Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Worry and Trust: A Reflection from Camp

Last week I again had the privilege of serving at Royal Family Kids Camp, an annual, one-week camp for kids in the foster care system. Each summer I've served--this was year 3 for me--I feel like I need to process the week in writing, to make sense of the things that I've experienced, felt, and learned through my service. This summer is no different, though it's taking longer for me this time around.

Image courtesy Royal Family Kids of NW Iowa. All rights reserved.

We returned from Camp on Friday afternoon, and I was wiped out. I suspect most of us were, actually. We had 53 campers, and almost 100 staff members working with them both in 1-on-1 roles as Guides ("counselor" often has a different connotation for kids in foster care) or, as I was serving, in a supporting role. It's a demanding week, no matter the capacity in which you serve. Our goal is to lavish love on the kids who are there, being fully-present, nurturing influences in their lives for a week. But that kind of "always on" takes a toll, and by Friday I was wiped out.

Saturday was a low-energy day, just getting caught up around the house after a week of being gone, and getting caught up at work, since I had to lead a meeting first thing on Monday morning.

Sunday was a busy day for me leading worship at church, which always is demanding in it's way too.

Monday was back to the office, leading a meeting with new faculty members and catching up (or trying to) on emails and other communications from being away from campus for a week.

And now, it's Tuesday, and I feel like I finally have time to think through my week and sort out my feelings.

I may have other things I'll share here on the blog, but one thing I've been thinking about that was a moment just in passing on Friday that has kept coming back to me in the past few days.

One of the best/hardest things I get to do at camp is ride the limo back from Camp with the boys. After saying goodbyes to their Guides, the boys climb into one limo, and the girls into another, and wave our farewells to the huge group of staff members seeing us off. We on the limos leave Camp in the hands of the rest of the staff who stay back to clean up and pack up. I'm not the only staff member on the limo, of course. There were a handful of us with the 20 or so boys heading to the church where their foster parents would be picking them up. A few were tearful, many were stoic. (One six-year-old sitting next to me sat facing the window and just cried for most of the trip--heartbreaking!) A few make jokes and try to keep the mood light, but overall, it's a pretty quiet ride. Maybe you can picture it?

Upon getting back to church, the boys pile out of one limo, and the girls out of the other. I met up with my wife, who is "the music lady" at Camp, teaching the campers the lyrics and accompanying motions for songs we sing in chapel and Breakfast Club. She was there to lead the kids in singing a few songs for the foster parents to give them a glimpse into what the week at Camp is like. She asked how the limo ride was, and I explained. I mentioned how hard it is seeing kids waving farewell to their Guides, and how hard it is seeing Guides waving back from the curb, eyes behind sunglasses to hide the tears.

After this, almost flippantly I said, "It feels weird for me to just leave my luggage at Camp, and trust that some member of the staff will grab my stuff and make sure that it gets on the trailer." And she responded, "Imagine how the campers must feel." I nodded, and we went on.

It was just a quick moment, and we were into the church with the kiddos, and singing songs, and watching a brief video recap of the week, and suddenly the campers were gone.

But I've been thinking about my wife's comment:

Imagine how the campers must feel.

It's a strange thought, isn't it? When you become aware of it? I imagine a feeling of almost constant worry.

Imagine being a kid in foster care. Imagine having to continuously shuffle from one home to another. Imagine cramming your worldly possessions into whatever receptacle you have handy for a quick packing up--probably a garbage bag. Imagine how worrying that must be to have to rely on someone else to ensure that your stuff ends up with you and where it's supposed to be.

In this brief moment with my wife, I expressed what is really a pretty small worry for me. If, somehow, my stuff got left behind at Camp, I would just drive myself back out there and get it. I have agency, and the wherewithal to do this.

But the kiddos? Not so much.

One of our campers this year had a hard time settling down at bedtime the first night. (He was not alone in this, of course. Lots of kiddos have a hard time their first night at Camp, and not just kids from foster care.) But this camper in particular had a rough time of it. He didn't want to take his shoes off. He didn't want to get under the covers. He didn't want to lie down even. In fact, he had all of his stuff piled in his bunk with him, and none of it unpacked at all. His anxiety was high. He was primed to run--ready to go at a moment's notice, and not letting his guard down. My heart ached for him, and still does. What must he have experienced that set him up for this fight-or-flight hyper-vigilance?

After my small moment of worry about my stuff, I have a different sense of empathy for this young boy. He has much, much bigger worries than I do in this regard.


There is more to the story.

The second night, when we were putting campers to bed, he was still vigilant and sitting up in his bunk, but he had his shoes off. And after a few minutes of sitting there after bedtime stories and lights out, as I gently played my guitar for a little background music, he suddenly laid over, and was fast asleep in a matter of seconds, sprawled sideways in his bunk.

And the third night? He was under the covers, resting calmly, and settled in even during bedtime stories.

Were his worries evaporated? I suspect not. But...I'm just guessing here...he was able to settle in because he was learning trust. He was able to trust that we had good intentions for him. He was able to trust that we loved him, and cared about him, and were looking out for him. And with that trust came calm, peace, and rest.

And perhaps that's the lesson I'm taking away this year--the campers always teach me! I recognize that I worry more than I would like to admit. I believe that God loves me, and cares for me, and is looking out for me. But am I willing to let go of my worries enough to experience the calm, and peace, and rest that God provides? My worries might not be completely gone, but I don't have to embody my worries. I too can rest in the care of One who I can trust completely.


  1. thank you for sharing your reflection and thoughts Dave. I believe it can hit a chord with many many of us. It was an honor serving alongside you this past week!

    1. Grateful for your comment. I'm glad this resonated!