Sunday, 20 October 2013

Which way?

Maybe it's because it's grey and rainy, and my usually favourite season of autumn 
is showing its unpleasant damp side. Maybe it's the recent changes in my life, or a 
lack of time spent with my Heavenly Father. Or maybe it's just from spending time 
in the presence of good friends facing exactly the same sort of questions. But 
something about life right now seems to be throwing into sharp illumination the 
vague,grey form my life appears to have taken on at the moment. I feel like Rachel,
Phoebe and Monica from Friends in the episode where Rachel realises she has no plan
in life, and Phoebe assents that this stage is 'floopy'. Yes, on one hand, my 
freedom means apparent doors of opportunity, adventure, and possibility ahead - 
but in real life, it usually means a misty fog lying ahead of me, with no clear 
path or even vague light to direct the way. 

What is it about this stage of life - post-university, pre-full blown career, 
marriage, family - that makes me, us, feel so directionless? Is it just that we're
so accustomed to having life directed by the education system, or the ties of 
family, that we are thrown by suddenly having to carve out a way for ourselves, by 

This sense of 'floopiness' can seep into every part of life - not just work/career, 
though for many of us that's the primary example. My year was one of the last who 
was still instilled with the mantra that one should go to university in order to 
get a good job. Now we're out in the real world, and this mantra has fallen flat 
on its face. Graduates are two-a-penny; degrees appear worthless without 
'experience'; that degree exploring how to make the world a better place seems
 kind of unecessary when we find our jobs wrapped up in writing e-mails and 
ordering stationary. The great, ambitious plans of falling into career out of 
university are unmasked as foolish preconceptions of an easy life.

There are all sorts of brilliant talks, books, articles, on guidance, and trusting 
God. I'm aware that so many of our problematic doubts or 'floopy' feelings can 
transpire because of our desire to know what lies ahead and to be in control. 
However, right now, those things don't concern me. I'm not asking for a map-out 
of the next 20 years; I'm just asking for some vague sense of where I go next - 
in careers, in geographical location, in pretty much every aspect of life. And 
I'll admit that I'm impatient; life is too short for me to sit around watching 
life and opportunities to live pass me by. Maybe I should accept that sometimes 
God only allows the fog to lift when we force ourselves to stop and wait on Him. 

At times like this, it is far too easy to allow the bleakness of the weather, 
the relative loneliness of post-studenthood life, and the vague mist shrouding 
all that lies ahead, to get the better of me and be overwhelmed by it. As ever, 
my only choice is to force myself to lift my eyes to Him who has seen the end 
from the beginning, and is intimately involved and actually caring about the 
direction of my life. I have to stand, and fight as hard as I can against the 
strong current which seeks to floor me in the face of uncertainty and options. 
I have a choice about the way ahead: I can put my fears and apprehension about 
the future into the hands of him who holds it all; or I can be washed up by the 
sheer enormity of the choices ahead. I need to choose to be comforted by the fact 
that, however I feel on a Monday morning, my life is not directionless, that I Am 
Not on my own in this, and that God Is still at work in my life, even if it feels 
like He's having an extended tea-break.

I have to continually remind myself that my trust is in Him who is eternally 
loving, who doesn't forget, or get overwhelmed, or 'drop the ball' on us. 
And that, therefore, my future is in the safest of hands, the most reliable of 
" is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." 
~ Hebrews 11:1

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

One Year On: Things I've learnt.

Today marks one year since Hannah and I arrived at our new home in south-east London to start the next stage of life. I cannot get over how much has changed since then – cue some emotional nostalgia.

We arrived in the middle of the Olympics, the whole city revelling in sun and sporting success. The playlist of those weeks was Emeli Sande and Florence & The Machine. We were introduced to Blackheath and watched Usain Bolt's 100 metre win on a sunny evening on the heath with locals.

A whole year on, I think I’ve learnt a few things about myself, the world, London, and life. I thought I’d fill you in....

