ONE year ago last week, I posted on social media (stupidly, might I add) about having been accepted to study Mental Health Nursing at one of the UK’s top institutions for such a course. I had decided to proceed in this direction, after seeking God’s guidance in prayer and fasting, as is biblical to seek guidance and go forward in life (after funding had run out in my previous job). It was also coupled with a deep compassion for this marginalised, misunderstood group in our society.
I’m told by others I have an abnormal ability to care for, and help, those in particular who are feeling suicidal.
This simply doesn’t scare me like it seems to, most.
One year later, I could not have predicted how things have panned out to date, and I thought I’d just write and share a little update, boldly, to hopefully help someone else out there going through a tough time.
A famous local pastor in the North Coast of Northern Ireland encourages his flock, “don’t waste your pain,” so here goes: taking a risk, being vulnerable and sharing a very limited shortened version of life these past 12 months. Many may still judge and fail to care or understand, but I am glad I feel gloriously free from the fear of man these days.
Many other friends who grew up following God, have long since walked away from their faith, but let me share a little of my faith journey, and hope that it inspires some of you, even one of you, to keep going, or start, your own.
Having already had several years in a row of fairly intense adversity, I hoped last summer I had entered a dramatically different new season. Indeed I do believe I did, it just wasn’t quite what I had been expecting. I was thinking to myself, “Come on God…give me a break.”. We’re like that sometimes – thinking we know the level of fiery trial and adversity we ‘should’ be brought through, and complaining if it starts to feel too much.
First term was very successful, despite many difficulties with the London housing crisis. However, earlier this year I was forced to defer from my course, with discussions currently about possible withdrawal. This was due to health issues – a chest infection and severe fatigue which I gratefully recovered from – having forced me into missing 6 weeks of placement. It was deemed to be too much time missed in placement to continue on in to the next part of the course this year, however, and in addition, awfully for me, this major fact then failed to be communicated to me by the member of staff allocated to do so, my personal tutor.
In March, thinking I was returning to the course, I was about to start back into university lectures. However, totally ‘out of the blue,’ a bombshell email was sent to me from the Acting Course Director, who failed to communicate at all prior to this. So, it rocked my world. The email warned me all of a sudden I would, ‘have to defer or withdraw from the course.’ (It gets even more complicated than this, however, suffice it to say,) I was gutted – as I thought I was going back and continuing on – what my personal tutor had previously led me to believe.
I felt devastated, as things were not working out and again my path was being blocked in life. I have had several serious and awful times like this in the past decade. It felt like I wanted the ground to eat me up and swallow me live. I felt like, ‘ how on earth can I face people? -friends back home – friends like YOU reading this, with the way all this is turning out?, after years of extremely difficult stuff most people know nothing of the details of, but have already heavily (wrongly) judged me and criticised my life for. Many without even having taken time to talk to me or listen to what I’ve been through, and without any consideration or compassion for horrendous curve balls outside of my control. ‘How can I pick myself up – again – from this one?’ I thought. I felt broken beyond being ‘fixable’.
Life can be very tough and people can very cruel. That’s why, all the more, though, God’s grace and compassion is amazing and deeply meaningful to me.
There was no choice: I had to dig deep, pick myself up and keep going. There are a few close friends in particular I have to really thank for supporting and standing with me through those tough days. Prayer is everything, even more, in those times.
A subsequent battle ensued, where I was left in, ‘limbo land.’ I had to move out of London and move back home to my parents’ house (feeling ashamed about, yet grateful for their support), to save money, and to proceed to fight a formal university case against how I was treated. My faith in a just and good God, my good Heavenly Father, was tested, again, but ultimately stood true and sustained me, spurring me on.
Papa God became my rock, refuge and strength, in a way I’ve never so deeply and personally needed, after so many rough years of adversity in a row.
As this ‘limbo land’ continued, however, and the battle continued, with lots more sagas (I am skipping out here for time sake) in between, I became very, very weary and discouraged. About as discouraged as I’ve ever been in my life. I was fighting just to keep my head up and not get really down.
I believe in a higher being, and the mystical power of prayer, which some of you reading this without a faith will think I am ‘nuts’ for, but that’s ok. I got others to join me in praying (thank you SO much those of you who did so – you know who you are, and deserve a medal for supporting me and holding up my weary hands when I felt like I could not go on – THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart!).
Sometimes things only feel so dark because God is actually so near, and we are under the shadow of his wing – as I am beginning to realise all the more I have been in recent months.
After much perseverance and endurance (still in limbo land and life of prayer, now re-registered as a freelance journalist and writer – which I’d laid down after sensing God’s leading, amidst things not opening up for me the way I might have hoped, nor earning enough money to support myself), I succeeded last month in winning the battle of injustice I had suffered from the University. Reason and good sense prevailed. After support from my M.P., senior figures in the University made the two staff members in question write me (humiliatingly for them) formal letters of personal apology for the way I was treated.
A small amount of compensation was received, and all of a sudden, additionally, around the same time just three weeks ago, I was offered a cheap ticket to NI v Ukraine group C Euro 2016 match in Lyon. After a long and arduous few months, suddenly something very fun and unexpected was placed in front of me. There was nothing really to stop me from taking a sporadic flight to France and going. For, anyone who knows me knows I like a bit of top football, so after consulting a few wise older friends, that’s exactly what I proceeded to do.
