Introducing Ana West. It was inevitable that when doing a series on my favourite people that I would introduce you to this amazing woman.
Ana has been in my world for over 14 years. I met Ana when I was four months pregnant with my second daughter Eden and her daughter Alesha was only four months old. They grew up inseparable and remain the best of friends.
Ana and her husband Mark had recently returned home to Darwin after an intense relationship with the AFL (the Australian Football League for my friends to whom this is a foreign language). A relationship that had left them broken and bruised. Where Mark's body had taken a beating, Ana's heart was badly bruised. The light on the horizon was their recent decision to follow Jesus.
And follow Jesus this girl has. Passionately with all her heart.
Ana did what ever she could to position herself in my world. Some may call it stalking, but to Ana this just made perfect sense. Our relationship grew into a friendship that has embraced more than a decade and drawn in both our families. We have shared the significant milestones together, exquisite Northern Territory Dry Season family holidays at Tree Point together and more tears than I am privileged to remember together.
There are times when it is hard to tell where her story stops and mine starts. So much of what I have experienced over the past decade, Ana has been alongside.
Ana's purpose on the planet is to tell stories that bring people closer to Jesus. She is one of the most gifted communicators I know. Ana shared her thoughts with me over coffee while we were on a recent retreat with our girls on the island of Nusa Lembongan.
What have been your three greatest achievements?
I could not imagine a more perfect location to have this conversation than at The Deck Cafe poised over the sea, drinking coffee. Ana has a focused and intense look about her. I know that she is about to deliver gold "for me there is a overall theme for this conversation and it is having the courage to stay. To stay on the course that God has asked of me".
Stay on the course of God's calling. Ana smiles, draws breath and there is a tangible hush. Something within quietens, a sense of anticipation "nearly 12 years ago, when I was 28, God asked my husband and I to take in ten Indigenous boys from remote communities in the Northern Territory. We left our home and went to work with the Marrara Christian College House Parenting Program".
I more than most, have seen the pressures Ana and Mark have negotiated to remain faithful to this divine request "there have been times over those years that I have felt like I just can’t go on. All these years later, looking back on those moments I am so grateful that I had the courage to stay on course. When God asked me to start the Shine program, even though I had 12 children to look after and care for, I had the courage to say yes. I had to courage to stay on course. Because I stayed on the course I can now say I have been involved in the Shine program for 10 years. Shine is not a program I run, I have become those values, a woman of worth, strength and purpose".
Stay on the course in key relationships. Ana has always valued friendships and the importance of God ordained relationships. She believes these ordained relationships are essential, especially when the pressure is on "I have some really incredible women around me as I have tried to stay the course and be faithful with my God entrusted destiny. They love me enough to be honest with me. Sometimes that honesty creates friction but it always causes me to look at myself and hold myself accountable to the call of God. It is all too easy to say, who needs the friction? But I have beautiful relationships in my life today and I deeply value the way that each one sharpens me. There is so much depth in these relationships because I have had the courage to stay in key relationships as I have stayed on the course".
Stay on the course in the right environment. Ana looks out to the sea for a moment to gather her thoughts and then refocuses "staying in the right environment is not always easy. When we are younger and it gets tough in our parent’s house, we can say I’m out of here! When we are older, staying in the right environment could be our work or our church. We can feel like we are so over whatever we are doing, like house parenting for me at times. But it was the right environment, one that was creating gold inside of me. It was building resilience, building strength, giving me keys, wisdom, Mark and I were learning so much. Imagine if we had left that environment, the right environment for us. There would have been lessons that we would not have learned.
Ana's thoughts turn to the House of God "I see so many people say this is ridiculous and they just leave. I am so grateful that I have had the courage to stay planted in one church, Hope City Church for the past fourteen years. Every Sunday I am privileged to hear a message from someone who is spending time with God and has a word for their church. It says in the bible that those who plant themselves in this kind of an environment, they will flourish. And this has been my experience and now I’m seeing the impact as generational. My marriage has strengthened and my children are starting to really flourish in their gifts and their callings".
For Ana her greatest achievements have been realised staying on the course that God asked her to stay on. Not for one year. Not for two years, but for over a decade.
