06 November 2011

A Plain Vanilla Story

I haven't lived a life close enough to the edge for Chocolate Mud; my bookish tendencies disqualify me from anything as racy as Rocky Road.

When I was a kid, I thought vanilla was the most boring of icecream flavours.
Now that I'm a grown-up icecream connoisseur, vanilla has more respect from me.
Vanilla goes so well with warm chocolate brownie, apple-berry crumble, sticky toffee pudding.
Who wants goody gum drop icecream with strawberry shortcake?
Vanilla is a very valuable icecream flavour.
I think that's me.

Or perhaps I'm more of a Hokey Pokey (a few interesting bits, but mostly plain and can be served with anything....)?

November has been dubbed "A Month of Thanksgiving" in our church. Every day people are tweeting their thanks, Facebooking their gratitude. Me? I am a bit slow getting started.
Not that I couldn't think of ten things a day to be thankful for. Things like boys in undies. Poos in toilets. Stuff I am unbelievably grateful for.
As I sat in church this morning I had a surprisingly clear thought.
I have never actually shared my "faith journey" here on my blog.
Today, right now, I am about to do that.
I want to to give thanks, in my own way, to my Maker.

My story is not dramatic. I was never a hooker or a drug addict. My story is Plain Vanilla. Or a wee bit Hokey Pokey.
But still, God has shown himself Real to me. And that, in a world full of more questions than answers, is a priceless thing.

Mum and Dad, 1968

I'll have to go back a bit.
My dad was a young Catholic living in South Auckland. He met my mother, a non-churchgoer, they married and had me, a year later.
Dad got involved in the Jesus (Christian Hippie) Movement of the 1970s, my mum also became a Christian and they dedicated their lives to God. When I was a child things were very simple. God was so real to me; he was there in every corner of my life.

But when my dad became a Pastor and moved us away from Auckland to Tokoroa things got complicated. Being a Pastor's kid was no picnic, especially during the Eighties. Every eye was on you. One false move and your beloved Dad will be shamed.

Anxiety crept in. Dad was busy helping others, and I was being bullied at school for being the preacher's kid.
In my head I still believed, but in my heart I was going through the motions, trying desperately to be good enough, believing deep down that I was not.

On the outside I was every parent's ideal teenager. Obedient. Well behaved. Hard working. I didn't drink, didn't smoke and only ever kissed boys when playing Spin the Bottle. Inside I was lonely, insecure and empty.

My first serious boyfriend was six years older than me. We talked about marriage. I was 17, 18, 19.
We got engaged. We broke up. I cried, and knew I needed a fresh start somewhere far away from the small town I was living in.

So I packed everything I could fit into a suitcase and went back to live in Auckland, staying with family friends until I found a job and a flat.
Far from home I felt the weight of expectation lift off me.
Nobody knew me here.
I wasn't my father's daughter, I was just... me.
I stopped going to church. I stopped doing all the things I thought Christians should do.
If God really wants me, I told myself, He can come and find me.

You might be disappointed if I tell you that I did not throw caution to the wind and become a raving party girl overnight. There are no deep dark secrets or skeletons in my closet. I was an average nerd living in a big city, excited to be catching the bus on my own.

I was still what you'd call a "good girl" but I had no anchor. I was desperately insecure and lacking in confidence. Always worried about what others thought of me. Anxious and afraid of many things.
{I got back together with my old boyfriend; we got engaged again, we broke up again, I was broken hearted... again}
But somehow I still had a sense that God was watching over me.
In my journal I wrote, "It's weird, I am the furtherest away from God that I have ever been, but somehow I feel that he is still looking after me..."

At the end of that first year in Auckland, things started to change. My flat broke up. I lost my job when the company went bust. Then I heard about a Christian magazine that needed a designer and I put my hand up for the job. An unpaid job, but something about it excited me.

There was a big camp organised by the magazine's publishers, and I was needed at the camp to print out labels for the speakers' cassettes. So there I was working at this massive Christian gig, surrounded by people who talked about "God moving" and angels behind every lamppost but I felt completely out of my depth and I wanted to go home.

