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.

Plans

So it’s that time of year when I am forced to think about what I’m going to do next. The internship with CAP will finish in the middle of August. In two and half months, one way or another, we will no longer be interns. “What are you doing next?” is a question I seem to be asked several times a day at the moment. It’s a question I’ve been wrestling with over the past fortnight in particular. There have been days when the decision has felt completely overwhelming, when I’ve got caught up in the tide of worry and anxiety. But other days have brought with them a little more clarity.

Many of you who asked me that question four months ago, would have got a much simpler answer. My plan was to move back down South, to Southampton, and to take any job I could get. I wanted to be back with the friends I’ve missed so dearly, to be closer to my family and back in an area that had felt so much like home. Every time the homesickness hit, I would long for my old life, reassuring myself that in a few months time I could go back.

But as the months have gone on I’ve come to question my motivation, the roots of my desire to run home. I’ve realised it can be summed up in five small words ‘I want to go back’. That I’ve been longing to go backwards. That it’s not just about a geographical location, but a desire to go back and pick up the threads of my old life. I want to go back in time, before tragedy struck, to cherish every moment and every friendship. I’ve been wanting to rewind my life and pause it there, never missing anything, never being left behind, just living in that moment.

Yet I’ve come to realise there is no going back. Our lives can only ever move forwards. Friends will move away, relationships will grow or weaken; some people will walk out of our lives and others will walk in. I could go back to Southampton, and maybe I will some day, but it would always be different. My old life is no longer there to pick back up. Nothing in our lives stays the same, things are constantly changing and evolving into something different. The adventure of faith is to keep going forwards, to keep journeying into what God has for you, following Him as he leads you into new opportunities and challenges. I simply cannot close myself off to God’s plan for my life, out of a desire to go backwards.

At the same time I have had the growing sense that Bradford isn’t done with me yet. I have a church here that I care deeply about and a wonderful opportunity to invest in it. I work for a charity that is clearly doing God’s work across this nation and I have been blessed to be able to be a part of it. CAP brings hope to so many, and hope is something I care deeply about and want to see spread. I would love to be able to sow more into this ministry. So I am pushing doors here to see if they open. I have applied for jobs at CAP in Bradford, and will have an interview in the next fortnight that will hopefully let me know if this is an option. At the same time I am looking to see what jobs are around across the country, to see if God is calling me somewhere new.

For a while I struggled with the idea that whatever I end up doing I will let people down. If I don’t return to Southampton, then I know I will not be able to see those friends as often as I would like to. If I leave Bradford then I will have to leave behind my church and all the friends I have made. People may be disappointed by the choices I make. But I know that as much as I love all these people, I cannot make this decision for them. As I was wrestling and agonising over this, I opened my bible on the psalms and read:

“But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands;” Psalm 31:14-15

I was struck by the truth of that verse. I can make all the plans I want, but only God holds my future in his hands, it is His plans that will stand firm. I know I can trust Him, that He has good plans for my life. So whilst I am yet to find clarity and security about the future. One thing I do know: my future is in god’s hands. And that is the safest place for it to be.

Enough

I appreciate I’ve dropped off the radar a little bit lately. Writing was definitely something I meant to do in my week long Easter holiday, but it didn’t turn out quite how I’d planned. Now I’m having to say goodbye to another Grandparent and face another funeral. I’m discovering that new grief likes to unearth old grief, and bring with it a whole host of memories. It’s left me feeling fairly sentimental, and as I thought about what to write, I kept coming back to this post that’s been floating around in my head for a while.

Over the years I’ve had the privilege of spending time with lots of children in their first few years of life. I’ve been able to enjoy getting to know these small ones and watch them develop and change into who they were created to be. I got to see some of these children, and meet one new to the world, over the Easter period. And as I played with them or held them, I thought about what I would want for them as they grow up. The words I would love for them to hold as truth as they get older.

My answer was probably not the one you would expect. I could have quoted a dozen bible passages on love and faith, identity and security. But instead I would choose three simple words for them:” I am enough”.

Why these out of all the words I could have chosen? I suppose simply because the world they will grow up in, will constantly try and tell them the opposite. We live in a society that loves to highlight flaws and imperfections, an advertising industry that flourishes on the idea that we will be more if we just own this thing or that. The glossy flawless images we are bombarded with, make us all look in the mirror and see only what we are not.  There are hundreds of thousands of people who believe with their whole heart, that they are not enough. That they are not pretty enough, not clever enough, not popular enough, not thin enough or whatever adjective it is that day. People who have judged themselves against the worlds standards and have decided they are lacking. They will never be enough.

