Thursday, July 21, 2011

Heartache

In 2003, I worked at Summer's Best Two Weeks, a Christian sports camp in Sharon, PA. I coached the oldest girls' division and on my team was a young lady named Francis. She hated camp. She didn't like to be outside, didn't like sports, and had no friends among the other girls. She was dating a junior counselor, but rarely got to see him at camp, since most activities are not co-ed. She dreaded swimming, an activity with which she'd had no previous experience. To top it off, she covered her discomfort with the attitude of a cactus.

But I liked Franics.

I tried to balance encouragement with tough love, challenging her to go a bit beyond her comfort zone. In swimming, I worked with her one-on-one so she could avoid the embarrassment of being placed with the youngest girls. By the end of the two weeks, she could tread water and swim the width of the pool. The smile on her face when she realized she could swim was so precious.

Working with Francis, I got the feeling that things had never come easily in her life. She was desperately seeking to be loved while at the same time pushing away anyone who might get too close. She was bitterly unhappy for a girl just in middle school. But she wasn't jaded, not quite. She still had some joy, a shred of innocence, and a little desire to please. She still had potential.

When camp ended, I began corresponding with some of my campers, Francis included. She had given me her address and asked me to write. I sent letters every couple of months, but never got a reply. The next summer, I found out she had run away from home. People thought she had come back to town, but no one was quite sure where she was. I wrote one more letter, explaining that I had heard she had moved and would love to get her new address. I never heard back from Francis and after 2004, I stopped working at that camp.

This past week, I was talking with another of my former campers from Sharon. We were looking at old pictures and squad lists and I asked if she knew what ever happened to Francis. Yes, she knew.

At a 2008 Christmas party, Francis and her boyfriend stole a credit card. A few weeks later, on January 13, 2009, they got married. January 15, they were charged with theft. January 16, she died of a drug overdose. It was ruled accidental.

A beautiful girl, so much to offer the world. But it seems the world didn't offer quite enough in return.


I don't know if there is anything I could have done differently. If I had told church leadership about my concern for her, I don't know if they could have changed anything in her life. But now no one can. And I can't shake the feeling that we (camp staff) failed her. We had two weeks to try to connect, to throw her a lifeline. Were we too impatient with her attitude? Did we just prove to her that no one, even Christians, actually cared what happened to her? Or did we make a difference and it just wasn't good enough?

I know there is no value in berating myself for the past. Francis is gone and all I can do for her is beg God for mercy on her soul. But there are other kids. Two former campers spring to mind as I write this, girls who are struggling to decide what they believe and who they want to be. I want to learn something from the tragedy of Francis's death, but I don't know what the lesson is. Is there something I can do for these girls that I didn't do for her?

I love these kids. I want to help. I care about them, but I'm not sure they believe that. And even if they do, I'm not sure it will be enough. God, please be enough.

3 comments:

  1. All you can do is to continue to pray for and love these children. It is heart-breaking, in some cases, to watch these kids grow and turn from the Truth - or to ignore it while you are trying to teach it to them. We sow seeds, but, unlike gardens, these children move on, and we have to trust in the Lord to cultivate them. Sometimes seeds land on rocky soil - and it flat out sucks. But it is not for us to understand. It is these stories that come to mind, but there are so many other campers that you have touched - that have gone on to be amazing young women with hearts for God! Karen is spending the summer in Ocean City, MD with Campus Crusade for Christ serving God and seeing him in ways she never dreamed - you are part of why she is the woman she is today. You helped to shape he spiritual life through your influence as a counselor at SBTW. And you helped to brighten Francis's life - you may not feel like it, but you did. Just keep praying, just keep praying for these children - God is in control and only He knows why this all happened - even if we don't and even if we think that it totally sucks - because it does. We put our heart and souls into what we did as counselors - but we are never meant to be enough, we can never do enough - only HE is enough.

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  2. A friend of mine went through a similar experience not long ago when he found out that someone he used to hang out with regularly had committed suicide. He felt guilty for not calling her and falling out of her life, thinking that he might have been someone she could have leaned on for support. As I told him, and as you said, there is no use dwelling on 'what might have been' and guilting yourself over things you had no control over.

    I bet you did make a difference in her life. She had someone that made her smile and she knew cared about her, even if it was just for two weeks. But the disturbances she must have had ran deeper than any two week camp session might have been able to fix.

    I do think that she can be a powerful lesson to you and anyone to notice warning signs and take note of kids who might really need help. And perhaps that was her purpose in life...to help someone else be saved.

    Take your time to grieve however you need to and then turn those feelings into productivity. That would be the best way to honor her memory. :)

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  3. @Donna: Thanks for the support and encouragement. I needed to be reminded that God's ways are not our ways. A couple other campers have chimed in that camp changed their lives, so it's good to know that God is using us there.

    @Amanda: You'd think that since I'm a trained psychologist, I would KNOW that deep problems can't be fixed in two weeks, but somehow I'd forgotten that. Thanks for the truth, encouragement, and advice. I appreciate it.

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