Monday, 24 June 2013

Bye bye Driving Fear!

About twelve years ago I took my first driving lesson. I hated it. Everyone kept telling me that one day it would click and I would feel better about it but it never did. Nine months later and just before my theory test I was in a nasty accident when out practising with my Dad. My little car was no more. I had lost a lot of money for a 17 year old and all my confidence behind the wheel. I went home, in total shock and laid under my duvet all evening. I decided then that I would never drive again and stopped lessons immediately.

In the years that followed I was good to my word and never got behind a wheel, well, not in body at least but I certainly did in my mind. Driving still hung about constantly, popping up in dreams and nervous moments as a passenger. Nightmares about being forced to drive and feeling thoroughly out of control became a regular feature of my dream world. I built my life around not needing to drive, taking jobs in the city centre and living along good bus routes. Sure there were things I couldn't do but they were no way near as bad as actually facing my fear and getting back behind the wheel.

It was only when on yet another lift back to my house in the back of my father-in-law's car just over a year ago that the balance started to tilt in favour of driving again. It wasn't a need to get anywhere or some new job that I needed a car for, more than anything I was fed up of being afraid. Fed of being mastered by something that I could overcome. Fed up of making compromises. Fed up of doubting myself.

So the next week I started lessons again. I hated every minute. As I've written on this blog before, my circumstances changed, I ended up studying in the middle of the countryside and suddenly I needed to drive and yet it was so hard, so impossible, that I felt I would never get there. It probably sounds ridiculous to be so wrung out from simply learning to drive given some of the challenges people meet and overcome every day. All I can say is that it felt like so much more than a license and a freedom to get where I want, when I want. It was about whether I could really get over myself enough to succeed at something I knew I could do or whether I was going to be the sort of person who let fear dominate me.

After nine months of lessons I failed my first test. Two months later I took it again and failed for a second time. Despondent and thrust straight into the busyness of ministry training I put driving on hold again but booked myself into an intensive course and into another test for the end of the year knowing I would flake out if I didn't commit myself and some cash to the cause. That test was last Friday and much to my great surprise – I passed!

It is wonderful to consider all the things I can now do and all the restrictions that have melted away with this one landmark achievement. But more than this it is wonderful to have such a big, lifelong fear shunted firmly into the past. I am so tired and getting here has certainly cost me a lot emotionally and physically but the rewards are only just beginning.

So how about you? Any big fears you want to put behind you? If my oft winding tale towards being a fully licensed driver is anything to go by then anything is possible.

Friday, 21 June 2013

The Choice – Part 2

A while ago I blogged about summertime and story telling bringing to your attention a really exciting campaign that Tearfund are running at the moment. They have recently released the next video in the series, isn't it beautiful?

Beautiful boys from The Choice video (Photo: Tearfund)
Poverty is such a faceless beast. Those in need become an amorphous 'problem', but in reality all the statistics are made up of individual people, like you and me, and each 'problem' has an infinite number of solutions. Children can have more than the generation that came before them. They can go to school, their parents can experience the deep joy of seeing their children have more and better than what they have had. I've seen it happen and it is brilliant. More, more, more, I say!

Fresh from the IF campaign I am really inspired by even the title of this new campaign. Because it is a choice isn't it? To give or to hoard. To be generous or closed. To see challenges or problems. To hope or to despair. While we're on the subject of the IF campaign and getting a passion for the opportunities available to make awesome choices for the world at large, check on this video The Hunger Museum. Isn't it fab?
Choice, opportunity and blessings on earth. Happy Friday!

Monday, 17 June 2013

One year down!

With the shake of a lambs tail (or about 80,000 words, but hey, whose counting?!) here were are, at the end of the first academic year of vicar training. I really can't believe it is here. The pile of reading on my kitchen table leaves me under no illusions that the work is over for the year but it still feels like a huge achievement.

