time we can let go of

I find it difficult to look at years in chunks. The life that I live in full time ministry is one in which weeks feel like months, months several years, and the five and a half years I’ve been doing it feel like a couple of months.

All over Instagram, Facebook, and blogs, I see people’s hopes and dreams for 2018, their good riddances for 2017. It seems as though 2017 was a terrible year for many, and on a global scale, it was. There were several attacks that touched my life as a Londoner, the Grenfell Tower fire that found my teammates and I getting involved in the recovery, and situations in my life that shook the ground. But I am not my own foundation, and I trust that years and circumstances, that timing and waiting and dreams, are not for my grabby hands. They belong to Somebody that I trust (and am learning to trust more).

So how does my 2017 look, from the perspective of 2018? What do I get to leave behind so that I can hold out my hands for more?

January

I rang in the new year at a party with all of my mates, past and present, in Harlesden. We set off fireworks in the street and sang bad karaoke. Maddie travelled all of the way from Australia to make us laugh again, and she and I took photography adventures to Shoreditch and Hackney. The time without students or internships meant that we hurried to finish the projects we’d had to put on hold, and we took the photographs for the sports programme that was beginning and for the dress that Ina had designed for the last exhibition. The latter meant that Courtney had to model in 2 degree weather, but like the good Canadian that she is, she did not complain.

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February

The internship began in full swing, and we spent our days using the little sunlight that we had to run round Notting Hill, taking photographs. We met Sahara, a stall-owner and t-shirt designer, in the Portobello Road Market, and discovered that she needed help with her social media and photography, so we spent the next several weeks wearing t-shirts in much too-cold weather so that she could have some new material to display on her website and Instagram. Our whole team came together in the effort, turning them all into world (or at least, a limited reach on the internet) famous models. It also turned Sahara into our friend, and we loved market days, when we could stop by her stall to have a chat.

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March

Our interns held an exhibition to show the work they’d spent February creating, and we packed our bags to head to Brussels. We stayed at the YWAM base there, where many of us had spent time the previous summer, and we worked with different organisations that helped the refugees. The refugee crisis has been heavy on my heart for several years, and I was thrilled to wake up before 5 am to be able to serve them breakfast outside of the government headquarters where they went to receive their paperwork. They were so much more full of joy than I expected, and I felt a lot of my perceptions of refugees shift. We clutched cold hands with them as the sun rose and reflected off of the glass-plated buildings around us – Belgium was the land of their hope. They’d fought so hard to get there.

We also held an exhibition in Brussels, performing several of the pieces we’d worked on in London, and we got to hold it in the cafe we finished renovating. For those of us who worked on the cafe in July, it was a triumphant moment. We’d finally gotten to complete something we started months before. As I stood on the stage and sang my Beyonce cover, I enjoyed myself whilst performing more than I had in a long time. I knew that my sweat (and probably my blood) were in the floors and walls of the cafe. It was a place that we had the authority to perform.

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April

We boarded the coach that would take us from Belgium to the Netherlands, and as we crossed the border, Jorien’s excitement spilled over. She told me stories of all of the cities that we passed, and later, when we tumbled out of cars into the carpark of her church, we met her family and watched her worlds collide. It was strange to be in the Netherlands again after four years, to re-visit Juliette’s house and curl under the same bear-fur blanket. But it was exciting, too, because we covered the country from Zeewolde to Amsterdam to Apeldoorn to Utrecht, performing our songs and dances and meeting coffee roasters and working with different churches and youth groups. My birthday passed with a lunch with pastors and a party (and some piano-playing and quiet time in between), and we found tulips everywhere.

Back in London, Ole ran the London Marathon, and we waited on the course to hand him water and cheer him on. I got bitten by the racing bug, and Jorien, Peri, and I signed up for the Royal Parks Half Marathon in October.

