Thursday, May 31, 2012

My Secret Place - Guest Blogger

Emmy's Note: Today I am welcoming the WONDERFUL Sarah Hayes to the blog! Sarah is one of my favorite blog friends, an aspiring writer, fellow Broadway fan, and an overall wonderful woman after God's heart.  I was so happy when she said she would like to write a post for this month's theme "The Secret Place." Sarah blogs over at Shades of Shayes, tweets at @SarahAnneHayes, and you can find her on her Facebook page Shades of Shayes. 

Also- tomorrow kicks off a new monthly theme! In June we'll be blogging about "Art That Touches My Soul." If you want to contribute contact me! And have you checked out my newest blog sponsor Mindy?

I remember the first time I went there.

It was the summer of 2004, between my freshman and sophomore years of high school. My older sister was going up there to volunteer on staff for two weeks and several of my good friends were just finishing up a week at camp. I was leaving the next day for a different camp and wanted to see them before I left.

The following summer, I spent a week at camp and three weeks volunteering on staff. I did the same thing in 2006. In 2007, I worked on staff during the winter, and in 2008 I heartbreakingly didn’t visit at all. In 2009, I made a brief visit with a friend and in 2010, my dream came true. I was able to spend the entire summer at my favorite place, my secret place, the place I so dearly love.

It’s a beautiful place, a retreat center on over 1000 acres situated in the mountains of Pennsylvania, so far away from “civilization” that most people only get more than one bar of cell phone reception if they climb up to the top of Hezekiah’s Backbone, sit at the perfect spot at the top of the back stairwell in the old hotel, or hold your phone at just the right angle by Hut 2, 3, 4.

The grounds consist of two hotels, playgrounds for children, four ponds, several horse pastures, Buckingham field, multiple staff houses, acres of open field, and countless miles of hiking trails and beautiful woods. 

During the summer, there are picnics and water balloon fights. There are campfires with s’mores each Sunday and fireworks on the Fourth of July. Every Wednesday there are skits or square dances and each Tuesday there are open houses filled with sweet fellowship and delicious treats. During the winter, the ponds freeze over and become ice skating rinks. The hill by the horse pasture becomes the ultimate sledding location and guests bundle up inside with hot chocolate, flipping through scrapbooks of years gone by as the seek warmth by the fire.

This beautiful place is called White Sulphur Springs. It’s my favorite place, my secret place.

It is filled with amazing people who love the Lord and love each other. It is one of the only places on earth where strangers feel right at home sharing a meal together and you'll find those in their 60's playing Bananagrams with a 7-year-old. It is a place where the main concern is not how much you accomplish in a day or how quickly you move from one task to another. It is a place where people love simply because Christ loves us. It is a place where a summer afternoon is filled with fun games, horseback rides, and leisurely conversations in rocking chairs on a porch. It is a place where creation is left as God intended it to be, with beautiful hiking trails and tiny creeks filled with crawfish. It is a place where children can be children and children of God can be children of God with no fear. It is a place apart. It is a place of the heart.

I always feel at home at the Springs. Even when the only people I know there are the staff members, there is always someone with an encouraging word, a fun conversation. Someone to sit and chat with as you relax in a rocking chair. Someone to share a meal and break bread with.

White Sulphur Springs is my place of safety. Whenever I’m feeling stressed or worried, whenever I’m frustrated and confused, if I go to White Sulphur Springs, it all melts away. The splendor of creation, the beauty of community, it all combines together to make the perfect environment for spiritual growth. It’s almost like a spiritual greenhouse – you can’t help but grow when you’re at the Springs.

I had the privilege of documenting the happenings at White Sulphur Springs for the summers of 2010 and 2011. I spent nine weeks taking pictures and video of families and friends dressing up in crazy international costumes, enjoying ice cream at the open house, listening to speakers and hearing Bible stories in class. I got to witness children recite Bible verses, sing songs in other languages, and become genuinely excited about the Word of God. I got to room with beautiful women of God with genuine, sweet spirits that scream Christ.

Often, when I come to White Sulphur Springs, I am burdened. I am tired. I am weary and ready for rest, for respite from the craziness and absurdity of life in a broken and sinful world. And whenever I leave White Sulphur Springs, I have received my rest – in the form of a quiet walk along a path, a porch side conversation in a rocking chair, an encouraging word from a speaker. Whatever it may be, White Sulphur Springs always leaves me blessed, ready to take on the world for however many days may pass until I can return to my secret place again.


  1. It sounds like a wonderful place. Very relaxing and spiritually refreshing. I have never visited something quite so nice, but I've had a similar experience. In the summer of 2009 I spent a weekend at a camp called Laurelville Mennonite Church Center for a staff training experience. It was amazing. 22 people, one giant cabin. The lack of cell phone reception and some modern conveniences brought us closer together as a staff. Instead of watching TV we played Uno. Instead of texting, we cooked around the campfire. We were together in the world in a way that so few people are. White Sulphur Springs sounds breathtaking - I hope you get to visit soon!


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