Fitted Bed Sheets


I had the opportunity to go on a youth retreat this past weekend with my church youth group. After sitting on the noise-filled bus for nearly three hours, we finally arrived at the camp where we would be staying. That evening, after more noise and activity, the three boys in my room got their beds ready to sleep on. “What’s this?” one of the boys asked, as he started to unfold a fitted bed sheet he had pulled from his bag, holding it from his fingers as if it was a banana peel he had picked up off the ground. Another boy, obviously well schooled in his sheet classification, knew a fitted sheet from a t-shirt and was proceeding to pull it over his bed. Putting one corner just over the mattress, he would move to the other side, pulling the sheet off of where he had just put it in the process. Another, on the top bunk, was having the same trouble. Barely laying the sheet over the corner of the bed, he would then expect it to stay there as he pulled the remainder of the sheet over the far side of the mattress. Apparently, putting fitted bed sheets on a bed isn’t common junior-high-boy knowledge.Thankfully, a couple tips and a helpful hand later, I did manage to show them how putting the corner of the bed sheet under the corner of the mattress would stop the sheet from popping off the bed again and again.

I moved into a boarding school in sixth grade. Fitted sheets? No problem. I did start struggle later on in my years, as my sheets began to shrink with years of washes. This only got harder as my boarding school mattresses were eventually replaced by the larger, thicker mattresses I experienced once I got to Canada. Fitted sheets were quite normal, and I quickly got used to making up my bed, again and again. I’m thankful for my years in boarding. It’s experiences like these, watching anxious boys crawl into foreign beds that make me realise what a blessing it was. I understand. I understand what it’s like to be in a strange room. I forget sometimes, that not every junior high boy moves into a new room, with a new room mate, and has to try to fall asleep on a new bed each year. In boarding, life would hit the reset button again every few months, as my siblings and I would readjust to our beds at home for a couple weeks over break. Then we would be back to school again. The strange beds became familiar — the familiar became strange. And I would find myself lying awake in the dark, trying to drown out the silence of the fan that wasn’t turning above my head. Silence is one of the hardest sounds to ignore.

I don’t mean to make my experiences sound all rosy. Boarding had it’s downsides too. There aren’t many better ways to learn how much you dislike about people than having to live with them year after year. However, before long, the rough edges of my own selfishness did start to wear down. They had to — since they were constantly scraping into someone else and their selfishness corners. Thankfully God works in these years of friction, ensuring the little pieces that are chipped away simply smooth the edges, rather than leave gaping holes of trauma and bitterness. I’m thankful. I’m thankful that my parents were willing to let go when I asked. I’m thankful that I had friends who cared about me, and who made my experience a valuable one. I’m thankful God orchestrated good things out of what could have so easily become a mess. On top of all this, I’m thankful I know what a fitted sheet is and how to put it on a bed. I still may not know how to fold one, but not everyone is perfect. I’ll save that magical skill for the mothers of us silly boys.

Catching Frogs

“Do you want to wake up at five tomorrow morning?” I asked one of my campers before bed. It was the night before the closing day of that camp week, after a long day of activities.
“No!” He said. “Wait, what for?”
“To catch some frogs.”

My camper had been very disappointed. A couple days earlier I had let him and a few other boys catch frogs during our swim time in the dugout, and had lent them a container from my bag as well. He had caught a number of frogs, and had transferred them into smaller containers, hoping to take a couple home with him when he went. However, that same evening he had been told by another counsellor that he couldn’t keep the frogs in containers over night. As a result, he had let them go that evening, hoping that he would be able to catch some more the following day when the whole camp went to the dugout for games and swimming. But, once he got there, he wasn’t allowed to go to the side of the dugout that had the frogs, as he needed to stay with the rest of the group. And there he was, at bedtime that night, feeling a little disappointed about the whole thing. So, when I asked if he wanted to catch frogs the next morning he had a huge smile on his face. “Yes!”

That night as I lay on my bed, I wrestled through the situation. I had already been deliberating over what to do before I had even asked him. Taking a camper all the way over to the dugout early in the morning, by myself, with no life-jackets (they were required in and around the dugout)? I just couldn’t decide if this was something where I should be asking for permission, or asking for forgiveness after the fact, if I needed. I thought back on all my past boyhood disappointments. Rocks I couldn’t take with me when we left places. Sticks I couldn’t carry home. I can see why my parents didn’t let me at the time – and I’m glad for it now. But, how hard was it to spend some time one morning helping a boy catch a few frogs?

