Sunday, July 3, 2016

The News from Magruder 6/26 - 7/2

Summer on the coast is beginning to really show itself, with cool overcast mornings, giving way to beautiful warm, sunny days. These are the days that make you happy to be working at a camp, because you know even if most of your day is taken up by indoor work there will be a moment you get outside. When you do get out, you'll find yourself surrounded by the green of the pines, cedars and spruces, the blue of the sky, the soothing sounds of the ocean waves just yards from where you stand.

This week we hosted Camp to Belong, one of our most endearing partnerships. This organization works within the foster family community to make the relationships within the system more meaningful, to be sure foster kids don't fall through the cracks of life. This particular camp takes siblings who have been separated within the foster care system and lets them spend a week of camp together. It is powerful for the campers, which makes it powerful for anyone involved in helping create the experience.

For most of my 25 years in camp work, I've been near some sort of camp experience that incorporated campers from foster care systems. I've gotten to know kids from the system. I've watched some grow up and seen how even just one week of camp a year can influence that growth. I've heard the difficult stories. I've sat with them and tried to be a witness to the sadness, anger, shame, the disillusion that so often comes from at some point having such an undependable family structure. These experiences resonate forever, even if a stable family is found. There are questions that will always be difficult to answer.

I, like many of the counselors I mentored, went in with this feeling of inadequacy. When we heard the stories, when we got to know the campers, we felt unworthy of the work. I had somehow managed to avoid abuse and neglect. I had not been pushed to the edge to survive. I had gotten pretty much everything I needed, and I hadn't done too much different to deserve it. It didn't seem fair, and it wasn't. What could I possibly offer these campers who had seen things I could not understand on their level?

We all spent time struggling with this. It is the struggle we inevitably come from as we realize there are much more terrible things happening in the world than our own pressing concerns. Many of us broke down under that helpless feeling, understanding more deeply the real pain in the world and our own guilt at our self indulgence, thinking we had some kind of serious problems. That helplessness may have been insightful, but it did not help the campers in front of us in need of love. I realized that my life which had been so full of love and abundant blessings wasn't given to me because I had earned it, but it was a gift. A gift to be used as a tool. I was to take that love that I had grown to know so well, and I was to share it with those who did not. No, I didn't understand their pain, but they were teaching me about it. And I did understand love, and I could teach them about this thing that had been so elusive to them so far.

On one of the first nights, Camp to Belong had a carnival in the central field with lots of blow-up games, bags of popcorn, saltwater taffy, and lots of campers dancing, playing, and laughing. Even if you don't participate in the blow-up obstacle course, the bouncy house, even if you don't throw and hit the target at the dunking booth, you can't help but smile and have your spirits lifted by watching campers enjoying these events. Then when you know these are siblings who may only be together for this one week enjoying the bouncy house, your heart gets bumped up a few more notches.

This week's group had some serious attention issues. Charlie, the leader of Camp to Belong Retreats had a hard time getting the group quiet, even to make simple, quick announcements. It's certainly frustrating, but you realize that we are hoping to help people move down the road, and we often have to meet them somewhere we didn't anticipate. As long as we can get them a little farther down the road, we've done good work with our time. Maybe someday we'll see them travel much, much farther down that road.

At the end of the week, I managed to sneak away from camp late in the evening to have a Skype session with my sister who lives in Tennessee. We try to talk about once every week or two, but this past month I have been occupied by so much that's happening here at camp. When we were
teenagers, in similar age ranges to last week's campers, we would spend just about every week night in the room of the other. We would stay up making jokes about our homework, updating the other on personal life, and playing the music we were currently into. This felt much like one of those nights. There were certainly things we talked about our teenage selves would have found somewhat lame, but we did touch on the latest Saturday Night Live.

I think about how much that bond continues to shape me in ways I don't understand. I hope we don't hoard all the goodness we've experienced to ourselves, I hope we share it for others to experience. I know we are lucky to have received all the love we have. I realize more and more that it isn't promised. There are many out there in great need of that love overflowing from our cups. I see how Christ went out and poured that cup freely. I hope we don't forget our cup could feed many.

This week we host our 4th of July Family Camp, then Faith Center, the UM Conference Appointive Cabinet, and the University of Oregon Women's and Graduate Sciences Program. As you pray, let's hope the love we share spreads far beyond us to where it is needed most.

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