Thursday, August 30, 2018

New blog site!

If you're wondering where I've been, well, life is busy, but I haven't completely abandoned writing! I'm actually trying out a new, more polished look for my blog. So for the foreseeable future, you can find me here at Beautiful Moments. 

You can read my latest piece there about what my relationship is teaching me -- three things I would tell my single self if I could go back in time.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Keep Going

Have you ever questioned why you set out on a certain journey? Have you ever been disheartened? What do you do in those moments?

For me, the transition to broadcasting has been a rough road at times. I'm finding my feet, and loving so much of what I do, but it's also hard.

Waking up at 3.30am is hard (plus the struggling social life that comes from being desperately tired by 8pm, even on weekends!). It's hard figuring out how to balance everything that is expected of me in this new role whilst also keeping healthy boundaries.

There are the general challenges associated with being part of a small start-up team trying to do an enormous job, and there are other challenges specific to our context. It can be quite demoralising.

What keeps you persevering past the obstacles in your path?

Moments like these keep me going.

"I think I was meant to find your radio station," the woman said softly. She stood with a nervous smile in the middle of our studio as we poured her a cup of tea.  Penelope had written to my co-host and I after we discussed self-love on our breakfast show, sharing her battle with feeling worthless and how the turning point came after she rediscovered God. We'd invited her to the studio to tell her story for broadcast.

And now, here she was. "God led me to you," Penelope said. "I was just twisting the dial in my car and stumbled across your station. I've been listening and loving it ever since." She paused. "I should tell you, though, I'm not Adventist. Is that OK?"

"Of course it's OK!" we reassured her. Inside, we were jubilant. OK?! This was exactly what we had been praying for! Our radio station is not supposed to be merely entertainment for those inside our church; it's supposed to be relevant and inspirational for people of other backgrounds.

I felt like Penny's appearance was a wink from God: "Yes, people are listening. They appreciate your content. I am using you, in spite of the times you get frustrated or overwhelmed."

Because God knows I've been frustrated and overwhelmed at times.

Yet, every time I question this path, every time I'm so tired I wonder how long I can last at this pace, every time I inwardly grind my teeth -- God reminds me that He put me here on purpose and this is where He wants me to be.

Because I still find joy in the middle of the craziness and the rough road of transition.

My heart lifts with hope every time a listener tells us how much they enjoy our show, or that they heard something they needed at just the right time, or that somehow they discovered Adventist Radio London and they keep coming back.

I feel reassured by unexpected affirmation through unexpected channels.

I am passionate about hearing people's stories of courage, faith, adventure, miracles, love, and struggle, whether we're interviewing recording artists or the girl next door. I delight in digging into deep and meaningful content and conversations. I am touched when tears are shed in our studio as our guests recount their hardest or most beautiful life experiences and moments with God.

Besides, God is challenging my perspective on success. Typically, Christians love to talk about the parables of the lost sheep or the lost coin -- how God goes out looking for that one estranged person He loves. We dwell on how Jesus would have sacrificed Himself for just one person.

Then, how do we often go and measure success? By numbers. Engagement, hits, likes, views, listeners, baptisms.

Instead, God has been asking me to value the one. Just like He does.

It's not all about numbers.

It's about that one person who was meant to hear me today, whether or not they let me know how it affected them. It's about that one person who was inspired by something we shared. It's about that one person who looks at God and faith a little differently because of the stories we pass on.

That's what keeps me going.

"With so much going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don't hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for Him is a waste of time or effort." (1 Cor 15:58 The Message)

Monday, January 22, 2018

Plot Twist!

I needed a change. After seven years of teaching, on and off, I wasn't sure that I wanted to continue.

Perhaps it was a temporary dissatisfaction, and someday I would want to teach again with renewed passion. Perhaps it was just emotional fatigue from a hard, uncertain year. But right now, I didn't want to teach. Over several months, the feeling grew and grew that I simply had to find something else to do.

What did I actually love about teaching? Creativity, facilitating learning, and my students. I had to admit that I didn't really like anything else about teaching and its accompanying lifestyle. Perhaps I could find another job that would embrace the core things I loved, without actually being a teacher.

