Friday, 18 December 2015

'Thank God for' Friday

It's been quite some time since my last one of these. If you're not familiar with the concept, then basically every now and again I take a moment to reclaim the phrase and actually reflect on something I want to thank God for, and blog about it.

This week, I thank God for...

New Friends.

You may or may not know, but I am a busy person. Intentially so. I like having a packed out diary; cramming as much as possible into every week and having lots of regular commitments to fill up my time. I also really love spending quality time with people, but this is not always compatible with being super busy, and in the past I have ended up squeezing quality time with friends into breakfast dates, quick half hours between other engagements or late night catch ups - which is my worst part of the day for brain functioning!

But this year, I have actually gained quite a lot of spare time as regular commitments have dropped. I decided I couldn't commit fully to choir anymore so I stopped that, and dancing also went down from two nights a week, to just one. Together with a couple of other minor schedule changes, I suddenly realised I had several free evenings each week, which is something that I don't think I remember having since I was about 6 years old! This is a very strange sensation for me and it has taken some getting used to. Don't get me wrong I haven't just been sitting doing nothing at all every evening, but when talking to other busy people about everything they had going on, I found myself feeling either guilty or jealous. I didn't exactly articulate this out loud, or even fully understand what I was jealous or guilty for. Maybe I was jealous of their beautiful and complete diary with so many appointments to prove that they are capable of handling a lot and that lots of people wanted them or their time. Yet at the same maybe I felt guilty that while they were getting exhausted and burnt out from all of the ties on their time, I was able to enjoy my time and be flexible with it.

Perhaps I should take up a new hobby or challenge to make me busy again, I thought...

Then I realised something, I have actually developed a new hobby. It's called making friends! I think most of us probably grow out of this hobby fairly early on in our lives. Maybe our own inhibitions or time constraints hold us back, but now that I was a bit more flexible I was able to invest that time into new people. That first part of a friendship can always be a bit awkward, getting past the small talk and introductions, but if you have the time to give a bit more the rewards are immense. It turns out, I love making new friends; I love when you get past the point of trying to be normal and release some inner weirdness, I love when you begin to build up trust and one or other of you shares something that really matters, I love discovering shared interests, I love when the hours have ticked by without you noticing and you realise that spending time together is so easy and natural, I love when you first find out what makes a person tick and what makes them amazing.

I find all of this incredibly exciting! And I am so thankful to be in a position where I can say that even in the past couple of months, I have made several new friends who I can already tell are going to be great friends. In this past week, I have had the joy of spending Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evening with different new friends. Each of them is different but incredible, and they are all inspiring and teaching me about God in unique and wonderful ways. So it turns out that making and maintaining friendships is and is going to remain my most important and fulfilling hobby, and this Friday I truly thank God for that.

Thanks God, for new friends.


Saturday, 28 November 2015

The Ultimate Unrequited

He feels the rejection
He feels the heartbreak
The object of His affection, the crown of His creation
Daily choosing another lover, choosing another path
He feels it

He understands the pain
He understands the burden
He too can't stop thinking about them
He too would do anything to see them happy
He understands you

He knows that knot
He knows that ache
The longing for them to feel likewise
Yet they remain oblivious or dismissive
He knows

He longs to show
He longs to share
The depth of His love and affection
The lengths that He would go to to win them
He longs just like you

So He came
He made Himself known
He showed in the way He cared 
In the way He prayed
In the way He spoke
In the way he valued people
Yet His love was unrequited
And those He loved put Him to death
But because He loved them
He bore the pain, the separation, the heartache

For one reason

He feels this love for you
He understands your deepest needs and weaknesses
He knows the best path for you
He longs for you to choose to walk it with Him

So come
Because He loves you

Monday, 26 October 2015

"Ahhhh Vienna!"

The song referenced in this blog post title was popping up in my head aaaaallll last week. Why so? You may ask. Well I got myself on a little jolly with work to a programming conference that was held in Vienna. I took my tour-guide-german-speaking brother with me for company, adventures and communicating with locals! Here is a very brief summary of our week in pictures (disclaimer, I am no photographer, these shots are all just for fun):

After some initial exploring around Vienna, we took the bus to the Beautiful Schonbrunn Palace. As you can see, it was pretty chilly so we're modeling our favourite woolly hats!
And of course, one must curtsey when one visits a palace!
After a tip from a friend we visited the Strudelshow at Schonbrunn where they demonstrate how they make the traditional Apple Strudel. Rhys even managed to get himself roped into helping out!

