Within Church ministry, I think that there seems to be a perception that everyone loves their job all of the time; they settled immediately, they are always inspired and know what they’re doing, and are on fire for what they do. I look at Youth Leaders around me who all seem to know what they’re doing, until you sit down with them and hear that they are in part making it up as they go along. I go to conferences and weekends away, and the main speaker will stand up on stage, introduce themselves, tell the crowd what they do for a living, and it’s almost always followed by, “and I love it” or “and I have a passion for ___”. I don’t for one minute they doubt that they love or have passion for what they do, or think they should stand up and say, “my name is ____, I work for ____ and I cannot wait until my contract is up so I can leave”. However, I think it creates an idea that these big leaders have it all together and always love their job, when I’m sure that they have times of struggle too.
I started my new job as a Student Youth Worker in July, and I only now feel like I’m completely settled. That’s six months later. Perhaps this is normal, but I spent these six months thinking it wasn’t because people in ministry generally don’t openly share the rocky times they have. That’s why I want to share this blog post; firstly to share this big thing that’s been going on with me recently, but also to become more vulnerable, honest and authentic, and to change this perception that everyone in ministry has a smooth road.
I think I struggled in settling so much because I was experiencing so many differences as well as ups and downs in my personal life, and I just couldn’t fix anything. Friends that cheered me on through this asked what they could do to help, and my reply was always “nothing”. I just had to 'wait it out'. I knew I just had to wait it out because I knew this is where God wants me, so this is where I’ll stay.
Everyone at the Church was so lovely in welcoming me. Everyone seemed so excited to have a new youth worker and wanted to know when my university course was starting, if I’ve always lived in the area and generally how I’m doing. And six months on, everyone is just as kind; asking how the youth groups are going, asking if I need anything, asking how university is going. So there wasn’t a problem within the Church that could be instantly fixed with a meeting or telling someone to be kinder or not gossip or communicate better - none of these were problems I was facing. Nobody at the Church I work in should read this and think, “I could have done something more”. This isn’t a blog post to point fingers, since there’s nothing to point fingers at. Everyone did their best and more, and for that I’m truly grateful.
I had got used to going to Church and it being like attending a big Christian conference every week; loud, coloured lights, base, a mainly millennial congregation of people who raise their hands during worship songs I loved. I moved from that to a Church that was the opposite in many ways. It just didn’t feel like home. I missed the Church I went to, I missed the young people I worked with and I missed my previous line manager line-managing me.
The more I thought about how I still wasn’t settled, and I was just ‘fine’ rather than ‘happy’, the worse it felt. At one point it became an achievement if I hadn’t cried at work that day. But nobody could fix anything for me, and that’s what made it worse. Nobody could make it any better. Nobody was doing anything wrong.
I’m now 100% settled, and I find myself telling anyone who will listen this joyful update. So what helped me settled, how did the change come about?…
I’m really thankful for the ‘cheerleaders’ I had over these months.
In late September I met up with two youth leaders/friends/influences separately. I expected the first friend to affirm me and say things like, “I know that you can do this, it’s okay, I love you”. She didn’t. Instead she told me that I’ve got to make a decision about what I do soon and that I “can’t be a Jonah and just run away”. It sounds harsh, but it was the reality I needed to hear.
I’m the kind of person to really remember words people say over me; good and bad. However, I don’t remember a thing the second friend told me. Not a word. I don’t think this makes it any less significant or helpful at the time because what I do remember is feeling peace, companionship and support, and I think that’s more important than the words that were shared. The continued support from these two people helped; to know that I had people who were for me, who would listen and would practically help me if they could really made the load lighter.
I also met with a colleague, and I think that was the start of change. Although I had planned to, I never actually said how low I was feeling and how unsettled I was, instead we just chatted over lunch and got to know each other. I was honest about some of the things I was struggling with (like differences in churches and missing the old) but we never really dug deep into that. Without even knowing it, she’s been my biggest cheerleader; really looking after me in every way. That motherly support has given me a sense of belonging.
