Why would you want to go there?

Hey lovely readers! Thanks for hanging in there while I had a bit of a meltdown. I’m getting better now so I’ll get back to telling you about my holiday in California. 🙂

Several times when we first arrived in the States (starting with the border patrol) we were asked where we were travelling to. Every time when we responded that we would be heading up to Redding we were asked ‘What’s in Redding?’ or ‘Why would you want to go there?’. Apparently Redding doesn’t have a great reputation in California and isn’t known for it’s steady stream of tourists. 🤔

After our busy few days in San Francisco and the skydiving adventure and wine tasting in Napa we drove north. This part of our visit was a little less hectic in terms of visiting tourist attractions but we fitted plenty in all the same.

On two of our five full days in Redding we visited Bethel Church. On the Wednesday we went to classes with our daughter and on Sunday to the church service. I love listening to or watching Bethel worship on YouTube so it was great to experience it in person. It was every bit as professional as I expected it to be but it was also more homely. I felt totally comfortable there like I could just fit right in. Often when I’ve been to larger churches in the past it has felt more like attending a performance. I didn’t get that there and that was refreshing. Both days the main speaker was Kris Valloton who just happens to be my favourite Bethel speaker to listen to. I enjoy his sense of humour and down to earth way of communicating. He had the same sermon title on both days (although the message was slightly different): ‘Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who am I and what’s my call?’ It was the perfect topic for me right now. I guess identity and calling have been a big part of where I’m at on my journey. Maybe I’ll say more about that in another post at some point?

Sundial bridge in Redding in weather that looks like home

We visited a couple of beautiful spots while staying in Redding. One day we drove to Shasta Dam and to Whiskeytown Lake. We had a bit of a walk over the dam and scrambled down the small embankment to the lake. It was another one of those clear, sunny days that brings out the allure of creation in the most stunning way. There were a couple of days while we were in Northern California where the sky was a little grey but thankfully one of them was the day we were in classes and the other brightened up as the day went on so that was okay.

Shasta Dam
Views on either side of the dam
Whiskeytown Lake
I was impressed by the size of the pine cones

One of the most random highlights of our trip was getting to experience stores that we don’t find in the UK. When I was teaching (particularly in Primary 1) I spent a lot of time looking for ideas for fun and interactive activities to do with the children on Pinterest. (Every teacher should have Pinterest boards! 😂) Often the ideas that I pinned involved ‘picking up’ this or that from your local Dollar Tree or Target. Obviously I had to make do with whatever I could find in Poundland or Tesco. Well I got to see these and many other US stores. We loved the fact that in Win Co you can find so many items in large canisters that you can dispense into bags so you can buy just what you need. We were entertained by the huge cereal bags that were the size of large bags of dog food or something comparable (in fact the size of many items was pretty impressive!) My hubby had fun looking round stores to see if they had guns for sale. I was gobsmacked to see machetes hanging up in Walmart for anyone to lift while bicycle locks were in a secured glass cabinet. I really don’t get that! We explored a mall and managed to get a few items to add to our daughter’s slightly depleted student wardrobe which she appreciated.

While staying in Redding we also met several of our daughter’s friends and enjoyed a meal with some of them. We were able to make use of the hot tub at the Airbnb we stayed at which was pretty cool and my hubby started talking about how we could rearrange our garden to fit one in – as if it will actually happen! 😝

On the Saturday we drove to the town/city of Eureka and visited Sequoia Park. The name Sequoia is meaningful to our family so it was fun to go there and see the redwoods even though we didn’t have time to go to Sequoia National Park. The downside of that particular trip was that hubby hardly spoke to me all the way there or back. Maybe he was just nervous of my driving – understandable I guess 😂. Anyway he’s talking to me again now so that’s okay.

Under the redwoods

I think that’s pretty much covered all the highlights of our trip to California so I guess you have boring posts about life in Scotland to look forward to for a while now. Sorry! 😝

Merry Christmas!

I’ve been a bit quiet again for the last week or so. I’ve been busy getting organised for Christmas and I’ve been tired (got my energy back now though 😊). I kept thinking about writing different things but never quite getting round to it. Or starting draft posts and not finishing them.

