Another summer school testimony…

I’ve been intending to post this for a few weeks now and am only just getting around to it. I stood up and shared my testimony on the Friday morning at summer school, and thought I would post it onto my blog. Why not……

So I was really undecided about coming this year – i literally only signed up on Friday – and I was undecided for so many reasons. But despite all the things on my pro/con list (got to love a list!), there was a nagging feeling telling me to go for it. Whether that was god or not, I don’t know. But something was urging me – something besides Adam – to go for it. Ignore my fears, or what other people would think, and just go for it. Like Vicky said the other night, this was also a ‘step out of the boat’ moment for me. It might not have been a big deal for most people – but after a year out and not having Matt or any of the people I’d traditionally hung about with here, It was more like a leap than a step for someone who feels as quiet, shy and socially awkward as I do.

This is my 11th summer school, and this place – music/summer school – has shaped so much of my life. It was here I had my first experience of people my own age who had a belief in god and a faith and who talked about it. It’s helped me make big decisions, like changing corps, and it was after a cell group one year that I got the encouragement and therefore courage to quit the uni course that I hated, and go after something I’d enjoy. It was here I met Matt, literally here at Kilgraston – 10 years ago – and now he’s my husband. And perhaps most importantly – though don’t tell Matt I said it was more important than him – the foundations of my faith – however weak or ignored that faith might be at times – were built here.

I’m so happy I changed my mind and turned up this week. (Although it pains me to say that Adam and some others were right!!) I’ve pushed myself way way outside my comfort zone – i couldn’t just hide behind matt or stick to what feels safe and comfortable. I’ve pushed myself, and forced myself to try and just be comfortable being ‘me’ – something I don’t find easy to do. But it’s been so worth it, and the conversations and experiences I’ve had this week, some with people I might not have normally spoken to, have been so worthwhile.

Being honest, i’ve been struggling quite a bit recently, even if I’ve hidden it and pushed people away so I didn’t need to admit it. I’ve been panicking over what I’m going to do next in life job and careerwise, my relationship with myself is quite poor, and I’ve just been feeling a bit numb and stuck in general.

So I came hoping to find some clarity – clarity around who I am, what I’m doing with my life, and god.

At the end of the week, I know I’m nowhere close on any of those fronts – but I’m maybe slightly further along that journey than I was on Saturday. I’ve also been reminded time and time again that we’re not on our own in any of it – both because we’ve got each other – and the friendships we make here can be so strong – but also because even when we don’t realise it or accept it, and I certainly don’t most of the time, God’s right there with us, and I really hope i can remember that longer than just this week.

So that was the testimony I stood up and shared on the Friday of summer school. I can’t reiterate enough how glad I am to have spent that week where I did and with the people I did. I loved singing in girls chorus all week. I felt like I learned quite a lot(even managed to sing notes higher than I ever have?!!), I enjoyed the music (as you’ll know if you read my last post 😂) and there were poignant moments, but mostly Marjory just made it a lot of fun, which makes such a difference.

I enjoyed cell group, as despite it being quiet at times, we got some good and challenging conversations as we got to know each other more and explore things about God.

The friendships I made or strengthened that week have really sustained me since -it’s been lovely to see so much support not just during the week but since, both in person and across social media.

As for God, I’m not sure where I’m at. And that’s ok. As for me? I’m a bit more positive than I was before I went, but that may just be because I’m currently lying in Crete, next to a swimming pool, in 30 degree heat 😎😂 We’ll see how I get on in a few days once reality really hits, but I know I can figure it out.

I saw someone share the Youbible App’s verse of the day yesterday, and it’s one I screenshotted and have had coming in and out of my head since.

“You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail” Proverbs 19:21

Whether I’m taking it out of context or not I’m not sure, but there’s a huge reassurance in the thought that God has a kind of overarching purpose, rather than any exact plans, for our lives. So no matter what my next step is, whether it works out or not, God has a purpose for me 👌🏻

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You will be found

If you’ve been on social media since Saturday, and are friends with anyone who was at East and West Scotland Summer School last week, there’s a good chance you’ll have seen more than a couple of FB, Instagram, Twitter and Blog posts. I think I’m going to write a couple of blog posts about my experiences last week, but I’m going to start with one based on the song I cannot stop singing, and that I know has impacted a lot of people who were there last week: You Will Be Found.

