This Adventure

I start an adventure in seven hours.

An adventure to England. An adventure of 14 days, of the known and the unknown, of sight and sound, of excitement and embraces.

I’m all about adventures.

It’s officially been in the plans for 72 days. But unofficially? Only my heart knows.

And my suitcases are all packed, and my lists are full of horizontal lines, and the voices in my head are quiet now. Now I can stop and reflect. And when I do, I can’t believe that it is today already.

I haven’t written here in more than month. That will change soon, but most likely not until after this adventure. See you on the other side!

Reflecting on my 2012

Lyme Park
At Lyme Park (in England) this summer

Today, I’ve been reading this year’s journals and reflecting more on the past year than perhaps I’ve ever done before on a New Year’s Eve. And I have a few things to share…

12 Changes of 2012

I wrote something similar in the eleventh hour of 2010, two years ago now. Now, after such a landmark year, I think this is an idea whose time has come again.

  1. My three weeks overseas prior to this year has turned into more than seven months this year. I’ve lived in the UK, I’ve lived in China, I’ve tasted and seen and heard the good and the bad music of culture with eyes wide open.
  2. I was used to having friends all over the country, but now I have friends all over the world! It’s been wonderful connecting with people from (sometimes vastly) different cultures and backgrounds.
  3. My outlook on life, myself, and, well, everything has been radically transformed this year. I know myself more, and I am more real with others. It’s all thanks to God, who used my experiences this year to grow me and help me find true freedom in Him. I have more hope and joy than I’ve ever had before.
  4. Growing up, I always wanted to be a writer. At university, I got discouraged and set that dream aside. This year, I’ve dusted off the dream of writing and picked it up again, daring to believe, decrying the fear, dancing in hope. I’m discovering the kind of writing I love to do, and I’ve been doing it in journals, blogs, and devotionals.
  5. In the six months I’ve spent with my parents and sister this year, I’ve realized with great joy that my attitude toward my family has changed, and, thus, that we’re connecting and relating to each other better than ever before. This has been one of the greatest blessings of the last six months.
  6. Through my improved relationship with my family, as well as my improved perspective on life, I’ve been able to “redeem my time” here at home. Incredibly, amazingly, thankfully, I’ve enjoyed living at home for the first time since I left for college six years ago.
  7. “You enjoy meeting new people” reads one of the statements on many job application assessments. Before this year, I wouldn’t have been able to honestly respond with “Strongly agree.” But now I can. I’ve become more outward-focused and more willing to step out of my comfort zone with greater confidence and into new things.
  8. Speaking of stepping out, I’ve found a niche for speaking to and teaching groups, both seen (Sunday School and youth groups) and unseen (radio audiences).
  9. I’m learning how to enjoy and fully live in the present, rather than living off of memories of the past or expectations for the future. There is joy in today.
  10. Head-knowledge has become heart-knowledge in a number of areas. I’ve learned so much more about relationships and communication, what it means to truly love, how to deal with doubt and unbelief, and so much more.
  11. I’m learning how to be more intentional in relationships, and my fears and sense of self-worth are no longer at that all-time low they remained at for so long, freeing me to love and care about others more.
  12. My personal devotional time has exploded! I’ve written through almost three complete journals this year and read a good portion of the Bible. But I can’t stop there. It comes back to relationship: my relationship with God. That is the change I’m really celebrating, and I’m grateful for the means He’s used to bring it about. I’m learning how to seek God with all of me.

And on that note of seeking God, I want to share something I wrote this summer that I rediscovered today. I’ll call it The Greatest Commandment, and it is my prayer for 2013:

To love the Lord with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength, that is more than burnt offerings. Not just to seek You and serve You with all of me, but to love You.

I want to love You with all my heart – to turn my depth of feeling toward You; to trust You with my heart in all its frailty; to give You the outpourings of my heart, and to give them to You first; to experience true joy in You; and to let You awaken my heart.

I want to love you with all my soul – to pray to You; to listen for Your voice and be ready to act when You speak; to lift my soul to You and no other; and to keep coming after You.

