Processing Through Disappointments With God

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what we, as Christians, do with feelings of disappointment and how we work through these feelings with God. Recently I’ve gone through (another) season of disappointment and did a talk on this for the ladies at our church so, in the event that it might help someone else work through their disappointment together with God I thought I’d post it here too 🙂

First, I should explain what I mean by the term disappointment because I am using the word in a very broad sense. I’m using disappointment to mean anything ranging from finding something lightly upsetting to being deeply grieved or heartbroken over something. Here are some examples of things that I have found disappointing in my life in the past:

  • Parents/upbringing – I found it incredibly painful that I didn’t have parents who were sober and therefore, could care for me properly
  • Relationships with guys – That these relationships ended and how they ended were often totally heart breaking
  • Relationship with my husband and marriage – Turns out marriage isn’t like the movies and doesn’t fulfill the ideals I had in my head and heart going into it
  • Friendships with women – These haven’t always fulfilled what I’ve hoped for in friendships
  • Getting sick – I was diagnosed with two autoimmune diseases in the span of two years that would totally affect my everyday life
  • Ministry – It hasn’t always gone the way I expected
  • Losing our first baby – So heart breaking
  • Going through two years of trying for a baby and not getting pregnant – Month after month of deferred hope was incredibly disappointing
  • Losing my breastfeeding relationship with Olivia – This is the recent one

It’s clear from my experience there are varying degrees of disappointment. The other thing is disappointment isn’t limited to being upset over what has happened but also includes what hasn’t happened. For example it may be, “I thought I’d be married by now”, “I thought I’d have kids by now”, “I thought I’d be in that job” or “I thought I wouldn’t still be struggling with this by now”. It can be over anything and everything. I think the heart of disappointment for me is feelings of upset when things don’t go the way I would have hoped. It’s important to note that the underlying desire can be totally right and good (its right to not want to lose a baby or it’s even a good desire to want to be married or have parents that are sober). Disappointments often come off the back of “good” desires. Other times disappointments can be a bit more “self-willed” like when things don’t go our way. Like if we didn’t get the job we wanted or a relationship didn’t progress the way we wanted, etc. Either way I’m using the term disappointment to cover both cases because our hopes and desires get shattered and it’s heart breaking. Feelings of disappointment are not inherently wrong and there is nothing sinful about disappointment, it’s what we do with it that matters.

So, first off I’d like to look at how our disappointment affects our relationship with God and then suggest some steps to begin working through feelings of disappointment together with other people and with God. It’s important to work through this with God, because I think if we are being honest, we often attribute the responsibility of these disappointing events to God (which in part, we should and I’ll write more about that later). But I believe if we take things a step further, at the heart, our disappointment is truly with God Himself. So, if on the surface I’m disappointed with my marriage, at one step deeper I might think, “God, well actually why have you given me this man for a husband? Why have you put me in an unhappy marriage? Why don’t you change our circumstances so things get better? Why don’t you change him?” Ultimately finding fault with God. Often we can hold our disappointment against God saying, “Why haven’t you worked things out the way I wanted them to work out?” The result of this is we can begin to resent God and distance ourselves from Him because we don’t find Him trustworthy to do what we think is good for us or in our lives. This is the danger with disappointment and it’s what I’ve done. It’s so important to understand what’s taking place in our relationship with God when we are faced with various disappointments.

I know for me disappointments have either driven me toward God or away from Him and we want to be careful about the latter. An example of when disappointment has driven me away from God is when I was 22 I very suddenly got sick and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. It was a frightening experience to feel my health totally deteriorate and to know it was going to affect me for life. I remember sitting in the hospital feeling so lost. I felt like God had left me. I wondered how He could let this happen to me and from that moment I pulled back from God a wee bit. I didn’t feel like He could be trusted with my whole heart or my whole life. Now understand, on the surface, I kept walking with God (I was still totally involved at church, still reading my Bible and praying, still trusting God and being used by Him in loads of other areas), but a deep part of my heart was guarded. Then a year and a half later, I was diagnosed with another disease and that same guardedness in my heart was reinforced. God couldn’t be trusted. Again I continued serving God on the outside but underneath there was this growing fear. I was afraid that He was going to let something worse happen to me and that He couldn’t be trusted, that He wasn’t safe.

Fast forward two and half years later the worse came! We found out we were pregnant, but that our baby wasn’t progressing normally and then we ultimately lost our baby. Finally I was confronted with the frailty of my relationship with God. Only this time I couldn’t avoid it. I had to face the fact that God was in control of this (especially because He told me He was before we lost our baby). And over the course of a few days as I was grieving the loss, getting procedures done and enduring intense pains, my head was spinning. I was asking, “How do I trust you, God?” For me this was a make or break situation in my relationship with God. But He was gracious to remind me (through several songs and scriptures that He sent me during that time) what my only real alternative was. It was like being in a marriage when divorce is not an option but you are overcome with issues on every side, you say “I’m staying in this. I don’t know how we’re going to work this out and have trust again, but I’m not leaving and I’m not just going to coast. I’m staying and I’m in this.” In that same way I realised I couldn’t leave relationship with God, I was in this forever. So I told God, “I have to trust you. I have no other option!” And in an instant, after I prayed that, God changed my heart. He strengthened my faith and enabled me to trust Him in a totally supernatural way during those circumstances. That was an example of God using disappointing circumstances to bring me closer to Him.

The current disappointment I have been walking through with God is losing my breastfeeding relationship with Olivia. It has been lesser in comparison to other things I’ve experienced but nonetheless I have found it incredibly disappointing and at times even heart breaking when it was freshly happening. On the surface it seems a rather silly thing to be so upset over. But as I’ve been processing through it God has been showing me that at the heart, I have been deeply saddened by the fact that I couldn’t be Olivia’s everything. I wanted to be her comforter, her provider, her nourisher, her protector, her sustainer. And a lot of those things come through breastfeeding. So on the surface it was about breastfeeding, but in my heart I was disappointed that I couldn’t provide for, comfort or nourish my baby. I didn’t even know these desires were in my heart until our breastfeeding relationship broke down. But that’s what happens with disappointing circumstances, they reveal what is in our hearts.  So I’m writing about this because I’m processing through the disappointment with God again, and because I don’t want to settle for walking with Him on the surface but hold back my deepest trust in Him.

So now, how do we walk through this? I’ve put together some steps below which are basically a process of how I’ve worked through disappointment together with God. I’m hoping these will result in healing of disappointment and having a deeper trust in God for you too:

