Growing up and reaching out

I haven’t really written a post on post-university life. I mean, I did post about graduation and the days immediately afterwards, but I’ve been home over a month now and obviously things have changed since I wrote about the ‘almost daily sense of loss’ I had been experiencing. This post is to explain some of the emotions and realisations I have been experiencing in this crazy life change.

Firstly, I don’t miss St. Andrews any more. I miss people, and events/gatherings, but I don’t miss being in the town itself and being a student. The sense of loss has disappeared. I’m still convinced that it will return with a vengeance once Freshers begins and I see tons of photos on Facebook showing how much fun everyone’s having (week long Facebook sabbatical realistically happening) and the loss of my homegroup, who became my family and core support group, will definitely hit me once they resume meeting…without me. But I’m no longer looking backwards. I may be in a state of transition right now, between uni and my year in Hong Kong, but I’m looking forward to every day and what it might bring. At first, I was actually quite down about being at home, on my own, every day, for 6 months. I don’t really see people. I spend a LOT of time alone. I go to bed at 10.30 at the latest. The first week or two this was absolute torture, until I realised that this was a unique opportunity I never had at uni and probably won’t have again in my life. It is a time to sit and be, to just get to know myself and be content in my own company. If I ever happened to find myself alone at university I’d go and find people to hang out with, because I hated being alone (and partly because I have mild FOMO – fear of missing out). But over thIs past month I have learnt the beauty of being alone and just resting.

This brings me to point 2: when you allow time for just being, you learn things you never knew about yourself. And God, for that matter; my quiet times have become drastically longer and more fulfilling and I feel so much more content and joyful because I can now tangibly feel Jesus’ touch on my life. I’m learning things about Him I never realised and every day I’m excited to learn more. But more on that in another post, maybe. Point 2 is what drove me to write this post. Recently, because I have had lots of spare time, I have discovered hobbies I have that I didn’t know about or had forgotten about. I have resumed cross stitching and I pick up a book almost every day. I have started accompanying my stepdad to the driving range (the irony of taking up golf after leaving St. Andrews does not escape me). I actually really enjoy ironing. And my biggest joy at the moment, the reason this post is being written, is cooking. I used to hate cooking and see it as a means to an end; baking was always my specialty as I’m sure many people reading this agree with. But recently I have been experimenting with different dishes and opening cookbooks I’ve owned for years for the first time and I have to say, it’s become quite fun to create these dishes from nothing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Michelin chef, but I’m learning slowly and trying out new recipes and its amazing how easy thinking up things to eat and figuring out how to use up things in the fridge come to you when you allow time to think about it! I’ve also become quite refined, if I do say so myself – cooking with Classic FM on and occasionally having a glass of wine too… (: Overall, I think the main thing I’m learning is that I’m growing up and learning how to live as an adult with responsibility rather than a student with none. I’m learning how to be content with myself and enjoy just being rather than always doing, which is a lesson I have needed to learn for a while!

I’m also learning how to reach out to those around me. Because I have more time to think and consider, I’m finding it much easier to identify people I want to talk to more and pursue deeper friendships with and I now have the time to do that. Especially in my new home church, where there still isn’t anyone I really know very well. It is so humbling to go every Sunday and actively have to seek out people to talk to. Luckily everyone is really friendly!! But all of these things feed into one another – because I am becoming content in myself, I don’t feel I need to prove anything to people and so there’s less pressure on me to get people to like me. I keep reminding myself that I am equals with them and it doesn’t have to be awkward…but of course it is still nerve wracking!! I am thankful for all of these lessons I’m learning though because I know they’re going to come in really useful later in life, or maybe not even that much later!

So essentially, this time which I have before I go to Hong Kong that I originally viewed as painful and a means to an end has actually turned out to be one of the biggest blessings I have had in a year. Taking time out to just be is so important and I’m actually quite sad I didn’t do it earlier! If I were a committed blogger I would revise this several times and make sure it made sense and had everything in I wanted to say before I published it…but it’s 10pm. Almost bedtime. And I’m so tired! So this will have to do. (: sayonara and sweet dreams from me!

Graduation.

