Pre-summer school (blues!)

It's getting to that time of year when I'd usually be posting a 'pre-summer school' post, or at the very least, I'd be posting something after the event. This year, not so much. And now that it's getting close, I'm a bit gutted! Now don't get me wrong – I'm getting married in 20 days (oh my goodness!!!!) and I am SO excited for the wedding, getting married, and the honeymoon in the sun. And the week of summer school itself I'll be knee deep in dress fittings and the like. However, I am going to miss what has become a routine of my summer for the past 10 years.

I've been reflecting on it a lot this past week, particularly with seeing posts from territorial music school popping up now and again, and a few anticipatory tweets from people about next week's summer school. And after attending 10 music/summer schools, there is a decent amount to reflect on and reminisce over.

I still don't know what spurred me on to go that first year. I'd been going to the Salvation Army for 6 months with my grandparents, and I vividly remember my mum asking if they still had 'music camps'. I had no idea what she was talking about but after she explained, I asked someone at the corps, and in the end, myself and another girl at the corps decided to go. She was literally the only friend I knew in the army who was roughly my age, and would be the only person I knew going to music school. I was much, much shyer then than I am now, so I have to assume that God was guiding me in that direction without me realising, as there is no way I'd have braved it on my own accord.

I remember arriving at Queen Victoria School in Dunblane, and seeing loads of people with big suitcases running up to their friends and hugging and chatting, and I instantly wanted to leave. I stood in line and got to the front of the registration desk, to be told I looked terrified by the person checking me in. (This person turned out to be Sharon – someone who is now one of my closest friends, whose daughter is my flower girl in a couple of weeks time, and who I love very much…..another sign to me in hindsight that God was directing me somewhere specific). I went for my brass audition, and the girl in front of me came out crying, which terrified me even more. (a girl who turned out to be Rachel – who later became my best friend, and in a couple of weeks will be my maid of honour and help get me down the aisle, as well as being my fiancé's cousin!) The week of course turned out to be great, although I do remember being super embarrassed and self conscious on night one as we had to record music videos in groups, and again when I couldn't find the door to get out of the chapel after my vocal audition, and not knowing what was going on during the 'greeting meeting' – the whole talking about God and your faith thing was so foreign to me, not to mention having a reformed murderer come to talk to us for the evening! I remember being surprised by how friendly people were, and how quickly I made friends, something I usually wasn't very good at. At least some of those friends I still have to this day, and who will be at the wedding with us in a few weeks.

I have so many fond memories from those ten years of summer school. 70 days of my life. Many band pieces played. Many excruciating vocal auditions. 3am open airs or water fights or pranks. Seeing the sun come up at 5am one Friday before the (slightly dodgy) Saturday festival. Many awkward silences in cell groups. (Or just silent cell groups in general – I never seemed to be in the chatty age group, and clearly I didn't add to that haha!) Late night pizza deliveries. Being part of the student forum and getting to influence what went on. Singing grace before meals. Barricading ourselves into rooms at night so 'the boys' couldn't get in. Many special moments. Terrifyingly giving testimonies on the Friday morning. Being followed around for a week by Matt. My first kiss 😳😂. So much laughter. Ceilidh photos, and bruises. A band. A chorus. Many tears – not all negative. Exam results. Friendships made. Friendships strengthened. Community. Feeling included, and part of something bigger. Orderlies/staff who supported and encouraged. Praying out loud with someone for the first time. Being prayed for. Being inspired, and supported. Being pushed out of my comfort zone. Many questions, even if not answered. Discovery.

On top of that, I've met all of my closest friends, and of course my fiancé. My life would not be even remotely the same had I not gone to that first music school, or all of the others since. I wouldn't be the person I am or have the life that I do. Or even the faith that I do, albeit in all of its shakiness. That's all got to be God's doing, right?

