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Posts tagged “hope

The Wilderness

Go back the way you came, & go back into the wilderness.” That’s what God told me; & my reaction, “You’re kidding right God?

I’ve been thinking a lot about deserts & the wilderness lately. Places that are hard, harsh, dead, dry, the ground scarred with deep cracks… There is no escaping from the power of the desert. Parallel to this I’ve been so aware of & confronted with areas in my life that make me feel like I’m in a desert.

Especially the whole area of fear. I have so much fear in my life. The more it’s exposed the more I think there must be something seriously wrong with me. Do others have this much fear in their lives or is it just me? But while I’m trying to move out of my metaphorical wilderness, God’s saying stay. God why do you want me to stay in the wilderness?

There is always water. Somewhere underground there is water. Today I was thinking in order for life to exist in the desert the roots need to go down deep & far. Then, once it’s established a strong source of water through deep extensive roots, life bursts forth. Isn’t that like our hearts? My understanding of why God is telling me to stay in the wilderness is because He’s going to bring forth understanding & life in the areas of fear & identity.

One thing I’m also very aware of is when various situations happen it seems to really rock my boat. It doesn’t take a lot for me to feel doubtful & insecure. The most consistent theme is fear of rejection. For example, not producing effective & efficient results at work, not having a place in community, not being good enough for a relationship with a guy.

I find God amusing. I don’t know why, but it seems the guy thing & the community thing matter to God a lot because He’s going all out in my life lately in these areas. He’s working on replacing lies with truth, fear with hope, brokenness with healing, confusion with clarity, walls with freedom… grace, mercy, love, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, beauty, He’s turning each sad story into treasures of darkness.

Let me tell you some examples of my experience with guys:

Once upon a time I was trapped for a few years by someone with a dark possessive heart. He controlled what I ate, where I went, who I could be with, when I could sleep, whether I could end a phone call to him or not etc. He blackmailed me emotionally so many times with the words, “If you really loved me you would do this.” My naivety played a role in reducing my self worth but he made me feel literally 1 cm tall. He also worked out that I can be very affectionate when I feel vulnerable. So he made a plan & after a long time of acting on it he decided to inform me of his plan. His strategy was he would deliberately pick something to make me cry, & then after a while would choose to “forgive me” so that I would be more affectionate towards him. It still continued, I didn’t have any strength in me to challenge it or to walk away.

There were other guys. Saying no didn’t stop them. Some of them just laughed after the forced their hands on me. Once a basketball was thrown into my face hard; another time it was a heavy backpack smacked over my head; & a different time it was a milk bottle over my head that caused me to tumble down a whole flight of stairs. I’ve been punched, slapped & grabbed on multiple occasions. I’ve been tricked into a fake birthday party & my drink was spiked. Thankfully nothing happened that time because the drug made me aggressive. Once a guy walked me home & assumed something would happen. When I said no he got violent. I stood behind a locked door as he stood on the other side trying to smash the door down. My hearing, my nose, my back, my feet & my face have been ripped apart with cruel words. I’ve been told many times I wasn’t good enough, pretty enough, smart enough & that I didn’t deserve any respect.

My experience of guys in that season of life left me feeling afraid, ashamed, guilty, worthless…  But then, Jesus entered the story.

Ironically my heart can’t wait to be in a relationship. I can’t wait to be married. I’m so excited & hopeful about doing life with someone else & having a family. That’s God’s power for you. It’s the fear in my head that is the issue.

God cares about the details of our hearts & minds; & so whilst He could snap His fingers, He’s choosing to give me my freedom stories as part of a lifelong adventure of unraveling broken chains. It’s in the wilderness where I’m confronted with the fears, lies & misunderstood identity that I find my Savior.

Undoubtedly my past experiences of guys can & does influence fear, & subsequently the way I think or behave today. God is asking me to go back into the wilderness where I’m afraid because He wants to show me things only He can show. Usually the lies & fear comes to me when I’m in community or around guys. Unlike in my past where I tried to address those fears & lies in ways that were not of God, now God & I are in communication.