I began to pray, "God, what am I supposed to do? I need a break from the classroom. I want to do something more with my love for reading and writing and thinking, with creativity. But I feel it needs to look different from regular teaching."

One day, out of the blue, I was called for an informal chat with a couple of directors in an organization where I'd been doing some freelance proofreading work. "Have you ever thought about changing careers?" they asked me. "Would that be something you'd be willing to consider?"

That's interesting timing, I thought.

Five months later, I joined Adventist Radio London as a producer and presenter. (Watch this space as we begin to develop our content and bring it to air!) I just got back from a team training weekend with a BBC professional. I'm still testing out how "broadcaster" instead of "English teacher" feels on my tongue. I'm a little overwhelmed, but genuinely happy.

It's been an interesting emotional journey, transitioning to a new career. I actually felt guilty, for a while. I'd spent years studying English Education and then Applied Linguistics. Had I wasted all that time? Had I wasted people's investment in me? Wasted their money that went into scholarships and other support that had enabled me to get my degrees?

But one day I had an "aha" moment. Perhaps it sounds obvious, but it really clicked for me:

The foundational commitment of my life, as a Christian, is to God. Not to one career path. Not to one country. Not to one organization. To God. 

He has promised to guide me, and as I learn to listen to Him better, I simply follow where He leads. I don't have to feel unnecessary guilt. I don't need my every move to make sense to everyone else (or to me) at first. He loves me, He is leading me, He is working things out for my good, and I can rest in that. That is immensely freeing!

Besides, nothing is wasted with Him. All my past experience prepares me for my future, even if that future doesn't look quite like I'd imagined.

God is a God of abundance. He goes beyond what we ask or imagine. And I really do think He has a sense of humor! I wanted a job that could use and develop my creative skills, but I didn't expect it would look like radio. It kinda feels like God said, "You want creativity? Excellent! Sure! Here's creativity on the next level! You'll be swimming in it! I'm so excited you asked!"

I will be doing all the things I love. I will also be doing some things that are completely new to me. I can already see areas in which this job will stretch and grow me, both personally and professionally.

I do get moments when the new direction, with all its accompanying transition, is a little bit scary. When it feels like God has given me a little bit too much "abundance,"  perhaps. I know my team and I are facing a challenge.

But with God leading us, we will be OK.

Maybe one day I will go back to teaching, but right now I'm preparing to embrace broadcast journalism. And I'm happy. It's one more exciting plot twist in my story, and I know the Author of Life has a great ending in mind.

"God knows where and how to take you. The author of life tells beautiful stories."
Lyrics from the song "Autor da Vida" by Vocal Livre

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

God Can't Do That

It was one of those times when everything seems to go wrong at once. A dwindling bank balance, broken or strained relationships, and dissatisfaction at work, among other things, had left me wondering about my future and struggling with discouragement, stress, and anxiety.

I would try to muster up my soul by reminding myself of encouraging quotes. “We have nothing to fear for the future unless we forget God’s leading in our past,” I would whisper to myself, paraphrasing a quote by Ellen White. The trouble was, although I sometimes felt my hope rising, and I did remember episodes of God’s guidance in my life, I still often dipped into worry and pessimism about my future. 

What God Can’t Do

One morning, I was listening to the Psalms during my hair and make-up routine, zoning out a little from one of Asaph’s poetic renditions of the Exodus story. Suddenly, the words grabbed my attention and seared into my consciousness:

“God can’t give us food in the wilderness. Yes, he can strike a rock so water gushes out, but he can’t give his people bread and meat.” (From Psalm 78:19-20)

I’m like that. That’s how I think.  With a start, I realized that the doubts of the Israelites echoed my own anxieties. The Israelites certainly remembered God’s miraculous provision in their past, but now they were faced with a different scenario, and they didn’t believe he could deal with it.

How many times do we slip, almost unconsciously, into the same way of thinking? God indeed might have been able to do this, but he can’t do that.

