The life theologic – New year, real you

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As a species, we seem to love any opportunity to reminisce and evaluate ourselves.  At the start of each new year we sit down and think about what we’ve done in the past 12 months and try to come up with ways of doing things better in the year to come. Impossible resolutions are fine, because who keeps them anyway?  And surely it’s the thought that counts, right?  We want to be better, even if we don’t manage to achieve it, and that’s the important part, the desire to change and improve.  To be healthier, to learn a new language or spend more time visiting our grandparents.  The spirit is willing, even if the flesh is weak.

Looking back over the last year, I’ve realised that I only wrote nine blog posts.  Nine. That’s not even one per month!  There have been so many posts that I’ve planned, or even written in my head, but that never came into being.

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I meant to write about the magical moment on the 29th of May, in Naples, when I first bit into a sfogliatella and fell in love.  About how I searched high and low for these delicious little pastries in the UK, and almost resorted to baking them myself, even though the pastry requires 2 days and a pasta machine in order to make.

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Then there were the stories of the people I met in Tunis, who were so apologetic about the tragedy at the Bardello museum and spent so long explaining what it really means to be Tunisian, and how the terrorist mentality just does not fit with the Tunisian outlook on life.

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Or the incredible tapas I found at El Tapeo de Cervantes in Malaga, that completely changed both my perception of what tapas should be, and my hatred of dining alone. When food is that good, who cares about the company, or lack thereof?

There have been so many things that I have seen or done or thought this year that I wanted to share, and yet have not.

Thinking about it, I always had the same excuse – I was too busy.  It wasn’t even that I was too busy doing things I love.  I was just too busy, too exhausted by the change of pace that comes when you swap mission for a 9 to 5.  Too busy filling my time with meaningless busyness to stop and think, let alone to write.  What has life come to, when you find yourself too caught up in the day-to-day, to take the time to do the things that make your life worthwhile?

As this new year begins, I don’t want to create a new me.  I don’t want to make resolutions I have no intention of keeping.  I don’t believe that just wanting to be better is enough.  In fact I have no desire to be “better”, especially if the idea of “better” comes from some idealised vision of what the perfect person should be, or how they should behave.

This year, I want to be more like me.  The real me that lies underneath all of the expectation and hype.  The one that God created and loves and values, despite it all.  The one that feels happiest going out wearing jeans that are full of holes, even if everyone else has dressed up.  The one that loves to take the time to write about something she cares about, even if no one else ever reads it.  The one that sings happy songs about peanut butter while she makes her breakfast.  And definitely the one that thinks that playing human hungry, hungry hippos is the most fun you can have on a skateboard.

This is a year to be brave … to be real, all the time, even when people are watching.

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The life theologic – There is always more to learn

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Our church was recently visited by a team from Ellel Ministries, who ran a weekend looking at healing and forgiveness.  Having been a part of YWAM for the past 2 years, I was really looking forward to having a large, international team around for the weekend. Don’t get me wrong, Somerset is lovely, but somewhat homogenous, and I miss the diversity that I was surrounded by, both in London and during my time with YWAM. Anyway, apart from being excited by all the foreigners, I went into the weekend with two main preconceptions:  one, that as they were going to be talking about healing and deliverance, it was going to get weird, and two, that I would probably have heard it all before and could just sit back and observe the proceedings.  Basically, I was setting myself up for a weekend of people watching. (How often do we do that in church, on those Sundays when we’re tired and don’t feel like we can muster up the energy to have a proper conversation with God.)

Thankfully, not only did Ellel turn out to be the least weird and wacky ministry team I think I’ve ever experienced (my church is weirder on a weekly basis), but I also really enjoyed the teaching.  Yes, I had heard most of it before, but God still used that time to speak to me in a new way.  I love how He does that, even when we think we know better, or that we already know it all, He still manages to surprise and humble us.  This time it was in the form of a very simple exercise.  We were asked to draw a heart on a piece of paper, and to start writing in it things that God was revealing to us about the good things that He has placed in our hearts, and the things that are not so good. Sounds easy enough, right?

