Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless. —Mother Teresa
I was an awkward 12-year-old girl with virtually no social skills. I didn’t fit in with my classmates, and was often the brunt of jokes and the target of bullies. I had only been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for two years, and my parents had already dropped out of activity in the Church. I had no plans for attending Girls Camp with the other young women of my ward, and I don’t believe I had even talked to my parents about it.
Mom received a phone call from the bishop that someone had donated the money to send me to Girls Camp. I wasn’t even sure how I felt about that. I was grateful that someone thought enough of me to be so kind and generous, but I was also ambivalent at the prospect of spending a week with my peers. I did love camping, so I concentrated on that aspect and tried not to think about what might happen with the other girls.
As luck would have it, the Church acquired a brand new piece of property for Girls Camp that year. It was a totally undeveloped piece of land on Bucks Lake in Northern California. The logs from fallen and cut trees had not yet been cleared out of the lake or off the property. We arrived before the tents and portable toilets. I was in my element, and found one other girl who was equally stoked at the prospect of really camping, as opposed to being coddled in cabins and pretending to rough it.
For the first time I felt like I had the upper hand with my peers. My instant camp buddy and I set out to show the others that they really could survive a week in this place and have a good time in the process. They weren’t too sure about that. Some of the adult counselors weren’t either—one being four months pregnant. I thrived at Girls Camp. The end of the week came, and we had a camp fire and testimony meeting. It was cold, and one of the counselors saw me shiver and pulled me in close to her for body heat. She had taken a liking to me and had been sweet to me all week.
We became charter members of Bucks Lake Girls Camp, and we were allowed to vote on whether to keep the camp rough or whether the surrounding stakes should build cabins. My buddy and I convinced the others to vote to keep the camp rough. I believe some 48 years later, that camp is still a rough camp—although they have cleared all those dangerous stumps out of the lake and off of the property.
A few days after returning home, I received a letter from that sweet counselor—a letter I still have to this day. She said some kind things to me, including that I was “a diamond in the rough.” I read that letter many times in the years that followed. Adolescence was not easy for me, and a one-week stint at Girls Camp was not going to change who I was in the midst of the turmoil of the 1960s. I was never going to fit in with my peer group. I was the “square” even among the youth of the Church. Mini skirts, psychedelic colors, painted eye lashes below the eyes, bell bottom pants, hot pants, hair flowers, and go go boots were just not me. I didn’t go to parties, or even athletic events, because drugs were everywhere. I supported the troops in Vietnam when others called them baby killers. Yet I was longing to fit in somewhere. It was the really tough days when I pulled out that letter and read it, and it gave me the strength to move forward.
I lost track of that kind sister many years ago. I have no idea where she is or how her life turned out. She probably wouldn’t even remember who I am, and I’m sure she wouldn’t remember writing that letter. Yet the echoes of her kind words are still bouncing off my brain. Her words helped me through my teen years, gave me strength in my young adult years as I aspired to be like her, and buoyed me up many times as I was raising my children. She has no idea the profound affect she had on my life. Her words are truly endless—especially since she took the time to actually write them down so I could read them over and over again as needed.
In many ways I’m still that awkward 12-year-old girl. I’m not sure I have many more social skills at 60 than I did at 12. I’ll never be the belle of the ball, or even noticed in a crowd. There are some things that have changed through maturity and experience. It no longer matters to me that I fit in because I’ve learned who I am and what God intended for my life. I’ve had to learn that a diamond in the rough sometimes gets cut but never really polished. I’m okay with that. Through it all I’ve had the kind words of a young woman. No matter how many years go by, her kindness remains in my heart.
Tudie Rose is a mother of four and grandmother of ten in Sacramento, California. You can find her on Twitter as @TudieRose. She blogs as Tudie Rose at http://potrackrose.wordpress.com. She has written articles for Familius. You will find a Tudie Rose essay in Lessons from My Parents, Michele Robbins, Familius 2013, at http://www.familius.com/lessons-from-my-parents.