What I read this summer…

I’ve realised that I’ve been reading but not writing in the last month. Needless to say that while on holiday I managed to buy 5 books in 10 days, sooooo….maybe need to find space for another bookcase this Autumn.

Here’s what I’ve been reading this summer!

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I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death by Maggie O’Farrell – This incredible memoir by Maggie O’Farrell (who wrote a book I loved called After You’d Gone) talks about 16 moments in her life where she came close to death and one where her daughter almost died. It’s written in a way where you are right there with her, feeling every moment and I utterly recommend it. For me, it brought back some memories of my own life and encouraged me to pause and reflect on them.

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The House of Unexpected Sisters by Alexander McCall Smith – This is the latest paperback in the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series. I’m always tempted by the hardbacks because it’s so tough to wait another year for the next installment but then they wouldn’t all be perfectly lined up on my bookshelf. This story is my favourite for a while, as Mma Ramotswe makes an accidental discovery that changes life forever. It’s also incredible how these books touch on subjects with only hints and not directly talking about them due to the nature of the way the characters think and talk to one another.

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Maggie and Me by Damian Barr – After going to a workshop that was led by Damian on writing biography (which turned out to be all about memoir – maybe I’ll make Learning From Sophie into a book after all 😉 ) it seemed only right that I should read his own memoir. Damian is not too much older than me, and a lot of the talk and settings of his memoir was familiar. It was a difficult read as a youth worker – there were multiple encounters with the church, a Christian organisation I’ve volunteered with in the past, high school teachers and it really made me look back at every young person I’ve worked with worrying what I may have missed. Again, it was well written and honest.

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Undivided by Vicky Beeching – When I first started playing guitar and leading worship Vicky’s songs were the ones I went to because (praise God) they were written in a key I could sing in. She was a friend of one of my friends from Aberdeen, so have had a number of interactions with her on social media over the years. I was incredibly saddened to the reaction of so many when she came out publicly a few years ago. I had the privilege of hearing her speak at Greenbelt while on holiday, and immediately started reading her book. It’s stemmed a lot of discussion I’d already been having with friends over the years about homophobia in the church, the power of leaders to spiritually abuse others, and the way we do prayer ministry at youth events. Vicky’s story highlights exactly why I have had concerns for a long time, and I also admire the graciousness she has shown in writing. It also touches on theology and church history. My only concern is  a story she shares involving rape threats which she blames on not being able to be ‘out’ hurting a guy who wants to date her – which actually I think is more to with a wider issue of misogyny and toxic masculinity. An important story that needs t be read by many in the church (along with watching Season 2 Episode 1 of Queer Eye so you can listen to the wisdom of Mama Tammye). Especially as many LGBTQ+ Christians were there at Greenbelt, some of them courageously sharing their own stories of experiencing hate and homophobia.

What have you been reading this summer? Let me know in the comments!

 

Lessons learned from holidays…

I’ve just got back from my first holiday in 6 years. I actually feel like I need another holiday because what I discovered was that I’m not very good at having a holiday. I feel like I need to make sure I DON’T MISS ANYTHING.

I’m aware of my privilege. 3 years of jobs where you weren’t sure if you’d have enough money to feed and clothe yourself never mind do something frivilous like go to the cinema, the pub never mind go on a holiday and no annual leave to take a holiday anyway leaves a mark. I felt hugely guilty about taking annual leave, and it required encouragement from my line manager and my wonderful colleagues who have learned how incredibly anxious I get to reassure me that taking a holiday was something I could and should do.

The first lesson I learned was that you need to take time to organise your holiday so you don’t end up in such a state by the time the day comes you’re getting so stressed out you end up in bed with a migraine.

The second lesson I learned was that years of having no money meant that I felt that if I was spending all this money on accommodation and petrol I needed to see AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. In hindsight, I should really have taken time to not feel guilty about just spending my half my day in ONE place and just enjoyed doing not much at all. My anxious and fidgety tendencies meant that any time I got somewhere I immediately felt like I needed to move on to the next place.

