As regular readers will know, at the beginning of last week I marked the six months anniversary of Dan’s funeral. I pitched into what felt very much like depression. I couldn’t stop crying, I was struggling to sleep, all that stuff. I barely had what it took to pack my bags for RAW and was more than once on the point of picking up the phone to wimp out and not go at all. I felt really dreadful and felt like I’d only drag everyone around me down and make no useful contribution whatsoever. However, with the alternative of spending 4 days almost completely alone because all my friends had gone off to RAW without me and finding that I was bored and lonely and still tearful, I worked out that going along and being miserable with friends around had to be better than being at home alone and miserable. There was even a remote chance that I might even feel better for going, you just don’t know with these events!
In aid of cutting a very long story down to sensible size, I didn’t wimp out. It took me a while and 3 packing lists, but I got there and by Wednesday evening I had put my bags in mum’s car, fed the cats one last time, locked the door and was off. My RAW experience actually started on Wednesday night so that the car headed for Birmingham didn’t have to do extra miles picking me up.
Thursday morning was something else. Two carloads were going to Birmingham, heading for two campsites. Men and women camped at different locations not that far from the main marquee site at Cofton Park. There was basically a general scrimmage to make sure everyone had the essentials such as jackets and toothpaste and that no one was taking too much stuff as not only were the cars pretty full but the tents wouldn’t have too much space in either when we arrived and pitched up. There was also the additional worry of how Marygrace and I would fare in terms of diet, we weren’t at all sure how diet friendly the food would be and didn’t want to ruin things for ourselves. Cue a couple of coolbags!
Finally we had lunch and packed ourselves into cars and headed for Birmingham collecting Karl on the way. Josh was dropped off to stay with some friends, Karl and Lee were dropped at the Men’s campsite at Cornerstone and finally Marygrace and I headed for Rubery and our own campsite and to locate Kristina who was sharing our tent. Having found the site and Kristina we checked in and applied ourselves to setting up camp. The tent went up in a matter of minutes. It was an easy tent to put up and there were three of us working on it, so after setting up and putting our baggage inside we turned to the neighbourly task of making sure the other people around us got their tents up safely. It was fun. As a regular camper myself tents are not an issue, but it was pretty obvious that some people around us were not natural campers at all and needed help!
Tea was eaten picnic style and then it was off to the main Marquee site to check in there and begin the first event. The tent was set up very differently to how it normally would have been: the back third was partitioned off to make a lounge area with sofas and general comfortable sitting space and a cafe area set up with tables and chairs – The Real Cafe and The Wild Lounge. The rest of the tent was The Main Auditorium. No seats, just staging around the edges, podiums and a baptistry in the centre covered by staging that could be stood or (later it was) danced on!
After a general informal greet session we sat and things began to roll. I’d been dealing with tearfulness on and off through the day and it started again as the evening even proper began. Until a very clear thought came into my head “Yes, you can sit and be depressed and sulk all weekend, its your choice, but you could also chose to let this weekend change you and lift you, you can chose to go with the life here and see what happens.” Well, what’s a girl to do? There was also the thought, most definitely my own, that Dan wouldn’t be the least bit happy if he found out that I’d gone to an event like this and hadn’t got fully involved. Choice made, I stood up, wiped my eyes and started singing.
The first song was one that’s become a favourite of mine. “I sing a song” is how it starts. It reminds me of some of the Psalms where its blatantly obvious that David’s had a bad day, completely down, shouting at the dog cause everyone else has run for cover type day, then he remembers that he has a God he can ask for help and worship, and by the end of the psalm he’s recovered himself and the world is turning the way it should (that’s how I read some of them anyway!) It’s lifted me from the brink of tears to the point of worshipping God and being able to consider that the people around me might be tired and in need of support themselves.
The theme for the first evening event was The Call. Being called out and called to do something. It challenged me. This is never a bad thing. I’m among the many who doesn’t naturally choose the hard road or the hard way to do something. It was inspiring stuff.
At the end of the evening it was back to the campsite and supper and bed. Girls being girls there was plenty of giggling and jokes being thrown around but it was all very good natured and most of us were aware that we’d be woken very early by the sunrise and settled fairly quickly.
