Throughout my faith journey I have come to recognize a reality: testimonies are powerful! One of the first testimonies I can remember hearing was during a retreat in Wisconsin when I was in high school. Interestingly enough, I often reflect on this experience and its format as I now create and plan retreats. It was the perfect mix of using what a camp has to offer by way of the outdoors and a powerful faith encounter. We had daily devotions, scripture readings and prayer as well as some survival type team building scenarios. The combination led to a powerful and dynamic faith and bonding experience.
As part of the faith programming, we heard the testimony from a Christian speaker. I do not recall his name, but I do remember his message. It was an all too familiar Augustine style narrative. You know the ones I’m referring to - man was raised religious, decided to rebel, fell heavily into drugs, alcohol and promiscuity, hit rock bottom, had a life altering God moment, repented and is now speaking to others, cautioning of his woes.
There are many of these types of stories out there, very dramatic and powerful conversion moments. It may sound like I am a little negative toward these, and that is semi-intentional. To be clear I am not against these types of stories - they are powerful narratives and stories that need to be told to demonstrate how powerful God is and how he can work and how everyone, regardless of previous actions, is offered forgiveness through Christ.
The hint of negativity comes in when people who have not had these powerful, dramatic conversion moments begin to think, “Hmm, my story isn’t anything like that. Did I do something wrong? Is my life just too boring? Do I love God as much as they do?” This is a trap that I got to see firsthand as a youth minister. I remember having a conversation with an adult volunteer about giving his testimony. I knew the volunteer well and I knew his story, and it was exactly what I wanted. He, on the other hand, was not so sure. His response was something like, “You want me to give my testimony? Why? It’s not a very good one.” That was the moment I had this entire revelation. I responded with something like, “If God is in the story, it is a powerful one.”
It was during this time that I decided I had a mission. I wanted to make sure that my volunteers and those I worked with knew that they have a powerful story, regardless of how they came to their faith. I know many who have had those powerful, dramatic stories, and they are great! So many people, especially young people, are tempted by innumerable different false promises the world has to offer and we need people who have been there to tell them it isn’t all it cracks up to be.
However, I also know many people who grew up in their faith, never strayed and continue to this day. THAT IS A POWERFUL STORY!! It is often tempting to try and spice our stories up, but we don’t have to!
First off, that is a powerful testament to not only that person for remaining faithful for so long, but also to their parents and families who have done such a great job of creating a family culture that fosters that kind of faith. Just to note, I am not saying this if children stray it is the fault of the parents. Sometimes you can provide the perfect atmosphere and culture and still people have free will and can choose a different direction regardless.
Secondly, just as there are those young people out there who are being tempted to the not so great things in this world, there are also young people out there that are living a faith filled life and who, just like my volunteer, think that they may be doing something wrong. Questioning whether they should be trying to have these intense conversion moments. We need young people to be hearing stories from those who are just like them - living a faith filled life, but not necessarily having a big conversion moment.
To wrap up, my point is, as long as your story has God in it, it is a powerful one! Personally, my story has a bit of both. It definitely is not crazy party goer turned saint (not that I am a saint, far from it!), but also not “cradle” Catholic continuing his journey. Everyone’s story, regardless of drama, is a powerful testament to the love, patience and devotion God has for all of us. There is no “boring” God story.
Wow! Our lives may be moving slowly…yet our world and country are changing fast. It is strange to look back at the past several weeks and see how truly different things are in this moment.
We are all dealing with our own individual challenges during this time. Some are coping with the loss of financial security; some are dealing with a continued work schedule in an essential position and thank heaven for them. Others are learning to slow down and enjoy spending time with our families, while some of us are facing the challenge of being separated from loved ones and families. Then, there are those of us who are just struggling to remember what day of the week it is.
However, we seem to finally be reaching a point, where our national, state, and local governments are developing plans to ease us back into a “new normal.” Though this may be an uneasy time for all of us there is something we must all keep in mind, that we are all meeting this challenge from our own perspectives so be kind out there! A friend of mine recently posted the following, something I found to be a beautiful way of approaching this transitional period.
🛑 Some people don’t agree with the state opening.... that’s okay. Be kind.
🏡 Some people are still planning to stay home.... that’s okay. Be kind.
🦠 Some are still scared of getting the virus and a second wave happening.... that’s okay. Be kind.
💰 Some are sighing with relief to go back to work knowing they may not lose their business or their homes.... that’s okay. Be kind.
👩🏾⚕️Some are thankful they can finally have a surgery they have put off.... that’s okay. Be kind.
📝 Some will be able to attend interviews after weeks without a job.... that’s okay. Be kind.