The third lesson is research where you are going, and make sure there’s food you can eat. I stupidly assumed that staying in the UK meant this wouldn’t be an issue. Cue a close to tears increasingly emotional and hangry woman driving manically through Dorset trying to find town that would serve something other than pub food (which is generally not the koala friendliest).

The fourth lesson is that I stumbled across the most gorgeous, comfortable and friendliest bed and breakfast. If you are ever going to West Dorset (sans children) book a stay in Halsons B&B near Bridport. It is truly beautiful and in a historical moment I slept through the night in their comfortable bed on my first night there. That’s never happened anywhere before!

The fifth lesson I learned is that if you have a camera around your neck, people assume you are American.

The sixth lesson is I can’t poo in a portaloo.

And the final lesson? When you get woken before dawn by owls, can’t get back to sleep in the uncomfortable bed at B&B number 2… get up, put on your clothes, grab a fleecey blanket and go watch the sunrise from a clifftop.

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And then go back later to the next cove to watch the sunset.

 

 

 

TFTD 4 – What people won’t forget

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Day 4 of camp is always the tough one. You might know it as ‘hump day’ that middle day when you are at that halfway point. You’re tired. You’ve been around these people and the end point seems so far away. Everyone might be a little bit grouchy.

And so on this day it felt important to have an extra reminder to have a little bit of grace with one another.

There’s been a cliche that somehow has been stereotyped as the complaint of women only that we complain it’s “not what you said but the way you said it”. Tone is everything. Context is everything.

During camp I had a conversation with a group of the older female campers about how in the past I’ve freaked out on my friends when I thought they were doing something that would be harmful. They said “But Laurie, were you not right? Is it not a good thing you pointed out how X could hurt them?

Maybe I was, Maybe I wasn’t. The point was the way I went about it didn’t sound like I was coming from a place of love, but a place of judgment.

We can have knowledge another person doesn’t but that doesn’t give us the right to make that person feel stupid by the way we impart it. Are we imparting it or imposing it?

All questions I’m constantly having to ask myself as I respond in this world of polarising views and apparently no more truth – it’s all fake news.

But also a reminder that we should take opportunities to impart kindness. To compliment. To encourage. To go the extra mile. To say thank you for the small actions as well as the big ones.

Because I’m guessing that feeling we will leave someone with is one they’ll remember positively.

 

 

Why I’m doing the Kiltwalk this year…

It’s totally mad to believe, but I first started getting involved in youth work when I was 16 years old and became a volunteer trainee leader at a Guide unit in sunny Leith. I have now spent more years doing youth work than I have not doing youth work.

To put another way, MORE THAN HALF my life has been spent involved in youth work in some way or another.

Last year I got a dream job as a Young Women’s Worker at a youth project in a town where there is basically no services. It was shocking how many referrals we got simply because there was so much need and so little provision in the local authority area. One of my friends who is a GP not far from where I worked has spoken to me about the huge need in the area. My friend who is a social worker spoke of staff off sick with stress due to the strain on their services and massive budget cuts.

I had to give up the job in April, and it was heartbreaking. I really didn’t want to leave. The day I found out that I’d likely be leaving I took 13 young people on a residential weekend and it was amazing. It was one of those real breakthrough moments, except it was a weekend full of them. After helping my colleague resolve a flood in the project because the toilet cistern broke, I drove my car that was caked in mud home. When I parked at my home I sobbed knowing that soon I’d likely be leaving. I still follow what they are doing through the project’s social media and not long after I left I convinced 4 staff members to join me in doing the Edinburgh Kiltwalk. We are aiming to raise £2000 of much needed funding for the youth project, and so far I’ve only raised £35. 😦

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You can help me help the young people and give me incentive to actually go through with this crazy idea of walking for miles on concrete (last time I did this I walked less miles, I was 10 years younger, my knees worked and I couldn’t walk for 2 days after) by sponsoring me. Even if it’s just £1 it would still give us huge encouragement…!

