Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Don't Eat Any Paint

Hello everyone, 

So, I'm totally not able to sleep right now.  So, I'm going to tell you guys a story.  So, my last post I mentioned that my first step towards not being debilitatingly shy was a mission trip that I took with my church.  So, here's that story.  

Now, my church participates in this program called Group Workcamps.  This programs allows teens from all over the country to travel to underprivileged towns across America.  During the week that they are there the campers work to paint and repair houses, build wheelchair ramps and porches and otherwise help improve the homes of those who are either financially or physically unable to do it themselves.  Now, I had heard about this program for years and had always wanted to go.  I had begged my parents for years to let me go. Finally, the summer after my sophomore year they decided that I could go.  

Of course, at this point in my life, I was not exactly confident in my ability to work with people that I didn't know.  At workcamp you work in crews with complete strangers.  So naturally, I was terrified.  Add to this the fact that I had never painted a house or done any construction before and you have to wonder why I wanted to go in the first place.

I was terrified that it would end up being a repeat of the leadership conference.  I dreaded the thought of working with people from completely different states.  All I could picture was just watching everyone get along and work together while I was left mute and useless.  However, I am nothing if not stubborn.  I had begged to go, and no amount of sleepless nights beforehand were going to stop me from attending.  

So, I headed off with the rest of our group to Groton, Connecticut.  Tools packed with a note from my parents in my suitcase.  Complete with this advice courtesy of my dad: "Play nice with the other kids and don't eat any paint,"  Eating paint was the least of my worries, but I did my best to keep that in mind.  It was a pretty chaotic experience.  About 700 teenagers all milling around the crowded gym that first morning, trying to find their assigned crews.  I quickly lost sight of anyone I knew as I searched for my crew number.  Eventually, everyone found each other and we were soon bundled into vans and headed off towards our worksite.  We were responsible for painting the exterior and a few rooms inside of this gigantic two-story house.  

We were talking about how to divide up the work and the issue of ladders came up.  Obviously, in order to paint the second story there would need to be some significant work done on ladders.  They wanted to know who was comfortable with this.  There was one minor problem.  Almost everyone was afraid of heights.  I had never been on a ladder before, but I wasn't really afraid of heights, so I figured I would give it a try.  Honestly, I was desperate for anything that meant I could be useful.  I was terrified of not being able to actually help, and being useless as well as shy.  If I could do the ladder work, I would be useful and I would be involved enough that I might even be pulled into some conversations.  

And somehow, my plan worked.  We all had a common goal of finishing the house, and so it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be to talk.  That's not to say that I wasn't the quietest person there.  It was a step, not a complete solution. But, it wasn't another leadership conference.  I was able to talk to people and actually make a difference with the work I was doing.  It was an amazing change.  

I remember one moment crystal clear.  I was painting the trim on the top of the house, 40 ft in the air.  I paused for a second to look out over all the rooftops and was just struck by how beautiful the view was, and how free I felt up so high in the air.  It was like I was above all of my fears.  It was an amazing feeling.

I really feel like this was the first step in putting my awful year behind me.  I was still shy after this trip, but it just wasn't the same incapacitating feeling.  I could handle it a little better now.  And I didn't eat any paint!

The end,

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