Worth it?

Sometimes this is too much. I am missing too much. I am missing babies being born, and growing up. I am missing their milestones. I am missing out on newborn cuddles, toddler games, 3-year-old questions and 6-year-old stories. I am missing seeing their beautiful smiles and hearing them laugh at the smallest things. These ones, these missings, are the hardest because they can’t be replaced or regained, because the little ones don’t understand why I flit in and out of their lives, why for months at a time I appear on a computer screen and won’t come out of it to play with them.

I miss my friends – those friends who know me and still want to be my friend, those friends who welcome me into their homes and families and lives.

I miss my precious family, who are the best.

Bangkok is not too much. I love it here. I love what I get to do here. I have met incredible people. I have seen God move in new ways. I have grown and stretched and changed. I don’t regret coming here. But often I do regret what I have left behind. I’m learning to live in that tension, and usually it’s not a big issue, but sometimes I don’t do it well. Sometimes I get grumpy and complain to God – why did you bring me here? Why did you make me to be this person? Why did you give me all these amazing people only to ask me to move away from them? Or, a long-standing question, Why can’t all my favourite people be in the same place as each other, and also the same place as me? (Of course, I chose to come here. God didn’t force me. And like I said, I don’t regret it. My complaining is both ridiculous and heartfelt.)

Right now, living in the tension is hard. I want to be here and also there, have my cake and eat it I suppose. I wonder if it’s because I’m being challenged to a deeper level of commitment, of surrender, although I’m not quite sure yet what that means.

What I always come back to is that God is worth this, much more than this. I have promised Him many times to follow where He leads. There’s a John Wesley covenant prayer that I picked up at a church as a teenager and kept on my wall for a long time. I have prayed it thoughtfully and with sincerity over many years. After all is said and done, it still expresses my heart and my desire.

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be established in heaven.   
Amen.

Amen.

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Home

‘Home’ is a difficult, even loaded, word sometimes. What is home? Where is home? What do you mean you don’t feel this is home? How can you be leaving home to go home?

I read a really interesting blog post at the weekend, which stated that home may be where the heart is, but it’s also where your heart is known. My response was basically, ‘Eureka! That’s it!’

For a long time, especially as I’ve moved to different countries, I’ve held on to the fact that I can be at home anywhere, because God is always with me and I’m at home as long as I’m with him. Because, of course, he knows me completely. In that sense, I’m always ‘at home’.

Yet as I think about the physical, geographical places where I feel most at home, I realize that it’s the places where I’m known and loved for who I am, for my heart. It’s less the place and more the people – for example, every time my sister has moved house, I have felt at home the first time I walked in the door, and even felt like her city is mine too. It’s why even a holiday cottage or a hotel can feel like home, if you’re with people who know your heart. So Belfast is still the most natural place to call home because that’s where the majority of people who really know me are concentrated. If they all moved, would the city itself feel like home? I don’t think so, actually. Certainly my university city stopped feeling like home for a while, when none of my close friends were living there.

This reminds me how important is it that we get to know each others’ hearts, especially in this transitional city where people come and go all the time. This is one way we can create a sense of home for each other, and it’s worth the investment.

On Turning 30, or, the Milestones of my 20s

Yesterday was my 30th birthday. I had a wonderful day and was made to feel very special! As I leave my 20s behind I’ve been thinking about the last ten years.

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I don’t remember my 20th birthday. I think I was pretty excited to leave my teens. I don’t know that I ever sat down and thought about my expectations for my 20s, but I can tell you the major milestones I assumed I would see: graduation, marriage, a baby or two. Although these assumptions were pretty accurate for many of my friends (and as a side note, I so appreciate my friends who enthusiastically include me in their family life), I only managed the first one. Even though there were times in my early 20s when I really struggled with not having met ‘the one’ (a concept I’m not so sure I believe in anymore), I can honestly say that I’m extremely thankful that my life didn’t go the way I assumed it would, because I don’t think I would have ended up the person I am now (who I quite like, most of the time). It appears that God knows what’s best for me better than I do!

To write down all the experiences – and more importantly, the people – who have shaped my 20s would take hours, maybe even days, so instead I want to mark down a few important milestones.

The summer I was 20 I was asked to be a team leader at a local summer scheme (after being on the team since I was 16). Actually I agreed (reluctantly) to cover as team leader for the first two days, but somehow ended up doing it for the whole two weeks! At 23 I started co-coordinating the summer scheme. I developed practical wisdom about leadership and working with kids, but I also learnt that people believed I could lead – something I hadn’t expected and didn’t understand. This milestone was incredibly influential in my development and belief in myself as a leader and I was blessed with awesome mentors.

