Wherein I am either the worst chaperone or the best one

I don’t remember the first time I decided I wanted a tattoo, but I know it’s been at least about 7 or 8 years now.

The first time I remember even coming close to following through with wanting to get one was on Spring Break in college with some of my sorority sisters. Yes I was a cliche, don’t judge me.

I didn’t follow through then because I wasn’t sure what I wanted. And I also didn’t want to get it done at some random shop in Panama City – THAT’S where I drew the line at the cliche, aren’t you proud?

The idea came to mind a few other times, more often after I finished college. I even knew what I wanted and where I wanted it. A fleur de lis, on my foot.

So I did some trial runs. Temporary tattoos (especially ones at football games for some reason) were put on different spots on my foot and I thought about what I would get that I’d want to look at for the rest of my life.

I settled on a fleur-de-lis, because it represents the city I grew up in and love and no matter where I went it’d always remind me of home.

I talked about it once or twice with my parents, who didn’t seem too concerned either way, except for when my dad asked why I would even want one “Cause you don’t even wear a watch.” I’m still trying to figure out how those two things are related.

My aunt, who has several tattoos of her own, told me when I was ready to come up and visit, and her tattoo artist would take care of me. I kept saying OK, but never ended up following through for whatever reason.

I made a bet with my brother-in-law that I wouldn’t get addicted and want more and if I got more than one before I turned 60, I owed him like $100 bucks.

Ashley did a test run one night after a few too many drinks.

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That’s the night I decided it needed to be a LIL BIT smaller. But the artistry is beautiful.

Let’s change direction a little bit for a minute.

The first time I went to Jamaica was in 2004. I was 20 years old, about to be a junior in college and that summer changed all kinds of things.

We made several friends that summer, and, mind you, this was before Facebook and Twitter and iPhone apps that let you text overseas for free. But we kept up those friendships, when they visited us in Kentucky and then when two of us originals went back there in 2009, we made sure to see all our old friends, a few in particular.

When I had the chance to go back again this summer, I got greedy. I wanted to make sure I saw all of my friends when I was over there – even those who had moved away from Mandeville or weren’t involved with youth fellowship anymore. So before I left I sent some FB messages asking if I’d see them.

In keeping up with all of my friends from Jamaica on social media it was like we hadn’t left, like it hadn’t been a few years since we’d seen each other. I got to see Jason and Nick in Kingston and TJ showed up at our welcome dinner.

TJ is an artist. A pretty amazing one at that. And he does tattoos. That night when I saw him for like the first time in 4 years, the first thing that came to my mind was to ask him to do my tattoo – the one I’d been wanting for years but never sucked it up and gotten it done.

Because he’s awesome, he said yes, of course he’d do it and that was that.

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My kids were excited – they wanted to come watch (probably because they thought it’d hurt and wanted to see me in pain..I know how they are) and I reminded them that none of them were allowed to do anything like this while under my supervision. (That whole “do as I say not as I do thing.” I’m gonna be a great parent.) Spoiler alert – They didn’t get to come watch the process but they saw it and poked at it and freaked out about it the next morning.

Anyway, once we figured out that I’d get it done the last day I was there, I didn’t think too much more about it. It was gonna happen and I wasn’t going to change my mind. And my group asked about it every single day.

Fast forward to Sunday, July 14 – our last day in Jamaica and Tattoo Day. After helping lead the church service with our group and the group from Andrews, I said goodbye to the youth – who were going to a pool party and then their respective host’s houses to pack – and went to TJ’s to face the needle.

I didn’t get nervous until I texted him and asked if he was ready.

Then my hands got clammy and my heart did that really fast beating thing that it does when I’m anxious (or about to jump into 30-degree water).

Luckily, we pretty much got right to the tattooing as soon as I got there – gave me less time to freak out. However, it also gave me less time to change out of my dress from church, which wouldn’t have been a bad idea had the tattoo not involved putting my foot in his lap.

But anyways.

I asked for rum, which is apparently not allowed before tattooing cause it thins your blood and if you bleed it won’t stop and hold the hell up I’m gonna bleed?

I also had to pick a fleur-de-lis design. Did you all know that fleur-de-lis can look about 124,901,230 different ways? ‘Cause I didn’t.

But I settled on one and while TJ got the stencil ready I texted my sisters to let them know what I was doing. Sami was in Rome, and Rachel was on my parents’ couch talking to them, neither of us telling them what was going on.

She told me later they were trying to guess what I’d be doing that day and she had to bite her tongue cause they had no idea..

So then. On went the stencil.

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Pardon my weird-looking foot.

And then the buzzing. I think the sound is worse than the actual needle, but TJ will tell you that’s a lie because my foot twitched about 30 times while he was working. So much so that I’m kind of surprised I didn’t cause him to draw a line up to my ankle, or tear a hole in his pants leg that I was gripping with my toes.

