I don’t know how but you did it

Made a way
Don’t know how but You did it
Made a way
Standing here not knowing how we’ll get through this test
But holding unto faith You know that
Nothing can catch You by surprise
You got this figured out and You’re watching us now
But when it looks as if we can’t win
You wrap us in Your arm and step in
And everything we need You supply
You got this in control
And now we know that, You made a way- ‘Made A Way’ by Travis Greene

Two years ago my Master’s degree journey began. Unexpected and unplanned. I entered a 3 year program with no idea how I would pay for it or how I would manage it as it was a course work based program. It would require endless 5000+ word assignments and even more reading than I’d ever done before. As I type this, I am still in shock. In total, including the countless books bought, it ranges between R50 000 to R60 000 that has been spent for that degree. Of which, less than 50% came from my own pocket. The rest was covered by academic bursaries and so much favor from God. I finished that degree in two years, three months and graduate summa cum laude (with highest distinction). The reason I mention the cost and the result is because neither of them could have been done in my own strength and abilities.

People have asked me what it now feels like to have a Masters degree and what I plan to do with it. I don’t have the answer people expect. The degree does not add anything to my identity or my self worth. So it has not changed how I feel about myself necessarily because I am not defined by my accomplishments or abilities.

MS-2

 

It has however, changed or grown my view of God. I have experienced His provision,His love, His protection, His guidance and His help in tangible ways. I have witnessed my impossible become possible and in so doing it made the Scripture “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13) come to life. The song quoted at the beginning of this entry has become extremely relatable during this time because I really don’t know how but He did it, He made a way.

As I got closer and closer to the end of my degree I began to wonder what I would do once it was over. I was not working full time during my studies and had no real plan as to where I would go once the studying was over. Through it all though, I have kept teaching swimming. Swimming  and teaching are two of my passions so when I get to combine them, my world lights up. Amidst the uncertainty of my future, in comes a breath of fresh air in the form of a “fiesty, driven woman with a heart of gold”. She appeared unexpectedly and soon after our introduction, she offered me a job. It all seemed very unreal at the time because what she proposed sounded too good to be true. I remember sitting in a meeting where the offer to join her foundation was given to me. In order to decide my response I knew that I needed to find out the most important information. Which was to ask her what her motivation was behind her organisation. Why she does what she does and what she hopes to accomplish through it. I knew that I didn’t want to work for any one who was solely interested in making money and only cared about furthering themselves. I’d worked for enough people like that and it was draining and unpleasant to say the least. I was not going to get into an environment like that again.

When she answered me, I not only could hear the passion in her voice but I could see it in the way her face lit up as she spoke. I knew instantly that this was the place for me, a place where we shared a love for children, for uplifting the community and a desire to build a legacy. In the days and months that followed I came to experience the heart of God in ways I never knew possible, all through this one person. The way she sees others, her heart for people and in the way she always seeks to be fair and honest. I see God in the way she does things, I experience His heart in the way she treats others including the way she treats me. And the beauty in it is that she doesn’t even realise what a Godsend she is.

Recently I was asked if I’m happy. My answer was simple. I have never been as happy as I am right now and I have never enjoyed what I do as much as I am enjoying what I do now. I get to use my degrees as the situations require but I am not defined by my qualifications. My job causes me to grow my character more, it relies on my intellect, my heart, my passion and on my desire to make a difference. It brings out the best in me and I could not imagine being in a better environment.

Through a crazy step of obedience that led me down a path I would never have expected to go. Getting a degree I never dreamed was possible, in a manner I never knew was possible for me either. After all of that, I find myself in a job that I never knew was possible but is everything I could have wanted and so much more. I don’t know how but He did it. I don’t know how but I’m grateful. God made a way.

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God doesn’t owe me anything.

Only a few months into 2017 and somehow I’ve been on a three month fast track of growing up and getting over myself. The beginning of 2017 was a tumultuous one for me as I found myself questioning God about every area of my life. Questioning Him came as a result of allowing myself to doubt Him, to be disappointed in Him because I wasn’t seeing what I expected to see. When in reality, the only one I should have been disappointed in was myself, I should have been questioning myself about why I ever allowed the seed of doubt to grow within my heart and mind.

