I’m quite the amateur at blogging, and I crave your patience as I try my hand at it!
My Christian name is Leah, but this last summer I found myself answering to “Ghillie” (pronounced ‘gilly’) at what was to become my favorite place in the world, “The Pines Catholic Camp.” I’ve lived within 40 miles of this camp for 15 years, and not until January of this year did I discover its existence! Being utterly thrilled to find a Catholic camp in my own backyard, I applied right away. I’d never worked at a camp before, and wasn’t sure exactly how large my learning curve would be, so I applied for the “SWAT” position, instead of counselor. The clever acronym stands for Servants With A Task. All I knew going in was that I would be doing the “behind the scenes work.” That simple description offered on the website did not prepare me for the revolution that would occur in my life through the humbling and sacrificial work that SWAT provided for the staff and campers for the 9 weeks of summer camp.
SWAT’s actual duties for the summer were things like serving meals, dishes after meals, sorting and delivering the mail, helping in the camp store, answering the phones, odd jobs around the office, deep cleaning different buildings, cabins, and bathhouses, vacuuming the pool, trash, water jugs, and tiding all the buildings at the end of the day. Before very long, all of SWAT was tan and buff! But the real change, for me at least, was internal.
I started camp very nervous and timid. I didn’t know what to expect, and I didn’t know anyone there. My first day, I met four of the girls I’d be working with, but didn’t say much. After the meal, I helped with the dishes for the first time. Then SWAT went to hang out with the counselors, and I met some people who would become some of my dearest friends. It took about a week for the ‘jitters’ to wear off completely, and to really settle into my new home. During staff training week, I was given my camp name, Ghillie. (That name was chosen because of the shoes worn by an Irish Dancer, and ‘ghillie’ is also an old, Celtic term for page or servant.)
The first week of actual camp (meaning campers were there) was pretty fun! There were different jobs than we’d had during staff training week, and the weather was so unpredictable, I really never knew what the next day would hold. Week 2, the routine set in. It was a hard week for me, because I realized I was really in for the long haul. I was tired, and really just wanted to go home. It felt like God had taken away everything I knew and everything I loved. I felt lonely, empty, and homesick. The rest of SWAT were very loving, the counselors were kind, and the campers were adorable, but I didn’t really see it… I just wanted home. It took a little while, but through prayer, God showed me that He’d taken away my safety nets, my comforts, and everything familiar to me, so that my only comfort could be Him. It took some time and tears, but when I finally learned to take my loneliness and sorrow to Christ, He began to transform my heart. Mother Mary was such a wonderful comfort to me, and I can really say I wouldn’t have made it without her prayer and grace. Friday of week 2, we were immensely blessed to have a priest come to camp for adoration and Confessions. Adoration went on into the evening, and I was the lucky member of SWAT that got to skip the bonfire and spend it with Jesus in the chapel. It was a beautiful time, and grace abounded. Things began to really look up week 3 of camp, and I attacked my work anew, but this time with Heavenly Allies. The work was still hard and tiring, but I learned how to lean on my fellow SWATties while still pulling my weight, and started praying more often. Halfway through week 3, I knew I wanted to stay the entire summer. Through some incredible grace and blessing of God, I was able to stay through the end of summer camp.
I took off a few days during week 5, and was back week 6 with bells on my toes and joy in my heart. All of first session SWAT left at the beginning of week 6, and we were all very sad to see them leave. Week 5 brought many new and lovely faces to SWAT, and new people to bond with. Weeks 5 & 6 were awesome because Catholic musician Steve Angrisano was on camp. We got to jam with him, and were blessed to hear him speak to the campers about faith in God as our Father, and what a child-like trust really is. Week 7 was when camp really got incredible. Fr. Gary Kastl from Tulsa, OK came, and spent most of the week with us to say daily Mass, hear confessions, and BEST OF ALL the Blessed Sacrament was now in the Chapel day and night. It was a blessing beyond blessing to be able to spend time with the Savior during rest hour and at night. Also week 7, we had the counselors that were not in cabins with campers work directly with SWAT. We had awesome bonding time with them, we learned a lot from them, and had so much fun! I also started getting up earlier to say morning prayer with two of the counselors, which was amazing, and God used it to pour even more grace into my heart. There was a priest on camp most of weeks 8 & 9 also, which meant daily Mass, confessions, and an outpouring of grace like I’d never seen. Week 9 ended with a wonderful staff party and beautiful Mass. All of staff was so grateful to God for the countless blessings He’d poured out on camp during the summer, for all the beautiful campers that we were privileged to minister to, and for the wonderful friendships we’d made with each other.
For me, during weeks 7, 8, & 9 was some of the most profound spiritual growth I’ve experienced in years. Through a wide variety of ways and people, God captured my heart in a new way, and gave me a glimpse of just how much I am loved by Him. It was a life changing experience. He also gave me a new and profound love for and devotion to His holy Mother. Through her loving care and guidance, I’ve continued growing closer to her Son in my weeks back home. In all honesty, God changed my life, and my heart this summer. Blessed be His Name!
Thank you to all who prayed for me while I was away!! Rest assured that your prayers were answered a hundred fold! And to all you lovely people I met at camp, you are always in my prayers, and in my heart!
“You called and You SHOUTED,
Broke through my deafness,
Now I’m breathing in,
I’m alive again!”