Train Inspiration…

BANG.

The sound woke Lorna with a jolt and her head turned sharply towards the window, fully expecting to see a horrific sight outside. Slowly, her pulse returned to normal as she realised it was just a fellow passenger shutting a tray. The eerily foggy, bland country flew past and Lorna stared blankly at it, her mind forever working at drawing parallels between the place she had left behind and the place she was travelling to.

A medley of emotions seemed to be clamouring for her attention, and she chose to ignore all of them and focus instead on the slightly cute boy a little further down the train…but of course, he reminded her of her little brother and she instead lapsed into a reminiscent memory of their first train trip together, when he’d spent most of the time with his nose pressed against the window and the remaining time drawing what he’d seen. They always knew he’d be an artist, because he was drawing imaginary worlds rather than playing in them when he was a toddler.

The sudden presence of the conductor snapped Lorna out of her 13 year old self and back into her 25 year old self, and she laughed and joked with him until he’d moved on, returning finally to a fitful state of half-rest. When she awoke, she would be in a new place with a new mission and no time to remember Robert and his child-like wonder at the world around him. Her wonder had been lost long ago, and in many ways she was glad of it because it made what she was about to do a whole lot easier.

In the meantime, the train trundled on, lives were lived outside its walls, and a family way back in the North took down their ‘congratulations’ banners with a heavy heart and a tear in their eyes.

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Our Journey in the NHS

Today is apparently World Cancer Day. We have had so much progress in the treatment of cancer, yet it still affects so many people in the world. Every family has been touched by it and to me, it feels like it is all around me at the moment. It pains my heart to hear all the stories of people suffering, having to go through gruelling treatments in the fight to stay alive.

One of these amazing, brave people has been my grandma, and the funny thing is that it all began with a chest infection.

Over the past 10 months, but especially during the last 4, she has been in and out of three hospitals, two clinics and meetings with consultants from pretty much every specialisation there is. And as the appointments increased, it became more difficult, and she became less unable to drive to them. And that’s where I come in, and where our journey started.

I’ve never been a hospital person. I think, before all this, I had only been in several times; when my siblings were born and when my grandma was in with a broken femur. The super clean and sterilised environment freaks me out a little bit and so I avoid it wherever possible. But now I was finding myself staring at waiting room walls almost every week.

It hasn’t been a pleasant journey, but now we are coming out the other end (hopefully!) with a successful operation complete and a grandma recovering and happier than she has been in a long while. And that is largely down to the gold star service delivered by every member of staff we have encountered in our travels.

The nurses have always been jovial and kind to my grandma, even when it’s the end of a long day and we’re the last ones on the list. The receptionists have been friendly, even giving my grandma reassurance on what was about to happen. The consultants have explained as best they could what was going on whenever we saw them.

When we were told the C word, there was the consultant and two nurses present, and when my grandma welled up so did they. The surgeon carrying out the operation described what was going to happen using¬†a diagram of a human, and drew hair on because ‘it looked like a man, but now it looks a bit more like you.’ We got a file full of information and a number to ring any time for advice or someone to chat to.

When we went for the pre-op appointment, we got a cup of tea while we were waiting to see the specialist nurse. All the staff were completely ready and willing to give my grandma any answers she needed. She’s a bit of a talker but they listened and sympathised.

On the day of the operation, everyone on the admissions ward were welcoming and were constantly making sure my grandma was okay. When she got into the chair to be wheeled to theatre, the nurse covered her in blankets because ‘it was cold in the hallways’. The theatre assistant had been working for just under an hour and told us his pedometer had registered one and a half miles, yet he was joyful and continuously engaged my grandma in conversation.

After the operation, the surgeon (who had carried it out and who was one of the experts in his field) called me to tell me it had gone well and she was doing okay. I was incredibly nervous when I learned she was in ICU, but the nurses there were amazing and updated me on her progress. The next day when I came to visit her, she was in a chair smiling and laughing with all the nurses and looking more peaceful than she had in a long time. No TV, even though it was offered to her, because ‘she liked watching everything that was going on’. A nurse came over and noticed her back was bare so fetched her dressing gown.

