This weekend my lifelong best friend got married. It was a beautiful ceremony and fun reception. There has been so much anticipation for this big event. They’ve been dating for 6 years, for goodness sake! But now that the to do lists, and frantic running around have stopped, it feels strangely quiet and I’m honestly stuck in this state of reflection that hovers between melancholy and anticipation.
Seeing your best friend get married and enter into a new stage of life marks the end of one stage of life and the beginning of another. So I suppose it’s natural that I’m reevaluating life goals, hopes, and dreams. Naturally one of those dreams is to be married myself one day. I have been in a two year stage of living the single dream, and thought I would want to continue this for a few more years. But now, although I still have dreams of traveling and living in different cities for a time, I think it would be nice to find a partner that has similar goals and dreams.
I have been dreading the thought of going to teacher’s college this fall. Like absolutely dreading it. I know good things will come of it, and that it can only offer me the opportunity to gain experience for the things I want do in life, but I hate the thought of one more year of school, papers, and exams. I just want to be in the stage where I can focus on a job and social life!
I’m craving my own space, where I can unleash my personal style and unpack all the boxes labelled ‘items for my future home.’ I would love to have a space to unpack all my art supplies, and dedicate to my creative pursuits.
But, all these things require patience. Because the time has not come yet. I’m still waiting, and trying to not become impatient with continuing on course. I’m trying to trust God that he knows my heart even better than I know it myself. And that he also knows what I need better than I know myself. So I am fighting the urge to yank the reins outs of the hands of the one who knows best. I am fighting the tendency I have to make decisions out of impatience and not trust in my heavenly father. I am trying to rest in his love for me and to bring him my feelings of loneliness, frustration, and uncertainty about the future. I am also asking in my heart of hearts if I am truly ready, the woman of God that I want to be for my future husband. Am I truly rooted in God’s love and grace, or am I easily shaken by circumstances and the business of life. If I am honest, I don’t think I am quite ready yet. So take me deeper into your love Father. I think I have a while to journey alone with you just yet.
I don’t know where the next two years will take me. Maybe I will be in Canada teaching somewhere, maybe in Vancouver, maybe back in England….but I place my trust in God and know that he loves to bless us with incredible stories if we let him walk with us and we ask him to guide us through all of life’s decisions.
An interesting take on things.
Today we made our much-anticipated visit to La Sagrada Familia, the architectural wonder of Antoni Gaudi. I was in awe of the exterior of the church. The nativity façade reminded me of crumbly, curly bits of clay left behind after an artist has raked his or her fingers through wet clay. I have never seen a piece of architecture that is so tactile. It’s spectacular. My eyes were drawn to the materials of the building itself, the sense of fluidity and gravity that contradicts the solidity of the stone structure. Within this fascinating façade there is so much to find. Amidst all of the texture there are figures depicting the story of Christ’s birth. If I thought the exterior of the basilica was extraordinary, the interior is in some sense an even greater masterpiece. I was content to see the exterior and wasn’t keen on paying 14 euros to see yet another basilica interior. Thankfully, Stephanie was quite determined to get tickets to see the inside and to by-pass the crazy line-up for tickets at the same time. Quite conveniently there was a MacDonald’s located across the street where we found a free wifi signal to purchase online tickets. Within fifteen minutes we were inside and absolutely stunned by what we found. I am still inwardly gushing over the creativity and beauty I witnessed. If ever there was an example of creativity being used to glorify the Creator, it can be seen in this building. Similar to the way the stone of the nativity façade appeared to be pliable and almost fluid, the interior stonework reminded me of the weightlessness of a giant paper sculpture. Walls of stone had the semi-transparent and delicate appearance of crumpled tissue paper, while the ceiling looked like thousands of ornate origami sculptures from which columns and walls emerged. The placement of windows and colours of the stained glass enhanced the dynamism of the architectural design. As I sat for a moment taking in the beauty around me, I realized how infinitely grateful I am for the gift of inspiration. We are inspired because He inspires us.
"The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them,and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols,breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited."
CS Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”
Thoughts on Barcelona…first travel post, last city. Sorry.
Barcelona is quite something. We arrived in the city Tuesday evening so today was our first time really seeing our surroundings. It is beautiful. Wide boulevards that remind me a bit of Paris lead off to narrow, winding side streets lined with artisan shops and boutiques. The network of narrow alleyways open up into sunny courtyards with cafes and patios. Barcelona has a very distinct atmosphere, and I have decided that I like it. It has a whole host of things that I expected to discover along our European travels but never quite found. For example, we were walking down the main shopping street in Barcelona, La Rambla, and found this incredible market with fresh fruit, veggie, and meat vendors. Now you would think that these are everywhere in Europe, but they actually aren’t, at least not in the variety of vendors and affordable products that this market had. It had these fresh food counters and cafes where you could buy breakfast to go or to eat at the bar. So interesting and looked absolutely delicious. While we decided to forgo the food this time around, we both bought a coconut banana smoothie (for 1 Euro!!!). The Barcelonians love their fresh fruit cups and smoothies (Yet another reason to like this city). Another thing Barcelona boasts is the countless boutiques filled with affordable and very unique and artsy clothing, bags, and jewelry. Despite the fact that this is very much a tourist city, there are plenty of shops that steer clear of the cheesy tourist souvenirs and actually offer people interesting and reasonably priced products to look at. I have also have found the city quite easy to navigate, as I didn’t have to pull out my map once, and for me that is really saying something! Overall, the vibe I get from this city is that there is an authentic energy here that is invigorating and isn’t about touristy attractions…it just is. Something about the sunshine, proximity to the ocean, and the artistic culture here…it seems like the place to be if you are a writer, artist, or philosopher.