Nearly three weeks ago, I travelled to France on a €20 Ryanair flight to Paris, then on to Lyon on a £13 megabus ticket to Lyon, for an adventure I could have easily missed. It instead turned into one of the greatest Spirit-led adventures of my life in recent years. We are never alone when we have God, and I was craving some time alone anyway from having been living wt my parents, so going on my own was even more a part of the blessing, before joining up with my sister in Paris.
As a result of stepping out in my ‘mustard seed’ of faith I had a portion of my soul restored somewhat, from other very difficult stuff going on which I won’t go into here. I can only thank and praise God for whispering to me to, “Go to Lyon” it seemed, every time I prayed about it the week before I went.
In Lyon, I enjoyed the historic beauty, together with an historic Northern Ireland victory against Ukraine (anyone who knows me knows I quite like football…but I very much know there’s more to life, don’t worry!!).
I will never forget the euphoric atmosphere in the stadium that night, as Niall McGinn scored the second goal to beat Ukraine 2-0. It was like nothing I have ever experienced before, and many others who’ve been to World Cups also testify to.
Additionally, through a twist in fortunes, in line with recent prayers prayed, I received an unexpected phone call to do some interviews live from Lyon for BBC local radio back in Northern Ireland. I couldn’t believe it – everything already seemed so surreal – so I thought, ‘Yeah, why not?’
So I ended up being asked to do an interview live on breakfast radio in NI, from Lyon, speaking about the atmosphere and build up to the game, followed by the aftermath the next morning after the team’s historic win.
I then decided to extend my initial 3-day trip, by continuing my life-giving sporadic-ness, deciding to follow the football team to the French capital. Booking a trip to Paris on the TGV (fast French train) to Paris, my talented, amazing sister who lives nearby came and met me and took me to a nice little Indian restaurant.
It couldn’t have been more contrasting to recent months. The little personal dream-come-true-trip continued, as God blessed me through a new German friend I met in Paris, with a fab ticket to the NI v Germany game. It was amazing, and a night of my life I don’t think I will ever forget.
Then, when NI qualified for the next round, I stayed on with my sister, in the hope of obtaining another gold-dust ticket to the Wales match last weekend.
Sure enough, I again got blessed with the desires of my heart, and ended up in the thick of the Green And White Army, with the many great new friends I had made, cheering on my country, in the biggest game since 1982.
Flying home on Wednesday past, the lifetime of memories I now possess are something money can’t buy. I’m so glad I stepped out in faith, and so glad I didn’t quit when things have been horrendously tough. Not that things are particularly easy for me now, still, back home this month, but I hold onto faith, hope and love, with the greatest of these, love. Without love we have nothing.
I simply write and want to give glory, thanks, honour and praise to Father God, whom I love, and to communicate with friends whom I love, amidst the ongoing challenges, and hopefully encourage and help someone else out there maybe having their own tough time.
We are over-comers by our stories being shared – the good, the bad and the ugly. Stories are powerful. Stories are influential. Stories are undeniable.
A lot can happen in a year, and though I thought 12 months ago I might be half way to being a qualified Mental Health Nurse by now, circumstances have dictated otherwise, giving me more time to think, pray, write/ be creative, and encourage others going through tough times, not least my cousin ongoingly fighting cancer.
Coasting along academically, my body spoke louder and when our health speaks, we have to listen. Health really is the main thing, and I am thankful for the health I enjoy again now, though still suffering from unwelcome lingering fatigue.
Continuing to stay close to Jesus, whom I unashamedly live my life by, and the Holy Spirit as my comforter, I ended up living out a mini dream come true, of not only attending Euro 2016, and my own wee country playing at it, but being phenomenally blessed enough to get a wee bit of paid work associated with it.
‘Daring to dream’ had a personal and corporate meaning for me in France.
Yes, it’s been a tough year, and I do not know what the future holds, but do any one of us? Even when we think we do, none of us knows exactly what’s around the corner in life.
I’m thankful that in these perhaps perilous, historic, strange days we are currently living in, I know a good Father God who does. Dark clouds have had a silver lining I’ve been very grateful for. There is always hope to hold on to when we have Jesus Christ in our lives. Being honest, though, is not something I find many Christians or religious people really like, despite how much closer to God I find it personally brings me. I find it to be the judgemental, religious-spirited Christians the difficult ones one has to watch! (Jesting!)
Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble…”
I would never have got through this past year so unscathed had it not been for my personal faith and inner quiet trust in Jesus Christ, and the phenomenal few true friends I’ve had to support and pray for me, along the way, at just exactly the right times.
These are both in Northern Ireland and the USA. It and HE has made all the difference.
Not a crutch, as some mock he is, but a welcome rock to stand upon when we are weak. Because when I am weak, (as I have been in recent times), then he is strong. Mental health indeed.
God is a God of mystery, and too often we think we know all the answers, as NI Christians, but the more I know the less I know. The key, for me, is to trust. Trust in The Lord with all my heart, and lean not on my own understanding.
Having the compassion to love oneself and care for oneself the way you would for someone else, is a life lesson ongoing and progressing. France 2016 is a trip I shall never forget, and all the more precious for having shared it with my sister.