Camp

I took the key down from the nail where it’s hung for decades and opened the door just as I’ve done a hundred other times.  As I took a step inside, my chest felt heavy and I fought back tears, not because it was different, but because it was so much the same. The yard sale finds on the shelf beside the novels, the rugs on the floor, the pillows on the couch, even the silly talking ant from ‘A Bug’s Life’ that the kids love; they were all there. It’s as if they didn’t know things had changed.

I used to find the ‘sameness’ of camp every year comforting. Even when I was a little girl I recognized it. When I was ten years old a dozen things changed in my life.  My two oldest sisters moved out, one to go to college and the other to get married. My mother also remarried and bought a house with my new stepfather meaning a change of neighbors and schools. Even my dog had to be put down. I felt like I had been shaken out of everything that had seemed steady. I remember walking through the same door to camp that long-ago summer, sitting down on the couch and noticing some plates hanging on the wall. They had pictures of a fish and a bear and a deer and I thought about how I had seen them my whole life and with a sigh of relief, I realized that camp doesn’t change.

Before we made the trip last week, one of my younger sisters cleaned and vacuumed. She filled the bowls on the counter with candy and treats so they were just the way they always had been. When I set the key down beside the bowl filled with ‘Devil Dogs’ and Hershey’s minis, the tears broke through.

It’s strange to me how food and grief go together.

The kids all came running in with their sleeping bags and backpacks and chattering voices and stopped short when they saw me. The three year old turned back and I heard her say to my husband, “Mommy’s sad! Mommy’s sad!”

So, I breathed deeply and dried my tears. I reminded them that this was the camp that belonged to my Grammy and they understood and the chattering started again and I got busy helping with all the negotiations of who sleeps where.

I’m thankful for how children and life go together.

The first night at camp was hard.  Jon slept in the middle of the sea of wiggly sleeping bags and told stories into the night so that the baby and I could sleep more peacefully in Grammy and Grampy’s room. I didn’t pull back the covers of the bed that Grammy might have been the last one to make, but slept on top with my head on one of her pillows. I saw some sheets and a decoration left on her bureau like she had been working on something and moved on before she finished.  Her camp shoes sat behind a chair next to the wall, the soles worn smooth. Her hairbrush sat in a basket.  I thought of Grampy, who says that nighttime is always the hardest, and heaviness pressed in around my heart as I closed my eyes and slept.

Many mornings I wake up with something like a theme song for the day in my head. Sometimes it feels like inspiration, sometimes it feels like a little joke from my subconscious. When the baby was teething a couple of months ago, and I hadn’t had adequate sleep for days, and the children had been bickering more than usual, I woke up with ‘a little ditty about Jack and Diane.’ My first conscious thought of the day was, “Oh yeah, you know life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone…” But, thankfully, that first morning at camp, I found myself singing the line of a different song as I woke.

Jesus has overcome

The grave has been overwhelmed

The victory is won…

 Until I got home tonight and searched for it online, I couldn’t remember the rest of the song. (It’s Chris Tomlin, ‘I Will Rise’.) But, those few lines were what I needed that moment. It was the reminder that death isn’t the end. I know there is something beyond the grave because I know Some One that has passed through it. The victory is won.

Last summer some work was done on the camp’s foundation. Grammy isn’t here to help with the landscaping but Grampy said he’s trying to do things the way she’d like them. He planted some perennials and showed me where he had started some flowers from seed. One of the neighbors at camp had included a package of forget-me-not seeds in a sympathy card and Grampy planted them this spring. They are starting to grow, just little seedlings when I saw them yesterday, but those forget-me-nots are making their way up from the soil next to the bleeding heart plants.

Flowers and grief and life seem to all go together.

I cut a little stem off of Grammy’s rose bush in front of camp before we left today. I’ve never tried growing a rose from a cutting but I’m going to attempt it. It sat sticking out of a water bottle in the console on the long drive home. Like a little birthday gift from Grammy.

When I was growing up, I was happy to have a summer birthday because it meant that I got to celebrate it at camp. When I was a little girl some relatives would gather and there would be presents and singing and Grammy’s marble cake. Even when I was a teenager I would invite friends to celebrate with me at camp and we’d play music and swim in the lake and still Grammy would send over a marble cake. This year, I woke up at camp on my birthday, and I knew that there would be no marble cake. This year, even if the camp is the same and sits steady on its new foundation, something has changed. Something has shaken.

But there are still unshakeables.

