Salt & Light – Be Authentic and Accountable

So if you’re friends with me (or say 50 other young people) on Facebook, you might have realised that the West Scotland Divisional Youth Band of the Salvation Army (that really is the longest title!!!) spent the weekend in Birmingham and Coventry. We performed a 30min concert in the foyer at the army’s Symphony Sounds event, spent the evening at the event, then lead worship as Coventry City corps on Sunday morning, followed by an open air. I’m going to write another post about the weekend in general, but thought I would start by sharing what i shared in the morning meeting yesterday in Coventry. As ‘female band sergeant’, I had the opportunity to share a ‘thought’ during the meeting. Myself, Matt (who is the male sergeant – cheesy double act that we seem to have become) and Thomas (who has way more experience at this than either of us do!) all did a ‘thought’ based on verses in Matthew chapter 5 in which Jesus tells his disciples to be the salt and the light in the world. Matt began by explaining the verses, and relating them to three values in his own life of love, commitment and ambition, and Thomas followed me by talking about how being the salt and the light relates to love. 

I had never done anything like this before. I’ve given testimonies when asked to before, but i’ve never given anything along the lines of a sermon. (Thomas described what Matt and I were to do as a ‘testimony with insight’, so it’s a bit of both) But I have never spoken to a congregation of that size, of whom I didn’t know, like that before. Given what i’m usually like, I thought i’d be terrified, but while my palms were sweating before hand, I felt surprisingly confident. I wasn’t self-conscious. (Well, not very much). I believed in what I was saying. I was even able to look up quite a lot and not read straight from my notebook (something i’ve never been good at), and it was great to see a few friendly faces dotted about who had come to support the band. Some people would find standing up and speaking, or ‘preaching’ like that quite easy, but given that i’ve never been quite sure of exactly what I believe, or even of myself, i’m actually quite proud of myself. I think I did ok! (Youth band, feel free to disagree/give constructive criticism haha!) I hadn’t realised I was capable, and I’m grateful for the opportunity. (As well as truly privileged to have this role within the band – but more on that in my next post!) 

Youth Band at Coventry – Salt and Light

As Matt has already said, the key point of these verses in Matthew 5 is to be the salt and the light in the world. As Christians, in everything we do and everywhere we go, it should be evident that we know and love God, and want others to experience that too. The presence of a light in a dark room or space will be unmistakeable, and in the same way, Christians need to be a beacon of light in what can be a scarily dark world, as we have been reminded of again this weekend with events in London. We need to be a light in the darkness both in the sense that the truth of God’s word brings light to darkened hearts when we sin, but also in the sense that good deeds must be evident for us all to see. And our deeds will be evident if they are performed in line with the other principles Jesus mentions throughout the New Testament, for example in the Beatitudes earlier in Matthew chapter 5.

The thing is though, in order to really be the salt and the light, we need to be authentic. We need to be all in. In order to shine God’s light in the world, there has to be a difference between the Christian, and the world. Any choice by us which blurs the distinction between the Christian and the norms of this world is a step in the wrong direction. Whether we’re accepting the ways of the world for the sake of ease, comfort, convenience or even fear, it distances us from Christ and who He wants us to be, AND makes us less able to truly be the salt and the light for him. 

It’s not always easy to be authentic though, particularly for young Christians like those in the band. As it says in Romans 12, a passage the band are quite familiar with: “Don’t become so well adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention upon God.” It can seem a lot easier sometimes to conform to the pattern of this world; to say you’re going to ‘some band thing’ rather than admitting that it’s a church event. Or to be completely quiet and not acknowledge your faith at all. But to be the salt and the light Jesus is telling us to be, we can’t hide it away.

Personally, as well as struggling sometimes with being authentic, I also struggle with knowing how to shine his light through me. I find it difficult to find my own ways to shine – not for my own sake or benefit, but so I can share God and make it clear to those I interact with that there’s something different about me, in the most positive way possible. In my nature, i’m naturally quiet, quite shy, and quite reserved. I definitely wouldn’t describe myself as outgoing or very confident or charismatic – unlike my charming fiancé you heard from earlier! I’ve always found it tricky to make myself heard in all kinds of settings, so how does someone who prefers to blend in with the crowd and stay relatively in the shadows shine bright enough to let others see the brilliance of God and his love? How do I shine, and where?

A few years ago I decided to start an online blog. For me, it works a bit like an online diary. Every so often I would write a post, often just to empty my head a bit, and topics would range from general life musings to quite frequently; faith. I would write about questions I had or things I didn’t quite understand. I’d share almost-testimonies of what God was doing in my life and ways I was relying on him, as well as posting devotions when it had been my turn at band or songsters. I initially wrote it all for myself, then eventually got brave enough to share it on Facebook. What I found was that firstly, people actually read and were interested in what I had to say. Secondly, people, and often people i’d least expect would message me wanting to discuss with me something i’d written about faith, or to say they related, or were even encouraged or inspired. I’m not in any way trying to blow my own trumpet here, but highlighting the influence I was able to have without even meaning to. I may see communicating in person as a flaw of mine, but God was helping me use writing as a skill to share him through. It showed me that you don’t have to be the loudest or most charismatic person in the room for it to be clear that God shines through you. As long as you are authentic in your belief, and committed to being as salty and full of God-flavour as you can be, as Matt alluded to earlier, you can be what Jesus is telling us to be in this passage. 

