What do you like about yourself?
Blank stares. Eyes looking at the ground. I don’t know.
What do you like about [insert name here]?
Eyes lit up. Where do I begin?
The amount of times I’ve had a conversation that went something like the one above is staggering; it would be impossible for me to count. I think people have had a fair few conversations like that with me as well.
I spend a lot of my life comparing myself to other people. I ask myself questions on an almost daily basis like ‘why is she prettier than me?’ or ‘why did he get a higher mark on that essay?’ or just plain ‘why can’t I be like them?’
Comparisons are everywhere in the society that we live in. Whenever I walk into a shop, I see magazine articles telling me How To Get That Perfect Beach Bod or How To Get That Boy To Like You. It’s infectious. And much more than that, it’s dangerous.
How can it be a good thing to spend your life not liking who you are?
My problem with comparing myself to other people started a very long time ago.
I’ve always been a bit of a geek. Anybody who knows me reasonably well would be able to tell you that. I love Lord of the Rings. I read for pleasure. I correct people’s grammar. And along with that, I obsess over my work.
When I was still at school, I’d get angry if someone got a higher mark than me. Legitimately.
I spent most of my teenage years (of which I’m now in the last four months) comparing how intelligent I was in comparison to somebody else. I’d constantly ask people how well they’d done in tests just so that I could make sure I was good enough. And if I wasn’t, I’d try and be better. I’d try to be the absolute best.
This constant desire to better myself and compare myself to other people just started to spread across into other areas of my life.
I’d start to notice that other people were much nicer than me. Or much funnier than me. Or much prettier than me. Or had more friends than I did. Or had more money than I did. And the list could go on for about three pages.
I was infected with this disease of comparison. And trust me when I say that the word ‘disease’ is not an over-reaction.
It consumed me.
All I could think about was a way that I could be somebody other than myself.
It was in year thirteen that this way of thinking started to change for me.
After I got lower AS grades than I had hoped for and got rejected from the two universities I really wanted to go to, I realised that life wasn’t over. That sounds like an exaggeration, and hey, maybe it is a bit, but I genuinely thought that I would be nothing were I not known as ‘the clever one’. I thought that Bekah wouldn’t be Bekah unless she had x amount of A stars and everyone noticing her intelligence.
I thought that if I failed, I wouldn’t be good enough. I thought I’d amount to nothing.
But it was in my complete breakdown that I finally let God in. He showed me this verse in Isaiah 43:4 – ‘you are precious in my eyes,and honoured, and I love you’. Simple as that.
It was when I allowed God to break in that I started to realise that you can’t live life constantly comparing yourself to other people. I started to realise that I was just Bekah. And you know what, Bekah was enough.
With all my insecurities and my doubts, with my failings and shortcomings (of which there are too many to count), I was still enough.
Because I am made in the image of God. I am precious. God loves me.
I’m not one for all the cheesy, slightly Americanised version of identity; I hate being called God’s beautiful little princess. But we, as a church, rarely affirm who we are in Christ.
God thinks we’re awesome so…we are awesome. This doesn’t mean that I have to be some princess that has to go around wearing dresses, singing cutesy songs and talking about how God thinks ‘I’m totally beautiful and precious’.
But it does mean that I have to recognise that I am made in the image of an awesome, powerful, creative, loving, generous, amazing God. It means that I have to recognise that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. It means that I have to recognise that God has made me for a purpose. It means I have to recognise that God has made me Bekah, and not somebody else for a reason.
I am by no means saying that I’ve stopped comparing myself to other people. I still do it on a daily basis.
But what I am saying is: wouldn’t it be absolutely incredible if we were a people who recognised who we are and how incredible that is? Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could find a cure for this disease of comparison? Wouldn’t it be great if we stopped trying to be somebody else?
Because, as Catherine of Siena said: ‘Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.’
Living in the UK means we have a lot of freedom, right? We have freedom to say whatever we want, do whatever we want (within reason) and believe whatever we want. What if I told you that this isn’t the case for many people around the world? What if I said that were you to practice what you believe you would be persecuted, arrested or even executed?
Shocking? I think we’d all agree on that. Grossly unjust? I think we’d all agree on that too.
But this is the reality for Christians living across the globe. North Korea, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, The Maldives, Libya, Nigeria, and Ethiopia are just a few of the many countries on the World Watch List where persecution is most extreme; people living in these places are running the risk of being arrested or killed just for being Christians.