Unfortunately, it is so much easier for most of us to fill that heart with the negative things that we feel about ourselves; the hidden sins and failures that plague our waking hours and act to drive a wedge between us and God.  There were plenty of negative things that I could have written in the heart, but from the moment we started the exercise I was bombarded with such a torrent of good things, that I soon ran out of space to put anything negative.  The more I wrote, the more they kept coming; things I would agree with and things that I couldn’t see in myself, and some things that were difficult for me to write down.  It was like God wanted to use that moment to show me how He sees my heart.  How, because of Jesus, He doesn’t see the bad things that I dwell upon.  He wanted to show me all of the things that He has placed in my heart and is working on growing and developing.  Some of them are still little seedlings, and some are fully fledged trees, but they are all there, whether I accept it or not.  It was an amazing experience.  It’s taken me a long time to learn how to deal with compliments, as they usually make me want to shrink into myself, and here I was, being complimented by God!  And yet, it didn’t make me want to cringe, it made me want to try and live up to the version of me that He sees.

I so easily relapse into dwelling on the bad, only to be reminded by God of the good, that this time I decided to take action.  I decided to record the things He said about me and turn them into something that I would want to look at.  I’m hoping that by looking at them everyday, they will help me to remember who I am, and to think about how God sees me, rather than how the rest of the world does.

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(The eagle-eyed among you will notice that mine is in the shape of Africa, not a heart. That’s for two reasons: one, because I love how Africa is pretty much heart shaped anyway, and two, because Africa is where my heart lies.)

The life theologic – A radical solution

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Working with an NGO that mainly deals with those most at risk for human trafficking, I’ve come to realise just how great the gender imbalance is when you look at the world.  Globally, a greater proportion of women and girls are trafficked than men or boys (70% as opposed to 30% according to the latest UN report on Trafficking in Persons).  This is a huge difference, considering there are slightly more men than women alive in the world today.  Looking deeper, you realise how bad the situation is.  Females are more likely to be aborted, killed as infants, refused treatment when sick, raped, beaten by their partners, and paid less for equal work, while being less likely to be educated or well fed, as well as being scarred by FGM in certain parts of the world!  That’s a horrifying list to look at, and it made me wonder why this is happening?  What is it about women that makes them deserving of this treatment?  Why is there so little love for women in the world? DTS Five (25) I count myself lucky to have grown up in a family and nation where women have equal rights to men.  I was never held back or marginalised because of my gender, and I can probably count on one hand the number of times I was told I couldn’t do something because I was female.  Because of the encouraging environment, access to healthcare and education, and most importantly of all, love that I received at home, I was free to grow into the giftings God has given me and to achieve things considered impossible or at least pointless for a woman by much of the worlds population.  Because of the education I received, I know that biologically, there is no reason why women cannot obtain the same level of understanding of the world around them as men.  When given the same level of education, they are not deceived more easily than men.  So why are they treated in this way by so much of the world?  Why is a correct attitude seen as one in which it is considered pointless to educate a woman?  Was it just luck that determined that I should be allowed freedoms and rights that are denied to so many? I don’t believe so.  In Western countries, those founded on Christian principles anyway, the lot of women tends to be better, but there is still not true equality.  In the church we are guilty of preventing women from reaching their true potential by holding back those that would minister or teach others.  I don’t believe that this is Biblical, or that it reflects the true character or image of God.  Men and women were created from the same source, both in the image of God.  They were given the task of ruling the earth together. They were both present at the fall.  Don’t be fooled, Adam was there too when Eve took the fruit, and did nothing to stop her.  He then took it from her, having witnessed the previous exchange with the serpent.  They were both equally deceived.  And they have both been equally redeemed by Christ.  The early church, based on the example Christ set in His interactions with women, was hugely counter-cultural, with women leading churches and teaching.  Paul taught men to love their wives as themselves, something they had never had to do before, wives being considered property, rather than partners.  He also frequently gave direction and correction about women teaching, prophesying and leading, something that blatantly suggests that women were fulfilling these roles.  We were always intended to work together in fulfilling the Great Commission, but at the moment at least half of the work force is being held back!  Think how much more we would be able to do if more women were helped to grow in their talents and giftings? DTS Outreach  (82) If so much could be done within the church by a shift in the value we place on women, just how much could be done in other areas of life?  In so many cultures, women are raped and abused because they are not considered to be worth as much as a man.  Female babies are aborted or neglected because they are considered a liability and an expense.  We need to change the way the world perceives women.  We need to realise that, in God’s eyes, women and men are of equal value.  That we have been charged to look after this earth together.  Of course things are going to go wrong if you oppress half of the workforce!  We need to work together to build a future.  Globally, if we educated women to the same level as men, and gave them the same rights and access to services, we would have a much larger potential workforce.  More minds able to ponder the difficult questions in life.  More inventors coming up with solutions to alleviate poverty.  More researchers discovering cures for diseases.  Elevating the value of women to its rightful place could be an amazing solution to poverty, if we could just see past the blinkers of the past. In the end though, it doesn’t matter what we choose to do with our lives or with any new-found freedoms that we may gain.  It matters more that we are able to grow in the giftings we are given, whatever they may be, so that we can each do the thing we do best, to the benefit of all.  It doesn’t matter if we are led by a man or a woman, as long as they are living out their gifting.  We should all have the opportunity to excel in something, and to be proud of what we do.

