There’s a phrase that floated around camp this past summer: Holy Ground. It’s been beautifully written across t-shirts and captioned so poetically on Instagram posts. The story is when Truett and Jeannette Cathy came up to see this place on Berry College, Jeannette turned to her husband and said, “ I feel like I’m standing on Holy Ground.”
On the last night of camp this summer, I sat at the edge of retreat, laid down, and thought about life over the past few years here. I think I just needed to take a second to remember why it was called Holy Ground. And remember why it mattered to me. It wasn’t just a story I heard and continued to quote.
I needed to feel and remember how special it was.
Holy Ground in 2008 when I was new and green and didn’t know anything about how to be a camp counselor. I didn’t know a thing about how to handle homesick or sassy campers. That hobos actually weren’t homeless men and that learning a man cheer was one of the most bonding things you could do. WinShape was there standing as this new layer to my heart unfolded. On what it looked like to live life with people. To become close with people who grew up differently than me, who’s faith journey didn’t start in a home with two believing parents. People who came to know Jesus because they had to and how He was real to them because they had searched and found. I learned what to say to campers who came from broken, broken homes. To parents who pulled me aside to tell me the heavy things going on in their worlds. I learned that I loved this. That I believed so much in camps and what they did for people and how pulling them away from their worlds, and my world, could really change us.
Holy Ground in 2010 when I came back, a little more sure in a few areas and a little more unsteady in others. When I made friends with 4 strangers who lived in my room for a week and a half while we tried to train for the summer. The night we sat a glow ball in the middle of the room and told stories of hurts and insecurities and although I had never actually been a part of an affirmation circle, this felt really close. That summer was hard and that summer was draining but I remember hearing “Something Beautiful” for the first time that summer and thinking through the lyrics:
It’s like I know where I need to be
But I can’t figure out, yeah I can’t figure out
Just how much air I will need to breathe
When your tide rushes over me
There’s only one way to figure out
Will you let me drown, will you let me drown
I remember vividly believing for the first time in a long time that He wasn’t. He wasn’t going to let me drown. He was going to catch me no matter how fearful or fallen I was.
Holy Ground in 2011, after a summer where I never thought I would return, somehow I ended up back here. Honored at the request to lead a new Tribe. A Tribe that was focused on consistency, and figure out how to do that all while coming in after my world had just been rocked. I came in terrified, I came in unqualified, and came in determined not to let anyone know how broken I really was. But I did. In a nook on an upstairs hallway, walls came down. I began to meet people. People who weren’t perfect. People who also came in doing their best to hold it together. Somehow broken souls found broken souls and I realized a lot about myself that summer. I learned that I was a bit prideful, and that I was thought I was above sin in some ways. I realized that I could lead, that people liked me and that the scary moments I thought I’d have, ended up being less daunting than I imagined. I learned I was good with people, I was good at asking questions, I was good at knowing how people felt and how they were doing. I didn’t know I was good at those things before that summer. I also didn’t know what that summer was preparing me for.
Holy Ground in 2013 after a summer spent away, I came back. And when I came back, and put in charge of the “emotional and spiritual” well being of staff and campers. They told me I was the point person on a team of 5 and the direct supervisor of 6 leaders who were looking to me for instruction and guidance. Me. Someone who had just had a very confusing 2 years. Whose heart was broken and fragile, was now in charge of helping someone else get theirs back together. I wanted to run a lot of moments that summer. I wanted everyone who had placed me in this position to know they were crazy and just how unqualified and lost I was. Me and Jesus? Oh I knew him. I knew Him so well. But now? Here? After the year I had come out of? I didn’t know who I was anymore. But there I was. Powering through. And somewhere in the struggle, Jesus intervened. I stayed so busy that summer I didn’t have time to doubt. I didn’t have time to question whether I had it in me. I didn’t have time to do anything other than just do my job. Just show up and be there and hope I made it. And I did. And more than any other summer here, I look back and look at the moments that the Lord just held me. He held me up and he didn’t let me fall and just like in 2010, He didn’t let me drown. I didn’t know the whole path yet, but I had enough light to get me through the next few steps that summer.
Holy Ground in 2014, in big comfy chairs with a lavender marshmallow candle, the Lord’s redemption and healing weaved all throughout that summer. In my quest to be more honest, to be more open with my story, and to lead from a place that wasn’t from fear, the Lord took my small request and multiplied it ten fold. I heard “me too” for the first time that year and walked next to someone from the other side. I learned that owning and loving your story, your whole story, is one of the bravest things you can do. I learned that questions aren’t so hard to ask or answer when empathy is involved, and that when you know you’re loved, when you know you’re trusted, it makes all the difference. I still find myself remembering and learning things from that summer. I remember late night drives on the phone, and starting to plant roots in Atlanta. I remember for the first time knowing that my story mattered, and that it had purpose to spur other people on and that maybe it hadn’t all been in vain. All while working with | literally the best | team, crying real tears, and being in the presence of tangible community. And for the first time in a very long time, feeling whole again.
Holy Ground in 2015, when I walked into the summer, the person who I had looked to for the answers over the past two years was walking out. I walked in with the knowledge that I was going to be a little on my own. That I had support, but there would be moments that I’d have the freedom to make some decisions. I also made it a goal to stay connected to Atlanta that summer. To bridge the gap between coming back and starting over; to coming home and plugging in. I worked with leaders who loved their job, and loved WinShape and loved the age group and the role they were given. I learned how to balance life here and life there and how push myself from good to better. I recognized that I wasn’t sinking anymore. I was in the boat, paddling myself, and acknowledge to my own heart that I had something to offer to the people who were following.
Holy Ground in 2016, walking into a summer I knew in my heart would be my last and grateful to the Lord for giving me that perspective beforehand. To soak up every staff training session, every opening dance, every SSS and CFA FFFD. To not take for granted that I got to serve one more summer in this beautiful place. To recognize I wouldn’t always have these comfy lodge chairs to sit and reflect. A summer where I got to sit with the best people, ones that I could share my heart with, and others who just knew, for whatever the reason, I wanted to make this summer special. People who filled pages of memories and checked off item after item on bucket lists. People who sat and listened to me on golf cart rides and those who sat in a crammed office (twice!) to affirm each other, to cry over the depth of love and support they’ve felt from each other, and to confirm the importance of what people mean to them. A summer of evaluating and communicating what I’ve known and learned, and finding the bravery to process that parts that I still don’t. A summer of heartfelt chats and some really, really hard ones. A summer spanning all the emotions, all the feels, and a summer spent trying to breathe in every last second I could. A summer to recognize that while I’m closing out this chapter, I’m walking away changed. Forever.
7. Seven summers here.
They say that if you can stay friends with someone for 7 years, it’s almost guaranteed it will last a lifetime. And I think it maybe true here too. The lessons, the leadership, and the truth learned here will last the rest of life. The conversations had inside it’s borders mattered, and they healed and grew me.
I’m forever changed by this ground and people who’ve walked it with me.
Seven summers a place that taught me more about grace, hope, community, humility, and healing than any other place on earth. A place that forever has changed my view on people, leadership, and the world’s definition of where you should be.
This place is Holy Ground.