I, on the other hand, focused my energies into sampling the Viennese treat!
Speaking of sweet treats, this is something Vienna has no shortage of. The cafe culture there is amazing, with beautiful, ornate buildings, live piano music and of course the wonderful food and drinks.
In amongst the eating and enjoying ourselves. There was work to be done and a conference to attend. It was a really good experience and opportunity to see a bigger picture of the industry, but so much information to take in!

And they don't just send you on a jolly for nothing, I did actually have to speak in the Industry Starters stream. I think it went well though, I had positive feedback and was a big learning process putting it all together and sharing it with people.

Then as the conference finished my brother and I celebrated by going to see Mary Poppins 'auf Deutsch'! It was fantastic, such a spectacle and even in another language it got pretty emotional. Supercalifragilisticexpealidetisch!

On our last free day, I thoroughly enjoyed riding around Vienna on a Segway, which is something I've been wanting to try for years. Such fun!

As well as sampling Strudel, the one thing you have to do in Vienna is hear some Mozart. On our last evening, we saw this small ensemble play a whole range of pieces including a couple of Mozart's at the stunning Karlkirche. It was beautiful.

 Ahhhhh, Vienna!


Sunday, 27 September 2015

Great

The first song we sang at church this morning began with the words, 'Great is the Lord'. It's all about thanking God for everything He's done. But after we finished singing our Pastor pointed out that regardless of our experience, regardless of how we've been blessed, regardless of anything we've seen God do, the first four words still stand.

Great. Is. The. Lord.

Great for the beauty of creation. Great for His inifinite love. Great for His plan of redemption. Great for His relentless forgiveness. Great for a million different reasons.

So here's another song about His greatness. It's beautifully arranged (by Chris Rice) and I can only vouch that the delivery is heartfelt, although not expert by any means.

My rendition of How Great Thou Art. I hope you enjoy it, but more than that, I hope you think about how great God is and what that might mean to you.


O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,
And then proclaim: "My God, how great Thou art!"


Friday, 14 August 2015

Man, I feel like a woman.

I enjoy cleaning
I like wearing dresses
I don’t cry that often
I wear heels as I cycle
I lift weights
I change my own car bulbs
I love to dance
I like wearing make up
I like not wearing make up
I knit and crochet
I can chat on the phone for hours
I want to nurture people
I can be really selfish
I’m not a big fan of pink
I am a huge fan of yellow
I like taking on a challenge
I enjoy pretty things
I don’t really like movies
I am frequently out of my depth
I knocked down a wall on my own (on purpose)
I am fond of cooking for people
I enjoy talking
I love listening
I can have a bit of a potty mouth
I love getting a sweat on at the gym
I want to be bolder with my faith
I want to be gentler with my faith
I don’t like driving
I am ace at assembling flat pack
I can be manipulative
I rarely hug
I quite enjoy researching finance
I love colour co-ordination
I have a hidden talent of washing cars


Recently I’ve been thinking more and more about what it means to be a woman of God. A lot of what I read focuses so much on 'traditional' ideas of what biblical manhood or womanhood is and I think though such ideas are not necessarily wrong, it's just so narrow and misses the point. Being a woman of God, is about so much more than modesty or gentleness, and being a man of God actually probably encompasses these characteristics also. I think I’ve come to the conclusion that being a woman of God is pretty much exactly the same as being a man of God. It is simply loving Jesus, knowing Jesus and sharing Jesus, whether that looks traditionally ‘manly’ or ‘womanly’. Every single statement above is true about the woman of God that I am, no item on that list makes me any more or any less of a woman. I want to stand up for girls (and guys) today, to dispel any myths of expectations they think apply to their gender and encourage them and to give over every part of themselves to a God who wants to bring out the best in them. I love being a woman, but mainly I just love life and the life-giver Himself.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Bonkers

Happy Sunday Blogosphere. I for one have had a great day. I had the pleasure of hosting two fantastic couples from my church for lunch. We shared a lovely Shepherd's Pie (even if I do say so myself) and some great laughs and conversation. Some of the laughs were at my expense, as I had my usual habit of saying silly things before thinking about them. At one point, the conversation segued seamlessly from celebrity spotting, to baptism and the various chilly locations in the British Isles where we had either witnessed or experienced such spirtual submergences. I happened to say something along the lines of, "It's a bonkers thing to do really, to be voluntarily dunked into freezing water in front of loads of people." One of my guests (an older gentleman) found this terminology highly amusing and went on to elaborate into what he called my 'theology of bonkers' and offered to quote me on it the next time he has to write a sermon. I took the joke lightheartedly and told him he was welcome to, but I don't think any of us were really expecting to hear this particularly adjective making it into the preaching vernacular of our church.

