First, a little background. When Bethany decided earlier this summer that she wanted to go to FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) camp, I encouraged her to invite a friend to go with her. I was a little surprised, at first, that she didn't want to invite a friend, but she insisted that she wanted to go by herself. As I thought about it, though, I understood. In our small community, she is known by two things ... she's the girl whose sister died of cancer, and she's the principal's kid. Sometimes she just wants to go somewhere and be anonymous, and that was the case here. So that was the plan ... she was going to go off to camp for four days, not knowing a soul. Also, the literature we received from the camp said the kids should not bother bringing their cell phones, because there was no cell phone coverage there anyway. A number was provided in case of an emergency, but basically, it appeared that there would be no communication with Bethany until the day I picked her up.
Well, Bethany had just arrived home late Saturday evening from Florida, was home on Sunday, and then I was to have her at camp by 1:30 on Monday. She also had basketball practice on Monday morning before we left! Fortunately, it's only about a 30-minute drive to where the camp was being held, but by the time she practiced, had a quick shower, and downed her lunch, we were running late. She'd been unusually quiet all morning, and grew even more quiet as we drove along. I knew what was going through her mind (Moms always know, don't we?). She was starting to get a little worried about this "I want to go all by myself" thing. As we got closer, I knew if I just gave her the opportunity, she'd back out. I was tempted, let me tell you ... I was not looking forward to not seeing or hearing from her for four days, after she'd just been gone for a week! But I wanted her to go ... I knew it would be good for her ... so I kept driving and kept smiling like everything was great.
As we approached the turn-in to the camp, I was a little concerned because we were late. I didn't know where to go for registration, and what if it was already closed? I spotted a few counselor-looking types kicking a ball around near the entrance. Maybe one of them would help us. Even as these thoughts were going through my mind, those teenagers abandoned their ball and literally sprinted to our car. Two came to my window and two to Bethany's window, and the words started flying -- "What's your name?", "Where do you go to school?", "What sport do you play?", "Are you ready for camp?", "We're so glad you're here!", "Welcome to camp!". This was the perkiest group of kids I'd ever seen, especially considering that it was 102 degrees outside! They directed us toward the registration building, and as we drove along, we were met by another friendly counselor. She showed us where to park, then walked us into the building and guided us through the process. At every station, there were enthusiastic, helpful, extremely hyperactive counselors.
Back out to the parking lot we went, where they pulled Bethany's suitcase out of the trunk for her (no small feat, let me tell you!). I hugged her good-bye there in the parking lot and pulled out. As I looked in my rear view mirror, I saw Bethany heading to her bunkhouse, flanked on each side by a counselor. A big tall guy counselor had her suitcase up on his shoulder! She didn't look nearly as alone as she had when we arrived.
I was inexplicably weepy all the way home. I'm not usually like that. But four days without talking to my girl? I don't think I've ever gone four days without talking to Bethany!
All afternoon and on into the evening I worried about her. I couldn't imagine what she was doing. What kind of activities was she involved with? What did her dorm look like? What kind of food was she eating? Who was she hanging out with? Was she having a good time?
And then I heard it. You know, the "ding ding" that indicates an incoming text. It was three words from Bethany: "Camp is awesome!" Yes, I know she wasn't supposed to bring her phone because there was no cell phone reception, but hey, teenagers and their phones are inseparable, and she brought it along just in case she could use it. I sure was glad she did. Over the next few days, we heard from her very sporadically (they kept her busy!), but just enough to know she was having a great time. I picked her up Thursday afternoon ... hot, dirty, tired, but more mature in Christ than when she left home.
So what's the odd/crazy part of this story? As the week went by, I began to notice parallels between Bethany going to FCA camp and Hannah going to Heaven. Wait ... What? Just hang with me for a minute...
- Hannah had to make the journey to Heaven all by herself. I couldn't go with her. She couldn't back out or change her mind. And I'm sure she had some apprehension about the unknown, though she never showed it.
- Just like those perky, overly-enthusiastic counselors met us at the camp entrance and walked us through the registration process, I believe Hannah was welcomed and accompanied by angels every step along her way. What a comforting thought!
- And just as that big counselor guy hoisted Bethany's suitcase up on his shoulder like it was a featherweight, Hannah's burdens of cancer, pain, mental fog, and physical weakness were lifted from her shoulders in a moment.
- I wonder the same things about Hannah that I wondered about Bethany. What is she spending her time doing? What do her accommodations look like? What kind of food is she eating? Who is she hanging out with? Is she having a good time? (I'm pretty sure I know the answer to that last one!)
- Finally, just as Bethany grew in Christ during her time at camp, I know that Hannah has grown as well. In fact, I believe she has so far outpaced all of us still here on earth, it's beyond my ability to even imagine. I look forward to her teaching me what she's learned some day!
Obviously, there are differences. I will never get another text from Hannah or hear her voice on the phone again. I don't get to pick her up at the end of the week and listen to her excitedly describe what she's been doing while she's been away. I can't give her a hug and tell her how much I've missed her. But, thank God, I will one day!
On the last morning at camp, they woke the senior girls up and had them do a "Golgotha Run", where they ran around the lake (about a mile) with a 2"x4" on their back to simulate carrying a cross. What a great way to end the week! It's a reminder that even though Hannah might be at "camp" for a long time before we can join her, we still have a job to do here. We must continue to pick up our cross daily and live for Him while we're waiting.