I live in the UK. Though we have a knack for complaining about near enough everything, I live a relatively free life. I am able to say what I want and practice my faith as freely as I so choose. I am extremely blessed.
But I don’t want to live a cushy and easy life.
It’s for this reason that I’ve decided to take on a year long challenge. Originally an attempt to ‘pay it forward’, I had planned to give up drinking tea for an entire year so as to serve other people instead. Difficult as that would have been, I decided that it wasn’t enough of a challenge.
So instead, in an attempt understand something of what it means to have something taken from me, I’m going to drink nothing but water for an entire year. No tea. No coffee. No alcoholic drinks. Nothing.
I will be spending the money that I save on hopefully serving others but there’s something else too. Here’s where you come in.
Open Doors is a Christian organisation that works across the world with people that are vulnerable to these extreme cases of persecution. They provide Bibles, pray for people, offer emotional and financial support, speak out in advocacy and attempt to drum up support from people in countries like the UK in order to help alleviate the persecution for people at risk. Their work is truly inspiring.
My challenge will not only be a personal one but I also wish to fundraise for the Open Doors charity to, more than anything, raise awareness of people that are suffering around the world. I am hoping to create a JustGiving page nearer the time to do just that.
These people are not just far off Christians who are suffering but they are part of the body of Christ and part of my church family. God’s heart is breaking for each one who has to suffer under the injustice of persecution; 1 Corinthians 12:26 tells us of the body of Christ that ‘if one part suffers, every part suffers with it’.
So a week from today, from February 14th 2014 until February 14th 2015, please join me in thinking, supporting and praying for our brothers and sisters who live in these places who have to suffer hardship every single day for what they believe.
And let us hope that one day soon, Amos 5:24 may come true:
‘But let justice roll on like a river,righteousnesslike a never-failing stream!’
As some of you may already be aware, today is Holocaust Memorial Day. Across the world, people are commemorating the freedom and liberation from Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau and those who experienced the tragedies that occurred there. It’s been about five years since I visited this concentration camp; I was only fourteen but the memories are just as clear as they were then.
I had been told before my arrival in Poland of a strange phenomenon whereby birds didn’t fly over the camp and so was glancing up to determine whether this was true; all I could see was grey. Grey skies, empty of life; apt, I thought, for the solemnity of this visit. Other than the constant flurry of tourists, there was no life at Auschwitz. From the cold metal sign above the entrance reading the lie, ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ to the obnoxious barbed wire fence enveloping Auschwitz, all that I could feel was the heavy claustrophobia of death. Walking through the museum was like a graveyard of memories, a morgue of joy; we could see the children’s shoes and toys piled high upon each other. Beside this was a case filled with the hair removed from the prisoners as they entered the camp, sat alongside the treasures that they were forced to leave behind. Going to Auschwitz allowed me to see the depths of depravity to which humanity could fall and left me with a heavy weight on my shoulders.
That evening, as we returned to where we were staying, conversation was sparse. Though we had merely glanced through the gates and looked around, the thought that people actually spent their lives caged in that hell-on-earth was more than many of us could handle. All at once, I felt confused, angry and shocked, but also empty. It was hard to stomach the idea that actual human beings, like me, had both been victims, and those responsible for what had gone on in this, and the many other camps that existed just like it. In an attempt to vent that anger, I wrote a poem, which has become a work in progress ever since and, hopefully, goes some way to expressing my response to this atrocity I had glimpsed
‘Sent to a better life, they told us. They lied.
Packed to go, our lives in a suitcase.
Forced on a train, sardines in a tin.
We’ll be there soon, they told us. They lied.
Half of us dead, most of us dying.
We arrived, our lives thrust into Nazi fists.
Families separated, people alone.
You’ll see them again, they told us. They lied.
They picked us out, worthy from useless.
Was this just a sick game?
Who were they to say? Who were they to judge?
It’ll be over in a while, they told us. They lied.
Fear for our lives.
People left and never came back.
Our backs broken, our bodies broken, our hearts broken.
“Heil Hitler, he will save the world,” they told us. They lied.
No bravery in our eyes anymore.
Sore from weeping, sore from sleeping.
“Work will set you free, harder,” they told us. They lied.
The innocent forsaken.
The faithful destroyed.
How so uncompassionate? How so empty? How so cold?
You are all bad Jews, they told us. They lied.
