A note to a new Reach Intern

Dear new Reacher,

It’s twelve months now since I was in your shoes. Nervously waiting for the start of the internship. I can remember how I trawled the internet trying to find out as much as I could, not knowing quite what to expect. You are at the start of what can be a fantastic year of learning and development, that could impact your life long after the year is over. I can’t pretend to be an expert on Reach, but I thought I’d share with you a few hints and tips that I’ve picked up along the way, to hopefully help you to make the most of the year.

Firstly, it’s important to start with an open mind. You probably have some expectations for the year and a fair few preconceived ideas for how it will be. But it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s going to be different from how you imagine, most things are. If you go into it with an open mind you’ll be best placed to make the most of the opportunities that arise even if they are different from what you expected.

Secondly, be yourself from the start. It’s easy to put up a front when you start in a new place, to keep people at arms length. But if you’re not careful this could be a barrier that gets in the way of forming friendships. Don’t be afraid to be who you are. You are on Reach because you are good enough to be there and they think you are a good fit for CAP. It’s okay if you feel like you don’t fit in at first. The first few weeks can be a bit overwhelming and I remember feeling like the odd one out, not extrovert enough or ticking enough boxes. However, as the weeks go on you’ll see that there are lots of different people at CAP, with different character types, from different denominations and walks of life. There is a place for you here.

Think carefully about what kind of church you want to join. Working for a Christian charity there are a few added complications to think about, like how many people from work you want to go to church with. Make sure church is somewhere you can go when you’ve had a tough week on Reach. You are going to need friends outside of CAP, and church can be a great place to find them. Try and find a church where you can get stuck in and contribute, even though you’re only here a year. Don’t overlook the local churches around you, they are often in desperate need of people your age (if you’re in Barmouth check out St Augustine’s up the hill, not that I’m biased or anything!). The only way to find a church that suits you is to try different churches out, there are many great churches to choose from. Chat to people at Head Office to see what’s around, but don’t take too long making a decision, the time will fly by before you know it.

Reach is going to test your boundaries. To get the most out of the year you’re going to need to throw yourself in at the deep end and take advantage of the opportunities that come your way. You will get out of the year what you put into it. However, you can’t say ‘yes’ to everything. You have to find a good balance in your life, especially when you throw the fundraising into the equation. Make sure you still make time to socialise, rest and unwind. There’s a critical difference between stepping out of you comfort zone and burning out, be on your guard.

In the same vein, make the most of your time as a Reach group. I know this can be easier said than done, especially when you’re an introvert in the first few weeks of a new and demanding job. The first few months are key for building friendships and cementing relationships in the group, so try to get involved even if socialising in large groups isn’t your thing. It’s likely that the Reach group you start with on your first day won’t look the same as the group you finish with. Some people will leave along the way, and you’re going to miss then when they do, so enjoy these times together.

You may well be surprised by just how many differences there will be between a group of twenty or so Christian interns. You’re going to have vastly different opinions on lots of issues, and that’s okay. Embrace and celebrate these differences and don’t let them spoil your friendships. There will probably also be people in the group who you don’t get on with, Reach throws a wide range of people together, and it’s not always going to be happy families. You don’t have to be friends with everyone, but how you handle these challenging relationships and conflicts could be vital to the rest of your Reach year. Reach can be quite an intense environment, especially when you’re living and working together. Even if you don’t like someone maintaining working relationships is key, as is handling conflict maturely. If you have a disagreement with someone, try not to drag other interns into it, even if it’s easy to do. It’s all too easy for a personality clash or argument to turn into a group divide. Don’t let it. Be peacemakers and it’ll be worth it in the end.

At the same time try to make friends outside of Reach. Get to know your team and other people at CAP. You will be surrounded by so many wonderful and inspiring people, it’s worth stepping out of the Reach bubble to get to know some of them. These friendships can also be a Refuge for the more challenging weeks on the internship. You can listen to their wisdom, they will have seen it all before.

If you’re anything like me then the fundraising target is looking pretty intimidating at the moment. You’re going to get differing opinions on this depending on which ex-Reacher you ask, but personally  I think it’s achievable. It’s a question of chipping away at it a bit at a time, every pound counts. From what I’ve seen, CAP is more interested in the effort you put in, than the actual money raised. Use the skills and talents you already have to fundraise in a way that suits you. Remember to celebrate other Reacher’s successes when they do well. Be encouragers, cheering each other. And when it all feels too much, take it to God. Ultimately He is our provider.

With the best will in the world you are going to make mistakes along the way, on Reach or in your departments. That is only human and not something to fear. Don’t be afraid to put your hands up and admit the mistake and then move on. Remember your managers and team are there to help, ask them as many questions as you need to. If you don’t know something then ask someone, don’t try to bluff it.