After a long time walking around, window shopping and taking in the sites, we bought some gelato and took in one of our favourite past-times, people-watching. We checked out the beach that’s a 15 minute walk from our apartment and it seems busy, but fairly nice so I’m hoping for some warm and windless weather for the next few days so we can catch some rays! Still to see are the architectural wonders of Gaudi (so excited to see his creations!) and the Picasso Museum.
I think if Barcelona was a song it would be something like Rain, by Jesse Cook. Enjoy.
Reflections on Sierra Leone, one week later.
I’m sitting in my new flat back in England feeling like I’m in a five star hotel. Every comfort that I’ve gone without for five weeks seems like something I’m experiencing for the first time once again. Things like hot water for showers and washing dishes. Sleeping on a mattress and having a real pillow. Sitting on carpet and sofas rather than concrete. Being able to communicate with family and friends on the internet. It’s all wonderful but at the same time I can’t help missing the beautiful simplicity of life back in Sierra Leone. In Sierra Leone I was able to focus on what really mattered, my relationship with God and others, in a way that I have never experienced before because there were simply no other distractions available.
Saying goodbye to my friends in Sierra Leone was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. The kids we lived with at St. George Foundation were in tears as was our entire team as we had to say goodbye, knowing that most likely we will not meet again in life. These kids had become like our children in many ways and the only comfort I had was praying for each one as I said goodbye and entrusting them to Jesus. Knowing that he loves them way more than I ever could is such a comfort because I know he will take care of them even though I cannot. Our friend, Eddie, who is in charge of the kids at St. George became another member of our team and it felt like we were one person short after we left him at the airport.
Despite the difficulty of saying goodbye to our friends, the red dust, mountains, and beaches of Sierra Leone, it was a wonderful thing to get on the plane and watch video on demand and eat Western food once again. Arriving at the airport in London was like arriving home and our enthusiasm was quite obvious to everyone in our vicinity. However, as I am now finishing this post one week later, there are still a few images in my mind from my time in Africa that I won’t soon forget.
As I’m sure many of you have heard, our journey to Sierra Leone had an unexpected twist in which our team experienced the provision and protection of God in such a real way. One of the leaders of our team, Michael tells it best:
Africa met us a little earlier than we were expecting. As we changed planes in Brussels to join the flight to Freetown, we immediately knew which gate was ours; it was the one surrounded by a crowd of people (I think we’ve seen our last queue for a few weeks), carrying oversized hand luggage and animatedly talking and gesturing to each other. It was a good initial preparation for Freetown airport, but the truth is that very little could have prepared us for the hours after that.
As the aircraft doors opened, the heat, sounds and smells of West Africa hit us. We smiled at each other and then walked into the cramped immigration hall. Drenched with sweat within seconds, we slowly inched towards the immigration officials. Our two-year old daughter, stripped down to a pair of shorts, proceeded to cause havoc, dancing through the crowd, knocking over the barriers, and generally going where she shouldn’t. A kind Russian insistently pulled us up to the immigration officials, where we were whisked through and then Jessica and the children were ushered into the air-conditioned VIP area, while the team and I hunted for our luggage - the benefits of travelling with small children! With twenty-nine bags to collect, it took some time, but wonderfully they all came through and our very relieved team readied themselves for the next step - getting from the airport to the ferry which would then take us over to the city of Freetown. But again, there was someone waiting for us just outside the airport and it looked as if things were going smoothly. Only one of the three vehicles that were supposed to pick us up arrived, but that was fine. We precariously pilled all of the luggage on top of the poda-poda (mini-van), sat on each other’s laps and began the half-hour journey to the ferry. With the shock-absorbers completely compressed, we felt every bump of the road, but we were delighted to be on our way.
We arrived at the ferry terminus to find the gates closed, but Ali (who had met us), persuaded them to open the gates and we drove up to the ferry - just as it sounded it’s horn and pulled away from the dock. Our initial concern was quickly relieved as another ferry arrived and an inconceivably large crowd of people and vehicles got off the ferry. As I looked around and saw the small number of vehicles waiting to get on, we had our first hint, that perhaps things weren’t going to turn out quite as planned. Sure enough, no amount of persuasion was going to convince the crew to make the crossing back to Freetown. “You have three options,” Ali told me. “Sleep on the dock and catch the first ferry in the morning, hire a private boat, or take vehicles around the long way - a five hour journey over an uncompleted road.” The private boat was going to use all of our contingency funds, within moments of arriving in Freetown, sleeping on the concrete dock with three small children and fourteen ladies didn’t seem like a good idea, so driving it was! Ali quickly went off to see what vehicles were available. We surrounded the children and the large pile of bags, and waited. The private boat slipped it’s moorings, with it’s cargo of VIPs, and as it’s lights disappeared into the distance, Ali returned to tell me that there were no vehicles capable of taking us the long way around. Not for the first time that night, I wondered if we had made the right decision.
