Sunday, 7 September 2014
I had a great day yesterday... swimming 5.25miles the length of Coniston Water. It was a great event, really well organised, and a fantastic day for it. I completed it in 3 hours and 46 minutes - which I´m really chuffed with. Here´s a few photos.....
You can still sponsor me at https://www.justgiving.com/Suzanne-Potter1/
Monday, 25 August 2014
Over the last 3 weeks, I´ve had another Step team here in Guatemala. Working in an educational project in a small indigenous town, they´ve got stuck in with dramas, singing classes, crafts, sports, values lessons and much much more. A week ago, I took them to the Lake for a couple of days of rest.
(you can see the lake somewhere in the background!)
As I met with them for their last evening, and as we talked through all that they´ve experienced here, it was great to hear how God has used this. Here´s a few of their comments...
"God had blessed the team and protected and encouraged us every step of the way. I have trusted God and felt he had his hand on the team"
"God has humbled me and equipped me in ways I can only praise Him for."
"I feel more comfident and have stepped out of my comfort zone. I´ve learnt to put God first, to trust and follow and he will lead you the right way."
Thursday, 21 August 2014
After writing the last blogpost about friendships, I got to thinking about why this has been affecting me now when the situation has been the same or worse over the last 6 years. And I think that it´s a comparative thing. Recently I have felt like I have deepened some friendships here, and feel very relaxed and able to be myself with some friends, but I also recognise that I´m still a long way off understanding all the cultural references and shared history that others share. I guess it´s a case of having come so far, and yet still feeling like there´s a long way to go. Other friends have left or are leaving, so all in all, there´s a sense of always working hard at friendships without necessarily reaping the benefits.
But I´ve come to the conclusion that real friendships are hard. Full stop.
The triple combination of my job, being in another culture, and my personality probably makes making and sustaining real friendships even harder. Accepting that, the temptation is to give up trying altogether. Sometimes it seems like the effort required is just too much. Those feelings are still there, but recently I´ve made different choices about how I manage them and get on with life. In some ways it feels like I´ve returned to a lesson that I actually learnt 30 years ago when my father died.
I learnt that God is the only certainty in this life and this world. Anything else is a bonus.
So I need to treat each of those things according to that reality.
I need to invest more than ever in my relationship with God, and trust in His unfailing love. Last week in my Bible study group at church, we looked at Matthew 13: 44.
"God´s Kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidentally found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic - what a find! - and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field." (The Message translation)
At first glance this seems like blind stupidity - to give up everything. But actually nobody gives up everything unless it´s to gain something greater. That´s the reality of the joy we have in God - that it is so valuable, that everything else pales into insignificance.
So for me, I´m learning to let go and give up the self obsession and the 'need' to be liked and appreciated (; what I might look for in friendships) and focussing instead on what I know God has called me to (primarily, relationship with him) and the joy that that brings. This actually ISN´T a sacrifice. It´s a joy - when we have our focus right.
So then what does that mean for my friendships. Well, I choose to invest in others, to be thankful for the blessings that friends are, and that they bring to my life, knowing that I can´t take them for granted, recognising that they are a gift. No matter what shape or form they come in, or how long they might last, I want to always choose to be thankful for friends.
Thismorning I read Psalm 33: 16-22
"No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength.
A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
despite all its great strength it cannot save.
(We could add ´No one finds true satisfaction in the number or depth of friendships they have')
But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
to deliver them from death
and keep them alive in famine.
We wait in hope for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord,
even as we put our hope in you."
It´s this balance that I need to get right. Being thankful and blessed by the friendships that I have but not thinking that they´ll ever sustain me or satisfy me. That only comes from resting in God.
And in a role that entails investing heavily in others, I´m also reminded of Jesus´ words in Matthew 11: 28 -30.
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
He asks that we learn from him (I´d never noticed that bit before) - to learn from him who gave himself completely for others, but yet didn´t feel overwhelmed by their needs, because he rested in His fathers love. He knew that he was sustained only in God. I know that Jesus was a very different case - but he does ask us to learn from him; to invest in time to rest in my relationship with the Father, and out of that resting to be able to serve and invest in others, without expecting anything back.
Monday, 18 August 2014
I´ve just come back from Latin Link Guatemala´s first commissioning service!
It´s been really special to celebrate and pray for 3 Guatemalan missionaries who are preparing to serve in the UK and in Ecuador.
Pamela, Emily, and Elisa have all answered God´s call on their lives, and have taken the scary step of using their skills, and interests and professions, to serve God in another country and culture. They´ve already overcome a number of obstacles to get this far, but are determined to continue on and discover more of what God has for them to do.
It was great to worship together and hear encouragement from the Bible. Moises Mejia, a member of the advisory group for Latin Link Guatemala, and lecturer in missions, preached from Isaiah 49.
It was a special time, when pastors, and families, and representatives from CONEM prayed together, to commission these 3 young women into their projects in different countries.
The first of them leaves tomorrow.