Having not posted for a while in order to focus on other things (see my last post here), I felt it was only fitting to come back on here, now as a graduate, and do a small summing up of the feelings I have been experiencing in past couple of weeks. Those who have already graduated will probably be suppressing a small smile now and thinking ‘This is exactly what I thought back when I’d first graduated. Bless her young and inexperienced heart.’ If that is you…fair enough. I’d probably be the same. (:

For the past 10 days or so I have been at home, having returned from uni for the last time. I carried on the illusion that I was still a student to myself for a week, keeping my matriculation card where it had always been despite it expiring and refusing to cut off the band from our graduation ball. This period was also defined by much looking at old photos from uni, particularly large and happy group shots, and feeling sorry for myself – occasionally also accompanied by crying bouts which came from nowhere and lasted a maximum of 5 minutes before vanishing again. All of this was made more intense by the fact that I now work from home, meaning that the only people I have around me to talk to are my family and my dogs; going from a large support base of dear friends to seven people and two canines was quite a big jump. It also means I have to make a conscious effort to leave the house (which I do manage, usually with the canines in tow).

Anyway, a week after leaving St. Andrews I finally began to accept that I was now a real adult, with real responsibilities, in the real world with other real adults. I cut off my grad ball band and removed my matriculation card from my purse, and put them both in my memory box. I reconnected with people I hadn’t seen much due to being away and I have picked up various hobbies to occupy the nights when I find myself at a loss. In short, I am beginning to build myself a life that doesn’t center around being in a state of transition and leaving in three months to resume my other life which I had viewed as being ‘better’ than the one I lead here at home.

My family keep asking me how I’m doing and whether I’m ‘getting over’ the fact I’m not a student. I don’t know if this is the right wording to use – ‘getting over’ implies that I have to move on and begin afresh, but I don’t think that’s what we’re meant to do when we leave university. The four years I spent there transformed me completely – from the way I think about things to (apparently) the way I speak. I don’t want to suppress all of that and put it in a box which I then file in the back of my mind. I want where I have been and what I have done to influence who I am and what I do now. My problem in the first week I was home was in the idea that my life has to be segregated – ‘beginning a new chapter’ and all that jazz. Now I realise that everything in my life is intertwined; every decision, every event and every ‘chapter’ has no real beginning or ending, and by looking at it that way I realised that I don’t have any reason to be sad or to mourn the fact I am no longer a student.

I have still occasionally been looking at photos from my time at St. Andrews, and I do almost daily experience that deep ache people associate with loss. But it is also a sweet ache; the reminder that those four years really counted, that I met many people who now have a place in my heart and that when I am 70 I can look back at my time as a student knowing that I made the most of it and that there is nothing I regret. I’d rather that than be glad to see the back of St. Andrews. As those who graduated with me and I step out of studenthood and into the world, to begin ‘the next chapter’, we can be comforted by the fact that we have formed bonds that will last forever and that this isn’t an ending, just a bend in the stream (to go all cheesy on you).

RIP matriculation card, you served me well.

(:

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Thankfulness…and the consequences

Today at church we had a thanksgiving service, where people go to the front and tell the church (and God) what they are thankful for. I think it’s probably my favourite kind of service because I love hearing how God has been working in other peoples’ lives. I never go up to tell everyone what I’m thankful for, because I don’t really like standing up in front of that many people unless I’m forced to. Haha. But I thought I’d write here what I would have said today (but a much longer version), and what that has led me to remember about myself.

Firstly, I am thankful that God is always there. This semester has been hard in terms of work, and it hasn’t always been fun. I genuinely don’t think I could have gotten through it without Him. His strength and blessings kept me going. Secondly, I am so thankful for all of the people that have been put in my life. Recently I am being almost constantly reminded of how blessed I am to know such caring and supportive individuals. The depth of their love for me is ridiculous and they provide me with inspiration and motivation, as well as making my day so joyful. I am going to miss them so much when I graduate, even though I know we will keep in touch – it just won’t be the same without their physical presence in my life. Thirdly, I am thankful that everything is coming together; my plans for next year are becoming clearer and clearer, and all the pieces are beginning to fall into place. It is exciting and terrifying all at the same time. The thought of actually leaving this small bubble and entering the huge world is almost a crazy one; I am so settled here and in such a good routine that changing it seems insane. But I am excited to start my next big adventure – back in 2009 university was this huge, scary place and being 5 hours away from my family was crazy. Now I’m preparing to be halfway across the world…one step at a time, hey? Haha!

