Archive for September, 2011

Hand-me-down grace

Do you have older siblings? If so, like me, you probably spent your younger years clothed in their cast-offs, that were too big, too small, too long or too short more often or not. They weren’t your choice or your preference. They didn’t fit you as they should and didn’t have your stamp on them. Someone elses name was in the collar. My big sister went through a major tom-boy phase where she cut off all her hair and wore only items of clothing featuring the ‘teenage mutant hero turtles’.  Four years younger, I was also a kid who spent a childhood up trees and down holes and hanging from bars and falling off fences – but I was happy doing it in dresses, too. I didn’t want her old ‘boy’ stuff. I hated that I only got to wear her clothes. I hated having her old school jumpers and her old jeans. I hated that I wore t shirts for camps I hadn’t been on and places I’d not visited. I hated it.

What made it worse was that people confused us so much, as we were both academic girls in a non-academic school, with brown hair and a tendency to be picked on, who both played the clarinet, both were involved in Girl Guiding, etc etc, ad infinitum. I went through school as ‘bigsister’sname-nowaitwhat’syourname?’.  Her name was written on my school reports and in the labels of my uniform. Looking back, my teenage years were a mess of a long-played identity crisis- she drowned me out. Even now, I often define myself as what she is not, rather than what I am. When my families problems kicked off, I was left muddling through, and made the mistake of defining myself on circumstance, not substance. Through all my counselling, it’s become clearer that I chose the wrong things to define myself with, when I’m able to at all. One of the things that most awes me about God is that He is who He says He is; I am that I am. If I asked you, ‘who do you say you are’, would your answer be the same today as it was ten years ago, and will be ten years in the future? Unlike God, e change, we grow, we alter, we question. God is not someone who has ever had an identity crisis.

When it comes to my faith, sometimes I kind of feel as though the grace set aside for me is just grace that someone else first in line didn’t use – that I’m a left-over Christian standing at the back of the queue, waiting to see if someone else before me has some scraps I can scavange to save my soul. It doesn’t feel like it fits me and my issues and my anxiety and my doubtful nature. It feels as though it should be worn by someone clean and sure and spotless. It makes me feel as though I’m wearing a robe that’s so long I trip over the hem, or a hood that falls down over my eyes so that I cannot see – and item woven for someone else that I somehow stumbled on and inspite of all my hoping, all my longing, still marks me as an outsider, without an invitation, standing in the dark at the back amongst the brooms. As a late comer to faith, often I make the mistake of thinking that God will only get to me after he’s dealt with everyone else – that my prayers haven’t racked up enough church-time to be taken seriously, that until I can list the books of the Bible forwards, backwards, and upside down, I’m stuck on hold.  My hand-me-down attitude to grace is hard to shake.

However, sometimes I remember, again, that the grace God gives me has been reserved for me since the beginning; it’s not second hand, or second best, it’s not handed down or man-handled, it’s not too big or too small or too long – it’s just the right size, the right fit, and would not match anyone elses need the way it matches mine. This reminds me that even when I’m feeling small and vulnerable, more hedgehog than eagle, God has me written in his book (an address book? I think so) and in his story. His Goldilocks grace gives me a firmer place to stand and the courage to stand there. This is one of the reasons I hate it when people talk about the ‘unchurched’ – because they might not be destined to stay that way, and God has their grace cut out and on hold, until they get there. We’re all born ‘unchurched’ at the end of the day. Our grace is enough.

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Serendipitous opportunities

First of all – I’ve calmed down a little since yesterday. I’m still a bit miserable and bitter, but at the end of the day, I’m only human and sometimes I need to have a strop. This is where I have my strops because this is where I’m honest. Onwards and upwards, eh?

Something a little unexpected happened this week. I met the student worker from my church for a chat as we’ve never really had a chance to get to know each other and he suggested meeting up after I emailed to ask if he knew of anyone who’s not found their feet at church, who’d be interested in being in a girls’ Bible study me and a friend were planning to start. The upshot was that he’s wanting to re-organise the student side of things a bit to include a return to more traditional ‘small groups’ after the church moved away from that model a year ago to focus on more missionally orientated groups. These student pods will have about 12 in each, with two leaders, who will, well, lead stuff and arrange everything, including prayer triplets and Bible studies every fortnight. The leaders will then have a monthly meetup with one of the married couples at church, where the husband is an elder  (and a doctor) and the wife is generally very involved too, too make sure they’re supported etc. I’ve been asked if I’d like to lead a group.

