Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be. – Shel Silverstein
I’ve just arrived at the end of an era. After 18 years, I have left England – a land I didn’t want to live in in the first place – and returned to my first home, the land I had never expected to leave.
It is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
For the first 43 years of my life, I had never left Australian shores. I’m not a natural traveller; I have never longed to see foreign climes. I love different people from different places, love the smells and sounds of the nations of the world as they conglomerate in hectic and easy going fashion in Australia but I didn’t want to travel to see those things… I wanted them all to come to me, be with me where I was, comfortably ensconced in my homeland, the land I love.
And then God came to Rick and me one hot summer day, climbing into the tiny, weeny car we hired as we visited his dying father in the UK, and He broke my world apart (as He does with whomever will allow it – much to our chagrin at the time, and our rejoicing as the ensuing days reveal the purpose).
The move was swift. Within months we had handed our church over to others, packed up our lives and half of our children, and moved to the other side of the world to turn around a broken, haemorrhaging church.
Australians moving to England is not the general rule; it’s supposed to be the other way around.
And God did a miracle. Nay… miracles. Many of them. Boundless, magnificent, stunning miracles took place on every side as our church thrived (throve?) and more churches were seeded from that mother church to scatter across UK and into France, and even to North Carolina.
Multiple leaders rose and matured in that wonderful environment and catapulted out to show Jesus to the communities they were called to.
Cherish Uganda was birthed, a place where children are loved into buoyant, ebullient futures of promise.
Liberti – a fantastic magazine for 21st century Christian women not stuck in ‘how it used to be’ came into being.
So many great things emerged – a Bible college, really awesome music, a powerful prayer ministry, fantastic outreach works, missions – you name it, God raised up multiple ministries in those 18 years and each of them has grown wings of its own.
And, in the process, this dedicated non-traveller became a seasoned and intrepid voyager into exotic cultures near and far, living in the Adventure of The Plan.
And then, as suddenly as the day He first climbed into our little car to talk to us about England, He visited us again to turn our world upside down. But there’s a difference now. This little heart of mine no longer has a parochial bone in its body (metaphorically speaking). My citizenship has changed irrevocably. I’m now a citizen of the world.
Because of that, wherever we live, wherever we hang our hats and unpack our boxes is home for me, because Home resides in the plan God designed me for. Home isn’t a place anymore, it’s a life lived with hope and purpose.
Jeremiah 29 is my story. It’s a tale of a people who were carried off to a foreign land, into captivity. God spoke to them through the prophet, not about wriggling free from the pain of The Plan, but about living life to the full there in that place of exile. ‘Build houses’ He said, ‘live in them, be farmers and grow your food, give your children to be married, multiply and increase there… and seek the welfare of the city where you have been carried away captive, for in its peace, you will have peace.’
Later on in that chapter God makes it clear that He is restoring hope to His people. When you come to terms with the unlooked for, undesired and undesirable plan God has for your life, you cease to be a prisoner of your circumstances. Your place of exile, that position you didn’t want to be in, doing the things you didn’t want to do, can be transformed into a place of hope and strength, and fruitfulness beyond your wildest dreams.
The place of captivity didn’t destroy God’s plan for their lives. Turns out, their hope remained and their future was still intact, but their influence had a far greater reach. Their prayers would not only be answered, but as they dedicated themselves to seeking His peace for the context He’d placed them in, He would not only reveal Himself to them in greater measure, but He would restore everything they thought they’d lost.
That’s what He did to me, for me, through me, in me… The hopes that I treasured in the days before my captivity were so small and underdeveloped and weedy I’m embarrassed about them now. They were about me and mine, and the ‘mine’ was so narrow.
I hadn’t realised how many more people and places could belong to my heart, becoming ‘mine’ if I allowed the purposes of God to operate in my life. I wasn’t aware that God saw beyond my lack and my inadequacies to the hope of what He designed me for. I had not understood the huge influence a life lived in hope could have, anywhere and everywhere, on anyone and maybe even everyone.
Now my hope extends across nations, across people groups and gender issues and matters of justice and righteousness. As Shel Silverstein’s quote so brilliantly captures, I had spent years listening to the can’ts and won’ts and don’ts I was surrounded by, so much so that I believed them.
And then God came and carried me away into captivity to His purposes, encouraging me to live there and multiply. I thought my life was ended. I thought I would disappear and never be seen again. I thought my future had shrivelled and died. I thought my hope was at an end.
But it was really the beginning!
If faith is the substance of the things we are hoping for, maybe we need to consider bigging up our hopes. It’s a broken world out there. There’s a lot to do.
Is it possible to see God roll His sleeves up and get to work through our lives?
I hope so.
This post was a collaboration with SheLovesMagazine on the theme of HOPE