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Things they don’t tell you about long distance

“Be brave.”

These are the words my best friend wrote in a Christmas letter to me a few months ago, and I think she knew. She knew that bravery is much more than a fighting smile – because bottom lips quiver and smiles fade. She knew during the minutes, moments, hours when my heart was aching that I would need those 7 little letters.

Be brave, be brave, be brave.

Most days, I am brave. But yesterday was not one of those days.

I think everyone in Scotland knew how excited I was to skype my Matthew on his birthday and yet when we finally connected and I could see his face, I fell to pieces. I was so frustrated with myself for killing the b-day spirit, but ugly crying was on the agenda and that was that.

There really is an actual ache you feel when separated from the ones you love. It’s heavy and settles in the empty spaces and yes how wonderful it is to have something to ache for, but how difficult, too.

Homesickness and lovesickness are peculiar house guests who don’t knock, barging right in and taking rooms you weren’t ready to surrender.

After an incredible birthday celebration of my own earlier this week, I felt so smothered in kindness by my new Scottish friends that I never saw my meltdown coming.

I’m settled! I proudly declared to my bible study group on Thursday.

The more I think about it, that isn’t accurate at all. I have put down roots. I have tethered myself to friends and community and favourite study spots. But I am not settled. Until I get home, I will be quite unsettled simply because I know myself. Studying abroad has made me realize that I am a shameless homebody. A small town girl with dreams to change not the whole world but little pieces of it, one at a time…alongside the people I love most.

Which is why when I finally looked at Matt through puffy eyes and a sea of tissues we could both be brave together and say this sucks.

We’ve come to the conclusion that we may be good at long distance, but we don’t like it.

And how selfish that feels!

Longing for home will actually make you feel like the whiniest being on planet earth. I’ve had that fight with myself over and over again: Amy. BE BRAVE. There are opportunities for the seizing, woman. Get yourself together. Jump out of bed. Rejoice in a new day!

It is a privilege to study at a prestigious university, I don’t think anyone studying abroad doubts that.

It’s just that the foreignness of navigating life on your own is uncomfortable.

When you’ve met the one, how do you suddenly re-meet your alone self? The version of you who walks into restaurants as one person, not two…the version who actually drools over couples holding hands because the lack of physical touch you have in a new place is surprisingly depressing. (Really though, when you’re surrounded by strangers all you want is for someone to hug you, just like your mom does, and tell you that you can conquer the world.)

Of course, I am learning lessons through all of this – it is not an aimless battle I am fighting.

I’ve grown. I’m becoming best friends with patience. My faith is ten times stronger because some days it is all I have. I am forming a strange relationship with solitude…we don’t know quite what to make of each other, but we’ll get there. I have a support network and a God who never fails me.

Be brave, be brave, be brave.

I cried my heart out to Matt and he took it like a champ. Even though we both wanted to reach through the screen, we couldn’t, and that is a continuing lesson in itself.

Had I known that I would be engaged when I applied for my Scottish adventure, I don’t know that I would have gone through with it all. The Atlantic Ocean is no joke. It is big and wide and deep and far. My future husband is on the other side. My family is on the other side. My best friends are on the other side. Naturally I want to be there too.

What they don’t tell you about long distance is that admitting you want to be home is not a failure on your part. No, it is honesty on your part. The fact that your feet are planted in the ground miles away from all that is comfortable is bravery.

I’ve toyed with the idea of bailing out…oh how tempting that is. Except there is nothing brave about escape. Being brave is having the courage to say today, I am not okay. Today, I need to whine about missing home. Today, I am thankful for the gift of life…only life feels daunting right now and a hug would be nice.

What they don’t tell you about long distance is that there will be days when you don’t want to leave your bed. There will also be days when you feel guilty for loving your new view. There will be days when you cannot stand the different time zone. Days when you feel strong and days when you do not. There may be days when you feel desperately lonely but there can be days when you find yourselves laughing together like fools from your separate corners of the world.

After “be brave,” my best friend also wrote something else:

“Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” 1 Chronicles 28:20

Being brave is not about fighting alone. When you are transparent with one another, burdens are lifted and oceans start to feel a bit smaller.

