Last year, I got to share a story on the ROCKHARBOR blog based on my time at Royal Family Kids Camp that summer. Other true stories from this same camp have become a movie: CAMP (easy to remember). This week, I’m making a shameless plug to GO SEE THIS MOVIE, and I’m reposting “She Came Back” to show you a little bit of why I, too, come back each year.
She Came Back
Sharing someone else’s story is hard. So I won’t share her story. I will share mine, and where it intersected with hers. It was only for five days, and only for moments at a time. So you see, I don’t really even know enough to share her full story.
I first saw her name when I wrote it on her bunk bed’s sign. I first saw her face when she peeked out from her curly mop of hair as she organized that same bunk bed. I first felt her strength when she wrapped me in what she called a bear hug but I swear was a way to show me she could crush me.
She is eight years old. I am thirty-three. I have been to this camp before. So has she. Royal Family Kids Camp. A camp for abused and neglected children. I was scared the first time, but it is now my favorite week of the year. It is a camp filled with children that are easy to love. I have never met an 8 year old that was difficult to love. Until this one.
Let me back up to the first steps she took off the bus. I wasn’t there for this moment, but I was told that when she first met her camp counselor – my cabin-mate for the week – her first words were of the four-letter variety, words that should be unfamiliar to an 8-year-old, making her position crystal clear: she was NOT here to receive love.
But we were there to give it. And all week long she flung it in our faces. She was obstinate and rude and physically abusive to all adults in her path. I shed many tears that week wondering “Child, what evil could have been done to you for you to know this kind of hate, this kind of raw mean-ness?”
You see, that’s the part of her story I don’t know. I don’t know anything about what happened to her before she stepped off the bus, or after she stepped back on. But for those days in between the bus steps, God’s family – God’s ARMY – rallied and fought and stretched at the seams to prove to her and to ourselves that our love could conquer her hate. To rise to the challenge of loving our enemies with Christ’s love – all the while wondering how an eight year old just became our enemy.
104 kids came to Royal Family Kids Camp this summer through ROCKHARBOR’s partnership with other local churches. 104 broken stories intersected with about two hundred adult volunteer’s stories. And most of those intersections are sweet, fun-loving, precious, swimming and splashing and having a good time. We get to plant some happy memories in the lives of children that have had brokenness hit them all too early.
For five days, 300 stories converge at camp, and let me tell you, it is a beautiful mess. Messy because the kids aren’t the only ones who come with brokenness. But beautiful because it is redemption. Because it IS love conquering hate. Because it IS an army of believers standing up to the evil done to these children and saying EVIL, YOU WILL NOT WIN.
On the day that she climbed the bus steps to leave camp, I was right behind her. Leaving a week of camp is sad for any child, but can be especially heart-breaking for a child returning to an unknown fate in the foster system. So tears are abundant. In front of me, I heard her commanding a six year old: “Stop crying. STOP CRYING.” Oh no, I thought, she is gonna cuss out this 6-year-old for crying. This is gonna get ugly.
But instead, the next words shocked me as this hard-to-love camper said “I know how you feel, because I cried for a whole week after I left my first year. But I came back.”
Right there, her story’s intersection with mine became much more than a child who was hard to love for five days. Right then, she unwittingly let me see inside a heart that has clung to these five days. Where she will spit. And we will love. Where she will cuss. And we will love. Where she will run. And we will chase. Where she will fight with us. And we will fight for her.
She came back. And so will I, again and again and again.