The Last Day

Tomorrow is my final day at work.

I feel a little sick just typing that sentence.

It has been a rollercoaster journey, long winding road of ups and downs, twists and turns. No one ever expected our centre to be shut down, as it’s been a sort of flagship for others around the UK.

It would be easy to be bitter about how things have turned out, but instead I want to choose to  be grateful for everything that is good. I’ve met and worked with some amazing people. I’ve got to try out my skills at events planning and am quite proud of the network that my colleague in Dundee and I built up around Scotland and the conferences we ran each year with minimal resources. At least 700 women have been helped while I’ve been volunteering then working then managing that place.

I’ve learned a lot about counselling, a great deal about compassion and boundaries, a great deal about other spiritual beliefs, politics (ugh), grief and faced the challenges of coordinating a team of voluntary staff which is very different to how I coordinated a team of paid staff when I was a Community Learning Worker.

It has taken me to some interesting places too. I never would have dreamt that I’d have been speaking at conferences or youth events. But I did.

I’ve had to have a good team of support around me as I faced attack from both the Christian world and the secular world. Oh the stories I could tell of rudeness, naivete and just well…pigheadedness…

I’m so grateful to the friends that stuck by me through everything. I think what I’ve learned most is that you can’t rely on a church to support you or encourage you. I wish it had not taken me so long to stop trying to change this, and just let the people who were passionate and saw the value in our work be enough for me. I would have saved myself a lot of hurt and heartache.

And lastly, I’m grateful that my values and beliefs have evolved and been constantly challenged, reflected on and adapted as I’ve questioned, listened and learned.

Tuesday begins a new era of life and I have no clue what that is going to look like.

I just hope that I’m ready for it. :)

Smoky hair in the midst of transitions…

My hair smells of campfire smoke as I sat with the Soul Surfers crew last night toasting marshmallows (marshmallows may be my downfall to ever becoming a vegetarian). I’m wrapped in my duvet listening to BBC 6 Music (my favourite radio station). I’ve been thinking of my friends who are grieving or worried they are about to be grieving the loss of a loved one.

Yesterday for the first time I was able to admit something to fellow humans I haven’t wanted to admit but knew I’d eventually have to. Thank you peers and friends who sat and listened and empathised with me. I don’t know if you’re reading, but if you are, I really appreciate it.

Today I enter with some trepidation. There is an important meeting tonight at work, and I suspect it’s going to end with me coming home relieved, uneasy or in tears. If you are the praying type, please pray I’ll have the right responses!

My friends introduced me to a book of Common Prayer put together by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. This morning I’m meditating on this prayer:

Lord, help me now to unclutter my life, to organise myself in the direction of simplicity. Lord, teach me to listen to my heart; teach me to welcome change, instead of fearing it. Lord, I give you these stirrings inside me. I give you my discontent. I give you my restlessness. I give you my doubt. I give you my despair. I give you all the longings I hold inside. Help me to listen to these signs of change, of growth; help me to listen seriously and follow where they lead through the breathtaking empty space of an open door.

Seven years of blogging: what changed?

It’s been seven years now since I started blogging. This was one of my early posts back on Musings of a Koala. It’s kinda crazy to read it now.

A friend of mine said she missed me writing on ‘topics’ on my blog. I should really have got clarification on what that meant exactly (if you’re reading, I think you’ll know who you are so remind me to ask you next time we chat!!). If I’m honest it’s gotten tougher to find to time and motivation to write. However, I will say that events in the recent weeks may have changed that slightly…

If I’m right in what my friend meant, I think I stopped blogging on topics about three years ago. And I’m going to try and explain why I think that happened…

A few years ago I went through probably the most anti-climatic and difficult crisis of faith I’ve ever had. It was very different to crises of faith I’d had previously. In my early years of my faith I was up and down in my emotions and faith like supersonic yo-yo.I had to learn a whole new culture that I didn’t naturally belong in, because I hadn’t grown up with it. It took me a good five years. As soon as I was settled, it was like God said ‘Ok. On to the next lesson‘. My first year as a graduate was an unmitigated disaster. I learned a great deal from that disastrous year…because I started losing perspective on my priorities, and I suffered the consequences.

