Dear Joey,

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The summer before I began the third grade, I attended my first camp with my church youth group.  I remember being terrified as we left the church.  I had never spent that many days away from home.

Little did I know, that camp visit would begin my deep history with Woodland Christian Camp.  I attended as a camper each summer until I was sixteen.  At sixteen I met a young man whose father volunteered as a camp dean each summer for the third and fourth graders – the same age I was when I first attended!  I volunteered.  For the next two years I would serve as a camper and a counselor, on different weeks!  Once I graduated from high school I would serve as a counselor for at least one week of camp each summer.

Once my mother passed away and I began teaching full time, I put what was intended to be a temporary pause on my camp counselor service.  However, summer jobs, marriage and children happened and before I knew it, it had been sixteen years since I was on the land I loved so much.

Last September, something woke me early on a Sunday morning.  A casual Facebook scroll ended with a cold grip on my heart.  The precious camp dean I served for so long and loved even longer, Joey, had passed away.  Suddenly it came crashing in on me just how I had neglected the land and people who had meant so much to me.  Joey had always seen the good in me.  He listened to me as I thought through some tough teenage decisions.  He had loved me as a kind uncle through times when I struggled to love even myself.  He had reached out to me when he heard my mother had passed away.  What had I done to thank him?  Nothing.

Over this past week, Joey and his family had been laid upon my heart repeatedly, even showing up in my dreams.  Once more, I was awakened early on a Sunday morning.  Once again a Facebook scroll gripped me.  This was the week of camp that Joey had always served as dean.  Two dear friends who had served with Joey and I were heading it up.  One was Joey’s son, Jason.  I finally knew how to thank Joey.

Yesterday my husband and I took our three children to Woodland.  I introduced them to old friends.  Watching my children talk with Jason, who looks just like his father, felt like the completion of a journey I had not realized was unfinished.  We walked through the buildings where I spent so many happy days.  I introduced them to Joey through a picture Jason had posted in the main mess hall.  We sat on the deck with a view of the lake where I had many a deep discussion with Joey.  We walked down to the lake and sat on the dock where I remember dreaming of my future.  Somehow my dreams did not include sitting there with my children.  It was surreal, but wonderful.

Joey taught me one more lesson yesterday.  I stood by the lake alone for a few minutes, saying my good-bye to Joey and remembering all the dreams I had during my teenage years.  I realized that I wasn’t living many of them at all.  My husband was only a friend during those years.  I never imagined being married to him and sharing children.  I am a teacher as planned, but teaching is not what I imagined.  Adulting is not what I imagined.  But what I have is …. perfect for me.  I couldn’t imagine a husband who understands me better.  He is patient when I need it and challenges my thinking to make me look at situations from various angles – much like Joey.  My career is my mission field and has taught me that with God I can go farther than I ever could alone – as Joey told me He would.

Joey taught me that while I may not be living exactly my teenage dreams, I am living God’s dreams for me, and He dreams so much bigger than we can.

Dear Joey,

Thank you for everything you gave to me growing up – most importantly, a listening ear when I needed it.  Thank you for modeling faith in God, even in the face of difficult circumstances.  I hope I have made you proud.  Enjoy your reward.  There aren’t many who deserve it more than you.

Love always,

Aletheia

 

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