The life theologic – Growing pains

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It’s now been 4 weeks since I moved to Muizenberg and started my adventure with Justice ACTS International, and the time has just flown by.  The atmosphere within the organization is wonderful.  I’ve never met people that are willing to invest so much into those that they work with to help them grow.  I am already learning so much about myself and how I fit in with the rest of the team.  We are currently working on profiles of different countries that we hope to visit in the near future, which is keeping the researcher inside of me very happy, as well as running local outreaches and planning events to raise awareness of human trafficking.  The amazingly hectic international schedule that the team keeps means that my plans for the next few months are constantly changing, but I am loving the challenge that it presents.  At the moment, I’m not too worried about what is coming up.  God knows exactly where He wants me, and that’s good enough for me, whether it be in France, America, England, or right here in Cape Town.

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Despite all of the busyness, I am currently experiencing the strange sensation of having to rediscover myself and my place within a city that I have already lived in for a year, due to the amazingly alienating force known as the absence of a car.  I have good friends in this city, people that have become brothers and sisters to me over the last year, but suddenly a 40 minute drive has separated us as effectively as oceans and continents.

In a way, this is good.  For a start, it is forcing me to engage with those around me and settle properly into life in Muizenberg, rather than just running away to the familiar surroundings of the Northern Suburbs all the time.  Settling in is not all that easy to do at the moment, as I’m living in temporary accommodation, but I’m hoping to be able to get my life properly sorted out as of next week.  I am also learning just how wonderful and indispensable an invention Skype is.  Being able to talk with my family and actually see their faces is an enormous blessing.  I don’t think I would have made it through the last few weeks without it, or them.

At least the scenery here is good for the soul, even if you are spending more time alone than is usual.  It really is stunningly beautiful here.

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The natural beauty and lure of this seaside town, with it’s quirky coffee shops and rank upon rank of surfboards lining the seafront is now contrasted so starkly in my mind with the abject poverty that I have experienced in the townships on the other side of the road.  Geographically, one main road separates 2 townships from the beautiful and peaceful suburbs of Muizenberg, yet in people’s minds it may as well be a huge gulf.  I have been told by so many people to be careful after dark, to not walk the main road on my own and to not stop at the lights if I’m driving after dark.  There is a great sense of fear when people think of the townships, a sense of inevitability and not being able to change things, and of not being welcome there.

I am glad to say that this has not been my experience at all.  Yes, the local townships are in the middle of an age old form of gang warfare.  Yes, the houses are, at best cinder block structures that barely have running water and electricity.  And yes, there are huge problems with violence, poverty and prostitution, most of which are linked to high rates of Tik addiction (a local variant of crystal meth).  But there is hope too.  My experience of the townships will probably not be the norm, as I went with people that have taken the time to form relationships with people that live there, and to maintain them.  We were greeted with shouts of joy, welcomed into peoples homes and treated like old friends, even though some of us were new faces.  We spoke with people who have experienced more pain than I can ever know, yet were happy to spend time with us, and told us that things were well with them.  I cannot honestly say that if I was in the same situation as them, I would be able to say that things were well with me.

