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Sewing a flourishing community

Title: Sewing a flourishing community
Artwork by: Elizabeth Mattson (@mattsonmadeshop)
Description: 
“The Hands Series” was a personal project to encourage creatives to come together and work as a community, instead of viewing each other as competitors. It can be easy to slip into a competitive mindset, especially when there are so many other creatives on Instagram who are creating similar products as you, have similar styles as you, or a better social media presence than you do.

To me, “hands” depict the idea of “sharing”. There is beauty when we are able to set aside our scarcity mindsets to learn, grow, and flourish with each other.

Building creative communities could simply look like having conversations over coffee, working on projects together, or connecting over social media. Would you be willing to use your “hands” to sow seeds of encouragement, share ideas, and support others too?

As you’re sifting through the gifts you received, why not spend some time thinking about how even the smallest gift could remind us of what it means to live with purpose as Christians. As we celebrate the greatest gift God has given us, hopefully it’ll inspire us to see the little gifts in our lives through a different light.

 

 

 

 

4 Truths That Kept Me Going in 2018

As 2018 draws to a close, I want to look back on the past 12 months and examine the valuable lessons I’ve learned. Not just to give myself a pat on the back for making it this far but also to reflect on the things that God has taught me in the last year.

So here we go.

 

1. Learn to live beyond how you feel

Don’t give your feelings the power to affect you. You can turn that dial down (for me it’s called the crazy dial) and tune in to a different voice. Your feelings don’t have to determine the path you take. Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet, reveals this earth-shattering truth when he describes the heart as “deceitful above all else and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Sometimes how we feel doesn’t always match up to reality; so it’s important to learn how to differentiate between the two.

At my core, I am a feeler—so I’m still working on this. A while back, I realized how much air time I was giving to negative voices in my life instead of God’s voice. Part of the battle is learning to dial down the negative voices and turn up the ones that bring you life.

Instead of focusing on our fears, worries, and problems, we need to remind them of where they stand in relation to God. Believe me, I know how easy it is to get hung up on all of the negatives but it’s imperative in these moments that we hang onto the promises of God instead. Read His Word and pray through His promises over yourself and your situation. It may not transform your circumstances but it most surely will transform the way you think and feel about them.

Some verses that have helped me are:

I will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

I have not given you a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)

I have loved you with an everlasting love. (Jeremiah 31:3)

 

2. We need community

Life is full of ups and downs, so it’s essential that you find your tribe.

The ones you turn to when it feels like the walls are closing in. The ones who stand by you when you feel like you’re completely alone. The ones who hold you up when you can’t hold on any longer. The ones who remind you of God’s faithfulness in your life when you’ve lost all perspective. (Please tell me I’m not the only one who struggles to see the bigger picture?!)

We all need the help of community to keep us going during those times. The deepest part of me truly believes this is where the church comes in; but not everyone may have had the best experience with the religious community when it comes to divulging your inner demons.

It’s important to remember that the church is made up of imperfect people who are trying to emulate the perfection of Christ; so at some point, you will most likely be disappointed. After all, not everyone is called to walk through this life with you.

The trick is not letting this dishearten you but to let it fuel your fiery desire to seek out real community—the people who listen when you ask the tough questions, the people who don’t always have to fill the silence when they don’t know what to say, the people who laugh with deep belly-laughs at life’s many joys and cry with you when it’s just too much to handle anymore. Find these people and you will be the richest person on earth.

 

3. Healing is a journey

Throughout my time at university and early 20s, I lived with a debilitating anxiety disorder. And yet during that painful season, God did not miraculously heal me from my anxiety disorder even though I frequently begged Him to.

I didn’t automatically stop having panic attacks despite committing to daily quiet times with Him every morning before 8 a.m. lectures. I still had to catch my breath and count to 10 in the middle of a client meeting to avoid a potential breakdown. I still had to excuse myself from Political Theory lectures to prevent an impending panic attack. I still went to bed most nights with a racing heart and restless mind. It really is a miracle I got through those years at college. Praise Jesus.

