Contentment

I used to run away from my problems.

Two summers in a row I headed to the United States of America and worked two jobs that I didn’t really love, and I did it all because I wanted to get away from Northern Ireland. Ever since I moved home after graduating from university I’ve spent so much time trying to get out of here, of travelling elsewhere, of being somewhere, anywhere, other than here.

But last week, after what is now 21 months of living in Northern Ireland, I realised that it’s not where you are that matters, but what you do with that place.

After what I now realise is only a few months of incredibly hard work and determination I’m finally well on my way to living the life I want to live. I’ve lost a lot in the process; I’ve walked away from the Church, I’ve let a lot of people behind, I’ve totally changed how I live. But I’ve grown a stronger backbone, a thicker skin, I’ve made some truly amazing, inspiring friends, I’ve realised who I want to be and how I want my life to be and chased after the things I want like there’s no tomorrow, I’ve found an industry that I’m passionate about and I’ve taken so many steps to finally start my career in it.

I’m beyond proud of myself for who I’ve become and who I’m becoming. Thinking back on where I was a year ago, or even six months ago, I never thought I’d be where I am today when I was stuck in a crappy job feeling like I had nothing to look forward to.

After having got the call on Thursday evening from my new employer to say I’d got the job for the interview I’d had only a few hours before, my next step is moving to Belfast. I’ll never love Bangor; I just can’t. But I can tolerate it while I have to be here. I spend 80% of my time (if not more) in Belfast these days and I really don’t have much keeping me in this town any more. I would be working and living in Belfast already if it had been possible but life has worked out in perfect time. Everything just feels right; I wouldn’t have been capable of doing the job I’m starting this week before Christmas and I’m happy enough to work for a month or so before starting to look for places to live.

I’m also competing in a cookery competition next month which is something I never would have been able to do until recently. I just seemed to gain all this confidence and I don’t know where it came from but I absolutely love it.

Learning to be content where I am, to stop wanting to keep running away because it seemed easier, was the hardest thing to do. A while ago a friend told me that I needed to be okay here before I could be okay everywhere else, and she was right, I just never realised how long it would take me to finally be okay. But after months of hard work, and refusing to quit because it was hard, I’m finally at a point where I’m pretty content with my current situation.

I found this brilliant article that a friend had linked on my Facebook news feed and I just wanted to share a quote from it with you all, something that I can relate to 100%:

“There is bravery in travelling, but there is bravery in staying home, too. There is bravery in staying still long enough for everything to catch up with you, in trusting that whatever it is, it won’t drag you down. Because it hurts like hell when there’s nowhere to run, when the only place to circle is within the confines of your own addled brain. I lie awake at night trying to figure out ways to escape the barbed wire thoughts closing in. Every memory digs a little deeper into my skin.”

I am so fucking brave for staying here and letting life catch up with me.

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“I want something to look forward to in life. Is that really a lot to ask? I mean, really? Am I too old to dream?”

If you’ve been following my blog for a while you’ll know I’m currently unemployed, and last night I wrote about how my next step is to find a job so I can travel next summer.

But today I’ve been asking myself if I’m too old to still have dreams I want to fulfil, if I can still dream in the current economic climate. My first thought is that I don’t believe God wants me to give up on dreams. What He doesn’t want is for me to sit around and wait for Him to “work His magic”, He wants me to work hard to chase this dream. I want to do that; I’ve applied for six jobs in the past two days. Because the way life is right now can’t be all there is, I want something to be excited about, to look forward to.

I’m always searching for the next dream, the next exciting adventure. We all are, all humans. We want more, we want better. I’m lucky enough to have the drive to search for that, to try and find it in anything. One of the jobs I applied for was in a rather generic office-style job and, dear goodness, that job in itself will be enough to encourage me to work hard and then get out of here. I’m only 22, I don’t think I need to know what I want to do or where I want to live yet. I encourage all of my fellow 20-somethings, if you’re feeling a bit lost, not to settle for something and never leave just because it gets you out of that rut. By all means, find something temporarily, but never take your eyes away from what you want. If you, like me, want to travel next summer, don’t think you can’t do that.

Life would work out just fine if I was choosing to find a job and just settle for staying in Northern Ireland for a while, but I want something more than that. God has given me this motivation, this passion, and I’d go crazy if I didn’t try and chase after it all.

I mean I’m a writer, I have to dream. I know I can reach something with my writing, some day, and that it will be beautiful.

God made me a dreamer. He gives me purpose, He wakes me up every day and inspires and motivates me to chase after Him IN these dreams. I write for my Saviour but also because I know there are people out there and people in my life, who have secrets and fears and struggles and they don’t talk about it, they don’t tell anyone, and they fight alone. The ones who don’t eat, who are obsessed with how they look, who come from broken homes, who have no confidence and yet who pretend to be perfect, who don’t know love… my dream in my writing is that God will use me to speak to those who need to hear His words. That doesn’t feel like a big dream because I can do that from the comfort of my home.

