Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Whirlwind of Two Weeks

Woah... have I actually been back for two weeks?  It's hard to believe!  It feels like I never was away yet just got back at the same time.  It's such a surreal experience.  Here's a bit of what's happened since I left Iowa two weeks ago. 

My parents and I drove to Minnesota on Sept 23 where I would be flying out from that evening.  We met up with my two friends Kelsey and Bethie for lunch and stopped by the Newman Centre where we got a pic with Pope Frances.  Loved being able to see these two before leaving the country.

Yes it happened again.  My flight was delayed and I missed my connecting flight.  I'm so used to this happening that I don't even fret when it happens. They always put me on the next flight.  Rather, I pack my essentials ready for whatever may happen.  This time, stuck in London for 4-5 extra hours, I ate lunch and found a place to take a nap with my alarm set to get to my flight on time. 

When you see the Harland and Wolff cranes you know that you're home-! I was supposed to arrive a bit after noon and instead arrived close to 6:30 in the evening.  Fortunately all my luggage arrived and my lift was waiting.  It was good to be back in Belfast. 

I've moved house this year.  Before I left, I moved my belongings into storage knowing that I was going to be moving house when I get back.  I now live with two women named Mags and Elaine. They have had so many young Christian women live with them over the years, and I am excited for this new chapter of my Belfast life.

The day after I got back, I headed back to work.  There was a volunteer residential that I was apart of.  I literally jumped back into things.  My inability to speak clearly from a lack of sleep led to much comic relief.  My jet leg came in handy when I stayed up until 5 AM with one girl who refused to go to bed and had been drinking energy drinks all day long.  And of course while I was away, my already messy desk was attacked with sticky notes.  Two weeks later, it is still not much cleaner. 

After the volunteers residential, I had the day off to sleep, organise my room, and do laundry.  It was also a sunny day, so I took my prayer time in the back garden (yard).  I was loving life. 

Because I live further away from where I use to I find myself walking a lot more while listening to podcasts.  This American Life is by far my favourite podcast right now.  Highly recommend it to anyone looking for a new podcast to listen too.  It's been great exploring new places especially near the Lagan River. 

A treasured sight from my exploration. 

The best part of being back is catching up with friends especially over delicious food! Chris may hate me for putting up this picture, but it's way too good not too. I love being able to laugh with her. 

 Settling back into Belfast life is taking a bit longer than what is usually does.  Part of that is because of all the transitions of moving house and being away longer than originally expected.  Programmes are starting up and I am still catching up on things.  October is also an extremely busy month, so I literally jumped right back into things.  I'm so grateful for my time at home in Iowa, but it's also good to be back in Belfast. This is where God has called me to, and so here I will call home.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Life In Between

I'm starting to get frustrated at little things.  The past two weeks, I've been trying to stay connected with my work in Belfast making sure that everything moves forward and is taken care of while I am away.  But the fact is that I am away so there are decisions being made that I'm not there for.  It's frustrating and yesterday I found myself getting frustrated at a coworker for not consulting me on something.  Later after thinking about it, I realised it wasn't that big of deal and actually it's a brilliant thing to be doing. I just hate not knowing what's going on and hearing about it afterwards.  She so honourably acknowledged how hard it must be being away and not being able to input into things. It was such a relief having somebody acknowledge what was going on inside of me.

Then I snapped at my dad who was trying to connect me with people here for lunch or a meeting.  I have been trying to connect with loads of people having fundraising meetings, but I was just feeling tired.  I know I don't have enough time to fully do the support raising process and that kills me too. So this internal frustration started bubbling out.

Why can't I be in two places at once?  Why can't more things be done via facetime or emails?  I live so much of my life via wifi... why can't others see the goodness of skype?

This often happens my last few days at home.  I feel the pinch.  The pinch between staying and going.   Caught in the middle trying to do fundraising and YI work at the same time while spending time with family and friends.  Caught in the middle between Iowa and Ireland.

This is my life all the time... caught in the middle between two things where neither one is fully home anymore.  Some how I need to learn how to live in the middle experiencing freedom rather than a pinching trap.  For it is in God's grace that I live in the middle- maybe more like a venn diagram rather than a pinching trap forcing me to choose one or the other.

The reality is I choose both!  I can't have one with out the other.  My heart is in both and both are home (with a bit in Minneapolis, Detroit, Sierra Leone, and my Aunt Jen's house too).  I live the life of an expat- someone who lives out of their country of origin.  I join a multitude of expats within our generation who just aren't quite sure where home is anymore.

