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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.