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

 

 

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CAP Needs You!

You could probably gather from my last post that we’ve had a challenging couple of weeks on the internship. There have been their fair share of frustrations and anxieties. However, I want to make it clear that everything that has happened hasn’t changed how I feel about CAP. I still love Christians Against Poverty and all the work that they do. It is still the same charity that caused me to leave everything behind and move up to Bradford to work for them. And despite the challenges and difficulties the move has confronted me with, I would do it again in an instant.

The thing that drew me to CAP, and that still draws me in, is the way we can bring hope to those in completely hopeless situations. Debt can be a pit that can be near impossible to climb out of on your own. Our clients find themselves under incredible pressure with constant letters and phone calls, too afraid to answer the door or open the curtains. The people we serve are often the poorest in society, borrowing money to pay the bills, getting caught in the downward spiral of debt. Then with all their money going on debt repayments 70% of our clients will miss meals, with budgets so painfully tight that parents don’t eat so their children can. The longer this goes on, with debts rising by the day, it can seems like there is no way out, no hope. In fact 36% of our clients considered suicide before coming to CAP.

Yet at CAP we are blessed and privileged to be able to hold out hope to these families. To help them to find a way out of debt. Enable them to get food on the table once more, to be able to provide for their children. We have a debt counselling and budgeting system that really works, with 1,808 households going debt free last year. Combining the care and compassion of the local church, with an award winning professional service. We are able to bring the love of God to the most vulnerable and neglected in society.

But why am I writing this today? I suppose it struck me this week that I have less than five months left at CAP, the time will fly by. Before long the internship will end and I will be likely to move on. This is my window of opportunity to inspire you about this wonderful organisation. That I owe it to all our clients, but even more to the clients who we currently have to turn away because we don’t have a centre in their area. They are the reason we do what we do, and it would be dishonouring to them to keep quiet.

Because the thing is: CAP really does need you. Without receiving government funding, we are hugely reliant on regular monthly donations from supporters, to allow us to do what we do. The reality is, if these donations stopped or even if we failed to get new people on board, then CAP would be finished. Ultimately we would have to give up and go home (probably not before half the staff had worked for free for months or years, re-mortgaged houses and used all their savings- if you don’t believe me you really need to read ‘Nevertheless’ ). As uncomfortable as it is, we need money to do what we do. Without it we can’t offer a hope and a solution to those in debt, we cannot help the poorest in society, we would have to walk away.

We firmly believe that God is in this work, that it is anointed by Him and that everything we have achieved is for His glory. We are carrying on the work that Jesus started when He walked upon this Earth and said:

‘The spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good new to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ Luke 4:18-19

We follow a Saviour who is the Lord of second chances and new beginnings. He didn’t turn the poor and the needy away. His was a message that was meant for the last, the least and the lost. We were never meant to keep this message hidden in our churches, but to take it out and meet people where they are. I believe that our Father’s heart is aching for these clients to find hope and find Him.

So today I ask you simply to consider whether God is asking you to join in with this work? Whether perhaps you would be able to give a minimum of £3 a month to support the work of CAP, helping us to reach more and more people in desperate situations. If the answer is yes then you can do so here (if you put my name in the box marked ‘what prompted you to give to CAP’ then it will go towards my fundraising- but either way the money goes straight to CAP). And if not then please go in peace and remember us in your prayers.

I passionately believe that the church needs CAP and CAP very much needs people like you.

Lessons From Fundraising

Many of you will know that I hit my £3000 fundraising target on Saturday.  I still haven’t really got my head around it, it still feels rather surreal. I’ve been thinking about the challenge and working on it for over a year now, and at times it has felt like a black cloud hanging over my head. If I’m honest the target felt so unachievable that I never thought I’d reach it. I’m very grateful to all of you who have helped me to get this far, for every pound and every word of encouragement. Without your help I would not have got off the starting blocks, in a way this achievement belongs to everyone who gave anything. We did it together. If anything this experience has taught me just how many wonderfully kind and generous people I have in my life. Thank you!

It seems only apt now to take a moment to look back on the journey up to this point. The challenge has taught me so much that I didn’t expect to learn. Something I discovered pretty early on was that you have to get your heart in the right place first. When you’re working for a charity and living on a limited budget, it’s easy to get stingy with your money. To hold on to it with closed fists, because you don’t have much of it. But that’s not the heart of fundraising. If you can’t find a spirit of generosity within yourself, then how can you expect other people to support you? I found that it was important for me to take the opportunity to support other people in their fundraising, even if at times it felt counter-productive.

