Spruce Lake was sacred ground. We didn’t realize that at first.
This last Tuesday, our little family left with four other adults and 29 kids- grades 7-12 for Spruce Lake Retreat (Outdoor School) in Poconos, PA.
I was excited, but nervous, because of a few different factors. I wasn’t sure what the days would hold, and what our lodging would be like. I would be spending the days mostly being in new surroundings with Elle and Laila and they aren’t always too keen on the whole outgoing thing.
We left in three vans– 2 maxi vans, one conversion van, and a luggage trailer. From the start, spirits where high.
But quite frankly, our trip seemed a little, well, cursed. After successfully detouring a MAJOR traffic jam in I-80 (but still lost quite a bit of time), we were finally just over an hour from our destination. Then, our van #3 conked out (luckily it was our smallest van). It was raining wild smoke and fluid and, to make a long story short, we ended up leaving Jake and Joann (the one sponsor couple) with the van that was later towed.
We packed out the remaining two vans with kids (read: VERY FULL, messy vans) and journeyed on. After a few wrong turns, we finally arrived!
We took a 7 hour trip and made it a 10 hour one.
Because we’re good that way. ha
We rolled into camp at 8:30 that Tues night, almost 3 hours behind schedule– looking and feeling fiercely travel-worn.
We pulled up to the front lodge, and were greeted as we climbed (stumbled, whatever) down from our vans, by two kind-faced women who welcomed us with hugs and questions about how we were all faring. My husband had been in contact with the one woman (director, Lisa) so they knew what was going on with our crazy trip so far.
Bless his heart, Lisa’s husband had run, who knows how far, to pick up huge stacks of pizza boxes and soda for 35 of us. They insisted on serving us. We sat bleary-eyed in the lodge dining room and ate pizza pretty quietly– taking the place all in.
After the meal, Mr. K (my husband- ha) stood and commended the kids for their incredible attitudes during the trip. Even little Laila had calmly sat in her car seat through it all without so much as a “mommy I hungry” in the last half hour. We never heard whining out of our van–the atmosphere was upbeat amidst the uncertainty. Lisa and her husband commented on this also.
“Are you sure you are all okay?” she asked a few times.
Day #1 started with a bang! Our group was in two different cabins (Huckleberry and The Barn) and we met up promptly every morning in the cool woodsy air, to again max out our two vans– to take the drive through the woods, over a pond, past a water fall, through the woods, through an RV camp, to get to the main lodge where we ate breakfast at 8:15 and then started our day with instructions in the Oak Room.
I can’t really describe all the stuff the school kids had going on all day long. They were split into three groups and were in “outdoor school” from 9 to 5. My little girls and I observed as much as we could, when we had a maxi van available to drive out to wherever they were. I will include pictures, because I can’t really describe in words all that I saw, and actually I saw so little! because we often missed out or it was in an area that was too far out, and just we couldn’t get out there to observe.
Another thing that happened, was the one day when the girls were driving back from watching one of the teams climb The Vertical Playpen, I thought the van I was driving was shaking, and seemed to barely go. I parked it, and went to lunch, making a mental note to tell G that I was just *sure* it smelled hot. (This is van #2 having issues.)
I actually forgot about it, until Miss K came over to G during lunch and said that the camp’s maintenance man is concerned because there is a van in the parking lots that has an oil trail that is heavy and goes back to the start of the RV camp! Yup, it’s ours…
The kids felt a little heavy as they watched van #2 get towed, I think. Let’s just say, that the van situation didn’t ruin our time there; but the men def had “vans on their minds”. Even though it had drained all the oil, the repair turned out to be a pretty quick fix. I remember the phrase “just a hose.” PTL
We still didn’t have van #1 back, and the damage was worse than they thought–words like “new axle” and “bearings” were thrown around. Apparently, the mechanic was having a hard time finding a new or used one anywhere by the time we needed it. We were breathing prayers that we would somehow have a van by Fri noon when we were scheduled to go home.
Otherwise: some kids don’t go home.
The kids fell in love with the place. It`s so much prettier there than I pictured. And bigger. And just well– majestic and organized and awesome.
At lunch, one of the senior boys came over and plopped down next to us and said,
“I want to apologize for something. I’m sorry for saying I didn’t really want to come here. I’m so glad we are here. Today has been AWESOME!”
It was really sweet.
On Thursday morning when Mrs. Lisa checked in with us at breakfast to see how things were going for our group, she was told,
“Our first day has far exceeded our expectations.”
Lisa rubbed the top of her arms and said,
“I have goosebumps right here. I have no idea why, but in the camp staff’s prayer time in the morning– that has been word for word the prayer that we have been praying for your group.”
It was really cool.
I’m skipping a lot of things, but I want to move on to talk about the trip home.
So Friday morning, we had breakfast, Oak Room time, and our last class Survival Ecology Game, lunch, and then… it was time to leave. Our van had been repaired adequately to make the trip home, we were assured. We had all been praying about it, and felt a peace that even though it wasn’t a perfect fix, and it seemed to be our only option– really and truly– to leave on faith and leave it in God’s hands.