Monday, 11 August 2014
Friendship is something that I´ve been reflecting on over the last few months, and over the last few weeks, I´ve been clarifying a few things in my head.....
For me, the most obvious starting point is the reality of being a single person living in a culture that focuses (almost obsessively) on the family. How can you establish real friendships in that context?
It seems that for most Guatemalans, their significant relationships are with family, extended family and with life-long friends, who they´re literally known since childhood. So how can a foreigner (especially a single one) become part of these sorts of friendship groups, without waiting a lifetime?
From my perspective, it´s really (really) difficult. After 6 years here, it mostly still feels like I´m an outsider looking in, and not naturally included. That´s not to negate the few good friendships that I do have - I deeply appreciate them, but it is recognising the struggle and isolation that´s involved in making a life for yourself in another country and culture.
That leads me to question so many things....
Is this simply all there is? Is what I experience now in friendships all I can ever expect to have? Perhaps I have expectations of friendships that are just too high and unrealistic, and I should learn to be content with what I have. Perhaps it´s an introvert thing, but I don´t feel content with making small talk with people; I want to know people, what they think, what makes them tick. I want to be able to connect with people on a level to recognises who God has created them to be, but just of the image we portray, or the stereotypes that society puts on us. Don´t misunderstand me - I do appreciate my Guatemalan friends and particularly those few who make efforts to really know me and my culture (as I do theirs) in order to deepen our friendship. But these are few and far between. And I long to develop deeper friendships with people.
I have a feeling that the desire for intimate friendships in which you are known and loved and included in the lives of others is not out of reach. Perhaps it is rare - but I think it´s definitely not impossible. So if that is true, but I´m not experiencing it to the extent that I would like, then it leads me to another question...
Am I doing something wrong? - or not doing something vital that would develop friendships on a deeper level? Is there some cultural key (apart from creating a new family of my own from somewhere!) that I still haven´t grasped that would unlock deeper friendships? Or is it just too soon? Is 6 years not long enough to develop close friendships? How long does it take? (Answers and suggestions on a postcard please!)
Another aspect of this is singleness. As a single person who´s not so young anymore, I´ve observed a few things about friendships with people who get married. There´s a strong tendency that when a friend gets into a serious relationship and then marries, their connection with their single friends diminish, as they naturally focus their time and energy on their marriage and friendships with other couples. Perhaps that´s all good and healthy - except if you´re consistently on the receiving end of friendships that diminish rather than grow, when weddings become events filled with mixed emotions, of being happy for your friend, but sad that you´re losing something of that friendship. That experience tends to drive you into a desire to be in a relationship - which is not a healthy place to be - especially if it´s simply due to a lack of friends! (I´ve written in an earlier post about singleness, so I won´t repeat it here.)
And of course it drives you to a desire to be in a relationship, not an actual relationship itself - (although if you let that desire take over, you might end up there for all the wrong reasons, ) - so ends up in dissatisfaction and disappointment. That´s not where I want to be. In effect that means that my new friends get younger, in that I make friends with people who are younger than me because people my age tend to be married and are mostly not interested in friendships with a single person. (Big generalisation, but generalisations exist because they´re generally true!)
Of course I´m talking about friendships that are more than the polite greetings and initial interest in what I do - which are easy to express and which everyone does. But more than that, I desire friendships that go deeper.
I want to be part of a community in which singles are appreciated in friendships - for all the richness and experience that they bring - rather than just pittied for what they lack. But I´m not very optimistic on that score! So if I can´t change my community or society - then it comes back to me on a personal level.
Whenever I think of this stuff, I´m also confronted with my own selfishness. Perhaps that´s what stops me from simply keeping on giving of myself to others, without noticing or minding when a friendship isn´t reciprocated or initiated by others. (Probably writing this blogpost is a symbol of that selfishness!) But I want to be better. Better at giving (my time, my attention, myself) without thinking about whether I receive or not. (Maybe I never consciously think about it in such a stark way, but perhaps in general there´s a sense of disparity between what I invest in others, and what I receive.)
As I´ve been struggling and mulling this over, over the last week, every day I´ve felt encouraged by reading different passages from the Bible.
"The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins;
he will make her deserts like Eden, and her wastelands like the garden of the Lord.
Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing."
Isaiah 51: 3
The Message translates that last phrase as
"A place filled with exuberance and laughter, thankful voices and melodic songs."
In the midst of feeling unknown and at times excluded from the people I wish to know and the culture that I long to be a part of, and whilst I strive to be a better friend to people and to work out how to express that in a different culture, there is comfort in knowing that God brings living water to dry lands, and brings joy in unexpected times and places. I´m holding out for that.
Maybe this seems a bit corny, to add a nice Bible passage at the end of a blogpost full of angst and struggle. The reality is that every day, I´m living between the two extremes; on the one hand, struggling with all that I lack, and my own shortcomings in friendships, but on the other hand, trusting in God for his abundance in every situation. When the latter wins over the former, that´s a good day.
Saturday, 9 August 2014
Let me introduce you to my shadows....