That, and SO many more specific memories it would take me hours and pages to list. It has never been about getting a good seat in band or getting into A chorus for me. When I was younger, the main thing I went for was to spend a full week with my friends. The last few years, it's been about taking advantage of that one interrupted week of being able to learn about god. To focus on my faith, ask the 3000 questions I always have, have discussions, let your guard down, get inspired, and challenged, (and usually confused) with people who are in similar positions to you. People who have the same questions. Staff who have already worked their way through those questions. Hearing different perspectives, looking at the material for the week, listening to people speak about faith and god and their own experiences. It's something I love, and something I will miss this year. Because it's something that doesn't happen often in 'real life'. For me at least. It's so hard to find time to meet up, and when you do, having deep conversation isn't always easy or appropriate. And doing it by text, as many of my friends have experienced, means you have texts the size of essays to read and respond to, which just doesn't work that well.

I'm going to miss that buzz, that energy that comes from spending the week focusing on what's important, and focusing on god. It's a special kind of energy that can set you up for months to come, and that I find really hard to find anywhere else. Sunday services just don't give me the same enthusiasm, or create the same engagement within me, even when I try really hard.

Looking back at this and so many more specific memories, I (think) I firmly believe God has been guiding me along this whole time. Leading me in a direction, towards these people, and everything they would bring into my life, everything I would learn from them. Towards the experiences I would subsequently have, both during those ten weeks, and as a result of. My confidence has grown exponentially, much of which is from those weeks. I might not have it all figured out – faith, or my plan for life – but I know my experiences at summer schools have firmly shaped who I am and who I want to be.

So the point in this big rambling, reminiscent post, is for those going this year. Make the most of it. Be engaged. Be kind to each other. Look out for and look after each other. Get involved. Let your guard down. Listen. Search. Focus. Enjoy. (And I'll see you at the festivals!)

Does that make me a better person? 

"Does that make me a better person?" 

That is a question a friend posed the other day in relation to something we were talking about. They were referring to something that always either made them frustrated or made them sarcastic and mocking, so posed the question, and considered cutting it out of their life. And the concept has stuck with me all week. 

We had a divisional youth fellowship earlier in the month and part of it involved group discussions. One of the questions that came up was "What is the Salvation Army to you?" (It was along those lines at least – I'd look at my actual bit of paper but it's packed up in a box in the garage of my new house!) I don't think I said much at the time – other than an eye roll, a sarcastic look and a chuckle. But it's something I keep coming back to. It does occupy a considerable part of my weekly schedule – 2 hours on a Wednesday for Songsters, 2 hours on a Friday for band, another hour for kids club, and roughly 5 hours on a Sunday if we have 2 meetings/a second activity. Plus another 4 hours a month for divisional youth band and chorus, as well other events and concerts throughout the year. Oh and the ten weeks of my life I've spent at summer schools. 

 So, what does it mean to me? Is it just a church? Is it my church? Is it just a place I go to out of routine? Is it somewhere I go enthusiastically, or begrudgingly? Do I go to really meet with God, and/or to spend time worshipping him? Do I go because I want to? Do I go to find out more about God? Do I go because I want to meet with and spend time with other Christian's?  Am I engaged and connected when I go there? Or am I there out of duty? What kind of person am I when I'm there? Does it make me a better person? 

I'm not going to answer those questions just now – maybe at some point – but I'm not sure the answers would necessarily be what is expected or required. Actually, I'm not even sure the answers would be static – I think they'd change depending on my mood and on recent or specific situations and experiences. 

It makes me think though, and consider how it impacts me and my life, and I suppose in turn, how I impact it. How about doing that with your whole life though?  Looking at everything you do, everything you take part in, even everyone you spend time with and interact with – do all of those things and all of those people make you a better person? Do they – the situations or  places or the people – add anything beneficial to your life? (Not just in terms of fun/enjoyment/inspiration/encouragement/positivity etc. etc…but potentially in terms of challenge or teaching you things too I guess?) Do you add anything beneficial to theirs? Could you?

How about on social media? Regardless of how many people on your Friends list are actually your real friends, you can influence them, and they will be impacting and influencing you. So, is it a positive or negative influence? And if it's negative, why? And what can you do about that? If it's on your end, fix it. Sort out your attitude or online behaviour, and make it better. Be kinder, or more generous, or more patient or accepting or whatever it takes, do it. And if it's not, then take some action. Speak up, talk to them, or remove them as a 'friend' if you need to. Block them on twitter or snapchat. Why have that negative or distructive or detrimental influence, when you can change it or remove it? 

