Tag Archives: reflection

Life and Perspective

Hi… *waves*

So… it’s been a while…

And the worst part is I don’t really have a reason. So many times I’ve said to myself, I’ll sit down and write something this evening, or this weekend, or whenever and it just never seems to happen. The intention is there but nothing materialises.

I could blame so many things, time, energy, the fact that my desk has a pile of paperwork I need to sort through and my study is currently a junk room… and all these things have had an effect, it’s true. But mostly I have lacked motivation. I’ve found myself with nothing to say, at least, not that I felt able to express in writing. I have found other ways of expressing myself, but journaling and writing blog posts have required a concentration I have not had for a couple of months.

In all honesty, I let myself get lost in the rush for a few months there. After finishing my MA, I was a bit at a loss with what to do with myself, so I started to fill my time with all sorts of things that packed my hours and left me drained. While some things were stimulating and fulfilling on some levels, deep down my soul was striving and I did not find rest in these things. I kept pushing on and piling on the activity, and I completely overlooked the still, small voice, whispering to me to slow down, take time.

I just looked back to see what word I picked for myself this year, because I had forgotten. And it was such a simple word:

Breathe.

How could I forget? To live my life by this simple rhythm of in, out, in, out. How different could my year have been if I had just slowed down. Not that it has been a bad year – there have been lots of great things – but my enjoyment could have been deeper if I’d allowed myself pauses for breath.

But God is faithful. Even in the rushing around, I knew he was leading me and calling me. Even through all the stress and worry and anxiety, I knew he was holding me and loving me.

He led me to Ukraine, where for two weeks I served and loved a group of orphans, who reminded me of the beauty of simple things. The days were long and hot, but I found a peace there that had been missing from my life for so long. And I heard the whisper again.

I came back with quite a severe case of flu, which forced me to actually rest for a week. (I need to learn to do that for myself, without illness or injury being necessary. Maybe I will learn this lesson one day.) But in that week I reflected on my time in Ukraine and gained a better perspective. One I am trying dearly to hold onto as life’s waves begin to crash around me again.

And though I have faced a few disappointments in the month since I have been back, I am reminded that God is sovereign. While I don’t think that means the things that have happened were his plan, I believe that He will bring good things out of them. I pray for this, and hold onto hope. I have also been learning to hold lightly onto the things I have been given. I have been so blessed in so many ways, that I cannot allow myself to be bitter over the things I have been denied.

This is not what I thought I was going to write tonight, but the words have flowed so I believe this is what has been waiting in my heart to be written. I have more things to say over the coming weeks, so I expect you will be hearing from me again soon.

One final thought I want to leave you with. I sponsor a couple of children through a charity called Compassion, and tonight I realised that I have not written to them for a while. I was looking back over the last letter I received from my little boy in Colombia (I say little, he’s become a teenager without me noticing) and he shared with me a Bible verse which hit me right in the feels. Here it is for you now.

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Hibernation

I sometimes feel like

My heart has been in hibernation

Like a tree in winter

Barren and dry

Apparently lifeless

But beneath the surface

The roots go deep

And draw up life

And like the warm spring sun

A moment in your presence

Wakes my tired soul

And brings forth new colour

Blossoming, blooming, bearing fruit

After the darkest night

Comes the morning

After the coldest winter

Comes the spring

 

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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.

Confession: I am a selfish blogger

Last week one of my favourite bloggers, Jon Acuff, wrote about a lesson it took him 13 years to learn about blogging. It was this:

‘Your platform isn’t for you. It’s not yours. Your name might be on it. It might be your smiling headshot that folks see each day on your blog or your twitter profile, but the platform is not for you. It’s for other people. Readers, friends, family members, this is why we blog. Not to get, but to give.’

So this is why I feel I must apologise, dear Reader. I am a selfish blogger, and a selfish writer. I don’t think about who might be reading what I write. In fact, I generally assume no one is reading. It takes me by surprise when someone likes or comments on a post, or tells me they like something I wrote. I do enjoy getting new followers, but it also always makes me feel slightly guilty that I don’t post more often.

Again, I apologise, dear Reader. At the start of the summer I promised I would post more often, once I’d recovered from essay writing exertions. But the posts never quite materialised. I found that I needed more time than I thought to rest after the busy academic year, and never quite found the headspace for lots of writing.

But here’s the thing. I have to disagree with Jon Acuff (sorry! I think you’re awesome, but sorry). For some people, writing a blog is about their platform, their self-promotion, their face on other people’s computer screens or tablets.

But that’s never been my focus, that’s never been why I write. I’m not really bothered by how many followers, or page views I have. Don’t get me wrong (or stop reading!) I love that you, dear Reader, have found your way to my little corner of the internet, I’d love for you to stick around, and I hope that my words bless and inspire you.

