Snapshots Of The Rollercoaster: The Change

If you need to catch up:

Part 1: Snapshots Of The Rollercoaster: Introduction

Part 2: Snapshots Of The Rollercoaster: So How Did You Two Meet??!

Part 3: Snapshots Of The Rollercoaster: The Next Stage Of ‘Us’

Part 4: Snapshots Of The Rollercoaster: Another Stage Of ‘Us’

 

I was confused.  We are so different and I had no idea if that was a strength or a weakness.  I was trying to walk trusting God but I didn’t know where anything was going and it scared me.  I was swinging from one decision to another daily – to end it or not – and my emotions were in a right proper mess.

I wonder if I’m taking my eyes off You and getting swallowed by the wind and the waves, Lord.  You have brought me this far for a reason.  I can’t presume to know what that reason is right now.  Lord, please give me the courage to walk this one step at a time with You.  And to be honest with Joel. (diary excerpt)

The thing is, I knew Joel was an amazing guy.  That wasn’t in doubt by this point.  I knew enough of him to know he’d make an amazing husband to some girl.

But I didn’t know if I was that girl and I was petrified to lead him on.

That fear was causing me to hold back.  And the fact that the image I had in my head of my future husband did not correspond with Joel at all.  The thing is, I had no idea if the ideal in my head was strong enough to build a relationship on or whether it was purely superficial and, actually, someone like Joel would work far better with me.  He fit so well into our family, even my sisters got along with him (and they’re the hardest ones to convince).

So August crept by and I kept mulling over our meeting.

(Yes, in case you hadn’t figured it out by now: I overthink everything.)

By the end of August, I’m beginning to go, “hmm, I could fall in love with this man.”

By the beginning of September, I desperately want it to work.  I realised we’d somehow become best friends, that he knew me better than most, that I wanted to be swept off my feet.  I wanted to fall in love with this man.  I wanted to move forward, I wanted to be able to say “Hi, meet Joel, my boyfriend.”  I wanted my name to be coupled with his.  I wanted us to grow closer.  I wanted us to merge into the team I was becoming pretty convinced would be a good one.  I knew when I loved a man, it would be complete, 100%, for life.  And I knew that Joel was one of my best friends.  I knew I could talk to him about anything.  My fear was what if we went out and it didn’t work and I ended up with a broken heart and losing my best friend.  I didn’t want that.

I want to be his and this whole thing could just really really hurt if it doesn’t work but I want to risk it…I am going to say yes to this man, we are going to fall in love and there is always the potential one or both of us decides it’s not going to work and we have to walk away.  I don’t want that.  His heart was broken once, I don’t want to be the one to do it a second time.  Really, really don’t.  If this isn’t the right path, Father, if we aren’t right for each other, please yank us back now.  Right now.  It’ll hurt now but that will be nothing to the pain of breaking up later.  Oh, I don’t want us to break up.  I want us to start going out, fall in love, get engaged, get married and live life together.  Was I just that plain?!!?!?  I’ve shocked even myself!! (diary excerpt)

Quite a sea change…and it’s only beginning!

Carried on at: Snapshots Of The Rollercoaster: Saying Yes (The First Time)

Snapshots Of The Rollercoaster: Another Stage Of ‘Us’

Previous posts…

Part 1: Snapshots Of The Rollercoaster: Introduction

Part 2: Snapshots Of The Rollercoaster: So How Did You Two Meet??!

Part 3: Snapshots Of The Rollercoaster: The Next Stage Of ‘Us’

August 2012:

***

[Becky]

So I’m feeling sick.  And worried.  And praying like I’ve rarely prayed before.

And he arrives.

Relief that I’m able to speak at all.

Disbelief that I’ve got myself into this situation.

Awkwardness like I’ve never known before.

Man.

And he’s arrived.  I probably behaved proper ice-princess or something.  I don’t know.  It seemed ok, but more because of him than me, to be honest.  And I wasn’t expecting this: I genuinely like him.  More than I was expecting.  Like, like him.  So definitely not an automatic ‘no’. (diary excerpt)

I’d hoped that by the end of those four days, I’d have known what was happening.

No such luck.

Didn’t help that I was planning to go away and serve on team at a Christian camp and so was getting ready for that.We got on well, I wanted a friendship with him, but the idea of putting us and marriage on the same page?  No.  I wasn’t there yet.

I had tried to break myself away from the idea of an ‘ideal’ in my head but it was still lurking and a blonde English coastguard was not it.

