It Has Always Felt Sacred

This year the slow drive into the Frio River heading to Laity Lodge retreats and camps was even more significant after being away for so long due to the pandemic. I felt the emotion in my chest and the prick of tears in my eyes as our family turned off the road into the camp this summer. The forced pause gave even more time and space to reflect on the ways my time in the Canyon has informed my daily life.

My husband Andy grew up coming to the Canyon as an Austin native and beneficiary of the broader Foundation Camp program. He had always hoped to get back, and our chance came when I was invited to do the music at a women’s retreat in the early 2000s. I had no idea that this would mark the beginning of precious long-term friendships and sacred traditions for our entire family.

It’s hard to know where to begin sharing the profound effect Laity Lodge has had on me over the decades. My view of vocational calling has changed because of the faithful witness of Eugene and Jan Peterson. My willingness to embrace a new challenge in the second half of life was spurred on by Betty Anne Cody’s beautiful lay testimony. Our family’s new intentionality around technology was informed by Andy Crouch, Dr. Albert Borgmann, and many others at the Faith and Technology retreat. And my introduction to Peter and Miranda Harris and subsequent passion for the work of A Rocha International was facilitated by time at Laity Lodge. I could go on and on. Martin Ban speaking about God habits, Dr. Curt Thompson inviting us into a reflective scene with Jesus, Scotty Smith weeping over attendees’ stories, art and music with the Rabbit Room, and Kathleen Norris reading poetry all affected me deeply. The truth is, outside of being part of my local church, there is no more spiritually formative experience in my life than coming to Laity Lodge year after year.

We continued to experience the abundance of the Foundation by being introduced to Laity Lodge Family Camp and Laity Lodge Youth Camp through friends at the Lodge. Attending family camp yearly has become a new tradition and was our kids’ first introduction to this Canyon being their own place, too. The staff works tirelessly to create a mix of activities, programming, and relaxed family time, which is no small feat. We carry the memories of building flotation devices out of cardboard boxes, endless fishing with my youngest, Ty, in the afternoon heat, eating slushes multiple times a day (because you can!), the hysterical and surprisingly moving camp talent show performances, and the privilege of watching our children grow up together. My daughter worked at Family Camp on program crew this summer, and now our place is her place in a unique and special way. What a gift.

Though I’ve never attended youth camp, all three of my kids have been participants and my oldest has served on program crew and then as a counselor at Foxhole this past summer. It’s hard to summarize the lifelong friendships he is making, the deepening of his faith, and the character-building experience of serving and loving others that is modeled there. The kids’ youth camp community carries on all year long, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

The most recent retreat I attended at the Lodge was about the art of dying well, facilitated by Dr. Lydia Dugdale and Adam Neder. The beautiful intergenerational nature of the Lodge was particularly present that weekend with many in attendance from the earliest retreats who were Howard Butt Jr.’s personal friends. Dr. Dugdale brought an unflinching and honest look at how our theology of suffering and death informs the way we live and die. She spoke of how Christians need a new ars moriendi, or art of dying, that draws from church history while remaining applicable today.

Adam Neder brought theological depth and curiosity to the conversation and made space for the honest questions of attendees like “What happens to our bodies when we die?” He marveled that Jesus was both unrecognizable and recognizable to his closest friends in his resurrected body. What does it mean for us that Jesus could walk through walls yet still bear scars from the crucifixion? In true Lodge fashion, there was space to reflect on a significant theme and ask the deepest questions about life and death.

Being at this retreat proved fortuitous in ways that break my heart. At the end of this summer, our family and church community experienced a tragic loss. Thomas McKenzie, our pastor and friend of 22 years, and his oldest daughter were killed in a car accident. Thomas had been with us to Laity Lodge several times and was inspired by his time with Eugene and Jan Peterson. He pastored us the way Eugene pastored his church—with a long obedience in the same direction. Andy and I had dinner with Thomas and his wife Laura shortly before his death. We talked about attending Family Camp together soon, and I shared what I had learned at the Art of Dying Retreat about “living with your death always before you.” He told us he was working on a sermon series about death and dying that was to start after he returned from hiking the Camino de Santiago.

I mention this not only to honor my friend Thomas and his daughter Charlie, but to illustrate the ways the work of the Foundation flows out into our everyday lives and creates ripple effects for God’s kingdom that are vast, often unseen, and deeply formative. When we go to Laity Lodge or Family Camp or send our kids to LLYC, we are not simply getting away to experience the Canyon. We are carrying that experience back in our bodies through a deep, tacit knowledge only God can bring. I am forever changed by my time in the Canyon and am so grateful to the Foundation for continuing to steward this beautiful place. I pray we can keep coming back for many decades to come with open hearts, ready to be transformed.

More from this issue

The Unstoppable Goodness

Looking back at the joys of Summer 2021 at LLYC and looking ahead with hope and prayer.

The Canyon's Witnesses

Cypress trees line the Frio riverbanks, providing shade, respite, and inspiration now and for hundreds of years to come.

Putting Mission Into Action

B. T. Wilson’s Outdoor Ed program for sixth graders helped these students find the confidence to serve their communities.

Someone Like Virginia

Virginia Mata's story comes full circle—and shatters misperceptions along the way.

View the full issue and subscribe to get the free quarterly print edition of Echoes delivered to your doorstep.