This is some of what God is saying to me lately:

I can see the future. I know better than you what you need. Trust Me fully. You are not at the mercy of fate, or tossed about at the mercy of others. You are being led in a very definite way. There is not one want of your soul that I do not supply when you ask. Also, I long to be your all. In the spiritual world there is no empty space. As self, fears & worries depart out your life, the things of the Spirit, the things you crave, rush in & take their places. Complete surrender of every moment to Me is the foundation of happiness, the superstructure is the joy of communion with Me. You are in uncharted waters. But I am the Lord of all Seas. I the Controller of all Storms am with you. Learn to shut yourself away in My Presence. & then, without speaking, you have those things you desire of Me: strength, power, joy, peace. A great work requires great & careful training. It is absolutely necessary. Not to everyone is it so. But only to those who ask to serve Me well, & to do much for Me. Believe that I am with you, & controlling all. When my Word has gone forth, all are powerless to stop it.

I could go on & on with what God is saying to me. I don’t have it all figured out. I look at the fear & I’m so overwhelmed at the thought of, “will I ever be in a different place to where I am now?” But I do know four things.

(i) God is faithful. (ii) His Grace is unreal. (iii) All He asks for is my surrender of everything so He can deal with it. (iv) Finally, stories are powerful. They are tangible measurements of God’s Love for us. It’s in the telling & retelling of our testimonies that we can fight fear & lies, & that we fall in Love with our God.

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My Life Group

PCOS is not a new concept to me. In 2007 I was struggling with my health and I had a laparoscopy operation where they went through my belly button to investigate. The doctor later told me I was borderline, some doctors would say I had PCOS and others wouldn’t. In his opinion I didn’t have PSCO.

However I was apparently borderline and so when things seemed to be getting serious with my last boyfriend I told him. I just explained what had happened, what the condition was and that maybe there might be difficulty getting pregnant. He couldn’t handle it. More than once in the months to follow he said, “Akila did you do something to cause this? You must have done something.

The possibility of having PCOS was one of the reasons why our relationship came to an end. So you can forgive me for being so afraid of rejection now that it’s been confirmed I do have PCOS. Why in my last blog I said, “I can’t envision a guy having that faith. Am I belittling people’s faith – no, not at all. What I’m saying is I don’t think a guy will have faith in me. I can’t imagine being good enough just as I am for someone else. I can’t imagine a guy would pick me…

But God is incredibly faithful. I didn’t tell anyone back home that I was going to the hospital last month; and the very day after my hospital appointment my sister told me she received a message from my pastor.

Laura was just thinking about your Akila and then Genesis 8:11 popped into my head ad I just wanted to pass it on to her. A seemingly random verse but wondered if it is specific to her situation this week. But I don’t have her number on this phone or whatsapp?! Could you please forward this message please? ‘He waited 7 more days and sent out the dove again. It came back in the evening with a freshly picked olive leaf in its beak. Noah knew that the flood was about to be finished.’

I was so surprised. And yet not at all. Surprised my pastor sent this message to me but not surprised that God was speaking. Speaking hope, peace and truth back into my life. I suppose like Noah I felt a little trapped, scared, uncertain of the future, and no way to really know my fate. Noah looked out and only saw water, I looked out and only saw aloneness. Noah sent the dove out to get confirmation of his being able to return to land; God sent me an olive leaf confirmation that He is faithful and He hasn’t abandoned me.

My church life group here in South Africa have been amazing. God’s really used them to bring community and belonging into my life again.

Side note: for the first time in my life I find myself feeling so free to be me. I don’t feel inadequate in their spirituality, I don’t feel I need to prove anything, I just feel embraced and included. It helps that some of them seemingly have very high emotional intelligence levels haha. But because they give me so much freedom to be myself I find that I just want to keep giving back to them. At the moment it seems to involve a lot of food haha. Two girls moved recently and there were plenty of guys to help them physically move their belongings, I just bought the cinnamon rolls and chocolate croissants to keep them all fed and happy haha.

Side Note 2.0: I miss my parent’s house so much. I miss the big kitchen and the big living room to have people over. I miss people coming over for a cup of tea, or for dinner or just to hang out. But because my friends in my life group bring out a desire in me to invest in them I’m looking for ways to make things happen in the context I’m in. This week I’m attempting my first dinner party in my teeny tiny flat haha.

But back on topic. The depth of community and belonging is going deeper than what most of them probably realize. For example there is a guy in my life group that is really helping me navigate through some of the health things. I don’t think he really knows about my health, or that he’s helping me, but he is.