But travelling is big and scary. It relies on me finding a job in a terrible economy while the unemployment rate rises. I’m not saying that I think God has some big plan for my adventures, I’m not trying to make it some “anointed journey”. But I believe that the fight to get to it is what God will use. I have a year in front of me in which I will meet new people, gain new friends, form relationships with people. I will enter the lives of some and exit the lives of others.

I don’t think the dream is the issue, I think the issue is how we fulfil that dream.  

Finding a job in the current economic climate involves trusting in God like never before, and in that job I will be entrusted to love people and to evangelise relationally. Our life consumes our dreams and it all works together and comes together as something more than we ever thought it could be.

So, in answer to my question, no, I don’t think I’m too old to dream. I’m too old to think that I’m invincible and that there won’t be work involved, but I’m not too old to chase after the things I want, the things that make me excited to be on this earth that I have been blessed to be on.

I am so excited to chase after this with Jesus.

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Short-term missions, and why they’re detrimental to the communities in which they happen.

A week or two ago I read a great article by Chuck Blakeman on how non-profits won’t solve poverty. A long while ago I read a brilliant article by Jamie the Very Worst Missionary  about how short term missions tend to be a bad move. And some where in the middle of reading both of those articles I came across one on The Gospel Coalition entitled ‘”Why you should consider cancelling your short-term mission trips.” 

All these articles have been brilliant food for thought.

Growing up in the Church I heard so much about people going on mission trips, and obviously in Church they don’t really discuss the negative sides of short-term missions. But as I’ve grown up and learnt more about things like the economy, I’m realising, as of late, that short-term missions have so much potential to do more harm than good.

We get so excited about going to places like Uganda and Kenya to build schools that we forget that by doing that we take jobs away from the people within the communities who would be massively benefited by work. What they need is someone out there to train them to do that work, which will then benefit them in the long run. If people in poverty-stricken communities learn how to start their own businesses, this will benefit them more than people in the west sending them copious amounts of money. That money will eventually run out, but if a community can support itself from within then it will have a constant flow of money and they won’t have to rely on anyone but themselves. Local business owners will also be less likely to exploit their employees, decreasing the amount of people having to work in sweatshops.

I think a main problem with short-term missions is that a lot of people who take part in them do it for their own spiritual growth, with the people they’re serving just being something on the side that makes them feel good about themselves. Jamie’s article says a lot of really interesting things about how people will do short-term missions in countries in which they know very little about the culture and actually end up doing things, without realising, that massively offend the locals. We go out there with all our great ideas about people and spreading love and all we end up doing is selfishly forgetting that all cultures are different. We spend all our time wanting to visit this foreign country and find God there and we completely forget about people. If you want to travel then go on holiday, don’t masquerade your adventures as a mission trip; that isn’t fair on anyone.

Don’t get me wrong, I think a lot of good work has been done by short-term missions, but I worry that there have been more negative trips. I think it’s important that we work on the communities that we find ourselves in, rather than spending insane amounts of money going to places like Brazil and India for a week or two, when all the money raised for the people we go to work with and to buy that plane ticket could go directly to the people who need it, for food, water, training, you name it. If God calls you to do missions some where further afield than your home then by all means, do it, but I strongly believe that if He does call you to that then it won’t be for a fortnight, but that it very may well be for a large period of your life.

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Finally, some plans.

I’ve made a decision about the next ten months (ten brings me to June and the very start of summer).

I’m going to find a job as quick as I can, which means applying for everything I find that seems even half-suitable. I want to do this so in ten months I can head across the pond, which will be for the first time in two years, to road trip up and down the west coast of America. I always felt at home in America in a way in which I never did in Scotland and N.Ireland. A lot of you will laugh at this, making jokes about my accent, but I don’t mind. It’s a place I love to be in, where I feel comfortable; that’s not a lot to ask of  a place.

It’s a brilliant, exciting goal and I love it. These ten months also give me plenty of time to become more involved in Church, get to know tonnes of people in N.Ireland, and learn to drive. It does put my moving out plans on hold, but I’ve decided I’m okay with that. I would have done this this summer, but we all know why I couldn’t. This also means I’ll get to work and get some good stuff for my CV which will make life easier one I return home from my travels.

I really need to do this. I have incredibly itchy feet already so ten months is a really long time to wait, but if it means I can do some proper travelling it’ll be more than worth it. I’m still growing up, still figuring out life, and travelling is a good way to do this. I’m not usually into all that “finding yourself” stuff but there’s something about seeing different countries and ways of life that really makes you figure out what you want. And just because America is full of English speaking white people doesn’t mean it’s anything like the UK. Southern California in itself is a culture shock and that’s why I love it.

Knowing how much scope for writing this adventure will give me is amazing; that in itself is more than enough reason for me to do it.

The frustrating part is that I know it’s exciting now, because I haven’t been looking for jobs for long since I made this decision (I think it’s been about two days…), but it’s going to get tough, and sometimes I’ll feel like it’ll never get any where. But this is a dream, and I was able to fulfil the past two dreams I chased after, so I don’t believe this will be any different 🙂

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