Humility and Roots

I learned a couple of things about myself as I travelled last month.

The first: that it takes a lot of humility to continually receive hospitality and I’m not very good at that.
The second: I’m no nomad, I need roots.

I loved visiting with my friends. It was . . . well, there aren’t really words that quantify how wonderful it was to see them again and in their natural environments too. To see their places of work, where they go to school, to meet their friends and family members, to visit their churches, and share their favourite eateries, was a privilege I was so grateful for. It’s really great to be able to put people in their contexts and now when we talk I’ll know exactly where they are speaking about!
I did find it hard, though, to continually be the one receiving. I desperately wanted to reciprocate their kindness but didn’t have the means to. If we lived in the same place I would have them round for dinner, or over to stay for a couple of nights but I just had to sit back and accept their generosity.
It was a really humbling experience. The situation makes you vulnerable; you’re completely dependent upon another individual, incapable of purchasing or attaining for yourself by any other means the services which they are fulfilling for you, services which you would be lost, homeless and hungry without. You are at their mercy.
When that mercy is gladly given, it humbles you further. That people would care about you so much to welcome you into their home, to go out of their way to accommodate you, to forego studying for their finals for you(!), you realise how undeserving you are of such kindness and how deeply blessed.

Before I left for California I had a conversation with one of my pastors around commitment to a place. I talked about my desire for adventure, the part of me that longs to leave everything behind and just set off into the sunset, not knowing where my feet might take me. Such a dreamer. In my head I thought I would be the nomad, the lonely wanderer picking up friends along the road. My pastor suggested that it was more natural, and more necessary, for us to have a centre of gravity, a place from which we could flow. He described people he knew who had tried to maintain two centres of gravity over a period of time but found it incredibly difficult and ended up choosing one place over another. So what, I thought. Doesn’t mean I won’t be successful in having no centre of gravity but simply floating as though on a cloud. (I hope you’re sensing the sarcasm here).
Just two weeks of spending no more than two nights in any one bed was enough to teach me that I am not a natural nomad. I do not thrive on that.
I want to be in one place for a significant amount of time and really be there. I want to know its secrets, its hidden gems. I want to know what makes it tick. I want to feel it. And I want to be in a place with purpose. I like to get involved, to know what’s going on in the community and contribute. Otherwise, I never really feel at peace in a place.
It’s not an easy realisation for me to accept. It sounds to me like I’m going to have to settle down in one place and there is nothing that I want less. The idea of settling, accepting less than adventure, horrifies me. Yet I have to hold that in tension with a desire and need to put down roots. Deep.
I wrestled for a lot of my trip with whether or not I would ever repeat it without returning to Scotland. I guess I partly went out to get some answers on that front. After a lot of wandering round San Francisco, whispered prayers and shouted grievances, conversations with people wiser than myself, I think I hear God saying that I’ve to go ahead and put down roots as deep as I like here in Edinburgh. I need not be scared that in a year’s time I’ll painfully have to pull myself out again, either because I’m not leaving or because, when that time comes, He will have prepared me.
The door to the USA is not closing tight. It’s got more of a revolving thing going on. And being here does not mean settling or saying no to adventure. It’s just a different kind of adventure. San Francisco may prove to be a place of refreshment and learning in the time ahead but it will not be home in the foreseeable future.
My roots are planted here.

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One Weekend in Moffat

This past weekend was my church’s student weekend away and we all toddled on down to Moffat for a wonderful couple of days.

It wasn’t the intense experience of last year where God turned yet more stuff upside down, but more of a peaceful time of rest in His presence. I think, after a pretty tough semester, it was what we all needed.

I found it brilliant to be back in that kind of community living, even if only for a short time. To be eating with thirty other people again and have roommates once more was soothing for me. Being surrounded by the hustle and bustle, always having something to do and someone to talk to brought a comfort I’ve missed over the past few months.

It was also a blessing to have a slightly smaller group this year (35 compared to last year’s 55), almost all of whom I knew already. It meant there was a cosy, family atmosphere to the whole thing with no cliquey-ness. I really appreciated getting to know some folks a lot better and having quality time to spend with them.

We were working through a couple of chapters of Philippians in our meetings. Philippians has been instrumental in my journey of faith, being the book that was studied at the Holiday Club where it all began, so I was really looking forward to going back to it in depth once more. I’ve read it so many times and underlined almost every verse but it never fails to get me:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

(Philippians 2:5-10 ESV)

Amazing!

