Friday, 16 December 2016

Third Year (so far) By Numbers

10 different kinds of soup. 5 gluten and dairy-free cakes. 4 different spiralized vegetables. 1 Christmas dinner. 2 carol services. 2 formals. 2 attempts to hit the town. 2 trips to Newcastle. 1 trip to York. 4 essays. 40 lectures. 2 dissertation meetings. 5 Shakespeare plays. 6 Greek dramas. 1410 pages of Dickens novel. 48 books taken out of the University Library. 5 Bible studies in Romans lead. 6 trips to Cafedral alone to chat about Jesus.

4 panic attacks. Lots of days where I couldn't get out of bed. Many more where I cried without much explanation. 5 doctors' appointments. 1 hospital appointment. Lots of pills. 8 unwanted side effects (and counting). At least a week of sleepless nights.

It's been the toughest term yet. Birthday parties were difficult. The loud chatter after church was suffocating and nauseating. Meeting anyone new went from an exciting event to an energy-sucking vortex of panic. Motivation was sapped, plans couldn't be made, and more were cancelled than kept if I dared to make them. Shaking hands and legs sometimes meant walking, writing, and eating were hard.

But without number are the truths I've been learning about about my Maker and King, and therefore myself, in the last 12 weeks. They're truths I'm pretty keen on taking through to the rest of third year - and that I pray will be shaping my thinking and transforming my life from day to day until that glorious day when I see my Lord face to face. Here are just 10.

He is God; I am dust.
There has been nothing more liberating this term than to see my human body, and mind, in the way that God sees it - I am dust, to dust I will return, and I'm not as strong as I look (even if I was working out over summer). I am indeed as frail as grass, my days are numbered - I might be young, but each day I breathe is another day where God is deliberately breathing life into my body. Psalm 90 was a huge rebuke; our days can be swept away at the command of God, like a dream, or a flood.
Because I am dust, I need sleep (even when the essay is due the next day, and the day before I spent crying in bed), I need sabbath rest (even when I feel like I've had enough 'time out' throughout the week and want to work), I need friends, and I need inward renewal (ie things that help me rest, mainly cooking). God doesn't need those things - but he has given me them to enable me to live and serve well, or in this case, recover well. It is pride to deny myself those things in order to 'get on with life'. Being dust means you can't always cope, but God is always competent.

His love is steadfast, so my attempts to win it are futile and unnecessary.
I didn't even realise that I was attempting to win it - deep (deep) down, perhaps I believed that because some of my friends had turned to Jesus, because I got an unexpectedly good mark at the end of second year, because I was a Focus leader, and much more, that only if I kept up this standard would the Father be pleased with me. What total rubbish. I bring nothing to the table where God's unconditional love is concerned apart from my weakness, ungodliness, and sin (Romans 5:6-8). So, days in bed didn't need to be full of guilt and shame and lack of assurance about my worth in God's eyes. His grace is sufficient, and his grace abounds where sin increases (Romans 5:20b).

His gifts are greater than my achievement.
Last year, I planned every hour of my week between the hours of 8-6 (at least). Every essay was planned in and handed in early, targets were made, and there was never need for an extension. I did well. This term, I handed in work that I didn't feel was done, I had to take whole days off and disrupt my own plans to allow my mind to take a break. Concentration was illusive. I wasn't going to achieve what I wanted (and had made an idol). So, I learnt to receive, to be served by Jesus rather than thinking I need to be the one serving Him (Mark 10:45). I reminded myself again and again that Christ qualifies me (Colossians 1:12), and that this is more important that the qualification given to me by Durham University in June 2017. And how can you lead Bible studies on Romans 3-5 without being amazed at the language of 'gift' again and again referring to God's righteousness and grace?

He is in control, even when I'm battling for the reigns.
Who told me I could run my day? Who told me I was in control of my life? Culture. But when I became a Christian I surrendered my life to His control, to recognising his sovereignty in all things. So I preached that these things were for my good (though not my transient experience of happiness) and more importantly, for his glory (Romans 8:28). He works all this for that end - and his glory won't be achieved by me microplanning mine and others' lives, but in humble dependence on the Father. On bad days, it didn't feel like God was getting the glory. But as He refined my attitude towards trial, I saw that he is glorified not only in outward things, but in my inner sanctification by the Spirit. Less obviously 'holy', and yet so very necessarily humbling.

Suffering is kind - so I can rejoice.
No more was this solidified when I lead (not too well, but He gets the glory!) a Bible study on Romans 5. I could lead it with confidence knowing that even days where I had been involuntary shaking through lectures, or struggled to walk home, that I had indeed been rejoicing in the promises of God, enduring through it, that my faith had been refined, and my hope was much, much greater (Romans 5:3-5). How loving of the Lord to put me through pain so my faith grows!

The Father listens to my prayers.
At Christchurch this term, we had 3 sermons on the Lord's prayer, of which the final two were both incredibly striking. Even though some of the content was familiar from a first year sermon serie, it had more resonance than ever. The element of the prayer not to be lead into temptation radically changed the way I viewed my sin, and along with convictions in Romans 3, encouraged me to bring my excuses for sin in the trial to the Lord in repentance and pray for protection against stumbling into them again. Sins such as self-pity, frustration, lack of love for others, and clinging onto my idols of busyness and activity in my degree and in church were not excused, but battled.

He must increase, I must decrease.
Again, a reflection on a sermon from John 3, one which I had to leave at the end of because I felt nauseous but which consolidated my reading of Obadiah that week - my pride was being slowly crushed as term became tougher and harder to cope with. It encouraged me to do all things, especially Focus leading and one-to-one discipleship, in a way which pointed people away from me and onto Jesus, when inwardly I wanted people to see that I was 'doing fine' and praise me for my good works. Depression didn't excuse me from speaking the truth in love, pointing people to Jesus, speaking words of Life to the body of Christ that I've been given in Durham. It certainly didn't mean making life about me. That wasn't the way of John the Baptist, nor the way of Christ. As David Cook said in a sermon I listened to on Obadiah: 'anything that humbles me is good for me'. Despite how difficult this term has been, it was good for me, and good for God's glory.

