“What’s on your plate?” – A weekend camping retreat

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Not my group, but someone else’s camping experience at the same park.

I’ve shared about how I found a group of young adults in the Southern California area, a group I spent a fair amount of time with. There was one memorable weekend of traveling to Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park for a two-night camping retreat. About fifteen people participated on the weekend, but I only knew one person before going.

I’ve gone camping before but not too often. So I had to borrow a sleeping bag and then shared a tent with several other young women. The tent arrangements ended up being very challenging. To put it simply, I was cramped. Upon waking up early that Saturday morning, I documented in my journal about the conditions.

Here I am, Lord. I am at the retreat — Caspar Park. It is way too early — not even 6 am. Couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t get comfortable. Problems were headache, someone snoring, uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, and needing two more feet to fully extend my body. That was the worst part — not being able to stretch out. I felt completely cramped and like my legs were going to fall off.

It’s pretty here, though. Definitely out in the wilderness. … It’s nice to be away from horns and sirens, but apparently we aren’t too far from the freeway.

A few members of the group gave talks, some lead us through different activities. Everything was well planned out and coordinated. It was impressive.

It was a bit odd, though. The one guy I knew before this weekend kept making a pointed effort of drawing me into the conversation. He would turn to me directly while with the rest of the group and ask for my opinion or reaction or to see if I had additional information to share. It was a little unsettling because he only did this with me, but at the same time it was reassuring. I certainly needed the encouragement to interact and share, and it was nice to have that prompting. If he didn’t, I might have kept waiting for an opening without finding one.

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Clearly not mine, but just an idea of the hopes for our plate project.

What’s on your plate?

The most significant activity was an arts and crafts kind of session on Saturday. A stack of magazines was spread out on some picnic tables. Each person was given a paper plate and directed to cut out words and images from the magazines that represent you. Pick things that speak to you and put them on your plate. It would be a symbolic way of showing what you’re carrying around with you.

I wasn’t consciously thinking of why certain images and words stood out to me, but I cut them out and glued them to my plate. When I finished, I took some time apart from the group, with my notebook, and reflected on my plate’s meaning. It was a bit shocking to see it all spelled out.

  • An image of someone rock climbing: I don’t trust myself. I’ve tried to go rock climbing a few times and I don’t get very far off the ground. I just don’t trust that I can support myself. Even though I’m harnessed. Doubt.
  • A image of multiple question marks: I’m always questioning and worrying about what’s going on and why things are happening. There’s no peace.
  • An image of a young girl and grandfather blowing bubbles: I remember moments of innocence like this and long to be that free.
  • An image of a butterfly: I need to transform myself. Right now I’m clinging to bad habits and insecurities.
  • The phrase “bipolar disorder”: I feel like I’m on extreme highs and lows.
  • The phrase “break away from the norm”: self-explanatory
  • Part of an ad where a woman is surrounded by flowers but she’s clinging to fistfuls of dirt: I’m often surrounded by beauty but I don’t appreciate it. I just see the negative.
  • A picture of a woman wearing a head covering so only her eyes are visible: It’s hard to open up and reveal myself. It’s often really difficult to open up.

Below this explanation I wrote: People say, “Oh, Lindsay, you’re so laidback and happy and calm.” This plate and these choices are evidence that I have issues — very cynical and super critical of myself.

I rejoined our group. And there was an opportunity for people to share about their plates. I was actually among the people who shared. It was uncomfortable, but I shared. I likely teared up in the process, but I don’t remember. Everyone was very appreciative of my openness.

The second night of sleep wasn’t much better. I think this was another signal of my sensory problems. Anyone would have had trouble with these conditions, but they just seemed to be amplified for me.

I slept outside last night — as in out of the tent. Thank you, Lord, for the courage to move. I was absolutely miserable in the tent — not enough space, headache, on unlevel ground, and in between two people snoring. After some debate I figured forget this — I’m going to sleep on that lounge chair near the fire pit. So glad I did. It took a while to get settled and to slow my heartbeat but eventually I got to sleep. I managed a few good hours of sleep. Otherwise, I would have been completely miserable staying in that tent — burning up, uncomfortable and angry.

I remember many people commenting on my bravery for sleeping outside of the tent. I hadn’t considered the very real potential of encountering a wild animal. So I’m glad that wasn’t on my radar; instead I got some actual sleep.

Feedback from others

This retreat came near the end of my year in California. I had just about six weeks left and was trying to figure out what my next step would be. Once again, there was uncertainty with what direction to go. I don’t know if I shared with everyone, but I know I mentioned to a few individuals this weekend about my uncertainty.

Throughout the weekend, brown paper bags hung on a line between two trees, one bag for each participant. Everyone was invited to write secret or signed affirmations and notes and drop them in the bags. While I no longer have my plate, I did hang on to my bag from the weekend. These are the comments that I received:

  • Lindsay, I love your willingness to get involved with all our activities.
  • Lindsay, I’m glad I got the chance to talk with you a little bit today. I hope you continue to enjoy your time with the group!
  • Lindsay, you’re awesome. I’m so inspired by seeing you leaving your family, friends and volunteering to help the pro-life movement. Starting your life with such a wonderful service, you’ll have a lot of blessings through your whole life. You’re a blessing for everyone who meets with you.
  • Lindsay, I’m glad you could make it this weekend. I hope you enjoy the retreat. You are very nice and I am sure you will successfully climb a mountain one day if you want to! We just have to never give up like God never gives up on us. Hopefully we will get to know each other better in the future.
  • Lindsay, it was nice to meet you. I enjoyed our talk. Again for the 100th time, I can’t wait to go to the book store! You have my number. (I had shared with her about my experiences with joining the group that met regularly at the Santa Ana book store.)
  • Thanks for sharing with the group your plate. It was awesome!
  • Dear Lindsay, I am so glad that you came on this retreat! It has been so fun getting to know you and your faith. I think you are a beautiful person both inside and out. I can tell that Christ lives in you. I know you will figure everything with your job out and that God will guide you on your path. Thanks for being you!
  • Thanks for laughing at my bad jokes! I’m glad you came to share with us.
  • Lindsay, it’s been really great to get to know you. I pray that everything works out well with your job. I hope to see you again at another 20something event!
  • Lindsay, so glad you joined us this weekend. You are welcome at 20something anytime! I know it takes courage to just show up … I hope you found the experience worthwhile.
  • You were kind, friendly and sincere. Please visit us at 20something some day. Will you email me if you go to the book store?
  • Lindsay, I’m really glad you made it, despite the odds! Please take home many happy memories from California.
  • Lindsay, our trip up was exciting! I hope to have a great trip back. Your plate and presentation of it was really great.
  • Lindsay, I admire your faith — even though I’ve known you for less than 24 hours. You are very personable and you’ve been open to us this weekend — a courageous move that is an awesome quality.

As has been true all along, I was making more of an effort than I realized. I was taking great leaps of faith and being courageous, even though it didn’t feel that way. I was opening up and sharing parts of myself and my knowledge. Others found me approachable and likable; they enjoyed my company. I just had a long way to go to see all of this for myself.

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