What started as a need to attend another Stake/Ward's Young Women Camp due to our school schedules, turned in to an experience that strengthened my faith and will bring exciting changes to our family now and in the future (more on this in another post). My initial thought was that I would offer to drive my girls, and any others, to camp (when you have a Suburban, you always offer to drive), drop them off with the Ward and pick them up at the end of the week. I offered to help in any way needed but did not want to intrude on any plans that may have been in the works for their Ward. Well...guess who ended up being the ONLY adult leader at camp for the entire week? Due to work schedules, travel, weddings, new babies, etc. the leaders who go every year were unable to attend. A few leaders were able to be at camp part time, but I was the only one available to be there all day and all night. So, not as planned, but happy to help, off I went, not an official member of the Ward and Stake (for now), yet the Camp Leader for the Palm Beach Ward. Ron ended up as the visiting Priesthood on Bishop's night because their Bishop's wife delivered their 6th baby while we were at camp.
(I have had a lot of those reminders lately)
I had the blessing of leading 10 girls from very diverse backgrounds. I knew very little about most of them as we departed, but knew we would have a great week at camp.
On Monday, as the Young Women President was leaving camp to return home, she gave me some final paperwork, which included letters from home for each girl. They were to receive these letters later in the week during solo study time. She noted that there were no letters for 3 of the girls (16 year old twins, Kiki and Mimi and 14 year old Cleo) who are sisters, explaining that their mother is deceased and she did not get a letter from their father. All I knew was their mother was deceased, they did not have a letter, and I needed to write a letter to each of them before the week was over. I prayed I would get to know them well enough so that I could write something meaningful. It is painful enough to not have a letter from home when everyone else receives one, but it is salt in the wound when you are reminded that your mother is dead while everyone else has a letter from home. I was determined to take the edge off of this situation.
As I have experienced many times, the Lord answers my prayers quickly when I am praying for someone else's benefit.
Later in the day, before dinner, I gathered the girls and explained that we were going to have a special speaker for our evening fireside, Troy Dunn. I told them I wanted us to sit together during the fireside and to be prepared for a very special message. I did not tell them what he does professionally or that he is a "Rock Star" of sorts or that the work he does is near and dear to my heart. I just know that Troy prepares and speaks with the spirit so this was sure to be one of the best experiences of the week. There was no way for me to know that this very presentation would be an answer to prayer and change the course of my relationship with these girls forever.
The fireside started and Troy was well in to his remarks. He is a gifted speaker and story-teller and I noted that he was spending a lot of time trying to set up where his remarks were going, almost hesitating to go there too quickly.
More than one time and in more than one way, he would say, I have been a Bishop twice but I am not your Bishop...I dont know anything about any of you...I dont know any of you personally....what I am going to say is going to hit some of you hard....some of you are going to be very uncomfortable...someone in the room needs to hear what I am about to say...etc.
By the way he was setting up his remarks, I was prepared for a heavy message on chastity, morality, virtue, etc.
As he was getting to the meat of his message, he shared stories about his parents and their love for him and the sacrifices they made for him and his siblings. From there, he built on this theme and shared the experience of his father's illness and death. He shared his feelings of love for his father and the blessing of being able to serve his father in those final days of his life. It was tender, moving, and sweet.
At the same time, the floodgates were opened for Kiki, Mimi, and Cleo. They were sobbing and shaking uncontrollably. I moved to sit next to them and tried to comfort as best I could (meanwhile, I am thinking...thanks a lot Troy...) I was so grateful that a few hours earlier, their YW President had briefly mentioned that their mother was deceased.
At the end of the closing prayer, I was hugging all 3 of them as close to me as possible and our ward ended up in a group hug. You can picture a big group of sobbing girls with their leader trying to hold it all together. I was doing some serious praying in real time as this scene was playing out.
As I was hugging them, several people came to us and I would mouth the words "their mother died".
I was being very protective of them as I was praying for the right way to comfort them. It was important that I get them out of this "group-hug-crying-fest" and get them to a place they could calm down and receive comfort, peace, and support.
