From now until May 4, 2012 you can get a free digital book entitled A Mother's Journey of Love, Loss and Life Beyond, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Apple. Let me explain my connection with this book.
Recently, I received an email from Jennifer Scalise, a mother who wanted to share a story with me about her daughter, Brooke. Just a few weeks after Brooke’s second summer at Youthfront Camp West, while on vacation with her family, she was killed in a negligent accident caused by a tour operator in Costa Rica. This senseless tragedy became national news. Ultimately Brooke’s mom wrote a book about her story. Jennifer has appeared on ABC’s Nightline, Good Morning America, and World News with Diane Sawyer to tell Brooke’s story.
In her book Jennifer describes how their family did not go to church but Brooke had gone to camp (at Youthfront) and had become involved in church. Brooke had become increasingly vocal about her love for Jesus Christ. Her mom spoke about how gentle yet consistent Brooke was about her faith in God. The book chronicles the process of her family’s discovery of Brooke’s deep faith and love for Jesus Christ by reading her Youthfront Camp Journals after her death. As I read Jennifer’s book A MOTHER’S JOURNEY of Love, Loss and Life Beyond, I found myself moved to tears on more than one occasion.
The summer that Brooke died was the summer we focused on Jesus’ parables in Luke 15. It was amazing in the book to see Brooke's own handwritten words in her Youthfront camper manual. She wrote about her life with Jesus. She revealed how the parable of the Prodigal Son had impacted her. In the camper manual we had the picture of Rembrandt's painting of The Return of the Prodigal Son. Brooke’s mom included this picture in her book and wrote about it, “We found a picture of The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt, on which Brooke had written “God” with an arrow to the man depicting God and then “me” with an arrow to the son kneeling in front of God. We were shocked Brooke would think this way and would have viewed herself as the child kneeling in front of God.”
I told Brooke’s mom, “We get to serve thousands of young people and minister to them. We try to do this with a generous posture that creates space for their humanity. Too many camps and churches try to force young people into a confining human-created mold when what is really needed is an environment that allows young people to lean into their own God shaped humanity. Brooke definitely embraced Jesus Christ and allowed her spirit to be set free by God's life-giving spirit.
Brooke’s mom continues, “Much later, a friend looking at the picture discovered something I had missed. Brooke had also drawn and circled a distinctive mark on the back of the head of the son (the person she felt depicted her), a mark in the exact spot and in accurate proportion to what I would later learn was the most severe of Brooke’s injuries, and ultimately, the cause of death. Stunned, I moved in a fog for days after finding this, overwhelmed by the magnitude of what it proved.
This all surprised me. Brooke and I were extremely close. She had always confided in me about everything. Our love was so strong. I have many letters that she wrote to me in which she tells me that I am her best friend and we shared a bond like no other. But, as close as we were, I will admit that I was shocked to find out I was not what mattered most in her life. As we pored through what were now the greatest gifts of my life, I found a sheet that she had filled out at school, titled ‘Explore Your Future.’ Under ‘Who do you look up to?’ Brooke listed God, Jesus, and my parents. Under ‘What is important to you?’ she had written: ‘God, my family, and friends are all important to me.’ Not many 12 year olds would write this on a school worksheet in a public school. Seeing this and the other documents made me realize how her love for God was greater than even her love for me and that she viewed herself as God’s child first. As devastated as I was, it gave me peace knowing Brooke was with who she loved most.”
Brooke’s family is thankful to Youthfront for introducing her into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. I am also thankful that Brooke’s story also involves an extension of God’s grace into the life of the entire family. This happens all the time. This is our mission and Brooke’s story is one of thousands of beautiful stories of young people transformed by Jesus Christ through Youthfront’s ministries.