But anyway, the main thing, that kind of sums all of this up, is this: I am completely and utterly content in my life as it stands. I have no complaints; no pain, no longing, no ‘well if I had this, life would be better…’ I want to grow, of course. I want to become more like Jesus, I want to develop my good qualities and reduce my bad ones. But there is nothing I need. Everything I could possibly need is taken care of. I am truly joyful, truly happy, truly content. It is an amazing feeling, being so free just in who you are, so that you can enjoy everything to its fullest. I only hope that I can remember this, and learn to be happy even when everything is going wrong – because it will, of course. Eventually one becomes discontent with life and it is then that one’s faith and joy are tested. So maybe this post will serve as a memory of this time in my life when all is beautiful and every moment is full of joy. (:

So, with all of this in mind, it is time to pick up things I abandoned a while ago. My journey as a Christian has been intense; these past two years have been filled with ecstasy, a greater love than I have ever known, doubt, despair, and many blog posts about it all. My posts have been made whilst I was on top of the world and whilst I was breaking down and shutting myself off from the world. I think I have posted in every emotional state possible. I have on more than one occasion deleted all of my posts; hence why there are so few here. I have reached many people, evidenced by the response I get following every post. I am so thankful that I can share what is going on with each and every one of you who read this blog and I have discovered more about myself by writing these posts than you ever will have by reading them.

I realise this is all a bit dramatic; don’t fear, this doesn’t mean I won’t blog again! I’ll just be taking a break for a while. These last two months here are to be cherished and I intend to make the most of every moment with these people who have become my brothers and sisters. There’s also something about me you may not know; you all know my life story in terms of my journey with Jesus but I had a life before that (admittedly not as vibrant and rich but it was still filled with joy!) and one thing I loved to do, beyond all else, was read. I read in every spare moment I had. I devoured books like there was no tomorrow; from Jane Austen’s prim and proper society, to Josephine Cox’s inspiring heroines, to Charles Dickens’ stupidly long descriptions of one thing, to soppy romance novels by various authors, to thought provoking dramatic books about people with insane disabilities…you get the idea. Reading inspires me, both to strive for a better version of me and to write my own stories. I used to write a lot. Poems mainly, but I had a few short stories and English Language was one of my favourite classes because the teacher got my passion and encouraged it.

Blogging is amazing. Sharing your life with people you know, and people you don’t, is scary and exciting and fun and crazy. But I long to read again – not for courses, but for me. I want to get lost in a whole different world and join the characters in the book on their journeys, laughing and crying with them, being inspired and getting my creativity flowing. I long to write again. I want to be able to start with one sentence that I think sounds good and create a new world. I miss my stories and the people I create in them. I want to show people the scenes I create in my head, to describe every aspect of the environment (maybe not as thoroughly as Dickens, though…) and draw people in to a place where anything is possible. Simply put, I just want to create. And I feel that trying to keep up a blog along with that is a bit ambitious. Plus, sometimes a bit of privacy on your journey is good.

I’m excited for you to read what I come out with. I think I’ll pick up this story again; I always meant to finish it and never did. I’m thankful that we all have so many different and beautiful talents, that we can set down and pick up and use to make this world so colourful. Maybe this post will inspire you to think about what talents you’ve been neglecting and decide to use them again. Let me know – I’d love to hear about it! At the very least, answer me this: what are you thankful for? (:

With love,

Rachel

2013: The Call to Sisterhood

I originally wasn’t going to write this post, because it was never something I had considered broadcasting to the whole world. But since talking with many of my sisters, and finding myself explaining the same things, I think maybe my sisters (and brothers) everywhere might appreciate this.