1.      People DO (occasionally) smile on the tube. In fact, a man did actually speak to me once. But he was American, so maybe that doesn’t count. Similarly, in the early days I informed a colleague that I relished smiling at strangers on the tube – and that some actually smiled back. I was bluntly informed that “That’s cos they think you’re mental”. Well, at least she was honest. 
      Another thing I’ve learnt is that a morning commute essentially means you will be forced to share a highly un-British and uncomfortably small amount of space with complete strangers. This inevitably results in the unsociability that pervades London transport: the only way you can get through a train ride with your face in someone else’s armpit is to avoid all eye contact.

2.      After a whole year, working near travelling past the London Eye, South Bank and Westminster hasn’t got old yet. But having to shove through huge crowds of tourists all taking the same shot of Big Ben did, really quickly.

3.      I can manage a whole month living alone in a new city, without being found half-eaten by Alsatians (a concern at one point – see here)

4.      One of the most valuable things for getting settled into a new place is good friends and family to show you round – thank you Emily and siblings.

5.      No matter how cold it is outside, when on board a train you will need to remove almost all clothing to avoid sweating profusely.

6.      A good thing about our location is that people often want to stay over for the night. Guests include: Mim, Shepka, Luke, Fran & Miller, Lydia, Hannah, Tingley & Pete, Becky and Colette. Fortunate guests of Chateau Cope-Randerson will have become accustomed to Hannah’s ridiculously loud coffee maker, and my loud singing in the shower (actually, my loud singing full stop).

7.      Don’t dress up in a dragon onesie in front of your boss – unless you decide you care more about having fun than getting a promotion. Ditto, dalek costumes.

8.      The best place to go and think about the Big Things of life during your lunch break is Parliament Square. Even if it’s sleeting and 2° outside. Parliament Square is also a brilliant setting for a motivating walk to work – walking along past statues of Churchill, Abe Lincoln and Nelson Mandela really gears oneself up for a day of e-mails and stapling.

9.      On that note – unless you do a grad-scheme or ‘get lucky’, your first job out of uni will likely be occasionally interesting, but often boring. Once you start, you will realise just how little you know, and how young you feel (although dressing up as a Dalek probably didn’t help my case). The more you learn, the more you’ll realise your ignorance. But God has been showing me this year that it’s not what I do but who I am doing it for.

10.  The only way to walk in central London, is quickly. If you’re not going to walk quickly, get out of our way.

11.  In addition – something about London makes me more impatient. And perhaps, people generally. Maybe it is that Londoners have become so used to accessing whatever so quickly – materials, food, transport, entertainment – that even a brief wait is too long and perceived as an inconvenience.

12.  Google maps, Google maps, Google maps. Forget the London A-Z. This little treasure was the one thing that (usually) stopped me getting completely overwhelminghly lost in London, and the one thing that means I turn up to vaguely the right event venue at vaguely the right time.

13.  Going to church on your own for the first time is really daunting, even if you’re a Full-On Extrovert. Be especially friendly to the people who turn up looking awkward and new-ish. Unless you stay in the same place your entire life, one day it will be you.

14.  If your flatmate comes home excited after a wedding, chances are she got engaged whilst she was away.

15.  Don’t travel through central London, on your own, on New Years’ Eve. You will be forced to traipse up and down the Strand following policemens’ directions and be immersed in a shoving crowd of drunk revellers all trying to get home.

16.  Living with a hyper-organised person will, on the whole, make you more organised. Lists can be useful. Planning can be fun. (Oh gosh, who have I become?) Living with Hannah means making sure the toilet lid is kept down at all times (except, when you’re using it) and the DVDs are alphebetised – Richard, take note.

17.  In a similar vein, the past year of living with Hannah has also taught me that: 1) salad can be a tasty meal (provided it involves meat and the word ‘Epic’ is placed in front);  2) One can apparently never have enough couscous; 3) Made In Chelsea is ridiculous, but also shamefully addictive; 4) if your flatmate rearranges the entire living room furniture, the world does not actually end; 5) Don’t Ever Touch Hannah When She’s Hot; 6) The only way to plan a wedding 18 months in advance is with multiple spreadsheets.