With mid-night approaching, we decided to see if we could sleep in the back of an army truck that was also waiting for the morning’s ferry. And then the wonderful generosity of heart and hospitality of the Africans stepped up. The soldier driving the truck allowed us to load the bags up into the back, and as we did that, Ali and several other men started to work on persuading him to drive us around the long way. His initial concern (not least about getting in serious trouble with his superiors) and lack of fuel (jerry cans of diesel were found) was overcome, and soon we had the children and some of the team on makeshift beds on top of the bags, while the rest of us sat on a couple of wooden benches (only partially attached to the bed of the truck) and we were off.
Needless to say, sitting in the back of a truck on wooden benches, for what turned out to be seven hours on an uncompleted road as red dust poured in and covered everything, was not one of the more comfortable experiences of our lives, but we were strangely grateful and full of joy; Elijah in particular kept saying that this was his funnest night ever (in fact all three children coped amazingly well - Star cried for a total of probably 5 minutes the entire 24 hour trip and Apollos exercised his extraordinary ability to sleep almost any where when he was tired)! We sang, we prayed, a few managed to sleep, and we gaped as we saw in the tail lights the ground we had just covered; it was a relief to not see the obstacles coming, but just be grateful in hindsight to see that we had passed unharmed. At one point we looked back to see that we had crossed a rickety wooden bridge with the marks of our tires going right out to the edges on either side. Guardian angels were working overtime!
Bleary eyed and incredibly grateful, we arrived just as the sun was coming up at the St George Foundation - the recovery centre for street children that will be our home for the next five weeks. The team was amazing through-out, taking everything in their stride, responding with joy and positivity, and not giving in to the fear that could have so easily overwhelmed us.
I don’t have the time or the energy to write out these memories they way they deserve to be recorded at the moment. But as a reminder to myself to do this sometime and to make sure I don’t forget these when I’m telling you all my stories, here they are in point form.
motorcycle race at dawn. jumping off the boat in the ocean. being baptized in the ocean at the beach and dancing with the children. eating baracuda on the beach. being with the street kids and seeing ibrahim soray come to St. George. lisa jumping in front of the presidents car. laughing with the kids in the classrooms and sharing my testimony and praying for them. the men at the old age home and a worship service interrupted by a dog fight. cockroach story. chicken in the room story. rat in the room story. goodbyes-the boys coming over the hill. family time.
2 Corinthians 6 continues to challenge me. This theme of learning to live expansively, continually opening my heart to God and to others, is burrowing so deep into my heart. There is something special about this ship that inspires, encourages, and challenges me. I feel so honoured to be here. And funny enough, amazed at how well God knows my heart. He knows what I need and where I need to be better than I do. And I know I’m supposed to be here. I’ve got some thoughts kicking around my head about what my next step is after DTS - we get asked that question pretty much every other day - and I just know God has better plans for me than I could ever imagine. This time last year I could never have imagined having the experiences that I have had I’m the past 3 months. My eyes have been opened to so many new possibilities. So I will end this with two thoughts: God knows me. His plans for me continually expand my horizons and remind me of how great he is.
O L ord , you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, L ord . You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand! I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night— but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you. You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me! Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. (Psalms 139:1-18, 23, 24 NLT)
Companions as we are in this work with you, we beg you, please don’t squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us. God reminds us, I heard your call in the nick of time; The day you needed me, I was there to help. Well, now is the right time to listen, the day to be helped. Don’t put it off; don’t frustrate God’s work by showing up late, throwing a question mark over everything we’re doing. Our work as God’s servants gets validated—or not—in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly … in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we’re telling the truth, and when God’s showing his power; when we’re doing our best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all. Dear, dear Corinthians, I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively! (2 Corinthians 6:1-13 MSG)
This passage has been challenging me deeply over the past few weeks and I’m sure will continue to challenge me as we are beginning the outreach phase of the school. Possibly the most life changing aspect of DTS is not the going to other places to share about Jesus but the daily living-life-together. I am reminded that I need to lay down my rights and wants and even needs for my teammates and the people I am serving. And I want to do it joyfully.
I was feeling a little bit disconnected and tired as we started the first day of outreach today but thankfully we started the day with worship and just looking at God and thanking him for who he is. When I choose to make him my focus all else falls into place. He is so worth it. The going without, the working hard, placing others before myself. God is good and he is so worth it. I don’t want to live small. I want to live expansively, always choosing faith, holding onto his promises, and being willing to step into the unknown. I don’t want to follow the well-worn path of ‘safe and predictable,’ I want to say ‘yes’ to a life with no limits of risk and reward.