Our New Wine family

“I don’t know what to expect from these meetings…I’m on the outside, wishing I knew someone closely, but not feeling comfortable enough to say anything…”

Ten months ago, I wrote myself a letter. I was at my course’s church, surrounded by other Christian interns, and we had been asked to write to our end-of-year selves. Two days ago, these letters were returned to us, and we were asked to take time to reflect on how far we’d come.

I was enrolled on the weekly New Wine Discipleship course as part of the internship I’m doing at a Christian bookshop. And if I’m honest, there were times when I thought I’d never find my feet there. Everyone was getting to know each other. No-one else had to calm down in another room when asked to write and perform a talk. We were all advised to “go deeper” with each other in conversation, and quite frankly, this terrified me.

In situations like this, you can either go running back to safety, or you can push yourself forward. So when I tried to act sociable and relaxed, or remember people’s names, or make a beeline for anyone I now recognised, that’s what I was doing.

I don’t know how I’ve gone from that stage, to thinking about how much I’m going to miss it, but I have. Each Monday session has been draining, but we’ve done so much together. Our first weekend away. Our Christmas party. The Ukraine mission trip. Jennie and Jan’s wedding. And finally, to go out with a bang, our end-of-year graduation ceremony.

Our last day was the most uplifting and exhausting yet. After opening our letters, we all sat in a circle with someone in the centre, while everyone else voiced words of encouragement and special memories. A real reminder of how we value each other.

But what could anyone say about me, the quiet one who always needs help? Let’s say I was humbled by how many things my friends appreciate about me.

Once half the group had stopped crying, we moved on to Jess’ game. In two teams, we each had to decode clues about where in the city we should go to, take a group selfie once there, receive the next clue, and so on. I don’t know why we had to run everywhere, but when my team decided to race, I started at the back, and out-ran all of them. Just saying.

And onto the most important part, the graduation ceremony! While we were hitting the town, Jess had prepared our paper graduation hats and certificates. Once we were assembled, she even dedicated a short speech to each of us before presenting us with our certificates. A true ceremony if ever there was one!

To end the festivities, we had drinks and a meal at a local tapas bar. Thinking about it, having a cocktail on an empty stomach and zero energy probably wasn’t my wisest choice. I shifted between feeling increasingly sociable, and overly anxious. And lightheaded. But hey, tripping over a downward step, and talking about my feelings to the next person* who would listen proved entertaining, if nothing else.

At this point, I’m going over my preferred word count to conclude with a personal shout out to everyone!

To Ruth B, my first friend on the course who looked out for me from day one, and who always goes the extra mile for the group

To Wole, whose God centred enthusiasm is unmatched, and whose random singing had us all in stitches

To Matt, a good worship leader who can start and finish any theological debate

To Ruth G, who I commute with, discuss the course with, and also happily be alone together with

*To Mary, who translated in Ukraine even though it wasn’t easy, and who let me chatter aimlessly about how I shouldn’t have had that cocktail

To Elijah, who also translated, and helped me navigate Ukrainian cafes

To Jan, who trod the Christian bookshop path before me so we could compare experiences

To Miya, who, in Ukraine, listened to me complaining about how useless I sometimes felt

To Jake, who, like me, started off in super-introvert mode, but is actually pretty fun to watch at a wedding disco

To Alex, whose sense of humour is equally questionable and brilliant

To Cameron, who made a good second-in-command in Ukraine

To Nathan, always the cool head in any tricky theological discussion

To Isaac, who frequently gives positive feedback on this blog

And of course, our leaders: David, who got us through the first tricky term, Jess, mother hen and vicar-to-be, and Simon, who led us through Ukraine and made sure I didn’t get lost. Hats off to everyone!

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, shoes and outdoor

DISCLAIMER: the photo belongs to Jess, not me

 

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Life so far: growing up, autism, and 100 blog posts!

Years ago, I often thought about starting a blog. With my big dreams of becoming an author, it sounded like the sort of thing that all the high-flying writers are doing. Of course, it was just a crazy idea I had. Nothing serious. Right?