Most people have a New Year’s Resolution, that they usually break within the first month. These resolutions tend to be goal-centred; ‘go to the gym x times a week’, ‘eat less chocolate and lose weight’, ‘stop smoking’ and so on. I was praying about what my resolution for this year could be and got one thing back: to invest more in sisterhood. But what did that mean? How could I do that practically? It just didn’t make sense to me. But through much prayer I think I have begun to understand what ‘sisterhood’ means and just how vital it is in my life.

Firstly, let me emphasize that I love my guy friends. I love spending time with them, and that hasn’t changed one bit. And by ‘sisters’ I mean every girl I know – it is usually used in terms of fellow Christian women but I am lucky to have many sisters from many different faiths, and when I write this I am referring to every single woman I am lucky enough to be friends with. Let’s get that clear right now!! Of course investing in sisterhood differs between my Christian and non-Christian friends, because with my Christian women there is the concept of being ‘women of God’. But I’ll get to that.

For me, general sisterhood is just being there. I desire more than anything to pour out love on my sisters; to affirm them and to strengthen them. To support them through all they are doing. To really invest in my female friendships and to go deeper in them; to have tough conversations, to rejoice with them, to be genuinely interested in every aspect of their lives and to help them as they figure out who they are and what they want to do in the future. I think women have this deep connection with each other that cannot be shared with men; just as I think men have a deep connection with each other that cannot be shared with women. I want to strengthen the connections I have with my sisters and I want to just enjoy every moment I spend with them.

In terms of my Christian sisters…I want to pray with them and call out things I see God doing in them. To build them up with encouragement and assure them that they are not walking alone in this life. I think that by investing in these precious relationships we become better women of Christ. When I am gathered with my sisters, I come away feeling so full of joy and ready to take on the world. I want that for all my sisters. I want to be someone who gives out love extravagantly and enables women of God (or those who aren’t Christian!) to realise their full identity in Jesus. To understand their worth; how precious their hearts are, how valuable their friendships are, how loved they are. I want to serve my sisters and help them to achieve their dreams.

All of this has been placed on my heart, and I think it will last way beyond 2013. I think this will be something I desire as long as I live. How exciting is that? Between you and me, internet, I want to build a ministry of worth. Where those who feel forgotten and unworthy can come to be filled up and built up and leave feeling like they are the most special person on the planet. But that’s just between us. Don’t go telling everyone now. (:

 

P.S. I realised, after thinking more about it….that I don’t want to distinguish between my Christian and non-Christian sisters. We are all God’s children, and I don’t want to differ in how I treat them. So I’m not going to. (:

A picture really is worth a thousand words

Today I was desperately looking for something to do to procrastinate. I began looking through the pictures on my laptop, then realised that I had lots of picture sorting to do and a USB stick I’d set aside for that very purpose. And so my time was taken up with deleting pictures, transferring them to the USB for storage and picking which ones would stay on my laptop for whenever I felt like looking at them. I think some time I’d like to do an online scrapbook/photo album of all the pictures from my four years at university; I have a scrapbook from first year but not from any of the other years.

Looking back at the pictures brought on a variety of emotions, the principal one being nostalgia. I re-lived many of the events I’d taken pictures of, which were sometimes funny and sometimes sad and sometimes it took me forever to recall where a picture was from. The pictures are all of happy, smiling faces, and I think that’s how I’d like to recall my time at university. Despite the stress of work, and the hard times, it’s been such a mind-blowingly epic experience! It was hilarious looking back at the photos and being shocked at how much people had changed; how much I’d changed. It was amazing seeing photos of people who have since then become an integral part of my life. Some of my friendships are portrayed in photo form, beginning with awkward standing together shots from first year and progressing through drunken nights out and many bad quality eyes-half-closed-not-really-sure-what’s-going-on pictures until finally there are photos from fourth year where we just look so comfortable together. Nothing to prove, nobody to impress, just content in each others’ company.

