Category Archives: My Life
Updates on the adventures, milestones, and goings-on of my life!
Every summer I’ve worked at The Pines Catholic Camp I have come away with an amazing experience, deepened Faith, and abundant personal growth. This summer though brought more of each of these than each of the three previous summers I’ve served there. One of my favorite things I was blessed to do was speak to the middle school campers about the Blessed Mother, not just once, but three times! Each time, I received amazing feedback from the counselors about what their campers learned. It was most humbling!
Summing the entire summer is impossible, but my top 5 things (in no particular order) are:
1. The SWAT Team! I had the honor of directing a team of young adults, and I learned so much from them! They worked so hard, so faithfully, and so humbly the whole summer… It was so humbling to serve with them! I found great inspiration in each of their unique gifts, talents, and personalities. And beyond all that, I love them to pieces! Several are beginning college this fall, and I’m so proud of them, and excited to see how God will continue to grow and mold them into Himself. I miss them all so much!
2. My sister coming to camp! My 15 year old ‘little sister’ came Teen Week, and I watched as she grew, learned, had SO much fun, made new friends, and best of all, deepened her already-strong Faith! God is so faithful, and so generous! I’m so proud of my little melody!
3. Seeing a few of my old campers! It was SO wonderful to see some of my girls from last summer! To see how seeds had taken root and begun to grow was amazing, humbling, inspiring, and so beautiful. Especially to recall that ‘one camper’ from whom I’d learned so much return, and teach me (and others) so much more! Amazing.
4. Speaking to the middle school campers about Mary! The Branch Village (aka middle school age group) coordinator asked me to speak to Branch about Mary a few times, and each was amazing!! I was able to share my own story with Mary, as well as answer questions about if we worship Mary (spoiler alert: we don’t!), why we pray to her, and who she is to us as believers is Christ. The feedback I got from each talk was amazing, and so humbling. The third time I spoke, I was so blessed to be introduced by #5 on this list.
5. (Meeting) Tori Harris! Tori is a Catholic singer and song writer, and an amazing young woman! She stayed in my house with me and my other housemates, and I was so honored to get to know her on a personal level. She’s awesome! And her music is gorgeous! (It’s also on iTunes! Look it up!!!) She spoke to me, to the rest of staff, and to the campers about Faith, fear, and following God’s will for your life. (A post will be forthcoming before long detailed all she spoke about… it was life-altering for me!)
6. (I know I said 5, but I forgot one…) Maria Walther! I met her last summer, and was so happy to get to see her again, and visit. To share my heart with such a lovely Catholic mother was encouraging, inspiring, and so uplifting! I wanna be like her when I grow up! She’s so much like Mother Mary. :)
As always, I built amazing friendships, learned to love Our Lord in a new way, and grew a lot! Jesus is still revealing to me the purpose and design He had for me at camp, and I am learning to love Him for it! He is so good to me! It was a joy to work at The Pines again, and even more, to take the mission of the summer home to “Shine like the Son in the kingdom of my Father!”
“It’s not that you’re perfect for your vocation; it’s more that your vocation is perfect for you.”
My good friend Megan told me that a few weeks ago. It took a lot of thinking on my part to really process the depth of what it meant. Thoughts were still rolling around in my mind when, last Sunday, I was an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. I’m working at The Pines Catholic Camp for the summer, and one of my favorite things here is the outdoor Mass that is offered every Sunday evening for the campers. Because Mass was outside, when there was a lot of the Blessed Sacrament left over, Father asked me to take it back to the Chapel. Another staff member and I had a mini Eucharistic procession to the Chapel, and I set Our Lord on the altar to grab the key to put Him inside the Tabernacle.