Let me speak more clearly and in less riddles here. I turned twenty nine at the beginning of this year and I expected more to be in place by now. Life. Society. Friends. Family. People. They all make you believe that you’re meant to have certain things at certain ages and that if you don’t have what people expect you to have, well then you’re not successful, or somethings wrong with you or you’re doing something wrong.

There were so many things I’d prayed for that I knew God confirmed over and over again that He would do and He would take care of but I had not yet seen it happen. I had placed deadlines on those prayers and when the deadlines came and went and I still had not seen the answer, I became disappointed. God never gave a time frame, I created one and then I got disappointed and confused because He hadn’t stuck to my timeline.

Things never went my way or the way I expected them to go and instead of looking at where I could have possibly gotten it wrong, I immediately went into pity party mode. ‘Poor me, God isn’t answering my prayers. Yes He takes care of me daily and I can’t fully grasp just how I’m managing to pay for a Master’s degree even though I do not work full time and I don’t seem to ever lack anything that I need. But still poor me because the things I want and the things I’ve prayed for and waited so long for are still not happening.’

As I type this, I can’t believe the childishness of that pity party….which lasted weeks guys, weeks! I was the nagging child in the shop, who then throws a tantrum in the aisle because their Dad is not buying them the toy they’ve been asking for, for months.

I am not proud of how long it took me to snap out of my pity party but so grateful that I eventually did! God sent so many amazing people to encourage me, to remind me of His goodness and also to tell me to get over myself! The final wake up call came while watching a recent periscope video done by Adara Butler, she’s an American preacher whose Instagram ministry is insanely good and you should definitely check it out (@adarraaa). Anyway, Adara did a scope on “Waiting” (its on YouTube if you’re interested). There was something she said that jumped out the screen and hit me up side the head…figuratively of course ;). She spoke along the lines of the following: God didn’t owe us Salvation but He chose to give it to us and if that’s the only thing He wanted to give, we should learn to be grateful for that because it’s a priceless gift that we never deserved. He doesn’t owe us money, a partner, a family, a career, success, cars or anything at all. He chooses to give us those things but he does not have to give it to us. We should be content to do His will regardless of what we may or may not get given out of it.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. – Ephesians 2:8

That struck me so hard. Here I was complaining about God not giving me what I wanted ,when I wanted to get it, when in reality, He doesn’t have to give me anything at all. Jesus was and is the greatest gift I could ever have gotten. But God is ‘a good, good Father’ so even though He doesn’t have to give any thing more, He still chooses to. The love of God for His children just doesn’t make sense. Its so big, its so illogical, its so perfect.

So remember the analogy about me being the child throwing the tantrum in the store over the toy? Well how many times do children throw tantrums usually about things they have asked their parents for repeatedly. Things they might need or some things they just really want. They throw tantrums or get into bad moods when they think that their parents are not going to buy it for them. It sounds so ungrateful, so selfish. But it’s exactly what we do. It’s what I did. But in nearly every case, that child eventually gets what they asked for, sometimes the parent already bought it and was waiting for their birthday or for Christmas to give it as a gift or in other cases parents were waiting to see how well the child would continue to behave without the expectation of getting something ‘if they were good’. So it was usually when the child stopped expecting the gift, that’s when they’d get it. When the right moment came, they’d get what they asked for.

At the right time, I, the LORD, will make it happen.- Isaiah 60:22

That simple analogy of a child acting like a spoilt brat, is a depiction of me. Probably a depiction of most of us I guess. God sacrificed His son for us and continues to provide for us and protect us daily but we walk around each day moaning about what we don’t have, ignoring all that we do have.

I finally realized God doesn’t owe me anything and in that, I’ve learnt to appreciate Him so much more for choosing to still give endlessly. At the same time, I’ve learnt to stop trying to fit God’s answers into my timeline and allow myself to move with His timeline, He is the author of time after all so I think He’d know better than I do 😉 Ultimately, I am reminded to trust in God, in His word, in His promises to me and most of all, in His timing.

For God is not man that He should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? – Numbers 23:19

A few minutes and kind words is all it takes to make a difference

Recently, I began teaching swimming at a private school. Despite my endless marking and Master’s degree work, I just felt I needed to be at the school. It started off quite fun, getting to know all the children. The younger children, after their first lesson with me, now run up and hug me every time they see me. At first it confused me, I thought “they don’t even know me yet, we’ve had one interaction and already they treat me as if they’ve known me their whole life”. After one lesson, one 9 ear old told her friend who was about to swim with me “Alison is the best ever, you’ll love her!”. Again, I was confused, we had one lesson and she already liked me that much? I had only interacted with her for 45 minutes to possibly an hour. There was a lesson in that, which has taken me a while to realize but I’ll expand on that in a minute.