Breakfast on Friday morning was over fairly quickly and then we headed for the marquee. A short time of prayer and worship and a Mr Motivator session just to make sure that absolutely everyone was awake, and then it was into the seminars. I and a decent sized group of other girls chose the girls-only session, “Intent on Sisterhood” looking at how we respond to a variety of situations, a question session. I’m skimming a bit here but it was really very good. The second seminar I picked was “Intent on Building” which looked at how we build together. There were a variety of icebreaker style demonstrations of building and working together. Then we formed teams of five ready for RAW outdoors which would happen after lunch.
Here you can see the team name we chose, unusual, but at any rate we guaranteed that no one else would have that name! Having had lunch all the teams were put into groups and sent to different locations for the afternoon. We were in the group that stayed local and we went off to an estate that was only walking distance from the main marquee site. There we had RAW beauty, offering hand massage, nail varnishing, beading, temporary tattoos, crosses and games out on the green. An informal game of football went down well, and some muscles for free in the local gardens was well received too! My guess is that we all enjoyed ourselves and earned the tea that was served up to us in the marquee!
The evening session was themed on movement. I remember being struck as I looked round the marquee at the people gathered around me (pardon me if you are reading and were there) and being struck with the thought that yes, I’m part of a movement. I’m part of a group of people who are no longer children. We can take responsibility and we can push things on, it’s us who get to grab the baton and run with it now and hand it on later. In many ways for a long time I’ve thought of myself as a child, but on Friday night I felt proud to be the thirty-something adult that I am, proud to be part of something that doesn’t stand still, for all that realisation actually is quite scarey to me, it’s still true and its good.
Hotdogs and marshmallows round a slightly damp campfire were the supper scene on Friday night, but more than a few felt the weight of a short night and a long day and chose the warmth of a sleeping bag over a hot marshmallow!
Saturday followed a similar pattern to Friday, in that we had the same titles on the seminars, but the girls had a beauty parlour with a difference. The straighteners of truth, straightening out the twisted words we feed ourselves that wreck our confidence, the lipstick of gentle words, the blusher of joyfulness, the mirror of truth, and on it went. I can’t remember it all, but I couldn’t help thinking that no one in that group of girls would ever wear make up again without thinking of what we’d just learned! The second session I went for was “Intent on Flying” – are you nominal or phenomenal, complete with tug-o-war!
The group I was in for RAW outdoors was sent to the city centre to meet people, hand out sweets and crosses, invite people back to the evening celebration, pray for people, whatever seemed right really. I’ll tell you now that this sort of thing was what I had been dreading. Garden work, great! Games, no problem! Evangelism and outreach; well, I’ll make the tea if you don’t mind! The choice thing came back to me again, I could sulk and hide, or be confident and give these people a chance of a lifetime to meet a God they could have a lifetime relationship with. No choice really… So sweet and crosses it was. I prayed for some girls when they asked for crosses, which actually felt great. I’d never prayed for someone in the street before, but these girls had genuine things they were concerned about, and I was so blessed to be able to help.
After tea, the evening event was themed Forward. There was loads of food for thought in it. Far too much to list; but very much, what will you do next, there’s a world out there filled with people who feel that no one cares, are you going to be someone who works to change that? Who will you tell about the experience you’ve had? One shout went out “everyone”, and the response was quick, “no you won’t tell everyone, you won’t tell anyone if you say that!” There were baptisms and much celebration generally, it being the last session of the whole event most people wanted it to go with a bang.
The campsite was strange to return to on Saturday night, a good third of the tents had gone, we were all under strict instructions to be back in time for our own Sunday morning meetings at 11am, so that meant some people had to leave on Saturday night rather than have supper and sleep over and clear up in the morning. Marygrace and I packed away in the morning, to the shouts of Jesus Christ is Lord as people finished their own packing and cleared the site in small groups.
Breakfast over and all passengers collected from their various locations, we made it to our own meeting at the Coventry Jesus Centre with 5 minutes to spare. Sharing about the experience was pretty big for me. I can chat one on one but trying to talk to as large group of people is pretty scary! Nonetheless, I did it and so did some of the others who went along. The rest of the room seemed to like it anyway, so that was ok.
Now, I’ve told you all, I know its long, but I hope I’ve been able to draw you a picture of how it went and how much I enjoyed it.