But, if I’m honest, and I always try to be, I’m writing for me. I always have done. I think I’ve said before that writing is one of the main ways I process the world. It helps me to understand what I am living. I also love wordcraft – playing around with words and phrases, constructing sentences. My blog is where I practice writing, learning and honing my craft. Please don’t be offended, I love that you are here, but this is for me.

So for this reason, I am not going to make any more promises. I am not going to try to boost my follower count by posting more frequently, regularly, or consistently. I’m not going to let myself feel guilty if I don’t post anything for a few weeks. I’m not going to try to pre-write posts any more, so I can post on schedule even when I don’t feel like writing (because, to be honest, those posts never seem to connect with you, dear Reader, as well as the spur of the moment ones anyway). I’m not going to force myself to try to write when I don’t feel like it, because at the moment, that is not what I need from myself.

I love writing, and I want to enjoy it. I never want this blog to feel like it’s a chore, because my writing will suffer, and I know you will notice, dear Reader.

So please, stick around and bear with me, if you enjoy what I write. Because I know that when I am writing from the heart it does resonate with people. And thank-you, dear Reader, for sticking with me thus far. Writing my blog blesses me, and I hope reading it might bless you too.

Leaving a Legacy

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I went to a funeral last week, of someone I had known all my life, a good friend of my parents, who had died unexpectedly a few weeks ago.

I find funerals strange occasions. There is such a mix of emotions, especially when the mourned and mourners are Christians. There is a sudden hole in your life that you know nothing will be able to fill, but you have to keep going. Yet there is always that knowledge, that hope, that you cling to that you will see that person again, and that they are in a much better place.

As I was a few stages removed from the family of the deceased, due to the distance that time and space brings, my grief on this occasion was secondary – I felt compassion for their sadness over their loss, and it brought back memories of when I lost grandparents, and created imaginings of how I would feel at the loss of my parents. I also seem to automatically cry when I see others in tears.

My own sentiment, and I hope you’ll not think me callous, was one of celebration of a life lived well. Testament to this was the number squeezed into the tiny church hall, overflowing into the lobby where there was a video link. The stories of remembrance were full of humour and light, memories of a man with a generous heart and ready wit, who always knew how many days it was until Christmas.

We sung some of his favourite hymns, which mostly had references to being received into glory, and I could imagine him gleefully running to join the cloud of witnesses, being reunited with his relatives, and smiling down on us and giggling at the irony of what we were singing.

The service got me thinking about legacy – what do we leave behind us when we go? Hearing the testimony of this man’s life – how he came to faith through the love and wisdom of his grandfather and in turn passed this onto his own grandchildren; how his strong work ethic and sense of humour made him a shining light in his workplace – I could see the fruits of his years of faithfulness to Christ and the beauty of that legacy. I thought about those, including this gentle-man, who have had an impact on my life and wondered: what trace am I leaving on the lives of those around me?

In the last year or so I have become more aware of my own mortality. I would not say I am afraid of death or believe that it is coming soon for me, I have just been struck by the realisation that people my age and younger can die just as easily as those who are getting on in years (there’s a cheery thought!) I am more conscious of not wasting time, and of focusing on all I want to achieve in life. I am also driving more carefully!

I want my life to be positive. I want to make a difference to others. I don’t need a big stage or a large following, but I do want to be faithful to what I have been called to do. I want to make the most of the gifts I have been given and the opportunities set out in front of me.

I felt God’s whisper as I listened to the funeral service. He has given me words, and my words will be my legacy. My words will remain long after I have gone. This is a great encouragement to me as I sit down to write and is also a reminder to be prayerful in my writing – whether in this blog, in my poetry or in my novelistic ambitions – to seek God’s purposes in the word-craft, in the stories I am trying to tell.

But it meant more than just writing to me. Like most people, I speak everyday. I talk to people, and they listen (usually). I converse with colleagues, have deep chats with friends, I instant message people all over the world. Those words have an impact too. Most of it may be forgetten, but some of the words we speak, positive and negative, leave our mouths and go straight to people’s hearts.

In the Bible, James compares the tongue to a fire that can burn down a whole forest. He says it is like the rudder of a ship, that can turn it and direct its route. I have done a bit of sailing in the past, and I know that if you let go of the tiller, the rudder turns the boat into the wind and you are at the mercy of the weather. We need to watch what we say, because our words have potential to heal or to hurt, every single time we open our mouths.

I hope I remember these lessons I’m learning along the way. I am determined to be more careful with my words – both written and spoken. I pray that I may leave as positive a legacy as that of the man we said farewell to this week.

And it is 116 days until Christmas.