It’s a pretty freezing London Winters day. And I’m lying cosy on my couch wrapped up in my blanky. I’m feeling pretty piggy as I proceeded to whip up a berry smoothie straight after a full deal of eggs on toast. I know, culinary expertise have gone through the roof in this house today today! So now I sit here being colder than I should be, post smoothie, with a slightly full belly… ready to unroll my little story.
This is the tale of the most recent, trying chapter of my life. I would like to say that I’m through it, but if I’m honest, I’m still in the midst of it. And when your writing bug (or the Holy Spirit!) hits and commands you to write, you just don’t say no… midway through your chapter or not.
It all started roughly 6 months ago. I had recently joined a church, after taking a while to feel settled in a church since my move to London, and I found myself integrating seamlessly into the life and blood of my new spiritual home. After a few months of attending services, I popped in to see the lead pastor and his wife. An opportunity to give them a background on my 20 year relationship with God and for them to share any advice that they may have for me. As we concluded our meeting with prayer, Amanda said she felt Isaiah 58:11 come to mind for me…
The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
Walking out of our meeting, it felt pretty non-descript. Of course God would guide me. He always had done. But I wrote the verse on my heart and held it close to my chest despite feeling it was pretty generic.
As the weeks went on, I carried on working in my role at a global advertising agency (as I have done most of my life) in the city. An organisation that had awarded me ‘Hardest Working Employee’ for the year 2015. I had delivered an intense project for them and had seen the death of my personal life for it (hence the absolute delays in knitting into my new church fam). Throughout the following year, I took on a new client, with new projects. An account I was less unenthused by but ever the eternal optimist, I tried to convince myself I would make the best of it. Additionally, I buckled as I faced personal setbacks in the form of failed romantic relationships. Over the course of 6 months, my two key projects were pushed back as the products needed to go back into Research & Development and product innovation. The lack of motivating work made it increasingly harder to fool myself into excitement. Eventually, operating under the storms of a shifting management and many demotivated employees, I was asked to run the account of a well known brand that was involved in defense and military equipment. Not only did the subject sound totally unappealing but it was completely out of my comfort zone and against my ethics. I declined the role, and as the weeks rolled on, liked gathering moss, so did a few others.
About midway through the year, we had a ladies morning at our church. It was focussed on learning to discern the voice of God. Hearing the distinct voice of God has always been one of my absolute life’s delight, so I came with an eager and willing heart, sitting alongside a group of over 100 over girls – like a geeky teachers pet, I was focussed and ready to learn. As the session closed we moved onto a simple exercise. Two packs of cards were handed out amongst the audience. Your partner was sitting in the audience with your matching ace of spades or king of hearts or jack of diamonds etc… You get the point. For twenty minutes we all sat in silence, writing out on a piece of paper what we felt God had put on our hearts for our matching partner. My partner was Erica. A tall lady almost double my size (at a 5 foot tiny me, this was not difficult) with a composition of 100% gentleness and absolute compassion. She sat with me and took me through the words on her piece of paper. She told me that she sensed…
I would face trials and testing but to know that God is in control – that He holds me (and all my worries) in His hands. She said that life would feel overwhelming, like a crashing wave. But that God was powerful – more powerful. Lastly, she pointed to a large picture of a crown that she had drawn – with a large distinct diamond upfront. ‘Oh, and God wants you to know… You’re jewel in His crown.’ she trailed off at the end.
I took my piece of paper and wondered home for the day. I felt that work had been really difficult for the last few months so had thought maybe this is what she had meant by trials. But it didn’t seem to fit. As difficult as it was, it didn’t seem that overwhelming or out of control.
I went into work the following week and through strange action started clearing all my work from my desktop onto out shared. It was something I needed to do and given I had no work, it seemed like a sensible utilisation of my time.
By the Thursday, I was called in to see HR, along with our head of department. Which seemed somewhat strange. They relayed that given the current circumstances, with no projects on hand, they wanted to discuss whether I wanted to accept a pay out. It was completely not performance related but in essence, there was no other work for me. Slightly shocked, I took time to digest the news and then without thinking too much, blindly (and I say blindly because you kind of just roll with it in the moment!) said that I accepted.
