Of Sliding Doors and The In-Betweens

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I only watched the film once, but I still remember that look on Gwyneth Paltrow’s face when the tube doors closed on herself and she watched as she went into the tunnel.

It would be kind of cool if we could have a “sliding doors” moment. One of those moments where we could go back to a time that seemed pivotal in our lives and look what would happen if we had made another decision.

I bumped my head recently, actually, I grabbed a pole that had a sign on it and the sign hit my head. Who freakin’ knew poles MOVED? I didn’t.

My friend text me and said “if this were a movie you would have woken up 12 years ago, having missed your plane to London and never left”. I don’t think he realised how insightful that was.

Dear friends, I have loved my life living abroad. Not only have I experienced the most incredible moments, but the way I have chosen to live has made me the woman I am. In fact, had I not left, some of the pain I dealt with would have, in fact, been much more difficult. God has used these last almost 12 years to show me my dreams, to build my faith, to heal me, to guide me into this next season.

A season that I am still keeping between me and God.

Nonetheless, I have moments where I wonder what life would have been like if I stayed. Where would I be in my faith journey? What path would I have followed? More, I question some of my decisions along the way and think “if only I had gone this way…”.

“If only” moments are genuinely the worst ever. They only ever fill you with regret. So, in the moments when I want to head that direction I try to stop myself and ask, “so what now?” Well, that question, can only be answered when we are at a place of rest or peace…otherwise it is the MUDDIEST OF MOMENTS.

An amazing Swedish friend once told me that he believed this next season of mine was a season of rest. Yeah, so….I didn’t and in the end it has taken probably a year longer than I needed to finally really be able to ask “so what now” from a rested, peaceful and totally trusting place.

The journey has been one of self-discovery, vulnerability and faith than I have truly ever taken before. When I moved to London, I had a purpose. When I moved to Sweden, I had a purpose…and now…now I have a new purpose, one that isn’t as cemented, one that isn’t as guaranteed and how that journey will play out is not as clear.

AND OH EM GEE it is scary. It’s so much easier to step out when there is security.

But aren’t the greatest moments, the most incredible bits are when we jump, leap, take a risk and most importantly…listen to that still small voice inside (you know the one that we hear over and over again and try to ignore).

It is when we follow that voice, the dreams it is whispering into your spirit, it’s then where the leap becomes a small step.

Surrender: one dash vulnerability, take away the pride

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Sometimes I hate social media.

Funny, as my work, my audience, my connections around the world, very much rely on this form of media to connect, maintain and grow all sorts of relationships.

This isn’t a post on the dangers of social media, or SoMe, but only as a catalyst to illustrate my recent lessons.

But we’ll get back to that.

Some of you may remember a book written a few years ago called “If you want to walk on Water, you got to get out of the boat“. Well, boy have I stepped out of the boat recently.

Last week I gave up my apartment here in Stockholm. (This will come as a surprise to some of my local readers)…sorry I haven’t had the chance to tell you.

I gave up my apartment, I’m putting most of my belongings in the storage and moving in with my bestie (in a tiny, studio apartment).

Why?

Because when you want to walk on water, you need to get out of the boat.

AND DANG, that boat is really, really, really hard to get out of. Like, people, I am pretty sure I had put up military-style fencing around the edge. I liked my safe life, my beautiful life, with my pretty apartment and my gym membership and my monthly mail order make up. Except that it wasn’t moving forward. I wasn’t really living my purpose. Too often over the last couple of years things were going off kilter and a line had to be drawn.

So, I tore that fence down and jumped in.

The truth is, aside from a freelance writing contract and a few bits and pieces, the future is a beautiful blank canvas. God has given me tools to impact people around me, make a difference while I am here and a shift needed to happen.

I have to admit, and this is hard, that it’s so easy to look back and go “oh, okay, so I was on purpose here and then…oops I stepped off”. Except, that’s not actually the case. We spend, oh, maybe I just spend too often looking at what we see as missteps, what in actual fact, God has used, planned or not, to refine me.

In order for me to really get out of the boat I had to get to this point. Stubbornly, it may have taken me longer than He wanted, or perhaps, it’s exactly the right time. I don’t believe it’s my concern. I believe only that God has me here, now, in a place I can be completely moulded by Him.

Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Isaiah 64:8

If you look up how to make a clay pot you will see that the potter has to have a strong hold on the clay, gently, but slowly applying pressure so that He or She can shape and refine the clay into the desired shape.

The clay, like us, in order to be moulded must surrender it’s natural shape in order to become the master’s design.

We too, have to completely surrender, allowing God to apply pressure and constraints in our lives, in order to become who He desires us to be, in order to best live our lives for His purpose, our purpose.

So what’s the formula? Well, I reckon this is where it comes down to two main areas.

Remove the pride and add a dash of vulnerability (a very big dash).

This is my experience, and feel free to argue. Let’s go back to the SoMe example. We are inundated with images on Instagram and Facebook, and texts about everyone else’s lives. We see the new boyfriend, the new fiancee, the big house, the better job etc…ALL THE INTERNET and our pride swells up. Why doesn’t my life look like that?

Well, first of all because that’s not your life. And secondly, it probably does, to someone else. But that’s a whole other blog…

Pride takes us on a path that is often not ours to take. I have this great sweatshirt that says “Thou Shalt Run Your own race”. When pride takes over, we end up running towards someone else’s goal, we run in their lane and run against where we are supposed to go.

But when we keep our eyes focused on the main thing and ask for, listen to the Holy Spirit things change. Our course changes.

Seriously though, this is hard. Especially when maybe our track was always meant to go this way and then that, but we are still running the way we were meant to last year. Pride sees only what WE as humans see…what we can accomplish. It takes us off track or keeps us on the path when we should have taken a left.

So, now that we are working on pride…let’s make it a bit more difficult and really get in there.

Vulnerability.

Dang that word hurts. Vulnerability, we think, means putting our trust in someone else. In fact, I am realising that it’s so not about other people. It’s about being vulnerable enough to really hear the Holy Spirit whisper and then act on it. If God opens doors that no one can close and closes doors no one can open, then it doesn’t really matter if we are vulnerable with the humans in our lives. Of course they’re the vehicle, but listening to the Holy Spirit allows us to understand where, when and with whom we should be vulnerable with.

So, truthfully this is a blog that has no real ending. These are daily and even hourly lessons I am currently learning. The good old “lay it down” and surrender it all is a constant journey and one that isn’t a chore, but a path to glorious freedom.

To be continued…

 

An Unapologetic Year

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“You know what attracted you to me? The way you don’t apologise for who you are”

That was 4 years ago and somewhere between that conversation, all the moments, circumstances and conversations past, and the present I changed.

Sure, I tried to get it back. Half-heartedly really; I even began 2015 with a drive to kick some butt. I even wrote a blog about it. I said I wouldn’t be afraid to sing again…

Now, it wasn’t that I completely lost myself, I even took a few steps forward. I got a bit of my backbone together again, I took a huge step in my health (and constantly need to remind myself of that), I achieved a few good bits.

But when I look in the mirror I noticed one thing.

I lost the light in my eyes.

I was looking through some old photos and wondered what was different. Yeah my hair was different, but that’s not abnormal. I am thinner now. Okay, fine. But what? It was deeper, it was in my soul. Cue dramatic music.

Seriously though? What was it that took away my drive? What was it that made the shine disappear.

And then it came to me…quietly. 

I allowed people to affect me. 

I allowed rejection to overcome me. I allowed other’s opinions take over. I allowed other people’s standards to affect mine.

I put less emphasis on the way I wanted to live my life and the dreams I had, the goals I set for myself to be determined by “them”.

oh the dreaded “them”. Who is that? Well,  it can be what we believe others think of us. It can be the parent who doesn’t seem care enough or the boyfriend who breaks up with you. It can be the girls’ at the gym who stare. It can be the boss that tries to bring you down because of his or her insecurities. It can be standards of the culture or world we live in.

Except that years ago I chose not to live by the standards of others. I chose to live for God, with excellence, with grace & forgiveness. 

“Never apologize for having high standards. People who really want to be in your life will rise up to meet them.”

Well, somewhere along the line I started to apologise.

And somewhere along the line the shine in my eyes started to dim.

We all go through ups and downs in life. The darkest times do often bring the brightest lights, but it’s when we allow those moments, those people to define us, then we lose our way.

No one is perfect all the time. I love the fact that I am a really hard person to read, that I have high standards, that I can swear like the best of them one minute, but then have a philosophical discussion on the existence of love in this world the next. I like the fact that I am not like everyone else and that I live with a hope greater than this world. This world is hard and I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.