Also got some good time in to chat with our on of the church leaders who came away as well. He was very encouraging about everything that I posted about the other day (Change) and had some good advise about how to deal with the issues these changes throw up.

The highlight of the weekend was probably the huge game of Capture the Flag which we had on Saturday afternoon. Using all three stories of this massive house, about twenty of us battled it out. With socks in our back pocket so we could obviously catch each other, it became a lot like a game of full contact tag rugby. I’m going to have bruises for quite some time, my team’s pride probably the most bruised of all as we lost without even discovering where their flag was!

I love being a part of this community and am so grateful to God for all that he is doing in them and through them.

SF2011: the end

San Francisco 2011 is coming to an end. Four days and everyone will pack up and leave. Three days later and it will be my turn. My heart is breaking.

I’ve been reading my posts about preparing for the trip and the ones in the lead up to my departure. It feels like a million years ago and a very different rachael. I’m more nervous about going home than I ever was about coming here. All the things that I was worried about have never arisen: I’ve not been the slightest bit homesick, my knees haven’t given me any issues, I’ve seen and done everything I wanted to do and life in community has been a million times better than I could ever have hoped for.

I’ve made friends who have impacted my life and changed my heart. Friends who became family immediately and will remain so for a very long time. There have been times where I’ve been completely broken before God and other moments where I’ve felt on top of the world. I’ve fallen in love with a city that is so breathtakingly beautiful no photo will ever capture it. I’ve fallen in love with people who are the very lifeblood of the city though no-one will ever acknowledge them. I have a bigger picture of God and a clearer understanding of who he has made me to be.

I have to wonder, if I return in a year or two years time, how different the base would be and whether or not I’d love it just the same. I have to consider my heart for the role of the local church in urban mission and my belief in the balance of ministry and secular work, neither of which YWAM caters for. But it’s difficult for me to look back at everything which led to this trip – the interactions and experiences which prepared me and pushed me towards it over a number of years – and to think that it is now over. It’s difficult for me to see what this is pushing me towards other than returning.

I’m not ready to leave. I’m not ready for this to be over.

My heart is breaking.

SF2011: “I love you”

I feel like every other phrase spoken here on base is “I love you”.

We say it a lot.

We say it and we mean it.

In our first two weeks here we made the decision to be very vulnerable with each other. It’s something that I fear but something that I have learned a lot about this summer. I told these guys things about myself that I’ve never shared with another human being. We were open and honest about the difficulties of our past and our dreams for the future. Now we’ve lived together for almost 11 weeks; ate, slept and worked together almost 24hours a day for 73 days – we know each other. And we love one another.

Something else which I had to get used to was an atmosphere of encouragement and affirmation. Left, right and center people would be telling me things they saw in me, qualities they appreciated, things they were grateful that I’d done. I had to adjust to the positivity – there was a severe lack of sarcasm, mockery and derogatory comments. This loving generosity was not the stingy, satirical, scottishness I was used to. I soon found that as I became more comfortable with receiving encouragements, I became more comfortable with giving them. I was able to shirk off my good British reserve and speak truth to people without getting all self conscious or feeling like I was encroaching upon some unspoken personal boundary.

Another thing which arose very quickly after we arrived was talk of the “5 love languages“; and which one we each identified with. We would discuss at length whether we were “words of affirmation”, “quality time”, “receiving gifts”, “acts of service” or “physical touch” kind of people. I was pretty certain I was a service/gifts kind of girl but it turns out I’m as huggy as they come and if someone isn’t, I just don’t know how to relate or communicate affection to the point that it stresses me out. I’m a hugger. Y’all are going to have to deal with it.

So, we tell each other how much we love each other: a lot. And we mean it. We’re this dysfunctional little family that knows each other’s dirty laundry but also sees how beautiful and uniquely wonderful we each are and we’re not afraid to tell each other. And there are lots of hugs, for no apparent reason.

I’m going to attempt to bring this home. Less of the sarcasm, less of the cynicism and more willingness to affirm people and say nice things about them to them.

SF2011: Patch

I want to start telling you the stories of the people whom I’ve met. They’re the reason I came and the evidence of the work God is doing. He has used each of them to break me, mold me and remake me.

