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New Year’s Resolutions Part Two – Wellbeing Goals

I think I’ve said this a few times, but 2017 was a pretty intense year for me. (I won’t go into all the details again, I promise…) So when I started thinking about what word I wanted to pick as my defining word for 2018, one kept coming to mind:

Breathe.

The other day when I was sorting through some boxes in my flat, I came across a picture I painted a few years ago. I am by no means a great artist, but from time to time I dabble in art worship, and this particular picture I had painted in response to a time of reflection on Psalm 23. One particular verse had stood out for me, verse three, which in the Message translation reads:

True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction

Elsewhere in the Bible, several of the authors talk about the Christian life being a race,* and I love this image, this idea of God allowing us to pause and take a moment to rest, to breathe, before picking up and carrying on.

You let me catch my breath - Psalm 23

So this year for me is about hitting pause, and going back to basics. I have spent the last three years working steadily towards the goal of finishing my Masters, without much thought for what came next. I have been working in public sector administration to fund my studies, which is enjoyable enough but not something I believe I am called to long term. I have some ideas of what I would like to do, and what I believe God is calling me to, but I need for now to not rush into the next thing. I need to take some time just to be with God. To remember how to read the Bible for relationship and not just for study. To rediscover my talents for musical and poetical worship. To find joy in having the time to volunteer for things again. I need to catch my breath.

And sometimes I need to be reminded not to worry about my future. For a long time the background of my laptop has been a quote from Winnie the Pooh, the great fountain of wisdom. It says: ‘Rivers know this: there is no hurry, we shall get there someday’. I cannot tell you how comforting I still find that every time I open my laptop. It reminds me that it’s okay not to have it all figured out yet. I sometimes feel like I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way and I’m missing out on God’s Big Purpose for my life. But with God, nothing is wasted. He has put me where I am for a reason (which I am still discovering) and will lead me on to the next thing in the right time. Until then I will keep my eyes and ears open for what He is calling me to, pushing at doors to see which ones will open, and trusting in His promises.

So this year is about resting and trusting, and focusing on my spiritual and mental health, but also my physical health. Basically I’m looking to take better care of myself.

The truth of the matter is, last year during the height of dissertation season I got into some pretty bad eating and exercising habits – the former I did too much of and the latter nowhere near enough. The result being that I put back on a fair amount of the weight that I’d lost in the previous few years. So I am aiming to shed that weight again (roughly 1st.) through eating more healthily and exercising more. I have started planning ahead my meals a bit better and finding healthier alternatives to favourite snacks. I’ll be going back to dance classes again and I really do intend to either use the gym at work (I get a bit bored at the gym but the work one is free to staff members) or take up swimming again as there is a pool really near me.

This morning at Church we had our covenant service, where we celebrate all the great things God has done through our community in the past year and commit to serving Him together in the next. Our youth minister reminded us that resolutions are easier to keep in community, where we can encourage one another. This resonated with me as I thought about my New Year’s resolutions and the fact that I have shared them fairly publicly on this blog. I hope that it will help me to stick to them as now other people know and can hold me accountable. And if you would like to share yours in the comments please do so that we can work towards them together.

On which note I feel I should share that I have not done very well at my writing goal this week, today being the only day that I have managed to write for an extended period… BUT on Monday I went to a second hand bookstore and didn’t buy a single thing, which is a huge win for me!

Going back to rivers, often when I think about that Winnie the Pooh quote, a certain song comes to mind which I find soothing to my soul. I’d like to share it with you. (You can read the lyrics here).

 

* e.g. Hebrews 12v2; Acts 20v24; 2 Timothy 4v7

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New Year’s Resolutions Part One – Reading and Writing Goals

2017 was a big year for me. I turned 30, moved back out from my parents’ house into one I partially own, and completed the final part of my Masters, including a 15000 word dissertation.

You may have noticed that one of the things to take a back seat in the last year was this blog, as I while I was studying I just did not have the time to spare on writing for fun, and since finishing my course in October I have needed to give my brain a rest. But I miss all the writing, the stringing together of words in new and meaningful ways. So one of my goals for 2018 is to get back into good writing habits. I intend to post on here a lot more frequently than last year – I’m aiming for at least once a week. I’m also working toward more variety in what I post. I want to practice more creative writing, but also review more books and films, to share some of what influences me creatively. I would like to share some reflections from what I learnt from my course, and get back into blogging my Bible studies. So look out for a more eclectic mix of posts from me in the future. I hope you enjoy what I have to share. I recognise that some of that might not appeal to you, dear reader, but I hope you find something that you like and stick with me for the rest, as there might be something that surprises you. I don’t know. I am still trying to find my voice and work out what kind of a writer I am.

