Flashback Friday: Your Life’s Soundtrack

Originally posted on November 29th 2013 as part of a collective blog writing project “Blogember” hosted by A Happy Girl.

Every kid has a record that they make their parents play over and over again. For my youngest brother it was Lighthouse Family’s High (known as ‘The Toaster song’), for my sister it was Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You (known as ‘Love You’) and for me it was Laura Branigan’s Self Control (known as ‘The Pink Record’ – because when I was born we only had vinyl records and it was a while before we upgraded to cassette tape. And that vinyl record EP had a pink cover).

We lived with my Nana and Grandad for a few years after my Mum & Dad separated, and until I was old enough to be home alone after school, I spent most of my time in their house. I was brought up on the music of the 40s like Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby and Glenn Miller.

And of course then I got my very own cassette radio! The first tapes I owned were Dançando Lambada, Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue.

From there, it was the soundtrack of Grease and the music of Buddy Holly. I even had a ‘Rock n Roll’ party for my 9th birthday. Any chance I got I would be making up dance routines with my friend Debbie at school to songs from Grease. And yes, I also liked to listen to a bit of 2 Unlimited. I loved Buddy Holly so much, and was really upset to hear that he had died in a plane crash with Richie Valens. I tried to teach myself how to tap dance from a book in the library and made up a tap dance to this song…

But by the time I was 12 and leaving primary school, I was all about Oasis. I have clear memories standing with the rest of the two Primary 7 classes and singing this together in front of the school on our final day before we all went our separate ways to different high schools…


it remains one of my favourite songs, and one that I want played at my funeral.

Of course then came the Spice Girls. I was not immune to the girl power message and their dance routines were so easy to learn. I would watch the music videos, learn the routines and teach them to my friends and my little sister (and all her wee pals!). I’m hoping my stepmother has lost the video footage of us performing this one Boxing Day…

Every one has a coming of age film, for my generation it was Now and Then, the girls equivalent of Stand By Me in a way. I loved this song, and remember me and two of my best friends when I was 14-16 would walk along the road singing this song.

There are so many songs that remind me of being sixteen that it would have to be a soundtrack all of it’s own. I’ll thank my Dutch friends for introducing me to Krezip. They even did a cover of my Oasis favourite song…! And this one is another like Stand By Me that means a great deal…

If there is a song to remind me of university, it’s being in the student union and yelling TUNNNNE whenever this song came on. We’d all get up sing and do a bit of rocking out to this every. single. time. And will therefore have to be repeated at every birthday party or wedding we all gather at for the rest of time.

When I was really sick with post-viral fatigue syndrome, there were days where I couldn’t move from my bed. This song by Phatfish was what got me through that summer when it was at its worst.The song has a great many stories, but the main one is that the first time I sang this in public was on the day I was baptised in 2003. The church leadership graciously allowed me to sing it as I didn’t want to share a great deal of my backstory (what you’ll hear Christians calling ‘testimony’).

The final song is from One Tree Hill, and one I had on repeat as I basically sobbed my way to Australia in 2007 after leaving Aberdeen. Thank you Nada Surf for reminding me of the simple message Jesus had already taught me… always love.

Flashback Friday: How I didn’t become a politician in Germany…

There could be only one flashback post this week, when it popped up on my Timehop app yesterday that 3 years ago I flew out with some fellow University of Glasgow School of Education postgrads for a two week intensive programme in Germany. I have such good memories of the friends I made during that experience and this story is something my friends and I still laugh about.

Original Post: March 1st 2014

I feel I should explain something. There’s a woman in Germany called Prof Dr. Christina Völkl-Wolf and she is not me.

On our first day travelling to the university in Würzburg, we immediately began to notice posters with people’s faces on them. They reminded me of American car salesman ads – I don’t know why. During our guided tour of the city centre we saw even more and certain faces began to become familiar. Eventually I asked the professor from the host university what they were all about.

It turned out they were posters for politicians campaigning to be voted in the local elections which are this month.

One of the girls I travelled with has a tradition with her sister of taking pictures imitating statues. She had got me to take photos of her to send to her sister, and me being me, I joined in the banter.

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A couple of days later, I think cabin fever got to us (there were 42 of us sharing one kitchen, 52 of us in one room at the university for most of each day…) and we decided to get some fresh air by walking from the campus to the train station rather than taking a bus. Chariots of Fire was reenacted in a park. And we started posing next to the election posters.