Jesus has overcome

The grave has been overwhelmed

The victory is won…

This morning the loons were calling as I woke up. I quietly put on a swim suit and tiptoed past the still sleeping bags and made my way out of camp and down to the shore. I love mornings at the lake. Everything is still. It feels sacred to be the first one to break through the glass-like water and send the first ripples of the day into the lake. This morning I waded in slowly, remembering past birthdays and wondering about the year ahead. I stopped when the water was up to my knees and I looked out over the blue to an island and then to some tall pines standing on a hill to the east. The sun hadn’t quite reached over their topmost branches.

I thought of all the people, here and gone and young and young once, that this place has meant something to. And I thought of the One who knows us all. I prayed. I prayed for them and for me and was thankful for Him. The quiet of the water became the quiet of my soul and I whispered the words, “Into Your hands I commit my spirit,” and I dove headlong into the water.  As my face met the surface once again, the sun was just rising over the tops of the pines.

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A Prayer of Surrender

Three years ago my mind was full of plans for our farm and our beloved animals.  Eagerly awaiting calves from our sweet Jersey cows, I had dreams of fresh milk, butter and cheese.  I had big plans for increasing our herd of Belted Galloway beef cows and with the garden, chickens, fruit trees, honey bees and extras like the sheep and horse, we felt close to being self-sufficient.  I loved our two hundred year old farmhouse with all its stories on the edge of the village.  We were settled, full of dreams and putting down what we thought were deep roots. Carrying my newborn sixth child in my arms, I was surrounded by life springing up in our home, barn and fields.

Then, one early morning in June, I found myself in a dewy pasture touching a dead calf and looking into the heartbroken eyes of my daughter and the questioning brown eyes of her cow, Buttercup. This was the first event in a summer that I can only look back on as ‘the breaking’.  Every single day something horrible happened.  Friends and neighbors couldn’t believe our string of ‘bad luck’. Our vet said she had never seen anything like it. During our daily phone conversations my sister stopped saying, “I hope you have a better day tomorrow’ because it never was. There were calls to the vet, calls to the doctor, calls to poison control, trips to the emergency room. And there was so much more.  Suffice it to say that so much of what I thought was solid started to sink under me.   And every night I would sink into bed and sob.  Every day it felt like something was taken away.  Under pressure I would loosen my fist just a little and something I loved would be pulled from me. I would protectively close my hand over what remained thinking I had reached the limit only to have my fingers pried open again by another painful circumstance. It felt like I was breaking.

As Oswald Chambers described, “A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, but our Lord continues to stretch and strain, and every once in a while the saint says, “I can’t take any more.” Yet God pays no attention; He goes on stretching until His purpose is in sight, and then He lets the arrow fly.”

All the while my heart was crying out that I couldn’t take anymore, a compassionate God was weighing out my distress against the purposes He had in sight. He was moving us and He was relentlessness.  Day by day and week by week, my grip loosened and I began to learn the prayer of surrender. I sat alone in the ER in the middle of the night and prayed a prayer of surrender. My feet pounded as I tried to outrun the pain of being cut out of a loved one’s life and I prayed a prayer of surrender. I placed ads to sell animals that were supposed to be our beginning and grow old and be buried at the edge of the field we had planted, and I prayed a prayer of surrender. I answered countless ‘whys’ spoken by little broken hearts while my own heart was torn, and I prayed a prayer of surrender. With each box I packed, there was a sighing prayer of surrender.

Eventually the arrow flew.

Another summer came and the old life had passed away. I felt like I had been weaned of anything unessential and what remained was where my focus should be. I was still a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend.

Also remaining was the prayer of surrender. So far it had been a giving in, an acceptance of what was. It was the same prayer as in laboring when I bury my face in my husband’s shirt and cry and breathe and surrender. It was a reaction to pain.

But driving home one night, alone in my car, I found a prayer of surrender that springs not from pain, but from worship. The summer following ‘the breaking’, I went to a weekly Bible study at a friend’s house. We were going chapter by chapter through the book of John. This gave me just what my soul needed. After the stretching and straining I needed to look into the face of Jesus. To follow his steps toward his own prayer of surrender, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” I saw his heart broken for me and my heart was drawn into deeper trust. I saw his compassion and his power and I was filled with longing. On that dark stretch of dirt road, watching my headlights bump through the night, I asked him to fill me more. I wanted more of him and if it meant less of me then I wanted to fade so that his light would burn brighter.  My prayer of worshipful surrender was an asking to die to self and to be filled with his life.

It was one of those moments, like in the field with the dead calf, which I can look back on as a point of turning.  It was a moment that led to more moments that led to changes. There is still a need for daily surrender, for moment by moment surrender. For not just a surrender to circumstances, but a full, look into His face and worship, surrender.  Not a resignation to fate but eyes fixed on Jesus, ‘the image of the invisible God.’ To behold that God, in all His glory, is gentle and humble. Not a hopeful spiritual exercise but a reply to a known voice saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-30)