It doesn’t mean you have it all figured out or that you are or need to be the perfect Christian. The impurities of the world, and circumstances, are going to dilute your saltiness and dim your light from time to time, but that is totally ok. They key is being authentic, honest, and following the commandments Jesus has for us. Simple stuff like being truly kind to people: anything from holding open a door, to supporting someone when they need it most. It’s not really that difficult, and may not always seem significant, but it is at the heart of what Jesus is constantly teaching us. 

Show his love in whatever way you can and in whatever way works for you. Be authentic, and accountable – to yourself, to others, and most importantly, to God. Make the influence you have on the world be not just a positive one, but one in which you are truly shining for God. 

Devotions – uncertainty 

It was my turn on the rotas to do devotions for both songsters (choir) and band last week, and thought I’d share them on here. Shares a tiny glimmer of where I’m at just now, and the holy and biblical parts are stuff I really do believe and hang on to. Well, I like to think I do. Sometimes. Or on good days at least. 
Uncertainty is something we all experience. It’s a natural part of life, but it’s something we generally don’t enjoy or like to deal with. I’ve just finished all uni exams and coursework and am now waiting on results and my degree classification. All being well, I should hopefully graduate next month with a decent degree in psychology; but where I’m going after that I have no clue. As much as I enjoy sitting in my pyjamas watching Grey’s Anatomy repeats all day, I’m reasonably sure that’s not a great long term goal, and finding a job or career or future studies would be a better plan. But for the moment, I don’t have any idea what direction I’m going in in that respect. Combine that with planning for a wedding and getting the keys to our first house this week, it’s clear that there’s a lot of excitement going on, but also change and uncertainty. Plus on a wider scale; general elections, brexit negotiations and general turmoil such as the incident in Manchester this week, signify a huge amount of uncertainty both nationally and globally. 

However, whilst we may have uncertainty in our country or in our individual lives, we can always have certainty in God and his love for us. In the Message translation of Isaiah 42v16, the Lord says, 

“I’ll take the hand of those who don’t know the way, who can’t see where they’re going. I’ll be a personal guide to them, directing them through unknown country. I’ll be right there to show them what roads to take, making sure hey don’t fall. These are things I’ll be doing for them – sticking with them, not leaving them for a minute.” 

While in Philippians 4v7, Paul writes that, 

“The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guide your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

These verses remind us that regardless of uncertainty, our peace comes from the confidence that the Lord loved us and He is in control. He alone provides the comfort that settles our nerves, fills our minds with hope and allows us to relax even in the midst of changes and challenges. It will all be okay. 

— I did borrow the second last sentence from a devotional reading I came across online —

Happiness in God – Youth Band Devotions

Thought I’d post the short devotions I shared at youth band last night: 

So I sat my second last exam at uni this morning for a class called Positive Psychology, and one of the main topics on the course was Happiness. It looked at what it means to be happy, and what makes us happy. One of the arguments was actually that people who are religious or spiritual are happier than those who aren’t. I won’t bore you with the details of the literature or studies I wrote about this morning, but the gist of the 3 studies I focused on was that regular churchgoers are happier because they (a) have larger, higher quality support systems, (b) are more likely to maintain good health behaviours (e.g. not smoking/drinking, routine exercise etc.) and (c) often have better mental health as well. 

Now whether the research behind these things is solid or not, and whether I agree with all of the points is debatable, however what I do agree with is that one of the most positive aspects of a church community – particularly in the army world where you’re all linked through divisional things like this – is the support network you can build. I think this youth band is a great example of that, as we’ve got a pretty strong sense of community and fellowship within the band. It is definitely about so much more than just making music. 

However since it was a secular subject I was studying for, what none of the studies really mentioned was the happiness Christians find from their faith itself, and the apparent joy that can be found in and through God and Jesus. I know how hard it can be and how far from happy getting out of bed on a Sunday morning can make you, and even once you get to your meeting it doesn’t always feel all that joyful or cheery, but there is a deep, intrinsic, internal happiness that can be, and is, found through God. 

Philippians 4:4 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, rejoice!”, while Romans 15:13 says

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” 

It’s important to remember that when things aren’t going too great or you’re not feeling very positive, that God is always there, and things can always get better if you go to him and trust in him. 

