Friday, 5 September 2008

Seasons of Life

It's been a strange summer at the centre of an odd season in my life... I suppose I've struggled to write because I am still so very much entrenched in processing it all.

I've completed college! I've never not been a student and it's hardly sank in that it's actually over. By the grace of God, I did well academically and achieved my B.A. Hons in Applied Theology in good standing (a 2:1, for any English readers!) and I'm very pleased because it wasn't an easy feat and I didn't necessarily expect to come out with that high of a mark. So, praise God!

You'll recall from the last update that after graduation I promptly went off gallavanting around the UK with my lovely Mom and her two lovely friends who came over for my graduation! Then I had a little get together at the beach in Cornwall with friends I'd just graduated with 2 weeks before. Reality didn't really close in until after those busy (and beautiful) weeks.

So, I'll attempt to catch you up on my summer since then!!

A Home and a Family

I've been based this summer here in Gloucester with "my lovely English family"-- The Austin-Sparkses. Steve and Debs have been my church leaders and friends these 3 years and when they heard my predicament of not knowing what comes next but needing to remain in Europe until all doors close, they took me in. They have been more than room and board to me, though, as I've fumbled my way through the transition out of a tough year and hard goodbyes, and into an uncertain future. It's not an easy thing for a fully-functioning family to suddenly take on a whole new and different person into their system of doing things, but they have been so gracious and I have been so grateful. I've pretty much officially adopted Bex and Megan as the little sisters I never had. Meg has been especially close and has demanded that I live here with them forever... so we try to avoid the fact that my 2 1/2 months with them is nearly up!

A Job to Stay Afloat

The hunt for a summer job was FRUSTRATING!! I ended up applying to places I never would have expected to and still couldn't get a job! I take comfort in the fact that it wasn't just me, and friends all over England were having the same problem, but it was really discouraging in a time that was already full of emotional upheaval. At the beginning of August I finally got signed on with a temp agency to attempt to keep up with a few of the summer's expenses until I leave the country mid-Sept. Praise God!! The shifts I can most readily get are at a gorgeous, expensive old hotel in the Cotswold village just outside of Gloucester called Upton-St.-Leonards. By car it's about 15 minutes from where I'm staying, but I'm doing life on foot these days which makes my commute (a combination of buses and walking) a little over 2 hours each way!! God being the good God He is, saw that this might be a rather discouraging side of the job for me so He made sure that the long walks just happen to be in the stunning Cotswold countryside-- which is my favourite region of England. Somehow I can have just gotten off a grueling 5 hour cleaning shift and look toward the prospect of a long walk to the bus stop with a smile because my romantic heart thrills at the thought of tredding across the perfect picture of land known as the Cotswolds. I just come home in such surroundings...

A Gift from God Wrapped up in a "Holiday"

"No two of us are alike, each one stands alone before God. Your valley may be a darkness where you have nothing but your duty to guide you, no voice, no thrill, but just steady, plodding duty; or it may be a deep agonizing dejection at the realization of your unfitness and uncleanness and insufficiency. Let God put you on His wheel and whirl you as He likes, and as sure as God is God and you are you, you will turn out exactly in accordance with the vision He gave you. Don’t lose heart in the process."
– Oswald Chambers, So Send I You

I've felt very overwhelmed this summer as I transition from college which has been such a supportive family for me since living in Europe. I've felt a bit lost and alone in a great big world, knowing so distinctly my life is meant to be out here and not at home with my own loving family, yet feeling a bit of a waif here as well as I wait on Him for my next step. I've been deeply pondering my place in mission and ministry and constantly battling my feelings of inadequacy. I've been attempting to emerge from a long season of discouragement.

A turning point for me this summer came in the package of a holiday (what Americans would call a "vacation") in the Netherlands. 2 weeks travelling about to see friends in the Netherlands and then Wales was really just what the doctor ordered to gain a bit of encouragement and perspective! I booked an overnight bus (because it was cheapest!) from England to the Netherlands for the end of July (which meant driving through 4 countries one way!) and just relished the experience from start to finish. I just found myself utterly spellbound by God's extravagant attention to me. It's like He just kept on laying out before me circumstances to simply delight me heart. One thing after another.

A few highlights:

  • On the bus ride over I ended up crossing the English channel on a ferry at midnight, the stars glinting down and reflecting off the pitch black water. I sat out on the deck for hours in the open air with a cup of coffee and a kind young man having intellectual conversation about our passions-- his being ecology and sustainable living and mine being God and pointing people to His love. He was fascinating. He was a 26-year-old Englishman living on an organic farm in the Netherlands. His house was a Mongolian tent in a field. After I inquired into the ins and outs of his life, it being so foreign to me, he began to ask me about my faith and what I meant by "mission". He was disillusioned with the church and Christianity. He explained to me his agnostic views on God and his "faith" in Astrology. It was interesting to me how things he would describe as disproving God, systems of the way the universe works, simply strengthened for me the fact of God, as the very designer and maintainer of those systems. The interaction completely energized my spirit as we communicated with and listened to one another, learning from one another. My heart just felt like, "Yes. This is what mission in Europe looks like." I won't be forgetting that night crossing the channel, or my 3 hours conversing with an interesting, searching, God-appointed man called Jack and the passion it stirred up in me again for living out Christ's heart in Europe...
  • Adriaan met me the next morning in Utrecht when my bus pulled in and we were off to spend the first few days at his family's home in the southern province of Limburg. It was beautiful. We took long walks through the countryside for ice cream cones, spent hours one night around a fire in the backyard with his lovely family, and spent a day taking in the Limburg tourist sights, like Drielandenpunt-- the place at the very bottom of the Netherlands where 3 countries meet: The Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium! I thought it was so great to be standing with one foot in Germany and the other in The Netherlands :)

(Adriaan, his little brother Otto-Jan, and his friend Guido in the beautiful Limburg town of Valkenburg)

  • We met up for a day with another friend from my first year, the lovely Henk, in Delft, a beautiful Dutch city I'd always wanted to visit since studying the artist Vermeer in Art History! It is always so encouraging to get together with these friends because no matter how long it's been since we've last seen one another, we just reconnect. And the united passion for world mission aligns my focus aright somehow...

