My Cereal Box Sign…

A few days ago, I posted on Facebook about my first experience ever of standing on the street with a cardboard sign. I was asked for the whole story, so I thought it was about time for a new blog post. 🙂

I have mentioned previously that I am currently traveling around the UK looking at sites that have significance in Christian history. During the past 3 weeks, I have visited Armagh, Downpatrick, Saul, and Belfast in Northern Ireland, Paisley, Glasgow, Oban, the Isle of Mull, the Isle of Iona, Edinburgh, St. Andrews, Melrose, and Roslin in Scotland, and Holy Island and York in England. (Not all of these places held significance for my research, but they are places I have traveled.)

Last Thursday was the day I had planned to leave Scotland and travel to Holy Island. I had been given the names of a couple living there whom I should contact for help both with my research and with getting to the island (which is a tidal island). When I called them a couple of days prior to this portion of the trip, I was told there may or may not be a bus running to the island that day (which I already knew there wasn’t), so my best option for travel was to take a bus from the train station in Berwick-Upon-Tweed to a place called Beal. From there it is 2-3 miles across the causeway and then another 1-2 into the town on Holy Island, so the recommendation was to make a sign that said “Holy Island, please?”

After that phone call, I also began looking online for accommodation on the island. Without knowing it, I had chosen to arrive on the island for the first half of a bank holiday weekend… I called nearly every hotel and B&B on the island, but there wasn’t a single vacancy. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure a wanted a vacancy because I wasn’t convinced I could afford a room. Prices for a single room ranged from 50-85£ per night – which, with the exchange rate, is nearly $100-170!

I finally found a place with a vacancy the night before I was leaving. It would cost 60£ a night, and it was across the causeway from the island. So, I began asking God if I should take that room. It would mean less time on the island because I would only cross on the Friday morning and then have to be back across that evening before the tides came in. I wanted to experience the quiet of the island during the evenings when the tourists had gone, rushing to beat the tides, but maybe that wasn’t necessary after all.

In the end, I decided to step out on a limb with God. The worst that could happen was that I would have to find a bench to spend the night on, or that I would have to leave the island and hope that room on the mainland was still available – provided I could get a lift)… Right? I felt like God was asking me to stop planning for a bit and just let Him show up for me, whatever that looked like.

Of course, when I woke on Thursday, it was to the sound of a downpour. The weather had gone from sunny and very warm on Wednesday to cold, windy, and pouring. However, I continued with my plan, so as I finished my cereal, I saved the box for a later part of my journey and off I went. 🙂

The train trip was fairly uneventful, and after about an hour the bus which would drop me at Beal arrived. Unfortunately, the bus was having some issues, and it kept stalling. Eventually we arrived at my stop, and I do hope that the bus made it through the rest of its route.

Because of the tide times, I had a bit of a wait until the causeway opened, so I bought lunch and enjoyed it while standing inside the convenience store. As my current host would say, it was raining cats, dogs, gerbils and a number of other things.

Finally, it was time to try out my sign. I had borrowed a pen at the train station, and my cereal box was now a cry for help. 🙂 The cry was heard, and after only about 10-15 minutes, I was in a car with a lovely couple headed for Holy Island.

After a pause in a cafe to warm up with some hot cocoa, I made my way to the home of my contacts. There, I was treated to tea and a very enjoyable and informative chat about the history of some of those who were part of spreading the gospel throughout this land during the centuries following the fall of the Roman empire in Britain.

Before I left the house, with one phone call, arrangements had been made for me to have accommodation in a house with the most beautiful view of Lindisfarne Castle, a short walk from every place a needed to visit, and a lovely lady who provided breakfast each morning. All of this for less than half the price of the hotel I nearly settled for on the mainland.

Would God have provided the money if I had made a reservation to be safe? Of course, but where is the fun in that? If I learn nothing else on this journey, I have more proof than ever, that God is faithful. Using wisdom is a must, and I highly doubt you’d find me hitching a lift into London or some place like that. However, planning too much and leaving no room for God to show up and surprise you can be dangerous too. I’m sure I would have enjoyed a day on Holy Island with the comfort of a room to go back to, but I would have missed out on the adventure of stepping out of the boat and seeing Jesus show Himself faithful again… Always.

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Perspective

The weeks of travel have begun, and I must say God is taking my level of anticipation a bit higher each day. He is providing contacts, accommodations, transportation, and opportunities that I had not imagined.

