Facing the Flame

Just a day after I published Um, Where’s my Miracle? (Part 2): The Overflow I was invited to interview for a job as a cleaner of a local Kindergarten and I began that job less than a week later.  It is the perfect wee money-earner for my current circumstances: it doesn’t require a high-level of the German language, the working hours are flexible, and it is a short 20 minute walk from my apartment.

But I have not been allowed to work since the end of September.  After only six weeks, a paperwork hiccough caused my boss to hit ‘pause’ on my employment and I have been income-less ever since.

It felt like a terrible inconvenience after such a long job search; to have finally found something so suitable only to then have the rug pulled from beneath my feet.

Due to a previous misunderstanding, my boss confronted me at the end of September and rejected the health insurance that I had held (for foreigners) and required me to switch to mainstream German Health Insurance.

Though I believed I had in place the paperwork that was required, I was irritated with myself for not having foreseen this complication and done something about it sooner.  It was a switch I had always intended on making, but this inconvenience had brought it swiftly up my list of priorities.

I worked as quickly as I could to try to gather together everything I needed to put the new insurance in place so I could get back to work as soon as possible.  In the UK, insurance can be purchased quickly online or over the phone so the anticipated timescale in my head was a couple of days at most.  Oh, how wrong I was…

I spent hours on the phone to various insurance companies trying desperately, in broken German, to explain my situation and seeking a solution.  Yet every company said the same thing: I did not earn enough to qualify for their insurance.  I was stuck in a frustrating, endless cycle;  I needed insurance to work, but I could not get insurance because of my work!

Having finally found a company who would insure me, the paperwork proved long, complicated, and full of the longest German words I have encountered thus far.  The evidence required was difficult to compile as it involved having to identify the relevant UK-counterparts.

The process raised hurdle after hurdle after hurdle and proved incredibly challenging to transition into as a non-German citizen.  As part of the application, I had to apply to HMRC for relevant certificates and I was informed that it would take 8 weeks for my request to be processed.

That meant 8 weeks before I could even apply for the new health insurance.

And to top it all off, the precious income that I was now earning would be halved in future due to the hefty insurance fees.

For the first time since arriving in Germany, I felt utterly defeated.  I recall walking home from school one day imagining that my only option might be to return to the UK for a few months until the issue was resolved.

But God had never left my side.

King Nebuchadnezzar ruled Babylon around 600B.C.  He did not know God, and had no love or care for God’s people.  He besieged Jerusalem, stealing many items from the temple, and taking many of Israel’s young men to serve in his palace.

Among these wise and skilled men were Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Nebuchadnezzar was a proud and selfish man.  He had no compassion or patience for those who did not heed his every will.  He, then, had constructed a ninety-foot-high gold statue and commanded that everyone in his kingdom bow down and worship the statue when the horn would sound.  Those who did not comply would be thrown into a furnace of fire.

Shadrach, Mesach, and Abednego were Jews and God-fearing men.  They only recognised and worshipped the one true God, so when the horn sounded, they did not fall down and worship the gold idol.  On seeing this, the king’s men reported their disobedience to the royal command and they were called to stand before the king.

“Is it true,” the king asked, “that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold idol I have set up?  If you are ready to fall down and worship the gold idol, then great, we have no further business here.  But if you do not worship my statue, then you will be tossed immediately into the blazing furnace.  Who is there that could rescue you from my hands?”

But the men answered him with boldness and confidence; “Our God whom we serve is able to rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up!”

But even if He does not.

These men knew their God and knew what He was capable of.  Yet they also acknowledged His divine and unrivalled sovereignty in the situation: “but even if He does not…”

They knew God could save them, but they were also willing to risk that He may choose not to, and still not bow before any god but the great I AM.

We may not be required to bow before a gold statue to avoid the fire, but what about the idol of comfort, or convenience, or acceptance, or popularity?  Do these idols get in the way of our 100% devotion to God?  Would we rather compromise than be thrown in the fire?

On hearing the men’s response, the king was furious and ordered that the three be tied up tightly and thrown into the furnace.  The flames were so hot that the heat killed the soldiers who had handled the three men of God.

“Did we not throw three men into the fire?” the king enquired, peering into the flames, “I see four men, untied, and walking around!  And the fourth looks like a son of the gods!”

The three Jews were called out of the furnace and stood before the king completely unharmed.  Not a single hair on their heads was singed.

“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent His angel and rescued His servants who believed in, trusted in, and relied on Him! They violated the king’s command and surrendered their bodies rather than serve or worship any god except their own God… there is no other god who is able to save in this way!” (Daniel 3:28-29)

There is no other God who is able to save in this way.  Do we truly believe that?  With every challenge I face, and every miracle I witness, I am beginning to accept it without dispute.

