The summer before 11th grade, our youth group decided to take a camping trip to Tennessee. Being that I don’t like to camp and dislike all things “roughing it” in general, I thought it was a great idea to go. (No, really, I have no clue why I thought this was a good idea.) Add in some friends, a chance to do something cool away from home and the opportunity to shop for some new outdoorsy clothes and I was on the list.
Now I had done the summer camp thing loads of times before. A warm cozy cabin set a few hundred feet away from a full bathroom, pool and snack shop? I’m game. My idea of roughing it was having to use a sleeping bag for a blanket and only being able to pack 2 pillows. I was certain that this couldn’t be too different. A tent sounded fun! I bet it was a cute one too. And it was called “Confrontation Point”. That couldn’t mean anything right?
We pulled up to the campgrounds, er, well, basically a forest. As we trotted our way through the weaves of the trails, our leader finally called out “We are here!”. Here? Wait what? Where were the cute tents? The bathrooms? I thought the whole ‘bring your bio-degradable shampoo’ thing was just a 2001-attempt to start a “go green” trend. Huh?
Before I knew it, everyone around me started dropping their backpacks on the ground (wait, I don’t want to get mine dirty!) and pulling out tarps. What is going on!?! I shouldn’t have talked and passed notes during all of the pre-trip meetings! Before I knew it, tarps were being tied to two close trees, with the bottom corners staked to the ground. Where were the tents? We were sleeping on a tarp on the ground with another tarp loosely tied overhead? I wanted to faint. What about the bugs?
Time out. For those of you who don’t know me well, you now need to know that I am terrified of spiders. Like, shriek, dance, shake and cry. The spotting of a spider across the house can typically cause the neighbors to be concerned. I shudder just writing the word spider. Ughhhh. (I have never even watched the Harry Potter scenes with any spiders. My eyes have always remained closed. Even fake spiders freak me out.)
Okay, time in. Campsite is set up, fire is built, everyone around me seems to be frolicking with joy about this whole nature thing, and I wanted to cry. No new clothes, time with friends, or summer adventure was worth being this outside my comfort zone.
Ugh, why did my hair keep tickling my arms? I kept brushing my shoulders off absent-mindedly. What was I going to do? Tickle, tickle. Again? As I glanced down to pull my hair back, I saw it. IT. A gigantic daddy-long legs spider that was about the size of a baseball, crawling up my arm. (Granted, my memory could be playing tricks on me but this is what I remember. HUGE HUGE spiders.)
Well, you can only imagine the scene from there. I was horrified, terrified, crying, screaming, you name it. And that’s when a few other people commented that they had spiders on them too. No one seemed to be hyperventilating like me though. “Oh don’t worry about those! They are completely harmless.” Our guide told me, “They actually just live in the trees and fall out of them. Just brush them off.”
I actually don’t think a paragraph is needed to try to articulate my horrified reaction. The next thing I know, I am talking (okay, sobbing) to our youth group leader that I need to find a payphone. I ran back up the trails to the shelter and with shakey hands, found my 35 cents to call my mom.
Chelsea (me): (wailing) “Mom, you have to come and get meeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.”
Mom: What are you saying honey?
C: Youuuuuu hhhaaaaavveeeeeeee to come and get meeeeeeeeee. Spiidddeeerrrrrrssssssss.
M: Take a deep breath, I can’t understand you.
Well, it took some time and another 50 cents but I eventually was able to explain to her the horror that was my youth group “retreat” and the urgent need for her to drive from Chicago to Tennessee to pick me up. Imagine my surprise when she lovingly said that wasn’t possible.
Plan B. Find a hotel.
Well, my youth group leader didn’t agree with that idea OR with my idea to let me sleep in the van the whole time. Yada yada yada, not safe to be alone in the van a few miles from the campgrounds. Either way, it was clear and evident that this would be my week to die. Confrontation Point had to do with confronting your fears? Oh boy ….
To be honest, it’s hard for me to explain how truly terrified I was that first night sleeping on the ground knowing that the tiny tinks I was hearing on the tarp above was likely light, fluttery, can’t-really-feel-them spiders falling down on me. Someone from my group gave me a little stuffed animal, a Junior Asparagus Veggie Tales toy, that when you squeezed him would sing “God is bigger than the boogey man, He’s bigger than Godzilla or the monsters on TV, Oh God is bigger than the boogey man and He’s watching out for you and me. So are you frightened (no not really), are you worried (not a bit!). I know whatever’s gonna happen, that God can handle it …” Squeeze. Repeat. Squeeze. Repeat. I am certain that the entire group heard that song over and over and over again all night long, along with my muffled sobs.
But then the next day came and we were off to our next adventure. White water rafting, repelling, hiking, there was enough distractions until dusk set in. Then the fear kicked in and the long, long nights.
I just went and pulled out my old journals that I had on that trip and found several entries scribbled in there – this one kind of made me giggle.
(Dated August 6, 2001 – age 16)
(At least I apologized for disliking His creation, HA!)
Every time morning would come, I would repeat this verse in my head.
(Apparently I brought markers with to this camp.)
Now hear me out – how many times in life have we been faced with something we just don’t want to go through? A situation where you need to confront someone else? A trial with a boss or friend? Facing your fears with something or carrying the heaviness of something like infertility, a broken marriage, looming debt, the death of someone we loved, a terrifying diagnosis or an addiction? The weight of the night rests on us and we just want out.
God, please, take this away from me. Can you come pick me up? I don’t want to face this. No? Then can I have an easy way out? Sleep in the van? Find a hotel? Do anything but face my fears?
The night seems to never end.
But at some point my friends, it ends. The sun rises. And perhaps it only rises briefly. Maybe there is another night you have to spend in the tent, facing your fears, fighting your obstacles, crying as you pray. But then there is a break – and the joy comes in the morning.
You know what? That week in Tennessee was really hard for me. I can’t tell you how many times the words “SPIDERS” appeared in my journal, how many times I squeezed Junior Asparagus and how many times I slapped my body, certain there was a spider crawling on me. But somehow, somehow, I made it through that trip. And you know what I wrote in my journal at the end?
“THIS IS AWESOME….it’s cool that .. I’m toughing it out.”
Pride. A sense of gratitude for His presence that went with me into what felt like the scariest and darkest of nights. A strength that I could get through my biggest fears and a spiritual growth that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t been forced to stay.
Sometimes we have to stay through the nights. I beg, routinely, to be “picked up” from the infertility camp. And for some reason, I’m still here. But you know what, I am learning so much. About God, about myself, about my marriage and about compassion. I know one day, I will look back on all of it and say “THIS IS AWESOME.”, I really do believe that.
Oceans by Hillsong doesn’t say “Spirit lead me where I am comfortable. Let me walk upon the waters wherever its convenient…” How can we expect to gain trust without borders if we are constantly asking to stay in our little cabin, away from anything that would challenge us?
The joy comes with the morning … and so we patiently (and not-so-patiently) wait for morning to come. Because we are not alone, and because if we are willing, we have so much to learn during the nights.