In April 2007 I was a hot mess. But I was determined to trust God and believed He would lead me back to where I was supposed to be. And of course, long term readers know that meant ending a relationship, saying goodbye to the safety of a job, my own home and heading to Australia for a month before I returned to the home city that was so full of horrible childhood memories.

I actually hate looking at photos of myself from that time because I lost so much weight with the stress of it all. By the time I came back from Australia I probably weighed under 8 stone…

IMG_4774This photo was taken in May 2007 just after I got back from Australia when I was up in Aberdeen to get tested for melanoma. I think I look almost anorexic in this picture. 

I arrived back on May 4th 2007. I surprisingly found a church to call ‘home’ almost straight away, and I was actively involved in the life of the church serving as a youth mentor and as a backing vocalist on the music team within a month of my first visit. I joined a smallgroup and the main core of that group are some of my closest friends to this day.

My first few years back in Edinburgh were no picnic. I’m pretty sure I’d have had a total mental breakdown if it hadn’t been for my smallgroup being a steady anchor for me. They were a source of encouragement, challenge and also being willing to let a flawed person like me try to encourage and challenge them in return. There was constant change and drama and it was the one consistent aspect of my life. I knew no matter what I had that safe sanctuary where I could return for a couple of hours a week before I headed back into the madness that was my life.

When I came back from South Africa in 2009, there was a church restructure. I had come back with a lot to process and think about, and I never ended up getting the chance with all the impending changes. Our smallgroup disbanded and it felt like my safe sanctuary, my anchor in the storm was ripped away from me. I tried to suck it up and make the best of things over the next year as many of the folks I’d worked with in ministry left, along with friends and families who’s young people I had worked with for 2-3 years by that point through the youth programme. I struggled. I got hurt. I probably hurt other people in my hurting state. Suffice to say that there came a point when enough was enough and I had to make one has to be one of the most heartbreaking decisions I’ve ever made since I left Aberdeen.

I left the church.

I was also not prepared to be cut off on social media by folks who I’d previously thought my friends. I cared about the people at the church and wished them well. For several months I didn’t attend church services at all – anywhere. I needed that time because I’d gotten to the point where I wasn’t sure if I’d been manipulated and ‘hoodwinked’ into a religious cult called Christianity. Was God real? I needed to find Him in a way I could be sure it was Him and not just being programmed to believe by other people.

After three months, I was assured that yes…God was real. He still loved me. And He was still with me…no matter where I went.

Though I never really found a new place to call home, I did find myself repurposed and using my gifts and skills again elsewhere.

But in terms of writing, I really miss the days where I’d write and knew my readership. Every time I blogged on something I’d find it being read by folks in church who would chat to me about it. I loved that interaction, and I think it motivated me to keep on writing as honestly as I could – the silly stuff and the serious stuff! There were so many posts I wanted to write but couldn’t during those months of brokenness for fear of how they could affect the people reading them. For the first time ever, I began to censor myself.

So back to the recent events…

I feel like I’m at a crossroads in my life once again. My relationship with God still exists, but it is certainly not what it once was. If you asked me today how my life is going, I’d have to say it’s a mixed bag of good and bad. There are aspects that I’m really struggling with right now, and other aspects I’m really enjoying and excited about. I know that I have lots to ponder, lots to reflect on and lots to write about. There are things I think I really want to do, but needing to find more courage for.

One thing I know for sure is that I feel like my motivation for writing is getting back on track to where it once was. Where it’s going to go – I don’t know yet. But I do know for sure that I’d really appreciate your feedback.

 

On SoulPancake & exploring different faiths and religions…

It was the My Last Days show that alerted to me to the YouTube channel and website, SoulPancake.  I had been particularly moved by the Woods and Sobiech families in the documentaries about Ryan and Zach.

Ever since, I’ve procrastinated my hours watching other videos on the channel. Perhaps because I’d been reading yet another news article about the Guide unit in Newcastle who are threatening to leave because of the new Guide promise. Maybe it was the great conversation I had with a girl on the train back from Glasgow the other night where we debated and shared about the cultures we’d grown up in, and some of the prejudice she had come up against as a Scottish woman who was third generation Pakistani and from a culturally muslim family. I just believe that one of the key elements to making this world a more peaceful place is understanding other cultures and beliefs. There is so much we can learn, and the way the media portrays people of certain faiths and ethnic backgrounds is quite disturbing.

