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.

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.

No Longer a {Control} Freak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Uncertainty of Change

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

“How will The Change affect me?”

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

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

Can you relate?

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

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

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

“I don’t know how I’ll pay my rent.”

“I don’t know where I’ll work.”

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

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

And how does that make me feel?

Honestly? I’m ok.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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