A Series of Unfortunate Events

It has been a funny ol’ week.  Nothing has gone to plan… ahem, my plan.

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I began my new job this week.  Well, at least I expected to.

What appeared to be an incredibly promising job opportunity teaching English to children was not quite all it was cracked up to be and I ended the first of a five-day training course by quitting.  The growing unease in my spirit plus wise insight from others helped me make a quick, sure decision on Thursday evening and I chose not to return to training the next day.

Having, then, unexpectedly regained my long weekend, I was excited to fill my days with activity, including attending church on Sunday morning.  Well, at least I expected to.

A series of unfortunate events caused a somewhat dramatic waste of time on Sunday.  I began the day by praying and asking God to do as He willed.  I was very specific in my prayer that morning as I had been reminded in the previous week’s sermon that, “This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24) So I asked Him to be Lord over every detail of that day and to direct my steps; that I may live that day within His will and purpose for my life.  Ah, if I only knew what was to come…

You see, I was ready to leave the house on time that morning, however, just as I was about to leave, I suffered terrible indigestion – the worst I’ve ever experienced – and I thought I was going to throw up.  As I paced back and forth it soon subsided, but I was now running a few minutes late.

I walked quickly to make up for lost time but, on arriving at the bus stop, I found the first ticket machine was out of order.  The second rejected my cash and a further three payment cards (It was around an attempt with card #2 that the bus arrived).  The third machine gratefully received my money and offered a ticket in return, but it was too late.  The bus had already left.

After stalling for a few minutes, hoping (praying!) another bus would arrive shortly, I admitted defeat and realised that if I still wanted to catch my train, I would have to run – yes, run – the mile to the station.  So off I went.  A skirt and boots were not optimal running gear for this quick dash, but ‘desperate times’ and all that…

Regularly checking my watch and praying for the train to be late (I knew this was a long-shot, it is Germany after all) I arrived just in time.  Just in time to watch the train pull away from the platform, that is.

Most normal people would have admitted defeat at this point.  But not me, oh, no!  I was determined to make it to church that morning.  I calculated that if I got the next train in an hour, I would arrive for the service only 30 minutes late.  I conceded that that was acceptable.  (Keeping in mind I had already purchased a day-ticket for 18€ and had not yet received any benefit from it whatsoever.)

So as I waited for the next train (and caught my breath), I asked God, “Why?”  Why had nothing gone to plan?  Why had seemingly insignificant details turned into such a (de)feat?  Did He not want me to go to church that morning?

I caught the next train an hour later.  But, needless to say, it arrived late, causing me to miss the bus connection and successfully sealing my fate on this failed venture.  I was then promptly attacked by a pigeon, lost my favourite earring in the station, and nearly missed the return train because, for some unknown reason, it just happened to leave from a different platform that afternoon.

Four hours of adventure and nothing to show for it.  Why?  Why?  I couldn’t make sense of it.  I still don’t quite know what to make of it.

But as I’ve prayed and reflected on the last seven days, God has taught me this:

  1. It’s OK to ask for help.  Whether that be insight into the local ‘way of things’, a request for information, or assistance in making an informed decision, perhaps some of these challenges could have been avoided if I hadn’t been so determined to do them alone.  I’ve been challenging myself on why I don’t ask for help; what are my motives?  I know a big reason for refraining from requesting the help of others is because I don’t want to be an inconvenience.  I genuinely don’t want to be considered a pest or drain their energy and resources.  I’m also fiercely independent – always have been – and that’s a hard habit to break, though necessary in a new country, a new culture and a new language.  But I also asked myself, is it pride?  Is pride stopping me from asking for help?  Yes, perhaps there is an element of that too.
  2. God establishes the content of each day.  I think, in many ways, this series of unfortunate events was a humorous illustration of God’s sovereignty in all things.  And what makes it even funnier is that I asked for it!  He coordinates the small things just as much as the big things and all are important in His plan.  This can be both an encouragement and a stark reminder that He is Lord over all, and our plans must work within His will, not the other way around.
  3. God lives on the wild side.  After my job opportunity fell through, I was confused.  I wasn’t disappointed, because I felt peace and relief having made the decision to opt out, but I did feel confused and, to be honest, my pride was dented a little.  I had excitedly told everyone about this job – the seemingly perfect fit for me, the provision of income, the future prospects it had promised – but it was not to be.  Why did God allow me to get as far as the training if He knew it wouldn’t work out? I had hardly pursued the job; if anything, it had pursued me!  This is the second ‘close shave’ I’ve experienced during my transition to Germany – the first being an apartment scam which I narrowly avoided.  And I think what remains true throughout is that God cares for us more than we know.  He knows every detail and has the ability to steer us in a new direction at any given moment.  But He occasionally allows us to wander just a little bit farther down the unsafe path in order to demonstrate His love, to test our faith, and to reveal to us what we are really made of.
  4. I don’t need to have all the answers.  Man, right now, I have none of the answers!  I don’t understand why the job didn’t work out.  I don’t know where I might now look for another work opportunity.  The much-anticipated promise of income has been snatched back.  And I have no idea why God could possibly have wanted me to miss church on Sunday..!  But, once again, it all comes down to trust.  Trust in God, and not my circumstances around me.  Trust in His goodness, His love, His faithfulness, and His provision.