I am God’s child, I told them.
I am a light in the darkness, I told them
It’s just a shower, they told me.
They lied. They lied. They lied.’
Witnessing the injustices that were brought upon innocent people saddened me beyond belief. And it distresses me even more to know that such atrocities still exist in the world today.
Millions upon millions of people live in poverty across the world; women are being domestically abused in their homes every single day; children as young as three are being trafficked to the UK for sexual exploitation and prostitution; boys who can barely speak are being given guns and made to be child soldiers. These are just a few examples; injustice is rife in our world.
A few years ago, I was attending a summer camp when one of my favourite songs began to play. It features the lines:
Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like You have loved me
Break my heart for what breaks Yours
Everything I am for Your Kingdom’s cause
As I walk from earth into eternity
I decided that I was going to make this my prayer. I wanted God to change me. I wanted Him to break my heart for everything that was breaking His. I fell to my knees in tears and agony as God answered my prayer and it was then that I truly understood the gravity of these injustices.
For every child that cries out in pain, every person who feels empty, alone, hurt, God’s heart breaks. The God that I serve is not a distant God. He is a God who is weeping for the broken and the lost. He is a God with a heart to see people know love, truth and mercy. I serve the God of Isaiah 61:8 that says ‘I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing’.
God wants us to fight against injustice. He wants us to bring freedom to the captives, sight to the blind, a voice to the voiceless and love to the unlovable and He has given us His Spirit so that we may do it.
My prayer is that whatever you may do in life, you ask God to fulfil Ezekiel 36:26 in your life; ask God to give you a new heart and a new spirit. Ask Him to take away your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ask Him to break your heart for what is breaking His. Ask Him to help you weep for injustice. Ask Him to give you righteous anger against the wrongs of this world
You may think that we are unable to make a difference, but, to close, I recall one of my favourite quotes:
‘Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.’ – Robert Kennedy
I pray that we may be this force of hope and change in a world that is lost, broken and hurting.
As I write this, I am becoming increasingly more aware that I am capitulating to a stereotype. I’m sat in my room, perched on the edge of my bed, cup of tea growing cold beside me, searching for something about which I can write in order to avoid wading through the reading that I really should have already finished. Thankfully, I’m still writing this blog post from behind a closed door (metaphorically speaking, my door is wide open in actuality) and have not yet succumbed to typing with my laptop on full display in a coffee shop, begging someone to approach so that I can say that I am actually a writer.
In the hopes of overcoming what seems to be a chronic bout of writer’s block, I thought I’d write a post on something that’s been on my heart a lot recently: love. This is going to get pretty cheesy, I imagine, so brace yourselves.
‘Love’ is a word that seems to be thrown around a lot. People will casually throw it into their conversations without even truly thinking about the meaning. I’m guilty of it too. I’d barely go a day without saying ‘I love tea’ or ‘I love chocolate’ or ‘I love pizza’ (there seems to be a pattern emerging here…). Our culture has become one where the word ‘love’ seems to have lost its meaning.
It saddens me that many people are still yet to experience the true meaning of what love is. Growing up, I was always assured that I was loved and valued. I was inordinately blessed to have been surrounded by people who loved me and whom I was able to love in return. But I think the idea of love has been so warped in my mind. We use the word so frivolously that it has entirely lost its meaning.
For me, the word that sums up the truest expression of love is sacrifice. Only through sacrifice can one truly demonstrate love. When you look at the relationships in your life, where is it that you can see the most love? It’s in those hours that your parents sacrificed to help you with your homework. It’s in the money that someone sacrificed so that they could buy you a coffee. It’s in the giving of oneself that we are truly able to see the extent of our love for one another.
There has only ever been one person who epitomises this love: Jesus. John 15:13 tells us ‘greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ Jesus is the truest expression of love that we can ever see because he literally sacrificed everything in order to have relationship with us. His love is so vast that he died the most painful death just so that we may be raised with Him.
That is what love is about.
Love isn’t about buying people presents. Or telling someone that they’re attractive. Love isn’t about sex. The truest expression of love is total and complete sacrifice. It’s only when we come to others in total humility, having died to ourselves, that we are able to fully express the love that we possess.
So, no. I don’t ‘love’ tea. I don’t ‘love’ pizza. And yes, I am devastatingly guilty of downplaying the importance of the word.
