This is just a short post to get myself back into the swing of blogging after a summer without internet at home. My day-to-day blog only got two or three entries, my cookery blog none at all, and this blog hovered at the back of my mind but never quite made it out.

Now I’m back at university in my new room, surrounded by boxes and glad to be home. I have learned so much this summer and experienced more than I ever expected – I was heart-warmingly welcomed into a church just a few minutes’ pleasant cycling from the house, and visited many more as part of a music tour (in particular the overwhelming welcome from a Catholic church in Brooklyn reduced me to tears), and equally welcomed into the lives of my friend and her circle of loved ones. I have come home with several new firm friendships and the offer of somewhere to stay if and when I return.

I have also come home with four new long skirts, and one skirt that I’ve almost finished sewing! It is the first time I’ve ever made any of my own clothes, and as soon as I can find a functional sewing machine I will attach the waistband, hem everything and try it on. It won’t be wearable in public until I’ve bought a slip, as it’s fairly translucent, but it is quite an achievement.

This year I am a warden for my college’s chapel, which means attending the Sunday morning communion service in addition to the regular evensongs I went to all of last year. I will even be leading the intercessions at one point next month – something I had requested I be exempt from, as I’m terrified of getting it wrong, but perhaps it is a challenge. I’m looking forward to the new responsibility and being even more a part of the church’s heart. I’m not yet sure whether I will continue attending weekday morning prayer at the town church – part of me wants to, and part of me is worried about the early mornings on dark winter days. However, the service is almost an hour later now than it was when I attended last year due to a new vicar, so it should be easier.

This is my final year of university, or at least of this degree, and I did not expect it to feel quite so different. I’m in a period of personal change and growth, and I hope that the fruits of that growth will be evident in my work as well as all other aspects of my life. To that end, it is time to get to work clearing the boxes off my bed so that I can get my sleep schedule back on track!

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Every summer, but especially this summer as I’m heading to the USA for nearly three months, I struggle with staying cool. I am not well suited to hot weather; I have very pale skin and burn easily, and I find anything above 20C uncomfortably warm. My preference is to stay inside, or failing that to be completely covered to avoid sunburn – but of course that means I overheat.

This year in particular, as I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with revealing outfits, I am thinking about how I will dress to avoid heat exhaustion without stripping off. I am large-busted, which means that unless I wear tops which cover to the neck, everything is either low-cut or too tight.

I have done a bit of searching for blogs and websites on this issue, but am not having much luck. The advice I have found is either too extreme – some of the Muslim websites are very interesting but I will not be wearing hijab, and I have no problem with women wearing trousers – or not extreme enough – I am not comfortable having my shoulders and upper back uncovered, although I don’t always wear long sleeves.

In the last few months I’ve bought several longish skirts. I think I now have four or five skirts which fall between just below the knee to mid-calf, and one full-length black skirt for concerts. I’ve also got a few mid-calf summer dresses, which I wear with a little bolero cardigan to cover my shoulders. It’s t-shirts which are the problem. Everything seems to be strappy (which can be solved by boleros as well, but I only have one at the moment), low-cut, tight, short or too warm. Previous attempts to find thin blouses which don’t gape across the front have been fruitless. Hopefully the choice will be more extensive when I’m in America – perhaps the problem is that here in the UK, we get hot weather so rarely that the clothing companies simply don’t bother making suitable clothing, except for the usual sexy skimpy things!

Yesterday afternoon my choir sang at a wedding. We didn’t know the bride and groom at all, but it was still such a lovely experience. I have sung for several weddings and they always affect me the same way. I love the readings, the vows and the advice from the vicar, and seeing the emotion on the faces of the bride and groom, and their families.

This wedding had the most beautiful flowers, and it was interesting as some of the readings were in Portugese. I have never knowingly heard Portugese spoken before, and I didn’t understand a word of it!

It was interesting to watch the other choir members as the ceremony was conducted, particularly during the vows. There were some, particularly girls, who like me were smiling and watching the couple. There were others who were less interested – and one girl who fell asleep during the vicar’s address, which I have to admit I was unimpressed by. I think attending a wedding speaks to the part of my heart which longs to be married and hopes for a church wedding for myself some day. The catch in the bride’s voice as she said her vows told me that she was overwhelmed with feeling on a day she will remember for the rest of her life.