Not seeing fruit isn't the same as no fruit.
I was particularly struck when I was dwelling on Psalm 90, a psalm dwelling on our human frailties and dustiness, at the ending, where Moses prays (twice) that God might establish the work of his hands. In 'Zeal Without Burnout' this was followed by a suggestion for prayer which stuck in my mind, and that is to pray that something, anything, that we do might have eternal significance, bear eternal fruit. In church, in academia, in relationships, we look at, and fixate too often, on the now. Although now, I am not able to go all out on mission as I would like, I am not able to concentrate on God's word for as long as I would like, I am not able to disciple as many girls as I would like, I am praying that in my life, there might be something of eternal value, that God by his grace might dare to use this weak jar of clay to demonstrate the gospel. It is very kind of him that I am unaware of how he might do that, and much better for my ego, that I might only boast in his work now and in eternity. I was also encouraged by revisiting some of the parables in Mark, particularly the parable of the growing seed in Mark 4:26-29 - so small, and yet so encouraging that God is growing his kingdom, even if we don't understand how!

I am expendable. 
A phrase I first met through reading 'Through Gates of Splendour', and one which has been recalled to life in my mind this term. Even though I've 'failed' in many ways in serving at church, serving my non-Christian friends, and had to give up things I was passionate about in order to recover, the kingdom hasn't fallen apart. God has still brought people from death to life, he has still been working by His Spirit through his Word and his people to grow the scattered seed, and to produce fruit on the trees. This term, he didn't need me to achieve that.

His power is made perfect in weakness.
I've had little to no power of my own - so he gets the glory when I get through a day, when I get an essay back and the mark is actually decent, when I write a focus study, when I catch up with a friend through shaking hands, when I counsel another who is suicidal when battling myself. He gets the glory when I get out of bed, when I turn to him in my tears. In my 'clay-jar' moments (2 Corinthians 4), the gospel is underlined as I hold fast to that, and not myself.

Most of this can be summed up by the simple words: grace, grace, grace. One of the most thought-changing things I read this article from Desiring God which outlined what living in God's grace looked like in practise, as well as Christopher Ash's 'Zeal without Burnout', dispersing God's truth to ground sound practical advice to avoid burnout for those in Christian ministry, but equally relevant for the exhausted student who longs to spend every minute pouring herself out but is inhibited by mental health.

I don't really know who I'm writing this for or why I'm writing it. But I hope it's not 'look how godly I am' and more like 'look how amazing God's truth is'. Otherwise I clearly haven't learnt as much as I thought.

Here's to another year of not blogging but occasionally using it as a vehicle to get thoughts off my chest. Here's to another year of clinging to Jesus more and more, and being painfully humbled in the process.

Goodbye 2016. You haven't been pleasant but you have been necessary for God's glory and part of his sovereign plan. And so I rejoice in you, 2016, and thank God for all you've taught me.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Eight Years Ago...

A while ago, for a blog run by Durham Inter-Collegiate Christian Union, I wrote 500 words under the title, ‘Why I am a Christian.’ But I found that 500 words didn’t cut it. It couldn’t express the struggle, the confusion, the resistance I had to following Jesus, to letting myself surrender to his call in my heart, to be fully free and changed in Him. It did not express the pain of bullying, and the pain of be becoming a bully, of how I victimised others and myself. It could not get to the depths of my emotional recklessness, the seething anger borne out of intense insecurity in my identity. Therefore, I don’t think it did Jesus justice. He deserves more glory than 500 words can express.
This is going to be long. Find the short version here.

Eight years ago, I gave my life to Christ. An imperfect girl finally realised that living a good life and trying to be perfect wasn’t enough and could never be enough, and that I could never be enough no matter how hard I tried. Struggle didn’t end at that point, in fact I think it really kicked off then, because when I rejected God, reading his word, prayer, his power over my horrific sin for the next few years, I did it with eyes wide open and a heart that wanted to be hard. I suppose this is my story.

Most people assume that a girl like me, enthusiastic to the point of insanity and who currently desires to work full-time in a church or mission context, must have been brainwashed by her parents into this Jesus thing. Truth is, there was Christian influence around me from my mum and from some of my extended family, but I didn’t enjoy it. I went to half-term Bible clubs and did the worksheets for the prizes, not because I was enthralled by the stories. And when the prizes were Bible stories I didn’t let my mum read them to me – no way! I avidly remember telling my mum exactly what I thought about church: dull, boring, full of old ladies. And when I didn’t get the answers right, couldn’t prove myself, I kicked off. Being a church kid was about being a good kid. Bring your bible, get a point. 10 points and you get extra sweets. Learn a memory verse (in the car on the way), get a point, get 5 points and you get a prize. I was in church because I wanted rewards for my good acts.

Aged 9, I remember being moved by a story told to me at church. I went home and hid behind the sofa. I prayed a prayer of sorts and thought ‘job done.’ I’d done the ceremony. I was a Christian, right? I believed that I really was a Christian and reassured myself with all my knowledge of the Bible. But my heart was bruised. Bullied from around the same age, I retaliated with violence. I remember dragging kids by the hair, thumping them with books, hitting with those rubber skipping ropes. It was satisfying, getting someone back who had done you wrong. I didn’t understand the gospel message – Jesus forgave every sin, theirs and mine, and calls us to forgive. It might be hard for a 9 year old to even contemplate this, but in my moments of anger, where was Jesus? He was for Sundays and he helped me win prizes.

Bullying led to rocky friendships, constant suspicion that I wasn’t liked, doubt in my abilities which led to an unhealthy attitude of perfectionism. In my Year 6 SATS I had to be seated in a separate room because I would get so anxious of everyone around me writing and think that I was useless, driving me to panic attacks and tears. I can’t even count the amount of times I walked out of class to find a corner where I could be alone and breathe. I had friends, but it took a long time. Some of the friends from the past had become those who bullied me, or bullied my new friends. But I was clever enough, and I was striving to go to that better school. I also danced, and I was good at that, better than them at least, and that’s what I pursued. I was in pantomimes and did auditions for the West End. That’s where my hope lay. I wanted to be celebrated.

I moved to secondary school, a girl’s grammar school, hoping that I would change now. No one would remember who I was from my first school. I didn’t have to get angry here, I just had to work hard and make friends and it sounded so simple. No boys around to make me feel even more uncomfortable. This school taught dance in PE, even better. I saw that this was a place where I could thrive.

