When we were younger, my sisters and I went to a summer camp in Vero Beach a couple years in a row. Kids under 8 could only participate in the day camp, so I was looking forward to going to the "big kid" overnight camp the year I was old enough. There were a couple problems with that I had not foreseen:

  1. I had very rarely spent a single night away from home, much less a whole week.
  2. For the particular week we were going, I was the only 8-year-old boy signed up for the overnight camp.

I was still put in the youngest boys' cabin...

...which was filled with 10- and 11-year-old boys...

...who were annoyed to find out that they were stuck in a cabin with a kid the same age as their younger siblings. The nice ones avoided me whenever possible. The others decided that it would be fun and exciting to torment me with insults about how I looked — my freckles and red hair, mainly — or by telling me stories about the kids that had gone missing in those woods and had probably been taken by escaped convicts.

The main counselor wasn't particularly thrilled to be stuck with a single boy years younger than the age group he had been assigned. His favorite answer to any of my complaints was that I needed to stop being a baby. The other boys were more than happy to parrot that at me, especially after he expressly encouraged it.

By the time chapel began each night, I was dead tired. It didn't help that it started right before my normal bed time. This led to me bobble-heading in the service — trying, and failing, to stay awake, only to jerk my head back up when it fell forward towards my lap. The counselor's solution to this problem was to flick the back of my neck or ears really hard. As the week progressed, the flicking turned more into smacks on the back of my head.

I was surrounded by other kids and at least one adult that were making it clear to me that I wasn't wanted. I decided the very first night that it would be in everyone's best interest for me to go home. In the cabin, I knocked on the wall beside the curtain that separated the counselors' bunk area from the rest of the cabin.

The main counselor slung the curtain open and, seeing it was me, sighed with obvious annoyance. "What?"

I had been holding myself back from crying pretty well until he startled me. I said, "I want to go home," much more shakily than I would have liked. To the relief of us both, the co-counselor volunteered to walk me to the camp office to call my mother.

I understood, to an extent, the sacrifices my mom had made to put herself through nursing school as a single mother. I knew how hard she worked to provide a good life for my sisters and me. I had seen how protective she became when someone threatened her kids — including her "I'm the momma bear, and you don't want to mess with my cubs" speech. There was no doubt in my mind that I would be going home as soon as I asked to. I wouldn't have to explain how I felt left out and like no one wanted me, how I was scared, or any other unboyly admission.

So, imagine my surprise when I heard my mom's voice on the other end of the line telling me that I couldn't go home that night or even the next morning. No, I had to stay until the end of the week as we originally planned. My sisters and I knew a specific code when it came to requesting things from my mom. We would typically get one of three answers:

  1. Yes — if not immediately, eventually. If we continued to pester her about when, the answer became, "no."
  2. Maybe — which really could go either way. If we asked again, the answer became, "no."
  3. No — which was final. If we continued to ask, it might very well become, "no, and never again."

Regardless of this well-established system, I asked again. My mother refusing to come rescue me, to come protect me went against everything I knew about who she was. If that was different this time, maybe her rules about pestering were, as well. I ended up calling her every single night of camp, pleading to be allowed to come home. Every night she calmly explained that she knew it wasn't easy for me, but I had to stay for the rest of camp.

On Wednesday, I got something in the camp mail. I opened the small envelope they handed me and pulled out a yellow piece of paper. It was a letter from my mom.

To My Dear Joey, I know that you have missed me so very much because I have missed you too! Friday night we will be able to sit together & hug. April & Traci are such loving big sisters and I know that they are helping you to enjoy camp. I can't wait til you tell me all your adventures. Never forget that Jesus is with you and loves you so very much. I've asked him to put his arms around you and hold you and hug you. You are a very precious son and such a joy. I love you! See you Friday. Love Mom.

Why was the letter addressed to "Joey"? I legally changed my name when I turned 18.

I was happy to get the letter, but it also confused me. If she really missed me and wanted to see me, she was the one that could fix that. It was her telling me that I had to stay. Why didn't she come get me instead of leaving me in this place that I hated surrounded by people who hated me?

At the end of the week, we were reunited, as my mother promised. When we got home, I jumped face-down onto my bed and woke up the next morning. I hadn't been particularly tired: I had intended it as an exaggerated expression of my relief to be back in my own room. After a week of feeling uneasy and, at times, outright scared, I was safe. I could relax. I guess my body went along with the gesture, putting me out immediately.

