Growth

It’s been a long and stressful week. One of those weeks where you get to the end and breathe a sigh of relief. I had my job interview for CAP on Thursday, and preparing for it got me thinking about the last nine months. Reflecting on just how far I’ve come, how much I’ve grown.

Change in people is a gradual process, so much so that often we miss it altogether. Sometimes it takes someone looking in from the outside to point it out. I was a very different person when I first came to CAP. I arrived with grief still very fresh in my mind, lacking confidence and belief in myself. I remember coming away from my first few weeks, doubting my ability to fit in, wondering if I was in the right place.  I was the girl dreading the prospect of talking to creditors on the phone, and intimidated by the thought of raising three thousand pounds. I thought if I could keep my head down I could get through it, but I didn’t really see how I was going to grow.

Now nine months later I can see that God has been growing me in ways I would not have predicted. I have a greater understanding of myself and am much more confident and secure. Now challenging calls don’t phase me and I am confident at my job. This year has helped me to rediscover my love of writing, and given me the opportunity to lead worship at church. I have seen God provide above and beyond what I could have imagined with my fundraising (I’m now on over £5600). I’ve had the joy of meeting and working with some amazing people, and to feel like an integral part of a wonderful team. Strangely, for all the growth and change, I feel like I’ve become more and more myself.

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However, growth is painful and this year has been far from easy. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, but when you find yourself in the middle of a growth period, it can be difficult to see what is happening. There have been many challenging and confusing weeks, where I have questioned my choices and analysed my decision to come to CAP. Weeks where the changes seemed painfully slow and I wondered if I was growing at all. As I reflected on this I was reminded of something I wrote in this post back in October:

“As I learnt in the heart of Norway, sometimes his purpose doesn’t make sense to our human eyes. We are refined in the heat of the fire, not in the summer sunshine. Fire hurts, God’s plans are not for the faint hearted. To trust God, is to see past the tangled mess of our emotions and circumstances, and fix our eyes on who He is and what we know about His character. The truths that don’t change with our circumstances, the reality of the Almighty God who loved us enough to send His son to die for us.”

This internship has been part of a refining process, a process which I know is far from over. God has got His hand on me, moulding and shaping me into who He created me to be. It hurts to be in the heat of the fire, but it is worth it when you can look back and see what He has created.

Sometimes as Christians we get so fired up with a desire to change part of the world, that we loose sight of the fact that the change must start with us. If we want to be the solution to the problems we see, we have to be prepared to grow. We can’t change the world without being changed ourselves.

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory” 2 Corinthians 3:18

This is a lifelong process, and today I’m excited to know I’m only at the start of it. These next few weeks are likely to be especially challenging as the recruitment process at CAP comes to its conclusion. None of us know yet what jobs are available or where we may end up. It’s a time of prayer and trust, resting in the assurance that my future is ultimately in God’s hands. His plans can’t be thwarted by the decisions of man. I know wherever I end up, God will continue to grow and shape me.

So for those of you facing challenges right now, be encouraged that God can and will use these situations for growth. Know that whilst you may not see it now, one day you will look back and see just how much you’ve grown, how you’ve been shaped. Growth is worth the hard work.

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Plans

So it’s that time of year when I am forced to think about what I’m going to do next. The internship with CAP will finish in the middle of August. In two and half months, one way or another, we will no longer be interns. “What are you doing next?” is a question I seem to be asked several times a day at the moment. It’s a question I’ve been wrestling with over the past fortnight in particular. There have been days when the decision has felt completely overwhelming, when I’ve got caught up in the tide of worry and anxiety. But other days have brought with them a little more clarity.

Many of you who asked me that question four months ago, would have got a much simpler answer. My plan was to move back down South, to Southampton, and to take any job I could get. I wanted to be back with the friends I’ve missed so dearly, to be closer to my family and back in an area that had felt so much like home. Every time the homesickness hit, I would long for my old life, reassuring myself that in a few months time I could go back.

But as the months have gone on I’ve come to question my motivation, the roots of my desire to run home. I’ve realised it can be summed up in five small words ‘I want to go back’. That I’ve been longing to go backwards. That it’s not just about a geographical location, but a desire to go back and pick up the threads of my old life. I want to go back in time, before tragedy struck, to cherish every moment and every friendship. I’ve been wanting to rewind my life and pause it there, never missing anything, never being left behind, just living in that moment.

Yet I’ve come to realise there is no going back. Our lives can only ever move forwards. Friends will move away, relationships will grow or weaken; some people will walk out of our lives and others will walk in. I could go back to Southampton, and maybe I will some day, but it would always be different. My old life is no longer there to pick back up. Nothing in our lives stays the same, things are constantly changing and evolving into something different. The adventure of faith is to keep going forwards, to keep journeying into what God has for you, following Him as he leads you into new opportunities and challenges. I simply cannot close myself off to God’s plan for my life, out of a desire to go backwards.