So, at five in the morning, my alarm went off and I strained my eyes into the darkness. ‘This is ridiculous,’ I thought. ‘There’s no way I’m catching frogs at five in the morning – in the dark.’ I closed my eyes again, and dipped in and out of sleep for almost an hour. Then, just before six, I woke up enough to look out the window again. It was just beginning to get light – enough to see frogs, at least. So, after a lot of shaking, poking and whispering his name, I finally woke my camper up. And a couple minutes later, there we were, two boys, both in hoodies and shorts, making our way up through the trees and over the hill to the dugout to catch some frogs.

It’s wasn’t very long before we got to the spot. With our ankles in the water we walked through the grass and small reeds, stopping when small spots of green would bounce across the grass, or plop into the water. I very quickly found out that I’m really bad at catching frogs. I really am. I would get so close – close enough to feel their little bodies slipping through my fingers, or bouncing off my hand, but I never got one. Thankfully I could at least keep them from getting to the water so that my companion could pounce on them and hold them gently in his hands. There’s something about seeing a little boy chasing after frogs that brings a smile to your face. It’s like seeing a bird in flight, or a dolphin jumping out of the surf – just to see them doing what they do best. He was a little boy, and had obviously mastered the skill of frog catching – something I must have missed out on in my youth.

Half an hour later two boys with three green leopard frogs, and one brown wood frog, headed back over the hill and across the grass toward the cabins. Their flip flops squeaked with water as they walked, and their faces beamed with smiles as they carried their precious amphibians in their little orange container. Sometimes God sends along little blessings and encouragements, just to remind you that there is a reason you are doing what you are doing. For me, this was just that.

Fragile Places

Some places seem to be much more fragile than others. This summer, I had the opportunity to go and help out at a Bible camp just for a couple of weeks, to help as a cabin leader. At the start of the week, kids would pile into the camp with their parents, some nervous, some excited to get to know each other and enjoy the games and many excitements of camp. And for the whole week, I would find myself extremely busy and happy spending time with the nine twelve-year-olds in my cabin, counsellors, and all the other kids running around the camp as well. Doing devotions, praying together, eating together and playing games together, we soon got to know each other very well, and before long we felt like a little family – the nine boys, myself and my junior counsellor.

However, before long, the week came to a close. The kids packed up and got ready to home. Dirty clothes and numerous little injuries told the story of all the fun they had. The night before the boys had to leave, some talked about how they wanted to come back next year and do the same thing – that we should all come back next year and be together again. I was happy to hear that they enjoyed it, and to hear them long for a ‘repeat’ in a way, but I knew the truth – that this week could never be repeated again. Camp is a fragile place. It lasts for a week, and in that week there’s an amazing mix of kids and counsellors, which makes the whole time so worthwhile. But this mix of kids and counsellors and experiences can’t last forever, and it can never happen again. It just won’t. Never again will all the same kids be together, with all the same counsellors and be able to enjoy being together all over again. That’s life.

MCS, my old boarding school, is a fragile place. I can remember in my final year of high school, lying in bed, thinking about the changes that would take place when graduation day came. Never again could I walk through these halls I knew to find the same friends in the same rooms. Never again would I take my toothbrush at bedtime and seek out the company of the guys in my class while I brushed – to sit on their beds and try to talk through the toothpaste to them. We would all be replaced. Soon these rooms would be someone else’s, or they would be left empty – as they have been. Some of us might come back and visit and, by chance, may even be together at the same time, and be able to re-live some shadow of our experiences in high school, but it would never be the same.

Some places are solid. Like a tree or house – even the school building we spent so many years in, these places stay more or less the same. Of course, there are always changes. Trees grow bigger, houses change – but they are still there, they continue on. You can climb a tree you climbed in your youth and sit on the same branch, and look out to the same view and, for the most part, it can be the same.

Camp and boarding school are like grenades. All the fragments and particles share space and memories together for moment in time, but when their time is up, the pin is pulled and all the pieces explode across the world – blown into a million tiny shards. Exciting. Painful. Never again can they be put back together. Never again can they be the same.

However, this doesn’t make the fragile places less precious. I really hope my feelings are never mistaken for bitterness or anger, because it’s not like that at all. These places are still so valuable, and the experiences and memories don’t lose their meaning because of the violent separation involved. But I know that some places and experiences will never be the same. One might gather a few fragments to piece together something that looks similar, and bears some semblance of the original object, but still, everything has changed.
These are the fragile places.