With summer comes thousands of children finishing up another year of grade school and enjoying the warmth, sunshine and days filled with freedom that is only found in June, July and August. For many kids these months mean one thing: summer camp. Some kids fly across the country, away from home, to attend "special" camps just for girls or just for drummers or just for kids who love MacBook Air (I'm not sure about that last one but it wouldn't surprise me). Other kids might only venture a few miles away for day camp or a little farther for overnight camp where days are spent swimming and hiking and nights are spent by a campfire, under the starry sky.
Growing up all my friends loved summer camp. There was one camp in particular that almost every one of my friends attended every summer without fail - Camp Notre Dame. It was only about eight miles from my house and I passed it every Sunday on my way to church. My friends loved Notre Dame. When they were kids they attended for a week or two at a time. When they outgrew being a camper they moved onto being counselors. They had inside jokes, special songs and silly dances all the product of their time spent at camp.
Every summer when camp registration would roll around my friends would ask if I was going to sign up for the same week as they were. Every summer I declined the invitation. Summer camp never sparked my interest. I never wanted to go sleep in a cabin for a week, away from home without my family, Mom's cooking and comfy bed. All my friends raved about the great memories they were making and how I was "missing out" but I never gave in. I never went to summer camp.
Except for that one time... I was a Girl Scout (a short lived venture that I never was all that into). As is the way with Girl Scout troops, they plan special activities to enhance "bonding" and make girls more well rounded and capable. That is the point of the program as I understand it, anyways. Boys have Cub Scouts and then they grow up into Boy Scouts, finally reaching the pinnacle of Eagle Scout when they can make a fire out of a piece of bark and their brain power. Girls have Brownies and Girl Scouts. It is all about the equality of the sexes.
But back to my days in the troop. Our group had a special summer camp weekend where all of the girls in the group would attend together and have oodles of fun! Or so that was the idea.
As you can imagine, I wasn't a fan of the idea. I was a homebody. Never mind that the camp only lasted two nights and three days - I didn't want anything to do with it. But, I relented and packed my bags for the special weekend.
Lets just say that what ensued was not the fun-filled weekend the brochure boasted. I was miserable. I felt flu-ish and even got sick a time or two. I asked if I could call my Mom and tell her I didn't feel well (AKA: "GET ME OUT OF HERE!") but they wouldn't let me use the phone. When I told the nurse I didn't feel well she actually told me she wouldn't believe me unless I could produce vomit for her to see with her own two eyes. She was a charmer, can't you tell?
Needless to say, that experience solidified the feelings I already held about summer camp. I never again relented on my position and never again made the mistake of giving into the hype.
Bottom line: I was the kind of kid that got homesick. Not all kids suffer from this. Some kids could go live on a ranch, away from Mom and Dad, all summer long and it wouldn't phase them. I would have been escaping after hour three of such an endeavor. My heart has always been at home. A week of non-stop friends couldn't pull me away. The promise of exciting activities, swimming and nature exploring never looked as good as the white house on 41st Street.
As I've gotten older I've faced the fact that growing up means moving away. With age comes the expectation that you will fly the nest. It has to do something with the roots and wings theory. Your home and parents give you roots throughout your childhood and then comes the time to spread your wings and fly.
When I went away to college I put this into practice and it worked beautifully. I had a few nights at the start where I longed for the comforts of home and the company of Mom, but overall I adjusted quickly.
Then this whole health mystery hit and I came back to where my heart still resided. Home has been a safe haven since I was a little girl and that hasn't changed a bit. There really is no place like home. Home is where the heart is. Home is where you are understood, loved and accepted for who you are right in that moment.
Now I'm living in Florida, once again away from home. I thought I'd be homesick again. I thought I'd be spending my evenings longing for home, crying over loneliness and the distance that separates Erie from Sarasota. But the strangest thing has happened: I'm not homesick. Somewhere on my journey of growing up I have become comfortable with miles between me and my childhood home. I don't know when it happened, but the tides of change have moved in me.
Instead of homesickness I am plagued by another time of yearning. I have purpose-sickness. It doesn't have the same ring to it as "homesick" but you get the idea.
Each day starts with the same question: what should I do with myself? For the past six months my life has revolved, non-stop, around my health. I have had little else to entertain my focus and fill my hours. Where I go, what I do and when I do it is all controlled by how I feel and what ailments my body is experiencing that given day. There have been days when I have ventured out for an adventure only to be struck by sickness that drives me back home, to the couch or, more often, the bathroom. My life has been ordered by the body that I'm stuck in. A body that I can't predict, control or understand.
There have been days when my frustration has reached its boiling point. I break down, cry, and then slip into silence. Words can't explain my despair on those days, so why even try to vocalize my feelings?
My life has come to a halt because of my body. My mind wants to be active, accomplishing tasks and taking on responsibility. But my body is standing in its way, like my own personal Berlin Wall. I want my body and my mind to be united. I want them to work in unison and have a purpose. I want, I want, I want! But wanting doesn't change a thing.
When I grow weary of this struggle I can't help but long for a purpose that goes beyond putting on twenty pounds. I am tired of a life revolving around me, yet my unpredictable health makes giving of myself difficult. Yet, I know that a self-centered existence is just plain wrong.
So, how can you make life about others when you are so caught up in taking care of your own suffering?
You write a letter.
You send a thank you card.
You make a phone call.
You give someone a compliment, a smile or an encouraging word.
I may not be able to serve in the same ways I did when my health was vibrant and thriving. I can't stand on my feet for hours in the soup kitchen or go to work for an eight hour shift, but I can still do something of meaning. I can brighten someone's day. I can be a little light to someone who may feel stuck under a cloud.
Purpose is a funny thing. Our society has made us believe it has to produce something we can see, usually money. We equate having purpose with being successful and useful. Students want a diploma, a sash and a long list of accomplishments in their graduation's program. Everyone is looking for recognition, something to show that what they are doing has meaning. Humans are always looking for other humans to validate their actions. On our human scale, we look for results to indicate that those actions are taking place.
But maybe our scope is too limited and misdirected. Maybe purpose goes beyond what the world can see and hold. Maybe purpose is something much bigger and much, much greater.
Purpose is about being Christ-like right where you are. When we view purpose as living a spirit filled life we will find that we can fulfill that purpose anywhere, no matter what our health or wealth may be. If we change the definition of purpose that is too often shrouded by plaques and fancy titles, we see that it doesn't have to do with what we "produce" but Who we reflect.
When I look back on my summers growing up I wouldn't trade them for anything - not even Camp Notre Dame. I spent my days running through the sprinkler, climbing the big (in my little girl opinion) tree in my front yard, and taking trips to the beach with my Mom. Summer was perfection. No wonder I experienced homesickness!
I do know something that I may regret in the future: missing my purpose in the here and now. I don't want to miss God's ultimate purpose for me because my vision is clouded by mystery symptoms and ill health. Starting today I am going to live a life of divine purpose. I won't be going into an office to work a job or sitting in a classroom learning a new subject. I will be reflecting the Holy Spirit that lives inside of me. I will be showing the world the love of Christ. That is my purpose and I can't wait to live it out today and every day.