So sometimes I get frustrated and vent to my best friends voicemail. My heart is hurting and I am trying to be peaceful enjoying my last bit of time at home with my family while rushing around finishing up things.  There are so many things that I want to do while home in the States and I am learning to be ok with the little that I do do.  As well as recognise how incredible my family is driving me around the country visiting friends, making my favourite food, and letting me beat them in cards! ;)  God is good and I am blessed that He has called me to this way of life.  Yes it's hard and challenging, but I couldn't imagine it any other way.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

"I liked your talk..."

This weekend at spoke at Holy Family Parish where I grew up attending Mass and church functions with my family. I only had 5 or so minutes to share about the work I was doing in Belfast, Northern Ireland with Youth Initiatives and to invite people to join my support team.  There are so many stories of my work and of the history of Belfast that I could have shared that I barely new where to begin.

I knew I needed a hook- something they would remember more than just "Sarah's continuing to do mission work." When I got up to speak, I asked my dad to walk in with a mirror covered with smeared dry soap.  I began my talk with "sometimes it's hard to see ourselves clearly..." I shared about situations in my life and the lives of young people that I work with making it hard to see themselves clearly- never feeling good enough, sin, lack of education, never being told I love you just to name a few.  I continued sharing that I too haven't always been able to see myself clearly, but through attending this parish and encountering God's light, love, and truth I began to see who God truly created me to be- His Beloved.

I continued to share for a couple of minute about the missionary work I do with middle and high school youth who can't see themselves clearly through our school, parish, and youth programmes sharing a story about a girl named Katie who I have journeyed alongside this past year speaking the light and love of Christ into her life.  In all the mission work I've done, I can't do it alone.  I need the prayers, support, and encouragement of so many.  I'm so blessed to have grown up in a parish that has supported my missions work so generously and faithfully.  I ended my sharing asking people to continue to support financially either through one time donation or on a monthly basis.

After Mass, I stood in the back handing out support forms and shaking hands of encouraging parishioners.  My favourite person that I talked to today was a little girl named Norah.  Doughnut in hand, she stopped by me and said "I liked your talk."  She was 10 years old, and I was intrigued by what she liked about it so I asked her "what did you like about my talk?" as we sat down so she could eat her doughnut.  "I liked the mirror part.  How your sins are still there even when you can't see them."  I was shocked by how much she picked up from what I wasn't saying as much as she was about what I was saying.  Afraid that she might think that are sins stick with us forever I asked her what she thought it meant when the mirror was being wiped off.  "It's like when Jesus takes your sins away."

Exactly!  We can't see ourselves clearly until Jesus takes our sins away.  Then we can see ourselves perfectly as Christ as created us to be.  To see ourselves clearly as He sees us clearly.

I was amazed and in awe of this little girl, and how deep her understanding of faith was.  It reminded me of how we are called to have faith as a child.  I was honored to be able to sit down with her as I met her two younger brothers Finn and Sullivan and her Mom and Dad.  I was able to share briefly about Ireland and they were able to ask questions.  I asked Norah to pray for me after giving her one of my prayer book marks, and I know she will.

I thank God for children like Norah.  I pray that their family decides to support me this year.  I need faithful people like Norah and her family who pray with childlike faith completely dependent on God.  I'm excited to continue coming back each year and build on this relationship with their family.  This is what it means to have a support team back home in Iowa.  People who will keep me accountable and support me- yes with their finances but also with their prayers, love, and encouragement.

To see more about the missionary work I am doing in Belfast or to see how you can become a supporter- check out this website!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Working from Home

I don't know why, but I absolutely love being able to work from home.  Like I really really love it.  I love the creative flow that comes from sitting on my couch and typing away.  I love being able to spread out around the house and walk around bare foot... wait I do that in work too...  I love how I can get so much done in two hours without any interruptions. I like walking to the fridge to get a snack out without wondering who it might belong too.

Sometimes in Belfast I can work from home for a couple of hours before going to lead a session at St. Colm's high school.  The school is a ten minute walk away, so why walk 20 minutes up to YI and then 30 minutes back to St. Colms in order to walk (by now I would get a taxi) 30 minutes back up.  Sometimes working from home is a time saver!

