On our calendar was a week-long family camp on the shores of Lake Tahoe. A pristine spot, full of memories and beauty. It would be a challenge to pull this all together but I had also learned that avoiding these special events wasn’t the answer either. So we packed up and headed up the mountain. At this point I had been on my medication for Lyme about a week.
We have a group of families from a variety of christian churches and denominations that have been coming together to spend the week for over 25 years. The goal of this camp that began in 1993 is to have a “vacation with a purpose”. The shared passion is to “let Christ reign in our homes, and to let Christ be made known in our neighborhoods and in our workplace.” It has been a time to come together to play, to pray, to learn and to relax. It is also a highlight of the year for my kids. Some of the people they were so excited to greet were ones they only see here once a year. This common experience over the years has forged a bond that carries them year to year. I was not going to take this from them.
Once we all arrived and moved our luggage into our lake view room, I found myself again, emotionally and physically exhausted, collapsing on my floor in tears. My son sat next to me. He was there as a rock that I could literally lean on. Sometimes he prayed. Sometimes he declared truth over me. Often he would silently rub my neck or quietly massage my back, attempting to bring comfort and calmness. Today I knew he wanted to go out and find his friends. He insisted he was just fine here with me, “this is where God has me now”. What a heart this kid had for being barely 16. His maturity grabbed me. God had a hold of him. It was a reversal of roles for sure, humbling, transformative, precious. Because my husband was the worship leader and had to set up immediately, there we sat on this beautiful day, tissue in hand. I trumped his kindness and insisted he go find his friends. I’d be okay.
Of course I wasn’t really okay. Camp began and for the most part I could not engage. I didn’t sleep much at night. If at all. I never made it to breakfast or the early sessions where we would sing and hear from a speaker. I tried to make it for the small group meetings, usually by 10:30AM. Most of the time I was doing my best to hold it together. In the evening a devoted group would come to my room and pray with me, for me, over me. Each morning several of the men gathered early and began their day with prayer for one another. It was a highlight for my husband. Good coffee was always included.
Near the middle of the week I found myself, again, awake throughout the night. I was so tired of being such a mess and feeling like a burden. As John was leaving to attend this early prayer time, I looked up at him and said words that must have been horrifying. “I wrote my suicide note last night.” In my head I had written out what I would say. How I was so sure that everyone would be better off. How I just could not go on any longer like this. Then I looked over at our sleeping 11 year old daughter, and added, “I know I can’t do it, but I just don’t want to go on like this.” Ending things was more of a fantasy. I longed for it. I wanted to go to sleep and never wake up. I wanted to just let everyone else go about their lives and not worry about me any longer. There is a lie that begins to grow in the life of a person weakened by their circumstances. This is classic. Two thoughts that seem to circulate…I can’t go on and secondly, that others would be better off without me. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to reach out, listen, walk alongside and to shine light in these dark places. Thankfully I had people doing this for me. This was not an every day feeling, but it came about enough to give me understanding today of how messed up our thoughts can get.
Torn between the desire to hold me and never let go and the awareness he couldn’t carry this burden alone, John hugged me and asked, “Can you hold on for an hour?” I assured him I’d be okay, it was still the early dawn and I wasn’t going anywhere. He prayed over me and then went to meet with these prayer warriors. As they gathered and began sharing, one of the men, Ian MacIntosh asked, “How’s Carolynn doing today?” John related the events he had just experienced. Ian recalls, there were not as many that particular morning but it was a very powerful time in prayer. One he will never forget, in his own words, “We felt the power of the Holy Spirit. We met up front in the church on the left-hand side. You had been on all of our hearts and so each man began to pray for you. I did something in prayer that I don’t normally do. I clapped, like something was breaking. When we were all done that morning we all knew it was a special time together and the Lord had heard our prayer.” There was no judgement, just compassion and grief. I know something happened in that meeting. Something we would see played out in the next several hours.
After lunch, two friends ask us to join them on a hike. Tahoe is one of the most beautiful spots in the world. Its clear blue lakes and sweeping views are incredible. This day our destination was Eagle Lake. As we headed into the desolation wilderness, I had to stop every little while to rest because I was so fatigued. It’s not quite two miles, mostly uphill. We hit the top of the trail and took in the sight of the glassy alpine lake that reflected the mountainscape above. A sight that would take your breath away. I remember walking down to the water’s edge to dip my toe in the snow-melted water. Normally this would be a sweet time to reflect, relax, take in the beauty. But I always had to keep moving. Keep myself distracted from the panic in my body and mind.
There at the top we ran into a group of students from China. We had a brief conversation and traded the favor of capturing the moment through pictures. As we all started down the trail I found myself walking next to a young man named Chow. Although God was often silent during this whole season, when I did sense his voice I listened. Today I felt like he asked me to share the hope of the gospel with this fellow traveller. Me?
As Chow and I made our way down the twisting trail, our conversation began with a simple question; “So tell me about life in China.” We had a very engaging conversation. He explained how the young people in China wanted to change the system. They didn’t want communism but were hoping to avoid civil war and political unrest by changing things from the inside. I listened as we hopped down boulders and stopped occasionally to gaze at another amazing view. I was struck that I wasn’t needing to rest. Turning to him I asked, “What is the spiritual life like there?” He began by telling me his faith was in science. This was good, because I told him, my faith in God didn’t conflict with science either. I asked him questions about his own spiritual journey. Talked about the work of Jesus, his redeeming us. The conversation came easy and natural, I was truly interested in where he was coming from, what he had heard about Jesus. I find that the concepts that people have about God flavor everything else. He had intriguing questions and seemed to have a fairly good knowledge of the christian faith. About halfway down he commented, “you sound like my wife, she says the same things.” He told me that she had heard this message of Christ while in South Korea. He wasn’t so sure about it all, but appeared open and interested. It made me laugh as I joked with him, “your wife is probably back home praying that you would meet someone like me”. Someone who would confirm the things she was telling him. By the time we got to the parking lot, I had made a new friend. I was still oddly energetic. Usually I could barely carry on a conversation but for the hour long trek we had carried on an animated dialog. I don’t know if I personally made a difference to Chow. I think God was clearly already at work. For my part, I felt like this is what the Lord had asked me to do and as unequipped as I was I had just obeyed. We said our goodbyes and loaded up in the car.
At that moment, I began to realize that something had been lifting. Like a train merging out of a dark tunnel. At first there is just a light in the distance. You see it, yet the darkness still surrounds you. But as you travel further, the light overcomes the darkness. I was not out of this cavernous gloom but for the first time I had hope I might be emerging. I can’t fully explain it. A heaviness lifting. In my own brain there was a fog dissipating and a clarity that had long been gone was starting to return. I just looked at John and said, “something is happening”.
I can’t remember what I said on the car ride back to camp. I was mostly focused on Chow and our conversation. That in itself was different. Usually my thoughts swirled around me. Something I hated. I had been held captive by the never ending self analyzing that takes place when one has this kind of anxiety. It is a prison I had longed to escape but the key was out of reach. The transformation was jaw dropping. Now I was excited and energized by our afternoon’s events. And we had a new candidate for the evening’s testimony. Me.
For three days I had barely spoken. I had cried pools of tears. Had felt the panic daily, the fear. But at this moment I found myself standing in front of 150 people sharing what had happened. “If God can use me”, I encouraged them, “he can use you too”. “Pray for Chow, for what God is doing in his life.” My focus had surely changed. Everything had changed. June 24, 2015 would be my day of healing. Forever marked on a calendar etched in my memory.