Our journey isn’t over yet, and I am sure there will be many more waiting room walls to stare at. But I will say this: it took 3 weeks from diagnosis of cancer to treatment. It has been shorter than that for others who I know. I cannot fault a single aspect of my grandma’s care. Even though they are overstretched (my grandma had to stay in ICU an extra day because there were no beds on the ward) the nurses are never short with you, always looking to see how they can help, very lovely to visitors (because I get that we can be in the way!) and they really, really care about their patients.

I’ve never been a hospital person. And I still don’t really care about going there. But if I needed it, I would be completely happy to go there and, as my grandma says, ‘put my life in their hands’.

Because they’d lovingly take care of it.

Living

Tick. Tock.
Looking around. Watching, feeling, experiencing.
Looking down. Aching, pleading, sighing.
Looking back. Analysing, ruminating, healing.
Looking forward. Dreaming, pondering, yearning.
Looking in. Evaluating, changing, growing.
Looking up. Thanking, loving, questioning. Believing.
Living.

Life can be hard sometimes. It can be the most exhilarating experience, or it can feel difficult just to breathe. But whatever you may be going through, it is so important to remember that the hard parts of life are just as normal and just as necessary as the good parts, even though that’s not the way life was originally designed.

Thankfully, where there is darkness, there is always light. And the light will always overcome the darkness.

I have seen evidence of it already this year, both in my life and the life of others, for it outshines all situations (and mine isn’t too bad – I could have much worse than a long distance relationship!) and it is constant and dependable.

Want to know more?
http://www.alpha.org
Or contact me if you’re in the area and come to mine ūüôā

2016 – a year with no fear

It’s been over a year since I last wrote on this blog, or even visited it. Since then my life has changed dramatically in every area. This year I am getting married and moving to a different country. I still work for the Storehouse and love it, but I also have a second job in my church which keeps me on my toes too! I’ve learned many lessons, and forgotten many lessons, and relearned some. I’ve had days where I’m full of joie de vive, and days where I struggle with even getting out of bed.

Such is life.

As we move into a new year, social media is increasingly filled with people reminiscing about the year passed and anticipating the year ahead. If someone owned copyright on the phrase ‘there have been many highs and lows’ they would have made an absolute fortune in the past few days. And people who write this aren’t wrong, as every year has highs and lows, and every year people write ‘it’s been a year of highs and lows’, and they are observing a truth. But there’s something more to this observation.

This new year, I have been over in Norway. For New Years Eve, we had a family dinner then headed out a little before midnight to watch the fireworks. The house we were in was conveniently situated on a hill, and the view was filled with fireworks (and lots of smoke from them!). The sight was wonderful and I stood in silence, admiring the variety of colours and how they lit up the sky.

Naturally, my thoughts turned to what 2015 had been like, and what I might expect from 2016. But before I could think about any specific events or things, I was overwhelmed by one thought.

A lot has happened in 2015, but I’ve made it through and I am okay.

That’s not to say my year has been horrific because it definitely hasn’t. I simply mean that through everything, both good and bad, I have been okay. I have survived. I can’t express how amazing this thought was to me as I stood in the cold air. And then it occurred to me that no matter what happens this year, good or bad, I will be okay too.

We humans are quite good at being resilient. I have faced hard things this past year. People I know have faced harder things still. But we are still here, and we are still okay. And we may try and fail, we may face illness and attacks and even death, but we will still be okay.

Because our lives really aren’t our own. We can choose what we fill them with, what paths we take, but we can’t control everything about them. I believe there is a God who does that; who works all things for our good. And this doesn’t mean stopping bad things from happening. I’m reading a devotional at the moment about what we do when God’s plans don’t make sense to us, and He feels distant and cold. I’ve experienced that. And the most interesting thing I have learned is that the root Latin meaning of ‘comfort’ is ‘together-strength’. Not ‘making your life easy’ but ‘being with you and being strong in every situation’. I like that. God’s comfort is not making our paths easier but instead is the knowledge that we face nothing alone. And if we face all things with Him, and He is stronger than all things, then we will be okay no matter what.