There may also be times when CAP makes mistakes. Perfect organisations don’t exist. As great as CAP is they won’t always get it right, and it might be that you get hurt in the process. But on those days you’re going to need to dust it off and extend the same grace to CAP as is extended to you when you get things wrong. Keep smiling and move forward positively, it will be a great test of character if nothing else.

This year will be what you make of it. There will be challenges along the way. But Reach can also be a great year of growth, of learning and friendship. It’s a good opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and stretch yourself beyond what you thought you could achieve. Be prepared for God to use you in unexpected ways and teach you lessons you weren’t anticipating. Be honest if you’re finding things difficult, you are not on your own. Remember that your best is good enough and get stuck in. You can trust that God will use this year for your good and His glory.

We’re praying for you all and looking forward to meeting you!

Sarah

Immeasurably More

It seems a whole month has flown by since I last posted here. It has been a hectic few weeks to say the least. Last week the internship with CAP finished and I moved home to my new flat. I’m now off work until my job starts on 1st September. But I’ve found my time has been eaten up by the mountain of flatpack furniture I’ve had to conquer and all the dozens of jobs you find yourself with when you move house. However, in amongst all the unpacking and constructing, I’ve had time to reflect on my internship year with CAP.

There are so many different angles I could take when I look back on the past twelve months. In truth at times it has been really tough. There have been weeks where I wondered if I would be able to stick it out. Events unfolded that tested my resolve and sometimes the internship has been a real struggle. It would be so easy to focus on the negatives.

Back in October last year one of the other interns set us a task during some of our internship time. The task was to write a letter to God outlining our hopes and fears for the year, what we wanted to learn and gain. During the last week of the internship we were given these letters back to read. And as I read it, what I was struck by the most is simply how much I’ve learnt and grown. When I wrote this letter I was doubting my decisions to move to Bradford, missing friends and family and feeling like I would never fit in at CAP. I started the internship with my confidence at rock bottom, life was tough and I didn’t feel good enough. Now as I read this letter I can see I’ve come so far and changed such a lot.

I’m not sure the lessons I’ve learnt were necessarily those we were supposed to be learning. I didn’t discover my strengths as a manager or find a flare for leadership. The future hasn’t become any clearer. But from reading this letter, reading what I desired for this year, I can see I got immeasurably more than I asked for.

My biggest wish was to grow in confidence and belief in myself. I think as a result of some really tough years, I was struggling to see the good in myself, to believe the compliments thrown my way. My vision was clouded. I know I’m not all the way there yet but I can see I’ve come a long way in twelve months. I’ve been part of a wonderful team at CAP which has helped me to see that I have unique gifts and talents to bring to the table. To understand that I have much to offer just from being who I am. Writing this year, and the feedback I’ve received, has enabled me to see myself differently. It’s meant I could step out of myself and see myself and the battles I’ve fought from a different perspective.

One of my prayers was that I would ‘be able to help people and make a difference, especially for those who don’t have hope.’ When I was writing those words I don’t think I could have imagined how God would use them. I couldn’t have guessed that God would give me the chance to write for a mental health charity that has 1.4 million likes on Facebook. Throughout this year it has been humbling and moving to see God taking my words and experiences to speak to people. This from the girl who spent the past three years doing a degree in Mathematics!

My biggest concern about the internship year was the fundraising, it felt like a black cloud hovering over my head. I couldn’t see how I would ever reach the £3000 target. But yet again I have seen God’s provision, providing immeasurably more than I asked for. I finished the year having raised £5740, blowing the target out of the water. Thankyou to all those who helped me get there.

I started the year feeling like I would never fit in at CAP that I wasn’t joyful or enthusiastic enough. Now I can see that we are all different, faith is more than just fire and trumpets. Sometimes there is wisdom in the quiet voice of the heart. We were created different, and those differences are precious and to be celebrated. I will never be one of those Christians who is shouting for joy from the rooftops. But there is a depth and grounding to my faith that is of great value and has been hard fought for.

Outside of work I’ve had unexpected opportunities with my church. I was able to get stuck in right from the start and have been privileged to be able to lead worship there. My little church and all the people I have met there have been a wonderful blessing, and another way God has given me more than I needed.

This year as an intern has not been how I would have pictured it. Perhaps it has been different from how I wanted or planned. It has been a year of challenges, but it has also been a year of ‘immeasurably more’. I have met so many amazing people and made some great friends. I have grown more this year than I think I have in any other year of my life. I am excited to see what the next year has in store.

” Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen”

Ephesians 3:20-21

 

 

Power Made Perfect in Weakness

Firstly, let me say a massive thankyou to all those who commented and encouraged me about my guest post with TWLOHA. It’s always scary entrusting part of your story to the world. There has been something very special about being able to read comments from people around the world, people I will never meet. But for those minutes of reading, we were connected. It has been a very moving and humbling experience, and another lesson in the power of words.

Secondly, I realise I owe you an update on what’s been going on in my life. Many of you will have gathered from Facebook that I now have a permanent job at CAP starting in September, and have recently found a flat to move into in a few weeks. It’s a huge relief now everything is falling into place, but it wasn’t an easy journey getting to this point. I could have written this post with different words at different times. But it’s taken this long to get enough distance from from the process to be able to use words that are measured and fair.

As interns we first applied for jobs at CAP back in April, there was limited information available at the time and no one really knew where the jobs would be and how many there were. Interviews started in June and it was four and a half weeks in between my first interview and my eventual job offer, with three interviews altogether. As the weeks went by, more and more interns got jobs and still I heard nothing. I got offered an interview for a specific job which I was subsequently rejected for. By this point I was the only intern left in the process, the one left waiting for a definite yes or no. It was reminiscent of school days, being picked last for a team. No matter how many times people told me that it wasn’t my fault or a reflection on me, I still felt like bottom of the pile. I was tired of jumping at every email, hoping for news. It had been a painful and stressful few weeks and it wasn’t looking like it would bear fruit.

There were some real low points. Like the day, early on, when I found out ten people had got jobs, and I’d heard nothing, not knowing if there were even any jobs left. There was the day when, I got given a ‘no’ for a job I was excited for, and then the email went round announcing which interns were staying and my name wasn’t on the list. And the day when I realised that even if I did get a job, it would be too late to live with other interns, who had already sorted themselves out.

But throughout the process I have been blessed with a wonderful team, who have been there for me through the highs and the lows. It was often their support that helped me to brush myself off and try again the next day. Their prayers and words of encouragement helped me to rebuild my confidence for the next challenge. I have been very lucky to have them in my corner.

By the time I reached my final interview, the interview that would be successful, I was feeling pretty weak and exhausted. If I hadn’t felt strongly that this was where God wanted me to be, I would have walked away before this point. People were telling me that God had a plan, and maybe it wasn’t CAP. This was quite confusing to hear, as I felt God had been prompting me to stay. Would he really set me up for a fall or had I simply heard wrong? Four weeks of living on adrenaline were taking their toll, but instead I had to scrape my confidence up out of the gutter and put a smile on my face. Looking back I can see the verse 2 Corinthians 12:9 at work in my life:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”

I may have felt weak and bruised, but God was still strong. His power and plans were not frustrated or thwarted. His will would prevail.

Now, from the security of a future job, I can see some of the positives from this experience. For one I will be now staying at CAP confident that it’s the right thing, if I had doubts then I would have walked away from the recruitment process. It hasn’t been the easy option that it has for some people, but more of a conscious battle. I have grown through the process, learning confidence in interviews and how to better sell myself. My trust and reliance on God has been tested, and like so many situations in my life, He has brought me through stronger. This has not been an experience I would want to repeat, but I can see that God will use this situation too for my good. It does not do to harbour resentment and bitterness.

As I was planning this post I was thinking about the post I wrote for TWLOHA. I am encouraged by all the times throughout my life, when God has used what would be weakness in the eyes of the world, to display his strength. Three years ago I would have never expected to be able to share my story, from dark times, to encourage others. Me and God have weathered some storms together, and then he has given me the privilege of being able to share tales of his power at work. I can see ‘God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong’ (1 Corinthians 1:27).

It is true that these past weeks have not been the weeks I would have chosen. But it is also true that they have been another tale of God’s power made perfect in my weakness. And maybe in the long term that will be worth the stress and heart ache.

The Power of Words

This post has been sat in my drafts folder waiting for another editor of another blog to hit publish. Today is the day. Not sure if my birthday is the day I would have chosen, but I trust in God’s timing.

I want to tell you about an exciting writing opportunity that’s happened recently. But to do it justice we need to rewind my story three and a half years. Lets go back to my first year of university, at 19 years old. Back to my room in my University Halls, to one of many long nights on the internet, desperately searching for hope. We must go back to a time where the world looked so dark, the future devoid of hope. Back to a girl who felt  lost and alone, struggling to come to terms with a depression that was stealing her joy.