I had made an effort to try learn every child’s name (about 60 in total) so that I could address them by their names, I’ve noticed that people in general appreciate your effort to learn their names. Also, I wanted them to know that I see them. So many children get caught up in the crowd, they go by without being noticed, some never have anyone asking them how they are and listening to the stories they have to share. I decided that I wanted each of them to know that I see them and I hear them. So along with learning names, asking everyone how they’re doing and having a quick chat as they got ready each session, I decided to mention any and every good thing I noticed about them. So whether it was sticking out the ice cold pool water, doing a better freestyle swim than last time or having good manners, I made a point of mentioning it and praising them for it.

We all need to be reminded about the good in us especially when the world constantly looks to highlight our faults. Last week on my way to the school I found myself asking God, “what difference could I be making in 45 minutes to an hour? These kids don’t know me, I don’t know anything about their lives. We only have twice a week together, am I even making any sort of influence? Is there a point here? I’m struggling to see how I’m helping”. I repeated these questions to a friend who works at the school, she said “Sometimes 45 minutes is all you need, all they need to be seen. Thank you for seeing these children”.

Honestly, I wasn’t convinced that I was doing anything different or meaningful. That afternoon the team showed up and within the first 5 minutes I had a conversation with one of the teenagers where I complimented her as I explained why I had chosen her for a certain leadership position. For a few seconds, she was speechless, she then thanked me wholeheartedly and the session began. But that moment confused me, she seemed very overwhelmed by what I had said and I couldn’t figure out why because to me it was a simple truth. I later found out that she struggles with many insecurities and low self esteem and that’s why my words meant so much to her. My turn to be speechless.

In the same session children that are known at school for their lack of discipline and trouble making ways were so well mannered with me and I got so many genuine smiles and laughs that for a few seconds it overwhelmed me. These children don’t know me, why are they so comfortable, why are their personalities changing in front of my eyes? They’re becoming friendlier, more comfortable, dare I say it, happier, right in front of my eyes. They arrive in one mood which quickly changes to a happier one in the time we spend together. What is actually happening here?

The cherry on top, so to say, was my favourite 4 year old arriving at swimming after having a very tight chest all morning. (The same day a child tells me about her mom’s asthma attack the day before). Anyway his mom advised he not swim to which he replied “Jesus will make my chest better for swimming”. Crazy thing is, he was better enough to swim and was still fine after swimming. To him it was a very simple situation, he had a problem so Jesus would have to fix it. That was the lesson I needed to be reminded of, childlike faith is what I’m striving for. There’s a 4 year old to teach me how.

Back to the lesson I mentioned in the beginning of this. It took the children 45 minutes to an hour to assess me. To determine if I was good or not, nice or not, sincere or not. It is said that children see the truth, they know when you’re being insincere or fake and they’re honest enough to call you out on it, they have no filter. In that short amount of time they saw everything I had decided I would do in an effort to encourage them. It takes adults a considerable amount of time to get to know each other enough to trust. Children trust and care in a matter of minutes. I was able to make an impact in that short amount of time. Lately, God has been emphasizing that I trust Him in every situation He leads me to and have faith that the bigger picture is at work. I couldn’t think of a better example to learn this lesson than through children. It all boils down to childlike faith.

“Then Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven”. -Matthew 18:3-4

This isn’t going as planned.

The most common question asked in an interview is “where do you see yourself in the next 5/10 years?”. Based on the answer, the interviewer establishes how goal orientated you are, how focused you are and if you have a plan for your life because having a plan shows that you’re motivated and willing to work hard to achieve something.

We’re taught to make plans. It’s just what we do. We plan to ensure we have control. We work out every detail in the way we see fit and then we go step by step through our plan. So I made my plan. I calculated, I weighed up all the options, I figured out how best to achieve my goal and I formulated my plan. The plan to finish my three year Master of Arts degree majoring in Theology and Education in one year and six months. According to my plan, it was easily possible, cost would be split up since it’s a module based program so I’d pay for each module as I was ready to do it. I calculated and the remaining months versus the remaining modules balanced well. I had a really good plan. I even got funding for the additional modules I would be registering for end of July.

