I grew up going to camp every single summer, from third grade through twelfth. Situated right on Lake Gaston in rural, small town North Carolina, Camp Willow Run wasn’t exactly abounding with frills and fancy. It was relatively small and humble but had- and still has- a fiercely devoted following.
Every year, I would roll up into camp, well aware of what was to come. I knew that, a short hour after arriving on camp property, I’d have to jump into the murky lake for a swim test. I knew the high ropes course forward and backward. I knew that, toward the end of the week, we’d be served cookie mush for dessert, an unfortunately-titled fan favorite. And I knew that, on the last night of camp, there would absolutely be tears.
Because, at Christian summer camp, things tend to culminate with THE INVITATION. For those of you not fluent in church talk, an “invitation” refers to a time in which people are invited to make a decision to follow Jesus. I tend to roll my eyes at Christianese, but it is what it is and basically goes down like this:
- Here’s the gospel and
- So whatcha going to do about it now?
I knew the gospel. And I knew my response. I had decided that Jesus was worth following when I was very young. And yet, that last night always found me making other giant- sometimes emotionally charged- promises to God.
“Lord, this is it. I’m going to start reading my Bible more. Every single day. Genesis to Revelation. PINKY PROMISE.”
“Alright God, I’m going to kiss dating goodbye. And I guess kissing too. Wait. Do you really want me to kiss KISSING goodbye? Uh Lord, hello??”
You get the drift. Big declarations and big proclamations after a big week at camp. It’s how it goes. And it’s awesome. But there was this one year when this guy named J.D. Greear was the camp speaker. After a week of preaching hard, he gave an invitation for those who had decided to follow Jesus. A bunch of people walked forward. We all clapped and cheered and did all the things one does when someone makes the biggest decision they’ll ever make.
But then J.D. kept going. “And now, I’m going to offer a second invitation,” he said. “I don’t do this often, but I know that God places the missionary call on the lives of some. So, if you feel called to missions- if you feel like God might be asking you to leave your home and family and country to move overseas- come on up front.”
Even more than kissing dating goodbye, I knew this was right. I knew this was for me. Yet while a handful of people rose to their feet, I stayed put. Paralyzed in fear. And I immediately regretted it.
Fear has a way of doing this to you. Fear of breaking from the pack. Of being seen as different. As weird. As “holier than thou.”
Fear of man. Fear of unknowns. Fear of taking that first step of obedience. This has been my story, over and over and over again.
And it only intensified from there. Because time would pass, and trips around the world would continue to affirm what I had already known as a teenager. But it’s one thing to talk about a romanticized version of being a missionary when you’re a starry-eyed twenty year college student. However, place a living, breathing, newborn babe in that same person’s arms a few years later, and junk gets real. Fast. The game changes dramatically.
That fear of being viewed as different, weird, or unpopular that crippled me as a teenager was morphing into something a bit different. And still, the symptoms were the same. Namely, I found myself once again overlooking truth to dwell, instead, on hypotheticals. On the what ifs.
What if my kids get sick?
What if they turn out awkward and poorly adjusted?
What if their education overseas is subpar?
What if our marriage suffers?
What if we have no friends?
What if we give up everything all to discover that it was all one big mistake after all?
You see, these questions- these hypotheticals- they have a way of drawing you in and leaving you floundering in the murky waters of unbelief and doubt.
Good thing God is greater than the hypotheticals my finicky brain can come up with. Good thing he never leaves us floundering too long.
In the fall of 2016, I was asked to join a medical missions team that was heading to West Africa. My first response was a hard and fast “no.” I was about to start a brand new job. The country where they were headed was in a state of unrest. And it just didn’t make sense to go. Not here, not now.
Fear. Yet that hard “no” somehow shifted into an “okay, fine.” And off I went.
And that trip, man. It’s almost like God actually knows what he’s doing or something.
Yes, that trip to West Africa was phenomenal, but in full disclosure, I actually DID very little that week. I mean, I saw some patients. I had a few good conversations with some nationals. I prayed. A lot. But I am fully confident that God flew me halfway across the world that week to teach me a thing or two about fear.
I’m convinced that he flew me to Africa so that I could meet my now-dear-friend, Sheri.
My friend who was raising a family in a country of unrest and instability and who could say with an unwavering confidence, “Jesus is worth it.”
My friend who would patiently listen to my fears and misgivings and would set my eyes on truth.
My friend who, just hours before we’d hop on a plane to head back home, said, “Catherine, safety is a complete illusion. Don’t live your life trusting in an illusion.”
The following day, we landed in Miami, Florida to a terminal teeming with police and bomb sniffing dogs. Because, just prior to our landing, a gunman had let loose in a neighboring airport.
Several days later, sirens followed an armed robbery that occurred just seconds from our home. Our home in safe, secure, suburban North Carolina.
That was it. I was over it. Done trusting in the illusion. I was tired of being the captain of my ship and the author of my own self-absorbed narrative. I was calling it quits on coordinating the perfect life for my perfect kids who would obviously, as a result, turn out perfectly.
A safe, comfortable life was no match to an infinite, holy God. And that very God was going to some pretty great lengths to get my attention. At long last, he had it.