😷 Some will wear masks for weeks.... that’s okay. Be kind.
💅🏻 Some people will rush out to get the hair or nails done.... that’s okay. Be kind.
❤️ The point is, everyone has different viewpoints/feelings and that’s okay. Be kind.
We each have a different story. If you need to stay home, stay home. But be kind.
If you need to go out, be respectful others when in public and be kind!
Don’t judge fellow humans because you’re not in their story. We all are in different mental states than we were months ago. So remember, be kind.
Kindness is contagious too. ❤
I am reminded of a quote from the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.” I believe that is a statement to live by during all of the upheaval we are enduring. We may not be able to change the minds of others, or get them to see things our way, but we can be kind, respectful, and accept that this is going to be a challenge for all of us. It is our choice to treat others with kindness, to reserve judgement, and to move forward with an attitude of gratitude and positivity.
Assistant Program Director
As the shelter in place order remains in place, I find myself more often focused on the “what will happen next?” Will we or won’t we be open in time for summer camp? I tell myself the same thing I tell anyone who asks, “At this time we just don’t know”. We are doing all we can to stay on the path of opening in some way but truly only time will tell. This uncertainty is certainly challenging to abide, but finding ways to ground myself in the present moment has been helpful.
I find steady footing in what I am choosing to work on, read, watch, and listen to. Before the “shelter in place”, I started reading “The Book of Awakening” by Mark Nepo. It is one of those books that gives you a nugget of inspiration to carry with you throughout the day as each section has a quote and a 5- 6 paragraph reflection followed by points to ponder. Some of these readings land better than others, and while this book was written well before the pandemic I am finding that some apply very well to this situation. This past week produced two golden readings.
April 21: “Another name for God is surprise.” ---Brother David Steindel-Rast
The author speaks to the idea that we do not always embrace the obstacles in our lives as a way to grow as humans or in our understanding of God and the great mystery of life. He gives several examples of how tragedy often gives birth to some new and wonderful thing. He calls this God’s surprise and finishes with “For God is seldom in our plans, but always in the unexpected.”
Of course, this pandemic was not expected and it is challenging for many and if any one of us could take away the suffering and dying we would but that may not be our work. Our work may be to see God in the mystery of it and to “develop strength in our spirit” as we dive deeper into the human experience.
And April 22: “If you can’t see what you are looking for, see what is there.” Mark Nepo
In this passage the author reflects on his experience with cancer treatment. He is in the midst of the struggle and asks himself, “Where is God?” and from somewhere even he cannot identify it comes to him, “Here... right now.” He goes on to say that the presence of God is not eliminated during difficult times; he is always there. Abundance is always there. In all situations, we have everything we need if we just lean into His presence.
Yes, these truths are grounding and his book has steadied me in this uncertain time, but that is not all.
Doing my job as Camp Co-Director has also been quite satisfying, reassuring and grounding. Even with the uncertainty in camp life right now, knowing that the camp family is out there reading about, thinking about, engaging with, cheering us on, and praying for camp is life giving. I am hopeful that people like what we are posting and stay tuned for whatever happens next.
The goal is to open, to enjoy summer camp, to sing at the top of my lungs while waiting in line for my lunch, and to welcome the camp family back to this place of faith, love and community. In the meantime, faith is a great place to stand with both feet planted in the present, trusting God to hold us steady as the “what will happen next” unfolds.
These last few weeks have certainly been trying times for many of us. This is unlike any challenge presented to our nation or our world for generations. We are stuck in our homes, unable to leave to go about our normal lives and routines, with only a walk around the neighborhood for any kind of consolation. Even the grocery store has become a place for caution.
I know for my family and I these weeks have been a time of stress, uncertainty, sickness, and fear. Right around the time Eric Holcomb, Indiana’s Governor, announced the stay at home order, our daughter began showing symptoms of a respiratory virus. Naturally, we assumed the worst. She was tested for a panel of known viruses, all of which came back negative. This meant that she had an unknown viral illness. Again, we assumed the worst for her and ourselves. I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes last year and asthma when I was 13, both of which put me at a higher risk of complications of COVID 19. I was plagued with so many dark thoughts, the worst of which, if something did happen to me, my daughter would not even remember me.
My daughter had a lot of rough nights when she was sick, so we were constantly in her room rocking her back to sleep. I remember one of these nights I was very upset so I spent some time in prayer and a deep peace came over me and I cannot help but reflect on that now during this most special week.
Pope Francis recently made a statement about Holy Week that feels very applicable during these strange times:
“Holy Week is a privileged time when we are called to draw near to Jesus: friendship with him is shown in times of difficulty.”
