A Modern Day Epidemic

In my late teens and early twenties, I was plagued with sickness after sickness.  Nothing serious, usually just the flu.  But I would catch it often, sometimes up to four times in one year.  These bouts would floor me and leave me with no energy, resulting in weeks off sick from work and, most disappointingly, forfeiting the chance to attend and serve in church.

But as the months and years went on, I began to notice a pattern: I would most often become sick around the same time I would accept ministry opportunities; opportunities to serve in my local church or help pioneer new initiatives.

Upon this realisation, I was then plagued by an even greater sickness: fear.  You see, now that I had identified a pattern, I began to anticipate when I might get sick as different opportunities arose.  And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.

But it all came to a head in January 2011.  It was only one week into the new year; I had already been off sick from work for two weeks over the Christmas period, I had then recovered and returned to my staff role in church for just a few days when another feverish spell hit me during the Sunday morning service and I felt the energy drain out of me once more.  I was due to jump up onto the stage after the first worship set to enthusiastically welcome everyone to church and to provide a rundown of the events going on in church that week but I was struggling just to stand and sing.

As I battled my predicament in my mind, God intervened.  The Holy Spirit moved and the entire service shifted.  The Pastor called forth people who needed healing, as the worship team continued far beyond their planned set.  Shaking, I stood up from my front row seat, grateful that I did not need to walk far.  With tears streaming down my face – tears of frustration and exhaustion – I shared with the Pastor’s wife what had been previously running through my head and she began to pray for me.  Yes, she prayed for physical healing, but, most significantly, she prayed that the habit of fear would be broken.  And her words filtered through my fear like a ray of sunshine.  As we stood together praying at the front of the church, God gave me a vision of Him protecting me from the enemy and pointing to the clear path ahead.

In a matter of minutes, as the worship team played the final song in their extended set, the energy returned to my body and joy filled my heart.  I leapt onto the stage to welcome everyone to church, they being entirely unaware of the miracle that had just occurred in my heart.  The enemy had used my physical symptoms to distract me from the real weapon: fear.  But we had identified it, called it out, and conquered it in Jesus’ name, and it was no longer an issue for me.

Fear is the modern day epidemic that is stealing our dreams and opportunities.  As I observe the world around me: the rise in terror, turbulent politics, shocking media headlines, provocative posts on social media, conversations with my peers, it pains me to see the fear and anxiety that dominates humanity.

Society encourages us to worry about our own challenges, and then burdens us with further doom and gloom across all media genres.  Whether it is as trivial as the number on our bathroom scales or the devastating reports of war and terror across the world, we rarely receive good news.

The media has most of us thinking that we can no longer visit big cities for fear of terrorist attacks.  Or the lies and failed promises of politicians have us doubting whether we can trust anyone.

I believe we are now so immune to fear and anxiety, that we have also become blind to it’s effects on us.  Our increased heart rate and restless sleep, night after night, have become acceptable parts of modern-day life.

But these external influences do not have control over how we respond to situations that seek to scare us.  Anxiety is only present when we fail to trust God.

“While it looks like things are out of control, behind the scenes there is a God who has not surrendered His authority.”

A.W. Tozer

We are guilty of burdening ourselves with too much responsibility, and we try to solve the world’s problems – effectively trying to adopt the role of god – when we simply need to release them back into His hands.  God already has a plan, He has not given up His authority even in the midst of such atrocity, we just need to be quiet enough to listen for His instruction. (Read more here: Trust: Active or Passive?)

Fear declares that we do not trust that God is in control.  It tells the world that we count our own efforts to be more effective than His.  Worry is a waste of energy and time and achieves absolutely nothing.

Overcoming fear is less about us working harder or smarter to solve problems, and more about fighting in the strength that is only available at the feet of Jesus.  Imagine how different our world would be if we spent the same amount of time we spend worrying, in prayer instead?

