Nicky is fourteen years old. He has teenage hormones and feelings. Doctors would say that his brain is about as developed as that of a six or seven year old child. He's a little over four feet tall and weighs proportionally about the same as an elephant. Born with Down's Syndrome, he's never been the most popular kid in school. He's smart. In a few weeks he will be attending Tomball High School as a freshman. His heart is one of the most beautiful and sentimental things I have ever had the privilege of knowing. His behavior- is absolutely exhausting.
Camp Blessing Texas is a summer camp run for both children and adults with some form of physical or mental special need. CBTX counselors take a week of their life to care for and mentor these campers on a one-to-one basis. This year I was blessed to be able to attend camp for the first time as a counselor. My story was unlike most others.
The original camper assigned to me was named Ricky. At 22 years old, he was non-verbal, very independent, a two-year attendee of camp, generally very easy to get along with. I was excited, with it being my first year at camp I figured Ricky would be the perfect "first camper".
Tuesday after most campers had arrived, I remained. Waiting. No Ricky. I assumed he was simply running late and while I stood around, busying myself with camp games and songs with the staff and meeting other campers, I am pulled aside by my cabin leader who goes on to tell me that Ricky is here, and he is very sick. I eventually met Ricky, who was very quickly pulled back in the car by his care taker. Next thing I know he was gone, and I was still without a camper.
The rest of the day was difficult to say the least. Watching everyone else run around with their child, playing games, seeing all of the hugs and knowing what a blessing those around me we're both giving and receiving. I wanted that.
Later that night we are told that a camper named Nicky, who had just been to camp the previous week, has been invited back and would arrive the following morning. Immediately those who knew the name started smiling a thoughtful, somewhat scared smile. "That's a plot change..." was all that was said. The rest of the night I would hear a number of stories about Nicky's shenanigans of previous years. The same smile worn by those earlier began to show itself on my own face.
Mid-morning the next day our cabin is swimming at the camp pool when we receive word that Nicky has arrived. Everyone in the pool slowly stops as those around ask who will be his counselor for the week. I raise my hand and a staff member suggests that all lay hands on me and pray. Everyone at the pool, including the campers, proceed to do so.
The smile of old turns to more of a battle-ready game face.
Five minutes later Nicky shows up at the pool. He waves hello to all, pulls his shirt off, strips down to nothing but Tighty-Whities that are frankly much too undersized, and cannonballs smack dab in the middle of everyone. A series of laughter followed by "And there's your camper." are all that is said.
The very first thing he does is find me, and give me the sweetest hug I've ever experienced, kisses my cheek, and smiles. He was the absolute sweetest, easiest, most loving and adorable camper there. For almost a full ten minutes.
Nicky's behavior was torture to all around him. Constant cursing, loud and obnoxious noises for no reason at all, running off, trying to kiss every girl he saw, only participating in camp activities in the opposite ways he is asked, a constant mess seems to follow him and he honestly doesn't care who cleans it up as long as it's not him. "Make me." Was his favorite line when asked to do something. Little things throughout the day done simply to show me he didn't care, such as peeing on the floor- next to the toilet, and so, so much more that I will restrain from listing because I do have a point to make.
Nicky was by far the worst behaved child at camp all summer, not to mention a spot in the top five most exhausting. Days went by slow. Toward the end of day two I had already begun to show signs of a short temper. I loved him, and was disappointed with the way he treated everyone around him. With the way he treated me. I had to learn the art of serventhood.
Often I think it is easy to view ourselves as being in the position I was in when it comes to serving. That Christ, without the behavior issues, is Nicky. A camper. That no matter how we feel we are called to love and to serve Him faithfully. That He comes first. All of this is true, but what God showed me while spending time with Nicky is that it is quite nearly the opposite. I am the child. The rebellious one. The one who does anything and everything to show Christ everything but gratitude and love. When I am ridiculed I apologize and do it all some more. While Jesus, who has done nothing but love me my entire life. Still chooses to put me first. When Nicky pees on the floor, looks me in the eye and says MAKE ME, and I have to choose to step back and continue to place him before me. To look him right back in the eye and say "I love you." It's so, so hard. It's absolutely tiresome. A constant grind of slowly putting up with action after action. But! How much more has Christ done for me? How much more am I indebted to Him?
As soon as Nicky left, a strange feeling came over me. One like I had honestly never experienced before so great. I had been so overly exhausted all week that when Nicky was in someone else's hands I was finally able to think. I realized that I loved it. As horribly miserable as it was there was joy. The sheer joy of serventhood. To be able to come home knowing as I always have that my mission every day is to serve Christ and those around me but now! Now to know how wonderful that is. Serventhood to be no longer a necessary task but instead an utterly satisfying action.
Tears are all that remained. Speaking at the microphone to tell everyone there of my horribly incredible week, I cried. Hard. I broke. I can honestly say that no other thing in life has broken me more to the bone than this child did, and as difficult as he was he loved me too. "I love you buddy." was spoken by him consistently throughout each day. Oh, how I cried. I couldn't even try to manage to speak through the tears. Nicky is a beautiful child. Christ used Him to show me a beautiful thing. To absolutely tear my heart in half. I cried later at camp and when I came home I cried even harder than before and when I woke up the next morning I started all over. I loved it. When I meet Nicky with our God, when he can finally understand it all, he may try to thank me but I truly plan on stopping him cold right there and thanking him even more, because he was used to teach me something more beautiful than words can describe. Until that day, I look forward to being Nicky's counselor and friend for a long, long time. How Great, Oh How Great is our God!