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The Scottish Adventure

Amy and Scotland Part II

I think it’s kind of accurate, albeit a little unorthodox, to say that I’m currently dating St. Andrews.

We’re in the slightly awkward beginning phase, in which we’re still learning more about one another. How invested do we actually want to be? What fears are irrational? How will our schedules mesh together?  What adventures will we choose next? We’ve discovered favourite coffee shops and we like long walks on the beach.

Our relationship is evolving quickly – we both know it can only last a few months – and so far, I’ve had some pretty big revelations.

First: when a pub advertises 241 burgers, there aren’t actually 241 burger options. Depressing, but true. Instead, there exists a 2 for 1 deal made available to students who are smart enough to read signs properly. (College diplomas are overrated, right?)

Now for the good stuff.

This past week, I have been amazed at just how fiercely God protects us when he calls us into new seasons.

But seasons cannot happen without change, and for a girl who really dislikes change, moving somewhere foreign is all sorts of difficult.

And yet Jesus, in his ever gracious, all-knowing way, has made this transition so beautiful.

I’ve recently started Beth Moore’s book Jesus The One and Only. She is walking me through Luke, and oh how Luke 1:45 has been imprinted on my heart: “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her.”

When you’re surrounded by the different and asked to take audacious leaps of faith, you have nothing and no one else to lean on except God.

He has reminded me not to underestimate His goodness. He has told me to trust and to trust with my whole heart. He has said that people will absolutely fail me, especially when I’m expecting them to. But God? He has never and will never let me down.

He has shown me that when he calls us into new seasons, he always has a plan and he always prepares a place for us.

This was confirmed when I joined a home group full of the brightest, most welcoming faces. I could feel heaven smile as I found my way into a loving circle of girls, eager to know me – me of all people – and embrace me as a kindred spirit because of a common thread: faith.

Being in their company is effortless and that surprised me most of all. That God would make it easy for me to find community in a college Bible study in the kingdom of Fife strengthened my hope in His kingdom.

Our school also mourned the tragic death of a student this week. Although mourning is a deeply sad thing to behold, I realized that our ability to mourn is quite dear. For loss to matter, the loss must have been very great indeed, since we rarely grieve that which is replaceable.

I keep thanking God for my family and friends – all of whom I miss so much. Yet they are alive and well and that is another gift.

Having just four lectures a week means extra hours are in each day, and I’m realizing the joy of being still, being quite, observing, noticing.

I talk with God constantly, about everything. I have time to legitimately read my books for class. I can be in the room and have chats with Emman without checking the clock every five minutes. I can genuinely hear her because I have no where else to be.

So where does this leave me?

Awestruck at how much I’m learning.

Today at church, we dwelt on the fall of mankind – dark, but necessary. My heart paused for a moment to contemplate God’s magnificence and I had yet another revelation. Ours is not a rags to riches story. It is a rags to righteousness story!

A verse in Genesis was highlighted that confirmed again how ardently God loves us.

But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9)

This is the voice of yearning love. Come back to me, says God. PleaseLet me find you – all of you.

I am no longer afraid to admit how afraid I was to study abroad. For whatever reason, I thought I would be so alone. There have been (and may still be) moments of lonely. But God never, ever leaves us. He is quick to provide and ready to comfort daily. As new hours, minutes and seconds evolve, he is waiting to be asked! He hungers for our dependence upon Him, and this whole journey has opened my eyes to my immense need for Him in all things.

How can you be dependent on him today?

As the North Sea blows in freezing cold wind and I prepare for my first ceilidh dance, I am thinking of and missing my North American favourites. Drop me a line some time!

From Scotland, with love,

-Amy xoxo

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The Scottish Adventure

Amy and Scotland Part I

I don’t think we are ever truly prepared for goodbye. At least, I wasn’t.

I am greedy with my love for others and want as much as possible, always . Faced with bidding America goodbye I suddenly found myself at a loss for just about everything. Can you hug your other half enough? Will being independent from parents and letting them let you go ever feel normal? Do little brothers ever get easier to leave?

