“Your grace has found me just as I am, empty handed but alive in Your hands.”

I keep talking about this and writing about it and crying about it and thanking Jesus for it but I don’t think that means I shouldn’t write this post tonight.

On September 3rd 2012, just after summer ended, I started a job that I hated for the ten months that I was there. Before I started I was terrified because it was new and different and I didn’t want to do it; no part of me wanted to do that job but I knew that God wanted me there because the day I applied for it I just had this feeling I would get it.

Up until July of this year the thirteen months I lived through since moving back to Northern Ireland were a fight. It was a battle to get out of bed, to force myself to cook anything reasonably good for me to ensure I looked after my health, to go for a walk, to go cycling, to go for a run, to make plans with people, to motivate myself to do anything other than sit in my house and wallow. I felt like I’d had everything taken away from me, like I was never going to be happy again.

But tonight I sit here, in floods of tears, in total awe of how God has turned my life around, of how He has changed absolutely everything. This time a year ago I never thought I’d be sitting in my house crying happy tears because of how good my Jesus has been to me in bringing me through one of the hardest times of my life.

I do not deserve what He has done for me, I don’t deserve the amazing friends, the acceptance to study cookery at college, the Church family I am now a part of. Most of all I don’t deserve the love and forgiveness that God gives to me every single day. I have nothing to offer Him but He gives me all of Him, He surrounds me, He strengthens me. I have absolutely everything I need in my Jesus.

Every so often it hits me that I don’t feel depressed any more, and haven’t for a long time, and I just think, “What even was that?”

It all happened when I finally gave up on me, on my wants and needs, and put my trust in Jesus, when I realised I’d been making idols out of things, when I chose to live my life to serve my King; and it took me thirteen months to get to that point, to understand what I needed to do. But life takes time and you can only take it one day at a time. You can’t skip ahead because you’ll never learn anything. I’m not grateful that I spent that much time being sad, but I’m grateful that God is not wasting that pain, that He is bringing so much goodness out of it. Up until that point, I had never spent so much time chasing after Him, so many mornings praising Him as the sun rose and I ate breakfast before work, I had never wanted to share His word as much as I did in those ten months, never wanted to be as near to Him. I knew I needed Him and that He was my only hope, the only way I would get through it all.

I feel like my relationship with God is different now, it’s on a whole other level. Because of what I experienced in that time I no longer need to feel good to know that God is near, I don’t need to be on some “spiritual high” because I just know from seeing how life has worked out for me since moving home to Northern Ireland that that He is always working in my life, especially when I least feel like He is.

It’s almost September 3rd again and in just over a week I’m going to embark on another scary life experience again at college, but this time I get to do something I’m so excited about, I get to start working towards fulfilling a few of my dreams with Jesus, and there are also so many more brilliant things to look forward to in the communities I am now a part of.

Learning to trust in Jesus, knowing that He is the only one who can bring me out of painful situations, the only one who can heal my heart, is the most important thing I have gained from the past fifteen months. If it wasn’t for the grace of God I would still be wallowing, I would still be broken, I would still be lost and hurting. We can look for hope and healing wherever we want, but it won’t truly happen until we trust in the one who created us, who loved us so much He chose to die for us.

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Miley Cyrus, Jane Austen, and British Banknotes.

Last week I was talking to a friend about the Criado-Perez case. I was in full support of Criado-Perez and the need to get another woman on British banknotes but my friend wasn’t sure why it was so important. I racked my brains but, for some odd reason, couldn’t come up with a good answer on the spot, but in recent days have found some inspiration.

That inspiration has come from the crazy antics between Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke at this years VMAs.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to be all, “Women’s rights! Miley can do what she wants!” I’m also not about to be all, “Miley has no self respect!” What I am going to say is this: why are so few people forgetting that Robin Thicke is a 36 year old man who let a 20 year old woman, someone young enough to be his daughter, “twerk” against him? She’s engaged and he’s married; they’re both as bad as each other in my opinion. Miley also had a rather raunchy music video for We Can’t Stop, but Robin Thicke had a video full of naked women for song Blurred Lines. I recently came across a broadcasting of the censored version of the video on a music channel to which the announcer said, “He asked his wife if she was okay with the naked women first though, how cute!” I’m sorry, what? How does that make it cute? Doesn’t that just make both of them even more misguided than they seemed before?

I think both Miley and Robin are misguided people. I think what they did on stage at the VMAs shows their lack of respect for their partners and for themselves. They took part in a provocative dance move in front of millions of people across the world and probably just thought it was entertaining. Men in their 30s should not be letting young women “twerk” against their crotch, their is no pride to be found in this; it’s actually pretty creepy.