The biggest thing you learn whilst fundraising is that it can be really hard work. I think the perception is that because it isn’t your money then you care less. But I know that for me because I had been given the target and had known and accepted it when I signed up for the internship, I felt a strong sense of responsibility to raise it or do my very best to get there. I am someone who finds it difficult to ask people for money, I can always think of a dozen different reasons why a particular person might not be able to give. It was important to me that I didn’t damage the friendships I have in order to hit my target, but there had to be some balance, the softly softly approach wasn’t always going to work. There were times, when I felt stuck and like I wasn’t getting anywhere, when it felt rather demoralising. There were also times when I found myself praying that God could just provide it overnight for me. Then you would have a week where it seemed that money came in from unexpected places, and on those days fundraising was a joy.

I decided at the very beginning that I had to play to my strengths, not anyone else’s. Only at the time, I probably wasn’t fully aware what those strengths were. I started off aiming to sew my way to my target, and then as time went on, it became clear that actually it was my words that would help me get there. That writing was a gift I could use and enjoy. So I suppose I owe a lot to my fundraising target for helping me to rediscover my love of writing. This blog has been an enormous help to me, and it’s been very moving to hear that other people have valued it too.

Ultimately fundraising, like many other things, can be an exercise in trust. Trusting in God’s provision but also in His timing. Maybe things did not happen in the way I would have planned or expected. But looking back I cannot deny that God’s timing was good. Somehow before I started I expected He would make me work for every penny, like he was standing on the sidelines willing me to fail. But that is not how God is. In reality He is the God who likes to give good gifts to His children, who lavishes grace upon us, grace that we cannot earn or deserve. I’ve seen more of God’s love through the love of everyone who has supported me. Maybe I’m now a little closer ‘to have power, together with all the Saints to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge‘ (Ephesians 3:18-19). And that knowledge is worth far more than three thousand pounds.

So thankyou very for joining me on this journey so far. If any of you would still like to support me, then I will keep the JustGiving page open, any money will still go to CAP to support the wonderful work they do. But this will probably be the end of my active fundraising, I need some time to rest and rediscover my free time. However, I plan on continuing to blog and keeping you up to date with how this year is going. I wait with excitement, and some anticipation, to see what else God has in store for me!

Asking The Right Questions

It has been a very busy week, which means that this has been the first chance I’ve really had to write, since this post came to me a week ago. The week before last I spent a couple of days visiting a local CAP debt centre, experiencing what it’s like on the front line, with the centre managers and debt coaches who go out every day to see clients. Whilst I was there I saw clients who had found themselves in debt for different reasons. For some problems with budgeting were the root cause, whilst for others life had simply dealt them a difficult hand, and they were dealing with it the best they could. Whatever the reason, we aren’t there to judge them but to help them the best we can.

What I struggled with the most, wasn’t that people could get into such debt,  but that they could end up so alone. That the weight of shame and fear could be so much, that they wait years before telling someone and getting help. Client’s often come to CAP when they’ve reached rock bottom, when after years of going it alone, they just can’t keep it up any more. For me the saddest stories are those from clients who only found out they were in debt when their partner committed suicide, after they just couldn’t carry the burden alone any longer. Whatever the situation clients often feel like they are completely on their own.

It makes me wonder how many people in their lives noticed something was wrong and didn’t say anything. Were they really that good at pretending? Were there a procession of missed opportunities to listen or to help? Or have they always been as alone as they feel?

I suppose everywhere around us there will be people who find themselves drowning in life. Whether that be because they are crushed under the weight of debt, battling poverty, illness, difficult life events or bereavement. There’ll be families across the UK with empty cupboards, facing a hungry Christmas. There’ll be people who don’t know how to face another holiday season without their loved one. Many thousands feeling lost, alone and hurting. These people will be our friends and neighbours, we’ll find them in our churches and workplaces. And whilst many of these people may suffer in silence and struggle to ask for help, that doesn’t mean they aren’t desperate for someone to offer it. It doesn’t mean they aren’t waiting for someone to throw them a lifebelt. There is nothing lonelier than struggling on your own.

It’s got me thinking, in our friendships and relationships, are we really asking the right questions? Do we ask people how they are out of politeness, or do we really care and listen to the answer? Are they just the words we say, or are they measured and intentional? Do we notice when the people in our lives aren’t themselves, and do we take the time to really stop and find out why?

I think sometimes we forget how powerful words are. We can be so quick to use them on small talk or the weather, or to gossip about who’s dating who. We get so caught up in the normality of everyday conversation, that we forget that those same words, have the power to throw someone a lifeline, to show them that they’re not alone. We can’t rescue people, rarely can one person wade in and save the day. But we can ask the right questions and really listen to the answers. Then maybe just maybe we can help people to save themselves.