I have a lot to learn from them.

I can’t wait to go back and start working more closely with the people there, teaching them how to be followers of Jesus, and that they have a value far above anything on this earth.  To show them that following Jesus is about more than just saving souls, and that God loves them just as they are, whether they be gangsters, pimps, prostitutes or drug dealers.  We have all been made in the image and likeness of God, and have all been redeemed by the same Saviour.  We are all worth more than we can ever realise, and nothing we can do can change that.  A diamond is still a diamond, even if it’s buried deep in the ground.

The life theologic – When life gives you lemonade …

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As my friend, Lauren, would say ‘When life gives you lemonade, make lemons, and life will be all like, WHAT???!!!!’

I’m not sure that I’m going to exchanging the sweetness I’ve been given for something sour anytime soon, and I have been blessed abundantly in the sweetness department lately.  I’m about to embark on a new 6 month adventure in Cape Town, working with a charity called Justice Acts International.  They do amazing work trying to combat human trafficking by researching and deploying tailor made educational programmes to communities at high risk.  I’m so excited to join them in their fight to bring the injustice of human trafficking to an end.  I will hopefully be able to write about some of the work that the charity is getting up to over the next few months, but if you’d like to know more about them in the mean time, check out their website here.

Working with a charity as a volunteer, as I will be, for any length of time is difficult to do, and there was a point during the process when I wasn’t sure that I would be able to.  I had met with the staff that ran the charity, and was convinced that working with them for the next 6 months was right for me, but I only had enough money left to pay for my flight back to South Africa.  I would have nothing to live on once I got there.  So, we took it to God.  We basically said that if this was right, and He wanted me there, working with this charity, then He was going to have to provide a way for me to do it.  2 weeks later I got the biggest shock of my life when I received an email saying that there had been a mistake with one of my student stipends from several years ago, and that I was due 4 years worth of back pay!  God came through in a way I had never expected, and have never experienced before.  Suddenly, my next 6 months were sorted, and now I can go and throw myself into this new adventure without having to worry, because I know He’s got everything under control.

I set off for South Africa once more today, leaving behind the wonderful warmth of my family here in England.  It has been a much needed and very restful break, and I’m going to miss them all, whether they be church family, actual family or friends.  I am definitely going to miss the beautiful English countryside too.  Hopefully one day I can bring some of my new African family of friends to experience it for themselves, but until then they’ll have to make do with this …

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The life theologic – Let dreams be dreams

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Have you ever experienced a moment in your life when you suddenly realise that your dreams will never ever come true? In your forties, it’s known as a mid-life crisis.  I went through it at 16, so I’m not really sure what you would call it, but it’s just as disorienting, no matter what your age.

Between finishing my GCSEs and starting my A-levels, I came to the realisation that living in a small village in the middle of the English countryside was going to seriously hamper my goal of working with costume and special effects make-up in the film industry. Up until that point, I had been convinced that I was going to happily live out my days on film sets turning humans into Hobbits, because, even though The Lord of the Rings had been finished, they were bound to make The Hobbit some day, right?

It could be seen as fortunate that I came to my senses right as I was choosing my A-level subjects, rather than later on. At least this way I was able to follow the advice of my elders and do a ‘real’ subject at University, something that required brain power and wasn’t a waste of my potential, in an area in which I could really do something useful for society.

Well, as far as the whole ‘doing what society expects of you’ thing goes, I think I can honestly say I’ve been there, done that, and got the silly robes and mediaeval hat.

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Unfortunately, 3 years of undergraduate study and 4 years of PhD later, I realised how little impact one person can make in the field of medical science and how long it takes to make anything useful and worthwhile out of the breakthroughs that do happen. Don’t get me wrong, researching incurable diseases is a noble cause and very much worth the efforts of the best minds we can throw at it, but it wasn’t right for me.

