Blue Lake

Blue Lake Methodist Camp is a beautiful place. The compound sits nestled in the wilderness, surrounded by longleafs, live oaks, and still water.

I am here tonight to deliver a speech to a room of elderly Methodist ministers and their wives. I have to remind myself to behave, and not tell stories about my Methodist friends. Which is hard for me to do.

It will take all I have not to tell the story of my friend J.L., whose mother woke him up one morning before church shouting, “Get dressed for church, J.L.! You’re gonna be late!”

“I’m not going!” he shouted.

“Why not?” she said.

“Two reasons, Mama. One, because I don’t like anyone in that roomful of obnoxious jerks. And two, because they sure as shoeshine don’t like me.”

His mother replied, “Well, I’ll give you two reasons why you ARE going, J.L. One, you’re forty-seven years old. And two, you’re the pastor.”

Blue Lake’s main building is a plain-looking structure, built in the early ‘50’s. The cinder block walls, the fluorescent lights, the linoleum floors, it reminds you of every municipal building you ever saw.

The beauty of this place lies beneath the surface.

I walk the hallway of dorm rooms. Many doors are slung open. Inside each room are three single beds, side by side. Lord, at the memories.

I have done my share of camping here. Sometimes in dorms, sometimes in cabins. I was not raised Methodist, but sometimes we Baptists used these facilities.

Once, I shared a dorm with Billy Sheldon and his grandfather who was a Primitive Baptist minister. The old man snored so loud that we placed bits of toilet paper into our ears.

This did nothing to dull the sound. So the next night, Billy and I tried wet cotton balls instead. It still didn’t work.

We were about to give up hope, but Billy had an idea. That night, Billy took a stale biscuit from the cafeteria, squeezed it very tightly, and shoved it into his grandfather’s open mouth.

The next morning, we were in deep trouble. We were disciplined of course. Billy and I were sentenced to do dishes in the cafeteria after breakfast. Billy washed, I dried.

There was the time I visited Blue Lake on a young adults father-son retreat, even though I had no father. It was a Methodist weekend, my friend’s father brought me along as a guest.

We had a famous time, swimming, fishing, playing baseball games, campfire singing. And I couldn’t believe there were kind people out there who took time to be so nice to fatherless kids.

We who grow up without fathers tend to be skeptical about this world. It’s takes a lot of campfire singing, baseball playing, and fishing to undo this.

He was a good man. After he died, I told that story at his funeral.

Later in my life, I came here as a 19-year-old. I was working part-time at a Baptist church. We were visiting for the elderly men’s retreat.

The music minister and I loaded an archaic amplifier into a church van and my accordion. For three days, the preacher delivered sermons after every meal. He would holler until the squiggly vein in his forehead popped out.

Then, for an invitational, the music minister would sing “Just as I Am” while I accompanied him on accordion.

The accordion. You read that right. This is why I have lifelong self-confidence issues.

During that same trip, I shared a dorm room with a young man who I will call Chip.

Chip was older than me, a brand new father, and a newlywed. One night, he admitted to me that he had a bad drinking problem.

I’ll never forget how helpless I felt when that man broke down, bawling into his bedsheets.

“What do I do?” he pleaded with me. “I’m ruining my own life, man. Help me.”

Help him? I was young. I was stupid. My voice had hardly dropped yet. “You’re asking the wrong guy,” I said.

So I left the room and searched for reinforcements. It was a few hours past midnight.

The first person I found was an elderly minister, seated in the mess hall, doing a crossword puzzle. He wasn’t part of our group. I don’t know why he was there.

I introduced him to my friend. My friend told the man about his problem. The old man brewed coffee. The three of us sat around a table, talking. I kept expecting the old man to sermonize, but he didn’t. He told jokes and funny stories.

My friend started laughing in spite of his tears. The old man had one story after another and he lightened the mood with humorous tales of hunting, fishing, and growing up.

After a few hours, the old man placed a hand on Chip’s shoulder and said, “You’re gonna be just fine, son. You hear me?” Then he gave Chip his number.

Incidentally, I saw Chip a few months ago. He’s been sober for almost twenty years. I told him I was going to Blue Lake to deliver a speech. Chip smiled, but didn’t say a word. And he didn’t have to. I knew what he was thinking. In fact, I was thinking the same thing.

Blue Lake is a beautiful place.

28 comments

  1. Karen - March 15, 2019 9:04 am

    Magical things happen on the sacred grounds of church campsites. Thank you, Sean.

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  2. Nancy Rogers - March 15, 2019 10:11 am

    God puts Angels in the most simplest of places, including the cinder block walls of a Methodist Church Camp.

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  3. Tamarah - March 15, 2019 10:36 am

    Wow!!! That old man knew what he was doing! Never underestimate the wisdom of older men. Look at Mr Miyagi 🙌🏻

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  4. Phillip Saunders. - March 15, 2019 10:37 am

    Blue Lake is, indeed, a beautiful place. Glad you got to share in it. That was a beautiful story, also. I lost my dad to cigarettes when I was 15. Shamefully, I didn’t suffer that much, as you did, because I had many “father-figures” to pick up the pace. They’re all gone now, too, but the Good Lord chose to bless me with them while they were here. Daddy was a good, hardworking, loving man, and I always wanted to be a good father, too. Our son is a far better dad than I ever was, and I lay that right at the feet of his mama, the love of my life. Keep meeting, loving, and writing about people, Sean.

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  5. Connie Havard Ryland - March 15, 2019 11:09 am

    I went to church camp once. Mom cooked so I got to go free. I think that’s the first time I ever went anywhere that the only responsibility I had was to have fun and go to church. I think I was 12. The details faded over the years but the feeling of peace remains. It was a beautiful place and a great memory. Thank you.