Time simultaneously grinds to a halt and speeds up, until we’re left looking forward to whatever lies ahead.

For me, it was the University of St. Andrews, which, just for the record, is a charming place full of seaside character and Scottish history.

Never before have I made so uncharacteristic a decision. Uprooting myself from friends, family, comfort – the familiar – is not an Amy typical move.

Yet God has made it pretty clear that this is where he’s got me for the next four months. He wants me here. Even when I haven’t wanted me here.

And trust me, there have been many moments over the past few days where I have questioned why I’m here. Granted homesickness, jetlag, and the Atlantic Ocean’s exponential size are formidable things to experience all at once. Going to bed at night feels funny without multiple texts from Matt. I’m not sure I like it. But that doesn’t mean Scotland and I won’t get along.

Meeting tons of new people is equally thrilling and draining. But that doesn’t mean Scotland and I won’t get along.

Waking up in the mornings, knowing I’m sort of separated from loved ones until they roll out of bed hours later than me is weird. But that doesn’t mean Scotland and I won’t get along.

Change is unavoidable when you’re a study abroad kid – or a JSA as we’re fondly referred to here.

Some changes are wonderful. Homegirl had her first cider last night and also received one of the sweetest texts from her dad ever saying that hopefully said cider wasn’t too hard because some of it is “headbanging stuff.”

I don’t even know what that means but my dad had me smiling in a pub thousands of miles away.

I have classes that sound legitimately exciting: contemporary British fiction and the city and the country in Scottish literature.

I may be speaking far too soon, but I think the WiFi actually works better here than at Queens…how a tiny coastal town figures that out better than Charlotte is beyond me.

I have a new roommate called Emman and she is oh so sweet and kind and let me sleep in this morning.

There are gorgeous views everywhere I turn – I’ve traded the martini glass that is Duke Energy’s high rise for castle ruins, the North Sea, and cobblestones.

Some changes are a bit harder to explain and fully portray, but that doesn’t mean Scotland and I won’t get along.

I am taking life one day at a time, which I’ve discovered is really all you can do when you’re treading on foreign territory.

I am also trusting that God has every detail taken care of. He goes before us yet he never ceases walking beside us. What marvelous comfort that has been to me over this last week.

Stay tuned as I update friends and family here, sharing Scottish adventures and general insight into the life of one Amy Bareham. Until next time, know that I’m sending many hugs to you!

Love,

Your favourite British American xoxo

 

 

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There’s something about Mary

In the post holiday hush, I have been thinking about a pregnant teenager far wiser and bolder than I.

Every year we sing alleluia, come let us adore him. There is such humility and goodness wrapped up in the Christmas bundle that is Jesus, but what about Mary, his powerful, deeply faithful mother? I love taking a moment to sit with her, be it April or December, January or May, because hers is a story of surrender.

We meet Mary as a small-town girl newly betrothed. Walking into a new season of being engaged and giddily in love, I relate.

What was this young couple like? Were they inseparable? Did Mary lie awake at night, dreaming like I’ve started to do, of my sweet fiance’s face when I come down the aisle? Were dreams bubbling up in Mary’s heart, ready to overflow into reality? Was she the town favourite? The go-to babysitter?

You can leave your children with Mary, she’s always had a good head on her shoulders. Have you seen her and Joseph together, aren’t they sweet? That Mary, so reliable, she’ll make a fine wife.

Much of Mary’s life is a mystery to me, and that of course, is the point. She was a nobody who God had seen as worthy all along. A nobody God was going to transform into a somebody.

When this precious girl is approached by an angel and he greets her, the Bible says she is greatly troubled, perplexed by unexpected favour from God. In no way did Mary consider herself fit for carrying a Saviour because she is meekness personified. But God knew. He chose her as his vessel, trusting in Mary’s mild, gentle nature.

As the angel delivers news of a virgin birth, I marvel at her response.

Fearful me, selfish me would cry out but what of  my reputation? How do I face my beloved? Why me, Lord, could you not choose another?! People will talk, my parents will disown me, my life will be ruined.