I hunted high and low in the Sacristy for that key! I saw a key right away by the extra candles that looked like a normal house key and tried that one first. It didn’t even fit into the keyhole. I searched around more, and then tried the first key again, to make sure I hadn’t just put it in upside down or something. Nope, it still didn’t fit, so I jogged back up to ask Father where the key was. Father said the top shelf, so I went back and looked there. Nothing. I jogged back a second time to ask the camp director where the key was. He told me a particular drawer to look in, so I checked there. There were a few drawers where he’d said, and in the first one, I found another house-key looking key, which, as with the first, did not fit. I checked the next drawer, and the next drawer. When I opened the last drawer, I was amazed. There, sitting, waiting for me, was THE key. I knew it was IT, the one I’d been searching for, before I even picked it up. It was old-fashioned-looking; the same metal as the Tabernacle, and had a chain tassel hanging from it. It was a perfect fit, and opened that Sacred Space with gracious ease.
A day later, I was telling the camp nurse about how I’d wound up at my school, and in the major I was in, and it was a similar story: I saw something good that I thought would work, tried it, and it just didn’t fit. When I found where I was meant to be, I just knew. It was a perfect fit, like that Tabernacle key.
Two weekends ago, I made a big investment: I bought a real pair of boots!
Take a look:
Aren’t they pretty?! I’m so proud of them, and wear them every chance I get.
My new boots got me thinking about boots in general, and how they are the footwear of choice for soldiers. They are sturdy, protect the feet well, and whenever I put my boots on, it makes me feel like I’m about to do something big. Ever heard that old soldier saying “I want to get caught with my boots on!”? (Meaning not caught in bed or relaxing, but when he was ready for it.) I got to thinking that I want my vocation to find me with my ‘boots’ on, working whole-heartedly in the vineyard where I was planted by the hand of God! I love the story of Isaac and Rebecca: Rebecca was just going about her daily duties, and was attentive to the needs around her. The generosity which poured from her heart made her a perfect fit for Isaac. She was caught with her boots on!
I’m excited to find my vocation someday. Like that key to the Tabernacle, I know I’ll know it when I see it. But in the meantime, I’m going to be like Rebecca and keep my boots on.
“…the Lord, in Whose presence I have always walked, will send His messenger with you, and make your errand successful…” – Genesis 24:40
“Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
This quote from the faithful Roman was the theme for The Pines Catholic Camp Summer Camp 2012. It was beautifully fitting for the amazing things that God worked “under our roofs” through the ministry at The Pines. His graces were all over the place, and so many incredible things happened at the humble camp in Big Sandy, Texas.
I was a cabin counselor for the entire summer, and the experience was unforgettable. Between the other counselors, the selfless service of the SWAT team, the humble leadership of senior staff, or the campers themselves, I was blessed to see Christ in the flesh, hidden in disguise as a small child, as a smiling face handing me yet another plate of food, or as the humble servant-leadership offered to Christ by senior staff.
A few specific memories that will stay with me for years:
Winner’s Circle is the evening devotional each cabin shares just before bed. One night shortly before lights out, my co-counselors and I were leading Winner’s Circle for a group of 5th graders, and I was explaining to them God’s request to St. Frances to “rebuild My church,” and how St. Frances thought at first Christ meant the literal building he was in, as it had fallen into sad disrepair. Once the building was repaired though, he realized that it was the Church that is Christ’s Body that Jesus was asking him to rebuild. One of my little girls, 9 years old, piped up and said, “Oh! So like each one of us is a brick in Jesus’ Church?” I’ve never heard the Mystical Body of Christ described in such a sweet, simple way. How Jesus must love the faith of children!
My week with rising 6th graders is one that I will never, ever forget. God taught me more patience and love in that week than He has in the last several years. One of my campers had a few mental and physiological difficulties, and would try my patience on often an hourly basis. My co-counselor and I struggled to understand how we could love this girl like Christ, but Christ came to the rescue with all the graces we needed, and leaning on each other, we were able to love her, and grow so much. That cabin was probably the most challenging one of the summer, and this girl, by far, the most challenging camper. I would not wish the experience away though, because it was in that week that God showed me how willful and selfish I am, and how patient He is with me, and how lovingly He puts up with my childishness. The trials my co and I underwent that week were what enabled a profound growth to take place in both our hearts. I would not have had that cabin without my little messenger-angel of God’s love.