Uni was a great cheerleader too. I had had a traumatic driving experience (a story for another day) and I came into uni the following day, already ready to give up. I went to my tutor’s office and had a cry, told her how unsettled I was and there and then she pencilled in a date to come and visit me and my line manager the following week. The fact that she/the university would travel the 166 mile round trip just for a short meeting really blew me away.
I mentioned that a colleague-turned-friend gave me a sense of belonging. Similarly, as did the Christmas period.
Over Christmas, someone asked me what I’m doing after my three years at uni/in my current job, and before I had time to answer, someone else chipped in and said, “she’s staying here!” That’s not the first time I’ve heard this. Although there’s an element of humour in the various comments, this time I actually thought, “perhaps, if there was an opportunity, I will stay here - it would be pretty cool to see my youngest youth through, just as my youth leader did, were the opportunity to arise". There was a change in perception.
Over Christmas, I dressed up as a mouse to play the part of Maud, a narrator in our Nativity - as you do. I don’t like participating in role plays or dramas, and I especially don’t like doing it whilst in a costume on stage. However, this was a highlight of Term 1. I enjoyed it so much and wasn’t at all scared or self-conscious. Participating like this really made me feel part of something. I took part because it was somewhat my job to be involved as the youth worker, but also because I’m part of the Church family, and the Church family gets involved in these things.
By far the biggest influence on this change was God. Right from the beginning I knew that this is where I should be. I don’t understand why I struggled so much, but I find rest in knowing that God was in it all, and He knew what He was doing; He always does. He doesn’t lead us into deep waters to leave us to drown, but He goes with us in deep waters to teach us something about Him, to show us His power, to give us opportunity to step out the boat.
Just take when Jesus calms the storm in Mark 4:35-41, or when Jesus calls Peter to walk on water in Matthew 14:22-33, or look to Isaiah 43:1-4 that tells us because “you are precious and honoured in my sight and because I love you”, because I am the Lord your God”, because “I created you and formed you” and because “I have called you by name”, “when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned”.
I’m sure that in a couple of months, maybe years, I’ll look back and totally understand why I struggled. But for now, I’m happy in this warm feeling of being settled.
Reflecting on the last year fills me with many emotions; happiness, sadness, a sense of achievement, love, motivation, joyful, thankful, tired.
I went on holiday to Barcelona. We went on a boat trip, visited Sagrada Familia, walked along alas ramblas and visited Parc Guel which was my favourite.
I really love road trips. Being in a car with someone for a long journey is one of my favourite things, and this year so many road-trips, whether for ‘pleasure’ or ‘business’…. Conventry, Bradford, Nottingham, Minehead, Weston Supermare, Sussex.
Saying “goodbye” and saying “hello”
This year I had to say “goodbye” to some really amazing organisations/Churches. In my second year of college, I did A Levels alongside working with a local church, and a gap year program with Youth For Christ. It was the best year ever, I learnt so much and made so many friends. Saying goodbye to the Church I worked with and to YFC was a lowlight of the year, but as Winnie the Pooh says, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
I moved out of the family home and into a snug flat in the city-centre. I was living with a friend for the first 4 months, but sadly that didn’t work out, but those four months were some of the best of the year; watching movies together, cooking, going on day trips, comforting etc other and eating too much ice cream. They were some of the best memories my new home has seen. Just because they’re over now, doesn’t make them any less special.
I started university! I've made lots of friends there, which part of me didn't expect to. Me and a friend go to Mc Donalds every week we're at uni, and have 'mates-dates', putting the world to right and properly catching up, whilst still really getting to know each other.
I started a new job! It’s not just any job, but *the* job I’ve wanted since I was about fourteen. A few weeks ago I was speaking to someone I went to school with. Catching up on the past few years, he asked what I’m doing now. In reply to my answer, he said, “wow that’s amazing, that’s what you’ve always wanted to do”.
There have been multiple times over this year that I feel like I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone.
