Firsts and Lasts

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I can’t quite believe I’m walking into my final term at university. At this time, lots of people are thinking about things they will be doing for the last time. I plan on spending the term cramming in all the things I haven’t done in the last two and a half years. While this may be my last term, it will be one of firsts.

From rapping, yes rapping, at a Christian conference last weekend to buying red apples this week, I’m already doing things I never thought I’d do and I’m sure there are still plenty more things to try that I haven’t even thought of yet. I don’t want to rule things out just because it’s my last term as a student. Yes,this term may feel like work, work, work with more words due in than I actually know but that doesn’t mean it has to be all finishing off and saying goodbye. With so many things explored over the past couple of years, there are still so many things to do and do for the first time. There are still so many coffee shops and restaurants that need trying, meerkats in the local park that need visiting. Some of the most exciting things I’ve been able to do have all started as a joke or far off dreams I never imagined actually occurring. Putting on a carol service in a castle for example. I also got the opportunity to share part of my university testimony for the first time this weekend which was amazing. As much of a bruised reed or smouldering wick that I am, it was such an answer to prayer. This incidentally was the same weekend I also performed my first ‘solo’ with OneSound. It was a song we knew well and starts with a beautiful slow solo voice. They of course had someone in place for this as we sound checked for the performance but it turns out this song also has a rap… And so, with a ribbon in my hair and juice box in hand, for the first time, I became the most street in Scarborough Spa pavilion.

One week into term and there are already always new things to try. A lot of these are definitely best kept as a one hit wonder as recently discovered, but who knows what else you might discover? I realised I had joined a new society every year at university. This year: Ballroom. This might sound crazy but after my recent Strictly experience, for one week and one week only I have joined the ballroom dancing society. And, one thing I haven’t yet done at university? Roses. According to some semi-reliable guys on the internet, Roses is the largest inter-university sports tournament in Europe including over 50 sports, held between Lancaster University and the University of York, all stemming from the War of the Roses hundreds of years ago. And now somehow, due to lack of partners, naive optimism and a small amount of  peer pressure, I have found myself on the road to Roses. I realised a few days ago that I hadn’t actually dabbled in ballroom at all and much like the jive, it’s a lot harder than it looks. However I now have a few days to learn to waltz, cha cha, charleston and jive my way to York to tick off one more thing on the university checklist and if nothing else, as with my summary of most things this year, it’ll be banter at least.

Thankfully I have the privilege of being back up in this neck of the woods next year but for now, it seems there are still many things to be having fun with. I want to go to the beach, BBQ in the park, visit Blackpool tower. I may soon be saying goodbye to studenthood but I’m happy to be saying hello to a whole host of other things 🙂

 

Running the Race

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‘So, have you got any plans for next year yet?’ Yes. Yes, I have and I can’t wait. This time last year I had literally no idea what I would be doing after I graduate, a theme that continued throughout a lot of this year, but I can now say I have a plan and it’s a plan I’m very excited about. I’m going to be a Relay worker.

Relay is a training year of studying and working with a Christian Union at university, with the organisation UCCF. I thought about this for a long time, asking more questions than I thought were possible wondering if this is what I want to do, but once I knew, I didn’t really look for anything else. There are many reasons why I want to do Relay, more than I can list here but one in particular. On Sunday we asked the children in our church kids group what their biggest fears were. Among spiders, insects, heights, clowns and black holes, one eight-year-old said walking away from God. At eight years old, this boy knew the importance and joy of walking with God, something I want to know more of. As I walked into my interview I was very scared but the news that came that evening was very exciting and I feel like this may be the theme for this year and here’s why.

This is a year of discipleship training, I’m going to be trained for a year in following Jesus. I will have the opportunity to study not only the Bible but also an area of ministry of my choice. I will also be accountable to a supervisor for the year, helping me in my walk with God, or to use that wonderfully church phrase ‘do life together’. Again, cards on the table, this sounded mildly terrifying but basically, this just means there is someone who cares enough to invest a year of their life in me supporting me and helping me get closer to Jesus. What a privilege that is.

It is also a self funded year, or more precisely, funded by the generosity of others. Again, this sounds fearfully daunting. But this is also a year where I get to see God’s provision for myself.  A chance to really grow in my trust, learn to depend on God and experience his blessings first hand. I’m not saying it will by any means be easy but I am confident it will help me grow in faith and really, what more could I ask for?