Then in this evening's service we had a guest speaker, a highly engaging and enigmatic character who was sharing his story with us. He had grown up in Kenya as a fervent Muslim, he spent his college years trying to make fools of the Christians there, challenging them and even starting riots. Yet after an undeniable encounter with Jesus, he became a Christian. This was a decision that caused his family to disown him and leave him with literally no possessions except an empty suitcase. Not only that but his life became endangered and he had to flee. Yet he would not deny Jesus, he said he could not. In his description of events, at multiple points he used words to describe himself and also other Christians, such as 'fruitcake' and even (you guessed it), 'bonkers'! This certainly raised a smile with the five of us and knowing glances went across the room.

But more than that, it really struck true with me. To choose to follow Jesus really can look bonkers. You can face ridicule and be told you believe in fairy stories, you can be rejected by those you love, you can be called to significantly less comfortable situations than the ones you would choose for yourself, you may have to make sacrifices financially, in many countries today you can face arrest, torture and even murder of you profess a faith in Jesus. So why would you? Surely tradition, upbringing or habit wouldn't be enoughto stick at it when the going gets tough?

As far as I can see, there is only one answer and it's Jesus himself. He gave up everything, his home (and not just any home, he lived in Heaven!), his Dad (and not just any Dad, his was God himself!), his dignity, his position, his heavenly riches, in order to reconcile man to God. He lay everything aside for the joy of bringing all who accept into the family of God. And if that's true, then nothing is too bonkers for me, because I am totally free. 

I am free from judgement because Christ has paid for my sin.

I am free from rejection because I am found in Christ.

I am free from fear because I am loved by the creator of everything.

I am free from anxiety because Jesus is my assurance.

I am free from insecurities because I know the One who made me.

Disclaimer - I am not free from trials or temptations, but I have the promise of eternity without them in Heaven, and a God who walks with me every step until then.

In short, I couldn't put it much better than the famous modern poet D. Rascal when he says:

"Some people think I'm bonkers,
But I just think I'm free,
Man I'm just living my life
There's nothing crazy about me."*








*I fully expect that song to be stuck going around and around in your head for the rest of the day now and I wholeheartedly don't apologise!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

'Thank God For' Friday

Well, anyone living in the UK faces uncertainty as we wake up this Friday about who will be governing our country for the next five years and how they will be governing it. But I am so thankful to have had a say in it. 



This Friday I thank God for…freedom. 

On Thursday morning, before heading off to work, I was able to freely walk to my polling station, which was barely two minutes away. I walked in, my name was confirmed to be on the register and I went to the booth where I privately and independently placed an X in my box of choice. No-one questioned me, coerced me, pressurised me, bribed me or attacked me, and I am confident that once my ballot paper entered the ballot box it was not tampered with or falsified but kept for counting at the appropriate time. These things described above are sadly not a worldwide standard, but a privilege and a sign of the liberty we enjoy in this country.




Regardless of the outcome of this year's election - whether the party I voted for 'get in' in my constituency or form the next government or neither or both - I am satisfied and extremely thankful that my vote is valid and fair and worthwhile and I thank God for it. 




Furthermore I am beyond thankful that the freedom I experience as a British citizen is only a taste of the ultimate freedom of knowing Christ and being found in him. Similarly, I have confidence that the power given to any minister or government a mere shadow of God's ultimate rule over our world, and his rule is good, just, merciful and compassionate (although beyond my comprehension a lot of the time). 

Thank God for freedom in this land and in life with him, and I'll be praying that whoever the next government consists of, they will endeavour to rule with goodness, justice, mercy and compassion also.  