And then it happened. Subtly at first. I got emails saying there’s an admin delay and  I had to wait until I could register for the additional modules. Okay. That would probably be a week wait at most. Wrong. Numerous emails later, weeks passing by I find myself in the middle of August and still have not registered for the additional modules. Instead I have received the paperwork for the expected two modules to be registered for and completed in September (I had planned to be done with the two additional ones by September and then carried on with the September modules).

So, instead of everything being evenly spaced out including the costs involved. Now all remaining additional modules will be pushed to October & November. Including their costs. This is not how I planned it to be. My plan was easy, my plan didn’t include much pressure, my plan gave me control. Right now. My plan has been thrown in the bin, the costs now involved are more than I have. The time frame is still possible but I no longer hold any control on whether it will happen or not.

It’s frustrating. It’s demotivating. It’s a whole bunch of emotions wrapped up into one. And then, it’s typical. It’s a typical God situation. Every time we get arrogant and think that we have control of our lives, when we think it’s solely about our narrow goal or picture. God steps in and allows things to spin out of our control so that it can find its way back into His hands. Like when Josephs brothers went on a journey to Egypt to buy food during the famine. Their plan was simple, just go and buy food.Suddenly they find themselves in trouble and at risk of losing their youngest brother, Benjamin or so they think. God’s plan however for that journey was to restore their family, to allow forgiveness, love and unity to join them and bring Israel together.

So right now, my life is out of my control. It’s scary. But I’m excited to see what the bigger picture here is. Two of my many favorite verses are Matthew 6:33 and Jeremiah 29:11, ironic hey? Those are the ones I am clinging to now more than ever before. It’s the reminder I needed, that God’s plan is perfect and I need to rely on Him more than I rely on myself. As I rely on Him more and more each day, His peace grows in my life and I am encouraged and pushed on because I know there isn’t a better one who I’d want to be holding my future.

“Regardless of what the future holds. God holds the future.”

 

 

Jesus in the Details.

I recently met the fiance of one of my friends. In our conversation, he asked me many questions in his attempt to get to know me and start building a friendship. I appreciated the effort he was putting in as most people stop after the “What do you do?” question. Not him, he was asking question after question and whatever I would answer would lead him into further questions. He paid so much attention, that one conversation allowed me to see that my dear friend had chosen well, she had chosen a life partner who didn’t just say that he loves Jesus and he cares about people, his actions and words backed that up. He is a listener which is so rare.

He then asked me a question I was not expecting and one I hadn’t been asked in years so there was no rehearsed answer in my head, I just said what came to mind first. He asked, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?”. My answer surprised me about 5 seconds after I’d said it and could process what I had just said. My response was, “In 10 years time I’d like to have made a substantial contribution to the Kingdom of God in the area of Children and Youth ministry. In 10 years time, I’d like to know that I have positively influenced a considerable amount of young people and showed them who Jesus is and how much He loves them. That’s my biggest goal for the next 10 years, make an impact for God”.

He was surprised by my answer and to tell the truth, so was I. I realized that I never mentioned any of the expected answers. I never spoke about wanting to be married, having children, earning a certain salary or owning a specific property. Those are things I want yes, but they’re not on the top of my list. Jesus is.

It was and still is an influential moment for me, that question highlighted something within me and continues to spur me on. The Bible says in Matthew 15:18 that the things that come out of our mouths, come from our hearts, so believe me when I say that my answer surprised me but encouraged me at the same time. It also made me seem a bit weird, why couldn’t I just give the expected answer, the ‘normal’ answer? I think if I had been given some prep time, I probably would have gone with the expected answer. But I’m learning that God doesn’t want me to live the expected life, nor have me do the expected things. Instead He is leading me on an unexpected path where He displays His power continuously. In the unexpected path, I can’t plan too far ahead, I can’t work out my responses and speeches all I can do is follow His lead, work at what is before me and wait for what I know is yet to be accomplished.

