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I attended Spring Heights Education Center as a camper for the first time at the age of twelve. Since I was a shy kid growing up and a real “homebody”, my parents were sure that I was going to be miserable and that they’d receive a call mid-week that they would need to make the 3.5 hour drive to pick me up.  They were shocked when I jumped out of the car upon returning home after the full week exclaiming that I wanted to go back the next week!

And went back I did, but not until the following summer and then a few summers after that.  I even went to work at camp for four weeks during the summer when I was seventeen as a “Counselor-in-Training”, working alongside the camp staff to help prepare the program for the campers. I took off a few summers following because of college and summer classes, but in my heart I belonged at Spring Heights during the summer.

In 2007, I had an opportunity to finally become a full-time counselor on staff and though I loved every inch of the 900+ acres of camp, I was nervous that I would not be able to be provide a positive influence to the campers as my former counselors had done for me.  The first week was a little rocky, but my campers were troopers and at the end of the week when I came out and asked them what they really thought of the week (sure that they would mention the time we got lost or when I yelled at them after nap-time for trashing their bunks) they said that they had a great time and learned a lot.  Whoa!  Not at all what I expected.

My second week as a counselor was even more intimidating because I was with Older Youth (kids ages 14-18).  Though it is probably my favorite age group to work with, I obviously had not learned my lesson from the prior week and was nervous that I would not be able to be that connection that the kids in this age group sometimes need, to understanding their place in God’s creation.  Once again my great and mighty God proved me wrong, as I was paired with two of the best co-counselors a girl could ask for, that helped me to oversee 18 campers.  Our group was a very eclectic mix of teenagers. There were your standard jocks, the pretty girls (that didn’t look to belong at a camp without A/C for an entire week), your quiet guys and gals, and two foreign exchange students, one from Brazil and one from Russia.

That week rocked my world!  Honestly, I came out of that week of camp forever changed by the maturity, not only behavior-wise, but spiritually of those 18 teens.  We had some very powerful and in depth discussions at Bible study, some extremely moving campfires and an unforgettable walk through a handmade prayer labyrinth (that they helped construct) barefoot in the wee hours of the morning.  But one other moment stood out from that entire life-changing week.

At the end of the week of camp, it’s usually a pretty emotional time.  Friends go their separate ways and counselors revel in surviving another week in the blazing heat with a group of kids.  Our group however, wanted to spend their time together walking the prayer labyrinth as their closing exercise.  And so we did and the tears flowed as we formed a giant group hug after the last person exited.  We were walking back from the labyrinth to the dining hall where the entire camp would meet to watch a slideshow of the week and sing some of our favorite songs, when Gabi, one of my campers and the foreign exchange student from Brazil came running back towards me.  She stopped in front of me and lifted her necklace over her head and told me, “I want to give you something”, in her beautiful accent.  She lifted the necklace over my head and showed me the two charms that adorned it.  “My grandmother gave this to me before I left Brazil to keep me safe.  I am giving this to you now, to keep you safe”, she said as tears began to flow down both of our cheeks.  She explained that on one charm was “the Madonna and child; she is to guard your heart” and the other was of “Jesus, he’s got your back”.  I laughed through my tears and hugged her tightly.  I didn’t understand the significance of this gift fully, but I felt like I had just received a gold medal.

Gabi wearing the Brazilian necklace that her grandmother had given her, before she came to America to “keep her safe”.Treasures (Gabi & Bree wearing the same Brazilian necklace) - breething.com
Me wearing the Brazilian necklace that Gabi gave to me at the end of camp in 2007 to “keep me safe”.

I’ve worn this necklace around my neck religiously for the past six years.  Gabi returned to Brazil and so her “American Facebook” became inactive and I never got an opportunity to learn more from her about the necklace.  Years passed and I grew curious since I have never seen anything like it since.  It draws attention from people everywhere I go and so I decided to do a little research.  I searched for what I knew, a Brazilian Catholic necklace and came up with nothing.  I finally decided to take a picture of it and searched using Google’s picture search and discovered it was, what is called, a scapular.  At that time I was happy with what I had found and I didn’t look much further into it.

Just recently I was visiting at my parent’s house and my mom asked in a surprised tone, “Where’s your necklace?” As has become habit, I put my hand to my chest to touch the front charm and found my chest bare.  I had forgotten to put it on that morning in my haste to get out the door in a hurry.  I asked her why she wanted to know and she responded, “You always wear it.  I just wondered what happened to it.”  I do always wear it.  I almost feel lost without it.  It’s become a part of me.  A conversation piece of sorts and one that I couldn’t converse too much about because I didn’t understand its significance.

