I don't care how old you are… When it's been a rough month, there's sometimes nothing for it… But going home. I was given this advice a couple of weeks ago by my old pastor, who put it a bit more bluntly than that to be honest. And I must admit, it was good wisdom. The moment flights were booked for a weekend down south, things felt a whole lot better.
Now, when you're 28 and haven't lived at 'home' since you were 18 years old, 'home' is a loose-kind-of-term. But a weekend with my parents, my dog, a few of my favourite books, a wood burning stove and a promise of copious amounts of tea… Certainly feels like a retreat, even if it's a house and a city I've never actually lived in. So, despite a delayed late flight last night, I'm already feeling refreshed, relaxed and, just a little bit more focused and excited of what the future holds.
My Mum and Dad are good for that… Encouraging me to take risks, helping me to let go of what needs to be let go of, and knowing when I'll be needing a wee push to keep running forward into the plans of God. I'm an only child (yes, yes, make all the jokes about me being spoiled… It's true ;)), but my parents always did the greatest job of just releasing me into the plans of God. Really releasing. Even now. When that journey is taking me half way round the world, instead of just the other end of the UK, their joy and support and genuine faith in what God has spoken… That gives me strength when I doubt, and boldness when I don't feel it.
I also can't deny that a weekend with my dog is something that brings joy to my heart. This little beagle was my protector and a great-big bundle of blessing-in-darkness for a long time. He's protective of me. And although moving to Japan is something I only feel great joy about… Knowing he can't come… Well, let's just say I'm just glad he's so totally delighted with life at my parents'!
He's better behaved here.
He doesn't beg as much here.
He sleeps downstairs here. Normally.
But when I woke up in the middle of the night, my little beagle had snuck upstairs to sleep next to my bed. As close as he could get. Just like old times.
Because he's still my protector. Or at least, he likes to think he is.
Taking a weekend for home comforts is good. It also helps me to think.
Because I sometimes think that we spend so much time pretending to be strong, that we forget that it's ok to be weak. That yes, God gives us beauty for ashes. But that means, in order to see the beauty, we have to give Him the ashes. We have to go to Him in our weakness and our failure and our mess, ashes in our hands, and say, 'I need You. I can't fix this. It is only You who is my hope.'
I used to look at my life sometimes and feel like I'd really let God down. I used to look at the ways I'd 'failed' or 'been hurt' as things that were ashes that no beauty could ever really come from. But I really like the way Rick Warren puts it,
'Other people are going to find healing in your wounds. Your greatest life messages and your most effective ministry will come out of your deepest hurts.'
Seriously? I used to not get this. Not. At. All.
Until I was in Japan this summer.
Then it started to make more sense to me.
Because in Japan, I got to share my testimony with women who had never had anyone be real with them. Not really and rawly real. Not just my, 'I got saved as a kid and God did amazing things' testimony, but the sometimes brutal reality of broken hopes leading to amazingly restored dreams. These were people who had never had anyone talk openly about divorce, or heartbreak, or abuse or the way that God could heal and redeem from deep inner hurt. About hope. About future. Some of these were women who had never heard the Gospel. Some of these women had never cried with someone.
But there's something in being vulnerable that breaks the yoke off of others. People don't want to know how holy I can make myself sound, they want to know why hope is real and why I am convinced Jesus is alive. They want truth. Intimate. Real. Unpretty-on-the-surface-sometimes. They want me to cry with them and journey with them and talk from a place of ugliness-changed-to-redeemed-beauty. And I remember sitting with one of my Japanese homestay families in Nara, as they said that having me in their house was making them re-question everything they believed about God, and thinking that it wasn't my perfection that they could see Holy Spirit in. It was the reality of my imperfection, but the visibleness of His power to still bring life and joy and hope and newness out of what appeared to be ashes.
I love broken people. I would give everything for broken people. Because I know what it is to be broken, and to then have Jesus transform everything into beautiful wholeness. But I would rather give up everything to be real with the broken, than to pretend.
And coming to a place called 'home' physically reminds me that in absolute-reality, He is my home. My true home. The only home I know. And that means that whether I'm in England, or Scotland, or Japan, my safe place, the place that I can be real, the place that God can use my vulnerability… That's found in Him. Because He keeps me next to His heart. Where I belong.