There is a Mother Goose nursery rhyme from the early 19th century that goes something like this: "What are little boys made of? Snips and snails and puppy dog tails." It goes on to say, "What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and all things nice." No offense to Mother Goose but maybe she was cooked when she wrote it.  It also means that she never spent a week with children at children's camp. Don't be deceived by the innocence of the poem.  

I first took a group of children to camp in the summer of 1973. I will go with Shelley Jo this summer. Like a bad meatloaf lurking underneath the aromatic tomato paste there is evil having a field day under the guise of "snips and snails" and "sugar and spice." Actually, evil may be too harsh a word.  I don't wish to frighten the parents of those sending their children to camp  for the first time. Mayhem and laughter would probably be a better description. There is not enough space to cover everything so I want to share a four-hour period one night in the boys' dorm  in the summer of 2008 at Georgetown College in Kentucky. It just so happens that three of the boys mentioned in this story graduated this year (one in another state) and the fourth graduated last year. I have not used last names in order to preserve the dignity of the parents.

It was a dark and lonely night, around 10:00, thirty minutes before lights out. The boys were playing, just being boys. Suddenly there was a knock on my door. It was Carter. "Mr. Martin, J. B. broke his glow stick and got liquid in his eyes." In a situation like this there was nothing I could do to calm a boy with burning eyes. I could have been Dr. Spock or Mr. Spock.  It didn't matter.  He wanted his mom. Thank goodness she was at camp with us. She had learned over the years never to send her boys to camp without either a parent or the National Guard. I put an ice pack on his eyes until his mother arrived. (Her name shall remain anonymous.) J. B. was soon better. Problem solved.  We all went back to bed. 

It continued to be a dark and lonely night.  At 11:30 there was a knock on my door. It was Jonathan (graduated last year.) "Mr. Martin, Carter's homesick." I went to his room and talked to him for some time and gave him wonderful words of wisdom and advice.  After a while my incredible touch with children must have taken affect because he was feeling better. The boys all went back to bed. Problem once again solved. I  held my head high, threw my shoulders back and very proudly (borderline sinfully) walked across the hall to my room and closed the door. 

It was becoming a dark but not-so-lonely morning. At 1:00 A.M. there was a knock on my door. It was Brandt. "Mr. Martin, we're all homesick." Not exactly  the positive result I was expecting from my words of wisdom. Carter's ability to spread his homesickness was greater than my ability to contain it. I put them all in one room, two in the bunks and the rest on  mattresses on the floor. That made them feel better and they assured me there would be no problems the rest of the night.  Of course I believed them. Problem solved. 

I turned to go back to my room but right there  in front of God and five other boys in the room Carter proceeds to make the following announcement - "Mr. Martin, I've got a rash on my _____." (You fill in the blank.) There are many things you don't want to hear at children's camp.  That one is high on my list. I told him I had some ointment but he said he had some with him. Being the good adult sponsor I told him to go to the bathroom down the hall and get into one of the stalls. That way he could be alone and none of the other boys would see him. Then he looked at me as innocently as only a child could look and said these immortal words, "That's okay. We've all seen each other naked." He headed to the bathroom as I stood there trying to keep a straight face in front of the boys, marvelling at the innocence and honesty of a child.

What a great philosophy for life!  It's okay. We've all seen each other naked. Too bad it's not always like that with adults. I say too bad because that is exactly what God says to the sinner.  "I've seen you at your lowest point and I still love you." Romans 5:8 says "But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Christ loves us no matter what. Sometimes our love for others  has strings attached. We love our friends until we let their faults, shortcomings, or problems change our attitude. But it is when they get into those bad situations that they need us the most.

It is when they are the most vulnerable. They have hit bottom and are completely exposed to the world, emotionally and spiritually naked. That's when we have to ask ourselves, "What are friends made of?" Maybe some sugar, spice, a little salt, snips, snails, fun, puppy dog tails, unconditional love, encouragement, prayer, availability, and a firm hug. It was something to think about on a dark but no longer lonely morning.

When last I checked on the  boys at 2:00 A.M. they were all sound asleep on the floor in one room, intermingled and intertwined on several mattresses (none of them were in the bed) like a litter of newborn puppies.  All was finally right in their little world . . . no homesickness, no problems, no rashes (like a good county song) - just saving up energy so they could be ready to knock on Mr. Martin's door the next night.

It is nine years later. The boys including Indiana and Jodie (also seniors) who let the other boys do the talking, and the girls, Mary Catherine, Natalie, Kaylee, Leslie, and Rebecca (all veterans of that same week),  have  graduated from high school. They probably will never have the occasion to knock on my door again.   And I'm okay with that . . .  as long as they know they can. After all, that is what friends are made of. 

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