In July I shared a testimony of how my year has gone at YFC’s End of Year Showcase, a time where line managers, colleagues and family members come to celebrate all that’s happened on The Year Out.
Also in July, after the encouragement from my friends, I led little bits on stage at Spree, in a venue of around fifty young people. I led reflections, prayers and a game, and it felt brilliant, I loved it!
In August I did the catering for the group I went with to Soul Survivor. Having not got a GCSE in maths and having dyscalculia, I found it challenging. I can’t get my head around numbers sometimes, which made quantities and timings quite hard. Less than a week ago, I had failed my A Levels, so I was already feeling pretty stupid. Doing the catering isn’t something I’d do again, but I’m proud of myself that I did do it, and I’m thankful for the help and encouragement that I had during. I also danced, something I'm usually not confident enough to do, and went on a Total Wipeout style inflatable 'thing', which took a lot of confidence (and convincing)!
Finally, in October, I shared my testimony for the first time ever at The Noise, a yearly youth mission event.
You can read more about Soul Survivor here
And you can read more about The Noise here
This year, I’ve been in Youth and Children’s Work magazine three times!
I came runner up in Premier’s Digital awards as Young Blogger of the Year.
Also blog related, I got the opportunity to interview David Gibbs, who is one of my favourite influencers on YouTube. You can check it out here.
One of the highlights this year has been the launch of Lightbox, a Worcester-based, drop-in Youth Cafe. Having been a little part of the planning, to then see it come to life is really amazing. I think it's really growing my confidence too. In February, I spent the day with two other leaders setting things up, building, painting, unboxing, ready for the launch the following month. This day was a highlight, which may seem strange - we really did just build, paint and unbox. But at the time I was feeling really low and stressed about what to do the following academic year. It was what I really needed - productivity, busyness and company.
I went on lots of youth trips too, like Hillsong and a wander around London, a trampoline park, and Soul Survivor.
In September I launched Youth House Group, which has become my favourite group that I run. We look at more topical series, like 'My Big Fat Mouth' which looked at lying, gossip and criticism. I really like the atmosphere and the vision of the group.
Don’t let social media, blogs and vlogs fool you. Just because someone posts a highlights reel on their Facebook, doesn’t mean they didn’t have any lowlights of the year. Just because someone’s instagram feed is full of engagement photos, new house, pictures of going out with friends, multiple holidays, doesn’t mean they had no struggles throughout the year.
- I didn’t get the A Level results I expected, and got a U in one of them
- I’ve felt lonely and have struggled in some friendships
- I’ve struggled with my mental health. But as the saying goes, “it does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop”
- I got diagnosed with PCOS - look it up, it deserves more awareness and for the stigma of women’s health to go.
New Year Resolutions
I haven’t done any New Year Resolutions this year. A friend posted a quote on her Instagram story, which says it better than I can:
“You don’t need replacing every year. The calendar is just another human invention. Don’t feel guilty about not dieting or exercising yourself into a temporary new form. Just be kind to yourself. Get to know the old you. Don’t throw yourself away like another piece of plastic trash. You are everything as you already are”.
I guess I have goals that I am continually working on, but I haven’t got a list of things that I must achieve/start doing/stop doing. I’d like to drink more water, continue to grow in self-confidence and body positivity, and I’d like to be more thankful and appreciative of the things around me. It’s a growing process, rather than, as this quote says, throwing away the old like a piece of plastic trash.
Thank you for reading, and for your support throughout this year.
What were your highlights and lowlights?
Term One has come to an end at Uni, and I am exhausted.
For those who don’t know, I’m doing a full time degree at MCYM St Johns College in Nottingham, studying Youth, Communities and Theology. I also work part-time as Student Youth Worker at a Baptist Church in the West Middlands. So I travel to Nottingham every other week for lectures, I do essays and work for my portfolio during the week as well as 14 hours per week as Youth Worker. This involves session planning, meetings, mentoring, youth house group, drop in youth cafe and toddler group. I've learnt a lot since starting at MCYM...