You can click to reach my fundraising page here. The amazing thing is that whatever money we raise, a trust called The Hunter Foundation will match fund our total by 40%.

Please, please, please give if you can. And if you’d prefer to give me money in person I do have a good old fashioned sponsorship form!

TFTD 3 – Somebody is learning from you…

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On this day, I wanted to emphasise that no matter how old we are, people learn how to be people by watching us. Even when we don’t realise it.

I shared with them how although I’m not a parent, there have been a lot of children in my life. My younger sister and brother may tower over me now, but I was 7 when my sister came along, and 11 when my brother came along. I carried them. I fed them. I changed my brothers nappies and ‘helped’ change my sister’s too. The majority of my closest friends are parents and if you are going to keep being friends with your parenting friends their children come with them as part of the friendship package. Add to that being a youth worker, and there comes a day when you realise even when you aren’t meaning to teach, people learn from your actions.

There have been a few moments when this has become clear that kids have learned from me (for better or worse).

The time when one toddler Kahuna announced that something was ‘totally awesome’ with perfect Brunette Koala inflection on the word totally. (If you have spent 10 minutes with me, you’ll know that ‘totally’ is a word I overuse).

The time when your friend’s kid totally disses you because all they want to do is sit in the corner and finish their book so they can find out what happens.

The time when your friend’s daughter starts ‘leading worship’ and you discover exactly what you look like when you sing at church. Eyes closed, arm in the air, song that your church worship band has probably overused in the last few months belted out.

The time when a teenager goes on a full on rant passionately and with a lot of points as to why X, Y and Z should happen. Because they’ve never heard any of my rants. Ahem.

When one of your siblings pulls a face and all your family turn round and say ‘oh my gosh that’s YOU!’

The time when a teenager turns round to their friend and says “I can’t be mean to you because my Guide leader is here.” I asked later, and apparently my constant ‘this is turning into gossip’ and other things I was saying and doing made them feel that being mean wasn’t allowed. I didn’t really realise the effect of my ‘rules’ or culture setting until that moment. In this case, I realised it probably wasn’t a bad thing.

The truth is, who we spend time with will always have a huge influence on our behaviour – for better or worse. And we would do well to remember that somebody is learning how to be a person by watching us.

TFTD 2 – Teamwork makes the dream work

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Someone at some point said ‘No man is an island’. I think that basically is a sentiment that states we were built for community, and actually life is not designed to do it alone. Sometimes of course we can boss it and get a job done, but there are for sure times when we have to cry uncle and allow others to come in and help us. And usually when we do that the job gets done even better.

Teamwork makes the dreamwork‘ is a little mantra we are forever saying to each other at my work. One of my favourite things about my current job is how much people are willing to lend a hand. I often feel bad because I have to ask for people to do bits of my job simply because I don’t have access to all the resources due to the fact I work remotely. And when it comes to setting up a cheer station, you need extra hands. Someone will bring the cable ties, another one of the banners, another person a megaphone, another person a supply of jelly babies so no one person is left doing everything. I’ll be forever grateful to the lovely ladies from other charities who came and gave me a hand at Edinburgh Marathon when my teammates couldn’t be with me.

The story I told the campers on this morning was about Moses. Some of you might know this bible character as the guy who parted the Red Sea, the lead character in the animated movie, the Prince of Egypt. There are many ugly battles and strange stories that appear in the Old Testament as we follow the trials, tribulations and adventures of Moses. But there’s one that has always stuck with me.

“The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.”

10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.”- Exodus 17: 8-13 (emphasis mine!)

Now battling aside, the picture that sticks with me is Aaron and Hur getting the stone, bringing it to Moses so he could sit and holding his arms in the air when he couldn’t hold them up anymore.