It was this girl, at this time, who read these words:

” You are not alone, and this is not the end of your story”

~Jamie  Tworkowski, TWLOHA Founder

 By chance I had stumbled across the American charity ‘To Write Love on Her Arms’ (read more here), whose mission is to help those struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. Those words spoke to me. They whispered hope back into my life at a time when it was hard to hold on to. They were thirteen important words on the journey towards acceptance and healing.

Words have power, whether we realise it or not. We can use them to build up or to tear down. We can speak encouragement or insult. Words can bring comfort and community, or hurt and loneliness. They can bring hope or spread despair.

That night, three and a half years ago, I began to appreciate the power of words. It was then I decided that my story was going to be one of hope. That in sharing that story I may be able to one day bring hope to others. Today I hope is one of those days.

A few months ago, TWLOHA, the charity that inspired me those years ago, invited people to send in guest submissions for their blog. Thinking it would come to nothing, I sent them a piece  about hope and depression. About the power of hope’s whisper. Today is the day that post has been published, and shared with all their followers and supporters. Today is a chance for my words to spread hope, to those who find themselves in the same darkness I’ve journeyed through.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. These words could cost me.  They could be met with misunderstanding, with judgement and rejection. Maybe some of you will look at me differently.

But I believe in a future where people understand the brain can get sick the same way the body does. A future where those with mental illness are not made to feel ashamed and embarrassed. I believe that God’s heart is aching for the church to show these people love and acceptance. I believe in the simple power of sharing a story.

I am not the same girl I was three and a half years ago. The years have shaped and strengthened me into who I am today. I write now from a brighter place, a place of health and happiness. My story will continue. But I write for those people today who feel like they have reached the end of their own story. For those who feel lost and alone. I share these words with the prayer they can bring hope.

This post is for all those who have walked with me on my journey so far. For all those who have whispered hope back into my life, on those darker days. I will forever be grateful to you. These words are for those of you who encouraged me to keep writing, who reminded me I have a story to share. This is just a chapter of mine, but I offer it to you with hope.

“Truth isn’t measured in the volume of the voice. Sometimes the most precious truths can be found in those persistent whispers, in those words that pull us back from the edge, and in those words that ground us and keep us going.”

http://twloha.com/blog/hope-whispers

The Ones That Love Us Never Really Leave Us

First a little warning: I’m aware that for those of you who know the weight of today this may not be an easy read. I needed to write this, but it might be that today isn’t the day to read it, and that’s okay. Look after yourselves.

In many ways today is just another day. Just one of the three hundred and sixty five that fill our year, full of it’s own challenges and possibilities. I’m sure many things happened on June 20th 2013, children were born, couples got married and friendships blossomed. That day will mean many things to many different people.

But for me, it was also the day we lost a dear friend James in a hiking accident, whilst we were away on a trip to Norway. I was on the trip with James and some other friends. As we started our trip, nestled at the foot of beautiful Norwegian mountains, we didn’t know tragedy would strike that day.  I had no idea the words I exchanged with James would be our last, didn’t realise I was saying ‘goodbye’ instead of ‘hello’. I thought we had hundreds of ordinary days to come, that I had time for all the words I’d meant to say. I didn’t think tomorrow would be too late.

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I felt just a fraction of the damage that day left, I know I experienced only a small part of that grief. A grief that was felt then, and is still felt today. I also know that for me, and for many others, June 20th will never be just another day.

Two months after returning from Norway I moved to a place where no one had ever known James. I realise to the new friends I have made he has become ‘my friend who died’. But that isn’t who James was, he isn’t defined by his death. Rather we love and remember James because of the way he lived.

He was the friend who always had time to help you with your coursework, even if he was overloaded with work himself.  Without his patience and willingness to explain a topic, I’m not sure I would have graduated with a 2.1 degree in Mathematics. He showed me what it means to be selfless and generous. And he was a loyal friend, a friend who really cared, and  listened to the answer when he asked you how you were. James had a passion and enthusiasm for life that was contagious. It was him who inspired me to take up photography, after he let me borrow his camera on a trip away. He had a joy and love of life that I admired and aspired to.

I don’t think I ever saw James do anything half heartedly, whether it was in his studies, hobbies or friendships, he gave it everything he had. And he was dedicated to growing in his faith, committed to following God as closely as he could, eager and excited to learn new things about Him. James was all these things and so much more. I can see he taught me so much through the way he lived his life, even though I did not realise it at the time.

And writing this I miss him, as all who loved him do. It still hurts to know we won’t see him again this side of heaven. But the beautiful thing about relationships is they change us. When we are loved by someone they give us a piece of themselves, and we are shaped by that investment. That change cannot be reversed. I see so much of James in those friends he has left behind. I see the way his life has impacted and improved our own. That whilst in one sense he is gone, in another sense he is so present to all of us. We will carry James with us into our futures, carry everything he taught us. Though he is not with us in person, I know he will continue to influence my life, mould the person I will become. He can never be forgotten.

