Every activity we took part in during camp was discussed during a debriefing time when campers and camp leaders would talk about the day's events in light of their relationship with God, themselves, or others. It reminded me of the question that so many spiritual directors love to ask: "Where did you see God in this?" The famous question.
As I ponder my many trips and adventures, that continues to be my guiding question. During the camp - named Camp Lajas after the Colombian miracle of Our Lady of Las Lajas - we had a chance to go hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, and rafting. I was forever gaining insights from the campers and camp leaders, but also coming to my own insights as I processed the experience for myself. In order to continue processing the experiences, I am sharing them with you here and hopefully it can help you ask the same question for yourself about your own summer activities: Where did you see God?
On Sunday, July 22nd, Emily's wonderful mom gave me a ride up to Muskrat Cove at Moraine State
Park where I met the rest of the retreat leaders. We cooked, cleaned, set up tents, put together an outdoor chapel, laughed, ate, took pictures, and got ready for the eight retreatants who arrived the next day. They were young women in all levels of high school and from different areas of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. They all looked nervous when they showed up Monday since most of them did not know each other or the camp leaders, but it was easy to see that they were all excited to be there. I was excited too, except for the white water rafting we'd be doing on Thursday. I was not excited for that.
|Rock climbing - it's not as easy as it looks|
I read the book I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and it reminds me of something she said the doctor had told her father when the hospital was getting ready to transfer her for recovery after she was shot. Her father had expressed gratitude in the fact that God had sent those specific doctors to his daughter's aid right when she needed them most. The doctor, Dr. Javid Kayani, replied, "It is my belief God sends the solution first and the problem later" (pg. 269). It felt the same for me - although in much less drastic circumstances - God had already given me a solution. The solution was my strong dancer legs, so instead of trying to come up with my own solution by using my arms, I needed to trust that God had already equipped me for the task at hand. I saw a clear parallel in my rock climbing adventure with implications for daily life: I have already been given certain strengths with which to navigate this life, and I'll only be able to find my way if I use them.
Halfway to our destination, we missed our exit on the highway. Usually you can just turn around without too much of a change in your estimated time of arrival, but not on white water rafting day. Once the GPS rerouted us we got 30 minutes added to our trip. Instead of arriving right on time at noon, we were now going to be a half hour late. To me, that was another sign. Emily gasped in a panic. "They'll leave without us!" she said. "The paperwork clearly states that if we don't get there on time, the group will leave without us." She sat in shock for a moment as I silently thanked God that we missed our exit. This must mean I was going to die! Now we're definitely not going white water rafting. Thank You, Lord. "Wait," Emily said, "I'll just call and tell them we missed our exit. Maybe they'll understand." She made the phone call and the very kind woman on the other end said they would wait. I was disappointed. So there's a chance we'll make it, I thought. Great.
When we finally got rerouted it seemed that all was going smoothly until suddenly the tires on the van screeched and the wheel locked. The camp leader who was driving slowed down, pulled over to the side of the road and took the keys out of the ignition. We sat for a moment, wondering what could have possibly happened and I uttered another silent sigh of relief. We're definitely not going to get there now! Woo hoo! Our driver tried restarting the van, but it fought back while I tried to fight back my smile. She tried it again, but to no avail. I held my breath on the third try and suddenly it started. Ugh. But I was still holding out hope that we would not get there in time.
Nope, we were on time. Figures, I thought. Now all I can hope for is that I don't die. Please, God, don't let me die.
As the guides were giving their instructions, I practiced every move they described. I tightened my life jacket until I could hardly breathe, just as they suggested, and we set off for the rapids. Our group was split up into three rafts and I ended up with four teenagers and only one adult who had been white water rafting just once before. She was younger than me. I looked at my crew and thought, Yup, today is the day. My earthly pilgrimage is over.
Once we got back in the water we were feeling more confident and were happy to know we still had another few miles of rapids left. At one point, one of the guides was explaining that there was a hydraulic ahead. He said, "This is the spot where plenty of rafts get flipped! You need to watch out and make sure you avoid it. If not, then hit it straight on and with as much speed as you can, because if you're turned sideways or going too slowly, your whole raft will flip over." We listened intently and followed the group along as we watched for this infamous hydraulic. When our guide shouted that it was just ahead, we saw it, but there was nowhere to go. There was a raft on our right and a bunch of rocks to our left - we were headed straight for it. Without enough time to fight the swift pace of the river, the nose of our raft turned and we were headed slowly toward the hydraulic at a crawling pace, exactly the way we were not supposed to. It all happened just like our guides had explained during the instructions, "If you fall out, everything will go dark and wet." It sure did. Dark and wet, I thought. Yup. But then I remembered his next words, "Don't panic. You'll float right back up to the surface. Just stay calm." I paddled my arms a bit as I came up and then there I was, back in the sunlight. I stayed calm, just as he said, because I realized that there were rules in place to keep me safe, so as long as I followed those rules I would be just fine. His words kept coming to me, "Once you come back to the surface, make sure you get your legs pointed downstream. Don't try to swim, and don't try to stand either. There are plenty of rocks and crevices your feet could get stuck in. Just get your feet pointed downriver and float." I realized my head was pointed downriver, and even though we were wearing helmets, I still didn't like the idea of hitting my helmetted head on a rock. I turned myself around and floated downriver with my feet out in front of me. I grabbed two of the paddles floating next to me and marveled at just how calm I was. Eventually the guys in the rescue boat reached out and pulled me over using the paddles I was holding. They quickly took hold of my life-jacket and pulled me up by it. I was so glad I had tightened it just like the guides said, otherwise I would have slipped right out. After that, they gave our paddles back and promptly returned us to our raft.
When we were talking about the rafting trip afterward, my little crew was still in awe over the experience. Almost all of us had loved it - even the falling out part - but one girl from our raft said she had been terrified the whole time. However, when our raft flipped, she explained that her consolation came from the fact that there were others in the water with her. I hadn't thought about that aspect, but I realized when she said it that it had been a consolation for me as well. I was comforted by the fact that I wasn't the only person adrift, but that my whole team was with me. I joked later that our teamwork was the best because we were either all in the raft together, or we were all in the water together.
It made me think about how important it is for us to be with people during their time of need. Of course we need people there to pull us out of the water when it's time, but we often need to feel like people are with us in the water. When I'm feeling upset or distraught about a personal situation, I don't always need saviors. Sometimes I just need someone who will say, "I understand. I'm here. I'm with you in this. We'll get out together."
These are just some of the places where God showed up for me at Camp Lajas: in learning to trust the gifts God has given me; in better understanding what it means to work as a team; and in realizing just how important it is to be at the side of those who feel alone in their struggles. So, back to the famous question: Where did you see God in this... summer / post / year ? If you want to know where God is at work in your life, this question is a good place to start.
Wishing you peace and plenty of adventures,
Sister Desiré Anne-Marie Findlay