We worried that maybe the folks in Germany would be offended, but it turned out they thought it was funny too (phew) so we did it a few times, as well as doing the statue imitations. At the weekend, we were free to go explore the region as much as we wanted. While I went with most of the Italian university group to explore Nuremberg and Bamberg, two of the Scottish group went with one of the Hungarians to explore Würzburg. When I returned they told me I had to see the poster they had found, and showed me on their phone the picture they had taken of it.

You have to get your picture taken next to one of these posters they said.

The next day, I went into Würzburg with one of my roommates and while walking up to the Fortress we saw one of the aforementioned posters. And I obliged.

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And then I made it my facebook profile pic, which got plenty of comments, the best of which came from my sister who said “HIMYM doppelgänger moment x” (How I Met Your Mother fans will understand). Yes. We had found ‘German Professor Laurie’, and she was a nominee for the city council.

One of my classmates was disappointed my hair hadn’t been straightened that day, so on the last night we took a photo of another poster we found walking back to the main station.

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I did check with the Würzburg students she wasn’t some crazy conservative,  because I was concerned I might be inadvertently promoting someone from the German equivalent of UKIP or something. They told me she isn’t though they didn’t know much about her.

So there you have it. Some say we don’t look alike at all, others think it’s a bit freaky! Good luck Christina, and serve your city well.

Flashback Friday: The way to get better at something is to…

Originally posted on Learning from Sophie in August 2012

When kids are little, they think grown ups can do anything. There are things they can’t do or haven’t learned yet, and when we’re able to do things they can’t it might seem like we’re waaay more superhero like than we actually are.

It might be because we can drive a car to get somewhere exciting, or jump up so high we can touch the ceiling. The fact that we can draw a picture with incredible detail that you know exactly what it is without having to ask. You are the person that can quench their curiosity with answers to their questions and they might wow at your knowledge.

But of course children grow up, and eventually they learn that you’re just as flawed as everybody else and you’re not really a superhero after all.

My friend’s daughter looks up to me. When I realised that, I got a bit intimidated. After all, we already know that I can be a corruptive influence on the younger generation. 😉 Whenever she was in church and I was singing in the worship band (often with her Daddy who plays drums and other grown up friends she knows) she always got excited. When she was little she’d do impressions of us all – she’d sing with her eyes shut – one arm raised in the air and declare that she was me. My response was a mixture of embarrassment (oh my – is that really what I look like when I’m singing?!), hilarity and pride. She made me a card on my 26th birthday that declared I was a rockstar. And I guess to her, it maybe looked that way. I mean I got to sing on a stage with a microphone with a band. That is COOL. To her, I was an amazing singer.

But the truth is, although I can sing, I’m not anything remotely close to amazing or rockstar like!

When we were on holiday last month, my friend and her daughter (and indeed everyone else on the beach that day who might have been watching) got to see me suck at something. I love gymnastics. But I can’t do it. My friend’s daughter like me, loves dance and other sports but isn’t brilliant at them yet. She’s still learning after all. At first she didn’t try the cartwheels with me. Until she saw that I couldn’t do it, and was having fun trying anyway. So together we tried to fling our bodies into the air attempting handstands and cartwheels. Again. And Again.

We didn’t succeed.

But we had fun trying.

You know, I was never able to sing in harmony. It took me ages to learn. At first I could only do it if I was provided with the notes I needed to sing over and over. When I began to sing in church, I stuck to the melody. Eventually I got the harmony if someone made it up for me. And then with practice and trying (and some awful bum notes in the process) I began to be able to harmonise. Our leader at Powerpoint now jokes with me because I don’t know the melodies to songs anymore – I’m so used to making my own harmonise version as we learn a new song! But when I was 19 I never thought I’d be able to do that. I had to keep practising. I had to ask others from help and teaching. I had to keep trying. I had to make myself vulnerable to making mistakes in the process.

As I came away that day, I reflected on the importance of that lesson. It’s the words that now stick on my head watching footage of World Champion (and now Olympic Champion with her teammates) Jordyn Wieber trying to do a gymnastics move in her living room and falling on her first attempt when she was a little kid. Her Mum is behind the camera as she goes for another attempt…‘The best way to get something done is to try again’

You want to get better at something? Are you being held back because you failed the first time and you don’t like not being the best at something on first go?

I’m with Rita Wieber on this one.

Try Again.