I want to love You with all my mind – to use my intelligence for Your glory; to battle through any doubts I have about Your character or Your actions; to think for You, not just feel for You; to come to You with any and all questions; to commit my mental energies to the purpose of knowing you more; and to listen when You speak to me through the logic, the reasoning, the processes of my mind.

I want to love You with all my strength – to run to You with all the speed I can muster; to stand up again each time I fall, even when it feels like the weight of the world is pressing upon me; to do everything for Your glory; to not give up, or believe the lies that I am not strong enough and never will be; to live the truth that I can do all things through You who strengthen me; and to step out to You and for You, even when it seems like all the odds are against me.

For God and Adventure

I’m not used to being the townie.

I’m used to raised eyebrows, exclamations of surprise, and “You’re from California? What brought you here?”

Today, I found myself in the most international classroom I’ve ever been in before, and it was in my hometown. Switzerland, the UK, Poland, Russia, Australia, Canada, China, India, Brazil, and Italy were all represented, with more than a few far-reaching states filling out the numbers.

I felt like I was home, that I had more in common with these people than I do with those who have always lived here and probably always will. I’m not as traveled as some, but I’m traveled enough. Enough for my heart to leap when the girl in front of me says she’s from Finland … when one of my teachers talks about her experiences living in China … when I hear an English accent.

People to dream with. People to reminisce with. People to stretch my wings with, as we gaze into the four corners of the future, hands clasped as we prepare for the day when we will fly.

Because fly we must.

For God and adventure.

Learning to Walk When I’d Rather Run

Almost every day for the last three weeks, I’ve gone for a walk. Whether in my neighborhood or in Redding, each time I’ve walked alone, one thing has remained constant: These walks are about me and God.

And it’s the best thing I’ve done since coming home … the best and most life-giving part of each day — and not just because I’m breathing in the fresh, forest air (when it’s not on fire, that is!). I pray for my friends and family. I thank God for who He is and what He’s done and continues to do. And I talk and talk and talk to Him about everything that’s on my mind and heart.

Inviting God into my mind and heart is a beautiful thing. He comes not as an infiltrator or invader or even a conqueror, but as a liberator, gladly welcomed in!

God has done so much in me through this month at home, and especially through these walks. I am amazed at how many insights, pictures, and words He’s given me during this time. Particularly since I haven’t had a whole lot of new external stimuli since arriving home: No job yet, only one visit to my church, a limited number of extrahousehold social interactions. And yet, God has blessed me with such a rich thought life. Attaching myself more fully to God has unlocked new depths of creativity and wisdom that continue to amaze and inspire me. Hardly a day goes by that I’m not exploring new ideas in my journal, or rushing home to write down something beautiful or profound that I don’t want to forget.

Of all the things God has taught me during this time, though, the one that keeps coming back is what it looks like to walk with God … and how that’s different from running with God.

Here’s something God said to me almost two weeks ago, and which started this train of thought:

“You’ve often run away from your enemies, and on DTS, you ran into battle with those enemies (even when you didn’t realize it at the time). Now, you are walking and the scenery around you doesn’t change as quickly, and you’re afraid your enemies will catch up to you again. There are two things you need to remember: 1) Whether walking or running, you AREN’T alone. I am with you, and I am your ally! 2) Learning to walk with Me is just as sweet as learning to run with Me. You will see. And you will run again.”

My DTS was a time of running with God — running into the new, the unexplored, the excitingly unfamiliar, the adventure.

In the past, when comparing the run and the walk of faith, of life, I’ve always opted for the run. I ran more than two thousand miles away to university. The next year, I ran to that school’s other campus. And even once there, I never stayed put long, racking up thousands of miles in my car or the nearest airplane, switching majors every other semester, always seeking the next adventure, whether it was in Colorado, or Santa Cruz … England … China.

Sometimes, I was running with God. Other times, I was simply running away from unhappiness and hoping that a new fill-in-the-blank would magically generate a new me.

