“Sometimes you have to travel far to find your heart.” – Jamie Tworkowski.
I am not bold. I am cautious. I take forever to make decisions, even about the smallest things. However, when it comes to camping ministry, the opposite has always been true. My journey to Camp Susque in Trout Run, Pennsylvania was no different.
My senior year of college got off to a rough start. I didn’t want to leave camp. I loved Crossways Camping Ministries, and the purpose I felt in my life when serving God at camp. Even though I only had one year of school left, I felt impatient and stuck returning to school. I had found my passion and my place in camping ministry, and I didn’t want to spend my time doing anything else. I was nervous about letting go of my close-knit community at camp and going back to the world of homework, grades, and stress. Almost entirely due to my bad attitude about going back to school, the transition ended up going even worse than I had expected. I felt lost, anxious, and even a little abandoned by God. I just wanted to serve Him; why did I have to waste time somewhere where that was so hard?
My discontent continued, and a Saturday night in early September found me grumpily praying about how badly I wanted things to change. Feeling worse than ever, I took to Google. “Winter camp internships” was my search of choice, but the results were disappointing. Not surprisingly, winter internships for summer camps are not common. Shocking, I know. However, on the 5th page of results, I found the website for Camp Susque. I had never heard of it, but I felt led to click on the link. As soon as I saw the picture of camp on the homepage, I fell in love. I spent the next hour looking at every part of their website, and eventually got to their employment and internship page. Feeling much more bold (or desperate?) than I actually am, I emailed the camp at 1 AM asking them if they had ever done a winter internship, and if they would be willing to do one with me.
I never thought anything would come of it, but by the end of the month it was confirmed that I would be spending my winter break in Pennsylvania interning at camp. I wish I could say that my semester immediately got better after that, but it didn’t. I struggled with my mental health more than I had since my freshman year, and had a lot of huge life changes happen in a very short amount of time. Camp Susque got put on the back burner as I struggled to just stay afloat to the end of the semester. I felt my old walls start to go up, and the negative thoughts begin to creep back in. I needed a reminder that all of this work and struggle was worth something, was for something. I needed hope.
God is so great. I am always amazed at how He uses difficult situations to strengthen, change, and form us, and how every trial is used for good. God heard my call for hope, and He provided in ways I never could have imagined. The first answer to my desperate prayer came at the end of September when my sister gifted me with a ticket to the Switchfoot and Relient K concert. Switchfoot’s music had always been one of my coping methods during difficult times, and had been an inspiration behind many of the best things in my life (like camp). The concert was more amazing than I could have imagined, and at the aftershow I had the opportunity to thank Jon Foreman for saving my life during the height of my depression my freshman year. A month later, I met Jamie Tworkowski, the founder of To Write Love on Her Arms- ironically the day after he attended a Switchfoot concert! Since I began working at camp, I have had a dream of one day opening a camp for teens struggling with depression and anxiety, and meeting these incredible humans brought that dream into sharp focus again.
Clinging to these reminders that hope existed, I fought through to the end of the semester and before I knew it was boarding a bus for my 29 hour trip to Williamsport, Pennsylvania. I was nervous, to say the least, and definitely not feeling strong enough to be the true me that I am when I’m at camp, the place where I most feel God’s presence. Without meaning to I had the mindset that I was going to get through the 25 days, would learn a few things for my resume, and would go back to school to endure until I could graduate and find a camp to spend the beginning of my career at.
I could not have been more wrong.
From the moment I stepped off the bus in Williamsport to the moment I boarded my bus home, my experience at Camp Susque was more than I ever could have dreamed or hoped for. Instead of getting through the days, I cherished every moment. While I did learn a lot of valuable things for my resume, I learned even more about myself and my identity in Christ. Most importantly, I met people that changed my heart and life, and that I loved dearly by the end of the 25 days. I hiked a mountain with some incredible high school campers. I rang in the New Year with fellow college students who love Jesus. I shared cotton candy, laughs, and tears with inspirational and strong middle school campers. I had dinners, explored frozen waterfalls and lakes, was introduced to a new favorite coffee shop, played board games, and shared more laughs and prayers than I can count. For 25 days, I soaked up the stories of these kind, passionate souls, and had the opportunity to share my story, be believed in, and be accepted flaws and all.
I found hope.
I found a home and a family that I never expected. I found my heart.
I don’t know what comes next. I don’t know where God will lead me, or what camp He will call me to. Despite all the uncertainty that lies ahead right now, there is so much that I am certain of. I am certain that God is for me, and I am never alone. I am certain that He will work all trials for my good. I am certain that He will continue to shape me through the people I meet and the places I go. I am certain that even if His path for me doesn’t lead back to Camp Susque, I have a band of people there that I love, can visit, pray for, and learn from.
I am certain of hope, and that sometimes you have to travel far to find your heart… 29 hours on a Greyhound bus, to be exact.