Earlier this month I spent a weekend at Camp Berea on Newfound Lake in New Hampshire, the site of the retreat I wrote about back in September. This time, I attended with my daughter for the camp’s annual Mother/Daughter Retreat. There was a lot of anticipation around this event for both of us. My daughter had been looking forward to it ever since our first trip to the camp last summer with families from our church, Highrock. After making many arrangements -- packing, renting a car, organizing supplies and directions for the events my husband and sons would attend at home in our absence -- my daughter and I climbed into our little rental and headed north.
The theme of this year’s retreat was Brave. And it was courage (and stamina) I felt I needed in big and little doses and we battled traffic and unfamiliar roads in order to get there, faced uneasy curiosity about whom we would be sharing a cabin with and agonized over the burden of activity choices as we decided (and revised) how to spend our limited time, all while emotions ran high (and, at times, low) and fatigue snuck up on us like a side tackle.
I tried to step up to the plate as often as I could. (Sporting analogies abound in this one; get ready.) I hate games. But I pulled a muscle going all out in a version of capture the flag in the gym. (During the round of mothers versus daughter, the mothers won. I felt I had played my part.) When my daughter wanted to climb rocks out on the shoreline I gritted my teeth and joined her (figuring if we fell in, at least we could swim). Later, I swiftly removed the tick crawling down her arm. When she wanted to check out a single kayak from the boathouse I said a prayer asking for protection before requesting two boats which we lugged awkwardly down to the tiny beach. She had never gone out on her own before, and I still approached kayaking with trepidation and slight claustrophobia from being so low and straight-legged in the boat. But she did great -- and I navigated my role of giving her space while making sure she didn’t get trapped in a tight spot against the current either.
It turned out my daughter wasn’t the only brave girl there. We waited in line for two hours for her to have a chance at the high ropes course...only to be told they were cutting off the line, claiming they were out of time and had to pack up the equipment so everyone could get to dinner. In a compassionate response to my daughter’s audible regrets, a girl in front of us turned and offered up her spot which my daughter accepted gratefully. And then I watched, my emotions a confused mix of relief and nervousness, as she hoisted her harness first up a rope ladder tunnel and then over the challenges high in the trees before taking that death-defying step off the final platform, hoping with every fiber of my being that the tension rope attached to her harness would do its job and auto-repel her safely to the forest floor. I had promised her everything would be fine. That rope needed to come through for me. (Spoiler alert: it did.)
We noticed that there was another mother-daughter pair in attendance who we know from our church. When I commented how pleasantly surprised I was to see some familiar faces, my daughter asked something like,
“Wait, isn’t this a Highrock camp?”
It’s funny what you feel you need to explain to your children (“Don’t touch that, you’ll get dirty!”) and what you inadvertently assume they understand.
Because our church had rented out the camp last summer when we were first there, my daughter had assumed this camp was run by Highrock. I explained that Camp Berea is a Christian camp, run by other people who want to teach about God and Jesus. When she commented that she thought her school teacher would like the activities offered I pointed out that I didn’t think he went to church but that we should ask him. I also felt like explaining that there were many kinds of outdoor camps with similar activities and that some of them didn’t also teach about God.
But aside from spending quality time together and participating in these thrilling activity options, we were there to learn about God and Jesus. So I dragged her away from her favorite spot on the rocks jutting out into the lake in order to attend each of the four worship and teaching sessions scheduled throughout the weekend. I didn’t make her go to morning devotions. I didn’t think we were ready for such an in depth study (yet), but main speaker Erica Renaud did a beautiful and age-appropriate job of illustrating the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and how it and other Bible passages depict people bravely following God. She challenged us to consider what it means to bravely follow God in our own lives, offering these guidelines:
First, in order to say yes to moving forward with God’s call, we have to leave behind what was before (just as Moses left his life in Midian in order to obey). She asked what we would have to leave behind. Comfort? Expectations? Worries?
Second, living bravely means we’re going to face challenges. When Moses first asked Pharaoh to release the Israelites, Pharaoh increased their work, effectively making life worse for God’s people. While Moses could have felt he had made a mistake by requesting his people’s freedom, he bravely (with Aaron’s help) stayed the course.
Third, we overcome those challenges by fixing our eyes on Jesus. When Peter stepped out of the boat to walk to Jesus, he saw the wind and, taking his eyes off Jesus, started to sink. But, immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. As Paul writes similarly to Timothy later, the message is this: Don’t get distracted (by what people say). Keep your eyes on Jesus. For even if we are faithless, he remains faithful.
At the end of the third talk we had a chance to respond to her message. Erica invited us in groups to the front of the gym where we took turns painting a wooden cross with washable red tempera paint (a substitute for the lamb’s blood that the Israelites used to paint the doorframes of their houses to mark the passover). One by one we dipped the brushes into the paint and then ran the bristles over the wood in two directions. First, we painted down the main post as a confession of sin and that we too at times have looked away. Then, we painted across as a remembrance that Jesus is steady and has saved us.
During the fourth and final session a few girls helped Erica act out the parable of the master who places three workers in charge of his money. The first two workers put the money to work and double their master’s money. The third, however, hides the money in the ground not wanting to lose it. Erica admonished each of us not to act like the third worker who says, effectively, “God, your word is too difficult for me to discern, so I’m just going to sit on it.”
She returned to the Israelites at the moment of their escape when they were trapped between death by the Red Sea on one side and death by Pharaoh’s army on the other, a desperate hour when they cried out to God, Why?
She points out that bravely following God requires risk because you’re not sure of the outcome. When we ask “why”, God answers with two reasons:
Moses set his eyes on God, told the Israelites to pack up and stretched his hands to invite God’s miracle of parting the Red Sea. If we aren’t brave then we won’t see the waters part. On the other hand, if we can be brave, then our obedience may lead to the deliverance of others.
And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” Exodus 3:12
But what do we do when the going gets rough? Perhaps we should remember Paul’s perspective in Romans 8:18: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
Recently some moms from church were asked what they wish they could have witnessed from the Bible. One mentioned the parting of the Red Sea. Wouldn’t that have been a terrifying and glorious walk to take between those walls of water?
I doubt I’ll get to witness anything like that, but I am confident of the small glories I’ve seen thus far, a foretaste of heaven. At Camp Berea it meant getting in the boat, letting my daughter grow up a bit and taking the risk that she might not latch onto biblical teaching as readily as I hoped.
“I don’t think my friends believe in God,” she told me.
Being brave for me in that moment looked like being willing to look foolish in the eyes of the world as I stayed steady in my intent to keep God at the center of our household, believing him to be the good rope that lowers me safely when I step into the unknown. Where does my help come from?
God commands in Deuteronomy 31:6: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
His message is straightforward...and just as true for us today:
Go, I will certainly be with you!
Hear Paul’s encouraging declaration:
"Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory."
2 Timothy 2:10
"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline."
2 Timothy 1:7
Go, I will certainly be with you!
*N.B. All Bible passage references, as well as the phrase “Go, I will certainly be with you!” are taken from Erica Renaud’s talks.
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