Only a week into this adventure, and already, I cannot choose just one highlight. Each day has held a special moment or event or connection of some sort.

However, there is a moment that stands out in my mind as I think about the last week because it was a tangible fulfillment of God’s promises to me. I found a random photo of a sunset behind a little church to serve as my desktop background on my computer last year as I prepared to come here. It was my reminder that God had promised I would make my home on the Emerald Isle, at least for a time.

On Saturday, I took a bus from Belfast to the town of Downpatrick. A couple of miles outside that town is a beautiful little church, the same little church that has been at home on my computer screen for the last several months. This is my own photo of it.
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I was so excited to see this little building that represented the promises of God to me for a while, but there was something far more interesting that I found when I got there….

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I don’t know how accurate the information on this sign is, as I have a sign from another church that claims it was where St. Patrick established a church. It is accepted that this is a likely spot for the beginnings of his ministry in Ireland, but honestly, who really knows the exact location?

What did strike me about this is that there was a church established in this locale nearly 13.5 centuries before my country was founded. Yes, I realize the land was there, and there were people living there. I’m not here to get into the politics surrounding the beginnings of what is now the United States of America. The reason I bring this up is that it once again gave me the perspective of how small I am in the grand scheme of things.

Somehow seeing buildings that are older than my country has a way of bringing into focus how relatively new the USA is in the annals of history. I know many people (both from the USA and not) who become so ethnocentric, so focused on the history, accomplishments or contributions of their own nation that they forget it is not the center of the globe, let alone the universe… I don’t often find myself thinking that way, but there is something about realizing how “young” the USA is that solidifies that acknowledgement.

In addition to the realization that the USA is young, I have a new appreciation for how big it is. In the past 2.5 weeks, I have been on the  coast at each side of this island – north, south, east and west. In fact, I looked it up, and to drive from the southwest side of the island to the northeast would likely take 7 hours or less. By contrast, driving from Seattle, WA to Miami, FL would take 48 hours or more…

These realizations combined could make one feel very insignificant. I am one person from a massive country that has been in existence a fraction of the time that buildings I’m seeing have been standing. And yet, I am feeling quite the opposite. In the midst of realizing how small I am, I have seen how BIG the story I have been invited into is.

As I travel and meet people and learn more about the men and women from centuries past, I am seeing more and more that they were incredible people. I am also reminded that they were still people. St. Patrick was an incredible fellow, and his story is fascinating – no matter what version of it I happen to read! 🙂 I believe the most significant thing about his story though, is the same thing that makes the heroes of faith from Hebrews 11 and throughout history stand out from the crowd…

He said yes to God.

He answered a call to serve God no matter the circumstances. He was willing when others questioned his sanity. He obeyed the God he knew and loved, and because of his obedience and love for God, the world is a different place today.

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a man who once considered himself a Christian. During the hours after I met him, he explained to me why he no longer believes in the things he was taught as a child. As the conversation progressed he asked me why I believe we are here. I answered something along the lines of God wanting others with whom to share relationship.

While this man believes in an almighty being and creator, when I asked him the same question, his answer was something along the line of “to play our part”. I don’t have time to fully explain the conversation, and honestly, I’m not sure I would be able to if I did have time. Suffice it to say that in his mind, we are “cells” in the organism of earth, and we are here simply to do our part to keep the whole being healthy. (If I understood correctly in my sleep deprived state, the earth is also a part meant to work toward the health of the next level out which is the solar system, I think…)

Maybe I’m being picky, but that doesn’t seem to answer my question. If a creator was involved in the beginning of these systems within systems, what is the purpose of any of it. If each is only there to sustain the life of the greater system, why make the first system to begin with? What is the overall purpose? If I am meant only to be a cog in a wheel, I’d like to know what the purpose of the wheel is.

That story may seem out-of-place in a post about St. Patrick and old buildings, but in my mind they are connected. As I thought about what I might have said differently yesterday (had I had the chance to really say anything), I realized that all of this really is about perspective. The lens through which we see reality, God and ourselves makes a huge difference in how we live.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a cog in a wheel. My existence is not just a means of making some grand cosmic system function, and neither is yours! No matter how old or young, big or small your place of origin is, no matter what good or bad things have happened in your past, no matter how small you feel in the scheme of things, you have an important part to play in history.

God is the Almighty Creator, and He has a very good reason for knitting you together in the way He did. As you are in relationship with God, responding to Him, and willing to say yes, you, like St. Patrick, can be part of shaping history for centuries to come!