I decided on my lunch break this week to do a bit more research and this is what I found through some Google and Wikipedia searches…

Devotional scapular – Wikipedia search for “scapular”

Rosary & Scapular - breething.comRosary and Scapular

Devotional scapulars are sacramentals, primarily worn by Roman Catholics and some Lutherans, designed to show the wearer’s pledge to a confraternity, a saint, or a way of life, as well as reminding the wearer of that promise. Some devotional scapulars bear images, or verses from scripture.

Devotional scapulars typically consist of two rectangular pieces of cloth, wool or other fabric that are connected by bands. One rectangle hangs over the chest of the wearer, while the other rests on the back, with the bands running over the shoulders. Some scapulars have extra bands running under the arms and connecting the rectangles to prevent them from getting dislodged underneath the wearer’s top layer of clothes.

The roots of devotional scapulars can be traced to the gathering of laity into confraternities for spiritual direction, whereby the faithful would be assigned some badge or token of affiliation and devotion. The image or message on the scapular usually reflects the order’s focus, tradition or favored devotion.[37]

Investment, blessing and rules

Though each scapular has its own particular qualifications and usage, the Church has set down certain rules that pertain to all types, be they monastic or devotional.

A scapular associated with a confraternity must be invested by an ordained representative of that group. A scapular associated with a mystery or devotion may simply be blessed by a priest and given to the wearer.

To receive the benefits or indulgences granted the scapular generally must be worn constantly. It may be placed aside for a time but, during that period, the wearer does not receive the scapular’s benefits. Should the wearer take up the wearing of it again, the benefits are again conferred.

A devotional scapular must be in good repair with both bands intact. Multiple scapulae may be worn on the same bands, but the bands must be the color of those prescribed by the scapular with the most preeminence, and that scapular must be foremost with the others behind in order of precedence. If a scapular becomes damaged to the point where it cannot be in good repair, it must be replaced. However, it is not necessary for the wearer to be reinvested as it is the devotion of the wearer, not the object itself, that confers the benefit of the scapular.

If you scroll back up to the picture that is below Gabi and I, you can see the images found on the front and back of each of the two charms on the scapular she gave me.

I wasn’t happy with just knowing the history of where scapulars came from; I needed to learn more about the images, especially the front image of the charm that faces the back.  So I did some more research and found that my scapular is pretty unique.  Typically scapulars only have one image in the front and one in the back.  Mine has two in the front and two in the back, essentially reversible.  It appears that mine on one side is the scapular of Our Lady of Ransom and the reverse side is the scapular of the Sacred Heart.

Scapular of Our Lady of Ransom – Wikipedia search for “our lady of ransom”

Scapular of Our Lady of Ransom - breething.com

The Scapular of Our Lady of Ransom is a Roman Catholic devotional scapular that traces its roots to the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy also known as Our Lady of Ransom (Latin: Ordo Beatae Mariae de Mercede redemptionis captivorum) which was founded by St. Peter Nolasco in the city of Barcelona, at that time in the Kingdom of Aragon, for the redemption of Christian captives.[1][2]

The scapular is white and the front has an image of the Order’s coat of arms. The back has a symbol representing the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Scapular of the Sacred Heart – Wikipedia search for “the sacred heart scapular”

Scapular of the Sacred Heart - breething.comThis Scapular of the Sacred Heart is a Roman Catholic devotional scapular that can be traced back to Saint Margaret Marie Alacoque who herself made and distributed badges similar to it. They were then made of a small piece of white woollen cloth, with a red image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It was popular as a protection during the plague of Marseilles and also during the persecutions of the Catholics during the French Revolution.

In 1872 Pope Pius IX granted an indulgence for the wearing this badge. An actual scapular of the Sacred Heart was first introduced in France in 1876 when was approved by the Congregation of Rites in 1900. One side of the scapular bears the representation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, while the other bears that of the Virgin Mary under the title of Mother of Mercy. In July 1900 Pope Leo XIII granted many indulgences for the pious wearing of this scapular.[/two-thirds]

Treasures (Spring Heights Older Youth Group, 2007) - breething.com2007 Older Youth – the group that changed my lifeSo now I understand that not only is my necklace that I wear daily (and that has traveled to as far as Las Vegas and to London with me) is actually a scapular from Brazil. It is actually a sacramental that is typically worn by devout Roman Catholics. But the greatest treasure that I have come to understand is that it was purchased by Gabi’s grandmother for the purpose of being blessed by a priest to ward away the evil of the world and “to keep her safe” and she has passed it on to me to do the same.

Thank you, Gabi!  I will be forever thankful!

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