I never wanted to come back home after my DTS. I didn’t like who I was at home, who I reverted to when I was home, and I thought the best solution, the only solution, would be to run from that person. The first few months of DTS, when someone would ask me what I was planning on doing afterward, I would say something like, “Oh, I don’t know, but my default plan, if God doesn’t open up something else, has been to move to Colorado and find a job.”

A few weeks into outreach, though, God used a conference on identity and my say-it-like-it-is roommate to show me that it was time to stop running. I needed to go home and face the familiar, the routine … and my demons.

This is not the time to be constantly looking ahead, emerging from the bubble of this valley to look longingly at the possible roads ahead. Here is where my tent is for now. Now is the time to practice patience, to imbibe as much as I can while I’m here, to give as well as receive, to forge and to build and to experiment. Now is the time to rest and grow in God, to find Him in the subtlety of everyday life in these familiar surroundings, not in the novelty and rush of the next cross-cultural adventure.

Now is the time to walk.

DTS: Coming to the Altar

When we walked into the classroom that Friday morning, we saw a big, white sheet hanging near the back wall with a midsized wooden cross propped up in front of it.

We were nervous, excited, hopeful. But not surprised.

Our speaker, Mark, had been preparing us for this all week. Work duties were cancelled. Local outreach was cancelled. Instead of the usual three hours of lectures, Friday, today, was to be an all-day experience of finding freedom in Christ, of stepping deeper into intimacy with God, deeper into the glory of the tabernacle in all of its Old Testament foundations and New Testament fulfillment.

While that Friday was the pinnacle of intensity, the whole week had been a whirlwind of color and noise and passion. Mark clocked in more hours of lectures than any other speaker we’ve had before or since, but that wasn’t his legacy. He wasn’t afraid to shout, or look ridiculous, or even offend people if that’s what he thought it would take to reach them … if that’s what he felt God wanted him to do. Sometimes, he was so frank and expressive and persistent that we couldn’t help but laugh, and love him for saying it like it was. Other times, he was so frank and expressive and persistent that we were turned off, offended, even upset. His lectures were chockfull of content, but he spoke with an urgency intended to shake us and make this week, the only week he had with us, be five days we would remember. And, love him or hate him, he succeeded.

“What do you want to get out of today?” he asked Friday morning.

Freedom. More love. Revelation. Transformation.

“Things happen in one day,” he stressed, urging us not to just wish or hope that God would do something, or start something, but to desperately want it. Expect it. Believe it. And God would honor those desires of our hearts.

After this beginning, we filed past the staff members and into the classroom, giggling a little as we took part in the hongi (“sharing of breath”), a nose-to-nose Maori greeting.

We started at the gate with thanksgiving. Songs of worship gave way to sharing something God had done in each of our lives over the past few weeks. Then, we moved into the outer courts of praise. The English students and staff members welcomed us the traditional English way: with cups of tea and handshakes (minus the tea). We turned to each other next, taking mere greetings to the next level. Love through embraces, encouragement through words, and truth through the attributes of God we’d seen in each other.

Then, we began to step out of our comfort zones.

We moved to one end of the classroom, across from the sheet and the cross. Between those objects and us, right in the center of the room, stood half a dozen chairs back-to-back. One by one, we were to climb on the chairs, speak out or shout out words of praise and acknowledgements of who God is, then climb over to the other side. Once there, we could spend as much time in front of the cross as we needed to. Those who felt like they couldn’t make it across would receive help.

One of the staff members led the way, then I stepped out. Before I could climb on the chair, however, Mark had a few words to say to me: He was proud of my courage in being the first girl to come forward, but encouraged me to take my time. I slowed down a little, then clambered up and shouted one “GOD IS…” sentence as the person before me had done.

“Keep going!” Mark said, so I did, and was up there another minute or two before crossing the barrier and kneeling before the cross. While it was definitely a moment of stepping out of my comfort zone, I’ll admit that the music in the background assuaged some of my nervousness. Perhaps it would’ve been better had the music not been there … had our raw voices been the only sounds piercing the silence. Because of the music, too, I had trouble hearing what a lot of the others said, but it was still a powerful experience.

