The world is shouting. Screams of pain, loss, tragedy, starvation, disease, injustice, shootings, disasters. The chaos hit particularly close to home when one of the officers who died in the Dallas shootings was a member at my church. Everything in me wanted to shut the world out, I felt hopeless, I felt useless, I felt worn out. The world shouts in pain and just before I decided to tune it all out, I arrived at Camp Buckner for my second year volunteering at Camp Agape. Camp agape is a bereavement camp for children who have had a family member die. I heard the cries, the shouts, the pain of these 34 children. And it was heart-shattering.
A room full of adults and children, candles in hand, tears flowing down cheeks. A young girl sings “You raise me up.” My body is covered in chills and I begin to cry. One by one we light a candle, and share the loved one we lost.It’s awkward, it’s hard, it’s surreal. I added a new name to the list this year, my best friend Katie. We barely get through all the names when the soft guitar music is beginning to be drowned out by sobs and even screams from children. A ripple effect ensues as children and adults realize that it is a safe place to cry, scream, shout, sit, stand, kneel. No one will tell them to stop, or to not talk about their loved one, or to “be strong.” This is a time for them to grieve. And many do. Their losses are heavy. Children whose siblings drowned, died of cancer or committed suicide. Children with moms who died for health reasons, dads who died in car accidents. No one cried alone in that room, as campers and buddies trickled outside, no one sat alone. No one should grieve alone.
My camper had lost her oldest brother to suicide last year. The first night, before bed,the Buddy’s led devotionals with their campers. I’ll never forget her words, she said “I never got to say goodbye.” And a few minutes later, “I will never know why he did.that.” Death sucks, man. That next day she wrote on a balloon, during a forgiveness activity and released that heavy burden as she let the balloon go. I wept as I saw the words “I forgive you for what you did, brother,” float up into the sky on that yellow balloon.
My camper loves animals, ketchup and was full of so many quick, witty one-liners. The first time I heard her say “Why run, when you can walk” made me laugh so hard, I doubled-over. One of my favorite moments was when I was telling her that during free time we could choose to swim or kayak. I was hoping she’d say swim, but I made sure she knew I was willing to do either. I said “Hey, so, today we can kayak during freetime or swim, it’s totally up to you.” Deep down i was saying PLEASE SAY SWIM, PLEASE SAY SWIM, ITS 100 DEGREES, PLEASE SAY SWIM. She said very matter of factly “Kayaking is A LOT OF WORK. Your arms get tired and you can’t even get in the water. I want to swim.” PRAISE THA LORD. We went swimming! The joy she had despite her circumstances gave me hope.
We both drowned our food in ketchup (as she says, “If it’s not covered in ketchup, it needs more ketchup.) We both woke up like 10 minutes before it was time to leave and were ready in time (hair a bit messy, but we were ready!!) We both have brothers, we both love animals, hate running and loved to play Gaga ball. We also both have experienced losses due to suicide. I was her age when I lost my first friend to suicide. It was a beautiful experience to look at an almost 9 year old version of myself and pray with her, cry with her, laugh with her, sit with her, and encourage her. To listen to one of the voices crying out in this broken world, and to be able to help give her the tools to grieve and to comfort her with the same comfort God has given me was a life-changing experience.
After my friend died in 2007, I found a quote that describes the grieving process so well, and it really captures what Camp Agape was like and so in spite of all my writing instincts, i’m going to end this here blog with a quote.
“Our hearts are heavy and light, we laugh and scream and sing, our hearts are heavy and light.”