Back in August he was in a bike accident where a lady in a car turned right and cut him off. He was in hospital for a couple weeks and the doctor had to remove 3 toes on his right foot because they were too damaged. His attitude though is really amazing. I keep thinking if someone did that to me I’d be so pissed off. But he’s really trying to lay it down and give it all to Jesus.

Our health situations are very different but his continual laying it down and walking in grace helps me to think about my situation and how I can do that. He seems pretty unburdened by the accident, and that encourages me to keep working on getting to a place where I too can just be free and unafraid.

I just find it so special when God uses our friends to help us in deep ways without them realizing it. It inspires me to keep striving to be available to God to help others like that also. And to believe I too can be a candle in people’s lives even if I can’t always see it. But mostly I’m just really grateful God is using this amazing group of people to redeem past words, past rejections and past dreams that have been buried out of fear. I hope one day they each really understand what they did for me.

This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:4-7

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The Day I Was Told I Might Not Have Kids…

Tuesday night I was with my church small group for our weekly “doing life together”, and we were talking about guilt and shame. I have to admit I felt pretty detached throughout the whole evening but towards the end I started praying & a revelation literally hit me so intensely that I lost it crying.

Exactly 5 weeks ago today I went to visit the hospital; and I was diagnosed with PCOS. My revelation on Tuesday night was that since that hospital trip I’ve been walking around with so much fear, and so much shame. My head knows truth, my heart is struggling to stay on the same track.

PCOS is short for polycystic ovarian syndrome. Apparently it effects 10-20% of women, according to the internet, though I’m not sure how much I trust the internet. I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I feel a little sick I try to diagnose myself by googling my symptoms. And every time I do so Google tells me I need to seek urgent medical help because I’m basically dying of some random disease that I’ve never heard of.

I’m going to save you the biological lesson, you can Google “PCOS” and research it yourself, but basically I’m not producing the hormones needed to release eggs and that has a knock on effect in other ways. For example it also messes with insulin and causes one to be resistant to insulin. If you don’t get that under control then it can lead to diabetes and heart disease.

The great news is I don’t have diabetes and there’s a lot I can do to keep things going in a good direction – eat a low GI diet, exercise, be healthy… basically do all the things I should be doing anyways. But there is one key thing that it also effects, fertility.

I have talked to people since finding all this out but I don’t tell them the fertility part. Just the insulin part. I call the PCOS, “a medical condition”. It’s not that I don’t want people to know, it’s I just don’t know what to say. What do you say? Actually… there is a lot to be said. Which brings me to my blog.

PCOS causes certain things to happen, for example a bit of extra hair in places. Thankfully that isn’t such a big deal except I do have slightly hairy feet. Once a boy called me monkey feet and since then I wax them all the time. I hate my feet. Even if they are hair free which they usually are… I still hate my feet. And I still think that boy is a loser. Because he spoke something out over me that I still today, 15 years later, cannot shake off.

It also causes weight gain because of the whole insulin factor. The weight thing is a battle. Girls as a general statement have a real issue with self-image. My testimony for those who know it has been my battle with proving my self-worth. In every way not just self-image. I put on weight and the king of lies has a field day with my head.

But then losing weight, well that’s ironic in itself because now I find I’m fighting the battle not to take things in extreme ways. Right now I feel like there is so much riding on losing weight. The words in my head, “if you lose weight everything will be ok” and “you’re not good enough, you’re not good enough, you’re not good enough…” over and over again. Do I believe that, my head tells me no and I truly believe no. My heart, well Jesus is working on its conviction.

But the fertility thing. I never really imagined having kids. I guess I just hadn’t met the guy I wanted to have a family with. But I know I love family, love doing life with others, and I don’t want to be alone. I really do hope God has someone for me… But that hope is being challenged. Fertility is a big deal. And for many guys a deal breaker.

I genuinely believe all life is from God and if it’s His plan on my life it WILL happen. I feel really quite chill about that! But I just don’t see a guy being ok with it. I can’t envision a guy having that kind of faith. Am I belittling people’s faith – no, not at all. What I’m saying is I don’t think a guy will have faith in me. I can’t imagine being good enough just as I am for someone else. I can’t imagine a guy would pick me: Akila, with PCOS, and her monkey feet.

But I really really DO hope that God will include someone else in my story one day. And yes, yes, yes I KNOW if a guy picks me it will be because for the great qualities haha. But remember there’s a tension between head and heart right now.