And it makes us scared and fearful.

And sometimes very judgmental, bigoted and racist.

So I was really excited to see this fairly new Soul Pancake show hosted by Zach Anner who is trying to understand different faiths by meeting people who subscribe to them and asking them to explain and show him what it means to them…

I’ve only watched a couple of the videos so far, but I’ve already learned quite a few things I didn’t know.  I’d actually love to meet people who are humanist, atheist etc. too to understand what that means for them. Although I was not a Christian until I was an adult, I was never an atheist so I sometimes struggle to engage and feel I’m walking on eggshells with those who subscribe to that particular worldview. What I know scares me a lot mainly because of things that Richard Dawkins has said essentially deciding that people like me should not be allowed to work in the community or a hospital or a school because we believe in God. To me that’s a little too close to propaganda that led to the allowing of the holocaust for comfort. I do however have a few friends who are atheists who are LOVELY and I wonder if they are equally fearful of speaking too much about their beliefs for fear of being labelled as subscribed under everything a well-known person (like Richard Dawkins) says or being judged.

And I’m sure I have my own misconceptions about different beliefs and cultures from my own.

So, I do encourage you to check out Zach’s show Have A Little Faith on SoulPancake!

One Promise for All…

Well, I was about to do a ‘Quote of the Week’ post inspired by my amazing Senior Section and other Girlguiding ladies, but apparently there’s a demand for people to speak about an article that appeared the Telegraph on Wednesday. You know, the last day of term for us as Senior Section was the day after the new promise announcement. Several of our girls were hurt by the things said by outsiders about Girlguiding in the press as they were so excited about the wording change and asked me if they could remake their promise. I know I was hurt by it – especially by some of the things I saw on being said on Twitter. I spent 2 days defending Girlguiding and trying to explain what the press had warped and gotten oh so wrong. The one thing that encouraged me was the lovely feedback I got (especially from some nay-sayers) who read my post about the new promise and said they’d found it really helpful. Thank you for being willing to listen!

Planning for next term of Guides

As the Girlguiding members gear up to return for a new term and the new promise is about to come into action, a ton of us leaders were disappointed to see the Telegraph article appear. (And surprise, surprise, a photo with the old uniform!). And then today apparently we were discussed on The Wright Stuff and referred to us being a religious organisation?!!

A few things to say.

First of all, Girlguiding and Scouting is different from the Girls and Boys Brigade. God has never been at the ‘core’, and the promise reflects an era where there wasn’t as much cultural diversity and more people participated in religion because it was what you did, not necessarily because you actually believed. We have never been a Christian organisation.

However, a lot of Parish churches have welcomed and accommodated Girlguiding units (who often don’t have ‘Guide Huts’ – we don’t have the same money that Scouts do!). Just as they’ve accommodated Mother & Toddler groups, Women’s Institute groups, fitness classes and many other community activities. We so appreciate this!

Second, is the idea that a leader should encourage young girls aged 5 or 7/8 to continue to use the old promise when they might not believe (or know what they believe yet) is in my mind, spiritually abusive. And it might not be what the parents want! I don’t think that the new promise excludes Christians at all, or Muslims or Jews or Sikhs or any other faith groups. In fact, it encourages girls to make a commitment to exploring their personal values and beliefs.

Third, is the idea some have made about having two promises. I’m against that, because I think this is the big area where Christians historically have made a real mess of things. I remember having a conversation with my Pastor about one of the saddest sights in Edinburgh: Holy Corner. At a crossroads stands 4 churches on different corners of the intersection. Why do you need 4 different churches in one place? Because of disunity. Let’s find the things we agree on and be united with One Promise for EVERYONE! One that everyone can say truthfully, and make an honest commitment to! That’s what Girlguiding has done.

The Telegraph quoted a lady called Jem who said: “The pack leader’s insistence on keeping the old promise excludes me and any atheist girls from the troop, or asks us to lie when making the promise, something that surely goes against the Guiding principles.