I love Christmas! It’s probably the big kid in me 😊. It’s definitely different now that we don’t have little ones waking us up all excited at the crack of dawn (these days I’m first awake and probably the most excited 😂) but I love it all the same.

On Sunday at church we were encouraged to reflect on the first Christmas and what it would actually have been like to be there. I can’t help but wonder what it was like from Mary’s perspective. Pregnancy (especially the first time) is a strange experience anyway. It’s kind of like having a little alien growing inside you. How weird would it be to be pregnant as a virgin? I imagine that could be pretty terrifying at times. I wonder if she had morning sickness or worse all day sickness like I had with my son?

Then to have to take a long and uncomfortable journey to a distant town just days before giving birth. No option to phone ahead or book a nice hotel online. No fancy air-conditioned car to travel in. Instead a bumpy ride on a donkey – her back must have been aching!

Arriving in Bethlehem there were no hotel rooms left and they ended up slumming it in a stable or at least a room with animals in it. Imagine the smells; the moist, warm air from the animals’ bodies and breath. No proper bed to lie on while giving birth. Just some prickly straw and an audience of animals. No midwife or doctor on hand. No pain relief or water baths. Just her husband-to-be who probably had little experience of delivering babies.

All the same it must have been an awesome experience. To carry the Saviour of the world inside of her and to look into his little face when he was born. I’m sure, like most mothers, all the pain and difficulties were forgotten and love overtook her in that moment.

One of my favourite Christmas songs is Mary did you know? I love thinking about the words written to Mary and the tune is beautiful too.

Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God

Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know?The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect lamb?
That sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am

Source: LyricFind

Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Oh Mary did you know?

Songwriters: Buddy Greene / Mark Lowry

Mary, Did You Know? lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group, Capitol Christian Music Group

I will write again soon but for now I just wanted to wish you all a very Merry Christmas! I hope you’re having a blessed day. 😊

Self-medicating in my PJs

I started writing this yesterday (Saturday) at quarter past three in the afternoon in my time zone. I was still in my PJs having had a lie in in the morning and having done very little with my day (unlike me – or at least unlike the old me 😝). My son made me breakfast at lunchtime and then I spent my time reading posts by other bloggers and drinking wine. I probably should have been more motivated and up and doing stuff – especially as it’s getting closer to Christmas and I have plenty to organise. But there I was lying on the couch writing this post (and not even finishing it). (In my defence I was feeling a bit under the weather with this cough/cold that’s not quite shifted over the last few weeks.)

So this one is a bit of a confession really. Over the last few years I’ve gradually been drinking more and more alcohol. I used to drink only occasionally. Maybe that’s partly because when I was younger alcohol was a luxury I couldn’t really afford. I was also responsible for looking after children more often than not so I always tried to be sensible about my intake. When I started teaching I could afford to drink more and I did (stress of the job maybe?) ‘cause everybody did – not usually on a school night though. Since I started really battling with depression I’ve noticed that I’m drinking sometimes to take the edge off my feelings and recently I got to a point where I was drinking almost every night. It scared me a little bit because I don’t want to become dependent on it so I’ve made a conscious effort recently to have at least a few dry days every week.

It’s Sunday now and I’m at it again. My day has been more productive though. I went to church this morning (first time in a few weeks as it happens) and I’ve made a good start on the Christmas decorations (early for me but I felt like I needed some fairy lights). The Christmas tunes are on and I’m feeling a lot more positive today.

The thing is I know I’m not alone. I know lots of my friends are drinking more than they ever did too. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism? Maybe it’s just more socially acceptable to drink with every meal or even without a meal? Maybe it is simply that alcohol is more affordable when you don’t have nappies to buy? I’m also aware that it affects me more while I’m on the anti-depressants so I probably should really be drinking less.

Anyway, I’d like to hear your thoughts. Do you drink more or less than you used to? Do you think it’s an issue? Is it a bigger issue in society in general than it was in the past? Do we need to do something about it?