I will be part of an incredible team sharing in God’s great mission and helping other people do the same, living out the best message going. I have no doubt there will be many fun times times ahead, whether it’s melting more toasters, ‘stealing’ more furniture from McDonald’s or setting anything else on fire, banter levels will definitely be high. That is the fellowship of God’s unending blessings. And the best part is, just like the beauty of the recent baptism services, I get to spend a year seeing more people come closer to Jesus, whether that’s in the middle of some field on a rainy day or in the middle of the night after a few drinks, I get to be a part of that. I get to help people experience the joy that is living in grace. Some would even say relay-ing that joy.

And that’s why, in a nutshell, I didn’t really look for anything else. Why I couldn’t sleep the night I found out and why I woke up at 5am ready for the day the next morning because that morning I was going to be a Relay worker and, as scary as it may be, I can’t wait.

Year plan: Relay. Life plan: Love Jesus more 🙂

Double Dunking

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To God be the glory, great things he hath done,
So loved he the world that He gave us his son
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life gate that all may go in.

Oh perfect redemption, the purchase of blood,
To every believer the promise of God
The vilest offender who truly believes
That moment from Jesus, a pardon receives

I’m writing this because I can’t quite contain my joy to the few lines of my diary. I’ve said many times that I love weddings but there is another service that I would argue is equally exciting and that’s baptisms. Last night I got to witness sixteen people, yes sixteen, declare their faith and get baptised and/or confirmed across two services. I actually had a clash of baptisms meaning I had to run across town 27 Dresses style but what a happy clash it was to have. Watching your friends get baptised really is incredible.

I got to hear so many testimonies too. It’s always exciting to hear how your friends came to Jesus. There were testimonies of people going through every kind of hardship imaginable, truly incredible miracles, persecution to stories of groundbreaking salvation just in the seemingly everyday.  Stories that make you stand back and just think, how is that even possible? to stories that make you think that could be me! It was also so great to be able to support friends that had overcome personal obstacles just to actually get baptised and share it with people. Friends that I had seen come to faith without even realising it.

Whether stood right next to the pool as friends got baptised or having to stand up on the balcony of an absolutely packed out church, people cheering and applauding, the whole family was celebrating. It made me think back to my own confirmation. I can’t tell you when I became a Christian because I don’t know. I don’t know when I was saved but when I was about twelve I made a commitment to follow Jesus. I might not have known exactly what it entailed or even the magnitude of what it was all about but it’s a commitment I stand by. A while ago I wanted to follow Jesus because it was easy and it was fun. I have since learnt two things: 1. it is not always easy and it is not always fun. 2. it is still always worth it. This is a commitment I haven’t turned back on and don’t plan on either and it was simply amazing to share that same feeling with everyone on Sunday. Simply knowing that no matter who you are, even the vilest offender, can be put right with God and join the celebration.

Both services were just overflowing with hope, there was a real sense of eternal glory all around, singing your heart out knowing this joy and excitement is something that will last forever. Right there, together, we were Kingdom building and I got to be a part of it. I can’t think of many things more exciting than literally seeing God’s family grow knowing you will get to share it forever, it definitely puts some of the things in this world into perspective. I was just so happy I couldn’t contain it, from beginning to end I just couldn’t stop the smile bursting. I often get very scared talking to people about Jesus but looking around, if this is the Kingdom I’m inviting them too, this hands-in-the-air, tears-in-the-eye joy, why wouldn’t I?

The Bible tells us to repent because the Kingdom of God is near (Matt 3:2, Matt 4:17, Mark 1:15). I used to think this meant say sorry quick because we never know when God is coming back and it could be soon. Not quite. Turn around and see the Kingdom here on earth. This weekend I got to taste and see a little glimpse of the Kingdom and it was great.

We often sing a song with a very simple bridge, but if it is true, it changes everything:

I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.
The Cross before me, the world behind me, no turning back, no turning back.

This right here, is the Kingdom I want to be a part of, it’s joy beyond understanding 🙂

Strictly Special

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I’m a big fan of Strictly Come Dancing. Call me an old woman but that is how I like to spend my autumnal Saturday nights; getting far too emotionally invested in a group of lesser known celebrities being paired up and learning to dance. Unashamedly, something I’ve dreamed of doing since I started watching it as a very small child. Not because I think I’m a particularly good dancer but what young girl doesn’t want to make a new friend, be dressed up in sequins and twirled around a dance floor?