— I really do believe that one of the best and most positive aspects of being part of a church is the support and care people (hopefully) have for each other. As I said, particularly in a divisional setting within the army, and further than that, it’s a huge source of strength and encouragement for so many. Matt pointed out to me after band last night that over the past 6/7 years since we both left school, many things have changed, we have changed and the people we spend time with have changed – neither of use have any school friends coming to the wedding for a start – but the thing that has remained constant during that time are our friends and support network within, or that was grown in, the Salvation Army. I would not be who I am today without the people I have come to know, befriend, love, and rely on that I met through the army. Regardless of what people, or even I, may think of the religious or Christian side of things, that will always be a positive for me. ⭐️

Plans or a purpose? 

I am so incredibly cool these days that when I’m in my car, if I don’t have my phone plugged in playing music, I listen to a Christian radio station. I know – could not be cooler. It’s called Premier Praise, and is a sister station of ‘Premier Christian Radio’. The reason I like premier praise is because it basically just consists of worship songs being played all of the time. There are very very few, if any, adverts, and minimal presenter talking. There is a short prayer on the hour, and intermittently there will be a 2/3 minute ‘thought’ by either a minister or someone from some sort of Christian organisation, and a bible reading thrown in every now and again. And that’s it. The majority of the music is stuff I’d probably have on shuffle on my phone anyway – it sounds like normal vocal/pop/rock/’singer-songwriter’ music (although there is the odd hymn or gospel track that’s just a bit much for me!), but with holy lyrics. Initially I’d roll my eyes or even mute it when it got to a ‘holy bit’ like the prayer or the thought, but I’ve grown to get used to it and actually find some of them quite challenging. It’s interesting hearing people from different denominations share short thoughts, and often it’s easier to take something from them – be it challenge or comfort or whatever else – than it is from a half hour church sermon. The original station, Premier Christian, is far too much for me – too much talking, and way too in depth and holy. I like premier praise because it’s light and not too ‘in your face’.

Anyway, the reason I’m sharing this cringey fact is because I got in the car the other day and a man from something called ‘the Grace project’ was just starting to give a short thought. He went on to speak about Jeremiah 29:11, a very well known and frequently quoted (and often misinterpreted!) verse. “For I know the plans I have for you”, declared the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future”. This is a popular ‘fridge magnet’ verse, that people use to reassure themselves and others that God is in control, and that he’s got your life all planned out. The man on the radio explained however, that the original Hebrew version of the verse actually translates the word ‘plans’ as ‘purpose’. So, it’s saying he has a purpose for us, rather than a concrete plan. He then said some people might be distraught by the thought of god not having a solid plan for us, whilst others would be freed by this knowledge. I’m certainly in the latter group, as wondering how to find out what that plan is or how to follow it is something that’s always bugged me and made me stress – if you’ve read any of my previous posts you’ll know that this is true!! I wasn’t sure whether I was convinced by his explanation or not though, given that everyone else so readily uses the word ‘plan’, so I did some googling. From what I could find, the original translation would actually read “For I know the thoughts that I think towards you”, which isn’t great English, but apparently ‘thoughts’ could be replaced by ‘purpose’. 

I really like this concept – that God has a purpose for our life, rather than a solid plan. It seems to make more sense, fits in better with the whole free will thing, but keeps in line with the concept of him being in control. – side note, I do know that the context of the verse itself was of God speaking to a whole group of Israelites in Babylon, and not just one individual person, saying he’ll prosper them and their nation after 70 years in exile…

I find the bible super confusing, and struggle to understand when you’re supposed to look at context and take things literally and when you’re not. It’s a minefield. Someone quoted a verse tonight about God knowing us and knowing what we would do before we were even born, and this confuses me and creeps me out in equal measure I think. I don’t see how it can make sense. (And yes, I know we’re not supposed to be able to comprehend the full extend of God etc. etc., but still) 

I’d be interested to hear opinions though. How does the ‘plan’ thing work? Is it really a plan? Or a rough guide or general direction? Or is it like the guy on the radio said, and it’s a purpose rather than a plan? Does anyone more wise and well read than me know what the proper translation/context/intended meaning is? Does anyone have a clue? Or are we all just meant to interpret it how we like? All opinions and answers welcome!! 

It’s ok to talk 

So if you’ve been on social media during the past few weeks you might have noticed a lot of posts and chatter about a Netflix series called 13 Reasons Why. You may also have noticed that there’s been a pretty mixed reaction to it. I watched the whole series a couple of weeks ago and had quite a few thoughts/opinions about it, so thought I’d write them down. Side note – there will probably be a bunch of spoilers about it in this post. So if you haven’t watched it but intend to and don’t want anything given away, don’t read on 🙂 

So 13 Reasons Why is a series based on a novel (which I must admit I haven’t read – although it’s now on my ‘to read’ list) about a girl called Hannah Baker. Hannah is a 17 year old girl who (and this isn’t a big spoiler – it’s revealed almost immediately, and in the description of the show!) has committed suicide, but who recorded 13 cassette tapes before she took her life, explaining what led her to this decision. Each tape is based on a particular person (friend, or teacher) and explains what they did, or didn’t do, or say, which when accumulated led her to the decision to take her life. 