Within a month or so, I realised that I couldn’t just change. I was already frustrated that I was coming bottom in maths – why were these girls all so clever? Why didn’t I know how to do long division at all (I still don’t know how to do it!)? The friends I had made might have accidentally left me behind to go to lunch and I would have a paranoia party – ‘They left me deliberately, they don’t like me, how could they treat me like this?’. I wallowed in my own self-pity and sunk down deep into insecurity again. It wasn’t long before I became the bully. I was tired of feeling insecure and paranoid, of having no one to sit with at lunch and not even getting the grades I wanted to make up for it. I wrote a note ‘I hate you’ and put it in a jumper for her to find when they came out of the canteen. That will show them. I used one of the only forms of social network we had back in 06’ (Stardoll), made an anonymous account, and wrote hate. I used school e-mail, too. I even remember getting people’s passwords and checking if they had also misused their IT class to write e-mails to one another to check that they weren’t about me. I was sly, but I was caught. It was obvious.

You can’t force people to forgive a bully. I would never have called myself that then. In my eyes, I was the one being hurt by people neglecting me. Really, there was a wider heart issue. Even at church, I wouldn’t speak in case I got answers wrong, wouldn’t even read aloud. I was no good. I carried on dancing and those extra activities in a place where I was successful got me through all my bad homework. I still would have called myself a Christian. In RE I knew the answers, answered the debates. I had it all at my fingertips, all except what it was like to be in relationship with the living Jesus, the living Lord, the Saviour who forgives and transforms hearts. I was so much further than I realised.

To top off a first few terms of secondary school, I attempted to strangle a fellow classmate. It was a trivial issue. Every year 7 class did a dance for our Gym & Dance display. I wanted my group to have the best section in our dance. Another girl wanted to take control. Dance was my area, I was good at it, her thoughts are wrong, why is she messing with this? I got angry over a few weeks, and then I exploded. I ran away in such shame and guilt. After an act of violence, from throwing a pen or storming out of class to the more extreme incidents, there was always shame and guilt and tears and a lot of running to cold, dark corners or the end of the field where I would be alone. Sometimes I tried to call out to God but he never came. He didn’t fix me so why should I call on him? Why did he make me like this? I was trying to control myself and it wasn’t working, and now everyone hates me even more, they are scared of me, the few friends I might have made won’t talk to me now. Yet I also couldn’t deny that again, getting my own back was satisfying. A moment of violence was also a strange pacifier for all my insecurity.

I was invited to go to a Christian conference by a friend, and I said yes, mainly because at 12 the idea of a holiday in Butlins where there were water slides sounded fun. I thought I had the Christian thing sorted, anyway, so it was no big deal. It was very different to what I was used to. The meetings had long periods of standing up and singing, which was fine for me as a performer. I quite enjoyed it, apart from the fact that all the songs were new and I didn’t know them. I think the unfamiliarity of these songs meant that when I did sing, I sang for the first time in years actually having to think about what I was singing about God. I learned over the first few days to truly delight in singing these amazing words. I took notes in the talks as I always did at home, not that I ever really looked at them again. But, it was really uplifting.

It got to day 3 or 4, I can’t remember. It was a Tuesday evening, drawing to the end of the 5 days, and I didn’t want to listen to the talks anymore – I had friends and these friends had sweets. Sitting on the floor, chatting in hushed tones in a circle, we weren’t really being told off. It was quite the rebellion for this 12 year old. There was paper at the back of the room and we were told to go and write down behaviour that we wanted to change. We were being encouraged to be more Christ-like, yet I walked over, saw other people’s ideas and judged them. I don’t gossip like they do, I’m kind to my sister. I sat down, thinking that I was good enough. I didn’t really understand what it was to come broken, helpless and sinful at the cross of Jesus, overwhelmed by my own sin until I sat down. It flooded onto my shoulders and I spent the next few minutes (though it felt like ages) scribbling down everything I could think of.  My anger being the big issue, but then it rumbled down into the small, everyday ways in which I rejected God. I saw the extent to which I was running away. Whenever I sat back down, something else struck me and I ran back to write it. 

It wasn’t just that I realised I wasn’t a good girl, it was that I realised for the first time how much I needed grace. I needed Jesus to help me overcome all of this. He did to overcome all of this, for me, the girl who thought she had it sorted and didn’t need anything but a good knowledge and religious looking actions to be right with God.

The room gathered and we ran through this piece of paper, symbolising Jesus breaking the chains of our sin. I was elated like nothing else. People sang and I grabbed bits of paper and ripped them apart. It was an inexpressible joy and freedom that I suddenly felt. The best dance performance, the loudest applause, never topped it. When we got back to our chalet, the people I was staying with asked me, ‘So are you a Christian now?’ after I had chatted excitedly with them about what had happened. I paused. I realised that I actually hadn’t been a Christian before I had grasped all of that. It shocked me, but thrilled me. I answered a confident ‘yes’ and was welcomed into the family by a hug that I won’t forget.

Not everyone has such a moment to speak of, and it is amazing to see how that moment when I was trying to be cool, not listen, actually became a moment where I grasped the gospel, the 'good news', I had been hearing from childhood for the first time. It was the moment where I saw the folly in my goodness from God’s eyes. But it didn’t change me instantly. I’m not sure I leaped home and told everyone like so many in the Bible seem to do when they encounter Jesus like that. I’m not even sure I told my mum! It was a slow slog from there. There were too many issues that still seemed too big for Jesus to handle. I wanted to read my Bible, but there was still a wrong attitude. I read verses on anxiety and anger and found them patronising, and to be honest read the Bible to confirm that I was still good, doing the right thing, plodding along nicely.

I still struggled with anger. I was in counselling, and then I was in therapy. I didn’t understand why I still struggled. I had a real faith, but real doubts too. Puberty, hormones, endless streams of problematic friendships and my own perfectionism were a constant battle. I struggled to see how Jesus could help me if my friends were ignoring me, or if a friend was self-harming, or if I still couldn’t stop having panic attacks in class. It was a turbulent time, and I was still very insecure. Jesus wasn’t a quick-fix 'solution': I still had lots to learn and understand.

June 2009: I reached a tipping point. A netball game got a bit intense. I was losing, I was forced to accept my failure and the failure of my team, and a friend who had been causing me a lot of anxiety was on the winning team and loving it. She jibed in jest, but I snapped. How could she? Did she know what her problems were putting me through? I ran at her, there was a violent attack that I mercifully can’t remember the details of. I ran to the empty PE cupboard, bright red, face hot with anger and shame. I cried, I was shaken, I hated myself, I hated this anger that seemed to be controlling me. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I started banging my head against the wall, contemplated self-harm momentarily, but it ended on my knees. I was praying for forgiveness. I knew that I needed a saviour because my efforts to be good, to be god in my own life and take control, were failing.