Pictures are also amazing motivational tools. So many times I found myself thinking ‘I used to love this about me when this photo was taken…time to get it back!’ So many photos of me training for Race for Life, when exercising was actually something I enjoyed. Photos of cupcakes, of dinner parties, of nights in. I think there’s a change that happens through the four years at uni that is very similar for many people…first year, you drink. Drink drink drink. Barely any work; just enough to pass. Second year, you get a bit more stressed because you have to get into honours but you still have many nights out, which become more fun because you’re surrounded by people you know now whilst still having the excitement of meeting loads of new people. That’s also when ‘office drama’ begins, as you discover you actually don’t like some people and relationships begin and end and everyone gets slightly more mature and focuses on more than drinking. Third year, you get crazy stressed about work and going out mid-week becomes unacceptable; you are stunned and speechless whenever someone admits to going to the Union on a weekday. But because you’re putting in so much effort your nights out on a weekend get crazy as you blow off all the steam from not seeing a soul all week. Your friendship group narrows remarkably because it’s just too much effort keeping up with everyone you met in freshers of first year and you begin to develop very deep friendships with people. You gather a close circle of people you trust and whom you spend all your time with, although occasionally you still see people who aren’t quite as good friends.

And fourth year? Well, that remains to be seen. You definitely become an old person who can’t stand the thought of having to go out – you’d rather stay in and have a glass of wine whilst watching a good film. If you do go out, and you’re a girl, you carry a pair of flats with you for the walk home. (That would have been UNHEARD OF in first year; I remember walking back to halls so many times in so much pain I think the only thing stopping me taking my heels off was the fact I had enough alcohol in my system to believe I could stand the pain.) You actually visit the top floor of the library on a regular basis. Suddenly you’re super stressed, not with work but with the dreaded ‘so what are you going to do next year?’ question. In terms of work, you gain this attitude of ‘I actually couldn’t care less any more. I’m exhausted and fed up of essays and I just want to be done and out of here.’ Yet you try and be as social as you can because you know that in a few short months, you WILL be done and suddenly you won’t be 10 minutes walk away from anyone you want to go visit. You might be an 14 hour flight away. And people will drop off the radar; some people you are close to now will vanish from your life and you’ll wonder where they’ve gone. A chapter will end, and a new one, your grown up life (pahahahaha) will begin. And all you’ll have left of those people who laughed with you, drank with you, inspired you and came with you on this crazy experience called university will be the photos you thought to take. Never thinking at the time that they would become so precious to you.

2013 is the year I graduate. The year my scary grown up life begins. The year I leave behind everything I know and step out of my comfort zone into new and unexplored territory. New continent (hopefully). New language (hopefully). 2013 is the year I aim to fully appreciate every single person that is in my life, right now. I want to make the most of every opportunity I have left at university; to say ‘yes’ even when I’m hesitant, to do crazy things, to hang out with people I don’t usually hang out with, to throw many dinner parties and bake all the time and go running just for the heck of it. I think most people become frozen in fourth year because they’re terrified of all the work, the responsibilities, the job hunting…but I want to LIVE. To not look back on my last year and think ‘Well, I did good grade-wise, but I wish I’d been here and done this…’ but to leave in June knowing that my four years were full of laughs and once-in-a-lifetime experiences and to store all of that in my heart as I move away from it. And to store it all in photos, too.

2013. The year of no regrets. And photos. And friends.

I can’t wait.

Strength

I think my favourite woman in the whole Bible has to be Ruth. I didn’t really know why this was the case at first; she has a whole book dedicated to her, and it is a fascinating story, but I never really understood the lessons behind it. Then I read a book a dear friend gave me a long time ago, which I had never gotten around to reading, called ‘A Lineage of Grace’. It is about 5 women in the Bible, all of whom are part of Jesus’ family line. Ruth is one of these 5, and the book basically expands on the Biblical book of Ruth to portray one way in which this story may have happened, including the thoughts and feelings of the people concerned. It really helped me to understand them as real people, which sounds strange I know, but I sometimes find it difficult to imagine those who are in the Bible (especially if it’s fleetingly) as actual human beings with struggles and feelings just like anyone else. And the conclusion I drew, from reading this story about Ruth and re-reading the book of Ruth in the Bible, is that Ruth has an incredible inner strength which I really admire. She is strong in her faith and her trust. That got me thinking about how I would define strength…

Strength is not about being okay 100% of the time. It’s not about how much you can cope with, or whether you can still be super productive even when things aren’t going your way. For me, personally, strength is about clinging to the truth, clinging to your faith, even in the harshest of storms. It is about knowing that you are living for something greater even when your whole world feels like it’s crashing down around you. Strength is not being proud and going it alone; it comes from laying your burdens at the feet of Jesus and trusting that He is with you through it all. Even when it feels like you are completely deserted. With strength comes determination – not to carry on like nothing is wrong, but to persist in focusing on God with everything you have and to trust that He will lead you through the storms into better times and, eventually, paradise.