Did any of these thoughts race through Mary’s mind? Perhaps.

But she simply asks the angel what we’re all thinking, “How will this be?” She does not doubt God’s capability, she just wants to see His game plan.

I love that the angel gives step one only, not two, three, four. God asks us to depend on him, fully aware that we’re greedy individuals who want more, more, more. We aren’t satisfied with taking one step at a time, we want to run through life in our own strength.

The angel says God will overshadow Mary and that is enough for her. And then, in a move so typical of God, he surprises her by saying that her aunt, Elizabeth, will also conceive a son despite her old age. He rewards our trust with blessing upon blessing. My child, he says, lean on me. My yoke is easy and my burden light. Worry not. I’ve got this.

The Bible tells us that Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Oh to be that brave.

Mary offers everything up to God, her heart so soft and innocent.

I like to imagine Mary joyfully rushing towards Elizabeth later on, their embrace as expectant mothers, bound together in their faith journeys by the arrival of little boys.

“For behold,” says Elizabeth, “when the sound of your greeting came to my ears the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” I want to believe with as much certainty as these lovely women.

We all know how the story goes – the bright star moving ever closer to Bethlehem, the manger, the baby.

What baffles me is that even when there was no place for Mary’s family at the inn, she accepted God’s place for her elsewhere. She had been submitting to God’s plan for her life from the beginning, there was no reason to stop. Even in the midst of labor, after hours of travel, she managed to believe.

How beautiful that birth was.

Just Mary and Joseph, two kids suddenly alone with the responsibility of bringing God’s son into the world. I picture Joseph gazing at his future wife and saying you. were. spectacular. And I picture Mary cradling Jesus in her arms and murmuring yes, you are worth my everything.

My favourite part of this whole story comes months after Jesus’ birth, after the stream of visitors has slowed. “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

Mary takes a moment to dwell on what the Lord has done, treasuring up reminders of his promises fulfilled. She ponders his goodness and the miracle he completed through her.

With 2015 rapidly unfolding, I want to take a Mary approach to life. I need to be still and know. I need to ponder what God has done and is doing through me. I yearn to be softened that God may steer me wherever he desires. I’m sure Mary was afraid at times – none of us would blame her. But her faith was undeniable.

We’ll never understand, I don’t think, the bond between Mary and her Savior son. She watched him die in order that she may live, which is so backwards. I am thankful though, for a backwards, full of surprises God who cherishes us.

He is the reason for an ongoing season of joy and strengthened belief. He will always be the reason.

 

-Bible passages from Luke 1-2 ESV-

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We have this anchor

Like a brand new crush, he weaves his way into all my conversations. Isn’t he incredible? What has he taught you today? You forgot to check in with him, too? Don’t worry, he’ll find a way to get you out. He will be with you to the end of an age.

This year, I have radically encountered the love of Jesus.

In middle school, when I zoned out in class, I would doodle boys’ names all over my notebooks, and lately, I want to doodle Jesus everywhere. Is that weird? Probably. His love though, it burns so deeply for us all, and the more my soul hungers for him, the more he fills me with thoughts, whispers, glimpses of him.

A few nights ago before I fell asleep, I opened my Bible App and glanced at the verse of the day. It was sort of a last ditch effort at giving Jesus a piece of my heart amid finals stress and complete exhaustion. And I stared at my screen for a good long while because what I found there was priceless. It was the kind of Jesus gold that you want to tattoo onto every blank space. It was Colossians 1 and this is what Jesus – our all powerful, never failing, wise, gracious Father – says:

The lines of purpose in your lives never grow slack, tightly tied as they are to your future in heaven, kept taught by hope.

Even when answers don’t come, Jesus reassures. I am there. I am your purpose.

I am guilty of using pithy Christian sayings, but I hate them. People always declare that when doors slam shut, God opens windows or makes new doors or remodels the whole metaphorical house. Here’s the thing, if God has the blueprint to our lives, then he, the master architect, has built us all of the right doors and we’ve been walking through them from the moment he first gave us breath. He does not slam doors in our faces. He is a loving Father. He simply keeps us from wandering into somebody else’s home. And when we become obsessed with what door to walk through next, he lifts the roof off of our building and nudges us to fix our gaze on his face. To stop moving altogether.