It made me think of the time when I was trying to get my final coursework done for my postgraduate degree and my friend dropped off food at my door to keep me fuelled when I needed to just keep going. Or when I was ill with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and my friend would drive to my flat, take me to worship practice at church, have a seat ready for me when I couldn’t stand to sing anymore. When my friend gave birth and was so ill afterwards people came to look after her baby so that doctors and nurses could look after her.

When we fall off the surfboard, our friends can help us get back on. When we are trying to catch a wave, someone can watch and yell when to paddle and pop up. When we are fighting a wind as we carry boards from the beach, someone can come along and lend you a hand. When you feel that your wetsuit has turned into a straightjacket that is superglued to your body, people can come along and pull and peel that thing off you.

Teamwork.

Makes the dream work.

Things that help keep me mentally healthy…

I want to stress that this post is just my own experiences, and the tips here are not a cure for mental illness. There have been times in my life that I needed professional help and treatments. However, I was at one time a student at University of Aberdeen’s Department of Public Health and I truly believe in being proactive to reduce risks of illness and disease. Everyone is going to be different because you are unique, but I know that I’ve discovered things that have helped me by trying out things that friends and lovely bloggers have shared about.

I also want to be cautious about adding things that cost money. I’ve been reading a few blogs and books recently talking about lifestyle and emotional health. I follow a lot of lovely folks on instagram. And I know that loads of things they promote are simply not affordable options to the majority of the population.

Going for a walk outdoors
This is hugely important – not only because often it will wake me up, help me sleep better and clear my head. Though I will caveat this one with if I’m really down I need company to get me out the house and also because for reasons written about in previous posts, going for walks by myself when my mental state is not good can be unhelpful.

Letting it all out
A few years ago a uni friend reminded me of the time she and a friend were struggling so I took them out to a beach in the middle of the night, and we climbed to a top of a sand dune to shout, yell and scream. It was something I did a few times when I was overwhelmed. Sometimes I know a good cry is what I need so I have been known to watch stuff I know will make me cry (usually acceptance speeches or certain TV shows) to get the tears flowing. Afterwards there always seems to be a bit more clarity.

Going for a drive with the tunes blaring
Like the ‘letting it all out’ I always feel most at peace when I’m driving in my car down country roads or motorways. It’s just me and the tunes I love. I can sing. I can talk out loud to God*. I can even talk and give myself a good ol’ lecture. Now obviously in the name of the environment, if you can limit your drives to just making use of already necessary journeys that’s great. And also I realise that having a car is a huge privilege (one that I do not take for granted after many years of not being able to afford to own a car).

*and if I’m honest, sometimes I yell and scream in anger at God. He can take it.

Volunteering
My friend Holly wrote a piece a while ago about being empowered by volunteering. I’ve said many times that Girlguiding probably saved my life in the last few years – there were times that I was so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed all day, but the idea of letting down the girls got me out. It gave me purpose and a chance to keep my skills up when I wasn’t working.

Eating and Sleeping regularly
You can guarantee that my mental state will become poor extemely quickly when I start skipping meals or not getting sleep. I literally do not function and I’ll stop being able to string sentences together. I’ll start getting over emotional and over-react to everything. I know it’s often easier to drink and eat junk food, but oh goodness the difference when I’m drinking water, eating fruit and veg (and let’s be truthful chocolate and bread because I ain’t giving up carbs).

Consuming Art
Food, work, shelter they are requirements for survival. Art is a reason for living. It inspires and gives us hope and makes us look outside our own situations. It’s lovely to go to music gigs, the theatre, the cinema but if your financial situation doesn’t allow that there are art galleries and museums with free entry. Reading books, if you can’t afford to buy, public libraries give you them to borrow for free. And libraries don’t just have books, but also films and music too.

Feeling Fresh
I put this bit in cautiously because in no way do I want to promote vanity or an idea that looks are what’s important. But I can’t deny that at times when I’ve been feeling really rubbish – whether that’s from physical illness or mental illness – having a shower, bath, taking time to do my nails or shaving my legs so they feel all smooth helps me feel better. And actually as I’m basically a reptile and live in Scotland when I paint my toenails a cheerful colour or shave my legs the only person that sees is me! It’s too flippin’ cold to have go around with bare legs and flip flops most of the time here.

