The one where I wonder if there are miracles…

The other weekend I had a Sunday off. I thought about going to church, and then I realised it was Mother’s Day. I’ve spoken before about why I don’t celebrate it, and it broke my heart to see people on social media dealing with the pressure of declaring their Mum ‘the best in the world’ when they’ve been treated poorly by their mother. I also saw again friends who are in churches giving out things to all the Mums, and making a big deal about this fake hallmark holiday. Before you think I’m a totally horrible person, I did take my Mum to see Beauty and the Beast the night before. I decided instead to go out into the sunshine with my camera. I ended up wandering down the Water of Leith to the National Gallery of Modern Art. And was struck by this sculpture (for want of a better term?) and the fact that you can see churches behind it in the background.IMG_1698

The church you can see on the right, is (I think) the cathedral where every Autumn they hold a service for people who have faced pregnancy, stillbirth and infant loss. It really sucks to be part of that community on Mother’s Day in a church. I’ve spoken before about the insensitive comments I faced when I first started going to the hospital for tests and scans from my fellow Christians. I was told that the only reason I was so ill was due to my lack of faith. I was also told that despite doctors telling me I would struggle to have my own children, God would give them if I prayed enough.

Eh, what?

If only it were that simple. I had a friend who went to every prayer ministry you can imagine and they still died of cancer. I have a friend who had her sixth miscarriage this last year. I have friends that got told they wouldn’t be able to have children and later in life had a ‘surprise’ pregnancy. I know a girl who died of cancer. I know a girl who got given 6 months to live with her cancer and is still here 3 years later. 12 years ago my Dad almost died and surgeons thought they’d have to remove a huge section of his bowel – only for a few days later to find it all better with no knowledge of how that happened. 12 years ago my grandmother woke up suddenly paralysed, and died 3 weeks later and doctors had no idea how or why until they had done endless tests and an autopsy to discover she had a rare form of lymphoma.

There is no rhyme or reason to why one person lives and another dies. There is no rhyme or reason to why one pregnancy ends in with a healthy baby, one ends with a sick baby and another ends in miscarriage.

Do miracles happen? I think sometimes they do. I don’t know that we have any control over when, where or why.

Yes, it makes me sad to think I’ll likely never be part of the parenting club. I never dreamed about getting married, but I did dream about being pregnant and giving birth to babies. But I also remember the day the doctor talked to me about it, and being astounded by the peace I felt. And now that I’ve spent more time with friends who are parents I think maybe God knows exactly what He’s doing…quite frankly kids seem to throw up waaaay more than they did in the 80s and 90s and I quite like my independence. I also like sleep and to eat my tea while it’s still hot.

So let’s stop putting the pressure and the judgement on people who haven’t got the miracle they hoped for. Let’s be real and recognise when life sucks, and when we’ve had the chance to rage and cry about it…find out the good that can be brought out of that crappy situation.

And if we do get a miracle…let’s be humble and remember it likely had nothing to do with us. Be grateful, and sensitive to others who didn’t get theirs.

x

Quote of the Week: Friends don’t silence or oppress you…

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At the start of Black History Month, it feels only right that I quote from one of the great wise women who walks this earth, writes so eloquently and speaks such wisdom.

I walked through the door after being at the dentist the other day and my Mum saw me and was like “What’s wrong? Was it really bad? Did it hurt?” it wasn’t my mouth that was hurting. I was saddened by things popping up on my phone. A man, a prominent voice in the Scottish evangelical church landscape who believes that women are not of equal value to men. The sadness that I’ve watched two incredible young people go through teenagehood, become passionate for Jesus and be brainwashed by such teaching and become more excluding rather than welcoming. More superior rather than supportive. And another young adult who has been brainwashed by evangelical Christians who believe that Trump is some kind of messenger from God and that by locking our doors to people in need (despite the bible teaching us that we should do the complete opposite) it’s about loving our family, rather than fear and hate of strangers.

