September 05, 2006


She put her arms around me, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Please,” she cried, “I want to go home. I want my mommy and daddy!”

It was only the second day of our week at the Community of the Great Commission, our church camp located near Foresthill. For most kids, a week at C.G.C. (as we like to call it) is the best week of the summer. Many have positive, life-changing experiences there, beneath the tall ponderosa pine trees and blue Sierra sky. Yet, at that moment, I had my doubts regarding just how positive this week would be for this particular nine year-old girl.

I wasn't ready to give up just yet. “I just talked to your parents on the phone,” I told her. “We'd like you to stay at camp, at least for another 24 hours, and see how it goes.” Our reasoning was that after another 24 hours, the week would be nearly half over, and if she could make it halfway, then perhaps she'd see that she could make it all the way to the end of the week.

She, of course, didn't see it that way. “No! Danny, I'm begging you! I want to go home!” More tears.

I realized that she was clinging to me because I was the camp director, the one person who could – with a simple phone call – have her on her way home in a matter of hours. So I sent her off, told her I didn't want to hear her crying for the next 24 hours, and walked away. It seemed that I was doing the right thing, though it also seemed cold-hearted. “Tough love,” I guess; though I think it was as tough for me as it was for her.

Later that day, I saw her walking with a group of campers down a path. “How are you doing?” I asked her. I knew I probably shouldn't be bringing up the issue, but I felt sorry for her and for having to cut her off earlier. “Well,” she said, “it depends on what my mind is on. If my mind is looking forward to the fun I'll be having this week, I'm OK, but if I look back to what I'm missing, I get sad and want to go home.” She wasn't crying, but tears weren't far below the surface.

“OK, then,” I said. “Just keep your mind focused on fun, and you'll be all right.”

“I'm trying, but it's hard.”

Yes, it is hard. Changes come, we grow, and life goes on. With each change, we leave something behind. With each “moving on,” a part of us is left grieving.

Our tendency is to cling to our past, to hold on to what is familiar. We long for the home we once knew. Everything is always in a state of change: our lives, our families, our communities, our world. When the changes come too fast, we just want to cry, “Please! I want to go home! I want to go back!”

But time does not move backward, only forward. We let go, grieve what we have lost, and look forward to the future.

The next day, she was smiling. In fact, she was having the time of her life. She had learned to focus her mind on the present and the future. She hadn't forgotten her past – her home, her family – but was now able to look forward with hope, confidence, and even enthusiasm. By the end of the week, you could see the joy on her face, so proud was she for making it through all seven days.

When her parents came to pick her up, she ran to them, gave them a big hug, and began telling them about all the wonderful things that had happened to her at camp. Her parents smiled, eagerly sharing in her happiness; but as I watched, I thought I saw upon their faces something else. In their eyes, I thought I saw the awareness that one day not too far off, it will be they who will have to let go of the past. One day, they will be grieving the loss of the little girl they once knew, and welcoming into their lives the young woman who has taken her place.

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