Tag Archives: plans

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.

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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.

the empty hand

I am not incomplete

I do not feel like part of me is missing

I know that I am loved

And the One who made me

Made me enough

On my own

But sometimes

As I walk along

And my hand hangs by my side

And there is something missing

My hand needs another hand to hold

‘It is not good for man to be alone’

We are made for community

But more than that

We are built for relationships

Intimacy

I know that one day

My longing will be met

My hand won’t be empty

but treasured

held

and later, maybe,

smaller hands

will cling to mine

and call me home

But until then

I wait

and trust that it will be

worth the wait

for the hand made to hold mine

Normal service now resuming (hopefully…)

IMG_0384

First of all, apologies for no posts in nearly a month… A lot has been happening!

Three weeks ago I started both a new job and a new course. The job is a part-time admin position, mainly taken so that I could afford to do the course. It’s been great fun so far, but as with all new jobs there is a lot to learn!

The new course is a Masters in Integrative Theology with the London School of Theology. Again, it is part-time and for me is being done entirely online, which is very new, hi-tech and exciting! Three weeks in, I’m starting to get used to what I need to do each week, and finally getting the idea of what the course is about (it’s the first year the course has run, so there wasn’t a great deal of information before we began!) In future posts I’ll hopefully be able to outline a bit more of what I’m learning and where the course is taking me mentally, but I’m still trying to get my head round it a little bit, so watch this space!

I’ve also been battling a demon cold and trying to re-establish a social life in the town I grew up in since I’ve moved home, so it’s been pretty full on the last couple of weeks. I’m settling into a new church where I already feel I am challenged and growing, and I’ve met some really lovely people. I’m looking forward to getting involved and serving the community there.

All of these exciting things going on means I find I now have less time for writing for fun, meaning I am afraid for now I will only be able to post once a week for the foreseeable future, and may miss some weeks entirely. I hope that things will start to settle down as I get more used to the rhythms of work, study and social-life-ness, and that will mean I’m able to post more often again. I enjoy writing this blog too much to let it go, especially now I’ve paid for a domain name!

Thank you for joining me on this journey. I hope what I write inspires, challenges and encourages you, it certainly does me as I’m writing it! Please continue to travel with me.

My #Next5

2014-08-29 22.05.55

 

I’m part of a pretty awesome online community, that is constantly challenging me to dream bigger and to chase those dreams down. (You can read more about what this group means to me here).

This week, another member of the community came up with a great challenge, and is encouraging us to spread the word.

Before I go into too much detail about what #Next5 means, let me fill you in on what I was doing right before I heard anything about #Next5. 

I had just sent off an essay and a written interview as the second stage of an application process for a Masters course. In Theology. This is something that I have really wanted to do for a long time but something always got in the way. Even as I was writing the essay, my mind kept asking me: “Are you sure you’re clever enough to do this? Do you even understand what you’re writing? Better to give up right now…”

I feel like, when I let other people tell me I can’t achieve my dreams (or I assume they will tell me I can’t achieve my dreams, so I smother the dreaming and try to be sensible) they are just agreeing with what I’ve been telling myself all along. I’m my biggest enemy. But no more.

Kevin Buchanan, of livingoutmyjourney.com, has challenged us this week to dream big, and imagine what we want our lives to be like in 5 years time. Now, with the way things have gone in the last few years of my life, I’ve given up on making any long term plans, but I was really encouraged by his video and blog post (available at the bottom of the page) and the subsequent photos my friends posted on Facebook, to come up with a few things I would like to have achieved by this time in 2019.

2014-08-26 21.01.36

Actually, I took this photo on Tuesday, and I think I want to dream a bit bigger now. But anywho. The point is, I know with a bit of hard work and hustle, I can achieve these things (apart from the man of my dreams one, maybe…?). It won’t be easy. It may not happen. But I’m going to do everything in my power to make these things happen.

So my challenge to you, dear reader, is the same as Kevin’s: what do you want to have achieved over the next 5 years? Write it down, take a photo, share it with the hashtag #Next5 and then stick it up somewhere to inspire you. Mine would be above my desk, if I had one…

For Kevin’s original post, go here.

And you can watch the video below…

 

When a ‘No’ feels like a win

I officially finished my job yesterday, meaning today I am officially out of work.

At this point I feel like I should be crazily job hunting and widening my search for work, but actually I am relaxed. I have options and I have time. I’d rather have the ‘right’ job than just any job.

Last week I had a preliminary interview for a job that on paper seemed like a brilliant opportunity. It was in  church youth work (my field) and included training at the local Bible college. The staff and elders from the church whom I met at the interview were all lovely, and friendly and put me at my ease as soon as I arrived. They asked all the right questions, and listened to my story without judgement. They appreciated and understood what I had gained from my life experiences and how that influenced my work. The answered all my questions with what I wanted and hoped to hear from potential employers, and from a church family. The church itself was a lovely building, recently refurbished, with great spaces and equipment for the youth work. In all it ticked nearly all of my boxes of what I’m looking for in a job.

But I left with the feeling that it wasn’t the right opportunity for me, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. When people asked, I said I wasn’t sure that the village location would suit me (I’ve realised now that I am definitely a city girl at heart) but there was more to it than that. It just didn’t feel right.

I had a call from the church leader in the evening after the pre-interview saying that they would be taking up references that week and shortlisting for the formal interviews and would be in touch at the end of the week. I thanked them and said that although I was still interested in the post but would appreciate having a few days to think about it.

In my heart I knew that I wouldn’t be taking the job, but practically in my head I told myself I needed to think more about it. Because, without a job lined up, could I really afford the luxury of turning down a job?

So as the week went by I grew more sure that I was making the right decision, but was really nervous that the church would call and offer me a formal interview and I would have to turn it down.

But when they called… the church leader said that they had really enjoyed meeting me, I came over really well in the pre-interview and ticked all the right boxes in terms of what they were looking for… but… as they had talked and prayed about it they felt sure that it wouldn’t be the right situation for me. I was so relieved, I was over the moon. I explained that I had been feeling the same way, that I was really impressed by everything I’d seen and heard but just knew it wasn’t right for me.

So here’s the thing. Here’s the takeaway – God knows what He is doing. And He tells us. We just have to listen. The Holy Spirit speaks to everyone and there are beautiful moments where what we think God is saying to us is confirmed through what He is saying to other people.

I may not know right now where I am headed next. I have ideas, and they are exciting and I am waiting to see how the opportunities in front of me play out… But I have no definite answers right now. But I have hope. God knows where I am going, and He is at work, behind the scenes, preparing the place for me.

I’ve given up making plans for the future. I have ideas, dreams of what I want for my life, and I know God has an amazing plan for me that will let me achieve those dreams to His glory.IMG_0034

“And I will lead the blind

in a way that they do not know,

in paths that they have not known

I will guide them.

I will turn the darkness before them into light,

the rough places into level ground.

These are the things I do,

and I do not forsake them”

Isaiah 42v16