And no, it is not easy. It is extremely difficult. It means living against that which society has told us we ought to do. It means putting ourselves last and putting other people first. It means humility instead of pride. It means not always getting your own way. Love means sacrifice.
But in light of a Saviour who has laid down his whole life, EVERYTHING, so that we may experience the fullness of His love, how can we do anything but fall to our knees and offer everything in return?!
If I were to go into detail about all the things about which God is challenging me in my life, this post would probably be extremely long. Over the past few years, God has challenged and changed me in ways of which I can merely scratch the surface; I’m beginning to understand the gravity of Paul’s statement in Philippians 1:6 – ‘He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus’.
That being said, it’s true that transformation is still occurring in a massive way in my life, particularly with regard to who I am and where I find my worth and identity.
Growing up in a Christian family, I’ve always been told about God’s love for me though the magnitude of that truth never really sank in. The Bible constantly reminds us of Christ’s sufficiency and of how we are identified as his children but my identity was firmly planted elsewhere. For the beginning of my teenage years, my identity was found in my educational ability, the opinions of other people and my relationship status. Though each of them still remain to some extent, the main point through which God has been shaping me over the past few years is my relationship status.
It’s well known amongst Christians that the Christmas period is the time for Facebook news. Us single girls prepare ourselves mentally to be inundated with the news of various proposals and marriages to which we must comment the obligatory ‘congratulations!’ while we inwardly curse our singleness and recite 1 Corinthians 7 under our breath.
Marriage is a gift from God but I, like many other women my age, have spent my life putting more emphasis on my relationship status than anything else. I will shamefully admit that I’ve written a list of requirements for my future husband in the past ranging from such things as ‘taller than me’ to ‘prefers dogs to cats’. My identity has been planted in whether I was worth something to someone else rather than whether I was worth anything to God. I’d go to Christian events and look around thinking that my potential husband could be sitting in the room; I’d glance around hoping for some divine intervention when God announces in my ear ‘yep, this one, you’ve found him’.
Suffice to say, this never happened. I just continued to note how my other friends were happily in relationships, or singleness, and I had never been comfortable with my own relationship status. I’d always believed that I would be nothing were I single and begged God never to call me to that end.
Just over a year ago, I left for my gap year, doing a Discipleship Training School with YWAM in Malawi. I had taken a massive step in leaving England behind and was determined to dedicate my whole year to God. But, once again, my relationship status got in the way. Being called to be a missionary and being around so many wonderful examples of missionary families just got me further in obsessing over who, if anyone, may one day join me in sharing God to the nations.
I was treating my relationship status above God; it was becoming an idol in my life. With that in mind, it was November 11th 2012 when I decided that I would take a year out from relationships. No thinking about it at all. My life belongs to God and I decided that my year should be His as well. I told my best friend what I had planned to do and she prayed for me and kept me accountable. What happened over that year was entirely different to what I had anticipated.
I expected God to change something in me. He continually does so and whenever I ask Him to do something in my life, He always obliges. Whether it is in tears on my knees or as a passing comment, God takes everything I say seriously.
I will admit that this year was not easy. It’s hard to completely change the way that you think about things and put a stop to something like talking of relationships cold turkey. Especially as it’s such a common topic in our Christian community culture.
But the year of singleness has, without a doubt, been the best year of my life. Other life events aside, God transformed me and my heart in ways that this will only begin to touch upon. It’s been two months since that year ended and I feel like my identity has indubitably and irrevocably changed.
Will I ever use my relationship status as an idol again? Unfortunately, the answer is absolutely.
But at the same time, I now KNOW for definite who I am:
I am a daughter of the King.
I am a co-heir with Christ.
I am a warrior for the Gospel.
I am the crown of creation.
I am the apple of God’s eye.
I am not defined by whether or not I’m in a relationship.
I am defined by the Christ that I serve.
If I never find a husband, that’s fine. I know now that I am completely enveloped in the unending and everlasting grace and love of God. I know that I will often fall short but the ONLY thing that will ever catch me is the open arms of my King.
I know now that the only person that will ever satisfy me is Christ. And I’m beginning to learn what was really meant by 2 Corinthians 12:9 – ‘my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’
My plan is to seek God whole-heartedly and see what follows. I believe that this quote from Maya Angelou goes some way to some up how I feel:
I’m still learning about my own heart, and God’s but pray that He will continue to transform me until that day when I see Him face to face. Until then, I will try my best to put Him first knowing that a life devoted to God is better than anything else this earth can offer.