This week, I've been reminded of the joys of working from home.  After praying and seeking wisdom from Belfast peeps, I decided that I am going to stay in the States for two extra weeks.  I was feeling incredibly anxious and overwhelmed by the amount of work and fundraising I needed to do while at the same time getting a break and spending time with my family.  God in His goodness opened up doors for me to be able to stay until the end of September.  I am able to get both a taste of summer and autumn in one visit as well as work on fundraising and spend extra time with family.  Beyond excited!

But I'm not just on holiday chilling out in the States for 4.5 weeks.  I'm literally working from home and I love it!  I have "work days" and "vacay days."  Even though I am thousands of miles away from Belfast, I can sit on my computer for a couple of hours in the morning emailing and meeting with people in YI.  It's amazing!  Then in the evenings, I can meet with prospective supporters sharing the vision of what I am doing in Belfast and inviting them to be apart of my support team.

What I love best is that I'm at home, so I can take a break step outside in the sun.  Have an afternoon nap.  Read three books at once and know that I will finish them all. Drink coffee and eat buns while chatting with my mom.  It is so restorative yet I can get the things I need to get done done.

In the midst of all of this, I am reading the book "Boundaries."  What a better way to practice boundaries then when I am working thousands of miles away and I sometimes just have to shut down the computer and say "done."  This is something I am so bad at doing yet feel like I have the grace to start practicing now.  Order-  it's a good thing especially when you can practice it in a controlled environment.  Like I said, I LOVE working from home!

You may be wondering why don't I just stay.  The thing is, I can't.  As much as I love being at home in the States, I know Belfast is where I am meant to be.  I can't just work from behind a computer or sit in my house hanging with my fam.  For now it's a season, a season in which I am incredibly grateful for but a season none the less.  In this season of "Working from Home,"  I'll enjoy my afternoon naps, walks around town, movies with my mom, meetings with locals and be restored by it all.  For when I get back to Belfast, I want to hit the ground running for that's where God has placed my mission and I can't wait to get back to my other home up at YI in the heart of Poleglass.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Fruit that Remains

"Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing."  "Remain in my love."  Two summers ago, I was led to these words in the Gospel of John chapter 15 during our busy summer scheme program.  "without me you can do nothing..."  What powerful words. What truth.  What wisdom. As I began my first summer with Youth Initiatives I needed to be continually rooted and remain close to the branch of Christ.  Without Christ we can do nothing.

Each morning, I reread the words of John 15 allowing God's word to seep into my soul.
"It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain."  Fruit that will remain. I know as a missionary we often don't get the privilege to see the fruit of our labors.  There are so many stories of missionaries who were out in the field for years and years without any change or lives given over to the Lord, yet they remained faithful trusting the God who chose them.

Even though, I know this can be the case for many missionaries, I'm grateful that it is not my experience.  Rather I am blessed to see so much fruit around me.  When I begin to question my job or what I'm doing, a friend would often ask me to stop and look around seeing the fruit of my labours.  Yet I know it's not because of anything I have done, but rather what God has done in and through me.  "By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples." 

Paul says "Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth." -1 Corinthians 3.7

Over the past three years, I have seen so much growth in the lives of young people I work with.  Often I can get discouraged doing faith based work because so many people just don't care or are complacent.  Often young people don't want to change or work to improve their lives.  But I've learned that this work is a very very slow work and I have to look for "extraordinary ordinaries."  Moments that could just be overlooked, but are actually ordinary.  A softening of hearts, a moment of respect, a prayer said aloud, picking up rubbish, an honest conversation, a tear shed, responsibility taken, a question of faith, a penny dropping, a light bulb going on, etc. "Extraordinary Ordinaries" Fruit being born.  Lives being transformed.  Miracles being witnessed.  

There has been a group of girls I have poured into for the past 3 years and particularly this summer.  I've been so grateful to see hope awakened faith come alive, and fruit springing forth in them.  I asked them to share something about our time together and how they have grown.  I don't tell you these things to boast, but rather to thank God for the growth that He has caused.  I am humbled and grateful that He keeps pruning me in order that my life may bear fruit.  It isn't an easy process, but it is such a gift from God.  Because without Him we can do nothing...

From the Girls:

"I have learned from you that it's ok to struggle sometimes and find things hard to believe and ask questions a lot." 

"You're always positive and ready to go." 

"You've taught me to stop and think about my options before reacting to situations." 

"I feel comfortable confiding in you when things aren't so great and you help me to cherish life when it is going well.  You've taught me also that beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

"You've helped me grow in my faith."