This is a bit weird as obviously it’s about a hundred miles from anything ‘church related’ I’ve done so far, and more than the small group I’d planned, and could see myself managing. On the other hand, I’ve not had any ‘input’ from someone mature at church for over a year, and have a feeling that this is something I need – I get lost and confused and waylaid, and could do with someone further on who knows me, and cares enough to signpost the way. As I come further and further out of depression, I’m going to need some guidance from someone I trust. This could be a good way of getting that. I’m also a much better speaker on ‘paper’ (electronic or otherwise) than out loud, so leading a group of students would push me to extend my faith in a way I’ve not really cracked yet. I know I get the words out here, but in public, I am, as always, more of a hedgehog for Jesus than an eagle. I know that I can do the leadership side, practically – I’m a good organiser, and good at looking out for people – but am not quite so sure about how good I will be about being honest about where I am with God, as, afterall, the last time I was that honest with someone from church ended in disaster. I still sometimes fall into a trap of not quite believing that my skills are relevant to church either – that it’s some holy place where only other people have a right to serve, and that I’ll never be good enough to lead anything with a Christian tag to it, because I’m not holy enough, or good enough, or clean enough. It’s going to need me to wipe that slate clean, leave my unease behind, and focus on being a good follower of Christ who can help other people follow too. Tall order? Pass me the stepladder.

I don’t really know what to do – as a fifth year, I’m pretty busy, but on the other hand, this could be a way of really deepening my faith and getting back into the community after feeling pretty forced out, after the dreadful encounter last year. It kind of has that ‘oooch’ feeling of knowing that God has put this in my path for a reason. It has that kind of niggle that it’s too well timed to be down to chance. It just fits too many spaces in my life, right now. I’m off to Nepal anyway, in January, so it would only be short term, which also makes me want to accept.

Thoughts, anyone?

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It’s been a pretty rough week. Generally, I try not to mull things over too much and dwell on the uncertainties brought by last year – but this week, I am, hands-up, being a bit self-indulgent and letting myself be upset and emotional about a few things. I’m tired of ‘looking on the bright side’ and ‘being grateful’ and ‘not dwelling on things I can’t change’. This week, I’m waving a white flag to disappointment, just for a little while.

The reason for this is that I start my application for my first doctoring job next month. Without explaining the ridiculously complicated and oh-so-pointless system in depth, we get a score out of 100 which is broken into a mark on where we rank in our year academically, plus a mark from answering various questions aiming to show that we won’t stab patients or steal from the hospital etc. Based on your score, you then find out which area of the country you’ve been allocated to, and from there, which group of placements you can apply for. Popular areas, and popular jobs, therefore need a higher score.

I found out this week that after spending five years achieving in the top 15% (roughly), last year knocked my marks off enough that my ranking dropped enough to lost me points. Every point counts. Literally. I’m feeling a bit self-pitying to be honest. I’ve worked so hard from day one – and one bad year has reduced the chance of getting a job I really want to do. Small sad man playing small, sad violin, you know where I am.

There is however another way to get a foundation doctor’s job, which is what I’d always intended on doing. The ‘academic foundation’ jobs are for people who want to do clinical research and who are academically sound. You get a much better choice of jobs, time for research, and are always in professorial units, which are usually the best ones in the hospitals. After being ill and having my research project take more wrong turns than a blind person navigating, I couldn’t really apply anymore – I had too much on my plate thanks to a hefty dose of depression. Something had to go. It was upsetting enough at the time letting it go, after so long thinking that it would be the path I would be on. A bitter change of plans.

Today is the day a lot of my friends found out whether they’d got academic jobs, or not. Some of the are excellent students. Others, I realistically was working either on a par, or above them, easily, till last year. Looking at the successes, I think it’s fair to say that I’d have stood a relatively good chance of getting one too, had I applied. I’m jealous. There is no other word for it. Between scoring lower on the academic ranking, and feeling annoyed that the academic jobs are out of my reach, I’m grumpy. Depression sucks. It really does.

