Monday, 26 January 2015

Birthdays

You may or may not know (because I don't really tell people when it's coming), but last Monday was my birthday. Now I'm not bothered about getting older, as far as I'm concerned the more years the better and I would like to embrace every year I'm blessed with, but I really feel funny about making a deal out of my birthday. It kind of just feels a bit of an arbitrary reason for people to make a fuss. It's not like I've done anything impressive or deserving, I almost feel like I would be imposing a celebration on other people, especially if the birthday doesn't end in a 0! I love my family and friends, and I love thinking of things to give them or write in a card when it's their birthdays. However, it just feels like if I let people know that my birthday is coming up, then I'm asking them to do the same for me, when really there's no need. This may sound really cynical, or like false humility, but honestly that's not it, I'm just quite content to let birthdays pass by quietly. 

Not everybody in this house feels that way though! I'd planned to just have a quiet evening with Mum and Dad and two close friends on the Sunday evening, and then go to a film with a couple of girl friends on the day (although that was as much because my housemate and I just really wanted to see Into the Woods, and we're so rarely both free at the same time). But unbeknowns to me, my (lovely) housemate abused her position of knowledge to invite lots of friends along to join us for food and the film! I was so shocked when I recognised a couple of dancing people where we were going, that I turned to the other Bethan and said, 'Oh look Stephanie and Sarah are eating here too', assuming that they were there for their own reasons. It didn't cross my mind that even though neither of them live in Swansea that they might have made the effort just for me until they started singing and handing me cards/presents! It was so sweet and I was thrilled and so touched that they were there for me, and I hadn't even been the one to impose my birthday on them, Beth was!

And then two days later, I was going round to house group - who Beth had also spilled the beans to that it had been my birthday - and they made a fuss of me too! I got a lovely card with messages (and fivers!) from everyone inside, some other really sweet gifts and cards, two more homemade cakes (which then made four altogether including the ones made by my housemate and my Mum!) and a lovely rendition of Happy Birthday. Now I'm not normally one to go all shy, but I'm pretty sure I went red in the face and a bit lost for words! Again, I would never have asked anyone to go to any trouble, but it was so lovely and thoughtful that they had, I was well chuffed!

So will I be publicising my birthday next year, or have the date public on facebook? Probably not. Do I feel deserving of such kindness and nice surprises? Not really. But am I grateful? Absolutely. You can never have too many reminders of what grace looks like. So if the way people treat you on your birthday is a hint of the overflowing, unmerited and unexpected goodness God graciously shares with me, then God just got even more lovely in my eyes. Now that's something worth celebrating.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Thank God for...Laura Whitmill

One week back at work and I'm already feeling weary and a tad grumpy, so I thought I'd do something I haven't done in a long while and write a 'thank God for' Friday post. The idea is that it's good to remember the good stuff, and to remember God is the giver of all the good stuff, and Friday is as good a day as any to mark that. Anyway, today is a special Friday for a very special friend as it is the start of her hen do, and I am seriously looking forward to a whole weekend of fun and frolics with her. Today I am saying,

Thank God for ... Laura Whitmill.


Laura is one of my closest friends from my time at university in Aberystwyth, although only a fraction of the time we've been good friends was while we actually lived in the same town. We became good friends at the end of my second/Laura's first year, on the annual student mission organised by St Michael's Church. We bonded through 'question time', one of my favourite social activities where basically I just throw deep, open-ended questions at whoever I'm with, sometimes they do the same in return, and essentially you just spend time being really intentional about getting to know someone better. I can't remember what questions I asked, but they were enough for us to realise that we really enjoyed each other's company, both in the laughy and the thinky moments! 

Bonding at Forum, the CU leaders' training conference.

We spent a lot of time together during that trip, and also at a Christian Union conference we both went to at the end of the summer break. During the conference we decided to go through a book together in the following year at uni. The book was called Too Busy Not To Pray (Bill Hybels), and I cannot recommend it enough - especially as someone who chooses to live life in a near constant state of busyness and someone who finds the discipline of praying pretty difficult. I also cannot highly enough recommend Laura as a reading buddy! She is enthusiastic, honest, willing to take on challenge and change, encouraging and just openly totally in love with Jesus. 

