I cried last night.
Last week, I went to my village director, the great Jeff Bradburn, and asked if I could have the Abba’s Child group the following week. I saw it as an opportunity to learn about dealing with grief and then share what I would learn with those at home. I’m not a particularly emotional person and thought I can support my campers, allowing them to go through the emotions while being a rock for them to process their grief.
I haven’t lost a loved one like my campers had. I can’t imagine what it was like for these four men to go through what they have. As they each arrived on a smoldering Sunday, I was excited and nervous. I was excited about the coming learning opportunities, but nervous that one of these guys would ask me the ever feared question, “Why does God allow bad stuff to happen to good people?”
As the rock I planned to be, I participated to the fullest of my abilities throughout the week, supporting them where I could, and generally encouraging them to really try everything, have fun, and do it with a smile on their face.
This brings us to Thursday.
We dove deeper into the pain that each members of our group were experiencing. In the morning we shared some of the our favorite things about the loved ones that we lost. We wrote letters, had time to reminisce, and learned how to allow ourselves to grieve.
Then, Thursday night happened.
Straight after campfire ended, our Abba’s Child family planned to go out on a boat for a small ceremony to continue the healing process for each of our campers. I knew exactly what we were planning on doing, which boat we’d take, who was coming, the whole deal. I organized half of the experience. Although I still didn’t know how God was going to work.
Arriving at the boat dock, we grabbed life-jackets and headed for the boat. I managed to grab Leighton, one of our staff members, to come out with us and play guitar to drive the mood. We headed to the middle of the lake, still enjoying the great campfire that had just occurred.
We stopped a few hundred feet off the docks in the lake and shut off the boat, with only the sound of the six strings on the guitar being played while a few instructions were given.
We made little boats out of bark that morning, then placed a tea candle and a note we each wrote to the love one we lost in the middle.
After lighting the candle, the campers set their boat adrift in the water and said a small goodbye to their loved one. My job was to light their candle and to be an emotional support. As we started, the first campers came up, lit their candles, put it in the water, took a second to watch, and then returned to their seat in the boat.
I made it to the last camper. He was one of my campers. He came out and stood next to me. Just like the campers before him, I told him we’d do this in his time and he could take as much time as he wanted. He said he was ok to go ahead, so I lit the candle, helped him put down his boat in the water and put my hand on his shoulder to give him some support. He was the only one to stay bent on one knee that night. He kneeled there in the quiet, just staring at the little boat he set out in the water. It was at that moment he whispered, I don’t know who it was to, but a faint,
“That’s my mom man” with a sniffle at the end.
That’s what it took, just four little words, thirteen letters. After a week of listening to these men talk about their struggles with grief, it only took four words to destroy any form of emotional wall that I built. As we sat there on the back of the boat looking at the candle lit rafts floating away, I couldn’t help but cry. I wasn’t in pain at all. But at that moment I realized what I’d been watching all week. I’d been watching four of the strongest men that I’ve ever seen. Some who lost their loved ones only a very short time ago, walk around as if nothing had ever happened, having a great week, enjoying all that camp had to offer, smiling, telling jokes and just being kids again.
That night, I learned a new feeling. A feeling that I hope all the parents out there have felt and continue to feel regularly. That feeling in your soul where you are so incredibly proud of your kids that you just can’t hold it in any longer. I was proud of these men and the journey that they had been on. I was proud of who they’d become over the week. Going from the timid boys who walked into my cabin on Sunday, to the men who I tucked in bed as I gave an evening worship and words of affirmation.
When this week started, I thought I was going to have a fun week of learning, helping my campers, and just having a great time. However, as I write this I now know what really happened. While having the fun week of learning I hoped for, I received a little more. I saw growth unlike I saw before. I saw young people grieve and feel pain. I saw young people who went through emotional destruction hold a smile. I witnessed God in each of these campers. Looking back to when we went onto the boat, to the tears that were shed then, and once the campers had gone to bed, my tears weren’t of my pain, but of feeling for my campers, my family of Teen 1.
As you drop your campers here at camp, or at a bus pick-up point, you are trusting your most precious possessions with a group of college kids. Usually this would sound like a horrible idea and you would never do it for free, let alone pay for it. However, we are different here at Big Lake. We genuinely care about each and everyone of our campers. No matter who they are, what they know or what they believe, we care for the individual.
Our goal is to show love in a way that the world has not seen. We aim to show each and everyone of our campers who God is and what his love is all about.
Craig Louwen – Boys Counselor