I think it's an interesting way to look at things, whether that's all the time, or when sporadically taking check of where you're at and how your life is doing. Because I think we should always be trying to better ourselves. Whether from a Christian viewpoint or otherwise – nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes and we all get things wrong, sometimes even when the intentions are correct. So bettering ourselves – whether to be more like Jesus(?!) or just to be a better version of yourself for your own sake and for the sake of those around you, seems like a noble and worthwhile task.

A task which can be way easier said than done…

Know thyself  in 25 questions

1. What does your ideal day look like? It wouldn't be too full or busy. But it would be full of the people I love most and who make me smile and laugh the most. Like when you're laughing really hard and realise how great being in their company makes you feel. I'd want to spend it with those people. It would involve some simple but good food. And sunshine. Warm sunshine. Other than that, what we're doing would be irrelevant to a huge extent. 

2. What did you want to be when you were younger? – an artist at one stage. An accountant at another. And a lawyer for a while. I've still not figured out what the answer is. 

3. Who are you most inspired by? Why? I don't really know the answer, and yet I feel it should be quite straight forward. Different people inspire me in different ways. My dad inspires me to be generous with my time and money. My mum inspires me to be caring and kind and to look out for people even if others aren't. Matt inspires me to be confident and to be passionate and loyal and committed in everything I do in life. I have friends who inspire me to be braver, to be myself, to be more thoughtful, and so many more things. I'm inspired and spurred on by them all in different ways.

4. Who would you love to meet? What would you ask? – I'd love to meet David Tennant, just because of my teenage (who am I kidding, permanent) crush and love for him. I don't think I'd be able to ask for more than a selfie though. On a more intellectual level maybe, I'd like to have met Jesus. Ask him what the deal is with everything. 

5. What habit would you most like to break? What habit would you most like to start? – I'd like to break the habit of procrastinating so much, and being quite lazy at times. It's not an attractive, or useful, habit by any means. I'd like to learn to cook frequently, more or less from scratch, and enjoy it. 

6. Think of a person you truly admire. What qualities do you like about that person? – The qualities I admire are the same as the ones I said inspire me a couple of questions previously. I admire honesty, sincerity, authenticity, loyalty, and true friendship. There are a few people who jump out that I admire and they harbour at least some of these qualities. Those, and other adjectives like hard-working and committed.

7. How do you like to relax? - Sometimes on my own: I'm an introvert at heart at I often recharge best by spending time in my own company. Whether that's doing something productive or hibernating in front of the TV. Otherwise, I like going for walks. I love shopping and am far too good at spending money. I like eating. And I like doing these things with people I'm comfortable with.

8. When was the last time you did something you were afraid of? - umm…I've had to make a lot of phone calls recently – which sounds pathetic but to an awkward introvert like me, that is seriously scary stuff. I've had to put myself out there a few times recently and take part in social situations that feel really far out of my comfort zone too. They're all I can think of just now.

9. What are you most proud of? – right now, getting a 2:1 honours degree in Psychology. When I took voluntary suspension of my course at Strathclyde, I was concerned I wouldn't get anywhere. That I was stuck. And I'm so happy to have proved myself wrong. From the thousands that applied, to the 600 students on my course in 1st year, to scraping into 3rd year honours despite narrowly missing out on the required grade. And along the way there were many moments I thought I couldn't do it. Many meltdowns and panics. But I made it. I am a graduate. I have an upper second class MA(social science) honours degree in Psychology. Yasss.

10. What are you most afraid of? – the weird answer is vomit. *shudders* I have a fully fledged phobia of sick. Of others being sick, of me being sick, of anything to do with it. I don't know where it originated from, but it's been there for as long as I can remember. For that reason I get super nervous on long coach trips, aeroplanes, rollercoasters, pubs and clubs with drunk people, watching casualty….anywhere people are likely to throw up gives me a annoying amount of associated anxiety! 

11. If life stopped today, what would you regret not doing? – Not being brave or confident enough to do things (letting fear get in the way.) Not keeping in touch with people from school. Not making friends at uni. Not taking up/keeping up hobbies. 

