The other day I posted about a time in my life when I served as a counselor at a camp for abused and abandoned children. Several of you commented about how serving children in this way has impacted your life too. Since this seemed to resonate with you, I’d like to share a little bit more about my first year as a counselor at that camp. I apologize for the length of this post but it’s necessary to tell the story.
Faith For What We Do Not See
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for
and certain of what we do not see.
Lord, how can You possibly ask me to do this? I’m not trained to be a counselor!
The words welled up in me as I struggled to understand God’s persistent nudging. Suddenly I could feel His loving arms wrapped around my shoulders like a warm shawl. And then I felt the Holy Spirit’s words in my heart:
“My child, I want you to do this for Me.”
Well, how could I ignore that? I bowed to God’s greatness and silently whispered my thanks to Him for being so patient with me. And then I prayed one last thing: God, if You really want me to do this, please enable me for the task.
When God called me to be a counselor at a Christian camp for abused and abandoned children, I thought this would be a blessing to some very needy children. Week after week, the Lord pointed my eyes to the announcement in the church bulletin, yet I kept ignoring the urgings I felt that God wanted me to participate in some way. The word “counselor” stood out more than anything else in that announcement, but I felt completely unequipped for this position.
Four short months later I was at camp. One of the little girls in my charge was a particularly tough case. Eight-year-old Debbie* had been shuffled from one foster home to another. She was certain of only one thing: that she could expect abuse or negative treatment on a regular basis. Like so many of these abused children, she learned to bury her true emotions and instead developed a defensive posture, along with the frequent tendency to declare “No!” in response to any suggestions, fun or not.
Debbie’s stubbornness was not easy for any of us to deal with. Whenever we were to start anything new, whether it was crafts, chapel, or even games, Debbie’s standard response was “No!” She would literally crouch down and keep shouting this over and over again. I found myself praying almost constantly that entire week. My prayers would start, “Please God…” and as the Lord helped me deal with each difficulty, they then became, “Thank you, God…”
Our goal was to give these children a week of carefree fun, but Debbie’s tantrums kept testing my patience and that of the camp directors. After a couple of days of this negative behavior, we had a discussion about sending Debbie home early which greatly upset me. How could we take away this one week of fun from someone who rarely had the chance to do anything enjoyable? I pleaded with the directors to give her another chance and they agreed.
That same night, I found myself unable to sleep because of Debbie’s exceedingly vocal night terrors. She tossed and turned as she relived some terrifying experiences, and mumbled words such as Don’t! and Stop!
I got up to make sure she was all right and found her sleeping on her stomach facing me. I ran my hand lightly over her forehead, then up and down her back in a soothing manner. She didn’t seem to be sound asleep yet she was not fully awake either. As I kept rubbing her back, she continued to moan in a sing-song way. Even when I talked to her in an attempt to wake her out of her bad dream, she just moaned as if in pain. After about twenty minutes of this, I lay back down and tried to get to sleep, but it was impossible with all her moaning.
I lay wide awake. What to do now? I got up again and tried to quiet Debbie by rubbing her back. Once again, that didn’t work. Tears coursed down my face as I prayed … for guidance … for Debbie to stop … for me to be able to fall asleep again. I was so tired. How was I going to handle the rest of the week?
Once more I tried to sleep. When that did not work, I went back to Debbie and tried to wake her up. “Debbie, are you all right? Are you having a bad dream?”
This time she seemed to hear me. The answering groan was different from the others, almost like a real answer.
“Do you want to get up and talk for a while?” I asked.
Debbie’s eyelids flickered and then opened briefly. “Yeah,” her sleepy voice croaked as she sat up in her top bunk.
“Come on, I’ll help you climb down.” I assisted a very groggy Debbie by placing one of her feet at a time on each of the steps. When she was standing on the floor, I led her to the designated play area next to her bed and sat down, pulling her to a sitting position next to me.
The night air was cold and crisp up here in the mountains, so I put my arm around her and covered us both with a blanket. I looked down at her in anticipation of our little talk. Instead, she leaned her head against my arm and fell asleep again.
I shook my head in disbelief, thinking that maybe all she had needed was a change of position. I decided to sit with her this way for a while and leaned my head back against the wall and started praying for her again.
I asked God what I could say or do to help Debbie adjust better because I wanted her to enjoy her camping experience. He showed me that Debbie’s life was full of commands. She was never asked about anything. He then gave me one word: choices.
Even here at camp, she was expected to adhere to rules and a schedule, which in itself is not a bad thing, but difficult for her to deal with considering what the rest of her life was like. As I prayed about all of this, God showed me that if Debbie was given some limited choices, her responses might be different.
I sat with Debbie like this and prayed for about two hours. I realized then that I had better get some sleep before this day officially started. I eased Debbie away from me. “Do you want to sleep down here the rest of the night?” I whispered to her.
She seemed to understand and gave a sleep nod, so I fetched the pillow from her bunk. Lifting her head gently, I placed the pillow beneath it and then tucked the blanket around her better. I stood next to her for a few minutes to make sure she was all right. Now it was time to get back to my own bed.
It was already 4:30 a.m. as I fell into a light, fitful sleep. I had to be up again in about an hour. This time Debbie slept peacefully.
Several hours later, Debbie started her usual tantrum when informed it was time for chapel. Before she could get carried away, I told her she had the choice of going to chapel with me or to the nurse’s office. Of course, she chose to stay with the nurse. But not more than fifteen minutes later, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and there stood Debbie. “I want to be here with you,” she whispered.
I smiled at her and nodded to the nurse, who had escorted Debbie to chapel. As we stood to sing, I felt Debbie’s small hand slip into mine. Thank you, God…
When we returned home, all who had served at camp were treated to a special dinner at church. The counselors each received a certificate inscribed with a Scripture passage our leaders thought best described us. Much to my surprise, I saw that my certificate contained Hebrews 11:1, the verse which begins a chapter all about faith.
I had started out on this journey with a great deal of skepticism. I didn’t understand why God would call someone like me to serve Him in this way, but He kept me going by faith throughout the entire week and left me with a new understanding of His enabling power.
Whenever God resolves to use us in His work,
He will enable us to do it!
The following year, the camp administration carefully asked if I would be willing to have Debbie in my charge again. They were well aware of her frustrating behavior the previous year. “Of course I want Debbie back!” I replied. “She needs some consistency in her life.”
The Debbie who jumped off the bus that year was a totally different little girl. In fact, she helped me work with my other little charge, a girl who had been abused in many ways, including being physically beaten and thrown around. She suffered some brain damage because of this abuse and was very temperamental at times. Debbie helped me keep her calm, which was a huge help.
At the end of that week, Debbie told me she wanted to be a counselor when she was old enough, and a few years later, I heard that she was indeed a counselor-in-training. I’ve since lost track of her but God has had His hand on her all along so I know she is doing well.
Beloved, when you believe God is leading you to serve Him in some way, never forget that He will be right there beside you. He never leaves us alone to do His work.
Then people brought little children to Jesus
for him to place his hands on them and pray for them.
But the disciples rebuked them.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me,
and do not hinder them,
for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
When he had placed his hands on them,
he went on from there.
*Not her real name for her protection.