There are the expected memories many of us experience at summer camp – late night hikes, bonfires, friends, chapel time, mosquitos – and then there are the kind of bizarre, unexpected happenings that add themselves to our store of camp memories.
Of course, I don’t have any memories of camp as a kid… I was FAR too homesick at the thought of camp to attend.
Still… I had an idea of what sorts of thing happen at camp and meeting my future daughter was not on that list!
God doesn’t play by our expectations though, does He?
In 2009, while serving as a middle school pastor, I could never have imagined how camp would impact the trajectory of our family.
The story actually starts before summer. I was busy planning for our middle school weeks at Bird River Bible Camp, when I received a phone call from someone I didn’t know.
“I understand your church has a summer camp.”
“I think I also heard that you help kids go to camp who can’t really afford it.”
“I have a son and daughter. Could they come to your camp? Could someone sponsor them?”
The answer was “yes” again. Of course! And that’s when I first met Caitie.
I don’t remember a lot from that summer, but by fall Caitie was a regular in our youth group. Her cabin leader, Kristy, became her small group leader and I started to get to know her family a bit more.
Over the next two years, it because apparent that Caitie’s life wasn’t easy. Eventually some intervention was required.
When Caitie’s social worker, a friend of mine, gave me a call one Friday afternoon in September 2011, I knew that things had unraveled to the point where Caitie couldn’t live at home any longer. Tara and I had a brief conversation after her social worker called, and we decided that she could stay at our home for the weekend.
A weekend. Yeah right.
As is often the case, things were complicated enough that more than a weekend was required to try and bring a resolution to the family situation. Sadly, a resolution was never reached. Caitie couldn’t move home again.
So, following that first weekend, Tara and I talked and prayed again and came to the conclusion that God wanted Caitie to be a part of our family – and so she stayed. In fact, she never left.
There were so many new experiences over the years as we learned what it means to be foster parents. There were hard experiences to be sure, but there were also wonderful, inspiring, tingle-down-your-spine experiences as well.
One of those experiences was when she called me “Dad” for the first time.
We had talked to her about it. Tara had sensed one day that Caitie wanted to call us mom and dad but was hesitant, so we brought up the subject. We acknowledged that people come to have the distinction of “mom” or “dad” in different ways and that if she wanted to, we would be honoured to be that for her.
We also acknowledged that it would be awkward at first, but if and when she wanted, we would be fine with it.
It was awkward.
We laugh about that now.
And, you know, we are the first to admit that things are still complicated at times. We weren’t Caitie’s first parents, we will never have that distinction and we will always honour her birth parents. But that doesn’t change the fact that families form in various and mysterious ways at times. As ours did.
I remember when Caitie asked me whether I would be able to both walk her down the aisle AND officiate at her wedding one day. I assured her the rules are pretty flexible when it comes to weddings and that I would make it work.
On May 31, 2019, that day arrived. Caitie married Colton and I walked her down the aisle and officiated.
She was (and is) a stunning bride!
Who would have ever guessed all those years ago when I met Caitie at summer camp, that one day I would be walking her down the aisle at her wedding…
This is the time of year when people start thinking about summer camp because it’s time to sign your kids up for those life-changing weeks.
We often talk about miracles that happen at camp. We talk about the kids who receive Jesus as their Lord and the amazing friendships that form. My camp miracle is that I met my daughter at camp.
What is your camp miracle story? Has God used summer camp to change your life? Please! Share your story in the comments! In these cold, winter months, let’s bring some warmth to one another’s lives and give glory to God who works in the most unlikely places!
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Associate Pastor – Southland Church
Thom has worked with children and youth for 18 years. He and his wife, Tara, have 7 kids; 4 boys, and two daughters and a SON-IN-LAW(!). The kids are spread across 23 years too, so that gives him plenty of experimental material to write about! They have welcomed 31 foster children into their home over the past number of years.