Two people needed to be helped across. One was raised up and carried on the shoulders of others. Another gingerly crossed the wall with the supporting hand of a friend on each side. I was one of those friends.

From here, we moved to the altar to make two offerings to the Lord. We spent the most time here, comforted by the warmth of the blaze, but also afraid of what would be required of us. What would happen when we placed certain items in the flames? Important items, treasured dreams … secret items, shameful deeds. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first was the burnt offering of public surrender at the cross. Some brought passports, money, and other important objects to either symbolically lay down at the cross or give away to others (with the exception of the passports, of course).

I didn’t have any physical mementos of my offering, but I offered up myself, my future, my time, and my right to marry.

Part two, the sin offering of public repentance, came after our lunch break. This was the part I had been dreading, and not just that week. In conversations with other YWAMers over the last year or two, I had learned that this kind of baring of one’s soul happened on DTSes. For months, I had been dreading this, but knew that it was necessary. For freedom’s sake.

This offering of repentance lasted nearly three hours. One by one, after a sharp intake of breath and a painful hesitation, each of us stepped forward into the middle of the room near the cross. A backpack filled with firewood was provided for those of us who felt the need to physically carry a burden as we confessed our sins, then to lay that burden down after repenting of those sins.

I won’t recount what anyone else said, only to say that all were vulnerable and real in what they shared, which gave me the courage I needed to be equally real. No one was forced to speak, but everyone did.

For me, it was a huge step. In the past, I had shrunk from so many similar opportunities. Will I ever be able to be completely open in certain areas? I had often wondered, my heart sinking as the years passed but the morass within me never did. If left to its own whims, my mouth seemed destined to remain forever closed. Hence the strange combination of dread and hope within me as this day drew near.

After we’d repented, Mark would often share encouraging or challenging words with us, or invite others to pray for us. Here’s some of what he said to me then, and later that evening: “At first, you were just sitting there, but then you came up not just once, but a second time and a third time. I’ve been watching you all week. You know that. I don’t have a daughter, but if you were my daughter, I would be so proud of you. God’s going to do great things through you in Asia.”

Our afternoon of repenting was somber, heavy, quiet. Then, after a break for dinner, the music was switched back on. When I returned to the classroom, the building was pulsating with worship. I felt drained. The afternoon especially had taken a lot out of me.

From here on, I’m not completely sure which activity correlated with which aspect of the tabernacle, but I’ll give it my best shot. We reached into the brazen laver (washing basin) of the Word through praying for each other and worshiping. I especially appreciated these prayers, and the love they exemplified, after such a heavy emotional and spiritual ordeal.

The golden candlestick is the Holy Spirit. The staff anointed our foreheads, our wrists, and our feet with oil and prayed for us individually, that the Holy Spirit would come upon us. Following this, we listened for words and pictures from the Holy Spirit about specific people, then shared the messages with those people. Some of us (me included) didn’t hear anything conclusive, a recurring issue for me that has been frustrating and discouraging.

I’ve since realized that my attitude, often a mixture of fear and unbelief, has likely been at the root of it and other self-denigrations. Too often, it’s all about me and what I can or cannot do. Too easily, I’m resigned to the patterns and failures of the past, believing the lies that I’m too weak to ever change. Too quickly, I let hope harden into cynicism.

Too wonderfully, I’m here for six months learning about the God who is faithful and makes all things new.

After the anointing, we took Communion at the Table of Showbread. When taking Communion at home, the congregation is almost always silent. Here in England, though, whether in a church or YWAM setting, the person passing me the bread and the cup says “The body of Christ, broken for you” for the first, and “The blood of Christ, shed for you” for the second. And then I say those words to the person next to me. It makes it so much more real and personal.

The final four elements of the tabernacle were the altar of incense (prayer and intercession), the veil (disobedience/alienation), the ark of the covenant (Holy Spirit – the presence of God in us), and the Cloud of Glory (the Holy Spirit above us), but they weren’t as strongly emphasized, and, if I’m remembering correctly, all that happened after Communion was worship and a debrief that involved sharing our thoughts about the day and praying.