(This is perhaps the one piece of advice I’d take away from our story: don’t necessarily expect your ‘the One’ to come in the skin you were expecting.  The rest of our story – it’s our story.  I’m not advocating pursuing it, I’m merely giving you a glimpse of how God can, and does, work.  But this idea: don’t get too caught up in your ideal.  Because I look back at my diary and you wouldn’t believe the prayers and dreams Joel has answered but not in the way I was expecting.  He hadn’t considered adopting, has never had anything to do with special needs, his church background is different…so many things.  But he treats my sisters with dignity and well (tick), he makes me laugh (tick), he forces me to reconsider things I’ve always believed and check what the Bible says (tick), he’s way more relaxed than I am (tick), he melts my heart (tick)…and the ticks just keep going on.)

Anyway, onwards…

[Joel]

Well, I’d spent a few days with her, and there wasn’t anything dreadful and glaring that had come out to end the relationship. Still rather quiet and things were still a tad awkward between us, but that wasn’t greatly surprising really, considering everything. The thing was, not only was I not her ideal “one”, but she definitely didn’t tick many of the boxes I’d gradually compiled into this imagined picture of who my wife would be. Blonde. English. Avid musician who liked playing duets. Quiet and a slightly introverted. Sharing similar tastes in food, music, reading, films, clothing etc. Homeschooled, and determined to homeschool. Reformed Baptist, or at least from a church background similar to what I grew up in. A bit geeky, you know, into sci-fi and willing to give re-enactment a go. Convinced that beards are best. Shorter than me, but not significantly. Younger than me, but not significantly, although that wouldn’t be a problem as I’d be marrying quite young myself.

The list probably goes on. Those are the ones that come to mind at the moment. Reading through it, I’m struck at how quite a lot of those things are mirrors of me. And how many of them aren’t Becky. And how that doesn’t matter at all now.

God is a creator. He doesn’t follow formulae. He delights in being creative. Yes, there are many happy marriages in which the spouses are so similar in almost every way, and there are many in which you’ve never seen two completely opposite people, yet God takes both those sets of people and forms them into a family unit through which great and mighty service is done for Him and those touched by that family. So here we are, Becky and I, very much not meeting many of the “ideals” I had in my head, but if God wills, and Becky says yes some day, we’ll see if the three of us can’t take all those differences and opposites and incompatibilities and mould them into something that God can take and use in ways that we just can’t imagine at the moment.

Let’s see:

Blonde?  Nope.  Joel and I have an ongoing debate as to whether it’s black (it’s not – it’s dark brown, fyi).

English?  Nope.  Never.  Let’s just say I wear a Welsh rugby shirt and leave it at that…

Avid musician who liked playing duets?  Well, I think I get 0.25 of a point here.  I love music, can’t live without it and do play the harp and piano.  For me though, music is an escape into my own little world.  So not a duet fan.

Quiet? *dies choking* No.

Slightly introverted?  Hmm, maybe a few days a year?  At a push???

Similar tastes in:

Food?  Well, we both like Mexican…ok, ok, so I’m a health food nut (plus cheese and baking) and was vegetarian to boot.  He considers any meal bettered by adding meat and/or fat.  So 0.125 of a point??

Music?  We overlap on some rap.  Some.

Reading?  We both like sci-fi.  And war stories.  He won’t touch my beloved classics.

Films?  Animation and sci-fi, yeah, we’re doing ok here.

Clothing?  Ahem.  I’m the girl who considers hoodies part of uniform or pj wear.  Not. every. day. wear.  And I live in jeans.  And love dressing up.  And Joel…yeah, kinda doesn’t…

Homeschooled?  YES!  At last.  Well, for half of my schooling…

And determined to homeschool?  Hmm.  Maybe.  I’ll decide nearer the time.

Similar church background?  No.  And no.

A bit geeky?  I have no idea…am I?!?  I like Star Trek and Sherlock – that makes me a geek, doesn’t it?

Willing to give re-enactment a go?  Sure, if they give me a nice long flowing dress…and a PROPER sword made of metal.  And a bow and arrow. (I still think it’s totally weird though.)

Convinced beards are the best?  Nope, no, absolutely not (although Joel’s won me around to his).

Shorter than him?  YES!

Younger than him?  YES!  Does 5 years count as significantly?!

I think I’ve proved the point.

Not. Me. At. All.

And yet the story goes on…

I can see people looking worried at this point, wondering why we’re still together, wondering how on earth there’s a future in this.  But most of those?  They’re externals.  I hope when we actually look at each other beyond the exterior, we can see more.

Continued with: Snapshots Of The Rollercoaster: The Change

Snapshots Of The Rollercoaster: The Next Stage Of ‘Us’

If you need to catch up, here’s Part 1: Snapshots Of The Rollercoaster: Introduction and Part 2: Snapshots Of The Rollercoaster: So How Did You Two Meet??!

And so the next stage, written about…18 months ago…Wow, what a lot has happened!!!

