Five Minute Friday: Change

Today I am joining in with Five Minute Friday, hosted over at Kate Motaung’s blog, heading home. It’s the first time for me, but the idea is that you are given a word prompt and you type for just five minutes on it. Today’s prompt was change.

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There is a lot of change in this uncertain world. There are the things that you want to change, because they have been dragging on to long and are painful and hard to bear. Then there are the things that you don’t want to change, because they are so almost perfect and beautful, that you want them to go on forever.

The last year has seen a lot of changes for me personally. So many positive changes, which are also hard at times. Adjusting to university life away from home was a big change in itself, and there have been things I would like to change, but then there are things which I don’t want to change either.

Change is hard, but it can be beneficial. It is necessary to change in order to grow.

The changes that have happened can be hard to comprehend sometimes. When I come back home, even for the day, the moment I walk in through the front door, it almost seems that nothing has ever changed and that my time at university never happened. I very quickly slip back into my normal home routines.

But then there are things that remind that even when I am at university, things have changed at home. I find small changes around me – the new solar panels on the roof, the new locks in the doors, the new windows and front door, and my father’s new organ. I find that my younger brother and sister have grown older, that they have changed in subtle ways, which I find hard to put my finger on.

And I have changed too. Again, it is hard to put my finger on sometimes, but I have grown more independent and more confident. My role has changed at home – rather than being the big sister and daughter who is almost always there to help out when needed, I am now the big sister whose being at home is a special occasion, though I still lend a helping hand when I can.

But though we all face change at times, we always have an unchanging God behind us, His love enfolding and surrounding us. It may be an uncertain world, full of changes, but we can always be certain of this – His perfect hand in holding and guiding us and His presence to confort and assure us.

(Okay, a confession of sorts – I did not type all that in 5 minutes, because my thoughts did not flow into words as easily as I would have liked. And I also did go back and edit it a little, mainly just to remove typos and to make sure it kind of made sense.)

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My First Year of University

It seems so hard to believe that this time last year I had only just received an offer to study children’s nursing.

That offer came at the end of over 6 long months of university applications and unsuccessful interviews, when I had pretty much given up my dream of studying nursing at all that year and was preparing myself for a year of work and planning to start a nursing degree this year instead.

My offer came through a pretty amazing chain of events, and when I first received it, I could hardly believe it, and kept thinking that it couldn’t be true, that there must be some horrible mistake somewhere and that someone at my university would turn around and say, “Hey, what are you doing here? We made a mistake; you should never have been offered that place.” It took a couple of weeks of my course and several lectures for it actually to begin to sink in that I was at university studying nursing, just as I had prayed I would be able to do.

And now, a year later, I am looking back over my first year of nursing, complete with all the highs and lows of university life, all the difficulties and blessings. My heart is filled with thankfulness to the Lord for how He has helped me and led me and blessed me over this past year. He has blessed me richly, above all I could ask or think and has shown me how His plan is better than anything I could ever have imagined for myself.

My first year has not always been easy. I have to be honest – there were moments when I came to the point where I actually asked myself why I ever thought this university thing was something I could do. There were times when I thought “I can’t do this, let alone ever make a good nurse.” Among the many blessings, I have struggled with many things over the past year. For example…

There was the adjustment of living away from home for the first time ever, which was especially hard for someone who had only ever been away from their family for four days at a time before, and that only once or twice.

There were the difficulties I had in overcoming my shyness and making friends with the other students at university.

There was the struggle with working out how I personally fitted in at university as someone who had been homeschooled from the very start and had never been to school or college before going to university.

There was the loneliness – I missed my family and discovered that university housemates are not the same as family, at least not for someone as family-centred as I was.

There were the questions I encountered as soon as I emerged from my sheltered little cocoon and faced the real world: What was it right for me to do as a Christian student ? What music could I listen to? What clothes could I wear? What could I do in my spare time? Why did I believe what I do?

There was the struggle with my lack of confidence and my at times not-so-brilliant communication skills.

