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So much stuff happened at Soul Survivor this summer that I haven’t been able to process it all yet. I haven’t really tried too hard. I’ve told myself I’ve been letting it simmer, but I think I’ve actually just wanted to press the pause button. Remember it but not assess it. This morning, when I woke up not knowing if I was capable of returning to work or not, I haltingly assessed a wee bit of it and dragged my arse out of bed.

Writing is the best tool I have for figuring out things like this, but what happened was so intensely personal that I wondered, even with the usual level of brain-fart-over-sharing that goes on around here, if it would be too much for the blog. Ditto because it was intensely spiritual. The mental and the spiritual collided in the most surprising manner, and I almost don’t want to ‘out’ that part of myself. However, I’ve decided that when good things happen they should be shared, so consider this your over-sharing, crazy spiritual, should-she-be-locked-up warning.

It will take more than one post, so I’ve decided to start with the one that came to my mind and brought a smile to my face when I was on the train home this evening. I knew before I went to Soul Survivor (henceforth to be referred to as SS) what a great big bag of shit I was carrying around on my shoulders. Let’s face it, 2013 has been awful. Remember my black balloons? Well, the black balloon of shame had grown so large I’m surprised it hadn’t popped. At work I had cried and panicked my way into public humiliation for two months. At my sister’s wedding I had been reminded how much I am laughed at by my family. They would never mean to hurt me, and would be devastated if I told them how they can affect me, so I don’t tell them, but I’m realising the power our families can have over us, both in loving and wounding.

This year I’ve withdrawn from family, from friends, from everyone except Mr Narky. I have noticed how unresponsive my face can be sometimes, how reluctant I am to give and receive hugs, how desperately I try to keep my embarrassing tears, my sorrow and vulnerability and raw wounds hidden from those I love. I play the clown in public and cry in private. [Except for when I’m at work, when my brain decides it’s perfectly acceptable to cry like a baby in front of colleagues and strangers, but let’s not dwell on that.]

Anywaaaaaaaaay. That was some of what I took with me to SS. I was afraid of getting emotional in front of people and afraid of being laughed at. But something amazing happened [with some difficulty, which I may look at in another post] and I found myself fitting into this eccentric group of people and loving it. Yes, people laughed, but it didn’t feel like I was being unwittingly bullied. It felt good because I was making them laugh. I managed to put so much innuendo into packing up a tent that one guy looked like he was going to asphyxiate from laughing too much. My coffee cup peed itself one morning (a wee beastie must’ve eaten a hole into it during the night) and I had to keep pouring more coffee into it until someone could control their hysterics enough to take a decent photo. On the third night our blow-up mattress popped and I ended up climbing out of the sodding thing, hubby and me pressed into the ground with what looked like mountains of mattress surrounding us, with me finally getting out only to risk hubby’s life by popping him out too. And then a fly flew into my mouth. We had a terrible night with very little sleep, but when I related it to the early risers the next morning (with actions, naturellement), they fell apart laughing, their screeches waking the rest of the camp. That was great. It’s a memory I hope I’ll always carry – being surrounded by sleepy people in pyjamas and wellies, hair all over the place, hugging mugs of coffee in sleep-deprived desperation, howling with laughter. Great. 🙂

Later that day we found another blow-up mattress in our tent, donated by friends willing to sleep on the floor so we didn’t have to. ❤

We were a group made up of a bunch of teenagers and supposed adults responsible for them. One of those teenagers was a 16 year old girl, friends with my 16 year old sister. I had met her the previous weekend at another sister’s baby shower (I have a lot of sisters, don’t try to keep up) and she had come across to me as loud and boisterous, mildly irritating at times, with a tendency to laugh at odd moments, but taking a slight shine to me. Looking back on it, she came across kind of like how I did at times as a teenager, but less awkward and more cool. We got on well at SS. She took the mickey out of me, asking if she was really supposed to believe that I was a proper adult entrusted with looking after young people, throwing balls at me just to laugh at my absolute inability to catch them, trying to get me to dance because she had seen me trip up over my own feet.

But on the second night, we had been in the big tent in worship, we were all either singing or praying or being prayed for and she just wandered over to me and put an arm around me. I smiled at her, said hello, and then put my arm around her. Then I put the other arm around her. I don’t know what made me do it – I don’t cuddle virtual strangers. But I did and the next thing I knew she had snuggled into me, wrapping both arms round my waist. She’s only little. I stood completely still for as long as possible, unwilling to frighten her off. But when I had to move eventually to regain feeling in my left leg, she just wrapped her arms around me tighter and snuggled even more. We cuddled like that for well over half an hour, and I heard words. I felt them being imprinted in my mind:

See? You don’t need to have a child of your own to be a mother.

My relationship with this girl grew during the rest of the week. When she was emotional, I gravitated towards her, staying nearby so she had someone to go to if needed. We cuddled more, sang together, sat in the sun together, and I prayed for her. My heart told me to pray that she would find safety and rest with Jesus. I felt so protective of her. She melted my heart, and bounded through all the barriers I’ve put up around myself. She taught me to pray again. She taught me that I’m made to love people, and that’s what a mother is. I used to love my step-daughter and her children, but I’ve lost them and for nearly four years I haven’t loved like a mother. This wee lass reminded me why I wanted to foster or adopt. I can’t do that, but this was a glimpse into other, more unexpected ways of loving people. And her obvious enjoyment of my company told me to try, just try, to stop holding my metaphorical hands up in front of my face like a shield. I’m looking forward to seeing her again. 🙂

At the end of the week I felt completely safe and integrated into that community. I’ve known them for about three or four years, been to SS with them once before, but this time was different. I became part of them, fully involved. Taking care of kids, praying, laughing, singing, cleaning, cooking, the lot. During the worship sessions, instead of keeping myself slightly apart, I became part of the ‘grown ups’ looking after these young kids. I spoke to them and encouraged them, ate chips with them, jumped up and down with them.

I look back on that week and I don’t feel shame and I think that’s worth recording.