Our fantastic and snowy holiday in the Peak District.
Since then we've had fun on another mission, Laura's birthday extravaganzas, holidays to the Peak District, Hamburg and Crete, and our memorable 'holiday in a day', as well as lots of phone calls, emails, hangouts and general good times. Laura totally inspires me, she manages to be both straightforward and also to feel and think deeply, she is fun and adventurous but also great company on a simple night in drinking mulled cider and helping me out making stuff for church. She is the kind of person who won't make me feel bad if we're not in touch for ages, but when we are it's like we saw each other yesterday and we wouldn't run out of things to say if we were together for weeks and weeks. She handles struggles really humbly and graciously and is much better than me at turning to God when things get tough, (and giving Him the credit when things are great for that matter). I love her like a friend and a little sister, although her wisdom definitely puts her as the older sister for sure!

On one of holidays together, at Hotel Nana Beach, Crete.
Thank you God so much for Laura Whitmill. I love her lots and lots. And I'm really excited about her hen!

 If you're interested, here are a few more highlights of times we've spent together:

Go to Hamburg! The parks have really fun stuff like this and the Miniature Wonderland is so cool (Laura and I may have spent hours there!)

Laura and her fiance Malcolm at her Two Little Ducks themed 22nd. Hands down, the best birthday party I have ever attended!

Self timer fun whilst on holiday together in Crete.


Some wild swimming on our holiday in a day

Proms in the Park with our lovely friend Kirsty.


Saturday, 3 January 2015

2014

The first few days of January are a classic time for reflection and resolution. Though I don't tend to like doing things just because everybody else is doing them, I think these two might be worthwhile regardless, and the start of the year is as logical a time as any, so here goes. What's gone on in the life and times of a Bethan in 2014? If you want to find out, then I suggest you read on:

January
I was still on my way out of a fairly stark time in 2013 where I felt I'd lost a lot of the enthusiasm and love for life, people and Jesus that had previously been so much a part of how I defined myself. I was also still pretty new to Swansea and quite frankly was devastated to return here after Christmas from the time I'd spent with people I love so much to an empty house and no real established relationships here yet. But there were little hints of future joys and one person in particular made a massive effort to make me welcome, for which I am forever grateful.

February
This was a really good month. After what had been a long spiritual drought I became excited by Jesus again; I started a Discipleship Explored course, read Mirror Mirror by Graham Beynon, and started attending a house group. These things all kind of plugged me back in to faith and fellowship, and I just felt that kind of bubbling joy that has little to do with circumstance and more to do with just knowing an amazing God on a personal level.

March
I had some time off at the beginning of the month which was much needed and much enjoyed. My best friend and I attended a Great Welsh Bakeoff themed break followed by a couple of days in beautiful Pembrokeshire which we absolutely loved. Sadly, just as we arrived at the hotel, I had the news that my Grandad had gone into hospital. I kind of didn't allow this to process while I was away and then it hit pretty hard when I got back. In a way though, it was kind of the point where I knew I was at home at church here, because awkwardness didn't stop me bawling my eyes out in the middle of worship! As well as visiting Grandad regularly, I wrote to him. We'd had many conversations about God over the years and I had an idea of where he stood, but wanted him to know the fullness of the gospel and its relevance to him so at least he'd heard it all. He definitely read the letter as he thanked me for it on my next visit, but that's as much as we said.

April
At house group we'd been going through a book about how we talk about God. This was really interesting and it made me think about why I hold the views I do, why other people might hold the views they do, and natural, non-confrontational ways of sharing with those who might be coming at life from a different angle that would actually encourage rather than antagonise. It was amazing how frequently and how enjoyably such encounters kept happening, sharing the good news I believe I've been given was a thrill and not a chore at all. It felt like the right time to start contributing and not only receiving from my new church. So I spoke to one of the pastors about how I could get involved and started off by volunteering at the children's holiday club, playing flute on Sundays and being on the Sunday School help rota. 

May
Grandad was still in hospital, I'd been trying to go over to Cardiff at least once a week and make sure I spent time sitting with him, listening to his stories and exploring faith with him where possible. I am so grateful for the many hours I sat with him over the years now, as by the end of May he'd gone downhill and developed pneumonia. The last week was without doubt the hardest and most physically and emotionally exhausting of my life. We sat with him around the clock but by then he was a shell of a man, unable to do much at all, even talk or drink, nothing at all like the proud but outrageously flirtatious man I knew! I so desperately wanted to be sure he was going to be with Jesus too, I read the Bible to him through the night, prayed and wept for him. In the end, even the deepest of faiths is precisely that, faith, not fact, so I simply have to trust the God who I know is abundantly loving and just, but who also graciously gave us free will.

