Last night, a dear friend and I meandered our way into a new coffee shop near my house. We were overtaken by the incredible smells of the brewing coffee and scrumptious looking waffles. Our eyes and bodies were drawn to the colorful and whimsically displayed gifts. My eyes, okay, my eye, zeroed in on a white travel mug. If you know me, you know I have a thing for drinking vessels, so that’s no surprise. This simple, white stainless steel tumbler had two words, “Live Happy.” The rainbow colored, fun font drew me in, and as I sit here sipping my mocha from it this morning, I’m not ashamed to admit that I have found a soulmate in an inanimate object.
If I sat down and told my life story to a stranger, they might question how someone whose life has been one major trial after another can feel so connected to the term, “live happy.” The editor of Parade Magazine has also been slammed by the iron fist of life at times. In his book about learning that his deceased, abusive father was not actually his biological dad, he said, “Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have- life itself.”
Before I joined the Camp Sunshine family as a 13 year old whose typical egocentrism was exacerbated by my facial deformities, scars, and general poor health, I believe I was, to an extent, immobilized by the gravity of my loss of a normal childhood. In 13 years, I had spent more time in hospitals and clinics that most adults, I had endured relentless teasing by peers for my asymmetrical face and thick glasses. I was served through the vision impairment program at school. Now, I appreciate that I know how to maneuver buildings, stairs, and the like by counting steps and using my hands and feet. But, then it was plain torture. The gravity of my loss grew stronger when I saw kids fighting similar diseases, not survive long enough to be immobilized by the gravity. So, off I went to this camp I’d heard of my whole life, with the weight of the world on my shoulders.
I walked into the gym of Camp Twin Lakes in Rutledge, Georgia on a Sunday afternoon with my virtual anvil and enormous trepidation. Within a few hours, I realized that I had a couple hundred people around me who were helping to carry that weight for me. I suppose that the grounds where Camp Sunshine is held is full of virtual weights of the world of thousands of kids like me, who were given the opportunity to rise from the pain and treasure this precious gift of life.
I am certain that my experiences with cancer and Camp Sunshine’s intervention in my life were purposeful. Like so many of our campers, cancer wasn’t the worst thing to happen to me. However, because I learned how to rise from pain on those hallowed grounds, Camp Sunshine has taught me how to “Live Happy.”
Camp Sunshine has been my home for 22 years. It is my family. It is my strength. It is my happy. For 16 years, I have had the honor of watching the magic of Camp Sunshine diminish the gravity of cancer for hundreds of children. I know that the friendships that form will be the friendships that will sustain them even if life gets harder than having childhood cancer. For some of the campers, there is a blessed assurance that this week will be the very best of their all too short lives. They will have the opportunity to do crafts, to shoot a bow and arrow, to paddle board, to canoe, to fish, to swim, to face their fears, to sing after every meal, to climb a wall, to zip line, to play tennis, to do karate, and a million other things. They will leave camp lighter-hearted, happy, exhausted, and ready to face the next day knowing they have a life-long support system in place.
Because of the indescribable gift that Camp Sunshine brings to campers and counselors alike, many years ago, the counselors decided to do more than just volunteer our time. Each week of camp, (it’s coming in a couple of weeks!!!) we rise early in the morning to run a 5K to raise money to ensure that no child can be denied this gift because of financial strain. It costs $800 for a child’s lodging, medical care, food, and daily life at camp, and our goal as counselors this year is to raise $317,000 which would cover the expenses for all of our campers for 2017!
If you have ever felt like the weight of the world was on your shoulders, please consider donating to a place that lifts that burden and inspires us all to “Live Happy.”
More than meat loves salt,