This last week I have been away camping with my church family, down on a site in Evesham, Worcestershire. For those not familiar with the eccentric sub-culture of church summer camps, they entail big celebration meetings of worship and teaching, seminars, eating together, time to catch up with extended church family, lots of fun, and a week away in a tent (or a caravan if you're posh). There's a fair few different camps out there, and they all vary slightly, but the one I went to (Transform) was specifically for our network of churches in the UK, Salt & Light. [I actually just typed newtwork, which says a lot about what the last five months of my life have looked like]. Honestly, this week away, despite being in a tent, was exactly what I needed. Actually, perhaps part of what I needed was to be in a tent, out with the elements, back to basics. It was good. Mmmm.
However, one thing that is always tricky when you are camping but not 'glamping' (or, you don't have a big enough car to bring lots of equipment, or you're not a proper grown-up who has actually accrued lots of equipment) is food and drink. Nothing stays cold and fresh, so you have to live hand-to-mouth. You have to make dinner in one saucepan over a single burner. Doing the washing up feels like a task that could take weeks. Making tea can take up to half an hour (especially if your sister decides the kettle needs 1.5l of water in it to make two cups of tea).
With a single burner, a single whistling kettle, four plastic cups and a cool-box that was cool for approximately three hours of the five days we were there, my sister and I attempted to navigate the minefield that is staying caffeinated while you are camping. Friends of mine who were camping in the tent next to us revealed on the first day that they didn't have a burner or a kettle. 'How on earth are you going to drink tea?!' was my initial, outraged, response. Thankfully, surrounding us were friends who understand the need for tea, and were able to fill that essential void. But it is an important one - navigating life on much less sleep and with a lot more mental stimulation without tea is incredibly tricky.
A lovely course-mate of mine from Reading Uni gave me a most-excellent Secret Santa present last year: it's a mug that says 'Where there's tea, there's hope'. It's one of those mantras that I genuinely find reassuring. Especially when it's 5am and you only have time to put clothes on, drink a cuppa and grab a cereal bar before you drive for three hours to a building site. Or when you get home after a long week of looking for bats that aren't there. Or when you've spent a whole evening looking for jobs and not finding anything (I am glad that particular phase is over). Having a cup of tea in a comfortingly shaped mug, being sat up in your bedroom or in the living room with housemates - it means all the other stuff of life can be forgotten for a few minutes and you can relax and recharge. Mmm, warmth. Mmm, caffeine. Mmm, things are actually ok. Mmm, Hope.
Where there's tea there's HOPE.
Today at church, Jeremy spoke excellently out of Romans 5:1-11 (it's a corker, have a look). Some of the general points he made were about what each of the the aspects of the passage give us hope for. He quoted Elvis Costello (I hope I've remembered that right?) as having said in an interview that the worst thing you could do to someone was murder them. But after that, the worst thing you could do was take away their hope. It's so true - what is life without hope? How would you carry on without hope for something more? Hope for a future?
We all have hopes for our lives, and I find myself at that stage when you really think about what your hopes actually are. What kind of career am I hoping for? What kind of lifestyle do I want to have? Am I hoping for a husband and children? What things am I hoping will happen in the exciting black hole of uncertainty that sits ahead of me, that likes to call itself my future? Will I be the kind of person who grabs a home made muffin out of their Cath Kidston polka dot biscuit tin and heads to work, wearing trainers at the bottom of a skirt suit...? (OK, I may be having someone else's fantasy there...)
Actually, if I'm honest, my hopes for my life keep changing. I just don't know what it's going to look like. But, my hope for life is unchanging. 'My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly trust in Jesus' name'. This song was a favourite at Transform this week:
Where there is tea, there is hope. And where there is salvation, there is hope. And where there is love, there is hope.
And with that, I'll sign off, and pack my bags for another week of ecologising. But please don't forget that there is always hope, even if it's just where the tea is.