Tag Archives: plans

Happy New Year – 2017!

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I’m sure I’m not the only person who was slightly relieved to have reached the end of 2016. While I had some great experiences last year, there were some quite tough times too. Add to that the political tensions and international crises, and the great sadness of losing so many well-loved actors, musicians, writers and other significant people; I know I was glad to lay 2016 to rest.

But there were good times. It is so easy to get overwhelmed by all the negativity in society and the media, so I have to keep reminding myself that I had some pretty amazing experiences too. For one thing, I was involved in a flash mob, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. (It was a Bollywood routine at a friend’s wedding and it was so. much. fun!) I also had the privilege of serving for two weeks on kids and youth camps in Moldova in the summer, which reawakened my love for youth and children’s work, gave my faith a much needed boost, and introduced me to some of the loveliest people I’ve ever met, many of whom I am sure will remain a great source of prayer and support for years to come. I also stepped out in faith a few times and found the courage to do a few things I’ve been meaning to do for a long time.

In terms of personal goals, I completed the second part of my Masters and managed to maintain my high academic standards even while taking on extra hours at work. I read the complete works of Shakespeare – the plays, sonnets and epic poems (I just have the apocrypha to go, which weren’t included in my edition of the complete works). I read 70 books and only bought 17 (not including ones for uni) – but as I borrowed and was given a fair number unfortunately by goodreads to-read count only decreased by one…

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may remember that my word for last year was rest, and actually I realised towards the end of the year that I hadn’t been very good at this. It is definitely something I need to keep working on so when I planned out the next nine months as I work on my dissertation I have factored in short holidays to give myself a break.

But all-in-all, it was not a bad year. It’s nice to reflect and see all the good things in black and white, actually. But I am really excited about 2017! I can’t help but think it will be a very good year, as I hope to see the fulfilment of a few long-held dreams.

In view of this, the word I chose to help my shape my year is Imagine, and my verse for the year is Ephesians 3:20-1:

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

I want to dream bigger about what God can do in and through me, to see and take opportunities and be faithful in the little things I am given. If He can do more than I imagine, I want to imagine the biggest, most excitingest things I can and see Him exceed my expectations.

I haven’t made any resolutions this year as I have my #30by30 list to work on (I’ve ticked a few more things off, by the way, which I will let you know about over the next few weeks). However, I have made the more general decision to try to give up negativity, instead I want to be positive, brave and kind and to remember that I carry the Kingdom of Heaven with me wherever I go.

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as fast as he can…

I found myself facing disappointment recently. Something that I’d been hoping and praying for, something that I felt God was calling me into, didn’t come to fruition, and I was left feeling bereft. I told myself that it was just God closing a door, but I had this nagging voice in my head telling me that it was because there was something wrong with me, that I wasn’t good enough. I kept trying to take my disappointment and diminishing confidence to God, but I was finding it hard to let go of the situation. I needed reassurance. And then I had a dream.

The Bible gives many examples of God speaking to people through dreams, the most famous probably being the two Josephs (in the Old Testament, the son of Jacob sees in a dream that his older brothers will bow to him, and is given a position of great power and responsibility in Egypt after God enables him to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams concerning a famine to come; New Testament Joseph marries Mary after an angel tells him in a dream that she wasn’t unfaithful to him, but that her child is God’s Son, and the Saviour of the world). It is something that I have experienced a few times myself. Not all my dreams have hidden meaning, some of them are completely ridiculous, but as I tend to remember a lot of my dreams and reflect on them, I often find God’s quiet whisper in them. This one, I knew as soon as I woke up that God was telling me something.

This dream was about my wedding, at least, what my wedding could be. Things weren’t quite as I myself would have picked them, but I knew it was very much about us as a couple – there was music, good food, and lots of cake.

The weird thing was, the man I was marrying seemed to change, he was someone different at different points in the dream. As the dream continued, I realised that my new husband and I had been separated by the crowds of our family and friends. I wasn’t sure where he was, but I wasn’t worried until the time came for us to leave the venue. I went looking for him, and found him waiting by the car. I said, ‘I’ve been looking for you’ and he said ‘I was waiting here for you, but that doesn’t matter, we’re together now’.