That second part there is what bothers me most. Because lying when making a promise is not just against the principles of Guiding and Scouting (part of the Guide law is that ‘A Guide is honest and can be trusted‘). It also goes against what I understand, as a follower of Christ, to be against the teaching of the bible too.

We had our first day back on Wednesday at Senior Section. All 6 girls made a return and were so excited to be back (or they did a really good job of pretending to be if they weren’t – ha ha!). We had a new seventh member coming for the first time. We had an eighth new member apologetically e-mail me saying she couldn’t come this Wednesday but really wanted to join. A ninth girl e-mailed me last night after meeting some of the girls asking if she could join our group too! I’d made the girls folders to record their progress with the ‘Look Wider’ programme and used this is a base for planning their activities for the coming term.

Senior Section prep

Here’s some of what they decided to do:

A Pizza and Pyjama Party (they want to make the pizzas themselves)

Tie Dyeing t-shirts

Hallowe’en party

Diwali night

and…they want to go back on the Ferris Wheel at Christmas time, and re-do their Promise. I’m going to have to gear myself up for that one because this is what happened last year!

Some of the girls are thinking about exploring their beliefs by going to church as part of the ‘Personal Values’ octant of the Look Wider programme, as they asked Jenny and I what sort of things they could do for that octant. As I’ve said before, some of the girls while we were discussing the promise confessed they weren’t sure what they believed, or that they’d like to go to a church because their families do but they find the teaching there irrelevant or disagree with some of the messages being put out there by prominent people representing Christianity which takes stances on social issues such as homosexuality or women’s health they disagree with. I have girls who are intrigued by other faith beliefs or realise they know little about them. I have girls who regularly go to church and know they believe in God. I have girls who respect people’s belief in God but have looked into it all and know they don’t believe in a God at all.

And we all get along. We might have different beliefs about some things, but we’re ONE UNIT. We’re proud to be members of Girlguiding.

And these girls are AMAZING. The four of them who were in S4 and S5 kicked serious butt in their exams before the summer, one is now in college, the other three are still at school and looking into university options. One is doing her Duke of Edinburgh Award (she says the expedition was the worst experience of her life…but she sucked it up and got through it). Two of them have just finished their Baden-Powell Challenge Awards as they’ve come up to Senior Section. Six of them volunteer as young leaders and have a great rapport with the kids/young people they work with each week. One of them is volunteering to help tutor younger pupils at her high school. All of them are involved with a range of different extra curricular activities from playing instruments, to costume design for drama groups, to singing, ballet, badminton and being a first aid cadet…

They are caring, compassionate and stand up for injustice. Don’t tell me that not believing in God means they have a dodgy moral compass or that because they promise to be ‘true to themselves’ means they act selfishly. Their actions prove otherwise, and to me actions always speak louder than words.

 

**Update: I have since watched the segment on The Wright Stuff televised this morning on Channel 5. I was totally shocked by the lack of research and tweeted as I watched, totally understanding why my facebook had blown up with raging Guiders and volunteers wanting to throw stuff at their TV screens!

Some points:

1. Girlguiding did not change the promise ‘to gain more members’. It did so after a consultation which happened after many existing members expressed their discomfort about the wording of the promise, and their wish to be able to mean the promise they were making.

2. The logo shown  is not our current logo.

3. The oath is not usually said at the beginning of every meeting, though certainly it is discussed through the activities we do in all sections. This oath is known as ‘The Guide Promise’ and is said at a ceremony when someone joins a section of Guiding. For example, I made it as a Brownie, a Guide, a Young Leader, a Ranger and as an Adult Leader.

4. We don’t have ‘troops’. We have ‘units’ or a ‘Brownie Pack’ or a ‘Guide company’. Troops are what the Scouts have.

5. We had a consultation, and we wanted ONE promise that could include everyone rather than having 2 (or more)

6. We did not ‘get rid of the Queen’. Our new promise changed the line ‘to serve the Queen and my country’ to ‘serve the Queen and my community’ – which incorporated a line from the promise that Rangers and Young Leaders make.

7. ‘to be true to myself and develop my beliefs’ is encouraging girls NOT to be ashamed of what they believe.

