Had she laughed (the woman knew), that would have been the end of her church camp experience. She would have pitched such a fit that they’d have had to call her parents to come for her. But Cha-Cha didn’t laugh. She had smiled, called the child by name, and with a patience born of Job, had managed not only to untangle the brush, but tame the great red mass . . . something her own mother seldom had the patience to do. And then Cha-cha had done something quite unexpected. She pulled the bobby pins out of her hair, her ponytail falling long across her shoulders, and removed her elastic band. She gathered up the young girl’s hair in a tight handful and wrapped the elastic around the bundle. Next, she twisted the ponytail and wound it round and round the elastic and pinned it all in place.
The woman smiled remembering. She had hardly recognized herself when she looked in the mirror. She thought she looked older somehow, and “arranged”, not like the free-spirited sprite who ran all over the neighborhood, frizzy hair trailing after her in a blaze of messy, crimson glory. She had smiled at Cha-Cha’s reflection in the mirror then, and knew it was going to be a really good week. But that’s actually where the trouble began, the trouble that made her want to talk to Him!
She didn’t know how long she’d sat there reflecting, but finally the woman put her book back on the table and turned out the light. She didn’t want to read. She was beginning to feel drowsy. She would just go back to bed. Quietly she opened and closed the bedroom door and laid down next to the man who was finally settled in a restful slumber, his breath soft and steady. She turned on her side and stared out the open window. Not surprisingly, her thoughts returned to the camp and the bunkhouse, and the very first time she “imagined” He was there.
The week had rushed by too quickly, filled with crafts, and hiking, badminton, campfires, and sing-a-longs. For five days she had been able to manage her own hair by leaving it pinned up at night and sleeping very carefully so not to make it come undone. In the mornings she would rush back to the clubhouse where she could take it down and still comb and rearrange it easily. Of course it HAD been a week since it had been washed. She’d just have to put up with the itching for another couple days. But on Friday morning she was tired and had lagged behind the other girls. One by one they had hurried off from the cabin to the dinning hall for breakfast, leaving her to catch up.
Not wanting to take the time to traipse all the way to the clubhouse and back, she sat on the edge of the bed and rested the handle of the mirror between her knees so she could see what she was doing. With the bobby pins stuck in her mouth, she quickly bundled her hair and pinned it in place. She was getting good at this! Wouldn’t her mother be surprised that she could take care of her own hair now!
And then it happened. Without thinking, she let her knees spread apart, and the new pink mirror slipped right down between her legs, between the slatted floor boards of the cabin, and into the crawl space underneath — just out of reach. Before she could react, her cabin counselor (whose name the woman could never remember) returned to herd the straggler to breakfast. On the verge of tears, she had gone with her, too afraid — though of what she couldn’t have said — of telling her about the mirror and asking for her help. Her appetite gone (which was surprising for a girl of her size), she told the counselor she wasn’t feeling well, and asked to be excused from the games and the craft. When at last the counselor who had walked with her the hundred or so yards to the cabin had left her situated there to go help supervise the other kids, she fell to her knees and tried in vain to lift the mirror with the comb and what other things she found. She thought if she could just lift it far enough to get her fingers on it, she could pull it up.
All day she tried, between sporadic visits from the counselor to see how she was feeling, but with no success. Finally giving up, she just knelt there and cried. It was a gift from her mother! How would she tell her? Then suddenly it occurred to her, she could ask for help! But not from the counselors. That would have been too embarrassing. No, not from them, but from Him! She was, after all, at church camp. Surely He would be there, wouldn’t He?
And so she prayed. And then she cried. And then she prayed some more, in small sobs and short, simple sentences. But as the day wore on and her desperation grew, her cries turned to wailing, and the tenor of her prayers changed, too. They went from asking, to bargaining, to pleading . . . then finally to nothing at all. But He WAS there. She could sense His presence all around her in the woods, in the cabin. “Why,” she cried, “won’’t you help me?”
Looking back now, the woman fidgeting on the bed wasn’t sure what she had expected. Still a child, no matter if 9 or 10, and still possessed of some sense of “magical” thinking, perhaps she had thought God would raise the mirror up as they said in church He had raised Himself up at Easter. She knew better now. Knew that any prayer had been doomed to go unanswered. At least without the help of an adult, which, for some reason, she was not able to seek. And to this day the woman could feel the stirrings of anger down in her soul and wondered if the child that was herself had felt He was saying she wasn’t good enough, or pretty enough to warrant having such a fine mirror. She knew from having children of her own that young minds often made totally wrong assumptions. Had that experience colored her own ability to accept herself for who she was . . . still?
The woman let the memories finish their course.
The little girl on the cabin floor had finally grown quiet. And in the same way the despair had turned to hope with the first prayer, the hope had bled away and turned first to anger — “If you’re really there, then why don’t you help me! You’re not real! You’re just a story in a book!”— and then finally to self-doubt — “It’s just me. I’m not good enough. He doesn’t love me like He loves the other kids.”
That night during the last campfire, the pastor had come to talk to them about Him, about how much He loved them all, and how He had died for each of them. She could still remember the pastor’s words. “If you had been the only person on earth, He still would have died for you. He loves you this much,” he said, holding his arms wide. At the end there was what they called an altar call, when anyone could go and kneel at the foot of a big rustic cross that stood tall and weathered and splintered from years of sun and snow, and “give their hearts to Jesus.” And like so many others, her friends from church went forward — Bobby Rhoden, Roger and Debby Mattix and Vickie, whose last name the woman no longer remembered.
But not her! She didn’t go! Whether because of the anger she still felt, or because she believed she wasn’t good enough, she couldn’t have understood at that tender age. But she did know that her anger grew to include her friends. “They’re so dumb! They don’t know Him! They’ll find out sooner or later that He isn’t kind and He isn’t even real!” And then as quickly as they had come, the warring emotions had gone, and she was left feeling less, somehow, than what she ought to be. And the woods were filled with the presence of Him. A presence that lingered at the foot of the cross, and crept between the lines of Kum-bah-yah. And kids around her returned to their seats brushing away tears as the song went on and on. She had brushed away tears, too, but they were for the mirror she’d leave behind, not for the God who did not find her important enough to help her get it back.
And thus began the child’s . . . the woman’s life-long journey, her struggle to make herself good enough for God, or maybe just to find Him . . .
The woman lay on the bed, still at last, eyes finally heavy with sleep. She opened them one last time to look at the clock on the dresser — 1:45 a.m. — and then she began to talk to the God she wasn’t sure was even there, but the words faded slowly from her mind as a song began to echo gently in her heart, “Someone’s praying, Lord, Kum-bah-yah…”
(Reposted from 1/10/15)