I made a decision last week to stop attending church because I realised that church seemed to demand my silence. It seemed to be denying my friends. After my friends (and my Mum I’ve since found out) were appalled at the way three other friends – all male, all “Christian” – spoke down to me about a subject they knew little about and I knew much about, and how they talked about some controversial issues with very strong and hateful language, I realised that I had not been affected by their speech. Why? Because I had become so accustomed to it during the years that I ran a pregnancy crisis centre. Over the last couple of years I have felt lost because I have not understood how this life of mine could be part of some plan God has for me (people in church often talk about ‘the plans God has for us’, usually taking a bible verse from the book of Jeremiah out of context in the process). The last two years have taken me out of a bubble and into the world, opening my eyes and heart to so many different people. These friends have not held me silent, and they’ve not denied my right to grow. They’ve been patient with my ignorance, they’ve helped me learn so much more about experiences I’ve never personally gone through. However, for many of them, when they’ve walked into a church community – they have been silenced and denied. Because of this, they believe God hates them.

I love community. I really miss being part of a community that studies the teaching, prays together, lives collectively, welcomes in strangers, learns to get along despite many differences. Knowing that inclusive church does exist,  I hope that some day soon I’ll find one in my city.

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: To the Freshers, from the Graduate…

Originally published in September 2010

So over the next few weeks, lots of young people will be packing up their stuff into bags, suitcases and boxes as they leave home for the first time and move to go to university.

Unbelievably it was NINE (update: FIFTEEN) years ago when my Mum and I drove up the M90 to move me into the university halls of residence at Hillhead that was my home for my first year at the University of Aberdeen studying for an MA in Human Geography. I was 17 years old, no one else in my family had ever gone to university, all my friends (except 2 who left a year early like me) were staying on for our final year of high school, I’d been warned to do everything except go to any Chaplaincy events and I didn’t actually know that you had to do exams at university before the end of your 4 year degree.

I was CLUELESS. And I’m thankful that in 2001, no one really owned digital cameras 🙂

So I thought I’d impart my wisdom I learned from that first year onto any freshers to be who want to ‘listen’…

Dear Freshers,

I am so excited that you are going to university. I found a real home in Aberdeen when I was a student, and my hope is that no matter where it is you go to study, you will find a home there too. I hope you learn lots, not just from what you study, but also from experiencing so many opportunities that are going to lay ahead of you.

I also wanted to give a few of my top tips for living in halls. First of all, take things with you to make it ‘homey’. Pictures of friends, family, pets. Posters (though I’m willing to bet you’ll find some GREAT poster sales in Fresher’s Week). But most importantly: TAKE YOUR OWN DUVET COVERS! Second of all, for the first few days keep your door wide open whenever you’re in your room (maybe not when you’re changing or sleeping, but you catch my drift right?), this way you can say hello to people who might be passing. It’s a great way to greet your roommates/neighbours in halls who may also be feeling homesick or nervous.  I also took teabags, juice and stuff so that I could offer cups of tea or whatever which people really appreciated if they hadn’t unpacked or got to the shops yet.

Be nice to the campus staff – porters, cleaners, cafeteria staff….(it pays to be nice, just ask any of the S Floor girls!)

There’ll be lots of events on for freshers, and it’s worth going to as many as you can. Freshers week creates so many memories, and I still remember my freshers week – we had such a great laugh, all the girls on my floor together.

If you are a Christian – check out your CU on campus. Most CUs will put on events in Freshers week, and even if you never really get involved for the rest of the year, it’s worth getting to know some of the other Christians on campus. Most of the ‘older’ Christian students will organise church walks so that you don’t get lost trying to find churches on a Sunday morning/evening, and it’s nice to go in a group.

Which brings me to my next piece of advice. Find a church home. Sometimes we used to get quite competitive in the CU about how many freshers we got to go to OUR church. But seriously guys, find the one where you think you can be involved and grow in your faith. Get stuck in…introduce yourself, find out more about the church, what their vision is and whether it’s one you feel called to be a part of. If you find one, stay there – don’t spend the whole term church shopping. Trust me, in the second semester (after Christmas) you want to be settled.