Also at age 20, I studied in France and then in Spain as part of my degree. Although I didn’t know it at the time, this laid a foundation for me to become a missionary, as I learnt that home is anywhere I am because God is always with me; as I watched other missionaries live incredible lives in very different ways than I had imagined; as I attended language school; as I learnt how to live well in a different culture; as I discovered Skype!

Again at 20 I was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease. The day before I left for France in fact. When I was almost 22, God healed me. Amazing! This is a longer story than I have space for in this post, but you can listen to me talk about it here.

I graduated at 22 and started my teacher training. The summer I graduated I attended at least four weddings (and couldn’t make it to one or two more). It feels like all I did was attend weddings in my early 20s!

I qualified as a teacher and moved back to Northern Ireland at 23. Starting over in the place you’ve called ‘home’ all along is a strange and not-so-fun experience, but it was worth all the effort. The relationships I have there are beyond what I could have imagined or hoped for.

Not long after turning 26, I was ‘approaching’ (by which I mean hurtling towards) burnout. At the time, I’d have said I enjoyed being busy. Now, I’d say I got my self-worth from the things I was doing. God spoke to me and told me to stop volunteering for a year – to take time out with Him. A year of rest and restoration. The idea was both a relief (I knew I was close to crashing hard) and frightening (who was I without all this activity?!)

That year, I invested in relationships more than activities, especially my relationship with God. I learnt that my identity is not in what I do. I realised that I had spent most of my life feeling inadequate and unlikable, trying to please everyone but never believing I had succeeded. I learnt that I didn’t have to live like that. I learnt that there are people who genuinely think I am amazing, and even started to believe them. I learnt that I didn’t have to live with the sadness and hopelessness that had characterized my life for the past few years. I learnt the meaning of God as life-giver and joy-bringer. It was like emerging from a desert, spiritually. I’m still learning how to walk out what I learnt that year, the year I was 26 turning 27.

One of the unexpected outcomes of that year was this blog. As I shared what God had done in me more and more publicly, I was overwhelmed and humbled by the response. It became clear that my ‘little’ story could impact other people’s stories – I never dreamt God could use me in this way! That’s partly why I blog – in the hope that my journey might make a difference to someone else. You can read more about one of the highlights of this significant year of my life here, or listen to me share here, or even watch me (very briefly) on video here.

Just before my 27th birthday, my sister got married. It was an incredible day and an important milestone. Even better – and I could never have imagined how mind-blowingly amazing this would be – at 29 I became an auntie. I have never loved someone so instantly and so completely – my niece stole my heart the moment I first laid eyes on her. My world is infinitely better with her in it.

To finish my year of restoration I had a 6-week holiday visiting friends in the USA and Canada. It was incredible in many ways, but the lasting impact was that I realized (or rather, remembered) that I was called to mission during this trip. It was also the time when some of my misconceptions about me doing mission were corrected. For example, I finally figured out that I didn’t have to wait to get married before I could consider becoming a missionary! So the trip became a catalyst that led to what I’m doing now.

There’s plenty on this blog already about my Thailand journey – the year I spent seeking God and exploring what He wanted me to commit to long-term by volunteering at a community development project in Chiang Mai and then completing a YWAM DTS (Discipleship Training School) in Bangkok. Watch me talk about it here.  I fell in love with Thailand and it’s people and moved back here 6 months ago to become Education Director at ARK International. It’s amazing how God has drawn together many of my experiences and skills to make me ready for this role and this life.

My 20s were not all easy, but they were good. Psalm 73: 23-26 says this:

Yet I am always with you;

you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

This has been the cry of my heart for the last ten years. God has never let me go and He never will.

To all the people who have impacted and influenced me over the past ten years, whether we’re still close or haven’t talked in a long time, thank you. I haven’t forgotten you and I wouldn’t be the person I am today if you hadn’t been in my life. I’m sorry for the times I’ve frustrated or offended you and I forgive you for the times you have frustrated and offended me. May you be blessed as you journey through life and may God reveal Himself to you in new ways.

Who Am I?

It’s been a long time since I blogged. Actually I wrote a couple of posts but didn’t publish them, because I hadn’t fully worked out what I was finding so hard – what was at the root of some negative thought patterns and behaviours. But I think I see it now.

It seems to me that my identity has been under attack ever since I came to Thailand. In some ways, my identity has been under attack my whole life – Satan does not want me to be confident and secure in my God-given identity. But being in Thailand, it’s more of a blatant, full-on assault.

It comes in the form of being unknown, in the getting-to-know-you process when you move somewhere new, when you realise people have a view of you that you don’t have of yourself and you wonder if they are right. It comes when people don’t know how far you’ve come or how hard you’ve worked to get where you are – so they judge you for where you are not yet, or joke about it, or push you to change. It comes in whispers that tell you that you are unattractive, that no one would ever want to date you. (That one came out of the blue – I don’t haven’t thought or believed or even really cared about that for YEARS). It comes in fears that you can’t do what you’re trying to – who are you to think God would call you to do this?!