However, it turns out, like a lot of things, it’s probably not always quite how it looks on the telly. Our university run a Lancaster does Strictly Come Dancing as part of an annual Charity Showcase where people with no idea what they’re doing are paired up with members of the Ballroom Dancing Society for a one night and one night only Strictly extravaganza. This year, my friends from the Christian Union nominated me. It’s harder than it looks.

Meeting back in November for the first time, my partner and I decided to try our hands (and feet) at the jive. Looking back over my diary from that time my progress reads something a little like this:

9th November:
Donald Trump was elected president today, but I met my Strictly partner – it was like going on a blind date.

16th November:
First jive rehearsal today for Strictly, I have to spin round 8 times so quickly I fall over every time.

10th December:
Ben elbowed me in the face but I stood on his foot so I guess it’s fair game.

12th January:
Took me and my housemate half an hour and internet assistance to work out how to put my Latin shoes on today.

24th January:
Finally got from beginning to end of the jive.

27th January:
Pulled a muscle I didn’t even know I had and have anonymous bruises everywhere, swear this jive is going to kill me.

1st February:
Friends came to watch me jive in rehearsal today – turns out Ben can’t cartwheel.

8th February:
Got the expert ballroom opinion from other pros in jive rehearsal today and got to watch their pro waltz and a Strictly Cha Cha Cha – not long to go now!

9th February:
I feel slightly like I’ve been run over by a heard of rhinos after our last jive rehearsal today.

We may have only had one dance to learn but it was a challenge, particularly learning to cartwheel in heels. Dancing to You Can’t Stop the Beat, from the fantastic Hairspray, the choreography was insanely quick and more than once I ended up on the floor in rehearsals. Nearly every time my partner showed me what we were doing next I simply thought I will never be able to do that. But we persevered. My partner was 10/10 and I had the most amazing time. Choreography; ace, teaching; so encouraging, banter; top notch, results; we’ll see. Can’t thank him enough. After being filled with dread and fear, particularly in the lead up to the night itself, we had so many laughs and it was always so much fun. We were all in it together, meeting other ballroom couples, giving us tips, all just having a great time, stumbling along learning to dance (at least in my case).Maybe it was just the idea of doing something new; even through the busyness of CU events, music commitments and university deadlines, jive o’clock was always the highlight of my week just going and trying something completely different. One thing I can say I did with my time at university, I learnt to jive and I’m proud. New experiences, new friends, new bruises and yes, I did get a new love for dancing – fab-u-lous.

It was really incredible, and as absolutely terrified as I was, I’m so glad I did it, just remember, keeeep dancing. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so nervous in my life than I was on that morning but the atmosphere and buzz on the night was so great. Support from everyone else involved, audience cheering, friends all gathered in the bar watching the live stream, getting to see all the other dances. We got (relatively) dolled up, my partner and I 50s style, and gave it all we had.

10th February:
STRICTLY SHOWCASE! This is it! SO much fun, loved every minute – Amazing! Really going to miss this ! And our jive was only 1 mark of first place in judges scores with 9 9 8 – Can’t believe it. 😀

New Year New Me

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New Year, New Me; it’s probably something we’ve heard a lot, if not even said. But, as the first month draws to a close, how many of these New Year’s resolutions are still going? A few of my friends came back after Christmas eating what seemed like only boiled eggs and avocado and I was greatly disappointed when offered pancakes to find out these were made with oats and protein powder. Me; I ate three Krispy Kreme donoughts in one day. I didn’t really make any New Year’s resolutions this year other than vague ambitions of sending more cards and actually doing something after I hopefully graduate. My friend told me though that you should only have two resolutions: To love God and to love the person in front of you. It seems pretty obvious given they’re commandments we’ve heard before but it’s still just about January and it’s already a challenge.