Patterns and Shapes

When I was walking on holiday last week I became very aware of all the patterns and shapes in the plants around me.  There is so much variety when it comes to shapes – shapes of flowers and plants, shapes of birds and animals and people, shapes of coastlines and mountain ranges.  And there are so many patterns on trees, plants, shells, rocks, animal skins…  I’m sure there are many more things that haven’t crossed my mind too.  It got me thinking that God must be really into shapes and patterns.  Maybe I’m over-stretching this thought but it really stuck out to me at the time.

You know those shape sorter toys that kids have?  Well (like many people I guess) I’ve always felt a bit like a square peg in a round hole.  Or maybe I’m a round peg in a square hole?  Somehow I feel like the shape I’m supposed to fit in is more square 😝  and I’m probably not round but more of an irregular shape😂..  Anyway you get my drift.  Why is it that when God made such a huge variety of shapes and patterns that we limit each other so much?  Our tiny minds can only handle so many shapes and patterns so we try to make everyone fit into a few categories or types.

I’m not exactly sure where I’m going with this.  I guess what I’m saying is it’s important to find out who you really are and what really matters to you and be yourself.  It’s also important to allow others to do the same.  We need to stop trying to make people into clones of the ideal people we think they should be – the ideal parents, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends, colleagues or whatever and allow for the variety that God has created.

‘Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes.’
Romans 12:2 TPT

It’s very easy to rhyme off this well known verse about not ‘conforming to the pattern of this world,’ (NIV) but I think that what I’m realising more and more is that it’s just as dangerous in some ways to conform to the religious ‘patterns’ we see in churches – even the ones that don’t seem to be traditional.  There is a danger of producing a string of lukewarm clones who smile and sing and warm the pews (or chairs) on a Sunday morning and don’t make any real impact on the world.  I don’t know about you but I don’t feel like I’ve made enough of an impact.

I’m looking for that total transformation, to become a reformer.  In Philippians 3:17 Paul says we should imitate his example.  I think we need to be looking for more in our lives and in our churches.  We need to be looking for better examples to imitate – be it your favourite Bible heroes or Jesus himself.  For the majority of us (I appreciate that there are exceptions) no matter how nice or how good your pastors or church leaders are they probably ain’t no Paul.  I’m pretty sure most of them aren’t living out Jesus words about doing even greater works than He did (John 14:12) or our world and our churches would look quite different.  This is in no way at meant to be having a go at leaders – I’m not into ‘bashing’ anyone.  I just think we need to raise our expectations if we’re really going to stop conforming and make a real impact in the world.

A couple of months ago I heard a sermon illustration that got me thinking.  The speaker was saying if you found yourself in a boat and someone fell overboard you would do everything in your power to try and save that person.  Yet we are surrounded by people who are drowning because they don’t know Jesus and we are sailing along happily in our little boat that is church – feeling quite comfortable and enjoying the worship, the fellowship and some ‘feel-good’ sermons and ignoring the people in the water all around us.  We need to have the same urgency to do something about that as we would if we were trying to save that person who had fallen overboard.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not there yet.  I’m talking to myself here (yes, it’s possible that I’m slightly mad 😜).  I’m not the most confident person in the world but I’m praying for boldness and change in that area.  I want to make an impact.

So whatever your true shape is I would encourage you not to conform – either to the world’s pattern or to the pattern of lukewarm Christianity but find someone worth imitating, step out of your comfort zone and make a difference.  Be the person God designed you to be and not the person that fits into a mould designed by other people.  And be bold!  I truly believe that if we allow ourselves to do that we can change the world.

Known

Known

To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is what it means to be loved by God.
Timothy Keller

Isn’t this what everyone wants? To be fully known and loved in spite of your faults and failures. To be known and valued and loved for who you are.  It’s definitely what I want. That’s why the title attracted me to this devotional by Tauren Wells and that in turn lead me to this song.