This I know: I can be certain in the uncertainty.  I am certain of who God is.  He is the same yesterday, today and forever.  He who has been so faithful in my past, is faithful today and He will continue to be faithful through my uncertain perspective of the days and weeks to come.  My job is to simply surrender every single (in)significant detail to Him.

When the Honeymoon Ends

Gosh.  Moving abroad is not for the faint-hearted.

It’s been 20 days since I moved to Germany from the U.K.  A busy, full 20 days.  It actually surprises me that it has only been 20 days because so much has happened in such a short space of time.

I have settled into an apartment, begun language school, found a church to call home, found employment teaching English to children, and met some lovely people.  God has most definitely gone ahead of me, opened up incredible opportunities for me, and worked miracles into daily living.

But, being a solid To-Do-list person, I’m now facing the future with many of the big items checked off the list.  So, what now?  To live life.

Yet it’s the ‘living life’ bit that I’m beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed by.  You see, you can’t check it off a to-do list.  It’s difficult to measure any progress, you simply be.  Day on day, week on week.  And any progress takes time.

Now I face the challenge of transitioning friendly faces into meaningful friendships, vacation-worthy German into everyday language, and sign-posted pit-stops into a familiar home town.

I face introducing the real me – my passions, my gifts, my humour, my observations and considerations – and not just the glassy-eyed mute that smiles awkwardly when utterly lost in German conversation.

My introverted being finds it hard enough to introduce myself to new people and face big crowds without adding a foreign language into the mix.  It is both exciting and exhausting integrating into new spheres of life: home, work, church, school.

Tiredness has set in.  Frustration has set in.  Impatience has set in.

I am unspeakably grateful for the handful of people I already knew here and for their assistance in helping me settle – they have truly been a God-send!  But I am determined not to become dependent on them.

Yet I’m not here alone.  I’m not lost, I do not lack provision, I do not lack courage, support, guidance, love, wisdom, peace.  Because God is here.  He led me here.  In the last 20 days I have witnessed miracles in the mundane; received unimaginable provision; recognised clear direction, and received many answers to specific prayers.  ‘Coincidences’ that are no coincidence.

God was present in the transition from the U.K. to Germany and remains present in this new season of settling-in.  He is all I need.  I sometimes have to remind myself of this but there is no doubt in my mind that He truly is all I need.  Because when God is present, friends will come, language will come, patience will come, church-family will come, opportunities to serve will come, provision will come, peace will come.

I look forward to the day when I can reflect back on these first weeks, months and be able to identify progress; to recognise growth and thank the One who meticulously orchestrated it.

His Plan or Mine?

I was challenged by the book of Jonah this week as I read of his response and subsequent actions following God’s call on his life.

You may know the story already – Jonah is called by God to go to Nineveh and declare God’s judgment on the people for their sin, however Jonah chose instead to flee from God’s presence and board a ship headed for Tarshish.

While aboard, God causes a great storm to rise up around them, stirring up fear in the ship’s crew while Jonah sleeps below.  Eventually, upon waking, Jonah admits he’s the reason this storm has arisen and tells the crew to throw him overboard.  They reluctantly do so and the storm dies.

Following a 3-day appointment with a big fish, Jonah hears God’s voice a second time and this time heeds the call and travels to Nineveh to finally deliver God’s message to them.  The people of Nineveh believe God’s message instantly and repent.

“Phew! PTL! The people of Nineveh are saved!” Jonah should’ve shouted.  But instead he goes in the huff.

Can we be like Jonah sometimes?

First, Jonah tried to run away from God’s call on his life.  Why?  Was it too difficult for him?  Too scary?  Not exciting enough?  He just couldn’t be bothered?  The Bible doesn’t say exactly why but it does tell us what happened next…

As Jonah fled in the wrong direction, God sought his attention by raising up a storm around the boat he had found refuge on.  What interested me here was that the ship’s crew first drew Jonah’s attention to God’s part in this storm, not the prophet himself.  But this is exactly why the storm was necessary.

Some of the most significant God-moments in my life have been during or directly following difficult seasons.  It is in those sink-or-swim moments that I have called out in desperation for God to hear me, answer me, save me, direct me.  And He has.  He does.

Jonah had been fast asleep, remaining undisturbed by the wind and waves raging around him while the pagan crew feared the storm and the God who had sent it.  But Jonah can ignore the storm no longer and surrenders himself to the storm, to the big fish, to God.

Then the story appears to have a happy-ever-after ending – Jonah delivers God’s message to Nineveh, the people repent, God grants them deliverance from His wrath, and Jonah is as-happy-as-Larry.

Oh wait…

Following the peoples’ repentance, Jonah is not pleased that the lives of many are saved, he is angry at God for being too merciful!  Hypocritical, much?! God had shown Jonah mercy through his disobedience but he doesn’t now seem to think that Nineveh deserves the same.