We finished at 10 p.m.

What a day. What a week.

I felt absolutely drained by the end of it, and because I spent the weekend away from Holmsted and without much time to myself, I didn’t have a chance to process it all before the next week started. That threw off my whole week. Since then, though, I’ve finally gotten the chance to sit down with this wealth of material and memory and try to sort through it all.

Now, however, it’s been more than two weeks since that unforgettable Friday, and I’ve been wrestling with what it means, what it looks like, to continue living in that freedom. I do know one thing, though: I can’t just live off of that experience. Been there, done that. After an incredible few months of spiritual growth in 2010, I stopped walking forward. I basked in the glow of what God had done then instead of seeking a deeper intimacy with Him now. I had no accountability, nor did I seek out deeper human relationships. Essentially, I knew the key to a deeper relationship with God in theory (still a major breakthrough), but I stopped applying it and barely looked at my relationships with others. I learned that I couldn’t live on old revelations and unapplied knowledge forever, though, when I returned to school in the fall. All the familiar challenges, insecurities and fears hit me again, and I found myself unequipped to deal with them.

I don’t want to do that again. Now, I’ve discovered a new freedom, a truth to the lie that people wouldn’t love me if they knew the darkness within. But you know what? My value in God’s eyes doesn’t change based on others’ perceptions. He knows the truth, has always known the truth, and still, He loves.

But how to walk in that freedom? What do I do to live each day in light of my value in God’s eyes, to know not just in my head that I am free and beloved, but to know it in my heart and press forward confidently in that knowledge?

Maybe it’s as simple as my revelations two years ago: Focus on God, not on the things I don’t like about myself, and seek Him not as a means to an end, but as an end in Himself. To that fundamentally important ambition, I would add this: To give the love of God to others, and to find people to grow and share with, for mutual edification.

While transformation is a process, our generation is “quick to repent and slow to obey.” So stand up, fix your eyes on your destination, and start moving. Say, “Today is the day. God will change me. I will believe this and will step out in obedience even though I can’t see the big picture.” Do this again the next day, as you wake up bleary-eyed and bewildered. And the day after that, and the day after that.

DTS: Living on Many Prayers

Now that we’re at the halfway point of lecture phase, it seems appropriate to reference Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” in the title. Rather than one prayer, though, I’m living on many: prayers from California, prayers from Indiana, prayers from the classroom, the dorm rooms, the prayer room here at Holmsted.

Some of those are my prayers. A few days ago, I spent an hour and a half in the musty chairs of the concrete-yet-comfortable prayer room downstairs crying out to God … and listening.

For me, this halfway point is a time of introspection and evaluation. Am I putting as much into this DTS as I can, or am I spending too much time visiting the surrounding towns and cities, posting pictures online, watching movies? Even though I have worship almost every day, along with three hours of lectures and other small groups and scheduled activities, I don’t want to act like I’m on holiday the rest of the time. I came for God, not for Brighton or London, movies or shows, audio or video.

And yet, while spending personal time with God is unquestionably vital, so is living in community … and not only living in community, but fully engaging in that community. Wednesday was a perfect example of a day that was joy-filled largely because of the people here. I prayed in a small group for an hour in the morning, practiced Chinese in the afternoon with a couple others, talked about spiritual struggles with one of my roommates while washing the dinner dishes, and, finally, ended the day huddled around a laptop with a few of the girls watching a couple episodes of the Pride and Prejudice miniseries. And I’m not even counting the many conversations I had apart from these larger events.

But as wonderful as it is to continually spend time with people I feel comfortable with, and even more so to discuss matters of the heart and the Spirit with them, I can’t live on people alone.

I need time to process (a buzzword around here) what we’ve been learning in lectures. I need to rest without turning my brain off. I need to listen and obey. I need to think and feel and speak.