I could say I was I was taken aback, but the Holy Spirit had led this. And there was absolutely no ways I could say that I didn’t expect it. And all concerns aside, it was a healthy sum of money so at the time I felt it was merely a bump in the road and not much more than a simple phase of transition. Out with the old, in with the new, right?
The next few weeks saw me praying with fervor and then packing my bags, with rapid excitement, using the opportunity to book the next flight out of London town to grab hold of a life long dream that took me around South East Asia. I had made a loose commitment with myself to realise my dream by my 35th birthday on the 26th August. In so many ways it just hadn’t seemed achievable… Flying out on 12 July definitely meant that I was sliding in there at top speed like an F1 driver on the last race for the season!
Fast forward a few days and I’m sipping cocktails in Seminyak and learning to surf, my mid year meeting long forgotten and all that went went with it, washed away with the ocean waves that rolled in before me. Quite honestly, life was great. I had no idea what trials and testing Erica had been talking about! And besides, my CV was strong. I would slide effortlessly straight back into a job when I returned. All would be well and of course, everything worked together for my benefit of a break and the added perk of a new, more inspiring job.
Well… right in some ways. WRONG, in so many others.
God was gracious and so very, very generous to me. I was lavished with the most amazing break. The many stresses of the last few years (failed romances, agency politics and toll of the flagship ‘hardest working employee’ period that almost broke me physically) started to unravel. The psychological damage deeply ingrained from general agency strife and struggle started to slowly dissipate. But it would seem, this was only the beginning.
After a few months later I returned home from my break, keen to make a focussed attempt at cracking that dream role. That ‘floating on air-I’ve cracked my life’s purpose-kind of career’. I prayed to God that He would guide my path, opening and closing doors to remain in His will and make sure I was submitted to His way. What could go wrong? Well, a whole stream of shut doors for one. Door after door after door after door. I started facing set back. After set back. After set back. I started with a ‘God I know you want me to live out my purpose and do what I love, so this is what I love and I’m heading in this direction!!’ which slowly started veering into the ‘Hey God, not sure if you want me to go in this direction… just open a door and I’m going to go in that direction…’
And still, the doors just kept on shutting. I have fasted. My family has prayed. My best friends were praying. My life groups was praying. I have prayed with people at church.
Shut door after shut door after shut door. And slowly my finances dwindled at the rate that my faith for that dream career started to wane. My non-Christian friends didn’t quite know what to do and the recruitment agents slowly started to back away. Quite frankly no one really knew what to say. After losing out narrowly to another candidate for a position, in an organisation that I had dreamed my entire career of walking into, I felt that God had dangled a carrot under my nose and promptly taken it away. Drawing back the curtains, quite frankly, I had a mini melt down. A proper core wrenching mini melt down. I was so low from rejection and that day I just felt like it had physically taken a blow to my stomach. But God gently lifted me up and placed me back on my feet. And as the days passed, I glanced over 1 Peter 5:6-7…
So be content with who you are, and don’t put on airs. God’s strong hand is on you; he’ll promote you at the right time. Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you.
Over a space of 48 hours I had came across it in a devotion and later in my bible. By the 48th hour, my sister had messaged me, from Cape Town, out of the blue saying she had it on her heart to send that very exact verse to me. Ok God, I hear you. Let me just chill, like the London Winter weather, all the way down.
And so after 4 months, I clutched to that piece of paper from Erica that said I would face trials but God was in control. I clutched to Isaiah 58:11 saying that God would guide me and I that I would be a well watered garden in the emptiest of places. And I hung on to His word that His strong hand was on me and He would promote me at the right time.