This makes me feel free in a way I haven’t felt before. Life is the way it is. We can change some things about it – the activities we do, the places we live, the people we hang out with – but there will always be highs and lows. And if you fail, or have a hard situation to face, even if it doesn’t feel like it you will come out on the other side and you will be okay. Even if the other side means you are no longer on this earth – because then you get to experience heaven instead!

This year, I am going to face my fear of engaging with life. I have been far too comfortable with my little zone I have made for myself, with no need to use my brain or push myself to new limits. Somehow I think being married and living in a foreign country may help this! But as I move into a year where I feel more like a genuine adult than I have before, I am determined to live by the truth that I am never alone and I have nothing to fear.

Come join me.

Simplicity

Hello there, friends. It’s been a while since I posted. A lot has happened in a year; I travelled to new places, discovered new passions, found a dream to pursue and learned more about myself than I have in the 22 years preceding it. I’ve left all my old posts up because I do believe there’s a lot of truth in them, and I tended to only write when I really felt called to and so maybe they still help people, every now and again. But I hope to blog more often now, sometimes about deep things and sometimes about little questions I’ve been pondering that don’t really make a huge difference to life but still are something I want to share.

(Just as a side note; writing this feels so comfortable, like coming home, like sinking into a warm bath. I’ve missed my blog. What a joy to be doing it again.)

Anyway, along with this first blog post in a long time is a commitment kinda from myself, to myself. But you can join in if you want to…in fact, I encourage you to. Because this is a truth.

Life is so complex that we forget why we do it.

I constantly start new projects. I believe at that moment, truly, that this will be a great thing that I’ll become really good at and it will fill that gap I’m still struggling with, the gap of not having a ‘thing’. So I begin knitting. I start learning guitar. I buy Mandarin books to become fluent. I try writing an entire novel in a month. I sign up for an online TEFL course. I zero in on new projects at work; a handbook, a database, even a new crisis centre. I volunteer to help out at different events. I even decide I’m going to start watching 24 from season 1, episode 1.

Of all these projects I have legitimately started, all of them since August (with the exception of Mandarin), I have completed zero. (Although, to be fair and honest, the scarf is getting there.) I’m still on module 3 of TEFL. My Mandarin books are gathering dust. I pick up my guitar and play the same 4 chords over and over. My novel is floundering at 9,000 words and I’ve already given up on that. In fact, I’ve given up on all of them somewhere in my head and my heart.

Every few months I have a major panic about my life; why it seems to be going nowhere, why I have all these unfinished projects, why I’m even here. Like this month; I was supposed to be in Hong Kong until the end of December, but I left and returned home because I felt that was what God was telling me to do. Why? What have I come back for? I get up, I do my morning routine – walk dogs, eat breakfast, get dressed – I go to work, I come home from work, I do an afternoon routine – clean/iron/food shop/knit/watch TV – I make dinner, I shower, I go to sleep, I wake up and repeat. What is even the point? Does this routine even benefit anyone else except myself?

I’m slightly lucky in that my job does benefit others; working for the Storehouse means I get to help give food, clothes and furniture to people in the area that desperately need it. So I can derive some comfort from that, but it doesn’t¬†feel¬†like I’m helping; I just answer the phone and write names on delivery lists, names of real people that I never meet but ring up to ask if we can deliver on this day, trying to sound cheery and joyful so they feel a little better about life even though some of them are in horrible situations. Working in a job like this makes it easy to guilt-trip myself; how can I be concerned about something as little as whether my activities have value when these people are struggling just to survive? How lucky I am to be able to have the luxury to worry about whether I should give more to charity!

In the midst of this manic thinking, in the lethargy and lack of motivation that comes from feeling that chores and activities have no point to them, a little voice whispers quietly as I pour out my frustration to God.

It’s not about what you do, it’s why you do them.

‘And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for¬†you serve the Lord Christ.’ – Colossians 3:23-24

At one point, during my DTS, we had a week which we spent in the middle of nowhere. We had to work as a team to survive, and it involved a lot of physical and mental strength. One day we were learning about servanthood, and about doing all things for God and not for ourselves. We had to do some cleaning and tidying around where we were staying. It was hard work but the focus was so clearly on Jesus that the chore became a job.

