I’m back from my week-long retreat in Panama City Beach, Florida, with the youth group. It was really a great trip for me. We took nine kids, all of them juniors and seniors whom I had in class — some for two consecutive years. It was the strangest thing to get to spend extended time with them, since I haven’t spent more than three hours at a time with them in over three years. It was, in some ways, a painful reminder of the things I miss most about teaching. But, more importantly, it was also a source of amazing insight into the process of maturation and the transition into adulthood that inevitably occurs. And I guess THAT’s what I really loved most about teaching: not taking kids solely for the young people they were, but rather being part of shaping the adults they would become.
Every youth group trip I’ve ever taken was marked by torrential rain. Granted, that made for some interesting memories. But they were wet, stinky-like-a-homeless dog memories. This time, however, we didn’t see a single rain cloud. It wasn’t too hot during the day, the ocean was cool and soothing, and the nights were breezy and filled with the vague scent of salt.
We went on a snorkeling trip the first day, which ended up being uber-scary because I swam too far away from the boat and almost didn’t make it back. I’ve had two panic attacks in my life, and one was treading water out there in the middle of the Gulf. Do you have any idea what it’s like to freak out in a watery abyss, gulping gallons of saltwater as you desperately try to calm yourself? No? Well, it sucks. But on the way back to port we saw several dolphins frolicking in the waves, and that almost made up for my near-death experience.
The next night we went to the county pier for a devotional. It extends almost 1/2 mile into the ocean, and people fish off of it. We were lucky enough to see a man catch a shark, which the kids thought was the coolest thing ever. The shark was only about four feet long, but the kids all agreed I could have handily defeated it. (I got
the Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook as a gift a couple of years ago, and I read it from cover to cover and memorized the contents. I delight in telling people how to safely jump from a fire escape into a dumpster or take a plane in for an emergency landing or survive a wild animal attack. Should you ever be in a position to need to know, the best way to survive a shark attack is to repeatedly hit the animal in its most sensitive areas — its eyes and gills — with any and everything you have. Thank God I’m still full of useless information, even if I don’t have a captive classroom full of students with whom to share it anymore.)
The final night we had a devotional on the beach and partook of a common meal of cinnamon rolls (!) while we shared stories of thankfulness. The best part of the retreat for me was that one of my friends whom I don’t get to see very often came in to serve as the adult male chaperone. He’s had an especially rough time in the last couple of years, as he was intentionally run over by a car (twice) and beaten beyond recognition a little over two years ago. His resilience, courage and faith really affected the kids in a powerful and positive way, because they remember him as the fun-loving-yet-immature guy who could charm his way out of anything. (Turns out you can’t smooth-talk your way out of attempted vehicular homicide, though.) You know, I like to think that my life sucks because I live with my parents and am in school yet again, but those are just trivial matters compared to the circumstances he’s had to endure so recently — and at such a young age. In retrospect, I realize that it’s strange that my devotional was on thanksgiving and hospitality, because I learned a good deal about that from how he’s handled the difficulties he’s faced.
Other good things about the trip:
1) I took a huge mug with me, and I managed to down a minimum of 64 ounces of water at least once a day. Moreover, I had only three carbonated beverages all week long. Personal best!
2) I smoked only 40 cigarettes (two packs) in five calendar days. Another personal best!
3) I faithfully applied 45 SPF sunscreen everyday, even though everybody made fun of me. I even wore a hat or kerchief when I was outside (except when I was in the water). I sort of forgot to re-apply the sunscreen on the last day when I sat outside to do some
paperwork, though, and I got a slight burn on my shoulders and upper back. But it’s already turning to tan.
4) I got to drive the deluxe rental minivan, which came complete with rear passenger air conditioning and volume controls. And everytime a kid asked the dreaded, “Are we there yet?” question, I pumped him full of Dramamine and turned up the front volume on the CD.
5) I walked barefoot along the beach under the (barely-there) moonlight. It seemed romantic and reflective at the time, even though I was alone. I learned later that the beach was crawling with hermit crabs at night, but I didn’t get bitten at all. Bonus!
Bad things about the trip:
1) My previously pretty, pedicured feet were rendered calloused and tough by the end of the trip. Sand might be a natural exfollient, but it did some horrible stuff to the feet I’d spent so much effort making soft and dainty. Remember that Lubriderm commercial with the alligator? They could probably use my feet as stand-ins now.
2) I have sand in my unmentionables… as well as the places that my unmentionables are supposed to protect. Plus, I only packed one pair of unmentionables because I planned to spend all of my time in a swimsuit. (Which I did, by the way.) So there wasn’t a lot of
protection going on any way you look at it. Thank God for showers with unusually high water pressure.
3) There were absolutely no good emails in my inbox when I returned home. What, I’m gone for a week and no one is chomping at the bit to contact me in the elapsed time? Well, that just sucks.
4) The Buffyguide was still down when I returned home. Something happened to the server in mid-week, but I thought it would be up again when I got back. It’s disappointing that it’s not, because I love to read and post in the forums. However, I guess I should be grateful that I didn’t miss any major developments during my absence.