Today, at Falcon Youth Camp, I had lunch with two camp counselors (both youth leaders) and my camp nurse (the wife of a youth leader). My task this weekend has been to complete the rooming assignments for my second and largest camp—Middle School—which begins tomorrow night at 6. During lunch, I took about 45 minutes to chat and decompress.
At the beginning of the conversation, we kept the topics very light-hearted. We talked about the camp food, teenagers who can’t seem to abide by the dress code, and why women shouldn’t get tattoos (trust me, eventually, that cute little butterfly is going to warp, shift, mutate, and turn into Mothra!) But eventually, one of the ladies began to share her concern for one of the teenagers in her youth group who has a horrendous home situation and is in a lot of trouble. As women, we listened and empathized and advised. But even while listening to her, I was struck by a thought: a lot of the times, it’s not the ones that are obviously in trouble that need our help the most.
One of the things that I remember about being a camper—and also about being a teenager—was that when things were bad in my life, I would plaster a smile on my face and hide behind it. Because of that, nobody ever knew when I was going through anything. And because nobody knew that I was going through anything, nobody could really help me. And today, as I listened to Paula talk about her teenager, I empathized, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the teenagers that are walking around camp smiling and looking put-together are actually pretty close to the edge.
Tonight, I got the chance to find out.
The worship service was incredible. Almost all of our almost-two-hundred high schoolers had flooded down to the front of the stage and were standing there with their hands raised, singing. I and most of the staff stood around the edges of the campers, singing. Glancing to my left, I saw Nate—one of our youth pastors—kneeling with his hands and face raised to the sky. Tears dripped down his face. God was moving and there was an air of expectation and gratitude.
When my speaker made his way to the stage, he did something that I’ve never seen a speaker do—he asked the teenagers to leave the altar and move back behind the worship area to the huge basketball court behind them. He asked them to spread out and get comfortable. And then, he asked them to close their eyes and worship.
The praise band sang through another song and I stood on the edge of the court and watched in awe as these teenagers just totally got reverent and focused on God. The speaker released the staff to pray with the kids. And we did. But the air of expectation remained and I was gripped by the feeling that whatever my assignment for the evening was, it hadn’t been completed. I looked around and saw teenagers standing with their hands raised and others sitting cross-legged on the court and others still, sitting along the walls with their heads down on their bent knees.
And then, my speaker gave the assignment. He asked the teenagers that if they were feeling depressed or suicidal and would like prayer, to raise their hands. Before the question was out of his mouth, I saw a hand raise all the way on the other side of the court. I didn’t wait to see which other hands raised. I knew that I was supposed to pray with her–the blonde in the lime green t-shirt that was sitting at the three-point line.
I had never met her, but it didn’t matter. By the time I reached her, she was gasping sobs. She was on her knees, rocking and when I reached out for her, she fell into my arms. I asked her name and somehow, I understood it through haze of tears and the curtain of hair that covered her face.
I never asked Keira what she needed me to pray for her. I just began to pray and I kept praying until I ran out of words. And then, I just held her and kept rocking. She curled into me and wept wave after wave of emotion into the collar of my white t-shirt.
Then, the words came again. I pulled back from her, looked at her face, and knew exactly what I was supposed to say.
“Keira, it’s like this. God created every part of you before the world began. And he has been madly in love with you ever since that moment that He created you. He has a purpose for you. But Satan is your enemy and he wants to steal your joy, take away your purpose, and kill you.”
I pushed her blonde hair off of her face and behind her ear. She looked at me, tears streaming, and I saw absolutely no hope in her eyes. For a moment, I had no words for her, but then they came again.
“I was in college. And one night, I decided that the pressure was more than I could stand. So, I got a Kleenex and I got up and found every pill that I could find and put them on the Kleenex…”
Before I could finish my story, Keira shot to attention like she’d been electrified. She grasped my hands and said, “That’s me! That’s what I did! That’s what I did!”
I told her the story—which I’ve told on this blog before—of the night I almost overdosed on pills. And as I told her, I watched her. And as I talked, I watched the light come on behind her eyes. I could almost see the words written on her forehead. It’s okay. I’m okay. Somebody understands me. Somebody has been where I’ve been. And when I saw that, I knew she’d be okay.
God gave Keira a lifeline tonight. And I’m humbled that He trusted me to help. I sat with her and explained how she doesn’t have to earn God’s love—He loves her because He created her. And she can’t be enough or do enough to make the world happy. But she doesn’t have to make the world happy. God didn’t create her to make the world happy. He created her to walk in the cool of the garden with Him, just like he created Adam and Eve to walk in the cool of the garden with Him. It’s all about our relationship with Him.
Before I got up off the basketball court, I reached for the only piece of paper that I had–my staff nametag. I pulled it out of its plastic cover and scrawled my cell phone number and email address on it. I handed it to her and said, “If you ever need me…”
Whether she ever contacts me again, I’m going to be praying that she calls on Jesus. And I’m pretty hopeful about that.