I would definitely say these times can be described as difficult, but as I sat with my daughter in my arms deep in a conversation with God, I was reminded of how blessed my life has been up to that point. I have had the opportunity to do, see, and experience so many amazing things in my short 33 years. I have gotten everything I really have ever wanted out of life, namely to do something I love, have some great adventures, get married and raise a family.
The most amazing part, however, is that I have been so blessed to have found a faith that defines who I am as a person. Everything I have been, am, and will become in this life has been gifted to me by God. This brought me to the realization that, no matter what happens, I can be abundantly and endlessly thankful for my life.
Although we are enduring difficult and uncertain times in our world, we are entering one of the most celebrated weeks in the Catholic Church – we are in the final days before we mourn the death and celebrate the rise of Christ. These most holy of days are a time for us to remember what an incredible blessing our lives are – how we should love and appreciate what we have, what we have been given, and those we love and love us. The Lord has promised good to us and will make good on his promise – this we can be especially reminded of in this season in the church and the season we find ourselves in now, spring.
As Martin Luther one said:
“Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.”
It is no coincidence that Easter falls during the season of spring. Just as new life is appearing in the natural world around us, this time in our faith is bringing new life into our spirits. This is, and should be, a great time of celebration for the abundance of life around us.
We all have so much to be thankful for. These times can and will be what we make of them. If we choose to sit indoors, in the dark, and focus on the negative aspects of our present circumstances, we can. But living in that joyless, fearful state is our own choosing. If, however, we choose to let these next weeks be our renewal, we may find that, even though we are facing a crisis unlike most of us have seen in our lifetime, we can come out the other side of this stronger, happier, and holier. I have made my choice. What do you choose?
The dogs are barking again. It’s what they do even when their people are quarantined. Nothing has changed for them. Maybe they have noticed we are home more often, but they seem unconcerned about the state of things. Other dogs are out walking with their people and we feel the side glance of hope as our dogs would like to get a turn walking. Thankfully they have a big yard as their people are inconsistent walkers at best. That is something that hasn’t changed. What has changed of course for all of us is how we are existing in an uncertain time.
At CYO Camp we have shifted to working from home and if on camp property we work in physical solitude connecting via our electronic devices. We are happy to do so to help keep the virus away. We are happy to help protect ourselves and others. Another change we have noticed is that folks are turning to and tuning more and more into what is happening online. You may have noticed that as well; camps and outdoor places are staying connected with electronic offerings such as web cams and online opportunities. Count us in on that!
We can’t play at camp in person, but we can enjoy a small bit of camp via the internet. Look for opportunities from us every day or so with links to nature/craft activities, videos, web cam offerings, and more.
To get us started here is an easy activity to get us outside. The sun is shining, and you don’t need much space for this one; all ages can participate: You could even close your eyes and pretend you are at camp!
Grab some paper and a pencil, pen, marker or crayon. Find a spot to sit outside… maybe your front or back yard, your porch. If sitting outside isn’t an option sit by a window. Once you get comfy just take a deed breath... look, listen, smell…
After about 10 minutes, jot down a few notes or drawings in response to the following…
Second option...try this at night!
Once you are done, we hope you will share via camp’s Instagram or Facebook. Bonus fun points if you get someone to take a picture of you while do this and then post it for us to see.
Until next time…
Choosing a summer camp experience for a child is a big deal…. a really big deal. Camps provide some important lessons for children such as faith, fun, skill development, friends, independence and positive role models; parents want to make sure they are choosing a camp that will make it all happen for their child. It is important to know everything from how staff are hired to how a child will be kept both emotionally and physically safe. And so much more!
As a camp director and parent of five almost all grown up kiddos, I know the importance of feeling confident in choosing a summer camp. I know both sides well. My kids had camp experiences at CYO Camp and various other camps as they were growing up. I always did my homework when discerning camps for my kids and I am grateful for those who check out CYO Camp.
It can be hard to know where to start or to know the questions to ask. I advise families to make a list of the areas they are most worried about to help formulate questions. For example, if a child has a food allergy or other need, a parent will want to make sure the camp can support that child's needs. Camps should have well thought out answers for parents' concerns and if a parent doesn’t like an answer then maybe looking at a different camp is the answer. No matter how great a camp’s reviews are families will want to make sure the camp is the right camp for their child.
The following are ways families can check out CYO Camp:
Angi K Sullivan
On my very first day of working at camp, we went to Brown County State Park to eat pizza and get to know each other a little better. As we left, we got to watch this gorgeous sunset. I remember thinking as we left, “if the sunsets are always this beautiful, and the people are always this great, I’m going to really love being here.” Now, I’m finding myself at the sunset of my time working at camp, and I can say truthfully that the sunsets are dazzling and the people are even more so.