I know it’s ugly, I know it’s wrong, but sometimes, sometimes I get so bloody fed up of all of this. I’m fed up of finding excuses every single week to a different consultant as to why I need time off. I’m fed up of having to constantly evaluate myself and my performance and measure it against a scale, and find myself wanting. I’m in mourning that not only did I lose last year to it, it’s still impacting me now. It’s changed my future. It’s still got me, tethered. I know that ‘poor little me-ing’ does no one any favours – but today, I’m upset and annoyed. Today, I’m just wishing that depression never happened to me. Today, I’m just wishing it would bugger off and let me be. I’m sick of struggling to breathe against it. I’m sick of living with it. I just want it gone. I just want to move on.

Magic bullets, this way please!

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I’ve got a few posts kicking around in my head but thought I’d start with a more personal, less gungo-ho theology one for now. I headed home for a visit this weekend as it’s unlikely I’ll be back before Christmas, to collect my winter coat and check in with my parents and brother. It’s been a really busy week on my attachment, with a lot of 12 hour days without breaks- but also really good and I’ve learned a lot, and have got to scrub in on a lot of surgeries too, which is always fun – but I was pretty knackered by the time I was on the four hour journey South.

Home as always, is strange. There is so much that my family don’t know about me, that sometimes it really does feel like I’m playing to the crowds, and after a fairly painful discussion about family stuff in counselling last week (is it ever, not painful?), I was dreading it and feeling pretty vulnerable. On Friday night once everyone had gone to bed, I was in my childhood bedroom, looking out at the night sky from a darkened room, as I did so often when I was younger, wondering how it was that the sky was so peaceful, when inside our walls, everything was chaotically falling to pieces. I feel so empty, so two-dimensional, when I am here. My old room in many ways is a catalogue of who I was – the list of grades needed for every medical school in the UK, which I pinned up three years in advance to spur me on, is still there, and now, a year from qualifying, it’s odd to look and realise that I’m so close to my childhood dream. The photos of the first learning disabilities respite camp I worked, age 16, are still there – and I’m still involved with similar things. The stack of thank-you cards from the Brownie unit I helped to lead, and used as an escape, is still there. The photos from the sixthform ball, me awkward in a balldress and heels, are there, despite the fact that the evening ended in tears when I ended up, as usual, being the ‘responsible’ one calling the parents of people who drank too much and were sick in the floor, further fuelling a complete fear of alcohol that would tar the future years with uncertainty and mistrust. The books on the shelf suggest that even then, I was painfully searching for answers, something to explain what I was seeing and thinking and feeling, something to help me get over and get through. Jostein Gaarder, my fifteen-year-old self owes you a debt. My old room almost feels as though it’s in mourning for something I can’t quite place.  Being back reminds me of how much I hated those last years at home, of how desperate I was, for such a long time. It reminds me of how young, and vulnerable, and afraid I was, how lost and alone and bruised, I was and to some extent, still am.

It’s pretty much five years to the day since I moved up to University and every year around this time, I think back to what that meant. For me, the thought of escaping and starting over, was intoxicating. I’d been ticking off the months till I was predicted to leave, for three years. I couldn’t wait to get away from it and find people ‘like me’ who wanted to change the world and change it whilst sober. The reality was a little different; my first week in medical school landed me in a horrific tutorial on alcoholism met with (probably fairly typical) bad attitudes from the other students and I literally was like a rabbit in the headlights, running away, so needing to find somewhere, anywhere, that alcohol and its damage couldn’t get me. I was so upset I ended up catching the first train I could, regardless of destination, and spent a day wandering around a city I didn’t know, just trying to get some peace and sort my head out before realising that I was truly on my own, not knowing anyone, and that I had no choice but to pull myself together and head back. I returned, headed out with a group from my halls, and churlishly drank more than I ever had (not hard, as I’d not really touched it at all before then), and ever will, to try and push through. If you can’t beat them, join them, after all. It was awful. My medical career did not get off to a sparkling start. Fortunately, it got better.

Now, I am five years on, stronger, older, wiser, though often, it doesn’t really seem that way. I don’t want the next decade to be as hard as this one has been. I don’t want to lose more time. I don’t want to still feel so caught and tethered by the things that bring me down. At twenty-three, there is still plenty of room for life to throw things at me that will knock and hurt me; if I’m going to manage, I want to be free of the weights my family life hung about my shoulders. Going home still wears me down and makes me feel fainter about the edges, as though if I’m not careful, I’ll fade into the wallpaper and cease to exist. It still makes me feel masked and costumed, concealed and false. When I was eighteen, the thought of being stuck in a room talking about my issues scared the daylights out of me. It still does, but I do it.I’m learning. I just hope that I’m learning enough.

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