It really is the best way to live. 🙂

Flashback Friday: My Mind and Curtains are open…

It’s funny, I was thinking over the last few weeks about church and how it’s changed. I get so frustrated by the “It’s ok to not be ok” message when it isn’t followed through. The “everyone’s welcome here” but only if you fit the checklist and sit quietly until you do. The business models and made up jargon. My friend who has with her husband, served in church leadership for many years recently shared an article by Rachel Held Evans from a couple of years ago and I just wanted to scream a huge AMEN! Going to my friend’s church in England in December made me so relieved that there does seem to be churches that truly mean everyone is welcome and are just doing their best to like…learn from the bible and live life.

I stumbled across this post on my old blog, and I’m pretty sure I wrote it the day after I’d been spoken to by a person who had been advised by a leader of the church I was a member of about my blog. They didn’t think I should be leading worship if I was publicly admitting to occasionally struggling with my faith and/or health on my blog. This was in spite of the lead pastor giving almost weekly messages about how this was a church where it was “ok not to be ok”. I was upset at first, but thankfully had the courage to challenge them on it there and then- the person relaying the message ended up agreeing that there was hypocrisy between the church’s message from the pulpit and what they were saying now in private behind the scenes. I kept writing, I kept singing. I did spend a few days questioning whether that leader was correct in their assessment, whether I should stop writing or stop leading worship and turned to a few wise women(all of whom were practising Christians) to ask their genuine opinions. Every single person told me not to change a thing in my blog writing, pointing out just how many people came to my blog – many of them who also struggled with faith, didn’t believe at all, had been abused by church leaders – and had left comments on the very posts the church leader had an issue with.

Originally posted on Learning From Sophie in February 2009

I was struggling to focus on work today, as I wrestled with some issues relating to how I live out my faith and beliefs to others. I spent a lot of the day praying for me, for others, asking God what was best, to give me grace….etc etc etc.

Today the BBC website was down so I couldn’t put the radio on while I was in the office. I managed to log into my last fm account instead and switched on my playlist. I was in the middle of writing a volunteer report and thinking sporadically about what I should and should not be doing in life.

And this song came on by NOFX (glad no one else was in the office – as um, the language used by this punk rock band is well, yeah…not appreciated by the easily offended?)

“Looks like witches are in season, you better fly your flag and be aware of anyone who might fit the description, diversity is now our biggest fear.

Now with our conversations tapped and our differences exposed, how ya supposed to love your neighbor with our minds and curtains closed?

NOFX – Regaining Unconsciousness

I’m not the same as everyone else. We live in a diverse world. Church should reflect that. I don’t understand why churches are so scared of what is different. I don’t understand why we all feel we have to wear masks when you look at Job, David’s Psalms, Elijah, Jesus in Gethsemane, Peter on the night Jesus was arrested, Thomas who struggled to believe that the man stood in front of him was his teacher and mentor, Jesus. Church should be a place to be accepted, a place of sanctuary. Not somewhere you are afraid to be yourself or voice your fears and doubts. It’s a place where you be able to take your fears and doubts so you can be listened to, loved, accepted, wisely counselled, encouraged, fed, ministered to.

My mind is open – to listen, to show compassion, to accept people as they are whether I agree with them or not.

My curtains are open – see my life warts and all…

Shock, horror and surprise – I’m imperfect! Even though I’m a ‘grown-up’, I don’t have it anymore ‘sorted’ than I did when I was 15 years old. The only difference is I’ve lived through more and become a little wiser for it.

Some days I’m happy and I have buckets of faith to lend. Some days I’m struggling and holding on for dear life wondering if God is against me more than for me. Some days I’m sad but I find it easy to hand it over, knowing that God is a being that brings good out of the most crappy situations.

My main reason for blogging is to be transparent, and to be honest and real in both the good times and the bad times. I hope I do that. I hope I continue to try to do that even if it makes people uncomfortable. I want to thank the folks that speak to me and comment on posts that have encouraged or helped them or challenged them or made them think. Trust me – today I’ve gone through previous posts on this blog and my old blog, with 2 wise women who told me that I should keep it real! And I re-read so many of your comments on those posts that were tough to write because I knew it meant people would see my inner struggles, making me seriously vulnerable. You guys have encouraged me so much in that. So thank you.

A big koala hug goes out to you…hope you can receive it well on the blogosphere.

🙂

I’m so glad that those people encouraged me to keep being me, and to keep being honest. And I hope I always live for an audience of One,  always have the courage to challenge hypocrisy and spiritual abuse, and have eyes to see through the bluster of the next trend to what is truly important about following the teachings of Jesus.

