Reflections on the First Few Days — Our Newest Adventure, Part 2

This is part of a series of posts about my move from the States to Ireland.  If you would like to read about my arrival, you can click here, or if you are curious about why I moved to Ireland in the first place, check out this post.

 

September 2 

I am so overcome by the kindness I have been shown recently. Between the hospitality I received at a dear friend’s over the summer, and the incredible welcome here in Ireland, I’ve no idea how to respond except to praise God joyfully for the many blessings he has bestowed through these creations of his. Your plan is perfect, oh Lord, and I thank you.  You are so, so good to your children, and oh God I deserve nothing from your hand! It is only by your grace. Cause me to have a servant’s heart like these people, to be generous like they are.

Such generosity came in the form of a lift from the airport, time to rest at the home of my pastor and his family for a little while, tea and chocolate with some friends of my pastor’s, dinner with the family, a pillow, comforter, bed sheet, mug, container of yogurt, and some hangers from the same family, a rugby match on Saturday with my pastor, his son, and a few friends, and lifts to and from church both in the morning and the evening on Sunday.  Such abundance!  My cup overflows!

I honestly don’t know what to do about this joy!  It is just so clear that God intended for me to be here, an odd realization given that, even though living in Ireland was always a dream of mine, I NEVER imagined it would actually happen, and certainly not in this way.  If I had had my way, if God had answered my prayers of the autumn of 2017, I would be in Nashville working right now.  It was so painful at the time not to have the answers I wanted, but looking back, I am unbelievably grateful that God had something else in mind.

Some other, more concrete observations from my first few days here.

The fresh Irish air — oh it’s so wonderful!  I was made for this climate!

The Chocolate — I forgot how good the chocolate is here!

The grass — so lush and verdant.  I really do think it’s nicer than American grass.

Rugby is intense — I loved going to a game with my new friends, and receiving a play by play from my pastor and his son.  I had no idea rugby was quite as… brutal as it is.  Definitely a cool experience.

It gets hot here? — The sun was so hot during part of the rugby match I thought I was going to melt.  Granted, I wasn’t wearing the sort of clothes I would wear in American summers, but I was pretty shocked that I was actually hot to the point of being uncomfortable.

I tried to drive — the passenger’s side is on the opposite side of the car, of course, since they drive on the opposite side the road.  Naturally, I remember this well from Scotland, but when I am tired or not thinking I do have a tendency to head to the driver’s side by accident… I’m sure this will become second nature in a week or two, but, I mean, I don’t mind driving.  Hahaha.

Church family — love them all.  I certainly couldn’t tell you most of the names I learned today, but I’m looking forward to getting to know them over the weeks, months, wait, years? to come.  The thing that struck me most today about the church was the worship.  People were singing, and singing with joy to GOd.  It was committed, truth-filled, congregational, and thus, beautiful.

Jet lag — TBH, pretty bad.  I’m tired, but know the Lord will sustain me as we head toward orientation week and the beginning of classes, and soon our biological clocks will be back to normal.  We’ve just got to keep trucking.

Thankful for Safety | 30 Days of Gratitude, Day 12

At church this morning, we were introduced to an off duty police officer who will be on guard during services.  It was a project, according to our pastor, that has been in progress for several months now, and not something that was motivated by recent events, though recent events certainly make me consider the change in a different light than I would have before.

The knowledge that an armed officer will be standing at the entrance of our sanctuary both leaves me thankful, and a little sad.  Thankful because I don’t see any reason why we should leave ourselves and our church family open to attack.  Perhaps the recent shootings in Texas, Nashville, and South Carolina could have been avoided had their been an armed guard already on sight at the time of the event.  Indeed, the attacks in Texas and Nashville very likely resulted in fewer casualties due to the nearby presence of a courageous, armed citizen.  Thus, I am thankful that our church family, at least, is no longer as vulnerable.

Still, my heart aches a little at the realization that we have to take such measures.  It aches for the lives already lost in the church families that have seen bloodshed.  It aches for the knowledge that we are so much deeper in our sin than we know, or perhaps than we can even comprehend.  It aches a little too, in a nostalgic sort of way, for the sleepy little village churches of American antiquity, doors open and lights on, ready to welcome any sin-weary wanderer to be received, forgiven, and renewed by the transforming power of Jesus.  Somehow, a church sanctuary with an armed guard at post outside of it doesn’t give me the same welcoming vibe, but then, perhaps those sleepy little churches of American antiquity are figments of my imagination anyway.