“Yes, he can provide sponsors for my missionary trip, but he can’t give me the money for my bills this month.”
“Yes, he can help me study for this test, but he can’t lead me to the right job, especially in today’s market.”
“Yes, he can give me wisdom in my career move, but he can’t help my relationships.”

I listened as the Psalm went on to describe God’s frustration at the Israelites because they “did not believe God or trust him to take care of them,” and how, “despite his wonders, they refused to trust him.” (vv. 22 and 32)

“I don’t want to be like that,” I breathed to God. “Help me to trust you more!”

How I View God

What lies at the heart of my inclination to worry?

"You are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary."
(At Jesus Feet by Nathan Greene) 

I have realized that my anxieties tend to spring from a subconscious belief that I have to make things happen. That all my happiness and success and getting the best out of life is down to me.

Of course, it's not that I have no role to play at all. I have power to choose and to act. But why the attitude that "it's all on me; I'm in this alone?"

I was shocked when I first understood what a practically godless approach to life this attitude signified—or at least an approach that acknowledged God’s existence but assigned him a somewhat impotent or uncaring character. Did I really think of him as so small and so distant?

My view of God is the foundation for everything else in my life.

When I believe that I am entirely responsible for taking care of myself and making things happen, when I am living purely out of self-reliance and leaning on my own understanding (see Proverbs 3:5-6), it is a very hard thing to “be still, and know that [he] is God” (Psalm 46:10). It is hard to trust.

Yet, when I understand more fully the incredible depth of the love God has for me—and when I really believe he loves me that much—my heart responds more readily with trust.

In so many ways, our view of God and our view of life revolves around grasping this love, being “rooted and grounded” in it, as Paul describes in Ephesians 3:17. It changes everything. It is changing my typically-fearful reactions to the challenges of life.  

I resonate with a prayer John Eldredge shares in his book Walking with God: 

“Jesus, I ask that your love would heal that part of me that feels I must make it happen, that all things—especially my happiness—are up to me… And, Jesus, I repent of that part of me that needs to make things happen. I transfer my trust from my ability to make things happen to your love and goodness.” (pp. 103-104)

Yes, He Can

Not every problem I have wept or worried over has been fully solved yet. But God has been working with me patiently to show me just how creative he can be in addressing my issues. He reminds me constantly, in all kinds of little ways, of the committed, personal love he has for me. 

And every day I have the choice of whether I will trust him in a new area, or whether I will respond negatively like the Israelites in the Psalm.

Are you facing a situation in your  life where you just don't know how God is going to come through  for you this time? What are you thinking God can't do?

Trust him. He can do that, too.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

And You Will Finally Know Me

Do you ever wish God would write His messages to you in flaming letters in the sky? Let you know His will through a booming, unmissable voice? Me too.

The same is true for our conversations with God.

This past year has been a journey for me in learning to listen to God. The good news is that He is speaking, and when He wants you to get something, He is persistent -- even if you don't see flaming letters or burning bushes. And you can learn how to hear Him better.

I've recently been soaking in the book "Discerning the Voice of God," and today I read a brilliant chapter on God's persistence in getting His message across and how He confirms His message in different ways.
"When God has a message for you, He is persistent... When God speaks to you by the Holy Spirit within and also confirms it by other means from without, then be on the lookout for His directions. If you notice a consistent message confirmed through the leading of the Holy Spirit, the Scripture, your circumstances, and other people, pay close attention. God is repeating Himself to make sure you get the message." (p. 78)
I put the book down as I sat curled up on the sofa, wrapped in my fluffy white blanket, lost in thought. This chapter confirmed so much of my experience with God. I took out my journal, and asked myself, "What have been the persistent, 'thematic,' corroborated messages over the past year?"

I could think of several. God had certainly spoken often. Thematically. Persistently. Through multiple avenues.

This journey of deeper friendship with Him had been sparked in January 2017, in the midst of a difficult season, when God had very clearly spoken to me from a text in Hosea.

One of His messages, oft-confirmed, had been about His desire for increased intimacy -- about His leading and speaking, which of course necessitated me learning to be still and listen. "I believe this journey is something He wants me to continue this year," I wrote in my journal.

