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Six Weeks, Six Houses, One Suitcase

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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 🙂

 

 

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Con-graduations

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I recently graduated with a degree in English Literature and Creative writing, something I am so happy with. After three years of hard work, long hours in the library and the occasional late night study, I am so grateful for my ever expanding love of literature and all of the things I have learnt, but I have also graduated with so much more than a degree.

I somehow managed to end up in a new society each year trying things from photography to journalism to music to ballroom dancing. I’ve loved my degree but I’ve learnt an awful lot more than how to read. It’s been three years of embracing challenge.

I’ve realised that ‘student’ is pretty much synonymous with ‘innovative’. Whether it’s being innovative with meals when there’s limited food in the cupboard or crockery when the washing up hasn’t been done. Innovation and creativity are things every student picks up along the way with the frequent need to be independent on few resources and little money. Fancy dress is one of the key moments where initiative is required. Over the past three years, I’ve got to be a fairy, Jesse the cowgirl, puss in boots, an acrobat, a zombie, a pirate, Where’s Wally, a 20s flapper and a gingerbread man just to name a few. But with limited resources, it’s been a challenge but it’s always been fun.

Most recently, my friends and I got to dress up in silly hats and long gowns. It really was a fabulous day, with friends, family and more photos than you can shake a stick at, we could finally say, we made it. We could say that those horrendously unsociable hours in the library were worth it and celebrate all the good times that went with them. There were some people that didn’t get to see me graduate that should have done but they did get to see some of the things that really mattered along the way, the things that got me there.

Among just a few of the best moments, were coming forth in a national brass band competition, staying up all night to celebrate and then coming home to share it with all my family. The same happened when I came home and got to share the feeling of running out on stage to jive in front hundreds of people after months of practice, I can’t describe that feeling but it was amazing to see my family watch it and be a part of it too. But one of the highlights was not phoning home or even watching live recordings when I got back but standing in Lancaster Castle singing carols surrounded by my family, as I got to share one of my favourite events with them.

I’ve also had the privilege of learning an invaluable amount and growing immeasurably in faith, the one blessing and challenge that, while trying new things each year, remained constant throughout. It’s been such a joy, the fantastically encouraging people, the fantastically fun times and the fantastically inspiring challenges both being part of the Christian Union and my wonderfully welcoming church. And as incredibly proud as I was to stand with my degree certificate and shaking the Vice Chancellor’s hand, it was faith, CU and church that got me to my next adventure. I couldn’t have got there without my degree, originally my only intent on going to university but it wasn’t the only thing. Sometimes it’s the things you aren’t expecting that are equally great and exciting.

Some of my family weren’t able to see me graduate but they were the reason I did. I will be ever grateful for everything and everyone that shaped me and particularly the things I got to share. Mostly I am thankful to God, getting me here and giving me opportunities I couldn’t have dreamed of three years ago. I Wouldn’t have given any of it up for the world 🙂

 

 

How He Loves

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We love because he first loved us.
1 John 4:19

On Saturday I went to an absolutely beautiful wedding – gypsophila everywhere, cream tea with homemade jam, ivy and fairy lights adorning the ceiling and a bride that simply took your breath away and brought tears to the eyes. But if there was one thing about this wedding that was more beautiful than anything else, it is that it was Christ centred from beginning to end.

When with my friend at university, nothing made me happier than sitting and listening to her talk about how her and her husband met and got together and slowly, over time, fell completely in love. To sit and hear stories of how she went from ‘he would never love me’ to standing hand in hand at the altar making their vows to one another. And that’s how it is with Jesus. He takes us from ‘He would never love me’ to the bride of Christ. The wedding, as I’ve said, was fabulous, with everyone joining for a cream tea after the service and all the fun of a ceilidh in the evening but at a wedding, every moment spent with the bride or groom is precious and cherished. All eyes are on the prettiest girl and the most handsome man in the room, each waiting for their turn with the happy couple, they only ones who can name every guest present from all different backgrounds and circles of life. Then the time comes when you get to catch up with your friends and really share the joy of their special day, fully aware that this time you are talking to the most important people, sharing things that only you know about. When Christ calls us, He calls us all by name to sit at the top table, elevated to the position of most important at the party. We can talk freely for hours and most wonderfully we can share in the glory, the beauty and the splendour of Christ. When I chatted to the bride on Saturday and she gave me a big hug, not once did she lose any of her beauty but for that moment I was elevated to highest importance. I was friend of the bride, catching up as we would on any other day, even if I had to stick the card on the present with avengers plasters in the absence of sellotape because even at a wedding sometimes you have to make do. It was such a privilege to be there on their day and even baking cakes and taking a few photos, it was an honour to be involved in something so special.