Fruit that Remains... I've always loved gardening, but only God knows how and when the fruit/ veg/ flowers will grow.  He is the one who causes it to grow.  We just need to be faithful with our part- planting or weeding or tilling or watering or replanting or... we must be faithful and remain in His love for that is the only way in which we can bear fruit that remains.   We must bear fruit that remains because it is only then that we can truly be Christ's disciples- His followers- His friends but it is only by remaining in Him or else it is all for nothing. "Remain in me as I remain in you... I am the vine, and you are the branches." 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Beauty in the Mess

Often in my youth work in Youth Initiatives we speak about getting into the messes of life with young people.  It's often challenging, tricky, and painful and most of the time... messy.  The thing about messes though is we really much prefer to hide our messes.  People don't want others to see the mess of their lives or necessarily be in the messes of others.  Thats why we are often professional "small talkers."  Take enough interest that you care, but not too much because you don't want to get into the mess of other people's lives.  We would hate to intrude or anything.

And whenever anybody is coming over for a dinner or a cup of tea, we are quick to tidy up our house and throw things into our "junk drawer" or that "spare bedroom" in which no one should ever dare to enter unless they are wiling to risk bodily harm from a possible avalanche of random stuff.

Growing up, my dad would always tell me a story about whenever my Uncle David and him were kids no matter what the activity was- my Uncle David would always get dirtier than him.  Even if they were doing the exact same thing. He would of course be telling me this when I was trying to bake cookies and the kitchen was covered with egg, flour, sugar, butter etc...

I'm a bit of a messy person.  I like the sprawl out wherever I am.  I was at a friends house for dinner last night for no more than 2 hours and when it came time to leave, I had to find my coat in one room and a scarf in the other.  Often, my shoes are also in another location of the house.  Being tidy and orderly is not my natural talents.  I love the order of chaos.  I think in some ways thats why I don't mind being in the messes of young people.

My first year of living in Belfast, God taught me the importance of seeing beauty in the midst of chaos/ messes.  I was being prayed with and there was a tornado of "stuff" in my minds eyes distracting me from the prayer time.  I took a deep breath and asked God what it meant.  While all these things were spinning around me, we walked together and in the middle of a pile of stuff there was a little flower- just for me! I realised that don't have to have everything in my life figured out or organised but that God could help me find beauty and order in the middle of the mess if only I remain close to Him.

This has been a great practice in my life that I have tried to strive for- to find beauty in the messes.  Whether this be my life, my desk at work, the city i live in, or the people I share life with, I try to see the beauty (particularly what God sees as beautiful) in the midst of the mess and chaos.  I'm by no means perfect at it, but I am striving for it.  Sometimes when life feels a bit overwhelming and I don't know what to do, I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and God shows me the flowers in the midst of it.  May I never forget to look for the beauty in the messes.

In the midst of a busy week of school retreats, my desk became a "catch all" and bit of a mess.
Yet I smiled each time I worked at it because of the flowers a friend brought me. :) 

My Provisional License

According to Google "provisional" means "arranged or existing for the presen
t, possibly to be changed later."

A couple of weeks ago, I received my UK provisional licenses (learners permit).  I've been dragging my feet about doing this for over a year, but decided that it was finally time!  This spring has brought about a lot of internal change for me, especially in regards to how I view my life in Belfast.  There are too many things on my "maybe one day" to do list and it's time to start checking things off.

Belfast is where God has me for the foreseeable future.  Rather than continually questioning WHY or HOW LONG will I be here- it's time to just live life to the full in the place that God has planted me.  It's a bit of a mind shift, but I am excited for the change in the air.

Last Monday, I had my first driving lesson, and it went really well.  I have loads of studying to do for the theory test in which I will be taking in two weeks.  Yes the rules of the road a bit different from America.  It's time to stop moaning about my 11 years of driving experience and focus more on learning how to drive stick shift (manual) on the other side of the road.

I have a few friends who have studied linguistics and are fascinated with the roots and origins of words.  The root of "provisional" is "provision" or "to provide for."  I think of all the ways God has provided for me my entire life but especially while living in Belfast.  I don't know what my future entails, but I do trust that God will provide for me.  Unlike my provisional licenses- He won't be changing.  So in this world of change I am truly secure and provided for.  It makes trying new things and taking leaps of faith easier.

As much as relearning how to drive feels like taking a step backwards, I really know it's massively move forward in my life in Belfast and the growth God is doing in me.  I hope to not have my provisional licenses long but I am excited for the learning I will do while having it.