In this day and age, it turns out the best way to impact the world is through those subjects that are most sneered at as you grow up; media, art, photography and film.  The current generation is so visual that they simply will not take the time to stop and read to the end of an article unless there are pictures or, even better, video clips.  The influence that the media has over the minds of the public cannot be underestimated.  One thing I’m learning from studying photography is that even when documenting events as they happen, the camera is only telling part of the truth.  The lens you choose, the angle you shoot at, the split second at which you press the shutter; all of these combine to create your own version of the event and show the world life as you see it.

For me, being given the opportunity to study video production and photography has been a real blessing. Learning new and different ways to communicate, especially ways that are relevant to the preferences of the current generation, is something that I value highly.  How and where I use it once this school has finished is currently a mystery to me, but I do know that I have learned skills that have the power to influence others, and that I want to use them for something worthwhile.

One bonus of being part of a media school has been the unexpected opportunity to realise my teenage dreams. The film school here recently took part in a competition, in which you have to write, shoot and edit a short film in the space of 48 hours.  I was asked to help out with set design, wardrobe and props, which was utterly exhausting and entirely brilliant.  What made the whole experience even better for me was the fact that we were filming a thriller.  Thriller = murders, and murders = lots and lots of fake blood.  Luckily, 4 years of working with blood on a daily basis in the lab has given me a pretty good idea of what it looks like and how it behaves.  I’m not sure how well this translated into reality with the limited time and resources at my disposal, but I did have an enormous amount of fun trying to formulate a recipe for blood that would include realistic clots.

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This may all seem a little over the top and geeky, but I see it as evidence of God’s goodness. He knew my dreams when I was 16.  He put them in my heart for a reason, and now He’s surprising me with them when I thought they were lost forever.  It’s a reminder for me that He can work wonders in areas of my life that I’ve given up on, and I think that’s something that is true for everyone.  Nothing is too big or too difficult for God to bring about, if you’ll let Him do it in His own time and way, so I’m going to keep trusting Him for even more extraordinary things.

The life theologic – Keeping promises

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Once again, I feel as if I’ve abandoned you all for far too long.  The School of Video Production finished a month ago, but they kept us so busy with projects and assignments every evening and weekend that I didn’t have time to do anything but eat and sleep.  Thankfully, Photography School is much less hectic.  I’ve still been somewhat tied up in the evenings, so apologies once again for the silence, but I should be able to post more regularly again.

In my last post I told you about my decision to switch from Design to Photography, despite having no camera and no money.  Well, I took the leap and switched schools, trusting God for the equipment.  2 months went by, and I had no camera and no money.  The first day of school came around, and I still had no camera and no money, but by now I really really needed one.  We took a trip to the mall and, as luck would have it, took a detour to the camera shop so that another student could collect some prints.  I decided to venture inside with her.

30 minutes later, I surprised myself somewhat by buying a beautiful new DSLR, actually a better model than I ever intended, a Canon 70D.  All I can say is ‘Praise the Lord for credit cards’.  It cost R14,000 and I figured I could maybe afford 1/3 of that price, so I was running on faith that God would come through on His promise.

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Less than a week later, without telling people about it, I had been given R11,500!!!!!  That covered more than the 2/3’s that I couldn’t afford.  All I can say is that God is amazingly amazingly good and always keeps His promises!

I’ve been so blessed by the Photography School already.  We’re a month in, and I’m loving it so much!  The lecturers have been great, and our school leaders are fantastic.  I even enjoyed learning about Wedding Photography, something I thought I would never find interesting.  Studying different styles of photography is helping me to realise where my strengths lie.  I’m enjoying getting to try some photo journalism and portrait work, but food and nature are what I’m naturally drawn to.  I’m intrigued to see where God is going to take me with this, but the fact that He gave me the camera in the first place is a huge encouragement that I’m probably on the right track, so I’m going to stick with it.

Here are just a few of my favourite shots so far from the school.

SSDP Week 1 (55)Having a go at long exposures one evening …

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Learning about composition and lighting …

SSDP Week 5 (21)Having fun telling stories with kids toys …

SSDP Week 5 (31)Attempting to recreate a portrait of my sister-in-law taken by the incredibly talented Rich Morris … http://www.richmorrisphotography.com/wedding-photography-in-wedmore-lydia-dan/