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Delight

My Mum and I have a bit of an ongoing joke about the word, 'delightful'. We know someone (who I can be fairly sure is unaware of the existence of this blog, I hope) who uses this adjective extremely frequently. We often find ourselves in a car with said person, and each time the word is used, we catch each other's eye in the mirror. Or maybe if Mum is filling me in on this person's news, I'll jump in before she can finish, to ask, 'Was it delightful?!' Now before I go on, there's nothing wrong with the word delightful, I guess it's just that it's not generally used very commonly, but in this person's case it's used excessively. I'd also like to say, as a disclaimer, that this person is actually very kind and generous so I don't mean to ridicule them at all, it's simply an observation. 

This evening at church I was both challenged and blessed in many ways. It was a youth service and they did so well; they led the sung worship, read from the Bible in three different languages, talked about missions in the UK and Brazil that they are going to be involved in this summer, shared testimony about their personal journeys of faith and 3 of them got baptised. I was amazed by how deep their faiths are and how mature and committed they are, it really was inspiring and so encouraging. 

Recently, I don't entirely know why, but I think I've been lacking in my trademark joy and zeal for Christ. One of the Bible verses shared with someone who got baptised I think may have unlocked the key to this rut I find myself in. 

Psalm 37:3-4 
"Trust in the Lord and do good.
Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. 
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you your heart’s desires."

God began to teach me about trust a little while ago, so that first part is still in the process of being worked out in my head, but that second part about delight really struck me. I haven't been giving God very much head space at all, let alone delighting in him. If anything, I've probably been hiding from him for fear of what he might reveal in my heart if I let him in. So, it's safe to say that I haven't noticed getting any of my heart's desires fulfilled recently. 

But this verse isn't saying that your heart's desires are dished out on a kind of heavenly reward scheme. Rather, when you are delighting first and foremost in how good and loving Jesus is-  how awesome the power of forgiveness is, how great the lengths he went to so that he might partner in our lives and knowing him so well that you are certain that his will for you is for the best, purest and most fulfilling version of your life - then the desires of your heart become the things he has in store for you. It's a similar concept to another favourite verse of mine:

Matthew 6:33 
"Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need."

It's so obvious really, if you start wanting what God wants, then of course he's going to give it to you!

So here's my resolution, to consciously, prayerfully and persistently, take delight in the God of the Bible. And I look forward to sharing with you how my heart's desires start to look and how God has fulfilled them. It will be delightful I'm sure.

Monday, 20 April 2015

3 Sentence Bio Challenge

Today at work, I had to write a bio about myself to go in a brochure for a conference I'm speaking at. It was an interesting but difficult exercise; managing to get all the relevant information in concisely whilst trying to avoid sounding either arrogant or incompetent. It got me thinking, do those few sentences really reflect who I am? Am I simply defined by the work I do or don't do? If not, then what does define me?  Is it even possible to describe a whole person so succinctly? Or is who we are simply one thing so fundamental that 3 sentences is excessive?

We are given all kinds of ways to explain 'who we are' to others; most commonly by what we do, who we know or where we're from. Maybe if we're slightly less clinical about it, we'd go down the lines of our likes/dislikes, appearance, personality traits or perhaps our opinions on certain matters. But are you actually any the wiser about who I fundamentally am if you discover that I prefer yoghurt to milk on my cereal, am about 5'3" with brown hair, I'm fairly extroverted and I boycott certain companies because of their unethical reputations? I'm not sure, you tell me.  

I'm aware of all the textbook Christian answers to this question; I'm a child of God, made in His image, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb etc etc etc. But I don't want to just reproduce 'Christianese' jargon, that I struggle to relate to, let alone anyone hearing it from me. 

So this post deliberately has no answer, to give you the reader the chance to respond with how you would better define a) yourself or b) me - I'm bracing myself for anything here! Go crazy, be creative, dig deeper. I look forward to reading what you come up with.*


*If you're interested, my work bio went like this: 
'Bethan joined PRA Health Sciences in Swansea, through their Clinical Programming Academy program in 2011 as a graduate of Mathematics. Having worked as a support programmer on trials of various indications and phases, she has gained experience of SAS programming and industry standards. Bethan began taking on lead responsibilities for studies in 2013 and will be presenting based mainly on her experience of leading a series of Phase II trials from study start-up through to final TFLs.' 
Thrilling right?