Over the years, that little, folded bit of yellow paper stayed safe and near me. Whenever I looked at it, I would mostly remember my mom's love and protection. A part of me, though, still wanted to know why that week was different. I got my answer when I was a teenager.

My mother had to have a major surgery but didn't want her children to worry. She scheduled it, and the recovery time it would require, on a week she could send us away to camp. Every night, I stood in the camp office, trying not to look at the director or my co-counselor as my begging was denied and tears welled up in my eyes. What I didn't see was my mother on the other end, tired and recovering, wishing she could bring her little boy home.

She meant every word of that letter, even though her actions didn't seem to line up. I felt like I had been abandoned, left to fend for myself, but I was only seeing my side of the situation when there was more to the story than I imagined. Instead of trusting my mother based on past experience, I allowed myself to doubt who I knew her to be.

The Israelites were worried. The Egyptians had been spotted in the distance. Pharaoh had rallied his army to chase after his former slaves. Even worse, the Israelites were on foot while the Egyptians had horses and chariots. There was no earthly way for the Israelites to escape their fate: the Red Sea lay before them as death approached from behind. With a likely mix of fear, frustration, and anger, some of the Israelites lashed out at Moses.

Exodus 14:11-12 (ESV)
They said to Moses, "Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: 'Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness."

All the Israelites had seen, or at least heard of, the plagues God had sent against Egypt. Ten miraculous signs had been given to Pharaoh to let him know that Moses wasn't playing around when he said that the God of Israel was commanding to let his people go. In spite of these supernatural affronts to the power of Pharaoh's gods and sovereignty, the Israelites worried that God would not continue to stand by them.

Exodus 14:13-14 (ESV)
And Moses said to the people, "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent."

Moses had a more intimate relationship with God. He had a deeper understanding of and trust in his creator. God had not yet told him the plan, had not yet commanded him to lift up his staff to part the Red Sea. But Moses understood that the God that frees his people from captivity does not abandon them to die in the wilderness.

I sat in my chair at work, wondering why my stomach was so upset. I hadn't eaten anything that morning, so I thought that it might be that I was hungrier than usual. I took my lunch break to see if that would help. The pain only got worse. It started to feel like I had been stabbed, my phantom assailant leaving the knife sticking out of me. After about a minute, that intense, sharp pain faded, only to return somewhere else a few minutes later. I came to call these episodes "spikes." Inbetween, I was left with the dull soreness I had been experiencing all morning.

That was August 19, 2017. Over the last eight months, I have seen multiple doctors, taken countless pills of various shapes and colors, gone through tests that have been humiliating, painful, and sometimes both. Meanwhile, I was dealing with varying levels of constant pain, bouts of extreme fatigue, and seemingly random nausea.

At the beginning, the doctors thought the problem might be with my gallbladder. After multiple tests determined there wasn't anything wrong there, the doctors treated me differently.

Is he a pill-seeker? Is this a psych case? Is he making everything up for attention or to get out of work?

The doctors didn't accuse me directly, but I could hear it in the tone that they took. I wasn't believed. And, because of the history of mental illness on both sides of my family, I began to worry that it was all in my head, that my brain was misfiring and perceiving pain where there wasn't any.

When a CT scan showed that there was something very wrong with my liver, that I might have liver cancer, I was relieved. It feels strange to even type that, but it's true. I finally had evidence for myself, and the doctors that doubted me, that the problem wasn't all in my head. Then I remembered that I might have cancer. Thankfully, cancer has been eliminated as a possibility, as well as a bunch of other diseases I've been specifically tested for. Unfortunately, we don't have any promising leads on what it could be.

At times in this ordeal, I have given in to despair. I have begged God to end my suffering or at least show me what he plans to do with it. I have cried. I have screamed. I have raged.

It's been eight months. Not only am I not out of the woods, but I don't yet see a break in the tree line. I also didn't see what my mom was going through while I was at camp. The Israelites didn't see that God already had a plan to deliver them. Human sight is limited. Regardless of what I can or can't see, I know that my God is good.

I don't know the cause of my current troubles, and I may never. I don't yet see how he will work these circumstances for my ultimate good and his glory, but his word says he will. He's proved himself to me, through the good and the bad.

The father that stayed my hand when I planned to take my own life as a teenager, that already healed my body once, that renewed the mind of a hateful, hurtful child of wrath so he could be a loving, kind child of God is still with me to this day. He didn't free and restore me time and time again just to leave me to die alone in the wilderness.

That's not who he is.

Exodus 14:14 (ESV)
The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.

Photo by Elijah Henderson on Unsplash