Flashback Friday: Apple & Bramble Crumble

Originally posted: October 19th 2013

Autumn is a yucky time of year – the nights start drawing in, the weather gets properly minging with lots of grey skies and windy days, leaves fall off the trees making the likeliness of standing in dog poo a whole lot more likely as it’s hidden under all those mulchy leaves! What to do? Bring out the comfort food, and take advantage of the season’s harvest! This recipe should serve about 6-9 people depending on how big you make your portion sizes.20131012-233555.jpg

Ingredients
For fruit filling:

1 large cooking apple (or 2 medium ones)

2 punnets of blackberries (AKA brambles!)

25g light muscovado sugar

25g golden caster sugar

For the crumble:

175g plain flour

75g golden caster sugar

100g unsalted butter

Method

Preheat your oven to 180°C (fan assisted oven) 200°C (normal oven)

Grease your pyrex dish with a teeny bit of butter (this will make it your crumble way easier to extract and your dish easier to clean later!)

To make the crumble mix, chop your butter into smaller pieces, then put your butter, flour and sugar in a mixing bowl. Rub it all together with your hands until it all looks like breadcrumbs, then set to one side…

Rinse your fruit. Peel and chop your apple(s) into bite size pieces. Make sure you’ve got no leaves or anything attached to your blackberries!

Spread fruit evenly in the pyrex dish, sprinkle your sugar over the fruit.

Sprinkle your crumble mixture over the fruit til it is completely covered.

Bake in the oven for about 35 minutes until the crumble is golden and fruit is bubbling. It might need 5-10 minutes longer depending on your oven.

Bring out leave to cool a little bit, then serve with cream or ice cream (or whatever you like).

This can also be split into portions and frozen – that’s if none of your friends or relatives are helping you to eat it that day! 😉

Flashback Friday: Quote of the Week 5

Originally posted January 31st 2013

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There is a wonderful movement of people who share their stories. Stories of second chances, deep inward battles and triumph over difficult circumstances. The idea is that by going first, it will encourage others to be able to say ‘Me too‘.

So often we think that we are the only one with a particular thought, experiencing a certain emotion or in a circumstance none of our close-knit friends or relatives could really understand what it is like to go through.

There is such power in sharing our stories honestly.

And even more encouragement when someone responds with ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one

In 2009, I went to South Africa for two weeks. The battle to get there was so exhausting that I didn’t really have time to think too much about what it would be like, and to be honest I had very little idea of what to expect. On arrival though, one thing made me very uncomfortable and that was the idea that somehow all us ‘privileged’ folks from the UK (and other countries) were there to help the ‘poor black people’. I kept my mouth shut about it, and was sincerely glad for the wisdom of our hosts at the Seed of Hope who made sure that was not going to be the case as young people from the township  and our two teams mixed up to make 3 super teams doing the DIY in the two local schools and running a holiday club in the township. We were just extra hands so the workload could be achieved in a short space of time and there were much more of us to give hugs, carry little ones and be climbed all over! 🙂 I knew though that it wasn’t the same for all the other teams…

One day my roommate came back from her project in a bad mood. I think I was probably lying on my bed feeling like death warmed up when she arrived back. And after about 10 minutes she began to express her anger about the attitudes of white British folks feeling sorry for the ‘poor black people’ that apparently needed their help. And with that came her frustration of people brandishing the continent of Africa with mass generalisations, all the charities that think they help but actually perpetuate a culture of helplessness and so on. I was relieved I wasn’t the only one feeling the way – ‘Me too’!

After that we had daily conversations after our project, we prayed together and were very thankful to be in a room with each other. Our conversations carried on long after we left the country that we felt great affection for.

And then there is blogging. I have established several friendships when I first shared my story of unplanned pregnancy and abortion. Quietly woman after woman (and a few guys) e-mailed or tweeted me privately to say ‘Me too’. Other fellow aliens on Planet Christian have come out to say ‘me too’. We’ve bonded over cupcake baking, being women, loving American TV Dramas, musicals, Australian soap characters, anger at the messed up world we live in, uniting in the face of bullies in whatever form they take…

Many people blog to share sage wisdom and knowledge. Perhaps to promote the work they do. I started blogging to try and make sense of everything I was feeling and experiencing in that moment of writing. It was only when strangers starting coming alongside me and leaving comments of encouragement or understanding that it began to grow into other things and though the comments aren’t so many these days, I would just miss my online friends if I stopped! In some ways they are more authentic that the ‘in real life’ friendships I hold with others.

Do you agree? When do you think friendship is born?

Original Comments: 

  1. Doctor Idgie

    in the last month, two of my close friends have lost family members (a brother to suicide and a father to a horrible illness) – and I’ve been so grateful that when I was having a tough time, they were there for me, and that set the tone for a friendship that enables them to trust me with their feelings now.