18.  Things I have taught Hannah: 1) Spontaneity CAN be fun; 2) If I go too long without a hug I am prepared to chase her around the living room until she gives in; 3) I will happily shout ‘HANNYBEAR, WAIT FOR ME’ in public if I want to embarrass her at any point; 4) The Guardian is a normal newspaper and not only for hippies; 5) I am remarkably calm in a panic situation, say, when the brakes stop working whilst Hannah is driving.

19.  Working in central London will expose you to people who have a lot more than you and people with a lot less. Trying to remain content in every situation is difficult but valuable.

20.  Trafalgar Square is a fantastic location for a game of Where’s Thea.

21.  The journey between London and Birmingham is not all that long and completely worth it when there are lovely people to see at the other end.

22.  If the landlady tells you that your flat is in a quiet neighbourhood, what she means is that you won’t speak to your neighbours all year (except a fateful evening after the first day of the new job where upstairs’ flood leaks through to your flat). You will, however, be sharing a neighbourhood with people who get arrested under the terrorism act, and a man who enjoys blasting a single reggae song from his penthouse at bizarre times of night.

But I guess more than any of this, the most important thing I’ve learnt over the past year is that God is so incredibly, immensely faithful. He had to ‘throw me out of the nest’ (so to speak) for me to fly. A year ago, I was bewildered, daunted, fearful, and totally doubting what I was doing here (read my blog here). My mum pointed me to Exodus and the Israelites’ doubting God’s purposes for them after Egypt. I was forced to hold on and trust that God had a plan in this. Being dragged (kicking and screaming, as it sometimes felt) to London, by God, was exactly what I needed to get stronger, grow and have loads of exciting adventures. I’ve seen for myself that God can bring us out of the valleys, that he is the one who ‘restores my soul’. It was by being thrown so totally out of my comfort zone that I have flourished and come to really full-on love life again.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

I am Happy.

This month's blog comes with a disclaimer: there is a small chance that I am currently under the influence, that is, inebriated, with the heady, blissful fragrance of spring sunshine. 

That's right, after seemingly endless months of grey, freezing days, I am FINALLY enjoying a warm spring evening. At one point I truly did believe that the White Witch had returned to curse us with an eternal winter, but surely as my hope in Jesus has not been displaced, neither has my trust that spring would, finally, arrive.

I say I'm under the influence because it is shocking and (some might say) concerning how affected I am by this gorgeous sunny weather.

But, whilst fully accepting the role a healthy dose of much-needed vitamin D has played on my mood, I feel the need to declare that, aside from this,

I am happy.

I'm really happy.

I LOVE life.

It’s fair to say that anyone who's known me for a while knows that I would not always have said this, and I'm not the type of person to slap a fake smile on a crappy situation. I'm for authenticity - being real when things are tough, saying it as it is. I believe our hope in Jesus frees us to admit not only our blessings but our struggles and sorrows.

Last year, if I'm truly honest with you, a lot of the time I did not love life.
Sometimes (without being melodramatic), I severely disliked life. But just as I felt the need to be honest about that, I feel the need now to declare that right now, life is REALLY good. 

Most of the time, I'm not struggling with crippling anxiety. I'm peaceful and confident and fiercely determined to fight this beast.

I live in an amazing city. I LOVE it. Yes, you all get sick of me posting countless pictures of Big Ben. But I do it because I'm still so excited to be living and working in this iconic place. I'm amazed at this blessing, to not only have a job, one I can cope with, but where the people are friendly. Actually, most of the time my job is really pretty dull. But in this time and season, God's not only giving me an opportunity to develop important skills for working life, but is also teaching me about His ability to be glorified through all aspects of our work, however boring or menial.

I have amazing relationships that are life- and joy-giving, some that are deeply rooted and others that are in their infancy.

I'm at a place in life where, crazily enough, despite not knowing what my 'next step' is and without a plan, I am happy, peaceful and content. Within the last year, I've come from a place of sometimes despair, through fear, uncertainty, and through to a current place of flourishing and fruitfulness.
If you look back to my blog from 6 months ago, I was feeling daunted and very apprehensive about this new place God had brought me to. And yet embracing this new place and season of life has, I believe, been God’s way of bringing me out into a spacious and fruitful place, one where I can grow.

