Those that have been around me for a little while know about my family's and my involvement with Royal Family KIDS. Royal Family KIDS is a national organization that supports week long camps across the country and in other countries now, for children ages 7-11 in the foster care system. The week long camp is a chance for these campers, many abused, to be kids and hopefully forget for a little while of the pains and hurts that they have gone through in their short lives. It is a week for those working at the camp to show the campers unconditional love and support for at least a brief timespan and create positive memories that they can hold onto in their roughest moments that may lay ahead.
I am a part of several teams in running, Fleet Feet Huntsville Racing Team, Team Nuun, FitFam, and the group of folks from my church that come together to run this camp is no different - we are a team with the goal of winning except, in this case, the definition of winning is that the campers have a wonderful week. Just like any other team, there are fits and starts, but, as our camp director noted on Friday night after we had come back from the camp, at some point during the week usually about mid-week, the staff gels into one organism, moving and operating as one, fluidly filling in spots that are empty and need to be filled, usually without words or signals. That organism protects, cares for, and loves the campers. Being a part of a team is a wonderful thing, and every year I relearn that again at RFKIDS. By the end of the week, I am proud to look around and see how well my team has done. My wife and I are the Aunt and Uncle at the camp and by the end of the week, I actually feel like the campers' Uncle, but I also feel like the Uncle to the staff.
This was the first year, out of the 13 annual camps we have held here in our county, that our camp was actually a camp - held in the woods, sleeping in bunks, showering with critters in the bath house, walking on the trails, and canoeing, among other things. Given this, it was almost as if it was being held for the first year again. Everyone was a little hesitant of how the camp was going to go and on edge about ticks, stinging insects, injuries, and the weather, since a lot of the activities would be outside. I do not believe that anyone else worries about things quite as much as I do. I worried about sleeping accommodations, about how I was going to get up early and get ready before the kids were awake so I could see them first thing in the morning, about what I was going to do if it was rainy and muddy. Internally, I was worried about everything. Elizabeth, my wife, would say that much of that was externally shown and vocalized as well. Even during the week, I worried over and over again about big things and about the smallest of things. It is a wonder I don't have an ulcer at this point.
However, as I sit here two days after getting back, it hits me that also over and over again, I was shown by God that I need not have worried. I was worried because of my limited thinking that I had to make sure things were taken care of, when in reality, God had it covered. Looking back, I see how He had prepared things in advance and how He took care of things during the week. I tried to make a list of those items that had been prepared in advance and a list of the little items that I did not need to worry about. The lists are by no means all inclusive. There are items that I did not even notice during the week that should be on these lists and my puny brain has missed many, but to give a hint of His awesomeness, I wanted to at least get some down on paper.
Those items that are more than coincidence to me:
- Nuun donated water bottles for the campers (Thank you, thank you, thank you, Nuun) as we were going to need to make sure they stayed well hydrated. I had asked for 24 because we would have 24 campers. When I got the box, Nuun had sent 25. That was okay, because usually we have one lost and so I would have a spare as a replacement. Just before we went to camp, we found out that we would have 25 campers. You don't understand the meltdowns that could potentially happen if all but one camper had received a bottle. Since, for whatever reason, Nuun sent the extra bottle, every child had one.
- Fleet Feet Huntsville donated hats for the campers (Again, thank you, thank you, thank you, FF). Again, I had asked for some for the campers. Dink and Suzanne let me know I could come and get them from the store and when I got there, they had laid out way more than I had asked for. I went ahead and took two bags of them just in case they might be needed by the staff. Once I had handed out the hats to the campers and to those on the staff that wanted one, I was left with only 5 unused hats. Incredible.
- Packing for this camp is an adventure every year for me. I not only worry about making sure I have everything I need but I also help Elizabeth figure out what we need to take for the kids. As I went through the days of packing (yes, you read that right, days, since I go over and over what I need to take and what I might be missing), there were several items that I kept debating whether to take or not. In particular, there were two items that I had put away or crossed of the list that I felt like I wouldn't need and they would just take up space. In both cases, I put them in our bags at the last minute.