12. Who would you like to connect (or reconnect) with? Why?similar to the last question, I wish I'd made more of an effort to keep in touch with some people from school. Looking at the wedding invite list (which don't get me wrong, has the people most important to me in the world on it, plus many more fab friends and family) makes me disappointed that I didn't keep in touch with anyone. There are about half a dozen friends I wish I'd made more of an effort to stay friends with. The reasonfor this is that they knew me from when I was about 5 – I have no friends left in my life, other than on Facebook, who can backdate me beyond around the age of 12, which just seems a little sad. 

13. What qualities do you admire in others? - Kindness. Authenticity. Honesty. Sincerity. Loyalty.

14. What practical skills do you wish you had? – musical ones. I wish I could play the piano. I wish I could become at least average at playing a brass instrument (preferably without having to practice haha!). And actually more generally, the practical skill I wish I had is being able to make conversation😳😂

15. Imagine you're in your 90s. What memories would you like to have. What stories would you like to tell? my instant response here is a bit sad and bittersweet, in that I would just want to have my memories, and be able to remember my stories. Alzheimer's and Dementia are a sad reality, so my real hope would be to just remember the life I've had, what I've spent it doing and who I've spent it with.

16. What is your favourite book/movie/song? Why? I always struggle with questions like this. Maybe cos I'm so bad at making decisions.

Book = recently, my fav has been 'Small Great Things' by Jodi Picoult. But I have no idea what my all time favourite is. I really liked the book 'Rebecca' when I was in high school. My fav childhood books were 'The tiger who came to tea' and 'peace at last'. But I don't have an all time fav. Maybe I've still to come across it.

Movie = same situation… I can't decide on just one. And actually, my favs are really all a strange mix of childhood favourites – Matilda, Home Alone, Legally Blonde, Mrs Doubtfire. Things I could recite the lines to and that make me smile.

Song = I don't think I can pick just one for this either. I love the song 'He will not let go' by Laura Story. How to Save a Life by the Fray is up there (partly because of Grey's), Read all about it from Emeli Sande, For good from Wicked, a few Coldplay songs, Keep Breathing from Ingrid Michaelson, and lots of Laura Story's songsactually. And SO many more.

17. If you could make one change in the world what would it be? – I would want people to be kinder. To see the similarities between us, not the differences, and live a lot more harmoniously than the world does at the minute. Seems like an idealistic fairytale these days for sure.

18. What do you love to do for, or give to others (not an object – something from you personally) I love to listen. I love being able to just listen to people when they need someone to talk to or offload to. I don't often (or usually) have the answers or solutions, but I love being able to just give my time and be there for them by listening. 

19. What excites you? – The future. The next few weeks and months. Marrying Matt, moving into our beautiful new house and starting married life together. On a smaller scale – food and sunshine excite me a lot. Grey's Anatomy quite often does too. And more often than not, silly things that would generally excite a 5 year old like rubber ducks or pool lilos or turtles.

20. What do you wish you did more of? this sounds like a generic answer, but I wish I could spend more time with some of my friends. The ones who make my heart happy (again with the cheesiness), and make me laugh really hard, and make me feel the most like myself. People are so busy and have families and jobs and churches and lives of their own, and it can be so so hard to arrange time to spend together. It makes me sad! So more of that for sure. 

21. Pretend money is no object – what would you do? selfish answer is that I would go on a very long holiday in order to travel and explore. I'm not really a hostel or overnight train kind of person, so if money wasn't an object, I'd definitely do as much travelling as possible. 

22. What area of your life, right now, makes you feel the best? Which area makes you feel the worst? Why? - Best = Matt/Wedding/future, for obvious reasons. Worst= post-uni plan, cos I don't really have one. Although actually that's not stressing me too much right now, so maybe church and god stuff?

23. Lets jump forward a year. What would you like to have achieved in the past year? I would like to have a job, or be doing more studying. And be happily married and settled in my house with Matt. Oh and also to be actively involved with the Youth at Clydebank in some aspect. And to have found some stability and excitement in my own faith.

24. What piece of advice would you give to 5 year old you? 16 year old you? 21 year old you?

5y/o me = take up some hobbies, practice hard and stick to them.

16y/o me = stop trying so hard to be who you think other people need you to be, stop trying to change to fit in. Stop following the crowd.

21 y/o me = be braver, be more confident. You can do it. 

25. How do you want to be remembered in life? for being authentic, and honest, and loyal, and kind. I'm not quite there yet on some of them, but they are values which are important to me, so I'd like to hope they are traits that I do or at least will eventually exude.

