My husband and I arrived in Amsterdam three months ago expectant for a season of growth, challenge and pouring ourselves out onto others. We had committed to volunteering short term with a Christian missionary organisation, ministering to those homeless, in prostitution and to tourists in the renowned city. We had sold possessions and scattered the rest of our belongings across Manchester in friends’ homes. Finding out that we were expecting our first child a week before our departure date was a joy only God could conceive. Stepping out in faith as a married couple was exhilarating, and grafted a deep rested peace in our hearts.
We left unwittingly with a list of expectations, which have since been refined and pruned, allowing us to welcome the season God always intended for us here. Embarking on an adventure led by God with predictions on what it will look like, is not our recommendation, for He will be sure to release His own surprises.
I have often desired quick fixes for producing godliness in my life, always asking God to gouge and hack at my soul, striving for immediate Christ-likeness. Of course, being a kind Father who walks with us at a peaceful pace, it isn’t often that God has relented to my pleas. However, here in Amsterdam His weaving hands have appeared to be working more earnestly, making for an uncomfortable surgery. Or perhaps in slowing down, I have merely witnessed in more graphic detail the work He is continually doing in me.
I came to Amsterdam expecting to be getting deep amongst the brokenness of other human hearts, coming up close to the darkness which engulfs the lives of so many. I was excited to expose the whimpering face of evil, and speak the truth of life and identity to those who are despised and perceive they have no value. I anticipated being equipped amongst those I came to serve. Instead, Jesus came to serve me.
Some weeks after our arrival, I became ill with a virus. What followed was around two months of infections and illnesses of various kinds. I was prescribed bedrest, with my husband faithfully holding the fort. Three months in and my body is tired and worn, my strength has increased but I am continually humbled to slow my step and lay down and rest. It would be easy to question why, and become despondent and angry; but to humble oneself before God, recognising who He is, brings a freedom that cannot be surpassed.
God has humbled me to rest, caused me to see my own fragility and humanness, and His greatness and magnitude. I have begun to see who I am, recognising that my identity is not steeped in ministering to others, but is in fact in Him. He has shown me my worth; that He values me no matter what I do or don’t do, and can or cannot do. That the thoughts of others are irrelevant considering the thoughts He has for me.
I have grappled with things in my heart I didn’t even know were there; still enough to feel the ripples of unrest in my soul. I have been free to drink deeply from His Word, establishing truth, producing stability in my heart. Alongside it all, I have been allowed to peep into the miraculous work of God as He handcrafts a beautiful child within me. No, this was not the season I had perceived or anticipated, but the beauty that will doubtless unfold is too great to fathom, and the mysteries of God too deep to ever truly understand.
Not unexpectedly, we have also witnessed God move in various other ways during our time here in Amsterdam. We have seen hearts soften as they hear about the reality that God is in love with them. We have witnessed miracles through healings. Seen broken lives begin to believe that they have worth and value enough to enter into community. Experienced profound growth in our marriage and friendship, and the graces of living communally with other Christians. But above all, we have tasted the faithfulness of God, and realised our need to surrender to His will and not our own, teaching our hearts to trust in His unfailing love.
We can all be joyfully expectant for what God has already orchestrated for our lives, waiting patiently as He unravels the path before us. Yet, it should not take us by surprise that an uncontainable and indecipherable God would sometimes take us along paths that we would never have chosen, might never have even noticed, and would never have expected. When our limited expectations are not met, we can rejoice that God’s ways are higher than ours. We can rest, knowing that only good things are set before those who love God, steeped in freedom and glory.