It’s time that I alerted you all to something that I’ve recently learnt. It was a shock to me and I’m sure it will be for you as well. Are you sitting down? Good. Here I go…
The world does not revolve around me.
Shocking, I know. Please, take a deep breath. Take it all in. Refrain from gasps and screams.
This universe is not all about me.
Can you believe it?!
Sarcasm aside, it worries me that this is a concept that I had only really properly grasped recently. It’s something I’ve been learning about a lot, particularly over the last year.
We live in a world where ‘I’ comes first. The media, television, even teachers tell you that the only way that you’re going to have a happy life is if you put yourself and your happiness before anything else. This is a lie. Honestly. A total and complete lie. And I’m going to attempt to let you know why that’s the case in my life.
I am unbelievably blessed to have the life that I have. The fact that I was born in the UK alone entitles me to various benefits of which many people can merely dream; I’ve never needed to think twice about my education, health or money. Life has been pretty easy thus far.
I’ve had everything given to me that I’ve ever wanted or needed throughout my entire life. And for all intents and purposes, it was as though my world was revolving solely around me.
It was a few years ago when I realised how selfish and self-absorbed my attitude to life was. The only things that mattered to me was whether I got the grades I wanted, whether I went to the university I wanted, whether I got my career choice or my life plans were set into motion. Notice the amount of times the word ‘I’ was used in that sentence.
I noticed I wasn’t humble. So, I asked God to humble me. And boy, did he…
Something I’ve noticed is that when you ask God to do something, he doesn’t do it by halves. And often, he doesn’t do it in the way in which you’d expect.
I expected to perhaps hear a booming voice in my head saying ‘I love you Bekah but maybe take it down a notch’ and then I’d go on living my life but magically be a selfless and loving person.
Not the case. Unfortunately.
For the majority of my life, my self-worth has been mostly caught up in my education and whether other people thought I was intelligent; this selfish world-revolves-around-me mentality was also caught up in this. I’m one of the most competitive people I know (which still remains true – try competing against me in a game of Articulate) and everything I do seems to reflect that. I’d compare my exam results, university offers and pretty much everything else to other people.
But after having applied to university, my academic achievements were humbled, so to speak, when I was rejected from the two universities I really wanted to go to. My status as an Oxford reject does not make me a rarity but it was the rejection from Durham that truly broke me.
I think it’s hard for people to understand how unbelievably devastating this was for me. But it truly, genuinely felt like my world was falling apart, without sounding too melodramatic. For someone who had set up their whole worth around their education and whether they were intelligent enough for the best university, it was life-shattering.
Only from this point of absolute brokenness was God able to rebuild me. Whenever I’m in this state, He always brings to mind one of my favourite Bible verses:
‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’ (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
I’m learning that it’s in a place of complete submission that God is most able to use me.
Education, for me, had become an idol. No two ways about it. Everything in my life revolved around it and it certainly came before God. I had forgotten that idolatry was a sin and that was why God needed to change everything.
He brought me back to my knees, a place from which I’ve learnt much more about God and His undending grace than any other, and humbled me.
It was from this place that I applied to Malawi and began to live, or attempt to live, a life whole-heartedly devoted to God.
I’ve not stopped learning about the infinite number of ways in which this world definitively does not revolve around me since this. I’m starting to learn that living a life devoted to God and to other people gives you far greater fulfilment than living a life devoted to yourself. I had always been told by society that I was the most important person in my life and that I should put myself first.
But it’s not true. True happiness and fulfilment, true friendship, true love is about SACRIFICE. The only way that you will live in a truly happy way is by sacrificing for other people. Life is not about getting your own way but instead humbly putting others before yourself.
It’s taken me a lot longer than it should have done to work that out. And I’m still continuing to learn the gravity of this truth. But I can tell you with absolute assurance that it’s the most important lesson I’ve ever learnt.
Writer’s block seems to follow me around everywhere. I tend to sit, laptop perched, at the end of my bed, willing some kind of idea to emerge from my mind, make its way down my fingers and become animated through text. Occasionally, it does. Often, however, my writing is met with a finger pressed down on the ‘backspace’ key, vociferously deleting the rubbish I’ve typed until I’m left with some semblance of a post with which I may be satisfied.
But yet, I love to write.