On receiving Blogging for Dummies for Christmas, I thought I’d at least show my appreciation by doing a quick summary of my world as a trial blog post. Now, four years and 99 posts later, my blog has definitely stood the test of time. It’s my way of reaching out, entertaining, and making my mark.

And this is my 100th post! So I thought I’d offer a much bigger summary of my life up until now.

Starting with Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday 17th March 1993 at 1.13pm. My parents joke about how typical it was of me to come out at lunchtime. To which I say, how many people do YOU know who were born in the middle of the day, week, month, and academic year, on their due date?

People sometimes ask me what I remember about Taiwan. Kind of awkward because my earliest memories include me and my (British) mum hiding from my (Taiwanese) dad after they had been fighting. But hey, I also remember playing with our pets, walking through mountain scenery, and my 4th birthday party. It wasn’t all bad!

Just after said birthday, my pregnant mother and I hastily headed my grandparents’ way – Cam, Gloucestershire. My sister was born. I started school, and was happily oblivious to my teachers telling Mum how weird I was and blaming it on bad parenting. Then we found a council flat.

A year later, while we were on holiday, my now-stepdad made his debut. From then on, he kept turning up on our doorstep. And we on his. This went on for about three years, until he and Mum married, and we invaded his house for good. Did I mention what a cute bridesmaid I was?

Now in Loughborough, I ended up at a school that was actually competent, and hey presto, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. My response to the news? “Oh…can I have a piece of cheese?”

Secondary school pulled my head out of the clouds with a jolt. It was a scary world of social hierarchies, sport, and teachers with varying levels of empathy. I struggled with friendships. I struggled in classes. Most of all, I struggled to accept that autism was nothing to be ashamed of.

But gradually, I got involved with various social groups at church, and I finally started to make friends and open up about my difficulties. Meanwhile, I was studying animal care at Brooksby College. It comprised manhandling animals of every size and species, essays, poo, and overnight lambing. Pretty grim, but I passed with straight distinctions!

Because I wasn’t ready for uni afterwards, I did a couple of years of home study, and realised that my heart was in becoming an author, not a vet nurse. The second year proved eventful when my Grannie died of cancer, and I still regret not visiting more. But it was also the year I started at De Montfort University, studying Creative Writing and Journalism. It was challenging, and falling out with my friend when we tried living together was hard. That said, I learned more about writing than I ever had before, and I don’t regret it for a second.

And now, here I am, coming to the end of my Christian bookshop internship. It’s been a great year, with great people, and I can’t help wishing I had more time left. But few things in life are permanent, and as I reflect on my significant life events, I do wonder what the next one will be.

 

 

Next stop: Ukraine

You know when you have such an adventure filled time that you can’t wait to tell everyone about it? And when you get back and they ask, it’s like you’ve just developed travel memory loss? Yep. This is me right now.

And I still don’t know where to begin. So just sit back and watch, as I try to cram travel, stress, adventure, raccoons, toilets, friends, fun, prayer, culture, *deep breath* into one post.

To recap: as part of my Christian internship, I am doing a weekly discipleship course with other Christian interns. And last week, our leader was due to speak in churches in Kiev, Ukraine. Voila, my first mission trip.

If I’m honest, my attempts at being positive about the trip were wearing thin towards the big day. I find big groups a challenge. Airports even more so. What I hadn’t bargained for was having a panic attack just after take-off. Of all the places to be gripped by fear of the unknown, of vomiting publicly, of everything worrying me, it had to be thousands of feet above the ground, surrounded by people, with no way out.

Yet throughout the day, my friends cared. They prayed for me. Looked out for me. My friend Ruth stayed with me throughout the journey, and chatted to me when I felt bad again. I used to wonder how chatting could possibly calm an anxiety attack. I was wrong. It really takes the edge off.

Yes, being mildly autistic in a group of people exploring new territory was tough at times. I find it harder to form bonds in a group. I got fed up with needing help mixing, or understanding what was going on. I wanted to be on the same level as everyone else, but it wasn’t always possible.

