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.

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.