For that the only One to be praised is the living God, who daily shows his power in restoring broken things for His glory, and making beautiful things out of ugly situations.

When things are really good like this, I get scared – things can’t be this good, I can’t be this healthy – surely something will go wrong. And yet, in Jesus, I have the freedom to fully embrace the fact that this peace and happiness may only be a season, and could be interrupted by sorrow or relapse. However, that’s not for me to know. Right now I’m in a place of flourishing, happiness, and gratitude for all of this.

I have to remind myself that my happiness is ultimately not grounded in whether the sun shines or life looks sunny, but in my unshakeable Saviour and the hope I have in Him.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

On Love.

“They say that Home is Where the Heart is
- I guess I haven’t found my home”

The Valentines season - and all the gooey sincere and not-so-sincere sentiment it brings with it - helped me to re-evaluate my own thoughts on love. Now this is by no means a put-down of love, committed relationships, marriage or any of that malarkey. But when cards and songs scream out about ‘Finding The One’, it suddenly dawned on me that, mercifully, I don’t need to do that.

And not even because ‘ I'm okay on my own’ – I'm not. I can admit that I needed saving.  
I was made out of love and to love, by a relational God - I can’t do life without relationships. 

However, I realised recently the incredibly freeing fact that I have already found ‘the One’ – (or we may argue, He found me). I’m not on the look-out for that ‘special someone’ any more. He came and found me, loved me when I was unlovely and hated him, and died that I might be able to enjoy this special relationship with Him. I've never known a love like it, and never will. I HAVE found my home, my heart does have a resting place and I know it’s safe in His hands (to quote Phil Wickham).

So whilst I might see lots of beauty and good things in relationships and marriage, I don’t need to pine for them as my ‘end goal’. I already have it, that thing that fulfils its promise to satisfy. And I've been promised that I’ll never be separated from this love. WEHEY!! This is incredible news, surely.

This doesn't mean I'm always happy being single and Do Not want to get married. It’s just helped me a little to re-evaluate my attitude towards those things. I don’t need to be pitied by people in relationships (any more than I should pity them) – we are both blessed. I haven’t ‘pulled the short straw’. In his book The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller highlights a number of often-used reasons why Christian singles are not married. (My favourite is, ‘“As soon as you’re satisfied with God alone, he’ll bring someone special into your life” – as though God’s blessings are ever earned by our contentment”).

Keller also quotes a woman who says, 
“I am not single because I am too spiritually unstable to possibly deserve a husband, nor because I am too spiritually mature to possibly need one. I am single because God is so abundantly good to me, because this is his best for me... I may meet someone and walk down the aisle in the next couple of years because God is so good to me. I may never have another date... because God is so good to me” (Paige Benton Brown, in Keller pp 110-111, 119). 

This has really helped me to have a more realistic view of marriage and of singleness. Yes, it’s hard sometimes when everyone around you appears to be loved-up (in restaurants, clubs and - my pet peeve - on Underground escalators. Just GET A ROOM)...... anyyywayy.... But it’s also hard for married people when they want to go out and have a drink with other single friends, but need to put the washing on for their spouse or look after the kids. Swings and roundabouts.

Ultimately, the thing that will keep me going if I'm not feeling so chirpy about singleness, is that first paragraph – and the love I know I already possess. I don’t require anything more. Maybe a romantic relationship would be a nice added bonus. But I guess it’s trying to find contentment in every situation, like Paul says (Philippians 4:11-13). And, moreover, to trust the one who has freely given me such beautiful and abounding love, that “I may meet someone and walk down the aisle in the next couple of years because God is so good to me. I may never have another date... because God is so good to me”.

For more thoughts on love, 
  • Read Tim and Kathy Keller, 'The Meaning of Marriage'. It is the best book I have read on relationships, singleness and marriage. It is FANTASTIC. Go read it.
  • Check out for Paige Benton Brown's whole article

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

'Be My Valentine'

Don’t worry, folks. This isn't going to be like my Christmas blog.

For starters, I actually like Christmas.... no but really, this isn't going to be a rant.