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May

Half-marathon training began in earnest, with training plans and freak-outs. Holiday season arrived, and I travelled to France to stay with some friends who had recently moved to Clermont Ferrand. For several days, I felt like Belle when she sings, “Little town, it’s a quiet village…” as I ordered croissants from the patisserie in my school-girl French. My mates and I also took the Tube to the end of the Metropolitan line and Amersham, my countryside getaway. We discovered that Ina can make incredible flower crowns (She is a Scandinavian fashion designer, so there were never really doubts) and had dinner at a pub in the village. I attended the Apostolic Bridges gathering held in a former home of mine in West London, which brought together several people dear to my heart. We ate delicious food and had talks under twinkle lights and slept far too little and drank far too much coffee.

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June

June continued the summer travel, with the YWAM England Family Gathering in Warwickshire at a lodge house, which included perpetually wet feet, balancing cutlery and plates on knees whilst children ran circles round you, foot-tapping worship, and finding friends I’d forgotten were fighting the same fight all round this island. After the Family Gathering, Peri and I found ourselves boarding flights bound for Norway. We were both freaking out, and I packed all of my camera gear and almost no clothing, and I swear we did not shut our mouths the whole van ride from the airport to the base. We were in Aalesund to attend a meeting of artists, but my eyes kept wandering to the window, where the summer sun meant there was always a stunning view. We hiked mountains and met old friends at the base coffee shop in the city centre and made new friends and argued with others over semantics, and still, I kept coming back to the view.

When we returned to London, the June internship had begun, and we swung back into the routine of arts tracks and evangelisms and teachings, only in a new neighbourhood and church this time. Many things were new, and we began to feel a shift as a team. We weren’t tethered to places anymore. God has given us the whole city with many houses strung across it.

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(photo of me taken by Peri)

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July

In July, we began another school, our July DTS, and twenty six students came from all of the habitable continents to live with us in London. Our lives changed dramatically as we tried to learn how to widen our arms to hold these new family members and all of the other passions we have in our hearts. I taught photography several times a week, but didn’t photograph much for myself until my friend Kate (whom I met in Norway) came to visit with her husband. For a few hours, we wandered the centre of the city, and I got to see it new again through their eyes. I auditioned for and began rehearsals for a play, as well, and as I cycled through Fitzrovia to rehearsals, I couldn’t believe that it was my life.

In late July, most of our team headed to Bristol for UpFest, the biggest street art festival in Europe. I met again friends I hadn’t seen for ages, and we fell in love with the people of Bristol all over again. When you are used to the rush and grime of London, Bristol seems like a resort town: laid back, open to chat, artistic. The weather was changeable, but our hearts were not. We enjoyed our brief respite from our daily schedule in London.

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August

August is forever one of the busiest months. I always forget that it is more than the lead up to Carnival. Rehearsals continued, and race training continued in runs that grew to cover whole spans of London as the sunset coloured the sky like candyfloss.

In mid-August, we host a camp called Arise London and Bones, and for two weeks, we cover London with stilt-walking, dancing, visual arts, and music in the run-up to Notting Hill Carnival. This year was different from other years, because we stayed in two churches that we don’t normally use for Carnival. Returning to Notting Hill felt a bit like returning to streets crowded with ghosts of years past. I hadn’t realised how much I missed Notting Hill until I was there again, drinking early morning lattes in my favourite cafe, sneaking moments of quiet in the garden I’ve slipped away to for half a decade. I love the Carnival, because Londoners are more willing to talk than they are the rest of the year, when we travel silently whilst pressed against each other in Tube carriages.

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September

One of my favourite things about London is that, once the August Bank Holiday is over, the city releases its hold on summer. Autumn comes, and with it, the city relinquishes its  holiday fever and settles into the routine of school and work with dedication. I trained for the half-marathon and hit the 13 mile mark, and while I had expected my body to change, I also found my mind changing as I broke through the limits that I thought I had. One day, Ole led us on a run that ended with doing sprints up Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath. He said that God would speak to us as we did it, and he was right. I heard God so clearly on the way up and down the hill.