At the final service of the year at the crumbly old Parish Church in the village I found myself a little teary. Looking around that church I felt deeply content and yet so aware of how I felt when I first sat there nine months before. Walking in excited, yes, but also with a deep wondering if this was something I could actually do. As I've written about before my journey into the glittering world of full time ministry hasn't been conventional. I've not harboured dreams of working under a beautiful spire my whole life or even set foot in a church voluntarily until seven years ago. Rather than creeping up on me, this whole thing jumped out of the darkness and it scared me half to death.
Pretty lovely college
Being not exactly what springs to mind when you think 'Vicar' combined with having to learn my way round 'church stuff' as an alien in new lands has, at times, made me feel deeply under confident. Believing somewhere deep down that, at some point, someone might just walk in and say 'What on earth are you doing here?' and send me back to where I came from. When the first set of essay titles came through I couldn't even imagine understanding the titles let alone writing several thousand words on any of these subjects.

This year, more than anything else, I am deeply grateful that I have realised, really realised, what utter tosh all this is. The pile of essays on my desk, all penned by my own fair hand, attest to this. The services led, the confidence bubbling up, the feeling of contentment and satisfaction all point like neon signs to the same conclusion. I always suspected, but now I know it to be true, that each one of us has come to this place exactly because of who we are rather than in spite of it.

The only thing to lament is when we fail to live up to who we really are. That is all that is really asked of any of us. Being accepted for who I am, mocked a little (!) and encouraged a whole heap has made such a big difference to me. I have never been shy in coming forward but now I feel so much more able to do this with all I am rather than attempting to present a version of myself that is so much less than I have to offer.

I am really, really REALLY tired and very, very, VERY aware that there is so much more to come but nonetheless this year has been wonderfully encouraging and deeply satisfying and it seems right to celebrate that. To push yourself to the edges of all you are is something I would heartily encourage. It is there that we really begin to grow and that feels simply brilliant.

Monday, 10 June 2013


I don't really know how to start talking about the last week. Perhaps it is best if I just begin with a picture.

Yes, that is 45,000 people in Hyde Park this Saturday making an enormous noise about the scandal of 1 in 8 people going to bed hungry each day in the world. This was how I ended my week.

The event came hot on the heels of another trip to London to catch up with a truly inspiring woman, Donata Kalunga. I've blogged about Donata before, that in fact was how my invitation from the lovely Build ItInternational found its way to me, but to see her in London on my home turf was tremendously exciting. We listened to Zambian music from the London African Gospel Choir (patting ourselves on the back for remembering some of the words!) and heard Donata's hugely inspiring story again.
The lady herself!
Coming to the UK was the first time Donata had ever left Zambia. She had never even seen the sea before and was overwhelmed with joy to be able to paddle in the waves. When I asked her how she was finding England she said 'it is like heaven!' and then squeezed me tight squealing 'my grandchild!' (she has well and truly adopted me!) She also went to see Mamma Mia in the West End and reportedly laughed for the entire thing, no doubt utterly bemused!
Seeing Donata again was my first dose of optimism for the week. Donata saw a problem in her neighbourhood and got to work fixing it, 'Disabled children are not being educated, well then I'll open a school'. No money, no problem. All these things that might reasonably be described as obstacles Donata, and many others in Zambia, described again and again as mere challenges. Something temporary to be overcome.

And all this in an environment where there are so many challenges that it must surely seem impossible. Yet, optimism they have and they have it in spades. On the bus back to Oxford the sun was going down and I said to my (long suffering!) husband, 'That's how I want to be'. God help me, one day perhaps.

Saturday, then, was another experiment in optimism but this time global optimism. I've been keeping up with the IF campaign but I have to say that on my way to the rally, partly through end of term tiredness and partly through lack of awareness, I wondered if the aims of the movement really could be achieved. Can we really see an end to hunger around the world? Sometimes I think we are so used to living with the man made, global disaster that is poverty in this world of wealth that we are numb to it. I am numb to it. In the face of such overwhelming need we freeze like a rabbit in headlights and fall into pessimism.
If this is you then my goodness get yourself to a rally! Feel the atmosphere, see the thousands of people that believe change is possible, bring your kids, bring your granny and just be encouraged. In my own life I live by the maxim that nothing ever gets done through pessimism. Game changers are people who see opportunities and possibilities and grab them. Who strive forwards for change and forget the voices that say it can't be done. Being at IF gave me a sense of global optimism in action. Nothing will change unless we believe it will. People who believe in change make change happen.

I don't know about you but I'm ready for that. Ready for it in my own life, as Donata has so ably shown me, and ready for it in the world. IF is going full steam ahead, there is so much more to do. As for me I'm going to be an optimist and be part of the solution, fancy it?