How do you live like you believe? #questions

Well, that was an interesting night! I was strangely nervous/anxious for most of the day yesterday (Partly from being at the hairdressers, which every introvert knows is a traumatic experience in itself haha!) but also for the summer school festival at night. I was beyond excited to see and catch up with a few people, having spent the week texting them, wishing I was there to spend time with them in person. But I was also really apprehensive and anxious of what kind of emotions it would bring up. I've spent the week feeling strangely nostalgic, I sobbed for about 10 minutes on Sunday night, wishing I was there and having a serious case of fomo (fear of missing out 🙄😂), and I knew it would feel weird going back to Kilgraston in particular, somewhere I'd spent so many weeks of my life (especially weird going without Matt!). I know everyone stops going at some point and I'm not trying to be melodramatic or exaggerate at all, but when something has been such a big part of your life for so many years, it's really weird to not be involved. Anyway it was all fine! I mean it was weird to be there to listen rather than take part – I had to control my tear ducts when the whole school started singing at the start (and again near the end of the band piece Purpose…), but it was lovely to just be there and particularly to chat to everyone. (Me, aka super quiet, non-chatty Roslyn, was in fact literally the last person to leave the school. Maybe Matt's rubbing off on me after all 😉) Although it's true that I may have had (more than) a few tears when I got home… 🙄

The festival itself was great – everyone taking part played/sang/danced/acted/sported(?!) really well and to a great standard. For me, I really enjoyed the q&a with the new students, the multimedia video and the chat with the sports students – because from hearing them all speak, it was clear what an impact the week was having on them. Not only that, their faith, or at least their desire to explore that faith, was evident. Seems like the sign of a good week to me (and that's only the halfway point!)

I was really intrigued by the theme for the week – live like you believe. Because it's not necessarily an easy thing to do. As far as I'm aware they've been looking at different traits, such as compassion and accountability, and how to live these out. I'm actually really sad to be missing all of the teaching and cells. It's always been something I've looked forward to, particularly in recent years of going to summer school. I like being challenged, I like being made to think and I like hearing different perspectives and points of view. I'm even more sad to be missing tonight – a lot of people hate the Thursday night, but it's something I've always really enjoyed. It can involve a lot of emotion for some people, but that's something I actually like. I like that it's a space where it's acceptable to be emotional or vulnerable, without 'losing face' or whatever. There was a kind of stability to it for me – like a yearly opportunity to sit and take stock of where my life was, and where my faith was, and where it was all going next. I like the amount of support that is always there, from people you expect and those you don't. I love the opportunity it gives for conversation and discussions, so open and honest and real. That's the thing I've missed most this week I think. Those real, genuine, authentically honest conversations. They are my fav 💗

I do have a question though. (Wouldn't be me if I didn't!!) How do you 'Live like you believe' if you don't quite know what you believe? If you take the statement literally at least, then how does that work if you're unsure or just downright confused about God/religion/faith/Jesus etc.? If you don't know what bits you understand, what bits you believe or agree with, where does that leave you? (Or me!)

I go through spells of being really 'confident' in my faith – I pray a lot, I'll read lots, I'm enthusiastic. Then I give myself even a moment to think about it, and I realise I don't understand the majority of what I'm claiming to be enthusiastic about. That when I read bits in the bible, they don't make sense or are too far fetched. That I disagree with every defence of Christianity in a book full of questions about how real it is, or isn't. That I don't understand or believe in or agree with the hymn/song lyrics I belt out in the car or the shower. And then I feel really inauthentic, and hypocritical, and struggle to see the point in dealing with or caring about it at all. Why is it so complicated?

Traditionally, I'll spend at least part of the Thursday night sobbing to Matt/Ian/Sharon/Adam/Karen that I just don't get it or just don't believe it – that I want to believe it but I just don't. That I want to believe it and feel it but I just don't know how or understand what that really means. (Side note – I've been thinking a lot and reading a lot about having a 'personal relationship with God' – blog post to come at some point!) I'm sure they'll all be very glad not to have to deal with my constant 'but why? But how?' questions tonight 😂 But for me the questions all still stand.

So, how do you Live Like You Believe, particularly if you don't know what you believe? Summer School students (and staff!), I'm looking for answers and clarification from you! ☺️

(p.s…make the most of the rest of the week, and tonight especially. Ask the questions, have the conversations, be open to anything and be present in it all. 😌)


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. 

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. 💗