I had a moment during this week when a memory, an experience from the past, came face to face with the reality of my life now. In some ways I hardly recognize the feelings of that girl from the past, and in other ways I feel like I was just her yesterday.
It was the week after my birthday, April 1997. I was a student in college in the beautiful, historic city of Edinburgh and on the outside I looked like any other student. I had a navy velvet blazer bought from the charity shop (very cool), a pair of Doc Martin boots, and I spent many hours at a coffee house on the Royal Mile that offered free coffee refills. I had friends, I enjoyed college life, but I had a struggle inside that nobody knew about. I hardly slept at night, I was never fully engaged in life there (thankfully), and I had a hard time paying attention during my classes. I remember one evening when the girls I lived with in the halls of residence picked out a flat for the next year and I had a room with them, if I wanted to rent. I had to sign the papers by the end of April to secure my room for the next semester. This deadline only led to more restless nights, more pleading with the Lord. Finally, I came to a decision. I knew I couldn’t live my life like this. I hadn’t told a soul about the things that were going on in my heart, but I knew the time was coming close when I could no longer keep quiet. I was terrified of the reactions of people, what they would think, but either way I knew I couldn’t sign those papers for one more year in college. I needed to go home and tell my parents about new direction my life was taking.
I remember walking down the steep hill to the little town of Corstorphine. I was on my way to the travel agency to inquire about tickets to go home to Belfast for the weekend. It was eighty three pounds for a return ticket and I think, at the time, I had twenty pounds to my name. I walked back up the hill, feeling totally overwhelmed and praying that God would make a way for me to do what I knew I needed to do. I returned to the Halls of Residence and the post (mail) had just arrived and there were four cards in my box. They were birthday cards from home and each had twenty pounds tucked inside them! I could hardly believe my eyes, but it fueled my flame and right away I walked back down the hill and booked my ticket home. I then called my parents and told them I would be coming home at the weekend, because I had something I needed to tell them. My poor parents didn’t sleep the rest of the week.
They picked me up at the airport in Belfast on a Friday night and there was only silence in the car on the way home. However, there were lots of anxious glances in the rear view mirror to where I was sitting alone in the back. My stomach was absolutely churning at the thought of what lay ahead. I knew once I voiced my decision, there would be no going back. We arrived home in the pouring rain and my Dad went straight away to put the kettle on, knowing we all needed a cup of tea. Then, gathered there in my mum and dad’s bedroom, sitting on the bed, I plucked up everything within me and I said the words that had been burning inside me for months. ” I feel God has called me to be a missionary. I am leaving college in Edinburgh and I want to go straight away to Bible School.” The relief on my poor parent’s face, was only trumped by their joy and, at the same time, a great weight was lifted from my mind. It was soon 11pm, and yet, we somehow ended up at the Pastor’s house (dear family friends) and with more tea being poured and courage rising in my heart, I shared of what God was doing in my life. There was no ridicule, no disappointing looks or raised eyebrows; there were only promises of prayer and the encouragement that God would go with me and they would all stand behind me.
I can’t go into all the things that happened in that summer of 1997, but God walked with me through each trembling step. I found myself in Bible School with New Tribes Mission in the little town of Matlock by the end of August 1997. I had every reason in my head not to go. I was completely at a loss for why God would ever want me to follow Him to the ends of the earth, but I knew with every part of my being that this is what His will was for my life. My heart ached for those who had never heard the gospel. I prayed day and night for the lost, that somebody would go and tell them the good news of the gospel, but I never dreamed that God would send me. I had a prayer card made that summer to give to the dear people in my church who promised this 19 year old girl that they would pray for her faithfully, and they did. The verse I chose to put on it was Philippians 4:13; “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I had no idea where I was to go, how I would get there, where the money would come from and yet in faith I knew that I was exactly where God wanted me to be; by His strength I would go.