But it was more than that. During that week away, we had no access to the internet. No phones, no laptops, not even a watch. Our focus became solely on the activities of the week and on Jesus. Our lives became suddenly very simple, and life was no longer about whether our activities mattered because everything mattered, everything was done for Him.

Our lives cannot be that simple in everyday life. We need to have our phones to communicate, our laptops to do work (in my case anyway). But I think the challenge we face in our day-to-day lives is to use our time wisely. If I spend half an hour on Facebook, what does that accomplish except to make me wish I was on holiday or out with friends or generally having a more exciting life? Yet it’s not about starting hundreds of ‘meaningful’ projects just to make you feel like your life is counting for something; it’s about spending each day making the decision (often over and over throughout the day) to live in His presence and use our time for His purposes. I have to work every day, but I can use that time to muddle through a funding application whilst watching the clock or I can use it to be with Jesus and let Him guide my use of my time at work, focusing on what He wants me to focus on.

All this to say (the short version) that I have been overcomplicating my life to try and make it mean something when¬†it already does because it belongs to Jesus.¬†I make myself busy and waste my days on Facebook or Netflix because I don’t want to spend time actually evaluating my life and seeing it doesn’t mean anything, but Jesus looks at my life and sees it as a blank canvas with a million possibilities. He’s just waiting for me to realise it and to turn back to Him, to rekindle my first love and stop running around and to just¬†rest in Him.

So I’m going to simplify. I’m taking a Facebook fast beginning tomorrow. I’m going to spend time seeking, praying and rediscovering the value of my life. I’m only going to do the projects I truly feel led to! And throughout it all I am going to remind myself that I do it for Him, not for me. Join me. See what He leads you to drop, to take up, to become passionate about. He might surprise you!

Rachel x

Stillness and solitude

‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ – Psalm 46:10

Autumn is my favourite time of year to go for walks.

This is because it isn’t so warm you overheat, but it isn’t so cold you’d rather hibernate in your house than venture outside. There are loads of leaves scattered on the ground, which make the best crunching sound ever when you walk on them. The air is crisp and clean and you feel rejuvenated when you take a deep breath in. The colours autumn brings are stunning – rich, earthy colours, golden leaves, deep greens from the evergreen trees all mixed together. I always feel so healthy when I get back, and it makes snuggling under a blanket with a cup of hot chocolate that much more satisfying. But most of all, it’s the perfect weather to go for long wanders through the fields and just think – about life, people, things you have to do, the world around you, any problems you have…the list is endless. And I am blessed enough to live in a place which has loads of really amazing footpaths, giving me a multitude of different walks of varying lengths which I can embark on at any time.

One thing I love doing is walking on my own, either with classical music or no music at all, and just clearing my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I love going for walks with other people too, but there’s something about being totally alone and away from the distractions of the computer, the TV, the mobile phone, the jobs that need doing and the pressures of having to generate conversation with people. For the past four years of uni I have shied away from being alone, even actively hating it at times. I constantly surrounded myself with people, which I’m definitely not complaining about – it made for a fantastic four years and I’ve made the most amazing friends. But somewhere along the way I (cliche alert) lost sense of who I was, what I enjoyed doing apart from socialising, what passions I had that made me who I was. Then I graduated and moved back home, and suddenly I didn’t have the mental demands of a degree and my circle of friends reduced considerably. I found myself with a huge amount of spare time on my hands and no idea how to fill it, because I never had to before. I spoke about this a little in a previous post, but I wanted to expand on it a little because that post was written when I was still finding the person I am when alone, and now I’ve learnt a whole lot more which I wanted to share – and also I haven’t posted in a while!

To say I spend all my time alone would be a lie. I’ve started getting involved in more at my new home church (not so new now!) and I’m horseriding again, which has been so amazing – I talk about it whenever I can and it is a constant source of joy in my life, as well as something totally challenging! I also spend time seeing people and hanging out with my family which is really nice especially as I’ve been away for so long. But I realised quite early on that I’m used to having deadlines and things to do, so I’ve channeled that into fun things I can do which are totally on me and which I can use to get creative and prevent my brain from becoming mush because I’m not writing essays and doing uni work any more! So this month (October) I did the Innocent Big Knit (see http://www.thebigknit.co.uk for more info) as a way to begin knitting, which I learnt briefly when I was younger but then totally forgot about. I managed 10 hats and now I’ve started a scarf (which is going well so far!) and I have a hat lined up and perhaps some gloves if that goes well too! I find it such a release – you have to concentrate solely on what you’re doing to remember where you’re up to, and so everything else disappears from your mind! And you end up with something you can actually use! When I get back from Hong Kong I’m going to try making my own clothes too – my mum and stepmum both used to do it, there’s a place near us which sells beautiful fabrics and patterns to make outfits, and I’ve been assured it isn’t that hard!

