A 7-year-old, blonde-haired boy named Michael came to camp for the first time. He spoke with a lisp and was quite anxious at registration, asking lots of questions and sneaking out of the camper area to find his older sister. Once at camp, he had an amazing time, even though he had periods of sadness and withdrawal. We weren’t quite sure why he would fall into these times, but it’s not uncommon with kids from hard places. He received over 65 heart notes throughout the week and would ask his counselor to count and recount them as he grinned from ear to ear.

When the time came to leave camp on Friday, he ran because he did not want to leave. His counselor coaxed him onto the bus and I thought we were good to go. Once at the church, however, I got on the bus to talk to the driver, and saw something that broke my heart. Tiny colorful pieces of heart notes littered the floor by one of the seats. Micheal had ripped every one of his 65+ notes to pieces, and he sat weeping next to his counselor. I made my way back to check in with the behavior specialist who was with them both. She turned to me, her eyes filled with tears, and quietly said, “We just have to sit in it with him.”

As I walked back into the church to speak with Eric’s guardian, one of the other counselors handed me a collection of heart notes that the volunteers on the bus had written to replace the ones Eric had torn apart in his grief about going home. He went home with messages of love and now looks forward to being at camp year after year.