I’ve learn academic things; I could list about 10 values and principles of youth work, referencing three different people. I can give you a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and Threats) analysis of my work places’ safeguarding policy. I could tell you a couple of things about Corinthians 12:12-23.
I’ve learnt geographical and practical things, like that Nottingham is far away, that the best time to set off is 7am, and that the best service station to stop off at is Tamworth (on the way to Nottingham) and Hopward (on the way home). I’ve not yet learnt how to pronounce one of the roads I use though: Brian Clough Way. Is it 'Clough' like through, cough, thought or cloud? You’ve got to love the English language..
I’ve learnt a lot of personal things:
I’ve learnt that I am a person who can achieve things. One of my lecturers, Dr Charlotte Naylor Davis, said, “you’ve got to remind yourself that you are a person who can achieve things” in a Biblical Studies lecture. She was talking about how, if we’re struggling to write our essay, then go on a run, bake a cake, do anything that reminds us that we are people who can achieve things. I’ve learnt this term that I cannot write an essay before 2pm. At the beginning, I’d sit starring at a blank screen all morning, getting more and more upset and frustrated that I couldn’t think of what to write. I’d take a lunch break feeling so unachieved and incapable that I’d find it so hard to start again after lunch. Once I reminded myself that I am a person who can achieve things, I began doing something else enjoyable and productive in the morning, like yoga, youth session planning, watching a sermon and taking notes, going to the library. Then I’ll have some lunch and get started on my essay or portfolio work, continuing on until 6pm, when I’ll have some dinner, and then possibly continue on, or at least write some ideas that are still flowing, for an hour after dinner. That’s just how I work. Based on the way A Level results day went, I thought I wouldn’t understand any of my lectures and that I wouldn’t be able to do work well. On the contrary, in one of my first lectures I had, a lecturer said my answer was “profound”. That was a massive confidence booster!
I’ve learnt (or been reminded) that there are many people for me. My lecturers have been so great at explaining things, encouraging me and helping me through problems, like mental health wobbles and settling at my placement. I have a colleague who has become like my work-mum and not only works with me, but encourages me, listens to me and takes me out for lunch
I’ve also learnt two areas that I need to work on:
Saying “no”. It doesn’t matter what it is, if I’m free I’ll most likely say “yes” to whatever you’ve asked me to do, which is probably why I’m so tired. I’ve learnt that I’m the kind of person that works late, that likes to get everything done well before deadlines, that fills up her days and can’t say “no”. I’m taking leave in the New Year and I can’t express how excited I am to sleep, watch Netflix, make things, bake things, go for a walk along the river, go to a garden centre.
I’ve also learnt that I’m terrible at meetings. I generally forget what was said in a meeting - I need to remember to take notes. I’ve also realised that I don’t make a lot of input. I’m quite a slow processor, so when someone chips in with an idea, I’ve heard it but I’m still thinking about exactly what they’re saying, about what I think, and then I’m crafting a response in my head that actually makes sense. By this time we’re on to the answer, or another idea. I think, as well as being slow at processing what people are saying, it’s because of a lack of confidence. I’m scared that I’ll say something stupid, or that doesn’t make sense, or I’ll give an idea that nobody likes. I was in a meeting a few weeks ago about the future of a youth group I co-lead, and on my phone I had about three or four ideas. How many did I actually share? 0.
So, all in all it’s been a good first term. I’m looking forward to starting again in January, right after I have a lovely Christmas and a long sleep.
Thanks to your nominations and support on this blog, last weekend I took a trip down to London for the Premier Digital Awards. Hosted at The Brewery in The Barbican, I won ‘Runner Up’ of ‘Young Blogger of the Year’!
I went with both my parents, and we were seated at a table of other finalists in different categories. We had very posh but delicious food, made conversation and contacts, and laughed a lot too. It was so amazing to be in the same room as so many individuals and organisations that inspire me; editors of Premier Youth and Children’s Work Magazine, TLG, YFC, Lily Jo, More Precious. It was a strange mix of feeling slightly out of place - a sense of inadequacy - yet the feeling of worthiness and pride to be there.