In short, my healing journey wasn’t an instantaneous jolt of supernatural peace. It wasn’t a straightforward quick fix.

Managing my anxiety was a long, drawn-out, and emotionally painful process. It was the result of many months of intense counseling sessions, countless moments of trial and error practicing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques, heaps of emotional energy I often didn’t have to give, and endless support from “my people.” It required the Church to get alongside me and cheer me on as I waded through the muddy waters of poor mental health. Thank God for those precious people.

 

4. God uses imperfect people for His perfect plans

I’m also grateful for all the people who genuinely wanted to help me loosen the chains of anxiety and live my life in all its fullness. People who offered an ear to listen and a shoulder to lean on when the anxiety was just too much. People who encouraged me to keep going despite me wanting to give up. People who identified my giftings and called them out in me, even when I could not see them myself.

This was perhaps the most redeeming truth—realizing that God still had a place for me in His Kingdom even though I didn’t have my stuff all sorted. I was not perfect, and He wasn’t expecting me to be. He just wanted me to come, exactly as I was, and work in me so He could work through me to help others.

I have discovered that is often the way with God. It’s in the darkest places where we learn the most important lessons. And in order for God to use our lives for His glory, we must experience a little bit of what others have gone through to truly understand their journey and to be effective carriers of His peace and healing.

 

So as I’m sitting here reflecting on the past 12 months, I want to openly admit to you the truth that I do not have it all together. I do not have all the answers. I have not fully “arrived”. (Do we ever really?)

Perhaps the most important truth I have discovered throughout my experience as a Christian with anxiety is simply this—God uses broken people to heal other broken people.

God uses weak people to demonstrate His strength.

God uses broken people to mend the wounds of brokenhearted people.

God uses anxious people to free up anxious people.

So in 2019, I just encourage you to go for it. Join the prayer team at church. Write that book. Start that Bible study group. Climb that mountain. Run that race. There is a part for you to play in God’s big plan of calling His lost kids back to Him. You have a significant part to play in saving the world. Every one of us gets to play.

Every one of us gets a seat at the table.

A place to lead, to serve, to encourage, to inspire, to challenge, to heal.

Not in spite of our weakness, but because of them.

What It’s Like to Spend Christmas Alone

Written By Madeline Twooney, Germany

My earliest memories of Christmas were a mixture of joy and sadness. I grew up in Melbourne, Australia, where celebrating Christmas meant wearing bathing suits, eating barbecued shrimp and steak, spending the day around the backyard pool, and of course, the excitement of opening presents!

On the other hand, Christmas was also a time of the year that painfully exposed the brokenness of my family. Though the spirit of Christmas seemed present in the festively decorated shops and the wreath-bedecked streets, it somehow failed to permeate our cheerless home. At least my parents tried to tolerate each other, instead of resorting to their customary fighting.

l realized l was part of a family that couldn’t embrace the season of love and goodwill to turn our dismal situation around.

 

Family Feud

When l started university, every year l would volunteer to work a double shift on Christmas Day at the restaurant where l waitressed. That way I could avoid spending Christmas with my parents—who didn’t seem much bothered by the fact that I was avoiding them. They were occupied with their own marital problems.

After completing my university degree, l left home at 23 and moved to Cologne, Germany. My relationship with my parents worsened considerably over time, until communication between us completely broke down.

That left me alone in a foreign country, with no money, and no family to fall back on.

Instead of wallowing in despair, I dedicated the next 10 years to carving out a new life for myself in Germany without my family, which included creating new Christmas traditions.

 

Christmas For One

In Germany, I became a teacher and made new friends, the majority of them expatriates like myself. Every year at the beginning of the Christmas break, however, my friends traveled back to their home towns to spend the holidays with their families, and l was left alone.

Every year I told myself that l was used to being on my own, and I worked to make each approaching Christmas a memorable occasion for myself.