  1. Meet Jesus – We can’t walk through any of this and receive healing from disappointment without having God’s Spirit in us to help us know God, hear from Him and trust Him (we need His power to do that all!). So if you’ve not yet seen and believed that Jesus dying on that cross for sins and raising again was a benefit for you, do that today! That’s the most important bit to all of this.
  1. Receiving God’s grace and pouring our heart out to God – If you have met Jesus, you need to know that God’s response to your disappointment (whether self-willed or just off the back of heart breaking circumstances) is grace upon grace. God doesn’t look down and think “you shouldn’t be disappointed by this, you should just trust and have no other feelings but joy and peace”. No! God gave us feelings for a reason, God cares about our feelings and wants us to bring them to Him so that He can change us and heal us from the heart. Because of this the first step is to pour your heart out to God. He wants you to bring your whole heart to Him. Psalm 62:8 says “Trust in Him at all times people, pour your heart out before Him, God is a refuge for us”. And in 1 Samuel 1 we have an example from Hannah, a woman who was barren for many, many years and she pours her heart out to God from the depths of her anguish, broken heart and resentment. So take time to just speak to God in prayer and express to Him how you’ve felt regarding these disappointing circumstances. Remember, prayer doesn’t have to consist of coherent words or sentences when speaking to God, He knows what we need before a word is on our tongue. Quite often if I don’t know how to express something to God, I just visualise myself opening up my chest and exposing my heart so that He can see what’s going on and I just say “look, see”. That is all prayer.
  1. Ask God for spiritual discernment – What I mean by this is we need clarity about God’s role and responsibility in our disappointing circumstances versus Satan’s role and responsibility, and our role and responsibility. A good prayer for this is, “God help me see Your role in this. What has Satan’s role been and what is mine? Specifically where is my sin?”. This step is really important because we can make a lot of assumptions. For me, with my current disappointment God showed me that Satan stole away Olivia’s desire to breastfeed. After 5 weeks of breastfeeding he put it in her head that breastfeeding was stressful and made her completely adverse to it to the point that she began to scream and cry when I’d try to breastfeed her. All of a sudden, instead of being a place of comfort and nourishment, breastfeeding for Olivia became a place of anxiety. However, God also told me He let Satan do that because He knew that there were things in my heart that needed to be cleaned out and healed. And He knew that they would come out when breastfeeding broke down. So we need to ask, “God, what are You doing in this? What has Satan done and where is my sin in this?” We need spiritual discernment.
  1. Confess and repent – If God has revealed sin on your part in the last step, confess that to God and get help and power from God to turn away from that. For me with breastfeeding, I had to confess that I wanted to be Olivia’s everything (her comforter, her provider, her nourisher and nurturer). The truth is I can’t be Olivia’s everything, nor am I meant to be! Only God can ultimately be Olivia’s comforter, only He can protect her and sustain her life. And my role as her mum is to point her to Him. He is the One that provides for her and nourishes her. I wanted the role only God could have in Olivia’s life. So I had to confess that and turn away from that. Another thing to confess and repent of (which I’ve had to do loads in the past) is say I am sorry to God that I have held my disappointment against Him. He was not in the wrong, but because things didn’t go the way I had hoped, I assigned blame to Him. So whatever God has revealed to you as your part, confess it to Him and ask Him for help to turn away from that.
  1. Ask God what He wants you to do now or believe Him for – We really need to hear from God on this, not man. This part generally requires taking a big step of faith and it’s not always intuitive. What God may want you to do or believe Him for may be completely different than what He wants someone else to do or believe Him for in the same situation. For example, when we were struggling to get pregnant, He kept reassuring me to believe Him for a baby from my own body, while others I knew who were going through the same thing were being urged by God to believe Him even though there wouldn’t be a baby from their own body. He wanted them to believe Him for something different. So we need to go to God and ask Him, “What do You want me to do? What do You want me to believe You for?”
  1. Resolve to trust in God – Please don’t hear me the wrong way here, what I don’t mean is to ignore your feelings, put a smile on your face and act unaffected by disappointing circumstances! No! Remember, we don’t want to just push our feelings down or suppress them, we want to trust God deeply from the heart. So this is taking a step toward God to trust Him for what we cannot see, despite our feelings, even when we don’t know how the situation is going to work out. When we have no faith and have no idea how we will have faith, we have to put our hope in God to give us the faith we are lacking. This pleases God and He WILL respond to this! I have to say, this is hard, it’s a really hard thing to do. If at any point you feel this is difficult, that’s good, that’s when you know you are really dealing with stuff because it’s difficult to put our trust in God. Let’s take encouragement from all of our Christian brothers and sisters who have walked before us by faith, and let’s affirm our trust in God, even though we cannot see.
  1. Share your feelings of disappointment – This should especially be done with fellow Christians in order to have them pray with you. This is a super important step and the last one. Quite often the circumstances that lead to disappointment are burdensome and scripture calls us to bear one another’s burdens, to love each other, to encourage each other, and to pray for each other. This obviously requires a wee bit of vulnerability to share what circumstances have brought about disappointment, but it’s so worth it! Praying for one another brings about some of the greatest moments of healing by God. Let’s ask God to use our love and prayers for one another to bring about great strengthening in our faith in Him.

Babies…God’s Gracious Answer

Well much has happened since my last blog post so I thought I would go ahead and write a wee update 🙂

So, as I mentioned in my last update, back from September through March we were pursuing fostering and adoption with our local council. Things were looking really hopeful when we spoke to social workers, but for some reason there was delay after delay. In March, when it looked like things were finally progressing, we had a home visit with our social worker and that night it was like everything changed. She was not optimistic about us being adoptive parents or foster-carers because of certain life circumstances. This was incredibly discouraging as we had been investing a great deal of time, thought and prayer into the whole process and all of a sudden, in one evening, it looked as though it was going to all fall through 😦 Yet, in the midst of it, I could sense that God was telling me that His hand was in it and He had closed this door for a reason. Even still, our hearts broke, we so desperately wanted to be parents, we wanted so badly to care for and raise children. This closed door was a stark reminder that we didn’t know if or when those desires would ever be fulfilled. I just felt the opportunity to be a mother was being pushed further and further away. We kept praying, and God kept reminding us that He cares for us, that He has a plan, and that it is good. He reminded me of these verses and my heart was encouraged:

“How great is Your GOODNESS that You have stored up for those who fear You and accomplished in the sight of everyone for those who take refuge in You.” Psalm 31:19

“I will take delight in them to what is GOOD for them, and with all my heart and mind I will faithfully plant them in this land.” Jeremiah 32:41

As this door closed we began to revive our prayers for God to bring us a child through our own bodies. I was constantly reminded in the Bible about Sarah’s faith in God, and how essential it was in order for her to receive His promise of a son, “By faith even Sarah herself, when she was unable to have children, received power to conceive offspring, even though she was past the age, since she considered that the One who had promised was FAITHFUL.” Hebrews 11:11. Believing God is a big deal! I knew I needed to keep my trust in God.

God was also gently urging me to let go of my plans (like usual), and to put my trust in His. This was the hardest bit of all. I didn’t realise it but I had so many plans! I always wanted to have at least a couple of kids before I turned 30 and then maybe a couple more after. I wanted to stay at home with them and raise them up. But as it turned out, I was approaching 30, no kids, no sign of kids, and was working 😦 Nothing was turning out the way I had planned. God kept showing me through the Bible and through prayer that it is good to trust His plans and He’d remind me that they are much, much better and higher and more glorious.

During this time Alisdair and I also discussed the possibility of being referred for investigations to see if there was anything physically wrong which was preventing us from conceiving. There was something in me that just felt so hesitant to go forward with this. I just felt that God was going to answer our prayers and it would not be through any human intervention so why even find out if there was something physically wrong? God would overcome anyway, this I knew! But Ali really felt that it was a good idea to move forward with this so I got a referral from my doctor. A few days after the referral, as I was praying to God about how I was feeling regarding going for investigations, I believe He said to me that I won’t even need to go because we would get pregnant before! I was amazed, but also hesitant and decided that I would just wait on this one and test it to see if it was indeed from God.

God was also using this time of waiting to build in me perseverance in prayer. He kept bringing to my mind the time when Jacob was wrestling with God. They were wrestling all through the night, then God told Jacob to let him go because the morning light was approaching and I love Jacob’s response, “I will not let You go until you bless me.” I just felt like my prayer was the same toward God during this time, I was not going to let God go until He blessed us. It was during this time that God began to give me promises of joy through songs that were written based on the Bible. Phrases like “those who sow in tears will reap in joyful shouting” (Psalm 126) and “so I will lock eyes with the One who’s ransomed me, the One who gave me joy for mourning” (Jeremiah 31:12-14). These words just kept playing over and over again in my head, sticking with me for days. God was giving me hope that there will be joy and He wanted me to fix my eyes on it.