The first wonderful man I want to tell you about is Patch.

We met him a few weeks ago as we did an activity called “homeless sacklunch” in the civic centre, just at the bottom of the United Nations plaza, in the midst of the market there. We had been having trouble finding anyone to share lunch with, circling numerous times before seeing an older, burlier looking man standing with a cart that was piled high on the edge of the side walk. A little timidly we approached him and asked if he’d like to eat with us; he said yes but that he wouldn’t sit down, so we just stood.

For some reason, as we discussed his family and childhood; the way he had grown up on a farm and had ridiculous competitions with his brother; the plants he was growing in the pots in his cart (pumpkins, corn and palm trees); he really reminded me of my dad. He couldn’t be all that much older and beneath the beard and cap, under the harsh exterior, there was a gentleness, a quietness, a compassion and childlikeness to be rivalled. He was so proud of his plants, so full of love that he was desperate to care for something, anything.

Before we left him we offered to pray with him. He said that there was nothing that he needed prayer for but that we should pray for everyone else who needs help. Caleb prayed for him and as he prayed for the growth of his plants he took both us into a big bear hug. Then, as Caleb came to pray for everyone else, as he had requested, Patch let out this huge growl. We were standing in the middle of civic centre, surrounded by tourists and business people, market stalls on either side of us but he just roared like a lion as Caleb and I laughed with joy at his enthusiasm.

All this was about a month ago and, though we’ve been keeping an eye out for him, there’s been no sign of Patch. Until two nights ago. I was with a group at the civic centre again and there he was. He had spoken to some of my group members whilst I was with another guy and he had started to walk away. As soon as I was finished I ran over to the others to ask if it was him and, as soon as they confirmed that it was, I tore up the UN Plaza to catch him.

He didn’t remember me at all. But was pleasantly surprised at how much I knew about him.

I asked him how his plants were getting on and he said that everybody needs something or someone to care for and plants are the easiest things to do that for so he had given them to really good homes. I asked him if he still wanted to live on his farm and he said no because he would just sit in a rocking chair all day watching the fields of corn and he would get bored because he doesn’t like doing the same thing all day every day.

His hands hadn’t changed a bit. His nails were still sharpened to points and his palms were still black, encrusted with the dirt of the street. As I shook his hands they felt like a kind of sand paper or really rough leather. But beneath the harsh exterior remained a beautiful, gentle soul.

I did a little jump of joy as we walked away, so excited to have met my friend again and to be able to remind him that someone is thinking of him.

SF2011: The Walk (3)

We did it!!

It was a beautiful day. Mainly sunny, a light breeze, not too warm and far better than the snow we had last weekend.

We set out at about 10am and those of us walking the 10miles made it in about three and a half hours (including a quick pit stop in Marks and Spencers and a wee break outside the parliament and then in the middle of Marchmont) which we were pretty pleased with.

I think we’re all pretty shattered. There are a few blisters and one toe nail falling off but other than aches and pains (mainly on my part, to be honest) we all seem to be holding up extremely well! Praise God!

So a HUGE shout out to Amy, Amy, Anna, Alasdair, David, Katrina, Nicola, Nicole, Jane, Rachel and mum and dad. You guys are AMAZING.

And here are some of them before we set off:

Huge thank you to all walkers and sponsors – wouldn’t be going to San Francisco without you and I think you’re wonderful 🙂

Kendal

After handing in three essays (three days early!) on friday, I set off with friends to one of their parent’s houses in Kendal, in the Lake District.

It was a little odd to head south rather than north – I don’t think I’ve actually crossed the border (and flying into Heathrow doesn’t count in my head for some reason) in about three years. I’ll be a little cheeky in admitting it felt like venturing into enemy territory and to be surrounded by even more English accents than when in Edinburgh was a tad surreal. However, whilst their lakes and mountains aren’t quite as pretty as Scottish ones, they didn’t do half bad.

On Saturday we took a bus to Windermere and had a wee dander around the edge of the lake. We stopped at a very picturesque spot for our picnic lunch before carrying on through the town of Bowness and then up over a wee hill back into Windermere to get the bus home again. It wasn’t a very long or difficult walk but it was sufficient to test my severe lack of fitness and reminded me how painful walking ten miles is going to be in two weeks time!

