By Analiz González
(Burnett, TEXAS) — After a full day of kayaking, fishing, swimming and playing, the children from the Buckner residential homes changed into nicer clothes and herded into a church-like room with soft chairs and a stage.
When they took their places, Susan Gray, one of Buckner’s favorite performers, picked up the mic, looked at their faces, and saw herself.
Gray was in and out of foster-care with the ups and downs of her mother’s health. And after her mom died when Gray was 12, there was no more coming back home.
“I know that in this room there are a lot of kids who had to grow up way faster than you should have,” she said into the microphone. “I’m sorry for that... I was in foster care as a child, too.
“I cried myself to sleep every night for a year after my mother died,” she said. “I’d kiss her picture before I went to sleep and said, ‘Good night. I love you Mommy.’
“I wrote this song when I was remembering that time in my life,” she said before beginning. “I hope it encourages you.
“I’ve seen the way you cry at night
In the silence of your room
Seen you hold your pillow tight
When no one’s watching you
Heard you cry out for protection
Like an orphan left alone
Well your cries have reached heaven
And I want you to
I can hear you
You’re not alone…”
The room was still and a couple more songs followed. The stories and music must have pulled the children back to reality. Horses and games only distract for a while. And when the songs were over, there were tears and crying and the stifled sharing of bad memories.
“Singing for and talking to those kids was like being in student council and then talking to the U.S. president on how to run the country,” Gray said after her performance. “A lot of them have been through much harder situations.
“There was one girl who is the oldest of her siblings and she told me that her mom keeps getting hurt so they go to foster care and she feels like she has to be responsible for her brothers and sisters who are younger,” she said. “It’s very hard for her.
“What touched me the most was to see the boys cry. They’ve been wounded in such a deep way. They are going to have to rise up and be fathers such as they’ve never known. But God loves broken things because then he can fix them.”
Gray performed at Camp Buckner for 160 children from Buckner foster homes and then again for 120 children living in Buckner residential homes around the state.
Tears are part of healing, but the camp experience was full of joy, too. The children participated in archery and took turns diving into the blob—a gigantic balloon-like toy floating in the lake. There was laughter and teasing and plenty of good food.
After breakfast, Roxanne Cerna, 11, said her favorite activity at camp was kayaking. “I used to go kayaking with my parents and it reminded me of it. Plus I also knew how to do it pretty good.”
Laura May, program director at Buckner Children’s Village in Beaumont, said most of the children would never experience camp outside of Buckner.
“This is a good chance for them to enjoy that while integrating spiritual aspects,” she said.
The children’s stay at Camp Buckner was a gift from an anonymous donor, who also covered expenses for Buckner children attending spring break camp this year.
Camp Buckner is open year-round for retreats, youth camps and special events. For more information about Camp Buckner, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 512-756-7540.
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