I am not a traveller. I’m just not. I love the feeling of being in a place where I know where things are (usually!). Where my clothes are folded in my dresser or hung in my closet. Where dinner awaits creation in my own kitchen, by my own hand. Life is predictable. Easier.
Packing up and going somewhere new is overwhelming. Too much. I can’t decide what I will need. What I will miss if I leave it behind. Not to mention the added pressure of packing for more than just myself. Given our family size, travel becomes a huge ordeal. Whether we take them with us, or we ship them off somewhere else, the task is daunting.
During the summer of 2012 I got an opportunity to travel that I did not expect. I got a chance to go to camp. This just wasn’t any camp. This was a special one. This was the camp where Arlynne had spent the last week of her life. No, it was not the same physical area. I don’t know if I would have survived with the pit toilets and primitive facilites. This was a different facility but the same kids. The kids who had been part of my daughter’s life the year before.
This trip started as a FaceBook post asking for counsellors for a camp in Thunder Bay. My brain got churning. Leaving my family for a week seemed impossible. Pete works and we have too many kids. Besides, I don’t like travelling. Case closed. Then things started happening. Changing. I realized that the week I would be gone was the week after Karissa’s summer job ended. She would be free. And she was willing to help out while Pete slept. Josiah and Eden had the opportunity to go to our church camp that week. The twins were the only ones left. Kid-wise, I was free to go.
The next obstacle was the money. Going to camp in Thunder Bay was much too far a drive. Hours. The only way to go would be by plane. And we didn’t have the money. Until the night we had an open house for the first anniversary of Arlynne’s death. A man who had been at camp with Arlynne had accepted my invitation and made the trip from Toronto to our home for the occassion. He was one of the people who witnessed it all. He was one of the people who ran down the driveway when Arlynne was gone too long. He had performed first aid on our daughter while they waited for emergency services. He was there when she was pronounced dead. He was one of the ones who suffered the most. Who had to deal with the trauma of a memory that dominated his thoughts.
This man heard that I wanted to go to camp that week. He was already going. And he wrote the cheque that covered my flight. In less than 2 weeks, I was going to camp.
I had no idea what I was in for that week. I had no idea who I would cross paths with. I didn’t have a clue as to how many tears I would shed. But God was there. He was present. And He had a purpose.
Only God could have put together the band of people that He did that week. Some of the people who had been there the year before. The same director. The pastor and his family from the church in Longlac. The mom who had been in the same cabin with Arlynne the year before. The same woman who had spent Arlynne’s last day with her. Then there was a wonderful young nurse who had found her little brother lying dead on her family’s farm when she was a very young child. Another young counsellor who had lost her dad. A summer missionary who had lost his mom. The pastor/cook from Toronto who had gotten a call from his spiritual son the year before asking him to pray after Arlynne died. We all had a job to do. A purpose. A calling. A job to do together.
I can’t begin to describe that week. It would take far too many words. Too many stories. Too much time. My heart was broken anew that week. My heart broke for those children. Those children who were living in shelters. Those children who didn’t have a toothbrush or a full clean change of clothing in their bags. Those children who were placed in foster homes, only connecting with their siblings during camp. Those children who had had to grow up far too fast in a world that was harsh and cold. The child who felt that death was more desirable than her life as it was. Those children who needed to hear that God loved them.
Arlynne’s special camper friend was there that week. The boy her brother’s age who had had a crush on her. The boy we had met the summer before on our pilgrimage up north. The boy who was always around. He was so excited to see me, mistaking me for Karissa. He proudly showed me his Bible with a picture I had sent him of Arlynne inside the front cover. He had a hug for me everytime I saw him. He had a smile on his face even though I knew his life wasn’t easy. But he knew God loved him. He had put his faith in Him. And it showed.
The last night of camp was very emotional. The summer missionaries would be returning to their training camp the next day for a weekend de-briefing. The evening had gone on much longer than we had expected. That was the way it was. Schedules just weren’t that important. As we sat around the last campfire, the wind tossed glowing embers in all directions. The kids were restless, sensing the end that was coming far too fast. It was finally time to tell them who I was. They had spent a week with me. I think they knew that I was safe. That they could trust me. But they didn’t know the whole story. While the kids had been restless as others shared, they all stopped when I stood up. I told them who I was. That I was Arlynne’s mom. Arlynne. Their counsellor from last year. Arlynne. Their counsellor who had died. I told that I had come to tell them how much God loved them. Arlynne had loved them. And so did I. As I finished I was swamped by bodies as the kids pressed in on me. Boys, who had exhibited an aloof air all week, were suddenly there, hugging me. The beautiful, crazy girls from my cabin. Loving me as much as I loved them.
There was much more that week. There were people who came to see me. The couple who had looked after Arlynne and her partner during her first week in Thunder Bay. The man who had mourned so keenly when he heard that Arlynne had died. The stories brought pain and joy all at once. Knowing she had made such an impact meant so much to me. She always felt invisible. That no one noticed her. A wallflower. I wonder if God blessed her with the knowledge that that wasn’t true. That she was missed. She still is. Maybe she felt like that so that she was free to just act. Not to be afraid of what others thought. Living like that gave her freedom.
I left Thunder Bay at the end of the week. I was exhausted. But grateful. I was already a part of that community. My daughter’s blood had saturated that ground and so a part of my heart was already there. Now the kids had taken an even bigger part of it. I cried on the plane when it took off.
I always thought I would be back. I had told the kids I would. It has never happened. It was never the right time again. People I had connected with there have left. More will soon follow. I love it there but I don’t know how long I would be able to endure the cold. The isolation. The challenges of a more rural life.
But I can’t forget. Because of Arlynne. But also because of the kids. God knows that I long to do His will. If it involves Thunder Bay then He will lead and I will go. I just have to follow my heart.