As God continued to speak to me about the purpose of the closed door with the adoption and fostering stuff He reminded of me of something that I had (surprisingly) forgotten. About a year and a half earlier we were listening to a sermon about adoption and felt really moved to go and get prayer and direction about this from God. So we prayed with a couple who we knew well and trusted much as this couple prayed with us often regarding baby stuff. We asked God whether or not we should pursue adoption first or wait on God for a baby from our own bodies. What came out of that prayer time was them feeling like God was saying to wait on Him for babies first. We waited…for a year. There were no babies, so we began to pursue adoption and fostering. God reminded me of this and one day when I was reading Genesis 16 He showed me that I, like Sarah, got tired of waiting on God so sought to take the matter into my own hands and build a family my own way. This verse in Genesis 16:2 hit me so hard; “Since the Lord has prevented me from bearing children, go to __________, perhaps through ________ I can build a family” (I too could easily fill in those blanks with SO many things). Whew, this was a big one and I spent a lot of time confessing and repenting of all the ways that I had sought to build a family on my own (practically and spiritually):

  • fostering
  • adoption
  • trying to conceive by having sex more
  • trying to conceive by tracking ovulation
  • trying to conceive through prayer and fasting

God used Psalm 127 to remind me that unless the Lord builds a house, the builders labour in vain, unless the Lord watches over a city, the watchmen stay alert in vain. It goes on to say that children are a gift from the Lord. They are a gift. One can’t force a gift from the Giver’s hand. I finally resolved to give up trying to build a family through my own means and entered into a season of resting in God. Unless God gives us children, we will try to make it happen in vain. I didn’t want to do this any longer; I was finally leaving it with God.

That’s probably when things began to change 🙂

Now, when I say that things began to change, I mean that things started to happen, and I knew God was moving. I was filled with what I can only describe as a supernatural rush of faith and what happened next took place over the course of two short months.

Several mums who were in a group together at another church decided to take a day to fast and pray on behalf of a whole list of women who had been trying for babies but still couldn’t conceive. I was one of the women on that list and was amazed about this. I joined them that day just pleading with God that He would hear their prayers and move, that He would bring life out of barrenness. I know He loves to do this. Looking back now, we realised that we conceived just 3 weeks later!

Next a friend of mine encouraged me to believe God and seek Him for full physical healing. Now, healing is not an unusual thing for God, in fact Jesus spent a large majority of His ministry on earth performing great and wonderful acts of miraculous healing. This encouragement came at the same time we were reading about the life of Jesus in the Bible and God was teaching me that He is good, He is mighty and He is powerful to heal. He led me to Matthew 8:17 which says that part of what Jesus died on the cross for was our sickness. He also died for our sin and our shame, but the sickness bit was always something I missed. God has spent the last two years revealing to me that I don’t believe this, and my prayer coming out of it has been, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief! May I never take away any part of what You have died for on that cross.” So I went along to a place in Glasgow that puts on what’s called “Healing Rooms”. Basically Christians from different churches all over the city volunteer there to pray for healing for those in need. It’s a wonderful ministry that sees God do a lot of amazing things. I went on my lunch one day but was SO nervous, and felt really resistant to going, however, my feet kept me walking there 🙂 I went in and these two lovely old ladies prayed for me. They prayed for all of my diseases (as I have many), but a big area we focused on was the inability to conceive. They prayed for a wee while and there were no powerful words, no bright lights or supernatural signs. These women, I could tell were full of faith and joy in the Lord and had a quiet confidence about them. One woman did see two pictures. One which signified that there would be joy for us and another that signified that we were clothed in God’s favour. So I left and was glad I went. But I wasn’t sure anything had happened. Later we found out I got pregnant that same week!

Each day I felt so heartbroken that we still had no babies and each day I was taking my broken heart to God and leaving it with Him. I was requesting an answer to this prayer from Him every day. I distinctly remember one morning God asking me, “Erica, what have I said?” And I answered Him, “That You are going to bless us with babies.” And He said, “Trust Me.” Amazing stuff.

One Sunday we visited our old church and were only able to go for a wee bit because our church was putting on a picnic in the afternoon. So we went along for worship and the moment the music began I could feel the presence of God and I just started crying. I say crying, but really, I was weeping. I couldn’t stop the tears coming! I was just so sad, so deeply upset over not having babies and I was just pouring it all out before God. We were singing a song that says “You’re a good, good Father, it’s who You are, who You are, and I’m loved by You, it’s who I am, who I am…You are perfect in all of your ways, perfect in all of Your ways to us.” Even though I was broken hearted, I knew He was a good Father, that He loved me and that He was perfect in all of His ways, even in my barrenness. As I stretched out my weak hands to Him in worship, I could hear His words to me, “Daughter I am coming to you, I am coming to give you the desires of your heart.” I was amazed and left with all that weight completely lifted and full of peace. Little did we know that I was actually with child!

Shortly after this, I came home from work to find that we had received our appointments through for the infertility investigations. I was so upset when I got them as they were scheduled in just a couple of weeks. I remembered what God had said to me and prayed that if it was indeed from God, then I believe Him, and asked that He would confirm His words to me.

The next day as I was travelling into work I was worshipping and praying, rather, begging God to move and to grant us children. I felt an increased amount of strength and faith needed to pray and believe God. So much so that it was as if I could see into the heavens and saw Jesus turn and look at me as if to say that He is taking notice of me, that He was attentive to my prayer. I just kept praying that He would grant us to be with child before we went for investigations. He commands with a word and it happens, so I was praying that He would do just that 🙂

The next night we had our Bible study on and during the prayer time I asked my friend to pray for us to be able to have babies and that God would heal any part of my body that needed healing. After she prayed, she said her hands were hot and tingly from praying and during the prayer I could feel chills going up and down the whole right side of my body (which is where my only existing fallopian tube is). We were so encouraged that God had moved in healing during that time. This one is amazing because I believe it was during this time that the baby will have been travelling through my right fallopian tube. There was such a high risk that this tube would also have been blocked resulting in another ectopic, so I truly believe God was moving to heal my body during this time.

As our investigation appointment was approaching, one night as I was going to bed, I was praying and asking God that if I was pregnant, that He would confirm it through a dream to Ali. I didn’t tell Ali about the prayer and that following morning, by the time I asked Ali if he had had any dreams he had forgotten. So that night I prayed the same prayer to God and asked Him again to confirm either way through a dream to Ali. The next morning when I woke up, it was the first thing on my mind, so as soon as he turned on the light I asked him if he had had any dreams. He sleepily said, “yes, I dreamt that you were telling me that you are pregnant.” I could NOT believe it but was totally amazed by God and kept thinking, what could this mean?! I just felt like God was telling me to wait and pray and look to Him.

After all of this I was so conflicted about taking a test. I just felt as though I couldn’t actually bear the thought of seeing another “not pregnant” outcome so kept putting it off. But our investigation appointment was coming up in a matter of days and we needed to know whether or not to go. We decided that I would take a test first thing on the morning of the appointment and face the result whatever it may be. A few nights before I was randomly reading through some psalms and was in 111, then 112, then finished in 113. I was amazed as my eyes landed on Psalm 113:9, “He gives the childless woman a household, making her the joyful mother of children. Hallelujah!” Hallelujah indeed! I just felt like God was continuing to help me put my faith in who He is and what He’s always done 🙂 But doubt was creeping in with each day leading up to taking a test. However, Jesus drew near to me and said, “Don’t doubt, just believe” and “nothing shall be impossible to the one who believes.”