He also gives us strength to make it through the long haul…not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength…It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.

I have rescued you from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons.

Jesus is euphoria. He is freedom from pessimism, anxiety, self-consciousness, jealousy.

We look at this son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels – everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him.

And that’s not all.

So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.

Just dwell on that for a moment.

Every single broken and dislocated piece of the universe – you and I and all of our dysfunction – is properly fixed and fit together. Jesus doesn’t just fix and fit it together though, he makes a vibrant harmony out of you.

At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got.

Maybe your back is still turned. But know that he gave himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you…

This is the reassurance of hope that we have through talking to God, asking him questions, wrestling with him.

1 Colossians ends with this: Christ. No more, no less.

I have finally reached a place in my life where all roads begin with and lead to Jesus.

His name alone floods me with peace – and so I find myself asking, will you be enough? Can you be enough? Let you be enough for me. No more, no less.

Daily he reminds me that he is faithful, and he speaks the language of love over us.

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Conversations with God

Beloved,

I see your struggles. I know your pain. And I have not commanded you to bottle it up. You are not keeper of your life. You were never intended to guard your heart from me. Let me open every door, even the ones most frightening for you to unlock.

Oh little one, breathe me in. Can’t you feel my goodness overwhelming you? Lose control in me, it’s only me, sweet child. It’s me. Jesus.

I will catch you, if you fall.

But don’t be scared to shine. Linger with me in the heavens – dream and wonder. Marvel at me!

Stop looking around you…there is a time for everything and I withhold no good gift from my own heirs.

Daughter, set that jealousy and your pride aside. Peel those coverings off and kneel before me, Abba, just as you are.

I have made you to be pure – white as snow. All of that comparing you do will only cloud your vision. You’ll see yourself as tainted and be so aware of your insecurities.

But let me tilt your chin up, child. Gaze upon the face of your father and you will find peace.

I have you exactly where you are supposed to be.

Keep breathing me in.

Go on.

In.

Out.

In.

Out.

I love you.

In.

Out.

Child, I love you.

In.

Out.

I love you.

I love you.

I. Love. You.

Is that enough?

Can you feel me?

Do you accept this love of mine?

 

Beloved daughter, do not be afraid. I am here.

Let me break down all the defenses because I have memorized each piece of you and I know what lies behind every joy, ever tear, every trial.

Stop seeking after a deeper, better, stronger relationship with me and simply rest in my love. The more you bask in it, the more you will understand and love me in return. I promise.

Sweet child, trust me.

I have always been, will always be, am in this very moment

enough

I rejoice over you, beautiful girl. I am watching you grow and stretch and awake into the song I have invited you to dance to.

You are radiant.

Believe that, my daughter of light.

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Lessons for the 20-Something Woman

I cannot tell you what comfort it was to walk into a museum last week and find poetry on the walls.

This little beauty inspired a paper unlike any I’ve written before. It’s not often I pour my heart out and leave it to dry, totally at the mercy of my professors, but this poem woke me up to a lot of truths I forget to believe. Fortunately, my professor didn’t seem to mind.

So here are words from Edward Lucie Smith and William Scott – an anthem for twenty-something women everywhere – followed by my very un-scholarly, line-by-line commentary (art history version available upon request if you’re a nerd like me).

Who maps this better than you?

Turning, bending, you are calm;

A mistress of curves, floated

On a page of air. You know

What the shape of your life is.

You are self-creating; your

Own body is your subject,

And also the line you draw.

Lesson #1: Who maps this better than you? Us millennial girls have become co-dependent on co-pilots, namely Siri and well-meaning friends.

We don’t need borrowed wisdom. We need confidence in our ability to navigate the unknown. Once, when globes were relevant, we closed our eyes and spun them, pointer fingers outstretched. Wherever our fingers landed on that globe was where we’d go. We’d show up with suitcases full of hope – hope in all the possibility of new people, places, and ideas.

