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 🙂

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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 🙂

 

 

Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card

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What I’m about to say really isn’t a story about me or even mine to tell but as I was there and it brightened my Friday morning, I thought I would take the time to share it with you or at least my small part of it.

On Friday morning, I, with a few others sang in the university library in the silent study zone no less for someone’s proposal.

For the record, this is not someone I knew or had any connection with so let’s backtrack. A couple of months ago someone approached our uni choir director saying he wanted a choir to sing when he proposed to his girlfriend and since we got back for this term, nine of us and our conductor put in a few extra rehearsals to make this happen. The couple met in our university library and so this was the venue for our romantic setting.

Rehearsing the morning of and walking down to the library, I was very excited. I love a good proposal, we all occasionally get a little teary in the films and videos and I love hearing peoples’ proposal stories but like many, I had never actually witnessed one myself. It was only when we got up to C floor of the library that I got really quite nervous as ten of us all went to browse the first two shelves of the art history section. I realise I was by no means the most nervous person in this situation nor did I have right to be but when the library is as busy yet quiet as it was, the thought of bursting into song in the silence is quiet a scary one. We waited, pacing up and down the bookshelves behind the wall sandwiched between Islamic Art and The History of English Cathedrals waiting for her to arrive.

There she was. Camera man and videographer were in place. She came up the stairs to meet him for lunch and that was our cue. As he told her that he just wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, there we were singing an a capella version of  If it ain’t You before he got down on one knee to the applause of everyone in the library. I have never had so many cameras on me in my life, well, not on me of course, I’m not pretending this is a story about me but to have at least been in sight of so many cameras. When she came up the stairs and the singing started it was like everyone in the library came over with their phones out. I’m fairly sure I’ll never be on so many snapchat stories at once again and it seems no one really minded about silent study for such a happy occasion, in fact it was probably quite a welcome break for many. And it was a very happy occasion, it was clearly a surprise but she did of course say yes you’ll be pleased to know and wasn’t the only one there to cry. Even with no real connection, I could almost feel myself getting a little teary as we could all see how happy they were.

It was like our fifteen minutes of fame, within minutes it was all over social media – Yik Yak, Facebook, The Tab, YouTube – ‘SHE SAID YES!’ ‘Library proposal’ ‘Guy proposed in the library, WITH A CHOIR’. The weirdest thing was that I left still not knowing the couple beyond their names, which I found out on the day, and yet this will be a story they will recount over and over again, a story I got to be a part of. I really do hope they will have a long happy life together and I will be ever thankful to have the opportunity to see where it started, you did good man 🙂

Spontaneously Unprepared

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Third year. It’s the final push and for some reason the time when everyone starts really enjoying the question, So, what comes next? I have to say, I’ve mastered a few answers to this question; I’m seeing where life takes meI’m more a go with the flow kinda gal, and the one that people seem to be happiest with but is probably furthest from the truth, I’m exploring my options.

I have recently discovered that there is a fine line between spontaneous and unprepared and I plan on spending the majority of this year finding out exactly where that line is. For example, this summer I went to a couple of days of a festival with one goal; to pack light. When travelling on the train and effectively camping on my own, it didn’t want to be weighed down with excess baggage. Consequently this led to me standing in a field having not brought any cutlery or crockery, any means of cooking, anything to sleep on or indeed a tent. But it was okay, I had the full works of Shakespeare. In hindsight, this was probably less packing light and more badly thought through; unprepared. But I do also believe some things need to be done just to confirm that they are in fact a bad idea. As a result, when I went camping the following week, I went prepared with all necessary sleeping and eating equipment minus only the tent pegs; it’s important to learn from these experiences.

The day after the first festival, I spent the day in Nottingham without any means of transport home. Consequently, instead of forking out and waiting around for the train, I ended up getting a lift the full four hours home with a comfortable ride and good company and then having these friends over for a nice dinner at home; spontaneous.

I’m entering my final year at university and I may not know exactly what I would do in every situation that may or may not end up occurring in my life but don’t call me unprepared when I have a separate mug for every one of my tea needs. Whether it’s a standard cup of tea, a cosy night in, a dissertation sized brew,  guest mugs or a quick cuppa without wanting to be up all night, I’m ready. I may still be working out exactly which way the sheets go on a double bed and I may still get off at the wrong bus stop on occasions but I like to think I know the things that matter. We recently went on a CU conference and yes, I may have forgotten all of my tent pegs and set a table on fire but we learnt some incredible things preparing us for a year of faith and evangelism.

My cousin recently got married and it was beautiful. An outdoor marquee in glorious sunshine with croquet and a bouncy castle on the lawn and a jukebox and fun photo booth inside with the most incredibly beautiful naked sponge cake I have ever seen. Looking at them, in my life, I plan to be that happy. The following week was my parents 25th Wedding Anniversary and I was again on making Mary Berry proud in the kitchen for their big party to celebrate (now that cake really was a comeback if ever I saw one, after many a mishap I really did think at one point there was no coming back). But the point is, what ever happens along the way and however I get there, I plan on still being that happy 25 years later.

Right now, I am spontaneously unprepared for life with big dreams and few ideas and who knows, maybe by the end of the year, I’ll be a little more spontaneous and a little less unprepared, but for that we will just have to wait and see. 🙂