I’m beginning to realise that the challenge of our faith is not always during the storm, but often after the storm.  We may surrender to God as the waves toss us to and fro but what happens to us once calm is restored?  Is our faith stronger or are we simply relieved that the danger has passed?  Are we more intentional in our relationship with God or do we return Him to our spiritual First Aid kit ready for the next emergency?

Jonah appears to have forgotten his repentant heart, evident in chapter 2 when he is in the belly of the fish, and returned to his arrogant self, disputing with God over the outcome of his mission.  Yet who are we to stipulate the outcome of God’s call on our lives?  We are simply called to hear and obey, and let God be god.

There’s no doubt about it, God is in the right job!  He knows it all, has power over it all, and has a love for us that we could never fully appreciate.  We may be disgusted at Jonah’s thoughts and actions – I know I was when I read it over – but he simply illustrates the attitudes we can all be guilty of at times.  So despite Jonah’s disobedience, his indifference, his selfish nature and judgemental attitude, God still used him to not only save the people of Nineveh, but the ship’s crew as well.

My point is this – God is God and He is infinitely better placed to navigate the outcomes of our every situation than we are.  He welcomes a dialogue with us, even the doubts, questions and concerns we hold, but then we must release it all into God’s hands and leave the storm, the struggle, the situation with Him.  If He asks us to do something, we obey because He is absolutely trustworthy.

I’ve lived in Germany for a week now; a good first week, no doubt about that.  It’s been surprisingly easy to settle in and feel at home (a reassuring sign that I have correctly heard and obeyed God’s call) but I have also had to regularly remind myself (already) that I am here for His purposes and not my own.  Having taken that initial step to move here, there are suddenly pressures to make plans for what comes next.

“How long are you here for?”

“Where will you work?”

“How long will you attend language school for?”

“Which church will you attend?”

The truth is I don’t yet know what God wants next.  I need to stop and ask Him.  I need to take one day at a time and allow Him to gently steer me as I exercise wisdom and discernment.  I could so easily start making long-term plans – it’s what comes easiest to me – but I must be careful to make plans in line with God’s will, not just implement my own good intentions and ideas.

I don’t feel like I am in the midst of a storm just now – far from it – but I must be careful to not let indifference creep back into my walk with God while I live in (and enjoy) this season on the mountain-top.  God has something to say in every season and I must choose to consistently surrender to Him.  At every junction in life; every trial, change or challenge, we are responsible for making decisions – all decisions have consequences – so lets make decisions based on God’s Word and His will for our lives, and trust Him with the outcomes, not carrying the God-sized responsibility ourselves.

The Ten Year Wait (Part 2): Still Waiting

In The Ten Year Wait I shared just some of the journey God has taken me on in the last 10+ years as I sought, and continue to seek, His perfect will & purpose for my life.

But throughout that journey, there has been a second wait; an often more painful and difficult one. Namely, the wait for a husband.

Just like many of my peers, I have always had a desire to be married and to raise a family. But, unlike many of my peers, I am still waiting to see that desire fulfilled.

As a teenager, I (for reasons I can no longer recall!) considered 24 years old as the ideal age to get married. I had it all planned out – it would give my husband & I a couple of years for us to settle into marriage then I’d pop out two or three kids before I hit the big 3-0.

But here I am – 30 years old and single. No boyfriend, no husband, and certainly no kids.

Yet I’m the happiest and most content I’ve ever been.

Here are just some of the lessons I’ve learned so far:

Closed doors are a blessing. Oh, so many closed doors! A couple of (short-lived) relationships, countless crushes and many, many tears later, I am unimaginably thankful for the way God has protected my heart and comforted me through the confusion, hurt and impatience of the past ten years. These experiences, though far from enjoyable at the time, have shaped me and guided me (often reluctantly!) and have played an essential part in this decade of waiting.

Single people should be encouraged, not pitied. I can’t begin to tell you how irritating it is to have well-meaning marrieds ask me why I’m still single or reassure me that it’ll be my turn next. Please don’t ‘label’ me or assume it’s the only thing on my mind! In the past it would take every ounce of me to reach a place of peace (not true contentment, but part-way there at least) about being single to then have someone else raise the issue with me and immediately knock my confidence and cause me to spiral back into insecurities again. The more others saw my singleness, the more I felt it. And it felt like inadequacy.

Marrieds, pray for singles – that they would find their spouse, by all means, but also that they would be content in the meantime – hang out with them, introduce them to others (without making it awkward, please!), encourage them in their walk with God, help them to identify and nurture their gifts, and don’t overlook or disregard them (whether unintentionally or not).

Use your time as a singleton well. You only get one chance at life so don’t sit around waiting for marriage (or a promotion, or a pay rise, or a baby, or whatever). Life doesn’t start when you get married, it started the day you were born. The longer you wait, the more time you waste. Jesus saved us so we could live an abundant life! Oh, how I wish I had applied this truth sooner.

Travel. Make memories. Buy that house, that car, that pet. Read books, delve into the Word of God, enjoy a range of hobbies. Become interesting. Then when you meet someone you like, you’ll have far more to talk about.

