I grew up attending and working in church youth camp. I was only 17 the first time I served as a cabin leader and continued my career in the positions of cook, music teacher/worship leader, and fun time director in a total of somewhere around 10 or 12 camps. It was a big deal to me. Some of my fondest memories are from camp and some of my most lasting friendships were made amongst un-air conditioned cabins, pine trees, and pentacostal church services lasting well into the night.
My younger sister was there too. A few days ago, she began begging a few of us campers on Facebook for videos and photos of the days gone by. My sister’s happiness being of the utmost importance to me, I dug through my old CD’s to see what I could find. Amongst the discs of Windows Vista drivers, Red Hat linux installation and sundry 90’s music, I found photos from The Church of God Georgia Youth Camp 2004. I posted all 374 of them to Facebook this morning and my notifications have been buzzing all day from people liking, commenting, and tagging more friends that I couldn’t identify. It has been a lot of fun to reconnect and reminisce.
A Single Frame, A Thousand Memories
One of the photos I posted was of a dear friend that died a few years ago. There was his beaming, smiling face, in a well lit, high quality photo that I was ever so happy was included in the set that had been shared with me 10 years ago. I tagged his mom and I don’t think she’s seen it yet. I wish I could be there when she logs in to the world wide waste of time and is cheerfully welcomed by the face of her late son. The person who took the photo was just randomly capturing the events and experiences of the day. I’m sure they never dreamed that what only took them a second to do would stop time forever and remain as a reminder of our fragile lives and the love we create and share while on this earth. My mind can recall plenty of memories of Colby’s face and laughter, but each year dim’s their clarity more and more. Photos like this one jerk those memories that are miles away and bring them suddenly back into reach and focus.
I’ve sat and stared at these photos and have let the warmth of the light of each of our lives take me back to 2004, away from the cold, harsh reality of the present. We were young, we were happy, and we will never forget. Thanks to technology, we can not only refresh our memories but share them with others.
I can’t imagine attending an event nowadays without it being plastered on social media and filling my phone up with selfies, ussies and poorly framed group shots, not to mention photos of objects and scenarios that no one will understand except the people that were actually there. It’s easy to take these for granted, and I’ll admit that I hate living behind a camera and not in the moment, but it will always be true that there are moments you’ll some day wish you could have back.
An Unexpected Gift
It’s evening now and I was just sitting here at my computer, watching goofball comedy on Netflix when my phone rang. I recognized the number and when I answered, I heard a tiny voice on the other side asking if I was busy. Thoughts raced through my head making me think of all kinds of crazy reasons why my sister might be talking to me with so much sheepishness and reservation. What was it that she couldn’t just blurt out? What was wrong? What was great?
“Sissy, check your email, I sent you a present.” Negative ideas vanished from my mind and I thought that perhaps she had sent another photo or video of her new baby which I’ve been eagerly devouring since I haven’t had a chance to travel and meet him yet. I opened the email which was a forward from a friend and skimmed over his message. Attached was an mp3. “It’s Eric singing. Wait until you hear how much he sounds like Matthew.”
In the Summer of 1999, my little brother Matthew was 5, my sister Denise was 9, I was 16, and my older brother Eric was 18. We lived with our parents in a small town not far from where I live now called Sumiton. We had just moved there from our hometown in Oklahoma for Dad to take a pastorate at a local church. We were all involved in the ministry especially when it came to music. Dad was a wiz on the piano, I played guitar, Eric played bass and drums and Mom brought in the singing prowess. Dad, Eric and I also sang and together we were a well loved family band. We’ve had tons of hits over the years, though never recorded professionally and rarely by amateurs.
One day, Eric presented to us a project he had been working on. One of our favorite singing groups sang a beautiful song that was written based on a family favorite scripture. We were all familiar with the song already, but Eric had planned out how we would each sing our respective parts. He cast me as the first lead, him as the second, with Mom and Dad backing us up. We loved it and got right to work learning the music and the words. There was a big church event coming up, a worldwide assembly of churches, and we had been asked to sing for one of the programs. This was going to be our song!
I still remember walking out onto the stage, the lights in my eyes, and the crowd somewhere beyond them. We had practiced at home, at church, and then here, but this was the final moment. Dad gave the piano intro and I opened my mouth to sing. There were flaws and bumps (we were SO young!), but we gave it our best and the performance was a hit. We still get compliments to this day.
During this church event Eric turned 19. Nine days later he tragically drowned in the Little Warrior River.
Music Never Dies
I am now 30, Denise is 24, and Matthew is 20. We still dabble in music, each being a songwriter, Denise became a guitarist, and it seems that Matthew just touches an instrument and instantly masters it Matrix style. After I married and moved away, Mom, Dad and my siblings kept the family band going, and now that Denise is married and moved away, it’s down to just three. Those precious times that we are all together, music easily erases the lines of difference the years and distance have created and our family bond is strengthened once more. Eric is ever present in our hearts and memories and we pour over photos of him just like the one I posted of my friend this morning.
It has been 14 years since we sang on that stage and I had never heard Eric’s voice alongside ours since then… until tonight when I opened the email from my sister.
The Moral of the Story
Savor your moments and live in them. But also take another moment and freeze them in time so that you can one day make them as vivid to you as they were when they happened. You never know how treasured those moments might one day be.
Rest In Peace
Colby Thompson 1989-2006
Eric Branscum 1980-1999