Prior to attending camp last year, we did some spiritual battling and training for our younger son, Ty, who was struggling with the thought of being away from home for a whole week. Understandably so, given the fact that aside from some overnight sleepovers at his best friend's house, as well as some 2 - 3 day visits to his grandparents' house, he had never really been away from home. But we were so proud of his attempt to develop strategies to deal with the anxious feelings he was having about being away from home--in particular, being away from me. We did a lot of praying prior to camp, but for the first two days while the boys were at camp, I was emotionally unstable, which led to a weird sort of paralysis. Instead of taking advantage of the time I had to myself during the day while Wayne was at work and the boys were absent, I did nothing. And I mean nothing. I was so consumed with what was going on at camp (or I should say, what might be going on at camp), and wondering and worrying how the boys were doing, that I wasn't able to get motivated to do anything. It was a very strange state to be in--one that I should have anticipated was going to happen, but didn't. Finally, after 2 days of feeling that way, I realized that if they were struggling with homesickness, or anything else for that matter, the camp would call and let me know. And so, with reluctance, I gave up on worrying so much and was actually able to get some projects accomplished that I had hoped to do in the boys' absence. I regret to inform you that I neglected to trust God through all of this, and really, that's what I should have been doing instead of wallowing in my own feelings of uncertainty and anxiety.
Guess what? Mitchell and Ty loved their time at camp, and Ty only had one incident of feeling anxious about being away from home . . . he used the strategies we had suggested to help him through his feelings, and he made it to the end of the week. He loved the experience and quickly began talking about "next year" . . . which brings us to the current camp season.
Several months ago I registered the boys at the same camp, this time in a teen fanatic camp geared towards paintball. Unfortunately, their friend from last summer could not join them for the experience this time around, since he had other commitments. However, due to the age-spacing between my boys, this would likely the last opportunity they'd have to attend camp together as campers. And since they had already attended camp last summer without incident, I anticipated a successful week, both on their part and mine, in the area of anxiety and homesickness. That is why I was surprised when Ty expressed feelings of homesickness the night before he even left for camp.
I was not expecting this at all, so it really caught me off-guard. Not to mention, I hadn't been praying as much about this whole issue in the weeks leading up to their 2014 camp experience. For that, I am regretful.
When we dropped the boys off at camp, Mitchell was excited, but Ty was anxious. He was so anxious that we had to have two pep-talks with him in our vehicle before Wayne and I left the camp premises. When we left him in the hands of his experienced counselor (for which I was grateful), we knew that Ty would have his older brother there for moral support, should he need it.
That was Sunday night. By 1:08 p.m. Monday, the camp was already contacting us due to Ty's homesickness. I had been carrying my phone around with me at all times prior to the phone call. However, for two brief moments while I was taking my dog outside for a bathroom break, Ty was calling to talk to me, and I missed the call because I forgot to take my phone along with me for those brief moments. The camp director (whom we know quite well, and trust explicitly) left me a nice message, indicating that Ty just wanted to talk because he was feeling a little bit homesick. The director instructed me to call around suppertime . . . which was 5 hours later! Well, you can imagine what was going on in my heart and mind for the next several hours. I sent Wayne a text at work and asked him to pray. hard. for. his. son. I spent my afternoon praying that Ty's anxiety would ease, but also, that his dad and I would make the right decision about whether or not to allow him to come home, or make him stick it out.
By the time Wayne got home from work, I had basically concluded that Ty could work this out and finish his week at camp. For starters, he had done this successfully last year. Secondly, his brother was with him. Thirdly, he was in a very safe environment to work out this personal issue, that, in all reality, he had to work out for himself. And lastly, Wayne and I knew that Ty would regret his decision to leave paintball camp. He had been talking about this experience for months, and we knew deep down that he would be sorry if he didn't stick it out, especially since his brother was going to return home with amazing stories at the end of the week--and we wanted Ty to be a part of those stories as well. If we had decided to come to his rescue over this, we felt that it would be detrimental for future situations away from home, because as he gets older, there will be more and more opportunities for Ty to be away from home for an extended period of time. After praying about it throughout the afternoon, Wayne and I decided that picking him up from camp early was not an option. Unless he was very sick or had an injury that required our immediate attention, we would not be coming to get him until the end of the week.
Prior to speaking to Ty after supper, I had a chance to speak with the camp director. He indicated that this scenario was fairly common, and it was our decision as to how to proceed. We let him know that we would not be coming to get Ty from the camp and he completely understood our reasoning behind the decision. It was good to know that he was on our side, and after my conversation with Ty to advise him that we weren't going to come get him (one of the hardest things I've ever had to tell Ty), the director chatted with Ty about how his week would ultimately be determined by what kind of attitude he had towards it--he could be miserable and not enjoy himself, or he could take advantage of the opportunity and decide to have fun and make the best of it. Well, our prayers were answered and Ty became less anxious about being there . . . in the end he did have a good time. However, the jury is still out as to whether or not he will ever be a camper again . . . and that's okay. We just wanted him to make it to the end of that particular week. And, thankfully, he wasn't upset with us for making him stay there. I think he knew he needed to do this just as much as we did.