    Aside from that, the first time I met someone with my personal ‘big issue’, it was like a lightening bolt – she was a few years ahead of me, and seemed to be ok, and it gave me faith that one day I would be too.

     
  2. Rebecca

    Have you thought about being a motivational speaker? You’re so good at these type of posts. I found myself saying ‘me too’ throughout this!

Flashback Friday: Banana Breakfast Muffins

We’ll ignore the fact today is actually Saturday, but I forgot to post anything yesterday, and I saw the Uni Mummy request some snack recipes. This is one of my old recipes I used to make mainly for the purpose of keeping in my bag as a post work/pre gym snack. When I was doing my postgrad diploma I used to make Chocolate Banana Teabread and would freeze portions to take in with me. This is slightly healthier!
Ingredients:

3 ripe bananas

4 fl oz semi-skimmed milk

3 eggs

4 oz unsalted butter

2 tbsp honey

8oz self raising flour

4 oz of bran flakes

4 oz porridge oats

2 handfuls of raisins

2 handfuls of chopped nuts

Method

Preheat oven to 150 C

Melt butter and honey in a small saucepan, stirring occasionally (do not let it boil!!) 

Peel, then mash the bananas in a mixing bowl. Put bran flakes in a plastic bag (I usually use a freezer/sandwich bag) make sure the bag is closed then bash with a rolling pin to crush the bran flakes – then put to one side.

Add milk, eggs, melted butter & honey to the bananas and whisk together.

Add the flour, crushed bran flakes, oats, nuts and raisins and stir it all together. You do not want to stir too much, just enough so that everything is mixed in to create your muffin mixture.

Divide equally between 12-16 muffin cases. The muffins will not rise much, so you want the cases fairly full (fuller than you’d have for cupcakes).

Put in oven for around 25-30 mins where they should be golden on top.

If you put the muffins in a sealtight container, they can keep for up to a week. They work great as a snack as they full of fibre and more complex carbs for slower-release energy in place of a chocolate bar! Also useful for the mornings where you sleep in and don’t have time to make breakfast, or when you are about to go to the gym and your stomach is rumbling it wants tea and is threatening to ruin your workout. 🙂 The use of honey, bananas and raisins means they still taste sweet, but the sugar is more natural and better for you than refined sugar used in cakes (and most definitely better than artificial sweeteners – please insert my usual rant about so-called ‘diet’ drinks and people putting sweetener or faux sugar in their tea or coffee here).

Flashback Friday: A letter to my 16 year old self

Originally posted August 27th 2010.

Writing a letter to my 16 year old self….where to begin? It was the most bittersweet year of my life so far, and it’s tough to believe it was as much as 10 years ago as it’s a year I remember soooo vividly!

Dear Laura Anne,

So you’re now 16, nobody ever calls you Laura Anne (except your friend Craig who for some reason likes to call you by your full name) and you have made some amazing friendships in this last year. Don’t let them go easily. Invest in those friends who you love and love you back – and most importantly have your back…always. As the years go on, and you face more of the ups and downs of life, the more you will appreciate the friends you’ve had since you were young.

I’m not sure if you met your boyfriend in the best possible way, and there are going to be complications from the decisions you have made now that will affect the rest of your life. Tread carefully not only with each others’ hearts, but the hearts of those close to you too. Especially as you face challenges far greater than most teenagers could barely imagine.

Choose life, and live it. I know that at times you feel there’s no hope, feeling so trapped between trying to survive through the life you are living, and working your way towards the life you can see but never seem to be able to reach. But the simple fact is, the dreams and visions you’ve been having – they are real, and their message is truth to encourage you. You will come through. There will be healing on the other side. There is a purpose for you in this world. Choose to live your life unselfishly.

Ask the GP for Depo Provera. It will save you from years of pain and embarrassing situations (and most likely an unplanned pregnancy). Plus, get a physio referral for your back injury! It will come back to haunt you later on if you don’t…

You are going to have so many opportunities in the next year…I know that you don’t want to go back to high school for another year. But seriously, make the most of it. Get stuck in, work hard and you will get the results you need. Listen to the teachers that are going to encourage you in your learning and help you achieve all you have to the potential for. Ignore the ones who don’t, and do not let the anger and hurt of them bringing you down with negativity get to you. Enjoy the trip to Morocco (you won’t need half the food you plan to take by the way), and get all you can from experiencing life as a dance teacher in Sweden too. You are making memories that will last forever.