In all my violent incidents, or insecurity, I never blamed myself or saw myself as a problem. It was always other people that triggered me. The people around that knew all the answers when I didn’t, or a comment made which tipped me over... Why could I never take the blame? I had to write reports of my actions and it would always start with a scapegoat clause, an attempted defence. It wasn’t just me. By deflecting all my problems as other people’s problems, I had in my eyes escaped calling it ‘sin’, that word of dread. But it was, and now I knew it. I was crushed. I was stuck dumb. I was so ashamed. I saw that for years people had been scared of me – the only friends I made I eventually let down somehow. I recommitted to following Jesus, and it wasn’t on the agreement that I was fixed up or would fix myself up, but on the agreement that I would surrender.

I faced girls turning away from me, and kindness from a few who took pity and didn’t follow the crowd (still great friends today!). My summer was my ‘summer of darkness’. No friends to hang out with, six weeks of family time and lots of visits to Shakeaway! In the nights I read my bible and prayed with more understanding. I prayed for those that I thought had hurt me, as Jesus commanded us to do. I prayed that I might forgive as he forgave me. I didn’t expect that a few weeks into the next school year it would really happen. I was reconciled to Jesus and reconciled to my friends. My heart, too, was slowly changing. Within a year, the counselling and therapy was no longer needed. It was nothing to do with me. I couldn’t change myself – I had been trying for years and falling flat. He alone orchestrated the change in my heart by His Spirit as I read his word with open eyes and a longing to know more of Jesus. He alone could rescue me from the depths of my insecurity, inadequacy, anger, anxiety.

On a bus one day in October, having seen how God had completely turned my thinking about and changed my heart, my thoughts turned to baptism. Before, it was a weird ritual, but now it had a whole new meaning, and I wanted to proclaim that I was died and raised with Christ, raised to a new body, made a new creation because of his death. I wanted to proclaim his victory over sin and death in my life and for others to see and be encouraged. January 3rd, 2010.

Those are the 'big bits', I guess, although that is only just the beginning. I continue to grow and change and fail and fear and pray and stumble and pray a lot more... and fall again. I’ve taken the gospel message out, the good news has been proclaimed with my words and hopefully in my life. It’s why I took a year between school and University to work for free, live on little, so that I could share the love of God and the message of Jesus’ death to the most marginalised in society. It’s why I am always rushing around at University and am so glad to be taking on roles in CU at Durham next term. What good news we have to share!

It’s why I want to give my whole life to Jesus. We owe a debt of love we can never repay. We are still weak and helpless, yet our sins are remembered no more and we are clothed in His righteousness – set apart for His glory. We have been adopted by the Creator of the Universe, who calls himself Father. This will hurt, this will cost. This will be worth it.

But I echo Paul in my life (with trembling lips): ‘But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord... I want to know Christ, yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press onwards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.’

And I follow Jesus, who calls me to ‘Go’.

To Him be the glory.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

First Term Lessons

University has been a learning curve like no other. By the time I was old enough to really have a solid grasp of who I was, I had the same friends for three years and could easily avoid those I didn't like. I had my routines and my hobbies all worked out, and everyone understood them because we were all alike. I would get up early and go to bed early. I wouldn't work past 7 and would watch TV every night with my mum before bed. I spent most Saturdays completing my work from the previous week and was very much a stay-at-home girl. I watched a lot of YouTube. During my gap year, I would housed once more with people like me, worked with people older than me but who generally shared my values, and that was of great encouragement. I did a tough job for no money and that gave me a passion and a vision that I hope to see flourish in the future.

University is different to my gap year in many ways, and I can't believe that when people told me it was a world like no other that I didn't believe them. You live alongside people that probably would have avoided you at school because you were weird, difficult personalities. I shared with a girl who I may never have crossed paths with elsewhere in life because our backgrounds were so different. Instead of being the person that retreated to their room, I worked alone but found myself beginning to crave social interaction, discussion, friendship on a deep level that mainly worked on a face-to-face basis because they were quite literally just down the hallway. Yes, it all got intense at times, and there were definitely some down moments when essays all piled up over a few weeks, but you were never alone. There was also the opportunity to try something new, and I've picked up old hobbies as well as new ones, once again filled with different people. I am doing a whole host of subjects and juggling it all is a right challenge, especially when, unlike my A Levels, I am not a reclusive workaholic who spends a lot of time alone, but also makes the time for hours of exercise and other pastimes. In this messy, busy, world, I have learnt a lot, and I intend to carry these lessons into the next term.

1) There Is Always Time.
When the essays rolled in and I saw all my deadlines for one week, I panicked big time. I wanted to stay up late, get up early, and generally not be kind to myself. I would push myself just a bit too hard, depriving myself of sleep. I would punish myself internally if I didn't feel like I had done enough. And it hit me at the end of it all, when all the deadlines were in, that there was always enough time to do what I wanted, sleep, chat with friends, exercise. I didn't have to be anxious about it, and in fact all those other things helped me to be more productive when I was awake. Sounds so simple, but for a perfectionist who is controlling and unkind to herself, a lesson well-learned. Yes, I might not be as hyper-organised as I would be in school, handing things in a week before, but I can do that same thing and be a little calmer.

2) Resting Is A Good Thing.
It is not the enemy of all things productive, nor is it always selfish. I had to be told far too many times in one particular week to rest. I didn't, and things went wrong. I cried a lot, but I did get given a muffin by one who was particularly sympathetic. You CAN get by with less sleep, but it doesn't mean you have to.

3) Look At What Is More Valuable.
Those marks for the essay that doesn't count? Yes, they are a useful indication of where you are heading, and they make you feel warm and fuzzy for a while, but they don't count. They really don't. I'm not saying I should slump into a thought process whereby I don't care about anything I produce (after all, I'm paying a lot for this!), but that I care and put effort into it, but don't stake my hopes on the result. The results I produce, my achievements, are not my true value. I am to seek meaning and value elsewhere and my time should reflect that. As a Christian, that means more time in prayer, seeking out friendships, looking to be compassionate and give my time sacrificially to serve others.