We’ll start with what seems like the easier of the two. We know generally that we should love everyone because God loves everyone and that we should treat everyone as we would want to be treated. But the truth is, we interact with particular people, certain people were put in our lives. When we’re faced with the crippling words of a ‘group presentation’, when someone finishes the milk and doesn’t replace it, when we’re faced with judgement from someone who only knows half the story or when someone close to us tries to hurt us, do we really love the person that’s been put right in front of us? The hard part is knowing that treating everyone equally does not meant treating everyone the same, loving everyone may mean loving everyone differently. It’s been a challenge, it’s meant staying up until 6am in A&E when I wasn’t really up for it and standing aside as someone presented a lot of my own ideas. It even meant skipping breakfast to watch someone taking the last slice of Domino’s pizza in front of me at lunch. It’s also involved apologising when people have hurt me and there are still so many times I’ve failed but it’s a challenge worth taking and a happier year because of it.

The second one seems harder, less tangible, less practical. But the good thing is, it’s really only one resolution. If you’re learning to love others, you’re learning to love God and if you really love God, you’ll want to love others.  It can be hard to find time when you feel under pressure but thankfully I know someone who never thinks I’m not good enough with out making a ‘new me’, the one person who’s opinion stands the test of time and who has a standard of perfection. Even when you have the time it can still prove difficult just to spend time with God. Me and a friend thought we’d go and make use of an hour in the 24/7 prayer room at church, a perfect opportunity you might think, but even then we somehow managed to find ourselves locked in between the two sets of double doors on the way out of the prayer room, the only ones at the church at that time on a Friday night. Don’t get me wrong, the church had put in place many precautions to make sure this doesn’t happen, it takes real talent. But even our futile attempts are worth it. Lots of people go to university with the intention of getting a first or a partner or even a marriage prospect. I may not graduate this year with a first and a boyfriend but I will be graduating with a whole lot more and never once have I regretted that, not even the three Krispy Kreme donoughts. I only hope that this year, I can keep this resolution of aiming to love God and love the person in front of me. 🙂

 

A University Christmas

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These last couple of weeks have marked my last university Christmas and what a joy it has been to share it with friends without being flooded out and sent home.

A big part of university is about learning and mostly from mistakes. But you know what they say, if at first you don’t succeed…. That’s why, this year, we brought Carols in the Castle back. We may have been flooded out last year by storm Desmond and lost all power but we weren’t going to lose heart mostly because we knew that no matter what had happened and what was going to happen, we certainly weren’t doing it alone. We were again stepping out in faith having doubled our budget and hired external companies to sort things out for us. Sadly, even with so much provision, it is still so easy to miss the blessings and get caught up in silly things. Somehow, no matter how many incidents of answered prayer you may experience, it is always easy to worry and doubt with little breakdowns and panic attacks when drowning under risk assessments, management plans and hundreds of copies of insurance. And all because you don’t make time for the important things and I’m not talking about sleeping and eating. Sometimes when it’s the night before and you have less than a third of the refreshments you need or you have to confirm the number of pencils you own, you can even start to doubt if it will even be worth it.

But I can assure you than God can use and multiply anything and every effort will be accepted. It baffles me how I can continue to doubt when 2 weeks before the event we were 2 grand down with 2 grand to go on our fundraising and yet less than a week later, after a lot of prayer, we were just £155 short, exceeding our target by the event itself. Or when, on the day, everything that needs setting up arrives, on average, three hours late and yet still gets all set up in time with minimal stress just one hour before showtime. But God is so good, we were definitely blessed far beyond what we ever could have prayed for. Light had gone with the evening, the cobbled drive was lined with lanterns up to the gate, the courtyard filled with the glow of fairy lights. Four choirs and a brass band all ready to bring Christmas cheer. Shortly after, as the service began, I turned around and the place was packed. I couldn’t believe it. Roughly 776 people had flooded in and stayed, standing in the open air for the service and four of them travelling approximately six hours each way for a surprise visit, my family. That’s 776 people that stood and heard the gospel that night and came one step closer to reason we all celebrate and I remembered it was far more than worth it. For once, I simply stood, belting out my favourite carols surrounded by the ones I love. It really was just a perfect evening.