I have been thinking often about my impact on camp and vice versa. Truthfully, I don’t really know what my impact is on camp, and it probably isn’t really up for me to decide my impactfulness anyway. However, the things that have made an impact on me and helped shape the person that I am now could fill one hundred blog posts. Since I’ve only been allotted this one, it’s hard to know just what to say. So I came up with this self-prompt: if I literally absorbed the things I’ve been exposed to at camp, what would I be made of?
We can start with the tangible things: creek paint, sweat, lake water, creek water, dirt, mud, gravel, chocolate milk, dust, leaves, pollen, grass stains, face paint, sawdust, tie-dye dye, campfire ash, and chicken taco drippings. When we move into the intangible is when it gets a little harder to narrow it down. There’s the feeling I got the first time I heard someone say, “this is so cool!” There’s the feeling I get when I look in the passenger mirror of Gus the Bus and see all of the Adventure campers sleeping after a big day in the cave or on the water. There’s the feeling I get watching someone exceed their goal at high ropes. There’s the feeling of singing camp songs over and over until you sing them in your dreams. There’s the feeling of campers remembering you when you go on school visits or when they come back the next summer. There’s the feeling of being complimented on your Chaco tan. There’s the feeling of walking through the woods and hearing nothing but the birds and the breeze floating through the trees. There’s the feeling of worrying that this Jump Shake Your Booty is finally going to be the one that breaks the bench, sending all of you tumbling to the floor. There’s the feeling of watching relationships grow over a day, a weekend, a week. There’s the feeling of meeting thousands of new people and learning from all of them. There’s the feeling of watching the first wildflowers bloom on the forest floor in the spring. There’s the feeling of starting a lanyard on the first try. And there’s the feeling of singing Take Me Home, Country Roads on the last night of camp.
I think, out of all of that, if I’m even a little more faithful, fun, joyful, brave, humble, knowledgeable, compassionate, or generous than I was four years ago, then it probably has to do, at least a little bit, with being steeped in the amazing environment that is CYO Camp Rancho Framasa.
Thank you for everything,
CYO Camp Rancho Framasa has long been in the business of getting people outside. Well, it is not as much of a business model as it is part of the mission. The research is staggering that being outside does a human a world of good. Back in the nineties we started camp’s first outdoor education programming. It has evolved through the years and most recently, until a year ago, the structure mimicked what you might see in a classroom… a teaching, sharing facts, something to read and something to write…only all this was happening outside at camp.
What changed in this last year? Two of our staff members received a grant to attend a BEETLES’ training. With a little bit of knowledge and a whole lot of eager to learn they attended a weeklong institute to learn how to teach in the outdoors differently. We fondly refer to this as Beetle—izing the curriculum.
What is BEETLES?
From their website:
BEETLES is Better Environmental Education, Teaching, Learning & Expertise Sharing
BEETLES has the following beliefs, ideas, and values:
We use best practices in science education to inspire wonder and curiosity about the natural world.
BEETLES resources are built around five primary design principles.
Engage Directly with Nature
Think Like a Scientist
Learn through Discussions
Experience Instruction Based on How People Learn
Participate in inclusive, equitable, and culturally relevant learning environments
We see BEETLES as a perfect fit for us and our participants. The goal is to get kids excited and build confidence around science learning and what better way is there than experiencing in it firsthand at CYO CAMP?
So, we have been stepping into the BEETLES model of outdoor teaching and it works! If you are planning a trip to camp either summer or school year you may notice this change and we think you will like it.
Here is what one group had to say about their BEETLES experience after being at CYO Camp:
“I loved climbing up the hill and building a fire. I loved the bones of the different animals. Skipping stones and painting faces with the rocks was educational. We were able to tie so much of this to Indiana history and the way of life with the Indians.”
“I loved the freedom of just letting the kids run and explore... They had a blast on the slide and just running in the woods.”
“I feel like the entire experience was magical to these children. Many have never been in the woods before or gone hiking so the joy to be in such a space was a gift for me to experience.”
Interested in knowing more? Click the Beetles link: http://beetlesproject.org/about/ and/or sign a group up for camp!
Angi K. Sullivan
Over Thanksgiving break, my family went to the movies. My mom particularly wanted to see the new movie about Mr. Rogers, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. I watched Mr. Rogers growing up, and had heard bits and pieces about his kindness and gentleness, but I really didn’t know a lot about him before I went to the movie. I’m sure you’re wondering why I am writing about this movie that came out over two months ago now, but it just keeps popping up into head when I think about camp.