After a lovely roast chicken dinner, cooked for us by Marty’s parents, we embarked upon quite an epic game of Risk. I’d never played before and you could kind of tell. I was doing pretty well in North America for a while before Marty decimated me and then I backed myself into a corner in Australia. Ed was soon in control of Europe but there were just too many borders and not enough troops to defend against the impressive Marty/Katrina alliance. Even Antonia, acting as the UN, couldn’t ensure Marty didn’t monopolise the whole thing and he soon took the victory as Katrina and I admitted defeat, holding on to only tiny bits of Asia and Australia. Then we played pool for a while and once again Marty and Katrina beat me quite easily before Ed came and showed us all how it should really be done.

On Sunday we went up the castle ruins in Kendal. It was a gloriously sunny day and the views across the valley were beautiful. There were many silly pictures taken and a game of Pooh Sticks (which I won!) too before it was time to return to base for lunch and then catch the train back to Edinburgh again.

I needed out of the city this weekend – cabin fever was setting in once more – and (other than Skye) I don’t think there could have been a more perfect place to go. It was lovely to spend quality time with friends who usually just put up with my moaning and nagging about one thing or another. And of course, we have another set of stories to reminisce about for years to come!

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Skye 2010

I think after four years of going I can definitely say that my wee trips to the Isle of Skye are an annual thing!

This time I went with four friends from uni for three nights staying in a couple of hostels.

It was AMAZING!!!

I drove lots, we walked lots, we changed the car tyre, removed a tic, cooked, saw sheep, slept, drank good Skye brewed ale, saw sheep, visited the distillery and the fairies, ate ice cream, saw sheep, visited castle ruins and museum, stood in awe of the scenery and the amount of sheep.

The beauty of this island never fails to amaze me. It never gets old, in fact, it gets better every time.

Looking forward to next year already

Beach Trip

More church models tomorrow (if any of you actually care) but for now a wee story about my day, because I know how much y’all enjoy those!

I’ve now finished my exams and, thus, first year of university (*sobs*), as have many of my friends from New College (i.e. that place where we study theology), so it was decided that in order to celebrate we would take a wee trip to the beach!!!!!

I was very excited.

As much as I love living in Edinburgh city centre – and I do – I also miss living by the seaside.

So we took a train 30 minutes and 20 something miles along the track to the lovely wee town of North Berwick. Despite the terrible forecast we enjoyed a good four hours in the sun, playing frisbee and paddling.

It was, in a word, immense!

It was so much fun: up to my waist in the (rather cold) sea, getting way to competitive at frisbee, generally bantering about. It was also very exciting to be there as my friend got baptised! And all of it without any guilt because I ought to have been studying (as was the case with the 14 hour Harry Potter marathon last week) just sheer joy 🙂

I’m so blessed to have made the amazing friends that I have. I love them all so much. It’s bizarre to think we only met eight months ago and even crazier to think that I’m not going to see these people, who I speak to or see every day, for fifiteen weeks over the summer *sobs even more*

I’m currently in a lot of pain as all the muscles in my legs have seized up and my back and stomach muscles aren’t doing so well after I made a spectacular frisbee dive/catch but I loved every minute of it and am looking forward to more amazing adventures!

Big Issues

As I mentioned, one of the best things about Divinity at Edinburgh is the friends you make at New College.

They’re always amazing but today was particularly fun as we discussed the format church should take, women in ministry and Christians in the army.

We’re from different places, different backgrounds, different Christian tradition and have only known each other for about 7 weeks but still, I think, feel able to share our opinions about big stuff like this, without fearing any fallout. Love it.

They also found out about my blog – hi guys!!

Road Trip

I had an amazing weekend of banter!!

On Friday, with Faye at the wheel, Pamela riding shotgun, Ruth, Stef and I nice and cosy in the back, we left the overcast ‘deen for the wet and windy Edinburgh!

Having navigated the horrendous traffic and roadworks in the centre of Edinburgh we dumped our stuff at Stef’s very lovely flat and headed out for dinner, stopping for tea/coffee and then again for cake, along the way. It was a very good cup of “Chocolate Flake Tea” from Teapigs, which I shall be hunting out again (also quite fancy their popcorn or organic honey bush and rooibos teas . . . the latter primarily for the funny name!). We had a lovely meal at the Vittoria Restaurant before returning to the flat (ice cream to go in hand) for some late night debates on creation, heaven and predestination!