Everyone’s journey is unique.  Embrace your journey, don’t resent it. Don’t compare yourself to others. I’ve been there, believe me. I used to look at married friends thinking I needed to be more like them because clearly they were ‘marriage material’ and I was not. I thought I needed to be prettier, funnier, thinner, holier, more spontaneous, fun… the list goes on. But after many years I began to realise that God had a different purpose for me; a different path to walk, different challenges to face, different lessons to learn. And I found joy in the creativity of my Father and the one-of-a-kind story He writes for each one of us.

The desire for a spouse is a good desire. The Bible clearly states that it is good for a man and woman to be united in marriage. But many singles who express their desire for a spouse are, sometimes unfairly, labeled ‘desperate’. Don’t be ashamed of your desire for a spouse, but also be careful not to place that desire above your passion to worship and serve God.

Learn to be romanced by God. And this by far has been the best and most liberating lesson! To be loved, pursued and accepted by the Heavenly Father far exceeds anything an earthly spouse could ever offer. Only God can meet our deepest desires and needs – it would be unfair on our spouse to expect that from them – we must always seek Him to fill this void. And as we continue to draw closer to God, we are better equipped to enter into a loving, giving, serving earthly relationship when the time comes.

I continue to wait for my husband with great anticipation, trusting God to prepare us both and to unite us in His timing. But regardless of my marital status, my far greater desire is to know God more deeply and more intimately, serving Him and bringing Him glory in all that I do.

No Longer a {Control} Freak

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I’m a control-freak.  Well, at least I used to be.

My sanity revolved around carefully constructed plans, determined to the smallest detail, with every possible outcome weighed and accounted for.  And if not?  Fear reigned.

Because of this, I used to think that being so organised and reasoned in my thinking was a poor character trait.  But what I’ve since realised is that it is not the skill itself (indeed, a God-given gift) that is negative, but the attitude and reasoning behind it.

My motive for considering every detail had always been control, whether I had realised it or not.  I liked to be prepared so, naturally, I needed to examine every possible outcome so that I could prepare for it.  However, any deviation in my plan would render me stressed and anxious. That anxiety would manifest itself in a variety of ways – trouble sleeping; repeatedly playing out various scenarios over and over in my head; rehearsing conversations if I anticipated conflict and confrontation; tension in relationships… essentially, just driving myself crazy!

The funny thing was, I was never in control to begin with.  By desiring to control, I had essentially put myself in God’s role (no wonder I experienced so much anxiety!)  At the root of the desire to control I was simply stating, “my ways are better than God’s ways.”  Ouch.

My need to control situations – whether good or bad – was exhausting and sapped me of all my energy.  And it all came to a head in July last year.

For months I had been trying to control the various areas of my life – work, relationships, church – leaving me so drained that I was simply now running on maintenance mode and doing my best to avoid a crash.

I gave what I could at work, but I felt frustrated and ready to give up.

I was selfish in my relationships, only looking for what I could get out of them.

My attendance at church dropped, and I began to resent the ministries I was serving in.

The voices in my head condemned me for my failing attitudes and told me I was no longer good enough to serve God like I had once hoped I would.  I was now out-of-control, and I had never felt so anxious and lost.  But, thank God, He had not let go.  I had a weekend away booked – to Germany, as it happens – and He met me there in a very real way.

The weekend began like any other short break – laughs with friends, good food, a bit of sight-seeing, sitting in the sun – but what I really needed – rather, what my soul was craving – was time alone with God.

That Sunday afternoon, 3rd July 2016, I released my need to control and accepted something so much greater – the knowledge and true belief that God could be trusted.

As I sat and listened to worship music, journaled, read my Bible, and poured out my heart to God – the honest, vulnerable, uncensored cries – He began to overwhelm me with His acceptance and love.  As I reflected on the weeks and months past, I started to recognise answered prayers that I had been too blind and distracted to see at the time.  Despite feeling alone, I identified God’s quiet, consistent presence; His gentle hand steering me through some of my darkest days.  As I sat that day, staring up at the grey cloudy sky, I experienced real rest in His presence and the inner turmoil I’d felt in the preceding months began to melt away.

That summer I embarked on an exciting rediscovery of God’s kind nature – His love, forgiveness, acceptance, and faithfulness.  As I relinquished control of my own circumstances and simply sought to know my Heavenly Father more, my anxiety dissolved and my passion was reignited.

Prayer suddenly became my first line of defence, not a last resort.  I let go of my need to control because I knew the One who was truly sovereign over all things.  I knew He loved me more than I could ever imagine and therefore His plans for me were good and would not lead to disaster.

I no longer needed to feel prepared for whatever situations I faced – whether anticipated or not – because I trusted God to meet every need in every outcome.  I still had to be a good steward of what He gave me, and I reinstated disciplines to help me as I sought to be more Christ-like, but the best way to prepare for any outcome, I realised, is to consistently and entirely depend on God.

In the months since that revelation of true rest, my perspective has been completely transformed and His peace is what now guides me.  In relinquishing control I’ve experienced a new freedom; my once mundane and highly regimented daily routine is now viewed through the eyes of an Indiana-Jones-like adventurer, anticipating all the surprises God has in store for me every single day!  I have made it a priority to replicate often the atmosphere of that cloudy day in Germany so that my eyes remain fixed on Jesus, and not distracted by the circumstances around me.  I am still organised – yes.  I still make plans – of course.  But I am no longer seeking to control the outcomes of these plans like I once did because I rest assured in God’s sovereign purposes for my life and know that, no matter what I face, He is the answer that I need.