You Will Be Found is a song from the musical “Dear Evan Hansen”, and is one I’d come across a couple of months ago after someone i follow on Twitter recommended the soundtrack. But I could never have imagined it being as impactful as it turned out to be this week. It’s a song Marjory picked out for the Girls Chorus to sing on Saturday, and as soon as she announced it, there were a few “yessss” responses from around the group, from people who already knew it. Before I go any further, I’m going to post the lyrics, so you can get an idea of what I’m rambling on about.

Have you ever felt like nobody was there

Have you felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere

Have you ever felt like you could disappear

Like you could fall and no one would hear

Well, let that lonely feeling wash away

Maybe there’s a reason to believe you’ll be okay

Cause when you don’t feel strong enough to stand

You can reach, reach out your hand

And oh, someone will come running

And I know they’ll take you home

Even when the dark comes crashing through

When you need a friend to carry you

And when you’re broken on the ground

You will be found

So let the sun come streaming in

Cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again

Lift your head and look around

You will be found

There’s a place where we don’t have to feel unknown

And every time that you call out

You’re a little less alone

If you only say the word

From across the silence

Your voice is heard

Even when the dark comes crashing through

When you need a friend to carry you

When you’re broken on the ground

You will be found

So let the sun come streaming in

Cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again

If you only look around

You will be found

Out of the shadows

The morning is breaking

And all is new

All is new

It’s filling up the empty

And suddenly I see

That all is new

All is new

You are not alone

You are not alone

You are not alone

You are not alone

Even when the dark comes crashing through

When you need someone to carry you

When you’re broken on the ground

You will be found

So let the sun come streaming in

Cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again

If you only look around

You will be found

Even when the dark comes crashing through

You will be found

When you need someone to carry you

You will be found

You will be found

I’ve highlighted a few verses and sections, but realistically, every line speaks to me.

The first 4 lines are something I can’t help but relate to. Have you ever felt like nobody was there? Yes. So many times. Have you ever felt forgotten? Yup. Have you ever felt like you could disappear, and no one would miss you? Yup, that too. I’m not being melodramatic, but feeling lonely, or isolated, or unwanted (with friends, not family!) is something I’ve struggled with on and off for my entire life. I’ve never felt like I fit in – i’m always too quiet or not interesting enough or not fun enough or too shy and boring. Even when I’ve thought I fit in somewhere, the feeling never lasts for long, and I’m back to feeling like the odd one out. I’m sure at least part of this is caused by my own low self-esteem, but whatever the cause, it’s a horrible feeling. And an even worse one to admit. I’ve always gone through patches of feeling really alone (side-note – this doesn’t mean i’m unhappy and I know I have so many lovely people in my life!!!!!!) – i think I even blogged about it once – but this week I realised something.

I’m not the only one who feels like this!!! Seems like common sense, but generally no one admits it, so we don’t realise we’re in the same boat. Tonnes of people feel like outsiders, like they don’t fit into whatever circle they’re in. Like no one would notice or mind if they stopped texting or contacting them, stopped making an effort. I know I have felt like this so many times – and frustratingly, even in the past couple of days – but it turns out loads of other people do too. I had a conversation early in the week with a staff member – someone I look up to, who appears to be full of confidence and has no issues chatting to anyone and everyone. But during our conversation, they mentioned that even they’d always struggled with feeling like they don’t fit in. I was really struck by this, as it was the least likely impression I’d have ever picked up from them, but there it was. It wasn’t just me after all.

Even when the dark comes crashing through, when you need a friend to carry you, when you’re broken on the ground: you will be found”

The next part of that first verse goes on to talk about how maybe there’s a reason to believe you’ll be okay. Because no matter how low we feel, or how alone, we can reach out and someone will be there with us. But something else that became apparent this week was how terrible we are – the majority of us it seems – at reaching out for help and support. And I presume there are a myriad of reasons why this is. Fear – of appearing weak, of embarrassing ourselves, of being judged, of being rejected when we do reach out. Not wanting to worry people, or burden them with our ‘stuff’ when they’ll have enough of their own to cope with. I’ve had multiple conversations this week with people who admitted that they bottle things up. They put on a front, and hide how they really feel.