Get involved in university too. Join a society – it’s a great time to try new things whether it be musical theatre, underwater hockey, canoeing, football or gardening!

Make sure you have a good stock of lemsip and vaporub. If you don’t catch the fresher’s flu at some point in your first term, it’ll be a miracle (and I want to know your secret).

A toastie maker is your friend. Cheese and baked bean toasties rock at 2 a.m.

Take flip flops for the communal showers (unless you’re going to posh accommodation with an en-suite…)

Try to go to at least 50% of your lectures (and if you miss them, make sure you catch up!). Don’t miss tutorials.

If you find you are hating what you study after 1 year, don’t feel like a failure. That’s fine. It wasn’t for you, and now you know. You gave it a go and it’s not the end of the world. Several of my friends changed degree after their first year. I changed 7 weeks into my 3rd year. Find what you do like, go for it and stick at it! No matter what degree you do, there’ll be boring courses you have to take. I loved my Health Sciences degree, but the compulsory study of Statistics that was part of it did make me cry (more than once).

Take advantage of the student discounts (always ask wherever you go!)

Don’t get a credit card. Try your best to avoid going into student overdrafts if you can.

Put your student loan or bursary into a high interest savings account.

Avoid drugs like the plague, if you’re going to drink alcohol do it sensibly (and never on an empty stomach), and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you feel out of your depth.

Feel free to experiment with fashion. It’ll make for great photos to show your grandchildren in later life if nothing else. 😉

But most importantly…enjoy it. It doesn’t come again and university is an amazing opportunity not many people in the world get. It will shape you and give you a foundation for the rest of your life as you take on more adult responsibility.

And I hope you’ll gain so many friends you have for life…

Safe travels & happy studying!

love from,

Brunette Koala 

DipHE BScHlthSci (Hons) (<–the only time I’ll ever use those letters it took me 5 years to earn!) (Update: Lets make that Brunette Koala DipHE BScHlthSci (Hons) PgDip)

PS  If you’re a university graduate, what advice would you give to freshers and current students?

Comments left by readers on the original post:

ScottI graduated with a DipHE so my advice might be limited but I’d add.

Treat it like a job with a flexible boss, do a uni 9-5. That way you’ll keep on top of things and not find yourself saying you have to study when an otherwise unmissable opportunity comes up.

Register with a GP. You may never go but if you do have to go at least you’ll not have to fill out crummy forms when you are ill.

Don’t leave laundry in the machine, be ready for the cycle ending or a fellow student will pile it on the floor for you.

And to expand on the wrong course point, if you are on the wrong course it is also okay to leave uni and figure out what to do, check out exit awards first.

TaraFor those who are Christians – when it comes time to leave halls and start choosing flat mates (third term of 1st year), try not to live with all Christians. You’ll never have a better opportunity to talk to your peers about your faith and those opportunities will not come more naturally than with those you live with. On the flip side, don’t be the only Christian in your flat – because that is tough too.
That’s the advice from my experience. From others – put your faith and morals out there early. Not in people’s faces, but don’t hide who you are. If you don’t drink and are joining the hockey team whose initiation involves copious amounts of alcohol,don’t cave. Tell them you don’t drink but that you want to play for them and will take some other initiation ceremony instead. Those moments are terrifying – but once people know who you are up front, they accept you and it ceases to be an issue. And it ultimately gains you much respect and many opportunities.

GavinThis seems quite appropriate…

http://www.phdcomics.com/comics.php?n=1367

Flashback Friday: Let’s Not Be Cookie Cutter Christians…

Originally posted on June 20th 2007

Cailin is a Gaelic word for ‘girl’. And it’s what I really struggle to be. Yes, weird I know that I say that when I am one!! When I was a teenager, I desperately wished that I was a boy – I was a bit of a tomboy at Primary School, and to this day I’m most comfortable when wearing a pair of jeans. I often find it easier to talk to guys than I do to girls, because I find that I relate better to them. My friends from Edinburgh apparently consider me as ‘an honourary guy’ (apparently this is a compliment?!). I can’t sew, my ironing skills are appalling. I hate romantic movies. I do wear make up and used to be addicted to straightening my hair. I love shoe shopping, but don’t often shop with girls because it just takes too long. I like to watch football (and for the actual football not to watch guys in shorts). I love camping. My favourite shows include Grey’s Anatomy, Without A Trace and Top Gear. I’m pretty blunt and up front too.