The Ten Year Wait

I remember the night well. I was sat in Deeside Christian Fellowship Church in Milltimber, Aberdeen – It was 2006 and I was part of the Senior Youth Fellowship (SYF) group, sitting on the back right of the dimly lit hall. One light shone brightly, illuminating the gentleman speaking at the front. He shared his experiences of many years on the mission field in southern Italy and my heart was stirred.

Overseas mission and the life of a missionary had always fascinated me. I grew up hearing the incredible true stories of great men and women of faith, such as David Livingstone and Jim & Elisabeth Elliot, who gave everything to spread the love of Jesus to those who had never experienced it.

As a family, we often hosted missionaries who visited the UK and, indeed, my own uncle spent a number of years on the mission field in Brazil.

As soon as I was old enough, I signed up to take part in short term mission teams. Firstly, around Scotland, then further afield in countries across Europe. Barely a year has gone by since my mid-teens when I haven’t spent time as part of a short-term missions team.

So that night, at just nineteen years old, when God whispered into my heart His call on my life to overseas missions, I welcomed His purpose with great anticipation. I would daydream about where God might be sending me and I very nearly quit university the following summer, ahead of my second year, to go to Bible College instead.

But that was not God’s plan. As the years went on, my anticipation dwindled and I began to doubt what God had said, or indeed, if I’d already missed my opportunity.

I was working as a physics teacher in a respected high school when, in 2010, I was approached by my Pastor and invited to join the staff team at King’s Community Church (KCC). With an invitation into full-time ministry, I recall thinking that I must have misunderstood God all those years previous. Yes, that must have been it. He had surely called me into full-time ministry, but not overseas mission.

Having then been appointed as Administration Manager in KCC, I thought I’d made it. I was working in full-time ministry – living my dream! – it was time to settle down, start a family, live locally and serve the church for the rest of my days.

I didn’t feel I had compromised in any way – I hadn’t disobeyed God – I was, I believe, in exactly where God wanted me for that season. But that’s just it. For me, it was only to be for a season.

My time working for KCC moulded me, shaped me, grew me, challenged me, and matured me, more than I could ever truly articulate and I’m so grateful for that season. Yet, throughout my four years on staff I was given several opportunities to co-lead short-term mission teams and my heart for overseas mission was stirred again.

Then in 2014 God began to transition me into a new season; one that would indeed lead me into overseas missions. “This is it!” I thought. And off I went to New York City.

I initially signed up for four months in NYC as part of the Metro World Child internship program but hoped that an opportunity would arise to allow me to stay long-term. As it happens, an opportunity did arise – three opportunities, in fact. Yet my spirit was not at peace with any of them. It didn’t make much sense to me at the time, feeling that the ‘overseas’ bit of my calling was about to be fulfilled, but I chose to return to Aberdeen nonetheless.

“I’m only back for six months,” I assured everyone. “I’ll be back in the States by the end of the year.” And as month by month passed, I was no closer to returning State-side. Was that it, I wondered, was that my calling to overseas mission fulfilled?  Had that been all that God had called me to?

And I began to spiral. By the end of that first year back in Aberdeen, as I turned 29 years old, feeling dejected and forgotten by God, I hit an all-time low (I’m sure you’ve read all about it by now, in Thirty Lessons to 30)

What now? Where now? Was it all over? Had my life ‘peaked’ and it was all downhill from here? Had I done something wrong? Had I made the wrong decision? Should I never have left NYC in the first place? Had I just been chasing a fantasy; the romantic idea of ‘overseas mission’, and not really counted the cost of all that that would entail?

The truth is – and it’s much easier to see it now in hindsight – that what was to follow would inevitably be some of the most difficult months of my personal and spiritual life to date, yet they proved absolutely essential in the preparation for what was to come.

Ten years on from when God first whispered the call to overseas mission into my heart, I am finally ready (well, ready for this initial step, at least!) That naïve nineteen year old lacked life experience, spiritual disciplines, leadership skills, and faith, among other things, to step out back in 2006. But this thirty year old has since been shaped and challenged by a number of different roles and relationships, developed spiritual disciplines and deepened her walk with her Father, honed leadership skills in an array of situations and seen countless evidences of God’s guidance and provision during that period.

I now have the wisdom to see that God’s call on my life is no romantic fantasy.  To be able to share such incredible testimonies, you must first face incredible challenges.  It’s going to take every lesson God has taught me so far to face this new season in Germany.  Every historic chip and bruise will help me to show compassion to those I meet and work with. Every previously answered prayer will inspire me to raise my hands once more and trust God to meet each need. Every past mistake and failing will remind me to lean on God even more heavily in the future.