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  6. Marilyn - March 15, 2019 11:29 am

    Love reading your writings, and also the responses from others. You bring out the good in people, Sean.

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  7. Jan - March 15, 2019 12:08 pm

    Blue Lake is a beautiful and holy place. I have only been there once but I loved it. Sumatanga is another beautiful and holy place. Church campsites are special because you make such special memories there. They seem to bring out the best in people. Thank you Sean … you do the same … you both see the best and bring out the best in people!

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  8. Diane - March 15, 2019 12:22 pm

    Love this story and LOVE the illustration! One thing you might not realize is that we Methodists get great joy from laughing at ourselves, so you should never restrain yourself from telling Methodist jokes. In January, my husband and I, along with a group of friends, drove from Tullahoma, Tennessee to Gadsden Alabama to hear you speak. Our table included three Methodist pastors, three Methodists church ladies, and two Baptists to keep all those Methodists straight. I am happy to say that the Baptists failed. You couldn’t tell one bit that we weren’t all the same. 🙂 We so enjoyed that evening, meeting you and Jamie and making happy memories. Thank you Sean. You and Jamie make the world a better place.

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  9. Xan - March 15, 2019 12:42 pm

    I’m sending this to four of my Methodist preacher friends. If they come looking for you, I apologize!

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  10. Carol - March 15, 2019 2:12 pm

    Your a Blessing!!
    EACH DAY!!
    Love ya!

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  11. Penn Wells - March 15, 2019 2:17 pm

    One thing I’ve learned from reading you all these years… I cannot tell how good each day’s message is from its title.I would have bet $$$ against this one. And I would have been wrong.

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  12. Susan from Wausau - March 15, 2019 2:27 pm

    I went to summer camp at Blue Lake as a child. What fond memories. First boyfriend, LOL!

    Thanks, Sean. You are a delight.

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  13. Patricia Pope - March 15, 2019 2:33 pm

    Would that many ‘ministers’ understood ministry as you seem to understand, dear Sean. Thank you for your God endowed, gifted ministry of caring and healing through the music of your words. Your stories even sing refreshing melodies. Please keep on ‘ministering’💖

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  14. Edna B. - March 15, 2019 3:08 pm

    I remember going to summer camp when I was very young. It was a Girl Scout camp. Ahhh, the memories. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

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  15. Richard C - March 15, 2019 5:22 pm

    I never camped at Blue Lake but I spent many wonderful afternoons as a youngster at the Public swimming area across the other side of Blue Lake. As a “good Baptist”, I often wondered what “them Methodists” were doing across the lake. Now I know.

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  16. Fran Decker - March 15, 2019 6:43 pm

    “the music minister would sing “Just as I Am” while I accompanied him on accordion.
    The accordion. You read that right. This is why I have lifelong self-confidence issues.”

    TRUTH brother… I played the accordion for 7 years mostly against my will and I’m not sure I will ever recover 🙁

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  17. Linda Moon - March 15, 2019 7:15 pm

    I have two words for accordion players anywhere near Birmingham in the 50s: Bernadette Seay!

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  18. Shelton A. - March 15, 2019 7:40 pm

    Blue Lake was and is a beautiful place for all kinds of healing. Thanks for the story.

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  19. Linda Moon - March 15, 2019 8:59 pm

    My apologies to all accordion aficionados of the South, especially Sean of the area and those who grew up in Birmingham. Ms. Seay of the above reply was actually BERNADINE, not BernaDETTE. She was my accordion teacher for a brief period in my life, but she was something and left an indelible impression on me! Unlike Sean of the South, I never mastered it enough to accompany “Just As I Am”. Thanks for reminding me that other youngsters played the accordion. I feel sorry for those who did not take lessons from Ms. Bernadine Seay.!

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  20. Donna - March 16, 2019 12:30 am

    The Momma & (47yr old) Son story made me ROFL; as did an accordion player’s self-confidence issues. EXCEPTIONAL setups for the story’s more serious end note. Thanks!

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  21. Jack Darnell - March 16, 2019 3:23 am

    Me ‘n Patricia Pope above think alike. I must be some kind of dummy, but I always loved Accordion playing! I wish I coulda done that instead of the trumpet! Oh well….. My sister played the accordion. I went with her to buy the last one. In going thru her music collection I found no accordion, I still wonder what happened to it. Y’ain’t got it b’chance have you?
    Good one my friend,
    Sherry & jack

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  22. Charaleen Wright - March 16, 2019 4:08 am

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  23. Georgianne Slade Stillwell - March 16, 2019 5:52 am

    As you wrote, Sean, Lord have I also spent many years camping at Blue Lake – a beautiful, special place and memory!

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  24. Susan from Tennessee - March 16, 2019 10:44 am

    I was a counselor at Blue Lake camp for two summers when I was in college. Oh, the memories!

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  25. Jonathan - March 16, 2019 4:55 pm

    I have been to blue lake. It is a good camp.

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  26. Mignon craft watson - April 13, 2019 1:45 am

    I have been to camp there for a week. Wonderful experience, beautiful p!ace.

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  27. Mignon craft watson - April 13, 2019 1:47 am

    That should say my middle name should read croft. Thanks

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  28. Margaret Green - April 13, 2019 4:47 am

    Just perfect Sean🙏🏻I was raised Baptist but went to almost every nondenominational church camp possible as God does place you right where He needs you to be for His good, your good, someone else’s good and you may not ever know til later’s good but never had the chance to go to Blue Lake before… Earlier this year my grandson did for a very first one and he loved it Lots&Lots! I know you inspired many tonight just by sharing your times there and making them rekindle their memories, too …Thanks so much❤️🙏🏻

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