Just a couple of days later I joined with my friends for a full three course Christmas meal in a posh hotel with all the trimmings. All dressed up to the nines and all the bangers in a classic disco. Once again, a fantastic night. On a quieter note, my friends and I trawled the Christmas market and we had five in a bed watching one of my all time favourite Christmas films with some of my favourite people. We ended the term with our big music society Christmas concert (and strangely enough, my first one in all three years) accompanied by the beautiful acoustics of the cathedral before the slightly less tuneful and dulcet tones of our annual caroling bar crawl at which few people play their own intended instruments but have great fun doing so. Finally, a last and classy night of tapas and cocktails to say goodbye ending on yet another truly fantastic evening, dancing late into the night. It’s the season to be jolly and I’m going to miss this bunch. I really do love Christmas. 🙂

 

About Time

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Sometimes, it can feel like it’s all go go go with little idea of where we’re actually going. Like we’re plowing full steam ahead with little real direction and there comes a point (or many points) in life when it’s ‘about time’. It’s about time you properly started your dissertation. It’s about time you stop hitting delete on every careers email before reading it. It’s about time you realise you’re at university to do a degree. It’s about time you stop eating peanut butter from the jar and go and do something with your life. I could go on.

As I final year university student, I have had to come to terms with saying goodbye to some truly treasured things in my life recently and quite frankly, emails, posters and articles entitled ‘Hello future!’ do little to rectify this. So, as a small tribute to what has passed, here are my top three, lest we forget.

A cozy cafe. Now sadly, this is one I actually rarely got round to visiting as much as I would have liked which makes it all the more traumatic now it’s gone. This particular cafe was called the Novel Cafe. As a literature student, I appreciated this very much. It was a cute and cozy little place in the centre of town with second hand books to borrow and exchange, full of people just reading, chatting and drinking tea. It was also the first cafe I went to on first visiting the town before coming to university deciding (optimistically) that I would go here all the time to read before immediately losing said cafe on arrival at university. To my excitement I then rediscovered it last year only to find that this year, it has closed down. It will forever be somewhere I wish I had visited more.

A pub. As a student, everyone has their go to favourite pub. For us, this was a small quirky little place with live jazz music, drunk locals and a table of questionable free food. Many times we would be sat upstairs on the brightly coloured, slightly threadbare and hazardously wonky armchairs until late into the night with an odd collection of old books and instruments hidden behind and under sofas. There were often tipsy locals singing in the corner and there was rarely a time we went and didn’t ourselves break into song, often with whoever was in the pub at the time with some kind of unspecified string instrument but there’s no denying it had character. At the end of its life, we all went for a final night of fun before the bell rang and it closed for the last time and we all walked down the street singing loudly to commemorate the good times.

Finally, and I’m sure many will join me in the mourning of this one, the Bake Off. I know there will be some smart people out there who say it hasn’t really gone, but let’s be honest, we have lost the pure, unadulterated innocence of the Great British Bake Off. I’ve seen some of the things on channel 4 and the beauty of Bake Off has no place fraternizing with the likes of that. It has taken a long time to come to terms with it but they do say all good things must come to and end. I’m still not convinced and don’t even get me started on Len leaving Strictly Come Dancing. What will our dreary autumn terms be like without the dream team of Mary Berry and Len Goodman?

There are times to say goodbye but there are also many times to say hello to new things. I have recently come to the conclusion that I probably do too much and still regularly forget I have a degree to do, so naturally in the spirit of saying hello to new things, I’ve decided to learn how to jive. I may have to spin round 8 times so quickly that I fall over but sometimes you have to ask yourself ‘why not?’

It’s about time I started thinking about things but I’m not going to give up the things I love to do so, or start applying for things just because they’re what everyone else is doing. I went to a Halloween party this year where everyone was adorned with latex scars and gory masks, I wasn’t a big fan of the whole scary theme so I went as Where’s Wally and sang Disney songs late into the night; it’s about making every opportunity your own.

Every day another friend comes up to me with a big career offer they’ve landed but I went on a weekend away last week and was reminded we have a future so much greater than that. One that no matter how much changes at the end of this year, will remain the same. We also went on a mountain walk in the Cumbrian countryside. It was completely covered in full thick snow and yet the skies behind were blue and the sun was shining. Someone said to me it was sad how now people just don’t appreciate the beauty of these things because I’m really not sure I have ever seen a view so beautiful and just like all those Romantic poets I realised how insignificant all our plans are in the grand scheme of things. No matter how much you looked on the view, there really was no way of taking it all in or capturing the awesomeness of it all. We had snowball fights, slid down the hill and wrote our names in the snow. That night we stayed up telling each other stories and laughing constantly until we cried. And once again, it’s the simple things, the things that are quite simply out of our control that often bring the most joy and it’s about time I started appreciating that 🙂