But there’s something else I realise in all this. What I’m actually journeying with is not PCOS itself, but lies that I have allowed to be spoken over me which cause shame. I’ve even realised I thought I wasn’t sharing my news with others to be appropriate but actually I was just hiding out of fear and shame. “Akila you are not good enough and you really shouldn’t show others that awful side of you.”

Well Satan get on your bike and do one.

For a long time God used Mike’s death to show Himself to me, and show me my identity in Him. Now, like a multifaceted diamond, I have a whole new adventure to go on that will reveal even more to me.

I’m really honoured you are reading this; and please have total freedom to talk to me about anything. I really hope as I journey through this, and write, that it brings you hope too. But please do remember this blog is my space and I will be real. For some that might result in a decision to not read this blog. And that’s ok. I’m choosing to speak openly and honestly like this for the very simple reason…

… When a light shines on a lie it becomes powerless. When things are declared publicly, something happens in a spiritual realm. Given the situation I am supposedly in, and given that my bible tells me all I need is faith the size of a mustard seed, I’m not even going to debate this in my heart I’m just going to chose to take that leap.

“For God has unveiled them and revealed them to us through the Holy Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things diligently; even sounding and measuring the profound depths of God, the divine counsels and things far beyond human understanding. For what person knows the thoughts and motives of a man except the man’s spirit within him? So also no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Holy Spirit who is from God, so that we may know and understand the wonderful things freely given to us by God.”

1 Corinthians 2:10-12

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Eagle Nebula from the Hubble Telescope


Why I Paid Off My Student Loan And How I Did It

Hey All!

So as most of you know, I paid off my student loan?! “Good grief why would you decide to do something so radical and how on Earth did you do it?!” Good questions. Since I’m genuinely serious about helping out my fellow student peers I’ll be completely honest. And part of that honesty is to speak ONLY from my own experience. Each student, whether post, current or prospective, has their own life circumstances and those without a doubt need to be taken into consideration when discussing finances. Many will say I got lucky, and to many I will say “You’re the one who has control over your debt.” But ultimately, it comes down to what are your values.

So why did I pay off my student loan.

Personally I believe there are rights and responsibilities. I have a right to education but a responsibility to my government and country to pay what I owe. I live in a country where the government thinks it’s great we have opportunities to learn but they have said it doesn’t come free. I took out my loans, ticked all the boxes and signed the contracts saying I want the money and yes I understand the conditions. From the minute I even contemplated university at the age of 14 years old I know this would be the way I would be able to receive my education and what was expected of me.

Over the course of my life I have probably spent more time moaning about taxes, lack of jobs, limited housing, elderly care, health care systems, benefit cheats and goodness knows what else than any other subject. Maybe not… but daily I have commented or had lengthy discussions about how I don’t have what I want in life. Every 4 weeks I see nearly a 1/3 of wages disappear. Doesn’t seem fair really. I worked so freaking hard for it.

But then here’s the other way for me to look at it. Why should I take thousands of pounds from the government, contribute to the country’s national debt and then complain when they can’t give me what I want. Actually, it’s not about what I want. Why should I demand all my life for this and that, and then expect YOU to pick up the pieces. In fact, demanding what I believe is my “right” and not being humble enough to accept my rights in life comes with responsibilities makes me a no more than a hypercritic.

On top of all that, my loans impact my savings, my mortgage, it adds 20 plus years of stress… Why in my right mind would I want to do that to myself? When it comes to a mortgage, yes, it is affected by my loans. My parents looked at getting simple £80,000 house as an investment. They looked at putting the mortgage in their name, and then in my name. My monthly mortgage repayments would be nearly double what they were expected to pay simply because I had a loan in my name. But please, don’t take my word for it… Go down to your bank and look into it all yourself.

Others told me I should put money aside as savings, earn interest on my savings, which would in theory give me more money and in theory pay off my student loan faster. I did my research on that too. I went into Nationwide, RBS, HSBC and NatWest branches to discuss the many different ways I could save. The options are limited at best. The highest interest rates on accounts only allowed you to put a certain amount of money in it and only at limited times. E.g. £150 once a month. I wanted more flexibility. Even then, the best interest rates were only around 3%. The same as what my loans were accumulating. But what people have never mentioned to me is 3% interest on a £150 payment is very little in comparison to 3% on a £15,000 loan. My savings will never catch up to my growing loans. Let me put it very simply: £150 over 12 months is £1800 in savings. Let’s say for argument’s sake the 3% interest is added at the end of 12 months, I have earned £54. Now, add 3% interest on to my £15,000 loan, my loan is now £450 more. 9 times more than I earned. Like I said, I will never ever catch up doing that.