My category was one of the last. I had seen many I mentioned above either win their category or get runner up. I started to feel a little shaky and nervous, but still excited. The hosts, Faith Child and Maria Rodrigues, introduced the ‘Young Blogger of the Year Category’ and read out the five finalist names. When mine was read out, my whole table let out a loud cheer… especially my parents! The next thing I know, my name has been called for Runner Up and I’m walking my best in my heels towards the stage to receive my certificate and have a photo taken.
The winner of my category was Alisha of 'Writerield', and since the Awards night we have been getting to know each other over Twitter!
‘The honest bit’
The Awards night was a perfect example of just having to fight the enemy away. Honestly, I often feel like ‘second best’, like people’s second option, like ‘plan B’. So when I got the award of runner up, even with the adrenaline, pride, and excitement to text those closest to me who were eagerly waiting, I still felt the enemy say to me, “you’ve literally got the prize for being second best".
It was in this time that I had to fight the enemy with the truths. Only a day or two before, someone had sent me a prophetic word about how I have nothing to prove and nothing to protect because I am who I am, and those few words really helped me. I also took a step back and had a reality check that I had got further than so many other amazing bloggers. I reminded myself of all the people that had messaged me kind words, congratulated me and told me that they’re proud of me
I really want to thank everyone who nominated me. I don’t know who did, but thank you.
Thank you to everyone who has written kind words on my social media posts, to my parents for (literally and loudly) cheering me on, to Premier Digital for having me, to all my readers, and finally, a ‘thank you’ to 'Grandad in the sky', who started my love of writing many many years ago.
Three years ago, I posted a video on YouTube titled 'Dear Future Me' . It got around 500 views, but is now unlisted due to it being a total cringe-fest. However, now it's almost exactly three years on, I thought I'd write a letter in reply.
Dear Younger Self,
We're eighteen now, nineteen next month! And yes, we still feel a year or two older than we actually are. It's sometimes difficult, like recently when you feel like you've grown out of friendships. But it also comes with the blessing of hanging out with incredible people who are actually 5-10 years older than you, but you feel like you fit.
You ask whether we "survived high school". Oh Rebecca, we thrived high school. I'll give you some tips for your last year or so...
1. Do your homework, and preferably without the aid of Google.
2. Stop asking, "what's the point though?" in every maths lesson
3. Enjoy the little things. I miss so many things about school and it genuinely makes me sad to think that I'll never sit in an English lesson ever again, or I'lll never play Ultimate Frisbee on the field in the rain again, and I'll never go on another Geography field trip where we sit on a cliff top eating lunch in Sunny Devon, or trudge through a river, clipboard and snack in hand.
4. Keep going and believe in yourself! You've come so far and you're only going to go further!
No, we didn't go to College in the end; only dead fish go with the flow. We did A Levels from home and, spoiler alert, it's tough. Put your music on, find a way to study best, and don't give up. Do some more practice essays and get them marked... use your tutors!
We made it to Uni! We're on an actual university course! Not Belfast, we had a bit of a crisis earlier on in the year about what to. Instead we're Student Youth Worker and studying at Nottingham CYM. That leads me nicely onto dreams...
Over time your dreams will change, and that's okay. Don't stress yourself over not knowing what to do; there's always time to figure it out. Just because you verbalise that you want to do one thing, doesn't mean you have a legal contract to do that. But just be aware that your plan doesn't always fit with God's. However, the flip side of that is that His is always bigger and better. Trust.
You asked how much we've grown. The answer is simple: more than you could imagine. Last year we did YFC's gap year program and a year of Youth Work Placement, and we grew so much that 17 year old us is barely recognisable to 18 year old us. We learnt so much from the people around us and from stepping out into new opportunities. The only advice I'd give you, the only thing I'd change about that year, is that you write more down. Write a short summary of every youth group you lead, every youth trip you go on, every chat/meeting you have with your line manager.