The hymn choices were fairly usual; we were amused by the choice of Jerusalem as a final hymn for a Latin American wedding, but it is a good uplifting hymn that most people know. We sang two lovely anthems and I was pleased that the congregation stayed quiet enough to hear them – often they chatter excitedly over the background noise of the choir.

In a couple of weeks I will be attending a friend’s wedding. It will be the first time I’ve attended a friend’s wedding: a few other friends have got married but I didn’t attend the service. I haven’t even met her fiance properly but I’m confident that he is the right person for her. They met at church, and my friend has an inspiring strength of faith. I know she has prayed over her decision and is ready to take the step of committing herself to him for life.

Now I am back in my own life, attempting to pack up my room and keep straight in my head which things need to go where. I find packing very hard to cope with; living a rather transient life which requires me to move out of the place I’ve called home for 8 months every year puts a strain on my sense of security. As much as I try to remind myself that the only security is in God, I can’t help feeling that I would be better able to focus on God’s security if I weren’t surrounded by cardboard boxes! Some day I will have my own home, and I think that will feel wonderful.

I was on a train late last night, coming back from a wonderful evening with some friends, and I happened to check my facebook wall on my phone.

A girl in my year had posted a status which was unmistakable in its meaning. Her boyfriend had died.

I felt shell-shocked as soon as I realised what I was reading. She is nineteen, and she has lost the boy she thought she would marry. I don’t know how, or why, or when it happened, but from her posts it seems to have been earlier this week. She went to see him on Sunday – he was in the Forces, stationed nearby.

Incredible though it seems, I’ve managed to reach the age of twenty-one without having to deal with death very much. I have lost my grandfather and my godmother, and an internet friend was killed in a car accident around ten years ago. My friends have also lost grandparents, but never people their own age.

For a while I wondered what on earth the right thing to do was. I prayed last night and this morning that God would watch over my friend and her family, and the family of her boyfriend, and give them strength to get through this. I sent her a short email saying how sorry I was and how I would do anything she needed.

There is never a good time to lose someone close to you, but this could not have been a worse time for her. We are taking our exams this fortnight; in fact it seems he died the day before we started. I doubt she will be sitting a single one of them, which might well mean her degree is on hold or finished before she’s taken the second-year exams. Once they were over, we have three months’ vacation – and I know they had plans to spend a lot of time together.

It’s hard to get my head around, and it must be impossible for her to understand. She was prepared for the possibility that he might be killed while deployed. I don’t think she would have ever thought he might die whilst still on base.

Please pray for my friend, and for her family and friends, and for the soul of the young man who has died.

Exams start next week. Part of me can’t wait for them to be over, but another part just wants time to slow right down or preferably stop.

A lot of my friends will be graduating this year. My closest friends, the ones I go to with problems or to laugh or to chat about life. The friends who came to my baptism and who go to church with me and who watch bad films and come for dinner. The ones who have taught me by their example to be honest and open about how much I love them. I’m going to miss them so much.

I’m already missing them, and they haven’t even left. I’ve been praying that I will be able to enjoy the few weeks left and not let anticipatory sadness get in the way, but it’s hard when everyone is so set on working for exams and I know that as soon as exams are over, time will speed up even more. Before long we’ll all be off to different parts of the world, but I’ll be the only one coming back next year.

I am glad I have another year here, really. I don’t feel ready to leave yet. But hearing my friends talk about job offers, flats, plans to get engaged, graduation parties… if I hadn’t got ill last year I would have been talking about those things too. And my friends would still be leaving, but I’d be leaving with them to start a new life somewhere else. At the moment all I can see is next year without all but one of the friends I’ve spent time with this year.

Things will look brighter tomorrow, I’m sure. Life isn’t just about how many friends you have or who you spend your time with. But losing six of my closest friends in one go is going to be hard to manage.

Two weeks today, I will be approaching the end of my first exam. I haven’t taken any end-of-year exams for almost two years, as I was ill last year, and I’m having difficulty remembering how I felt back then about my exams but I’m fairly sure I was feeling stressed.

