Comfort for the Day

Living through the seasons of grief.

A Child Atop a Horse

I recently spent 4 days at Camp Agape, a bereavement camp for kids ages 7-12, near Marble Falls TX.  I had the privilege to serve 9 little girls as their facilitator for each of the grief therapeutic activities.

Just when we thought the worst thing could happen, it turned out to be the best.  On day two of Camp Agape, we were informed that the equine therapy activity was going to be seriously delayed. The therapeutic equine team, pulling a 4 horse trailer was driving in from a few hours away. They not only had one tire blow out, but two!  This could mean quite a disruption in the very precise and organized schedule of the day. The worst case scenario would be that not all campers would get to experience the equine therapy.  That seemed unacceptable.  The director and her staff got busy to rearrange the schedule for the entire day. 

My group of girls, along with their adult buddies, was supposed to start the day with the horses.  Instead, we went on ahead with a very meaningful activity on forgiveness.  We allowed the group to spend as much time as needed with the “forgiveness” activities.  It was so touching to see them burn their regrets in the fire and release balloons of forgiveness.

We then went on to draw each of their body outlines with chalk on a large piece of butcher paper.  The girls, along with their buddies’ assistance identified their grieving emotions and where they might feel it in their bodies.  An expanded vocabulary helped the little ones talk about their feelings. Then the joyous news came our way, “The horses are here and your group gets to go first!”

Each little camper got a turn on a horse.  While being led about the pasture, their adult buddy was beside them all the way to give support and assistance. The child would choose a colored ball from the field that represented a grieving feeling they have had or were having at the time. When the rider and the buddy had collected all the balls the child wanted, I debriefed with each girl, explaining how sharing our burdens (balls) of grief helps us take the “trail ride” through grief. Of all the girls that day, Cayli* was the one who touched me deeply.

Cayli had selected green for fear, purple for guilt and red for anger. As I debriefed with her while she sat atop her horse she told me she picked green because she was afraid she might die of cancer like her little brother. I asked her, “Have you ever told anyone this before?” She said, “No.”  Then we talked about how our fear goes away when we can talk about it with someone we trust. We handed her green ball to her buddy.
Next she told me she picked purple for feeling guilty for not washing her hands before she played with her little brother and that is why he died of cancer. Again she shared that she had never told anyone that before. I affirmed her courage to talk about her guilt and assured her that her germs did not give her brother cancer.  We handed the purple ball to her buddy and again talked about how good it feels to share our pain, guilt, and fear with someone we can trust.
Last, she told me she was angry that her little brother had died.  Again, she had never shared that with anyone. We talked about the importance of being honest with our feelings and that it is normal to be angry when we are hurting. As we passed the last ball to her buddy, I explained that even her buddy won’t hold onto these burdens, but will give them all to Jesus, who alone can carry the weight of our grief. This little girl did some profound grief work sitting atop a horse under the hot, cloudy skies of Texas. She got the lesson that sharing grief burdens is healthy. She is a freer child because she sat on a horse, was honest with her feelings, and answered a few questions. Cayli took a turn about the pasture free from holding any balls, smiling from ear to ear.

I, on the other hand, turned wept with sobs.  I couldn’t imagine being that little child, holding onto all those secrets alone!  I wept tears of anguish and gratitude, thanking God for this sacred work of watching Him heal Cayli’s little broken heart. I was humbled to be a small part in her release of fear, guilt and anger.

Later as we reflected on the mixed up schedule, we were grateful that all 34 campers were able to ride a horse and identify their grieving feelings.  As I retold Cayli’s story we all agreed that the horses arriving late was for the best.  It gave her the morning experiences that opened her heart to the healing the Lord brought via a horse and a few balls.  So many lessons to learn from a child who sat on a horse. . .

© Karen Nicola 2016

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