The night before the big test I was so fearful and basically put together a case before God of all the reasons why He should answer this prayer. I was encouraged that other godly people had done this in prayer (not in order to manipulate God, but in order to strongly plead with Him), and so I thought now is as good a time as any for me to do the same! My reasoning’s were as follows:

  • To show Himself faithful. That He has said He would bless us with children and He keeps His words to us.
  • To prove beyond a doubt that this is Him. That God is real, that He’s alive, that He’s active and working in our lives. To show that everything that has happened is not by coincidence but is from His hand.
  • To show His goodness to us which we don’t deserve.
  • Because we have persisted in prayer and God rewards those who seek Him. To confirm that He still answers prayer.
  • To show that God also still takes special notice of those who are barren and He brings life.
  • To uphold His justice and destroy the works of the enemy. That He would redeem all that was lost.

So that night I went to bed in peace 🙂 The next morning I woke up and the first thing I did was take a test to of course find the word “pregnant” displayed. We were amazed but not surprised. Who would be with a lead up like that?! We have been in total wonder every step of the way to see that this child is still living, growing and flourishing as I have just passed 13 weeks. There has continued to be much fear and doubt along the way that we continue to pray through, but God is calling us to trust Him for that which we cannot see. That’s what faith is after all isn’t it? There were actually SO many more things which happened that couldn’t be written here, but this is a wee snapshot to show God’s glory and goodness to us. Here is a pic of the precious life that God is knitting together 🙂

13 Weeks

“Come and listen, all who fear God, and I will tell what He has done for me. I cried out to Him with my mouth, and praise was on my tongue. If I had been aware of malice in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. However, God has listened; He has paid attention to the sound of my prayer. May God be praised! He has not turned away my prayer Or turned His faithful love from me.” Psalm 66:16-20

We will of course update further as things progress. Until then!

Babies

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I’ve delayed writing this post for ages, like actually ages, as it’s been two years (last week) since we lost our first conceived child 😦 To be honest, every time I go to write anything about it, my mind just goes blank. Even though, I have spent the last two years writing about it, thinking about it, talking about it, feeling about it and praying about it non-stop! Perhaps that is why it’s so hard to write anything as there is SO much that has happened, it’s hard to even know where to begin. And usually when you don’t know where to begin, it’s best to start at the beginning 🙂

So, there we were February two years ago, having only very recently found out we were pregnant with our first baby and all the excitement that comes with that. Then a few days later we received the devastating news that the baby wasn’t going to survive (and I wasn’t going to survive if we didn’t terminate the pregnancy). Pretty much some of the worst news I’ve ever heard 😦 After terminating the pregnancy in the States and getting the clear to fly home we come back to Scotland thinking that’s all behind us, only to have my fallopian tube rupture, resulting in some of the worst pain ever! In the midst of all of it, I could feel that God was SO near. Before, during and after, He just kept reassuring me that He was with me, that He was protecting me and that He had a plan. I felt an incredible about of comfort and peace in the midst of all the pain and grief.

Initially, after I began to heal from the surgery, I was just replaying all the events in my mind daily, going through everything again and again as if to make sense of what happened. Thankfully during that time I wasn’t working as I was recovering so had the time to just rest, heal and reflect. I did a lot of crying 😦 I knew God saw and felt such compassion for every tear shed for the loss of our baby and for enduring such trauma.

At that time, I kept referring to our baby as pregnancy tissue. Anytime anyone would refer to it as a baby, I would automatically think in my mind, “no, it was just pregnancy tissue”. Friends would suggest things like naming the baby, having a proper burial and many other things to help grieve, but it just didn’t seem like something I wanted to do. It didn’t seem like something I needed to do.

Though I was quite sad at first I moved on pretty quickly. Initially I was just so grateful to God to be alive! I couldn’t really cope with the thought of anything else. It wasn’t until about six months later when we began trying again for another baby that the grieving really began to set in. I told myself the whole way through that I don’t know what a “normal” grieving process is, so just resigned to let God lead me in that, after all the Bible says that the Holy Spirit, who is with us, is our Counsellor, so I thought He would know best how to lead me through it all. I’ve not noticed any distinct process in my grieving (such as denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance or whatever) but rather, just find that the grieving comes in waves. Some days I am deeply grieved and cry my eyes out over it. Other times, I’ll go for ages with nothing and then something will trigger it, like certain people getting pregnant. Most days I don’t think about it at all. It’s weird.

For me, the grieving began with the realisation that what we lost was indeed a baby. Like I mentioned, at first I just thought of it as pregnancy tissue, which is also what the medical professionals called it. And to be honest, who grieves over pregnancy tissue? Not too long after everything happened I was having a conversation with our Auntie, who has traumatically lost several babies, and she mentioned that it doesn’t matter how long that baby lived, at the moment of conception there is a little person being formed and created. It was like for the first time I realised and acknowledged that it was a baby we lost. I went home and just cried my eyes out as I thought, “It was a baby!” And not only that, but so many other feelings came up, the deepest was, “I loved that baby and I wanted that baby. I didn’t want it to die.” 😦 God has done a lot to bring healing to us in this area. We did in the end name our baby girl Anna (more on this later). We still talk about her all the time and look forward to the day when we get to cuddle her in heaven.

So, in July of 2013, we got the go ahead from the doctor to start trying again, and were a wee bit hesitant as I had a great deal of fear that we would have another ectopic. Thankfully through prayer, that fear diminished and we carried on with a lot of peace. Months went by with no pregnancy…then more months…then a year…now it’s been over a year and a half and still no baby. This process, which some call infertility, some call barrenness has also been incredibly painful for us, but in a totally different way. I’ve thought a lot about this and prayed much and have realised that there is so much that goes on inside a woman when she is barren. God has put something in women that longs to nurture and sustain life, something which reflects Him. To be honest, these feelings that I had, the incredibly deep longing to have a baby from my own body, surprised me! You see prior to getting pregnant I had never experienced any feelings like this before. I was of the mind, “if we get pregnant, great, if we don’t, I’m not too fussed.” I never really longed for a baby, never really desired it deeply, so these feelings were just entirely new to me and seemed to come out of nowhere! I think getting pregnant prompted it for me, while I know other women experience this without ever getting pregnant.

Through this I have realised more than ever that there is a very close connection between the physical and spiritual, way closer of a tie than I had ever really known before. So, for example, not being able to conceive physically brought about this whole set of beliefs that I would also be barren spiritually. That I would remain fruitless, empty, dead. I would often think and pray to God, “Will my body be dead forever? Will I ever bear fruit? Will I ever produce life?” Do you see the tie here between physical fruit (babies) and spiritual fruit? I began to think that because my body wasn’t nurturing and sustaining life, my spiritual life wouldn’t either. These things, of course, weren’t true. But they were what I was faced with in my heart.

Barrenness has also taken us through endless cycles of expectation, excitement, disappointment and then despair. The utter hopelessness is so painful and probably the most difficult thing to break through. God would gently and softly ask me, “Erica, where is your hope?” Often, it has been in having a baby, in having children and a family. He has reminded me again and again and again, “Put your hope in Me.” There is a verse in the Bible which really spoke to me a lot, “…and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:2-5). Hope in any other thing disappoints, but those who hope in God will never be disappointed. I have found this to be trustworthy.