Don’t let fear stop you from doing things in the future. Make an active effort to live a life of no regrets.

You’ll be going to university next year, leaving all your friends behind as they finish off high school. This is the right decision, and don’t let anyone tell you differently. You are not the same as everybody else, and these next few years your life is going to change more than you could ever have imagined. You’re going to make amazing friends, learn so much. Yes, you will go through more heartache, but you will not be alone in it. Perhaps leave the weird jacket and avoid the hair dye at home (it will not work in your dark blonde hair!!).

Do not get your navel pierced….or if you do, remember that if you are allergic to surgical steel earrings, you will be allergic to surgical steel navel bars (even if your infected belly button will get you out of classes pretty much whenever you like because it looks so disgusting, it’s not worth it).

Learn how to manage your finances. (Do not trust your father to teach you about this).

Make time to spend with your family. It will make things much easier as you deal with the rollercoaster ride you’ll go on in years to come with them.

Your worldview is going to change pretty radically in the next 14 months. Um, when the time comes to explain that to your family (particularly your mother and Nana) choose your words carefully so they don’t think you’ve joined a suicide cult.

Don’t put up with guys who treat you poorly. They are not worth it, and it is better to be single than to be with the wrong guy. Do not let them put pressure on you or make you feel guilty. In fact, while you are at university you might be wise to just not get involved in any relationships like that altogether!!

As I write from 10 years in the future, know that you love to sing even more than before (so Standard Grade Music wasn’t such a waste of time after all, huh?). You’ve been to Australia, South Africa, New York City, travelled around Europe, and you are still writing. Some of the people that you didn’t get on with in high school are now your close friends. You now love Starbucks (you’ll grow to love their hot chocolate). You still love to e-mail, and you will make even more friends online in the years to come. There’ll be great tools you’ll discover like blogging, facebook, twitter and skype! I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that the next decade you are yet to face is all milk, honey and apple strudel…

…but I promise you it’ll all be worth it.

Lots of love,

Laura Anne

 PS – It’s now 16 years in the future, and I’d like to reassure you that you saw the light again and realised that Starbucks Hot Chocolate is indeed the worst, plus they don’t pay their taxes in the UK so you’re still avoiding them as much as possible. I think you’ll be happy to know that.

Flashback Friday: Look! Don’t you see it?

Originally posted on October 15th 2007

*Update*: Part of the reason for posting this post this week, is that last weekend I felt strongly that I needed to dig the pendant out of the trinket box I’d kept it in for the last few years and pass it on to someone who is about to move to Aberdeen to study at university. This was also the story I shared with campers during ‘testimony time’ at Surf Camp this summer, though I think I missed out the part about the pendant.

Faded Pendant

Look at the new thing I’m going to do. It is already happening. Don’t you see it? I will make a road in the desert and rivers in the dry land”

Isaiah 43:19 (NCV)

This is one very special pendant. It’s purple and turquoise coloured, and is a cross inside the icthus sign. But that’s not why it is special. It was a prophetic purchase made by one of my friends…and given to me.

In August 2001, this friend bought two pendant necklaces. One for her sister. And another. God told her that the second necklace was to be given to a person she would meet who was going to become a Christian that year.

This girl went to university in Aberdeen, and she really wanted to be all out for Jesus when she got there…but how to bring up the conversation with her new mates at uni? She prayed to God for the opportunity to share her testimony in Freshers Week.

And here is what happened…

I arrived in Aberdeen, a year younger than everyone else, confused, and not sure of where I stood or what I believed in. I was looking for a way out of the mess that was my life in Edinburgh, and felt strongly that moving to Aberdeen was going to help me to find it. I’d been given advice by some graduates to try and get involved in all the Fresher’s Week activities except any to do with the Chaplaincy Centre, because only the ‘sad’ people went there. Having left school a year early, and under 18, a lot of people expected that I wouldn’t stick out first year. A lot of people thought I was just going through ‘a phase’ when I decided to apply and my family wanted me to stay at home. I was ready and up for anything (except any weird Christian church things) because I was determined to prove to them that I could do it.

Two of my friends from home went to church and SU camps every summer. They wore bracelets with the letters ‘WWJD’, but they wouldn’t tell me what it stood for. I figured out it must be a Christian thing, because they’d usually talk to me about anything – but they were well aware of my thoughts on Christianity (I made them pretty clear – church is boring, pointless and full of judgemental busybodies; bible is a bunch of fairy tales).