Now here’s the other thing. “Why pay your loan off Akila when you could just wait 20 years and it’ll be wiped off?” Let me ask something, when have you ever said “I believe what the government tells me?” You may then say “But both you and those loaning you the money have signed contracts”… Yes we have. Does anyone absolutely 100% know what they’ve signed up for? With all due respect, the government is NOT going to loan out millions and millions of pounds and simply wipe it off. In fact I heard student loans have put the country in nearly a trillion pounds of debt. Even those earning over the wage threshold won’t have paid back much of what they owe. Would you allow that to happen if you loaned out all this money? No, I’m 99% sure you wouldn’t. 6 months ago it even hit headlines recently that student loans will be sold off to loan repayment companies.

There is absolutely nothing certain in life except death. It is mathematically, scientifically and economically impossible for anyone to guarantee “here’s your student loan, good luck paying it off and after X amount of years we’ll wipe it.” If our economy collapses, what’s stopping the “contract” from being revoked with “sorry guys, we’re desperate, you owe us, cough it up”? Retirement changed, taxes changed… You can’t even have an empty bedroom in your home anymore. The government is always threatening and finding ways to stop giving us money and take more money away from us. Of course, I agree this might all be speculation but like I said, why in my right mind would I want to put myself through the stress of uncertainty?

So here is how I did it.

Half way through my final year at university my loans stood at around £15,000. At its peak the interest my loan was earning was over £39 a month. When my final loan instalments came in I realised I didn’t actually need it and so paid that and some more back. That was £3000 which dropped my loan to around £12,000. My interest was still £15 a month. Over the next year I was on 0% interest and so didn’t pay anything off. Then January 2012 I decided that whatever came into my bank account I would use 10% to pay off my loan. For 7 months I was unemployed and on Job Seekers, £5 a week doesn’t sound like a lot but it added up. As of August 2012 I started working for a supermarket and still every month when I got my pay slip I took 10% and paid off my loan. Again it doesn’t sound like a lot but again, it does add up.

All this time while I was taking 10% and paying off my student loan, I also had 6 other savings funds. After I paid my parents for the rent, took £100 for myself to live off for 4 weeks (food, petrol, entertainment, clothes, hair, make up etc), and took 10% to pay off my loan I then put 10% in each of these funds. Why did I do this? Well for example, one of my funds was for a car. Eventually I was able to pay nearly £2000 for a car, insurance and tax without batting an eye lid. For me I chose to do things like that so that I always had the money there when I needed it rather than panic about when I needed it. And you know what, I lived a full life for how “little” I lived on. I went on holidays, I bought clothing, I went to the cinema, I had takeaways, I had nights out… I was never without because, in my opinion, I played it smart. So in November 2013 I looked at my savings and looked at my wages and decided to go all out. Like a game of Poker, I put all my chips in. But unlike Poker knew I couldn’t lose. I took any money I had in those funds and used the entire lot to pay off all I could of my loan. And then over the next months I paid rent, took my £100 and put all my wages towards my loan. By April 2014 I paid off the entire loan.

Like I said, each person has their own circumstances. I paid rent but for the first year it was very little. It increased by 100% the following year. I live in an area where it’s possible to have a car and I’m not paying for sky-high travel costs. My job at the supermarket was fantastic in that I worked hard and got myself opportunities to go from 16 hours at £6.34 to 39 hours at £8.30. Yes I was very blessed and very lucky. But don’t forget at one point I was unemployed and had a lot of debt. I don’t believe for one minute that taking control of ones finances is limited to those with money. Whether it’s student loans, mortgage loans, money lending loans… I believe it comes down to values.

I know that is, for many, provocative but I genuinely believe if you really want to get out of debt you will do what is necessary. But it’ll only happen if it’s a real value to you to do so. Your desire to be debt free will trump whether you have a take away once a week or once a fortnight. It will trump buying a move when it first comes out to waiting a couple of months. It will trump whether you spend £20 on clothing each month or £100. I never ever thought I could do this but I did. And so can you. The 10% rule can be applied to any loan and any saving! I may literally have “zero” in my bank account, but I sure as hell have zero debt in my name also 😀

If you want advice or help with your finances there is a lot of support out there!

