A few weeks ago I spent a four days in Morgan, Utah with a couple hundred LDS teenagers for their annual summer Youth Conference. I had been asked to be the adult leader/chaperon for the girls attending from our ward. Now, my girls are amazing. Wonderful. Happy to do anything and be anywhere. Rarely do they complain. They get along with each other–all of them–and are just plain-old-down-right fun to be around. Quite simply, I adore them.
That being said–they’re still teenagers and they have their moments. Granted … so do I.
On our last night it was almost curfew and I was making the rounds to check in on them, account for all of them, sing a lullaby, and tell them, “Good night my darlings. I love you.”
My eight girls in Cabin 1 were well on their way to dreamland when I made my final bed check (they’re my sleepers). The other eight in Cabin 2 were getting there (they’re my all night talkers/candy munchers)–except two of them were missing.
I had just seen them and told them I’d be in in 10 minutes! I checked the bathroom. I checked the other cabin again. I checked the nearby amphitheater and wood piles they’d been sitting on the night before when bedtime came. No luck.
I was getting ticked. I was tired. They knew the rules. I had told them all when I’d be in to do head count. I made my way back up the trail to the lodge, checking other campsites and cabins, hillsides, river banks, and amphitheaters along the way, my steam level increasing rapidly and my stomping getting more deliberate with every step.
Then I started to worry. It was dark. Really dark. And we were in the middle of nowhere.
But I was also still ticked. Really ticked.
I got to the lodge and a few other kids were still straggling inside, goofing around, hanging out. I surveyed the room and as I turned around to leave, I saw them. Sitting on the counter, chatting it up with some boys from another ward. Oh, heaven help me. Or rather, help them.
I walked over and pointed my finger at the two of them. “You two. Out. Now.”
I marched ahead of them leaving a trail of smoke for them to follow. When we got outside I whirled around, looked at them, and said, “It takes a lot for me to get upset. But you can’t just up and disappear without telling someone where you’re going.” And I whirled back around and set off for our campsite, clipping along quite briskly.
They followed in silence.
When we arrived at their cabin, I stopped. My heart was racing. I hated being upset with them. I hated having to discipline them. But I turned to face them, both of them staring at the ground. My voice was a bit softer than it had been minutes earlier. “This is the second time I’ve had to come looking for you girls after curfew. The first time I understood–you’d just wanted to look at the stars and you weren’t too hard to find. But you know the rules. You didn’t ask, let alone tell me, or anyone, where you were going tonight. How was I to know you were alright? How was I to know that something hadn’t happened to you. That’s not ok. You know better. Now. I’m not mad–I’m not. I love you both, but you can’t just disappear like that. You can’t. Now get in there and go to sleep.”
They mumbled a couple of “ok’s” and “sorry’s” and walked inside. I headed for my tent, trembling, and quickly called Frit, tears breaking past the rim as I zipped the door shut. “I think that was harder for me than it was for them!” I told her. “I hate having to be upset with them. I hate having to scold them. But I was so worried and so bugged and so tired. And it’s not ok. They know better.” I slowly calmed and regained my composure, said good-night, and hung up.
I layed on top of my sleeping bag for a spell, listening to the river flow behind me, watching the stars come out, one by one, through the mesh window. After a few minutes I rolled over onto my knees to say my prayers, but as I began, I stopped as my heart melted into a puddle on the floor, and I realized. I hesitated in silence until I found the words. “I’m sorry I disappear too,” I told Him.
I stayed there, on my knees, for a while, thinking about the disappearing act of my own that I sometimes star in. Thinking about how it makes Him feel when I don’t check in. How, even though He knows everything and sees everything, He still must worry. He is a Father after all–a perfect Father. And I wondered if, just maybe, it’s as hard for Him to scold us as it was for me to scold them. I determined so. And then I asked him to forgive me for leaving, for straying, for knowing better but doing differently.
And then He said, “It’s okay. I’m not mad. I love you. Now go to sleep. But let’s talk again tomorrow.”