Next month (so tomorrow, November!) I’m doing the National Novel Writing Month…writing 50,000 words in one month!! I signed up spontaneously and I have no idea what my plot will be and what will happen, but that’s part of the adventure! I’m really excited to see if I can manage it. It’ll definitely tax my brain, that’s for sure! I’ve joined the local group and introduced myself so hopefully it won’t be totally antisocial but I’m looking forward to letting my imagination run away with me – I’m anticipating writing the impossible simply because I can, getting my characters into really random situations and just letting my momentum carry me forward! We’ll see if I’m still as enthusiastic two weeks in. I used to write a lot as a teenager so I’m looking forward to getting back into it and seeing if it’s one of those passions I used to have which got lost somewhere along the way…

So really, this has just been a life update. Nothing too philosophical except hey, spend some time alone and see what person you are when nobody else is around. What makes you who you are?

Oh, and go for a walk. You won’t regret it. (:

From countdown to contented…and the beauty of weakness

From being around 16 years old, there was one thing I was completely sure of: I would not be living in Wigan for my entire life. Although it is my home and a comforting, familiar place, there is nothing about it that makes me want to stay here. And so when I returned at the beginning of July, I started a mental countdown. 6 months and a bit until I could leave again. In the meantime, I would rest and potter around and raise money for Hong Kong, and maybe go to church on a Sunday…but all my thoughts would be focused on the day I got on a plane to leave this home once again for a new home. One I loved with all my heart, one that I could see myself being in long-term, one that makes me feel like I belong and makes me feel like I can do great things.

Then my view of life was challenged. I realised I’ve been discontent with my circumstances for a long time simply because I¬†chose to be discontented. There were so many things I wanted to do and I was impatient that I had to wait to do them. Instead of understanding what a blessing it is to be able to rest and relax, to simply¬†be, I began wishing this time away without considering that I could use it for God’s glory and for my own development as a person and a Christian. How many of you reading this think of things they want to change about their life and immediately decide to change it ‘tomorrow’? Then tomorrow comes, and it is put off again ‘until tomorrow – tomorrow, I really will start this’. Tomorrow, I will start putting aside half an hour to learn Mandarin. Tomorrow, I will get up early and spend time with God. Tomorrow, I will go to the gym. I spent most of my time planning for tomorrow instead of thinking about what I could do today.

When this became clear to me, the first thing I did was pray that God would come into that part of my life and change it. Through spending time with Him and listening to His voice, I began to change my thinking. Now, I choose to be content with where I am. I am starting to invest more time in the things that matter to me, like my family. I am slowly becoming part of a lively and thriving church with a community of people who demonstrate real love. I delight in doing little things to help out around the house, like ironing and cleaning out the fish tank. By shifting my view from ‘why can’t I do x now?’ to ‘how can I use the time I have been given to love others?’ I have experienced a dramatic change of heart and I can profess that I am genuinely and truly content with where I am in this very moment, to the extent that I am beginning to desire more time here to invest more deeply in those around me – something which I was amazed at, considering my desire for years has been to move away from here for good. I keep imagining the things I can do here when I return from Hong Kong, the projects I can begin and the people I can help. In my acceptance pack for my year in Hong Kong (I’ll explain what I’m doing at the end of this post) there’s a little bullet point which says:

‘Be content, satisfied,¬†in whatever situation or circumstance you find¬†yourself. The outward may change or vary but be content on the inside.’

I feel like I’m finally achieving this just by changing the way I think about things and refocusing back on God; asking what I can do to glorify Him in these circumstances rather than whether these circumstances work for me.