***

[Becky]

Already, a year on, everything is starting to get a little blurry.  It’s funny – you’d have thought with a story this important, every single detail and thought would be firmly imprinted on my mind.  But it doesn’t appear to have happened that way.  Oh, sure, some things are (I’d defy any girl to forget the first time she held hands with a man, or heard him say he loved her) but the minute detail of everything that happened – that’s fading.  Which is one reason I’m so grateful I started writing back then, just after we’d become an ‘official couple’, rather than now.  I’ll admit it would be quite easy now to think how simple it all was.  After all, with hindsight, God’s plan is so clear I doubt we’d have ever managed to miss it.

But I wrote those blog posts before hindsight had managed to cloud my memory and before I fell head over heels in love with Joel.  And I’m glad I did because the story, and articles, I’d write now would be very different.

Yet, at the moment, we’ve only updated you all as far as Joel sending that first, life-changing, completely shocking email.  Rather than try and remember what happened next, I’ve gone back in my diary.  And, well, you’ll see how much prayer and worry (yes, they should be oxymorons, I know!) went into the next few months!

So an email arrives with the words ‘courtship’ and ‘marriage’ in it.

From a guy I barely knew.

And my poor dad was still in bed when I came in with a printed copy and handed it to him in silence.  To which he calmly replied “I was expecting something like this”.

To which I replied, “WHAT??!?!!?!??!?!”

I will admit (or at least, my diary admits) that I’d been praying either this guy would stop commenting on my Facebook status’ or he would step forward:  You’d have thought by now I’d have learnt to be careful about what I pray for.  So I prayed that if anything was to come from Joel it would be before I went away.  Ok, so a part of me is wishing I hadn’t prayed that now ‘cause maybe everything would have coasted along nicely then.  Well, You already know that – knew everything that was going to happen.  It’s still knocked me back.  An email suggesting a courtship….I can’t say a straight no but neither am I convinced…I can’t imagine – why me?!  Well, Lord, I’ve got my answer – what happens now???

Yes, a girl who clearly knew her mind…riiiiiiiiight…

And this is where it all starts nicely merging into chaos.  I am an independent, stubborn girl but this threw me into panic and I turned to my parents.  I am so impressed that they didn’t just step in and declare this was absolutely not going to happen.  They didn’t know Joel at all – all that had happened was a guy discovered their daughter on the internet and started talking to her then followed it up with the suggestion of A Relationship.  So they asked what I wanted to do.

I prayed.

And I mean prayed.

There was no peace about just saying “No, nothing doing.  Sorry.  Bye.”  But neither did I feel a courtship with a man I barely knew was ever an option.  I wasn’t in love with him.  I wasn’t even a good friend of his.  How were we supposed to build a dating relationship out of that??

So Mum, Dad and I had several deep conversations and decided to see what on earth Joel meant and how he intended to do it.  And my initial response, let’s see where this leads.  Still not feeling a no so I’ll walk down this path as long as You lead me down it.  Lord, we’re all seeking Your will in this and I’m asking, please, make it clear.  I wanted what God wanted.  If this crazy idea was somehow a part of His plan, I wasn’t walking away from it.

[Joel]

  I should probably say that I am not a diarist, so my writing is based on memories, and therefore less detailed, as well as probably less accurate.

So… what does a fellow do after sending an email to a girl asking if she’s interested in a relationship with him?

He waits. And prays. And waits. And prays. But mostly waits.

Every time he opens his computer up and checks his email, he’s worried that she won’t have responded yet, but paradoxically terrified that she will have.

She didn’t reply.

Oh no.

Her dad did.

“Hi Joel, can we talk???” You can imagine the general gist of it.

Looking back – how my parents had the faith to let me walk forward, I have no idea.  It must have been God.  Because it doesn’t make sense.  It really doesn’t.

I then set off for Kiev to visit my best friend and tried to forget about it all (whilst my parents and Joel carried on talking).  I went out with the idea I’d come back knowing what to do.  I came back still as clueless as ever but convinced God had some plan in it.  What that plan was – well, I couldn’t wait to find out!!

So, I talked to Andy and Heather. By email, or rather many emails. Over the course of the next couple of months Becky’s parents and I sent each other a lot of emails, asked a lot of questions, and got to know a lot about each other. And of Becky herself – the girl in question – there was no trace. Not a peep did I hear from her. 

So picture the scenario. Lonely single guy has plucked up the courage to approach female, and she’s disappeared off the scene and been replaced by looming parents. Disaster!

Or not.

To me, that was probably the result I hoped for most – it showed that Becky was a girl who respected her parents’ opinions and appreciated the love and care they had for her, and that her parents were worthy of that respect and were going to protect her interests and her heart. If I’d had a straight no, I’d have been disappointed, of course, but if I’d had an immediate yes, I think I might have been more worried that perhaps my impressions of Becky as a sensible, mature, godly girl were not as accurate as I thought. So we exchanged a lot of emails, and eventually, when Becky returned from her exile in the Ukraine, she knew a fair bit about me already, and we were able to start, admittedly hesitantly (and amusingly stiltedly, looking back), building up a friendship-plus.

