Better Dads hosted our Third Annual Single Mom's Family Camp on June 12-14 at Canby Grove Christian Camp. I don’t even know where to begin to report all the incredible things that happened at this camp.
First of all, let me say thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of the volunteers, donors, and prayer warriors who were involved in this event. You will never know how many lives you touched or how deeply you touched them until you are standing before our Maker. But I know that miracles happened and lives were changed this weekend. I don’t make that statement lightly. Literally people’s lives were changed and hearts healed.
As I watched the kids (ages 5-16) arrive, most did not want to be there and had been forced to come by mom. There were angry and sullen. But very quickly they learned how much fun it was playing with the volunteers. Their veneer soon changed to one of excitement and happiness. The kids played soccer, volleyball, basketball, freeze tag, archery, fishing, biking, and all sorts of other activities. I watched Jon work with the teenage boys and saw him connect with them on a level they craved. He taught them simple lessons through actions and words on what it means to be a man—just what they all yearned for. They hung on his every word by the end of camp. Jon taught them to use a pocketknife and handed out several at the end of camp as gifts to the older boys. He taught another boy how to gut and clean a fish—just what every man should know. Lastly he taught them to build birdhouses with their own two hands—they were very proud of their work. Jon also showed them not to mess with us old guys in push-ups or running contests (although I heard he biffed on the BMX course).
At the campfire Saturday night I watched Katie sit with a little girl on her lap. Next to her, her husband Caleb had two little boys snuggled in his arms against his chest. They contentedly stayed there the whole night relishing the contact, sucking up his masculine essence like dry sponges. I watched Ron and Paul teach kids how to fish and the great joy and feelings of adequacy that comes from a boy catching his first fish by himself (46 fish were caught, cleaned and frozen to be taken home and cooked by the kids). Danny and Donna loved up the littler children. Kelsey played with kids until they couldn’t stand up any more. Her role model of a vibrant, healthy, godly young woman is powerful to both boys and girls. The youth group from Mountainview Christian Church was invaluable in playing with the kids who looked up to them as older role models. They produced some wonderful skits around the campfire to entertain everyone. Sheryl was the RN on duty who made sure no one was harmed and Adam and Tyson were firefighter/EMTs who lent their presence of protection as well. Linda took hundreds of photos that I can’t wait to see.
Overnight the behavior of the kids changed as they watched people they looked up to honoring and respecting their mothers. Just a brief amount of exposure to healthy masculinity in their lives calmed them and made them feel secure and content. Moms were somewhat stunned when their children became polite and happy to see them. By Saturday afternoon, they all loved being at the camp. Many wanted to stay and several asked if they could volunteer next year. One little boy told his mom, “I love this ‘school.’ Can we stay?” Mostly, the children’s behavior changed because someone offered them love and cared enough to spend time with them. It’s a huge lesson we all need to learn. One 16-year old boy (who was reportedly rolling his eyes in disgust as they registered) asked me if I was the “Tape Man.” He said his grandma plays my CD every time he gets in the car. I told him I was sorry. He said, “No, it’s helped me a lot.” He then proceeded to tell me one of the stories on the CD and how it applied to his life. Needless to say, I gave him a copy of my newest book on masculinity as a going away gift.
The speakers were incredible. Clearly, God orchestrated all of the speakers to scaffold one upon another so that the message was one of hope, encouragement, and the love God has for these moms and kids.
But it wasn’t all teaching and hard work for the moms. One of the great joys of the moms was being awoken Saturday morning with a tray of coffee, flowers, a newspaper, and goodies at their cabin doors. Most moms were shocked to find out the camp was actually for them—not for their children. Probably the people who worked the hardest with the least amount of credit were the beautiful women who served the moms. Suzanne, Terri, and Susan worked like lumberjacks (although they sure don’t look like one) to pamper and bless the moms with a spa experience on Saturday afternoon, and a karaoke fest that night. Along with Debbie O., Debbie A., Jen, Sarah, Lydia, and Linda they washed the moms’ feet, gave pedicures, and massaged their heads, necks, and shoulders. They also served them decadent deserts, coffee, and cold blended fruit drinks. They were treated like queens. Later that evening, I was afraid to enter the room where karaoke singing was taking place but I heard the women got pretty wild (led by Suzanne of course) and many said they had never before had so much fun or felt safe and free to cut loose. Later at night, as the moms walked together towards the campfire, the children (unprompted by the leaders) dropped their s’mores and gave them a long standing ovation. Quite a change in attitude from just 24 hours earlier!