However, having said that, I am by no means at the end of this path. Contentment has many different branches, and just because one is flourishing doesn’t mean the others are also well-nourished. Because I am no longer preoccupied with my circumstances, I have become very aware of a different aspect of contentedness I must work on: my self-esteem.

Those of you who know me will probably laugh at that, and a couple of months ago I would have done exactly the same. It’s not like I hide myself away, not wanting to talk to anyone or be in the spotlight. I am a confident and outgoing person, I love talking to people and I don’t mind being prominent and seen (if I did, I’d hardly write this and then post it to everyone I am Facebook friends with). But low self-esteem comes in a variety of different forms, and this particular form is one that I thought I’d gotten rid of years ago. I’m sharing it with you now for several reasons; I want people to understand that the common perceptions of self-esteem aren’t the be-all and end-all, I want those going through the same thing to know they are not alone, and I want this blog to be one of honesty and not shame.

My mind tells me that I am not worthy.

There are many different ways in which this is expressed in my behaviour and thought processes. I often overcompensate for my lack of worth by trying to serve others. I am rubbish at jobhunting because I feel guilty asking people to consider me for a job. There is constantly something about myself I am trying to change that is completely trivial, such as growing my hair, getting rid of my spots, toning my stomach. On top of this, there are things I feel guilty for NOT changing, such as wearing lenses instead of glasses, taking the time to dress fashionably, painting my nails, wearing makeup. Part of this is societal norms but the main reason is that I feel like I am lower than others because I am not as well put together as they are. I have trouble talking to new people when I am in their environment and not mine because I feel like I don’t deserve their attention; this has become glaringly obvious as I try to integrate myself into this new church and interact with people who have been there for ages, especially the pastor because my mind tells me ‘He’s far too important to waste his time talking to me, there must be other people he’d rather talk to.’ Although I am genuinely happy as a single woman, part of the reason I choose not to be open to a new relationship is that I am convinced nobody could see me in that way (that is only a small part of the reason though, honestly, don’t go getting the wrong idea!!)

I’m sharing all of this with you now so that you can see that although I have overcome one of my weaknesses, being discontented with my situation, I still struggle with things (there are many others where this one came from) and I am not this perfect, sorted Christian. And I don’t think I’ll ever have everything sorted. Maybe I’ll struggle with feeling worthy my entire life. Maybe I’ll finally overcome it just to be faced with something else I need to work on. But that’s okay. This morning my devotion actually had the perfect verse in it (well actually that’s a lie, it was a different verse in the same chapter which I was drawn to) which comes from 2 Corinthians 12:9 – a very well-known and well-quoted verse…

‘But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.’ (ESV version)

My devotion was all about receiving God’s peace by sitting and resting in His presence. There’s not a lot I can do alone to work on my self-esteem issues apart from trying to change the way I think and push myself to talk to people and act like this isn’t an issue. To overcome this, or persevere with it as Paul did with his weaknesses, I need Jesus to work through it just as He worked through my discontent with my situation. Relinquishing control of these issues to Him is something I’m not great at, but I’m learning and He is gracious. Going through these times reminds me of just how much I need God; I am confident that without Him I would not get through it even with all the wonderful friends I have to talk things through with. One step at a time, I learn how to focus less on myself and my own failures and more on His glory. And at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.

NOTE: I am in no way depressed or battling through an insanely difficult time. I am still genuinely happy and outgoing and loving life. Expanding on this issue makes it seem like a massive deal but I don’t want to make it seem bigger than it is; it is simply what I am working through at the moment. If you want to chat to me about it feel free to message me or email me at rledunn@gmail.com.

So what about Hong Kong?

In January 2014 I will be travelling to Hong Kong to volunteer with a Christian missions organization called Youth With A Mission (YWAM) for a year, essentially becoming a missionary and taking part in outreaches to witness to Jesus in Asia. Being in Asia is something I am very passionate about and excited for and being based in Hong Kong is like a dream come true! I’ve finally figured out how to do one of those fancy newsletter subscription list things and so if you want to sign up for updates about my time in Hong Kong, you can do so here:¬†http://eepurl.com/E0lhb

I’ll be plaguing you all with more chances to subscribe to updates closer to the time but why not start early? (: