It doesn’t take a romantic to believe that there is a healing power in love. From the time we’re little kids, we’re told stories about it – everything from how the princess kissed the frog and turned him into a prince to my personal favorite, the velveteen rabbit, who was so loved by a child that he became real.
Some of the most healing experiences I’ve had have been at the hands of children. There was Nathan, who used to lay his little curly head on my chest and sleep while he was teething. And then there was Jacob, with the speech impediment, who would throw his three-year-old arms around my neck and exclaim, “Me Yarah!” (That’s “Miss Sarah” in Jacob’s language.) And then there was Kaitlyn, whose story I’ve shared before, but whose love is still healing to me…
I’ve known Kaitlyn since she was three. She must be about ten now. And now, as when I met her, she’s a teeny, tiny, precious, precocious princess. From the time I met her, she struck me as special and delicate, and my instinct was to protect her.
When she was six, Kaitlyn came to summer camp for the first time. At my last job, one of the largest parts of my job was to coordinate camp for several hundred kids. But on the night she arrived for her first camp, she bee-lined straight to the head of the line and threw her tiny arms around my hips, and beamed from ear to ear. I hugged her back and squatted down to talk to her for a bit.
Knowing that Kaitlyn had never spent the night away from home before, I kept a special eye on her that week. Every morning at breakfast, I’d go find her, hug her. She was just fine. Every day at lunch, she would run up and hug me. She was so happy to be at camp.
Until Friday night.
On Friday night when I entered the snack shop, the noise was overwhelming. Over sizzling hot dogs on the grill and French fries hitting the oil, the kids laughed, screamed, and shouted to hear their own conversations over the din. And in the noise, I missed the tiny, tearful voice talking to the counselor next to me. Until the counselor said my name.
“Miss Sarah, Kaitlyn has lost her nametag. Can you make her a new one?”
I looked down into the sad little face and it almost broke my heart.
“I’m sorry. I don’t have extras. I still have a lot of campers coming. I have to have enough for them, too.”
Kaitlyn nodded sadly, playing with one of her pigtails, and at that moment, her lost nametag seemed like the biggest tragedy in the world. I had to do something. I had the power to fix her sadness. I had to do something!
In a moment of brilliance, I pulled my own nametag off.
“Kaitlyn, would you like to be Miss Sarah for the rest of the week?”
Her face lit up and she nodded. I put it around her neck just before she threw her arms around me in as big of a hug as her teeny little arms could handle. She ran back to her group and showed them all her new treasure.
The next day, at a staff meeting, her counselor told me that Kaitlyn still had the nametag, and was making all of her bunkmates call her “Miss Sarah.” It made me smile, but it also made me think, because most of my life, I have despised being me. But this child loved me so much that she wanted to be called by my name. She saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself.
Kaitlyn didn’t know what she did for me that day. She may never know. But it makes it no less real, and no less healing to me.
Brennan Manning says, “You have the power to give someone the courage to be, simply by the touch of your affirmation.” (Manning, 93)
Four years later, I’m still trying to find “the courage to be.” But it’s been made easier by moments like my moment with Kaitlyn. It’s my prayer that I provide those kinds of moments for the others in my life. I want people to know how important they are to me. I want them to know how much I love them. And I want to love like Kaitlyn.
This post is part of our weekly discussion on Brennan Manning’s “The Furious Longing of God.” If you’ve written a response to this week’s chapter, please feel free to link it up at the widget below. And when you get done, drop by my co-facilitator, Jason Stasyszen’s place, and see what he has to say.