Last week was Relationships & Identity Week, the most challenging, intense week yet. Normally, we have about 15 hours of lectures in five days. That week, we had about 18 hours of lectures in four days, and then an additional 13 hours on Friday. Friday, however, wasn’t a day of lectures, but of “approaching the altar.” I can’t say any more without describing the whole thing, and I can’t do the whole thing justice right now, so I won’t try yet. But you will hear about it sometime soon, and about the rest of that week.

This week, we learned about how the Bible relates to all spheres of society, not just the church, and how the split thinking many of us have grown up with (Christian vs. secular) isn’t in keeping with the character of God. We’ve been analyzing passages from the Pentateuch, and it has been a rich experience of seeing God in new ways, with specific examples. It makes me want to do an SBS (School of Biblical Studies) with YWAM …

So that is a brief summary of the last two weeks, but my point in that summary is that there are so many things to take in, so many verses to look up, so many things to dive deeper into on my own time. Obviously, I can’t research everything I want to research right now. However, I want to take the lectures further out of the classroom than I have so far. It’s not too late – I still have five weeks left! God is doing so much here, and I don’t want to miss any of it.

One of the biggest frustrations of my life has been not doing “the good I want to do” (Romans 7:19). That doesn’t have to be my story any longer, though. The page is about to turn, and any number of plot twists could be waiting on the other side.

DTS: Pictures of God

I wrote this during a special “make something for God” worship session here at Holmsted, then shared it with the group…

Sometimes, when I’m trying to worship but feel flooded with distractions, I close my eyes and try to focus on a picture of You in my mind. Until now, that picture has been of You seated on a throne, reflecting glory, and me, standing at the other end of the long room, looking at You from a distance.

I didn’t realize until yesterday how impersonal that picture was. Maybe sometimes in that picture, I’ve ventured closer to You, moving down the velvet-carpeted aisle along with other worshippers, but I don’t remember You ever leaving Your throne and coming to me. But that is what You do, isn’t it?

Certainly many songs describe Your glory and majesty and radiance, all if which are inseparable from who You are. But You also reach out to me. You understand where I’m coming from, and Your throne is a throne of love as well as glory.

I’m still working through what the new “picture” in my mind should look like. Maybe of You, as a shepherd in a field. Maybe of You taking my hand. Or maybe I shouldn’t limit myself to one picture, one image, one view.

You are there and yet here. You are king and yet You serve. You are mightiest and yet You love the most. You are all.

DTS: A Day in the Life

Now that I’ve experienced a full “typical week” here at Holmsted Manor, I can knowledgably explain what a “day in the life” looks like here:

The room I share with five other girls.

7:15 a.m.: My alarm goes off. My alarm clock isn’t in arm’s reach, so I hop out of bed and turn it off as quickly as I can to keep from waking up any roommates who are still asleep.

7:45: I make my way down to the dining room for a breakfast of cereal and/or toast. Corn Flakes are a great way to start the day.

Dining room at Holmsted
The dining room

8:00-8:45: This is the time set aside for us to spend time alone with God, though I usually don’t start until 8:05 or 8:10. The last two weeks has been a quest to find the perfect quiet place to do my devotions, and after a couple false starts, I think I’ve found that place. I would post a picture of it, but part of the reason it’s so perfect is because it’s a secret. 🙂

Our classroom in the coach house. The flags represent the different countries we're from, and we made the paper lanterns you see hanging.

8:45-10:00: During this time, either the DTS students and staff meet together in the coach house (adjacent to the manor) for worship and/or intercession, or the entire base meets together for worship and/or intercession, depending on the day. Two days a week, one of us students shares a 5-10 minute devotional before worship starts. If I’m calculating correctly, my turn will be sometime in March.

10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.: After worship/intercession, we put down the chairs and the room is transformed into our classroom. This is our morning session, where we listen to teaching from that week’s speaker. It isn’t always straight-up lectures, though; sometimes it’s more interactive. We have a 15-20-minute break around 11:15, which is always characterized by tea and sometimes by donuts and other goodies. Then, we have announcements before turning the floor back over to the speaker.

Front area of Holmsted
The main area we congregate in before meals. These are a few of my friends on the first day taking pictures.