Now there’s no denying that admitting how we really feel – especially if those feelings are on the negative side – makes us feel vulnerable. It’s scary. But as it turns out, so many of us feel the same. Without revealing anything personal, I was part of a conversation this week with 3 others, where 2 of us were upset about very similar situations. We’d barely ever spoken before, for no apparent reason, but it turns out we could relate to each other on so many levels. After an innocent comment of “do you two not talk about things?”, we’ve ended up doing just that – talking. About situations in our lives and feelings. With no shame, no judgement – just acceptance and listening. And even after a few days, it’s clear it’s special and important, and necessary to have people in your life who will listen like that. Support. A safe space to be vulnerable, and for someone to say ‘it’s okay that you feel that way’. Someone to remind you that “you are NOT alone”.

There’s a place where we don’t have to feel unknown. And every time that you call out, you’re a little less alone. If you only say the words, from across the silence your voice is heard.”

This post feels more vulnerable than some that I right, and I’m forcing myself to share it properly on Facebook (rather than hiding it from some and being selective like I often do!) because I think it’s an important topic, regardless of your age or stage in life. And the point in this post? Be honest. Reach out. We all think we’re alone in whatever we’re going through, but we don’t need to be. As a wannabe counsellor, I fully advocate for the fact that talking about how we feel is a positive thing. Often a hard thing, but a positive thing nonetheless. I’ve always craved close relationships and friendships, but there are several that i’ve sacrificed by trying to protect myself – isolating myself so I don’t need to face what I’m feeling. Making myself feel even lonelier by refusing to admit how I feel to people I’m sure would have supported me and pushed me back up. And it’s just not necessary. People will be there. You will be found. You are not alone. However you want to phrase it, it’s just as true.

So take that step (cue for another post about last week…), and reach out. Because no matter how you feel or how broken you think you are, no matter what you’re going through? YOU ARE NOT ALONE. None of us are.

New England Adventures

So I wrote most of this post at 30,000ish feet in the air, and thought it was as good a time as any to write a bit about my adventures from this past week in Boston and Old Orchard Beach.

The trip came to fruition after Matt was asked to play with the Household Troops band on their tour to Old Orchard Beach. After some thought and many discussions and pro/con lists, I decided it was feasible for me to travel out to the US with him. My reasoning was that I wanted to see/tick off 3 new states, I wanted to do some sightseeing, being jobless meant I didn’t need to get holidays from work, I wanted to experience the Salvation Army USA style, and I wanted to support my husband and see him do something cool that he loves doing. Oh, and of course I wanted to see him wear one of their iconic helmets (side note – he didn’t look too ridiculous in the end…..)

So I made the plan of sightseeing in Boston and staying there on my own for the first two days/nights, then getting the Amtrak train up to Old Orchard Beach to join Matt, and attend the events the band were taking part in, in between exploring the area on my own, plus a couple of bits of free time with Matt too.

Despite being almost 25 and married, people kept reacting surprised and incredulous when I said I was staying in Boston on my own, asking how I’d cope staying on my own or eating in restaurants alone, if I would be ok. Either it wasn’t something they would want to do, or was something they hadn’t thought I was capable of. But in all honesty, I wasn’t apprehensive at all about this part of the trip. I was confident and excited to get out there and explore, proving that my shy, quiet exterior wouldn’t stop me having a brilliant time, adventuring on my own, travelling around the city and seeing everything I wanted to.

And it was fab. I explored, I ate lots, took loads of photos, shopped a bit too much, and saw lots of sights. I took the hop on/off tour bus round the city, I visited Harvard University (bucket list type thing for me!!), I saw Fenway Park and sat and read my book by the harbour. I asked for a table for 1 in the Cheesecake Factory, and ignored the possible looks of ‘why’s she on her own’ from the tables beside me as I tucked into my massive plate of nachos. It was fab, and I’m thoroughly glad I did it! I so often let the ‘quiet’ thing hold me back, I think it’s a hindrance and it lowers my confidence on a lot of things. But I proved to myself and maybe others that it doesn’t need to be. I had no issues communicating, I made small talk with taxi drivers, chatted to a girl from Scotland in a cafe at Harvard, and asked strangers to take my photo. Key message – don’t let yourself hold you back!