In the middle of this intense moment, a YCL (Youth Camp Leader) came to Cleo and with strength and sweetness looked her in the eye and told her that she knows what she is going through, her dad died. For a second, I was not going to let Cleo leave with a YCL and perhaps be in the hands of someone who may not truly understand, but the spirit stopped those thoughts and I immediately realized that I know this YCL and I knew her father before he passed away. I had not seen her in person for many years, but I read her Aunt's blog every day and she posts photos and updates of her neice so I feel like I know her.
I knew Cleo was in the capable hands of her YCL, Adrienne, who Heavenly Father had placed in her life at the very moment she needed her. As the week went on, it was a blessing to me to watch Adrienne in action. She is an amazing young lady with strength and wisdom beyond her years.
Once Cleo was taken care of, I had Kiki and Mimi to console. They are 16 year old twins. I asked them what they wanted to do...go to my cabin, go with their YCL, go to their own cabin, go with me to Wal Mart, etc. Kiki wanted to go with her group, but again, I was hesitant to just let her go with a YCL whom I did not know. Kiki assured me she would be fine with her YCL and later, I learned that her YCL was the ONLY person in camp whom she knew before they moved to West Palm Beach from Miami 6 months ago. This YCL knew all about the girls' losing their mother, she knew their older brother who is preparing for a mission, etc. Heavenly Father gave Kiki and Mimi the leader they needed at the moment they needed her the most.
Mimi opted to drive in to town with me to Wal Mart. I was happy to have the company and it was a wonderful experience to have her open up to me and talk talk talk. She shared more in that short drive than I would have learned in a month. She spoke of how the family moved to the USA from Haiti and settled in Miami for a few years. Two years ago, their mother became very ill and passed away after battling MS. Recently, her father, who is a nurse, got a good job in this area so they had to move in the middle of the school year. One of the hardest things about the move was not being able to complete Seminary due to bus schedules and her dad's work hours. She has a goal to graduate from Seminary just like her older brother did. She asked me about a Home Study Seminary program and how she could find out if it was possible to complete this year of Seminary. She told me about her brother who was preparing his missionary paperwork and talked about serving a mission herself one day. She spoke of her father's dedicated service to his family and Church callings. It may have seemed like just a trip to Wal Mart, but it was a what Mimi needed as part of her healing.
At Ward Prayer that evening, I told Kiki, Mimi, and Cleo that we, as a Ward or individuals, would do whatever they wished as far as talking about their mom and losing her. I asked if they wanted to share any feelings or thoughts about their mother or the message we heard that evening. They shared a few things and so did some of the other girls. Two of the other girls are being raised by their grandmother and one of them paid a beautiful tribute to her grandmother and the sacrifices she is making to raise them.
This experience was cleansing and unifying to our already tight-knit group.
It was a powerful experience and the answer to my prayers of wanting to feel connected to these girls. A few days later, when I sat down to write the 3 letters from home for each girl, my heart was so full I did not even know where to stop.
From Monday night on, Kiki and Mimi emerged as leaders in the group. They came alive and there was light in their faces that I had never seen. On Sunday, I was able to share this experience with some of the members of the Ward and help create an awareness of the needs of these 3 sisters who need a large dose of TLC, especially from the women in the Ward.
At the end of Camp, we drove them home and met their father. He is a wonderful man who is doing the best he can to raise faithful, strong children in the gospel as a single father.
Heavenly Father is mindful of each of our needs and he uses us to serve and lift those around us. He used Troy Dunn that evening as an instrument for healing and support. I am grateful he was tuned in to the spirit and willing to share what he was inspired to say.
At the end of the week of camp, I feel like I have 8 more daughters who now call me, Mama Hoss. I love them dearly and will be eternally grateful for the lessons they taught me.
I have said for many years, the emphasis in Young Women Camp is not Camp...it is YOUNG WOMEN. Planning and setting up a camp experience so the spirit will attend in abundance is the number one priority...CAMP will happen when the focus is on YOUNG WOMEN. Lives change eternally when YOUNG WOMEN Camp is planned under the direction of the spirit. The location and fluffy activities are not as important as planning and executing with the spirit. Lives of Young Women were touched deeply and changed eternally this week due to the spirit that prevailed during camp.
My strong Testimony of Young Women's Camp and the Young Women's Program was taken to a new level. The very girls I was entrusted to lead were my teachers.
I will treasure the experiences and lessons I learned this week for many years to come.