CAP (Christians Against Poverty) – https://www.capuk.org/

HM Revenue & Customs – http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/payinghmrc/problems/debt-help.htm

StepChange – http://www.stepchange.org/

 

Over The Finish Line!

Over The Finish Line!


Mysterious? – The Event!

Hey!

The long-awaited writing about September the 8th and “Mysterious?” is finally here!

For those of you just tuning in, my family and I decided to put on an event called “Mysterious?” The event actually kicked off in the days leading up to Saturday the 8th of September. But like all events, true planning started 3 years earlier soon after my brother’s death on August 1st 2009.

You see, Mike wanted to go to college and learn how to play a guitar with the intention of leading worship in Christian churches; but he didn’t make it. About 5 weeks before he was supposed to join Nexus College, and almost a year after he started working in McDonald’s to fund his course… he died in his sleep. He was 18 and a half years old… the coroner couldn’t find a single factor that could explain cause of death. Not even sudden adult death syndrome.

Remembrance - Mike's Headstone and Grave

Remembrance – Mike’s Headstone and Grave

Pretty much straight away my family, myself, my friends, his friends, our friends, family, neighbours, work colleagues, school peers, church members… everyone in my life faced two key questions: “What happened?” and “Why?” Two years later we decided to put on a show that explored the mysteries of life. We as a family wanted to share our story, how we got through this massive life changing event… We wanted to encourage people to not be afraid of life, in all it’s forms, and to not be afraid of asking big questions. We wanted to inspire and challenge people’s attitudes to life. To find depth and meaning in amongst the superficial. We wanted to bring peace and hope… It’s ok to not have the answers. We wanted to explore the ancient question of why bad things happen to good people.

Whilst the vision had been simmering for almost 2 years by this point, practical planning started around February time this year (2012). Mum decided to check out our local entertainment centre with a simple prayer in mind “God, make this really clear to us whether we should pursue this.” And He did. We hired the venue and started developing a network around us before we even had a name for the event. People thought we were mad! Aren’t you supposed to have a programme together before you start hiring venues and issuing tickets? Truth be told… we only sat down to put together a programme 5 days before the event. That wasn’t for bad programme development… our network was in fact made up internationally of people from and living in several different countries. We only had the opportunity to sit down in person when they got here to do their part for the event!

God grew our dream into His dream and before we knew it our simple one night event turned into a week-long thing. We had hundreds of volunteers supporting us in making “Mysterious?” happen. The main churches in my city also came together to support us with this the event. We travelled to churches and camps to promote Mysterious… Maybe I should stop here and actual say our programme became three strands. Firstly we had “Mysterious?” the event. Secondly we had “One Wish.” We wanted to go into the city during the day before Mysterious and talk to the people we met on the streets. We wanted to encourage them and bring them joy, hope and peace. We refused to bible bash or stand on the street corners yelling how much we’re all gonna burn in hell. Instead, we had one simple question for them: “If you had one wish for God to give to you… What would it be?” What this meant was we LISTENED to them. We wanted to know THEIR story. We wanted to show them they are SIGNIFICANT. After they shared we simply offered to pray for them. Finally, the third strand was “One Wish: Skate Boarding” whereby we bought in two professional skate boarders to hang out with the youth on the Thursday, Friday and during the day on the Saturday.

What we didn’t foresee happening was the amount of publicity our event got!

Every time we want to the venue to discuss something with the managers, or to check how many tickets we sold… massive posters of naked women would greet us at the doors. The posters were advertising a very famous show called “Calender Girls“. Who were we to complete with them? Believe me, I seriously felt like I was Elijah waiting on God to rain down fire from heaven. Our main speaker for Mysterious was Stephen Baldwin. A famous Hollywood actor. Mum and dad met Stephen 6 years earlier and he gave them a signed dvd for Mike. On it he wrote “God Bless Mike“. One question my parents put to Stephen at Mysterious was “You wrote God Bless Mike; but Mike died. Explain that Stephen.” As soon as our small city heard a Hollywood actor was coming to town that was that! We were in the paper or on the night-time news every day for a week leading up to Saturday 8th!

Saturday 1st: Laura, my 18-year-old sister came home from a 3 week conference in Europe.