Now that I’m thirty I see that I don’t have what it takes to fulfil God’s call on my life. I wonder, why me? Why choose me, God? But all God is really looking for in each of us is the willingness to obey Him. So I may not be able to fulfil His call, but I can answer it. I can walk this path with Him. I trust my Sovereign God and I believe that He knows what He’s doing. Therefore I step out in faith and obedience to Him, thanking Him for the Ten Year Wait; for the way He has prepared me and for all that He has taught me along the way.

So, to summarise the Ten Year Wait in just ten seconds:

  1. Don’t forget the promises God once whispered into your heart.  Don’t think you’ve missed your opportunity.  Don’t consider yourself not good enough, not holy enough, not young/old enough, not… whatever lies are swirling around your head.  Wait.  Wait well.  Wait with anticipation.  Wait with intention.  Prepare.  Allow yourself to be prepared.  And at God’s appointed time, be ready to just say “yes”.
  2. Don’t misread a delayed response to be a ‘no’ response.  We all have many tasks and roles that God wishes us to fulfil in His name.  Every season, every mountain-top experience, every struggle in the valley is shaping us and preparing us for all that God has for us.  There is no ‘peak’ until we reach heaven.  God always has more.
  3. It doesn’t matter how equipped or ready we feel, God knows best.  Trust His ways.  Trust His timing.  And be ready to obey Him when He speaks.  There’s no greater adventure than a life with God holding the map.

Want to read more? Check out The Ten Year Wait (Part 2): Still Waiting.

The Uncertainty of Change

For most people, change is scary.  Perhaps, for you, The Change has manifested as marriage, a new baby, a career change, or facing an illness. Navigating change takes hard work, expends much energy, and raises many questions.

“How will The Change affect me?”

“How will life be different for my family after The Change?”

“What about my… home, job, finances, <fill in the blank>?”

Can you relate?

I find that I am often in the minority when it comes to change – I quite like it. You see, change brings challenge, and I love a challenge! The dormant physicist in me cries, “give me a problem and I’ll solve it!”

But what happens when I can’t solve the problem? How do I feel when I can’t see ahead to what The Change will bring? That’s when I find myself facing uncertainty, and that no longer feels like fun…

“I don’t know where I’m going to live.”

“I don’t know how I’ll pay my rent.”

“I don’t know where I’ll work.”

These are just some of the answers I’ve been repeating to friends, family members and colleagues over the past few weeks as I navigate a big change in my life – moving to Germany.

The Change, in this instance, is probably the biggest change I’ve faced in my thirty years on earth. It brings plenty of challenge – learning a new language, no less – but it brings much uncertainty too.

And how does that make me feel?

Honestly? I’m ok.

So I’m not over-the-moon about it. What control-freak would be? Don’t get me wrong, I’m very excited at the endless possibilities of this new chapter, but facing these practical challenges often leaves me feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. Yet I’m not afraid.

Fear is a terrible thing. A crippling thing. It sucks all the joy out of experiences. But fear is only present when we depend on ourselves. On our own problem-solving abilities, if you will.

If I was entirely dependent on myself to find accommodation 1000 miles away, I would have nowhere to go when I land in Frankfurt airport on 4th April.

If I was entirely dependent on myself to cover the mortgage on my own property in the UK as well as rent on a property in Germany while studying part-time, the financial burden would cripple me and most likely scare me into staying put.

If I was entirely dependent on myself to find work in a country where I don’t speak the language, I’d look for an isolated job where conversation was minimal.

The bottom line? If I was entirely dependent on myself to face this Change, I would have backed out months ago.

But I’m not. I’m not dependent on myself. I choose to depend on God. I’m not always good at it, and sometimes I try to carry some of the details myself, but it is only when I entirely depend on God that The Change becomes something I can anticipate with great excitement instead of being overcome with fear.

My answers to those questions listed above remain, “I don’t know…” But I rest in the fact that I know the One who does know. He knows the answers to all these questions. He knows the answers to the questions I’ve not even thought to ask yet. He knows everything that The Change will bring and we will navigate it together.

On the Shoulders of Giants

New Year’s Eve always causes me to reflect on the year gone by and inspires hope for the new year to come. This year my reflections are full of wonder and awe at the incredible work God has done in my life and the stark contrast of how I felt and where I was (literally and metaphorically) 365 days ago (for more on that, check out my previous blog post Thirty Lessons to 30).

This year I’m welcoming the new year at the ‘Jesus Saves’ conference in Germany with 850 other youth and young adults. With ages ranging from early teens to 30(ish) – I reckon I’m one of the oldest here! – I recognise the immense pleasure it gives me to see so many young people worshipping God so passionately and engaging with what the Holy Spirit is doing in their lives. However, I’m also left challenged by the incredible responsibility we have as the older generation to lead these youngsters and to lay the foundations for all that they will achieve in God’s Name in the future.

Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”  But this raises two challenges;

1. Are we developing ourselves to BE spiritual giants? And,

2. Do we allow the next generation to STAND on our shoulders?

Practically, this prompts me to consider:

  • Am I investing in myself with an earthly perspective or a heavenly perspective?
  • Am I laying firm foundations for those I influence around me?
  • Do I allow myself to be vulnerable and honest about my challenges so that they might learn from my mistakes and avoid repeating these same mistakes themselves?
  • Does my life act as a springboard for the next generation?

