Half a year since and half a year away…

It’s mad to think that half a year has passed since I snapped this photo. An early morning saw me dragged out my bunk bed to join campers for the long standing tradition of the ‘morning dip’. The haar hovered over the campsite, but instinct told me to run back to get my camera.

It was the only day of that camp I snapped photos on the ‘fancy’ camera last summer. But it couldn’t have been more perfect. The sun trying to burn through the cloud and softly shimmering on the surface of the water. Grey and silver streams through the sand as the campers and leaders ran towards the gently lapping waves on the shore. No sign of the horizon as the mist of the haar hid all signs of the coastline across the water.

Last year camp was a challenge. It’s always a challenge. But to be honest, I didn’t know my place going into it and I’ve never been less prepared. I was on month 7 of dealing with reflux and nervous how I would cope with sleeping in a shared dorm fearful of keeping my fellow leaders awake if it got bad while at camp. The first day of camp I was in pain, trying to greet new campers and be my usual bubbly self when under my clothes I had pain relief patches on my body.

It would also be the first time that my friends would see the full extent of my emetophobia. It’s been a running joke at surf camp that on the first day I tell the girls and all the female leaders where the stock of pads and tampons are (there’s something in that sea air that seems to put every female at camp on their period whether they are due or not!) and let all the camp know that I’m the first port of call for first aid – unless they are literally sick. For sure my friends know that I will avoid it at all costs. But last year at camp, my fear became reality. And I would discover how my surf camp family would have my back.

The once campers that I had one time led, had my back. The first I got wind of the situation was two of those leaders who had once been my campers running to tell me to stay put because a situation they knew I would struggle to handle was happening and they had it in hand. And hours later, my friends were holding me, praying as cried and hyperventilated. Not one of them giving me judgment. In fact, the next day friends who have known me for years apologising for something totally not their fault, as somehow they felt bad that they had never realised the full extent of just how deep seated my phobia was.

We are now half a year away to camp again, and I need to work out if I will return. There’s part of me that can’t imagine my year without this camp. There’s part of me wondering if my job is done knowing that there are people so capable we have raised up to step into leadership. There are medical issues I have that aren’t yet under control – what will they be like in 6 months time? Worse? The same? Or totally behind me?

I do know that whatever I decide, there’s going to be a group of people that have an amazing week of making memories.

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 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. ūüôā

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!)

 

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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I brought the beach home with me…

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I’m back, there is sand EVERYWHERE (no seriously…some of my clothes are going through a second cycle in the washing machine as the first cycle didn’t get the sand out of them!!) and I’m now munching on fresh raspberries as I process the last week.

A week that started out with a surf lesson that I think made me a little ill (more on that at some point probably), and ended with going to church where I ended up crying so much that I stained my top with dripping tears. Classy.

There is nothing quite like not getting enough sleep and being outside your comfort zone to really make you raw and very self aware. The realisation of how easily you can get into a grumpy mood or could get into an argument with someone over something really trivial is telling when you aren’t in your normal routine and not getting enough sleep each night to boot. There is also that thing of being outwith your normal routine and doing things you’ve not done in ages to make you realise your passions, strengths and weaknesses.

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One of the highlights of the week was getting to lead worship every night with my friend Craig. We were sad that his wife and kids weren’t at Surf Camp this year ūüė¶ especially as I’m really beginning to get to know this family over the last couple of years – a few returning campers remember his children fondly from the previous year as they are awesome (like all my friends’ kids really. They are truly and genuinely all awesome). Craig had been so generous in letting me have input into the music for the week and working on it together with other members of the team. I honestly didn’t know whether I could do it still and though there were a few hairy moments it turned out much better and differently that I expected. I even got to do a bit of ukulele-ing and at the end of camp was showing a couple of the campers the chords on ukulele for some of the songs. I even got to do some campfire songs, and learned a new one that I’ve tucked away for a new term at Guides after the summer!

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And I love the random discussions we got into in our smallgroup. Like do penguins have knees, and what animals could have been on Noah’s ark. Animals we are familiar with, or animals that became extinct long before we were around to know of them? So I couldn’t help but laugh to walk past this above picture that steadily got added to during the week…!

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The plague of rainbows continued too, as on the final night of camp, a rainbow stretch across the sky above the campsite as we had our end of camp barbecue.

Now I have more questions than answers, as I sense the rainbows are reminding me to trust God in a time where I think there are going to be doors I have to proverbially knock on …which could lead to some big (and scary) life changes. In other news, on a trip to the local swimming pool I discovered (through the Leisure Centre’s free wifi) that I have passed my final assignment for my university practice placement. It wasn’t my best mark, but I honestly wasn’t expecting it to be great given the difficulties I had during my placement which were beyond my control, and the lack of time I ended up with to do the assignment. Assuming the external examiners give their stamp of approval to my grade, I have all the credits for my Diploma in Community Learning and Development now and could graduate in December if I don’t end up signing on for an additional year to do a research project that would upgrade my Diploma to a Masters of Education.

We shall see…! ūüôā

Ukulele-ing my way to surf camp…

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Our church doesn’t meet on the first Sunday of every month, instead the little mini community groups meet in different ways. For the Soul Surfers community that usually means meeting at a beach but with Surf Camp a week away and the fact our leaders moved house just six days ago we aren’t meeting today.

For the last few months I’ve been unable to go anyway due to working at weekends. ¬†But because of the way they had to work shifts to cover holidays I’m not working this weekend. It’s the first weekend I’ve had completely off since February and I’m enjoying it by playing my ukulele and this morning listening to the Cerys Matthews show on BBC 6 Music. And choosing “Quote of the Week”, writing posts to schedule while I’m without internet access for a week at Surf Camp. Tonight the Surf Camp band are getting together to have a wee music practice.

I’m both excited and nervous for the camp. It’s the first time I’ve volunteered as a youth worker with a religious organisation in a long time. It’s the first time I’ve been part of a worship team for a long time. It’s the first time I’ve set up a 24-7 prayer room for a long time. Last year I was upset to not be able to a part of it due to having already taken annual leave to do an Erasmus programme in Germany earlier in the year….only to find myself entering the world of redundancy the weekend Surf Camp started. In the end, the lack of internet at the campsite meant me being their Social Media coordinator for the week back in Edinburgh which was great and an interesting challenge as often texts with photos and captions¬†came hours apart despite being sent at the same time. This year, I’ll be in the thick of it. Sharing a room, having someone else cooking food for me, and likely getting very little sleep!

My main prayer? That we get some good weather and waves!