So, to return to my main point, this is why we need Jane Austen on British banknotes: we need to remember that there are women in this country of great intellect, whose worth is not found in their bodies or in their sexuality. We need to remind men that these women exist and that “women should be in the kitchen” jokes need to stop because women are not a joke, just like men aren’t either. We need to remember that a lot of men have great respect for women, and that a man’s worth is also not found in this sexuality, that being respectful of women and of his own body and how it uses it is far more sexy than letting young women grind up against him.

Criado-Perez’s fight was important because it reminds us that women will not sit back and let men take over, but also that there are men who support what she did. She didn’t demand that all banknotes have women on them but just wanted one to remind us of the importance of women, and that they deserve to be equal to men.

Coming out of the fiery furnace unharmed.

Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace. Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.” He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”
Daniel 3:19-25 (NIV)

I just spent the past week in a little town called Ballinagh in County Cavan. Every year a team of volunteers heads down to put on a Scripture Union kids club and we have an absolute blast every time. This was my second year doing it and it was better than I ever thought it could be. This year God used Ballinagh to show me how he has changed me in the past year and it was a beautiful experience; it was a beautiful view of life lived to its fullest and I enjoyed every single moment. On Friday morning I sat with two of my favourite people, in a cold room with cobwebs on the ceiling and air mattresses and sleeping bags on the floor, and cried and told them how good God has been in bringing me through the past year.

I was broken and hurting last year, and I’m still unsure as to why God took me to Ballinagh, but this year I went to serve Him, to teach some very cute little ones all about Him, and to share in fellowship with his sons and daughters. We sang a lot of great songs, did a lot of dancing, watched some funny dramas, heard some great stories about Daniel, learnt some important Bible verses, played a lot of guitar, ate a lot of food, stayed up late, didn’t get anywhere near enough sleep, and I’d do it all again tomorrow if I could.

I feel so honoured to have worked with ten of the most hilarious, welcoming, kind-hearted people and don’t think I’ve laughed that much in the space of six days in a long time. I’ve come home with new friends and have grown closer to old ones, and know that each one of them brought something important to the team; the light of Jesus shines through each one of them, even when they’re doing nothing other than being themselves.

Throughout the week we looked at the story of Daniel with the kids, a Bible story that has plenty of themes that resonate with me and my experiences over the past year, and the part about the fiery furnace spoke to me very clearly. Even when we’re going through what feels like hell, God is with us and He won’t let us be harmed. Even when we experience situations that have killed others, if we trust in God He won’t let that happen to us.

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Vlogumentary: Why YouTube is Important.

This is the moment when most of you will realise that YouTube is far more than cat videos.

It was Christmas 2008, I was home for a two month break after my first semester at university, I was bored out of my mind, and while browsing YouTube stumbled upon a guy called AmazingPhil; this was the beginning of my YouTube story.

This year Corey Vidal of Apprentice A Productions and Shay Carl of Shaytard fame began the filming of what I think will be one of the most talked about YouTube documentaries (or “vlogumentaries”) for years to come. Vlogumentary is the story of YouTube vlogging, or video blogging, for those of you who aren’t YouTube regulars. While the vlogs are the daily ‘behind the scenes’ of our favourite YouTubers, Vlogumentary gives us an insight into what vlogging is and how it has affected so many people.

I have been an active member of YouTube for almost five years now and I would happily say that it’s a part of my daily life. But while a lot of people are looking up videos of cats or goats licking electric fences, I’m watching the daily lives of Charles and Alli Trippy (CTFxC), the Apprentice A crew (ApprenticeEh), Jesse and Jeana (BFvsGF), Datev Gallagher (Ladie Dottie), Meghan Camarena (Lifeburry), Anthony and Kalel (Watchusliveandstuff), and many more YouTubers who make a living from making videos and uploading them to YouTube.

I, like so many others, love all my favourite vloggers so much because they welcome thousands of people into their lives and share everything with them, no questions ask. In 2012 Charles and Alli Trippy continued to document every day of their lives while Charles found out he had a brain tumour and had to go through numerous surgeries. Vlogging is important to so many because it reminds us that we’re not alone, that we’re part of a community and that we’re here to support each other.

This past year my favourite vloggers have inspired me to have the courage to chase after the things I care about the most, to follow my dreams, to stop being afraid of the things that used to terrify me, to get out of my comfort zone. They’ve shown me that if I work hard enough then I can achieve my goals, and that inspiration has been there every single day.

While there is a very negative side to social media, the positive side shines through on YouTube. Vlogging isn’t about sitting in front of your computer for hours on end feeling sad, it’s about gaining inspiration and encouragement to go out and live, to be spontaneous, to explore, to do the things that scare you the most. YouTube is very much a part of my life, and the lives of millions of other people. I encourage you to get an account right now and experience it for yourself.

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