"Laaaaaaaaaaaaaauuuuuurrrrrrrraaaaaaaaaa", a voice I knew so well, one I heard for four years over the crazy cheers and happy sounds at ESP. I knew what that call was for, it was time for lunch with Riley (name changed to abide to confidentiality).
Riley is one of our long-time campers-- who came alive at ESP. Born with cerebral palsy and unable to feed, bath or care for himself- Riley is one of the most spunky, good humored and life giving individuals I have ever met. Ignored at home and left in his bed-- Riley would be whipped into ESP straight to the bathroom by 18-20 year-old boy counselors who would bathe him, brush his teeth, spike his hair and whip him back out to camp with a movie-star grand entrance.
Most of the time I never ate during lunch with Riley. I don't know if it was the fact that it took most of the lunch time to feed him piece by piece (for a stick and bones young man, he ate A TON. I let him, as he wasn't fed much at home) or if it was the difficulty on my stomach as I watched him struggle to chew and swallow. Either way, I didn't care. He was happy and my soul and heart were full- that was all that mattered. Riley enjoyed our special time and quite honestly, I did more. Camp was amazing but as a camp director my time was focused on working with families and managing staff. Time with the kids wasn't the same as when I was a counselor, and I needed Riley (more than he needed me).
Communicating with his family was near to impossible and support for him was null. We would have counselors drive for an hour to and from camp to pick him up those early summer mornings and late hot afternoons to take him home. No transportation, no Riley, no Camp, no hope. We always found a way.
It was 2007 when Riley last enjoyed ESP. After that, although I searched and searched-- I couldn't find him. His family moved trailers, the telephone number changed and no one in his county seemed to know where he was. For the last 3 1/2 years, I have thought and prayed-- feeling tremendously responsible for not being able to provide him with the place he loved most, a place he was wanted. I was told it wasn't my responsibility but my thought was always--- (<----One of my favorite quotes) If I wasn't doing something for him, who was?
Over the years I have shared Riley's story, cried tears in prayer and held on to the fond memories of RIley, one (of the many) I cherish in the safe-heaven, angel-filled ESP. I could only assume he was no longer alive, now a man and past his life-expectancy. Riley has driven change in our program at ESP-- we are now working to meet more than the needs of the child, but the needs of the family too. If only I could have done that for Riley's family. I held on to the hope that his legacy was still alive.
I was headed to a meeting with another executive director who runs a program for senior citizens. After a frustrating and not-getting-anything-done-but-doing-everything-I-can-without-stopping kinda day... I did not want to drive across town and lose more time. I get there and turns out that the lady I was meeting with had to cancel (which did NOT help my tude). Instead, she set me up with one of her staff who walked me around their facility.
As we approached the "adult day care" facility for elderly adults, most with alzheimer's and dementia-- we talked and as I asked the typical ED financial and programmatic questions.....it happened. It was the moment. An almost time-warp, walking on air kind-off thing...I saw him......"is, is, is that man's name Riley?".... I walked over... "Riley! It's Laura, from ESP". And before those words finished coming out of my mouth-- his arms spread out spastically in his pretzel-like way. His mouth spread wide open and a smile as big as the moon came across his face, "Laaaaaaaauuuuuuuuuuuraaaaaaaaaaaa."
The moment I had desired for going on 4 years, a moment I thought would never come.
I spent an hour (holding back tears) joking with him, talking with the staff and reliving some of my favorite memories with Riley. We reminisced about the "kissing booth" he used to hold to raise money for ESP-- he always had a way with the ladies.
I was in "auto-ESP" mode while with Riley, but inside filled with emotion. As I walked to the car, one of the workers walked with me explaining his family situation only worsened and this program is "all he has" (just as we used to be). Created for the elderly, serving a young man in need.
As I got in the car, I let out a sigh and put my foot on the pedal to head up the hill. As the car climbed, my stronghold broke. Tears flooded and my heart overspilled with emotion... emotion so deep I could barely whisper in prayer: he was alive, taken care of, still with hope.
5 “Because of the oppression of the afflictedand the groaning of the needy, I will now rise up,” says the LORD. “I will put the one who longs for it in a safe place.” Psalm 12:5
Today's moment was beautiful. And as I reflected I once again felt a sigh of relief and weight fall off my shoulders-- as much as it feels like it at times, it is not all about me and what I can control. As much as I try to help- it is God who is all and in all- He is the father of the fatherless, hope for the hopeless and a safe place for those who long for it. It is Him who kept Riley safe and He too will keep my Owen, my unborn and all the other 100+ ESP angels in his hands.
He's got the itty bitty babies and the fragile fragile Rileys in his hands, he's got the whole world in his hands.