My life is marked by those people who asked the right questions and listened to the answers. I remember all those conversations, they remind me that I’m not alone. They encourage me to keep swimming even when it seems like the current is too strong. I’m not sure where I would be if no one had dared to ask.

According to the Samaritans, one person dies by suicide somewhere in the world every 40 seconds. Every 40 seconds. It’s difficult to even get your head around it. That’s one million people every year, the equivalent to twice the population of Bradford. Utterly heartbreaking. I don’t know what it would have taken to pull those people back from the brink, it might be that they were thrown a hundred lifelines and threw them all back. We can’t torture ourselves with the cruel gift of hindsight. But equally we must not forget that every single one of those lives was precious to God and the people who loved them. And equally precious are the lives of all those who will find themselves on the brink in the next year. They may well be people in our lives, people we know and love. Again we cannot expect to be able to rescue people on our own, there are unlikely to be any quick fixes. Nevertheless we have to be open to asking the difficult questions and being prepared to listen. To show people that they aren’t alone and that their story doesn’t have to end here. To hold out hope to those who can no longer hold it for themselves.

The thing is, CAP will be here to help those people who find themselves trapped in debt, and we’ll strive to reach as many people as we can. But there will be countless more drowning people, carrying the weight of many different problems, who we won’t help. What would be truly wonderful, is if we could build communities that could catch people, that would notice when people first got out of their depth. Communities that asked the right questions and threw out lifebelts to the hurting and the desperate, in their communities and outside of them. Communities that loved no matter the cost. After all, isn’t that what our churches should be?

Fundraising Times

So this post was supposed to have been written last weekend, but unfortunately it’s been one of those weeks with no shortage of stress and and too much to do. There are many half formed posts floating around in my head, that I’m sure will surface soon. But I thought this time I would take a break from the more abstract themes of previous posts, and give you an update about how the fundraising part of this year has been going.

For those of you who don’t know, as part of this year with CAP, I have been given a fundraising target of £3000. This is money that will go straight to CAP to help fund the work that they do. When I first found out I had got a place on the Internship, back in December last year, the fundraising was a very intimidating prospect. Three thousand pounds is a lot of money, I couldn’t imagine how I would ever raise one thousand, let alone three.

The challenge itself has taught me many lessons about generosity. My first attempts at fundraising were all about trying to earn the money from people. Whilst I was still studying for my final year at Southampton, I got out my sewing machine and started making lots of mini bunting to sell. I would do maths nine till five and sew during the evenings. I love to sew so it made a great break from the monotony of final year. I’ve kept sewing and selling customised bunting since the move, and still very much enjoy it (and would love more orders to keep me busy).  But it become clear to me right from the start, that there was no way I’d be able to earn all this money. There were simply not enough hours in the day.

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The problem I had was if I couldn’t earn it, then I had to learn to accept the gift of generosity from others. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve always struggled to receive gifts that I don’t feel like I deserve. When I first started fundraising and people gave me money towards it, I almost wanted to ask: “Are you sure?” (and may have done on occasion). After all what have I done to deserve people’s hard earned cash? And yes I know the gifts are for CAP not me, but when you have been burdened by this fundraising for many a month, when someone decides to support you in it, it is such a blessing. I know that many people who have donated so far, did so to show their support not just of CAP but of me in my year with them. That in itself is incredibly humbling. I have had to learn to accept with gratitude the overwhelming generosity of others, and view it almost as I view the grace of God: undeserved but freely given.

I really have been wonderfully blessed on this fundraising journey. I haven’t found it easy at times, the challenge has been daunting and stressful, causing many a sleepless night. It was my biggest worry about this year with CAP, and remains a source of anxiety at times. But I have seen God’s hand at work throughout, showing himself to be a God who delights in providing for his children and giving good gifts. I’ve been reminded of the passage in Matthew:

“Which one of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:9-11

Somehow I expected that God would make me work hard for every pound. But I’ve found sometimes it has been the times when I’ve done nothing at all to earn it, that money has come in from surprising places.

I write this today having reached a total of £2126.29 (including all money pledged to come in)!  Which means I am 71% of the way there and only £873.71 off my target! Thankyou so much to everyone who has supported me so far, I am more grateful than I can put into words. For the first time I am entertaining the possibility that I might actually reach my £3000 target. I know I still have a way to go, and am going to need to rely on the generosity of more people to get there. Yet today I can stand back and see how incredibly blessed I have been to get this far. Thankyou for walking with me on this journey.