(The Dutchmen and I taking in the city of Delft)

  • Another day Adriaan and I hitch-hiked to The Hague on the coast! It was SUCH an adventure! I've kind of always wanted to have the experience and we were running low on cash and The Netherlands has such a kind of "anything goes" culture that it's not at all an unusual way to get around, and I was with a guy for protection! We were picked up 4 times and met 4 people with completely different life stories and we were in our element :) And we made it all the way to the beach!!

  • Next I met up with another Dutch friend, Mirjam, and my English friends Polly and Amanda came in from the UK and we had a little reunion in the Netherlands-- our first time seeing one another since graduation! You might remember these ladies as my "Hug Club" :) They are my own precious little sisterhood and our days gallavanting about the Netherlands were good ones full of laughter, tears, sharing, praising, and HUGS! There is just something indescribably right about the kind of relationships where you can just relax into one another, knowing that you are loved without exception... These girls are that space for me, a tangible expression of the heart of God for us.

They threw me a surprise birthday party since we were all apart on the actual day!

We went canoing down one of the Netherlands famed canals

We visited a hundreds of years old working windmill

We met up with some more Dutch friends from Redcliffe

And we spent a day meandering around the great city of Amsterdam

  • My holiday was finished up with a lovely weekend in Wales for "my little Welsh sister" Paris' surprise birthday party :) Beth, who studied at Redcliffe my first and second years, and the kids constitute my Welsh family and I love escaping to their beautiful little village in North Wales every time I get the chance!

Beth took me to Liverpool since I'd never been! This is us on the ferry.

Somehow, in getting out into mainland Europe again, and back into the arms of friends who know everything and love me anyway, I felt really empowered and my passion for Europe and call to work in this part of the world was strengthened. I may not know how or what or when or why, but He does. And that's enough for me...

"The great motive and inspiration of service is not that God has saved and sanctified me, or healed me; all that is a fact, but the great motive of service is the realization that every bit of my life that is of value I owe to the Redemption; therefore I am a bond-slave of Jesus. I realize with joy that I cannot live my own life; I am a debtor to Christ, and as such I can only realize the fulfillment of His purposes in my life. To realize this sense of spiritual honour means I am spoilt for this age, for this life, spoilt from every standpoint but this one, that I can disciple men and women to the Lord Jesus."
-- Oswald Chambers, So Send I You

Winding Down

So as my student visa comes to its end, my time in England (at this point, anyway-- but more on that later...) is coming to a close!

The wedding I was staying in the UK to be involved in has come and gone-- a beautiful celebration of the love and commitment of my two friends Lizzie and Neil. Love them! I drove up with some other LOVELY married friends whom I just graduated with, Abbie and Paul, and so got to spend a few days with them at their home in Salisbury catching up and saying goodbyes...

The week of helping out my church at a youth event called Soul Survivor has come and gone-- we were camping and the weather was atrocious but the kids got so much out of it. And so did I as I stood amongst 11,000 young Europeans worshipping God! Thousands of young people came to Christ in the 3 weeks Soul Survivor ran. This is an event that God works through mightily every summer and it was really a sort of honour to be involved with the awesome Kendal Road Baptist Youth Group-- despite living in mud up to mid-calf for the week :)

These days my heart is constantly saying its goodbyes to my time in England since I still don't know when/if/how I'll be back. Whatever faces and places my eyes take in, my heart is simultaneously kissing farewell. My beloved cathedral, the ivy growing up the brick fences, the Gloucester skyline from a particular angle on a walk into town, and the myriad of lovely people who have found homes in my heart... I know the God who calls equips and He will provide every strength of spirit to cover any seemingly impossible change He takes me through. But it all feels very tender to the touch...

Life Beyond the Summer

So, I'm off to Sweden from September 18th to November 12th in 2 weeks time!! My missionary friends there and the church plant and charity I worked with last January and February have faithfully reminded me they await my return and so I'm headed back for 2 more months of "on-the-job" training of mission in Europe :) I will write in more detail about my return to Sweden soon, but in the meantime, please pray again for funds to keep me those 2 months there!

Seasons of Life

Summer is beginning to turn over into Autumn in England. The days are growing shorter and more and more chilly and schools everywhere are starting back up again. My summer in England is quickly drawing to a close, and who knows what Autumn in Sweden will bring with it! My funny season of brokenness, healing, and ambiguity isn't over yet but I'm in a constant state of flux, a constant state of growth-- in relationships with both God and the people in my life. And I'm hopeful.

"My grace is sufficient for you, because power is made perfect in weakness."
-- 2 Corinthians 12:9

So here's to waiting on God through the seasons...


For full albums of photos covering much more than was said here, see:

Summer in England Photos
Holiday in The Netherlands and Wales Photos


Henk said...

Hi Leah, it was great reading this blog, thanks for sharing this..
i realy wish that your last weeks will be af great value to you and the people you love.. a hug from me and Annelies,. Love

gabs said...

I love this blog.
And I love you.
You're just fabulous!

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