At the moment I am faced with various choices about my future that could lead me down different paths. I’ve written in the past about how I don’t believe God necessarily has a fixed plan for each of our lives, as that doesn’t account for the choices we or others make. Sometimes He does clearly open or close doors, as I experienced recently, but mostly I believe He provides us with opportunities and lets us choose which to take, how to serve Him.

The changing husband in my dream was telling me that whichever path I choose, God will be faithful to the promises that He has made to me, to give me a place and a purpose, and the home and family that I so desire, but that that will look different depending on which way I go. The conversation between myself and my husband in the dream reminded me that while I and the man I will end up marrying are currently in a period of searching and waiting, we will be brought together in the right time, God’s time.

One of my favourite sitcoms to watch when I need a boost is How I Met Your Mother. I really relate to the central character, Ted, who is a hopeless romantic trying to make sense of his life, when it seems that everyone around him already has everything figured out. At the end of season four, Ted has a conversation with a woman he thought he was going to marry, who left him for someone else. He tells her that he is impatient to find what she has, and she tells him that the woman he is waiting for is coming ‘as fast as she can’.

I was thinking about this as I reflected on my dream, and remembered that God’s notion of time is quite different to ours. In his second letter, Peter reassures his readers: ‘Dear friends, don’t forget that for the Lord one day is the same as a thousand years, and a thousand years is the same as one day. The Lord isn’t slow about keeping his promises, as some people think he is.’ (2 Peter 3:8-9a, CEV). In the book of Habakkuk in the Old Testament, a similar promise is made:

At the time I have decided,

my words will come true.

You can trust what I say

about the future.

It may take a long time,

but keep on waiting—

it will happen!

(Habakkuk 2:3, CEV).

 

If, like me, you have recently experienced disappointment, remember that in all things God is working for your good, and He won’t say no unless there is a better yes to come. And if you are feeling impatient, remember that He always keeps his promises and brings them to fruition in His perfect timing.

As if I needed further reassurance of this, and let’s face it, I probably did, I have seen two rainbows today. The first was this morning as I was driving and trying to decide whether or not to pursue a certain opportunity. The sun was shining, but out of nowhere it started to rain. I looked up and there, for the briefest of moments, was a perfect rainbow. It was there and then it was gone. But I knew then that God was with me, whatever I decide.

 

The second was this afternoon, as I was writing this:

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Hello again and general life update…

So, I realise it’s been a long while since I posted anything. Things got a little bit crazy for a while there. Unfortunately, any writing for anything other than uni has slightly fallen by the wayside temporarily but now life is a bit calmer again I hope I will be able to post more frequently.

So what have I been up to?

Well, I started doing a few extra hours at work in February and officially went full time at the start of June.

I also wrote and handed in three essays (two at the start of April and one at the end of June).

Two days after handing in my last essay, I flew to Moldova for two weeks with a charity called Operation Mobilisation to work with vulnerable children and young people (I gave a brief talk about my trip and my parents’ church last week, which was filmed, and we are working on making a video that I can share, but there are various guidelines that need to be followed. If we can’t make it work, I will write up a report of the trip here).

I’ve been back about a month and have been busy learning my new role at work at a time when a lot of our procedures are in the process of being changed, so it has been quite tiring – meaning that my downtime has involved mainly sleeping, watching tv and playing Disney Emoji Blitz.

But I’ve been feeling the itch to get back to writing… I have so many things I want to write about, and will be trying to carve out the time to put pen to paper (or rather, fingers to keyboard) and share some of the things I’ve been reflecting on.

Because, looking back over the last few months, although they have often been busy and rather stressful, I realise now that I have grown a lot in this time. Mostly in realising that I am capable of more than I imagined, with God on my side. And that there are burdens that I am meant to bear, but also many that I am meant to let go of.

Moldova was a soul cleanser. I realised so many things about myself and about God while I was out there. I remembered that there are greater purposes at work, and that I have a calling on my life, but also that the season I am in is not being wasted – I am learning skills and my character is being shaped and honed. I realised that I can make a difference in situations even when I don’t speak the language. I relearned that God’s love is stronger than any barrier, and that He fights fiercely for His children. Although it was not a holiday, when I came home and had caught up on sleep, I felt refreshed and ready to face the world again.

