by Susan Andreone Posted Oct 24, 2015
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
— 2 Corinthians 5:17
Arriving after a long journey from their home in Pennsylvania, they drove through the Pine Cove Woods Family Camp entrance where she witnessed enthusiastic counselors jumping up and down and waving at her with a joyful fervor she had never experienced before. She was caught off–guard, to say the least. Caitlin (not her real name), a teenage girl and pastor’s daughter from a loving family of four, emerged from the car donning a black skull and cross bones t–shirt; not your usual Pine Cove fare. She felt like an alien from another planet! “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Her attitude matched her t–shirt. Caitlin felt like she had been tricked and she was angry. In fact, Caitlin was angry most of the time. And why shouldn’t she be? It was only hours before that she discovered in transit, by an accidental slip of the tongue, that the family camp vacation they were about to enjoy was actually a “Christian” camp. She cried when she found out.
She did not sign up for this. In fact, the ONLY reason she agreed to go on this trip was because the family who invited them and paid their way, was a family she really admired and did not want to disappoint. Her two little brothers, whom she adored, would also be on this trip, and she was about to move to Los Angeles to live with a friend and pursue an acting career. This was an opportunity to spend some time with family friends and two younger brothers before she moved. That–Was–All!
A pastor’s daughter, Caitlin lived with loving, praying, God–honoring parents who served in the ministry. But, admittedly, she had a defiant heart for as long as she could remember and never seemed to connect with her parents. She rejected their authority at every turn and was shrouded in darkness from a very young age. Struggling with depression, Caitlin attempted to take her own life at the tender age of 10 years old, when most little girls are only worried about soccer try–outs and dance lessons. By 13, the assault on her soul was so overwhelming that she began to inflict wounds on herself through “cutting” as a way to dull the internal pain. At 15, she met an older girl who influenced her greatly, and she began sneaking out, drinking and doing drugs. Caitlin also developed a tremor during this time. Her parents had no idea about the extent of her rebellion. She was an expert at deceit. When she was 17, by God’s grace, she was caught by the police sneaking into her own family home with some friends to “party”. She was supposed to be staying with a friend, while her family was out of town visiting her grandmother.
She came clean with her parents. She didn’t care anymore. She was transferred to another school for a “clean start” and began a rehab program. But, the rebellion progressed and even escalated. When a drug overdose sent her to the hospital, the spiral continued. She fell behind in school, continued drinking and in an attempt to capture Caitlin’s attention and protect her little brothers, her parents asked her to leave home at 17 years old.
Her family continued to pray for Caitlin and, in the summer of 2012, Caitlin’s heart softened toward her parents. She actually missed her mother and asked to come back home. That summer, longtime family friends that Caitlin adored, invited and paid the way for her entire family to attend a week–long family camp vacation to Pine Cove in Texas. The day before they left, her parents informed her that she would need to find a new permanent residence after their camping vacation. She contacted a friend headed to Los Angeles, and they made plans to be roommates in a new life adventure following family camp.
As they approached the dining hall to sign up for family camp activities like the horse trail, zip lines, and boating, Caitlin began to panic. She felt overwhelmed and even fearful as she discovered that her plan to just hang with her parents to avoid the Christians all week was not going to work. There were times at camp that her parents would be in speaker sessions and, apparently, she was supposed to hang out with kids her own age. No, thank you! This called for a new plan. She would just hang out in the cabin and not interact with anyone. She made it clear to her mother, as they argued out in the open, that she wanted nothing to do with a Christian camp. She felt deceived, and she was angry.
As Caitlin and her mom walked toward their cabin, they were intercepted by “Hot Cakes,” the Woods counselor who would be leading and hanging out with Caitlin’s age group of girls. Engaged in conversation with Hot Cakes, Caitlin immediately felt her genuine interest and outreach toward her. Caught off balance by the sincere love pouring out of Hot Cakes, before she could even think about it, she agreed to meet the other girls in their group. “What on earth? What just happened? This is not like me,” Caitlin thought to herself.
At their first get together, Hot Cakes’ enthusiasm for all the fun and activities they would share was contagious. Caitlin liked this girl and, for the first time, felt loved by everyone despite the fact that no one really knew her. Then it hit. Hot Cakes talked about group Bible studies. Caitlin’s hand immediately flew into the air. “Are the Bible studies mandatory? I’m agnostic.” She would never forget the confused look on Hot Cakes’ face as if someone had just sucked all the air out of the room. For some reason, what Hot Cakes thought about her mattered, even though she could not explain why. As fast as her hand shot up into the air, she retracted her statement and said, “It’s okay. I will go.” Surprised again by her own words, Caitlin secretly wondered how a group of people could be making such an impact on her, especially a group of “Christians.”
A fun and crazy time riding the “Banana” out on the lake resulted in an accidental kick to the face, and Caitlin found herself spending some time at the Med Shed. It was God–ordained time as she and Hot Cakes spent several hours together sharing and bonding while waiting to be stitched up by the nurse. Her heart continued to soften. The rest of the week she was receptive, she listened, she worshiped and she fell in love with everyone…with God’s Spirit within them. Through experiencing God’s love at Pine Cove, she finally understood that she could never have the ability to love the way her counselors did… at least, not without Jesus.
By the power of God’s grace, Caitlin accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior while at camp. With joy she proclaimed, “I have a new heart!” She was baptized in the Wood’s swimming pool by Mario Zandstra, Pine Cove’s President and CEO. Her tremor disappeared and, as of the writing of this story, has not reappeared.
Caitlin has a much better relationship with her family now and lives in College Station, Texas with other girls who are followers of Jesus. What about her plans to move to Los Angeles? When Caitlin turned her phone back on after camp, she listened to a voicemail from her friend letting her know that she could no longer afford the trip to L.A. and needed to cancel their plans to room together. A smile graced Caitlin’s face. To God be the glory!