I can see why our union with Christ is referred to as a wedding and in so many ways did this couple reflect the love of Jesus. It’s true, the joy of the Lord is their strength and as the bride entered, well, the dress was simply stunning but what made it magical was the smile that went with it. To see a friend lift up their eyes and hands in worship, no fear of anyone else, and give everything over to God, even on your wedding day. There was no doubt that this is a love brought together by God and made to last. The whole day was spectacular but it was the worship that made me cry. The sheer joy that came from worshipping, if this beautiful couple taught me anything it’s that a Christ centred love is worth waiting for.

In the address we were reminded that love is unconditional, forgiving and sacrificial, again qualities that all reflect the love of Jesus. We may not ever be able to love completely unconditionally, forgivingly and sacrificially, but He can, He has, and He does. I know my friend has already inspired so many people with her love for Christ, me included, but I can see now that her efforts were not alone. I just pray that they can continue to reflect the love of Jesus throughout their lives together. They also said in the address that actually they hope this isn’t the happiest day of their lives and I for one know there are so many more to come because it wasn’t just the most lovely wedding, it was the start of a lovely marriage.

We love because he first loved us.

I have always loved weddings and Saturday really was a glimpse of what is to come both in their own lives and marriage but above all of the best wedding there will ever be and that’s one party I cannot wait to attend 🙂

The Adventures of a Whit Friday Gingerbread Man

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Once upon a time, in the Land of Far Far Away, Gingy, little gingerbread man, was found wandering the streets of Saddleworth. Little Gingy was fresh from the oven and after hours of careful decoration had three shiny green gumdrop buttons and swirly blue icing round her arms, legs and tummy. As she walked around, Gingy found many other fairytale friends including three little piggies, two dronkeys and a big bad wolf. Their quest: to bring their sweet music to six villages around the land of Saddleworth before the clock strikes twelve. The little gingerbread man had been dunked repeatedly in tea and coffee and was scared that if it rained she might break and end up in a puddle on the floor. But the sun was shining as she marched through the first village smelling like a burnt coffee cake and Gingy and all of her fairytale friends played their instruments and banged their drums as they made happy music for all in the village. But as all of her fears of rain melted away, so did her icing! Poor Gingy’s icing started to fall off as she clung desperately to her gumdrop buttons.

But as little Gingy and her friends made their way through the next village, she knew that she could still make happy music despite her decoration. So once again they marched through the next village playing their instruments and banging their drums. In the centre of the village square, they put on a performance to the cheer of all the villagers before moving onto the next village to share their cheer.

Determined to keep their spirits up, the fairytale folk got merrier and merrier sharing their music in the land of Saddleworth. In the third village, they ran into some mermaids and other Under the Sea friends pursuing the same quest. Gingy and her friends listened and sang along as they played sharing in the joy they brought from their home in the depths of the sea. By the fourth village, word of their music had spread far and wide. People from all across the land had travelled to come and hear the tunes of the fairytale folk and Under the Sea friends. But time was running short now with two villages still to go!

Gingy, her fairytale folk and her new Under the Sea friends all made their way to the next village but by this time they had walked far and long and with only little legs of gingerbread, they were getting thirsty. Little Gingy and her giant gingerbread friend, Mongo, decided to take a trip to the market to refuel. At the market they saw lots of wonderful things including sweet confectionary all around and decided to take some for the journey. Gingy however did not have any coins to pay for it, but, desperately wanting the sweet treats, Mongo discussed his plans with his little gingerbread friend but somewhere along the line they misunderstood each other and confusion arose. Mongo didn’t know if his coins would be enough and mistakenly trusted little Gingy to have an alternative plan. They left the market with their array of goods but when Mongo took out his coins to repay little Gingy they realised that neither of them had payed the market seller anything at all! They knew they had to go back but time was shorter now than it ever had been before and all their fairytale friends said there was no time for the trek back. Distraught by their criminal activity though, Gingy and Mongo ran across the village to settle their debt shouting ‘run run as fast as you can, you can’t catch me I’m a gingerbread man!’

Now contented in their hearts but tired and out of breath, Gingy and Mongo ran all the back only to find that all their friends had gone! Alone and sad Gingy and Mongo, searched desperately for their friends but they were nowhere to be seen. As they trekked down the perilous road the darkness closed in around them. Vision became obscured as night descended and they were scared they would never find their friends! But as they carried on through the night they saw a flash of red from Little Red Riding Hood’s cape in the distance. They ran towards their friends, only to find out that when they got there they did not have any instruments! The fairytale folk were all ready and in position to play their music for the fifth village while Gingy and Mongo made the treacherous journey across the village once more to reclaim their instruments. By the time they were reunited for the second time, instruments in hand, they were very much out of puff and hardly able to play! If only they had been with the big bad wolf, he would have had enough puff! But they made it.

