Joy no matter what. A blog by Deanne Nelson.

Blogging, Speaking, and Writing | Jesus and Autism | The Nelson Family Journey

A Week Can Change A Life October 6, 2014

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It was not long after our move to NC in the summer of 2007 when I was introduced to the beauty of a mountain retreat known as Camp Lurecrest. This unique camp has been going strong since the 1940’s, with a clear and simple agenda- to touch the lives of each and every camper with the life changing love and message of Jesus Christ. Their motto further exemplifies this mission…’A week can change a life.’…

My family and I have come to know full well that his motto is true to the core. I first attended Lurecrest for a women’s retreat put on by Garr Memorial Church in 2008, and the seeds planted in my heart for this special place of the Lord have continued to thrive. I would even be blessed with the colossal and profound privilege to be the speaker for two women’s retreats in succeeding years…a gift that I shall always cherish.

In the summer of 2011, my then ten year old daughter Grace would be blessed with an awesome miracle of having her camp tuition completely paid for, in which she could attend her first week at Lurecrest. We did not have the financial means to do it, but God’s provision flowed. We found out moments before the buses were leaving, so we frantically packed amidst giggles of awe and delight, and her journey with Camp Lurecrest began. In the following three summers God would put Grace on the heart of a selfless and generous couple who would extend their love and financial support to her, and she would thus continue her annual week at one of the best places on earth. She indeed was changed with each session, with a growing love and longing for her Lord. She now vows to be a counselor at this camp one day, Lord willing. It fills this mom’s heart with pure joy.

But truth be told, from the first time I felt the presence of the Lord on this majestic mountain venue, I longed for my autistic son Nathan to somehow experience it as well. It certainly seemed impossible on many levels, as there are so many quirks, twists, and turns that can prevent a child with special needs from attending such a camp.

Camp Lurecrest, while being a place of love and acceptance, is also a great place of outdoor fun and adventure. Cabins consist of two college age counselors leading a group of ten or so kiddos for five nights and six days. There are about 180 campers per session. Now there are loads of super cool lake and mountain activities mixed in, with talented speakers to give a life changing message at chapel time, and plenty of worship songs with hand motions and catchy jingles too. Did I mention that every camper starts to be a bit odoriferous by day two! Those campers are having some serious fun and who has time to shower??!!

Each time the longing for Nathan to be a part arose in my heart, I would dismiss it. There was no way he could ever handle this ‘typical’ camp.  I convinced myself of this, as Nathan has some social and practical struggles that would make it very difficult for him to succeed in such a setting. But, my heart continued to hope for the chance, but that hope was fleeting, as I would immediately dismiss the thought again. This cycle went on for about three years. There were special needs camps that would fit the bill for him, but Camp Lurecrest was the dream. Was it an impossible dream?

This past summer of 2014, the senior staff at Camp Lurecrest prayed over the possibility of having Nathan attend, and agreed to give it a try. I myself would be there that week, serving as the camp RN, but the greatest concern was that Nathan would find himself at the infirmary doorstep repeatedly needing my help and reassurances. My role and first duty that week was to serve as RN to all campers and staff. I could not be preoccupied with a struggling boy who was miserable to be there. I have to admit that I was not myself convinced that Nathan was going to be able to tolerate camp, but I was ecstatic at the chance to try. The agreement was that my husband would be ‘on call’ to come get him if need be. Nathan was eleven years old now, and he had matured in so many ways. And yet, the challenges of autism remained, and the social struggles can be debilitating in such a setting. My loner of a boy can easily feel overwhelmed and lost at a place like camp, and I did not want him to suffer with endless anxiety. The prayers were being lifted up months before camp would begin.

What I never doubted was that God could speak to Nathan on this mountain. I believed that the same peace and presence of the Lord that Grace and I experienced at Camp Lurecrest, could also be Nathan’s to grasp.  His younger brother Caleb, his only friend, would be coming to camp as well as God once again provided a way.

