Another Camp HOPE has come and gone, and we are left with the tan lines from that sunny day and the memories that remain. The weather, albeit a little hot for this former Montana girl, was perfect. The sun was shining, a nice breeze was continuous off the lake and we felt the blessings of the day before the families even arrived. Something that I love during our camps is that moment when the air changes. That moment when families start to arrive and things go from that event planning chaos to the calm and excitement of watching these people on their grief journey right in front of us.
Spring camp is very different from fall camp, in that you get to watch these participants in their family dynamic. You watch them grieve and learn and heal together.
I will never not be amazed by the tools of expression that are utilized in camp. Comparing a giant swing hoisted up in the tree to the feelings of helplessness that we experience after a loss. Then taking that comparison and driving it home by describing how to overcome those feelings. I could go through every tool of expression and gush about them for hours, but nothing comes close to seeing it in person. I watched families listen and absorb the lessons, I like to think I watched some healing too.
Equally as amazing to watch is the bereavement team in action. Not only them, but all the volunteers. You can see the fire and the passion that they have for these children and these families. It is beyond magical to be blessed enough to capture these moments from behind the lens of a camera. I will always be grateful for that. For healing. For camp. For Shepherds Cove. For the families. For the weather. For the day.
This year was my very first Camp HOPE. As someone who was a show horse rider for the better part of 10 years, I hoped to be assigned to the horse area…God had different plans for me. (As he is wont to do.)
I was assigned the role of Camp Photographer, which struck the match on my reputation as the “Shepherd’s Cove Paparazzi.” I was nervous. I was terrified to get all up in these grieving kids’ faces and capture some potentially vulnerable moments. Of course, I knew that some kids are just natural camera hams. (I will always be eternally grateful to those kids.) Still, you also go into Camp HOPE just kind of knowing that you are going to see some really emotionally raw moments. That scared me, and it made me feel vulnerable.
God, though, has this way of molding that vulnerability and turning it into something bigger.
As the day went on and I became more acclimated to snapping shots and asking people to pose, I really started to see the magic happen. You see kids painting on rocks, but it’s not until you see what they’re painting that you see the wheels turning. Girls and boys painting things that reminded them of their loved one, some even painting the name of their loved one. At this point, my “get the shot” disposition became more like that of a researcher. It was a true fascination with how our activities can really help people. I documented the steps, the processes and God was guiding my lens the entire time.
I watched teenagers open up and express themselves in ways that they would not have had another opportunity to do. On the final day of Camp HOPE, there was a boy who had just moved up in age group. He had lost his mom and was clearly upset from the moment he stepped off the bus. I got to watch him smile for the first time all day when he connected with a counselor. I got to watch him tackle the obstacles with ease. I watched him laugh and play. Then I watched him cry. I watched him hold onto the balloon representing his mother, refusing to let it go. I watched an equine counselor comfort him, someone who mirrored him…someone who lost her son. I watched these teens rally around this little boy. I watched them whisper their own stories to him. I watched him let go of his balloon.
I was beyond blessed to be Camp Photographer. I captured smiles. I captured moments. I captured hope.