The following is excerpted an essay written by our very own Julia Jones (below left) for World Harvest Outreach. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did:
For one week every summer I get to go to camp. Camp is my happy place. This camp is called Camp Fantastic. In 1983 Tom and Sheila Baker lost their daughter Julie to childhood cancer, and inspired by their daughter and other children they met who were battling cancer they started Specialove. Tom and Sheila wanted to provide a place for kids to reclaim childhood and for families to get together and create a community of hope, and they did exactly that. In 1998 I was a camper at Camp Fantastic, and Specialove has been a part of my life ever since. For the past six years I have been a counselor at camp.
I wish I could tell you the story of every child I met at camp. I wish I could share all of the ways that they impacted me and touched my heart. Every year when I go to camp my heart is changed and I return to every day life without adequate words to express my experience. I grow frustrated trying to explain to people how a week long summer camp can have such spiritual significance, and that the only way you could begin to understand it is if you put your ear to my ribcage and listened to the music in my heart.
Many people live their lives seeing darkness everywhere they go even though they live in the light, but I have met children who had darkness pushed upon them and from that place stubbornly insist on seeing the light.
In the end I describe camp as being transcendent and bittersweet. It is a week of the most fun you can have; riding horses, canoeing, playing dress up, building a spaceship, visiting a farm, riding on a motorcycle, winning more prizes and stuffed animals than you can ever fit into a suitcase, sitting around a campfire, witnessing more complete and utter silliness than one person can handle, and making the kind of friends you will never forget. Camp is full of the kind of people that will do whatever it takes to make a camper smile. But underneath all of the fun is the hurt that makes the week so significant.
At the beginning of the week before the campers arrived Tom gave us some advice, to fall in love with a camper. It’s not hard to love these kids, they climb right into your heart and stay there.
Saying goodbye was particularly hard this year, one of the reasons for this was a camper we will call T. If I could share with you one person from my week, it would be her. T is a sixteen year old who is in the middle of her cancer journey. T has lost all of her hair, uses a wheelchair, and has an NG tube that goes up her nose and into her stomach. T was going through a lot medically during the week of camp and she frequently had a nurse with her. Everyday T was in the “Glamour” class that I taught. I can’t think of how to describe T other than beautiful, her spirit and everything about her was just beautiful. I liked her immediately.
Everyday we would sit and do her make up, sing Sara Bareilles, and talk. She made us all laugh. That last Saturday morning as I’m hugging people, I see T and know I have to go say goodbye and I start to cry. As I walk over T sees me coming and says “get over here girl!” I hug her tight and I tell her that she is so beautiful in so many ways. Everyone that she is saying goodbye to, she has been giving a blessing and I know that she will do the same for me. She looks up at me and asks “can I give you a blessing?”, I nod as tears run down my cheeks and she reaches up to hold my face in her hands and look me in the eyes as she speaks a blessing over me.
I didn’t and I still don’t have many words for that moment because there are no words. I have rewritten this many times because I just can’t seem to capture it. Her gesture in that moment touched a part of me where words don’t go.
I know that reading this it may not make a lot of sense or seem sappy, that spending one week at a summer camp could mean so much to me. That after one week I could find space in my heart for 99 children from all over DC, Maryland, and Virginia area, but it’s true. I love them all, and I can’t wait to see them next year.