No matter how big or small the concern is that we bear, we must stop immediately when anxiety begins to swell up within us and talk it through with God.  Just talk; it is not necessary to use any fancy language or even to sugar-coat your words, just tell God exactly how you are feeling.  Perhaps, after the first time you share the concern, nothing changes; you still feel tense and anxious.  So tell Him again.  And again.  And again… until peace begins to dawn in your heart.  God hears you and He will respond.  God loves His children and never grows sick and tired of hearing their worries and requests.  He is patient with us and it pains Him to see us live in a way that is anything but peaceful.

Now, do not misunderstand me; peaceful does not mean uneventful, or even easy.  We will all face challenges and difficulties, whether we follow God’s best for our life or not.  But depending on God, instead of our own understanding, will bring us peace in the midst of it.  He does not always immediately remove us from the trial, but He promises to be there with us in it.  Living at peace is only possible when we trust God entirely, believing Him to be the answer to every prayer.

In Matthew 14:22-33, we read an account of when Jesus’ disciples found themselves on a lake during a ferocious storm.  As the wind and waves tossed the boat back and forth throughout the night, Jesus approached them, walking on the water.

When they spotted Him, they were terrified and thought that He was a ghost.  But He called out to them and reassured them that it was He.

“Lord, if it’s really you,” said Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, “tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”

“Yes, come.” Jesus replied.

So Peter threw one leg over the side of the boat, then the other, and gingerly stepped out onto the sea.  But after a few steps, his eyes were distracted by the waves around him and he immediately began to sink.

“Lord, save me!” he cried to Jesus.

And Jesus reached down and grabbed Peter’s hand, pulling him to safely.

“Why did you doubt me?” Jesus asked him.  And as they climbed back into the boat, the wind and waves ceased and there was calm.

We can commend Peter for having the faith to step out of the boat and to begin walking on the water.  But after only a few steps, fear arose within him and his faith faltered.  Jesus’ power had not changed, but Peter’s focus did.  Only then was he overwhelmed by the circumstances around him.

Yet our peace is determined by our faith in God, not in our circumstances.  We must not allow ourselves to be distracted by our ever-changing situation, but instead choose to trust the One who remains ever constant.

So take your eyes off of the challenges surrounding you today, and fix them on the One who stands with you in the midst of them.  The wind and waves still respond to His voice.  He will see you through safely.

The Repeat Examination

Since moving to Germany last year, money has been tight.  It has been one of the greatest tests of my faith, yet the provision of such has been at the heart of the majority of my testimonies.

I wrote about a particularly challenging need in August of last year (you can read about it in Um, Where’s my Miracle?) when I allowed fear and doubt to overwhelm me as I failed to see how God would or could come through. And yet He did, in incredible ways (you can read about that in Um, Where’s my Miracle? (Part 2): The Overflow), topping it all off by providing me with a part-time job the very next day.

Following this, there was the temporary loss of that same job and that newly-acquired income just a few weeks later, yet God worked wonders once again and never failed to meet a need (you can read about that in Facing the Flame).

So it should come as no surprise that when I faced difficulties over the past few weeks, God was right there by my side every step of the way.

My last German course ended mid-February so, for the past six weeks, I have felt a bit aimless and discouraged.  I recognised God’s hand in my circumstances, even if I could not always understand what He was up to, and continued doing all I knew to do: work, serve in church, and revise the German I had learnt previously, but I was praying for direction and opportunity.  My plan had been to continue with further language courses but they were proving too expensive so instead I began looking for more work.

Then last week I was invited to interview for a Learning Support Assistant vacancy in an International School in a town just north of where I currently live.  In my mind, it ticked all the boxes of what I was looking for except for one; the start date.  The post had been advertised for the new school year, beginning in August, but I was ready to begin work now and hoped for an opportunity to start sooner.

Echoing my circumstances of last August, I began the week with €4 in my purse and just  €0,89 in my bank account.  I had already moved a small amount from my German account into my UK account to help cover an expense on my property in Scotland so that account was lying empty too.  I really needed that job.

On the morning of my interview I bought my travel ticket with my credit card, knowing I didn’t have the cash to cover it but believing it would be a worthy investment.  I was also due to meet a friend afterwards and I wondered how I would fund the lunch that would inevitably follow.

As I was shown around the school and participated in the short interview, I found the warmth of the staff and atmosphere in the school so inviting.  I concluded that I really wanted that job… only one issue remained: the start date.

“Do you have any questions for us?” they asked. Hmm… well, yes, I did. But dare I ask?

“The post was advertised for the new school year,” I began, “is that the case, or…”

But before I had even had the chance to ask the question that I was so hesitant to voice, I was informed that there was paternity leave to cover from the beginning of May, therefore the new post would begin then.  This was an answer to prayer.  This was the job.

As I thanked my interviewers for their time, the Deputy Head Teacher said he would walk me back to the reception area (as he was walking that way anyway, carrying a crate of small bags).  As we approached the exit, he said, “I don’t normally do this,” taking a bag from the crate and offering it to me, “but would you like a school packed lunch to take with you?”

I couldn’t believe it.  I smiled at God’s creativity, opportunity, and provision. That was another answer to prayer.

As I headed to meet my friend, still grinning widely at God’s clear hand in my morning so far, I walked by a woman not much older than me, sitting begging and wrapped tightly in a blanket against the biting wind.  I smiled again at God’s provision; this packed lunch was not intended for me, but for her.  And I handed it to her without hesitation.

That, of course, left me once again without lunch, but I was confident that God would provide.  In His grace, He prompted my friend to treat me to lunch that afternoon and we enjoyed valuable time together.  She had no idea of my needs that day (she’ll read about them here, no doubt) but demonstrated generosity (which is one of her many great qualities) and it met a significant need in my present circumstances.

In the days that followed, God continued to stir the hearts of various individuals who responded in obedience and blessed me in incredible ways.  By the end of the week I had the promise of full-time employment doing something I love, I had been encouraged by the kind words and support of many, and I had received overwhelming financial provision that not only met my current needs, but that will assist in supporting me until I begin work in May.

As I reflect on this past week, I see so many parallels between it and that difficult week in August last year.  Each time I had no money, each time I had no idea what was just around the corner for me, yet the evolution of my faith is glaringly evident.  Last week I experienced no anxiety, no illness, no doubt; I had seen God do it before and I knew He would do it again.  Yet just like last time, His provision extended far beyond money; He provided supportive people, timely opportunities, financial provision, and the ‘perfect’ job.

I would not have chosen to be placed in the same set of circumstances that I had experienced before and responded so poorly to, but it illustrates so clearly my own growth over the past year and the many, many, many ways in which God has worked; sometimes in obvious, for-the-world-to-see ways, and other times in the quiet, behind-the-scenes, gift-wrapped-just-for-me kinda ways.

As I celebrate my first anniversary living in Germany in just a few days time, I sense the dawn of a new season but I am so very grateful for the desperate circumstances I encountered that demanded a miracle, for without those desperate times, I would not have had the opportunity for a front-row seat to displays of God’s infinite glory and power.

The Depth of a Hug

In 2014, I participated in a four-month Internship with Metro World Child in New York City.  The experience was one of the most challenging, exhausting, but rewarding of my life thus far.  But one instance, one moment left a crack in my heart like no other during those months.

Every Saturday I rode Bus 19 to bring kids to and from Metro Christian Center for Indoor Sunday School.  The ride was short but chaotic with up to 60 kids ranging from 3 years to 13 years old, all scrambling for attention.  I have to admit it was not a time I particularly looked forward to in my week.

And every week a young girl, around eleven years old, got on our bus looking sour-faced and edgy.  Without fail I would utter the same instructions to her multiple times every bus ride: “sit back in your seat”, “stop screaming”, “back away from [insert child’s name here]” and so on.  And without fail, I received the same responses: she argued back, she stomped her feet, she folded her arms tightly as she threw herself aggressively back into her seat.

That particular day was no different.  If anything, she was even tenser.  She clearly struggled to manage her anger and the slightest thing could set her off; I believe that day she was triggered because someone else had sat next to her.  Regardless, we had the same verbal to-and-fro all the way to Sunday School.  But I knew that the same offensive strategy would continue to produce the same results so, on the journey home, I decided it was time to switch my approach.

She had just been told off for the umpteenth time and had done the obligatory cross-armed throw-back into her seat.  But this time she began punching the seat she was sitting on and I knew it was only a matter of time before her fists moved from upholstery  to flesh.

I quietly walked towards her, put my hand on her back, and said in her ear, “gimme a hug.”

It could have gone either way, really; I wasn’t sure how she’d react.  She could have made me her punching bag instead.  But, as hoped, she lowered her arms and allowed me to hug her.  I held her tightly for a couple of seconds then let her go, patted her on the back, and took a step back, thinking disaster had been averted.

But almost immediately, the other girl seated behind her who had been previously taunting her started up again.  And so did the Rambo routine.

I bravely tried my new strategy again.  More confident, this time, when I asked and, sure enough, she allowed me to hug her once more.  This time I pulled her closer, hugged her tighter, and waited longer.  After a few seconds I felt her whole body relax in my arms and when I released her she had a huge smile on her face.  In the five weeks I had ridden the bus with her to and from church I had never seen her smile.  But this wasn’t just a weak curve in her mouth; a wide grin broke across her face like a ray of sunshine piercing through the clouds on a stormy day.

We spent the remaining three minutes of the bus ride playing a game which she thoroughly enjoyed beating me at.  It was a simple game but it provided her with an escape; having momentarily been able to bring down the defences that who-knows-what had caused her to put them up in the first place.

As she left the bus, I opened my arms for a final hug and she leapt into them and gave me a good squeeze.

As I reflected on this experience, I was reminded of 1 Corinthians 13:1. It says, “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”  This young girl was not interested in anything I had to say because she had heard it all before. But when I softened my heart and approached her with love (instead of frustration or anger; emotions she was likely very familiar with) she was confronted with something different and her response changed also.

Though I easily communicated in English in New York (though not always with the desired effect), this verse has taken on a whole new meaning for me here in Germany. I often feel so ineffective and frustrated in my endeavours as I continue to battle with the language, but the Bible speaks of something far greater than words. We can talk, and declare, and announce until our voice breaks, but if our heart’s attitude does not reinforce our words, they will be fruitless. I may not speak the language well, but I can show love.

A smile.  A polite gesture.  An offer of hospitality or to help meet a need.  These are tokens of love recognised the world over.

So let’s all take a moment this week to consider: Where could I show love where words have previously failed me? How could I serve someone this week by showing love? What attitude needs to change in me in order for my heart to be softened?

Love is the universal language that everyone understands and a small act of love can make a big difference.  I didn’t know that young girl’s story.  I didn’t know what she faced at home.  I didn’t even know her name.  But I do know that a simple demonstration of love made a significant impact on her that day.

The Ache of Unrequited Love

I’m sure we’ve all been there at one time or another; we fall hopelessly for a man or woman who does not share the same feelings for us.  We lose time day-dreaming about them and imagining a life together, making all sorts of plans for the future, while they live their lives without us in it.

Or perhaps we are the recipients of such love; we enjoy the attention, the chase, flirting with the idea of commitment but never actually willing to enter into it.  Maybe we enjoy the ‘perks’ of the pursuit but run as soon as something is required of us in return.

To love someone demands something of us; the giving of ourselves for the benefit of the other person. It can be a wonderful thing to enter into with another person and share that respect, that care, that sacrifice with one another. That is why unrequited love is all the more painful, for we enter into it alone, never sure of any reciprocation.

And yet that is what we are called to do.

In 1 John 4:7-12, we read, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”

God is only too familiar with unrequited love.  From the very beginning, He has loved every one of us; He has dreamt of a future with us; given of Himself to save us, protect us, and care for us.  He loves us, dotes on us, reaches out to us, and pursues us… and still we often show little interest in response.

We may appreciate His love when we reap the benefits, but we run away if He requires something of us or if something of the world seems more attractive to us. Perhaps we enjoy the gifts He gives us when they meet our own desires, but reject His good gifts of discipline, or sacrifice, or abstinence that benefit us the most.

God knows and understands the ache of unrequited love. He experiences it every single day as He lovingly pursues humanity and we respond selectively, selfishly, only when it suits us. Perhaps we lead Him on and enjoy the thrill of a new relationship, but flee as soon as things get difficult.

The Bible tells us that the Lord God is a jealous God.  He longs for us to renounce the idols we allow to come between Him and us; gods of comfort, and comparison, and marital status.  He desires for us to resist the expectations the world places on us and to commit fully to Him.

The early-20th Century evangelist, Oswald Chambers, said, “Get into the habit of saying, “Speak, Lord,” and life will become a romance.”  We all know that the foundation of any good relationship is communication, so rather than viewing our relationship with God as anything different, we can begin by inviting His presence into our lives and quietening our spirit enough to listen to the words of encouragement, and worth, and purpose that He delights in speaking over us.

When we truly know the love of God, we are free to love others, regardless of their response, because we are secure in the love of the Father. The love of Jesus is the most fulfilling, the most rewarding, the most steadfast love that we can receive and share with others. When we are consumed by His love, it overflows into the hearts of everyone around us and there is no room for the ache of unrequited love, for we are safe in the love of our Saviour.

So, no matter what our current relationship status is, let’s first sort out our relationship with The One who has loved us and pursued us and cherished us for millennia. Let’s not shrug off His advances or resist commitment, but give of ourselves to Him who gave us everything when He sent His Son to die on a wooden cross to save us from eternal death and separation from Him. He loves us so much, and the ache in His heart for us is real.

“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

 

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

I was sat comfortably, as it happened, in my economy seat onboard the British Airways aircraft that would take me back to Germany after a fortnight of reunions and precious time with family in Aberdeen over the Christmas period.  The flight roster was quiet, gifting me an entire row of seats to myself.

The safety video full of famous British faces had ended and the lights dimmed as we prepared for take-off.  I had shortly before been sent on my way by 75% of my immediate family and had had no trouble putting on a brave face as we said our goodbyes.  I rarely get teary at farewells, instead typically approaching the occasion all too matter-of-factly, and eager to get on my way.  But as the plane sped along the runway and the nose lifted off the ground, I was overwhelmed with a flood of emotions and they began leaking down my face.

As the granite city grew ever smaller below me, I stared purposefully out of the window.  The winter sun bounced off the fluffy clouds surrounding the plane as I reflected on the incredible time I had spent in my homeland; of the valuable time I had had with so many special friends; of the quality time enjoyed with my extended family; of the ease of spending two weeks at my family home where food and electricity and transport was not my concern.  I reflected on two incredible weeks; two weeks spent entirely within my Comfort Zone.

I had never really considered my life to have been lived in my Comfort Zone before, but from the moment I stepped foot in Germany it became glaringly obvious that I had left it far behind me.  It had been my choice to respond positively to God’s call, and one that I would not change for the world, but it has been a journey full of challenge, and earnest prayers in the face of great fear.  Back in April 2017, I boarded my one-way flight with great excitement and intrigue, expecting adventure and opportunity for the miraculous.  And it has been all those things.  But having settled comfortably for two weeks back into very little worry or concern or responsibility, the reality of what I was returning to in this second instance was viewed with stark clarity.  I had pushed all German matters comfortably to the back of my mind and left them there for 14 days of bliss.  But as I started the return journey, I could ignore them no longer.

I remembered that I had big decisions to make upon my return.

I remembered that the ease with which I had enjoyed relationships in Scotland was not yet available across the language barrier.

I remembered that I was returning to face huge financial challenges.

I remembered the great unknown that 2018 held.

I remembered that every day would be a test of my faith.  But that it was sure to bring even greater testimony.

As the plane flew south over snow-capped hills and winding rivers, I grieved the life I was once again leaving behind.  I silently handed all my friends and family members over to God for His safe-keeping.  As we crossed the border and entered English airspace, I declared all the concerns and fears that I knew I would face upon my return, but recognising that my God, who had been faithful throughout 2017, was the same God who returned with me as I looked ahead into 2018.

It was not until I stepped out of my Comfort Zone that I recognised just how comfortable I had become living inside of it.  Yet the growth and development of my faith that I saw in 2017 would not have been possible if I had remained there.  The miracles I have witnessed and the characteristics of God that I had only ever read about became a reality for me when I left comfort behind.  The God I have come to know and the closeness I have experienced with Him was previously hindered by my comfy, cosy Comfort Zone.

As I consider 2018 and all that this new year will bring, I recognise that the concerns, responsibilities and fear that I carry may be great, but my God is far greater!  The challenges I face only set the stage for God to accomplish infinitely more than I could ever ask or imagine!  And knowing Him and experiencing Him in new ways every single day is a far more exciting and rewarding way to live than settling for comfort and ease.

Though I more reluctantly left my Comfort Zone this time around,  the truth is that our Comfort Zone is where our faith becomes stagnant.  If we have all that (we think) we need, we have no reason to engage our faith and to trust God for His guidance and provision.  Are we not all guilty of drifting a little from God when things are going well?  Yet when circumstances around us get tough, we draw close to Him again and ask for His intervention in matters we cannot ‘fix’ ourselves, do we not?  Instead, let us seek to continually draw close to God this year, no matter what we face.  Let us endeavour to remain just as close to Him through the good times as we do through the struggles.  May our faith in the Almighty God be where we find our greatest comfort.

I have been back in Germany for just under two weeks now and God has overwhelmed me with His goodness once again.  His presence brings me peace, and the evidence of His hand in the detail of my life never eases to amaze me and bring me to tears of pure joy!  Thank God for His personalised love and interest in each one of our lives!  His love reaches far beyond our realms of understanding; so far, in fact, that He sent His only Son, Jesus, to carry the punishment for our sins and die in place of us.  That is real love!

“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.” 1 John 3:16 (NLT)

So let’s not remain in our comfy armchairs, watching life go by.  Let’s live the full and abundant life that Jesus bought for us on the cross!  I would encourage us all to push forward in this new year into all that God has for us.  His purposes will always take us outside of our Comfort Zone and require us to lean more heavily on Him, but the reward of knowing Him more intimately, experiencing His miracles first hand, and receiving the freedom and peace that He brings far outweighs anything we leave behind.

How about we just start small: what is it that God is asking you to do today?  Perhaps, like me, the problem is not figuring out what that is, but simply having the courage to do it!  I spent hours yesterday arguing with God over an issue that was settled weeks ago, but in my fear I sought to make excuses and delay my obedience.  Yet as I surrendered to His plan, mustered up the courage and acted in faith, He met me exactly where I was and led me graciously, step-by-step.  In just a few short hours, I am already a witness to His blessing, for when we act in obedience, blessing will always follow.

I hope that 2018 will be a year full of surprises, opportunities, miracles, and fresh encounters with God for each of us.  Together, let’s leave behind what is comfortable and put on a brave face, stepping boldly into the fullness of what God wants to do in us and through us this year.

Choose Your Hard

I’ve been exhausted the past couple of weeks so last night I intentionally went to bed early.  Ninety minutes later, however, I was still awake, having lain in bed thinking up a wide range of social scenarios and rehearsing German dialogue, should I ever find myself in such circumstances.  But this delay in falling asleep is not a new dilemma; instead, a familiar nuisance that has been repeating itself since the turn of the year.

Immersion in a new language is considered to be one of the best ways to learn.  But immersion can also feel like drowning.  It is very difficult to come up for air when everything around me is in German: from daily four-hour-long language classes, group conversations, and Bible studies, to letters from the bank, public announcements, text messages from new friends, and everything in between.  Every routine simplicity now takes a great deal more time and effort.  And it’s exhausting.  Mentally exhausting.

It’s hard to move to a new country, to adopt a new culture and to familiarise yourself with new government rules and legislation.

It’s hard to learn a new language.  It’s hard to be immersed in a foreign language and feel like every day is a school day with an unrelenting demand to exercise the new language.

It’s hard to build a new friendship group from scratch.  It’s hard to be so far away from friends and family in whom you have invested for a lifetime.

It’s hard not having a steady income to rely upon, or, indeed, the basic language skills to acquire one.

The mental strain can feel relentless: headaches, tiredness, a weakened ability to focus and to process are just some of the symptoms I battle regularly.

All these things are hard.  But it is even harder for me to contemplate a life outside of God’s very best for me.  I seek not only to survive, but to thrive.  I want a full and abundant life (John 10:10) and to enter fully into the adventure that God has prepared for me.  I want to walk in complete obedience to Him.  I want my faith to be tested, for without a test there can be no testimony.  And I want the testimonies of what God does in my life to encourage others in their walk with God, and to inspire them to pray bigger prayers, dream bigger dreams, and to take greater risks in faith.

I want to look back on my life and say that I embraced it entirely; that I was not held back by fear (2 Timothy 1:7) but trusted in God wholeheartedly to do just as He said He would (Romans 4:21).

So I have to choose my hard.  I have a choice to choose whether the challenges I currently face are worth it, or whether I would rather opt for less than God’s best for me, forever feeling just a little under-fulfilled, a little under-satisfied, with many of my dreams unrealised.

I may choose the greater hard, but the greater hard comes with God’s help, His grace, and His guidance.  Better yet, the greater hard promises adventure and purpose and miracles!

I have chosen my hard.  And as challenging as it can be, I’m having the time of my life and wouldn’t change a thing!  Everyday is an adventure, and an opportunity for me to depend on God’s grace once again.  Every week brings new challenges and surprises, revealing more of God’s character and His love for mankind.  I love it!  This is the adventure I want to live.  I choose this hard.

Today I Cried in Public

Yesterday marked two months since I moved to Germany.  For the most part, it has been a relatively smooth transition and God continues to be faithful every step of the way.

But this weekend I feel like I’ve hit a wall.  I suspect hormones and tiredness have something to do with it, but that does not negate how I’m feeling.  It is right that I permit myself to recognise it and admit it.  I think up until now I have been so intent on declaring strength and peace and courage in my circumstances (which, again, for the most part, has truly reflected how I have felt) that I have perhaps stifled some of my other emotions for fear of them being construed as negative (whether by myself or by others).

You might be familiar with the movie ‘Inside Out‘ (click for a fun snippet to jog your memory!)  It explores this concept and cleverly personifies the different emotions experienced by a young girl.  This particular girl, Riley, and her family have just moved from the American Midwest to San Francisco, bringing with it new surroundings, a new school, and new challenges.

Inside her brain, we are introduced to her emotions – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust – all of whom watch a projection of Riley’s life and respond accordingly, depending on which emotion is operating the control panel at that time.

Naturally, Joy endeavours to remain always optimistic and takes the lead, seeking to see the positive in all situations faced by Riley.  However, as the reality of their new life sinks in, Sadness begins to taint more or more of Riley’s thoughts.

