After a few days camping in 90+ degree weather, the brisk mid-60s that came with standing next to a lake at 6:30am were welcome. As I strapped the life-jacket on my camper, he looked into my eyes and asked “are you jumping in too?”
This past week, I took some vacation time and was a counselor for Royal Family Kids Camp (RFKC). RFKC is a ministry that reaches out to foster youth and gives them a week in a camp to play and have fun and learn that there is a God that loves them, that there are people on Earth who are willing to take time to care for them and provide for all their needs for a week.
So I look at my camper, hide a grimace, and look over at the pond. I nod. “Yup, if you want me to, I’m jumping in too. “ He pauses for a second then looks back up at me.
“Yeah, I want you to jump in with me.”
One of the traditions at RFKC is the Polar Bear Swim. The Polar Bear Swim is a chance for the kids (and counselors) to jump into the lake at, well, 6:30 in the morning. Why? Because fun, that is why. Do you really need more of a reason?
I look over at the rack of life jackets before stand and walk to it. I flip through a few of them, before finding one that fits me. I pull it on, then realize I want to take my shirt off.
The cold is a bit brisker without a shirt. I strap a life-jacket on, and I get in line with my camper. This is actually happening. I chat a bit with my camper and we cheer for those jumping in and I think maybe there is a way I can duck out of this. Like, I just have to get him to jump in and it is not too late for me to back out.
I do not really know how to swim and jumping into seven-foot deep water does not seem like it is within my best interests for survival. I am doing this, and I know I am doing this, but I want out. I am here, I am fully here, and it is so uncomfortable.
So we walk onto the dock and I nod at the guys in the water to help those who do not swim as well, and I tell them that neither of us know how to swim very well. These men look at me skeptically. Maybe they think I am joking, or just trying to make my camper feel better. I am actually terrified. Just standing on the dock, I am afraid.
“No, really, I had a terrifying accident when I was younger, and water scares me.”
They nod. “We’ve got you!”
So I look at my camper, and he looks up to me.
“You jump in first,” he says, then grins just slightly. He lost a tooth the day before, so it is a goofy, adorable smile.
Oh God, I think. This is actually happening. Well. Heck. All or nothing. Then my fear starts to dim.
I feel so calm. So peaceful. I step off the dock. The action has been taken, the fear is gone, and now comes the result. The water is sharp and sudden, the water surrounds me, the water holds me and I fight it. I feel myself float up, and I am flailing and I am holding another counselors shoulder, and I guess that was not too bad, but I am in water and there is nothing below me. I look behind me, and there is my camper. We move towards land, and I stand on my tip toes. It feels like maybe a cement bottom and there are the stairs, and I pull myself up. He climbs up right behind me.
“Can we do that again?” my camper asks, and I actually am okay with this being a choice we make, but after some inquiry, I learn that every camper and counselor can only jump in once.
This thing that I did that felt like a giant step, a huge fear to overcome, was just a simple thing I had to do in order to make the day of a young camper.
The kids that come to RFKC do not always hear that they are valuable, they do not always hear that they are important to God, that they have meaning in the world. Some of the kids that come to RFKC only hear how important they are during this single week. They may only get to celebrate a birthday during Everyone’s Birthday Party, they may only get to hear that they are important to God during the Royal Crowning, they may only get to hear that there is a God that cares about them enough to create them and love them continually during Breakfast Club or Chapel.
The camper may have this one person during this one week every year for a small foundational part of their life who shows them the goodness of God, who continually loves them, who cares about them no matter what they say or do, who will stand by them even if they hit or throw or smash pizza into a counselors arm.
I feel called to give back, because there is no way I can repay the people who were there for me in my most challenging times, but I can give to those who need that support. My time is the most effective way for me to do this.
If you feel like you want to financially support the Portland Royal Family Kids Camp, if you want to give foster youth a chance to experience the love of Christ, you can donate at this link – just specify Royal Family Kids Camp in the drop-down menu.