I have one more thing to tell you before I go, and it's a big'n....
Stop putting yourself on a tightrope of trying to please everyone. When you fall from that high, it's only going to hurt you. So, hop down from up there and work towards a better you for you. There are so many people around you right now that care about you, that will give up their lunch break to sit and chat with you, that will pray with you after youth group again and again and again. They do that because they care about the current you, not the perfect and without fault you. And I know you just want to hear them say, "I'm proud of you", but don't pressure yourself to always have a smile on your face just to hear those words. You don't have to hear it to know it.
Let's catch up again in a few years,
(p.s. yeah, we like the name Rebecca again.)
How's your week been? After a terrible week where I felt attacked in almost every area, I've had a really lovely past couple of days that included a positive meeting, working with Youth for Christ on a resource, lunch dates with friends, productivity and creativity.
I really feel like I'm in a season of learning and growing. A lot of things have changed in the past six months: I've moved out, I started uni and I started a new job. There have been some areas of my life that have been really difficult in just the last few weeks, but I feel like I'm learning a lot through them. Here's what I'm learning...
I watched a sermon online this week and the preacher said, "cultivate a perspective mindset". He reminded me that, "no matter how big your problem is, your God is bigger". I'm learning that even by thinking, "I can do this, I'm committed to this" and changing your perspectives of the situation, the actual practicalities of the situation might not change, but your joy and hopefulness will!
Who you choose to surround yourself with is so important.
Surround yourself with people that you feel safe with, people that inspire you, that you have a good time with and people that give and take. Don't surround yourself with people who make you anxious, people who you don't trust not to talk about you behind your back, and people that just take and take.
This week I had a quick coffee and some study-help with someone who was my youth minister for five years, and is now a friend. I went to Life Group with someone who Line Managed me last year and is now a friend. I had lunch with someone who I've admired for years and is still one of my biggest inspirations, but more importantly is a friend. All these people are a joy to be with, they encourage me, make me laugh and inspire me.
I'm learning that it's okay to grow out of friendships! It's okay for relationships to change as people do!
3. ME TIME
Amongst the uni work, youth work prep and emails I've sent this week, I've been able to spend a lot of time on me, and I've realised the importance of that.
One afternoon I drove to a garden centre and wandered around all the Christmassy bits; all the twinkling lights, colour co-ordinated baubles and shiny tinsel gave me all the Christmas feels!
Another night I sat in front of the TV and watched all my current favourites (Eastenders, Holby City, The Great British Bake Off) and I lit some candles and painted my nails. I've also started an artsy project, which you'll see in about two weeks!
All these little 'self-care'stereotypes' can make all the difference.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post, and you have a very lovely weekend.
Things are all over the place at the moment, and I feel drained of creative juices. I have a couple of blog post drafts I could post, but they don't feel complete and it doesn't feel like the right time.
A lot of Christian blogs you read are always positive. Or, perhaps there are posts on negative topics, but they always come from a place of positivity. Integrity is a value I admire, prioritise and hold tight, so I don't want to post on something that I don't feel 100%. For example, I don't want to post on 'Spending Time With Jesus' when I'm avoiding Him. I don't want to post on 'Friendships' when I'm struggling in them.
So instead, here's a blog post about what I've been really enjoying over the last month. I hope you very much enjoy it.
Click on the photos to follow links
If you can dodge the rain, walks are so lovely around this time of year. Check out your local parks and National Trust sites. Go with family, go with friends, go with the dog or go just for some time on your own. If you're Midlands based like me, Clent Hills and Cannon Hill Park are my favourites, so dress up warm, take photos, chat with your loved ones or spend some time in prayer.
REST IN YOU
A song I've had on repeat over the last week or so is 'Rest In You' by All Sons & Daughters. The instruments and vocals give such a restful, calming feel and the lyrics are so powerful. My favourite is, "You cannot change, yet You change everything". It's just a great song to get your perspective on things back in place.