Either way, I’m not willing to sacrifice members of our church family merely for the sake of a potentially more “welcoming vibe”, so I’m back to being thankful.  We don’t live in a culture now where it is prudent to go unprotected, certainly not in a city of 700 thousand, and I trust Jesus when he said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Protecting one another is part of loving one another, so even in a day an age when we must set armed guards outside of our sanctuaries to protect our church family from attack, I am convinced that Jesus’ love will shine through, and for that, I am also thankful.

Thankful for Today | 30 Days of Gratitude, Day 5

Last night, my roommate and I awoke several times to security alerts from Vanderbilt University, informing us that there were two active shooters in the area, and updating us on the status of the incidents.  Fortunately only one person was injured, but I still felt rather like I was taking my life into my hands when I stepped out my door to head to church.

That feeling was only amplified when my normally bubbly, confident guide dog started showing sudden and severe signs of anxiety on the walk to and into our church building.  She had never behaved that way before, so after trying and failing to get her settled for the morning service, I decided to forego church and take my dog home to make sure she was all right.  She was utterly normal on the walk home and in other outings throughout the day, so I’m not sure what triggered the episode, but upon hearing the news of the church shooting in Texas, I couldn’t help wondering whether Prim was sensing something I couldn’t.  I admit, such an idea wanders a bit too far into the field of superstition for my taste, but the important thing about it was it, combined with the news of the last 24 hours left me feeling rather restless.  People always site statistics, but statistics didn’t help the victims in Orlando, or Las Vegas, or Sutherland Springs.  Thus, I was very thankful when my roomies arrived safely home from church, and remained safe as we went about our daily business.

None of our days are promised.  As Proverbs 27:1 says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.”

What if I were a member of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs?  What if I had gone to church, expecting like I usually do that I would go home afterward, laugh with my roommates, play with my dog, cook for the week, make calls to my loved ones… expecting that every one of my church family would return a week later to worship like always.  But, we can’t expect that.  We cannot boast about tomorrow… so we might as well be thankful for today, and do our utmost to serve the God who gave it to us.

To that end, here is a link to the Facebook page of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs.  There is a donate button there and a link to their official website.  If you feel called, I’m sure your gift would be welcomed.

Jesus Restored My Sight

I was about seven the first time I remember it happening.  We were at the mall, shopping for sandals, when an unfamiliar woman approached my mother.

“Your daughter is so sweet.  How old is she?”

“How old are you Shea?” my mom asked me.  Painfully shy at the time, I held up seven fingers, hoping she wouldn’t ask me any more questions.  Of course, she did…

“Shea, would you mind if I prayed for you??”

I looked to my mom, bewildered, then rather hesitantly shook my head.  I guess I didn’t mind.

“Um, that’s fine.” My mom agreed too, in response to the woman’s questioning glance.

She took my hands, and began to pray.  We quickly discovered that what she meant to ask was whether she could pray to restore my sight.

It happened several times after that, especially in the years before I entered high school.  I had hands laid on me in restaurants and tongues spoken in the street.  I grew to expect it from time to time, and since I didn’t know what else to do, I just shrugged, smiled, and let them pray.  I wouldn’t get my sight back, and I didn’t particularly care.  Blindness was my normal.  I was satisfied with my life as it was.  The last thing I needed was another year out of my life for the sake of surgery, or doctor’s appointments, or transition.  Hard as it may be for others to comprehend, I didn’t want my vision… I craved stability, a thriving social life, success, not sight… but I let them pray, because I knew the prayers were empty anyway.

I was wrong.  God did hear their prayers, and answered them.  I was fifteen years old, studying at

Csehy summer school of Music,

when I finally received my sight.  I received my first guide dog almost exactly a year later.

No, it wasn’t physical sight.  I am still working with my first guide dog, get green and blue confused, and can hardly see my hand in front of my face in a brightly lit room, but I saw more clearly that summer’s day than I had ever before in my life.

It was sometime during those two weeks at camp that I understood.  I saw myself, not the pretty little, blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl I saw in the mirror as a five year old, but me, The girl who thought she could find fulfillment in family, or academics, or morality, or popularity, or romance.  The fifteen-year-old, bitter, rebellious me.  Me, in all my faults and imperfections.  The girl I saw in the mirror now was lost, broken, and hurting.  I couldn’t see it at five, but I saw it now.

These wounds required something more than a temporal cure.  Family, friends, school, even romance had all failed me, and left me emptier than before.  I needed an eternal remedy.

Only Christ could be my cure.  My brokenness had separated me from GOd.  I was in need of his grace, and God was offering that grace, freely, through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ.