Until I felt God's presence there for myself. It was like a warm blanket of Peace wrapping around me, then liquid Joy filling me up until I felt like I was flying; my feet were barely touching the ground as I wept and laughed all at once, filled up with Love, Joy, Peace like I'd never felt before.
For the first time in a long time I knew that God was real and he loved me for me. Not because of who my Dad was and not because of anything I could do for him. I turned my life back over to God at that camp and decided that from that point on I was going to be "all out for God".

Usually this is the point where we hear, "...and they lived happily ever."

But real life, and Christianity, are not smooth and easy.
Just because I had made a decision to give my life to God did not mean that my fears and insecurities disappeared overnight.
What happened was that time and again I found myself in situations where I had to push past my fear and do things anyway.

I was shy, timid, fearful and insecure. But I found myself leading people.
I found myself on a stage, singing or preaching.
I found myself praying for strangers.


I had a sense that God had something big in store for me. I was special.
My constant prayer was "use me God". I really did want to save the world.

Timid vanilla-me actually managed to start up an alternative education programme reaching at-risk youth, that is now the largest of its kind in the country. Still fearful. Still timid. I did it anyway.

What gave me courage was learning to recognise when God was leading me.
Realising that He did actually speak to me.
No, I'm not bonkers, and I've never heard an audible voice.
But I get a feeling of pressure in my gut, when something is right; an uneasy knot when something's wrong.
A song sometimes sings God's words of encouragement to me. A peace floods through my soul in spite of circumstances and I know things will be OK.
A verse jumps from the page and hits me between the eyes.
A thought flashes upon my consciousness, fully formed.
Understanding, revelation, insight, wisdom beyond my own resources.
An inner prompting, a thought that won't leave.
These are all the ways God speaks to me.

Back in the days of the Space Race, Russian Cosmonauts went into space looking for God.
They came back empty handed, having found no evidence for God's existence, and declared that they had now proven that there was in fact No God, because they didn't see him out in Space.

But you see, you can't explain away what I know.
Someone who has found nothing can't dissuade the person who has found Something.
You might say, I don't know if God exists, I've never seen him.
I say, I know God exists, I have felt him, heard him and seen his effects.
Your not-knowing can't take away my knowing.

I know he is real.
His words have given me hope that has kept me going for the past twenty years.
I have walked through some long stony barren places.
But he has never abandoned me.
Sounds cliched but for me it's real.
When I had to give up youth work because of burn out and depression, I questioned God for many months.

Why did you let this happen to me? I only wanted to serve you! I said Use Me and now that you have you have chewed me up and spat me out. I thought you loved me?
I was afraid of God and what he might ask of me.
I was angry at him for taking what I offered him when he knew it would be too much for me.
I could see no way back to being close to God.
I didn't trust him to have my best interests at heart any more.

But one night, there came a flash of thought.
It wasn't God who did this to me.
God tried to warn me. He sent people to me to tell me, Slow down, look after yourself or you'll get sick.
I took no notice.
I took on so much myself. I didn't protect or look after myself.
I had always battled with people-pleasing. I had always been insecure and tried to find my value in Doing.
And my Enemy knew this about me.
It wasn't God who did this to me.

In that moment I felt a huge weight lift off me.
As the tears fell, a sense of God's caring settled on me. Peace.
And that has stayed with me to this day.
A deep knowing that God is for me, no matter what I do or don't do. Whether I can do anything for him or not.
On my bad days, when I lose it, when tears fall and voices are raised, I know he sees me, he understands and he loves me anyway.

I see him around me in the things he has made. Creation reflects him, his creativity, his beauty. It shows me his character, he is Good. I might not see him, but I see his fingerprints, and I also hear his voice.

Everything that is Good is from Him.
Hell is just what's left over when He is gone.


This was a hard post to write.
Several times I wanted to stop, give up, write another party post.
But something was pushing me to tell my plain vanilla story.
So I have, for what purpose I may never know.