First of all, it’s not an easy watch. It’s an addictive show in its nature – each episode is another side of a tape, so instinctively you want to keep watching to find out who did what, and to find out what tipped Hannah over that horrendous edge. But much of it is not a comfortable watch. The ‘reasons’ (and I’m trying not to give away every spoiler here) include both seemingly small, insignificant acts from Hannah’s friends – typical teenage dramas some might describe it as – to more obvious incidents such as sexual assault. But they all impact each other, and when added up, became too much for her to cope with. 

The show has received praise and criticism in abundance. It is praised for shining a light on suicide, and the ugly reality of it. It’s praised for creating conversation about mental health, which it undoubtedly does. It is also praised for making people – and I’d guess teenagers and adolescents in particular, though not only that age group – realise just how HUGE an impact everything you say and do could potentially have. It highlights the fact that you never, ever know what is really going on in someone’s head. You never know what someone’s mental health might be like, how their state of mind is, or what they might be battling or dealing with, long term or even just on that particular day. Therefore, any comment you make, seemingly innocent or otherwise, could be enough to tip someone over the edge. 

And I love the fact the show has drawn attention to this. I wrote about it in another post recently, where I mentioned a segment I’d watched on This Morning where two mothers talked about their teenage children who had committed suicide because of cyber bullying. You really never know how one little not-so-nice comment, look, or even lack of comment or acknowledgement could make someone feel. Particularly with social media and texting where you’re so remote from any reaction, its easy to forget there’s a person at the other end of the phone/social media account, and that what you say or do has consequences. Instead of saying something sarcastic and mean, or ignoring someone in the corridor you used to be friends with, ask them how they are. Even remember to ask your friends how they are, or how things are going. You don’t know how much difference that could make. It’s important that this is highlighted and stressed, and I’ve seen loads of conversation about this aspect of the show from teens on FB, so hopefully it will have a positive impact. #bekind

There were elements of the show though that I wasn’t so convinced on. They showed the graphic way Hannah ended her life, and I understand that this was to highlight that it’s not pretty, or easy, and it shouldn’t be considered as either. And I think it achieved that (I had to fast forward it because I couldn’t watch the entire scene). It does make me nervous though that anyone feeling vulnerable and in a similar place to Hannah could be ‘spurred on’ by watching it rather than deterred, and mental health charities and anti-suicide campaigns have raised similar concerns, as it could be a potential trigger. I think they hope though that the gruesomeness of it, along with the fact Hannah has a clear support network around her, even if she couldn’t see it, will show that it is not an option, never mind the only one. 

That however is the other thing I’m just not convinced on. I don’t think that they show just how many other options Hannah had. I’ve seen people comment that the show highlights just how many people she had around her who cared about her, but I’m not entirely sure it does. I think it shows she has people, but that not one of them was there for her when she needed it most. Granted she couldn’t manage to directly ask the majority of them for help, but when it came down to it and she did ask for help in the best way she could manage, the counsellor, though meaning well, tells her to ‘move on’. Now Hannah’s mental state was clearly not positive or stable, and she had been through a lot, which meant she saw this as him refusing her help. But I don’t think it’s a great message for anyone feeling like she does: ‘even if you’re brave enough to ask for help, you won’t get any anyway’ is how I read that. Maybe I’m being over critical here or missing the point, but if anyone who can relate to Hannah’s feelings and situations reads it the same way I did, there could be really negative outcomes. 

Anyway, aside from that, I think the show is really well produced and has a clear, VERY important message: it is ok to not be ok. It’s ok to not be perfect, and it’s more than ok to ask for help. It WILL get better. Things won’t always be that bad – something teenage brains (which work differently to adult brains!) often struggle to remember or comprehend. Just talk to someone. Friend, family member, teacher, colleague, stranger on the other end of a helpline. Anyone. The more you talk, the easier and better it will become. Which leads me into my next topic…

Tonight I watched the second episode of ‘Mind over Marathon’, a BBC documentary about a group of 10 individuals with mental health problems who had signed up to run the London marathon. Linked to the ‘Heads Together’ campaign, which is spearheaded by the future king, Prine William, along the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, the group committed to 6 months of training, both physical and mental, before running the 26.2 miles. The diverse group all suffered from depression, as well as other mental health disorders such as OCD, anxiety and PTSD. Seeing the courage and determination of the individuals was truly inspiring. I mean, anyone who can run that distance has my admiration, but managing to do it with/after suffering from depression, which leaves you struggling to get out of bed, was really quite admirable. They all said they benefitted from the running (exercise released endorphins, and endorphins lift your mood…), as well as the community and purpose it gave them. One lady, Rhian, had lost her infant son suddenly to pneumonia, then 5 days later her husband took his own life. She has subsequently suffered from crippling anxiety and depression, and carried a lot of self blame. Her ‘story’ was discussed a lot throughout the documentary, and watching her cross the finish line after 26.2 miles had me absolutely sobbing. 