When I arrived in halls, a girl (the one who had bought 2 pendants) came bounding up to me in the corridor. I introduced myself, and she just screamed ‘Ooooh! you’re Scottish‘ revealing a southern English accent. Anyway, just about all our corridor (21 girls) went to dinner together, and I noticed she was wearing one of those WWJD bracelets. I pointed to it, and asked her ‘What does that stand for? Is it a Christian thing, because 2 of my friends have bracelets like that and they wouldn’t tell me what it means‘…

God had answered her prayer. Here was the opportunity for her to give her testimony to well…pretty much everyone!

She told everyone how she had become a Christian, how her family was against it so she had to sneak out her house to go to Church. How she’d come to understand and believe in the bible being God’s Word.

I wished at the time that I’d never asked. I would usually have slagged off her beliefs, but I wanted to make sure I made a good impression to everyone in Fresher’s week.

Over the next couple of months, we’d have many deep and meaningful conversations late into the night. And I kept meeting more and more Christians. In my tutorial group. In my lectures. In halls. In pubs.

It got really annoying.

11th November was Remembrance Sunday, and I decided to go to church with one of the Northern Irish medics who lived on my floor. I was shocked at how welcome everyone made me. How unjudgmental, caring and friendly everyone seemed. I had never experienced that in church before. Everyone in that church seemed to genuinely love and care for one another. They all seemed to have something I didn’t have, and I really wanted whatever it was. I asked her if she’d drag me out of my bed every Sunday to go to church come rain, hail or hangovers – and she did.

I called my old school friend, who doing a gap year with SU to tell her I’d started going to church. She was totally shocked and said…

‘Of all the people I thought would become a Christian, you were the last on my list

When I came home for Christmas, my family laughed at the thought of me being a Christian.

How could someone as un-Christian as me become a Christian?’

I went to church on Christmas Eve with my school friend’s family. They were willing to answer so many of questions no matter how simple they seemed. For the first time I began to talk about my true feelings on what life had been like before I’d left Edinburgh, and share with my friend what had been going on to make me the angry and depressed young woman that had left school at 16, only to return months later for 5 highers and a UCAS form. They encouraged me to go on an Alpha Course and to start going along to the CU.

In January, I went to my first CU meeting. I can’t remember who the speaker was that night, but the talk was on God’s gifts. They handed out little notebooks we could use as prayer diaries. Something began to click, and I was challenged.

‘What were my gifts? How was I going to be able to use them to honour God?’

That night (unknown to anyone) I went back to my room and prayed to God…I told him that I wanted to know how to get to know him, and asked him to guide me to do the things He wanted me to do.

2 girls in halls started talking about starting a prayer group for revival. I asked them what that was. They told me. I asked if I could join them. They couldn’t hide their shock but agreed that I could come along. We started praying for one of our friends to become a Christian, and I invited her along to Alpha. I thought it would be great if she became a Christian.

I still hadn’t.

I got asked to join the worship band. I said yes. I didn’t know any of the songs, and got really upset about it. On the Friday night, I broke down in my friend’s room, and confessed to him why I thought I couldn’t be a Christian…he began to point out bible verses to me talking about God’s forgiveness. He took me through the basics of Christianity, and prayed with me. I became a Christian that night. I was bouncing around full of the Holy Spirit for about a week. Timely, since it was the AUCU Mission Week!

Just over a month later, my friend who I’d invited along to Alpha became a Christian too.

At the end of my first year, I was asked if I could write my testimony to go on the CU website and I wrote this…

I know that if someone who was as ‘un-Christian’ as me can become a Christian, then anything is possible – because this is the way God has made it. I had scarcely become a Christian myself when someone I thought would never believe became a Christian too. It’s great to be proven wrong sometimes.

If you see me around Aberdeen, you’ll notice that I’m probably wearing a pendant round my neck. It’s the icthus sign with the cross inside it. My friend bought it before she came to uni not knowing what she was going to do with it and gave it as a gift to me soon after I became a Christian…it reminds me of the work that God is doing around us and through us…even when we don’t realise it’s happening – as He constantly has to say to me “Look at the new thing I’m going to do. It is already happening. Don’t you see it?”…

Flashback Friday: How to get kids to hate sport & ruin an Olympic legacy

Originally posted on August 11th 2012
The olympics have been awesome. It’s been great to see triumph, it’s been heart wrenching to watch the disappointment. We’ve seen rowers being dragged to their feet by Sir Steve, people competing on fractured bones, crashes, near misses and the joy of simply competing.

There are some that sadly, have forgotten what the Olympics are about. It’s not just about winning. It’s about  your work being rewarded with the honour of representing your country and competing alongside athletes from across the globe.