Today is going to be tough and painful for so many of us. For some it may feel like too much to bear. It would be so easy to make today about death and loss, darkness and despair. But if James has taught me anything it’s that today should be about life. About the wonderful and inspiring way he lived his, the ways he continues to inspire us.

As you read this I will be travelling down to Southampton, to spend this day with some of James’ friends. There may well be tears, but I know there will also be laughter, as we celebrate all that James was. I thank God for loaning us such a brilliant friend, knowing he is now home where he belongs, at the start of his greatest adventure. As I look into the faces of some of those people James loved, I know I will see his fingerprints over their lives, see how knowing him has changed us for the better. How his influence will be with us for years to come.

And once June 2oth has passed us by again, I’ll continue to carry with me all James taught me. I will do my best to grab life with both hands like he did, to live my life without regrets or ‘maybe tomorrow’. To seek to know God more, to learn and grow in Him each day. I will strive to be compassionate and generous with my life, to be a loyal and caring friend. I will continue to capture as much beauty as I can through the lens of a camera, thinking of him as I do.

Each of us who loved him will carry a different part of who James was with us, letting it live on within, treasuring the memories. And as we carry him with us, until we see him again, we can know he hasn’t really left us. The ones that love us never do.

Growth

It’s been a long and stressful week. One of those weeks where you get to the end and breathe a sigh of relief. I had my job interview for CAP on Thursday, and preparing for it got me thinking about the last nine months. Reflecting on just how far I’ve come, how much I’ve grown.

Change in people is a gradual process, so much so that often we miss it altogether. Sometimes it takes someone looking in from the outside to point it out. I was a very different person when I first came to CAP. I arrived with grief still very fresh in my mind, lacking confidence and belief in myself. I remember coming away from my first few weeks, doubting my ability to fit in, wondering if I was in the right place.  I was the girl dreading the prospect of talking to creditors on the phone, and intimidated by the thought of raising three thousand pounds. I thought if I could keep my head down I could get through it, but I didn’t really see how I was going to grow.

Now nine months later I can see that God has been growing me in ways I would not have predicted. I have a greater understanding of myself and am much more confident and secure. Now challenging calls don’t phase me and I am confident at my job. This year has helped me to rediscover my love of writing, and given me the opportunity to lead worship at church. I have seen God provide above and beyond what I could have imagined with my fundraising (I’m now on over £5600). I’ve had the joy of meeting and working with some amazing people, and to feel like an integral part of a wonderful team. Strangely, for all the growth and change, I feel like I’ve become more and more myself.

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However, growth is painful and this year has been far from easy. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, but when you find yourself in the middle of a growth period, it can be difficult to see what is happening. There have been many challenging and confusing weeks, where I have questioned my choices and analysed my decision to come to CAP. Weeks where the changes seemed painfully slow and I wondered if I was growing at all. As I reflected on this I was reminded of something I wrote in this post back in October:

“As I learnt in the heart of Norway, sometimes his purpose doesn’t make sense to our human eyes. We are refined in the heat of the fire, not in the summer sunshine. Fire hurts, God’s plans are not for the faint hearted. To trust God, is to see past the tangled mess of our emotions and circumstances, and fix our eyes on who He is and what we know about His character. The truths that don’t change with our circumstances, the reality of the Almighty God who loved us enough to send His son to die for us.”

This internship has been part of a refining process, a process which I know is far from over. God has got His hand on me, moulding and shaping me into who He created me to be. It hurts to be in the heat of the fire, but it is worth it when you can look back and see what He has created.

Sometimes as Christians we get so fired up with a desire to change part of the world, that we loose sight of the fact that the change must start with us. If we want to be the solution to the problems we see, we have to be prepared to grow. We can’t change the world without being changed ourselves.

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory” 2 Corinthians 3:18

This is a lifelong process, and today I’m excited to know I’m only at the start of it. These next few weeks are likely to be especially challenging as the recruitment process at CAP comes to its conclusion. None of us know yet what jobs are available or where we may end up. It’s a time of prayer and trust, resting in the assurance that my future is ultimately in God’s hands. His plans can’t be thwarted by the decisions of man. I know wherever I end up, God will continue to grow and shape me.

So for those of you facing challenges right now, be encouraged that God can and will use these situations for growth. Know that whilst you may not see it now, one day you will look back and see just how much you’ve grown, how you’ve been shaped. Growth is worth the hard work.