We’ve had a lot of talks given to us on the internship around ideas like complacency and expectation. The message given seems to be that our generation thinks too much of itself, that we are complacent and have unrealistic expectations of life. Maybe there’s some truth in that. But when I look around at people my age all I seem to see is people who have no idea how precious and valuable they are, who cannot see their worth. People who think they will never be good enough. Maybe they mask it well, cover it up with a show of arrogance, or push people away so they never scratch beneath the surface. But it’s still there, that insecurity, that lie.

And we have probably all seen what feeling ‘not enough’ can do to a person. How it can eat them up from the inside out, how it taints how they see the world. We’ve probably all got friends for whom this is true, maybe we’ve sat with them as we’ve tried and failed to convince them of their worth and value. Perhaps we’ve been that friend too. That lie of ‘not enough’, is so difficult to shift once it’s been accepted as truth. Once you let it embed in your heart, it becomes the scales on which you weigh each new experience, rejecting evidence to the contrary. How I would love to save the children in my life from this hurt and heart ache.

I want them to grow up knowing that they have a worth and value that has belonged to them from before they were born. To know that this worth can never be taken away from them. For them to realise they were created unique and beautiful by God and put on this earth for a purpose. That whatever life throws at them they will always be enough. That with God fighting their corner, they will always be equipped to face the challenges that come their way. They may never be the strongest, the cleverest or the prettiest. But in God’s eyes and the eyes of those that love them, they will always be enough. That those are the eyes that matter.

I want them to be able to hold out the word “enough” to the world, for those days when it is demanding too much of them. To know their limits and know they should be respected. To be able to come to God on those days when life seems to be raging around them, chipping away at who they thought they were, and find reassurance in the arms of the Father.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t try and do better, and strive to be the best version of ourselves that we can. But that our value and worth cannot be increased by doing this.  We cannot achieve our salvation through works, through striving for perfection. Instead it comes from a God who looked down upon humanity and decided we were worth saving, valuable enough to send his only son to Earth to die in our place. And he made that choice ‘whilst we were still sinners’ (Romans 5:8), separated from him and guilty. He still decided that these prodigal children were precious enough to be invited to join his family. We have been judged enough and welcomed in, by the almighty creator of the universe. Who are we to judge ourselves less?

Maybe it’s not too late to claim these three words as our own, no matter how old we are. To look at ourselves and look at our God and say “I am enough”. To take those words and whisper them over our lives, to teach them to our children and loved ones. I am holding these words today, as the future after August looks uncertain and I struggle to work out what God’s plan is for me. The road ahead for me and for many of us may be difficult and rocky. But whatever may come, whatever the challenges or the joys, we can face them knowing we will always be enough.

“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”      Romans 5:7-8

Before the Dawn

Today is the day we refer to as ‘Good Friday’. The day where we celebrate how Jesus died all those years ago. It seems strange to celebrate a death, especially one so agonising. To stop and recall how one man died on a cross, must seem like foolishness to many. How can a death be a victory? Why do we remember the scars, the hurt, the pain of one man? In part it’s because that cross was meant for us, that death should have been ours. We know the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), our rebellion could never go unpunished by a just God. Today we celebrate that we have been spared, that one perfect man died for us all. We rejoice because we know what came with the dawn of Easter Sunday.

But that first Good Friday, was not one of celebration. Jesus’ friends and family must have thought this was the end, as they watched the man they had loved and followed, die in pain and misery. Surely it was all over? There would have been weeping, shouting and raging at God. Grief raw and consuming, ripping wounds in their hearts. The mother who watched her baby die before her eyes, in the worse way imaginable. The disciples, who believed they were going to liberate the Jews, left with the bitter taste of failure in their mouth; on their own, with no teacher to lead the way. This was where they found themselves before Sunday dawned.

I think for us too there can be times in our lives where we find ourselves waiting before the dawn. Confronted by fear and failure, grief and pain. Waiting for our Saviour to return, but not knowing when He will come. We can feel alone, lost and abandoned. We doubt, we rage, we mourn. As we wait in the darkness of this world, before Jesus returns again in glory. Living before the dawn.

Good Friday will be to many a day full of a mix of emotions. Sorrow tinged with joy. Hope mixed with heart ache. Longing and relief. We can see echoes of so much of our lives in this one day. A day full of emotion and brokenness, so human and yet so far beyond our understanding. A day of darkness with whispers of light to come. We wait before Sunday dawns, waiting for the glorious sun rise bringing with it the wonder of the empty tomb, of Jesus’ return. Sin will be defeated, death will loose it’s sting, we can have new life and hope.

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Yet today we wait before the dawn. Maybe you’ve been waiting here for many months. Waiting for the light to break through, for victory and hope to come. Waiting to find that tomb empty; for that loved one to return, or that problem to be defeated. Let me tell you that dawn will come, that night will come to an end, just as it did for the disciples. Know that the war is  won, even if you still find yourself in a battle. But today, on this Good Friday, the church around the world will wait with you, waiting together, before the dawn.