And then on the other hand, so many blessings…

There was the blessing of meeting with other Christian students through the university Christian union and discovering that even though we often came from very different church backgrounds, we shared the same faith.

There has been the blessing of my new church while at university, which has become like a second family to me – without their support and love, I trully do feel I wouldn’t have made it through my first year at times.

There were the blessings of friendships begun, despite my personal struggles in that area.

There was the blessing of being finally able to pursue my dream and study children’s nursing, learning both in lectures at university and in my practical placements where I worked with children and their families.

There has been the blessing of knowing the Lord’s help in my studying, helping me through each of my assignments and exams.

There was the blessing of receiving really positive feedback from some of the families I worked with on my placements.

And the list could go on.

It has been such a full and blessed year, one in which I have grown so much, grown from being a shy, nervous, and insecure teenager to being a much more confident, albeit still shy and at times insecure twenty-year-old (nearly twenty-something-year-old). That sentence probably doesn’t make much sense – suffice to say, although I still struggle with the old shyness and insecurity at times, I am so much more confident that I was this time last year. Yes, I have so much to be thankful for!

“Oh give thanks unto the LORD; for he IS good: because his mercy endureth for ever” (Psalm 118:1)

When writing an essay doesn’t go to plan…

My Saturday afternoon seems to have all gone wrong. I was going to work on my essay, finish my first draft, and start reviewing it. Admittedly, I do now have 2250 words out of the 3000 words required, but words have not been coming fast. I can’t think how to write what I have learnt about pain management in children. I can’t think what to base my case study on. I can’t seem to work out how to apply my research on pain management to my as-yet-unwritten case study.

And the printer doesn’t want to work.

Let me explain. When I have written a reasonable amount of an essay, I always like having a printed copy to work from. I just do. I like the clean-ness and clarity of a neatly typed and printed copy – it is just perfect to cover with scribbled notes, suggested changes, and reworded sentences. But today, the printer is being stroppy – it is never good news when it says, “Please wait a while”. Consequently, I have every other page of essay printed, but the other pages are stuck on my laptop, and the printer refuses to print them.

It is at times like this that I can start telling myself that it is no good. That I don’t have it in me to make my way through this three-year nursing degree. I mean, I can’t even print an essay, let alone write it. And I am only in my first year – it only gets harder after this. Not to mention, I am not a good student. I spend too much time watching “One Born Every Minute” (or some other TV shows), when I should really be working. I don’t read as much or as often as I should.  And my memory is like a sieve – I seem to forget everything I try to learn within a couple of days.

The accusations come flying in. The verdict? Not good enough.

It is just one of those kind of days.

And it is also one of those moments when I need to remind myself why I am here. I need to remind myself why I want to be a nurse – how I want to be there for children and their families at some of the most vulnerable moments of their lives when they most need loving care and support. I need to remind myself of my own experience as a little girl of 8-years-old with a very sick baby sister, and how that influenced my decision all these years later.

I also need to remind myself of how I came to be here. I came through so many dashed hopes and so much uncertainty, just to study nursing. I need to remember how the Lord brought me and placed me here – to study nursing. If He brought me here, He can give me all I need to go through with the course. He can enable me to pass this first year. He can help me to do well in my second placement coming up in just over a weeks’ time. And He can help me to complete this essay. We will deal with that lie of ‘not good enough’ another time. For now, it is enough for me to know that I don’t have to do this on my own, for the Lord is my help.

No one ever said university was going to be easy. No one ever said nursing was going to be easy either. But the Lord is Almighty, and He can help me through. As Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I can do everything through Christ, which strengtheneth me.”(Philippians 4:13) With Christ, I can do it!

And it can be applied to so much more. We should never limit God’s power and ability. In the most difficult and impossible situations (and I’m talking situations much, much harder than finishing a 3000-word assignment for the 5th June!)  God is there for His children, and He will help them and carry them through. He will give grace for the darkest moments. He will uphold in the moments when all else seems to fail. He will comfort in the midst of grief. He will bring hope into despair. He will be there for us when we need Him most. He is there, even when we doubt Him, and He loves us with a love beyond all telling. The list goes on. There is lifting up!