I don’t let people pray for my sight anymore, because those prayers have already been fulfilled.  Whether I will ever receive my physical sight in this lifetime is God’s prerogative.  I am blessed beyond measure to know my Savior, and to know that, if I am physically blind for the rest of my life, the first person I will see when I do see again will be him.

A Second Journey: THe Awesome and the Unexpected, Part 2

Wednesday was more Glasgow leaflet distribution in the morning, followed immediately by a school presentation at Saint Margaret’s, a catholic secondary school in Airdrie. The team split up into three groups, and we were each assigned two combined classes to speak for 45 minutes. Having really only prepared for five minute presentations, we were a bit worried that we would have difficulty filling the time. My partner and I did run a bit early, but only by about 5 minutes. Our class was quite quiet and not too interested in conversation. I was blanking on questions to stimulate conversation, so I talked a little bit more about who we were and mentioned that I was a vocal performance major. Of course, the request for a song soon followed. I chose the same song, Amazing Grace, I sang in my presentations last year, and gave an explanation for my choice before hand. My partner joined me in harmony, it seemed appreciated by class and teacher alike. Perhaps the music spoke to our audience in a way that our stumbling words could not.
A few minutes after we said goodbye to the class and went downstairs to find our fellow teammates, the bell went off, and let me just say… this was not the kind electronic tone you heard at my high school. It was an ear-splitting, old-fashioned fire alarm style bell, and it was terrifying! As much as I tried to maintain my composure, I think I jumped about three feet each time it happened.
Our team mates, it seemed, got much chattier classes, and had some really interesting conversations about salvation, sin, and several other topics.
By Wednesday night, two of our team mates, including our fearless leader, were deathly ill, so we took Thursday morning off so that they could get some rest. Two of us wandered about Airdrie for a couple of hours, going to the library to work for a bit and browsing through charity shops. As we were walking down one street, we passed a lady outside of the Chunky Monkey cafe with a very happy puppy. Obsessed as I am about dogs at the moment, we stopped to say hi. In asking questions about her dog, the lady heard our American accents and asked what we were doing so far from home. We answered that we were on a mission team at the Airdrie Reformed Presbyterian church, fully expecting her to then further inquire as to what exactly a mission team does, and were we Christians, etc. Instead, she smiled and put out her hand.
“ Well,” She said, “Nice to meet you girls. That’s my church.”
“ What?” My friend and I gasped, completely taken aback.
“Aye.” She affirmed. “I have been going there for several months now.”
She continued, telling us that her husband, who had previously been quite indifferent to the Gospel had also started coming with her to the services. She said that she and her husband had recently begun having conversations about faith on a much deeper level than they ever had before. We shared in her excitement at this, and chatted for a while longer, getting to know her a bit. They were on holiday the Sundays we attended the services in Airdrie, which is why she didn’t recognize us. Hopefully though, she and her husband will be at church on the 28th, and I, at least, will be able to see her again.
So strange! Of all the random people we could encounter on the street, it’s one of the Airdrie congregation that we haven’t yet had the pleasure to meet! I mean, what are the chances? The Airdrie congregation is relatively small, and we only stopped to talk to her because of her dog, as awful as that sounds… I’m so glad we did though! God sure does have a way with the unexpected!
To be continued tomorrow though, as I am unexpectedly exhausted.