 Emails flew back and forward and I tried to raise every single objection I could think of (of why he wouldn’t want a relationship with me).  I thought I’d finally managed it when I sent one calmly (or not) stating that I felt clearly called to adopt or foster.  I was not handling him with kid gloves, that’s for sure.  I didn’t want to gain this man on false pretences.  Anything I thought could come between us, I raised it, sure that I’d scare him off.

And I failed.

I may have scared him, but I didn’t scare him off.

We just chatted on Facebook, sent each other fairly regular emails, and just talked about everything and anything as it came to mind. Deep future related things, silly shallow things, and everything in between. We discovered that we had a fair few shared tastes, and a lot of opposites too. And yes, quite often things came up in chat that, if I’m honest, wouldn’t have been part of my “planned” future. Like the idea of adoption. Like caring for family members with SEN. Like having to be very careful about what was said when Wales was playing in the 6 Nations. However, there was nothing that was a no-no. There was nothing that clashed with where I believed God was leading me. There was no reason why the family I wanted shouldn’t involve adoption or fostering. There was no reason (outside of my own total lack of experience and terror of getting it wrong) why caring for SEN kids wasn’t something God had for me to do (especially if I was marrying someone who had the experience I lacked). There was no reason why we couldn’t watch the Welsh-English rugby matches in different rooms…

Thinking about the whole situation – there was no reason why I should have initially have spotted the infamous post about Mexican food, or why it should have caused me to look again at this girl I barely knew, or why I should then have not been able to get her out of my head, or why she or her parents should have given me a second thought and ever said yes to this relationship. There was nothing to stop me getting a bit scared of the whole idea, deciding that this whole idea would be more trouble than it was worth, and bowing out more or less gracefully, apart from a growing and unignorable attraction to a girl I was learning more about and a real belief that this was perhaps the plan God had for me, and that I should pursue further and see where He led me. I wasn’t in love yet. I hadn’t even met her face to face since the first email – all I had to go on was what I knew from Facebook and emails. The picture painted by that was certainly a good one, but we couldn’t really go about progressing from being glorified pen-pals until one of us visited the other.

 So months of emailing and eventually my parents tentatively suggested we actually met up (which we had done once before – about three years previously at a houseparty where we’d got on well but Joel had been interested in another girl then so obviously, no sparks).  Of course, I’d known we’d eventually have to meet up but honestly?  I felt sick about it.  I mean, what if we got on great by email and didn’t face-to-face?  But for all that, I wanted to meet up because I was beginning to feel my guard slip and I didn’t want to fall for him on paper and not be able to love the actual man.

A date was set: Wednesday, 8th August, 2012.

So waiting for him to arrive and trying very hard to curb the temptation to run and hide somewhere.  I know, how cowardly, right?  I was being so calm an’ all but right now I’m a nervous wreck…

My poor sister had to convince me that running off to my hills was not going to help.  How Joel felt driving to the home of a girl he’d met once and yet had asked out…I can’t imagine!

It was something that had to be done, so I just got on and did it. 243 miles due west as the crow flies (by complete coincidence, although Becky’s house was 243 miles west of mine, it was only about 120 metres north). After a 6 hour drive, I arrived at the house, and this very nervous girl greeted me. We ate dinner together, and she stared out the window the whole time, and barely said a word apart from the traditional “how was your journey” kind of thing. Don’t worry though – things got better.

And writing this down, I’m even more amazed how it’s worked. It’s crazy.  It shouldn’t have worked!  Yet God’s hand is so clear in guiding us this far.  It had to be Him.  There is zero other way it could have happened.  Why did I put that comment up on Mexican food?  Why did it stick with Joel?  Why didn’t I say an outright no when he sent that email?  Why didn’t my dad get the shotgun out and start polishing it…? (ok, maybe not the last one).   I dunno – he may not have got the shotgun out, but I was invited to go and help cut some trees down with him. Still not sure if I was helping him or being shown that this man had a chainsaw and knew how to use it…  So many whys.  So many reasons it shouldn’t have worked.

But it did.

God has proved, yet again, that His plans are not our plans and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.  Basically, He’s just proved Himself sovereign, again.  In case we ever doubted.

Continued in Part 4: Snapshots Of The Rollercoaster: Another Stage Of ‘Us’

Snapshots Of The Rollercoaster: So How Did You Two Meet??!

Here’s the introduction in case you missed it: Snapshots Of The Rollercoaster: Introduction

Joel and I shared yet another eye rolling moment this week when someone asked us how we met.  After two months of marriage, I still have to giggle at how God worked it all out.  Definitely not conventional.  Definitely creative.  And definitely a rollercoaster!