Time passed and after even more shut doors, I was heading home to South Africa. It was my first Christmas at home in 3 years. And quite honestly, I was looking forward to being encircled by those that mattered. The trip was like soothing honey poured on my soul. The joy of my niece, nephew and God child. The comforting arm of my sister. The hugs of my mother. The morning cups of coffee delivered by my father. A full and bustling home in the midst of the South African sunshine. My problems were far and once again, God poured water of restoration on my soul. Clearing the debris that had collected from the months He worked His refiners fire. I could surf carefree in the waves. Enjoy the goodness of creation in the mountains. And my mind was finally rested. The daily taunt of a failed romance blown away. The pieces of a broken career left lingering far in the distance. I was home. And God knew this was the place to heal me. Where travelling had allowed my heart to be softened and rested, coming home had opened it up for God to pour warm honey deep inside to refill it.
As I entered my last day home, with a heart full and a mind rested, we headed on down to the beach for one last sunset swim. My sister asking if I would take my nephew in whilst she waited up on the banks of the beach with my niece. The tide was high for a beach that formed a rocky enclave on the coast of Hermanus. But I had grown up a competitive swimmer and felt pretty confident. So I took my 5 years old nephew in, with all his heart melting delight. I laughed alongside him, thinking how much I was going to miss this little soul with all of my might.
As the waves rolled in, becoming larger and stronger, I started to wonder whether it was right for us to stay in there. As I lifted my nephew up for one or two waves, I thought in the back of my head that they were only just in my control for me to still hold him above my head, up and out of the water. He was still getting comfortable in the sea and was not totally in control when in the water. So when I saw three waves barreling up together right at the back, I estimated the time it would take to reach us and told him to make a run for it. Measuring in my head that we would both be far in front of the wave until it reached us. Or at least reach to a point where it would lightly crash around our ankles.
As we ran for the back of the rocky beach we could see the wave fast approaching behind us. With unexpected force, only 15 metres from a 6 foot vertical jutting rock, it lifted both of us. My nephew went down under and I was forced along from the force whilst trying to regain my balance. The wave was expectedly incredibly fierce and very powerful. At only a 5 metres from the rock, I was still struggling to gain my balance, my nephew still being carried in front of me with force underwater. Only seconds away from being slammed, body and head, into the wall of the rock in front of us. In that moment, I knew God was my only hope. I had seconds to get to my nephew and whilst fighting the wave with all I could manage, I never knew in that moment if I would make it.
With a desperate plea to God for help, I dug both feet in the sand to hold against the wave and managed to pull him up from under the water. The blood drained from my being whilst humility seeped through and soaked every bone and cell to the core of my heart and physical body. I have never felt so small, with such little control, in need of a God so great with absolute control. My nephew recovered, thankfully with only a few scrapes. His goggles, which he insists on wearing in the ocean (bless him!), had covered his sight and potentially saved us from him realising the full impact of the incident. I, however, was shocked and mildly traumatized. The tears rolled down my face with every thought of it. And I thought back on the words of Erica, that echoed that ‘life would feel overwhelming, like a crashing wave. But that God was powerful – more powerful.’ I felt God remind me that we are so small, and we do have such little control. And He is all powerful. And if only we were to take our place of surrender to gain perspective and truly humble ourselves, we would open our lives for all that He has in store for us.
*Important note! All was not lost as we headed out for one last meal together – feasting on good wine and fine South African foods for my last night home. God blessed us with the entire family in good cheer and a table surrounded once again with bountiful love and laughter*
So I have returned to my abode in London. The doors still continue to open and then close but I am reminded that we serve a God that is first and foremost after hearts. Of course he wants good things for us. But His heart, more than anything, is after the wellbeing and purity of our little hearts.
And as a jewel being prepared for flawlessness, we see the need for continuous cutting, grinding and polishing. The more valuable the stone, the more intense the heat and pressure to process them. 2 Corinthians 4:16 tells us “even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day”. Most noticeable, is that water must be constantly applied in just the right amount to keep the stone from cracking due to the heat, and to wash away the debris produced during the grinding. Until eventually, the stone is pressed against the buffing wheel, shining the exterior and allowing the light in, whilst also reflecting such glorious and brilliant light out.
And if that means a period of steadfast trust, deep faith and holding tightly to His promises as He renews the deepest most inner corners of my heart… Then I will wait. And I will trust that the jeweler is in control of processing this raw and imperfect jewel into the best state of brilliance for His crown and His glory, that it could possibly be.