8. We were not losing members. In fact in the last 2 years 16,000 new members have joined Girlguiding in the UK. And there’s more on the waiting lists.

9. Girlguiding and Scouting was never a recognised ‘religious organisation’, though true Christian principles were (and still are) the influence on the core of Girlguiding and Scouting (caring for creation, treated those as you’d wish to be treated). Robert Baden-Powell always incorporated other religions as Scouting and Guiding spread as a worldwide youth movement. He didn’t keep it limited to Christianity.

I am sad that the producers and people talking on the show didn’t know anything of the history of guiding, the Consultation, not to mention that this debate is being shown like…9 months after the consultation began, and 2+ months after the new promise was announced. **

Quote of the Week – Week 25

So, this week has been crazy.

I didn’t have time to write a reflection on QOTW.

Especially as I have 1hr 45 mins to shower, wash hair, shave my legs and pack my rucksack. oh, and go to the supermarket for batteries, snacks and baby wipes before I leave for Cornwall.

IMGP0553

That is the quote of the week… (the Gandhi one)

Discuss!

(and have a lovely weekend as I might not get access to internet until Monday night!)

The New Guide Promise

Yesterday I came home to the news that after January-March’s consultation on the Guide Promise, a decision had been made. The promise is changing. Two thoughts sprang to mind. Firstly I was relieved I hadn’t said to Jo to get some more promise cards when she was at the Guide Shop this week. Secondly, I was pleased that the 3 main points I’d hoped would change/stay the same, did.

All members of Guiding had been told to keep quiet until the media announcement today. But as the clock struck twelve the articles started appearing. You know that saying ‘Don’t believe what you read in the papers!‘ – well, today just proved why you shouldn’t. I’ve been utterly appalled this morning as I’ve seen such terrible misleading journalism in tv, online and on paper. First Guiding and Scouting isn’t the same thing (you wouldn’t believe how many newspapers had pictures of girls dressed in Scout uniform). Some people had used pictures of the Old logo and old uniform from over a decade ago. One newspaper droned on about our CEO ‘Julia’ (that’ll be Julie Bentley then!) and her previous job. I haven’t seen one piece of unbiased journalism, and it’s been very unhelpful.

You might remember me writing about the promise back in January. A number of our girls were not comfortable with the wording and what it would mean they were promising to do. I was uncomfortable with allowing and encouraging people to make a promise to a God I avidly believe in that they might not believe in.

So let me take the promise piece by piece to explain why I like it, and why I believe it is a better reflection of what the core values of Girlguiding are. These are my own opinions and is my own interpretation and understanding of the words that are going to be used come September.

I promise that I will do my best:

Let’s start here. I promise is a serious statement to make. It’s a vow, an oath. The words following it should be meant and not taken lightly if you are promising to apply them to your life. We’re not perfect people, so we don’t promise that we will definitely do something, but we make a public commitment that we’re going to do our best to keep our promise!

To be true to myself and develop my beliefs,

This replaces ‘To love my God’. Now, ‘God’ was allowed to be replaced with another word for God (e.g. Allah) if appropriate. However, this was not great for girls who didn’t believe in God or just weren’t sure if they did or not. In fact I know at least one of my girls when we were looking at the promise last Autumn confessed ‘I don’t know if I’m a Christian or not‘.

Exploring spirituality (or as my current counselling training would say ‘exploring the transpersonal aspect’) is important and has always been a core part of Girlguiding and children’s education. Even as a youth and children’s leader in a church context, I would not be comfortable unless we allowed children and young people to ask questions and choose whether or not they believe or don’t believe in something. It’s also important that we allow people to change their beliefs. One of my friends from when I went to Guides used to go to church as a teenager, and is now an atheist. I used to be an agnostic, now I am a Christian.

To be true to ourselves, is key part of having integrity. Girls with faith beliefs should be encouraged to stay true to them even if some of it seems ‘uncool’ to their peers. Equally girls who have no faith beliefs should not feel they have to pretend to believe in something they don’t. I kind of think that ‘To be true to myself‘ is a bit like ‘On my honour‘.

Developing our beliefs means that we are always learning, always evolving and hopefully respecting each other despite differences in what we do or don’t believe in, and not teasing people for not knowing yet for sure.