You know what, though? I got the help I needed, and I’m fully grateful for it. Because that’s how a good group works, and I would do anything in return.

Besides, there was plenty to laugh at. Like the man with his pet raccoon*, who wouldn’t let one of my male friends take a picture, but was happy to take a selfie with a passing young lady. Or when Mary, who is Ukrainian, introduced me to Ukrainian public toilets: holes in the ground. I decided I’d rather wait for two hours.

In short, this trip saw me at my most exhausted, but there were times when I felt more exhilarated than I’d felt in a long time. I had late night, heartfelt conversations with the girls. I ran through sprinklers** like a fool with the others. I ate till I could burst. We laughed. We took photos. We were alive.

Last, but not least, we did what we came to do. We took part in church services. People at church got healed of physical pain. People on the streets got a chance to feel heard. Some believe, some don’t, but for me, the most important thing was showing them a bit of love.

In conclusion, I want to give my love and thanks. To Ruth, once again, and her dad, our leader, who was so patient with me whenever I was weary or confused. To our translators. To everyone who donated towards this trip. To my parents for their support. To the four friends who contacted me during the week to ask how I was. To certain people who helped me not get lost at the airport or the underground. To the interns whose house I stayed at the night before. You are all wonderful people!

 

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DISCLAIMER: the first and third photos aren’t mine

On the road again

20160228_142407Firstly, happy leap day everybody! Secondly, apologies for the recent decline in posts, I have been grappling with more than one coursework crisis involving group work or technology. I keep saying if InDesign was an object I would have burnt it by now. And don’t even get me started on making your own mini book with an online printing company.

Mercifully, last weekend I had an actual holiday. A cold, grey, 48 hour long holiday. But a holiday nonetheless. Anyone remember the Leicester Navigators, Christian mission/Bible study group extraordinaire? Either way, Navs groups across the UK like to gather for a yearly weekend in Blackpool, and it was for the third time that I joined them. Fun times.

The main people I hung out with were the Leics Navs leaders Jonny and Ruth. I’m mentioning them now partly because it was their taxi service I ended up using that weekend, but also because they are great leaders, people and friends even if they don’t admit it (shout out!). Anyway, when we got there, I was left as good as broke after a trip to the nearest (card machine-free) chippy, where I was 5p short. I think the man was joking when he said he’d stick posters of my face on the shop window for theft. Otherwise… I’m innocent!

After eating chips in the car till it stank some real fine dining, we arrived at the hotel – an old, formerly pink castle. You know when the view outside is just perfect, with sand, sea and sky as far as the eye can see? If so, enlighten me. My window directly overlooked a turret full of murky water, and on closer inspection, half decomposed boxer pants full of moss and algae. Beautiful.

And the nights. After the first night I complained about being disturbed by shrieking seagulls. In hindsight, I should have taken that as foreshadowing for the second night, when I was woken up by a (probably ex) couple fighting at 2am. Both were swearing, crashing and doorslamming. The woman in particular was hysterically crying and screaming* that she was done with him, and that he would find her dead outside the room the following morning. This went on until 4am with futile intervention by a member of hotel staff. But hey, it was a good breakfast conversation starter.

Disturbed nights aside, I genuinely had fun, despite all the above. Or maybe because. Come on, so many things to laugh at! I might not have caught up on sleep, but after some inspiring Christian talks and some quality bonding time, it was a real emotional and spiritual boost. Plus I made a pact to not worry about not doing coursework, and got there – eventually.

I also deliberately kept a balance between socialising and alone time, and made the most of both. This meant being alone without worrying about being antisocial or missing out, and socialising in a meaningful way, instead of just tolerating being around people. Ruth and I went for a walk along the beach and had a meaningful conversation about different forms of loneliness, and how a pair of boxers can end up outside a 2nd floor window.

