Part 6 The Camp Years
In 1992, I faced another crossroads in my life. I had a total of 14 years in education, and was poised for good things. My mentor and camp manager at Dry Creek Camp was retiring after 26 years. DeDe and I began praying about my applying for this job. She reminded me that even during our college years, I’d talked about leading the camp.
The camp had been going through a rough time financially.
However, I felt led to apply. The Board of Trustees elected me unanimously and in late 1992 I began the next phase of my service. There were many challenges but God worked in a miraculous way over the next fourteen years. I’ve always been a dreamer and innovative planner. Our staff realized the camp was being underutilized and good stewardship meant serving more guests and having more events.
I will always view my years of leading the camp as pivotal and rewarding in my life. This was about the time of Blackaby’s “Experiencing God” studies and his term, “Find out where God is working and get involved” was so true.
We were blessed with great involvement of churches, pastors, and volunteers. We balanced getting out of debt with making essential capital improvements such as roofs and coats of paint.
It was a great moment when the debt was retired. We began a master plan of renovations and new construction. Most of all, we saw God working in the lives of thousands of youth and adults. We began reaching our area’s black churches as well as having a strong Catholic weekend retreat presence.
Our sons were able to be involved in working at the camp. It’s a great place to learn to work hard as a team. DeDe kept the home fires burning, especially during the busy summer seasons.
Each summer at Camp, God taught me something new. During Summer 1996, He began speaking to me about my need to be scripturally baptized. I’d been ‘dunked’ at age 7 but hadn’t met the Lord until my teen years. This issue had never bothered me until this time. The more I argued with God (“Lord, this will only confuse folks. I’m camp manager. Chairman of Deacons.”) the more I knew I should do it. When the Holy Spirit finally whispered, “If you want to grow and go on with me, do this”, I made the decision to be obedient. That’s what I shared with our church. “This is not about my salvation, but it’s all about my obedience.” When I was baptized, several other grown men in our church did the same thing.
In 1999, we had one of the greatest summers ever. Large crowds, a great staff, and God’s spirit working. In the midst of the summer, one of our teen workers, Brad Robinson, was killed by a drunk driver. He was my son Clay’s closest friend and like a son to me. I now had the responsibility of leading a camp and its staffers through a time of grief and questioning.
I grieved and rejoiced through my journal, filling up an entire book. At summer’s end, I presented each worker with a photocopied typewritten ‘book’ from the summer. I was encouraged to publish it and did. Knowing publishers wouldn’t be interested in this type of book, I chose self-publishing. Stories from the Creekbank was released in 2000 and quickly sold several thousand copies. I realized the power that the written word can provide.
In 2000, I took my son Clay on a senior trip to Honduras. We worked in missions with an IMB missionary and parachurch organization. It was both of our first trips out of the country and lit a burning international missions fire in our hearts. I’d always been serious about being an Acts 1:8 Christian but limited my “ends of the earth” ministry to giving and praying. I now understood that for me this also meant going.
This exciting time was also approaching the most difficult period in my life. I’d experienced insomnia off and on through the last ten years of my life. In 1999, it became more serious. I went long periods on little sleep. My longtime family doctor worked diligently with me and we went through a series of sleep medications and antidepressants. (He once said, “I don’t know what to use next: a hammer or anesthesiology.”)
We began to realize that my insomnia was related to depression and anxiety. I know call these “a three strand vine growing together.” I’m not sure what comes first but know they often travel together. In May of 1999, my doctor sent me to Dr. Keith Nabours, a psychiatrist in nearby Lake Charles. Dr. Nabours began a series of medication adjustments and I soon had a good recovery.
However, in late 2000 the depression returned with a fury. As I look back I still wonder what brought it on. A key factor was the severe injury of our middle son Clint. Clint suffered a serious hip injury as the high school quarterback and spent time in hospitals in Lake Charles and Houston. I’m not sure this caused my ‘train wreck’ six weeks later, but definitely exacerbated it.
Fall is a busy time at Camp. At the end of October 2000, I couldn’t go on. Whether you call it a breakdown, meltdown, or train wreck, I had it. I couldn’t go to work or out in public. Dr. Nabours worked hard on finding the right medication adjustment. A wonderful Christian psychologist, Marvin Douglass, also counseled with me.
My depression was deep, dark, and something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. The worst part was the darkness and loss of hope and interest in the things I loved best. I stayed at home or my parent’s during the day (DeDe was still teaching.) DeDe stood closely by me, and our sons often gathered in prayer around me. Clay called me nightly from college. Because my train wreck was public, cards of concern from hundreds of friends began arriving. I believe I was the most prayed for man in Louisiana.
Anyone mired deeply in depression fights the dark thoughts of death. It’s a feeling of hopelessness and wish to end this pain. I fought it everyday. The thing that kept me from suicide was the strong prayer shield around me and the conviction that this would not be the legacy I would leave DeDe and the boys.
Most people would’ve lost their job in a situation like this. The Camp’s staff and board stood by me. The staff expertly ran the camp and the board met and came by my home to lay hands on me and encourage me to take care of myself, get well, and return to the work. I’ll never recover from the grace and kindness they extended to me. As 2001 began, I gradually returned to work. Coming out of depression means two steps forward then one back, but I eventually began regaining my health.
I’ll end this medical report with this: I still have dips and valleys in my mental health. I will probably take antidepressants for the rest of my life. I see Dr. Nabours twice yearly for a “tune-up.” I’m still learning about taking care of myself so I can take care of others.
There’s nothing good about an episode of clinical depression. However, I can clearly state that everything that came out of this time has been good. I became a better man and better leader. It humbled me like nothing else. I came to rely fully on God and realized he is the steady solid rock even when our world shakes under us.
I recall Counselor Douglass’ “Million Dollar Question”: “If you could push a button and guarantee you’d never have depression again but would lose the emotion and inner soul that results in your love of people and emotive writing, would you?”
I thought a few minutes. That’s a difficult question for a man coming out of deep depression. My answer was (and still is) “No.”
From this experience, I wrote my most satisfying book, The Mockingbird’s Song. It’s a series of essays on walking through depression. It was later released as my fifth book in 2007.
My second book of short stories, The Old House, was released in 2002. My dad, who was suffering with terminal cancer, lived long enough to see it published. The months I spent with he and Mom in hospitals in Houston were special. My dad was a great influence on so many people but his greatest ministry was to those of us who loved him best: his family.
The camp ministry at Dry Creek continued to grow. I continued to write more books and a speaking ministry developed. Often I was invited to speak representing the camp and at other times it was related to my books and stories.
I’d continued on overseas mission trips, going to Vietnam/Cambodia on an IMB vision trip in 2003, a China backpacking Jesus Film trip the next year, and a medical missions trip in 2005 to Indonesia following the tsunami. This Indonesian trip was a watershed event for all ten of our Louisiana team. We arrived in Banda Aceh, Sumatra eighty days after the tsunami and were deeply touched by the people we met and sights we experienced. All of the team were medical personnel except me. I served as the coordinator, gofer, and village chief liaison. Three members from our team now serve as IMB personnel and all of us deepened in our commitment to bring the gospel to those who haven’t heard.
Tomorrow: Part 7 The final part