And I miss the girl who didn’t give a … (ahem)

Because that girl got sh*t done and I have pushed her away for too long.

And I have one life. One moment to make my mark. Why am I allowing anything, anyone to stop that?

No longer.

I will find my focus. You find yours. I will not apologise for who I am. I will be more vulnerable. I will dream more. I will take time to do what I need to do. I will say yes and I will say no. I will not allow fear to overcome me but instead remember that I have been given a spirit which overcomes fear. I will sing. I will dance. I will watch obscure movies. I will kiss more. I will worship more. I will be me. Can you be you? Because I love it when you are you.

So, here is to 2016 and letting that light shine.

“…Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. 
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? 
Actually, who are you not to be? 
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. 
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. 
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” ‘A Return To Love’ (1992) by Marianne Williamson

We Danced

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In our high school athletics were very important. We all took phys. ed. Everything from volleyball to badminton, cross country and weight training. 2-3 to days a week you were sweating alongside your classmates, enjoying all the benefits of what sport brings. Every December, to take a break from the norm, our high school offered a different kind of phys. ed. It was such a tradition that we tried to get out of our other classes, just to partake in more than our weekly routine of physical activity.

Every December we danced.

We did everything from traditional Russian dancing (I seem to remember something about being horses?), to the Scottish ceilidh and country line dancing from the bottom parts of the south of the USA. We learned to waltz, polka, whatever we could learn, we did. Then, just before winter break we had a school wide dance.

That day was my favourite.

As much as I loved all the learning, the actual classes, especially when we had to partner up, were hard. You see, I was the tallest girl in my class, for a LONG time. Standing at more than the average 5’5″ (165.1cm) at 12 and combined with a severe lack of guys during my gym block, we often had to pair up with girls, so I had to take the lead. Or, I got paired up with a guy who was so afraid to lead (because we were what 13, 14,15 years old) that we either ended up doing nothing or looking foolish. So when we had the school wide dance, I actually got to dance with a guy, lead by a guy who knew what to do. I loved the moments of being lead.

It’s funny what we believe affects us later in life. From such an early age I already had to learn to lead my own life. Okay, so this is just one example of circumstances in my life which made me take control of my life. There are probably another five pieces I could write on other circumstances which shaped the woman I have become (for better or for worse), but this…this one sticks out.

Dancing.

I guess it’s because I am not a fan of feeling foolish. I mean, who is. Who wants to look a bit dumb or make a mistake in front of people. Not exactly a trait many of us carry. Dancing is far more than a physical act. It is a metaphor for life. We take steps to the left, to the right, we go backwards and forwards. We are spun inwards and outwards, lead by our partner in what, over a song becomes a story, it is a journey which makes up a beautiful narrative. When we try to lead (when we aren’t supposed to), then the dance gets mixed up. Two people cannot lead. There must always be someone who follows. Or, if the one who leads, isn’t stepping up and taking the lead the path is full of stumbles, not as elegant and getting out of the missteps takes more time. The story isn’t as a beautiful, as graceful. A lot like our relationship with God.

BUT, allow me to take detour for a moment. Just for the sake of a good metaphor.

Dancing is a lot like dating. The dance of romance. Say what you want of equality, the man should take the lead. It isn’t the equal division of tasks that makes dating and eventually marriage equal, it is the equitable and efficient division of resources. Like a dance, when we have true equality, when the man leads, when he writes the story and the woman, putting her trust in him, follows, a beautiful story is written. When both focus on the same goal (glorifying God) then the dance has a purpose and a focus.

Oh wait, much like dating, God is trying to romance us…funny how this is all working together…

Today when I go to take dance lessons I can find it difficult to let the guy lead. I have been trained to take the lead, mostly out of necessity and practicality. Recently I was taking salsa lessons with a few of my friends. There were a few men there and I found myself really loving dancing and getting into the groove of things. With two of the say five guys that were potential partners, I rested safely in their arms, dancing away until I was drenched in sweat. When it came time to change and I was put with a man who wasn’t secure, one who didn’t have my best interest at heart, who didn’t focus on leading, the dance was awkward and generally never properly complete. The guys that I could trust were who we can liken to God. Strong, understanding of the journey we are to take, foreknowledge of the ending and aware of the steps we need to take to get there.

