I had the opportunity to be a on staff at a Royal Family Kids camp this summer in Bellingham, Washington. Royal Family is designed for children who have experienced abuse or neglect to experience the exact opposite. There is a quote somewhere that says the opposite of bad isn’t good, the opposite of bad is love. At Royal Family, being, showing, and giving the exact opposite of bad is what brings and changes the kids who are there. I chose to go to the camp because Anna Robertson asked myself and my (now) girlfriend Cara Cason to attend as staff. I heard the description, was overwhelmed by her excitement and said yes on the whim. So off we went, our thorough preparation reaching as far as a Skype call and fanning through the camp constitution while heading North.
My expectations for the week were high as I had staffed at a camp similar for disabled kids and knew the impact that these camps have. There were some definite fears however as I began to realize how I had committed to something that I really wasn’t able to have a set and realistic expectation of. Were all of the kids going to be difficult to control? Would they be acting out in post-event rage? Would they do certain things that were logically unexplainable? After a while of letting fears pretend they had power, I once again realized the insignificance of myself, and in all honesty was stoked from the moment I arrived at the camp until we arrived home.
I led along with Cara as a camp coach, meaning that we put on all of the group games, station activities, and morning workouts. We were able to put on games and pretty much watch kids be kids. It’s a pretty special thing to see someone enjoy something in such an intense way when you know moments of their early lives might not have been all that enjoyable. That’s not what anybody needs to think about when you’re watching 11 year olds play capture the flag together, get up at 6:30am just to rush in a lake with one another, or play zip bong under the porch in a snug circle as the rain passes. I realized these kids were completely kids. That they weren’t defined by what had happened to them, or the things they didn’t receive that every kid should. Still getting chills from it actually. Not a whole lot grows my desire to love fully, give everything, and watch the soul-gripping change that Christ can have on anybody than being able to do it with kids who haven’t seen it before. For me personally, I had to do a lot of wild and crazy things to be apart of making the week as good as it could be for the kids. I didn’t know anybody around me, but by putting my comforts aside and being wild and crazy and not really giving a hoot about perceptions, I began to make deep connections with those around me. It did force me to get out of my little box though, and that’s always hard. People can’t really see me very well when I’m in a box, and if Christ is in me that that must be really hard. So I got out of it this week and shared in some awesome moments.
There should be a category of adjectives that can only be used to describe the especially (special adjective inserted here) things. Like the kind of times when you’re like, man I wish I wouldn’t have said good a lot already, because that was really, really good! That is the kind of description I would put on the week as a whole I guess. There is one word I can think of that isn’t used all that often that was very much apart of the week, and that is Namaste. In Irresistible revolution, Shane Claiborne writes of a time he stayed with some leapors in Calcutta. In their daily interactions, they would use the word Namaste, which is a way to say that one can see Jesus in another. At camp, I could see Jesus in all sorts of ways in those I was around. I dind’t know the slightest about where they came from, and all that. Sometimes I guess it’s pretty refreshing to not have a clue about what doesn’t matter. What mattered is that we were depending on each other throughout the week as staff. It takes energy to try to change lives in one week, and it is essential to be renewed in community in times like these. When put in moments of deep interdependence, times that true generous sacrifice must be present to sustain one another, the fog on the window that I have to look through to see my weaknesses always seems to get wiped away. All the sudden I cringe. If you have ever sat down while on a picnic, calm and at peace, and then minutes in realize that there is a beehive dripping with potential pain not more than a few feet away, you may have felt the feeling. It was the “has that really been in me all this time?” There is an immediate urgency to be purified of such things, but unlike the beehive, sometimes it’s quite a process. While peering through that window, I had some time to really identify some other tough bees, one being a hesitancy to yield fully to the unchanging, shadowless, infinite, penetrating love our incredible Creator. Here’s a bit of how I came to see and understand the amazing desire for me to better accept this love.
In Ragamuffin Gospel, the late Brennan Manning writes the following,
“Judgment depends on what we see, how deeply we look at the other, how honestly we face ourselves, how willing we are to read the human story beneath the frightened face. The gentleness of Jesus with sinners flowed from His ability to read their hearts. Behind people’s grumpiest poses and most puzzling defense mechanisms, behind their arrogance and airs, behind their silence, sneers, and causes, Jesus saw little children who hadn’t been loved enough and who had ceased growing because someone and ceased believing in them. His extraordinary sensitivity caused Jesus to speak of the faithful as children, no matter how tall, rich, clever, and successful they might be.”
He goes on,
“Once again, gentleness toward ourselves constitutes the core of our gentleness with others. When the compassion of Christ in interiorized and appropriated to self-“He will not break the crushed reed, or snuff the faltering wick” (Mathew 12:20)-the breakthrough into a compassionate stance toward others occurs. In a catch-22 situation, the way of gentleness brings healing to ourselves and gentleness toward ourselves brings healing to others. Solidarity with ragamuffins frees the one who receives compassion and liberates the one who gives it in the conscious awareness ‘I am the other “(157-159).
I saw these kids how I saw myself. How am I supposed to love them, understand them, be truly there for them when they have been through this, or that. It’s the same manifestation of doubt that went un-noticed and therefore unconquerable in my own life for so long. Romans 3:21-26 says,
“For there is not difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus., whom god set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
The truth is, I didn’t trust the gospel in me. I was relying on myself to love them, as I had for so long relied on myself to deserve love. The hard but blessed reality is that I’m incapable of really much anything at all. If I am to do good, than to what end? But how wrong I was. The moment I realized and found peace in my inability, I saw gates open. In place of fear was confidence that I could walk eagerly with the righteousness of Christ to love the kids the way I am loved. To see them as I am seen, and to be a testimony that there is a outrageously trustworthy love that is found in Christ.
“Whenever I allow anything but tenderness and compassion to dictate my response to life–be it self-righteous anger, moralizing, defensiveness, the pressing need to change others…I am alienated from my true self. My identity as Abba’s child [a child of God] becomes ambiguous, tentative and confused” -Manning
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him 2 Corinthians 5:17-21
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you were baptized into Christ have put on Christ…for all you are all one in Christ Jesus…
Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then a heir of God through Christ. Galations 3:26-4:8 (summary)
Abba, father, Abba father. Beyond abuse, beyond neglect, beyond insecurities. Before my unwillingness to yield to Him, before the moment of my failures. Before the needs of a group of 7-11 year olds who too, need nothing to earn or deserve it. And, before and beyond my inability to offer anything beyond a hand that can be trusted, as we walk forward, accepting that He loves us as we are, not as we should be.
I cried when they left