Tuesday, May 19, 2009


I wrote this a few years ago for a story telling class in grad school. It's based on some experiences in Young Life ...

When Helen got off the bus, I had to smile. She just didn't fit in with the tall, leggy blue-eyed blondes that came to camp from the East Bay Area. Helen was 80 years old and in all honesty, looked a bit bag lady-ish. I found out she was the counselor for 12 very determined to live life to the fullest teenage girls.

Helen was a woman on a mission. She didn't want to waste her life. She asked God what He wanted her to do and Helen felt that God told her to give her life away to high school kids. So Helen did just that. Every week, sometimes several times during that week, Helen became a missionary. She entered a foreign country. She hung out on a high school campus, to meet kids, to earn the right-to-be-heard - so she could tell kids about Jesus Christ. A lot of folks thought she was crazy. She wasn't - just faithful. Helen felt that you could never retire from serving God. As long as she had breath she wanted to be God's servant.

But when Helen got off that bus I had to chuckle. The bus trip had done her in. She was going to need a lot of energy for the six day camp we had planned. I hoped she had it in her.

All through the week Helen was at least a couple of steps behind everyone else. But she was there, fully participating. She was a skit in the hondeo - a rodeo on hondas. She rode the jet skis. She tried out the mountain bikes. She was even the victim of some practical jokes.

One night there was a cabin raid. When I found out about it I found Helen and asked her what happened. "It was those boys," she said. "It wasn't bad. A little chaotic. The only thing I wonder about is why they wanted my underwear." I didn't have an answer nor the heart to tell her that her bra was high atop the camp flag pole.

On the first night of camp some guys lured her over to a trashcan where they had lit some firecrackers. You could tell it unnerved her a bit but she didn't react like most adults would. She was pretty cool about it and just walked away even though there was a lot of giggling going on.

Helen told me she came to camp so that her kids could fall in love with the Lord. She said she had prayed all year that these girls would come and hear about Christ's love for them. She knew the week was going to be hard but she wanted so badly just to be with these girls as they embarked on this adventure of faith discovery.

One afternoon Helen tested her own faith and endurance. It was at the high ropes course. Ropes courses test you. You do a series of challenging exercises 35 feet above the ground. Even though extraordinary safety precautions are taken - it really is quite scary and for anyone afraid of heights the fear level can reach epic proportions. It's a huge test for many.

The first obstacle was the log walk. Starting at ground level, you walk up a series of logs to a platform high above the ground. It is scary. Helen, afraid of heights, stopped in the middle of the last log - 10 feet from the safety of the platform. She froze. She couldn't move. She could barely talk. I was the staff member on the platform. Quietly I said, "Helen, I'll come and get you." "Oh no," she exclaimed, "Don't do that. The girls are watching me. They need to see me make this. I can't give up. I've been telling them faith is scary too but worth it." And so she just stood there. The girls watched very carefully and you could see concern in their eyes. I heard Helen start to pray. " Now, Lord, you told me you would never leave me or forsake me. I need to feel you close more than ever. I'm scared but I told the girls you could be trusted, so don't make a liar of me." And then slowly, Helen began to inch her way up the log to the platform. She made it. I hugged her and she began to cry, shielding her face from the girls. "I hate heights," she said, " but I couldn't disappoint the girls. They really need to see me living out those things I've been telling them." And then she looked at me and said, "It gets harder from here, doesn't it?" "Yes, Helen, in all honesty this was the easiest part." "The Lord and I are going to do it, Mike." And then she was off zip-lining throught the forest.

The girls followed Helen up the log. Some came up confidently, some very tentatively. All asked, "How's Helen?" "Fine," I said, "she's a trooper." Several said to me that they didn't want to be on the ropes course at all but if Helen could do so could they.

On the last night of camp the speaker asked kids to stand if God had touched their life that week. Helen's whole cabin got up. Each proclaimed that they wanted to walk with Jesus. They weren't sure what or who had made the difference but they ended up thanking everyone profusely except for poor Helen.

Later that night I saw Helen crying. It was tears of joy and disappointment. Joy because her girls had met and fallen in love with Jesus. Disappointed that her efforts had gone unnoticed and unappreciated.

Later in the summer I was telling some staff friends my camp stories. Each of them had met an incredible person at their camp. I told them about Helen. On the East Coast kids had been captivated by Sheila, a girl with cerebral palsy. In the south, Stan, all-American-Stan, Stan with the blonde girl friend and fantastic future had fallen in love with Jesus. Up in Canada, Calvin, a very bitter inner city kid broke down in front of everyone and admitted later there might be a God.

Jesus was being greeted by the whole host of heaven. They all agreed he had been gone far too long. Jesus looked tired, but not weary. When asked why he had left Jesus said, "It's important not to forget. I need to be with the people I left behind." One of the angels asked, "Don't they all recognize you and shower you with praise?" Jesus had to chuckle because He knew how hard it was, for so many, to see and acknowledge the presence of God.

He told the angels. "A woman on earth loves people who are dying on the streets of India. She says she sees me in a 'most distressing disguise.' She undertands.

I went to earth again under disguise and learned, once more how hard it is to be human. It wan't easy this time when some guys stole my bra and I was embarrassed.

And then I felt fear in the middle of a log and had to learn to trust my Father all over again. Later in the week I was hurt by some young women that I cared deeply about and I cried.

But I did feel love sitting in that wheelchair and I think my faith was strengthened when I struggled long and hard about whether I could afford to believe and then finally broke down in front of everyone.

And I had to work through what it meant to be good looking and popular and to live a life of faith.

The hard part was being human again and feeling, really feeling and wanting desperately to be faithful when there is so much to call me to unfaithfulness. But in the midst of all that I found that some paused long enough to notice me even if they couldn't see through my disguise. And the look in their eyes gave me hope."

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