I think I’ve struggled more with this since I went to university and the more I’ve hung around church. In Halls, I lived with 20 other girls. Utter madness. Most girls spent their entire week planning their Saturday night outfit, and I really just didn’t care. The girls who didn’t, they were generally really good cooks, could do all those things like card making, embroidery or whatever. I just never felt like I fitted in with either ‘girl type’, and as a consequence, I would often find myself over with the guys on a different floor so I could watch football, gossip less and not have to be questioned a million times about make up, hair and tops!

When I became a Christian, I quickly realised that I REALLY didn’t fit in. There seemed to be this unwritten rule that as a girl, you were at university to find a husband. You would of course get engaged in your last year of university and marry this man (destined to be a doctor, youth pastor, engineer or minister) shortly after graduation. You would spend your first year or so working and getting to know other women in the church – doing lots of babysitting, sunday school, cooking at Alpha etc. And have people over for dinner (which you cook from scratch) and when you have kids you would then end your chosen career to become a full-time Mum. Now there is nothing wrong with any of that – but it totally isn’t me! First of all, it seemed shocking that a girl learn guitar, or be a worship leader. Second of all, it seemed to be expected that when the CU is having a bake sale to raise funds for a mission or whatever that it would be the girls that baked for it. I really don’t bake. I like football but Christian guys do not include you in this social activity – instead it seems I should be reading Jane Austen books and their seemed to be a thing with Christian girls and watching Pride and Prejudice?? Oh, and tea drinking.

For years, Christianity seemed like some secret society that I didn’t know the proper etiquette for. I didn’t mind that the girls had different gifts, likes, interests etc from me, it was more that all of them seemed to have the same interests, likes etc as each other – but none of them were characteristics that I could find common ground to build a friendship on with them. In fact, I felt a bit like a pariah whenever I found myself in a Christian activity and anything which was a ‘women only’ event filled me with great dread.

Luckily, over time, I discovered that there were other sisters who shared my frustrations. I was lucky enough in my later years of student life to be surrounded by girls and guys who were each unique in our likes, dislikes, hobbies, what we wore, hair colour, hair style, career choice and how important being married and starting a family was to us. We shared one common love – Jesus – and found friendship over that a different things for each one of us.

Speaking to younger girls in church who are coming up through university I think there is enormous pressure to find that ‘perfect Christian man’. How many Christian girls have given themselves that ‘you’ve got until you’re 25 rule?’. How many times have girls gone around church or CU or been on mission or a festival/conference and eyed up what potential husband material there is in the room? How many mothers are putting pressure on their daughters by commenting on any guy they’re friends with. How many couples have the word ‘wedding’ mentioned to them when they’ve barely started dating? I’ve experienced dating in a ‘goldfish bowl’ myself where as a Christian couple you seem to be hot topic of conversation in all Christian gatherings…’do you think they’ll get married?’ ‘when do you think he’ll ask her?’

Singleness is a gift from God. And we all need to use it and cherish it like we should have done our childhood. Most likely, if we are to be married, that guy will turn up when we’re least expecting it. And to be honest, I truly believe that if we can’t handle life on our own, the less likely a relationship will be successful. Because relationships are hard without being self-reliant on a human being who is imperfect as opposed to being reliant on God.

It’s also ok to be yourself. God made each one of us different. You can have a different hair colour, it can be long or short, if you pierce your ears more than once you’re still a Christian. You can be sporty, or into reading, a worship leader, or be tone deaf. You might be amazing with kids and a fantastic children’s church leader. Kids might terrify you or just not be your thing. Some guys love chick flicks, some girls hate them – and vice versa. Every marriage and family is different and that’s ok too. And being a Mum is definitely one of the most difficult jobs in the world. If you can do it without another job on top – amazing. If you can do it while working full-time or part-time – also amazing! Let’s also remember that some people may get married, but not have children, and that’s ok too.