Confident graduate 

After 4 years, my time at the University of Glasgow has come to an end. And I couldn’t be happier!! It wasn’t always plain sailing, but I got there in the end. I am now a graduate. I have an upper second class Master of Arts (soc sci) Honours Degree in psychology. aka, a 2:1 MA hons in psychology. 🎓 

There were SO many times when I didn’t think I’d ever get to that desired end point. From taking voluntary suspension at Strathclyde from a course I hated, to having to apply and start at the beginning again on something totally new. To getting an unconditional into the Psychology course at Glasgow and being part of the class of 600 in 1st year. Second year was horrible – with everyone fighting for their place in honours. You needed an average of a B2 across both semesters to progress, and I got a B3, yet miraculously was allowed to continue with psychology, and narrowly avoided having philosophy as my major. (Which I’m sure would have been just as fun, just not where I wanted to go!) 3rd year was ok, other than having the flu and an ear infection for finals which tanked a few of my exam grades. And 4th year really was difficult, and challenged me in so many ways. I lost count of the amount of hours I spent panicking/stressing/freaking out about my maxi project (dissertation), so I was thrilled to discover the other week that somehow, I got an A4 for it!! It was a tough 4 years, and I am THRILLED to have a 2:1 honours degree. 

So, what now? Well, up until a few days ago, I didn’t have the slightest clue. I’ve now come across a counselling skills course I really like the look of, so am planning to further look into that. Whether that’s what the next step is or not I’m not 100% yet, but at least I’ve got a slight bit of a plan. People keep asking me what the end goal is, and I really don’t know. Sometimes I like the idea of being a counsellor/therapist, but deep down I just don’t know if I am capable. The listening part I could manage, but I don’t know if I have the skills/manner/personality to master what else there is to it, even with training. But other than that, I have no suggestions or incline as to what I could or want to do. So we’ll see what happens I guess! 

But for now, I am happy. If you’ve seen my graduation photos on Facebook or Instagram, you will be able to see just how happy I am. Someone said they didn’t know I could smile so big, and joked that they didn’t know I had teeth 😂. I don’t know if that means I’m usually miserable looking or not lol! But I’ve had several comments about how genuinely happy I look in the photos – and it’s because I really was. I was, and am, proud of myself. That’s not something that happens very often, or that I’d ever admit so freely, but I am proud. I’ve had various challenges over the past 4 years – nothing earth shattering thankfully, but different little things, academically, physically, emotionally and mentally, that have made it difficult at times – and I’m really really proud of myself for pushing through it all and getting the result I wanted. I might not be a straight A student or be at the top of the class, but I have my degree and that’s something to be proud of!

My confidence had taken quite a hit at the beginning of this year. I’m not totally sure why, but it was lower than it had been in a long while. But doing well in exams and getting my degree has helped boost it back up. The weekend the youth band spent in Birmingham and Coventry also helped that. Being part of the ‘staff’ team reminded me that I can be looked up to and respected, and giving part of the sermon on the Sunday morning was a huge step. I’ve given testimonies before, but this was more than that, and in the end I wasn’t even very nervous. I didn’t rush through it, I made lots of eye contact, and i (think) I sounded confident in what I was talking about. The response I had from a variety of different people afterwards made me feel valued and capable, and again shoved my confidence up a much needed notch. Other random things have helped too – friends being super supportive and encouraging and believing in me, hearing them say they’re proud of me too. And even small things like socialising with Matt’s work and band friends – something that often makes me anxious, but that I’ve gone and done anyway. I’ve never liked being the shy and nervous girl in the corner, and love when I sometimes manage to step outside of that. 

So the main point of this ramble isn’t to boast about how amazing I am – far from it. It’s more to share where I’m at, what’s been going on, and emphasise that even when it feels like things aren’t going to plan, they’ll work themselves out. I was distraught and confused when I left Strathclyde, and while I still don’t know exactly where I’m headed now, I’ve managed to go from that confusion and upset and get a degree in something I’m interested in and care about and want to use to try and make a positive difference. Things don’t always go to your plan, but they’ll work themselves out in the end. Just keep going, change direction if need be, surround yourself with people who care and who love you, and things will be ok.