Friday, 3 April 2015

Good Friday 2015 - It is finished

I don't know about you, but I live my life in a constant state of busyness. I'm not complaining, I actually like being busy, mostly... I can't cope with being bored, and I kind of like the thrill of riding that busy wave. Consequently, rarely a day goes by without a physical or mental to-do list being written, amended, ticked off, added to etc. etc. etc.

Today is Good Friday, and although it has been busy (just for a little insight I've squeezed in church, service planning, making table cloths, DIY, washing, booking a holiday for 12, learning words to songs, and probably more that I've forgotten), there has still been opportunity for reflection on the magnitude of Jesus' work on the cross. This year, the phrase that has really struck me is Jesus' final words, "It is finished." Other translations might say, "It is accomplished." Essentially it's over, done, complete, sorted, dealt with - you get the picture. 

Before even thinking about what exactly is supposed to be finished that's a pretty incredible thought. When was the last time you completely finished something - no tweaking or updating required, nothing more left on your list, no follow-up project required; absolutely, totally, 100% finished everything you needed to do? Let's just say, I don't want to answer that question. But Jesus, the Son of God, who literally had 'save the world' on his figurative to-do list, was able to say, 'It is finished.' The preacher this morning put it like this, 'Everything done, nothing left to do.' Wow.

John 19:28-30
'Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled,Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.'

So what was finished? Well, that was asked last week in Sunday School, and I'm pretty sure the answer given wasn't the intended interpretation but it was a cracker of an answer. One of the children responded, 'The vinegar?' Great answer, but I think the truth goes a lot deeper. As Jesus suffered physical agony, emotional anguish and spiritual torment, innocently and willingly, I believe he was fighting a very great battle. The final battle in a war which began soon after human life existed. He was fighting for those He loves who are trapped in the brokenness of our world. He became sin, who knew no sin. He became the very thing which separates us from our Heavenly Father, so that nothing need ever separate us again. Yes, guilt, loneliness, fear and death are finished. Sure they still exist in our world until Jesus comes again, but there is no need for them, freedom is ours for the taking. Christ has already done everything to achieve it. It is finished.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Suppose

Earlier this week I was asked a question that caught me offguard. My friend said something like, "So if all this God and Christian stuff you talk about is true. I don't see what would be in it for me. What is there to excite me? Why is it worth it?" Well I was lost for words, even though I do find it incredibly exciting and do not doubt that choosing to follow Jesus was the single most worthwhile decision I've ever made. That question has been going round in my head a few days, I felt challenged to be able to answer coherently and comprehensively, as in 1 Peter 4:6, to 'be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks [me] to give the reason for the hope that [I] have.' As I've been forming the answer in my mind, it's kind of naturally taken the form of a poem. This is not something I've tried before (well, except school). So here's me, poetically trying to answer, 'If the God Christians believe in really exists, is he worth following?'


Suppose

Suppose.
Suppose there is a God.
Suppose he's powerful, seriously powerful.
The kind of power that speaks light out of darkness,
Power to separate the earth from the sky
Power that supplies our every breath.

Suppose.
Suppose there is a God.
Suppose he's good, completely good.
So that the slightest hint of rebellion would crumble in his presence.
And even our very best deeds would look grimy beside him.
Nothing good can exist without him
Nothing evil has ever come from him.

Suppose.
Suppose there is a God.
Suppose he's loving, overwhelmingly loving.
For all of time, a father pouring blessing on his son,
That son devotedly honouring his father,
A spirit enabling and communicating this vast love
And the heart of all three desperate to share it.

Suppose, 
Suppose there is a God,
Suppose he's wise and all-knowing.
He knows the absolute best for our lives
And he lays down guidelines to help us stay on that path
He knows when we stray from it
Even when we think about straying from it.

Suppose, 
Suppose there is a God,
Suppose he's just, with high standards
He aches when those he loves are victims
And he cannot see their offenders unpunished.
Every offence is detestable to him
From the smallest to the greatest.

Suppose, 
Suppose there is a God,
Suppose he's humble, beyond humble.
That he lay aside all his divine priveleges
To walk alongside those he created
As a carpenter, not a king,
Born into squalor and scandal.

Suppose, 
Suppose there is a God,
Suppose he completely and utterly gets you.
Every struggle you face, he's been there.
Every hurt you've felt, he's wept for.
He smiles when you smile.
He's your most loyal advocate.