I love to have whatever is in my mind vocalised through text and have my thoughts echoed onto paper. I love to share my views on issues and themes that have gripped me and discuss with others about what their ideas. I love to believe that someone could be challenged by something that I’ve written to change what they think or the way that they live.
That’s what I want, I think, more than anything else in my life. I don’t want to be a writer to earn money or have a stable (or more probably unstable) career. I don’t want to write because there’s nothing else that I can do (though that’s probably also fairly accurate). I want to write because I believe that words can be powerful; I really want someone to be inspired by something I’ve written.
I say this because much of what has inspired me is that which others have written. I owe much of my zeal and passion for life to my favourite writers; people like T.S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath, F. Scott Fitzgerald, C.S. Lewis and Oscar Wilde have taught me so much about living deliberately and what it means to be a human.
Yes, it’s true that writer’s block plagues me wherever I tread. This post alone has taken me over an hour to write just because I’m never satisfied with what I’ve written. But even though writing infuriates me and frustrates me more than anything else, I’m not going to give it up anytime soon.
I’m never going to be Emily Bronte. But that’s the point, isn’t it? I’m never going to be Emily Bronte because I am Bekah Coomber. I’m extroverted. Geeky. Talkative. Annoying. Weird. Addicted to tea. I talk about marriage too often. And I blab on about God a lot. But that’s who I am.
You’re never going to be able to inspire someone by pretending to be someone else. The only person who will bring inspiration to others is you. Whether they are artists, musicians, preachers, sportspeople, your mum or anyone else in the world, your heroes ought to be people that inspire you to be you. The original. The one and only. You.
Sometimes, it can seem like being who you are is a burden. You can feel insecure about your passions and your hopes for your life. But trust me, being yourself is the most inspiring thing you can be. Embrace it.
Though I’m only nineteen, I can tell you with almost absolute certainty that when you are at death’s door, you will look back on your life and you won’t regret the money that you didn’t make from your career or the car that you didn’t have. You’ll regret the time you wasted worrying about who you were. You’ll regret not investing your time in your relationships. You’ll regret not living your life.
So yes, I hope that one day, people across the world will read the things that I’ve written. I hope that I can inspire people by my written word. But more than anything, I hope I can inspire people by being Bekah Coomber. By living as who I am. By loving others more than myself. By investing my time and effort in people.
And then maybe, when I look back at everything I’ve done in my life, I’ll be able to say, ‘hey, actually, that wasn’t half bad, was it?’
After a long and frankly quite tiring term, I’m pleased to say that I’m writing this from the comfort of my own bedroom. Nothing much has changed about my room since I left it ten weeks ago. Sure, it’s quite a fair bit tidier (which I’m sure I’ll sort out soon) and Mum’s changed the sheets but other than that, not much. It still has bookcases loaded with books I’m still yet to read, shelves filled with the clutter of childhood toys and a wardrobe decked out with clothes, most of which probably ought to be given away to charity. But what I’m most struck by is how quickly this room has felt like home.
I’ve lived in a lot of different places in my nineteen year long life; I’ve been blessed enough to call three different continents home. But it always strikes me, when moving to a new place, how easy it is to adapt and change to that environment. Living in Warwickshire has been vastly different from living in Massachusetts and both of those have been worlds apart from living in Malawi which has, in turn, been such a dichotomy to living in Durham. But yet I’d happily have called each of those places home.
I’m going to deign not to do a ‘when I went to Africah on my gap yah’ post (because I think we’ve all had enough, don’t you?) but it still strikes me how much I miss it there. Someone told me before I left that Africa really gets under your skin and I never really believed it fully until now. I miss the people, the smells, the language, the dancing, the music, the memories, everything. It’s definitely fair to say that Africa has a piece of my heart that I’ll never be getting back.
Since I came home from Malawi, I was on a bit of a downer. I was thinking ‘how on earth am I going to be able to serve and reach people? God isn’t the same in England as He is in Africa!’ Looking back on having said that now, I’ve realised what utter rubbish I was thinking.
God is the same across the entire world.
The God that was with me as I was singing African hymns and worshipping with more joy than I’ve ever experienced is with me right now as I sit in my little bedroom in Warwickshire and type this post on my laptop. The God that was with me when I was crying hysterically on the floor at Soul Survivor when I realised I was being called to mission is the same God that’s in my lecture halls when I’m learning about Bleak House.
And it’s taken me a rather long time to realise it.