4) Let The Introvert Take Over Sometimes.
You don't have to enjoy always being around the constant stream of people, nor are you validated by doing so. I realised this term that I was becoming really conscious of how people saw me and tried to betray my personality by involving myself in things I wasn't too keen on. I was trying, for a time, not to do things with people outside of my halls so that I wouldn't lose friends. And I really have enjoyed this holidays being on my own, journalling more, and venturing out to see friends on my own terms rather than being barged in on and having to put up with someone for a few hours rather than just gently telling them that I would rather be alone.

5) Let Your Hair Down.
It's good to celebrate. And you, of all people, can do it sensibly and on your terms. Don't be so self-conscious, whack out that crazy dancing.

6) Embrace Brunch.
It might feel weird to come back from dance class on a Saturday morning to hash browns and beans, but you have no other choice really. And now they've replace your Sunday roast with it, too. So you had better get used to it.

Dressing up as Penny Pingleton. More of this next term.
The one day where I really went for it with brunch.
I've probably learnt even more than that, but this is the stuff that as I reflect on my first term that has really stuck. Hopefully, next term with my own room, things will be different in many ways. I can get up and not have to get dressed in the dark, go to bed with the lights off. Talk to myself. Sing to myself. It will be brilliant!

What has life been teaching you over the last few months?


Sunday, 7 December 2014

Stuck in the Bubble

I didn't understand it when people said that returning to University was like returning to a Bubble, but now the only way I can describe University is a parallel universe. Honestly, I did not believe it when people said that it was so entirely different to any life you will ever have, and I did not expect it to be so all-encompassing and challenging in so many ways. Now, I find myself with a week to go, without any deadlines but still a lot of reading if I don't want my suitcase to weigh a tonne, and itching to get away. Not from the people, or the city, or the experience of learning and trying so many new things, but just from a world which doesn't feel quite real.

My section of my shared room at University

Last year, I faced the realities of everyday life in marginalised communities in London, and it was a wake up call. Foodbanks lie dear to my heart, as does issues of poverty, benefit sanctions, and community groups. Even in a city that seems to be pretty idyllic, since being here I have learnt that it is unique among the county and that there are parts where the lifespan decreases by 10-20 years in a ten-minute drive. Yet, I am part of a weird world where students complain about money yet rarely face the real problems of hunger, electricity, water, shelter. And they are hugely apathetic about the Foodbank collection in our post room, which only had one tin of food in the last time I checked. Many are incredibly ignorant of real situations in real lives, yet are some of the most intelligent people I have met. There are a few which have real hearts of compassion, real love and drive and have even set up this incredible organisation to get students involved in local charities that would otherwise struggle to get volunteers. I was thrilled when I found out about them, but disappointed in myself that apathy set in so quickly as I was swaddled up in a cradle of comfort, of meals in a fancy dining hall and my money going towards the next best event and making friends than my passion for community. Why does being a student exemplify me from being a part of society as a whole?

You can easily spend all day going from breakfast to the library, to a lecture, to lunch, to basketball practise, to your kitchen for a tea break, to your room, to dinner, to the library, to bed. Stuck in your bubble of friendship and intellect, afraid of missing out, branching out, and really considering what is important in life. Rarely considering other people outside of this alternative reality.

Some people say you have to embrace this world in which a week goes by so fast and yet everything evolves - you have hours and hours of knowledge crammed in, new people and the dynamics of the group of people that you see everyday seems to reform every hour. For me, it feels more like staying afloat and remembering my true identity and passions which exist outside of this maddening sensation of not being in the real world and losing some of the convictions most important to me. I feel threatened.

This makes out as if University has been a bad experience, and it undoubtedly has not. I've been surprised at how much I have loved it. I've really quite enjoyed learning again, discovering and rediscovering, becoming excited by the vastness of the classical world and the underlying features of novels and the new ways of reading theology. I've enjoyed weighty discussion. I've enjoyed taking up exercise more regularly in an atmosphere where it is encouraged even if you are really very bad (like me). I've enjoyed having people around to talk to over cups of tea. I've enjoyed meeting so many inspiring people through church and Christian Union who show such generosity and help to such a confused fresher, and learning through them how to stumble along in faith at University. But I've also felt smothered by the workload, smothered by the constant social expectations, none of which I would classify as being quite real.

University is bizzare and I don't understand it yet. It's a bubble which feels inescapable, but I'm sure that over Christmas I will miss it. No matter how much I complain and grumble, I still am living in a real world. It is just a world I hadn't really considered before, a world tainted with far more privilege and freedom than I am used to, and a world far further from home than I've ever been.

Monday, 22 September 2014

The Easy Things To Be Thankful For

Off the back of my previous post on the topic of being thankful, I mentioned going around my house and taking photos of the things that I was thankful for, in spite of how admittedly easy it was for me to do so because I have so many good things, obvious privileges. As adding the photographs that I took onto that post would have made it very long, I thought I would make a separate, shorter post here with little explanations under each one, my notes of gratefulness if you will.

Being mindfully appreciative of what you have cannot just be a one-off epiphany moment and I hope that my extending this theme over two posts it will get us all thinking, me included, over a long scale of time, about how much we really have, and how much we still crave for despite the many gifts, blessings and opportunities that are right in front of us.

Dad's roast preparation. Always thankful that we can afford this luxury of good nutritious meals, indulgent yorkshire puddings and lots of trimmings.
In the centre is one of my favourite images: my best friends and I on the last day of school before we commenced our GCSE's, reminding me of how lucky I was to receive good-quality education and find incredible, supportive and lasting friendships through those years

A place to rest my head each night, to sit on and ponder, to worry, to be comforted when ill. A place which some do not have due to war, seeking asylum, in cold hard prison cells for unjust accusations. Here, I can rest, relax, gather my strength for days to come and do it comfortably. That is a privilege.
A rail of clothes in a variety of colours which express my personality, keep me cool in summer and warm in winter, mixing functionality with human creativity. In my country I am not forced to wear something simply because I am a woman, a certain race, a certain religion. I can freely determine my own principals, and enjoy myself doing so.
The sunset outside my window, looking into London and beyond. The family home kept me secure for years. I grew up in a safe, nonthreatening area, albeit with a lot of hills! And cor, did I witness many a sunset from this window, forever reminding me how awesome nature is.
These are the simple things, the easiest things to be thankful for. Nothing heroic. But even they can be swept over by the current of routine.

What will you intentionally be thankful for today?

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Kefalonia // Holiday Snaps!