Unfortunately, we, as fallible humans, are quick to forget the things we learn, and the last couple of weeks I have been struggling to cling on to the lessons I learned. But God is faithful. And I am learning still to build in rhythms of life that help me connect with Him day to day (more on that soon-ish).

—–

Two years ago I wrote about my #Next5 – the goals I had for the following five years. They were:

  • get a Masters in theology
  • finish the first draft of a novel
  • move back out from my parents
  • find a job I really care about
  • meet the man of my dreams

Around this time last year I gave an update, so I thought it was time for another one… and not much has changed…

I’m now two thirds of the way through my Masters degree, and have achieved better marks than I expected with the extra hours I was doing at work, so that was encouraging! This last week we had our first ‘Research and Study Skills’ unit as an introduction to our dissertation module. I have picked a topic that I’m passionate about (feminist theology), and am keen to get researching. So that, at least, is very exciting!

As for the rest… there hasn’t been much progression. The novels are on hold until the end of my course next year, realistically, although I’m intending to write more short stories, flash fiction and poetry to keep my non-acadamic writing hand in. My parents and I are in discussions about how, when and where I could move out, so hopefully that might happen within a year, and I’m squirreling away what money I can now that I’m earning more and have nearly paid all my uni fees. Work is… interesting… There are some parts of the new job that I do really enjoy, and some parts that I could take or leave. I think that coming back to work after Moldova has helped me to realise that while I enjoy admin, there are definitely other fields that I am more passionate about working in, so I am praying for God to guide me and open up the right opportunities for me in the future. I have not met any eligible men. But I have started dance classes again, so at least I’m breaking out of my introvert shell a little.

I think that’s all for now, folks. I will be back soon (I hope), but until then, thanks for joining me on my journey.

A Slightly Belated New Years Resolutions Type Post

(Meaning I made the resolutions at the start of the new year but I am only just getting around to writing about it).

I like New Years. I like the thought of new beginnings. However good or bad the previous year has been, as December 31st ends and January 1st begins it is a chance to take a breath, take stock, and start afresh.

2015 was a pretty good year, really. Nothing awful happened and I made progress towards my goals (including getting my best ever mark on an essay, which was also possibly the most enjoyable essay I’ve written), I ended the year with money in my savings account and finished 59 books (nearly five per month).

For the last five years I’ve been picking words to help define and shape the year. Last year the word I picked was relate, as I wanted to invest in friendships as much as possible. I enjoyed some great times with old friends and made some new ones, and in many ways I managed to prioritise this when making choices about how to spend my time and money. I did still struggle when attempting to small talk with people I don’t know well at church – after all I’m still an introvert – but I’m trying to become braver!

I was also challenged to add a second word for the year. I have a tendency to worry and God whispered to me that I need to focus on trusting Him more about my future, after all He has never let me down so far. So I made Trust my second word for 2015 and tried to turn to prayer and faith instead when I felt the worries creeping in.

So, I’m sure you are all dying to know what my word for 2016 is…

For the last three months of 2015 I had a series of nasty colds leaving me feeling tired and ill pretty much the whole time. At the same time, I was trying to focus on studying and also deliberating over whether I could cope with more hours and responsibilities at work. It was fairly exhausting and while I tried to take breaks and have quiet times with God, it was a struggle.

I had a good holiday over Christmas and New Year, but it made me realise that I have always had a bit of an issue with giving myself a break. I have a tendency to feel guilty if I take time out when I always have so much I could be doing. I have gotten a bit better at this over the last few years but I still have a bit of a ways to go. Also, I struggle to make time in my schedule to meet with God, and this is not good…

So when I was thinking about my word for 2016, one kept popping back into my mind as something I really need to work on in my life – Rest.