So how did we meet?  Well…

***

[Becky]

We live across the country from each other (like, draw a line from one coast to the opposite), we haven’t been best friends for years and I think God has a crazy sense of humour!!

For a girl who is so anti online-dating, how did we really meet?  Well, Facebook, sort of.  As in, we were at the same house-party three years ago which, somehow, meant we were friends on fb (have a feeling I may have added him along with a bunch of other people).  Friends on Facebook meaning: we knew the name, we knew the updates, we totally didn’t know the person. [Edit: to be fair, our families had vaguely known each other since I was a young teen but Joel and I never really met properly.]

My mum always warned me I didn’t know who could be reading my updates but I rather naively assumed all people I’d friended were friends and it never even crossed my mind that ‘boys’ could be looking at it!  So a year ago, I put up a completely normal “cooking tex-mex for tea” post, not thinking anything about it.  He commented on it, I answered, and we had a teasing conversation but I’d trained my mind so well, it never even crossed it that he might be interested.  Seriously!!!  And this bantering conversation continued for a few weeks.  So a few weeks of a guy (who I had previously talked to maybe once a year) commenting on just about everything I put up.

And I didn’t twig!

So eventually my best friend goes, “who is this guy?” and I explained who he was.  “No, I mean, why is he commenting on everything you put up?  Is there something going on between you?”  Well, of course there wasn’t!  But I was beginning to think it a little unusual so when she suggested I mention it to my parents, I did.  And Mum and Dad took one look at it all and inwardly freaked out, I think!!

[Joel]

I like Mexican food. Get that fact in your head, for it is key to everything.

How does a man go about finding the woman he’s going to marry? That is a question which has troubled nigh on every male of our species since about the third generation of life on earth.

It’s obvious, surely! You find a girl you’re friendly with that you have a bit of a crush on, and ask her if she’s also interested and would like to start a relationship or something. Easy, innit.

Yeah, tried that, didn’t work.

You’ll now of course be saying what a numpty I was – everybody knows that you approach the girl’s father, get his approval, then speak to the girl, see if she says yes, go through a proper courtship, get engaged, and bob’s your uncle.

Yeah, tried that, didn’t work.

Anybody got any suggestions? Nope? Me neither. So I gave up and went on Facebook. After a year or so, I spotted a fellow appreciator of Mexican food posting about what she was cooking. Intrigued, I paid a little more attention to her page. Ok, when I say I paid a little more attention, I do actually mean that I commented and posted slightly rabidly on her page for about 2 weeks until concerned friends and parents recommended that she should perhaps take a break from Facebook until this strange boy left her alone again. 

Hello, I’m Joel’s thought process. I’m going to be over here providing commentary on what was going on inside Joel’s head during this whole episode. Now, it’s an unfortunate and possibly unhealthy state of affairs that many young men, when they get to a certain age, start to evaluate all girls as potential marriage partners. Obviously, the vast majority are rapidly dismissed from what I shall call “the list” as ineligible for reasons of being too old or young, being already spoken for, being not of the same faith, or any of a legion of other reasons, most a lot shallower than those just listed. There are the particular few, however, who remain on the list and are therefore worthy of further and deeper inspection. Often this reveals things which put a fellow off or make him reconsider the lady in question, moving her further down the list or even completely off it. The two week period of crazy posting, however overdone and unnecessary that was, was also a period where I couldn’t find any reason that this Mexican food cooker shouldn’t be on my list. It is a fact well worth noting, ladies and gentlemen, that you can often tell an awful lot about a person from their Facebook page. And when I say awful, I use that word deliberately. As a wise man once said, or possibly as I recently saw on some web comic, “I used to think that if I ever got a superpower, I’d want the ability to read minds. Then Facebook came along and I got my wish”. Anyway, I’ll let me get on with the story again. 

Where was I? Yes, so suddenly this girl who I was starting to get pally with disappeared, and my budding attempt at building a working friendship was nipped in, well, itself. 

At first I thought maybe she’d gone on holiday or something, but as time went past and she never reappeared, I began to suspect the true state of affairs – she, or someone close to her, had figured me out as a conniving potential suitor and recommended the silent treatment to scare me off. I was quite impressed, actually. Such a state of affairs indicated that either she was a sensible girl who didn’t want attention from any old bloke, or that she had parents who were concerned and wise for her well-being, both of which possibilities actually improved my opinion of her, thus having a completely opposite effect to that actually intended. 

However, I was never going to get anywhere if I couldn’t talk to this girl, was I?  But as my attempt at a subtle (!) approach had been busted, I decided to also back off, and take time out to pray over the situation and talk it through with my parents.  After this, there wasn’t much left for me to do but try the straightforward frontal assault technique. So I nailed my colours to the mast, and fired off a message which, summarised, said “I know this is totally out of the blue, but how’s about me and you, then?” 