A Second Journey: Last Sunday-Tuesday, The Awesome and the Unexpected

We spent Sunday with the Edinburgh congregation. It was fabulous fellowship, and I was so pleased to spend some more time with many of the people I had met in Edinburgh last year. I especially treasured the conversation/crash catch up session I was abled to have with Emma L after our evening service.
We went to bed as early as we could that night, as the next morning we were due to wake at 5 Am. We needed to be on our way to the train station by 7 Am so that we could arrive in Glasgow and start leaflet distributing by 8. I’m not sure if the giggling started that night or the next, but for about three nights in a row this week we in the girls room have been helpless with laughter. That may have had something to do with our new wake up time, but it’s an indicator, too, of how close we five have grown over the last couple of weeks. I am delighted to call them my sisters in Christ, and I am glad we can laugh so easily together.
It was a busy week, but a good one, with quite a few lessons to be learned. Monday, we distributed leaflets for the upcoming Q and A session at the Glasgow church Thursday night. Idid have one direct encounter with a man called Joseph, who seemed rather antagonistic toward Christianity. There were a few suggested questions on the leaflet — “What is the Bible?” “Who is Jesus?” — and he went down the list of questions, putting them to my team mate and I in a rather mocking tone. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so much a conversation as a monologue on his part, as he interrupted our explanations with his own apparent wisdom on the matter.
We walked away from that exchange feeling rather discouraged. Although the conversation remained perfectly cordial, it was clear the man had some issues and had not heard a word we had said. Before continuing our distribution, we stopped to pray together, asking God to use our conversation for change in Joseph’s life, and for guidance in future similar situations.
On our way back to Airdrie around lunch time, we stopped at the Glasgow Cathedral for a few minutes. My friend and I found some fun things in the gift shop, then we re-boarded the train and soon arrived back in Airdrie. We devoted that afternoon to studying our team book, “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life”, and blog post writing for me.
Tuesday began with the usual private and team devotion time, followed by transportation to Caldervale Secondary School. Unlike our other school visits, we were neither giving testimonies nor performing a skit or psalm singing. We took part in three different religious education classes, sitting amongst the pupils and participating in the discussions they had.
The first class was focussed on Buddhism. The seven of us each joined different tables and assisted the students with their work, while also discussing the topics at hand. In my group, we explored the subject of salvation, whether it is something that can be attained through one’s own efforts, or something that must come from an external source, and the positives and negatives of each viewpoint. We also broached the subjects of the true meaning of self-acceptance and the human spirit. In all of these things, I attempted to include the Christian perspective. It was difficult, because the students were meant to be working on a specific task for the class, so we on the team had to find creative ways to bring Christianity into the conversation, without straying too much from the parameters of the assignment.
I think we all found the exercise pretty disheartening. It wasn’t exactly the kind of ministry opportunity we had been expecting. All attempts to discuss Christianity in a way that might actually have some spiritual value just deteriorated into academic comparisons between religions in general. Not that Christianity cannot be discussed academically (a faith with a book as long as the Bible and a longer history lends itself to academia), but I felt rather like I was trivializing it by lumping it together with a bunch of other man-made belief systems. Christianity and Buddhism are worlds apart when it comes to their teachings and world view, but God willing, the exchange got them thinking at least.
The second two classes, we discussed euthanasia. Here, it was slightly easier to include our faith in the conversation, and we were able to speak to the sanctity of life and God’s sovereignty, even in situations of great pain and suffering. When we got home, we reenergized with ice-cream and a delicious meal, and returned to Glasgow for an evening fellowship. It was a lovely time of food (pizza!) and catching up with friends.
We will finish up with the last few days (Wednesday-Saturday) in the next post.

A Second Journey: Thrumming Thursdays

Thursdays are always busy days.  I’m not sure why that is, but they have always been my craziest days in university, and the last two Thursdays here in Scotland have been no exception to this rule.

Yesterday’s mission night went well enough.  I think we had a few visitors from the community,and Peter’s first talk on the rebel son in Luke 15 was quite powerful.  We slept in Edinburgh last night, blessed with the hospitality from three households in the Edinburgh congregation.  I was so excited to get to know the couple we stayed with better than I was able to last year.  Plus, their daughter has grown so much since the last time I saw her and, at nearly two,  is talking up a storm!  She is so cute!  She was quite shy of us when she found us in her house this morning, but she did learn all of our names, and in the car on the way back to Emma and Peter’s house, she and I had a rousing game of hand tag which she found very entertaining!  Hahaha, so adorable!

Once reunited at Emma and Peter’s house, the team had group devotions, then gathered bundles of fliers to finish our last bout of leafletting.  In two hours, my group managed to finish our designated area, and Peter picked us all up to head toward lunch.  With strict instructions from Peter for “no faffing” (which urban dictionary defines as “The excessive use of time for nonsense activities”), all eight of us trooped into the Morisons (grocery store) to snag something for lunch.  We took it back to Emma and Peter’s to eat, and there was a distinct lack of faffing, especially once we started eating.

We had to hurry because we had to make the bus around 1 to get to our 1:30 Pm reformation tour through Edinburgh with Jimmy (from the Airdrie congregation).  Skilled as we clearly were at anti-faffing (which Peter says is the opposite of Faffing), we made it in time to get on our bus, and even had extra time to wait and pet a passing poodle, Brambles.  That made me very happy, as you might imagine.  She was very sweet, and her owner was adorable, letting us all pet Brambles for about 5 minutes straight, answering all our questions, and cheerfully chatting away about her and her other dogs.

I have a great deal more to recount, so I shall continue tomorrow, as I will have a free morning to write!  Hurray!  I shall detail the Edinburgh tour at that time.