SHE READS TRUTH
'She Reads Truth' are an amazing and creative bunch of people. I receive daily devotionals via email that I get so much from, and it's a really great way to kickstart my morning. The devotions are easy to read, even with groggy, tired eyes! They also do really great Bible Study books available online. Like the emails, the design is beautiful and the content is inspiring.
They have an Advent-themed book coming out soon and I'm so excited to get my hands on it!
I love this weather. I'm such a summer sun kind of person, but this year I've been really loving the crisp sun shining and the cold air allowing for layers. Mind you, by 3pm it's too warm for half of the layers!
A favourite of mine has been this jumper from Zara. It was just £25 (converted) in Spain, so I was surprised to see the much higher price in England. Even so, it's so warm and soft. It goes well with a top underneath and a coat on top for that difficult layering weather.
I call these boots my 'Smash It Boots'. I wear them and I feel confident and professional. They're comfortable enough to wear all day and I can even drive (a short-medium distance) in them.
BAD GIRLS THROUGHOUT HISTORY
When I left my job at the Toy Shop, I was very kindly given a Waterstones voucher. With it, I bought 'Bad Girls Throughout History'. It's an inspiring book, telling the tales of 100 rebel girls throughout history, alongside beautiful illustrations. I like reading one or two before I go to bed.
I'd love for someone to make a Christian version of this; women throughout the Bible to women through to women these days who do incredible things for Jesus.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Please comment below what you've been enjoying over the last few weeks!
Some people seem to adore September; cooler weather that allows for sweaters, the excitement of Halloween and Christmas to come, and autumnal changes in the Starbucks menu. Others mourn the loss of Summer as they realise the things they were looking forward to - holidays, more free-time, sunny days, have finished, and now it's back to reality.
Whatever your preference, at this time of year I like to make three lists, and I recommend you do the same.
The first list is of things you're looking forward to.
The second list is of things that you're thankful for.
The third list is of people you're thankful for, and the reasons why.
Perhaps darker afternoons and evenings, wetter weather and the knowledge if summer being over makes you feel a little lower and a little less hopeful. For me, these lists make me excited for things to come, grateful for the things I have, and blessed to have such wonderful people in my life.
If you're creative, why not dedicate a page in your journal for these lists, and create zentangle designs in the corner, or draw little illustrations alongside each item. Or perhaps you'd rather just write a list on your phone notes. You could write it on a piece of paper and put it in your phone or wallet to remind you of the blessings -big and small- in your life.
A few days ago I came back from 5 days camping in Peterborough for Soul Survivor! The night I came back, I slept for 14 hours straight - if that doesn't show you how exhausted I was, I don't know what will. Despite the exhaustion, this year of Soul Survivior was one of my favourites. Here's why:
- The teachings this year were really great. Mike Pilavachi and Andy Croft were up to their usual top standard, Tim Ross was hilarious and powerful, and a friend of mine was preaching on main stage, which was crazy! She spoke amazingly and really hit the heart's of the young people, and I'm sure many youth leaders too.
- I'm very much an observer. During SS, I loved watching the young people chat with each other, share stories, joke, play endless card games, have a water fight, dive deep into worship and take notes through the teachings. I loved how patient and kind they were to each other, even when tiredness crept it.
- Similarly, I learnt a lot from observing the other youth leaders; how they interact with different young people, youth work styles, creating conversations, asking questions, organisation....
- having long and deep conversations with the young people and youth leaders
- the worship was incredible. Worship is one of my favourite things to do. I find it much easier than other spiritual disciplines; meditation, reading my Bible, praying... However, I'm a picky-worshipper. Perhaps because I'm Gen Z, I find it so much easier to engage in worship when there's lots of people around me lifting their hands, when it's loud, when there's harmonies and lots of instruments. This is actually something God is really challenging me on, and is another blog post for another day. That aside, the Worship at Soul Survivor gave me space to surrender all, sing, shout, dance and jump.