My first cabin of teenagers was scary! – until they actually got there. Teen week was incredible. I had the same co as with the 6th graders, and it was such a joy to spend time with those women. It was like a cabin of beautiful sisters, and I didn’t want to take any of my off time that week – I just wanted to be with my girls. Women’s Session was an amazing experience for them, and they all left knowing they were so beautiful. My heart was so full!
Week 7 I was the nanny for the Egan family, and the change of pace was perfectly timed. The speaker who was on camp that week was Ben Walther (whom I’ve mentioned in previous posts), and I was SO blessed to be able to spend time with his beautiful wife and precious children while watching the Egan children. Maria Walther must be one of the most amazing women I’ve ever met, and her profound love for her children was so exquisite, pure, Marian, and Catholic…. I was enthralled. (I decided within about a day that I wanna be just like her when I grow up!) Being able to spend that week with her, and the wife and family of the camp director was so affirming, encouraging, and uplifting, by the end of the week, I was completely refreshed, revived, uplifted, and ready to tackle the last two weeks of camp.
When I was not being a nanny, I helped SWAT and the rest of the counselors on program staff (aka, not in a cabin) with their chores. It was this week that I got to really bond with another counselor Anna, or camp name “Leap.” She and I had a blast playing around with each other, mopping circles around each other, and decided that we needed to be co-counselors. We (rather sassily) informed the Head Female (who assigns cabins and co-counselors-ships) of this fact, and both were thrilled when we got to co the last two weeks. Our first cabin together was incredible. Our girls were so amazing, beautiful, and grew so much. Sharing the time with Anna and our girls was a highlight of my summer. Anna and I decided our mission was to outdo each other in random acts of kindness, and this went on the entire two weeks we were together. Different difficulties came up, and we had to lean on each other in unique ways, but God’s graces filled our deficiencies, and we supported each other seamlessly. The strength of that woman amazed me on a daily basis.
The last week of camp, I met a camper who would astound me. For the first few days, there was nothing about her that particularly stood out to make me notice her more than any of my other campers. Monday night, we prayed the rosary as a cabin, and she led a decade, so I assumed she was a Catholic, most likely from a Catholic family & school, so I wasn’t worried about her. It wasn’t until Wednesday night of that week that she let on something was up. Adoration was that night, preceded by a passion skit. One of the girls had a beautiful experience with Jesus’ Presence, and I commented that sometimes Jesus comes through the emotions, amazing experiences, but sometimes He comes through just a gentle realization. As soon as those words left me, this girl started crying, and she told us that she’d come through the gates of camp an agnostic (someone who believes there could be a God, but wants proof). She had led the decade of the rosary to try to speed us up, as we were praying too slowly for her liking. She had told God that night, “alright, if You’re real, give me a sign.” In Adoration, she’d told God “alright, if You’re real, change the words of the song to the first person (they were in third). Almost immediately, the words changed from “Come Jesus” to “I have called you, you are Mine.” She was blown away. So many more things happened that week to affirm the reality of God’s existence to her, and being a witness to it was so humbling and profound… I didn’t have words for it, and in many ways, I still don’t. All I know is that God has amazing plans for that young lady.
For me in my personal life, God filled me up with so much love, all I can say is He is my everything. Through His holy Mama, her intercession for me, and the incredible staff I worked with, I was so uplifted and encouraged in my walk with Jesus. Prayers were answered, needs were filled, graces were poured out, and I don’t have words to thank God for the gift of this summer. Thankfully, He doesn’t expect me to find the words to thank Him. He just wants me to keep my hands steady on the plow He’s placed before me, and not look back. With His grace, and the loving intercession of my beautiful Heavenly Mama, I will do just that!
From the rising of the Sun
To the going down of the same
The name of the Lord
Shall be praised!
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!”