Ooooh, what a nasty place to stop the story, eh? But as I’m posting here, you can probably figure out what happened? Answers on a postcard to “I Can Figure Out How to Courtship”, BBC Television Centre, London. Did I just reveal my age there?

Pretty needless to say, that email took me COMPLETELY by surprise (as in, literally nearly fainted when I got it!).  I still didn’t think he was interested and whilst I’d taken the weeks off Facebook as those older and wiser (or just wiser, with my best friend 😉 ) suggested, I thought they were making a mountain out of a molehill!!

A relationship just wasn’t in my plans for the next few years.  I’d gone through the ‘I want to get married young’ part to the ‘I am full and complete in Christ – let’s get on with life’ philosophy.  I had enough to keep me busy for quite a few years (or lifetimes, as my sweet boyfriend pointed out recently).  Boys did not feature heavily in those plans unless they were under 12 and had special needs!  Plus I knew enough about him (so I thought – a whole new blog post on that another time!) to assume he wouldn’t be interested in a girl like me.

I was mildly interested when my best friend asked me where things stood between us but quickly stamped that out.  So when I crept back onto Facebook again after my break, it was cautiously but not with any real expectations.  And sure enough, he pretty much didn’t comment on anything.  We were back to normal.  Time to get on with life again.

Yeah.

Heaven was laughing, I’m sure.

I laugh when I read my diary again.

I seriously had absolutely no. idea. at. all.

I’m getting on with life, I’m happy, I’m mega busy and I get that email.

If we’re being honest here, my initial thought was “Oh no!  How do I say no nicely?”

I wasn’t desperate for a husband and I was convinced I was not the girl he thought I was.  I knew he had a broken relationship in the past and the idea of hurting him again – no, I didn’t even want to attempt that road.

I got that email about 11 at night and my parents had already gone to bed and I couldn’t quite figure out how to tell my best friend…!  So I prayed through that night and (somehow) God instilled in me the knowledge that (somehow, crazily) this was a part of a plan and I wasn’t to say no before I’d thought it through and brought my parents on board.  I still didn’t think it would work and had absolutely no expectations of anything.

Yeah.  Romantic, ain’t it?  Not.  But sometimes, I’ve discovered, romance isn’t Hollywood style.  Sometimes it takes time, work and a surrendered will.  And looking back, seeing God’s fingerprints, you realise how much bigger a picture of romance He has over ours. (And sometimes, it’s a card with words that melt you, and meeting someone’s gaze across the room, and walking hand-in-hand, and all the rest.)

I’m going to close part one of our story with this: don’t confine God’s romance to Hollywood standards.  I remember reading an article where they asked married women what the most romantic thing their husband had done for them was.  The answers were beautiful but totally not Hollywood: he held my hair and the bowl as I threw up for five months of pregnancy; he gives me a hug when I’m just about to give up; he still kisses me good morning, twenty years on…

I wasn’t ‘in love’ with him when I got that email.  I hadn’t been secretly pining away for him for years.  It wasn’t even what I had planned.  But looking back, seeing God’s fingerprints, His love shines through.  And shines through the life of the man who sent me a Valentine.

And THAT is totally romantic!

Continued in: Snapshots Of The Rollercoaster: The Next Stage Of ‘Us’

Me, a Role Model??!

The idea of role models was always something I thought I’d grow into as I grew older. 10 year old me thought I’d be one by 16; 16 year old me thought I’d be one by 18; 18 year old me…and the time never quite arrived where I thought “oh yeah, I’m now old enough to be a role model.”

I don’t think of myself as someone that important in the general scheme of things, certainly not the idea someone would actually be watching me.

But they are.
Someone’s watching you too.

Girls need girls.
It’s really that simple.
And the actions and words of other girls can boost or tear down so incredibly powerfully.

I’m not a model, politician, superwoman…so many things I’m not.
But I am setting an example.

I overheard my sister the other day and grinned ’cause the exact words and tone she was using to instruct someone were mine.
I also overheard my other sister call herself stupid a few days ago. The exact words and tone were mine. I winced.
I went into school and caught a girl watching as I put lipstick on and the wry face I was about to make at the mirror froze.

I may not be a model but I want to show I’m comfortable in myself.
I’m not a politician but aren’t I telling the kids they have a voice and need to speak out? So why am I not modelling it?
I’m not superwoman but hey, I can actually do a lot of stuff. I can do them well too.

The point is, girls, regardless of age, we’re being watched.
And we have a responsibility.
If I want to encourage my girls to be confident in their own skin, to love their uniqueness – well, doesn’t that mean I stop pulling myself down in front of them? Admit I have failings but am not a failure? Actually like the fact my hair is thick and grows faster than grass instead of moaning about it?
What if every word I spoke to myself facing the mirror got copied by another girl? What if I had to watch a beautiful girl stare into the mirror and declare herself fat and ugly – what if she was using my words and tone?