Now girls who do not love a ‘God’ can keep the first part of the Guide law…. ‘A guide is honest…’

To serve the Queen and my community,

There was a chance that ‘the Queen’ would be taken out, but after the consultation most said they wanted to keep the Queen in. She is our patron, and I think that is great. I’m not sure how I’ll feel if we have a King in future mind you! ;)

One of the things I could never understand was why Senior Section said ‘to serve my community’ but the rest of us didn’t, when a huge part of Girlguiding has always been serving our communities and making them a better place to be. In fact a big part of why I encourage girls to take part in Remembrance Sunday is how it brings communities together and encourages the older generation that even though we ourselves weren’t around when the World Wars occurred, we are working to remember what happened and standing by them in their losses.

As leaders, we are trying to serve our community by providing Guiding programmes in our areas. And community is much more understandable than ‘country’. Community can be local or global, and Guiding has always been a local and international organisation.

To help other people

This was in the old promise and remains the same. I think it’s self explanatory!

and To keep the  Guide Law.

This is the Guide Law:

A Guide is honest, reliable and can be trusted.

A Guide is helpful and uses her time and abilities wisely.

A Guide faces challenges and learns from her experiences.

A Guide is a good friend and a sister to all Guides.

A Guide is polite and considerate.

A Guide respects all living things and takes care of the world around her.

I realise that today, some are not happy with the news of this new wording. I was raging myself when I heard some of the comments from a lady from an organisation called Christian Concern (well, I’m a Christian and I have concerns about Christian Concern). I actually believe that they really missed the boat with this new promise because it is actually actively encouraging leaders to get the girls to think about the words they are saying, what they mean and how we support girls in applying that promise to their life. They are missing an opportunity to help girls keep that part of the promise to ‘develop their beliefs’ and help them learn about the faith they believe in. We have world culture and discovering faith badges for the purposes of girls learning about lots of different things in a way that is less prescriptive than a school curriculum. I also think some of these people representing ‘Christians’ need to take a good look at the bible and notice that the Christian God is one who does not believe in dictatorship but free will and choices. Oh, and community. :)

Today, I’m prouder than ever to be part of Girlguiding. I do not feel anymore that I need to be uncomfortable about my faith. I am happy that all our members can make the same promise honestly. I look forward to supporting our girls, present and future, to explore what it means to keep the promise they make.

I’ll end with this message from our Chief Guide…thanks Gill, for representing us so well! :)

Quote of the Week – Week 16

imgp2478

I’m not sure where this quote came from. I think I got it from a narration of an episode of One Tree Hill. It may have been written by one of their writers, in may have been used by them from a piece of literature as many of their narrations were.

There are times in life where I’ve lost my way on a journey. I’ve made poor choices. I’ve become overwhelmed. I’ve given up and found myself in a well of self pity. Sometimes, I get swept up in a wave of life and land somewhere without really knowing how I got there.

Going to university was like that. I sacrificed an awful lot of things I loved to be ‘successful’. I was hardened by the words spoken over me, and even more so by the inactions that spoke louder than the words. The first step was going to a different high school from my peers of Primary 7. I chose my high school. It was a fight to get there. After being bullied for being smart throughout my final years of primary school, I hoped going to a school in a nicer area where there would be kids from ‘good families’ and encouraged uniform (no more snobbiness about my clothes?) would be a great fresh start. Somewhere I could do well. I was so, so wrong. I still remember the time in my first year I got the highest maths marks in the year. There was a girl from one of the catchment schools that had always been the top of the class. People came up to me constantly for days when they found out I’d done better than her. The girl was lovely and congratulated me. She’d done very well too, and I respected her. Her friends however, were disdainful as they believed I shouldn’t have been able to do better than her. Don’t you know she always gets top? they told me. I was dumb, and I badly wanted to fit in and make friends. I lost my reason for doing well, and decided to stop trying to do my best, and just be ‘good enough’ so I wouldn’t get teased or face any negativity. It was only really in my final year that I began to work hard again. By that time, I had enough confidence in myself as a person not to care what my peers thought. Plus I had a good bunch of friends I could count on both in and outside of school. Then I began to fight for marks more out of rebellion and anger than anything else. I may have found my way, but I’m not sure I found my reason for the journey. It became all about getting away from certain people, not about fulfilling ambition or doing the things I loved.