We took the DTS to Manchester and stayed in a church that supports and houses homeless men who are getting their lives back together. The city was grey, the people resilient, and we explored the cafes and broke out our stilts in the parks and university lawns and fed the homeless in the cold of the evenings. I went back and forth to rehearsals in London, and then, the day after returning to London, boarded a mini-bus with the rest of the cast for our opening night in Cardiff.

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October

I looked forward to October, and when it arrived, I tried to grab and hold the moments so that I could live them to the edges. Four of my friends and I ran the Royal Parks Half Marathon, and it was more fun than I could have imagined. The people holding ridiculous signs, chasing a woman in a T-Rex costume for the first several miles, running faster when we knew our friends were nearby, it was all better than I had imagined. I had the same feeling again when all of my teammates waited outside of the stage door for the London show of the play that I was in. It was overwhelming but incredible to have them all waiting for me, then to walk through central London on a Saturday night to go eat together.

Then we found ourselves in Paris for the International Arts Gathering, and for three days, we rode Metros and ate as much cheese and bread as possible and contemplated how to use arts to change the world for God and spent time with friends from around Europe that we don’t see nearly often enough. My mind was still whirling at a frantic pace when I sat down on the Eurostar to whizz back to London in time to travel to the Birmingham show of the play. The Birmingham show was in the Symphony Hall, the biggest space I’ve ever played, and my first time in Birmingham. The tech rehearsal was a disaster, but it was our final show, and as we drove back to London in the middle of the night, I couldn’t quite comprehend that so many things that I’d been working towards were ended.

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November

I am melancholic by nature, but I didn’t have time to dwell on the endings of things, though they mingled with the fallen leaves on the ground and left me with a bittersweet feeling in my throat. When will I learn to love things for their beauty and joy, but to let them go in the right time? Still, we took part of the DTS to Milan, and for nearly two weeks, we performed music in the streets of the city and wrote promises in Italian to hand out and ate delicious food made by generous hosts. The pastors of the church that we stayed in became Italian grandparents to us, doting on us, and Sara’s family spoiled us completely. On our free day, we bought train fare to Lake Como for less than a ten euro return. We found ourselves wandering streets we’d only ever heard about, and I was in awe. It felt too posh for the likes of me, walking down cobbled streets, drinking espresso outside at a cafe in November, sitting quietly on the steps leading down to the water. There are moments I know that I am utterly treasured, and that was one of them.

The rest of November was a blur of finishing up the DTS and putting on their final exhibition (including photographing the fashion designers’ creations), shooting a feature for Chasm, the magazine that two of my teammates are editing, and starting marathon training.

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December

As my mates and I were walking down the Strand to meet everyone for Joel’s birthday, I saw the Christmas lights and made a generally bah-humbug-y remark about them. That night, as I lay in my bed, I decided to enjoy the holiday season in London. It is often a rush of getting gifts, attending Christmas functions, and avoiding smacking into tourists, but I can’t take for granted the beauty of the capital at Christmas.

This year held extra blessings for me, because I got to travel to my parents and spend Christmas with them for the first time since 2011. I had ten days of whizzing round the States, speaking in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, and seeing my brother for a few hours in Florida. I played mountain dulcimer with my grandfather, drank filter coffee by the gallon with my grandmother, ran through pine forests, and went to the beach with my parents. It doesn’t matter how much time lapses between seeing my parents, or where in the world we meet up, whenever I am with them, it is feels like no time has passed at all. I think that’s why we can’t hold onto places or seasons. We are made to grow; we are called into more. But there are places and people that will always hold the pieces of home for us, and as we grow, they grow with us.

So we don’t have to be scared to let 2017 go. We are being called into greater things in 2018. I believe that God is going before me, and He has planned things in 2018 that I would have quailed at in 2017. But now I have looked back at this year, and I can let it go back to His hands where it belongs.

And I? I can run into 2018 with anticipation, with hope. Greater things are yet to come.

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