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.

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

This is your country now.

I got back yesterday from Camp Zoe, a Christian camp for some of the teens we work with here in Thailand. It was a great 5 days of building relationships, having fun, playing crazy games and helping the kids get to know Jesus a little better.

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My team at Crazy Night. Our costume theme was… crazy?

The last night was a worship night and we spent some time thinking about being a light to Thailand. There was an outline of Thailand marked on the floor, with a large wooden cross in the centre. On the cross was a candle. The idea was that we would light our own candles from the one in the middle and set them round the country outline as a symbol that we want to be God’s light in the darkness in this country. My friend Brandi, who facilitated this, asked everyone to consider what purpose God has us here for. I started thinking about this for myself, not just for the young people.

Very quickly, and very clearly, God said that if I lit a candle, it would be a symbol of committing to stay in Thailand – not just shining God’s light in Thailand during this DTS outreach, but staying here long beyond that. I knew I was staying in Asia, but I hadn’t quite been sure what specific country. I hadn’t been fully committed to Thailand longer-term. So I took some time to think about if I wanted to make that commitment by adding my candle to those others were lighting.

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Shining God’s light all around Thailand.

I did light the candle and add it to the map. In some ways, it wasn’t easy – I needed to again surrender some of my own ideas and hopes and dreams. But as I made this symbolic gesture and sat looking at the map, I felt the Spirit whisper, ‘This is your country now.’ Not that Northern Ireland will ever stop being my country, but now Thailand is my country too. This makes me really happy.

So Thailand is where I’m staying, where God is calling me to shine his light into the darkness. For how long? I don’t know. I’m not completely sure in what capacity I’m staying either, but I think I’m getting closer to knowing that too – watch this space!

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

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.