Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Piecing Things Together

This has been a lovely week. I've been at the seaside, enjoying the benefits of a lovely au pair family with good food, good wine, relaxed moods and the occasional day trip to Spain to go and visit the Dalí Museum - amazing! I even managed to spend a couple of days with my good friend Laura, as she worked for the same family last summer, which was lovely - particularly as she's currently working at a vineyard, and happened to bring us a present (drinkable, of course).

This week has given me the chance to chill out and bit and start piecing things together from what I've learnt during this crazy year abroad: yes, it has been a whole year! I won't do the full report, as it's not over yet - far from it - but having now come almost full-circle, back in France again, things are starting to piece together and take shape for what's to come next year, and perhaps beyond. Ideas about jobs, lifestyle and location are abounding, none quite certain as of yet, but certainly there in bud, ready to blossom and/or fade away. I'm thinking about interpretation, journalism, doing a lot more travelling, and possibly ending up in France... We shall see.

I think perhaps one thing that's lent itself to this momental creative thinking is that through this year I've seen that even the wildest things are possible and the highest of heights touchable when your heart is willing and God gets behind it all. I'm feeling pretty excited, not least because I know that whatever happens, be it amazing or catastrophic, if I'm with God I am certain it will be the best thing.

A Bible verse I was reading the other day sums this up for me:

Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end.
Ecclesiastes 3:11
New Living Translation (2007)

Sunday, 14 July 2013

On the Road Again

Soundtrack: Down the Road - C2C (again, I know, but it's terribly apt)

Here I am, back on my travels again - never stay in one place for long! Having spent ten days at home in good old England it was time to get on with the last chunk of my Year Abroad, a second summer in France to keep up the art of shoulder-shrugging, refresh my essential knowledge of cheese and wine, and to make sure I haven't forgotten how to pout...

In fact, these past few days I really have been on the road again - after arriving in Lyon to meet my au pair family on Thursday, I barely had time to settle in or even unpack my suitcase before I was told to get packing again as on Friday we were going on holiday to Narbonne, three hours away on the coast! Having made it here, I have to say I'm very glad we made the trip - firstly, we've come to see my friend who worked for the family last year, but also we're in a beautiful chalet, right on the seafront and the view is amazing. Just what the doctor ordered.

With regards to work, the kids (two, aged 10 and 13) are really cute and the parents are very nice and keen to learn English. It's a little bit odd being on a holiday with a family other than my own and I'm never quite sure how much I should help out (when you're living with your employers even going to bed can feel like skimping out sometimes), but they're incredibly chilled out and work is not too challenging at the moment. All in all, things are going pretty well. I foresee a fairly relaxed summer with various exciting interludes (I'm going InterRailing in two weeks!). It's been strange adjusting to life outside of Betel again - so much free time! - but God knows what He's doing.

In a way, it's just back on the wheel of change - new place, new faces, new lifestyle - but now that Fourth Year is getting so close I can feel things slowly gathering momentum. This should be a nice summer to gather my affairs and get myself slowly back into study mode. By the side of the swimming pool, of course...

With love,
Nat xxx

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Bienvenida a tu país (Home Again)

Hello again...

Back in the UK - it's been a long while since I last updated this blog, but I'm determined to keep it going until right at the end of this year abroad business, and there's still a little way to go! The end is drawing ever nearer, with many of my friends already having returned to home shores for the last time before heading off to Uni in September, but there's still one adventure left in my journey. I've managed to squeeze in a summer job working as an au pair in the lovely French city of Lyon for a couple of months, finishing promptly at the beginning of September ready to pack my bags for the return to Nottingham once more.

I haven't left quite yet, however. Before I talk about that (next post), I'd just like to talk a little about the remainder of my time in Betel, and the lasting impact it's had on my life. It was an amazing experience, if tough and a bit out of the ordinary (perhaps all the better for that), and there are certain things that will stick with me forever from that place.

Firstly, a simple appreciation of the smaller things in life. You quickly cotton on to the fact that the little luxuries from British culture aren't always present when you venture abroad, but something as basic as being able to talk to your family whenever you want and however long you want to becomes something special when it is limited (the Betelitos are only allowed to have 10-minute phone calls at weekends and, with no internet at the house, I often had to steal moments while I was at church to skype home and check in with the family).

Secondly, a whole lot of gratitude for what I've been given in life. I know this is a little cliché, but when you see firsthand how people's lives can be torn apart by family issues, domestic violence, abuse, unemployment, the crisis, or lack of stability in their lives, it gives you a strong impression of how important a loving, supportive family environment really is. A lot of the Betelitos that come into the centre simply have a massive need to be loved and shown how to live in a community that cares for them no matter what. They need a family. So yeah, I'm very grateful for mine. Thanks, God =]

Thirdly, the relationships I've developed over the three-and-a-half months I spent in the centre at Madrid. It really was wonderful to see the girls grow in confidence, in trust and in faith during the short time I spent with them. Each of them has a very special place in my heart - some were more challenging than others to get on with, especially being in their company 24 hours a day (living in the same house, remember?), but I can definitely say that it was worth the time I invested into every single one, despite frustrations, and the heartbreaking fact that some girls spent time in Betel but left suddenly without reason, presumably to pursue their former lives on the street, or taking drugs. However, I'll continue praying for them and, as for the girls that stayed, I look forward to hearing from them in the future (they promised to write)!

Fourthly, and slightly linked to the last point, the importance of sacrifice. It's not a very popular topic, and not one that I enjoy discussing very much either, let alone implementing, but it's there. It's necessary. It's God (and even if you don't believe in God, it's pretty much inevitable that you will have to sacrifice something at some point in your life). The things that I sacrificed to go into Betel - time, money, sleep, a certain amount of freedom (not being able to listen to my own music, not really being able to talk to the guys), and a large amount of personal space (you're never really alone in Betel), which cost me a lot of effort. However, the things I gained through those sacrifices - patience, acceptance, living/growing in faith, holding your tongue (a whole lot easier to do when you don't speak the language), appreciating the moment, and developing deeper relationships with the girls - were definitely worth the effort. I'm not saying I've completely mastered all these things (be pretty amazing if I had), but I'm certainly a whole lot closer on the way to getting to know them than I was before! And that makes the time seem that much more precious.

And with that, I draw to a close my comments on my life in Betel. As I mentioned on Facebook, Betel has changed my life, and I'm incredibly grateful for the support and love I found among the Betelitas and Betelitos. They are a truly miraculous people, and I'm so privileged to have been able to live alongside them and see the change happening in many of their lives. If you have the chance to do any sort of volunteering experience - a mission trip, a gap year, a summer placement - I'd encourage you to go for it! Especially if it's in another country. You won't come back the same.

God bless you (Que Dios te bendiga),
Nat xxx

p.s. If anyone has any questions, or just wants to chat more about Betel (or even feels called to volunteer...), please comment below on my blog or pop me a message if you have my contact details. Thanks =]