When I wasn’t with my campers, I was trying to sort out my school plans for the fall. The community that I was surrounded with helped me SO much during this process — they were a constant source of support, love, and sometimes, the push that I needed to get things done. During the closing prayer service of week 8 that summer, when I was finally able to say that I was going to be a student at Texas State, the love and the hugs and the joy that I received from all of the staff members was incredible, and honestly one of my favorite memories ever. I can never say enough good things about those people. After my last week as a counselor, I remember talking to my mom on the phone. She asked me, “Now what?” And I said, with exhausted enthusiasm, “I’m going to do it all over again next summer!”
Female Staff 2012. One in Christ!
In the summer of 2012, I was a counselor for the second time. It was just as amazing as my first summer, except I knew the schedule better than I did the summer before. I had 7 more incredible cabins, and had so much fun getting to know a whole new group of campers! It was mind-blowing for me that each summer I had been at camp, while equally amazing, was at the same time better than the last. The whole time, God was at work in my heart. He taught me to be humble, but confident, and to not be afraid to love myself. He constantly showed His love for me through my amazing coworkers, and the ways that He revealed His glory to me through my campers was absolutely incredible. While I wasn’t sure what God had in store for me for the next summer, there was an inkling in my heart that I wasn’t quite done at camp yet.
At the end of summer 2012, it was suggested to me that I apply to be on senior staff, to be the Head Female counselor. I had never been one to seek out leadership positions; I’d have much rather followed and and let someone else take the lead. However, the thought of me being Head Female worked its way into my heart and never really left. I decided to apply, not really knowing what to expect. When I got offered the job, I was excited, but overwhelmed — could I really do it? After speaking with a couple of good friends, I took the job, and the Lord once again got to work in my little heart!
There are only a handful of moments in my life that I can look back on and be absolutely certain that I was fulfilling the Lord’s plan for me: being Head Female this past summer is one of them. I loved every minute of it! The whole summer felt almost like a dream, like it was almost too good to be true that this is what the Lord had called me to for the entire summer. Being the head of such an incredible group of women was humbling, inspirational, and such a blessing. The women that I was able to lead taught me so much in that summer; I don’t think they realize how much I’ve learned from them. Getting to know each of those ladies and their hearts was such a gift, and I continue to thank the Lord for it regularly.
Myself, Mama Mary & my successor for summer 2014: Lana/Magnificat 🙂
Alas, all good things must come to an end. At the beginning of this Christmas break, I was able to spend one final weekend at this incredible place that has impacted me beyond belief. I learned so many invaluable lessons about God, the Catholic Church, what it means to really love, to die to yourself, and what it means to have true joy. The people I have been surrounded by for the past 4 summers have seen me laugh, cry, and everything in between. The laughs have been plentiful and the struggles have been real. The women that I have worked with have shown me so much about what it truly means to be a woman like our Blessed Mother. The men that I have worked with have been great brothers to me and such wonderful models of St. Joseph, constantly lifting myself and the rest of the female staff up. I can confidently say that I would not be the woman I am today had it not been for the ways that the Lord has worked in my heart during my time at The Pines. I’ve seen the camp itself grow and grow, and I’ve seen so many campers’ lives change because of the ways the Lord uses His willing servants. All of it has been incredible and beautiful, despite all of the trials and hardships. My heart hurts at the closing of this chapter of my life. But I know that I truly am the better one for the knowin’ of this camp. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everybody who has ever impacted my life through this amazing place. When I count my blessings, I always count all of you first.
Go trees & God bless.