Madison stalked into the kitchen and dropped her bag by the door.
"Good morning, Maddie. You must be excited about camp." Her mother smiled widely, but the smile didn't extend to her eyes. They were desperate, pleading.
Outwardly, Madison appeared unmoved. She said nothing, but her heart screamed, Stop pretending things are okay!
"Your father will meet us at the bus station. He wants to say goodbye."
An hour later, Madison stood before the bus with her parents-together for the first time in weeks. Diesel fumes and engine noise cloaked their grief. The knot in Madison's stomach tightened. Her mother hugged her, and Madison saw tears spill down her cheeks before she turned to walk away. She almost felt sorry for her.
Her father looked into her eyes and smiled his crinkly smile. "Be good, Champ," he said, embracing her. His voice caught on "Champ," his nickname for her since she won the 100 Freestyle two years prior.
Madison received the hug and walked away without a word. She found a seat alone and rested her head on the window.
Josie Bickle joined her moments later. "What's wrong, Maddie?"
"Just leave me alone!" she snapped.
"Um, okay," Josie stammered. She took out a book and pretended to read.
Madison was sorry, but she hurt too much to apologize. She wanted to disappear. Surely, the pain would disappear with her.
Before long, the bus arrived at Camp Wenatchee. "Look Maddie-there's the lake! I can't wait to go swimming. Maybe we'll be in the same cabin," Josie chattered rapidly, she seemed to have forgotten Madison's earlier snub in her joy, but Madison only half-listened.
For days, the campers swam, ate, competed, worked, and slept, but Madison did it all mechanically. The beauty of the lush evergreen forest and the sunlight reflecting off the lake insulted her. The innocent joy of the other campers made her angry. Even the chirping birds annoyed her.
The others tried including her in their activities, but she barely spoke and would only do what was required. Then the gossip started. Madison knew everyone was talking about her; that they thought she was weird. She didn't care. Finally, they left her alone, even Josie found other friends.
One evening, Madison sat alone poking at the bonfire with a long stick, trying to think of nothing, when Brianna approached. Brianna was a counselor, eighteen, blond and beautiful. Madison hated her for looking happy.
"I've noticed you're spending a lot of time alone," Brianna said, as she sat down beside her.
"I'd like to help. I've been praying for you."
"Praying?" she said. Why can't she mind her own business? she thought.
"Yes," Brianna replied. Her voice was gentle. "Do you pray Madison?"
"Not lately," she spat the words.
"Would you like to?"
Madison glared at Brianna and said nothing.
"Madison, God loves you very much," Brianna persisted. "He's always with you and He's ready to help. There is nothing too hard for Him to do."
"Can he get my parents back together?" she shouted. Her face was crimson, her eyes blazed more furiously than the bonfire.
"He can help them, but they have to want to get back together."
"Well, they don't!" Her voice carried above the noise of the other campers, causing some to turn and look at them.
Brianna got up and led Madison away from the crowd. "I'm sorry. I know how hard that is," she said quietly.
"You know?" Madison looked closely at Brianna for the first time.
"Yes. My parents divorced when I was twelve."
Madison was disarmed. Maybe she does understand... "I'm sorry."
"Me too. It was..." she paused. "No, it is really hard. God can help you, though. He helped me."
"How?" She kicked the ash at her feet.
"He can help you enjoy life again. You're really angry with your parents, aren't you?"
"Yes!" Madison nearly shouted again.
"You need to forgive them."
"Because forgiving them will help you heal. My youth pastor taught me that when my parents got divorced. I was just as angry as you are. See, when you hold on to anger it grows it can take over your life."
Madison knew it was true. I'm angry all the time. It's all I am.
"How do I forgive them?" she asked.
"Tell God you want to forgive them. You may have to do it many times before all the anger is gone. I did. But, every time you give your anger to God, it gets smaller. Would you like to pray with me now? It will help, I promise."
Madison hesitated. "Uh, okay." She felt foolish, but grateful. She bowed her head and whispered, "God, I'm sorry for being angry. Please help me forgive my parents. I just want my family back" Madison started sobbing. The floodgates opened-pain gushed from her like a torrent.
Brianna put her arm around Madison and prayed while she cried. "Thank you for helping Madison forgive her parents. I praise You for the good plans you have for her and her family plans to prosper them, and not to harm them, to give them a future and a hope." Brianna paused, and then continued, "Madison, I keep hearing the word 'champ.' Does champ mean anything to you?"
Madison snapped to attention. She looked at Brianna in awe. "Champ is my Dad's nickname for me."
The peace and security that had left with her father returned. "A future and a hope" the words echoed in her mind. There is hope, we have a future.
The unseen Father smiled at His champ in progress.
Debbie O'Connor lives just north of New Orleans with her husband, Jim, and their two children. Jesus has been her savior for 18 years. Contact Debbie at firstname.lastname@example.org.