The other thing that’s been happening recently is I’ve been waking up sad, just feeling like I am missing out…on getting to be a parent, on the joy of loving a child, of nursing and nurturing a baby, of having my own baby. It’s a feeling of missing out on some fullness of love and joy and pleasure. But even in these last few mornings God has led me to bring all these feelings to Him, to pour them out before Him because He cares for me. And even as I pour them out, I know that He is enough and that in Him is the fullness of love and joy and pleasure. He brought me to this verse, “You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand (Jesus) there are pleasures forever.” (Psalms 16:11) Life and the fullness of joy and pleasures that last forever are found in Jesus. So pretty much daily something comes up regarding barrenness and daily God meets me where I am and draws me to find everything in Him.

Now, amazingly, there is story after story in the Bible of God intervening and speaking into the lives of none other than…women who are barren! I have found this to be an incredible thing, as they seem to hit a real soft spot for God that I still can’t quite figure out. Some of the most incredible people of faith in the Bible were barren for a very long time (we’re talking 20+ years) and received the ability to conceive only through supernatural means (Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Samson’s parents, Hannah, Elizabeth and Zacharias, etc). I have taken great comfort and such reassurance in the fact that there is a God who speaks into our lives and brings dead things to life, and He does this through various and supernatural means. SO many things have happened over the last two years which have spoken right to my heart and showed me God was hearing our prayers and has a plan. Here are just a few (there are honestly so many more):

  1. First, in August 2013, just a month after starting to try for another baby, we went to my brother and sister in-law’s church as we were visiting one weekend. This was a particularly difficult weekend because my sister-in-law was newly pregnant, which was wonderfully exciting, but also, SO painful, as you could imagine. We had never been to their church before so didn’t know anyone, and the pastor was going around afterwards asking people if they’d like to receive prayer for anything. We’d never been in a situation quite like this before, but thought “hey, we always need prayer.” So we mentioned that we are helping start a church in Glasgow and would love prayer for that. He began praying for that, then he turned and focused his attention on me and looked at me dead in the eyes and said to me, “You are favoured by God” and just in case I didn’t get it the first time he said, “God favours you”. He said various things about the impact of my role with the church and went on to say, “I see you praying for healing for women who are unable to conceive and God giving them the ability to conceive”. Of course, at that moment, there were just floods of tears. He also prayed for God to have mercy on us and allow us to conceive. This gave me a fresh hope in God who works wonders in what seems impossible.
  2. We were so encouraged by God that we were in a church with a couple who had struggled with barrenness for years and they often prayed for us and strengthened us when we had no hope. One day when we were praying with them to be able to conceive they felt like God was saying something about naming the baby or were asking if we had named the baby. We said we hadn’t but this got us thinking further. I later asked Ali if he ever had any inclination or sense from God what the sex was of the baby. He said yes, he thinks he did. So had I! So I blurted it out, “I think it was a girl” and he said yup, he did too. We were amazed that we both felt the same. So then, we were praying and asking God what the name for our girl should be. For some reason, Ali had always loved the name Anna for a girl. I never really liked it, but for some reason it kept coming to mind and so Ali was a wee bit surprised when I mentioned this to him. I felt assured that this is what we should name her and then thought, I will look up her name and just see what it means. When I looked it up I was totally shocked to find that the name Anna means “God favours me”. Given the first prophecy that was spoken over us and how that pastor kept saying that to me, I was SO sure this was her name.
  3. Then, in October, we went along to the Glasgow Prophetic Centre for a check-up. It’s basically the two of us in a room with three people and there’s a wee bit of chat and they prophecy over you. Sounds weird, I know, but it’s not really and it’s Biblical. Scripture says that we should desire the gift of prophecy because it builds people up the most out of all the gifts as it provides encouragement, edification and comfort. We experienced only those things. There was SO much they said that is just not relevant to this blog post, but when one of the women came round to me, she said these words, “Erica, I feel like God is saying you are like Hannah in the Bible”. Insert floods of tears! If you’ve never read about Hannah, you can find her in 1 Samuel, chapters 1 and 2 of the Bible. It’s about a woman who was barren for many years, who couldn’t conceive and in the midst of her bitterness and pain, she cried out to God for a child, for a son. God gave her that son, who she named Samuel which means “I requested him from God” or “God gave me the one I requested from Him”. So this woman mentions Hannah and my whole heart is completely exposed. Needless to say, this woman had NO way of knowing what our life circumstances were as we had divulged nothing to her. God showed her this and like the scriptures say that with prophecy, “the secrets of the heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you” (1 Corinthians 14:25). She went on to say to me, “you know Hannah was barren for years and she cried out to God for a son and God loved to bless Hannah with Samuel.” She realised quickly that there was so much truth to what she was saying and began to pray for me directly that God would allow us to conceive, and she began to say to me, “The Lord says you will not be barren in any area of your life. I speak fruitfulness over your life in Jesus name. Daughter, I have made you fruitful, I’ve made you fruitful in every area of your life in the spirit and in the natural.” She said SO many other words than this, but again, this was so clearly God speaking to all the things taking place in my heart.
  4. Even though we had all these incredible words of hope and comfort from God, we still weren’t sure if we would ever actually have a child naturally. So, we began asking God if we would 🙂 One morning last year (early 2014), Ali woke up and said he had a dream that we had a baby and in the dream he spoke the baby’s name. He told me he wasn’t going to tell me what the name is, so I will just have to pray and God will tell me! I was not impressed by this at all as I just wanted to know, and thought, “what if God doesn’t tell me?” But then I remembered that in the Bible there are loads of examples where God would tell each person in a marriage separately what the name of their child is and it was always the same, so I just asked God to do the same here. I completely forgot all about this and a few weeks later was praying one morning before church and looked across the way and saw a young boy next to his father who was praying. God really fixed my eyes on him and the boy just looked so comfortable in the presence of his father and it reminded me so much of the boy Samuel (recall earlier Hannah’s son), who grew up in the house of the Lord and loved to be in God’s presence. I distinctly felt God say to me that day, “I will bless you with a son and he will be like Samuel”. I cried and then completely forgot about it as we went about our Sunday. Later that day I was telling Ali everything that had happened that morning during the service and nonchalantly mentioned what I had heard from God and he excitedly exclaimed, “That’s the name from my dream!” Amazing!

So, we have reason to believe God for natural children or at least a natural child. These are just a few stories, there are actually SO many more of God speaking to us on this matter. I’ve never experienced anything like these things before in my life and was so surprised and comforted every time He would speak. God is so good and truly is the God of all comfort.

Now, we have been trying and there is still no baby and do we stop believing God now? No way! I think a lot about Abraham and Sarah (from the Bible) and how they believed God and their hope was in Him even when things seemed completely impossible. I love that God built and established the “Father of Faith” through a situation like this, through something as personal like barrenness. I was also asking God just the other day why He spoke to us so much about this in the beginning but doesn’t say as much about it anymore. He reminded me how when Joseph and Mary or Elizabeth and Zacharias were pregnant, there were so many words from God that came through such supernatural means early on, but scripture doesn’t record as much of it later after the men were born. I think He was showing me this in order to encourage me to remember the things He has said and rely on them by faith, to trust that God is faithful to do what He has said. Everything He has said and done is more than I have deserved, He is so gracious to me.

So, the last thing regarding all of this is related but different. Throughout this whole process God has increasingly broken our hearts for the parentless (whether temporary or permanent) and has increasingly given us a desire to foster and/or adopt. We are currently in the process to do this locally in Glasgow and are really excited to get to care for children in our city who need it. We’ve noticed that our desires for this are also totally different from our desire to have children naturally and realise more and more that adopting children won’t replace or satisfy the desire to have children naturally and that’s fine. It’s good even! We have compassion for these poor wee babies and have the time and willingness to be a part of loving them. We will post more on this later as it progresses! 🙂

So I definitely over-analyse everything, but I have found it really helpful to distinguish my emotions in each of the areas below as I have processed through them all. The emotions and motivations in each are different and I just thought it might be helpful or clarifying for anyone else going through something similar.