Another message had been about hope and restoration. "That could tie into this year's possible theme of newness," I wrote. (The concept expressed in Isaiah 43:18-19 keeps coming up!)

It's tempting to think of restoration as simply God giving you back something you gave up or lost. But that's not necessarily the whole picture. "God goes one better than that," I continued to journal. "Restoration, whatever that means for a specific area of your life, is about... better than before. The way God had in mind from the beginning. Restoration is about healing. Beauty. Fulfillment. 'Restoring the years the locust has eaten' (Joel 2:25) and being in a better place for it."

I like to think of God's art of restoration being something like the Japanese art of kintsugi -- repairing something broken with gold to make it even more beautiful and precious.

True, the passage in Hosea talks about the things taken away being returned (pictured as vineyards in the text). It's easy to focus on the idea of the gifts and restoration that God has in store for the right time. But the heart of the passage is so much deeper than that.

The heart of the passage is all about the intimacy with God that is the surprising product of the wilderness experience.

As I wrote about last year, Hosea 2:16 talks about how we will come to call God our husband instead of our master. Whatever your gender, that is a picture of ever-increasing love and intimacy. I have certainly tasted that this year.

Today, after I finished the chapter in "Discerning the Voice of God," I went back to Hosea 2 and read a little further on. Although God's metaphorical language speaks as to a woman, again, the message is one of the ultimate, deepest, most permanent commitment, whatever your gender.
"I will make you my wife forever, showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion. I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know Me..." (vv19-20)
I could just hear the longing of God's heart in that. "And you will finally know Me."

That is the bigger purpose, the greater gift.

Maybe you've been in the wilderness. Maybe you're still in the middle of it, or maybe you're starting to walk through your "door of hope" (Hosea 2:15) and you're looking forward to what God will do and what He will restore.

But the return of the "vineyards," however nice that may be, is secondary to the gift of God Himself.

And He -- with all He is and all that means -- gives Himself to you... to me... forever. 💗

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Ho Ho No

I am a fan of Grumpy Cat.

So as soon as I saw the Grumpy Cat T-shirt, I knew I had to buy it for my Christmas party; wearing it would be the perfect expression of my paradoxical attitude to Christmas.

On one hand, I do enjoy Christmas (when it's relegated to its proper month -- December). The food. The beauty of the lights and decorations and (if we're lucky) snow. The story. The pageantry of a Festival of Lessons and Carols in a cathedral. The music (again, only when it's played in December, as is right and fitting). The chance to dress up. The sense of goodwill and cheer and warm fuzzies. Oh, and the food.

Mmhm, those classy Christmas feels.

On the other hand, there is something of a Grinch or a Grumpy Cat in me. (Some would say that is reflected in my "December only!" attitude. But actually I would argue that this is because Christmas loses its special-ness if it's dragged out from October or November. Therefore, keeping Christmas in December guards its sense of beauty and sacredness. Just me? Anyway... Maybe it's a personality thing?)

The awful cheesy Christmas movies. Those inquires about your relationship status from relatives worried about why you aren't married yet and the state of your womb. The shopping in uncomfortably crowded stores. The stress. The bank balance. The inability to feel the magic or warm fuzzies of your childhood. (Certain friends would add "tearing ligaments slipping on ice" and "getting mild concussion from falling snow-laden branches" to this list.)

Do you find the Christmas spirit a little more elusive for you now, as well? Sometimes I wonder why that is. Perhaps we all have different answers.

The four candles represent hope, peace,
love, and joy.
A potential reason, for me, struck me today as I was researching articles for a Christmas-themed radio broadcast. I suddenly realized that somewhere along the way, I have stopped celebrating Advent.

Advent (meaning "coming") is the period of four weeks of expectation leading up to Christmas. Although not every denomination emphasizes its celebration, for Christians Advent is traditionally a time to prepare our hearts for the season, to think about the deeper meaning of Christmas beyond consumerism and sentiment.

As a child, I remember the excitement of opening the windows of my little Advent calendar every day. We had a family Advent calendar too, that my mother had made, with a special story or activity for each day of December.