Diversity is good. It speaks of God’s creativity in this world. Don’t be tempted to change your colours (so to speak) just to blend in with those around you.

Comments from original posting:

Paul: wow this is a great post, thank you! We are all so diverse that it really isn’t good to compare ourselves to each other, infact I think St Paul goes as far as commanding that we don’t…

“Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.” Gal 5:25-26

So in this you and St Paul hold a common and vey inspiring view:)

When we can’t see the water for the sea…

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And so another year…another surf camp over. I took this photo on Tuesday morning, as I joined some of our campers and leaders in a tradition that began last year to do the ‘Early Morning Dook’ – where two leaders (or more) and any campers who want to can go down to the beach next to our campsite and have a quick dip in the baltic North Sea before breakfast.

It was a stunningly beautiful day – the first I can remember of this year – and even at 7.30 a.m. the sun was warm. I’d forgotten to pull on my hoodie and soon realised I wasn’t actually going to turn blue without it. What makes me giggle though, is that as I  walked behind the huge pile of campers and leaders that had decided to go down that morning, marvelling at the deserted beach (except for us), the clear blue sky, the large sun beating down on all of us feeling so peaceful (a rare thing at camp) I had no idea this would be the start of the most challenging 36 hours of camp.

I’m a planner and I like to be prepared. I like to know what the plan is ahead of time, and so I can organise my resources and time accordingly and mentally prepare myself. The lead up to surf camp did not allow me to do that.  I had volunteered to help as a kitchen assistant instead of being a group leader because we hadn’t been able to find a person who could help with catering for the whole week and we knew we needed 2 cooks to help our awesome chief cook. To top it all, the day before camp I became ill after eating some food and wasn’t even able to start packing until about 11.30 p.m. that night. Starting camp drained, sleep deprived and nauseated is less than ideal. And I arrived to discover that they still had me down for a role as one of the First Aiders as well as my roles in the kitchen and helping to lead worship.

So to that Tuesday. I already knew that things would be a little more manic than usual because the day before a camper’s medication had effectively been drowned in the sea despite being in a waterproof medical bag while they were coasteering the day before. There had been calls between parents, GPs and pharmacies and we had a small window to drive to the nearest town to pick up the prescription. All good. All sorted…until…45 minutes after this photo one of the campers came speeding into me during our leaders team meeting saying “Come quick – xxxxx has been hurt!” Outside the sight a First Aider dreads – a camper sprawled beside a skateboard in tears. The tears were not just from pain but of the fear that they would not be able to surf that day – their first time getting to waves.

And so a trip to town didn’t just include a trip to the pharmacy…it was now going to be a trip to the town’s small hospital. Calls to parents. Calls to the duty manager at SU. A trip to there resulted in being sent up to the minor injuries unit in the nearest city. More calls to parents. A lot of giggles at my (in)ability to drive hospital wheelchairs. A very snotty and slightly rude nurse freaking out my camper and making for some frustrated parents (and to be honest made for a disgruntled first aider – who doesn’t like to complain about NHS staff, but my campers come first!). Meanwhile I was aware that I had totally abandoned my kitchen duties.

It was 8 p.m. by the time we got back to camp. Deflated and exhausted.

Cue some of the campers deciding Midnight was the time to start duck taping up their fellow camper and ‘waxing’ his head with said duck tape in the corridor outside the dorms.

The next day was what I think I’ll now nickname ‘Wacked out Wednesday’. Every Wednesday marks the midweek point where campers and leaders are all exhausted and just go a bit loopy, quite often when you get the most little injuries and campers feeling a bit out of kilter because they haven’t been going to sleep at bedtime. Last year ‘Wacked Out Wednesday’ involved me having a First Aid queue and having to get a leader to take our Assistant Team Leader to A&E for an x-ray, while we moved his family to another set of rooms on site as they’d discovered an issue with the boiler that put them in danger of carbon monoxide poisoning if they remained in the room they were staying in. I woke up feeling like I’d already done ‘Wacked out Wednesday’ on Tuesday, and just didn’t have the energy to do another!