I know the answer. I know that God made me, that He likes me and created me this way on purpose. I know where I’ve come from and where I’m going. I know what God has done in my life (although I’m sure I don’t know the full extent of it). I can recognise the lies (and the twisted half-truths) of the enemy, who tries to steal my trust in my Father. I know I am where God has called me – and that actually I can’t do this on my own, but only in Him.

Sometimes I know all that in my head, believe it intellectually, but I don’t believe it deep in my heart. Last night, as I struggled with all this, I read Psalm 27. In the Message, verse 4 says:

I’m asking God for one thing, only one thing:

To live with him in his house my whole life long.

I’ll contemplate his beauty;

I’ll study at his feet.

And really, that’s what matters. I will stay with God. Because when I do, everything else falls into its right place as my perspective transforms and my eyes are lifted to Him, to His beauty and grace and glory. My identity is given to me by God and my life is hidden in Him. So I’ll listen to my Father’s voice, not the others. The voice that calls me daughter and friend, beautiful and beloved, redeemed and precious and free.

Cliff Jumping

Last weekend, I had a wobble about going to Thailand. More precisely, everything in me was yelling that I shouldn’t go. This was less to do with Thailand and what I’ll be doing there, and more to do with leaving Northern Ireland. There are a lot of good reasons to stay here at the minute and it’s hard to leave.

I love change but hate transition, which is a tricky combination. So, while I can see life in Thailand being good and exciting and what I want, these last few weeks – full of preparation and goodbyes – are hard. That probably adds to the desire to stay where I am.

This has, in hindsight, been building for a few weeks and when I finally gave up on pretending nothing was wrong and talked to God about it, He said something that surprised me. He told me that this is my choice – I don’t have to go to Thailand, I can stay here if I want. He won’t force me to do anything. I guess I always assumed that this was the path God was calling me to so there was no other way. But I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God loves me and He will be with me and bless me wherever I am, that He can use me for his Kingdom anywhere. So in that sense it doesn’t really matter what I choose – to go to Thailand or to stay here.

(Of course, in other senses, it matters a lot. I have made a commitment to ARK and I have responsibilities in Thailand. People have supported me in many ways, including financially. And yet, on their own, these are not reasons to go – they will not sustain me and I can’t make this kind of choice to please (or not upset) others.)

By Sunday afternoon, if you’d asked me (thankfully no one did), I might have said that I wasn’t sure about moving to Thailand. At that point, I was seriously considering not going. I was feeling a strange, wild freedom at being able to make that choice, if I wanted – set free by the fact that I didn’t have to go. I was also confused and a little overwhelmed. So I went back to church that evening, to refocus on God, to hear the same talk I’d heard in the morning and to respond to the call to come forward for prayer for a fresh touch of the Holy Spirit (which I hadn’t been ready to respond to during the morning service).

We had a guest speaker, Darrell Tunningley, sharing his testimony (which, incidentally, is AMAZING – listen to it here http://ow.ly/2Av2Oa). When he invited people to come and receive prayer, I sat in my seat and didn’t move as others made their way to the front of the church, even though I’d mainly come for this. Then he got back up and told a story which he hadn’t told in the morning. He talked about climbing a cliff on a childhood holiday, so that he and his siblings could jump off it into the sea. He said that, at the top, he was so scared to actually jump, even though there was no other way back down. But he did jump, and it was amazing.

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And I started to cry as the Spirit whispered, ‘this is what’s going on, my love.’ This is the real issue. I feel like I’m about to jump off a cliff. It’s a cliff I deliberately climbed up, excited about the jump into the unknown, into the future of what God has for me. I know I’ll love the journey. I know the jump will be amazing. But now I’ve reached the moment of stepping off the edge and it’s terrifying. The cliff top seems nice and green and grassy and safe. Maybe I could just stay here.

And then I heard my Father again, reminding me, of all things, of a cheesy line from Titanic taken completely out of context – ‘you jump, I jump, remember.’ And I saw a picture of two people jumping off a cliff hand in hand. And I thought, I can do this. God is with me and I’m safe with Him. We can jump together.

So I spent some time with Him, talking and repenting and believing and choosing. I choose to go to Thailand, not because I have to or because I think God will bless and use me most there, but because I want to and because He’s jumping with me.

I still need to process and deal with some of my fears and concerns. I’ve pushed them so far down I barely know what they are. I still feel like this is a cliff jump and I’m still scared. But I’m going to do it, hand in hand with my Saviour, who has never left me for a moment and never will.

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Faithfulness and Grace

I wrote a long post last time about some of the things I’d learnt during the DTS (Discipleship Training School). But as I’ve reflected a bit more, I’ve realised the two most important things I learnt. They aren’t new things. Rather, they are truths I gained a much deeper understanding of and experienced in new ways, as God proved them over and over again.