Also, my fingerprints may or may not still be on the chair arms in Pat’s (his mom’s) living room, where this was all taking place.

But the two of them kept me calm and I managed to stop shaking enough to get some pictures.

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He told me to pick a color to fill it in with, which I completely forgot I would have to do. I went with old faithful: blue. But navy blue, not a blue people would think represented UK, ’cause that would just be awful.

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And then it was done. I lotioned it up and stared at it a lot. And thought that for all my over-reacting and twitching it wasn’t that painful.

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I don’t know what it was that made me decide that this was the time I’d actually go through with getting it done (I have an idea though) but I’m glad I did.

It means a lot that it was done in a place I love, by a person I care about, during a week I’ll always remember. And that’s alright by me.

Besides the design meaning Louisville, it now has even more meaning because of where and when and who was involved. But yes. It means a lot. And it looks really good. And I checked it off my list. Oh, also it was done while I was chaperoning a church trip with teenagers and allegedly I was “in charge.” So. There’s that.

And, yes, I already know what and where the next one will be. I’ve already alerted my tattoo artist…

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Best Week Ever. Greatest Hits.

I’m just about done telling/showing you about the Jamaica trip. Except for one more thing to tell you about later that’s such a big deal it gets its own post. And here’s a hint: It involves crossing something off my List.

But that’s for another time.

I took almost 1000 pictures that week. Well personally I probably took about 600. I gave my camera to kids/Jordon a whole lot.

I’ve shown you several, and none really do the week or the relationships we have with our friends there any justice.

But these are my absolute favorites from the trip. Please enjoy.
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Best Week Ever. Part 3.

The story of our week in Jamaica is one best told in pictures – for the most part – so it’s a good thing I took tons of them.

However, a good portion of the photos on my camera were taken by kids there – one in particular, named Jordon.

Jordon is a 12-year-old kid who latched onto our group the moment we got there. Throughout the week, he became kind of our mascot. He was our little favorite and was the first one I trusted to take my DSLR camera and go shoot pictures at different places we went throughout the week.

I’ll make note of the ones he took as they’re posted, but to be honest, there’s a lot of times I can’t tell which ones he took and I didn’t. The kid has an eye. And I told him to keep up with photography if his whole running thing doesn’t pan out (he’s fast though – watch out, Usain).

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Some of my favorite pictures from the week – and the majority of the time Jordon had my camera as well – are from our time in Greenvale, where we took part in street evangelism.

Street evangelism in Jamaica >>>>> street evangelism in America. ‘Cause it’s completely different. It’s focused on love, not hate. Not condemning you to hell for whatever it is you’re doing – like the “evangelists” I saw in college and see on the street corners downtown, spewing hate through a microphone at all of the sinners that pass them by.

Our street evangelism over there? Having a party in the middle of the street with music and dancing and prayer for anyone that wanted to be a part. If you didn’t? That’s alright. Because Jesus loves you, even if you don’t come down and party with us. And even if you’re the Rasta who tried to sell me weed and told me how very bright white I was.

*takes break so I don’t go on a tangent on what Christianity means to me because that’s definitely a blog post for another time*

Greenvale is also known as that place where I wanted to take all the kids home with me. On account of the adorableness. But I’m pretty sure you can’t get 30 kids through customs without some sort of documentation.

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Just an awesome day…

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And now for your viewing pleasure, the following photos, taken by Jordon.

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I may or may not have hired Jordon as my assistant. Now…to get him to Kentucky..

Best Week Ever. Part 2.

Things you would have told me 10 years ago I’d be doing and I wouldn’t have believed: Chaperoning six teenagers on an overseas trip for eight days and having one of the best times of my life in the process.

But it happened.

You see, this summer I decided to be real nice and I took these goobers with me to Jamaica.

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I was in charge of them and getting them to and from Jamaica safely and if that phrase puts fear in your heart, you are not alone, my friends.

I’ll be real honest. I didn’t know what to expect. Not that I thought anything would go wrong, or I’d have any problems, but I’ve always had someone there to ask how to handle something or to refer all questions to. But now I was the lone answerer of the questions. The keeper of the information. And medical release forms. And rules.

Luckily I took the best group of teenagers in the world with me and had no problems at all.

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Watching this group experience what I had twice before was amazing for me. Watching them make new friends and learn about new cultures and try new foods and live without WiFi for hours at a time.. there were times I just sat there and smiled, glad that I could be a part of a week I know they won’t forget.

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I didn’t always know that I wanted to work with teenagers, that I wanted to work with a youth group. But now I can’t really imagine not doing it.

And it doesn’t hurt that the youth I work with are the best ones on this planet, either.