To months ago, I returned back from the most relaxing and needed holiday of my life, and my first trip abroad in three years. It was one of those beautifully blissful periods of relaxing, catching up with my family, reading all the books I wanted to (I got through 7 in 12 days!), eating and a lot of swimming. We went to Kefalonia, a Greek island, and because it was slightly before school holidays we saw few tourists (and few people in general) and therefore it felt like a truly restful experience and a chance to really soak up the culture, Greek food and the island without feeling disturbed.

Our holidays usually revolve around beaches, but because we were on a island we really tried to explore all of it and did a few days spending hours driving along the vast coast, around mountains and hills, while I stuck my camera out of the window and snapped furiously away. I usually detest long drives, especially in the heat, but when you are surrounded by such vast beauty and have your headphones blasting out an anthemic Florence and the Machine song in one ear, you really are captured with a sense of the sublime and an awe of nature that in the everyday grind and self-absorption of life you completely miss, especially in London. The pictures barely capture it!

My family stayed in a villa, which felt extra secluded. We ate lots of bread and salad for lunch with feta, tzatziki and watermelon and swam in between reading chapters of books on our sun loungers. In the evenings we alternated with cooking in-house and going out to eat and experience food as the Greeks make it (don't bother with the Kefalonian meat pie: cheese and rice don't belong together!) before getting back and doing some crosswords while watching all the films that are too long to sit down and watch at home, my favourite of which was Cold Mountain. 

It was probably the best holiday I have ever had, and I am so thankful that we were given a gift which enabled us to have the break we all needed and remind me of the great scale of the created earth. Swimming in a sea with the backdrop of a misty mountain top was just magical.

What are some of your favourite holiday memories?

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Helen Berhane's Inspiration

I watched a video not long ago that stuck with me like no other Youtube parody or fashion haul had. It was the story of a woman who was trapped in a shipping container day in, day out, enduring the suffocating heat by day and freezing at night. Yet, she was thankful: thankful for her beatings, the bugs that bit her, the fact that she was alive and enduring though despised and discarded, treated as inhuman.

I have had hard days these past weeks, and moaned within myself about them knowing that really, compared to so many others, I am incredibly blessed and provided for, that my life is sustained another day in a country that gives me so many freedoms and rights which allow me to live how I wish to live and give me opportunities I simply wouldn't get elsewhere. One of my passions in life has been supporting those who were persecuted for their religious beliefs because I am increasingly aware of the grace shown to me each week when I can walk into church and not have a care in the world apart from a few people slinging about the name of Jesus as if it were a swear word during my week. I do not suffer because I believe in something, and I am truly never thankful enough for that either. Yet this woman wasn't even thankful for the things which are obviously nice, which are obviously privileges and easy to be thankful for. She was thankful for things that would be daily annoyances, that would cause her pain and grief and leave her lonely, isolated. Her name is Helen Berhane, and she is inspiring.

This video also reminded me of a book I read a few years ago called 'The Hiding Place', in which Corrie Ten Boom writes the story of how her Christian family hid Jews fleeing from the Gestapo in Amsterdam before they were caught, taken to a concentration camp and split up, never to see one another again. While they were in these horrific conditions of the camp, she loses faith, becomes self-absorbed and discouraged, becomes bitter... a pretty natural reaction to what we now recognise as one of the most horrifying events in recent humanity. But her sister, on the other hand, has such a different attitude that at one point she thanks God for the flies that bite her in the night and keep her awake. We can barely deal with wasps in the summer - they spoil our barbeques! - yet she learns to love and cherish these beings though she was being torn apart by labour day and night, sleeping in a hot room with many others in inhumane conditions. Yes, she too was thankful.

And I suppose going round my house over the course of a few days is a pathetic attempt to instigate this sort of thankfulness in my own life. These are things to be obviously thankful for, to my shame. You don't see me taking pictures of the dust on my shelves or the bin, or the blemishes on my face, but I suppose someone as ungrateful as I am has to start somewhere.

Jesus said "Where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also", and I strive not to treasure and love my possessions so much that they become my identity and source of fulfillment in life. Heck, I've had to wean myself off lifestyle and home blogs because they make me so jealous and subconsciously give me the wrong view that these perfectly fitted and beautiful places complete a person, make them happier and more fulfilled when I know as a result of my Christian faith that there are higher things, greater things to set my mind on. But the things I do have are all gifts, graces, provisions, and I wish I appreciated them more. At the right time, they are given away to serve another, sold to fund something more pressing or passed on simply to recognise that I don't need as much as I thought I did to live. But for now, I can look at pictures that I have taken and think:
"Yes, I am thankful."

And I hope that one day as I mature that my thankfulness extends as far as Helen Berhane's did, because I certainly am not there yet.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Advice from a Skint (ex) Londoner

So, after my year in London living pretty minimally (I got money for food and travel and only a few times spent all of it) and learning about budgeting and how to enjoy the wonder of London alongside that, I thought I would do a quicker, more succinct (ha!) blog post about my experiences. Some of these might be pretty obvious, but some of these things I actually shared with colleagues of mine who had been living in London for years. It is amazing how many things pass you by!

1) Timeout London is your friend...
And honestly, it got better and better as the year went on, with loads of lists of free things to do in music, art etc. as well as sections on what was on each day. I used this to plan many-a day trip, especially when I wanted it to stay within one localised area or borough to avoid excessive tube use. I just typed in the location or postcode and away we go.

2)... but it's not the only weapon!
Over the year I found a great website called +BrokeinLondon  (Twitter: @Brokeinlondon1) through using the twitter page at work and trying to get our free events, workshops and platforms heard about. They followed us, I followed them and soon became an avid user. Every weekend they post their top five free things to do, every month they give you a day-by-day account of the best free cinema listings as well as CV tips and other articles about great new finds (we also might have been featured on a post about community cafes!) Alongside that, I came across a Twitter feed called SkintLondon which told me a good few times how to find free Ben and Jerry's!

3) Get yourself a railcard!
It costs around £30 to buy but will save you around £3 everytime you buy an off-peak day travelcard (after 10:30 on weekdays) from Zones 1-6, which takes me from home into central London far cheaper than Oyster payment. I am also aware that you can add these onto your Oyster card somehow, but I don't know quite how yet.

