So, I’ve been a Relay Worker for about a month now and although one suitcase might be a slight exaggeration now, that is what I started with.
It all started with a couple of conferences late August up in sunny Shropshire. This was a wonderful time of meeting all the other Relay Workers, having an awful lot of fun and some really incredible teaching. We spent the week unearthing some wonderful truths, going deeper into our love for the Lord and experiencing grace like never before. But that doesn’t mean it was easy. I was so deeply challenged with how inadequate I felt about the week ahead that at times I just didn’t know how I could do it. Then I realised that the reason I felt so completely inadequate is quite frankly because I am and I’m quite happy with that.
Let me explain. The world is constantly telling us that we deserve to be loved. Be yourself, believe in yourself and don’t worry about anyone else because in the words of L’Oreál, you’re worth it. You deserve to be loved regardless of whether you are or not. And it’s wonderfully attractive, to be deserving. But isn’t it so much better to be loved whether you deserve it or not? In fact to be loved even when you know you don’t. And if I needed any assurance that I couldn’t do it on my own, the first day of actually working with students after the first conference, I was exhausted. Really exhausted and by the end of the day, I had cried. Not from uncontrollable laughter like the week before but really cried. You know you can’t be looking your best when a staff worker stops you in the middle of a field and offers to pray for you. I can almost guarantee that by the end of reading this, you’ll be left in no doubt of my inadequacy, I’m just hoping you’ll also see I am not alone.
After our first conference getting to know all the other Relay Workers, we were joined by about one and a half thousand students, worshipping, playing and learning together. It was fantastic. And of course, as soon as students arrive and people started camping, the rain inevitably set in. On the first night, I was working on the Relay Café which was a lot of fun, in fact one of my highlights of the week, being back with my new Relay pals serving coffee to students and staff. Well, that was until I asked one smiley Staff Worker if they would like a coffee who quickly responded saying they would like a decaff soya latte with sugar-free vanilla syrup. So no, you would not like a coffee. We are stood in a field in a very small, unknown corner of the world somewhere between England and Wales late on a rainy evening, you would not like a caffeine-free, lacto-free, sugar-free coffee.
On the last night (after a fabulous silent disco featuring both Shine Jesus Shine and sound bites of 2 Corinthians from our key speaker and of course filling our own staff worker’s car with balloons and wrapping it in cling film) me and a few of the other Relay Workers decided to take a little midnight stroll to the nearby river. I’m pretty sure we were all still absolutely exhausted at this point but it was the last night and with port and chilli olives, how could you say no? I mean, how middle class is that? I say that as the one that went in a giraffe onesie and so unlike a couple of others, I didn’t join in with the open water swim. But it was fantastic, not least because there were just so many stars. But that was all before I realised that our region was on clearing up the site after the conference the following day. I think it’s fair to say, I was least helpful person on the field that day, barely present in body, definitely not in mind.
After that, exhaustion didn’t cut what I felt. So, after a few minor miscommunications in housing, I went back up to Lancaster and well and truly crashed at a friend’s that night. That was before I moved to a wonderful house out in the countryside with an amazing lady from church. I’m talking countryside walks, hours of reading and freshly baked bread each day. I could see farms and cows, I could hear roosters and rivers. I couldn’t see another house out of my window, in fact when I did look up from my book, I could see shepherds and border collies rounding sheep, it was like watching Countryfile out of my window. When someone came to pick me up one day, I googled directions and the recommended route was via hot air balloon. I loved it.
Then I moved into my student friend’s house, somewhere slightly closer to town, however slightly less equipped than the three bathrooms and four living rooms I had just left. I was actually the first person to move in. In a completely empty house, all bar furniture, and with only my suitcase from the conferences, it was a bit of a beg borrow and steal approach. I didn’t realise how much I took for granted in an average house; things like pillows, cutlery and cooking utensils. Heating, toilet roll and food. I decided I’d make it really easy for myself by buying all easy, no hassle food to prepare – tinned tuna for lunch, pasta and tinned tomatoes with tinned sweetcorn and (to my shame) tinned sausages for dinner each night. No tin opener. After a minor struggle, I had tuna sandwiches every day and tomato sausage pasta each night until one day I felt wild and had a sausage sandwich for lunch and tuna pasta for dinner. Then I decided to simmer down and return to routine before I got too excited. I was effectively squatting in my sleeping bag in a bed three inches of the floor attempting to batch cook in a single small pan. All I can say is things got really creative when I ended up going to a wedding with the very limited possessions I had with me. Again, you know you can’t be looking great when a friend asks if you’ll be going home to change after a look of you can’t possibly be going out like that? After a week and a half though, I had managed to accumulate a saucepan, a mug, cutlery, a plate, a tin opener, pillows and a duvet and an awful lot of books from as far reaching as Manchester. What more could you want?
Thankfully, after a series of little adventures, I was able to pop home to gather a little more than one suitcase of things before I’ll finally actually be able to move in this weekend and meet some students. I can’t wait for this year ahead and already, when I’ve felt like I’ve done nothing at all I’ve been so encouraged by some of the things the students have said. Already I’ve been used by God. I for one would pick loved and undeserving over deserving and unloved any day. I’ve been able to study and read a lot these last few weeks, but if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that the bigger my view of my sin and weakness, the bigger my view of grace and that is really, really wonderful 🙂