- a favourite and least favourite was cooking. A favourite was the sense of achievement when I had cooked a meal (for 18, in a marquee may I add) by myself, as well as the love I felt when people offered help, and intervened and was patient when I made mistakes. But when I did make mistakes, I found it really hard. When I underestimated how long sausages would take to cook, or when I hadn't realised the gas had blown out, or I forgot about a vegetarian sauce, I felt like I had totally failed and I was showing everyone just how stupid I am. That was tough.
- After a long chat, I sat in the cold marquee with a young person at about 11pm, drinking hot chocolate and waiting for the others to come back. This young person said to me, "you've made Soul Survivor for me. You're actually alright". That made me feel pretty special.
- at meal times, we tried to create a space where we could share the highlights of our day and what we were enjoying most about Soul Survivor. I really loved that; hearing the young people's thoughts and seeing their faces light up as they tell a funny story. It felt very family-like.
- I started each morning by reading my Bible and praying. I loved hearing the chatters of the early-risers coming from the marquee as I read the Psalms. One morning, I felt a need to pray for each young person and youth leader individually, and as I did I had an image in my mind that I later shared with the group. This year at Soul Survivor, I really heard from God daily.
- the people I went with made it one of the best years. Their craziness, intelligent insights, their patience and kindness towards each other, and their growth through the week
- Finally, the journey home. All but one young person slept the entire journey home, and me and my Placement line manager chatted about the past year, the danger of comparison, church politics, holiday and age. As someone who loves road trips and deep conversations, these two hours were definitely a highlight.
I've had an incredible year with this Youth Group. Soul Survivor was the best way to end a perfect year.
My favourite song at the moment is by Hillsong Young and Free and it's called P E A C E. Featuring on their newest album, 'III', 'P E A C E' is all about declaring God as the Keeper of Peace even when the "lies come", even when "my thoughts don't line up", even when my "mind wreaks havoc".
A couple of weeks ago I sat in bed, opened YouTube and was going to catch up with a vlogging family, 'My Tiny Tribe'. On my YouTube home screen was a recommended video by Bethel, titled 'PEACE | Amanda Cook', who is one of my favourite Christian artists. I clicked on the thumbnail and the song totally broke me.
I cried the entirety of the song and when it finished, I dragged the slider to the beginning and listened again, and cried for another 10 minutes.
The second time, I sung the lyrics through the pain. In this version, Amanda Cook adds the lyric, 'this is where the war ends' and she repeats the verse 'all anxiety bows in the presence of Jesus the Keeper of Peace', and that's what I was declaring over my mind and my life.
This Is Where The War Ends.
'Tetelestai' is my favourite word. In Greek, it means 'it is finished', and it's what Jesus said as He was dying. The war of identity, the war of anxiety or depression or addiction or whatever it may be for you - this is where the war ends - right here, right now. It is finished already.
All Anxiety Bows In The Presence Of Jesus
That word, 'bows' is the one that gets me. Even anxiety bows in the presence of Jesus. I Googled the definition for 'bow down', and here's what some sites said:
"to show weakness by agreeing to the orders of something or someone higher"
"to cease from competition"
"to show respect and agree that they are more powerful"
At the time, I had this image in my head of personified Anxiety, and it jumped around and bounced off people's heads in complete power and authority, until it got to God. At God, it stood still, then bowed. Anxiety, something that has a grip on many, submits, ceases from competition, shows weakness, agrees that God is higher and more powerful than it's self.
Over the last last few weeks, through what has been a bit of a ‘mental health flop’, God has reminded me of His peace. People have given me verses about overflowing with peace, about carrying peace. I’ve read quotes, I’ve heard songs that sing about peace but I previously hadn’t noticed. In February at a training day for The Year Out, we were each given a piece of thread that represented who God is. The one I picked up represented peace, and at the time I thought, “other people have better verses than me, I wish I picked up a better one”. As I was praying for peace again this morning, I was reminded of my red anklet, and felt God say, “you’ve been wearing my peace on you’re ankle for months”.