Out of all the talks, one of the best ones was about conversations and listening, by a Christian counsellor. Long story short, it taught me three things: 1) actually looking like you’re listening IS important. 2) social skills and writing have one thing in common – both have lots of rules, none of which apply to every situation. 3) we all have very complex stories, which are all part of a much bigger story.

In other words, to wrap up, what I’m trying to say is similar to something Jonny told me on our last morning: the accommodation doesn’t count for everything – it’s the learning, the bonding and the good times that count.

 

 

*As a writer, I don’t usually like using ‘screamed’ as a variation of ‘said’. But then neither do I like being woken up by Jeremy Kyle-esque domestic violence.

20 interesting/weird/hopefully-not-too-boring facts about me

1) When I was at primary school, I was made to take memory tests. The irony is, I can’t remember taking them.

2) I have said many times that the song “Hot n Cold” by Katy Perry has to be about British Weather.

3) On the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test, I’m either an ISFP (Introverted Sensing Feeling Perceiving) or an INFP (Introverted iNtuition Feeling Perceiving). If I spend too long trying to decide, I may end up in a state of inner turmoil. But then most life situations send me into such a state at the drop of a hat…

4) As you can probably tell, I spend an unhealthy amount of time trying to make sense of how people (including myself) think. Don’t even get me started on the 4 temperaments theory and how it DOES actually work (for those who know about it, I am apparently a phlegmatic-melancholic).

5) I used to have a phobia of fireworks. Also balloons, party poppers and anything that bangs. But especially fireworks.

6) I see certain letters, numbers, words and even tunes in colour. Synaesthesia, I think it’s called.

7) When Mum taught me about puberty, I misunderstood and thought I would be bleeding painfully non-stop until the age of fifty. Yes, I did struggle to hold back the tears when Mum was telling me, you can say “Aww” all you like. No, louder than that!

8) I used to write diaries on behalf of certain favourite toys. Because my sister might read this, I’m not telling where those diaries ended up or how old I was at the time…except I wasn’t too far from single figures…Oh come on, I am autistic!

9) Only days after giving up looking for two more uni housemates, I had two people put themselves forward. Either they waited until the moment I gave up, or I forgot to take down all my “Housemates” adverts. But I think they waited.

10) I had my first pet when I was five: a budgie who I named Bernard.

11) When my parents were dating, my now-stepdad tried to bond with my sister (age two) and I (age six) by taking us to the Edward Jenner Smallpox Museum. It was practically made of grotesque photos, plus a similar video, of smallpox victims dying painfully. My sister and I came back pale, not wanting dinner and just a little traumatised. Not the best day out we’ve ever had.

12) As a small child I had more imaginary friends than I can count. They were either favourite book/film animal characters or made-up relatives of said characters. I never told anyone, so sshhh…

13) When on a residential trip to London in year 10, I accidentally set a hotel toaster on fire. I missed the sign saying not to toast anything other than bread, and apparently croissants don’t count as bread…

14) When staying with my Grandad recently, I chose to accompany him to the Easter church service. And realised I am not good at dealing with having nearly the whole congregation approaching from all angles saying they remember me from when I was yea high.

15) Cat vs dog wars make me want to pull my hair out. Yes, I am more into cats. No, that doesn’t make cats “better”.

16) I once dreamt that Katy (see March 2013) abandoned me when we were meant to be playing in an orchestra concert. She has had a similar dream about me.

17) I still get the odd racist comment from passers-by about my half Asian heritage.

18) I have a strong sense of right and wrong when it comes to sticking by my morals and how to treat other people. In other words, I am a bit of a goody-two-shoes.

19) Bouncer (April 2013) and I cannot decide who my/his revolving chair belongs to. Put it this way: I am currently sitting on 1/9 of it.

20) When I was twelve I had some random guy come and ask me if I’d sung with Britney Spears the night before.

So there you have it. I’m still worried that this post may be a little self-centred but apparently people like reading this sort of thing. Meanwhile, if anyone has any blog topic suggestions that aren’t just me rambling about my life, I am right here. And no longer on MY revolving chair.