Perhaps that’s why, surrounded by wonderful new friends and grasped a fantastic opportunity, I sat in my university halls in November 2001 bawling my eyes out wondering if I’d made a big mistake. I’d lost my passion – dancing – out of my own choice after fighting so hard for it, and missed it awfully. I didn’t know why I was studying what I was studying and suddenly had no idea what I was doing!

When I surrendered to my stubborn ways, and began to believe in God, things began to change. Prayer (and listening for God’s answers to the things I talked to Him about) began to give me clarity. I began to see the gifts I had that I didn’t know about before. I also began to see my weaknesses more clearly too. My faith helped me find my reason for my journey again, and not to be afraid to take a road less travelled.

Suddenly my destination changed from Geography teacher….to…? (I only knew it was to more informal education and maybe a bit of counselling along the way).

There were confusing detours – like jobs in social care, receptionist in a sexual health clinic. A change from an MA degree to a BSc degree (despite having dropped all science subjects when I was 16) and a move to the medical school. I thought I’d made it to my destination when I met my last boyfriend, got a ‘proper full-time grown-up’ job in Community Education. But no, I was soon back on the journey again…to Australia and then returning to the place I’d ran away from at 17.

I’m still unsure that I know my way for the journey, but I know at this point, I haven’t lost my reason for it.

And as long as I don’t lose my reason, I’m ok with not knowing the way.

:)

Quote of the Week – Week 6, guest starring…Rebecca!

Hi everyone! This week’s quote has been reflected on by my lovely online and now in-real-life friend, Rebecca. She has guest starred on my blog a few times before both as a writer , co-star in adventures like this one and co-mischief maker. I keep up with her mainly through her fabulous blog Making Memories & twitter. Most recently she founded the wonderful movement of ‘A Very Airmail Christmas‘ in honour of one of her patients, and I’m deliberately scheduling this post a day later than planned because today is Rebecca’s birthday!! Happy birthday Becca and thank you for another wonderful guest post…

IMGP0617
I have the typical type A personality. I like things planned and organised or I at least have to learn more about something before I start it. Otherwise I’ll be reluctant to have a go in the first place.

This quote speaks volumes to me. Looking back at MLK’s life it’s apparent he was very religious and led a life by example from the Bible. But I don’t think I need to be religious/spiritual in order for this quote to apply to my life processes. To me it says that you should always take the first step, with the faith that the rest of the staircase still exists, and that eventually you will reach your destination if you keep taking each step at a time.

Last year I made the very difficult decision to leave my first job since qualifying as a nurse in 2010. I was getting stressed, I was not developing my nursing skills how I wanted to and going to work was becoming a chore. I did not become a nurse to feel like that! On the other hand I was scared. Where do I apply to? What if I am not better supported in my next nursing role? What if I leave and realise my previous job was actually better? The perfectionist in me was doing somersaults and I kept telling myself I had to be better prepared for this next step.

Looking back I realised I never even took the first step, let alone the next one I thought I was on! But the more miserable I got the more I realised that this was a situation I could never be prepared for. I needed to have the courage to take the first step on the ladder, even if I could not see more than one or two steps ahead. As petrifying as it was I had to have faith that the top of the staircase existed. I just needed to have the belief I could climb the ladder and have faith that it would lead me to a better destination.

I am now in a much happier place. These are my new work colleagues and I look forward to working with them everyday.

I am now in a much happier place. These are my new work colleagues and I look forward to working with them everyday.

This motto can be used in so many areas of peoples lives! I remember two years ago my sister Nicola was telling me she wanted to start a family. Yet, she kept saying ‘it’s just not the right time at the moment.’ Then that summer they decided to quit the excuses, try and see what happened. Now 18 months later they have my nephew. Even though they did not know the outcome they knew if they did not take the first step in finding out they would never have become parents.

So what now? I have faith that the stairs are there and even though I don’t like the idea that sometimes you can’t see the top of the stairwell. The journey of taking the steps towards the top is half the fun, isn’t it?