Ultimately, I am my Father’s. I’m His. And He charged me with a responsibility. It doesn’t mean mentoring every girl younger than me, it means checking my attitudes and words, it means realising how I act impacts others.

One day, I would love to have a daughter. I’ll want her to know that she is priceless and unique, that her smile is gorgeous, that her brains are to be used, each talent and gift used freely, that honesty is a strength, that dignity is something internal that shows externally, that giggling fits are fun and crazy hairdays survivable, that makeup enhances but shouldn’t mask, that Christ loved her so much He died to be a part of her life eternally, that failing does not make a failure.
And I can either encourage or discourage that with my job as a role model.

I still don’t feel old enough to be a role model but tough. I got elected by being part of the human race. I don’t want to mess it up.

Life = Performance = Wasted Life

Oh man.  I’ve had enough today of grousing about what different denominations are doing.  For goodness’ sake people!  When we pray “let your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” does it ever occur to us that Christ prayed for His people to be united?!

It got me thinking though.

Stay-at-home-daughterhood can (not saying always or even mostly) lead to an arrogance in believing we know best but there’s more again (just letting my mind flow with this one…bear with me!).  It can lead to us trying to appear perfect.  It’s called legalism.  It means performance is more important than the heart.

I’m not saying there shouldn’t be visible fruit.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, patience, kindness etc. – and those should be growing in all Christians’ lives, not just us stay-at-home girls.  The aim is to be godly, not just a good Christian.  Can you see the difference?  One is dealing with your heart attitude, the other is dealing with what people think of you.

I remember thinking, not that long ago, that you couldn’t be a really good Christian if you had pierced ears, wore makeup or had a tattoo, if you listened to rock or rap music.  Yet, why?  Really, at the end of the day, why does wearing mascara or blue nail varnish make me any more or less of a Christian?  Why does wearing jeans set someone apart from ‘good Christian girl’??  I took a step back and honestly looked at it: it was because it didn’t fit the mould.  You know, the mould of ‘nice Christian girl’.  Yet in light of all Christ did for us…in light of the fact we’re standing by grace because of the scandalous gift we were given (– isn’t it a scandal that the perfect Son of God died, besmirched by and paying for sins He never committed, so that we could walk scot free into Heaven, claiming on that???)  Truly, in light of that gift, the mould of ‘nice Christian girl’ – is that really what we’re aiming for??

And for many of us, perhaps the honest answer is yes.

Yes, that is the aim.  Not to rock the boat.  Not to bring dishonour to our families (noble thought).

And I’m not advocating going out to deliberately shock people.  That’s not the heart attitude we’re called to either.

What I want to call out though is this performance perfect Christianity.  Where fear of what other people thinking, making sure we appear to have it all together, becomes more important that the knowledge we are saved by grace and we are called to live that out with, dare I say it, reckless abandon.

We are allowed to make mistakes.  If we turn, realise it was a mistake, ask for forgiveness – it’s ok.  You can move on.  You don’t have to be paralysed by fear that if you step out in faith, you’re going to mess it all up and God will never use you again.

When I finished my A’levels, I started…no, I lie – I’d already been worrying and praying about it for a year…I continued praying that God would make it clear what the next step was.  I didn’t feel going away to college was the right choice for me but I also was not convinced sitting around at home would do me any good.  A job came up working with a child at the local school.  Yes, in a state school, in a class I had already been helping out in.  Thanks to my upbringing, I already had a heart for hurting children, so often forgotten or ignored.  More than that, I knew this job would be a challenge but God could use me in it to do something for Him.

I applied.

I don’t think I was prepared for the raised eyebrows (to my face) and the condemnation (to my parents’ faces) of stepping out of the mould in such a way.

What was I doing, not only working outside the home, but in a school??

I’d broken the rules of ‘Christian stay-at-home daughter’ and it was frowned on.

I am so grateful for my parents who took the backlash and calmly encouraged me to serve God in the place He had called me to.

It wasn’t a mistake, it was a calling.  I will stand by that.  If I had let the fear of other people rule my decisions, I would not have discovered for myself how standing there with a hurting, angry child can push you waaaaaaay beyond what you are capable of dealing with and into the realm of supernatural, God-given, Spirit loving.  There reaches a stage where your human love is snapped and you can’t stand it anymore and you are praying as hard as you can that you will turn to face this child with a face of kindness and through His power, you can do it.  That child wouldn’t have had their life touched by God’s hand.  It’s a scary thought to realise we’re called to be Christ’s hands and feet.

God did not call us to fit into a set mould.  A mould never laid down in the Bible, moreover.