Ruth had it pretty rough. Her husband died, she moved to a new place where she was most likely rejected because she was a Gentile and thus ‘unclean’, she was forced to do hard manual labour just to live, and she had no idea if she was ever going to marry again and have children. Yet she trusted in God and held firm to the promise that although we suffer, we are not alone in our suffering. I’m willing to bet she had days where she broke down and wondered if she would survive the next day, never mind the next week. But even in the depths of her pain, she was strong in her faith. I think that is the most valuable form of strength, and it is something I would definitely like to develop over the rest of my life. We don’t need to be guilt-tripped into trying to be thankful for our suffering, which I think is something we feel we have to be (at least, I do). I think it’s less about ‘God, thank you for this suffering, I know you’re going to do awesome things through it’ and more about ‘God, I’m really not doing well, and this sucks, but I’m going to choose to believe that good will come from this and I’m going to persevere and hold on to You.’

We were never promised that things would be easy. But we have been given a Lord who has been through the greatest suffering, and who knows what it is like, and who suffers with us. Take comfort, for you are not alone and you never will be.

Footprints

One night a man had a dream. He dreamt he was walking along a beach with the Lord. Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. For each scene he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand: one belonging to him and the other to the Lord. When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life. This really bothered him and he questioned the Lord about it. “Lord, you said that once I decided to follow You, You’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why when I needed You most, You would leave me.” The Lord replied, “My precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

Normality and ideals

Firstly….Merry Christmas! Yes, I am writing this in the early hours of Christmas morning. Christmas is filled with much joy for me, and it has always been one of my favourite times of year. I hope you are all having wonderful times!

Today, I was dozing in bed and listening to my favourite radio station from home. They were playing this game called the ‘present game’ where people had phoned/texted in and told them how long they had been with their current partner, where they’d met, and how much they’d spent on them for Christmas. This began the train of thought which has led to this post.

I firmly believe there are two important aspects to Christmas. The first, and most important by a long shot, is Jesus. The fact that God would willingly become a small baby, a human, who then went on to redeem us from EVERYTHING, is pretty crazy. I don’t think I’ll ever fully grasp it in all my time on earth. Christmas in its simplest form is celebrating the fact that we are given grace by this tiny baby, and that we are secure in that salvation. So good!!

The second important aspect of Christmas is family. This may be a hard time for some, who have lost dearly loved family members or don’t have rosy relationships with their family. I completely and fully understand that. But for me, Christmas is the only time my entire family gathers together. It is a chance to hear about what has been going on in each others’ lives, to be together and to just enjoy the company of these people I’ve known my entire life (or most of it). An entire day just to socialise – you can imagine how much I love that! Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard work. Lots of preparation, and no real time to just sit and chill out. Christmas Day is a long day – I should probably be asleep now, considering the time I need to be up, and we don’t finish until way after midnight – but it’s so worth it. I think when I eventually move away and celebrate Christmas elsewhere, I’ll fondly remember Christmas the way it is right now.

But one thing that I am increasingly noticing is the increasing amount of money people are spending on presents each year. Parents are having to compete with each other in order to ensure their kid doesn’t miss out. If I ask my little sisters or my little brother what the best thing about Christmas is, they will definitely 100% say ‘presents!’ And I totally get that; I was like that when I was their age. And now I’m becoming an adult, I’m beginning to understand why my parents say ‘I don’t want anything, just a hug and a kiss will do.’ Because it’s not about the presents any more. But the sheer amount of money spent and the mountains of presents that are probably never used has become a worrying normality. So many parents I’ve spoken to have bought their children iPads, games consoles, laptops etc ON TOP of things like clothes, jewellery, toys. So much money. And yes, some of these things do get used which is fantastic; but a lot don’t. I remember one year my parents wanted to buy me a TV for my room, but I insisted they not buy one. They couldn’t understand why I didn’t want it, even though I never watch TV in my room. ‘But you will, if you have a decent TV’ they said. I doubt it. But it’s now normal to buy huge presents, to the point where we all expect large presents.