So, why do I share this story? (By the way, I applaud you for making it this far into the post--I know the story probably seemed long). Well, I was thinking that I can relate to Ty on so many levels of homesickness. But I am not homesick for my earthly home. I am homesick for a home that I can read about in the Bible . . . a home that I've never actually seen . . . but a home that I long for, nevertheless. This home is Heaven. And there are many, many moments, hours, days, months even, that I ache to leave this earth so that I can live in my eternal home with my Father in heaven. But as much as I long for that perfect home, I know that I have things to do here first. Just like Ty needed to be "the camper" for a week, I need to be the Lord's Servant for the amount of time He chooses to give me here on earth. Ephesians 2:10 (NIV) says it best: "For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." I love that God has a plan for me to do good in this world. Whether that is doing laundry for my family, staying late after work to lend a listening ear when my co-worker needs to talk about life issues, sending encouragement notes to the women with whom I do ministry, using my height advantage to help the little old lady at the grocery store who cannot reach the item she needs on the top shelf, or helping the single mom who needs me to transport her kids to Air Cadets because she has a night class that creates a scheduling conflict . . . these are all good works that God prepared for me to do in advance. Every day of our lives is full of opportunities--opportunities to bless and encourage others. It might be something simple. It might be something grand. But there is always some good work that God has prepared in advance for us to do.
And just like it was uncomfortable for Ty at times to make it through some moments of the day at camp, it can be uncomfortable for us to live our life on earth. But I believe it is often these moments of discomfort in which we grow the most--the time in which we have to trust the most--our faith is made stronger by times of discomfort. And focusing on the end--eternity--is what can get us through those uncomfortable times. Holding on to the hope of Heaven and knowing that this earthly life and a hole in the ground is not our final destination--that is what helps me through the anxious moments of my "Heaven Homesickness".
I leave you with some encouragement from Hebrews chapter 11, paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message. I love this passage . . . especially verses 13 - 16 (emphasis mine):
Faith in What We Don’t See
11 1-2 The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.3 By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see.
4 By an act of faith, Abel brought a better sacrifice to God than Cain. It was what he believed, not what he brought, that made the difference. That’s what God noticed and approved as righteous. After all these centuries, that belief continues to catch our notice.
5-6 By an act of faith, Enoch skipped death completely. “They looked all over and couldn’t find him because God had taken him.” We know on the basis of reliable testimony that before he was taken “he pleased God.” It’s impossible to please God apart from faith. And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him.
7 By faith, Noah built a ship in the middle of dry land. He was warned about something he couldn’t see, and acted on what he was told. The result? His family was saved. His act of faith drew a sharp line between the evil of the unbelieving world and the rightness of the believing world. As a result, Noah became intimate with God.
8-10 By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home. When he left he had no idea where he was going. By an act of faith he lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents. Isaac and Jacob did the same, living under the same promise. Abraham did it by keeping his eye on an unseen city with real, eternal foundations—the City designed and built by God.
11-12 By faith, barren Sarah was able to become pregnant, old woman as she was at the time, because she believed the One who made a promise would do what he said. That’s how it happened that from one man’s dead and shriveled loins there are now people numbering into the millions.
13-16 Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them.17-19 By faith, Abraham, at the time of testing, offered Isaac back to God. Acting in faith, he was as ready to return the promised son, his only son, as he had been to receive him—and this after he had already been told, “Your descendants shall come from Isaac.” Abraham figured that if God wanted to, he could raise the dead. In a sense, that’s what happened when he received Isaac back, alive from off the altar.
20 By an act of faith, Isaac reached into the future as he blessed Jacob and Esau.
21 By an act of faith, Jacob on his deathbed blessed each of Joseph’s sons in turn, blessing them with God’s blessing, not his own—as he bowed worshipfully upon his staff.
22 By an act of faith, Joseph, while dying, prophesied the exodus of Israel, and made arrangements for his own burial.
23 By an act of faith, Moses’ parents hid him away for three months after his birth. They saw the child’s beauty, and they braved the king’s decree.
24-28 By faith, Moses, when grown, refused the privileges of the Egyptian royal house. He chose a hard life with God’s people rather than an opportunistic soft life of sin with the oppressors. He valued suffering in the Messiah’s camp far greater than Egyptian wealth because he was looking ahead, anticipating the payoff. By an act of faith, he turned his heel on Egypt, indifferent to the king’s blind rage. He had his eye on the One no eye can see, and kept right on going. By an act of faith, he kept the Passover Feast and sprinkled Passover blood on each house so that the destroyer of the firstborn wouldn’t touch them.
29 By an act of faith, Israel walked through the Red Sea on dry ground. The Egyptians tried it and drowned.
30 By faith, the Israelites marched around the walls of Jericho for seven days, and the walls fell flat.
31 By an act of faith, Rahab, the Jericho harlot, welcomed the spies and escaped the destruction that came on those who refused to trust God.
32-38 I could go on and on, but I’ve run out of time. There are so many more—Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets. . . . Through acts of faith, they toppled kingdoms, made justice work, took the promises for themselves. They were protected from lions, fires, and sword thrusts, turned disadvantage to advantage, won battles, routed alien armies. Women received their loved ones back from the dead. There were those who, under torture, refused to give in and go free, preferring something better: resurrection. Others braved abuse and whips, and, yes, chains and dungeons. We have stories of those who were stoned, sawed in two, murdered in cold blood; stories of vagrants wandering the earth in animal skins, homeless, friendless, powerless—the world didn’t deserve them!—making their way as best they could on the cruel edges of the world.39-40 Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.