Just over seven years ago I moved to Birmingham to start a job as a therapist with the Youth Offending Service. We worked with some challenging young people but the job only got really hard when my manager left and was replaced by someone who was much less competent. We all struggled to hold the team together and over time I got stressed, anxious and experienced a phase of worse depression. I wasn’t often going to church, I wasn’t coping with life and I had some time off work. Eventually in a session with my work therapist I looked at my options for my future. Imagining myself in different places, the one that felt right was taking some time out to do some research.
Funded research places are few and far between, but I applied for two and was very fortunate to be accepted by De Montfort University to do a four year programme sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council. Returning back to work on a reduced timetable I was very relieved to be able to hand in my notice. A list of ‘Things to try when I’m a student’ I wrote back then begins ‘Go to church more’, includes the item ‘Have a pet?’ and ends ‘Join a band/musical society’. I did get a cat, and I did later start a musical society where we sing Mayenziwe and others, but more importantly, I spent more time going to church which is where I met my fellow graduating doctor friend.
I got to know her at church and we talked more about our PhD studies. She was further on in the process than me and also had a clear love for God and a committed prayer life. I knew my Mum had really benefitted from being in a prayer triplet and as I felt challenged about getting back into praying regularly I approached my friend to talk about praying together. We never did get another person, but actually, I think we talked enough for three people, but we always got round to praying in the end! I think that time was really important to me rediscovering my foundations as a Christian, seeing God answer our prayers and building a very important friendship.
I am so grateful to God for many answered prayers from that time. We prayed together that people would respond to my questionnaires and that I would find a successful placement for my main fieldwork. I was so blessed with the placement which worked out really well. The first years of the PhD involved quite a lot of waiting, and this time was really good for me to recuperate from my old job and find a different pace of life. I also crocheted a lot of scarves. I got a part-time job working with Welcome: an organisation who support refugees and asylum seekers. I also got more involved in the life of my local church, helping with a small group and organising 20s30s events. I even gave a children’s talk about Jesus being our light, which recently reappeared on my blog.
When that church closed, I visited some different churches but felt most at home at the Crown. I had met two of the leaders through my job with Welcome and I was delighted when my fellow doctor friend also decided this was the place for her to be. Keeping her friendship really helped me make the transition to a bigger and busier church which might have felt all too much in the days I started at TCF. Moving next door to a lovely church family was a great start to my time in a new part of Birmingham and I took regular breaks from my interview transcribing and chapter writing to spend time with them. Their house group was also an important encouragement in my faith.
Finishing my PhD was a big achievement, but one which relied on the support of my excellent supervisor, my family and friends who commented on draft chapters and everyone who encouraged me throughout the process. I am so grateful to God for all these people, for the financial provision from the ESRC and my job with Welcome and for the skills he has grown in me in analysis, writing and persevering. I can clearly see God’s hand in the way I found a part time job as a lecturer which I am really enjoying. The part-time nature of the job allowed me to gradually hand over my responsibilities at Welcome to the new worker. It also allowed me time to prepare for my Viva and make the corrections I needed to the PhD. And in God’s perfect timing I gained a full time job through interview last month, which I will begin in a week’s time.
As I graduated on Thursday I was thankful that my parents were able to attend despite their car trouble, and that my Grannie also felt part of the day through buying my Mum’s lovely outfit. We have some wonderful photographs and memories, and I look forward to attending future ceremonies as my own students graduate. I pray I can pass on what I have learnt, support and encourage my students as they develop their own skills and practice and continue to make a difference to young people and their families, to the glory of God. Amen.