Fast forward, 18 years, to this week when I was sitting at my desk preparing for our ladies’ Bible Study. Our topic was on living our lives for the glory of God and I was wanting to encourage them to do so with great joy. At that moment, right there on my desk, there were two prayer cards lying almost side by side. My life long friend, Cherith, had just sent me my old prayer card as a “blast from the past” to make me smile. Our recent prayer card was out on my desk as somebody here in the village had asked me for one as “a remembrance while we are gone.” In that moment, as I looked at the simple little black and white bookmark of a terrified 19 year old Philippa Parker, and then the colorful, happy photo of the Brooks family, my heart just almost exploded in thankfulness. God took that trembling heart of mine, who wanted to obey Him with all her being, and yet, in the same moment, feared His will. He pressed His Word and His promises deep into my heart. I slowly learned to let go of the burden of the “where” and the “how” of serving Him and He re-filled those spaces with grace and joy. With each step of faith I took for Jesus, He began to strengthen my heart. He revealed His faithfulness to me through His Word and His will for my life became less filled with fear and more filled with delight.
Today, I look at our latest prayer card. I have a dear husband who I would never have met if we hadn’t both been at the New Tribes Training center in Missiouri. I thank God for the two little gifts who keep our arms, our hearts and our days so full, little Isabela and Judah. They were all part of God’s plan and will for my life, but I was so afraid to even dream of such grace because I thought I was giving everything up for Jesus. Most of all I praise God for how He has taught me more about Himself. I feel sorry for that 19 year old girl in the black and white photo who was so fearful of God’s will. In many ways, I have often felt that God sent me around the world, not only so others could come to know Him, but so I could know Him, too. This has been the greatest joy of my life, to learn and experience the goodness and the faithfulness of God as I have depended on Him.
|credit: Chelsea Marie Photography, Paso Robles CA|
A few weeks ago, Izzy and I were having afternoon tea together when I asked her, “Izzy where is home?” She replied, without skipping a beat, “Right here Mama, where God puts us, because he is so generous.” I have thought about that little sentence she rattled out, over the past few weeks. (I even recorded it on Instagram, for memory keeping sake.) The truth is, this is the main difference between that faded black and white prayer card from August 1997 and the brightly coloured family prayer card I look at this April 2015. In the first, I knew without a doubt that God was going to “put me somewhere,” but what I didn’t know; just how generous God was going to be to me in the process. God’s will for my life now feels like home. It is a place I long for and a place that brings me much rest. Sure, the road has not always been easy; there have been heartaches and difficulties along the way, but Jesus has only pressed closer and, even in those difficulties, He has been so good.
I showed the ladies those two prayer cards this past Wednesday, at our Bible Study, and tears pricked hard at my eyes, as I encouraged them to serve the Lord with gladness and not to fear those steps he has ahead for us all. They may never be asked to move to the other side of the world, but they have a world all around them that needs mothers, wives, sisters and friends to follow fully after Jesus, and whose lives are an out-pouring of His love and His truth. As I looked into the eyes of these dear ladies, I recognized all the feelings. They want to serve the Lord. They desire His will for their lives, but they can also be fearful of what others may think and fearful over the things that God may ask them to give up for Him. I can only pray that they, too, will continue to take those trembling steps of faith, which will lead them to experience more fully the richness and the goodness of God. I trust that they will come to know that surrender to the Lord, though it will require sacrifice, will also bring much satisfaction and joy to their lives as they serve their Heavenly Father.
Today, as I write this it is actually my 37th birthday and God is still fueling my fire through the gifts I receive from Him. We celebrated in our little house on the hill, as a family, today and it was lovely. The gifts of the day included flowers picked from the garden, a beautiful breakfast made by Danny, pictures of cakes stuck on the wall, a beaded necklace from Izzy, my little boy singing me the sweetest birthday song and hugs and kisses all day long. The only actual “present” I had to open today was from my dear friend Candy. When I opened it, it was a beautiful black and white print and all that was written on it was; “Today, I am thankful.” That was all it needed to say, because it sums up my story so well.
I am a 37 year old missionary mama and I could not be more thankful for this life that Jesus has given to me. I have only known His grace upon grace in my life and today I give Him thanks.
“This is my story, this is my song….praising my Saviour all the day long.”
With much love from the jungle tonight