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I prayed for another sunny day (hey, I hadn’t been able to enjoy the one on Tuesday because we spent it in cars/hospitals). And instead God sent a thunderstorm. In hindsight, it was great for our injured camper – it meant none of the campers could get out surfing so they weren’t alone in missing out. However, chaos for the leaders who had to constantly keep reassessing and switching around the plan for the day according to the ever changing weather. It was also the afternoon that our chief cook had off, and I was cooking something I had no idea how to cook – while our female campers were having the hen party we’d planned for the evening in the afternoon instead. Which involved using the kitchen to make mocktails.

I may have burst into tears and had to go into the pantry like Nora Walker does in Brothers and Sisters.

On the Thursday evening I took my turn sharing a bit of my story of how I became a Christian to the camp and I began by confessing to the camp how close I’d come to calling up my friends a couple of days before to apologetically say I just couldn’t do it after all this year with everything going on  with my flat, and my fruitless job hunting. I shared with them about a verse I had discovered on my early bible exploring tactic of randomly opening up the bible and sticking my finger on a verse just to see what would happen. The reason for sharing is that a conversation on the very first night of camp when I was confessing to my fellow female leader roomies how guilty I was feeling about being so underprepared and useless for camp, not to mention jealous of friends and perhaps even resentful of those able to share how God was doing amazing things in their lives. And then one wise roomie said something that reminded me of the first verse I discovered on my own from the prophet Isaiah.

And so I told the campers how even though it was feeling like in the lead up all of the previous surf camps life was crummy and I didn’t understand why and perhaps lacked hope that things would get better – it is perhaps because when we are in the middle of the story, we don’t fully see the bigger picture and what may end up coming out of it that is good. As I groan and moan about how hopeless everything in the world seems right now, God says “Laura Anne – do you not see what I am doing? Look, it’s already begun!

So although I do not know why one of the campers got injured this year, or why I still can’t find salaried work, or why I couldn’t finish my Masters degree this summer so I could graduate with my class, or why I’m spending a summer making day trips to Aberdeen and paying for expensive repairs and fighting with company who is trying to force me to pay my runaway tenants’ unpaid bills…I have to have hope that somewhere in all the crappiness something good will come out. And I have to say that this year’s camp was the best so far. It just seemed like nothing was forced, the leaders and campers felt comfortable to be themselves. It was incredible to chat with returning campers who have become trainee leaders and see how they’ve grown into wise young adults (and know that they don’t hate me from last year when I apparently told them off for playing loud music and dancing in their dorm at 1 a.m.). I also love that some of our campers joined in with the worship band this year – and we gave each of them a toy camper van which they immediately decided to decorate with paint pens calling our band ‘Spiritual Wipeout’.

It made me smile.

Over the next year, I will continue to wonder about them all and hope good things are happening to them. And of course my fellow yellow ukulele player that our team leader popped on my music stand last year at camp always reminds me to pray for them.

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To Write Love On Her Arm, My Arms and His Arms…

In 2008, there was a movement on social media to spend a day with the word ‘love’ written on your arm. I participated. It was to raise awareness of a charity started in USA called To Write Love On Her Arms.

Their mission?

To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery.

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I can’t actually remember when I first discovered TWLOHA. They began the year I graduated university, and those five years of undergraduate study were not all about getting a degree. It was a rollercoaster that included radically changing my religious beliefs and being baptised. It included a change in career path. Being diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and (sort of) endometriosis. But also myself and several of my friends going through the most horrific battles with a variety of eating disorders and mental illnesses.

There was a defining night that came 40 days after I was baptised. A friend called me after work to ask if she would come to my flat. I had other friends on their way round who were coming for dinner at my house, but I said yes. She sat at my kitchen table with a cup of tea, and began to talk about how much she was struggling. To this day I don’t know what made me say it but I remember saying “Look, the only way nobody can help you is if you are dead“. It turned out that just before she had come to my flat she had swallowed 64 painkillers. Needless to say, my friends didn’t come round for dinner as instead, an ambulance came and I spent an evening in A&E. It would, as it turned out, be the first of many nights I spent in that A&E waiting room with various friends over the years to come.

