My dear friends, my heart physically rooted in anxiety and fear the night of October 1, 2017. As I tried to lure myself to sleep after being so very close to the mass shooting in Las Vegas that night, those roots clenched my soul with unfriendly claws. I signed a promise with myself — that I would bravely follow where I felt the Spirit leading me, to soak in all of the possible joy and beauty each day I'm given to wake up. I learned that life is far too short to prolong following the call.
Fear made that promise hard to keep, though. In the months following that night, I have experienced frequent, full-on panic attacks. The memories, the sounds, the fear tends to creep back in as the sun goes down. During those moments, I cannot breathe or feel anything but fear and darkness. I found myself combatting each anxiety battle with vocalized reminders of Camp Fontanelle. The presence of God. Sculptural campfires. Silly songs and cabin chats. Who I was when I worked as a camp counselor. The essence, the goodness of summer camp, all presented a Light Force against anxiety.
There was nothing wrong with my church job, or my life in Grand Island. It was good, normal and safe — but I grew to struggle with feeling mentally aligned with my days. I largely attribute that to my experience in Las Vegas, because I strongly believe that traumatic events can trigger a loss of self.
In complete transparency, I felt my sense of identity slipping away, despite the fact that I consistently preached bravery and wildness. I wanted others to realize their own courage, yet I felt like an impostor and a liar — a Kate I couldn’t recognize in the bathroom mirror.
But my dear friends, I experienced a major heart shift, a beacon of peace and hope on March 25 of this year. I drove down the familiar gravel road to Camp Fontanelle for the first time since my travels to the Southwest. It was raining just a little bit as I made a left turn down the lane. “Washed by the Water” shuffled onto my Spotify playlist.
I parked my car and breathed. Immediately, I could physically feel my spirit rekindling and healing itself. The permanently-rooted anxiety and fear was pulled up by joy and faithfulness. The obvious presence of God, the years of camp memories that make my heart grow towards the sun came flooding back into my soul. I could breathe again, fully and sweetly. The spark of the identity I craved returned. Besides the sanctuary of my family’s home, Camp Fontanelle is the place where I can find the essence of myself. It’s safe.
I realized once I set foot on the camp soil that the Spirit was calling me to use my hands and heart in the forest again. I did not inquire about a position that day, but my feeling was confirmed when Joel, the program director, offered me a job. No application, no interview. Just a simple, “Kate, we have a spot for you here this summer if you want it.”
The decision all happened so very quickly, though it wasn’t a spur of the moment life change. I promised myself that night in Vegas that when a Spirit-led opportunity presented itself, I would seize it. I would take it as my biggest Bravery Mission yet and see how God could use my heart. I think October 1, 2017 sealed the deal that camping ministry is within my calling.
So, back to the forest I will go for my fifth summer — to serve and plant seeds for God’s wild Kingdom at Camp Fontanelle. To remind young people just how seen, worthy, deeply beloved and brave they are, whether they realize it yet or not. My purpose feels strong within a summer camp setting, and I am strong there.
Following God’s call isn’t always easy. There are good things that must be left behind in order to move forward. I’ve grown to deeply care for the people at Trinity United Methodist Church, where I served as the Publications Director for the past sixteen months. I will dearly miss working alongside the genuinely incredible humans I have met there. My good memories and experiences of serving at Trinity have been expansive — from working with the middle school youth group, to creating content for worship services, to my beautiful coworkers and building connections with those who came into the office — a web of goodness will reside fondly in my memories of Trinity. I am a better human from working there, and I am grateful for that.
With a sense of bittersweetness, I have resigned from my job at Trinity and will be moving out of my little, dear apartment at the end of April. Most of my belongings will live in a storage unit for the summer, aside from my camp counselor necessities.
I’ll move back to Fontanelle a few weeks before training starts — time that I will use to completely reset my heart before my camp counselor duties begin. Hikes, fire building, yoga in the forest, writing words for my book, painting murals in the lodge basement, deep breathing in the clean air. Regaining my sense of identity, rooted in bravery.
I am walking into my fifth summer as a camp counselor with a different mindset than my previous four summers. I was young, excited and ready to serve. I still certainly carry those pieces of the past — but now with an unusually heavy desire to soak in every moment of beauty and wonder in this little life I own.
This will be a summer of personal discernment, as I don’t have a plan set up for after August. I remind myself that it’s okay to not have plans because opportunities for beautiful adventures rest in the unknown. I would be a hypocrite to preach on Bravery Missions if I didn’t take gambles on trust and discernment. The future seems hazy, but oh — my life’s trail is certain to be one of growth towards the sun.
Abraham was called to go forth with Fearless Faith and to make a great nation, thousands of years ago. He did it. I’m going back into the forest, Chacos and water bottle in tow. I’m going to grow towards the sun, and so are you.