June 
We went through that weird stage of waiting for a funeral, life is sort of normal but sort of different and you can't move properly into the different yet. When it came, as well as being incredibly upsetting, it was also a day where I felt immense pride to belong to a man who was admired by so many. Despite being completely tactless, he was also immensely loyal and caring, and despite being in some ways a total snob, there was a huge range and variety of people there to pay their respects and who I know treasured him and he them also. Aside from the funeral I think the month went by in a blur of busyness at work and just missing him, as I started remembering the Grandad I'd known and not the shadow we'd watched over at the end.

July
A big change at home as I prepared to have a housemate! I was really excited about this as I am definitely someone who is happier around people than on my own. And although I wasn't lonely, I was definitely conscious of being alone. Speaking of which, the wedding season also started, including one where the bride was a family friend I'd known all my life. It was a lovely day, if a bit odd because the other girl we'd grown up with was in Australia and it felt weird without her. A low point of the day (and probably month) was when an older guest felt the need to explain to me why I'm still single and suggest it might help to be less uptight! Let's just say it was a good moment to find some grace, and maaaybe I'll work on being more easy going.

August
My new housemate was settled in, Thomas Towers became the House of Bethans (we conveniently share a first name, very confusing when her Dad rings). It was an almost instant success, we're pretty similar but not too similar, both out a lot but have fun when we're both in, we have different morning routines so there's never a queue for the shower and we were both up for having a Bethan-warming party which was a lot of fun! The day after said party was the Port Tennant carnival which could take up an entire blog post in itself (needless to say I can't wait for the next one). Oh and I made a couple more ticks off my 27 things list (I'll explain another time) as I went on holiday to the Lake District with my great friend Sarah who was kindly loaned to me be her lovely husband Alex!

September 
This was a mental month in work, I got regularly told off by the other Bethan for coming home too late and then carrying on working as soon as I got in. This was a new challenge last year as I took on leading studies; I'm still yet to find the vital balances of what stuff you need to keep a tight grip on and what is ok to let go of/delegate, and what ground work really needs to be solid and considered in advance so you don't end up with panics late on. It would be fair to say I put a lot of pressure on myself and am a perfectionist in an environment where I'm not sure such a thing is possible to ever achieve. 

October 
I found out I would be going to India with work! I think this was largely because no-one else was interested in going but I certainly wasn't going to let such an opportunity pass me by! I decided to tag some traveling onto the end of the trip, which meant I would be away for most of November. Consequently I spent most of October getting stuff ready and seeing people before I went. At the same time I began having real trouble with some flat roof in my house which was leaking through the light (and eventually through pretty much everywhere) which put me in a pretty near constant state of anxiety. The logical and faithful part of me knows that my life does not depend on flat roof and even if my whole house fell down, God holds secure my heart and soul and there are plenty of people who would be there to help with everything else, but the feeling of responsibility does weigh pretty heavily.

November
Largely spent on another continent! It was an incredible and totally bonkers experience; an attack on the senses, an eye opener, a permanent moral dilemma and much more. The people and places I met/saw were both beautiful and at the same time so different from my comfort zone. I spent two weeks treated like an honoured guest while I was working and I so enjoyed getting to know those people and dip my toe into delivering training. The next two weeks were action packed with a vast array of activities, sights and modes of transport, all shared with a wonderful group of people who I'd never met before.

December
There was no easing back into life at home, it was straight into busyness; at work, at home, at church and all the added stuff that comes at Christmas. At work, there were angry Korean clients who needed to be kept happy (which meant a lot of extra stuff being done and sent on Christmas Eve)! At home, there was finally a window of dry weather to have the critically unstable roof replaced, but this turned out to be a much bigger job than expected. And at the same time as everything else going on, my emotions seemed to go into overdrive and I had multiple meltdowns, blubfests and crises of confidence. By the time Christmas came, pretty much all I was fit for was falling asleep but thankfully there was finally chance to rest.

So it would appear it's been an action and emotion packed 2014 with plenty of highs and lows. For 2015, I'm striving to be more balanced, more reflective (expect more regular blogging), more reliant on God and less self-absorbed. Ultimately, I want to remain rooted in Jesus, living in his purposes for me, to enjoy knowing Him and making Him known. 

Bring it on.