The ‘Big Day’ hits us next Thursday, meaning that since mid-January (but especially noticeable this week) we have been subjected to red envelopes, an overkill of hearts and teddybears, and a load of largely useless and slightly trashy love-related gifts. Including, for instance, a piece of plastic which promises to stamp hearts into your toast. Hearts? On a piece of toast? Come on. It’s not exactly a handy gadget, is it?

I'm sure I'm in no way alone in inwardly wanting to vom at this overbearing display of genuine (and not-so-genuine) affection for one’s Valentine. A phrase from our beloved Single Lady (no, not Bridget Jones – the other one) – Miranda – has been circling through my mind the last few days: “I don’t know who Saint Valentine was, but I hope that he died alone, surrounded by couples”. Fair play.

And I know what you’re all thinking. Especially you couples/married ones. “This has ‘Bitter Singleton’ written all over it”. And due to this not being the case, I feel the need to set the message straight. Firstly, Valentines as an idea is really sweet. And yes, I'm sure Valentine’s season would be less overbearing if I had a hot date lined up and roses delivered to the door, but even with that alternative reality, there is something undeniably superficial, disingenuous perhaps, about the Valentines season. This is at least partly to do with the fact that (and NO, this is not bitterness speaking), it has become such a big deal through the fuelling of the ‘season’ by card shops, gift shops, flower shops, restaurants, hotels etc. Kind of like the way Christmas has been taken over. Except (and yes, this is bitterness speaking), Christmas is not an exclusive holiday where one is meant to feel happy or sad depending on whether they have been given a card saying ‘Bee Mine’ (cringe).

It’s not like Valentines is still just a quaint way of telling someone that you like them, or reminding someone that you love them. I was in a card shop today and saw two different cards which simply read – no joke – “Your willy makes me happy”. REALLY, people?!! Come on. We were made for more than this.

If Valentines is about two people who deeply love each other (and, preferably, can express that without sucking each other’s face’s off in public), then I'm all for it. It’s sweet and how can you not be happy when two people fall in love?

However, if and when Valentines is about finding a randomer to send a card/pair of knickers to, ‘because it’s Valentines’, then all that does is expose our desperate need to be wanted and desired.

That’s an understandable human emotion. But why go searching in that way when all the love you ever needed is available to you? I know someone who has loved you since before the creation of the world, and showed it by giving Himself up so that we could know Him and know His love. That might not feel as ‘warm and fuzzy’ as receiving a red envelope next Thursday, but it surely counts for a heck of a lot more.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Keeping warm against the January blues

“Meaningless! Meaningless!... Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

I really hope you enjoyed that encouraging, positive beginning to the blogs of 2013.

Now let’s be honest here, I’m generally a fairly positive person (I even get chastised for enthusiasm at work). However, yesterday was officially deemed to be ‘Blue Monday’, the most depressing day of the year (or something like that). 
    Now who knows how they reached that kind of consensus (and if you ask me, the way to perk everyone up on a Monday morning is not to announce that this is the day everyone will feel depressed). But I’m also going to be honest and say that this verse did pass through my mind as I trudged home tonight through the slushy remnants of snow and constant freezing temperatures.

It’s stupidly cold, and whilst London is still exciting, I guess in some senses the novelty is wearing off (well it had to, sooner or later). Don’t get me wrong, I’m still very grateful to be here and I LOVE London – but aside from anything else, it’s too darn cold and dark to do much once a day at the office is done.
   5 months into the job, and I start questioning where I am and where I’m going. Actually, let’s just do that for the whole of life. WHERE ARE YOU GOING IN YOUR LIFE? Eh? EH?

But just take one minute to stop; breathe; fix my eyes on Him again, and the blindingly obvious suddenly dawns on me, yet again. 
   This whole putting my future (and come to that, my present) in God’s hands and for His glory – it’s not about my career development, or wearing a big white dress, or future happiness (whatever that even looks like). It’s about Him and me, doing life right now, for His glory. Right now, I don’t even have to be able to see further than tomorrow. He goes before me, and that makes everything possible.

And, breathe.