This year I am much less anxious about the exams, although I’m not sure whether this is because I have worked more effectively during the year and therefore have less panicking to do, or because I have got a bit of perspective on their importance. I think the latter is the crucial one really, and that breaks into two parts.

Firstly, on a purely pragmatic level I have opted out of the exam grade panic by recognising that any of the careers I have been considering either require me to start again and retrain, or won’t require qualifications. Suddenly the exams have become less about getting that all-important grade and more about enjoying the opportunity to consider and think about things, and write reasoned arguments based on what I’ve learnt in the last eight months.

And secondly my personal sense of self-worth has changed drastically. Two years ago I was still dithering about my faith. I hadn’t wholeheartedly committed my life to Jesus and I was still having days of serious doubts. Validation from external sources like my teachers and my parents was the most important thing, and I wanted to prove myself by getting good grades. Of course in the event I actually got a fairly bad grade, and I felt pretty rotten about it.

This year my sense of worth has become internal. Working hard and using my time well is something I do think is valuable, and time wasting is one of my most worrying problems. But getting a first class exam result is not going to fix any of the things I need to work on. 85% would get me the highest grade in the year by a long way (our grading system is rather different to that of other universities and certainly in other countries – 70% is an excellent grade) but it wouldn’t make me a better or happier person.

When everyone else is panicking about exams, it is difficult to keep rational about them. I need to be careful not to fall into either of two traps: one is to buy into the collective stress and allow myself to believe that the rest of my life depends on the grade I get in these exams, and to neglect every other aspect of my life to focus on revision. This is the approach that many well-meaning people encourage. I have had friends say they couldn’t possibly work as a tutor or do voluntary work during “exam term” (I am also trying to get out of the habit of using this nickname – it is Easter term, a much more uplifting name!), which instantly makes me feel as though I should stop doing those things and work more. I have to remind myself that God values the effort I put into my work, but being a good student would not make up for neglecting church, Bible study and my friends. I need to trust that life will work out however the exams go.

The other is to feel smug about my well-balanced life and relax, not putting any effort into my work at all, and as a result be lazy and unproductive. Pride and the belief that I’ve got everything right while everyone else is wrong can be a huge problem for me. I don’t want to allow myself to rely on the excuse “I’m saved! God has it in hand!” to neglect my duties and my own side of the bargain. This is the biggest worry at the moment, and on that note I’m going to go and do some revision!

This morning I was confirmed into the Anglican church. My mother, and her mother and stepfather, arrived on Saturday afternoon – my mum to stay with me, and my grandparents to stay in a hotel about twelve miles out the city where the room prices were more tolerable. We all went out to dinner at a wonderful pub-hotel restaurant, and then this morning reconvened to get to the confirmation service.

Because I live in a city that was built long before the car was even dreamt of, it is something of a logistical headache getting two elderly people, one of whom is disabled, into the centre of town. In the end we left an hour early, drove the long way round, and I got out with my grandfather to wait in the church and for me to meet the bishop and the other candidates for a run-through of the service. My mum and grandma drove back and were met by a friend of mine who walked them back into town via a quicker route, and they just arrived as the first hymn was starting.

It was another wonderful service. Last week’s baptism felt more moving somehow; it was a smaller and more intimate venue and I knew almost everyone by name. Today I felt a little more nervous that I might mess up with the arrangements and forget to do something or go somewhere, but all went beautifully. The bishop was kind and friendly, and everything had been very well organised. There were NINE robed clergy taking part, presenting their confirmation candidates and assisting with the Eucharist, and at least three more in the congregation. Many of my friends attended, as well as many friends and family of the other candidates. It felt like a formal but enjoyable celebration of our important step.

Taking communion for the first time was a great experience. I have so often stepped up to the altar to take a blessing, but now I can finally lift up my hands to receive the body and blood of Christ. I think it will help to serve as a reminder that I am walking with Christ and must live my life accordingly.

My family have now left, after a lunch at a nearby restaurant, and I am going to have a short rest before heading back out again for evensong at my chapel. It has been a day filled with God, with love, and with church – just as a Sunday should be.