The main thing that I loved about the programme was the constant encouragement to talk about mental health.  This year’s London marathon was dubbed the ‘mental health marathon’, because of the royals’ Heads Together campaign, the main aim of which was to normalise conversation about mental health. It’s so important – it shouldn’t be any different from conversation about physical health, and yet it brings with it stigma and shame and embarrassment. But it shouldn’t. 

Everyone has mental health, just as they have physical health. 1 in 4 people suffer from a mental health problem. That’s a huge fraction of the population. I’m sure some people are more predisposed to mental health problems than others, and there have in fact been times I’ve had a glimpse at what people with depression or anxiety disorders must experience day in day out. I know people who do have to deal with those conditions every day, and this isn’t surprising given the 1 in 4 statistic…I’m sure you do too. People just need to know it’s okay to talk about it, and it’s okay to get help. 

I’ve realised recently how passionate I am about this, and I really really really(!!!) hope I can use my psychology degree (1 month to go!!!) to some good use in this field. 💗

Trust and pray 

So I’ve been taking part in a ‘lent series’, that our divisional youth specialist promoted on Facebook. Each day you get a notification with a bible verse or a few verses, then at different points in the day you get up to maybe three other notifications. These either include points to reflect on, or react to. 

I initially signed up to it because I’d been looking for some sort of devotional thing, and the notifications seemed like as good a chance as any that I might stick to it. The idea behind it is to help you introduce some daily rhythm into your life and create intentional moments of focusing on God throughout the day, and thus getting to know God and Jesus more by the end of the series. Or that’s what I’m taking it as anyway. 

Since I’ve been using my bullet journal to plan out my weeks, record gratitude and purposefully pray for people, I thought it might be helpful to write down the daily bible verses and thought points every day in the journal. I always take things in more if I write them down so I hoped it would help me connect deeper to the scripture and the points for reflection. 

And it has. I was determined not to do what I usually do with things like this and last a few days, forget about it and move on. I’ve managed to write out every day’s reading and reflections so far, even if I had fallen a week or so behind and had to write out a lot yesterday! I’ve included pictures of the pages in my journal throughout this post, although have blurred out a few bits where I’ve responded and it’s more personal than I’d like to share on here. 

When I was catching up last night, I got to one that was based on Jonah 2:5-7, when basically Jonah is drowning and then he looks to God for help. (Clearly that’s the shortened, edited version) The messages along with the verse first asked if you’ve ever felt overwhelmed (yes!!), then secondly told you to react by telling someone how you honestly feel right now – be it good or bad – and ask them to pray with you/for you. I haven’t done many of the ‘react’ tasks, however as soon as I read this I knew I wanted to do it. I wasn’t really sure who to do it with, but I picked two people I trusted and went from there. 

I don’t like asking people to pray for me. I find it really odd, and find that it feels even more vulnerable than asking for ‘normal’ help. I’m not really sure why this is – maybe it’s because I’m not good about talking about my faith in God in general, or because I don’t fully understand how the whole praying thing really works, or because I’m not used to doing it, or possibly just because I don’t like admitting when I need help. I have however just finished another month of consciously choosing somebody specific every day to pray for, and I figured that if I can manage to pray for people, then I could be brave enough to ask someone to do the same for me. 

Anyway, once I got over the initial cringing of asking someone to pray for me, I cringed some more by admitting how I honestly feel at the minute. It sounds really straightforward, but in order to make the process worthwhile I wanted to be brutally honest, and that’s not always so easy or so pretty. Anyway, I wrote out a paragraph about how I feel about life at the minute (and rewrote it about 10 times, no exaggeration), and moved on. 

The next notification for that day was another instruction, which was to check in on your friends, ask how they are doing, really listen, and pray for them too. Another thing I don’t find easy to do, but that I was keen to do . Partly because it provided a way of having proper chat – it’s not always easy to have conversations like these with friends about how things are or how either of you are really getting on or feeling. Often we’re ‘too busy’ to get together to catch up, or we see each other briefly, or it can be awkward to bring up, particularly in relationships where you don’t see each other often and communication is mostly done by text. The two friends I (initially..I kind of intend to do it with more) sent the message to are close friends of mine, but ones that I have quite different relationships with. One i tend to go to for help a lot, and the other often comes to me. With the friend I turn to a lot, I’m often concerned that I don’t get the chance to be there for her or reciprocate the support. And with the other, I was conscious to show that I trust her just as she does me. So I was keen in both cases to try and strengthen the relationship and make it stronger in both directions. 

Anyway, after rewriting the entire message at least a dozen times, I finally sent it and went to sleep, nervous in anticipation to see how they would respond to my randomness. (I did apologise twice in the message – once for the length of it, and also for if it seemed odd or random…. why so much fear of being judged?!) 