But can I say, if you're wondering, "Is God real?"
but you haven't found him for yourself yet...
Who will you listen to: the Cosmonauts (who found nothing)...
or me, who has found Something Real?

More of My Story...

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jacksta said...

love this Simone. I Love hearing peoples testimonies.
God IS GOOD. Though we may not understand..He is always GOOD.

Proud of you for posting this.


Leonie said...

Loved this too Simone!
yay for you sharing it on here. I almost never share about my faith on my blog... I admire you!
He is Real and GOOD!!!

PaisleyJade said...

It's perfect... beautiful... and so worth you spending the time writing it! xoxo

LatteJunkie said...

What a beautiful post. I think that "vanilla" people are often overlooked.

Jen said...

thanks for sharing my friend :)

"I'm not bonkers, I never heard an audible voice."

I have and if that means Im bonkers I dont care God loves us all and being normal is highly over rated :)

Meghan Maloney Photography said...

I've often felt the same way about my testimony, but you know what, at least we have ONE.....a testimony that is, of the reality of him in our lives, in the little and the big He is so, so real.

NIXNAX said...

Such a lovely heart felt post an fabulous images. I don't follow in a church or a fellowship but i feel God within when i feel such strong emotions. Thanks for the vanilla story.

Catching the Magic said...

Wow! This is an amazingly, powerful post, combined with moving images. Your story is a great, inspiring read. It certainly sounds like you have been chosen to use your voice to share your faith. I love the title of this post - it grabbed my attention and I found myself racing to take in every word, which flowed so well onto the next (though I can imagine took many rewrites, thought and care).

dearfutureme... said...

Great message, Simone! I love how even when we aren't watching for God, He is always watching for us.

Miriam said...

Great post - every word worthwhile and much as you've agonised over the sharing of it - 'no word returns void' - you don't know who you've given courage, hope or encouragement to on their journey. Honouring you girl.

Choppy said...

Wow! stunning, gripping and shared so beautifully!

remaliah said...

This is a beautiful tribute of thankfulness, Simoney. I'm glad you shared :) I've realised more and more over the last few years that often within our same areas of weakness...like being shy, fearful and insecure...are where God gifts us in the contrary...like being a very gifted communicater (as you REALLY are!). I guess it's clear, then, to ourselves that it's Him working in us. I see a bit of myself in your words, including the pastor's kid. And the photos you chose a beautiful, stunning. Thanks :) x

Cat said...

vanilla is my favourite EVEYTHING!!!
and you are beautiful!


love and light

Holly May B said...

Wow. You really have an amazing heart! God is so awesome!

I discovered your blog through a friend & fellow blogger not so long ago. Now, after this post I am hooked. You're an inspiration.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post - resonated with me in many ways especially

"My story is not dramatic. I was never a hooker or a drug addict. My story is Plain Vanilla. Or a wee bit Hokey Pokey."


"I was still what you'd call a "good girl" but I had no anchor"

Despite my story being a little dramatic & when I left church I was no longer the goody two shoes I once was :)

Hmm perhaps I would like your church - not sure about the ones down here :)

Thank you for sharing - it's fantastic you have the humility of spirit that you do. You most definitely strike me as one incredible lady.....just no more burn outs eh :)

meg said...

thanks for sharing this. it really spoke to me - and reading the story of CLS is so amazing. it blows me away. i hope i can make a difference like that in kids lives one day.

Anonymous said...

Hi Simone, love that your not afraid to confess your love.

“You can never learn that Christ is all you need, until Christ is all you have.”
― Corrie ten Boom

Brooke @ Covered in Grace said...

I just really loved reading your story.
And actually... I think that these "plain" stories are sometimes the strongest examples of God's greatness and faithfulness and absolute existence.
My faith journey, thus far, pretty much runs right along with your own. And I can say, without a doubt, that God is for me, always. He is there, always. And he brings me peace, always.

Thanks for sharing!

Sophie said...

Loved reading your story Simoney! Just beautiful! Vanilla is one of my very favourite flavours!

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