Then we kids grew up and moved away, and I stopped thinking about Advent. Certainly when I was in college, I had a million things to do and exams to take in the run-up to Christmas, and that took priority in my thoughts. Now, I am busy with work and various other projects and seem to stumble upon Christmas at the last moment. "Oh, is that the date?!" A few days ago, my mother asked me if I had come across any nice Advent readings I might share to welcome the Sabbath. "I don't read anything for Advent," I told her. And then I felt a tiny bit bad.

Pondering the meaning of the holiday isn't high on my to-do list. I don't try to make the season so special any more. Isn't this simply practical, adult life?

Life. Adulting. Bah humbug!

Perhaps that is a loss. Perhaps there would be merit in celebrating Advent again somehow. To take that time to slow down and genuinely think, "What are the deeper, spiritual meanings and lessons of this season? Who is Jesus? What does it mean to welcome Immanuel -- God with us, God with me?"

Perhaps we can't expect the magic of Christmas just to "happen" anymore. Perhaps Christmas, like a good relationship, a passion project, or anything worthwhile (as the saying goes), takes some work. But not simply the kind of work in putting up a tree or throwing a Christmas party. Some heart work.

Somehow, I think that real Christmas spirit doesn't have to be showy or sickeningly sentimental. Perhaps it can be a quiet, simple sense of peace, gratitude, hope, and joy. 

So, how will you fight for joy, not just in this Christmas season but in your life? How can you recover a sense of wonder and thankfulness, and your heart?

After all, even the Grinch recovers his heart for Christmas in the end.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Disarming Fear

Ever have those nights when you struggle to sleep because your brain just won't shut up? Me too.

I recently went through a stretch of tearful evenings because, as I lay in the dark willing myself to just go to sleep, my imagination would run riot. I would visualize real concerns. Bad memories. Imaginary scenarios and conversations that may never happen in real life, but which nonetheless filled me with pain or anger or stress as I played them out in my mind. Negative self-talk. Future fears. My mind seemed to snatch up each bleak thought, eager to obsess over it.

Rather like this.

Some nights I would struggle against the tide of negativity, praying for relief. Some nights I would be frustrated that I still felt tense and miserable even after presenting my woes to God. Some nights I would just give in to the waves of unhappiness.

Lately, though, God has been calling to my attention to how He wants to help me through adjusting the focus and framework of my prayers. Thus I will be better equipped to disarm my lingering fears.

Often, the focus of my petitions tends to be on my issues, frustrations, and fears -- or, at least, those are the emotions prompting a large number of prayers. This is not bad per se. We are told to pour out our hearts to God, to roll our cares onto Him, and to pray all kinds of prayers. The Psalms are replete with desperate cries to God about how much life sucks, about deepening depression, and about a desire to get out of the mire (see Psalm 69 for one example).

However, darkness or desperation isn't where our prayers are supposed to linger long-term.

Three points from my recent reading, the book "If Only God Would Answer" by Steven Mosley, have highlighted what the problem is in my case. I have a sneaking feeling many of us may share a similar issue.

Tossed About

The book of James talks about the prayers of the double-minded person who is tossed about like a wave. Mosley comments, "A double-minded person can ask for one thing while thinking of something else quite the opposite." (p. 53) I can be like that. I can struggle to find a solid footing and to pray with real trust, particularly when allowing myself to be tossed about and drowned by ever-changing emotions that may or may not let me feel strength and faith.
Catherine Marshall, one of my
favourite authors.

In her beautiful memoir "Meeting God at Every Turn," writer Catherine Marshall shares a story of her loneliness after the death of her first husband, U.S. Senate Chaplain Peter Marshall. Eventually, she received assurance from God that remarriage was His idea for her, and noted in her journal that she accepted this gift with gratitude and "all [she had] to do is give thanks to God that the matter is settled and relax until God's time comes..." (p. 159). This idea jumped off the page and burned into my consciousness. What a contrast to my usual mode of operation! Certainly some of my anxieties spring from a desire to be in control and a struggle to simply be thankful for what God is giving, and to relax in the waiting, whatever I am waiting for.