On my own, I embraced the traditions of a German Christmas: I visited the Christmas markets; l went sing-a-long caroling amidst a winter wonderland; I ate roast goose and baked apples. It was completely opposite to the Christmas traditions l grew up with in the southern hemisphere, yet l enjoyed discovering these aspects of German culture. While l hadn’t given my life to Christ at that point of my life, l would still go to Christmas services at the local church.

Though self-pity and loneliness insisted on making their presence known, l pushed those feelings deep down and doubled my efforts to absorb the Christmas spirit.

I listened to the mellow crooning’s of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” while decorating my pine Christmas tree, and almost managed to convince myself that l was happy being by myself for the holidays.

But then Christmas day arrived. The shops were closed and the city was quiet. And it hit me that once again l was spending Christmas alone.

I began to despair of ever knowing a family that wanted me—not only at Christmas, but every day of the year. Though l wasn’t a Christian at this time, l got on my knees and cried out to God in prayer for Him to give me a loving family, so that l could experience the happiness that others enjoyed at Christmas with their loved ones.

 

A New Family Through Jesus

God heard my pleading and my prayers. Within a couple of years after arriving in Germany, l gave my life to Him and found the family l was yearning for. I gained a heavenly Father, and l became His child (John 1:12-13). I would never be alone again.

Through the salvation and mercy of Jesus Christ, l laid the painful past of my childhood to rest and reached out to my parents a few years ago in order to try and mend our differences. We resumed communications for a while. Last year, however, my parents cut off all contact with me.

In spite of this disappointment, I still feel the love of a spiritual family. For although my parents rejected me, God took me in and adopted me as His own. I joined a church and found new brothers and sisters in Christ.

God has also blessed me with a new earthly family. He has provided me with a kind and compassionate husband, as well as very dear friends whom l love like the siblings l never had.

Together, we have made our own family memories. We have celebrated numerous Christmases and birthdays together. We have laughed during the high points of our lives and supported each other during the low points. I am truly grateful to God for bringing these beautiful people into my life.

This coming Christmas, my husband and l are hosting my best friends, who are visiting us from Berlin. This year has been particularly challenging for all of us due to health and other issues, and l look forward to taking this time to share with my friends the love and victory that Christ has given me.

I will also write to my parents and wish them a Merry Christmas. So far, they haven’t responded to my attempts at communication, but l will continue to pray for them and believe that we can reconcile in the future. Until then, l entrust them to God’s hands.

If you are entering this holiday season without the comfort of your loved ones, know that God is with you. Your story isn’t finished yet. Hold on to that, and hold on to God.

And in the mean time, my thoughts and prayers are with you this Christmas.

How I Found A Community While Going to College Abroad

Written By Yang Ming, Singapore

Before I set off to Swansea, Wales to further my studies, I had researched a number of churches to attend. While I knew about Singapore communities in popular destinations like Sydney or London, I didn’t know of any Singaporean Christians in Swansea. I asked around for recommendations, but didn’t receive any. So my search continued on Google.

I was anxious to find a church. I knew friends who had found God through church communities when they were studying overseas. I also had Christian friends who experienced God in a supernatural way and whose spiritual life grew while abroad. Both groups shared compelling personal testimonies, and I always felt encouraged by their faith-charged stories and was eager to have the same experience. Although I made a list of churches I found online, I was still fearful that I might not find a suitable church to settle in.

But as I was spending time with God one day, I was reassured by a verse in Joshua 1:9, where God tells Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” If God was with Joshua when he entered a foreign land, surely God would be with me as well.

My first month in school was a challenging one. I had to acquaint myself with my new flatmates and classmates. I had to learn a new culture, and adjust to a different way of living, food, transport, and even communication. On top of that, I had to re-adjust to student life after having worked for five years. It was awkward not even knowing the agenda for my class!