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I tease and call them my babies sometimes because I feel like i have to take care of all of them. And I got it right back on this trip, when they called me “Mom” at various times. But that’s fine. I did have a Mom Bag.

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And later, when we got home and I watched them share their experiences with others and heard about what that week had meant to them, well yeah. I was Mom all over again. All proud of my little ones for who they are and what they’d done and the love they’d shown each other and our friends – new and old – in Jamaica.

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OK enough mushy stuff. More pictures.

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Awesome week, awesome-er company. Couldn’t have asked for a better group.

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Best Week Ever. Part 1.

This summer, for the third time in 10 years, I’ve gotten to take a trip to my happy place.

You see, in 2004, our youth group got the chance to visit with our sister church in Mandeville, Jamaica. We gained some awesome friendships (more about that later) and a home away from home that we couldn’t wait to return to.

Fast-forward to 2009, when I went back, this time not as a “youth” but as a “chaperone.” I’m going to go ahead and leave that one in quotes because I still don’t believe I should be in charge of anything ever. But people keep asking me to be…

This exchange – us going to Jamaica and our friends coming here – started because of an amazing youth leader/associate pastor we’ve had for the past 10 years.

Earlier this year, we had the unfortunate and gut-wrenching task of saying goodbye to her as she moved on from the church and myself and two other young adults tried desperately to keep our heads above water and come even the slightest bit close to filling one of the toes of those shoes.

One big thing to contend with in her absence was this exchange program. For the first time, it fell on me to get it all together. Again – why am I in charge of things? I’m not old enough to be. Definitely not mature enough.

Long story short, because of the amazing foundation she’d built and all she’d prepared for us within the church, the trip this summer went off without a hitch.

I went to Jamaica for the third time this summer and have it on good authority that that makes me officially Jamaican.

Along with me this time were six of my youth group babies (aka my high schoolers) and, for part of the week, our pastor.

I’ve got so much to tell you about this trip but you’re 300 words in now so I’ll give you a break until next time. For now, look at just a few of the pictures I took. (Don’t worry you’ll get more later.)

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I filled up my memory card that week, you guys. That’s like 1,000 pictures.

I’m tellin’ ya. Happy place. Stay tuned.

day 06 – a song that reminds you of somewhere

I like where I live, and with the exception of college and the couple years after I graduated, I’ve always lived here, in Louisville.

If I had to live anywhere else? There’s a very good chance it’d be Mandeville, Jamaica.

So when I got to the sixth day of this 30 Day Song Challenge, I knew the perfect song to choose.

Day 6 – Song that reminds you of somewhere.

I’ve been to Jamaica twice. And the scenery, the people and the feeling I get when I’m there are like nothing I’ve ever found anywhere else. When I’m there, I’m happy. I mean, I’m happy here, of course, but things are different there. It’s hard to explain.

I have so many good memories from my trips to Jamaica.

And that’s what this song reminds me of.

A little backstory? This last time we went – in 2009 – we spent a lot of time on a bus, going to various tourist spots, church activities and to our respective homes each night. We listened to the same CD pretty much every time and by the end of the week – much to the dismay of a couple of the chaperones (not Sara or me, we loved it) the American contingent of the passenger group had learned all the words to a song our Jamaican friends already knew well.

Those trips bring us together. We share experiences and those bus rides were just part of them.

And it never fails to make me smile when I think of all of us, our church group and our Jamaican family, singing this song every single day, sometimes to each other, sometimes as we looked out the window and took it all in and wished a week was a lot longer.

Jah Cure, “Call on Me.” A song that will forever remind me of an amazing country and the equally amazing people I met there.

P.S. Missed the first five days? No worries. Day 1. Day 2. Day 3. Day 4. Day 5.

Jamaica, land I love/A new perspective

For the second time, I went with a group from my church to one of my favorite places in the world: Mandeville, Jamaica. This year, I’ve begun working with the church’s youth group as a youth leader and when they needed chaperones, I signed up. I definitely wanted to be a part of the trip.

You see, when I went to Jamaica the first time, in 2004, it was with a group of “young adults” (they called us) that I’d grown up in the youth group with. We had a great week – grew closer as a group and met some amazing people while we were there. We formed friendships that have continued to grow. Like last year, when a group from our sister church – Andrews United – came to Kentucky to visit. We reconnected with the friends we’d made before, and made a few new ones.

The friendships weren’t all that made me want to go on the trip though. I wanted to be there for the youth. I remember the effect the trip had on me the first time. I was touched by the connections I made with some of the kids over there – during the church’s VBS and when we visited an orphanage, Mt. Olivet Boys’ Home. At the end of the week that first time, as we all sat around reflecting on the week and saying things we had seen in each other, learned about each other, we all started to cry. It was an experience we didn’t want to end. This year, working with a group of young people, I wanted them to have the same experience. I wanted them to learn about each other, grow in their friendships and fellowship and see what we’d seen the first time.

