Anyone who was at Camp Grace this year knows that there's no way I wasn't going to devote an entire post to Walter. I've actually known Walter for a year or so now, because he comes to Metro Kidz and lives in one of the housing projects we work with. He's a little older than most of the kids at Metro Kidz, so I didn't know him all that well before camp and had only heard snippets of his story. This past week (the older kids week) Walter came to camp, and he shared his story, his heart, and I'm telling y'all he brightened every single one of my days at camp.
The best word I can use to describe Walter is resilient. I actually can't stop thinking about his resilience, especially tonight. I've been sitting here feeling a little lonely, and grouchy, and basically wallowing in a little bit (ok maybe a lot) of self-pity. Things aren't going as perfectly as I'd hoped with the house and renters and moving etc, not to mention that I miss Courtney, Jayci throws more and more temper tantrums every day, and Adam and I haven't been getting any time together . . . But then I think about Walter, and his heart, and his smile, and his story, and I realize how much I have to be thankful for, and how little I actually have to complain about.
Walter lives with his dad and brother, since his mom passed away a few years ago, in a low-income housing project in Atlanta. After his mom's death, Walter would admit that he was very angry, and he still struggles with his anger today. He has been in trouble in the past for breaking a kid's arm, and beating up several other kids in fits of rage. Despite this, Walter truly is working on his anger issues, every time he felt himself losing it at camp he would come to me and remind me how hard he was working on it and tell me "you need to get him." Which, I would add, is a highly preferable method to breaking arms at camp.
This week, Walter pulled a football jersey out of his bag when he was unpacking at camp. When his counselor asked him about the jersey, Walter shared this story: When he was 12 years old, he was on the playground with his friend (who was 16). There was a certain girl who had a little crush on Walter (just meet him and you'll understand why); unfortunately for Walter, this girl's father had gang affiliations and he was not happy about his daughter's choice (for reasons Walter left unspecified). Apparently, he confronted Walter and things escalated to the point of gun shots being fired. Walter's friend, according to Walter, took a bullet and sacrificed his own life to save Walter's.
That, my friends, is way way more than any young teenager should have had to see, experience, or even know anything about. I cannot imagine the kind of place I would be in mentally, physically, emotionally, if I had lost my mother and a close friend (who sacrificed himself and died right in front of me). But Walter? He is a joy to be around. His grin is infectious, he loves being the center of attention, and he loved everything about camp. He made friends with the Hispanic kids and they taught him how to say all sorts of fun things in Spanish; he killed it in the belly flop contest; he flipped over his canoe, resulting in his "shoes smelling like boo boo;" and he sang Justin Bieber like a champ, even though he insisted he didn't know any of the words.
Maybe Walter is the person he is today because he understands the meaning of sacrifice. When he hears the story of Jesus dying for him, he knows what that means and what that looks like. His life is a testimony to the reality of grace and second chances.
Walter is, unfortunately, the exception rather than the rule with this kids. He's the kind of kid who rises above his terrible circumstances. The truth is that most of these kids have seen and experienced more than any kid should ever have to. But not all of them have the resilience and joy that Walter has in the face of those circumstances. So pray with me for Walter, that he will continue to work on his temper, that he will continue to grow in his faith and continue to rise above his circumstances. And pray too for all the other kids at camp. The ones who don't get their own blog post because they fly under the radar. The ones who are hurting silently and who wont have the strength to avoid the bad influences in their neighborhoods. The ones who need Jesus and HOPE just as desperately as Walter does, and just as deeply as I do!
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." -Jeremiah 29:11