For about a year, I've been captivated by an image that for whatever reason, I have not been able to forget.
The image comes from the final day I spent serving at an Easter Seals camp for special needs kids and adults. For three days prior, I served at this camp assisting counselors as they cared for, loved, and encouraged people with mild to severe physical abilities and an assortment of cognitive disabilities.
The days were stressful, frustrating, and challenging. On more than one occasion, I watched as frustrated campers threw food at counselors and spat on them. Yet, each time this happened, the counselors responded compassionately to their campers, many of whom could not feed themselves, go to the bathroom on their own, speak, or walk. I often found myself wondering why these counselors did what they did, knowing they could not possibly be making enough money to compensate them for the challenging and often thankless work they did.
At the end of the third day at the camp, I was informed that my last day at the camp would include a pool day in which all campers would be encouraged to swim. As a result, other volunteers and I were asked to bring swimsuits so we could swim with the campers and help them on a one-on-one basis. After hearing that, I left thinking the counselors were crazy. How on earth could we get campers who couldn't walk or talk into the swimming pool?
Yet, the next day, I watched, humbled and amazed as the counselors managed both volunteers and campers, helping us learn how to help campers “swim”. I was stunned as I saw camper after camper come alive as they entered the pool, like a scene from the old movie, Cocoon. Counselors and volunteers did laps around the pool, cradling campers in their arms. As they did, it was as though broken bodies began to heal. People's muscles relaxed as they floated. Those whose faces had appeared stiff all week - as though they were stuck in a perpetual grimace - suddenly seemed able to smile.
As I watched this scene unfold before me, I felt as though I caught a glimpse of heaven and of what John talks about in Revelation 21:4 when he says, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
It was beautiful, so much so, that it took my breath away.
Even though this image has captivated me for the last year, this week, it has done something more than that. It has also given me hope as I grieve the death of my uncle, a mentally handicapped man whose life was, in many ways, challenging – different and yet not all that different from the lives of many of the Easter Seal campers.
One of the promises of Christianity is that we do not grieve as those who have no hope. So today, I cry. Today, I'm sad. Yet, today, I'm clinging to the hope that I have in Christ.
Maybe even today my uncle is swimming in a pool somewhere in heaven with a formerly broken body and mind now beautifully restored and redeemed.