Rest is an important concept in the Bible, right from the start. In the creation account in Genesis 1 (and the very beginning of chapter 2) we are told how God created the universe in six days (don’t ask me whether this were literal or figurative days, I don’t know). And then, on the Seventh day, He created something else – Rest. We are told in Genesis 2v2 that God rested from all the work He had done. Now I don’t think for a moment that God was worn out from all the hard work of creating and needed to take a nap, He is God, for goodness sake. He was setting a pattern for creation of seasons of work and rest. We aren’t designed to be hustling constantly, we need moments to sit back and enjoy what we have achieved, to refuel and strengthen ourselves to keep hustling. This is why we have weekends, why crops grow better if fields are left fallow for a season, why God commands us to keep the Sabbath holy.

I have become pretty protective of my Saturdays in the last year or so. I don’t let myself feel pressured to get up and do things if I don’t want to, I try to keep it clear of studying, and I make time to do things I enjoy. I intend to build on this this year, by adding restful moments into every day – small times of pausing from life and focusing on God. It seems counterintuitive, but my first step in restful living was to start getting up fifteen minutes earlier on work days so that I would have time to read my Bible and not feel like I was rushing to get to work on time. Although my body clock is still adjusting, I’m starting to find that I’m more awake by the time I get to work, and able to focus better, and generally less stressed.

As we are having a somewhat unsettled time at work, and I am working on the plans for my five-year goals, and because of God’s gentle whispers, I decided to keep Trust as a second word for 2016.

Fortunately, I found a Bible passage which incorporates both of my words, and have made them my verses for the year:

‘Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. Acknowledge Him in all your ways, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own estimation, fear the LORD and turn away from evil. This will bring healing to your body and refreshment to your inner self” Proverbs 3v5-8, NET (some other translations use ‘rest’ instead of ‘refreshment’, I promise)

As for actual New Years Resolutions – I made two, and they are both pretty geeky, I admit, but hopefully they will both feed into my rest times. The first is to read the complete works of Shakespeare, in honour of the 400th anniversary of his death. The second is to make progress with my ‘to-read’ list on Goodreads by reading a significantly higher number of books than I buy (and I made a spreadsheet to help me keep track). As of today, I have nearly completed three Shakespeare plays, and I have read 6 books and bought 2, so we are doing okay so far.

Book Review: Me, Myself and Bob by Phil Vischer

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I bought this book for my brother for Christmas several years ago. He’s a filmmaker with a background in animation who had always enjoyed VeggieTales, so I thought he’s be interested in the story behind it. Unfortunately, he was travelling a lot at the time and the book languished on his bookshelf for a while. Then I thought – if he isn’t going to read it, I will! So it ended up on my bookshelf for a while… But I’m a firm believer that books come to us at the time we need them most. Knowing we would be visiting my brother last week, I decided to take the book with me to read, so I could pass it on to him when I was done. I’m really glad I did.

I grew up with VeggieTales. I remember the excitement each time a new video came out. I remember as a teenager helping with the kids club at church, how we would insist on VeggieTales every time a video week was suggested. I loved the stories, the songs, and the characters. I had no idea, even until reading this book now, what had been going on behind the scenes.

The book takes a little while to get going. Vischer’s style of writing is more suited to scripts or picture books for children than to non-fiction for adults (something he admits to himself). But it is engaging. The first hundred pages or so included a lot of technical information that I didn’t really understand, but which my brother would find fascinating I’m sure… but once he gets to the story of producing the first couple of videos, the book picks up pace.

I couldn’t put the book down all through the rapid growth of Vicsher’s company, Big Idea, trying to fit the timeline of the book to my memories of the videos coming out. Vischer hints throughout at what is to come, trying to emphasise where he went wrong with the business to show what lead to its collapse. I would have been very sad had the book ended there, but this was not the story of a company making videos starring vegetables – it is the story of one man’s relationship with God.

After outlining what he learned about business through his successes and failures with Big Idea, Vischer gets to the heart of the matter. What ultimately went wrong was that Vischer was so focused on his dream that he lost sight of God, the dream-giver. The last couple of chapters of the book are so powerful, as Vischer comes to terms with God not saving his company, his dream, because He wanted to save him, the man, the relationship. Vischer draws parallels between his story and characters from the Bible and from literature, as he learns that God wants to be the most important thing in our lives, and we may have to sacrifice our dreams for that. One passage really jumped out at me:

‘As this truth sunk in, I found myself facing a God I had never heard about in Sunday School – a God who, it appeared, wanted me to let go of my dreams. But why? Why would God want us to let go of our dreams? Because anything I am unwilling to let go of is an idol, and I am in sin. The more I thought about my intense drive to build Big Idea and change the world, the more I realized I had let my “good work” become an idol that defined me. Rather than finding my identity in my relationship with God, I was finding it in my drive to do “good work”.’