I recently made a joke when given something to do without full explanation of my task that “Noah got specific plans, Moses knew what He had to do and Joseph was told what to do and when to do it. I can’t just be told to do things without a full explanation of what exactly I need to do and how”. Jesus clearly still has a lot of work to do in me 😉 Even in that joke I heard the ignorance in what I was saying because faith is activated in the unknown. We rely more on God when our normal devices are not there and we cannot rely on our own talents or head knowledge. I am a to do list kind of person, I like knowing specifics, in order for me to do a great job in my own eyes, I need to always know exactly what is required of me. But sometimes, most of the time, all God wants me to do is be available. Available to be filled up and emptied out where needed. He gives me pieces of the story and lets me lean on Him as we walk through and discover the rest.

It’s like an adventure where no one day is the same as the one before if I really listen and pay attention to what He wants me to learn in that day. I have by no means figured it all out but it’s really a great journey to be apart of.

So today, I’m going to remind myself again before I allow frustration or complacency to creep up; to listen, to pay attention and to wait for what it is God needs me to learn as well as what He needs me to do in this day.

Strength in Vulnerability

Bags packed, sleeping bag, blow up bed and bag of snacks ready. Scripture Union Holiday Club time had come and I was so excited to get the next 9 days started. Due to the nature of the week long holiday club program, all 30 leaders would be camping out in the school where the program would be held. Yes, sleeping in school classrooms. That in itself was a new experience for me. Friday night started off training weekend before holiday club was to begin bright and early Monday morning. I assumed training weekend would just be painting, hanging decor, organizing crafts for the week, nothing major but boy was I wrong.

While we painted planets, rockets and everything space related for what seemed like forever; somewhere in between we had some really emotional training sessions.Now I should mention that majority of us had only just met and were still getting to know each other, by day 2 of training weekend, I knew maybe 12 names out of the 29 other leaders. In one of our sessions, we were asked to write down and share three life changing moments in our lives. Everyone racked their brains for 15 mins trying to pick the most influential moments.We seemed to cry more and more with each person that spoke. Everyone’s stories were a mix of sad stories turning into happy endings when Jesus stepped in and took control. We ended that session with lots of used tissues and laughs with tears. I walked out of that session having realized some things.

  1. For ‘strangers’ we had many, many struggles and triumphs in common.
  2. The more honest and open each person was, the more it encouraged the next person to be just as open.
  3. My respect for each person grew as I shared in their vulnerability.
  4. I immediately understood everyone better having had a glimpse into their lives.

It sounds like a simple task and yet it was emotionally draining for the majority. We never realized how life changing our triumphs really were until we put them into words. That session was followed up by a girls only and boys only session where we shared things we have struggled with and overcame as well as things we still struggle with. More tears and more bonding. It’s a strangely freeing feeling when you share a personal story with a group of people and cry all the way through while they cry with you. People you hardly know, sharing in your sadness and your joy. Sharing in your vulnerability. Its freeing and strengthening as you realize that you’re not alone and that there are people supporting you and cheering with you as you get to the good part of the story.

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Those realizations seemed to spill over into everything we did thereafter. Everyone had immediately gotten so much closer, that working as a team became easier. It was like each person had acquired 29 cheerleaders and a personal support team in one day. It was something I had never experienced before. Vulnerability producing strength and strength in numbers. When people know your weakest moments and your weaknesses and look at you with all the respect in the world, it changes how you see yourself and those weaknesses. It builds you from the inside. When people accept your imperfections and choose to highlight your strengths, it pushes you forward, it makes you feel capable of doing that which God has put before you to do.And that’s exactly what those 29 other people did for me. They convinced me that I could do everything I needed to do, they reminded me continuously that God would carry me through and they picked me up when I needed it.

We went into holiday club as one, one in spirit, one in love and one in Christ. The way it should be. The result? The result was we saw children’s lives changed. Children learning about Jesus, seeing Him in  a new way, in a personal way. We saw breakthrough, we saw healing of deep wounds, we saw Jesus become real to children and teenagers. We experienced His love for us all over again like it was the very first time we encountered Him. We saw His hand, felt His love and experienced His presence. I am still getting messages from parents and teens about how life changing that week was. For all those who attended it, they experienced a new thing. And those of us who served on it, we got taken a lot deeper than we anticipated. God showed up and walked us into something we could never have guessed. It was beautiful. It was life changing. It was everything it needed to be and so much more.

I walked away from holiday club with a 29 member strong family. A family whose strength is found in their vulnerability.

 

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