I have a framed quote in my room from Proverbs 31- now I have my opinions on how western Christianity has used Proverbs 31 but now is not the time or place to air them. The quote is from Chapter 31, verse 25:
“she is clothed with strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future”
This week has been the sort of week that has led to some of that laughter verging on the hysterical- I have been running a (figurative) marathon at work and am being asked to sprint the final mile; I decided to attempt a leap into the world of shared ownership housing- with the sort of life changing decisions that need to be made in the space of twenty minutes; and I received news that a dearly loved family member is still struggling with an illness we thought they had finally conquered.
This week I have been struggling to breathe under the weight of it. More than once I have left my desk, retreated to the ladies and leant against the sinks holding in tears, praying for the energy to make it through to lunch, to the end of the day, to the end of the week. A brief respite has broken over my weekend- I feel like I am in the eye of the storm, the stillness allowing me to catch my breath before I am catapulted through the next wave of change.
Through it all I am reminded that this is the life I am called to- and the pattern of this life is that once every four to six months it will feel like something is about to go up in flames. I will be asked to take a leap of faith- and I will be asked to fall back into thin air, trusting that God will catch me. So far He always has; I know He always will; and He doesn’t just catch- he launches me forward with more momentum than I know how to cope with.
The first life-changing leap was when I graduated- no job was forthcoming in the UK, and the only door that hadn’t closed was one the one I desperately wanted to avoid- China. So I did what you need to do when He is calling and I followed. I moved to Shanghai, making the decision in a terrifying thirty minutes on an idyllically still summer’s day in the Norfolk countryside.
A month later I was deposited at a greasy cockroach infested apartment in Shanghai wondering what on earth God was playing at. No glamorous ex-pat life for this beloved daughter of God! It was the best move I ever made- those fourteen months showed me the strength I had been given. They were hard, they were foundation shaking- but they taught me how to live on faith, and how to live in the sort of intense way in which you have an amazing day, or an awful day- but never just a day. Throughout it all I clung like a drowning woman to the belief that God would never give me more to cope with than He knew I could handle. I came out of that time with a head full of new experiences, a newly refined and invigorated faith and the sort of friends who will walk through fire for you.
The moves I am making now aren’t as extreme- the leaps of faith are smaller, though not necessarily less life-changing- but they come more regularly. Sometimes they touch areas of my life I am not sure I am ready to surrender- sometimes they look like the sort of luck you can’t believe you can have- other times they ask me to turn my steps away from a path I had dreamt down for years.
In my life God’s blessing has never looked the way I wanted it to, it usually asks just a step more than I want to give, it feels slightly uncomfortable. Sometimes after the first step I become convinced that this can’t be a blessing – but after the the next three steps- or the next half a mile I look around and realise that life looks fuller and more vibrant than the life I had imagined for myself.
God has never given me more to deal with than I can cope with- and He never will, but He is refining me- and refining requires a process that looks a bit like destruction. It requires you to trust the process.
Psalm 66 is resonating through my soul this week- and I am clinging to the promise held in it:
“Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip. For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.”
(Pslam 66: 8-12)