Christ didn’t tell his disciples to put the corn back for fear of upsetting the religious Jews.  Whilst I don’t want to cause another to stumble, neither should I be setting out to impress to everyone what a great Christian, or perfect daughter, I am. That shouldn’t be my aim.

I’m speaking against legalism: where obedience to a set law, not faith in God’s grace, is the main principle of redemption.  I am not speaking against living a life guided by the principles, even laws, Christ laid down in the Bible.  There is sin and we are called out of that.  I am not speaking against that.  I’m not saying we can carry on sinning because ‘hey, we’re under grace not the law so we can do as we please’.  That’s taught against in the Bible too.  What I am saying is let actions in your life be determined by what will please God, not by what will please a manmade, even Biblically shaped, law.

So the thing is:

Are we big enough to aim for maturity and godliness over the performance act of a ‘good Christian’?  I don’t want to be the girl I think other people want me to be.  I want to be looking up at my Daddy and judging my progress by the expression on His face.

It Doesn’t Last Forever

And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life.” (1 Corinthians 7 v.17, The Message)

When you’re 15 and at home, it feels like it will last forever.

When you’re 18 and still at home while your peers go off to Uni, it still feels like forever.

Then there comes a day when you remember: this is fleeting.

When you’re making a birthday cake for one of your sisters and thinking: this could be one of the last ones I make for her at home.

Or playing on the beach with your family and remembering that the summers of you all playing down here aren’t going to go on and on forever.  In fact, it could be your last summer at home.

Realising that makes you live life differently.  Because whilst you might have better things to do (you think) than hugging your sister, or reading a story, or letting them help cook, or dancing round the kitchen, you realise you don’t have forever to do this, you learn to take the hugs because you don’t want to look back with regrets in a few years’ time.

Part of the baggage of stay-at-home daughterhood can be the feeling you are going to be at home forever.  That life is going to carry on like this forever whilst everyone else is out there having fun.  That God somehow forgot you when he was making the good plans and then hurriedly created one out of ‘duty & structure’ and forgot the ‘adventure & fun’ parts.

It’s taken until this year for me to realise I’m living on borrowed time with my family.

Next summer I could be married.  Or I could be leaving home to do a Masters degree.  Or I could still be here.

The point is: I don’t know.

You don’t know.

We don’t know how long we’ve got and sometimes it takes a shake up for us to stand back and realise how precious a thing we have got.  I was in such a hurry to grow up.  My teen years seemed to last forever because I wanted to be ‘an adult’.  I have to live with the regret that I did waste some of them wishing for life to hurry up.  But by now, they have woken me up to the fact I only have this time once.  Sooner or later – and it’s looking like sooner now – my family life as I know it is going to break up.

I’ll leave.

Then my siblings.

And this time of us at home – it’s never going to happen again.  We’ll never be this tightly knit unit in the same way again.  We’ll still be close.  We’ll still be family.  But we’ll have our own units.

Because however long it appears to be going on for – it will come to an end.

I want to know that I lived each moment now.  That I didn’t waste time I could have spent with my family.  That I didn’t waste energy on things that didn’t matter.  God doesn’t make mistakes and He certainly doesn’t set out to punish us with our lives.  He may allow hard times (this isn’t a ‘God wants you to be happy full stop’ talk).  In fact, He does.  There are things in our lives we don’t understand, especially when we stand by the idea of a loving God.  I’m not debating that.  But this whole ‘staying-at-home’ thing, I really don’t think it’s part of an eternal punishment to assign us to the viewing gallery of life.  He has a plan.  Part of that plan has been the families He’s placed us in.  Families we love, families we get exasperated with, families we spend a huge amount of our time with, families who will help shape us into who we are, and thinking of all that time spent with them as a waste of time, pretending we’re sitting in the waiting room of life whilst other people’s trains go past the window – that’s a waste.

The adventure started way back – the day you were born, the day you became His.

It may not be the adventure you’d have written.  It may not even look like an adventure to you.  But that may be your perspective.  Our role is to glorify God – and a sour face rarely, if ever, does that.

I wish I’d learnt the lesson sooner.

But I didn’t.

So I have to learn and live it now.

I’m not advocating an ‘eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die’ lifestyle.  I’m asking you to consider living the life God has given you now and to enjoy it and share it and use it.  Because it is fleeting and I don’t think there’s anything worse looking back than regretting something.

Invest in now.

You don’t want to live regretting the time you could have spent with your family but were too busy resenting how it seemed to drag on.

If you need permission to let go of the future (worrying about it isn’t going to solve any problems anyway – I’ve tried it.  There are always curves in the road we didn’t see coming and paths God takes us down that weren’t part of our plan) – take this as it.  Let go of it and live now.  Love now.  Invest now.  Enjoy now.

 “What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving.  People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how He works.  Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.  Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” (Matthew 6 v.31-34, The Message)