(Almost) Six Months Later…

I am sitting here staring at a flat line for the number of people who have visited my blog recently. We all know that a flat line on an ECG is not good news (should be careful here, as I am supposed to be a nursing student, so will really look silly if I get something wrong!) – it is one sign that a person has died, and their heart has stopped working. In a similar way, a flat line on my viewing stats does not signify a healthy blog. Not that you needed to tell me that, as I could have told you that already.

It has been a little while, right? My maths (and it could be wrong, but I somehow don’t think so) tells me that it has been six months since I last updated my little blog. And if my memory isn’t tricking me, that post was a scheduled post. I think more was supposed to be coming, but it never did come. Life went on, and this space was left behind – empty.

I can’t apologise for deserting my blog. Not sincerely, anyway. I rarely felt any twinge of guilt during these past 6 months – Oh no! I haven’t updated my blog – what a bad person I am! I have to confess that for the most part, it has been furthest from my mind. Life has been too busy with other things.

If anyone reads this, by now they are probably wondering, Then why on earth is this person (who is quite possibly mad) writing on her blog now? She’s just been telling us how little she cares about blogging?!

I guess there are times when I just feel like blogging. And this evening is one of those times.

I have to admit it; there are times when I do wonder whether the season for blogging is really over for me, at least for now. I started blogging as a lonely, somewhat isolated teenager (how I like being able to put it that way – being 20 is good!) longing for some way to reach out and connect and get to know other people, especially Christian girls living a similar life to me. That was key for me back me – connecting with people like me, at least in someway, so that I didn’t feel quite so much cut off.

Things have changed such a lot since then. I have begun to realise the value of real-life friendships. Not that online friendships are to be totally thrown off – I have met some very dear and sweet people through blogging and the internet, and still try to keep in touch with some of them. But it wasn’t healthy for me to seek all my friends online; I really needed to know people in real-life. It is hard to explain, but blogging can create the impression of being connected, but away from the internet my reality was pretty lonely.

Since going away to university, I have found that forcing myself away from the comfort zone of my family and their limited circle of acquaintances has been beneficial to me. I have begun to learn to forge friendships with real-life people, friendships which I hope will grow and develop. I have to confess, it has not been easy. I was too used to living quite an isolated existence. I was used to hiding myself behind my shyness. I still do hide myself, and I am trying to learn to be more open with other people. It is easy to be open online, with people who don’t know me in real life. There is safety behind the screen; there is security in knowing that those people can only see so much of me as I let them see. There is security in the fact that people don’t actually know ‘me’. There is a lovely security in being able to write about what I feel, and re-edit it until it is just right. But when with people in real life, I can try to hide, but it is harder. I can’t ‘edit’ what I say – it comes out as it is, raw, complete with all the rough edges.

I am almost at the end of my first year at university now and how time has flown. My first big university exam is looming. (Thankfully, nurses don’t get as many exams as other students, or I think I would be doing my head in – I have never done big exams before.) My life is filled with revision, and the library has become like a second home to me. I am facing my second placement, and it will be my first on a hospital ward. I probably should be revising right now, but it has been a long day, and I am trying to relax – in a semi-productive way! Did I also mention I  have a 3000-word essay to write? Yes, life is busy, it is a little hectic, it can be overwhelming at times, but it is good.

I can’t think of anything else to say right now, save this final thought – God has been good to me, and I am so thankful for all He has done for me over the past year! I can’t say my first year at university has always been easy, but God has been there, overruling the events in it and helping me. And He will continue to do so in the months to come. May all who read this blog know His presence in their lives too!