The story behind the ink…

I realise a few people have not pieced together the what or why of my tattoo. On Tuesday evening I was at my friends’ home having dinner and we were reflecting on where life has taken us over the last 5 years. We were talking about the tattoo, as I had shown my friends Kathy & Vicky the design on my birthday. They know the journey because they were my sisters who supported me through it.

It all began 3 years ago.

I was down at a church in Watford with about 300 others to get our training and team building for going to South Africa a few months later. At the time, I had an infection in my gum which was causing my jaw to freeze or click out of place a lot. Near the end of the day, a guy felt God was saying to him that a few of us needed to be specially commissioned to for our trip, and one of those people had a problem with their jaw, and it had stemmed from a gum infection on bottom left molar.

Pretty specific. And no way I could deny I fitted the description.

I went forward, and some women prayed for me, and as soon as they begun praying I fell back onto the floor. No one pushed me, I hadn’t fainted and I hadn’t done it voluntarily!

While on the floor I had a vision of a woman wearing red, I sensed she was south African, and heard a word. I assumed it was a name at the time. (I later googled it, but I’d spelled it wrongly!)

Over the next few months, every obstacle believable stopped me from getting South Africa. To the point where my Mum said to me ‘There’s so much going wrong, maybe it’s a sign you shouldn’t be going, maybe if you go you’re going to get killed or raped or something’. 

To list the ones I remember: My passport application being denied 3 times (because of the photos), my payment not going through as my references got lost in transit, almost being denied a place because of food allergies, my team host getting ill so my original team had nowhere to go, getting a sinus infection and not  being able to get my second set of vaccines when I was supposed to, extra bills and debts…Even the day before we departed there had been a terrorist alert and Edinburgh airport had been shut for several hours. Oh, yeah, and finding out that my Dad was in court and could go to prison while I was in South Africa.

But I got there. And it turned out God had reasons for some of it.

On our second day while in the minibus during our orientation, I asked Calvin (an intern in the church) and Ntuks (a young pastor) if they knew anyone in with this name or if it was a word they knew.

Do you mean themba?‘ they asked

I said I guess that’s what I meant.

It’s a Zulu word – it means faith or hope or love’.

I was floored.

On Day 7 I injured my knee, and on Day 8 I was hopping around the Seed of Hope centre and was struggling to join in as we taught a song that became the kids favourite. The premise of the song is based around the story of Noah and the ark, and how to show God’s promised convenant with his people he puts a rainbow across the sky.

That day we came out, to find a rainbow across Bhekuwandle.

The next day, I met my woman in red.

At the time the blog readers who knew the story from March were leaving me tweets and comments about whether I’d met ‘the woman in red’ yet. So I was relieved she did exist! And that what I shared with her was an answer to something she had been praying about for a while.

After that, I wanted to remember what God did that year. Not only in asking me to trust Him that I was meant to go to South Africa, but the fact that I have no other explanation how a woman who had no knowledge of Zulu language could fall the ground, hear a random word, it turn out to be quite  a poignant meaning and in Zulu and be told something and see someone in a vision who she’d never met before then meet her 4 months later in another country.

It was bizarre.

And I wanted to remember.

Because there are days when I question my beliefs and think I’m totally mad. There are days when I wonder if God exists, then where the heck is He? (I actually think Kevin Bridges theory on this at 8:16 is more accurate than he maybe realises). Shitty things happen in life and I have no answers for why one person dies tragically and someone else experiences a medical miracle or by chance ends up not being in the plane they should have been on that crashed.

I just know there is always, always hope that good will come out of the crap.

I trust in that.

An extra bit to this story that made me feel a little bit emotional when I went to get my inking done is that on Tuesday evening, a friend of mine – in fact one of the people who supported me in getting to South Africa those years ago – text me to say that her friend’s daughter had died very suddenly with no explanation to why.

It’s difficult to trust in faith, hope or love when you hear news like that.

But I’ve seen the resilience that themba brings to people who have faced unimaginable pain and heartbreak.

And so now, I’ll always be reminded.

Even when I don’t want to be reminded – it’ll still be there.

Inked on my skin.

Trust. Hope. Faith. Love.

Themba.