Expectation or Expectancy?

I have often used these words interchangeably, but I’m learning lately that there is a difference. It may not seem like a big deal to change a few letters, but the truth is, the dissimilarity has affected my emotional and spiritual well-being for years!

The dictionary defines these words as nearly the same thing, but their connotations in my mind affect the very foundations of what I believe about God and His promises.

So, what’s the difference? Hopefully, I can put this into words in a way that makes sense.

Expectation feels demanding. When someone says “I expect” this or that, I often understand it to mean that any less – or different – is not acceptable. If I am given a responsibility, I want to know the expectations that go along with it so that I can be sure to meet them.

There, that is the idea I’m looking for. Expectations are things which exist to be met. They are specific, and it’s difficult to accept anything that doesn’t look the way it’s expected to.

Expectancy, on the other hand, feels open. It is a feeling of anticipation for something. It is HOPE.

I have written a lot in past posts about the things I felt God has promised me. (I was going to say recent weeks, but I’ve not written in weeks. Forgive the absence, please!) These past few years have been a roller coaster of ups and downs – high times filled with expectation for the fulfillment of promises, and then times where I feel I’m falling into some seemingly bottomless chasm of disappointment.

Even in the most recent post, I wrote all about the “broad place” that God has been promising to bring me to during this season.  Yet, here I am 7 weeks after arriving, still crashing in someone’s guestroom.  For a while, I was stressing out about it, frantically looking for a place to call home. I didn’t understand why God wasn’t meeting my expectations and demands for Him to fulfill His promise on my schedule and to my specifications.

The problem is He never promised that I would be all settled and unpacked within a couple of weeks. He never said I would have my own apartment, or even my own room. He didn’t promise internet, or a washing machine, or a kitchen sink for that matter!

God promised me a “place” of rest, of ministry, of growth. My stress and disappointment was acute because I interpreted His words, and then built my expectations on that interpretation. As soon as I lay down my own ideas, stopped stressing, and let go, not only was a weight lifted, but new possibilities suddenly had room to make a home in my mind.

The very morning that I finally gave up my search for the perfect housing solution, I decided to make the most of my season of living out of a suitcase. Within hours of first thinking of the idea, plans were forming and I had talked to my leaders and family… I would go on an epic adventure!

Part of the ministry I have been asked to do here in Ireland requires some travel for research purposes. It had been in the back of my mind to do a couple of short trips in the UK to check out some of the Celtic era monasteries and abbeys in Scotland and England, but I hadn’t given a ton of thought to when. As I thought about my living situation, suddenly it just made sense to do all the travel before I start paying rent and bills here in Sligo.

I realize now that this is an incredibly obvious solution, so feel free to say “Duh!” I have said it to myself several times so far. That is simply an illustration of how my expectations for what I thought God would do clouded my mind and blocked out an obvious benefit to my current circumstances. 🙂

All that to say, I will be leaving my temporary home in Sligo next week for a journey that will take me all around the British Isles. I’ll start by seeing three or four places in Northern Ireland, then a ferry to Scotland and travels to several different parts of Scotland, England and Wales. Finally, I’ll catch a ferry back to Dublin via the Isle of Man to see some sites in other counties of Ireland before returning to Sligo.

I don’t know how long this will take, but I’m guessing I’ll be gone for maybe 6 weeks. I don’t have an itinerary. I am traveling on my own, just me and Jesus, and I am filled with expectancy! I have no expectations for what God will do, but I am filled with a sense of anticipation to see what He will do during the next two months! Divine appointments, incredible provision (I don’t know how, but to travel in the UK for several weeks will require some pretty amazing provision.), fun, and new knowledge of history, Christianity, God and myself.  Those are some pretty basic ideas of what might be a part of this, but I anticipate surprises all along the way!

I am so excited to see what will take place over the next two months. There are so many unknowns – I could end up sleeping in a bus depot somewhere, but I cannot suppress the feeling of hope and expectancy that is building inside me. I don’t know what to expect, and I LOVE that! I am simply going to be obedient, take the steps He shows me, and watch in amazement at the ways He shows up.

I appreciate prayers for wisdom, safety, provision, and anything else you’d like to pray for me. 🙂 I’ll keep you posted and hopefully be able to post some photos along the way.

Now, based on the length of this post, I should probably sign off so you can all go and thank the Lord that I didn’t kiss the Blarney Stone when I was at the castle last week! 🙂