I noticed him the very first day at camp. He sat to my right as I spoke to the kids. He sat alone and was in a fairly isolated spot on the floor. As a seasoned camp speaker I’ve learned to ignore a lot of things when I’m speaking. This little guy with a mohawk seemed to hear his own music. While I was speaking he would slowly rotate his arms around his head as if conducting his own music. Every now and then he would twitch. He was not disruptive but he was noticed, by me.
I learned a long time ago that kids rarely look like they are listening and yet most often they are listening. The little guy in my audience gave absolutely no indication that he was listening let alone comprehending anything I was saying. I’ve also learned not to judge a person’s story by their behavior. I knew he had a story and I wondered….
This girl shared her story with me halfway through the week. With her permission I shared some if it on Instagram:
“I started doing Marijuana with my cousins when I was 7. On the Res everyone did drugs, it’s different there. I would deliver drugs to my aunt but I didn’t know the package was drugs. I just thought she wanted to see me, but no. I’ve been in about 200 foster homes. The parent I’m closest to is my dad but now he’s in prison for life and doesn’t want me. My mom is in prison too and she doesn’t want me either. At age 10 I started doing hardcore drugs. I didn’t know it wasn’t ok. I didn’t know it could harm you. Then I started going to church and was told God loved me no matter what and my back story didn’t change God’s love. I was sent here to camp as a punishment and it worked (I hate that my foster parents were right!). I started a relationship with Jesus last night. I feel happy, I feel different. I want to do good things now.”
This 12 year old broke me as she told me her story this morning. I mean broke me. Puddle on the floor. Her favorite word is Emmanuel “because it means God’s always with me. Always.” She’s been clean from drugs and cutting for 2 months. God is doing a new thing in her.
One of our counselors shared his story of God’s redemptive work in his life yesterday morning and it connected with her story and God used it. Leaders, please don’t ever forget to share your stage and give others a space to share their story. It is so not about us.
I grabbed this little one’s face, looked her in the eye and blessed her. Not because it was comfortable or easy but because God told me to do it. “I bless you for your bravery, I bless you for sharing your story. May you know deep in your soul that you are loved and never alone. May you never forget that God has redeemed you and called you by name. I bless you as you begin to see God weave beauty out of your messy story. You are worthwhile and you are loved.” And then she went inside and Miss Mel had a very messy breakdown.
Through the course of her sharing her story I put together that her little brother was also at camp and that her brother was my little mohawk kid. She rushed to assure me, “he’s had it a lot easier than me. He’s only 9 and he’s only been in two foster homes.” She told me he had recently been diagnosed with autism. Before she shared some of her story with the camp the next morning. I asked her if her brother would be ok with her sharing. She told me he wouldn’t understand any of it.
I kept my eye on that little mohawk kid. I learned his name and watched him interact (or not interact) with other kids. There was no question he had some difficulties. His speech seemed to be severely limited. I actually never heard him talk. I knew that although his sister thought he had had it easier he had been significantly affected by his home life and present abandonment. Of course, my heart broke.
Towards the end of camp he came up to me while we were swimming and we “talked” briefly. He floated in his life jacket and just beamed at me. He seemed content to just be near me. Of course, he stole my heart.
The last day of camp kids were sharing what God had taught them that week. I had a long line of kids up front sharing. I did a double take when Little Mohawk was at the end of the line. I went through 20 kids and in the back of my head I wondered how I was going to handle him. I knew he couldn’t talk and I wasn’t sure why he was up front. He was the last kid to go and I treated him the same way I had every other kid. I said his name and asked him, “what’s God been teaching you this week?”. I held my breath as he smiled at me and his mouth struggled to form words. It seemed the whole camp held their breath because there was silence until he burst out with the word, “love!”. It wasn’t entirely clear but everyone could identify the word. I repeated “love” and he smiled and bobbed his head at me. Without prompting the entire group did a little gasp and started cheering and clapping for him. He smiled until I thought his face would break.
As he walked off stage I took a minute to compose myself. When I turned back around he had grabbed his stuff and moved to sit in the very middle of the room surrounded by kids. And he kept smiling.
I had to leave camp right after that last chapel. Kids were high fiving and hugging me goodbye. Little Mohawk came up to me still smiling. I opened my arms and he dove in and gave me a huge hug. I hugged him back and held my tears.
As I drove away from that camp tears ran down my face as I thought of Little Mohawk. As I praised the God of miracles. As I marveled over moments like that. As I whispered to Jesus, “could I please do this forever?”.
To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory. Isaiah 61:3