Many tears were shed as the moms were leaving. Here are just a few of the comments made by moms:
“My life has been changed from Rick’s workshops…I believe God put me on a path to heal my heart from the father wound in my life….The workshop you did on relationships was hard for me—I wanted to cry like a baby….This camp has inspired me to work on the “black hole” that is inside me. I want to work on those issues of why I crave male attention or want to marry my father. It has opened my eyes. Thank you for blessing me and my son.”
“I want to say THANK YOU with all my heart to those who made this camp possible. My son and I will remember this time as a gift from God through people like you who made it happen. We leave here sadly, yet feeling oh so blessed!”
“My children and I have been touched and blessed to be here. The future is bright for our family and one of the brightest parts of our future is the tools we will take with us from this weekend.”
“To all those who made this miracle happen in our lives: THANK YOU from the depths of my being. There have been tears of joy and pain. Growth always happens during our deepest heartfelt emotions. You have blessed my son and myself so deeply and profoundly. God bless you all!”
“I had a time to reflect on who I was in Christ without being judged.”
“I could never thank you enough for this wonderful weekend. This weekend has really given my son and my relationship those first few stitches it needed to be mended. I have seen a dramatic change in his attitude in just two days. From the age of 2 my son was taught by my ex-husband to disrespect women, other children, and people in general. Nothing has worked to break that behavior; not me, not months of counseling, not other positive people. During this weekend, thanks to everyone’s involvement, that hard shell has been cracked. Thank you so much!”
“I am so blessed after this weekend. I am grateful beyond words to God for bringing the volunteers, youth group, speakers, and so many other together this weekend. Truly words are not enough to express how wonderful this experience has been for the kids…we really lived!!!
“It was hard to come here this weekend. It has been so long since I socialized. It seems easier to crawl in my shell. Rick, your talk about “choosing” and not settling really encouraged me. I feel so “less than” all the time, and I hate that I feel this way. Lori’s talk inspired me to allow God to enter into the deep recesses of my heart for healing. My armor I have wrapped myself in is strong, it’s hard to be open to God breaking the brick wall I have formed…to love me. PS – my kids adored the youth counselors!”
“I came to this retreat hoping to take from it a sense of validation, new friendships, and a closer relationship with God. Not only am I taking those things but most importantly I take with me the knowledge that I am my Heavenly Father’s little girl! I know now that I can drop this unfounded fear that I will fail and be cast aside if I make mistakes.”
“Thank you for being our voice.”
As you can see, I was blessed mightily to be part of this event that God put together. You see I had resigned myself to the fact that we would not have a camp this year as we had broken ties with the camp we formerly partnered with. With the cost of the camp being around $10,000 and local camps being booked for 1-2 years in advance I just assumed we would not be able to do anything this year. But God had other plans. I soon received an email from a donor who promised the entire amount to underwrite the camp provided we could raise some matching funds. One day later Suzanne received a call from Canby Grove Christian Camp saying they had heard what we were doing and wanted us to visit to see if their facilities would work. Not surprisingly their facilities were perfect—and oh yeah, they just happened to have a summer weekend open. And so, it was up to me to organize and put together a camp for the first time from the ground up. A huge task I soon discovered. However, I believe God’s plan was to fully train us and a core group of volunteers how to implement these camps so that we can now go to other states and train other churches and groups how to fulfill this huge need in our society.
We learned a lot but the one thing I learned was to start planning as early as possible. Therefore, if you would like to partner with us next year please let us know. The earlier we can get the funding committed the earlier we can plan and get vendors, sponsors, churches, and volunteers on board. Sorry this blog was so long, but the work God did at the camp surpassed my skills as a writer.
May God bless all the volunteers and donors for your involvement in the lives of these widows and orphans.