Christmas Camp

Just another one of those regular days that turns out to be totally amazing!

I was very unexpectedly thrust into the Christmas spirit last weekend. For those of you less familiar with me, this is way ahead of schedule. I usually need a minimum of 7-10 days for post-birthday mourning, reflection, and introspection that precedes even the possibility of the holiday spirit. Of course, by then I am so far behind in Christmas shopping that it is all stress and little joy. 

A little groggy from Friday night-duty, we headed to Hands of Hope (Mittapap/Susan's work) and hopped on the internet. Later, we were invited to lunch, and had been told about 30 kids would be there in preparation for the Christmas concert. As we sat down to eat, the children were sitting in small groups together and chatting (we all sat on the floor).

The group ranged in age from about 6 to 16, and were a mix of villagers and other kids the Sisters sponsor or support in some way. The group was down from 80. We learned later that many older kids had school conflicts this year. As usual the meal was simple but excellent, and many were going back for seconds. After lunch, the kids had a break, so we took the opportunity to duck out and get back to work.

    One of the few faceless shots I took. They stopped to look at each of the memorial stones, one belonging to the mother of a girl who was participating in the day, but not pictured here.

    One of the few faceless shots I took. They stopped to look at each of the memorial stones, one belonging to the mother of a girl who was participating in the day, but not pictured here.

At around 2:30, Susan went to see if she could help, I continued to work for maybe 10 minutes before she came and got me. At this point, each of three age groups, and one mixed group of singers, had decided on and rehearsed their program for a few hours. We were there for the first run through of the children’s portion of the Christmas program. 

It was, well, a little rough. They were heavily dependent on the - "choreographic inspiration" - videos playing on the television and directions from the social workers. Some of the kids seemed a little nervous (maybe because we were there), and a few older kids we know seemed a little too cool (maybe also because we were there). But, there were brilliant moments of cuteness that made me feel like I might explode. We clapped after each performance, smiled a lot, and then the last group was finished. I was just about to get up when the first group marched back out into formation to start again.

We must have watched each of the performances four more times. Each time they got better, loosened up a bit more, and that’s when I started to get the Christmas Camp feel. There was one specific moment in the performance that I love. Each of the 6-9 year-olds bounces up and down, while pumping one arm in the air, and then switches to the other arm and bounces again. They were smiling, looking around to see if they were doing the right thing, and each bouncing at different times - almost none of them with the beat. It was completely adorable.

In the short breaks between performances, the kids would have fun running around, climbing on us, and taking pictures with our phones (which we did not unlock or teach them), or just tearing off in small groups for a couple minutes. The kids all supported one another, and some of the younger kids would hide along the wall and try to learn the older kids’ dances. 

   The room cleared, and some belongings in place for                             the sleep over.

   The room cleared, and some belongings in place for                             the sleep over.

As the sun went down, the energy and excitement of the children continued to grow in the room, and inside me. An excitement that hearkened back to my own childhood feelings associated with attending lock-ins, rehearsing for a theatre performance, high school band camp, or even performing with the “B Naturals” - my high school a capella choir (did I just let both those cats out of the bag?) - well I guess it’s fine, we were aca-awesome!

Well, we didn’t go back to our scheduled internet programming. Instead we spent the rest of the evening with the kids. 

    I love it so much! Papaya salad to arrive shortly!

    I love it so much! Papaya salad to arrive shortly!

Sister Pranee arrived and we sat on the ground with her and the“camp counselors”, and just chatted while we ate one of my favorite meals - sticky rice, fried chicken legs, and papaya salad. Just as Susan and I exclaimed, “Paw Lay-Ow” (enough), another dish of chicken showed up so we forced down one more leg with some rice. We had a short break after dinner, and then we were really in the thick of things.

One of the young adults we hang out with on Sunday evenings kinda waved us over, and without hesitating we were on either end of the older kids as the next dance started. We had not noticed before we started dancing, but the performance is a Christmas Zumba routine. We did the dance back-to-back-to-back, and finished out of breath and regretting that last piece of chicken. Can you picture it? TheFreunds, partying down doing Zumba on a Saturday night with 6 young adults from 13-16; we officially know how to party! 

Like I said, just one of those unexpected days that turns out be be amazing. But it almost didn’t happen because we almost did not open ourselves up to it. That is another lesson I am learning this year. I have never shied away from new experiences or adventures, but sometimes I am too busy. So busy that I am not open to recognizing when there is joy, often simple joy, to be had right in front of me. As I try to block out stress or anxiety, I close the blinds on the invitation to joy too. 

This is a day that I will remember for the rest of my life. I had a lot more to say here, but I don't want to bring this down too much. My hope is that some essence or specific piece of that day will also remain in the memories of the kids we were with, and helps them through a rough patch in their future. Of course, I hope that they spread the Christmas spirit throughout their community as well. Christmas seems to be a magical time around here too.

Oh, and for those of you who will not be attending the concert, I have embedded my first video so you can watch it! Make sure you imagine Susan and me with those 6 lean Thai kids who range in height from about 4’8” to 6’0”!! I am so thankful for all those kids right now!

Travel Safely, try to Love your Neighbors, and have a Merry Christmas!

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