Celebrating Ana's 40th birthday with Nandi Spry from Hillsong's Shine Global
Mark and Ana West
What have been your three greatest challenges?
The challenge of the stretch. Ana's smile widens, she knew this question was coming and she gently places her answers in the context of her childhood "growing up as an East Timorese girl who came over on as a refugee on a boat, our family was quite closed. We stuck to ourselves a lot, I remember never having sleepovers or being allowed to go to a sleepover. We shut the gate to keep the world out. I think war does something to you. My husband on the other hand was from Torres Straight Islands and took it all in his stride. For him it was a party, a family of twelve". There is a pause that is poignant.
The challenge for Ana was to stretch, to grow, to enlarge her capacity. And then having stretched to capacity, to stretch a little more. Four years ago Mark and Ana added another child to their family after a ten year gap. Bringing home a new born baby took the number of children in their home from twelve to thirteen. It was only one more, but bringing baby Naveena into a home of twelve older children "has been one of the greatest blessings in my life. It has also been one of my greatest challenges".
The lesson for Ana has been that there are times in our life when we think that we cannot possibly stretch any further, this is often when God will add an opportunity that begs you to enlarge. "I thought, I do not have the capacity to expand any further. I am fully stretched. So a lesson would be there’s always room to stretch a bit further".
The challenge of the rest. Ana has always embraced the full life. Four years of being a new mum [again], maintaining her leadership role in church and a community presence through Shine, took its toll. She found herself very tired and felt God say Ana, my work is easy, and my burden is light. And the load I have for you, it fits perfectly "I said, well it’s not easy God. It’s not feeling very light. It doesn’t really fit at the moment. I’ve got so much on" These back and forth conversations with God led her to believe that God was asking her to have a sabbatical—a rest. The challenge was to actually to take the rest—learning how to rest, how to slow down "the bible says I press on towards the goal so I can receive the prize. Although I can say my goal is Jesus and the prize is everything else that comes from my relationship with Him. Actually living that out and prioritising that was so difficult in my real life. Here I am on a sabbatical and I find myself getting sidetracked. Oh, here’s a business opportunity! Oh, I could do that! Or I want to fly to New York, or oh my goodness, I need to go spend a year in Portugal! I would flick through Instagram or look on FaceBook and become enamoured with other people's lives. I found myself looking around and feeling like I’m really missing out". Ana resolved to respond to the wooing of the most Gentle of Men, and she learnt how to rest in His timing and attention.
The challenge of the call. Ana truly is a captivating communicator, captivating because her words always resonate with an eternal theme. "In that rest God showed me another layer of: this is the woman I have called you to be. Once I slowed down, I heard from Heaven's heart for me. I became attuned with myself at a whole other level. I discovered my passions, what causes me to come fully alive. Doing the Live Aligned Course, where I went oh my goodness! This is who I am, this is my purpose on the planet, I am a storyteller! I have the opportunity to share my stories, my experiences, to use my talents and the gift of being a strong communicator. My purpose is to draw people closer to Jesus through sharing my stories, my life with them. This is who I am! This is what God’s called me to do! Whether that is like this, an interview or my book that I am currently writing. It could be speaking to five hundred people from a platform or speaking to one person in a cafe. This is what I was created to be. I am a storyteller who brings people closer to Jesus". The challenge to stretch refined her heart, the challenge to rest positioned her to hear from heaven and now the challenge to respond to God's call is the next chapter of Ana's story.
Ana speaking at the 2014 Shine Master Class, Colour Conference Hillsong Sydney, Australia
What advice would you give your younger self?
Ana, sweetheart. You’re born to shine.
Find out who you are by finding who’s you are. You are a daughter of God.
Find out what are the desires in your heart. Because God put them in your heart, He’s the one that has put them there.
Ana, go and find out. Don’t let anything stop you. You find out who you are. Find out whose you are. And when you do, you be her. You be her!
You be her, loud. You be her, unashamed. You be her, authentically. And you will live the life of your dreams.
Ana with Shine graduates from Paradise Church Bali, Indonesia