Losing a Baby Barrenness Adoption
Grief Longing/Deep rooted desire to conceive Compassion and care for the fatherless
Loss Desire to nurture a child Desire to defend and protect
Part of you has died Feeling deeply disappointed and like we’re missing out Desire for justice (to do what is right and good)
Heartbroken Desire for life to come from my body (to be fruitful) Desire to respond to the fact that we’ve been adopted by God
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These photos were taken of a quilt that our Auntie made us in memory of Anna 🙂

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I cannot believe it is 2015. I have recently started reading through my old journals (starting in 2002) and am in total shock that it was 10 years ago that I started university. So much has happened since then and I find such hope in the fact that God has completely changed me. As I’ve thought about what 2015 will be like, what will happen this year, what we are looking forward to and preparing for, what our hopes are…I just keep coming back to this conclusion:

“I don’t know what what’s ahead, but God You do, so lead me on!”

It’s actually so refreshing and freeing to not have a plan…who would have thought?! 🙂 This is a song I have been praying for the last couple weeks by one of my Bethel favourites. I hope you enjoy!

Here’s a little glimpse of 2014 🙂

We’ve lived with our housemate for over two years now and love her more than ever 🙂 We’ve also gained two more!

Housemates

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We got to take a lovely trip to the States to visit family and dear friends

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Dennis Fun

We’ve gotten to watch our wee church family grow and move from our living room into a building!

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Refuge Church

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Refuge

We got to go on holiday to see the west coast of Scotland (beautiful)

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We celebrated 4 years married (Woo-Hoo)

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We got to witness our good friends get married

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We’ve gotten to get to know some other good friends

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We got to see our oldest brother get married to the lovely Anna 🙂

PeteAnna Wedding

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And we’ve just enjoyed God’s goodness to us in life 🙂

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How cute are these wee babes?!

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           Bring on 2015!

Welcome 2015

We’re Back!

AliEr

Wow, I cannot believe how long I have let it go before writing a post! Totally shocking! I apologise to anyone who was hoping to use this blog as means to know what is going on in our lives. Sadly, when our life gets busy, this blog is the first thing to get neglected. Anyway, here we are again. Hope you haven’t forgotten about us! And, as you can imagine, MUCH has happened which I am delighted to inform you of 🙂 But first, here are a few photos from the last year of life in Glasgow.

Farmer’s Market

Farmer's Market

Ali

Busker

The Scottish countryside is SO beautiful!

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Backyard bonfires = Alisdair’s fave 🙂

Fire Pit

Recent World Cup BBQ – Ali getting his meat fix!

BBQ

And, I’m sure it’s no surprise but we’ve been cooking up lots of yummy foods. Here’s some of the latest:

Home-made veggie pizzas

Pizza

Grilled Seabass with potatoes and asparagus

Seabass Pot

Grilled salmon with potatoes and wilted kale

SalmonKale

Tabbouleh, falafel, and pita

Falafel

Mixed greens with chickpeas, mushrooms, avocado and tomato with home-made dressing

Salad

Curried salmon with purple sprouting broccoli and curried mashed cauliflower

SalmonCauli

Home-made blueberry jam (so good!) and whole-wheat scones

Jam

Sea Trout with roasted potatoes, broccoli and beetroot

Trout

Blueberry Scones

Blueberry Scones

Open-face wrap with raw summer veg and hummus, so colourful!

Veggie Wrap

So anyway, now that that is finished, on to the events from the last year. In order to keep things brief I will just update on a few different areas of our lives with the hopes of filling you in on the gaps in the near future (fingers crossed!):

1. Church – Last I shared we were really enjoying getting totally stuck in at Re:Hope church while also praying about opportunities to help start a church. We knew of a couple who were planning on starting a church in Glasgow who had just moved over from the States. So as soon as they arrived we scouted them out and found that we had a lot of similar desires for starting a church in Scotland. So after chatting with them, we prayed and felt like God was leading us to help start this church with them. That was back in August of 2013. We starting meeting in their home with a few other couples just praying and reading a book together and now we have grown to about 30 – 35 people (11 of which are kids!). Here’s a wee photo of some of our church members when we were out one day baptising one of the kids:

Refuge Church

We meet each Sunday in our house (more on this later) and worship God through song, hear a teaching from the Bible and pray together. Quite often we feast too; we are really good at feasting together. It’s been really fun to be a part of starting a church in Scotland and quite different in a lot of ways than it was starting a church in Austin. I was so grateful for Re:Hope as we had quickly found a family there and learned and grew a lot spiritually, but we look forward to and hope for even more of the same in this next season with Refuge Church.

2. Work – As I mentioned in my last post I started working a full-time temporary post which initially was meant to be for four months but turned into a year and 2 months! It was really great fun, and the perfect way to get to know the culture and build friendships as I worked in an office full of girls my age. I loved it but our lives began to become more about surviving so that we can work rather than working in order to do ministry which is what we really feel led by God to do. So, my contract ended at the end of June 2014 and at the moment I haven’t taken up anything else. Thus the reason I have time to write a blog 🙂 We are praying about whether or not I will take up some part-time work but are taking a couple months to pray and see what God says. So, just now I spend my days taking care of the home, taking all of that work off of Ali’s plate, which I am so grateful for. And we spend our evenings and weekends with people which is awesome! In other news, Ali has started a new job. This was such an answer to prayer as this job allows us to live off of one salary for now and provides a new challenge for Alisdair as he helps people who are on benefits get back into work (or to work for the first time). We are looking forward to this new season very much as we re-organise our time and efforts in the way that we feel God leading (more on this in future posts).

3. Home – As soon as Refuge Church figured out where in Glasgow they were going to plant themselves we moved straight away. As mentioned before, we feel it really important for us to be in as close proximity as possible to the church we are a part of. We have this as a priority so that our lives won’t be too spread out and so we can focus our efforts more on the people in that surrounding area. So, because this church is going to be located in the south side of Glasgow we began looking for a place right away. And of course, God provided something for us quite miraculously and quickly just to show us that it is Him! The story in brief is that our friend owned a house on the south side and was going to rent it out as he was moving to Italy for a year as a missionary. Whenever we first visited our friend in this house, we loved it and thought to ourselves, “we would love to live in this house” but immediately cast the thought aside as we lived and churched in the west end of Glasgow. But when we learned that our new church would be south side and this house became available all of a sudden it made sense. So, we moved in! It’s a rather spacious 4 bedroom house which is obviously much too big for just the two of us so we were delighted that our friend Libby is still willing to put up with us and have even invited in another friend called Jen. We’ve also had two different foreigners living with us for various lengths of time and get to host family and friends quite often. It’s such a blessing from God and we sometimes can’t believe we live here.

Well, as you can see much has happened and those are just the highlights! I am hoping to fill in some of the gaps soon as I now have more time to keep up this blog so keep your eyes peeled for more in the near future 🙂

McKibbens

New Things

Ah, I can hardly believe that in two weeks’ time we will have been here for eight whole months! It still feels like we have only been here for such a short time. We have been on a few adventures recently so I thought I would start this post by sharing some of the lovely Scottish landscapes with you. There is something about this country, the beauty in it, that just captures my heart! 🙂

                      

    

 These pictures are from a recent trip we took to the Highlands (which is where Ali’s Nana and Granddad live). We drove up through the mountainous west coast of Scotland and were just so amazed as we drove through such breath-taking sights. We were totally delighted to see such beauty. Driving at the bottom of those mountains was quite a new experience for me, as you could imagine being a Texas girl (everything is SO flat), they were so big and I am so small. They are majestic and reflect God in a way that only they can. Those mountains are so much smaller than even the size of His finger! What a mighty, majestic and grand God! He deserves the utmost praise, glory and honour!