Time was running out for the last village though and they didn’t think they would make it to finish their quest. They all went as fast as their little legs would carry them but sadly, by the time they walked into the last village, it was too late to play. Their Under the Sea friends however, were further on with their quest and as they were reunited in the last village, the fairytale folk sat back and listened to the joyful tunes of their friends finishing the quest. They may not have made it in time to play their own music but as the clock struck midnight, and they made their way back, Gingy was content to have played and heard a lot of good music surrounded by all of her friends.

But that’s not the end of the story! Gingy, Mongo and the fairytale folk made their way back to their home in the swamp in the Land of Far Far away. They were all very very tired and ready to fall right into bed but as they got there, they found rocks blocking the front door! They pushed and they shoved and they rattled the door but there was no way of getting in! They were on their last legs after a long day and thought they would never get home. The Frog Prince however took one for the team and hopped all the way round the swamp until he found a secret entrance round the back. The Frog Prince squeezed through the gap and hopped to the front door, single handedly opening it from the inside and saving the day. It had been a long and fun day, getting scorched by the sun, running across six villages and losing their friends but in the end they all made it safely home and lived happily ever after.

This my friends is a (relatively) true story of a poorly constructed costume, accidental shoplifting and, as always, banding banter as our band made our way to the Whit Friday marches, marching down the streets of Saddleworth to ‘All Star’ dressed as the cast from Shrek. Feat. A white t shirt stained with tea, coffee and soy sauce, some very understanding shop assistants and some less than inspired builders that managed to cement gravel across the front door while we were gone 🙂

Living the Life of Literature

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Back in primary school, many years ago, we had a very prestigious club called ‘Fiction Fanatics’. This was a book club run every other Monday lunchtime. Every year it was oversubscribed and every year I did not make the cut. What can I say, I just didn’t read my Jacqueline Wilson quick enough.  But this was were the cool kids were at and every other Monday lunchtime I would sit and wait for my friends to be fanatical about fiction.

Well look at me now.

Ten years later and I’ve just completed a degree in Literature, or, English Literature and Creative Writing to give it its full title. It seems surreal saying it but yes, I can now read and write officially. At least, in theory. I’ve moved on from my days of Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Morpurgo and onto a love of Thomas Hardy and Elizabeth Gaskell. I have carried on my childhood love of writing stories right through and even got to the end of some.

Among finding a love for Victorian literature, I have also read so many other things and things I never thought I would read. This year alone I’ve read sixteen Shakespeare plays. In my first year, I got the chance to study linguistics where I got to learn about animal communication, forensic linguistics, child development and brain trauma. And all things I wouldn’t have necessarily expected to do. Initially I studied linguistics for a year because I ended up in the wrong introductory talk back in freshers week  and I studied Shakespeare on the premise that I had never been to the Globe theatre, before signing up and realising I still wouldn’t go. But I’ve loved them both. I’ve learnt things I didn’t think I would, before university, I had hardly read Victorian novels, now it’s all I read for fun. I’ve entered new worlds, fallen in love with characters, seen new things and had a great time doing it. It seems if I’ve learnt anything, it’s that after all this time, I am a fiction fanatic.

It’s gone quickly but it’s been a lot of fun living the life of literature. 90% of my degree was done from my bed, reading with cups of tea. When I took time out of other people’s worlds, I just created fictional worlds of my own or even told stories of real people that I had met and places I had been. Even towards the end when I sat trying to format page numbers until three in the morning the night before my final deadline, I had a surprise delivery of brownies to my door to get me through in the middle of the night. It’s been great and I’ve loved it all the way through. After my last exam, I told and eleven-year-old I had finished my whole degree who then immediately replied with ‘what’s a degree?’ A very good question. I explained that it was all my university work, three years, done. A week later and it still hasn’t sunk in. I’ve submitted approximately 71,500 words of coursework, give or take, sat eight exams and given three presentations and I like to think I celebrated well at the end. Coming out I had a Wispa and for once, it wasn’t even a multi pack deal, I’m talking full size, I then went all out and had a whole pint rather than my usual half, a feat for someone my size but special occasions and all and had a meeting all about next year, onwards and upwards and straight on to new and exciting things it seems. As someone recently said, I’ve graduated to a real human now. I’m not quite ready to let it all go just yet and next year I’ll still be studying, just not as an official student and I will definitely keep on reading.

In summary, Fiction Fanatics, eat your heart out 🙂

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 🙂