1:00: Lunchtime! The kitchen staff ring a bell when lunch is ready, and we gather in the main area outside the dining room to pray for the food. And then we go in. One day a week, I will be meeting with my one-on-one (one of the staff members) at one of the individual tables in the back of the dining room to talk about life together.

2:00-3:00: We do something different during this hour every day.

  • Mondays: We meet in small groups to practice intercession (hearing God’s voice – see my last blog for more on this)
  • Tuesdays: The schedule says “sports and exercise,” but we can use this hour as free time instead if we want.
  • Wednesdays: Free time
  • Thursdays: We meet in our coed small groups to process the lectures, memorize Bible verses, and do our book reports.
  • Fridays: We start work duties early. What are work duties? Well…
The leather room at Holmsted
The leather room, one of the places where we meet sometimes for small groups and other gatherings, or where we can just hang out by ourselves if we want.

3:15-5:00ish: Each DTS student is assigned a daily work duty, or chore. Some work alone, others are in groups. Some examples of work duties are as follows: vacuuming, cleaning the bathrooms, waxing the floor, cleaning specific rooms, and helping in the kitchen. I work in the wash-up room with four others, and in addition to cleaning the breakfast and lunch dishes, we clean the dining room and set the table for dinner. Even though there are only about 40 people at each meal, the pots and plastic dishes that we have to wash by hand take time. However, we’ve settled into a good routine, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know better the others on wash-up crew.

The wash-up room at Holmsted
The wash-up room

5:30: Dinner/Tea (yes, here in England, dinner is often called “tea”). We go through the same routine for dinner as we did with lunch. Everyone takes turns washing the dinner dishes, so on Wednesdays I do wash-up twice. Whew! On Fridays, however, the schedule is slightly different. Instead of having a meal served to us, we make packed dinners and do various local outreaches (except for those whose local outreach is on Saturday). Mine is helping out at a church that serves meals to the poor in the community. We serve tea, coffee and plates of food; interact with the people; play with the kids; and wash dishes.

7:30: Just like the 2 o’clock hour, our evening schedule depends on the day:

  • Mondays: We have a China-focused night (this past week, we learned about Chinese New Year, learned a few Chinese characters, and did an activity).
  • Tuesdays: We meet in our all-girls or all-guys small groups. My small group will be studying women of the Bible (starting with Ruth), and just talking about life and connecting with each other. This will most likely be my favorite evening of the week; it’s great to have such a low-key interpersonal time in a very scheduled week.
  • Wednesdays: Free time
  • Thursdays: Flexible schedule (either free nights, an evening session with that week’s speaker, or something else)
  • Fridays: Local outreach (though typically we’re back by this time).

11:15: In order to get eight hours of sleep, I need to fall asleep by 11:15. I’ve generally been successful at getting enough sleep.

Free Time/Weekends: There’s nothing mandatory on Saturday or Sunday, though we’re encouraged to go to church (there a couple local churches that provide transportation), and sometimes various students organize trips to nearby towns … or not-so-nearby cities (London). I spend quite a bit of my free time on the computer, though I also enjoy hanging out with people here at Holmsted, or walking to the pub and having a soda, or playing piano.

Chinese New Year parade
We went to London yesterday for Chinese New Year and other sightseeing. This picture was taken during the parade in Chinatown.

DTS: Hearing God’s Voice

I came to England with several hopes for these six months. One of them was to experience God in undeniable ways. That desire grew during our first week, as “hearing the voice of God” became a major topic of conversation and practical application.

In an upcoming blog, I will describe in detail a “day in the life” here at Holmsted. For now, however, all you need to know is that we spend a significant amount of time in intercession, and in sharing things that the Lord reveals to us. What does intercession look like here? Well, sometimes we’re in a large group all praying and listening for a word from God on a certain issue, and those who get a picture, a word, or a verse from God share them. Other times, we’re in smaller groups doing essentially the same thing.

And just how do we hear so directly from God? We received some teaching on that very subject during orientation week, the crux of which is a multi-step process of preparing one’s heart to hear from God. The steps are as follows: coming to God with a clean heart, inviting the Holy Spirit in, submitting our thoughts to God, silencing the enemy, thanking God for what He’s about to do, and then, finally, waiting and listening.