Yet we need to examine ourselves deeper still… you see, when you build a house, no-one sees the foundations. So am I willing to be unseen, unrecognised, without appreciation in order to be a catalyst for the future development of the Church? Am I secure enough in my leadership of the next generation – and in my faith in God – to allow them to identify and develop their gifts, even if it threatens ‘my’ ministry/role?

I’m passionate about seeing everyone, regardless of age or stage of life, identify and nurture their gifts and to walk confidently in the unique purpose God has called them to. But this calls for a generation of leaders willing to invest time, energy and wisdom into those that follow.

This morning I was reading 2 Kings and I was struck by 2 Kings 2:9 when Elijah asks Elisha, his successor, “what shall I do for you before I am taken from you?” And his young apprentice requests a double portion of his leader’s spirit.

Are we secure enough in God’s ways and wisdom to allow the next generation to be more, see more, believe more and receive more of God’s Spirit than we ourselves have experienced? Do we create opportunities and cultivate faith in such a way that catapults young people into an even greater Church than that of today?

As I look ahead to my hopes and desires in ministry in 2017, I’m challenged to be more mindful of the next generation and of my responsibility to them and to the future of Christ’s Church here on earth.

Thirty Lessons to 30

351 days ago I turned 29 years old.  I spent my birthday at the wedding of two friends (congrats again, Gareth & Alison!) painfully aware of my singleness and confused, reflecting on that year and how differently it had turned out from what I had expected; feeling directionless and purposeless.

Determined to make the last year of my twenties count for something, in the weeks that followed I made a series of reckless, and later costly, decisions, in an attempt to inject some ‘excitement’ back into my life.  But, man, did I go about it in the wrong way…

Fast forward ‘til now, those stupid mistakes have taught me some incredible lessons and led to what I can only describe as the most difficult but most defining year of my life to date.  Here are the thirty lessons I’ve learnt as I approach 30yrs old…