Our time for camp seemed to come quickly. I had prepared him as best I could, and he indeed asked many of the same questions over, and over, and over. “Will I take a shower next to other boys?”…”Who is going to cook the food?”…”When will I eat?”…”Will there be a night light?”…”What if I get sick?”…”What if I get stung by a bee?”….on and on. We would go through a list of questions just about every day for many weeks. I do recall telling him that I only wanted to see him in the nurses’ station if there was a serious injury with blood involved! I had to take that one back as it caused much concern.

Campers arrived on a Sunday evening, and night one seemed to go without incident, although I was so busy getting medications checked in and such that I did not truly know how he was doing. All I knew was that he did not end up on the infirmary porch in tears, so that was a good thing. But over the next day I sensed trouble brewing. The glimpses I caught of him left my heart aching. He was pacing, a lot, and moved about in an aimless and nervous fashion. I know this ‘walk’ well. He was not participating with the camp activities and was starting to isolate himself from others. His brother Caleb had settled in beautifully and was off and running being a camper. I pulled Caleb aside and asked him to please be sure to grab hold of his brother and include him, but he told me that Nathan would not participate with him or his new friends, despite many invitations to do so. I needed to let Caleb have his time as well. By the following day, Nathan’s pacing had intensified and he was covering his ears continuously to block out the sounds of what should be fun and adventure for a boy his age. He was starting to look miserable, and it was agonizing to watch. He never did end up coming to me, but I tried to speak to him that Tuesday afternoon and he would not even stop pacing to talk with me. He was holding it together as best he could, and if he had tried to relate to me with words how he was feeling, he would have burst. I was so proud of him for doing all he could to not have an outburst, but I knew that the anxiety and fear were taking center stage. He was not experiencing the beauty or joy that the Lord had for him at Lurecrest. He was there in the flesh, but his sweet spirit was in bondage.

I knew that it was not good for Nathan to be under such pressure, and through broken tears I prayed to God for an answer. As I was considering calling my husband to come get him that Tuesday afternoon, I suddenly felt a sure and certain calling from the Lord. The message revealed to my spirit was to pray for one friend. Yes, that was the message. He would only need one friend to make his way through this darkness. He did not need a cabin full of friends, or 180 campers on his side. What he needed was one friend so that he could feel included in the ‘tribe’ of Jesus. TRIBE was the camp theme for the week, with the message being that we all can belong to the tribe of Jesus. Now even one friend for Nathan is quite a challenge, and he had already alienated himself from his brother, who I had assumed would be his lifeline to success for the week. Who in the world would Nathan open up to amidst such anxiety? And who would be patient enough to appreciate and accept Nathan’s quirks? It would take one special kid to be sure, but the excitement and hope for it welled up inside of me. I called on my fellow RN for the week Becky to pray too, as well as some volunteers from the kitchen staff. A dear friend Elizabeth was serving that week as well, and became a prayer warrior over this. We locked arms and prayed that God would reveal this friend for Nathan and that his week would take a complete turn around. I called Grant to pray. I called family in Arizona to pray. One friend was all it would take, and the prayers for it were in full force.

Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning.’…Psalm 30:5.

I knew that Wednesday would be the day of decision. Would Nathan make it through, or would he be headed home? It was painful to consider that he might not embrace Camp Lurecrest. There had been so much hope and anticipation for our family over this week. What would this day bring?

I was in my usual RN station when Nurse Becky came bursting through the doors that Wednesday mid-morning. She was out keeping an eye on the campers when she came upon a sight to behold. She was breathless and her eyes were tearing up as her exuberant words came spilling out…”God sent Nathan a friend!!!!!!!.” She pulled out her phone to show me some pictures and a short video she had captured. My knees became weak as the images poured out. It was indeed my Nathan, with a beautiful young boy, and their faces were painted in tribal garb. The video revealed the two of them chanting and dancing in true tribal spirit. Tears of fabulous joy filled our eyes. My heart was full to overflowing. Becky and I danced around our little RN room like giddy school girls. God had heard and answered, which is never a shock, but it is always a source or pure and total joy.