I found this last part of the book really challenging, as I know I am prone to this. It can become all too easy to focus so much on the work that we are doing for God that we lose sight of God Himself. And He never wants that. This was a timely reminder for me, as I head into the second year of my theology course, that my focus always needs to be on my relationship with God not on my studies, or my future, or my dreams. I need Him more than I need any of those things. And I think this may be something that I’ve lost sight of over the last couple of years, may be why I have struggled to write this summer. I got too busy, too distracted and forgot to meet with God everyday.

It is okay to have dreams, to have plans. But I know now I need to hold onto them loosely, but cling onto God tightly. Time with Him is fuel for everything He calls me to do, and if I lose sight of Him, I risk losing everything. But if I focus on Him, He will give me everything I need.

As I came to the end of the book, a song from my childhood (not even a VeggieTales song!) came into me head. It is based on a couple of verses from Matthew 6:

‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of God

And His righteousness

And all these things will be added unto you

Allelu, Alleluia.’

(P.S. the book has now been returned to my brother, with a few heavy hints that he should read it soon)

The hard road to achieving your dreams

I skipped church again this morning. Some Sundays I feel that the last thing this introvert needs is small-talk with a load of people I barely know, which, even though I’ve been at my church for close to a year now, still seems to be the case, especially in the holidays. But that is not what this post is about.

I knew that even if I wasn’t going to church I needed to get my soul straight. Recently I have been struck with a strange lethargy, an inability to do anything remotely useful (by my own definition), almost a numb tiredness at times. I’d been feeling this way definitely since coming back from youth camp but probably before that too. Really, since handing in my last essay of the term, it felt like part of my brain had gone into standby mode, like I wasn’t able to reflect or process anything correctly. In part it was the adjustment to suddenly having a lot of free time again after a really busy academic year. And I knew that I needed to rest and recover from that busy time, but I didn’t even feel like I was resting successfully.

So this morning I stopped, and did something that I should have done a while ago. I picked up my too-long-neglected journal and I started to write. I wrote, I prayed, I tried to understand where this feeling of disconnect from myself was coming from.

I realised quite a few things…

First, that I was already worrying about next term and beyond – would I have enough money for the course fees? Would I cope with the workload? Would I be able to do all the things I want to next summer? Do I need to start thinking about my dissertation? etc etc etc. I know, and have been repeatedly been telling myself, that God is holding all this future stuff and that I need to trust Him, but that message hadn’t made it’s way to my heart quite yet, where the worries were starting to set up shop. So this morning I started to let them go, one by one, again. I know I will have to keep on doing this, regularly. Trust is one of my chosen words for the year, and I need to start acting like it…

Secondly, I acknowledged that I was feeling stuck. So many of my friends are getting engaged, getting married, having children, getting their own places… etc… Last year I chose to move back home and give up full time work to take up my course. It was the right decision (still is) but at times it feels like a massive step backwards. It has required sacrifices. And that is something we don’t think about when we decide to pursue a dream – choosing one thing means sacrificing every other choice. Even when you know you are making the right choice, it is often painful to let go of the others. I have given up independence, savings, free time, a social life, even some of my hobbies, in order to devote time to my studies. I love my course, and I’m doing well at it, but I need to let myself grieve for the opportunities I’ve had to miss out on to pursue my dream. And I need to remind myself that I’m in this for the long haul, but that it will be so worth it.

A year ago, I came up with five goals for the next five years:

  • get a Masters in theology
  • finish the first draft of a novel
  • move back out from my parents
  • find a job I really care about
  • meet the man of my dreams

(you can read the whole story here)

The problem is, part of me feels like I’m no closer to 4 out of 5 of my goals. Yes, I am a third of the way through the Masters (and when I wrote the list I hadn’t even been accepted onto the course), but I was struggling to see any development in the other areas. And with two more years of the Masters to go, I was finding it hard to see when I would be able to work on the others.