I have been blessed beyond belief to have had the means and the privilege to go to so many different places across the world. And I have been even more blessed that God has been able to use me in each of those places. When I was in Malawi, I sought, though I fell at nearly every hurdle, to bring God’s Kingdom down. When I’m in England, I kind of neglect it an awful lot more. It’s much harder to reach the broken, hurting, lost, unreached and alone when they don’t think that they have any problems.
But one thing that I’ve learnt from living in all these different places is that people still have a lot of the same problems. When I visited an orphanage in Malawi, I met a teenage girl who was asking me how to tell if a boy liked her. And in England, I’ve met families who are struggling so much with money that they have nothing to eat. No matter where you go, mankind still suffer from the same problems, even if in totally different ways. There are still people who are broken. Still people who are hurting. Still people who are lost. Still people that need a Saviour.
And that Saviour is always the same, it’s just us that like to think He is changing.
But we always have to remember what it says in Isaiah 61:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
Because the Lord has anointed me
To bring good news to the poor;
He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
Correct me if I’m wrong but those first lines say ‘me’ not somebody else.
We are called to serve an unchanging God in a world that thinks that they don’t need Him. And yeah, it’ll probably be a hard slog. Often, we’ll feel like we don’t belong but, as one of my heroes once said:
‘Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway. In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.’
I was sitting on the veranda, my view stretching out over the whole garden; the tree house was on my left, the vegetable patch on my right. I was pondering on British weather for the Remembrance Sunday parade as Malawian weather was at its peak and I was roasting, especially with my knees covered and my feet drinking up the sun’s heat. As had become my morning ritual, I was writing a letter to God in my journal. But on this morning, it struck me.
As I read back through my journal, I realised how many times I had used the word ‘I’; how I had ceaselessly told God about my problems and how he could fix them. My journal was such an arrogant muddle of my difficulties; chiefly focussing on the question I seem to ask a lot: ‘why haven’t I found someone yet?’
‘Seeking a godly man in itself is not a bad thing’, I have always told myself. And in essence, yes, that is true. Being a godly woman and trying to find a godly man to complement your life is far from a bad pursuit. But when I read back in that journal, I realised how much that consumed me. Entries would read something along the lines of ‘please find me a godly man with all these attributes [insert three page long list of things I wanted in a future husband]’ with a short ‘oh yeah, and I love you, God’ as an almost afterthought. I was reading endless articles about singleness and praying ‘please God, don’t make me be called to it’.
So it was on this day (11th November 2012) that I decided enough was enough. I made a vow, if you will that the next year of my life was not going to be my own but God’s. Relationships were off the cards. Completely. I told one person, my best friend, of my plan (other than God, of course) so that she’d be able to keep me accountable and so she could pray. I wasn’t going to allow myself to consider a relationship. I was going to dedicate the entire year to pursuing God.
At the time, I knew how incredibly difficult this was going to be for me. I spend half of my time talking about marriage and babies, and the other half hoping that someone would bring it up so that I could talk about it more. Ashamed as I am to say it, I have been to Christian events and spent a good chunk of time looking round for men who might possibly maybe perhaps one day be my husband.
But in spite of ensuing difficulty, I endeavoured to persevere.
I was ready to embrace my singleness and wait in the sure knowledge that God had better plans for me.
And He totally did. Believe me, He did.
This year has been one of the most amazing years in my life. Granted, not solely for that reason; I’ve moved to and from Malawi, moved to Durham for university, grown as a person and in my maturity, made new friends and done things I had never done before.
Before making this decision – and if I’m honest, quite a few times during the last year – my identity was in being single. I defined myself by my lack of relationship and put the object of being married as an idol above God.
Am I going to treat my marital status as an idol ever again? Of course. I’m not perfect. I’m not going to pretend that just one year has completely transformed my way of thinking forever.
But perhaps now, I can walk into a church without thinking with hope that maybe my future husband is somewhere in this room. I can see another Facebook status about someone’s engagement and be overjoyed by the gift of marriage for them and not have to feel alone and envious. I can know that my identity is in Christ and that I am the apple of His eye, the crown of His creation and the daughter of the King of Kings.
I’m never going to be the perfect wife. And I’m never going to find a perfect husband.
There’s only one person that will ever complete me. Only one man that can ever fully satisfy everything I need. Only one who would give everything for me, no questions asked.
His name is Jesus. And He’s already given it all.