Photography
When I’m depressed I often struggle to write, but what I can do is find something beautiful or intriguing to take a photograph of. It also helps me feel more comfortable walking on my own because if I’m walking alone I get anxious that everyone who sees me thinks I’m sad person with no friends. Trying to get a different focus or angle somehow reminds me to keep trying to see the world from new perspectives. You don’t have to have the world’s best camera either, though I definitely don’t regret the two years of saving to buy my ‘fancy camera’.

Organising to meet up with friends
This is really tough if I’m in a bad place. And if the plans are woolly – forget it. My anxiety will get the best of me. Give me a time, place, details of what’s going to happen and I have a chance of getting there.

What are things that you find that help you to say physically and mentally healthy? Would love to hear what helps you, as it might just help someone else too! Please share in the comments…

TFTD 1: Be kinder than is necessary…

If you’ve been around me in the past year you’ll know that one of my favourite movies is Wonder. I was told about the book by one of my Guides when she became a Ranger telling me that it was one of those books everyone should read.

My goodness, was she right.

One of my favourite characters in the story is Mr Tushman (and sorry Mr Tushman, I’ve been spelling your name incorrectly). His end of year speech to the kids at Beecher Prep Middle School is one of those that has stayed with me. It was what I read out on the first day at surf camp.

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When the campers arrived this year, I gave each of them an empty glass jar and a bunch of glass paint pens and told them to write their name on it, decorate the jar however they liked (if they wanted to at all) and leave them on a table. If you are one the young women who has been through Free Being Me at Guides or was part of the Girls Group at the youth project where I worked you know what’s coming next…

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The next morning after I read out Mr Tushman’s speech, emphasising that last sentence I explained what the jars are for.

You see, one of the most forgotten spiritual gifts is the gift of encouragement. We are told time and time again in the bible to encourage one another. Build one another up. Disciple one another. I actually sat eating breakfast in the Borough High Street Pret the week before camp looking up every verse I could find on my bible app that mentioned the words encourage one another.

I told them it was a jar of kindness of encouragement. I left out my fanciest felt pens (I know Rangers, I know…it was hard to do), some scraps of paper and placed each jar carefully on the stage in a line. And as the week went on leaders and campers a-like began to fill those jars with thanks, encouragement, kindness for each camper. Some of them came up to me commenting how they liked the idea.

At the end of the week the campers made a jar of encouragement for everyone to put a note of thanks and encouragement for our leaders too. Thank you random ‘sells a bit of everything’ shop in North Berwick for your jar provision.

Kindness became the theme. It’s too easy to moan about someone being different. To criticise when you’re not the person doing the job. To get grouchy when you’re tired. To tease and let ‘banter’ become hurtful. To stick with the people you know, invite only them and leave behind the new people that you don’t know yet.

And so at the start of camp, we wanted to set the tone. Be kinder than is necessary.

I have no idea what ended up in those jars. I do know that the day after I shared this thought, one of my leader roomies left a note on my bed to encourage me. Thanks Katy. I’ve kept it for the days where I need a little encouragement again. 🙂

Thoughts at Surf Camp…

Welcome to the first in a series of posts where you get to hear some of the brain dump of thoughts I had before surf camp and often after I decided that I had done a decent enough job with my fellow leaders on ‘corridor patrol’ that the campers were in their dorms and at the very least pretending to be asleep. And then I would change into my pyjamas and have a sudden panic of “CRAP! I HAVEN’T GOT A THOUGHT FOR THE DAY!!!” and proceed to sit with my head torch, quote book journal and massive study bible (sorry surfer’s bible you weren’t going to cut it this year).

Let me begin by saying that I don’t believe that Christians have a monopoly on truth, wisdom or goodness.