Outside of the blog, I also had several novels I was working on before I had to put them on the back burner while studying, so I will be reviving them. I’m aiming to finish a first draft of at least one of them before the summer of 2019 (as per my #Next5 goals from 2014) so I will be dedicating time to work on them too.

I haven’t quite worked out exactly how to make myself more disciplined in my writing yet, but it will probably involve setting aside an hour a day for a certain number of days per week for focused writing, on whatever topic. One thing I am definitely going to do is not put off writing reviews – when I read a book or see a film that I want to write about I will aim to get my thoughts down that week while it is fresh. Earlier this year I read a book that meant a lot to me and I really intended to review it, but before I knew it months had passed and I couldn’t really remember all the details that I wanted to share. So no more procrastinating. (On which note, I feel proud of myself as I have already written two reviews today, which I will be sharing here soon! Go me starting my resolutions early!)

***

One of the delightful aspects of having my own place again was that I was able to unpack all my boxes of books that had been in storage for three years. Unfortunately this has also lead to an explosion of my TBR list, not helped by my addiction to buying books (I bought over 50 books this year, and was given around 30, not to mention ones I’ve borrowed from the library. My Goodreads to read shelf currently has 549 items on it). So, as I am severely running out of shelf space, I recognise the need to not buy more books next year.

The slight problem with not buying ANY books (other than that I don’t think I could cope with going cold turkey) is that one of the greatest joys of my life this year has been discovering the #Ninjabookcommunity – I subscribe to the quarterly #Ninjabookbox and have loved discovering more great independently published books through #Ninjabookclub. Of my top three books of the year, one was from a #Ninjabookbox (Star Shot by Mary Ann Constantine, published by Seren books) and one was our #Ninjabookclub pick for November (How to Be a Kosovan Bride by Naomi Hamill, published by Salt). The third I received from my partner in the #Ninjabookswap (The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James, although I don’t know if the publisher Walker books are independent as that was not a requirement of the swap and I can’t find the list at the moment).

So instead of cutting out bookbuying entirely, I will be attempting in 2018 to only buy ninja-related books – as in, they are in the #ninjabookbox, for #ninjabookclub or bought on a #ninjaorganised bookshop crawl (which I am hoping to take part in). I’m aiming for less than 20. The ONLY exception will be if I can stick to this until December I will treat myself to J.R.R. Tolkein’s Letters from Father Christmas as 2018 is also going to be my year for re-reading Tolkien and it will be Christmas.

This means that I am kind-of accidentally taking part in #Ninjabookbox’s #IndieChallenge – to buy more/only independently published books in 2018. I have discovered so many great books this year that I would not have come across otherwise through the Ninja influence that I am now a firm supporter of Independent publishers and want to help promote their books to a wider audience.

I have set other limits for myself as to how many books I am allowed to borrow or reread, but my main goal is to get my TBR list down to a more reasonable amount. I know that one year is not going to make a great deal of difference so I will have to see how long I can stick to this…

***

So there you have it, my Writing and Reading goals for 2018. I have a couple of other things I want to work on for myself, which I will share in the not-to-distant future.

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.

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).

Why I pick a word

Greetings. We’re nearly a month into 2015, and I realise it’s been a while since I wrote. Well, 2015 so far hasn’t been quite as straightforward as I could have hoped. But more on that to come.

I’m part of an awesome online community and in the run up to the end of 2014, there was much talk about what word we would be picking for 2015. To some this was a new idea and they were keen to know what it was all about, and it got me to reflecting on what it means to me to pick a word for each year.

You see, this is something I’ve done for several years now, and it was good remind myself why I do this. Each year I pick a word that I want to help define that year, to help me reflect and to guide my decisions. Last year I decided to pair it with a Bible verse as well, to help me focus on God and what I felt He would want for me in that year.