  1. Focussing on God and not my weaknesses is the only way to overcome them. I wasted so much time trying to fight weakness in my own strength but it wasn’t until I shifted my eyes off of my sin and back onto Jesus that the chains of sin that had held me so tightly were broken.
  2. My worth is found in God and not in what society thinks, what others’ think, what the weighing scales read, my marital status or anything else. This lesson involved changing mind-sets that had been established in me throughout my life but how liberating to break free of those and, not just know, but finally believe what the Bible states about how much God loves and values me.
  3. There is freedom in being unapologetically who God made me to be. For years I have hidden or dampened aspects of my personality, my gifts or my vision for the future for fear of what others think.  But why should I worry about what others’ think when God Himself designed, created and purposed me this way?
  4. I am not defined by my family, my job, my strengths/weaknesses, by who others’ think I am, by my sin or my past. I am defined by Jesus, who gave His life so that I could live in freedom.  What an injustice if I do not fully embrace that freedom and live my life audaciously for Him!
  5. I cannot do anything in my own strength. In spring of this year I found myself completely drained, operating on ‘empty’ and merely serving God out of obligation or responsibility.  My passion had gone and I was entirely task-driven.  But when I humbled myself again and sought God (this was not instantaneous, but over a period of weeks), my service began to produce good fruit again, and, more than ever before, I was reminded that I must remain firmly rooted in God.
  6. It’s OK to forgive myself. I don’t know about you but I’m a terrible one for self-criticism.  But further to that, this year I found myself caught in a cycle of condemnation, and that was a terrible place to be.  I was reminded (though it took several repetitions to finally accept it!) that if God forgives us, what right do we have to withhold it – for ourselves or for someone else?  So repent, receive forgiveness and move on.
  7. God loves and values me more than I could possibly imagine. I have spent my life trying to ‘earn’ God’s love, or should I say, more of His love.  I think I was under the impression that we all start with a basic level of ‘love’ but our service and aspirations for Him would somehow earn us bonus points.  Wrong!  There’s nothing I can do to earn more of His love.  He simply loves each of us fully and completely.
  8. God really does want the best for me and has the most incredible adventure for me to uniquely participate in. I’m such a control freak that I’ve been interfering and lending God ‘a helping hand’ my whole life.  Fortunately, God knew this about me when He created me so it certainly doesn’t come as a surprise to Him and He’s very gracious and patient with me.  However, God is a sovereign God so why did I ever feel that I needed to control or orchestrate my life’s events in some way?  God’s plan is far better than mine anyway.
  9. Vulnerability is part of a woman’s beauty – there is no shame in it! This was a hard lesson but one that has reaped incredible rewards in recent months.  I think it’s particularly difficult for a singleton who has been fiercely independent since her teenage years.  However, having the confidence and security to be vulnerable with friends and family is not only profitable for me, but also for those I share with.  And that’s a joy to witness.
  10. A truly beautiful woman is vulnerable, free to be who God made her to be, full of joy, at rest, and trusts God wholeheartedly. Society teaches us that beauty is entirely dependent on our external appearance.  I think this is so ingrained in us that we can barely recognise it in daily life.  But God’s definition of beauty is radically different.  And when a woman embraces her God-given beauty, it is evident to everyone around her.
  11. I’ve learnt to love myself. Woah!  Really?!  Well, I’m getting there… I’m not only learning to love my flawed body, but embrace my whole being.  After all, I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
  12. Be obedient. Even when I was frustrated, confused and fed-up, I realised that the assurance of being obedient to God strengthened me and brought many blessings.
  13. Life happens. But it is how we respond to life that sets us apart.
  14. ‘Stuff’ is not important. Don’t place such a high significance on possessions, instead value health, love, freedom, relationships.  God will always provide for our needs.
  15. Live in the now. I have a tendency to get distracted by “what ifs” in the future.  But I’m learning to not miss out on today’s adventure because I’m too busy dreaming about tomorrow’s.
  16. I’ve learnt to be (somewhat) grateful for my singleness. While it can be difficult, and sometimes painful, for a singleton to be reminded that “singleness is a gift” by all the well-meaning marrieds out there, I am grateful for the space and grace it has given me this year to work through many of my insecurities and become who I am today.
  17. Life is for living. This seems almost too simple, right?  Like, duh.  But I’ve heard all too often, “when I get promoted, I’m going to…” or, “if I’m not married by then, I’ll do…”  You know what?  Life is now.  Regardless of the season we are in, we need to make the most of it.  I’ve embraced this year by going on five holidays and visiting three new countries.
  18. Don’t forfeit your Promised Land. It’s very easy to settle when the road to your Promised Land (whatever that may be) is long, hard and seemingly never-ending.  But the waiting, the lessons learnt, the character refinement is so very valuable and the Promised Land is always worth the wait.  God has the very best for every one of us if we follow His schedule and not our own.
  19. Trust the Process. Don’t always wait for hindsight to kick-in before seeking to understand the difficulties and learn the lessons.  Sometimes it strengthens us in those tough times to catch a glimpse of God’s purpose in it all.
  20. Don’t dismiss crazy dreams. If your dreams are do-able, you’ll manage on your own.  But if they are crazy, impossible, out of this world dreams, then that’s an adventure you can only embark on with God!  I’ve had some crazy dreams in the past (erm, New York City?!) and what an adventure that turned out to be!  Now, NYC seems like child’s play compared to my crazy dreams of today!!
  21. My relationship with God is unique to me. There is no one-sizes-fits-all method for developing a relationship with God.  It’s taken me years to explore what works best for me.  I connect best with God through journaling, music, nature and simple contemplation.  We each need to find what works for us then be intentional about creating that environment regularly.
  22. Preparation time is a gift. Waiting time is not wasted time.  At least it shouldn’t be.  I know God has been at work during times of waiting in my life, but this year I have learnt to be more intentional in my efforts to maximise times of preparation.
  23. God is consistent when I am not. God is faithful, gracious, loving, merciful, providing for me and working behind the scenes even when I wander from Him.
  24. Closed doors are blessings too. Oh how I know this to be true!  Closed doors can be painful at the time, especially if they come one after another, but God has the most incredible plan for my life… I don’t want to settle for anything less!
  25. Rest is not just available on holiday. Yes, OK, so I’ve had a lot of holidays this year and they have been incredibly restful.  But the rest I’m talking about here is not physical rest, though this is important.  I mean spiritual rest.  In the first half of this year I was heavily dependent on my holidays for spiritual rest too, but have since learnt to find rest on a daily basis.  By quietening distractions around me, I have begun to cultivate a beautiful, restful soul from which flows joy, passion, worship, and anticipation for all that God seeks to do in me and through me that day.
  26. What is for me won’t pass me by. This has been a grounding statement for me this year.  As I take a more ‘hands-off’ approach and allow God to fully take the reins, I trust that He sees my heart and knows that, even if I do get in the way of His perfect plan, He forgives me and still leads me to the very best that He has planned for me.
  27. Life with God is liberating and exciting, not a chore. Again, this truth was soon realised once I relinquished control and sought rest.  When we focus on our relationship with God, everything else falls into place.
  28. Nothing I can do can disqualify me from God’s purposes in my life. When we continue to have a willing, repentant heart, God will redirect our steps to keep us within His purposes.  Phew!  I spent many wasted months thinking I had ruined my chances of ever being useful to God again, but He overwhelmed me with His love and acceptance and gently restored me and planted a new vision in my heart.
  29. Don’t disregard promises of God just because they’ve not been fulfilled yet. Over the last few months I’ve been reminded of many promises that God has whispered into my heart, some dating back to my teenage years.  In the time that has passed, I had disregarded them, concluding that I’d misunderstood what God had said, but it would seem that that was not the case.  The older I get, the more I am able to piece together all that God has revealed to me over the years and begin to see the incredible, unique role He has for me to fulfil within His purposes.  What a privilege!
  30. If the voices in your head don’t align with what the Bible says, reject them as lies. I sometimes find it very difficult to distinguish between the voices in my head – a mish-mash of thoughts, feelings, well-meaning plans, God’s voice, and Satan’s lies.  But learning to discern between them is the key to our mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.  Identifying and rejecting Satan’s lies was the turning point for me this year.