To quote one of my favourite films “If you aren’t enough without it [a gold medal], you’ll never be enough with it“.

As a graduate of health science, I’m all for getting kids active. I’ve really done my best to get people excited about the Olympics, encouraging my parenting friends to watch it with their kids. At Guides, we combined the Amelia’s Challenge badge with the ‘On Your Marks’ programme that Girlguiding created to tie in with London 2012. I’m hoping they’ve been watching (I did tell them they all had to know who Beth Tweddle was by the end of the summer) and I’m hoping they’ve been inspired by it.

And then I heard the disappointing and frustrating news today that our Prime Minister is backing compulsory competitive sports in the school curriculum.

ARRRRGGGGHHHH!

For me it brought back memories of being forced to do certain sports at PE in school. I was terrible. It became that being good at team sports made you popular. It wasn’t about taking part. If you screwed up, your team moaned and shouted at you. Even if you did your best. It was humiliating and horrible. By the time high school came around, it turned into bullying and I used to skive school on days I had PE.

Here’s the flip side. Was I an inactive kid  because I was the one who got picked almost to last or preferred to sit and sunbathe on the sidelines that take part in a game of rounders or tennis?

No.

I used to take part in dance classes – 2 a week going into high school. When we were getting ready for exams or a show, sometimes I might be dancing for 5 hours a day. I’d come home with a bag of sweaty leotards, feet blistered and cut and next day my muscles would hurt so bad in school.

I remember my friend Emily feeling ill one day in PE as our teacher made us run round the playing field. She looked white. I stopped to sit with her (our teacher wasn’t really doing anything to help her and I was concerned). He shouted at me and I’ve never forgotten the words “Get moving! This is probably the only exercise you’ll have done this week“.

Red rag to a teenage bull.

I lost no time in setting him straight. The PE teacher at least had nothing to respond with.

The problem with PE, was that you never got a chance to get good at anything. The sporty kids got held back by kids like me who had no talent (or desire) for whatever sport had been forced upon us.And it was mostly team sports. Basketball, hockey, rugby… and PE teachers didn’t necessarily know much about the sport they were teaching. I would have loved the opportunity to improve on my swimming. I had a good breaststroke – my leg stroke (?) was great. My arm stroke sucked (I have no upper body strength). We spent one day on breaststroke in the 4 years I did compulsory high school PE! 2 weeks later I was being made to play rugby without my glasses on. 4 weeks after that hockey.

It is not the way to get kids into sport.

I’m now going to quote Olympic champion, Shawn Johnson. In her book Winning Balance she talks about her work with a US congressman to get kids more active.

“In a traditional PE class, kids might be drilled in the fundamentals of volleyball one day and then lined up and ordered to do push ups the next. It’s an approach many kids hate. And if they dread physical activity at this age, they’re much less likely to be concerned about staying fit later on”

When Jessica Ennis was asked her opinion on plans to get sports more competitive for kids she said it was more important to make it fun, the competitive side should come much later.

I agree.

I also love the idea of what Shawn Johnson Fitness for Life Act bill is doing. The idea is that pupils are given choices about how to spend their PE time. It might be lifting weights, playing a team sport or doing a Dance game on the Nintendo Wii. Whatever they choose the pupils wear heart rate monitors and know what their individual target heart rate is. And once they’ve reached their target, they’ve met their goal for the day and after that they can do what they want. Those who are less fit, or perhaps overweight will reach their target more easily. Those who are aspiring sports stars will have to work harder. The programme gives small successes – and achievable goals to kids who usually feel inferior to the sporty kids.

The real goal“, Shawn Johnson writes “is to help kids discover that exercise is fun“.

In the USA there seems to be much more incentive for sport – sports schloarships, extra curricular sport with decent coaches who know that sport well. Perhaps that’s why they are top of the Olympic table.

And then, you’ve got to look at the sports we have a great legacy in. Cycling was not an option at school. Neither was gymnastics. Or canoeing. Or rowing. Or athletics (other than running 100m races). I was appalled at my PE teacher’s idea of “dance”. Maybe it’s time we think outside of the box. Maybe we let the kids pick a sport to be involved in, the same as they get to pick an instrument to learn to play in music if they want to. Maybe we join forces with local colleges, universities, sports clubs and other schools so that resources can be brought together to give kids opportunity to learn a sport properly and have fun doing it.

Because really…if you don’t love the sport, you’re never going to want to push through the bad times and injuries to keep going towards the chance of Olympic medals.

And Politicians…you might want to think about that.