With so many obstacles to overcome, I feared that I would lose my job if I told my boss that it would take so long to acquire the insurance.  Yet, incredibly, she promised to keep it for me, and conveniently found someone to cover my absence in the meantime.

I received the paperwork from HMRC after just 3 weeks, not eight, and was able to submit my application much sooner than I had anticipated.

Having accepted my application for insurance, the company sent me a bill for over €1200, having backdated the insurance to the day I landed in the country.  I challenged this with proof of my previous insurance, and they have since reviewed the charges.

I am still in the midst of sending paperwork back and forth to the insurance company and, therefore, anticipate that I will not be able to return to work until January, however I believe the end is now in sight.

So that’s eight weeks and counting since I last received a pay-check.  There have certainly been times that I have felt the heat.  But it was never unbearable.  It never singed me.  And God has faithfully walked with me every step of the way.  He has opened doors, shown me grace and favour, and provided for every single need.

Sometimes we may feel like we are doing everything right and obeying God every step of the way and yet still find ourselves facing the furnace.  Do we take matters into our own hands to avoid the heat, or do we remain faithful to the One who never fails us?  God does not always save us from the flames, but we can be reassured that He is always present with us in the flames.  When we trust Him to see us through, we can exit the furnace unharmed and whole.

A few verses later, king Nebuchadnezzar, having witnessed God’s wonders for himself, declares to his people, “It has seemed good to me to declare the signs and wonders which the Most High God has done for me.” (Daniel 4:2)

The king, once a pagan with no knowledge or interest in the God of the Jews, had now experienced Him for himself.  He had seen the miraculous and there could only be one explanation: God.  He could not keep this revelation to himself, he just had to tell people about it!  God’s fame spread through Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony.

How quick are we to share the signs and wonders that God has done for us?  Our testimony is a powerful tool!  Sometimes we hold back for fear of what people may think of us, or judge us for the situations we have found ourselves in before God intervened, but I believe if we humble ourselves and admit our failings, our weaknesses, our disappointments, our struggles, God uses our testimony to draw others unto Himself.

Our faith and perseverance through the fire declares to the world where our trust really lies.  Are our eyes so focused on the flames that we miss the One who is standing next to us?  Or do we believe that we have a God who can save us and do we trust Him enough to choose the best way to save us, even if we have to face the heat?  He will always choose the way that points people to Himself.

Um, Where’s my Miracle?

I began this week with 1p in my bank account.

I knew this day would come eventually, having had no regular income since I quit my job in Scotland in March.  But, I was also confident that God is a God who provides, therefore I had no reason to worry when it did arrive.

However, despite endeavouring to steward my money well, that day came a little sooner than expected due to a number of circumstances out with my control.  Last week the tenant in my property in Aberdeen moved out with just 3 weeks notice, despite his contract not due to end until February 2018.  Although I have applied for a number of jobs here in Germany, every door has closed so far, not least due to my still limited language skills.  And unexpected expenses including insurances and bank fees crippled my finances further.

At first, I thought that surely God would come through for me by the time my current tenant had moved out of the apartment… but that day came and went.

Then I knew He would definitely have to provide for me before my mortgage payment was taken a couple days later… then He missed that deadline too.

Hours ticked by as I refreshed my mobile banking app more than regularly, just in case I had ‘missed’ the miracle.  My increasingly insistent prayers and positive declarations of faith appeared to be bouncing off the ceiling and going no further.  Last week I had assured my church home group that I would have a miracle to report by this weekend.  How could I tell them that I had been sorely mistaken?

Very quickly, the strong, resilient faith that I had been holding firmly in place since I arrived on the continent began to fall apart.

In the days that followed, I experienced all the emotions.  It began with anticipation and excitement at the expected miracle, which soon turned to doubt, that spiralled into fear and anxiety like I have never experienced before.  I became so anxious that I spent several days fighting the physical manifestations of it.

But where was God in the midst of this?  I had trusted Him, had I not?  I had given up everything to follow His call, so why had He not come through yet?  Would He really leave me with nothing?

Gideon was a man who lived his life in fear.  He was busy beating wheat in a wine press and hiding from the Midianites when God paid him a visit.

“The Lord is with you, O brave man,” God said to Gideon.  Brave?  Really?  This was a man who beat wheat in a wine press for fear of what the Midianites would do to him; he obeyed God’s commands under the protection of darkness afraid of what his own family and friends would think; he repeatedly asked for signs of confirmation from God, just to be sure of what God had asked him to do.  But what I love here is that God spoke life and strength over this man who was yet timid and afraid.

God had chosen Gideon to lead Israel into victory against the Midianites.  But Gideon begins to ask the same questions I have been asking myself this week: “if the Lord is with me, why has this happened to me?”, “Why haven’t You come through for me yet?”, “Show me a sign you are really with me.”