We piled everyone into our two “good” vans, picked up the “problem child” van at a garage on the way out, and re-settled in, feeling well, hopeful, and happy to be driving home.
The trip was uneventful, until 4 hours from home we stopped at a seedy Taco Bell/truck stop combo to eat and it was reported that we have a smoking van again.
The men worked on it, and we pressed on. We had probably driven a half hour when Galen said to me,
“there she blows…”
All three vans and the trailer pulled over on the highway. I hated it: every semi that passed us, shook our van from side to side and made me realize we were sitting ducks in a really rough spot. That’s one thing if it’s just adults, but ALL THESE KIDS!
It was a sinking realization for the adults, I think. We were 3.5 hours from home, and were stranded with 29 kids and 2 preschoolers. gulp.
And please picture: everyone is shot. They stretched themselves the last 3 days–rock climbing, hiking, wrestling, running through the woods in survival mode, being dropped from the ceiling of the gym, challenge courses, climbing a mess of ropes in harness trying to get to a top platform that defied gravity, riding the zip line down the mountain, intense Gaga-ball during their free time, staying up late with share time on the theme of ‘Courageous Power, Love, and, Thinking’ from II Tim 1:7 and having to open up with thoughts about themselves and their team-mates. It was pretty raw.
We were trashed, wearing only the clothes we had left– they weren’t even clean. My girls’ coats were so filthy they weren’t wearing coats anymore. Tired, thirsty, cramped, sore, filthy, completely shot emotionally and physically.
Once again, we did the whole switcheroo where Jake and Joann stayed with the van (waiting to be towed) and all the kids were smashed into the remaining two vans. After a LONG pow-wow (crouched on the grass by the crippled van) the three men decided to get as close to home as we could in the AAA 100-mile tow allowance and it was relayed to us that Sam Yoder was going to head out from Holmes Co. in a bit, to get the group of 3 sponsors and a couple older boys that we would leave behind at a truck stop.
Our van had now obsorbed 3 of the younger students (mainly the 7th-8th graders)– the older students welcome the younger ones and offered whatever comfortable seating space they could muster.
I ended up sitting down on the floor, between the front seat and driver’s seat. I had to sit there in front of my little girls, because they were really starting to go “downhill.” And beings I couldn’t just un-strap and HOLD them, we just had to make it work. We set off, the girls calmed, and I was actually half way nodding off at one point. We figured we had about an 80-mile cramped drive to our drop-off point. We can make this work.
And I guess that’s when the Holy Spirit started blowing His gentle warming fire.
One conversation lead to another. I could hear a little of what was going on from the floor, but didn’t really see– you know. About right when I thought, can I get up (off the floor) something is going on, I heard a gentle female voice say,
“Can you come help us? E just accepted Christ and we need help.”
I have little to offer intellectually, but I can offer sincerity and my humble little faith.
What happened after that, was a spreading. Confession, HONESTY was spoken, there was humility and trust spreading all through the van. Prayers were being offered up, I couldn’t see the back of the van except for shadows, but I saw a lot of bowed heads and huddled, hugging figures. These kids BLEW me away. They expressed their Faith and offered up prayers of intercession and confession in a way that only happens in the presence of He who is HOLY.
And full of honest, pure, heartfelt love for each other. I have never felt so honored to be a part of something.
We pulled into, again, what had to be one of the seediest truck stops in Pennsylvania.
We all tumbled down, out of our van like sweet, little sardines, to head in quick for things like Gatorade, bathrooms, and snacks. This was also the unloading point for those that were waiting for Sam to pick them up.
As the kids got out they were embracing, and well, lets just say it was a bawlfest. I had to wonder what ON EARTH the bystanders on this dark, dirty night in Truckstop USA were thinking as they noticed us. We didn’t care.
I remember standing outside the van, on legs that were so stiff, I felt I couldn’t stand. Breathing in the combo of diesel fuel, and fresh mountain air. I was barefoot on the filthy concrete, my face was tear streaked and I look super crazy and funny when I cry madly. Like a contorted, confused animal. I was wearing no coat and the patched skirt I wear when I pull weeds in the garden. I clamped my hands on the side of my head because I felt the sensation that my head might explode, God is just too GREAT. I felt time standing still, and watched the kids rejoicing with their class mate that was now a new Believer. I watched in silence and tried to take it all in.
We rejoiced over and over for our broken down van. It was expressed many times that none of this would have happened without the shuffle of who was sitting with who, the addition of the younger students, etc.
We re-situated, and those that were home-bound, headed home.
The confession, declaration of faith in JESUS, and questions about life in Christ continued. Those sweet kids prayed the last 2 hours home.
There is a lot more that I could say but I think mostly, I wrote this post to ask: will YOU pray for us? I know it can be hard to connect and pray for people you don’t even know…. but we are ALL brothers and sisters in Christ and I just feel overwhelmed to beg for your prayers.
While most of us have enjoyed lives that are relatively easy, there are some of us that have not. And these things can seem insurmountable to the human mind. God heals, please God, let your Healing continue.
We so deeply desire to see the flame fanned, and not a fire that slowly burns out.
God be Glorified. He is Real, True and Faithful.