Anyway, while this country is so beautiful, more and more I am beginning to really miss family and friends and am longing for “home”. I am finding that what’s underneath this longing for home is not so much a place as it is a longing for relationships in which I am known and loved. I think loneliness then is the opposite, it’s when I am not in relationships in which I am known and loved. So, I suppose I have been feeling quite lonely, and it makes sense that during these lonely times I most long for home. But even as I write this I am reminded that wherever I am, wherever I go, I am always at home, though I often forget. Jesus is with me, He has not left me. And, with Him I am known like no other and loved deeply and perfectly.

It reminds me of what I was reflecting on in John 14 just a few days ago, when Jesus begins speaking very clearly with His disciples about what is going to take place, namely that He is going to die and then be raised. But He will leave them to go to the Father. I imagine they must have been terrified thinking, “But Jesus, we can’t do this without You. You’re our Lord, You’re our leader, You’re our teacher. We need you!” Jesus, perceiving that their hearts were totally troubled and fearful, as you could imagine, He says to them, “I will not leave you as orphans; I am coming to you,” as He proceeds to comfort them with the amazing news that they will be indwelled with His Spirit forever. They will never be without Him, they will never be alone. For indeed, what amazing and comforting truth to know that the One who knows me and loves me is with me always, even to the end of the age! And it’s in these words I put my hope and my trust, and only in these words that I find peace. How grateful I am that in the gospel, the lonely can be known…forever!

Updates and Prayers:

Mom:  My family continues to go through a difficult time with my mom’s sickness. They are currently trying to decide on a good treatment option, but have many obstacles in the way ranging from practical things (like difficulty getting to doctor’s appointments), financial things (the cost of treatment), and spiritual things (there are spiritual forces of darkness that do not want my mother to get well). Please pray that God would provide the practical and financial help my mother needs in order to get treatment and pray that God would deliver my mother from the power of the enemy.

Marriage:  God is doing such an incredible (and miraculous) work in our marriage. So I know that you all must be praying! 🙂 To be completely honest, most of the change is happening in me (Erica) and it’s having a huge impact on Alisdair. God has been showing me the areas in marriage in which I have believed the culture rather than Him, and the destruction that’s caused in our marriage. Through help from God I’ve been able to see these things and seek forgiveness from Alisdair and approach things differently. It’s changed everything! It’s been SO good and has given me a fresh desire to teach women more about what it means to be a wife who knows and believes that what God says about marriage is truly best. Please keep praying for us in this regard because I feel like this is only the beginning!

  • Roles (wife/helper suitable, husband/leader head) – Please pray that we would become even more aware of the ways in which our cultures have defined how we view our roles in marriage. Pray that we would reject the cultural views of marriage and that we would be able to see and experience God’s design for marriage. Our prayer is that our marriage and the marriages in the church would be a very real picture of Jesus’ relationship with the church to a broken culture.
  • Gospel-Centred conflict – We are realising more and more that we both have learned how to (and just naturally do) deal with conflict in weird and hurtful ways. Please pray that we would learn to communicate and deal with hurt in a godly way. We are praying that a new pattern would begin to take place in our marriage: that we would take our hurt first to Jesus, experience repentance and renewal through the gospel, and then go to each other with it. This pattern, when it’s done is so refreshing! Please pray that God would give us wisdom beyond years in regards to marriage.

Co-Workers:  SO much is going on here and we are filled with joy! I just started a new job in April with a small team of six girls working in HR. It’s a temporary role for up to four months with a potential to be extended. I have already gotten the opportunity to hear what some of the girls spiritual beliefs are and I am so excited to know more! Please pray for me, that God would give me supernatural interest in these girls, to know them and learn about what they believe. Please pray for favour and the ability to connect. Ultimately, please pray for opportunities to share Jesus with them, I am only there for such a short time.

The Lord is doing such an amazing work through Ali’s relationships and has given him so many opportunities to share the gospel with people and to chat about spiritual things. He’s gotten a chance to get to know many of his co-workers on a deeper level and is considering how to build the relationships further. Please pray that as Ali gets to know his co-workers more he would have the discernment and opportunity to speak the gospel directly into what’s going on in their lives. Please also pray that Ali would not lose sight (it’s so easy to do!) of the fact that he is entering into a mission field each day.

Church:  We are continuing to serve on the prayer team and it’s been so much fun to grow in edifying the church in this way. Please pray for us that as people come and share what they’d like for prayer we would have discernment and wisdom to see how the gospel directly applies to their situation. Pray that we would speak God’s words and it would bring great refreshing to the church.

Also, our wee Bible reading group is going really well! Each week we lead a group of young people through the word of God and point them to Jesus and the gospel as often as possible. It’s great fun! 🙂 We are interested in getting to know each member of the group better and are seeking to establish closer one-on-one relationships with each person. Please pray for direction with this group and with each individual coming. Pray that God would help us know how to encourage each person spiritually and help them grow.

Next Steps:  We have been seeking God for direction about what is next and feel clarity on two things:

  •   Preparing for a family (specifically in the form of financial provision)
  •   Opportunities to shepherd, teach and make disciples

Please pray that God would open doors for both of these things and show us what next steps to take. Very exciting! 🙂

Thank you for praying for us. Let us know how you are; we’d LOVE to hear from you! Love to you all and glory to God.

McKibbens

Six Months In & Cultural Differences

Six months ago today, we jumped on a plane (on our two year anniversary) and began the crazy journey of moving to Scotland to be a part of what God is doing here. It’s been thrilling, joyful, confusing and trying. All good things are. 🙂 Our marriage has experienced refining like never before, our purpose in life is being shaped and revealed daily, and our pride is being brought very low. What an adventure! More than all of this though, we are getting to experience a life oriented around being on mission with God in our everyday lives. I am so excited about what God will have us be a part of here in Scotland in the years to come! I am so humbled that He has invited broken, messy people like us to be a part of His glorious work.

Since arriving I have been collecting a list of cultural differences I have noticed thus far. It’s all so interesting, and the differences are both fun and frustrating! I should say first that these are major generalities and cannot be said for all of Scotland, just like they cannot be said for all of America. They are all comprised of my experiences being in this culture so far, therefore should in no way be considered a definitive list of the actual cultural differences between Scotland and America. So please, do take this with a grain of salt. 🙂 I hope you enjoy learning about the Scottish culture (and the American culture) below:

  • Friendliness – People here seem less friendly on the surface or in the initial getting to know you phase of a friendship. I think it’s because Americans have a tendency to be superficially friendly (I am realising that Americans smile A LOT), which is not a bad thing, as it does produce a feeling in the other person of being liked. And who doesn’t like that right?! On the other hand, I have found that the Scots that are genuinely interested in you will seek to know you with all sincerity.
  • Entitlement – We Americans have such a sense of entitlement, which, I am realising I strongly possess. We often think “I deserve _____”, fill in the blank! We believe we deserve good service, getting something on time, and receiving something when we have paid for it. The Scots, however, don’t have this same sense of entitlement, or at least, not in the same way. Or if they believe they deserve something, they often wouldn’t fight for it in the same way Americans would. They don’t like to make a big deal out of things and have much more of a “what can you do about it?” attitude. Though, they are more than happy to have a wee grumble about it to other people!
  • Indirect communication – I went to the doctor the other day and was so surprised at the contrast in the medical guidance approach between Scotland and America. Generally, my doctors in the states will quickly collect the facts and then give directives saying, “okay, we are going to do this and this” without giving you time to give an opinion. Whereas here, the doctor was saying, “what do you think should be done here?” They seem to want to involve you in the process a wee bit more and have more of a patient-centred approach.
  • Don’t mention it – Again, while at the doctors, when I was leaving I proceeded to lavish the doctor with appreciation for his help and service (partly because I haven’t seen a doctor for my diabetes since August). He responded with “right, the exit is just down this way” completely unresponsive to my blatant praise! It was pretty funny. There seems to be a real “don’t mention it” attitude in this country, but it’s more like, no really…don’t mention it. Generally, Americans love flattery and praise and are totally comfortable with it, whereas people here seem to be less comfortable with it.
  • Emotional Expression – This is a huge one! And it seems to affect everything. In fact most of the other points I have written are tied to this cultural aspect in some way. People in Scotland are much more reserved with their emotions. In fact, because there are generations of people who don’t express their emotions, it would seem that the Scots aren’t taught how to recognise what they feel, so probably wouldn’t know how to respond when asked. Because of the emotional suppression, there is a great deal of fear and shame when emotions are expressed. Americans, in contrast, are characterised by showing their emotions all over their face, keeping little about what they think to themselves, and being slightly overly dramatic. 🙂 Now, although the Scots are very reserved, I am convinced these emotions still do come out in other ways, however unhealthy. My theory is that these emotions are being expressed in other aspects of the Scottish culture. For example, there is a huge drinking culture here. People here drink all the time, they drink a lot and they do so from a very early age. It’s such a huge problem that the government are coming up with initiatives to deal with it. Also, I think others express their emotions passive aggressively through sarcasm, “ripping into each other”, and gossip. Others still, to an extreme degree, are just blatantly aggressive, stabbing, raping, and killing. Sure there are aspects of all of these things in the American society and all over our broken world, but it all seems very prevalent over here.
  • Come bearing gifts – This is a great one! When you invite Scots over for dinner, they ignore you when you say “you don’t need to bring anything, we’ve got it taken care of”.  Regardless, people would come with flowers, snacks or something! 🙂 So now, we have to ensure that whenever we are hosted we come bearing gifts. It’s as if they couldn’t possibly come empty-handed. It’s quite cute.
  • Always get a “fresh” cup – This one drives the practical side of me really crazy! Everyone here insists on getting a new cup for every different thing. A new cup for a new cup of tea (and they drink about eight cups of tea a day so this means eight new cups!), a new plate for a new snack, etc. Because we have no dishwasher, it obviously kills me even more. When I have asked them about it, while also (in my very American way) explaining that it is neither rational nor practical, they say that “it’s just what we do”. So, I better start learning how to make better use of my time while I wash dishes, because it seems I will be spending A LOT of time there. 🙂

So, those are some fun things. They are very interesting and it’s even more interesting talking to the Scots about these differences and asking them what they think about their culture. Now, not all of these things need to be evaluated but it does beg the question:  How do we navigate through these cultural messages? I have had to ask myself this question a lot during my time here as I struggle to evaluate what I have always deemed “normal” or “right”. And the only conclusion I can come to is to go to the gospel. I have to ask myself often, “How does the gospel apply specifically to the things this culture is communicating?”

When I think specifically about the minimisation of emotions and the mind-set that the Scot’s carry: that it’s not that bad, it’s not that big of a deal, don’t worry about me; it often brings me to the gospel. I think about the fact that God desires ALL of our heart, including all of our emotions (whether we deem them valid or not), because He wants real and deep intimacy with us. The greatest commandment is that we love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. How can we love God with all of our heart if we are closing parts of our heart to Him? Then there’s Jesus, who had a perfect relationship with the Father, always bringing His whole heart to him (garden of Gethsemane, on the cross, just to name a few). Because Jesus paid my debt before God, I (and all of my emotions) am completely acceptable before God. Moreover, through Jesus I am approved of, loved and delighted in. Does that mean that all of my emotions are free of sin? Unfortunately not. But God desires me to bring them to Him nonetheless. It’s there that I find healing and renewal in the gospel.

Updates and Prayers:

Praise:  For amazing healing! First, within a couple of weeks of my recent surgery I was pretty much fully recovered (they anticipated this would take closer to six weeks). This is incredible and I am certain came about through your prayers and the mighty hand of God. Thank you for praying! Also, my recent labs containing all my hormone levels (which were previously completely unbalanced) are now completely normal. In fact, all the potential syndromes assigned to me because of my symptoms and abnormal labs have now been completely discounted! The doctor said, “Based on these labs, I don’t see a case for any of those conditions at all”! Praise God. Also, we have been given a car…without cost! Who does that?! Jesus! 🙂

Mom:  My family is going through a really difficult time as my mom has been diagnosed with several potentially fatal illnesses. It’s all quite serious and my mother will die unless there is a great move of God in power and deliverance. Please join me in praying for my mom, for her healing, for life and for deliverance.

Marriage:  There is SO much going on in our marriage, constantly. As I mentioned before, our marriage is being refined continuously and it’s just so good. We are challenged deeply as we see the perfect design God has for marriage and as we learn to deal with conflict in a gospel-centred way. Please pray for two things in regards to our marriage:

  • Roles (wife/helper suitable, husband/leader head) – Please pray that we would become even more aware of the ways in which our cultures have defined how we view our roles in marriage. Pray that we would reject the cultural views of marriage and that we would be able to see and experience God’s design for marriage. Our prayer is that our marriage and the marriages in the church would be a very real picture of Jesus’ relationship with the church to a broken culture.
  • Gospel-Centred conflict – We are realising more and more that we both have learned how to (and just naturally do) deal with conflict in weird and hurtful ways. Please pray that we would learn to communicate and deal with hurt in a godly way. We are praying that a new pattern would begin to take place in our marriage: that we would take our hurt first to Jesus, experience repentance and renewal through the gospel, and then go to each other with it. This pattern, when it’s done is so refreshing! Please pray that God would give us wisdom beyond our years in regards to marriage.

Neighbours/Co-Workers:  In December we went around to meet the neighbours in our flat and give them a little gift, yet only a few were in. Please pray for creative opportunities for more contact with our neighbours so that we can begin to build real relationships with them. Also, Ali has taken the month of February to go out for a drink every Thursday night with two guys from work. It’s been really great, as it has given him so much more opportunities to get to know them. We are now considering how to build the relationships further as we enter into March so please pray for wisdom and opportunities to go deeper with them.

Church:  We are delighted that we have begun to serve our church through the prayer ministry. This has been awesome. On Sunday mornings, after the sermon is preached, the congregation is given the opportunity to go up for prayer in response to what they’ve heard and that’s where we come in. We get to hear what’s going on in their hearts and pray for them. Pray for discernment and wisdom as we do this. Also, we have started our own little Bible reading group. We basically read through big chunks of the Bible midweek and then come together to share what we loved about it. We are really excited about all the people that are coming so please pray that God would give us insight and wisdom as we lead this group toward Jesus!

Again, thanks for keeping up with our lives, listening to all my ramblings and for praying for us. We really need it, so please keep praying! We love you! And, please drop us a line so that we can keep up with your lives too. Love to you all and glory to God.

McKibbens