The men who were insecure, who hadn’t read the steps, who weren’t comforted by experience are much like when we take the lead in our own lives…stumbling, blind and without hope.

There’s a song by Bethel Music. It’s called We Danced. It’s a ballad, a worshipful song of the dance between ourselves and God.

You steady me
Slow and sweet, we sway
Take the lead and I will follow
Finally ready now
To close my eyes and just believe
That You won’t lead me
Where You don’t go

When my faith gets tired
And my hope seems lost
You spin me round and round
And remind me of that song
The one You wrote for me
And we dance

The last few months, heck, few years, have been a struggle to say the least. A struggle by human eyes, but to God, a beautiful dance.

Like Joseph in Genesis, God has turned what was meant for evil in my life and made it for good. Instead of fighting the lead that God was taking in my life, I have learned, some days, some hours begrudgingly even, to allow Him to lead.

Praying to hear his voice. Asking for wisdom. Training myself to hear, to feel when the Holy Spirit is gently pulling on my heart to go one way or another, either physically or in a decision.

When my faith got tired, and when my hope seems lost (even today), I am in training to become one of the best dancers the world has seen. I am never going to be a ballerina on a world’s stage, or a hip hop dancer in a music video , but instead, I am going to dance my way, even through the missteps and the turns and twirls with the one who has always captivated my heart. With my Lord.

Jesus Christ (the Messiah) is [always] the same, yesterday, today, [yes] and forever (to the ages). Hebrews 13:8

Are not two [j]little sparrows sold for a penny? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s leave (consent) and notice. But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, then; you are of more value than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31

He invited you to dance, invited you to be part of a beautiful story, one that will be filled with less than desirable moments, but you will always know you’re safe, safe in the arms of your beloved.

The One about Love

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I’m sitting in a cafe at the moment, waiting for a friend and for the beginning of three days of home-exam torture. I can’t believe the first year of my MSc is over in just a few days.

Back to the immediate present. A man is sat just feet away, dressed in all his finery, well-groomed with Gatsby-esque demeanour exuding from his very presence, something is not quite right. He seems unsettled and nervous until I realise that beside him is a bottle of Taittinger and one of the most beautiful bouquets of roses I have seen ever. I can only imagine what he has planned for the person who will receive that and more, what piece of beautiful prose is hidden in the card that waits its receiver.

LOVE.

What is LOVE?

I stumbled across this video just now and having watched it can only admit that crying in public has become less of an issue recently. Take a moment and watch…it’s only 3 minutes.

That kind of love is the love that dreams are made of, but do we know what that kind of love really is.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

The world needs more of that kind of love. That selfless, undying kind of love in all areas of our lives. From our spouses, boyfriends, sisters, family, friends or simply the person you meet on the side of the road. A love without selfish motivation, a love that looks outward.

“Love is willing self-sacrifice for the good of another that does not ‘require, demand, anticipate, expect reciprocation or that the person being loved is deserving”. -Paul Tripp

That’s the kind of love I want to exude…

The kind of love that doesn’t role it’s eyes when asked to do someone a favour. 

The kind of love that gets up every morning and ensures that breakfast is ready and the coffee is made.

The kind of love that stays up all night when someone just needs to talk. 

The kind of love that doesn’t make snide comments when *that* person begins to talk. 

The kind of love that knows makes people light up inside. 

It’s a lofty goal and one that I am sure I will always be striving towards but it’s a goal and one that I want to work towards for the rest of my life.

Join me?

 

Keep me from getting carried away

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The first time I ever heard Christine Caine speak she spoke about being pregnant.

It was my first time at a Hillsong Women’s event and I was a bit overwhelmed. I had only been living in London 2 months and everything was up in the air. I had no permanent job (at least not what I wanted to be doing) and well, pretty much my entire life was ahead of me. I listened to Christine talk about how there is a reason that women need to be at full term before giving birth. If the baby comes too early then it just isn’t the time.

I was, admittedly, distracted or even too focused on trying to get life right, to really allow this message to set in. I wish I had listened better because I could have avoided a lot of heartache.

Too early, too late, not the right time…

All these things have been factors in my life and if I’m direct, it has not been until recently that I have seen the affects that being impatient or not letting things developed has had on my life.