After those very late night conversations it was up and out just a little too soon for “Gingers! The Musical”, one of the fringe shows: Eight gingers, one room … a hilarious portrayal of trials and tribulations this genetic minority face. After all, beauty’s in the heart, not the hair! It really was hilarious, as we heard each of these poor gingers stories through music and dance.

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We then headed to Musselburgh (“The Honest Toon”) to see Carolyn and Owen and after lunch with them (including some brilliant Irn Bru sorbet from the legendry Luca’s ice cream parlour) we took a walk down the beach. Much amusement was found on the skate ramp (minus skateboards, obviously) – what is it they say about simple things please simple minds?!

It was then back on the road to go to Galashiels to stay with Ruth’s parents for a night. As with almost every occasion we are together, there had to be Gilmore Girls involved, so we watched another few episodes where very little happened, but that is the joy of the programme!

It was a bit of a rush the next morning after an even later night led to some of us sleeping in but we made it to church on time. It was a lovely service in a beautiful building at Old Parish and St. Paul’s Church. I learned some new hymns and Rev. Steele preached a challenging message about conformity to society and the importance of remaining faithful to God’s commands.

After lunch it was unfortunately time to return north again, but we made good time and were back at church for the evening service.

It was a great weekend. Really good fun with amazing people. Thanks guys!!

Last day

Today is my last day on staff at church.

I know, I know, it was supposed to be last week but we postponed it a little so now it’s today.

People keep asking about “the year” and how it’s been and I keep failing to find words. How do you compress the best year of your life into a sentence that people will listen to and understand?

I don’t think I can even fully comprehend yet the influence this year has had on me. I think I’ll still be remembering in years to come things I learned in my kind-of-gap-year.

And that’s probably the one way I can describe this year and do it justice: a year of learning. Everyday, every situation, everything has been one gigantic learning curve.

Let me condense it though, into three things.

1) I learned to trust God

I wasn’t always as happy about this year as I am now. Infact, I spent the first 3 months getting angry at God and venting at Him and a few select others. I didn’t want to be here and I didn’t want to be doing this. Turns out God was right though, His plan was best – who would have guessed eh?! Also learned to trust more than ever that God always keeps His promises. There were a few things that I prayed for a lot and He answered, things I got myself in a bit of a state about but He was faithful and good and kept His word.

2) I learned to trust others

I was really, really rubbish at this. Now, I’m only a little bit rubbish at this. It’ll still take me a while before I’m willing and ready to pour my soul out to you but there is hope that one day I’ll get there. I think what I really learned about trusting others was trusting that they love me and that they love me for who I am and will continue to love me regardless of how I think/feel about myself. And “we love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19) – so I guess I can chalk that one up to God too.

3) I learned to trust myself

I learned to believe that I am capable. Not because of my own strength or talents but because God, in His mercy, has given me gifts and abilities, passions and dreams. I’ve done things I never would have thought possible, but then “God is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to do infinitely more than we might ask or even imagine” (Eph 3:20). I’ve overcome fears, let go of burdens, taken on responsibility, found strength I didn’t know I had. No, hold on, that was God again. Hmm . . .

So I guess it actaully come down to learning just how awesome God is and learning to trust Him more than ever, though I’m sure there’s a lot more of His awesomeness to be revealed and I definitely have a lot more to learn about trusting in Him.

There’s heaps more I learned too about Church politics and leadership, dealing with difficult or sensitive situations, planning small and large activities, preparing talks and working with kids/young people/adults . . . the list goes on.

There are a lot of people who have made this year possible – who have dragged me, guided me, helped me, prayed me through it. People who have made huge sacrifices on my behalf. People who taken massive risks with me. People who have never once sought recognition or reimbursement. They know who they are and I am eternally grateful – I’ll never be able to thank them enough. And if I can’t thank them, I’ll certainly never be able to thank God. Won’t stop me trying though 🙂

Wedding!!

Two weeks ago my friends Carolyn and Owen got married:

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It was a wonderful day, one we’ve known to be coming for a couple of years now and to see it finally happen was brilliant.

It was more than just a formality or a big party: it was a day of honouring and worshiping God for all He’d done in their lives so far and committing the rest of their lives together to Him.

The ceremony was lovely and the ceilidh afterwards was a great time of celebration.

Being able to share the day with them was fantastic and I wish them every happiness in the future!!