Hope like none I have ever seen!

Dear Websters Dictionary,

I would like to request that from this day forward you put Rachel Latham’s picture next to the word “Hope”, please! For never have I witnessed a Hope as strong or as obvious as hers!

This is the hardest thing I have ever written in my life. It is difficult to type when you can’t see through the tears. I don’t know that my heart has ever been this broken. Yet I must type because the world must know about Rachel and her hope!

God decided a couple of years ago that Rachel and I must meet. He had a lot to do to make this happen. He had to make sure her parent’s had enough faith to allow their only daughter who had cystic fibrosis to travel over 700 miles to a camp in Abilene, Texas, for a week. That is tall order but I bet it would have been nearly impossible to say no to sweet Rachel. They had enough faith and allowed her to go with her youth group or The UYG!

I volunteered for this camp for the very 1st time that year. I have done two middle school camps but not the high school camp before! I had no idea the number God would do with my heart. If you know me, you know that I am a techno-geek, which is about to be important to the next part of the story.

We arrive at camp with our youth group from Austin. Everyone gets settled in their rooms and then we have a group leaders dinner and meeting. During the meeting we find out who our co-leader will be and who the kids are, that are assigned to our group (usually about 10 kids). So, Bailee a college student would be my co-leader, and we received our group assignment. Being me, I immediately began entering data into my laptop/tablet PC. I entered all the kids names, home church, grade, home town, etc. I entered in our afternoon service projects for each day of the week and maps on how to get there. Wooooo! man I was good and efficient and ready for the week.

From the meeting we went to the movie. Every year there is a movie that has to do with the theme for the week. The movie, this year, was The Shawshank Redemption, a movie all about what it means to have hope or to have none at all and how much difference it makes. I will get back to this in a second…..

One of the proofs (at least to me) how “All things work together for the glory of God”, is the fact that one of the requirements for my upcoming black belt test, was that I be CPR certified. Hang on, it will be important soon enough. Just a few months earlier I became “Adult and Child CPR certified” with the Red Cross. I listed this somewhere on my application as a volunteer with the camp.

…..back to the movie. So I am watching the movie, one of the head counselors taps me on the shoulder and asks if I can step out of the movie. I say yes and proceed outside. They asked me quite apologetically, if it would be OK if they switched my group? My mind raced thinking of all the work I had done on my computer. To no ones surprise my mouth works much faster than mind, so before I could finish the thought inside my head, my mouth said “OK, no problem”. When my brain caught up, it said “What?”.

Our new group consisted of one boy with a pacemaker, a girl with cystic fibrosis and another with asthma! Immediately I realized the reason for the switch was my CPR certification (or God’s plan). Quite a group, quite a group indeed. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV) But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

I am certain that I could and might one day write a book about that week. However, here I will try to stay brief but not leave out what you have to know about Rachel and hope!

At this camp, every afternoon we had a three hour service project. Monday we went to an adult day care for special needs adults. It was a place that in a very good way will live in the groups memory forever, mostly thanks to Garland (a story for my book). Tuesday we went to the state school to do some landscaping work. Thanks to my misinterpretation of our directions, we were about 40 minutes late. We finally made it and met our contact who had us follow her in her vehicle and us in our van. When we arrived at the playground she explained our task. Wellllllll, back to that in a sec. Allow me to set the scene “Abilene, June, 110 degrees, no breeze at all, 1 kid asthma, 1 kid pacemaker, 1 kid cystic fibrosis, 1 kid sick to her stomach and co-leader has two cracked vertebrae in her back”. Our contact from the state school explained that the playground there, which was open to the public, was one of the only playgrounds that wasn’t just “wheelchair accessible” but actually had “wheelchair swings”, yup, that’s right! They are squares of skidplate with four inch lips on them except in back. The back is a ramp that drops down for the wheel chair to enter the swing. The wheels then lock down to secure the chair in place and the ramp is lifted and locked in place. Kids who have never swung in their whole life can now swing. Our mission should we choose to accept it was to take this mountain across the road of shredded bark called “fibar”, load it in wheelbarrows, take it across the street, dump it and spread it with rakes. She explained that “fibar” was the only material approved for both safety and ADA approval. Remember we arrived 40 minutes late?

The lady with the school told me to have the kids quit 30 minutes early so they could have some ice cream in the cafeteria. I still cry thinking about how hard they all worked. I have never seen anyone work so hard at anything except a doctor or paramedic trying to save a life. Those kids were running (not a figure of speech) wheelbarrows back and forth dumping “fibar” and others were spreading it on the playground.

I on the other hand didn’t get to do much work. Instead, it was a full time job supervising and forcing (I mean forcing) kids to take turns getting water and taking a short break. Not a single one of them complained about anything except not having enough time (my bad). When the lady came from the state and said it was time to quit and eat ice cream, one by one the kids said that they would rather finish (110 degrees remember) than have ice cream (where do they make kids like this). It was a unanimous decision. When we were finally done, the woman from the school told me and the kids that she had worked there for 23 years and had never had a group of kids or adults that worked as hard as our group did. I explained to her that Group 4 was working for Jesus! They were too.

We had two Bible lessons each day and lots of personal stories and sharing. During our 1st nights lesson, one of the girls shared a tragic personal story with us. I think we all cried. After that everyone began to share their deepest struggles. Rachel shared  the story of her battle with CF. We read a lot of scripture about “hope”. We talked about what “Real Hope” was and wasn’t. We eventually came to the consensus that “Real Hope” was believing that the life after here was real and perfect.

Before the week ended and once enough love and trust was built between us all, Rachel asked us to pray that she would get sick enough to be placed on the lung transplant list………….please let that sink in deep. No one wanted to pray that. It was only through our love and hope, that we all agreed to pray that every day until it came true. Rachel was able to ask that of us because of her love for us and her “Hope in Him”.

I know the curriculum at the camp is very good and has a lot of  God’s word in it, but I think if all we did that week was to get to know Rachel and her hope, we still would have left knowing all we would ever need to about hope, real hope!

The story doesn’t end there. A year later, back at camp, Rachel cannot attend because our prayers have been answered and she did get sick enough to be on the transplant list. When you are on the list, you can’t travel. You have to be within a couple of miles of the hospital where the operation will take place. She received her transplant. It was a success. Weeks after, her doctor told her that she was a boring patient. She had no rejection issues. That November,things were so good, her parent’s signed her up for camp.

Wow, all of us were excited beyond description. Camp seemed an eternity away. As it turned out, it really was, at least camp ‘with Rachel”. She began having rejection issues. At first doctors thought it was what they expected and were prepared to treat but it became more severe and then the rejection became chronic.

In a phone conversation with another girl from our group just a few days before camp this year, Rachel expressed how really sad she was, that she wasn’t going to see us at camp. Of course we were all very disappointed too. While at camp, those of us there from Group 4 or H44 as I have always called it (Hope for 4) made individual videos for Rachel. I sent her links on her Facebook messenger.

Today, Wednesday July 11th 2012 Rachel’s Hope was fulfilled. She has gone to eternal camp with Jesus and is waiting for the rest of us to get there so we can sing praises together, forever! I truly hope that when I get there she can give me back that really big chunk of my heart that she took with her!

Rachel, I will miss you so much until I see you again. Tell God to hold your parents really tight in his arms because I can’t imagine how tough this is for them, since it feels like it is crushing me.

Love always,



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