At the same time I have had the growing sense that Bradford isn’t done with me yet. I have a church here that I care deeply about and a wonderful opportunity to invest in it. I work for a charity that is clearly doing God’s work across this nation and I have been blessed to be able to be a part of it. CAP brings hope to so many, and hope is something I care deeply about and want to see spread. I would love to be able to sow more into this ministry. So I am pushing doors here to see if they open. I have applied for jobs at CAP in Bradford, and will have an interview in the next fortnight that will hopefully let me know if this is an option. At the same time I am looking to see what jobs are around across the country, to see if God is calling me somewhere new.

For a while I struggled with the idea that whatever I end up doing I will let people down. If I don’t return to Southampton, then I know I will not be able to see those friends as often as I would like to. If I leave Bradford then I will have to leave behind my church and all the friends I have made. People may be disappointed by the choices I make. But I know that as much as I love all these people, I cannot make this decision for them. As I was wrestling and agonising over this, I opened my bible on the psalms and read:

“But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands;” Psalm 31:14-15

I was struck by the truth of that verse. I can make all the plans I want, but only God holds my future in his hands, it is His plans that will stand firm. I know I can trust Him, that He has good plans for my life. So whilst I am yet to find clarity and security about the future. One thing I do know: my future is in god’s hands. And that is the safest place for it to be.

Praise You in this Storm

I returned yesterday from a three day retreat with the other interns in the Peak District. I could write about the beautiful countryside and setting for the retreat, but unfortunately the fog was so deep for our time there, that mostly we just saw white. During the course of the trip we spent some time reflecting on the course of our lives so far, and the path that had brought us to this point. I find this kind of reflection quite emotional, as the road hasn’t been an easy one.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the role that worship has played in my life, through the good times and the bad. I’ve recently taken over leading the worship team at my little church in Bradford, which will surprise some of you (the girl who plays neither the guitar or the keyboard is leading worship- who’d have thought it?!). If I’m honest it’s not something I ever thought I would have the chance to do. It is an amazing privledge to lead people in worship.  Ultimately the purpose of a worship team is to point people to God, it should never be about the people at the front. And whilst some skill and thought has to be involved, the most important thing is that your heart is in the right place, coming before God with humility and faith.

Worship is our chance to offer praise and glory to God, as the Lord over all creation. To acknowledge that He is good, faithful and almighty, regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in. Sometimes we do this together as church families in sung worship, sometimes we worship God on our own in the quiet and stillness. I don’t believe worship is about pretending life is wonderful, but choosing to believe that God is greater than all our struggles and problems. Therefore, worship is for every season in our life. Sometimes our worship will be that song of  joy we sing as we rejoice for all that He is doing in our lives. Sometimes it will be the words we whisper through the tears, as we find ourselves alone in the night.

Worship has not always been easy for me. When life has been difficult, there have times when I have looked around the church, seeing other worshippers, and felt alienated, with the tears threatening to fall. Times when I have wondered whether worshipping through the pain of life, is simply too hard to do. But over the years I have come to appreciate that sometimes ‘My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart’ (Psalm 51:17) and that God will not turn me away, no matter how hard it is to sing the words, or how feeble my offering appears to me. I know that it is the times when worship is the most difficult and costly, that I need to do it the most.

Over the years I have found the songs that I can still sing, no matter how difficult life seems. The soundtrack of my late teenage years was ‘Praise you in this storm’ (Casting Crowns):

“And I’ll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm”

I found refuge in the honesty of the lyrics, the reality that life can be tough, but God is still Lord over all. They were my anthem as the storm raged around me, as I struggled to hear God’s whisper above the noise of the battle. I held on to the truth that God’s goodness and character does not change with my circumstances. That He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

As I navigated my way through university life God spoke to me through the song ‘By your side‘ (Tenth Avenue North):

“Cause I’ll be by your side wherever you fall
In the dead of night whenever you call
And please don’t fight these hands that are holding you
My hands are holding you”

I knew that no matter how much of a struggle life could be, no matter how bleak the future looked or how rough the road ahead, I was not alone. He was singing this song over me and all those lost and hurting around me. At the same time, I was moved by the album ‘Beauty will Rise’ by Steven Curtis Chapman, written after his young daughter died in a tragic accident. On the days where I’d lost hope, feeling tired and alone, I would listen to ‘I will trust you’. Making that decision that ‘Even when I don’t understand, even then I will say again You are my God , and I will trust you.’ 

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Then after loosing James in Norway last summer, I found myself again having to choose to worship God, even when His choices didn’t make sense to me. As a group we kept worshipping through the tears, to trust in Him and His goodness, despite confusion and anger that He had taken James away from us. As I returned to England, still attempting to make sense of all that has happened I clung to the lyrics of JJ Heller’s song ‘Who you are‘: ‘Some times I don’t know, I don’t know what you’re doing, but I know who you are.’ I had to remind myself that I did know who God was and that those truths hadn’t changed. Maybe we will never understand why the accident happened, but we can rest secure in the knowledge of who God is and how He loves us.