Jamie’s friend Renee had ‘F***  Up’ etched on her arm with razor blades. I don’t know what implement one of my friends used, but she had ‘B**CH’ written on her arm one night when I came to the locked down ward of the hospital to bring her some of my clothes so she had something to change into. The words ‘To Write Love On Her Arms’ mean a lot because of that memory and emotion when I noticed what my friend had written on her own arm. That’s exactly what I wanted in that moment – for my friend to know how much she was loved and worth.

The truth is for five years of my own life, my body was often covered in wounds on my arms and stomach from my own long fingernails, from screwdrivers and knives. It was the only way I knew to cope with the hate and anger and confusion. And it’s a habit that’s addictive. It’s been 12 years but I haven’t forgotten. And I still have my battles with depression. It runs in my family. Winter has always been  a given, but since being made redundant two years ago, it’s been an all the time thing. There are days when I can’t get out of bed, my brain just doesn’t function and I wish that my life on earth would just end so I didn’t have to exist, battle and cope anymore.

But I remember what it was like to have people you love try to kill themselves, to scrape hate on their limbs, to starve themselves, to purge themselves, to panic, to seem like they were just empty shells incapable of living, to believe they were aliens or that nurses were secret agents trying to kidnap or kill them, to find your friend on a bench in the street telling you the voices were telling her she needed to walk out in front of a car.

Truth is, the last two years have been increasingly lonely, felt increasingly hopeless and it is easier to believe that you are hated and disliked rather than loved. It is easier to believe that the world would be better without you, than you have anything of value to add to it.

So when I came home from my friend’s wedding, I switched on the live stream of the 10th anniversary celebration in Orlando after I’d taken off my make up and exchanged a dress and heels for pyjamas and blankets. Some of my friends were there in person and I’m trying (and failing) not to be jealous about that! 🙂

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We will be the hopeful. We will remind people they are loved. We will use art to tell the stories that inspire and encourage. And we will fight for more help to be available.

Thank you Jamie and co. for starting the movement. How I wish it wasn’t needed.

But it is.

 

 

BK’s YouTube Picks: My Lighthouse

When we did Surf Camp this year, one of the songs we did almost every night was a song by Rend Collective called My Lighthouse. I often played it on my ukulele and it’s probably the only worship song that has been played over and over on my iPod this year. A year in which I’ve had to wonder if I even want to call myself a Christian.

The last 24 hours have been pretty awful, and I feel a sense of deja vu. The year is ending the way it began – with the deaths of friends’ parents, with tragedy, confusion and just general crappiness of crappy things happening to good people. I woke up at 3.30 a.m. on Boxing Day feeling hideous and ended up getting out my tablet and logging onto a bible app that for the last year I’ve not been able to access because I’d forgotten my login details. I suddenly was able to login, and felt a strong need to pray for friends…I had no idea who or why.

Our country has been filled with floods. Our country is spending money we apparently don’t have wrecking another country. Right now my friend’s Mum is missing and no one knows why.

Tonight, for the first time in a long time I’ve been able to find encouragement from worship songs again. One of them being this one.

“Your great love will lead me through. You are the peace in my troubled sea

-‘My Lighthouse’ by Rend Collective

Quote of the Week 32 – Steps of faith

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I really lack faith. I’m full of faith for other people, but when it comes to myself I’m the biggest pessimistic risk assessing all the things that could go wrong.

If faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase, what I fear is that in the darkness there is someone at the top ready to push me right back down. Or there’s one of those child safety gates that are actually Laurie-proof. (Does anyone else find that child-proofing is a barrier to them? Seriously, there should be prizes for successfully putting a toddler in a car seat these days with all the complicated straps and buckles…but I digress).