Let me give you a brief history of the words I picked and why…

2012 – this was the first time I picked a word. I was serving God in a church and loving it, so I settled for the word ‘dedicated’ because I was giving the year to God, and wanted to focus more on Him.

2013 – unfortunately, many things in 2012 didn’t happen as I would have liked, leaving me with many questions, and basically feeling a bit like I’d gone through the blender. So the word I picked for 2013 was ‘change’ – I wanted to be different, renewed, more hopeful, more trusting, and I wanted to see my life change for the better. This led me to make some brave decisions, to relocate and face new challenges.

2014 – In some significant ways, however, my life had started to get worse. My new job, in a new city, was much more challenging than I had expected, and by the end of 2013 my health was suffering. So my word for 2014 became ‘health’, and my verse was Luke 10v27: “The Scriptures say, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.’ They also say, ‘Love your neighbors as much as you love yourself.’”

With this verse, I thought about how I could show my love for God by taking better care of myself in each of the four areas of heart, soul, strength and mind. I took this one pretty seriously, and took several pages of my journal to outline how I was going to practise loving God and myself in each area (if you followed the previous incarnation of my blog you may remember reading about this). The trouble was, as I plunged headlong into 2014, some of the lessons took a long time to stick. I got to April and suddenly realised how much I was struggling at my job, and how unhappy I was in the city – I’d been living there nearly a year and felt so isolated and alone. I suddenly knew, for the sake of my health, I had to leave.

I think this was the hardest decision I had ever made.

After a brief holiday, during which I’d admitted this to myself, I returned to work and had a difficult conversation with my boss, the minister of the church I was working for. And as I explained how I’d been feeling, it was like a huge weight lifting off my shoulders. I agreed to stay a few more months, to give the church and myself time to plan our next steps.

Last year’s word brought about such significant change in my life. It helped me realise what my strengths and weaknesses are, and helped me realise letting go is not the same as giving up. It challenged me to remember what my dreams are and gave me the courage to follow them, even if it seems crazy or risky to others.

So as the end of 2014 approached I started to think about what I wanted from 2015. I had several realisations, including the fact that I was finally living in the same town again as two of my best friends growing up, and wanted to make up for lost time with them. Also, for the first time in a long time I am working in a non-Church environment, and I want to build good relationships with my colleagues who aren’t Christians and hopefully have some opportunities to share my faith with them. Third, I realised that as an introvert, I can tend to shy away from social situations as I find them intimidating, but I don’t want to let my weaknesses define me, I want to let them refine me and make me grow.

So the word I have picked for 2015 is ‘relate’, and I’m focusing on the second part of last year’s verse: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. This means that this year I am trying to make decisions that will help me to build relationships with others and give me opportunities to show them how amazing they are, and how much they are loved by God.

However, as I said at the beginning of this post, things didn’t start out quite how I’d planned in 2015.

I picked up a nasty bug over Christmas, and spent the first couple of weeks of this year feeling decidedly under the weather. I also had spent more money than planned over Christmas and New Years and was starting to worry about whether I would have enough saved to pay my tuition fees for my course. I was also anticipating changing times at work, as I would be taking on new responsibilities, especially with a colleague moving onto another job. Having only been in post for three months, I was worried about how I would cope with the changes. I was also worried about my course, and whether I could cope with the workload

Basically, I started 2015 scared.

But fear is not what I want to define my life. I had a sudden moment of clarity in the middle of my fever, where I realised how scared I was. And I decided not to be scared any more.

You see, if I have learnt anything over the last couple of years, it is that God is so much bigger than any situation I find myself in. And He cares. He cares so much for me that He doesn’t want me to live a life of fear. And He always has a plan. I could never have dreamed a few years ago that I would be where I am now, but He has lead me so gently, that I know so deeply now that I am where I am meant to be. So I don’t need to be afraid.

So I had to pick another word for myself, to help remind me of this every time I start to let the fear in: Trust. And the verse to go with it: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all of your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3v5-6).

Since making this decision, I have felt such peace about my finances, my course, my job, and my relationships. It’s not easy, but everyday I am choosing to trust God in everything and asking Him to bless my relationships. I am still learning, but I am also more aware of Him at work.

It’s still early days for 2015, and I am excited to see how it will progress as I focus on trusting God and loving my neighbour. I’d love to hear whether you’ve picked a word for 2015, and what it means to you.