I recognized the boy from the picture as one of Nathan’s cabin mates, but up until then, he had not made a connection with any of the boys in his cabin. That all changed that very day. The prayers of many were heard and answered, and God chose a precious young boy by the name of Tristan to answer the call. I ran out to find Tristan myself. I just wanted to hug that young man who God chose to be a light. Every camper there of course was special, but this was the one who God hand picked to touch Nathan’s life. What a gift of a child Tristan is! When I found him, he was indeed hanging out with my Nathan. He was a bit shocked to see the puffy, red-eyed camp nurse barreling straight for him, but he accepted my hug and tears with a sweet smile and a giggle. Nathan as well had the most tender smile, as he would simply follow Tristan’s gentle lead. I excused myself so not to embarrass Nathan any further. When I got back to my sleeping quarters, I hit my knees. The words would not even come, but the tears of elation to such a good and mighty God showered the floor beneath me. He sees it all, and cares so deeply.

Over the next few days Nathan became a full fledged Camp Lurecrest camper! With Tristan by his side, he was able to conquer the anxiety and fear. No more pacing, no more hand wringing and fidgeting, no more hands covering the ears, no more isolation. He even got on the boat and rode a tube on Lake Lure! At chapel time, I started seeing his hands following along with the motions during worship. Caleb too had a blast with Tristan, and before long, the three had actually become like musketeers. The victory had been won.

I had come to utterly adore Tristan. I longed to reach out to his family, but did not want to overstep any confidentiality issues. I asked him where he lived, and he told me Charlotte. Charlotte is pretty huge indeed. I prayed fervently for him and his family. I prayed the blessings of God over them, and was continuously thankful for them. Campers come from all over NC to attend, and some from out of state too. Camp Lurecrest is truly a legend! It was more than enough to have crossed paths with such an awesome boy, and I knew we would all never forget him. The prayers for Tristan and his family would certainly continue on.

But God was not done…Not even close.

It would be about a month later when the boys would come racing up to me after church… We attend Joy Christian Fellowship in Matthews. It is a fabulous church with approximately 300 or so attendees on any given Sunday. We love it there. But it is one of many hundreds of churches in the Charlotte and surrounding area. I used to joke that in AZ there was a gas station on every corner, but in NC there is a church…It was clear that the boys had some serious excitement over something. “Guess who was at church mom??!! Guess!! Guess!! Guess!!” Before I could even muster a response, they bellowed out in unison….“TRISTAN from Camp Lurecrest!!!!” I was speechless. It did not even seem like it could be possible. My heart felt like it would explode. We went racing back to the children’s area, but he had already gone. Was it really him??? Could it really be him?? In all the countless churches in NC, could he really be here??

Indeed it was him. Tristan and his family had started to attend our church! In the weeks to come, the boys would get to spend more time with their summer-time miracle of a friend. What an absolute thrill it has been. Each time I see Tristan, I am reminded of the utter goodness of the Lord. God always knew that Tristan would continue to be in our lives. He is the master planner and architect of it all. I finally had the chance to meet his beautiful mother two weeks ago. May she read this and take it all into her heart, as well as all of his family. God certainly has a wonderful plan and calling on Tristan’s life, and we will be forever grateful for him.

Just yesterday sweet Tristan was baptized at our church. The week before he exuberantly raised his hand to accept the Lord Jesus into his heart. Our Pastor, McLean Faw, mentioned that he had never seen a more excited and joyful smile for the Lord on such a young face. Tristan wore his Tribe church from camp yesterday as he stood before our congregation before his baptism. As I sat in my chair taking it all in, it was all like an astonishing dream. I marveled inside as I pictured him with my boys just a few weeks earlier in that very same shirt up on God’s majestic mountain. Once again, the tears of gratitude and joy washed over me. To be present at his baptism was a pure gift.

Only the one true God who created all things could create such a course of events. To God alone be the glory, great things He has done!!!!

And YES, a week can indeed change a life.

 

Here are some fabulous pics of the boys’ time at camp. Tristan is in the red shirt with Nathan. And one includes the boys in cabin 1A. Precious memories. We love you Tristan!!!

 

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