And I’m really glad I sent them. I’ve had some good, real conversations today as a result – something I hugely value. I’ve been prayed for twice (there’s a double sided comfort in that – knowing you’re supported by friends, and by God), and I’ve heard what is going on in my friends’ lives and prayed for them in return. 

I preached in devotions at youth band recently about how we often talk to our friends about all kinds of stuff, but rarely about God, and that it shouldn’t be that way. Only, until yesterday I hadn’t really taken my own advice. I cringed at having conversations about praying for each other, yet there was a huge comfort and also a closeness that came from doing so. (For me, at least. Maybe those friends are reading this now thinking I’m a nutter!) I’ve always raised my eyebrows (surprise surprise) when it gets preached that relationships need to be built around God, but maybe I’m beginning to see how much stronger they can be when that is actually the case. 

So, I’d preach the same thing as I did at youth band – “It’s important that we talk to each other about our faith and how we’re doing spiritually, just as we would have a conversation about how we’re feeling physically. I know it can feel awkward, but it really shouldn’t.” It can feel awkward and i was even afraid of being judged for being ‘too holy’, despite knowing that both of the friends I text are just as invested (and inquisitive!) about their faith as I am. My advice – go for it. Talk to God, (I still struggle with this concept, but if you do too, bear with me!) and talk to your friends about talking to God. 

I might share some more posts about what else has come up in the lent series, but that’s all for now. (Thank goodness I hear you say!) I’m really glad I signed up to it, because between that, the conscious effort to pray, and writing down 3 things I’m grateful for every day, I’m noticing a positive difference in my outlook on things, and that can’t be a bad thing!! 

Life is a rollercoaster

I was sitting looking through boxes of photographs at my mum’s tonight, flicking through literally hundreds of photos of me as a child. Pictures of people, places, holidays, events that I remember as though they were recent, but that were actually a decade ago or longer. When did I become a grown up?!!! I used to look at people in their twenties and think they were proper adults – now I’m 23, a few months away from being graduated, married and living in my own house, but I still feel like a child. And I think a big part of that is that I still don’t have any clue what I’m going to do job/career wise once I finish uni. 

I’ve said before that I envy people who know from the age of 5 that they want to be and will become a doctor or a fireman or an artist. To have such a clear cut dream would be so good (although I guess could lead to greater disappointment if it is not achieved). To have something to aim for, to aspire to, to work towards. Instead of just aimlessly pushing on in the hope that something becomes clear. 

I’ve been trying to rely on God, hoping that ‘what’s in his plan for me will become clear’…but does this really work? And how long do I wait before this comes to light? If something comes up, how do I know if it’s in his plan, or in line with his will, or if it’s not. (Feel free to refer back to older blog posts for in depth discussions of my issues with the whole ‘God’s plan’ thing… I’ve written about it many times!) 

To be brutally honest, I spend a lot of time at the minute being worried or afraid. And I really, really don’t like to admit that. (So much so that this post was selectively shared on Facebook, rather than shared with all of my Facebook friends) My confidence has dropped a lot over the past few months, and I’m not sure why. I know my dodgy insides have made me more anxious and wary to do things – any things – but it seems like more than that. I feel like I’m going backwards – struggling to work out where I fit in and where my place is. 
Not knowing where I’m headed career/work/study wise is definitely a big contributing factor to this. I need some sort of direction, but I don’t know how to figure that out. I really just don’t know what I would like to do. And when people suggest things or I get a slight inkling of what might be fun or rewarding or interesting, I then worry that I wouldn’t be good at it or wouldn’t be able to do it. I don’t know what I’m capable of, and my decreased confidence is telling me that  the list of what I am capable of is much smaller than the list of what I’m not capable of. 

I’m not sure where I fit in with friends either. Recently it’s become apparent to me how many friendships Matt has, compared to how many I have. I find it difficult at times not to envy his outgoing, likeable personality that seems to attract friends like a moth to a flame. And I know it’s not about quantity. (Nor am I saying that he’s picking quantity over quality, because he has some lovely friends and great friendships in all aspects of his life!) I know he has more outlets and hobbies than me – work and band and football, where I just have the army and like 1 uni friend. (Again don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to have that 1 pal and wouldn’t have made it through this year without her being at the other end of FB messenger helping me with every ridiculous question I come out with!!) It’s maybe just that everyone else seems to be settled in their work, their lives, and I’m a few stages behind and just don’t quite know where I fit into it all. I appreciate closeness in relationships, but struggle not to feel like I’m just bugging them by making contact. I feel like I’m always asking for help or support or even attention and I don’t want to be that person who makes them say ‘oh not again’ or ‘what now’ when a text from me shows up on their phone. My head just doesn’t make things straightforward. 

