Published in the Rains County Leader on June 18, 2019:
I’m home with all bones intact but with a heart that has more marks than I can count. Let me back up a step or two in case you didn’t read my last column. I went to Royal Family Kids Camp last week, a very special place where kids in foster care can spend five days and four nights just being kids and having fun in a safe environment. In 2013 I served as a counselor and came home with a broken ankle and a broken heart. This time I was the camp scribe. I wasn’t as actively involved in the organized games and other strenuous activities – and David was home praying that he would get his wife back in one piece – so I came home physically undamaged. But as I watched and listened with the eyes and ears of a writer, I saw and heard the struggles, heartaches, and triumphs of more children and counselors than before when I was focused on the two campers that were my responsibility. There are more stories than I can write, but here are a few.
“Jane” was so afraid of the water that she brought her own life jacket and continuously questioned her counselor about the lifeguard’s ability to save her if she got into trouble. All campers are required to pass a swim test in order to venture into the deeper end of the pool or to go over to the pond. She wanted to take the test, but she was afraid, so she practiced long and hard. By Wednesday, she was ready to try. Everyone in the pool area had seen her struggle, and they all stopped to watch. When she passed, the cheers and applause were deafening. The wrist band she earned became her pink badge of courage, and she showed it to anyone who would look the rest of the week.
“Susie” is autistic and could often be seen dancing to the music in her head. She developed a very strong bond with “Mary,” a counselor other than her own. Susie’s counselor and Mary stayed close as often as possible so Susie could be with her special friend. Susie could speak well enough but didn’t always choose to, preferring to respond with sounds like “meep,”, “beep,” and “meow.” Mary told me that one day Susie took Mary’s face between her hands, stared into her eyes, and sang to her with great feeling. Mary said that if she had used real words rather than her sounds, she would have lost control altogether. Those are the kind of bonds that make saying goodbye at the end of the week so heart-wrenching.
Although I spent most of my time with the girls, I have at least one boy story to share. As his campers were bedding down one night, a counselor saw one of his boys flash the international one-fingered salute at the boy in the next bunk. He rolled over, saw his counselor watching him, and grinned sheepishly. “But I love Jesus best,” he said.
It’s hard to decide, but my favorite story has to be about “Anna” and her dress. The high point of the week for the girls is the Royal Princess Tea Party on Thursday. On Wednesday, they get a chance to choose a dress which is altered if necessary by one of several volunteer seamstresses. They wear the dress to the Tea Party and then are allowed to take it home with them. Anna is one of four campers that shared the table in the dining hall where I sat, and on Wednesday she wanted to ask the blessing. In a prayer that was full of thanks, she said, “And thank you, God, for the wonderful ladies who are going to do a major reconstruction on my dress.”
I didn’t hear the rest of the story until later when I was helping at the sewing activity center. It turns out that Anna, who is small and wiry, had picked out a dress that was much too big for her. The workers tried to explain why this one wouldn’t work and to interest her in another dress, but she remained adamant. Finally, they learned that Anna’s original choice was more size-appropriate, but a more aggressive camper had claimed it. So they agreed to make the larger dress work.
After I shared the prayer story, the manager of the “dress shop” teared up and said, “I am so glad we decided to alter the dress she wanted. I tell the girls that God has a special dress for each of them. If we had sent Anna home with another dress, she would have thought that God didn’t have anything special for her after all. Now, even if the dress doesn’t fit her perfectly, she will feel as special as she is.”
Anna’s story had a happy ending. The dress fit perfectly, and she looked beautiful. Sadly, not all the stories had a happy ending. The director learned that one boy was being picked up after camp, not by his foster parents, but by his case worker who would move him to his thirteenth foster home.
The theme for the week was The Good Shepherd, and the memory verse was Psalm 23:4 – Even if I walk through a very dark valley, I will not be afraid because you are with me. Your rod and your shepherd’s staff comfort me.These children have walked through many dark valleys, and some have many more ahead. My prayer is that something that happened this past week has changed their life for the better and that they will believe that The Good Shepherd is with them.