One, God is faithful.

Two, God gives the grace for each day.

The recurring verse over the past year has been: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Corinthians 12:9). In fact, I mentioned this as I thought back over 2012, just before the start of the DTS (https://riversofjoyblog.wordpress.com/2013/01/01/old-year-new-year-reflections-and-expectations/). I’ve seen the truth of this again and again and again, as I’ve been homesick, physically sick, trying to cope with the shock of India, engaged in endless spiritual warfare, tired, hearing bad news from a distance, lonely, frustrated, hurt and always far too hot! God has given me grace for all this and more. And he has also given me friendship, laughter, fun, health, victory, freedom, joy, forgiveness, hope, good contact with loved ones, dancing and cooling rain. He is so good.

I have seen the Father’s faithfulness to his people, to me – his child. How he not only meets my expectations, but far surpasses them. How he surprises me. How he never leaves me. How he continually transforms me, making ‘beautiful things out of the dust’, as the song goes.

I’m amazed by my incredible, gracious, loving and faithful Father. It’s all about him.

Learning, Growing, Becoming – DTS Reflections

I sat down with my journal to reflect on the biggest areas of learning and growth for me during the Discipleship Training School (DTS), which finished last week. Turns out there are more than I thought! This has been 6 months of incredible stretching and growth, so I share these areas of learning with you in the hope they might encourage you as you see how God is transforming me.

The entire DTS at graduation.

The entire DTS at graduation.

Unsurprisingly (given that I’ve spent all my time since January with the same 30ish people), I have had no choice but to grow in how I relate to others. Some of that has been in laying down my rights, preferring others to myself, learning to criticize and judge others less and lift them up in prayer more and some has been in not taking the blame for everything – acknowledging when someone has sinned against me and offering forgiveness instead of denying my hurt. I think I’ve made a little bit of progress in asking for help and addressing issues with others too.

I’m learning to love people fiercely, even when I know the close relationship is short-term and the investment feels too costly for the reward – to let people in to my heart without worrying about getting hurt or the inevitable goodbyes, trusting that God will pick up the pieces if necessary. I’m commanded to love, not merely be nice.

I’m learning to walk in an attitude of submission to those placed in authority or leadership over me, even when I disagree with them most vehemently. I’m learning to be a better team player, to be less independent. I’m learning to lay down my inclination to lead and to seek to develop people or ministries – sometimes this is just not my place, especially when my involvement in a ministry is very short-term. I have greater insight into what I understand ‘leadership’ to mean and how my definition is not necessarily the same as yours, and that that’s ok.

I am becoming more myself, more who God created me to be, without worrying about looking a bit silly or about what people will think. My playful, light-hearted, maybe even goofy side is emerging and I think I’m getting better at having fun, strange as that sounds. This has been a significant release for me.

I’ve grown in relating to God as Father and in seeking to encounter his presence every single day, not settling for less and always seeking more. I have again and again been challenged to surrender to Jesus, at a deeper level each time. He is worth laying down everything for. I’ve learnt to walk in God’s grace every day – his grace is always sufficient and his power is made perfect in my weakness, and this has been made very evident to me through all the challenges and difficulties there have been. I’ve learnt to press into God in the tough times more than ever. I’m learning how to deal with frustration, disappointment and unmet expectations. I’ve learnt that sometimes God’s purposes are not what I think they are!

I’m beginning to understand the authority I have in Christ. I heard God say that I have a voice. I’m slowly gaining understanding of what this means, but it’s to do with the authority I have when I speak God’s Word, when I pray. I need to use my voice, not letting it be silenced. I’ve grown in my understanding and practice of intercession. Prayer has been a big area of development for me.

Spiritual attack has been sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle. Fighting often involves standing on the truth, letting God remind me of the truth, what really happened, not being dictated to by my emotions. It involves pressing in to God regardless, in worship and obedience. (Of course, there are many ways of waging spiritual warfare – these are some I’ve been developing).

I’ve learnt that Thailand is my home too. God told me clearly (This is your country now) and when I was in Kolkata, I learntthe emotional truth of it as I became homesick for Thailand! During this DTS, God has given me vision and dreams for the future and has opened the door for me to start to walk out those dreams in Thailand. I’m thrilled both to know the next step and be ready for it.

So there you have it – a summary of what has been going on in my heart and head and spirit over the past 6 months. I know it’s quite long, but it really is only a summary. I can’t express how wonderful, faithful, kind, gracious, loving and good God is. I’m so grateful to him and excited to see how he will continue to bring transformation in these areas as well as teaching me new things. To him be all the glory!

To finish, here’s a link to six-minute video summary of our six-month adventure. Enjoy!  CARM DTS 2013