I got a lump in my throat, this morning, for the very first time since I arrived in Australia. It arrived with a letter from home. You’ve all heard the saying, home is where the heart is. Well, that’s true, but for me, my heart is attached to several different places. There’s my home in South Carolina, where my family lives, and I love them more than anything. There’s a place or two in Pennsylvania that belong to my heart, as well as a town outside of Baltimore… they contain people that I love and want to be with whenever possible. And then, there’s Seabrook.
My letter from “home” was from a friend who was just at Seabrook Island for our conference, and it finally started to hit me, what I missed by not being there. Maybe it should’ve hit me already, but you have to understand, being in Australia and in the wrong season, it throws off your sense of place and timing. This doesn’t seem like May to me, even when it gets up to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, during the day. So, when I talked to my friends on Saturday, as they Skyped me from Seabrook, it didn’t feel quite real. I was seeing them in the dining hall, but they couldn’t really be there, not without me. Could they?
Then, the pictures began to go up on Facebook, with all the little comments about what they did, and where they went on Monday, and what they ate, and what they ate too much of. And then a few short messages let me get a glimpse of the weekend, making me very happy. And then… a nice long letter. The kind that I like to write, because it’s the kind I like to read. It’s been said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Well, I live and write by the idea that you should write unto others as you would have them write unto you. I want to know what people have been doing when they go on this or that adventure, to know what it was like, so when I have an adventure, I tell others about it. I want them to see it like I saw it.
That letter finally let me see what I missed, what I already knew that I would miss, when I agreed to come to Australia. I knew that there would be a weekend in May and November that I would never get back, and that I would not be spending them with my friends at Seabrook Island.
Some of you are probably wondering, what is this Seabrook thing, and what is the big deal? I can try and explain… but will I be able to? Seabrook is an island, but this isn’t just about an island. Seabrook (for us) is a conference, but it’s not just a conference. We stay in dorm-style buildings, the dunes being the only thing separating us from the beach. But it isn’t just a beach. Seabrook is a conference run by a couple who have a true heart for singles, but it isn’t just a singles conference. I believe Seabrook is a gift from God to the singles (and the leaders) who attend it, and it is truly a part of each of us that attend it regularly. It is a part of my life and truly holds a place in my heart. It is home.
To give you some perspective, I have been attending the Seabrook Conference since I was 18, in November of 1998. There are two conferences every year, and until now, I had only missed one of them, in 2000. If I added that up right, that means I’ve attended twenty-four conferences at Camp St. Christopher, Seabrook Island, and I didn’t miss a single one from ’00 to ’10. For almost five years of my life (when I lived up north), I left Pennsylvania at the crack of early on a Friday, in order to drive 11-13 hrs, to be at a certain restaurant at 4pm in the afternoon. That’s when most of us would start our weekend. And after spending most of Monday touring Charleston, every May, I would drive (dead tired from my weekend) back to PA, arriving in the early hours of the morning, and getting back to work on Tuesday morning. It is only by God’s grace that I survived the trip back, without getting into an accident, I was so tired. November was always easier, as I would go home for Thanksgiving week, after the conference.
You may think to yourself, ha, it’s a singles conference, and I know what that means. Actually, you’re wrong, you don’t know. We’ve told people before, if you’re coming to THIS particular Christian singles conference in order to shop for a spouse, you’ve come to the wrong place. We go to Seabrook in order to have fellowship with other Christians, and to hear God’s Word from the amazing speakers that the Elliotts invite to teach us. Our leaders start praying for the next conference as soon as we leave on Monday, and don’t stop praying until the next, and always assure us that if we’re there, it’s by God’s appointment. We’re there… because God wants us there.
We have had many former attendees get married, but that is not the purpose for the conference. But it’s true that many young people have gotten to know their future spouse, there on the beach, in the chapel, or while eating the delicious food that we get at the conference. We have a saying at Seabrook that really isn’t a joke, because it’s as true as true. You know you’ve met the right person, when you’re willing to give up Seabrook in order to be with them. Yes, the alumni can visit on Sundays and for reunion conferences, but the truth is that you have other obligations that often will tie you up. And Seabrook is such a part of our hearts, that you have to love someone beyond anything in order to be willing to give Seabrook up. It’s that simple. You may laugh, but I can give you names of people who will attest to this.
And so, for the year 2011, I will not walk on the beach of Seabrook Island, counting the falling stars, or scuffing my feet along in the sand, trying to see phosphorescent sparks. I won’t rush down the beach, trying to keep up with the dolphins, in order to get a better picture of some of them. My friends will sing the rafters down in the chapel, and do we ever SING, when we’re there! But I won’t be there, in my “assigned seat”, to help raise the roof. Last weekend, they sang our official song, “My Anchor Holds”, without me. And someone else had to hit the high notes on “Wonderful Grace of Jesus”. Don used to have us sing those back to back, occasionally, and I would be shaking and hoarse from helping the group pull it off.
This is what was rushing through my head, this morning, as I got to have some “quiet” time, hanging out laundry. Ok, it wasn’t really quiet, because I had “Glee” blasting in my headphones, but I didn’t have to run after the kids, so I could think about whatever I wanted. And as I said, it finally hit me, what I’m missing, and what the newbies who came this year, are gaining. I can’t get it back, and I’m enjoying myself, where I am. But it’s no joke to me, what I’m missing. How much I love the place and the people. And how much my life has changed, by having been able to go there. Skip and Cathy, thank you. And thank you, Lord, for Seabrook.