And the thing that makes it all feel worse is that I thought I was past all of this. I thought that once I got into uni to study psychology, a career would fall into place thereafter. I thought that by the time I got married, I’d surely be at the stage of not worrying so much about whether I ‘fit in’ or whether people like me. I thought I was past the stage of psyching myself out of things because I think I’m not good enough or capable enough. So how did I end up back at this completely confused, completely clueless stage?! Or is it more like a carousel or a rollercoaster, where things fluctuate and vary throughout your life? How do things like this work for other people? Are people really as clued up and satisfied as they lead others to believe? I’m not sure. 

I’m not sure what the point of this post is. My head’s been really full and this was my best attempt at emptying it tonight, albeit not a great effort. I just don’t know what I’m doing or where I’m heading and I’m so fed up of being worried and unsure and had to write that down, for my own sanity rather than trying to make for interesting reading. (Side note – it’s not all doom and gloom! I’m incredibly excited to be married and move into Matt and I’s lovely new house and I’m very grateful for all I have and all of the people who don’t give up on me!!) I’d just like some direction, and for my head to give me a break from time to time! 

Just be kind.

How hard is it to be kind? 

This post is inspired by a clip I saw from today’s episode of This Morning. The clip was of Philip and Holly interviewing a mother whose teenage daughter took her own life just 2 weeks ago, aged only 14. The mother explained that they discovered only after her death that she had been been the victim of relentless online bullying, which led to her suicide. The (exceptionally brave!!) mother described her daughter as a bright, vivacious, happy girl who always looked out for other people. And yet the girl was bullied so badly over social media – from name calling to nasty and mean comments getting inside her head –  that she felt she had no alternative than to take her own life. It was heartbreaking to watch and very difficult not to get emotional listening her grief stricken mother. 

But this type of story is far too common. The other lady sat on the This Morning sofa was also the mother of a boy who took his own life for similar reasons last year. It’s happens so often, and it’s just not right. It shouldn’t be this hard to be kind. 

Bullying is always terrible, whatever form it takes; whether physical, verbal, in person or online. Cyber bullying is interesting however in that a lot of the time, people probably don’t even consider themselves to be bullying someone. You’re so remote from the situation, that you don’t see what impact your one sentence text could have. You don’t see what your ‘bit of banter’ in the group chat is doing to someone’s self esteem. You don’t see that you’re the tenth person to say something nasty to that person in the one day. You don’t see the consequences of what you’re saying – possibly until it’s too late. 

So why is it so easy to be mean or nasty? As the second mother on This Morning, who’s been campaigning in schools against bullying since her son died, said: Why is being kind considered ‘not cool’? How did that happen? Has this always been the case or is it getting worse? She made a point that ‘role models'(??) on reality tv get more coverage for being nasty or mean or rude than the ones who are nice, and she has a point. It normalises it, and kids (or adults for that matter) think it’s fine to make fun of someone or be mean to them. And it’s so not. 

In band last week, the person doing devotions mentioned that it was apparently ‘random acts of kindness day’ – but made the comment that we shouldn’t need a day set aside to be kind, and that it’s really quite sad that it’s even a thing. And it’s so true. Not just as Christian’s, but as humans beings, we shouldn’t need to be told to be kind. Why is it seemingly so difficult?! 

I’m not claiming that I’m perfect or that I’ve never said anything nasty about someone – I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t. Plus it’s very easy to get sucked up in the moment and say something when in a certain group that you’d never say if you weren’t with them – I’ve been there many times. And while it’s easy to forget, stories like this really make you conscious of just how much of an impact what you say and do actually can have. But it shouldn’t take a tragic story like this to make you realise that. It should be obvious that being kind is better than being nasty. 

If you’ve read anything on my blog before you’ll know I’m not great at face to face interaction, but I am a fan of social media and texting. And if I see that someone is struggling, I will frequently text or message to say I’m thinking about them, or I hope they’re ok – regardless of how close I am to the person. (It’s actually something I think inherited from my mum, cos she’s always doing the same!) Sometimes I worry people think I’m odd, but I’d much rather they thought I was strange for sending them a kind message and caring, than saying something nasty or being horrible and ignoring them. You never really know what people are going through, and your message could be the thing that tips them over the edge, or makes their day. It’s up to you which way you tip the scales. 

Never underestimate the impact a kind one line message could have. I actually got a text tonight that said ‘How are you today my friend?’ And the gratitude I felt when reading it – upon seeing that someone was interested and that they cared – was great. And actually, not only does being kind benefit the people you are kind to, but from a selfish point of view, it usually makes you feel pretty nice too. 

This is a pretty messy post, but I think it’s clear what the message of it is. And I would encourage everyone – young or old – to listen. Be kind. Always. 

Ask and it shall be given? 

So I was looking on Pinterest last night for the C.S Lewis quote about friendship (“friendship begins in that moment when one person says to another: ‘What, you too? I thought I was the only one!'”) and came across a tonne of CS Lewis quotes that I instantly liked/agreed with/could relate to. Then I saw this one, which reminded me of something that was going through my head a couple of weeks ago that I almost wrote about then forgot about/never got around to. 