- Tegaderm - those that have wrecked on your bikes or taking a spill on a trail may know what Tegaderm is. It is a type of adhesive bandage that completely covers burns and scrapes and keeps out dirt and water, yet allows the wound to breath and heal quicker. At the first day at camp, one of the boy campers didn't think they were going to be able to swim (we swam 4 out of the 5 days by the way). He had wrecked on his scooter and had a big fresh scrape on the back of his shoulder. When he told me and showed me, I went to my bag, pulled out the tegaderm, showed him what it was for, and told him we would put one on every day so he could swim. The biggest smile came on his face as he realized he would be able to swim. Right there was the reason for the last minute grab and pack of the Tegaderm.
- Our single roller Addaday massager - Again, debated taking something like this to massage the campers legs. Last minute, we threw it in our bags. Turns out that there were several campers that the only thing that would settle them down was to lightly massage their backs. This became a major tool for Aunt Elizabeth over the week and prevented several episodes.
Those worries we had that we need not have had:
- Ticks, bug bites, chiggers, poison ivy, oh my: So, so worried about all of these with the campers. Turns out, other than one or two, the campers had none. Many on the staff on the other hand took the brunt of chiggers. We had no reports of ticks that had actually bitten. The fact that none of this impacted the campers was nothing short of a miracle.
- Injuries walking on the stone paths, down steep hills, and on the trails: Not. One. Injury. Why had I worried?
- Rain and Heat....... Let me start with the beginning of the week. It rained all Sunday night and then stopped before the campers arrived. Monday was cooler and overcast. Tuesday was the only day of full sun, but not terribly hot. Wednesday, the day for being on water in canoes, turned out to be cloudy and breezy. Wonderful weather. Little did we know at the time (we do not have electronics with us during the day) was that the remnants of Tropical Storm Cindy was heading our way. Wednesday night is when we throw the kids a birthday party. We do this because many have not ever had the chance to have one. Our party this year was a luau party at the pool with some inflatables. We were very worried that the heavy rain would get there and put a halt to the party. As TS Cindy approached, someone looked at the radar and the rain was splitting just to the south of us so that, for the whole evening, we essentially stayed dry. Not only that, but the rain didn't start until we were all back in the bunks and going to sleep. For Thursday and Friday, we had no storms, had cool weather, and were able to do the remaining outside activities with no issues. Praise the Lord!
So, given all of the above, what were the items that I relearned yet again?
I relearned not to worry about things I cannot control. I worry. I need not.
Teamwork moves mountains. Rely on teammates to fill the spaces that need filled when you cannot.
If you think you will get tired, when giving unconditional love, you will never be tired. You will be able to run and not grow weary.
Again, you do not realize how much the thoughts and prayers helped this past week. Like the above, there were countless little examples where, when we look back leading up to the camp and during the camp, where it is blindingly obvious where God's hand was at work parting the waters and protecting the campers. Having a prayer army behind us and in front of us did not go unnoticed during the week and gave us all peace during the times when we needed it the most.
Why do I support this camp? While the campers may not be as well behaved as children that have a loving, stable family to develop in, their hearts are full of love and joy - it is just very hard to get them to let some of it out due to their mistrust and fear. When it does peek through a little bit, it is as beautiful as the sun shining through the rain clouds and storm. To see these moments of sun rays in their lives is worth it all. For the last couple of nights, all I have dreamt about were the faces of the campers. While this camp can exhaust you and impact your emotions, the days after, for me, are full of dichotomies. I am tired, yet fully refreshed. I am sad, yet joyful. I am depressed, yet on cloud nine. I am doubtful of their future, yet I trust.
If there is one thing I want to leave everyone with, it is the following. Every chance you get, love and be nice. You do not know what that person, that workmate, that family member, or that child has gone through leading up to when they were placed in your path. They may be right in front of you at that exact moment to hear that word of encouragement, feel that hug, or see the love in your eyes that will turn them around and begin the process of getting out of the valley that they may currently be traveling through.
I truly love these campers and just hope they hold onto the memories from this year's camp.
If you would like more information on the Royal Family KIDS camps, please visit http://royalfamilykids.org