Then we started measuring others’ words with greater weight, crushing the validity of our own voices. William Scott said of his still-life work: “I chose…objects without any glamour…a few eggs, a toasting fork…behind the façade of pots and pans there is sometimes another image…a private one…sensed rather than seen.”

Do not miss the gravity of this: behind your carefully constructed façade is the real glamour. Your joie de vivre and sense of wanderlust will help you map this life thing out because the real you generally knows better than anyone else where it is that you need to go and be and shine.

Lesson #2: Turning, bending, you are calm; do you hear those whispered words? Flexibility. Master it. You are fiercer than Hilary Clinton in a well-tailored pantsuit, but you also hold the keys to your own serenity. Nothing is more intimidating than a woman who can coolly present Points B through Z when Point A becomes obliterated. Of course, people won’t always like what you have to offer. Offer it anyway – someone, somewhere needs it. Turning, bending you are calm. When the world rejects you or tries to snuff out your spirit, you can recover composure.

Lesson #3. A mistress of curves, floated – Own things. Own projects and apartments, mistakes and memories. Most importantly, own the skin you’re in. With a culture that prioritizes Beyonce’s thigh gap over actual news, this is exceptionally difficult. But true artists applaud the imperfection of the body. Be the kind of girl who is confident enough to look upon another and say yes, you are a masterpiece in the making too.

Lesson #4. On a page of air. You know a lot more than you realize, but that does not mean you are invincible. Change will happen, knock you down, shake you up, and that’s okay. Curveballs nudge us to reevaluate and recalibrate, essentially saying that familiarity is overrated. We only take so many breaths in this lifetime, why waste them on fearing the new?

Lesson #5. What the shape of your life is.  On some days you may feel boxed into life, and on others, life may seem to move in unnecessary circles. Remember that all shapes have minimal definition for a reason. They are outlines whose middles you fill with meaning and you’re good at that. You learned shapes as a child because you had the imagination and the faith to see them as limitless, moldable.

You built whole universes with blocks because you trusted in their versatility. When you are back at square one, go back to the drawing board too, armed with Crayola’s sharpest crayons and a whole lot of gumption. If you can look at the world through the eyes of your childlike self, your dreams will no longer feel so unattainable.

Lesson #6. You are self-creating; your – What an exhilarating truth: you, with your unique eye, are always creating. However, try not be self-serving in the process. Give something back to all the cheerleaders who flung you into high places because selflessness is the epitome of modesty and it matters. Perhaps the loveliest sentence William Scott spoke is also the simplest: “I find beauty in plainness.”

Plainness is wholesome. It is humility and believing that you are good but not the best. If you can accept that your story is nestled, Russian doll style, within hundreds of thousands of other stories, the pressure to succeed will diminish.

You are absolutely capable of being a star, but one star alone cannot light the entire night. You need the cheerleaders.

Lesson #7. Own body is your subject, – have you realized that your body is a temple? It houses your soul and glues all your fragments together. Be grateful for it and treat it well. Step out of complacency and into motion, exercising your mind and your limbs with equal intensity. You can re-draw, start over. But do not allow anyone to re-draw you without your permission. Here lies the nitty gritty of twenty-something life in 2014.

For years we have listened to other women telling us what to do with our bodies. We must shrink them, stretch them, cleanse them, reveal them, hide them, prick them, slice them. Marry them to someone else’s body, make them safe havens for children, flaunt them, fix them. In an era when anything goes, please oh please be sure you really understand the body given to you. And should you choose to get hitched, your man better love the whole package – it is his subject to study forevermore.

Lesson #8. And also the line you draw. – You were not placed on this earth to be quiet.

Gorgeous, you have many lines to draw, be they crooked, smooth, or dashed.

Art will be perpetuated with or without you, so you might as well leave your mark . You are better than neutrals, so live life in colour, thanking God for men like these poets who actually understand everything you were created for.

Go forth and carpe the diems, my fellow ladies.

All blog content © Amy Bareham 2014

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