I think maybe what I’m trying to say, is that whilst worship is for God’s glory, the act of worship changes us. That the decision to acknowledge God as bigger than the circumstances we face, no matter how painful, changes our perspective. That whilst it does not take the hurt and pain away, it gives God the chance to show us He is still there. It is in those times of pain and heart ache that worship costs us the most, and can be the hardest to do. But it is in those times when we desperately need to worship. It is that decision to continue to trust God and praise Him, in the storms of life, that will decide if our faith grows or falls by the wayside. No matter how hard it is to believe at the time, God is no less good when we face sickness or say goodbye to a friend, then He is when life is as we would like it to be. God does not change with our circumstances. Worship reminds us of that important truth.

I don’t know where you are as you read this. Maybe this is a time where life is going your way and the sun is shining, where worship comes naturally. Or maybe you do find yourself in the storms of life right now, maybe you cannot see the road ahead or how God can fit into this picture. As hard as it may be, you need to keep praising Him in the storm, to acknowledge He is bigger than your problems. It’s at our darkest times, when we find ourselves at rock bottom, that we really must look up. Know that your worship is valuable to Him, because He knows how much it costs you.

Trust

I returned to Bradford on Friday after a three day retreat, in a beautiful place called Sedbergh, on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, near the Lake District. We went as a group of 22 interns, together with a few CAP staff members, to spend time getting to know each other out of the confines of work. It was such a blessing to be able to go on a trip that was completely paid for by CAP, and to get away together for a few days. Throughout the trip there were games and activities aimed at building team work and relationships between the group. The most unusual had to be the ‘ghyll scrambling’ which involved donning a wetsuit and walking up a river, definitely an experience! We also had a Murder Mystery night which, with 26 characters, was quite a feat of organisation, at times a little confusing, but great fun nonetheless.

I suppose for me the trip was characterised by one word: trust. In the days running up to the trip I’d felt my anxiety levels build, and hadn’t really understood why. Then the night before we left, it hit me; I was simply afraid of history repeating itself. You see, the last trip like this that I went on, was my summer trip to Norway, where we lost a much loved friend in a hiking accident. Rationally I knew these trips were nothing alike, that just because tragedy had struck once didn’t mean it would again. But my emotions weren’t listening to reason.  The hardest part for me was the morning of the outdoor activities, when we were all sat around waiting for everything to start. I looked around at all the faces, and couldn’t help thinking about Norway, and the hours before we lost James. When I had no idea that the conversation I had with him would be our last, didn’t realise I wouldn’t see his smiling face again this side of heaven.

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Ultimately, as I sat there remembering, I had a choice. I could let my fear get the better of me, or I could choose to trust. To trust that God was with us and wouldn’t leave us. Trust that the activity instructors knew what they were doing. And trust other members of the group, to let them in.

Trust is truly precious and essential in every relationship, those with other people as well as with God. Once it is lost it can be difficult to rebuild, but we struggle to flourish without it. If we can’t trust in God’s goodness and purpose for our lives, then our faith is pointless. Who would follow a God who wasn’t trustworthy? We would end up loosing our faith, feeling hurt or resentful. But trusting God is costly, because trusting Him, knowing that He loves us and will work through every situation for our good, isn’t the same as trusting Him to do what we want. Sometimes in His infinite wisdom, He uses the grief and pain of life to teach and shape us.

” For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”        Isaiah 55:8-9

As I learnt in the heart of Norway, sometimes his purpose doesn’t make sense to our human eyes. We are refined in the heat of the fire, not in the summer sunshine. Fire hurts, God’s plans are not for the faint hearted. To trust God, is to see past the tangled mess of our emotions and circumstances, and fix our eyes on who He is and what we know about His character. The truths that don’t change with our circumstances, the reality of the Almighty God who loved us enough to send His son to die for us.

Working at CAP one of the things that strikes me the most is the faith and trust of the staff there. If you’ve read the story of CAP, written by the founder John Kirkby (you can get it for free here), then you’ll have read how just a few years ago CAP didn’t have enough money coming in to pay all the staff. They were several months behind on wages, but the staff kept working, believing in the work they were doing, trusting that God would provide. And of course God did.

Whilst the situations that force us to trust can be painful and difficult at the time, they are invaluable. It is through trusting God that He can show himself to be faithful and true, our loving Father who provides for us. It doesn’t guarantee an easy life but we can rest in the knowledge that He is always with us. We all have to learn to trust through the good and the bad, the storms and the sunshine, whichever situation we find ourselves in, knowing that God will lead us through the night into the dawn again.

And in case you’re in any doubt, this trip was a great success, with no injuries and a good time was had by all.

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