But… but… but…

These are FIVE YEAR GOALS! So what if years 1-3 are focused on goal 1? That still leaves two years for the others!

Sometimes one of our dreams has to take priority over the others, and that’s okay.

And when I really thought about it, I started to see how working towards goal 1 is helping in some ways towards the others – through writing essays my research, planning and editing skills have all improved, and the quality of my writing is better, which will massively help with eventually writing my novel. And the Masters will open doors for me into jobs which engage my interests and convictions. (And I do love the job I have right now!)

Again, when I stopped to think about it, it all came back to trust. A year ago I told God what I wanted to achieve in the next five years. And I have to keep giving those goals back to Him, seeking His will and trusting that because He gave me the desires of my heart, He will help me realise them.

I also remembered this morning what the ultimate goal of my life is, one that I have been sadly neglecting recently: to know God and make Him known. All my dreams, plans, and goals amount to nothing when I lose focus on that, but by seeking Him first, I will achieve the things He has called me to do.

One last thought: Sometimes I feel I am not coping with life. I have heard people say in the past: “God never gives you more than you can handle” but that is not true. God often, intentionally, gives us more than we can handle so that we recognise how much we need Him to help us handle it.

A Glimpse of the Future?

I recently read the novel Flashforward, which was made into a TV show a few years ago that was cancelled after one season and ended on a massive cliff hanger… I read the book because I had enjoyed the show, but other than the basic concept and a couple of character names, the book bore little resemblance to the show and, sadly, did not live up to expectation. It is very rare for me to say this, but the show was better than the book it was based on…

Anyway, this blog isn’t really about the show or the book – it’s about the idea. The concept of the novel is that for two minutes, unexpectedly, the entire population of Earth blacks out and their consciousness is transported twenty-one years and six months into the future, where they experience two minutes as their future selves.

When they return to the present, they have a lot of questions – what caused the phenomenon? Should they try to repeat it? And, most importantly, is the future they saw fixed, or can it be changed?

Although the book was a disappointment, it did get me thinking – if I had the opportunity to see my future, would I take it? Do I want to know what will happen to me a few years down the line – and would I try to change it if I knew?

I generally have an overactive imagination, and spend a lot of idle moments thinking about where I’d like to live, how and where I might meet the man of my dreams, what schools would I send my hypothetical children to, what job I want when I finish my course… But while I enjoy the speculation, I like the openness of my future right now. I like that I have options, and that I don’t know what is coming. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it would be nice to know for certain that I will get married, and what his name might be so that I can pay attention when he comes along… but at the same time I know I’m better off not knowing.

In Matthew 6v25-34, Jesus tells the crowds not to worry about the future, because there will be enough to worry about when it comes along. He’s talking specifically about provision – comforting us that God knows what we need and will provide it, so we don’t need to fret. But I think it applies more generally. The present is all we really have, because we don’t know what is around the corner. So we’re wasting our time if we stress ourselves out over the details of our futures. I don’t think this means that we shouldn’t make plans at all, rather that we shouldn’t be so obsessed with the future that we miss out on enjoying the here and now.

Not knowing the future also gives us hope. One of the characters in the book is convinced that the future is set, and there is nothing he can do to change it, and it starts to have a negative impact on the choices he makes in the present. As Christians it is often a comfort to us to know that God has plans for our future, and I believe that He does, but they are not strict and immovable. God has also given us free will, which allows us to involve ourselves in His plans, rather than have them dictated to us. Yes He guides us, and He has an ultimate plan for creation, but He will not force us into doing things. At the same time, He is always working behind the scenes to bring about His will.

Does that sound like a contradiction? It kind of is… God’s omniscience regarding the future is something I’ve really been struggling to get my head around in the past year… And I don’t think I’m any closer, but I’m happy to live in the contradiction of a God who knows the future yet gives me free will to determine how mine will pan out.

When life gets messy, we can have hope that the future will be better, different. We can also trust that God is looking after us, directing our steps (Proverbs 16v9), and working for our good (Romans 8v28).