This last week has been weirdly tough, and I blame the Timehop app. Usually I love it reminding me of fun memories and even sucky moments that I can now laugh at. Last week though, the application has been bringing up the facebook posts from when I had the interview and received the news that I had been successful in my application to work at a pregnancy crisis centre. Before I left Aberdeen I had spent a year training to be a volunteer counselling support worker at a similar centre that was getting ready to open there. I’d also spent my last two years at university focussing my studies on women’s health and maternity care. It had been tough to leave Aberdeen knowing that I was leaving that dream behind. And yet, as it happened, taking that first step was actually leading me to working in the field I had unexpectedly become so passionate about.

In the last year, I watched both the charities that I worked with in that field close down. And then two charities that I had got to know through that work close down as well (one was a sexual health centre for young people, the other was a national organisation that provided support in the field of fostering and adoption). I have faced rejection after rejection, and have gone from eight years of being a boss, to being back in jobs where I’m the bottom of the chain and earning minimum wage. Not to mention a month where I had to ‘sign on’ and live off piddly government benefits and endure weekly humiliation and interrogation. It’s been a humbling experience to say the least. I am super lucky now to be in a job where the staff are friendly and I never dread going into work. Don’t think for a second that I’m not grateful to be in work because I am. But I miss doing what I loved and was (I hope) good at.

And so I need to have faith to take those first steps. It gets harder and harder to fill in and submit job applications, turn up for interviews and put yourself out there. Every time I do I face that fear of someone waiting to stand in my way and send me straight back down again.

But when I don’t take the first step, I may miss a beautiful view from the top that I can’t see yet.

BK’s BookPouch: SoulPancake Books

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One of my roles this week is to be Prayer Space Coordinator. Knowing that campers will be at different stages of discovering and working out what their spiritual beliefs are, I want to make sure I create a space where everyone felt comfortable to meditate and be inspired. I’ve had the honour of helping set up the very first 24-7 prayer rooms in my old church in Aberdeen, the University of Aberdeen and at my current church when it was in its original building. In your typical 24-7 prayer room you’ll often find books, bibles, a lot of bare walls covered in white paper, relaxing lighting and lots of nooks and crannies with cushions.

Along with the usual books of devotions and liturgy, I decided to make a couple of purchases that weren’t outwardly faith based.

One is Kid President’s Guide to Being Awesome. Brad Montague and his younger brother-in-law have been sharing a message of hope, building communities and doing things to make the world a better place through their creative videos that have been championed by Soul Pancake. The Kid President is a great example of how you don’t have to be a grown up to make a difference, and the book has interviews and stories which inspire people to do good things where they are.

The other book is Rainn Wilson’s Chew on Life’s Big Questions book. Although Rainn is a follower of the Ba’hai faith, this book I think is appropriate for people of all or no faiths. The book creatively gets you thinking about deeper questions about life, the universe, spirituality, faith, prayer, philosophy, humanity…and I hope can be a bit of a conversation starter. It also prompts people to think about how they interact with the world and God. I know my friend who is a vicar has found it a really useful read, so I hope it helps gets the brains of our campers and leaders percolating some deeper thoughts to filter.

The other book with a Soul Pancake connection I’m taking along is Fly A Little Higher by Laura Sobiech. The story of how God answered her prayer (and showed her how to pray) while she helped her son, Zach battle osteosarcoma, and supported him while he learned how to live while dying is a story that is inspirational and told with such eloquence, honesty and grace. I know people of all ages and beliefs who were inspired by the My Last Days documentary that focused on Zach and his friends and family. While I was in Germany last year, my roommates and I had Zach’s song, Clouds as the tune on the alarm that woke us each morning in the Kolpinghaus. I think both of them have since downloaded it themselves too and every now and again they message me about it on facebook. If you haven’t read Laura’s book, I really recommend that  you do some time soon.

As for what book I’m taking along just in case there are some quiet moments to capture a bit of reading…To Kill A Mockingbird is coming in my backpack. I figured that since it’s the 55th anniversary of it’s publishing I should really read it. (It was one of the casualties of English class in high school – I didn’t trust recommendations by English teachers after a year or two!)