When we can’t see the water for the sea…

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And so another year…another surf camp over. I took this photo on Tuesday morning, as I joined some of our campers and leaders in a tradition that began last year to do the ‘Early Morning Dook’ – where two leaders (or more) and any campers who want to can go down to the beach next to our campsite and have a quick dip in the baltic North Sea before breakfast.

It was a stunningly beautiful day – the first I can remember of this year – and even at 7.30 a.m. the sun was warm. I’d forgotten to pull on my hoodie and soon realised I wasn’t actually going to turn blue without it. What makes me giggle though, is that as I  walked behind the huge pile of campers and leaders that had decided to go down that morning, marvelling at the deserted beach (except for us), the clear blue sky, the large sun beating down on all of us feeling so peaceful (a rare thing at camp) I had no idea this would be the start of the most challenging 36 hours of camp.

I’m a planner and I like to be prepared. I like to know what the plan is ahead of time, and so I can organise my resources and time accordingly and mentally prepare myself. The lead up to surf camp did not allow me to do that.  I had volunteered to help as a kitchen assistant instead of being a group leader because we hadn’t been able to find a person who could help with catering for the whole week and we knew we needed 2 cooks to help our awesome chief cook. To top it all, the day before camp I became ill after eating some food and wasn’t even able to start packing until about 11.30 p.m. that night. Starting camp drained, sleep deprived and nauseated is less than ideal. And I arrived to discover that they still had me down for a role as one of the First Aiders as well as my roles in the kitchen and helping to lead worship.

So to that Tuesday. I already knew that things would be a little more manic than usual because the day before a camper’s medication had effectively been drowned in the sea despite being in a waterproof medical bag while they were coasteering the day before. There had been calls between parents, GPs and pharmacies and we had a small window to drive to the nearest town to pick up the prescription. All good. All sorted…until…45 minutes after this photo one of the campers came speeding into me during our leaders team meeting saying “Come quick – xxxxx has been hurt!” Outside the sight a First Aider dreads – a camper sprawled beside a skateboard in tears. The tears were not just from pain but of the fear that they would not be able to surf that day – their first time getting to waves.

And so a trip to town didn’t just include a trip to the pharmacy…it was now going to be a trip to the town’s small hospital. Calls to parents. Calls to the duty manager at SU. A trip to there resulted in being sent up to the minor injuries unit in the nearest city. More calls to parents. A lot of giggles at my (in)ability to drive hospital wheelchairs. A very snotty and slightly rude nurse freaking out my camper and making for some frustrated parents (and to be honest made for a disgruntled first aider – who doesn’t like to complain about NHS staff, but my campers come first!). Meanwhile I was aware that I had totally abandoned my kitchen duties.

It was 8 p.m. by the time we got back to camp. Deflated and exhausted.

Cue some of the campers deciding Midnight was the time to start duck taping up their fellow camper and ‘waxing’ his head with said duck tape in the corridor outside the dorms.

The next day was what I think I’ll now nickname ‘Wacked out Wednesday’. Every Wednesday marks the midweek point where campers and leaders are all exhausted and just go a bit loopy, quite often when you get the most little injuries and campers feeling a bit out of kilter because they haven’t been going to sleep at bedtime. Last year ‘Wacked Out Wednesday’ involved me having a First Aid queue and having to get a leader to take our Assistant Team Leader to A&E for an x-ray, while we moved his family to another set of rooms on site as they’d discovered an issue with the boiler that put them in danger of carbon monoxide poisoning if they remained in the room they were staying in. I woke up feeling like I’d already done ‘Wacked out Wednesday’ on Tuesday, and just didn’t have the energy to do another!

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I prayed for another sunny day (hey, I hadn’t been able to enjoy the one on Tuesday because we spent it in cars/hospitals). And instead God sent a thunderstorm. In hindsight, it was great for our injured camper – it meant none of the campers could get out surfing so they weren’t alone in missing out. However, chaos for the leaders who had to constantly keep reassessing and switching around the plan for the day according to the ever changing weather. It was also the afternoon that our chief cook had off, and I was cooking something I had no idea how to cook – while our female campers were having the hen party we’d planned for the evening in the afternoon instead. Which involved using the kitchen to make mocktails.

I may have burst into tears and had to go into the pantry like Nora Walker does in Brothers and Sisters.

On the Thursday evening I took my turn sharing a bit of my story of how I became a Christian to the camp and I began by confessing to the camp how close I’d come to calling up my friends a couple of days before to apologetically say I just couldn’t do it after all this year with everything going on  with my flat, and my fruitless job hunting. I shared with them about a verse I had discovered on my early bible exploring tactic of randomly opening up the bible and sticking my finger on a verse just to see what would happen. The reason for sharing is that a conversation on the very first night of camp when I was confessing to my fellow female leader roomies how guilty I was feeling about being so underprepared and useless for camp, not to mention jealous of friends and perhaps even resentful of those able to share how God was doing amazing things in their lives. And then one wise roomie said something that reminded me of the first verse I discovered on my own from the prophet Isaiah.

And so I told the campers how even though it was feeling like in the lead up all of the previous surf camps life was crummy and I didn’t understand why and perhaps lacked hope that things would get better – it is perhaps because when we are in the middle of the story, we don’t fully see the bigger picture and what may end up coming out of it that is good. As I groan and moan about how hopeless everything in the world seems right now, God says “Laura Anne – do you not see what I am doing? Look, it’s already begun!

So although I do not know why one of the campers got injured this year, or why I still can’t find salaried work, or why I couldn’t finish my Masters degree this summer so I could graduate with my class, or why I’m spending a summer making day trips to Aberdeen and paying for expensive repairs and fighting with company who is trying to force me to pay my runaway tenants’ unpaid bills…I have to have hope that somewhere in all the crappiness something good will come out. And I have to say that this year’s camp was the best so far. It just seemed like nothing was forced, the leaders and campers felt comfortable to be themselves. It was incredible to chat with returning campers who have become trainee leaders and see how they’ve grown into wise young adults (and know that they don’t hate me from last year when I apparently told them off for playing loud music and dancing in their dorm at 1 a.m.). I also love that some of our campers joined in with the worship band this year – and we gave each of them a toy camper van which they immediately decided to decorate with paint pens calling our band ‘Spiritual Wipeout’.

It made me smile.

Over the next year, I will continue to wonder about them all and hope good things are happening to them. And of course my fellow yellow ukulele player that our team leader popped on my music stand last year at camp always reminds me to pray for them.

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