I’m a planner. If you read any of my posts from the last year or so you’ll see this is a theme I constantly struggle with. I like to know what’s next, what will the outcome be, where life is going.

However, as I listened to a song as I walked home this morning, I realized that has all changed. While of course, habits do not change overnight or in a split second, so I’ll likely still have my moments, I have come to realize that I am okay with waiting.

 

Out there

Thousand years into the future

Almost nothing of it seems sure

Things so rarely stay the same

Right here

In these burning simple seconds

Living out all your best guesses

Someone’s calling out your name

And you get carried away

Carried away (carried away, carried away)

Carried away (carried away, carried away)

Carried away (carried away, carried away)

Carried away (carried away, carried away)

 Teach me to know my number of days

Hold out my heart from getting carried

 

I’m one of those visionary type of people. I have ideas, I like projects, I love creating. My heart can easily get carried away with what will be.

However, just like a baby needs to be in the womb for a certain amount of time in order to develop, grow and be strong, so too is this the same for many aspects of life.

I want to give examples of things that you may need to wait for but something doesn’t feel right about that. I can however, tell you that I personally am at a stage where I am okay to wait.

You know when you’re making pancakes and you bite into a mouthful of batter? If you had just left the temperature a bit lower and let them cook a bit longer they not only would not have been burned but also, they would have been cooked all the way through. They would have been perfect.

In a season where for me, everything has changed and is in a bit of a “pull the arrow back before it’s launched” kind of season, I’m ready to wait. No pressure, no worry, no getting carried away…

Just living a life, loving it, enjoying the process and seeing where it all goes…

“keep my heart from getting carried…away”

 

Sometimes I just need to shut up

God will direct

“shut up, shut up, shut up!!” (Black Eye Peas song in your head yet?)

Do you ever scream that at yourself? You can hear yourself talking, babbling on and you just.can’t.stop.

I do. I talk when I get nervous. Recently sitting across from someone, after dinner, chatting, I knew I should just stop talking and enjoy the moment, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t keep silent because I did not know what would happen if I just stopped. I was scared. If I stopped talking I’d lose control of the conversation and anything could happen. (really I’m not neurotic…)

Sometimes I create noise just so that I don’t have have to stop and see what happens next. If I keep going…then at least I know where I am headed.

The thing is, I reckon we do that a lot with God. We keep ourselves busy, we fill the silence with talking, with internet, with music, with thoughts, with whatever distracts us from hearings God’s voice. If we keep talking or keep planning…keep ourselves, busy, then we can direct our lives. When we create a lot of noise then we allow ourselves to remain in control.

We say that we want what God has for us. We say that we trust God. We say that we want His plan but then our actions speak differently.

Recently I awoke early and did not need to get out of bed so I put on some worship music. Playing softly the words of “Oceans (where feet may fail)” filled my room and as I quieted my heart and mind I was again reminded of God’s providence.

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

I think of Peter when God called him onto the water. When he kept focused on God’s voice he walked fine. HE WALKED ON WATER! Seriously, this guy just got out of a boat, in a storm and walked on water. Have you tried walking on water lately? I live in Sweden and the closest thing I get is walking on ice. Walking on water is simply not possible without God. In fact, many things aren’t possible without God.

When Peter began to listen to the noise around him, he began to sink. It was more than the fact that he stopped focusing on God. He just could not shut up. While he may not have been literally been talking, the voices in his head allowed doubt to enter his mind and heart and change his direction. In this case, it was actually DOWN…he was sinking. However, when we shut out all the voices, the opinions, the advice and listen to what God is saying, our direction, our paths, remain straight.

God gave us his word to light our path.

In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:6

He said he goes before us and prepares the way.

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:8

We can trust him to lead us and give us the best.

It’s really time to cut out the noise. I am a proponent for good, strong wisdom from friends and mentors. We need community to live our lives and we need input from others. However, sometimes we take that too far and instead of praying about it, searching His word or simply being still, and we just listen to everyone else. Well, everyone has an agenda. Other people do not see your entire future. We exist within space and time and a specific context. While advice and input is important we must keep our hearts focused on the one whose love is unconditional, who knows your days, and the number of hairs on your head. have you prayed about it as much as you’ve talked about it?

So, I am learning to just shut up…in all areas of my life…and trust that the next steps are His best for me.

Psalm 46:10 says that we need to be still and know that God is, well God.