January 19, 2006

Tears in the Night

It's 1:30 a.m. It's cold. And I need to go to the bathroom, which means crawling out of my sleeping bag, stepping onto the cabin's cold cement floor, going outside and walking 20 yards up the hill. That's part of the package when you counsel at our midwinter retreat for middle schoolers.

Outside the bathroom, I encounter a seventh grade boy. As I approach, he wipes tears from his eyes. I ask, "What's wrong?"

He says, "Kids are picking on me at school. They say things about me, they write things about me in the textbooks."

"Are the things they write true?" I ask. Perhaps that wasn't the right thing to ask.

"No," he answers quietly. "But kids who read them think they are."

I'm shivering, and I still need to go to the bathroom, so I invite him to come along and get out of the cold. We continue our conversation, but after a few minutes, I realize that having a serious one-on-one conversation with a camper in the middle of the night goes against all the training I've ever received on how to protect both children and the adults who work with them. So I say to this kid, "I want to talk more about this, but right now I think we both need to get back to bed. We have a long day tomorrow. Let's walk back to the cabin. Right now, I want you to go back to bed and try not to think about this. We still have the rest of the weekend, and we can talk about it during the day. OK?"

"OK." So we go back to sleep, and the next day he reports to me that he was able to sleep after I talked with him.

Later in the day, I try to talk to him some more (as I promised), but we never do find the time to sit down and have a deep conversation. I am able to let him know that I'm thinking about him and praying for him. Maybe that's enough. I don't know.

This seventh grader lives several hundred miles away, so it's impractical (and perhaps inappropriate) for me to follow up. But I can keep praying....

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