A lot of times on the weekends I get lazy and use one day as my weekly photo challenge and the other as an email that someone sent me that particularly touched me in some way, whether it be that it made me laugh A LOT or touched an emotional chord. This one is the latter. A friend sent me this email the other day and I have no idea who wrote it but I’m gonna share it and then elaborate more at the end. So, here goes:
“Be Intentional Principle
He was the meanest kid I ever worked with. By the end of the first day, I wanted him gone. No way both of us would survive six days of camp. He was intentionally mean to other campers. He was a destructive disturbance and had to go back home, now!!
During college, I worked for the Clemson University Outdoor Laboratory, a camp and conference center. During the summer months it supported a number of “special population” camps that focused on specific needs such as children with cancer, visual impairments, muscular dystrophy, or mental handicaps. Camp Sertoma, one of the summer camps, was designed for children who are either underprivileged or have a speech or hearing impairment. Sertoma campers were great kids with a vast majority growing up in tough environments. With most campers, you could crack their hard outer shell within a few hours and consequently have a joyful and memorable week. Matthew, on the other hand, was not like any camper I had ever had. Within an hour of his arrival he had intentionally started four fights, intentionally broke toys and seemed to intentionally tick me off. I wanted him sent back home, which rarely happened at camp! But we rarely had campers this mean!
Three days into camp, our cabin of 10-year old boys was in total chaos due entirely to Matthew. To make matters worse, we were scheduled to campout that night. No one wanted to be around him much less be stuck in the woods with him. When we arrived at our campsite we set up our shelter, made dinner over the fire and once it was dark, we told a few stories to encourage the kids. We then rolled out our sleeping bags and called it a day. Everyone was ready for a nice, quiet sleep, under the stars but apparently, Matthew had a bit more meanness he wanted to dish out.
It was the strangest thing. Everyone had found their places on the ground and was settling into their sleeping bags when Matthew would walk up and intentionally kick another camper. If he didn’t kick them, he would punch them in the chest or head. Oddly enough, that was the norm for the week. It was what he did immediately afterward that was strange. Matthew would walk up, punch or kick, and with a sincere and tender voice ask his victim, “Hey, can I sleep beside you?” It was bizarre! He would hurt a kid and then in the same breath ask if he could lie beside them. Of course, no one wanted him anywhere near them! In the darkness all you could hear was, “Ouch!”… ! “Can I sleep beside you?” … “NO!” … (Whack!)… “Can I sleep beside you?”… “GET AWAY!” We were all so exhausted I had to make this madness end, so I said, “Ok… Come HERE, Matthew. Lay beside me!” In the blink of an eye he was next to me in his sleeping bag and silent.
For the first time in days, everything was at peace. It was just after midnight when Matthew, the meanest kid I had ever known, taught me a lesson I have never forgotten. Everything and everyone was quite and I was just falling asleep when I heard Matthew unzip his sleeping bag and slowly extend his hand in my direction. At that moment, I truly thought he must have smuggled a knife out of the cafeteria and was now about to stab me in the heart. However, all he did was bring out his little hand and gently placed it on my chest. I laid there wide awake, my heart racing, waiting to defend a death blow. He kept his arm there for only a few seconds and then returned it to his sleeping bag.
I laid there for several minutes trying to process what had happened. Then again, he stretched out his arm and placed it on my chest. This time he moved his hand up to my face and touched each side. As quickly as it happened, he withdrew his hand. I lay there stunned and confused. Why was he doing this?
He performed the same little ritual several times over the course of an hour, until finally I had to know. In a voice more annoyed than concerned, I asked, “Matthew, what are you doing?! Why do you keep touching me?” The stab in the heart was a premonition. In just above a whisper, this mean little kid that I wanted to send back home, simply said, “I wanted to make sure you were still there. Every time I fell asleep, I had a nightmare that I was home. So I woke up and touched you, to make sure you were real.” I laid there as tears poured down my face. How bad is life when “home” is a nightmare?
The next morning, we broke camp and headed back to our cabin. While our cabin learned about archery and nature, I absorbed Matthew’s case history. I had never read of such abuse and neglect. Matthew had been physically and sexually abused. He had been taken out of his home to foster care, then a delinquency center and then sent back to the home where the abuse all started. For 10 years people had intentionally hurt Matthew. In turn, the only love language he knew was a punch in the face and intentional neglect. Matthew was simply replaying the messages that were recorded into him.
From that point forward I too would be intentional with Matthew, only I would intentionally love, praise, listen, encourage, teach and spend time with him. The “Be Intentional” principle rolled over to life outside of camp. I learned to be intentional with my friends and family, co-workers and customers. I would not wait for other people to fix the problems. I found a need and filled it. I learned to lead by example. If you want to be the greatest in the world, serve others! If you want to be first, put yourself last! If you want to get even with those that harm you, forgive them. I decided to live intentionally. Rather than have life just happen… I decided to be the cause.
I cannot lie and say everything was a bed of roses that week of camp, but things were considerably better. Matthew’s hard shell began to fall away and an amazing young man began to emerge. My time with Matthew ended years ago but I still find those same needs in others today. I see issues that need to be addressed and problems that need to be resolved. I have decided to be intentional, and that has made all the difference. I know this principle works, because by the end of the week, the one kid that originally fought to leave… cried to stay.”
Ok…. So by the time I finished this email I had tears streaming down my face. It touched me to my very core. I thought back over the years and all the “mean” people I had met. Those ones I despised and feared. Those ones I never took the time to be intentional with. Those that were probably hurting just as much as they were hurting others. I think about the people I know now who are just mean people. And I’m thinking that if you take the time to ask and listen you would probably find out that most of them have a story to tell. Most of them were probably mistreated themselves.
I’m not by any means saying that gives them the right to treat other people badly. They probably just never learned the skills to overcome their feelings of anger and fear. I know thinking back when our older two girls were in high school and playing sports. Many of those “mean girls” had horrible family lives. All they wanted was attention and for someone to love them. They just didn’t have the skills to ask for what they needed so they lashed out at everyone else. All some of them wanted was for someone to love them and treat them kindly for a change. I used to make sure I hugged all the girls on #2’s basketball team because some of them were from very underprivileged areas and broken homes. When she’d ask me why I always hugged them I always told her I just thought they needed it. I wonder how many hugs they didn’t get.
It makes me think of books I’ve read where people have overcome those kinds of backgrounds to become better people. Off the top of my head two outstanding ones are “Running with Scissors” by Augusten Burroughs and “A Child Called It” by Dave Pelzer (actually a series of three books, the other two being “The Lost Boy” and “A Man Named Dave”). If you haven’t read any of them I encourage you to do so.
To get back on topic…. The next time someone is mean to you, don’t lash back at them. Try to be intentional. Maybe they have a story to tell. Maybe they just need a hug.