After all, we have the clear and startling promise that if we ask anything from God that is in line with His will, we can be sure of receiving it (see 1 John 5:14-15). The Bible is full of promises and passages that show us the will of God, and we also have His Spirit's intimate guidance in our personal walk with Him, which can lead us to peace in knowing that He hears and answers our petitions.

In pondering all this, I felt God whispering to me, "Instead of being tossed about, you can learn to relax if you turn from focusing on your variable circumstances and emotions to thanking Me instead that I have heard you and that the answer will be realized at the right time."

How Do I See God?

One of Mosley's chapters compared Bible passages about persistence in prayer. On one hand, we have parables and injunctions to keep praying and not give up. On the other hand, we have a warning against being like those who "think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again" (Matthew 6:7). Isn't this a bit of a contradiction?

Mosley points out that the passages are based on the same reasoning about the character of God. God the Judge is more eager to dispense justice than any human official; God the Father is more willing to give good gifts to us than human parents are to their child; and, after the warning about babbling, Jesus says our Father knows our need before we ask.
"Obviously there's a healthy kind of persistence and an unhealthy kind. The key difference relates to that common conclusion: God's generosity. Why we persist in prayer makes a big difference. The pagans Jesus mentioned as bad examples of prayer went on and on petitioning because they thought their god had to be talked into doing good; they assumed a certain quantity of prayer would create some kind of cosmic coercion, forcing their god's hand. In the back of their minds, they believed he was lazy or indifferent and had to be prodded into action." (p. 64)
When you pray, how do you see God? I know that sometimes my prayers are motivated more by this "pagan" mindset of seeing God as reluctant, distant, and needing coercion. Yet God is generous and eager and able, beyond what I can ask or imagine (see Ephesians 3:20 and Psalm 31:19).

Where Is My Focus? 

Another quote from Mosley resonated with me:
"Make God bigger than your problems. Don't go on and on moaning about how terrible your situation is and begging God for His help. Instead go on and on about how wonderful God is and express confidence in His ability to help you. This is a healthy, logical perspective in prayer." (p. 58) 
Even the most raw Psalms often turn in the end to praise, thankfulness, and hope. They affirm God's unfailing love and faithfulness. For example, after honestly declaring his deep discouragement and grief, the poet says to himself, "Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again --  my Saviour and my God!" (Psalm 42:11)

Disarming Fear

In order to help me disarm my fears, then, I have sensed God calling me not merely to be honest about my dark emotions, but to switch the focus of my prayers:

From fear to His faithfulness.

From the problem to His power and love.

From begging based on dread and a desire to control and coerce, to thankfulness for God's heart of abundance, His willingness to give good gifts, and the answers He has already given.

From sadness and frustration to hope.

From my circumstances to my God.

From the temporary to the eternal.

From my feelings to truth.

Good ol' pity parties
In short, to pray with much more praise and positivity, to "express hope, not just desperation." (Mosley, p. 70)

This won't always be easy. Old habits die hard. And honestly, there's part of me that likes to have the luxury of pity parties.

Also, the Enemy will want to keep me locked into fear and discouragement. He will use any opportunity to bring those pessimistic pictures into my mind.

But I am instructed to take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and to "let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think" (Romans 12:2). When my imagination starts down those gloomy trails, instead of going along with it, I can examine the scenario to see what exactly scares or pains me -- and then disarm that thought, and infuse into that picture the power, presence, and love of God.
"You tend to project yourself mentally into the [future], and you visualize yourself coping badly in those times. What you are seeing is a false image, because it doesn't include Me... When a future-oriented worry assails you, capture it and disarm it by suffusing the Light of My Presence into that mental image. Say to yourself, 'Jesus will be with me then and there. With His help, I can cope!' Then come home to the present moment, where you can enjoy peace in My presence." (Jesus Calling, Nov 9)

One of my favourite songs affirms, "I'm no longer a slave to fear...You drowned my fears in perfect love."

Thank you, Father. Your generous heart, your perfect love, is what I lean on.

New blog site!

If you're wondering where I've been, well, life is busy, but I haven't completely abandoned writing! I'm actually tryin...