In fact, I believe we can learn a ton from people who aren’t Christians and there are few things that sadden me more* than hearing Christians who only read a very narrow selection of books (found in all good ‘Christian’ bookshops) and listen to a very narrow selection of music (also found in all good ‘Christian’ bookshops, and now iTunes too).

*I was reflecting on this whether this seems shallow and things like poverty, racism and corrupt governments, unethical companies sadden me more and then I realised that those things mainly make me angry as opposed to sad.

Anyway, I digress.

As I mentioned in my last post, this year we started a new tradition at surf camp. You see, a lot of SU camps don’t just have a churchy style meeting in the evening, they have something in the morning too. Personally I think it’s a bit overkill. We’ve never done it at surf camp for the main reason that we’re trying to get breakfast eaten and wash up after so we can get in the bus and to the beach in time for the surf lessons each morning. However feedback we got was that campers wanted our camp to have a bit more of something in our programme. And it’s good to start the day positively. So we came up with the idea of having a ‘thought for the day’ each morning. And I got put in charge of it.

I really loved doing it (even if some nights I was awake at 2 a.m. literally praying for a thought) so I’m going to share them with you. It won’t be exactly the same because I don’t remember all I said. But I’ll be using the quotes and stories I used. 🙂

Tales of surf camp again…

It’s a sleepy 30-something that types to you tonight, as the rain that has been strangely rare this past month thunders down onto the roof. Why the tiredness? Well spending 7 days sharing tight quarters with 3 of your fellow youth leaders and walls so thin you can hear the trumpet sound of a leader that had seconds on Taco Tuesday at Midnight and the giggles and not so quiet whispers of campers on the other side can make you a little sleep deprived.

Actually this year I think may have been the best yet. I was nervous going in, as last year hadn’t been easy. I came home from surf camp with an unease and found it difficult to answer the question ‘How did surf camp go?’ because yes I knew God had showed up, yes I knew that campers had fun but yet there had just been so many frustrations and things that made me feel totally inadequate and I left thinking that maybe I didn’t need be doing this anymore because I had nothing to bring of value.

There was a peace this year that I can’t recall there ever being before. Not that every year before has been awful or totally chaotic. But I think that over the years we’ve learned a lot and we have always wanted to be intentional about creating a week that is more relaxed as well as being action packed. There was a community and any time a camper tried to do anything that threatened that peace, I saw our veteran campers stepping up and showing the way of the culture we’ve done our best to create over the last 5 years. A culture of family. A culture of inclusion. A culture of respect. A culture where it’s a safe place to try and fail, and try again.

I also got to try something that I’m not sure worked, but it has made me want to blog more. Every morning at breakfast, I got to share ‘a thought for the day’. I definitely took inspiration from Miss Val and my old ‘Quote of the Week’ posts many of my social media pals used to tell me they liked but fell by the way side when I got seriously depressed a couple of years ago. I really wish I was one of those people that found creativity through their depression, but honestly? Depression just made me numb, unmotivated and stop writing every time I got to my keyboard. My mind would go blank and my brain would tell me there was no point anyway.

My car became a little sanctuary this year too. We didn’t have enough space in the minibus for all the campers to be transported at once, so each day 3-4 campers were transported in the Lavamobile to and from the surf lessons and trips offsite. It became a little collective of campers who found the minibus a little noisy and would come in with requests of whether we played The Greatest Showman soundtrack or my Disney playlist. It was where one camper who was starting to struggle with the intensity of living with 44 other people came to get space and came out of their shell as the debate began about everyone’s favourite (and least favourite) Disney songs and films. It gave me fond memories of all the transport and conversations that Cassie the Corsa provided back in the day.

I feel weirdly motivated and refreshed while simultaneously feeling totally wiped out since coming back. I dug into my bible this year more than ever before as I got challenged by campers who asked me questions about it. I scribbled in my journal more copying down thoughts and nuggets of wisdom from people far wiser than I.

And so let’s keep on keeping on.

And be glad of the sand, grass and mud that covers my car (and find a valet service, I think the clean up requires a professional with professional tools!)