By Karianne Gwinn, Director of Camp HOPE America

On a Tuesday night in August, we had thunder and lightning!  Along with that came some very welcomed California rain.  Naturally, we ended up having “campfire” inside.  We put a flashlight inside of a small orange cone and placed it in the middle of a wood pile.  Voila!  A faux fire.  The change of venue had our campers pretty riled up.  On Tuesdays  during the summer of 2015 we talked about becoming our best selves and the importance of letting go of the past even when people have hurt us so that we can take steps forward. We talked about how forgiveness is a process that doesn’t happen overnight.  Forgiveness is continually choosing to let go of the past and not just a one time decision. As I was speaking about all of this, I felt like all of my words were falling on deaf ears.  “Oh well,” I thought with frustration.  “Hopefully they get something out of the other nights.”  After the faux fire was over, a camper walked up to me and said, “What if I can’t forgive the person that hurt me?” They had listened!  And what a great point. “What if I write a letter to the man that hurt me?” she asked.  After hearing a little bit of her story, it became apparent that she has been sexually abused.  She was earnestly and desperately trying to forgive a man that had violated her and stolen her innocence.  I immediately became worried about her having contact with her abuser.  I said, “Sometimes I like to write letters to people that have hurt me and then burn the letters. It helps me let go. It’s a good physical symbol of moving on.”  Her eyes lit up at that prospect.

Wednesday night as everyone was roasting dough boys, the same camper came up to me with light in her eyes and said, “I wrote him a letter and I want to burn it.”  Usually we have a strict rule that nothing can be thrown in the fire.  But when it comes to forgiving someone from the past and moving one step closer to hope, we make exceptions.  She threw her letter into the fire.  As it floated down to the flames, tears welled up in my eyes.  I put my arm around her and we watched the letter burn until it was nothing but ash.  “I am so, so proud of you,” I whispered in her ear.  She looked up at me with a huge smile on her face.  “I’m really proud of me, too,” she responded.  We hugged and then she floated away light as a feather.  Even though this camper will likely deal with the devastating byproducts of abuse for a good portion of her life, she walked away a brighter version of herself–freed, even if only temporarily, from anger and pain.  This is why we do what we do–to affect even one person, to change even one life.