Sunday 2nd: Laura had unpacked, washed everything, repacked, went to church to say farewell, had a small party and left us again for a planned trip to South Africa. Dan and Suzie, international illusionists and our event MC’s arrived from America.

Monday 3rd: Mum, dad, Suzie, Dan and I sat down to plan the programme. We went for a walk to cool our brains down, visited the venue, met some youth, built relationships with the youth, Dan did illusions for them, we had the chance to test “One Wish”… We had amazing responses for them. Monday night we had a meeting with over 100 volunteers to brief them on the week’s activities. Much of that time was connecting individuals with “team leaders” for various activities. We were greatly encouraged to see some much passion from everyone.

Tuesday 4th and Wednesday 5th: I have to admit… I don’t remember these days so much but we did have a band practice. Wes, one our pro skaters had a nightmare of a time getting out of Egypt where he was based. Wednesday we received news that he was on the flight to us! 5 days later than he was meant to be but nonetheless with us!

Thursday 6th: This was day 1 of great craziness… Wes arrived in the morning, Stephen arrived around lunch time. I had breakfast with Miles and then picked up Grandma from the train station in the afternoon. After dropping her off home I went straight down to the skate park and hung out with the youth for 2 hours. Wes and Jud Heald were there and Stephen arrived soon after. The news came down to film us and many kids/teenagers came along to skate. Even I did some skating! 😛 Dan, Suzie, mum and I left the park to check up on the drama we had for Mysterious. The girls had done a great job putting it together!

Dad and Stephen Baldwin didn’t come with us because Stephen needed to go to the hospital for a xray of his foot. The day before he ran over it on his motorbike. At first we were like “Great, we don’t have time to run around at the hospital.” But God proved yet again he makes ALL things work for the good. As it turns out, Stephen going to the hospital was some of the best publicity we could have gotten! His picture with the nurse was in the news the next day. When he and dad got home we all sat around the kitchen table, held hands, and Grandma prayed for us all. As soon as she finished I piped up and said, “Grandma that was a beautiful prayer but all I could keep thinking was ‘OMG I’M HOLDING STEPHEN BALDWIN’S HAND!!!” Stephen thought that was funny 😛

Friday 7th: Day 2 of craziness. I was already operating on little sleep… Friday I woke at 7am, showered and was out the door for 8am to pick up Stephen. When mum and I got to his accommodation we hung out with him whilst he ate and then we took him to the hairdresser. I was his unofficial gofer all day 😛 I loved it haha 😛 We then had a meeting with the main event participants back at the house to get everyone on the same page for the show and after we went to Mike’s old high school. During the lunch break we hung out with several hundred teenagers doing magic, signing our autographs and promoting the event. Wes also did some skating.

I thought it was hilarious doing all these autographs! I had to think of mine on the spot and I’m sure I changed it about 4 times haha. The whole thing was so surreal. My photo was on the Mysterious leaflets and many of the young people were like “OMG YOU’RE IN THIS EVENT! I WANT YOUR AUTOGRAPH!” Hahahahah, who knew Akila would get to do that. Will have to tell Mike about that when I get to Heaven 😀

The afternoon was spent driving around locating my missing purse, picking up the bestie from the train station (Leah), and spending time at the skate park for the second day. After a large group of us went for an Indian. Everywhere we went Stephen’s presence caused a stir. Leah and I spent a little bit of time reminiscing that evening.

She was with me for Mike’s funeral. The night before his funeral we spent the night at a classy local bar with some friends and family; the next morning she curled my hair and listened to my speech. I had no idea what I wanted to share at Mike’s funeral and only “threw it together” at 7am the morning of the funeral. I got up early, sat in the conservatory as the sun came up and shared my heart to my laptop. As it so happens, the night before and the morning of Mysterious wasn’t too disimilar.

Saturday 8th: I woke up about 7am and was ready again for 8am. A family friend came to pick me up in his work van. The a close friend of my sister and his brother had made a tree for the stage. It was so beautiful…I was so proud of them. They had made it out of wood, paper, card, paint and fairy lights. I took it down to the venue and spent the entire morning at the venue helping to set up for the show. I almost cried my eyes out when I saw the stage… It was barely complete but already I could see the picture it was forming and the hard work that was being put into it. I thought I was going to be so stressed out but actually… I don’t think I’ve ever been so calm whilst preparing for an event before. Many others were very stressed and at one point a guy friend and I pretended to hide for a little while. Our stragegy was to sit on the couch in the eating area backstage and “look busy“. It sort of worked.

