I cast out a heavy lure into the morning ripples of the lake. Fishing with my dad and brothers has become an annual event, and this time we’re chasing down Muskies in Northern Indiana. I was all decked out in bright yellow rain gear, like the Gorton’s Fisherman bringing in a deadly catch of frozen fishsticks. Lake Webster was cold, rainy and unproductive yesterday, so we were out on Lake Tippecanoe to try our luck again. As I was trying to catch a fish, I managed to catch a glimpse of something else.
It looked just like a summer camp I attended when I was 14 years old – Tippecanoe Church Camp. Then I instantly remembered the sandy beach, the long sloping hill and sprinkling of tall trees. There was the white mess hall with black window shutters half way up the hill, and the wooden picnic shelter further up.
The flash flood of memories began. I had never seen the camp from this angle, from the water looking in – but it was unmistakably Camp Tippy. I was also looking at it from an even broader perspective, that of a man who has lived half a lifetime since attending there with his teenage friends.
I believe everything happens for a reason, and here was a good warm cup of irony. While I’m trying to lure fish into my boat, God lured me back to the place where I first truly felt his presence. Some of you reading this right now were there with me. Some of you were in camps of your own, learning about life and good friends and God during your formative years.
Some of you will click away from this blog now, thinking “uh oh, Goad’s gone off the religious deep end.” It’s true that I avoid talking about religion and politics (especially at work) because I don’t like being painted with a broad brush or arguing unwinnable arguments. If you’re not interested in reading any further, skip on to something else and have a happy day. But if you’re wondering where I first found God, stay with me for a moment.
My most vivid memory was on the final Saturday after a whole week at camp. It was heavily humid as Indiana summer nights can be. Over a hundred campers gathered around a gigantic bonfire. The singing began with beautiful tones rising up through the swirling smoke (harmonies you wouldn’t expect from a bunch of kids)… songs like Amazing Grace, Go Tell it on the Mountain, and For Those Tears I Died.
Think back to one of the most powerful spiritual experiences in your life. Whatever your religion, did you ever have a moment when you REALLY felt like you were connected to something greater than yourself? And you couldn’t explain it, and science didn’t support it… yet it was as real to you as your hands clenched in front of your face?
Back to the campfire… we were each given a small white candle in a plastic cup and asked to walk, one at a time, down the long grass hill to the beach. I was one of the last ones to go, and got chills when I saw the surprise at the end of my walk. A gigantic cross formed by candles placed carefully in a pre-drawn pattern. I planted my candle in its sandy spot, and then took my place in the circle of campers who were holding hands and singing “It Only Takes a Spark.”
The lyrics of the song suddenly made real sense to me.
“It only takes a spark, to get a fire going,
and soon all those around, can warm up to its glowing.
That’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it,
you want to spread his love around,
you want to pass it on.”
That’s it! God works through the people around me! It just takes one person to get it started, and then something spiritual, magical, happens when humans gather to support and love each other. The whole is far greater than the sum of the parts!
The connectedness I felt to God at that moment was indelibly etched into my spirit. I turned to my closest friend Jeff Bagby and said, “Jeff, we’ve got to tell everyone about this. I want to pass it on.”
If any of you have wondered why I am usually so positive, helpful and optimistic, and give the benefit of the doubt to anyone who crosses my path, this story might have something to do with that. I believe we are put here for each other… and I’ve been passing that on since I was 14.
End of flashback. I’m still standing on a windy fishing boat in the middle of Lake Tippecanoe, and I smile and squint as the sun starts to peak through the clouds. My fishing line takes off. I think I’ve got one.
Do you have an awakening story to share?
My favorite story yet David, and not just because I like fishing stories! It’s spiritual experiences like yours that reminded me to believe in God after I lost faith in my early 20’s.
I agree with the previous poster, David. You describe one of the most, if not THE most, important transitions that a human can make.
I am not sure when exactly I found my connection, but it is that connection with the greater “That which is beyond all That” which makes my life valuable.
Many people seem to have reasons to disregard humanity as anything pointed, purposeful and meaningful, and would write life off to a random collection of electrons and atoms accidentally wandering together in a Darwinian flow of chance.
The contrast in regards to my own thinking is that life has taught me that there is continuity with the Universe. If we do take this to the spiritual extreme, why should the physics change? I believe that they are one and the same. It’s just that until we achieve a personal awareness level that is compatible with higher truth, it lies invisible to us. Until then, for a lot of people, Newton will have to do, and the apple on the skull will be the standard of awareness discovery.
Life cannot be random. There are no coincidences. There is no such thing as luck. The Universal God knows that! It is simply up to us to gradually discover the truth all around us as we spiritually awaken.
When one with open eyes, heart, and mind sees and feels truth, it is inescapable, and committing.
Keep on passing it on, David. The truth is the truth no matter how one looks at it, or describes it, or from whatever direction is appears!
Thanks Roland! Heartfelt and eloquent 🙂
David – I agree. Your best post yet. It is great to share, dialogue, and write eloquently. It is far greater to give the gift of hope that transcends all the “greatest” things that this world has defined as valued. A true relationship with God indeed is a personal relationship…through which the purpose and true meaning of one’s life…of why you were given the gifts you were given for example…and what they in turn are to be used for…can be known. When you are in this “truth”… this true relationship…His joy shines through in all circumstances. There is not a need for the “next” to be happy or content, but rather there is a childlike excitement for what you already have. How exciting it is to know that this is available to all. Shame on organized religion for ever telling us that it isn’t. Nothing we have ever done makes God love us less…and nothing we can do will make him love us more. It is this unconditional, absolute truth…that does not compute with so many. But…it is the love that shines through when it makes no sense…that reaches all. Thanks for sharing truth…its not about winnable or unwinnable arguments…its about a love that indeed connects humanity in the undeniable way it was designed to be connected…through the plan of the creator. May this be received by all as a message of hope and may the unconditional love that it was intended to show…be received.
Thanks for adding to the message Rick!
Funny… before I hit the button to approve your comment to publish, the software asked me “Are you sure you want to do this?” Maybe it was not the software talking 🙂
Thank you, David. It really blesses me to think back to those wonderful days at camp together. As I read your description of the camp I was picturing everything with such vividness, and as I read the lyrics to the song, it began to play in my head. And you’re right, we connected to something much bigger than ourselves on those chilly nights around the fire: We connected to friendship with God and friendship with each other in a new and powerful way. A friendship that still endure to this day over thirty years later. Both of them. Thanks again, my friend, for having the spirit to post these thoughts.
Thanks my friend! There are so many other aspects of that camp experience I left out for brevity’s sake, but needless to say it changed my life. If you are still in touch with anyone else from those years, please pass this on 🙂
I just got chills reading your story. So many can relate to very similar experiences. The sad part is we forget “that spark” and how it felt – in our daily grind. Thank you for coming home and reminding me of that amazing feeling of first experIencing Gods love.
Colette, is there such a thing as a “warm chill”? Be the spark and cozy up to the fire, my friend 🙂
Thank you for standing up for what you believe. Paraphased, “If you will acknowlege me, I will acknowlege you”. Sound familiar? My experience wasn’t that memorable, but it has sustained me all these years. AG
nice post i like reading your story
Wow. This made me smile and took me back in time. I’ve not gone back to Tippy since I graduated from high school, partly because I want it to forever be burned in my memory as it was then. Vespers. Dining hall. Chapel. Volleyball. Trees struck by lightning. Spiders and Daddy Long-Legs in the showers. Now, that’s a place filled with “remember when’s.” GOOD TIMES. Thanks!
I was completely transported and found myself smiling with each memory revisited.
Thank you David.