Well I have a story from this week (Teen Camp) that I’m going to try to share though I’m not sure if I’ll do it any justice. I’m going to try anyway. But before I dive into this story, I have to say quickly that this is one of a hundred stories I could tell you from just our few first days of camp. These days are just SO FULL of goodness, and the joy is abundant. So I’ve chosen one story – as I’ll continue to do over the summer – but know that for every one story that cracks your heart right open there are a hundred more.
So first, let me tell you about Nugget. Nugget is one of our kitchen staff. He’s pretty fabulous – full of energy and fun, always willing to help out with whatever needs doing, and he’s great for morale at camp. People love Nugget (I mean, he calls himself Nugget) and they love being around him. He is certainly looked up to by the campers and younger staff, and he’s respected and loved by the adult and visiting staff as well. Everyone at this camp is a cool kid, but you know what I mean when I say Nugget is one of the cool kids. If we’re looking to get everyone excited about something, if Nugget’s on board the rest is easy. We’re very lucky to have him here.
Now let me tell you about Ben. Ben is one of our Visiting Staff children this week, which means his mom is helping out with the running of our program. Ben is 6, and he’s adorable. Since he was a little boy he has liked dressing up in tutus and dresses and heels – it’s just kind of a thing for him. His parents have been incredibly loving and supportive, and allow him to just be who he is. But as he has gotten older, he has started to realize that he’s different that way, and that at times he will be made fun of or not accepted when he’s wearing some of his favored attire. He has started to hide his affection for them, and tends to only dress that way or wear jewelry when he’s home with his family.
This week his mom brought along a bracelet-making kit as an activity for Ben and his sister for a point in the week when they might get bored, but on the first day Ben started asking for it. She gave him the kit, and he made himself four bracelets, which he was incredibly excited about. He put one on each wrist and each ankle, and slept with them on all night. In the morning when they were getting ready to leave the room, he started removing the bracelets. When his mom asked him why he was taking them off he replied “I don’t want to be made fun of.”
Mom looked at him squarely and said, “Ben, you will not be made fun of here. You can wear your bracelets.”
He was doubtful, but decided to keep just one – a particularly sparkly and shiny one – wrapped around his ankle, and left his room for the day.
He went about his day at camp, as everyone else went about theirs, and later in the day he met up with his mom for a meal. When she asked him how his day was going and if he was having fun, he looked up at her and said:
“Nugget told me he liked my bracelet.”
Now listen – Nugget didn’t know. He didn’t know that Ben was a little boy that was trying to find his way in an already confusing world and that he was struggling with being who he is in a society that wanted him to be somebody else. He didn’t know that Ben’s sparkly bracelet wrapped around his ankle was a tremendous act of courage on a casual day at camp. He didn’t know that by complimenting the bracelet he would offer Ben the incredible gift of knowing that one of the cool kids thought his sparkle was cool. Nugget was just doing what he does – smiling, encouraging, and accepting.
That’s what we all do here. We allow people to be exactly who they are. We allow them wear their sparkle, to share their dreams, to take chances, and to be courageous. We encourage one another to come out of our shells and try something that petrifies us. We compliment each other, applaud each other, and lift each other up in moments that the rest of the world might try to cut us down. And once we start loving one another in this way, there’s no stopping the momentum. Love begets more love, support begets support, and courage begets courage. We grow and we change and spread our wings under God’s watchful care.
I chose this story because it encapsulates what is taking place at this camp in this sacred little corner of Rhode Island. This is what we are talking about when we say we are making disciples here: we excel at loving one another. And the more we foster that community in this special place, the more able our young people can be courageous in the rest of their lives. Maybe, eventually, Ben can wear his sparkle out of the house at home because he knows – in some corner of his mind – that Nugget thinks he’s cool.
And he is cool. That little boy sparkles. We all do here.