Coming Back to Trust

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Perhaps the heat compounded my feelings of frustration.  Perhaps I really do have too much time currently to sit and think.  Anyway, the thoughts came crowding thick and fast that sunny afternoon: I was meant to be going to university this September, but now look at me.  A whole extra year, and what am I going to do in it?  I would like a job, but what if a job doesn’t come my way? What if I end up sitting at home, getting more and more frustrated?

Don’t get me wrong; I love being at home (generally, anyway!).  But for someone who was planning and working towards going to university to study children’s nursing, and who was planning to do that this year, suddenly finding that she actually has another year at home can be a little frustrating at times.  At least it has proved to be so for me.  Just like the average person – please tell me I am not the only one – I am apt to get frustrated because things haven’t quite gone my way.

When I first received my offer, there was a sense of relief – I have got a place at uni, even if it is for next year.  But then gradually it began to sink in that it also meant I had an ‘empty’ year stretching ahead of me.  And that getting the job I really wanted wasn’t a given.

That final point was what frustrated me. If I could find a job I really loved for the next year, I know that I would not have any problem with feelings of frustration and impatience over the wait.  I might almost be sad when the year ended – but not quite… we hope!  However, it is becoming apparent that finding that job may prove hard.

I think that I am one of those people who really likes to know what they are doing and when they are going to do it.  I like structure, and I like definite plans.  That is one reason why this past half-year has been so hard for me – I have not known where I am going to go and what I am going to do this September.  It has all been hanging, uncertain and undecided.  Even now, I still don’t know.  There are so many ‘maybes’, yet there is nothing definite.

In the end, it all boils down to that little word: trust.  I have touched on this before – the need to trust in the Lord, to wait patiently for Him, for He will, in His time, make His way plain.  Yes, I must trust that my God is able to make all the seemingly messy threads of my life at present come together and ‘make sense.’  Not to  believe that would be to suggest that He is not almighty, all-powerful and sovereign; it would be doubting some of His essential attributes.  To become frustrated with the very messiness, the uncertainty, and the change of plan is evidence of a lack of trust.

There are those words Psalm 116:7: “Return unto thy rest, O my soul.”  They whisper the thought that there is a place of rest, and, though we are so apt to stray from it, it is open for us to return.  When those thoughts of frustration come, these words gently remind of that place of rest – “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee.”

Check-the-Box Christianity

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It can be just a little too easy to get caught up in the externals of Christianity.  So much so that you become so caught up in making sure that your Christianity is okay on the outside, that you rarely get any deeper.  Your Christianity begins to look something like this:  Dress modestly, check. Don’t listen to worldly music, check.  Go to church every week, check.  Read my Bible every day, check, Pray, check.  Say all the right kind of good Christian things, check.  Christianity simply becomes a long list of things you should be, and if you can check all the above, then you are alright.

But there is a teensy weensy problem here – a great big one, in fact.  The thing is, Christianity is not primarily about ticking all the boxes and doing all the right things.  Christianity is first and foremost a relationship – a living, vital relationship – with God, the God Who made us and formed us, the God Who saved us.  If we reduce Christianity to a set of rules to be followed or a list of dos and don’ts, we begin to fall into the trap of legalism and make more complicated specific rules to follow in order that we might feel better than our fellow Christians.  The comparison game begins: “I never listen to that music, so I am better than so-and-so.”  “Oooh, so-and-so wears trousers, but I don’t, so I am a better Christian.”

The Bible was never meant to simply be used as a massive rule book – that is why some things (such as definite guidelines on modesty and what music we should listen to) are not mentioned at all.  Instead, there is much relating to our relationship with our God and the visible results of that relationship with Him.  Take verses such as John 15:4.  “Abide in me, and I in you” – we must come into this vital relationship with Christ.  The real danger of a check-the-box Christianity is that it forgets this, the most vital part of Christianity.