4) Walk/ cycle
In my last month, I was on a tighter travel budget so didn't buy my extortionate usual travelcard. This meant that all the little cheats I had been relying on before had to go - getting the bus a few stops over a bridge each morning just to leave about five minutes later was no longer worth the £1.45 it would set me back each day on Oyster pay as you go. Yes, I really am that pedantic about my money! I also walked to work, leaving 15 minutes earlier and saving myself a further £2.20 on the DLR. My job is pretty walking-heavy, however, but I do testify to the fact that many Londoners are hugely lazy when it comes to travel and are missing out on some spectacular sights and hidden finds while getting the tube. Alternatively, if you are brave, cycle and save yourself even more! I am not brave, so I walked along the cycle highway and breathed in the smell of East London.

5) Apps
Sticking to the theme of travel, Citymapper was a huge favourite app of mine. It calculated how much different modes of transport would cost you, alongside the corresponding times and with walking and cycling, even worked out how many calories you would burn. I often found that sometimes taking one longer bus saved me a huge deal of money. It was also incredibly useful when those pesky weekend engineering works seemed to ruin all my plans. Vouchercloud was also hugely handy for restaurant codes. I managed to get 20% off Zizzi's multiple times when I saved up the money to go and it works using your location a lot of the time, very handy.

6) Covent Garden... just don't.
This is something that can be said for all of the shopping destinations in London. Going up there in the summer holidays when I had money was loads of fun, but going there on a budget, trying to find a cheap lunch and window shopping just isn't fun, especially with the bustling weekend crowds that want to crush your bones. If you do find yourself here, the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery are short walks away (don't you DARE get the tube to Leicester Square from Covent Garden, it is the shortest distance on the whole tube network). If you end up on Oxford Circus, walk away, most directions will do and there are some independent galleries around there as well as the British Museum if you wanted a longer walk. In fact, just avoid all tourist areas, there are normally better alternatives. My housemates told me that pedalo-ing in Regent's Park was half the price of Hyde Park so it pays to go a little out of the usual boundaries.

7) Look in your community.
Working in a community cafe opened my eyes to how little people really knew about all the things that were available to them for very cheap prices without having to hop on any transport. We organised classes, free art platforms, free films... and people were astonished when they found out! Every youth has a church near them which would organise a youth club, and the amount of local galleries were insane. I found that both the White Cube and Fashion and Textile Museum were five minutes down the road from me. In terms of cheaper food, avoid avoid avoid the chains! Especially when it comes to coffee, the independents do it best and a lot of the time, cheaper and with a friendlier face attached. And all those weird little groceries near you? Go in them! Sometimes their fruit and veg will be cheaper than the supermarkets and it is a nice chance to engage with people in the community by supporting their businesses. I know a couple that got to know their local "samosa guy" that they invited him round for dinner!

8) Markets
Ok, so my local market was Borough Market which didn't always have the cheapest deals and you certainly have to dig around for them, but they were there! My favourite memory of Borough Market was going at 10 in the morning and hunting down loads of freebies, filling us right up so that we only paid £2 each for a shared salad deal which we sat and ate in the sun outside Southwark Cathedral. We might have gone back for more bread and oil afterwards, too. I would also advise going near closing time for some cheaper fruits. I have also managed to haggle some cheap deals on clothes in Spitalfields and generally have a gander with stallholders and it can be a great way to spend a day if you can resist buying too much and check on vouchercloud for deals on lunch or cake. Unfortunately, I would not consider myself a market expert and would definitely go with a small budget, but it's definitely one of the cheaper and more amiable ways to spend a day. Plus, lots of photography opportunities (just ask the stallholders first, ey!)

9) Sit still!
Londoners don't stop, or they become reclusive. Go to a public space, a park, a square, a bench of sorts, and take it in. There might be a view, a smell, a group of people. Sit down, have a think about life, read that book that you haven't made time in your hectic lifestyle to read, and then walk to your next destination (drinks with a friend? - probs)

10) All the obvious advice below.
Eat out less, plan your meals, turn the heating down a bit and throw on a jumper... everything that your mum tells you and your grandparents practised in the days after rationing. It's even more important to do this in London where your bills and food costs are higher! Sometimes, meeting with friends and doing a co-op meal is much nicer than eating out in a dingy, loud restaurant anyway.

Do you have any tips for living and socialising in London on a budget? Any recommendations (links to blog posts please!) on cheap eats or days out? Let me know in the comments.


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

London Nostalgia

So, it has been a month since I packed my bags, cried, and left my temporary home in London. Since then, I have blogged little, and I have three reasons for this. 

1) Lack of time
A few days after I arrived back in my childhood home, back into my room which actually felt like mine and didn't have horrendous curtains, I started a new job, and it was far more stressful than I thought. The pay wasn't what they said, nor were the hours, and I found myself working five or six hours a day, six days a week and trying to fit all my friends in between, which I remained unsuccessful at because I was so tired of all the adjustment! I have finally found a routine, had enough time catching up and hanging out with my family in the evenings, sorted out all my junk in my room and am ready to sink back into this corner of the internet.

2) Laptop issues!
Just as I returned, the laptop charger that I had bought as a replacement started to hack up. I typed one handed for a few weeks, endured holding the charger in at stupid angles and constant beeping before I gave it and bought a new one, only for the RAM to stop working and for my laptop not to turn on. Never, ever, get a Packard Bell, ladies and gents.

3) I am lazy

So, to get myself in the blogging mood once more, and to reminisce the times I had in London which sadly feel far away and forgotten already, I thought I would share some snaps that haven't featured on here before that I am particularly proud of. I thought that this summer I would be returning to London at least once a week to explore what I didn't before, but alas my job has made that redundant, and so I explore London now through the files on my laptop and the ponderings which go alongside them.


In the heart of Theatreland, the Shaftsbury Theatre has an olden charm which I could not resist photographing. Just look at the colour of that brickwork and the contrasting tones and perspectives. I love it.

A sight I saw every day: a bridge in Bermondsey with the most dangerous and unpredictable crossing ever, used to make late-night trips to the co-op to get milk and romanticised by warm sunlight. The trainline that runs along here takes me to and from my childhood home and whenever I was on the train I could spot my London home through the window and it always gave me such an amazing feeling to know that I was returning to a place that equally felt like home, with housemates that made the brown furnishings seem insignificant!

