The Embrace

Four hours on the road home flew by more quickly than I thought. Maybe that’s because I had a lot to reflect on.

Our Inner City Week was ridiculously great, by far my favorite week of the summer. The kids had a lot of fun, and it was a good injection of newness to get us to the summer’s end.

It certainly wasn’t the easiest though. Seemed like every time I turned around,  we had another set of campers needing discipline. I hope that doesn’t sound harsh. You simply can’t run a camp without some watertight rules, and if those rules get broken, there need to be consequences administered in love.

That’s why I loved watching Trey Hill. He runs a ministry called Mercy Street out of Dallas, and he brought up a majority of the kids we hosted last week. And the kids respect him, love him even.

For instance, on Monday night, a camper we’ll call “TD” got mad at another camper for giving him a hard time. So he punched him in the face. TD’s counselor, “Twist and Shout,” started to take him back to the dining hall (we saw the punch but not the taunt), where I joined them as we attempted to find out why TD decided to rear back and sock his friend.

“Stop it, man!” he said as he kept trying to walk away. “I tol’ you, he talk too much! Lemme go!”

We thought we got things resolved, then TD ran away. And we had to bring him back again. Then Trey came over. TD calmed right down as Trey looked him in the eyes and got him to spill the full story.

“You know that’s not the right way to do things,” he told TD. “Violence is not how we solve our problems; it’s a dead-end street. Especially in our neighborhood. You will actually wind up dead.”

(Trey can say “our neighborhood” because he actually lives in South Dallas, right near the public housing that his kids dwell in.)

Things got better with TD, but I asked Trey what to do if that situation rose up again. To keep TD from walking away, we were restraining him by his hands and so forth. He certainly wasn’t being hurt, but even while grasping his wrists I just thought, this looks bad.

You do have to restrain them sometimes,” he said. “It’s the nature of the beast. But when I do it, I wrap them up like this–” and here he demonstrated a hugging-type posture.

“Then when they struggle against you and try to fight, you have room to tell them, ‘No. Stop it. I’m your friend; I love you. Why are you trying to fight the one you love?’ ”

So from then on, we rocked the hug posture with trouble campers. And forgive me for romanticizing a little, but it painted a beautiful picture. Here were kids who had probably never had guys– men– hold them to a strong set of expectations, even if those were just camp rules. Since most of our campers come from generational poverty in public housing, statistically most don’t have a father present in their day-to-day.

But when they’d act up, and guy counselors would hold them in this embrace, keeping the kids in a place where they could live up to their actions, I really saw a new reflection of Jesus. Here kids were struggling, cursing, trying to flee, and you had this person holding them and saying, no. I love you too much to let you go. I’m right here with you. I am not leaving, nor are you.

It helped me to see myself in that position. Not as the embracer, but the embraced. The one who struggles against strong love and discipline. It made me thankful for those times when I spiritually feel that embrace.

We had counselors crying as the kids left on Saturday, three big charter buses full. We fought to love those kids, and it was more rewarding, I think, than any given week with some little angels out of Suburbia. I don’t know. Again, maybe I’m romanticizing.

As for now, I’ve returned to be with the family for a few weeks before I start this thing called The Forge. It’s more Pine Cove– 8 months this time– but it’s a pretty sweet program designed to teach some leadership/ministerial skills. I’m actually pumped out of my mind about it, to be honest. But before that, I fully intend to relax for the first time since Finals kicked off. Camp finished strong; but I’m ready to do nothing for a bit.



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2 responses to “The Embrace

  1. matt

    Matt Willingham
    Attawimol Place #816
    10 Soi Rajvithee 2, Samsennai
    Phayathai, Bangkok 10400

    That’s my apartment address. Thanks man. Know I’m praying for you as you wrap up and start new at the forge.

    Oh, and did you read the thing by Tolkien I posted a few days ago? I figured most people aren’t interested in fantasy/narrative/literary theory, but I think you’d like what Tolkien had to say about “faerie stories”. It actually reminded me of Chesterton’s “Ethics of Elfland”.

  2. Emily E

    just wanted to drop by and say what a great blog…that is such an amazing description of God’s love for us, and what a cool way to see it!!! Sounds like it was an amazing week and you made a difference on those kiddos.

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