Leah came down around the same time the Cottinghams arrived and we all walked over to the youth zone where the third day of skate boarding was happening. While people were setting up the venue for the show, other had gotten up early to set up the youth zone. A group came up from Manchester to lay wood down to protect the flooring at the youth zone, build ramps and give out 60 boards and bikes for the youth. Leah and I didn’t stay too long… we left soon after I epically fell off the skate board 😛 She and I went back to the show venue where WriteWay, the rap group from London, had arrived and were rehearsing.

Around 4.30pm I went back stage and started getting ready. Mum and I had our own dressing room! I felt like a total celeb! Mum by this point had an emotional break down and hid crying in the changing room. I left her to it. Everyone was going through their own way of dealing with such an intense event. At one point I found mum, the Hendricks and Win Maiden all crying together… It’s going to sound wrong to say, but it genuinely was so funny to see them all! I teased them gently about it… The show must go on! Amongst our many awesome volunteers, one lady agreed to share her talents as a make up artist for Stephen. Dinner for the volunteers was served around 5.30pm and at 6pm we all met together to run through the programme one last time.

People started arriving….

We had 1000 tickets to sell in total… and in the last 24 hours we sold over 700 tickets. We actually sold out and started using additional seating to sell more tickets! There was a funny moment where I was backstage and was going through to the main seating area. I flung open the side curtain and saw many seats now filled! I’d been so used to seeing empty seats all day that I had a mini heart attack and thought “Oh.No.” Hahaha, a bit like a rollercoaster that you now can’t off hhaha.

The show started with a bang, an interactive illusionist trick that involved the crowd. Mum and dad introduced the event, CWB played Swtichfoot, I shared my story, my sister put together a video of her story… CWB played “This is your life” after Laura’s video and we had put together a string set to accompany the band. It was so powerful to have a rock song played alongside violins and cellos. Wes shared his story, the girls preformed the drama… The intermission came and went so quickly. Part two saw mum and dad share a bit more; Stephen spoke and had the attention of the audience from the moment he walked on stage; WriteWay preformed the closing act…

I was so afraid of the level of “Christianity” throughout the event. I just wanted people to be encouraged and challenged. I should have known better than to be afraid… Literally every single person who came to Mysterious left with something special to them. For weeks after we heard stories from all over the place of people who’s lives had changed for the better. I was so humbled and so grateful. Out of the whole event, it was when the band was playing “This is your Life” that I remember most distinctively. Somewhere in the centre of the crowd I sat in my seat with a tear that was making its way down my right cheek, and I was thinking to myself, “This is it. This is really happening.”

For months we’d planned. For months we had dreamed. I wanted to honor Mike in what we were doing just as much as I wanted to honor God. This show was different for me than any other shows I’d seen. I knew the stories behind each detail. I knew who generously paid for this, and I knew how hard someone worked at that… I knew the trials we faced at every single step. I walked first handedly through the many arguments mum and I got into about Mysterious… God took all of those things and turned it into something beautiful. Something life changing. Something that will always stick with me… I wish you were there at Mysterious to have seen it for yourself.

After the show people got the chance to buy cds and t-shirts from WriteWay, get photos with Stephen, or just mingle. Dan C was the “bodyguard” for Stephen that night… It’s pretty surreal, never once did I ever think that I’d be saying to Dan C, “Hey, can you body-guard for Stephen?” I think the best bit was when Dan C realised he would be driving Stephen back to mine in what he described as “a naff car” 😛 There was a miniature after party at mine… Dan C, Tim Christian, Leah and I sat on the couch in my living room and barely moved. I had some really special times with Leah throughout the day then later as we sat talking to Stephen. I miss that girl. I wished those days she was here wasn’t so crazy.

I finally got to bed around 3.30am…

So that’s basically the gist of Mysterious. And believe me when I say I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the stories that have resulted from those days. The finale song that night was called “New Song“. And there’s a line in it that says,

“We’re gonna scream til the walls come down, Singing a new song, Singing a new song.”

For now, that’s what I want to leave with you.

Thank you to God, Mike, my family and for everyone who made this happen. I’m truly blessed!