I then got the Amtrak train up to Old Orchard Beach (again a success – other than my strong man act trying to lift my 24kg case onto a shoulder height luggage rack, where about 6 other passengers walked past without helping!!), got an Uber to the hotel (another new experience!) and met Matt. Not going to lie, meeting up with the band was the bit that made me most nervous on the trip. I didn’t want them to think I was weird for coming with Matt – I was worried they would judge me for tagging along on a band trip or being on the band bus, and I certainly didn’t want them to think Matt was under the thumb and that I was following him about cos that definitely wasn’t the case!!! I’m never too comfortable meeting new people, but I was even more nervous than normal. I was trying not to be too shy, but at the same time I was trying not to stand out (hard combo!) or draw attention to myself. Equally, I was trying to spend some time with Matt, while not wanting to steal him away or get in the way of him being part of the band and the banter.

I have to say though – everyone was extremely friendly and welcoming and made me feel almost at ease pretty quickly. I’ve spoken to nearly everyone in the band (a big feat for me haha!) and have met some really lovely people, and hopefully made a few new friends. I’m super grateful to the band for making me feel welcome and including me in the banter and the socialising – I hope I wasn’t an intrusion! – and I really enjoyed my time with them! What a lovely (and super talented!!!!) bunch!

Old Orchard Beach was a crazy wee place. Tacky pier, massive beach that stretched for miles, and lots of little food kiosks. During the few days I was there, I think I tried the Pizza, Nachos, Ice Cream, Smoothies, and copious amounts of fries. To be fair, what more can you want?! I spent some time doing my own thing in OOB and wandered along the beach one afternoon and paddled in the sea, and it was lovely. There’s something you just can’t beat about walking along the sand with your toes in the sea!

Seeing the Salvation Army in the USA was something I was looking forward to – I knew it would be different and I was right. I mean in many respects it’s the same – but to me the main difference was the level of enthusiasm they have. I’ve been to UK congresses and divisional or territorial events, but I’ve never seen as many people go to the mercy seat, praying together, as I did on Sunday morning. It was eye opening, touching, and slightly unsettling haha! Their commitment and excitement for God and Jesus in their lives was palpable at times – it was impressive and infectious. They were much more open with it than I find we are in the UK – we’re just naturally much more reserved I guess.

The short march down to the Pier was one of my favourite moments. Firstly there’s just something special about seeing an army band marching down the street – it might be a bit old fashioned or traditional, but there’s something spine-tinglingly special when you hear Emblem of the Army blasting towards you. Not just for army folk though – because the interest and excitement was clear from the faces of passers by who stopped to watch too. Young and old, they all stopped, pointed, listened, photographed, videoed. It had an impact.

The thing I found most compelling was on the Sunday Morning, when the ‘ARC’ choir took part. I can’t remember what the letters stand for, but it’s a group of at least 100 people who have been helped by the Salvation Army for addictions, whose lives and families have been torn apart by their drug or alcohol addictions. They sang a song called “We believe”—

“In this time of desperation, When all we know is doubt and fear. There is only one foundation, We believe, we believe.

In this broken generation, when all is dark you help us see. There is only one Salvation, we believe, we believe.

We believe in God the Father, we believe in Jesus Christ. We believe in the Holy Spirit, and he’s given us new life. We believe in the crucifixion, we believe that he conquered death, we believe in the resurrection, and he’s coming back again, we believe.

So, let our faith be more than anthems, Greater than the songs we sing. And I. Our weakness and temptations, we believe, we believe! “

Now they might not have been world class singers, but the conviction they sang these words with was SO powerful. The rawness to it made it all the more powerful. They’ve been through some desperate, dark times, yet they now know that the power of God’s love is strong and can get them through anything. My eyes welled up when they were singing – it was more than just words to a song, but living truth and true belief coming through those words. I saw 2 guys fist pump when the song ended, and i couldn’t help but grin. They were happy and proud of what they’d just done, and it was really special to see! They were some of the people praying in groups later in the service, and it was so inspiring to see – that declaration and action of love and God’s love was perhaps more powerful than a half hour sermon often is. Belief in action and all that. It was exciting to be witness to, and I’d love an ounce of their enthusiasm and belief.

This is a bit of a mismatched blog post – it’s been a while since I’ve written anything at all on here, my head’s on the messier side at the minute trying to figure out what courses and jobs to apply for and all of the joyful stuff that comes with that (potential future blog post…), and I’ve been awake for like, 30 hours, but I wanted to write about my week.

I’m not sure I’ve captured what I was thinking, but I think the essence is, it was another great adventure. If an opportunity arises, grab it. Explore. Push yourself out of that comfort zone. Make the most of things. All such cliche statements, but so relevant and true.

Go for it.