This got me thinking about the concept of normality as a whole (wow, it took me a while to get to the point tonight!!) and how we are all either consciously or unconsciously striving for this perfection, this ideal of what is ‘normal’ for people. Or shall I say, the ‘ideal’ life. An ideal family, who all get on incredibly well and never argue, who all talk to each other. An ideal body (gyms definitely get their biggest business at this time of year with all the ‘I will get fit’ New Year’s Resolutions), with no spots, perfect hair, a perfect waistline, muscles/toned. An ideal personality, with patience, grace, gentleness, kindness. Top grades. A boyfriend/girlfriend. Time goes on. A first in your degree. Straight into a well-paid job. Marriage. Children, who will obviously be ideal just like your life. A beautiful house decorated so beautifully your neighbours envy you. All the top gadgets. Luxury holidays. Your dream car, whatever that is. The latest fashions in your wardrobe, which is a walk-in of course. Your dream job, which is insanely well paid and has great holidays and ensures you live in comfort for the rest of your life.

I don’t know about you, fellow students, but I feel like I’m under a lot of pressure to conform to my ‘ideal’ life. Or, rather, the life people have imposed on me. Here’s what my life will look like; I graduate, with a first. I have the most insane gap year ever, with once-in-a-lifetime experiences and I build up tons of money to help me out. I might go to China or I might stay here. Then I manage to simultaneously become a missionary, teach English in China and train to be a child psychologist or a forensic psychologist. On my missionary path, I give the entire population of China the love they need and lead them all to Jesus. In my English teacher life, I lead a quiet and happy life in a small town and become a central member of the community, a mother to many. As a psychologist I earn a ton of money and get the ‘ideal’ life described in the last paragraph. Oh, and in the middle of all this I marry an Asian guy and have beautiful mixed-race babies who will be the sweetest and most loving children in the world. I have to return to the UK from China before I retire and panic that I have nowhere to live etc.

I’m not making any of that up. All of the things I’ve written above have been said to me in all seriousness. ‘This is what you will do with your life.’

And I think that’s why we exhaust ourselves. Trying to be people we are not. Trying to fulfil everyone else’s expectations instead of taking things day by day. Don’t get me wrong, planning is good. I’m not very good at it, but I hear it takes a lot of stress away…

But I have allowed myself to become overwhelmed by all of these expectations. To accept them as part of my identity. To let other peoples’ plans for me become the norm for my life. I am so comfy and so accustomed to my normal lifestyle that I can’t imagine a time when I may be in worse conditions. But as Christians, we are called to break the norm and to live radically, in a way which glorifies Jesus and exemplifies His love for the world regardless of whether we’re earning tons of money or not. It’s a battle between the world’s norms and expectations and those of God. Why do we worry so much about fulfilling the world’s expectations of us yet ignoring God’s? We immerse ourselves in the latest technology, fashion trends and mini-dramas (‘oh my days your friend said THAT to me, yadda yadda’) instead of focusing on what His will is for us and then following where He leads to make sure that happens.

So as you enjoy this magical time of year, I ask that you maybe take 10 minutes out to think about who’s expectations and plan for your life you are living. The world’s, or God’s? Or even your own? Are you doing things and aiming for goals because YOU want them, to glorify God, or are you doing it because the world is telling you that you have to?

I’m exhausted. Time for bed. Just to let you all know…I’m going to try and simplify my life, to follow the call of Jesus and nobody else. This should be incredibly amusing as I battle my little comforts (‘what do you mean, get up early??’) but hopefully it’ll teach me the invaluable lesson that nothing in this world is essential bar Jesus.

Merry Christmas!! (: