The Worst Kept Secret

A few months ago I celebrated my 32nd birthday.  My parents made their first trip to visit me in Germany and we enjoyed traditional German food and plenty of sight-seeing around the province of Hessen.

As messages of congratulations flew in from friends all over the world, I noted the occasional hint of awkwardness or pity surrounding my ever-increasing years on earth. “The thirties aren’t so bad,” some would say.  “Twenty-eight again, then?” mused a colleague.  And I wondered, why do we do that? Why do we insist on marking another birthday with commiseration instead of celebration?

All too often age becomes a defining factor in our culture, and it even infiltrates our churches: the events we are allowed to attend, the ministries we have the opportunity to lead, the friendship group we are expected to be a part of. But that is not God’s design.

At aged 16 years, Timothy believed under the teaching of the Apostle Paul and went on to spend his twenties accompanying Paul on his second missionary journey.

Moses was 80 years old when God spoke to him through the Burning Bush, calling him to confront Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.

As a teenager, Esther was summoned before King Xerxes and became his new Queen. Through her courage and obedience, the Jewish nation was saved from a plot to destroy them.

Abraham and Sarah birthed a nation at a combined age of nearly 200 years, despite Sarah having already journeyed through menopause. Her body was incapable of conceiving, yet God’s plans and purposes could not be thwarted by her physical state.

The prophet, Samuel, was just a boy when he entered the service of God in the temple.  He would later anoint David to be king of Israel in his latter years on earth.

The Bible assures us that there is no ‘prime’ age in God’s Kingdom. Each season acts as preparation for the next, and God decides when we are ready and to where He will lead us.

God does not consider our age when He calls us, we do that. We use it as an excuse or a barrier or a (dis)qualifying factor, not Him. Our age never hinders us from what God has prepared for us. His timing is perfect; He is never in a hurry, but He is never late.

Our worth & relevance is based on so much more than just the number of candles on our birthday cake. Each generation has something to learn, each generation has something to teach (Psalm 78). Our age should be a celebration of sustained life, in all it’s fullness; every stage, every season.

I would not be where I am now if it were not for the many years, the many mistakes, the many lessons, the many experiences, the many opportunities that have come before. As I reflect, I am confident that I could not have faced this season any sooner, I simply wasn’t ready. I have lived through seasons that others my age only dream about, but, equally, there are experiences and opportunities that my peers have faced or enjoyed that I have not yet had the chance to sample.

However, life is not a competition, or a race; it is not to be compared or envied, it is to be enjoyed. You only get one chance at it, so don’t waste it. Savour it. Be present. And celebrate the journey that God has led you on.

We can do nothing to change our date of birth, but we can be intentional about pursuing God’s heart; about studying God’s Word and exercising our faith; about making ourselves available to serve and lead as God directs us. Our age is rarely an accurate reflection of our maturity, our faith, or our capacity. Resist allowing yourself to be defined by such – by yourself or by others.

I’m not too young to outwork what God has poured into me. I’m not too old to receive God’s best, either. He had purpose in choosing the day he called me out of my mother’s womb, and he continues to prepare me, position me, and propel me forward, for such a time as this.

For, maybe, the first time ever, I proudly announced my 32 years on all my social media accounts.  I wanted to celebrate my ageing, not cringe at it.  I chose to share my gratitude for the wisdom, growth, experience and life that each birthday represents.  I do not long for former days, because each one taught me something new and brought me a step closer to where I am now. I love where I am now.  But I also hold great anticipation for all that is still to come. God’s only just getting started…

The Catalyst for Answered Prayer

I returned from New York City in December 2014, just days before Christmas, having completed a four-month internship programme with Metro World Child.  I arrived back in my home city with little idea of what would happen next; having felt that the season I was in was not yet over.

Having been asked to be bridesmaid for my friend in the following March, I decided that remaining in Scotland until then seemed sensible, so I turned down an opportunity to return immediately to New York and instead accepted a ministry job at home on one condition: that it was understood that I was only committing to stay for six months.  After all, I still felt I had unfinished business with the States and, therefore, expected to return later that year.

But months ticked by and I was no closer to returning Stateside.  I kept a keen eye out for different opportunities and made several inquiries into different ministries but every door shut before me.

Meanwhile, doors for ministry and work were opening effortlessly for me in Scotland.  In my fourth month, I felt a burden to begin a childrens’ ministry in the local community where I was working.  I did not want to begin something if I was only going to be present for a couple more months so I committed to a further year in employment; the duration of the next full academic year.

Throughout that year I lived with a short-term mentality.  Every commitment I made had the disclaimer, “if I’m still here, then I will….” or, “if I’m not gone by then, perhaps…”  I sought not to distance myself from everyone and everything so much as I did not want to commit to anything I would not see through until the end.  But by the following Spring, having faced challenges and frustrations both professionally and personally, I decided that living with this short-term mentality was unhelpful for both myself and my colleagues.  I stopped using disclaimers and decided to be fully present in the season that God had placed me in.

“Ok, God,” I reasoned, “if this is where You have me for now, I will be all here.  I will stop living in limbo; neither fully in the present, nor fully in the next season.  I will resist trying to make the next step happen, so it is up to You to act when that right time comes.  I’m committing to ‘here’ until You move me ‘there’.”

I began putting down roots again and, most significantly, decided to put my apartment up for sale.  If I was to remain in my home city for the foreseeable future, then I would invest in a larger place that I could be comfortable in.

But time passed and my apartment attracted very little interest.  A number of people viewed it, there were even some promising conversations about follow-up actions and further negotiation, but my apartment didn’t move.  However, God did…

It was only once my attitude had changed and I had surrendered my desires, my expectations, and my timing to God, that He began to act.  My recent actions had reflected my changed focus and I no longer sought to second-guess God’s timetable, but, instead, to fully embrace my present circumstances.  I realised that God had not forgotten me or overlooked me; He had placed me there for that time and with purpose, therefore I should make best use of the time with those people, in that job, living in that city.  My change in attitude changed my whole demeanour, and my remaining months there became far more pleasant and enjoyable.

Then, on the last day of that academic year, I flew to Germany to visit a friend for a much-needed weekend break.  It was my first time stepping foot on German soil (admittedly, a country well down my travel bucket-list) but it was a cheap weekend break and a greatly anticipated reunion with my friend.  There was nothing special about the particular weekend that I had chosen, other than that it being the most convenient for each of our schedules, but I also don’t believe that it is any coincidence that it coincided with the last day of the school year.  It was there that God began to nudge me forward once again.

My change in attitude had been the catalyst for God to move in me once again.  I changed my priorities and how I spent my time; I chose to invest in myself instead of wasting time daydreaming about what I wanted and sulking because I didn’t have it yet.  I became intentional about my own spiritual growth.  I fasted TV and movies that summer (a time-consuming hobby of mine) so that I could better invest that time.  I dived into God’s Word, I read faith-inspired books packed full of wisdom and personal testimonies.  I told God everything that I had been feeling: my hopes, my dreams, my doubts, my disappointments, my failures, and my regrets.  God reminded me of the purposes He had created me for but I knew that I was not yet ready to enter into them.  So becoming ready became my new goal.

Without rushing ahead or trying to second guess or take control, I simply began asking God, “what next?” And in the meantime, I continued to serve in my existing situation as best as I could.

In the months that followed, God actually used the non-sale of my apartment to direct me further and to finally confirm that a new season was imminent.  Though I had initially envisioned this ‘meantime’ season would only last 6 months, it did, in fact, last a little over two years.  Neither, of course, did it lead me back to America, but overseas to mainland Europe.  The growth and preparation I experienced in that time was absolutely essential in allowing me to step into all that God had prepared for me in Germany.  I am unspeakably grateful for that meantime.

In times of waiting, it can be easy to slip into a dreamlike state where your body is firmly in the present, but your mind and heart have gone ahead and are endeavouring to live prematurely in your Promised Land.  But we must guard our minds and not allow ourselves to drift too far into the future, that we miss out on the present.

God is less worried about our circumstances and more interested in the state of our heart.  Are we making demands of God for the things that we want, or do we trust Him to lead us into His best?  Do we throw a tantrum if our expectations aren’t met, or do we surrender our own ideals and ask Him to act as He chooses, when He chooses?  I believe that our attitude is very often the gateway to seeing our prayers become a reality.

Until we truly know God and trust His heart towards us, we will be fearful or resentful of His instructions.  But as we prioritise knowing Him, rather than simply seeking His ways, trusting Him will become easier, and following His path for our lives will become a delight.

Even while we wait for God’s promises, there is a life to be fully embraced and lived out every single day.  Be fully present wherever you are right now.  It may not be where you want to be, or what you would like to be doing, but when we walk in obedience to where God has placed us at this moment instead of always wishing each day away, we learn to see God in the mundane and life becomes an adventure!

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.

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

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.