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.

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

Identity

I was thinking through some things last night and got round to thinking about identity. It’s a theme that has come up in my life fairly often over the past few years. In fact, I just found a blog post on this very topic that I didn’t publish. There’s plenty I could write about identity in general, or my identity in particular, but really there’s just one thing I want to say today: I’m so thankful that my identity comes from Jesus. I’m thankful that no one else can tell me who I am (or who I should be!) – not other people, not Satan, not even me.

Only God can define my identity. He calls me daughter and friend, beautiful and beloved, redeemed and precious and free. That’s who I am. A daughter of the King. And no one can change that or say otherwise.

There’s a song that says:

All my changes come from Him, He who never changes
I’m held firm in the grasp of the Rock of all the Ages

I love that! How reassuring that the one who gives me my identity never changes, but he continues to transform me, even as I remain secure in him.