As you can see, this is a map of New Zealand. It encompasses two islands and its really far away. As of the 16th February this is where you can find me, on the South Island in a town called Oamaru. Perhaps, the surrounding bodies of water will feel familiar to me as I have spent most of my life already living on a little island.
Some of you who know me might laugh at the title of this post…
One because its a reference to The Hobbit and although I have found hours of entertainment derived from this book, I am not the fan that you will find shrouded in elven jewellery; quoting one of the many languages that Tolkien invented (that is some commitment might I add, like seriously, who has time for that?!). Two, because it may cause some to wonder how it can be so unexpected when you have heard me talk about the desire to go here on occasion. Therefor, I would like to take the time to explain more of how the opportunity to go and live here came about…
As goes the title, the unexpected is always something that is bound to happen in our lives. This past year, I did not anticipate returning to the town I grew up in. I did not expect that what was suppose to be a week of subbing would turn into two and then three, and ironically even as I write this blog, I am still subbing in this school. I could not predict that I would get to know people who would hurt me but also the beauty of those whose investment will be most treasured for years to come! With all that has happened over the past twelve months, I did not expect to experience both sadness and joy and to learn and grow in the ways that I did. Neither did I also expect the opportunity that was about to arrive at my doorstep.
Have you ever experienced those times in life where it is at a standstill but you have this strange feeling that something major is around the corner? When I returned to my hometown, I’m pretty sure I told every person that I came into contact with ‘This is only a transitional period. Its temporary. T-E-M-P-O-R-A-R-Y!!!’ I think my reason for reciting this so much was more for myself and it usually came with a side of slight fear wondering ‘what if it isn’t?’. But everything surpassed my imagination for the better and it wasn’t so bad as I would have thought. Actually, I have a lot to be thankful for and that indeed is another subject worthy of a post. For the year that it was, I knew it wouldn’t be that way for very long and all of the things that I experienced lead to this point. It is too often that I am reminded that I don’t know everything and that I am not in control of everything. So when we enter into these times of transition, it is very encouraging to remind ourselves that even though we may not know what will happen by the end of the day, that the Lord is always at work behind the scenes! It can be easy to look back and understand more about why things may have unfolded in the way that they did. Hindsight is great. But when you are in it, it is one of the toughest places and the rubber really hits the road in regards to how much you believe that God is trustworthy. This is why I want to share some on the lead up so that it can encourage us that God is always at work and because, for me, it removes coincidence from the picture and doubt from the decision made.
The months previous were filled with a constant seeking for answers of what was next for me and processing all that surrounded me at the time. It was especially after the summer, that I began to pray about God wanting me to take a step back from teaching and perhaps going into some kind of ministry or missions. I didn’t know if it was to be something short term or longer. I enjoy teaching and am certainly in the early stages of it, but I began to see a shift in my desire to be in the classroom when I was missing out to take part in activities at my church. If you would have told me a year ago that this was my thinking then I probably would have laughed in unbelief! I didn’t feel like a ‘typical Christian’ but then again that was probably me looking at what others might say following Christ looks like and not studying what the Bible says about it or understanding what it actually may be. So in between teaching, I began to casually research, I looked at organisations throughout Europe in particular and had a browse through programmes that involved sharing your faith through Art. I knew that God had been teaching me about having more confidence in gifts that He has given me and I also know that He uses our personalities, background and skills in whatever He will have us do. Amongst all the options, the thing that I most wanted was to know that it wasn’t just me making all the decisions but I wanted to be certain that it was where God was directing me. I asked on several occasions if God would prompt someone to contact me with an opportunity and I don’t know why I was surprised when this actually happened.
With all of these thoughts swirling through my mind, I had the idea to go away for a few weeks and think through them, as perhaps being out of the usual environment would provide some clarity. The one major place on my list to go was New Zealand. Because it is so far away, I began debating in my head when would be a good time to travel and what was I to do in the mean time. I knew a family who lived out there and I decided that it would be a good idea to contact them and simply feel the waters about the idea of coming out for a little visit. However, before I ever made that contact, I really believed that God was telling me to wait and not do anything. Not to contact them, not to make a decision on what to do next. Just wait. Not something I really wanted to hear but something that I know I needed to do ( or not to do!).
Shortly after, I hit a particularly difficult week. Ever have those times when it seems as if all is crumbling around you and what is ahead is as clear as a mudded puddle? Yeah, that is exactly what was happening the week before things were about to change. I was at the point where I felt stripped of everything that I could possibly identify with and feeling like desires I had for my life were not being met. The hardest part was experiencing the stark contrast of those around me who were entering into those things and I was left asking ‘Where does this leave me now?’. A particular verse kept popping up in the things that I was reading and listening to. It’s found in Jeremiah 33.3 and it says :
Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.
My response? ‘ I am calling to you. Do you hear me? When will you answer me? How are you going to show me these unsearchable things?’ Within a few days of putting these thoughts to paper, I received a message from Amanda (my friend in New Zealand). I had to smile as it had been a while since we have spoken and yet she had been on my mind lately. It was a casual message enquiring how I was doing and because of the 13 hour time difference, I replied quickly saying that I will update her as soon as possible. Less than 24 hours later, I received another message from her and in it she presented me with an opportunity to live there and serve in the church that she works and attends. That same day, I came across Jeremiah 33.3 and I remember writing down, that maybe I was about to find out what was next. I asked for a little time to think and prayed that God would confirm this decision to go by giving me that verse in the next few days as I go about my reading. Within the next week, it did come across in an entire chapter of a book I was reading about being called to ministry and it was then that I believed the Lord was directing me to do this.(Primarily I will be helping out with the youth but I plan to post more details about what I will be doing there soon! I simply wanted to share the build up to this decision for now.)
When I now gaze back on those few months of thinking that were veering towards full-time ministry and even visiting New Zealand, it warms my heart to know that God was working behind the scenes with those very things!!! And He had me not do anything but seek Him and wait for His answer. He has provided in so many ways with a place to live, car to drive and people to serve along with. I don’t know all the answers to what’s around the corner but I know that He is with me and will take care of me. I know that my struggles of feeling inadequate at times will remind me that His strength is made perfect in my weaknesses. (2 Corinthians 12.9) And I also know that in those times of feeling alone that Never will I leave you or forsake you. (Hebrews 13.5) Those are such great promises for us all!
I’m going to end this post on those reminders, or else I could include other related thoughts that could distract us from the point. He is always at work. Trust! It’s not easy sometimes but it’s worth it! I hope this has encouraged you.
…And I suppose it would only be apt to end with a little quote from Tolkien:
Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.
Below are some photos from a little farewell luncheon