Celebration

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion –
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
Isaiah 61:1-3

When I came to Thailand, I came to be part of pioneering a vision that hasn’t yet come to pass, that I don’t think will ever come to pass, at least not in the way we planned and dreamed. Letting go of that vision has been harder than I admitted, even to myself, until recently. I’ve been taking some time to mourn what might have been, what I dreamed would be.

As I read Isaiah 61 I see that Jesus is the One who binds my broken heart and proclaims freedom – freedom from the weight and pain of unfulfilled dreams, a release to walk from darkness into light. He is the One who comforts me and provides for me. And He is the One who gives me joy instead of mourning, praise instead of despair.

My perspective has shifted: instead of remembering all that didn’t happen, I want to celebrate all the good that DID happen. Lives were changed because of this vision and because I came to Thailand to be part of it – what an honour! Let me share some of the amazing things the Lord has done through this ‘Rock of Hope’ dream:

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  • I (and others) had the privilege of regularly teaching a wonderful group of migrant children. I saw them grow in their thirst for learning and their study skills, as well as their knowledge. Many of them now attend school. One of them taught herself to read and write from an alphabet book given to her by my friend.
  • Alongside academic learning, these children heard about the God who loves them and gave Himself for them, the One who will never leave them. Many of them have chosen to follow Him, trusting and standing firm even in difficulties and challenges. They know that He sees them.
  • Children formed solid and meaningful friendships with each other. They may never have met if they hadn’t attended ‘Wednesday School’.
  • We took some trips – including one to an aquarium. The children were so excited!

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  • We were able to be the bridge between home and the Thai school system for seven migrant children. We helped them get registered and started in school, and now a whole world of possibilities has opened up to them.
  • A local school changed its policy and flung wide their doors to migrant children (previously unwelcome)! I don’t think we can take credit for that – it happened without our involvement – and yet I wonder how much it had to do with all the prayers we prayed for this area.

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  • Teachers in this school were impacted by the attitudes and faith of their new students. They became actively invested in seeing these children succeed.
  • We opened up a safe space in the community for kids who live in unsafe places. They told us they felt loved and safe as soon as they walked into the room.
  • Many of the ‘Wednesday School’ children joined wider ministry activities – going deeper in their walk with God and making connections with older teens, who are great role models.
  • Visiting teams caught a glimpse of God’s heart for vulnerable children.

On a personal level, I have learnt so much about project planning, pioneering, prayer, overcoming obstacles and how to serve a community. I’ve learnt from my mistakes just as much as from the things I got right, probably even more so. I’ve made connections with a whole network of wonderful people. The children have brought me so much joy. They have taught me about perseverance, hope, wonder, grace, determination and having fun.

I may never know the full impact we had on these precious ones. I may never know how this dream, this ‘failed’ vision, has transformed lives or even changed history. But I am confident that the Lord was at work, that He is still at work and will continue to be at work – His Word will accomplish the purposes for which He sent it. And that is cause for great celebration!

‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,’
declares the Lord.
‘As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
it will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn-bush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure for ever.’
Isaiah 55:8-13

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.

Old Year, New Year: Reflections and Expectations

Disclaimer: This is not what I sat down to write. I wrote as the year changed. It’s late and I’m tired. So I’m not sure anyone else will make sense of my thoughts, but I needed to write them anyway.

2012. Where to start?! How to sum it up?

It’s been brilliant, stretching, hard, fun, exciting, God-filled. I feel that now, at last, I’m going out there and grabbing fistfuls of life, living life to the full, letting God’s life fill me and shape me. 2 years ago, I was so weary of the battle, the spiritual battle, that I couldn’t quite see how to go on fighting. Now, I say bring it on. I will not give up or give in or give ground to the enemy. I will stand firm. I will fight, as God gives me strength. More often, I’ll let him fight for me as he holds me by my right hand (Psalm 73:23). I have understood more deeply this year the truth of 2 Corinthians 12:9:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It’s when I know I am weak that God’s strength can really be seen and experienced. I am experiencing new depths of God’s grace, faithfulness, power and love. I can’t put into words how incredible he is.

The start of my mission journey has been amazing. Of course, 2012 wasn’t really the start at all and I’m not sure I could pinpoint when it really began. But actually moving to Thailand, not knowing when (if) I’ll ever live in Northern Ireland again, was amazing. Whenever I’ve lived elsewhere before, it’s always been for a finite, given time period. This is different. More exciting, more unknown, sometimes scarier but also so incredibly right. I am living as who I was created to be. Am I getting it right all the time? No. But this is a God-adventure, a lifelong commitment to follow him where he leads. How could it get any better than this?

Of course there’s sacrifice. Of course sometimes it’s hard and I get bogged down in the details of life and I miss petty and unimportant things, like ant-free kitchens and custard creams. I miss my church. I miss people I’ve had to say goodbye to. Yet I don’t quite fit in Belfast anymore. I have loved being home for Christmas and seeing so many people I care about, but this isn’t quite where I belong now. Things have changed, moved on, without me. I’ve changed. I don’t miss my life before Thailand.

So I’m excited to go back in a few days. I’m excited about what God has in store in the coming weeks and months. I’m excited to see where I’ll be living, what I’ll be doing, who I’ll be at the end of 2013. I expect to see God do great things, in and through both me and those around me. I expect to be challenged and changed. Bring it on!

It’s really happening…

Tonight it hit me that I’m really leaving. Soon. It’s overwhelming, but in a good way. I feel overwhelmed by God’s grace and goodness, by a sense of calling and peace and this being right. I’m confident I’m going into this with him. I am humbled and deeply thankful to and for God, for his plans and purposes. I guess I can’t quite believe I’ve actually reached this point of walking away from my life as it has been and walking into the new things God has called me to. It’s been a long time coming, months and years of frustration and not knowing, praying and longing for something more, dreaming and hoping and anticipating and expecting. And now something is being fulfilled, made reality. I’m not going to stop praying and longing and dreaming and expecting. There’s always more. But I’m amazed by what’s happening in my life right now and I’m awed by how God’s plans are so much better than what I thought I wanted from life. I’m amazed by him, just amazed.

Through your faithful prayers and the generous response of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, everything he wants to do in and through me will be done. I can hardly wait to continue on my course. Philippians 1:19

Info Evening Video

I held an info evening about a month ago for anyone interested in what I’m going to be doing next year and beyond. A lot of people couldn’t make it for one reason or another, so a friend filmed it for me and it’s now available to view here!

 

Here’s the prayer card referred to in the video.

Finally, an update since this was filmed… I heard this morning that I have been accepted onto the YWAM Children at Risk DTS!!! I’m very excited!!!

My Calling

My calling is ultimately to Jesus, to follow him wherever he leads me, to live a life of love in relationship with him, to be his witness everywhere I go. My calling is to live generously with what God has given me – I am blessed to be a blessing. Within that context, I believe my long-term calling is to work with children at risk. My heart has always been for children and, looking back, I can see how God has given me experiences to equip me for long-term mission abroad as well as to work with children. My dream is of creating a safe place for children, particularly those children who are alone and have nowhere to go – a refuge and a home, somewhere they can just be children and can encounter the restoration and healing of the God who loves them. More than that, I dream this place will launch these children into living their own dreams and the plans God has for them.

Welcome to the blog. I invite you to journey with me.