People find it funny when I tell them my mom used to tie me up when I was young, and Mom rolls her eyes when I rib her about it. We lived out in the middle of nowhere, and when she wanted to wash the floors of our house, she looped a rope around my waist and secured me to a birch tree outside so I wouldn’t wander off. There, I’d play in my sand pile and talk to God.
I’d put up with my captivity for a while, but once fully exasperated, I’d yell, “Neil! Neil! Help! Help!”
Neil was the old bachelor next door, and when he heard my cries he’d patiently plod across the field separating our houses, remove me from my bonds, and lead me off to pick flowers and work in his garden until my mother finished her chores. The lonely old man was my best buddy. He imparted wisdom and goodies, the pockets of his work shirt always brimming with shelled peanuts and candy bars.
Margie, another neighbor, served as my caregiver from the age of four up to school age and introduced me to Jesus. She was also the one who broke the news of Neil’s death. She roused me from a nap, her eyes red from crying.
“Honey, Neil died in a car accident,” she whispered.
Margie made sure I was included in Neil’s obituary: “Survived by his special friend Melissa.” Neil relied upon me just as much as I did him, an old, crotchety bachelor with no family whose daily joy was bringing me a glazed doughnut. My relationship with Marge was reciprocal too – I was the daughter she never had.
Almost ten, I eagerly anticipated my first week at Girl Scout camp and pounded the pavement around Caribou Lake fundraising for camp cash with candy bars trailing me in a wagon. But as the fateful day of departure approached, I started to have cold feet – and panic attacks.
“We’ll go shopping,” my mother soothed, and soon I was browsing through a Target store beside her while she shared never ending tales of her own camp days: fires, s’mores, giggling all night long, spying on the boys’ cabin. A nightshirt with an owl in a graduation cap, Pert shampoo, a new swimsuit, and cheap tennis shoes soon cluttered the cart. There was no backing out now.
Camp check-in day arrived and my parents loaded the car for the 45 mile drive south to Barnum, MN. In a last-ditch effort, I dug in my heels and begged to scrap the camping adventure, but Mom shook her head firmly. “We paid $150 for this, and you ate more candy bars than you sold. “You’re GOING!”
Quiet and fearful all the way to Barnum, my parents rolled into Camp Wanakiwin late on a Sunday afternoon. My stomach bunched into knots as I considered the seven long days without them. I’d never been away longer than a single night (unless it was camping with Marge), and even then I knew if I melted down Dad would begrudgingly return for me.
My parents loved me, though their issues made showing it difficult sometimes. Dad had started drinking to cope with his own father’s death, and my mother eventually joined him at the bar – usually to ensure he came home in one piece. Though unreliable, they were all I had – and I preferred the musty seclusion of my basement bedroom to the stylish, split-level homes many of my friends occupied. I was more comfortable squarely tucked into my family’s own dysfunction.
Rolling up a driveway lined with Norway pines, I restrained my impulses to jump out of the car. After Mom and Dad deposited my suitcase at cabin 8 and unrolled my navy blue sleeping bag onto a bunk, we traversed the grounds of the camp as they pointed out the amenities and fun waiting. After sharing a soda, we snapped a picture in front of my cabin. Looking back on that snapshot now, I see the fear in my eyes – echoing back like an abandoned child.
Enveloped in a flurry of chatter and excitement, my cabin mates rushed goodbyes to family – excited to ditch their parents so they could enjoy their wooded independence. Not me. As I watched my parents disappear through the pines, I sped after them and once more pleaded to go home. Through teary eyes, my mother told me I’d be just fine. I solemnly trudged back to my cabin without looking back.
My building panic attack reached an unbearable crescendo as I unpacked. My heart pumped ridiculously in my chest and a tight sensation and taste of blood swirled at the back of my throat like I’d just sprinted a hard mile. Swallowing repeatedly, I glanced at my fellow campers, wondering if they could tell. Animated and happy, they were oblivious to my plight.
We’d been introduced briefly to our counselors at check–in. The young woman in charge of my cabin was called Squirrel. I popped my head into her room and found her sitting casually on the bunk, strumming a guitar. Friendly brown eyes and a calming presence greeted me.
“Is everything okay?”
I shook my head as my lower lip quivered. Finally, I choked, “I kind of miss my mom.”
Squirrel knelt down and squeezed my shoulders. “It’s okay. You can come and talk to me anytime. And if you’re scared, you can bring your sleeping bag in here and sleep on my floor.”
My number one fear was people falling asleep before I did, leaving me all alone. How did Squirrel know?!
I wish I could say I had a smashing week at camp – but I barely made it. I DID white-knuckle it through, however, thanks to Squirrel. God placed her in my path when I was panicked and feeling abandoned.
Jesus has faithfully done this throughout my life in every chapter and every season, but if I have blinders in place I am likely to miss out on His strategic placement of people around me. I must be careful to not prejudge God’s other children, for He is using and moving each one of us, whether we know it or not – whether we know HIM or not.
Steve is a friendly, stocky man with an infectious laugh who coaches my daughter’s softball team. We’ve spent a great deal of time together during the summer softball season. I’ve spoken before about my internal struggles with juggling my daughter’s love of the game while prioritizing Jesus.
As I’ve watched Steve coach and gotten to know him, both my husband and I have marveled at the wonderful gifts of teaching and leadership he possesses. Steve is very adept at sharing the importance of having fun – win or lose – friendship, camaraderie, and lifting each other up. His entire family often joins him on the field, and their love for one another is very evident.
Steve is also full of the Holy Spirit, a fact my husband shared with me after the two of them had engaged in a long conversation about church, the Lord, and many other topics of life. Steve mentioned struggling with past places of worship because they felt void of the Holy Spirit. This was music to my ears – and I was thrilled beyond belief to know the Lord had placed a Spirit-filled coach in my daughter’s path.
If I had my prejudgment blinders on, I may have missed the gift of the Spirit in Steve ministering to my daughter (and to my husband and me), because I was too focused on figuring out how I would navigate softball season amidst people who I mistakenly thought might not care about church on Sundays.
For each chapter in life, the Lord has placed angels (not Biblically “angels”, but you get my meaning) to guide, direct, and protect. He has met my need in every season, whether I’m frantic, depressed, trying to control, lost, or misguided. Jesus has never once abandoned me, and he won’t leave you hanging, either.
My prayer for you today is that you’ll stop trying to figure life out in your own power – that you’ll accept Jesus and also ask Him to send supportive Christians to come alongside you. I promise the relationship with be a reciprocal blessing. We aren’t designed to navigate this earthly journey all by ourselves.
I wish I knew what happened to Squirrel – the young lady who rescued me from a week of panic and misery many, many years ago. If I could, I’d share the dramatic impact she had on me and how I have never forgotten her kindness. Don’t miss the opportunity to let others in your life know how they’ve touched you. You are never alone, even if it feels that way. Ask God to send someone! He is faithful to do so!
“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:8