But just as God promised, He was with me as I entered this new country. A chance encounter led me to meet Molly, who together with her husband Charles, are missionaries from Singapore serving the local community in Swansea, Wales. Molly set up the English Corner at my campus some years ago as a place where international students can come together to learn English and the local culture from native students.

Molly followed up with me to make sure that I was settling well. She also invited me to her church. When I finally had all the administrative work settled, I decided to pay a visit to Molly’s church.

I casually invited two of my flatmates—one from Italy and the other from Brazil—to the Sunday service as well, and surprisingly, they agreed to come. Later I learned that both had attended churches in their respective homes and were also looking for a church to settle in.

Molly was very welcoming to us when we turned up for service. Her church was Presbyterian, whereas back home, I worshipped in a Charismatic church. We sang different songs during worship and the services were conducted differently. Despite these differences, I felt at peace during the service. The guest speaker’s message that day spoke to me. It made me realize that what mattered wasn’t so much the worship style or how the service was conducted, but that the church was focused on God’s Word and His heart for the people.

After service, everyone in the congregation was invited to stay for a scrumptious homecooked lunch, courtesy of Molly and her husband Charles.

As time went by, Molly invited me and other international students to her place for Bible study. Since I was a newcomer, everyone tried their best to make me feel welcome in the group. Molly always cooked a hearty dinner before the Bible study, and I was moved to see students from all over the world coming together to have a meal.

Knowing we were all students, Molly always made sure there would be an abundance of food for us to pack home afterwards. Her love for the students reminded me of the verse in Romans 12:13, “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

Recently, I missed a Bible study session because of an important assignment I was working on. But the group remembered me and gave me a packet of homecooked food, just to make sure that I was eating well. It really gave me a sense of belonging and love.

As I made an effort to share my own life and ask about their lives, I got to know these people from different parts of the world better. They also helped me during moments when I struggled with the way things worked here. My friends helped me understand some of the idiosyncrasies of the local culture, what the four seasons were like, and also how to combat the wet and cold weather in Wales.

During the Bible study, facilitators who led each session reminded us of the importance of God’s Word. Even as Christians, it is sometimes easier to get caught up with so many things—assignments, readings, spending time with friends—that we neglect God’s word. But every time I read the Bible in depth after a long day of studying and working on assignments, I would feel so refreshed.

The time spent studying God’s Word with these people has challenged me in my thinking and in the way I understand the Bible. As we studied God’s Word together, we learned to sharpen each other (Proverbs 27:17).

This is one of the things that I am thankful for—a community where we can grow and serve the Lord together. It has helped me see what an important role church leaders and fellow Christians can play in helping newcomers and foreign students settle into a new environment by lending a listening ear, meeting their needs, and making them feel welcome in the community.

Apart from reaching out to foreigners who are fellow Christians, churches that are strategically located near colleges also have the opportunity to treat non-believers or people of other faiths well. Living in a different country is always a frightening experience. By inviting newcomers over for a meal and showing them around, we can help them settle in well. Offer community, and people will feel welcomed and loved.

This is something Molly and her family have done throughout their years living in Wales—loving people and making them feel welcomed and loved despite differences in faith and nationality. Their example has inspired me to initiate conversations over coffee and reach out to other international students who are living on campus.

As I continue my studies abroad, I increasingly see the importance of having a church community. When I go through difficult times, such as when I’m struggling with my studies, I have support from God’s family. Being part of a church community also helps us watch out for one another in time of troubles, and more importantly, pray together as a family.

One of the wonderful things about the Christian faith is that no matter we go, we are never completely alone—but are all connected to a big Christian family worldwide. My Italian flatmate now attends church regularly with me, and remarked that she felt at home in church. As Psalm 133:1 says, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”

Through this journey, God has opened my mind and showed me what He’s doing in other nations. He has also given me a heart to pray for this nation. I hope that in the coming days, I will be able to share my testimony to the congregation during service, help to serve lunch after service, or perhaps, lead a session during the Bible study.