So far, it hasn’t really worked for me. And you know what? I’m okay with that.

At first, though, I felt a bit pressured to “hear something.” I don’t doubt that God can and does speak to people directly. When I hear stories of how God told someone something at just the right time, or how He woke someone else up in the middle of the night to pray for a specific person, I don’t disbelieve them. However, God doesn’t speak to everyone in the same way … right?

It’s one thing to come together for a prayer meeting and be open to hearing and following God’s leading regarding what or who to pray for. It seems like quite another, however, to follow a series of steps during a practice session with the expectation that at least some of us will hear something from God. Is this a good way to practice listening for God’s voice, or does it teach us that we should be able to hear from God whenever we want?

For everyone who genuinely hears something from God, I feel like there inevitably will be someone who didn’t hear anything, someone who just heard his or her own thoughts, and someone who just doesn’t know. Our God is not a God of confusion. Hearing God’s voice isn’t a game we play, where some are winners and others … well, they’ll get better with practice.

Then again, I don’t come from a charismatic background, and it’s only week two. Maybe my concerns are for naught, and eventually we all will hear from God, and we will realize that He does want to speak to us in this way, and that we just needed to know how to listen for His voice.

But back to the present. While I haven’t heard from God during these small groups, I’m learning that hearing from God at different times and in different ways is okay. In fact, it’s beautiful.

Five days ago, I had a dream that I’m sure was from God. I dreamed that I was talking to a friend of mine whom I haven’t spoke with or thought of in a long time. In my dream, she was telling me about some things she was struggling with. When I woke up, I knew that the dream was from God, and I immediately began praying for her. I don’t know if all the “facts” of the dream were correct, but the prayer points fit with what I know of her.

During these times of practicing intercession, I will continue working on setting aside what distracts me and focusing on God. I will listen, all the while praying for discernment and believing that He may very well speak to me in this setting. However, I don’t want to “make things up” or share when I’m not sure. I’d rather God spoke to me in His timing, not mine. And if His timing is 2 o’clock on Mondays, I’m all for it.

DTS: Meeting Holmsted

Yesterday, I arrived at Holmsted Manor, my home for the next three months. It is an old house, but large and stately and beautiful. And cold. Thankfully, though, I’m used to living in a cold house. This house is pictured above, but here it is again in a photograph taken by my very own camera:

As some of you know, I was diagnosed with pneumonia just two days before leaving home. At that point, I wasn’t sure if I would have to delay my travel because of it, but, thanks to strong antibiotics, I was able to leave on Thursday as planned. That certainly isn’t the beginning I would have chosen, but I’m glad that the doctors were able to figure out what was wrong with me quickly, and that they knew what to do.

My dad flew with me to Los Angeles and saw me off from there. My flight from LA to London was largely uneventful, though I did enjoy my Air New Zealand flight; it certainly didn’t seem as long as it was. Each seat had its own touch-screen TV with lots of entertainment options, and watched a BBC miniseries about the birth of Christ (called, appropriately enough, The Nativity). It was mostly biblically accurate, except that it took Joseph a lot longer to believe that Jesus was who Mary said He was. A bit bothersome, but it didn’t ruin it. What I appreciated the most was that I had an empty seat on one side of me, and an aisle on the other. Because of that, I was able to sleep a few hours. However, since I hadn’t slept much the night before I left, exhaustion quickly caught up with me after I landed.

I flew into Heathrow, then took a bus to Gatwick Airport where I was picked up by people from Holmsted.

I was one of the earliest arrivals. There are 23 people in my DTS, most of whom have now arrived. The majority so far are Americans, with two or so each from the Netherlands, Finland, Switzerland, England, and Canada. Everything starts this evening. Other than sleeping about 12 hours, I’ve taken pictures of the grounds and spent time with others playing cards, drinking tea, and talking over meals. The people here seem very caring and have great senses of humor.

Here we go!