The movie follows Joy’s quest to subdue Sadness and restore Riley to the happy-go-lucky girl she once was.  But in the end (spoiler alert!) Joy realises that it is sometimes appropriate and necessary to feel sadness too.  Having run away from her family, it is Sadness that prompts Riley to return home again, while finding joy in reuniting with her parents.  Sadness permits Riley to miss her old friends and recall memories of significant moments of her life back in the Midwest, but Joy encourages her to begin to build that in her new city.  The movie illustrates that no single memory, thought or experience can be accurately described using just one emotion.  Each emotion plays a necessary role.

So here it is – today I feel lonely, sad, frustrated, confused, weak, upset, rejected, exhausted.

I’m finding it so hard to build friendships, especially in a different language and culture.  I’m emotionally exhausted after every church service and every Connect Group.  I feel so vulnerable continually putting myself ‘out there’ – to try to connect with people and engage in meaningful conversation – for fear of rejection.  For this introvert, it takes so much courage to walk into church every week, full of unfamiliar people, desperately scanning the crowd for the handful of known faces that I have already been introduced to.

But while emotions are valid, they do not always portray truth either.  I may feel lonely but I am not alone, for God is with me.  I experience sadness or frustration because my daily reality is not always what I had hoped for, but it is exactly what God had ordained for me that day.  Confusion, rejection, and exhaustion may seek to overwhelm me but I rest in the knowledge that I can wholeheartedly trust God despite those feelings.

None of us feel on-top-of-the-world at every waking moment, but sometimes we try to act like that is the case.  I’m learning that it is OK to demonstrate weakness, vulnerability, and uncertainty because this is when God’s strength, grace, love, faithfulness, power, and glory is best demonstrated.

“…but He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you [My lovingkindness and My mercy are more than enough—always available—regardless of the situation]; for [My] power is being perfected [and is completed and shows itself most effectively] in [your] weakness.” Therefore, I will all the more gladly boast in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ [may completely enfold me and] may dwell in me.  So I am well pleased with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, and with difficulties, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak [in human strength], then I am strong [truly able, truly powerful, truly drawing from God’s strength].” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (AMP)

So today I cried in public.  I’m usually a private crier, and a seldom one at that, but today that was not an option.  I fought back tears for the 20-minute bus journey back to the train station and found some relief when a 10-month-old girl initiated a game of peek-a-boo with me on the bus.  But, when I could fight it no longer, I sat outside the train station and cried.  It wasn’t pretty and it certainly wasn’t something I was comfortable doing, but in that moment it was necessary.

However, I did not remain in a state of feeling sorry for myself (even though I did feel sorry for myself in that moment).  Instead, I sat on the train and prayed.  I listened to worship music as I walked back to my apartment.  I sat on the balcony and journaled.  I talked through my spectrum of emotions with God; all my frustrations, my concerns, my desires.  And slowly peace returned to my heart once again.

Today may be a difficult day (and I say that lightly, considering the devastation in London last night), but it doesn’t detract from my confidence that:

  1. God brought me to Germany for a specific purpose (of which I am still seeking clarity in) and I experience pure joy knowing that I am at the centre of His will for my life.
  2. Despite insisting that there was nothing particularly special about me choosing to move to Darmstadt, since arriving here I am more and more convinced that God led me to this area for a reason and I am so grateful for a couple of existing friends who have made the transition inexplicably easier.
  3. I have no doubt that Move Church is the right church for me, having been clearly led there by God.  Therefore, the right friends, the right opportunities to serve, and the right provision (e.g transport to make the 80km round trip) is also included as part of God’s plan.
  4. My focus for this season is to learn the language and to learn the culture, both of which are progressing well at a good pace (even if I do get a little impatient at times!)

So if you’re struggling today too, tell God how you’re feeling.  Every raw thought, feeling, and emotion.  He alone can give us the peace, courage, and comfort that we so deeply desire.  We can give Him our worries, our frustrations, our fears, and our disappointments, and He will always respond with peace and rest.

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.