standing Victorious (OVER the spider diagrams)

She nervously and very slowly moved one knee up until her foot was touching the board. She then lifted the other leg, and then her whole body, before her head followed and also lifted up.

With the sound of the park runners being encouraged across the finish line in the background, and the encouragement of her hopeful friend standing in the water nearby, the lady’s back gradually straightened out, with paddle in hand, as she stood up straight for the first time on her paddle board.

This scene unfolded yesterday while I was slowly gliding past in my new kayak, growing in confidence with every stroke. The simple thought occurred to me; if it wasn’t for the encouragement of this lady’s friend, it is unlikely she would have even got on the paddle board, let alone persevered to eventually get up on her feet to embrace the new experience.

We need encouragement from others.

As with the lady on her paddle board on this beautiful warm and clear bank holiday festival weekend, with each stroke I too was growing in confidence.

I spent an hour of kayaking between the hovercraft point and South Parade Pier, and back, stopping to take in the views of Victorious Festival gearing up for its second day.

The Seaside Stage – Victorious Festival

At 10am I headed back to the shore to conclude the session and meet up with a friend who had taken his motorbike down from outside the city for us to enjoy one of our regular Saturday morning coffees by the beach.

As we caught up, my friend shared his frustrations about his career journey. A successful twenty years in his industry has seen him reach the pinnacle of his job — the highest position possible which had been his desire from a young age.

“The trouble is I overthink too much”. While we joked that his problems are certainly of the ‘First World’ variety, we agreed it didn’t mean they were any less real or valuable. With the mortgage paid off and the world supposedly at his feet, a few exciting options lay before him. Yet there is a challenge in making a commitment to any one of them. And all the while, the clock of life appears to be ticking slightly louder as each day passes by and plans remain unfulfilled.

Returning to the shore – taken by my mate as he waited for our Saturday morning coffee

While I didn’t share it on this occasion — my friend knows the testimony reasonably well — I certainly can relate.

In the years of my 20s before I boarded that plane to the Mountain Kingdom, I would regularly reach for a pen and pad and draw out the all too familiar spider diagram of the options that lay before me.

PhD, travelling, teaching, growing a community project, starting my own sustainability business. Often this would happen on a train to work. Yet the boldest decision I finally made from all of these — to take sabbatical and travel — came more out of desperation than a well planned long term strategy.

Just over a month later I found myself unexpectedly in a darkened cinema in a shopping mall in Maseru, the capital of Lesotho. Not quite the ‘African’ experience I was imagining a month or so earlier.

As I stood at my seat, I was struck by the joy and peace I was witnessing around me of local people who must have had life harder than me. My ears were tuned in to the live band’s music, and then became fine tuned as the man on the stage began to speak.

“How is this part of your plan?!”, the man quoted his frustrated self recalling a time when he was sat by the side of a road with a punctured tyre. He told this story to illustrate a point; that while it is not always clear, once you put your faith in Jesus and let God take the wheel, you can be sure that He has a plan for your life and it is for good.

The preacher on that Sunday morning at ‘Victory Church’ in Lesotho shared two verses from the Bible:

For I know the plans I have for you” ​— ​this is the Lord’s declaration ​— ​“plans for your well-being, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. — Jeremiah 29:11 (CSB)

Now to him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us ​– Ephesians 3:20 (CSB)

Using these two well known verses, the preacher encouraged us to let God take control of the journey of our lives. With that, I became aware for the very first time of the futility of my spider diagrams. I started to consider the possibility that the answer to the song throughout my 20s of “I don’t know what I want to do with my life”, wasn’t so much sitting on one of the legs of my spider diagrams.

The problem, perhaps, was more that it wasn’t down to me to figure it all out and have full control over it all in the first place. Of course, this was very counter cultural and went against most things I had learnt up to this point verging on turning thirty.

A few hours after the morning coffee by the beach, I took our baby Danièle out for a walk to check out Victorious Festival. We managed to find a spot outside the high walls where you could see the stage. An artist called Frank Turner begun his set with a song called ‘The Ballad of Me and My Friends’.

But if you’re all about the destination, then take a f*****g flight.
We’re going nowhere slowly, but we’re seeing all the sights.
And we’re definitely going to hell,
But we’ll have all the best stories to tell

I was struck by the hopelessness of the lyrics as well as the guy in front of me nodding in agreement. As he did, I couldn’t help but notice the ironic graffiti in front of both of us while the talented Frank and his Mandolin playing partner were entertaining the crowd.

‘Only Jesus saves’, had been chalked on the high green perimeter fence.

Sometimes we need this encouragement. Even to take the paddle board to water in the first place, but even more to be able to get up off our knees and find balance and an altogether new experience, strength, and ability that didn’t exist before.

With this encouragement, it is possible to begin to get up off our knees and on to our feet to see a new possibility; standing victorious on top of the water.