So on July 6, we boarded a plane for what we didn’t know would be the best week of pretty much all of our lives. I had forgotten how beautiful a country Jamaica is. When we landed everything was greens and blues. The ocean was clear blue and there were trees everywhere you could see. During the week we worked with the kids at Vacation Bible School. I got my hair “braided” – which was more like twisting and pulling, but it was 3- to 6-year-olds, what do you expect? I got a lot of hugs, hand-holding and so many people wanted to touch my hair.

We visited Mt. Olivet Boys’ Home again. As I helped a 7-year-old boy named Ricardo decorate a doorknob hanger with all kinds of different stickers, I wondered how it could even be possible for a parent to give up a child, to not love a child, especially these children, so polite, so cute, so full of love and happiness, though they didn’t have many of the things we in America do and take for granted. Ricardo just wanted me to go swing with him, which I unfortunately couldn’t do. But as we got ready to leave, he came and sat with me for a few minutes. He sat on my lap and played with the bracelet I was wearing, one our Jamaican friends had given me with my name on it. He asked if he could have it. I had another bracelet on, one I’d gotten during our last youth trip, in January to a youth conference in Disney World. It represents one.org and the One campaign. I took it off my wrist and gave it to my new friend. Then I gave him a hug and we left. I know I’ll probably never see him again, but I hope he knows that he’s in my heart forever. The next day, when we reflected on the trip to the boys’ home during our devotional, I couldn’t help but cry. I can’t understand why someone would give up a child…but also, I thanked God that these boys had a place to live, where they are cared for and get water, and food, and shelter and love.

We visited a Seniors Home. We led worship. We played games – soccer, Little Sally Walker, Look Up Look Down. We sang and danced together. We became a family.

The youth at Andrews welcomed us with open arms. Everyone was a friend. Our group and their group grew in friendship and fellowship and faith throughout the week together and we all formed bonds that will last a long, long time. And on the last night, just as it had happened the last night of the 2004 trip, as we all sat together and reflected on the week, everyone (except the boys) began to cry. No one wanted to leave. We’d had the best experience of our lives and couldn’t imagine going home and being without this place, these people every day.

I saw these youth learn more about each other, about themselves, about their relationship with God. One of our girls suggested a group prayer and moment of silence after we saw a young boy who’d been in a wreck. Another suggested – in our last moments as a group before we got back to our families, just off the plane – that we hold hands in a circle and pray, that we thank God for the trip and for safe travels. It was an amazing week and one that can’t be replicated. I just hope that what everyone got from the trip has stuck with them and will continue to for years to come.

Jamaica has a phrase that I always come back to – “No problem.” I say it a lot, usually instead of “You’re welcome.” But now, it means something different to me. You see, before the Jamaica trip, my car broke down. It got fixed for free though. Then, the night before I left, my computer crashed. I can still save all my photos and anything saved on the hard drive. At the time, I was so upset, so mad, so victimized: “Why does this always happen to me?”

I’m not a pessimist, but I’ve tended to look at the bad more than the good. I focus on the problem and not the solution. I see this bad thing that’s happened and don’t see any positive coming out of it. But that’s changed. I can’t tell you exactly when it happened, but since I’ve been back from my two-week vacation/time off, I’ve made some changes to how I perceive things. I think more positively now. Something goes wrong, oh well. Could be worse. Or – how can I fix that? Little stupid things I used to worry and stress about are no more.

Everything happens for a reason.

God won’t give me anything I can’t handle and it all makes sense now. There’s no need to get stressed and worried about the little things. Or sometimes the big things. Yeah, my car was messed up, but instead of having to pay $3,000 for a new fuel pump, I got it for free because it was a recall. Yeah, my computer’s fried. But I can save all that’s on it, and I still have my work laptop I can use at home.

Someone said to me once something like, “positive things happen to you if you think positively.” I actually think I’ve mentioned it in a previous post. But it’s so true. I’ve seen some changes since I’ve started thinking more happy thoughts. And why not think positively? You’ll be miserable if you don’t.

I’ve said for a while I want to be happy. I haven’t been really, truly happy in a while and now I’m convinced it’s because of how I was thinking and reacting to things. Of course I’m gonna be sad if I feel like everything sucks. But it doesn’t. I’m a pretty lucky girl and I’m thankful every day for what I have and why I have it. Sure there are some things I wish were better, but everyone feels that way about something sometime. But its when you don’t let that control you that you can really be happy.

Also, a week of relaxation to clear your mind followed by a great, rewarding, fun (and a million other wonderfully descriptive words) trip to a beautiful country spent with some awesome people can’t hurt either. 🙂