I won’t go too much into the plot if you’re still wanting to see it without any kind of frontloading, but I was struck with how Mr. Rogers interacted with two types of people: first, how he talked to children, and second, how he talked to strangers. What became more clear as the movie went on is that Mr. Rogers is a great role model for camp counselors and camp staff in general.
When Mr. Rogers spoke to children, he never talked down to them. He often would find a way to literally and figuratively be at the child’s level, and would make a point to find something to help them connect to what he said. I also realize now just how much I loved learning about different jobs and processes on his show because he was so excited to learn about them himself. That kind of modeling was incredibly impactful, and I still distinctly remember how crayons are made because of him.
When Mr. Rogers spoke to strangers, he made them feel welcomed and included immediately. In the movie, one of the adult characters pushes back against Mr. Rogers’ friendliness, and Mr. Rogers never responds with frustration or walks away, he responds with patience and calm. Slowly, we see this stranger open up over the course of the movie, and we see Mr. Rogers make a point to turn his full attention to this person in need.
Not only does Mr. Rogers make everyone feel loved and included, the movie also shows how he still takes care of himself, even in the midst of holding the love and pain of so many others. He releases frustration through playing the piano, he swims every single day, he found that a vegetarian lifestyle was healthiest for him. Even as Mr. Rogers went above and beyond to care for others, he also made a point to care for himself.
Finally, I noticed over and over throughout the movie just how much Mr. Rogers was an example of Jesus. He was an ordained Presbyterian minister, but Mr. Rogers didn’t show his faith by preaching Scripture or instructing people how to pray. He showed his Christian example by withholding judgment, by finding the good in everyone that he met, by approaching each day and interaction with joy and kindness, and by doing his best to make the world a better place for children, which makes the world a better place for all of us.
Assistant Camp Director
His head on my thigh, mine on her torso, another on my stomach. Their warmth radiated and we all shared the heat. There was about twenty of us; all under the stars, packed together on a concrete slab outside of Cabin C. The vast sky had a tinge of indigo scattered through it, signaling dawn was on the horizon. We all laid there, staring up at the speckled sky, our eyes graced with an occasional shooting star that left us all in awe. No matter how many we saw that summer (probably over fifty) we were still enchanted and amazed by the beauty the night sky held.
That summer had only lasted eight weeks, but it was enough to alter my life forever. It was filled with children’s laughter, ticks, swimming on some of the coldest days, wet shoes, complaining children, bucking horses, tears, unfamiliar beetles, riddles, dressing up, many Canada games, Ranchfests, new friendships, and memories that we all will draw upon years from now. Camp Rancho Framasa, settled in the foothills of Brown County, will always have a hold on us and be the reason we have such a link to each other.
We had spent many nights outside while the kids were fast asleep in their bunks. Conversations lasted until four in the morning even though we all knew we would have to be up in less than four hours. We didn’t care. Spending nights outside, listening to the frogs whose freedom was theirs as soon as the sun went down. They no longer had to fear the stomping feet of campers trucking through their terrain. What mattered was that we were together. A community had formed right before our eyes and we did not even realize it. In a way, we were our own group. A group of kids that didn’t know each other going into these two months of heat.
A group just like I had been in many years ago when I was a camper. But instead of two months, I only had one week to make friendships. Going in alone, knowing no one, that one week of the summer would always be my favorite of those scorching months. I remember meeting new people that always seemed more interesting than myself. I remember playing Gold Rush, sprinting through the forest and avoiding roots at every turn. Those scraped knees never prevented me from making memories that I would hold in the back of my mind. The smell of the trees remained the same and making lanyards never seemed dull. It was simply camp magic.
There was no other way to describe the feeling in my stomach every time my parents took the turn down Clay Lick Road. The songs, the prayers, the people. All of it flooded back in an instant.
I never would have thought as a nineteen year old that I would have such an awakening experience. Connecting old memories with new, under a night sky that should have seemed familiar. Now, it had a new meaning. Stargazing would forever be linked to the many people who had come into my life in a time I so desperately needed it. I was looking for a reason why I was placed on this Earth and those people, those kids, gave me that muse. Things change, plants grow, people learn. All of this was true. Though camp was almost unchanging, eternal.
And as I lay there with the weight of his head on my thigh, comfort surrounded me. No feeling of loneliness crept into my bones. My focus on his laugh, the movement of her stomach on the back of my head as she breathed, the stray arm draped across my knee. We were close, we were bonded; connected by the stars that burned so many miles away. The summer had only been eight weeks, but it had felt like a lifetime.
Summer Staff Member, 2019
Camp is such an unique experience! Our staff take turns sharing their perspectives of the experience that is CYO Camp Rancho Framasa!
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