“Go in this strength of yours…” was God’s response.  Um, what strength?  Gideon does not appear to demonstrate much strength here!  But throughout Judges 6 and 7, God graciously encourages Gideon and takes Him through the plan one step at a time.  Gideon may not appear to be up to the task, but he was God’s chosen man.  God had created Gideon and knew him intricately and, despite his sensitive disposition, Gideon was the right man for the job.

Gideon’s fear did not disqualify him from the very purpose he was created for.  The Spirit of the Lord was with him (Judges 6:34) and empowered him to do what God had asked him to do.

Gideon now had a huge army at his disposal but God knew that if the entire army entered into the battle, they would claim the victory for themselves and not have the ability to see God’s hand in it.  Therefore, God began to whittle down the crowd…

Using a series of seemingly insignificant details, God began to instruct Gideon to send men home (I can only imagine how Gideon must have felt about this!).  Those who were afraid were the first to go.  A detail as small as how they chose to drink their water was also used to sift out who would stay and who would leave.  The army was streamlined from 32,000, all the way down to just 300 men.

Then God once again reassured Gideon and strengthened him by leading him into the enemy camp where Gideon heard chat amongst the Midianites that God had already revealed the impending victory to some of them in a dream.

Only now was Gideon ready to do what God had called him to do; what he had been created and purposed for.  Now Gideon would lead the Israelites to victory.

At Gideon’s word, the 300 men surrounded the enemy camp, blew their horns, smashed pots and shouted victory to the Lord, the Midianites panicked and God caused them to turn on one another, killing many.  Some fled, but Gideon and his men pursued them, despite their exhaustion (Judges 8:4), and eventually subdued the Midianite army, bringing peace to the land once again.

Gideon was no perfect specimen – none of God’s chosen instruments ever are – but this Biblical account shows us that God can use us despite our fear, as long as we are willing to take steps to obey Him.  God is gracious and will reassure us, strengthen us and help us overcome our fears.  The more we obey God and see His provision, the more fearless we will become.

Sometimes God will whittle us down and intentionally weaken us (illness, redundancy, financial crisis, isolation) so that His victory can be all the more greater.  But we must be careful not to panic in these moments (like I did!), thinking God has abandoned us.  He works all things for His glory, not ours.

Gideon surrendered to God’s way and God won him the fight.  Though Gideon did not feel equipped for the task, God called him so he responded in obedience, and God provided all that he needed.

It is true for us too.  When we surrender to God and allow Him to work, past our fears, doubts and inabilities, He will act.  We can trust God’s capability, His willingness and His timing.

Gideon and his army lifted their voices to God and the battle was won.  We, too, are victorious when we lift our voices in prayer and praise instead of being overwhelmed by the circumstances around us.  God is mighty to save, whatever the situation.  When nothing is certain, anything is possible.

This week has felt long, and exhausting.  But I have learnt three valuable lessons:

  1. God provides one day at a time.  Even though it felt like God had abandoned me, or not provided for me like He promises in His Word, I began to realise that I had what I needed for that day.  He had provided enough food for me for that day.  He had provided grace for me to cope with what I faced that day.  There was no point dwelling on tomorrow, or next week, for God promises that that provision will come when I need it.  I was looking for a miracle that would meet my needs for the coming weeks or months, but Oswald Chambers said, “you cannot hoard things for a rainy day if you are truly trusting Christ.”
  2. God’s timing is perfect.  I see now that I began to panic, not because I doubted that God would come through, but because I felt like God was late.  Yet that was according to a timeline that I had concocted, not Him.  Trusting His provision also means trusting His timing – this is never a fun lesson, no matter what we are waiting for!  But His timing is wrapped up in grace, protection, and glory too.  God is never in a hurry, but He is never late.
  3. God weakens us to reveal His glory.  Just like Gideon’s army, God will sometimes strip back the worldly provision we come to depend on so that our focus returns to Him.  We can become blinded to His goodness when we only see provision in pay cheques, pension schemes, or a clean bill of health from medical staff.  But when those things fail us, God lovingly draws our attention back onto Him, to witness His miraculous provision, so we no longer wrongly accredit it to perishable things.

I am reassured that God is faithful, He loves me, He cares for me, He has heard my prayers, He knows what I need, He is capable of providing, He is a good Father.  I know my Dad would go to any length to provide for me, so how much more will our Heavenly Father do so to meet our every need.  When we trust Him, we do not need to do anything to earn His love or provision, it brings Him joy to give us His best.

So my miracle is still on the way, but I am grateful for the fresh perspective God has given me this week.  He has not abandoned me or forgotten me, He is working behind the scenes and His provision will come, right on schedule.

Want to read more? Check out Um, Where’s My Miracle? (Part 2): The Overflow.

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.

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.