I love these words:

Known
It’s so unusual it’s frightening

You see right through the mess inside me
And you call me out to pull me in
You tell me I can start again
And I don’t need to keep on hiding

I’m fully known and loved by You
You won’t let go no matter what I do
And it’s not one or the other
It’s hard truth and ridiculous grace
To be known fully known and loved by You
I’m fully known and loved by You

It’s so like You to keep pursuing
It’s so like me to go astray
But You guard my heart with Your truth
A kind of love that’s bullet proof
And I surrender to Your kindness

How real, how wide
How rich, how high is Your heart
I cannot find the reasons why
You give me so much

It’s so unusual it’s frightening
I’m fully known and loved by You

So the devotional was meant to last 5 days but it was a particularly good one and I couldn’t put it down so I finished it off in a couple of sessions.  I could relate to so much of what was said.  I’m going to quote quite a few chunks from it in this post as he’s much better with words than I am and I couldn’t put it any better.

He starts off by talking about the fact that so many of us hide who we really are.

I’ve come to the unfortunate realization that there is a version of Christianity that many of us have bought into that has trained us to be professional pretenders.

You know it’s not even deliberate sometimes but just that culturally we don’t open up, we don’t share our hearts, we’re not honest about the parts of life that suck.  When we’re asked how we are at church we don the ‘good Christian mask’ and tell everyone we’re fine or worse quote scriptures that really mean nothing to us since it’s not really where we’re at.  If you’ve been following my blog from my first post Who Am I Really? you’ll know that I’ve been there.

It’s funny ’cause at church last Sunday a woman I’d never spoken to before made a point of coming over to tell me that I was known and loved by God.  It sounds a bit trite when I just say it like that but it felt meaningful and made me emotional at the time.  I really needed that reassurance again.  Sometimes I wonder if all our professional pretending at church actually turns real people off and means they don’t hang about.  You know if you feel like you can’t live up to the level of perfectionism that many Christians seem to have or everything in your life doesn’t feel blessed or wonderful; when life is tough and you’re struggling – why would you hang around people who don’t get what that feels like?

Another thing that lady reminded me of is that God loved me before I did anything for Him and still loves me even if I’m doing nothing.  I’ve always been pretty active at church so I think maybe subconsciously it’s like I felt I was earning God’s love or something?  I know that’s ridiculous really, no one can do enough to earn God’s love.  I guess I’ve always been a ‘people pleaser’ and I really need to make sure I’m not projecting human expectations and characteristics on to God.  In the devotional I was reminded again that God loves us simply because we’re his kids, full stop.  We don’t need to DO anything.

I’m realizing that who we are known by trumps what we are known for. With God, we are not loved based on reputation; we are loved based on relationship.

Over the last year or so I’ve realised that so many relationships I’ve had at church have been very shallow.  Those people haven’t really known me and I haven’t known them either.  Neither have we really loved each other, if we had we’d have been in contact outside of church.  We’d have taken more than a passing interest in each other’s lives.  We’d have been there when we were needed and lifted each other up when we fell down.  It’s easy to have polite conversations on a Sunday and never go any deeper, never really care who comes or goes.  I don’t think that’s what I want in a church.  I want to be treated differently to that but I know I need to treat others differently too.

Relational poverty is one of the greatest challenges our culture faces today. These days we tend to have followers but not friends, likes but not love, comments but not conversations, crowds but not companions, churches but not communities. Our society has popularized a new kind of relational experience—one that gives us a broader network of ‘contacts’ but lessens the importance of having deep, meaningful connections with others. The priority on ‘I, me, mine’ has eclipsed any sense of ‘us, we, ours,’ and the result is that people feel more alone than ever before. Our time has been dubbed the ‘age of loneliness.’ In fact, it’s been estimated that one in five Americans suffer from chronic loneliness.

This is so sad but so true.  Too many of us are surrounded by people, people who are supposed to be our brothers and sisters, and yet we’re lonely.  There are too many people in our churches who have no real friends, people who are even sidelined by other Christians.  I don’t like it.  How can we change this?  I genuinely want to know.  Maybe in time I’ll get some inspiration on this but in the meantime I don’t have any answers so if you do please feel free to leave a comment.  As the song says ‘it’s so unusual it’s frightening’ but I’m so thankful that whatever I’ve done or not done I’m fully known and loved by my Papa, Abba, Father God.