They left early on Sunday, due to arrive home in one week. My son, Russell, didn’t stay the entire six days of church camp.
On the first full day at camp, the director C. D. Davis phoned to say my strapping 11-year-old son suffered homesickness. The director also phoned on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I’d read an article in a parent magazine, "Convert Your Kid into a Happy Camper." I’d followed nearly all the guidelines to assure a genuine, happy experience. His best friend went with him. Every volunteer knew Russell—bus driver, nurse, cooks. They were his Sunday school teachers, youth director, and friends' parents.
I’d resisted only one thing: sending his favorite stuffed animal. I didn’t put his beloved stuffed Snoopy into his duffel bag since boys can taunt mercilessly. But did he miss his Snoopy? Was that the reason he wanted to come home?
I didn’t realize the depth of his missing home until the camp letter arrived on Thursday. My cheerful kid had written on the envelope “Daddy and Momma,” scratched it out and then written “Mr. and Mrs. Messecar.” What did that mean? Detachment? I let out a mother-worry-sigh.
I unsealed the camp letter. Our big-for-his-age son, mannish in appearance—massive shoulders, near-five-o’clock shadow, had written “Dear Mommy.” He never called me mommy.
I’d only read three sentences when I discovered he’d written the sad little letter on his first night at camp instead of playing softball! What? At home, this kid slept in his mitt and cap. My worry galloped.
The letter continued in lament fashion with a few watery stains on the paper. “I wish I hadn’t come to camp. I want to see you. I wish I was dead.” To his credit, he later made the High School drama team.
The same day the letter arrived, the camp director Mr. Davis phoned again telling me he was always the first person awake at camp -- until this year. Each morning, when the director walked onto his porch, there sat my baby, waiting on his doorsteps, asking to go home.
Most kids love camp, swimming, crafts, devotional time, marshmallows and badminton. Not my son. Russell apparently was dining on misery instead of S’mores and mac and cheese. My husband said, “Russell must miss our home a lot if he wants to come home that bad.” His dad’s final word, “If he’s homesick, let him come home.” Russell rode home later that night with an adult counselor, who needed to return early to go to work.
Russell’s camp adventure reminds me of those who take greener-pasture-romps. Jesus told a story about a son who couldn’t wait to leave home. Once gone, he found the outfield to be fake turf. Money gone and at his lowest, the hungry prodigal ended up at pig troughs yearning to eat their slop. That’s when thoughts of home made a heart-call.
The errant son knew his father’s front porch had a light on, and the son backtracked. He remembered the home of his youth, and he longed to return. He remembered his forgiving, patient father who loved him. The boy who left home on a lark now wanted to return. He may have found his way home because of his father’s prayers. He may just have found his way back because a loving father had prayed day after day and night after night, “If he’s homesick, let him come home.”
May we find strength to pray the following ancient prayer for others and ourselves, when the world offers illusions of better housing than our faithful God, “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life” (Psalm 27:4).