I had opened the bible app on my phone, and the verse of the day was this: 

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” Matthew‬ ‭7:7‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Which instantly made me think of the (really very cheesy) Salvation Army Chorus: 

Ask! Ask! Ask! and it shall be given;   Seek! Seek! Seek! and you’re sure to find; Knock! Knock! Knock! and the door will open; For God! God! God! is so good and kind!  

When I initially read it I found it really encouraging. And then I properly thought about it. (Thinking is always the downfall!!) So my thought process was; is that really how it works? If we ask for something, we’ll get it? If we search for something hard enough, we’ll find it? If we try (the door), we’ll get there (get in)? Because to me, that contradicts a whole load of other bible stuff and what we’ve always been taught. 

So based on that, I really don’t know how to interpret that verse properly. It all comes back to the topic of prayer again. Now, surely that’s not supposed to be like a shopping list? You’re not meant to go to God and ask for all of these things you want, and he won’t just grant you them either. If I pray and ask for £1 million, I won’t suddenly get it. If I pray and ask for a relative to be healed, that won’t necessarily happen either. He’s not a genie with a magic lamp. But that bible verse seems to suggest so? It seems to say that if you ask for something, you’ll get it. (The next verse goes on to say that God is good and therefore will give us good things) On the other hand though, surely if I’m praying that I’ll become closer to God, or that I’ll experience him, out of a place of pure desire to follow him or whatever the phrasing should be, surely if he’s good and gives us good thing, he’d want to ‘grant me that’? Maybe I’m reading it out of context, but I’ve read round about it and it doesn’t seem to clear anything up for me! 

So my big question really is, how does prayer actually work? The thank you and the sorry bits I get. But the asking bit, I don’t understand. The praying for specific people, I don’t understand. (If God has a plan/a will for us all blah blah blah…then surely me asking for something will make no difference to that outcome?) Are we just supposed to be super vague and ask for ‘help’ or ‘support’ or ‘guidance’, then trust that he’ll do those things (even if we don’t realise it)? Ask and it shall be given seems pretty literal, and although many people don’t take a huge amount of the bible literally, I don’t see how else you could interpret that verse? 

I’d love to be able to agree with and believe in what this quote is saying. I would love to think that because I’m actively seeking God, and seeking joy, that I would find it. But I just don’t understand how the theory and theology behind it actually works or makes sense. 

So, answers on a postcard please. (Well actually, fb comment or message would be more practical…) I’ve had similar conversations to this with people before, but I’m interested to hear what others might think. 
#confusedchristian 😂

Bullet journalling 

So I was up til almost 3am last night finishing uni work and I’ve been shattered all day. And I did exercise for a change, which made me even more tired. Now I’m lying in bed and can’t get to sleep because I can’t seem to stop thinking. Not amused. So I thought I’d try and write. 

I came across something on Pinterest last week called Bullet Journalling. It basically involves taking a notebook and making it into the kind of diary/journal/planner than suits your own needs. And you can make it as simple or as pretty as you want (and seemed like a good excuse to buy more pens!!). As I said in my last post, I’ve been trying to improve. Improve my productivity, improve my exercise levels, improve myself. Be better. Be more present, more positive. And using this journal seems like a good way to track and observe that.

It involves a future log, monthly and daily logs, and ‘collections’ which can be just about anything. You can track things like sleep, water intake, household chores, TVs series you’re watching, literally anything you like. 


My favourite page so far is my gratitude and prayer log for this month. It’s something I’d already started towards the end of January, but I love seeing it all written down together like this. I find it so easy to be negative about things – life, me, anything really, so It’s nice to see a record of all the good things that have happened this month – both big and very small, random things – that I’m grateful for. And the daily ‘person to pray for’ helps me remember to think about, and pray for, someone other than myself. Something I think is often easy to forget. 

This next page is definitely my favourite collection page so far. My bookshelf. As I read a book I’ll colour it in, and hopefully by the end of the year I’ll have a full and colourful page! It’s maybe not such a productive page, but it’s fun and will hopefully encourage me to read a bit more.

I’m excited to keep adding to it with lots of random things as well as real helpful trackers to help me stay happy and healthy. Cos it’s not always easy. I just find it far too natural to complain, or moan, or be negative/scared/worried. The list goes on. It’s easier to think of negative ‘what if’s than it is positive. Easier to think I can’t do something than can. And I would love to be able to change that. I’ve recently come to the realisation though that you can’t expect things to improve – circumstances, attitude etc. – if you don’t make any effort to make them change. It’s not a difficult concept to grasp, but so often we expect everything to be bright and shiny without doing anything to make that happen. So that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to take control of my situations, attitudes, thoughts and feelings, so that I can be the best version of myself. For my own sake and sanity, more than for any one else’s benefit. (All help/support/encouragement is appreciated!!!) 

This post is probably terrible and I am finally almost asleep (I hope!), but thought I’d end it with a quote page from my new bullet journal that I think fits quite well with this ramble!