Youth Camp This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

Elen sat on the grass in her backyard with a blank, dead face. Luscious green grass that was underneath her was colder than the air that slid silently across her face. Clouds packed away the sky, turning dark gray as the day grew old. She’d been sitting alone, unmoving for an hour trying to find some peace from the things that crowded her mind. Once more, she looked at the text messages, and every time se did, it was worse than the last.

Renee and Elen had been the best of friends for years. As young girls, they had met in girl scouts, had endless sleepovers and campouts, and they understood each other like nobody else knew how to. Elen and Renee had promised each other years ago that they would never let a boy ruin their friendship, but Renee had forgotten all about it when she met Ryan, and she let it happen anyway.

Problems had begun to arise with Renee’s boyfriend. He was not a good person; verbally abusive, controlling, and he was changing her best friend in ways she didn’t even see.

A bruise was spotted on Renee’s back, but she denied it was even there. Elen wanted her best friend back. After days of debating how she should tell Renee what she was feeling, she finally revealed to her how she felt. Furious and defensive of her boyfriend, she sent Elen a series of text messages saying how she didn’t need her “friends” telling her how to live her life and that she didn’t need Elen anymore. Renee was “in love” and finished with a demand for Elen to never talk to her again… and just like that, Elen felt hopeless. Her best friend was no longer there, and she had no one else to talk to.

The screen door screeched as she walked inside the house. She found everything that Renee had ever given to her, and everything she had ever left at her house and set it out on the curb. As she walked back to the house, she felt a piece of her missing. The best friend shaped hole in her heart was gaping open.

Chilly months dragged slowly as Elen grew deeper into hopelessness. Emptiness consumed her. She lost interest in the things she once loved. She lost sight of the people that had once stood by her. It seemed that she was just lost.

School ended with a flash of heat and a bright light, but it didn’t help her, it only blinded her. She hoped for a friend, someone to lean on, someone to love her, but she soon gave up her search and stayed asleep most of the time, dreaming of better days.

Summer also inched by. Elen’s youth group at church seemed to want to help, but she’d already given up, and never gave them a chance; she dared not trust anyone with her emptiness.

“Are you going to camp with us this year?” asked a girl from church as they sat in rows of chairs one Wednesday night. Honestly, she didn’t want to go to camp for a week, she didn’t really want to do anything.

“I don’t think so,” Elen replied, and hung her head, hoping to be left alone. What she didn’t know was that her mother had already signed her name on that long list of campers.

Two sweaty weeks later, she reluctantly boarded the bus with twelve other teenagers ready to go on their way to Kerrville, Texas for a whole week of cheap bunk beds and boxed food. The puffy brown seat squeaked as she plopped down on it. The white bus smelled of leather, and the windows were dirt-streaked; it bothered her. Tank tops and shorts surrounded her and contrasted greatly with the oversized black sweater she wore, despite the heat. But she kept her mouth shut and her eyes followed suit.

Fingers tapped her shoulders and woke her from her fairytale dreams when they arrived at their destination. The girl that had invited her, Danielle made their beds next to each other while she talked incessantly about how her life had been miraculously changed the year before at this camp… The camp that smelled of lake water and made you drip with sweat in the heat. Elen wanted to crawl into her cheap bed and close her eyes. Instead, they all made their way across the scorching campground to the oversized chapel where her life was flipped upside-down. The change didn’t happen right away, but it was undeniable.

When she walked into the oversized building, away from the heat, she felt a great weight of relief. Shocked from the feeling, she began to cry; she hadn’t felt anything in months.

Next, they sauntered to the white cafeteria in the back of the chapel and ate a meal of boxed mashed potatoes, and frozen chicken nuggets. Yum…

A large group of chairs faced a stage where a young preacher stood with a microphone in his hand, and that’s where they found themselves after their delicious meal. He welcomed them to the camp as everyone got settled in their seats. The preacher was incredibly funny, outgoing, and full of jokes; he made Elen smile. Then his face fell soft when he spoke about a man named Jesus. Lights twinkled in his eyes when he spoke of this love and compassion; that he’s always there when you’re having a bad day, or a good day. He’s there to love, to hold, to listen, and to understand. He knows our hearts and he knows our pain. Those last three words the man spoke hit Elen like a ton of bricks. He knows my pain? she puzzled. Zoning out, she reveled over the truth of his words and found a glimmer of hope in that chapel.

The next day, the preacher talked again of Jesus and her ears were sensitive to every word he spoke. Truth consumed her like a hug and she cried as she realized that the one that had made her hadn’t ever left her alone, he loved her, saw her as flawless, blameless, and would never leave her side.

The next night, she followed her youth group once again to those metal chairs in the chapel and her heart seemed full, overwhelmed, and happy. She released her troubles to the God that had always loved her and gave up the things that held her back. She let go of all the hurt she felt towards Renee, she let go of the feeling of abandonment, and the weight of depression. She embraced this love that she had never felt before, and for once in her life, she felt like she could breathe. She finally felt home.





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