I love camp. It’s a big part of my testimony, so naturally it has a place in my heart. I go back year after year because I always go home with something I didn’t have before. This year was the epitome of that. I don’t feel a lot too often, no extremes, so I had to rely on what I KNEW (not what I felt) to experience what I did. And you know what? I think I took away more I could build on at home than I ever have from other events. I didn’t see it as a way to feel better; I looked at camp as a place to find answers. It may have been a low from a feelings standpoint, but it was a mountain top for lessons learned. I’ve told these stories many times already, because they need to be heard. Now let me share them with you.
It was the third night. We were in chapel, and Pastor Brandon Berg had just completed his message about the Holy Spirit. An altar call was happening for those who had never been filled with the Holy Spirit, and I was part of it. I hear Jesus speaking to me in many ways quite frequently, and I know He works in and through me, but I’ve never felt what I thought having His Spirit in me should feel like– no tongues, no crazy bursts of extreme joy, no healing gift, nothing like that– so I believed I was without Him. It killed me. The previous night I literally ran to Rachel and sobbed in her about it, not for the first time. This altar call was a huge deal to me. I stood there in the crowd as the band played, my hands cupped in front of me, the only word I could muster being, “Please…”. It’s hard for me to cry, but I almost did. I felt like I’d never have Him in me, that what I was doing was a waste of time.
My biggest fear is demons. Jesus has helped me face and conquer so many of my fears, but not this one. Can you imagine what I was thinking as youth pastors began to hold down and pray for the boy in front of me? That’s the craziest part: I had no trace of fear in my body. I reached out my arm toward him and began praying for him! I am shaking as I write this because I am still blown away by His overwhelming power! Not only did He calm my spirit so I could pray for the boy, but He saved that boy! He’s free now, full of the HOLY Spirit and carrying a life-changing story! I don’t know how long it took, but God won! The war is real, and this was a victory! And not only did He save the boy, but He protected everyone else. When I was praying for him, a Scripture popped into my head: it was a parable Jesus shared, where He said you can sweep a house clean but unless you fill it with good things the mess will just come back stronger. He got me to pray that the demon would have no one else to enter as I prayed for the boy in front of me, and He answered “yes” to both prayers. I believe He filled everyone in that room.
But I didn’t know that then. After they carried the red and sweaty but safe boy to a bed in the nurse’s room, a pastor told us to head to the fire pit. We were going to burn our sheets of paper from the first night, when we’d talked about our new lives having no secrets; we were supposed to write them down, but I couldn’t even write in words what I’d done because I feared someone would see. I started to file out with everyone else, but I knew I couldn’t. I knew I was supposed to stay in the chapel. I waited until everyone left, then went to sit on the floor where the boy had been saved. Cross-legged with my hands still cupped in front of me, I started praying and thinking… and hoping. I was alone for a time, but eventually a leader from my youth group, Tiffany, found me. She was the one I confided in that first night, “I CAN’T give away my secrets! No one can know, or they won’t see me the same!”, and she told me if I ever wanted to let them go to find her, no matter what she was doing. She now asked me how I was doing. I told her that I was still empty. She sat down next to me and was silent for a few seconds.
“Maybe,” she said, “He just filled you differently. Maybe He did a long time ago.” I know that now. I may not have felt anything extreme, but somewhere along the way I asked the Holy Spirit into me, and He came. I want you to know this: He can fill you and you might not even know! If you’re like me and you don’t feel too much anymore, but you’ve begged and begged Him to enter you, and no matter how hard you try you can’t feel Him there, let peace overtake you. He’s there. We’re a unique bunch, but we exist, and He gives as just as much as he gives everyone else. Jesus has told us that our hearts are deceptive, and we’ve believed Him, so He’s teaching us to rely on HIM and not what we feel. If you’ve asked Him to fill you with His Spirit, believe He has! Look for the fruit of Him in your life, and you’ll see Him.
After that, I asked Tiffany if I could tell her my secrets. She answered, “If you’re ready.” I knew I was, and I told her. We both ended up crying, and she spoke into my situation and prayed for me. I expected to be so shame-filled once she knew, but I wasn’t. I realized that I was free from or dealing with all I’d told her, that those things didn’t define me anymore. We went down to the fire pit, where almost everyone was about to leave. I stood in front of the fire with my paper, wondering how to throw it in so no one would see me (silly Tessa, I know!), but when someone next to me tossed theirs, I felt better about being late. I tossed mine, and– it landed in the ashes, away from the fire. I was FURIOUS! I thought, “Are you kidding?! My secrets aren’t going to burn away?!” I stared at it in my anger. Then something amazing happened: it began smoking. It caught fire anyway. It burned slowly and painfully. Jesus would take my secrets from me, no matter what, and He gave me my own little miracle to prove that to me.
That insane night ended for me right before I fell asleep. I was lying in my bunk, cuddling my stuffed poodle in the dark. Back at the chapel, before the boy started screaming, I was knocking in the air on a figurative door, begging Jesus to come out to me. I thought He never had, but in the few seconds before I fell asleep an image flashed before my eyes, not even a second long but clearly able to be seen: an open door. He told me, “I’m out, Tessa. I already was. You’re knocking on an open door. I’m right here.” I then fell asleep. I drew my open door the next day while hanging out with buddies at the art tables all afternoon.
I found joy inside me. It was there, but I didn’t recognize it because I had the wrong picture of it in my head. I had some great, deep conversation with Judy, another youth leader, about many things inside me the next day, and we discovered that ever since Jesus saved me, I’ve been looking for the same feeling I felt in that moment. NOTHING in this life will compare to that! I have to stop looking for joy in one specific form and instead see it in all its different glories! I hope this has touched you in some way. If you doubt God’s power, if you think you’re without Him even when you’ve begged, if you wonder why you don’t seem to have any joy, I hope you are comforted and opened by this story Jesus wrote for me. The theme of camp this year was “Uncontained”, and I don’t think they could have anticipated how telling that would become.