Let's be honest, I just thought that the bright blue colour of this building was amazing and reminded me more of a beach hut, yet sat in London's Soho. 
There I am. Clever shot, if I do say so. (Note the sarcasm)

The road I lived on, pictured from that dangerous crossing. I walked over that Bridge every day, visited the Wetherspoons pub behind the tree on the right all too frequently (especially during the World cup!), heard children playing in the school opposite, and saw the orange and grey building in the foreground burn down from my window about a week after this picture was taken. 
Taken from my vantage point at West End Live, this captures the regal, old London monuments and Christian history as well as the tourist history and the vibrancy of London by including all the out of focus heads. It helped that this was probably the hottest day I experienced in London to capture that glorious blue sky and the rich greens of the trees.

The grime and dirt of London, contrasted with the glamour and riches of the Shard from the train window. I like this photograph because the grime, graffiti and ugly building is shone on by the sunlight, yet the Shard is masked by dirt on the window, almost a hologram or printed on top as an afterthought in black and white. 

Taken on a beautiful day where we took a spontaneous walk, I just love the colours in this photograph as well as all the contrast in buildings: the modernity of Blackfriars Bridge against St Paul's Cathedral.

She walks, and nobody noticed but me.
Taken from halfway up the stairs on the Monument, I love the angle of this photograph and it's rigidness in all it's lines, completely ruined by the blurry shadow of my friend Hope. I remember this moment because she was very scared of these steps.

I like this photograph purely for the clarifying yellow which declares my whereabouts in contrast with the unknown blurry man in the foreground. It really conveys what the atmosphere is like: bustling, colourful, with so many treats and treasures in sight!
A view from Tower Bridge, obscured by the famous windows which from below you wouldn't even think that there were people behind (or that they were windows... more like elaborate decoration!)

Oh, you beauty! They would never in this day make a bridge like you, and you have survived so much. It's amazing to see you up close, dear Tower, and I have missed seeing your splendour every day rather than the concrete buildings of my home town. Also, the angles on this photograph. The lines! The perspective!

A photograph taken at dusk from my beloved DLR train, and I even love the fact that it is wonky, framed by modern buildings and depicting a modern skyline, but still with the old street lamps hanging proudly and catching your eye to rival the modernity. I just love the muted colours of this photograph.

Nothing like a bit of lens flare to make Greenwich look even more dreamy than it is.

Love the grainy mood to this picture, as well as all the criss-cross lines of the structure of the Eye, the Embankment Bridge and Blackfriars just next door, all with contrasting warm and cools tones of the different lighting.

I love the windy road, the looming street lamp, the old buildings against the glassy cool of the Shard, a whole other London captured within minutes of it's modern, chic rival.
Old streets just melt my heart, especially when they have abandoned shops with adorably cute paint colours, chipped with age as London moves on elsewhere (in this case, just down the road!)
And the rambles commence and I am wishing that I could just explore again!

Where have you explored recently? Or what time in your life are you having nostalgia for recently? Link me yours posts and tell me your thoughts in the comments. Because I like human interaction and human stories.


Sunday, 27 July 2014

Eleven Months to Grow a Girl

A few years ago, at the ripe old age of 16 (ha!), I felt a strong call to do a gap year, to spend a year growing and learning and seeing where God could bring me as a person, use me for His glory and share His amazing story along the way. I did not know what that might look like and I certainly would never have imagined the past eleven months as they were back then. And now, I leave London with a greater vision, less fear of the future, a greater truth in God's purposes, a passion for building community, a more balanced life that is shaped by service rather than self-ambition, great friends, amazing mentors, and a rich rich thankfulness. I can't explain how this year has shaken me as a person in all aspects of my life, how it has made me wrestle with the way I live my life in an often painful way, and realigned my life to see greater things, greater plans and be ready for the future.

I remember when I was applying for University and I struggled to get excited about it. I didn't feel ready, I didn't want to learn for three years when I could be doing things, making an impact. I didn't want to be swept up in a culture that rid me of my current identity and once again forced me into thinking that knowledge, learning and achievements are what my identity rides on. Now, I feel ready. I have had a year of giving, learning, loving and I have a healthier perspective of what University can offer me and exactly why I am going. Yes, I want to get a degree which can give me access to better jobs and opportunities (although I am a big believer in alternative methods and explored many of them before finally deciding that to accept my place at University was the right thing for me) and I want to have the 'experience' that so many grads harp on about (although this year has been a wonderful experience also, and one I would not trade for an earlier graduation). But now I go knowing exactly what I want out of that experience, how I can serve and grow and learn and keep a healthy attitude to what really matters.

The past eleven months have grown me as a girl by forcing me into an adult world of adult problems. It forced me to work out the struggles of routine, of priorities, of living with people who won't make you dinner and wash your clothes and who hold you responsible for your own welfare (let's be honest, living at home is not the same), to think independently and to love in a deeper, richer and relentless way. The work I have done has been hard. I have been working in a highly skilled team who intimidated me for the first few months with their togetherness and social life, who showed me what it was to work hard but also the joys of rest, and got me out of my bubble of only hanging out with people my own age. I have been working in a community with cultural and age differences where prejudice is still rife and trying to unite them and cross those boundaries, loving people who are hard to love, serving them in their greatest need and putting up with their many character traits which are fraustrating as anything. I have taken responsibility and ownership for my work, building my own relationships in an environment that does not give you a handy mark scheme so you can see your progress or tick boxes like you can with an A Level essay.

I've also learnt little things like budgeting money (on a much tighter budget than Student Finance let me tell you!), and socialising! Yep, I was the girl who chose to spend pretty much all her Saturdays essay writing rather than working just that little bit harder in the week. I was rubbish at making plans and worried far too much about getting things done. I now feel confident just to grab a camera and walk around London, to meet friends after work (an evening out on a school night? Goodness gracious), to enjoy all the free and wonderful things London has to offer, including the company of my housemates. I have learnt to live in community with others rather than just shutting myself in my room for the day with my laptop and a bowl of pasta; I can cook a lot better, too!

Basically, life happened and forced me to grow up. I worked the hardest I have ever and faced real struggles, taking on the emotional pain of others, a broken heart for the poor and marginalised. I cried with the anxiety of taking upon myself the welfare of these people and cried out for strength to love these people and push aside my humiliation, awkwardness and fear. But alongside that, I came out wanting to do that full-time some day. To invest myself fully into a lifestyle that is shaped by sacrifice. But I know I have to grow a lot, lot more for it not to break me, and to do that job to the best of my ability, with a greater commitment and heart and passion.

The other day, I even referred to myself as a woman, and I think that is a pretty big deal.