This should be our focus: “that I may know Him,” that I personally and intimately know my Saviour and the power of His salvation in my life.  This is not concentrated on externals; it is instead concentrated on the very heart of our religion – our experiential knowledge of Christ.  Rather than seeking to tick all the boxes and simply live as a Christian outwardly, we should be seeking to come a deeper and closer knowledge of Christ inwardly.  We should be taken up with Christ and with coming to that place where “Christ liveth in me” is truly realised in our lives.

It is not to say that the externals don’t matter.  They do matter, but they should always flow from a right relationship with Christ.  Just as claiming to have the relationship with Christ without any of the external signs is empty and dead, having the externals in place without that vital relationship with Christ is also empty and dead.  The two are inseparable, but the relationship with Christ should be our first focus. If we concentrate on Christ and coming into deeper communion with Him, we shall find that we live “right” as we instinctively avoid sinful things and obey HIs commands out of our love for Him.

Rather than worrying about the externals, this then should be our aim: to come to the place where we are spiritually so close to Christ with our hearts so much at one with HIm that the externals falls into place naturally as we follow Him.

The Discipline of Loneliness

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“Lonely” is a word which has found its way into my journal far more often than I would like to admit.  Sometimes maybe there was a touch of teenage blues – generally feeling a little sorry for oneself.  However, it is not all that, for loneliness is something which I have definitely experienced.  I find that I struggle with loneliness, for I am too apt to shrink from speaking to other people, particularly if they are all seem busy and happy with the friends they have already, tending to lead to feeling left out and very much alone.  Then the questions would come: “Am I unfriendly? Unapproachable? Just plain boring?”

I had to come to realise that is not necessarily to case – that there are times when the Lord permits His children to go through seasons of loneliness.  That it may simply be loneliness due to being removed far away from friends, or it may be loneliness due to the feeling that one has no close friends.  That whatever the reason, loneliness is difficult.  That, yes, it is hard, but God can have – no, He does have – a purpose in allowing loneliness in our lives.  That there are lessons that can be learned from loneliness that may not be learned as well when we are happy and secure in our friendships with others.

These then are the lessons I have learned from loneliness.  Some have been and are harder than others for me to put into practice, but I believe they are all very important and relevant.

1.  Value friendships.  Having experienced loneliness, I understand more than ever the value of close friends.  You learn that friendship is to be cherished; it is important to guard against offending our friends and destroying friendships by picking on the little differences between us. Instead we should focus on building up and strengthening our friendships, despite any differences we may have.

2.  Be more friendly In a period of loneliness, it occurred to me that part of the fault may be with me – I was being too self-centred.  Rather than desiring that people talk to me so that I feel more accepted and happy, I realised that I needed to want to talk to people in order to show that I care about them.  Notice the difference – instead of being about ‘me, me’ all the time, it is more about others.  That means being less shy and sometimes initiating the conversation.  It means asking questions, letting the other person talk, and trying to relate to their position.

3.  Try to include the loners.  After too many occasions of being the loner – the person who stands on the outside of a group not talking to anyone and feeling miserable – I hope that I have learned to be more aware of people who are looking left-out.  Simple actions like going over to talk to them and introducing them to other people often mean a lot – they did to me, anyway (and still do!).  But let me remember, introducing them to a group of your friends and then ignoring them often simply makes them feel even more uncomfortable.

4.  Find comfort in the Friend Who is better than all earthly friends.  This is, I believe, the primary purpose of God in allowing loneliness in the lives of His children – to cause them to depend upon Him.  With an absence of earthly friends to distract me from Him, I was driven to Him seek the comfort and love I desired.  And I found that He gives of Himself abundantly, for He is willing and ready to receive and comfort all who come to Him!  Loneliness may cause tears, but it also helps to deepen and strengthen the believer’s relationship with their Saviour and teaches them to cleave closer to Him.  The end result is joy!

 

“Nothing strengthens us so much as isolation and transplantation….  It may not be necessary for us to withdraw from home and friends; but we shall have to withdraw our heart’s deepest dependence from all earthly props and supports, if ever we are to learn what it is to trust simply and absolutely on the eternal God.”

– F. B. Meyer