Suppose, 
Suppose there is a God,
Suppose he's compassionate and gracious,
His choice of friends is those others reject,
Not waiting for them to change, but meeting them where they are,
And he shows them the extent of his love
Talking the talk, and walking the walk.

Suppose, 
Suppose there is a God,
Suppose he's willing to die for you.
A death of shame, pain and inexpressible anguish
The son abandoned by the father who loved him
The father pouring out his justified, unquenchable fury
Not deserved by the son but by me.

Suppose, 
Suppose there is a God,
Suppose he's bigger than death.
And three days after his unthinkable crucifixion
His goodness and love exploded from the grave
In an unperishable body
And he's offering that same life to you.

Suppose, 
Suppose there is a God,
Suppose you could be called his child.
By trusting him, he promises life forever.
Walking alongside him in the highs and the lows
Inseparable by any mistake you might make
Because it's his deeds your relationship is based on.

Suppose, 
Suppose there is a God,
Suppose you could know him.
And be a fly on the wall with Father, Son and Spirit
Catching a glimpse of what life to the full truly means
With a direct line to speak to him anytime
And a guarantee he'd always listen and respond.

Suppose, 
Suppose there is a God,
Suppose he has good plans for you
Moulded to your personality, abilities and passions
Taking you places you never thought possible
But never forcing you into anything
So you can choose to follow him and love him

Suppose that God exists.

Is he worth it?

Monday, 2 March 2015

Home Sweet Home


Something a little bit different today, not sure if I have shared anything crafty before but I really do love making 'things' out of 'stuff', so it seems good to share that with the ethereal blogosphere!

There are lots of things that make a house a home, for starters the people who live there and the memories made within the four walls, but we can't deny that material items and their associations do add something. I'm extremely picky when it comes to such things, I don't like anything generic, fussy, out of colour scheme or with no practical use! I'll be the first to admit I'm a nightmare to buy a present for! So basically, nearly everything in my house is either a gift, second hand (you'd run out of fingers if you tried to keep count of how many things I could say, "That was Grandad's" about) or home made, and everything must have a function, even if that function is just filling up a blank wall or holding a candle. 

So, in keeping with this pick 'n' mix kind of blog, I thought I would share a few of the items I've made in case any readers are also crafters or homemakers of some sort. I'd love to know what you think of them or hear about some of your home/craft ideas, especially if you're as fussy as I am!

Old jars, bottles, buttons and ribbons have been recycled into mood lighting for the living room.

Several people said this wall was just too white, so I made some co-ordinating bunting!

A good friend used to leave post it notes over my house, they've now been turned into motivational art for my bedroom wall.
After months of collecting toilet rolls, I created this wall hanging for the upstairs loo!

Easy peasy, carefully placed buttons and glue make a very fitting piano adornment.

I got sad once the hanging baskets were done for the summer, so I wove in some solar lights and now they still look pretty!

Those are my ideas so far, and I've had lots of fun thinking about them and making them happen, what are your home hints?

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Something new and beautiful

Just a few words tonight. More of a show and tell really, as there's been a very exciting and beautiful addition to the Bethan household in the past couple of weeks. My Grandad was a very generous man and with the money he left to me, it seemed the right thing to invest in a piano of my own. Grandad was a massive champion of me in pursuing musical abilities. He would always ask about my progress, gave me lifts to many of my grade exams, attended pretty much every orchestra or choir concert I was a part of and wasn't the slightest bit shy or modest if people asked him how I was getting on! So a few months ago I began my search for 'the one', the right sound and look, an instrument that would stay with me for many years to come and that would honour Grandad's memory and be a lovely reminder of him. Then on my birthday, we met for the first time, and I must say it was love at first play. The piano has now been in situ for two weeks and totally makes this house a home. I am loving winding down with a 'tootle' after work or blasting out a show tune on a Saturday afternoon. So here's a little taste of the music that's moved into our house, it's by no means note perfect, but this one's for you Grandad, love you and miss you loads. Thank you for such a beautiful gift. 

Monday, 26 January 2015

Birthdays

You may or may not know (because I don't really tell people when it's coming), but last Monday was my birthday. Now I'm not bothered about getting older, as far as I'm concerned the more years the better and I would like to embrace every year I'm blessed with, but I really feel funny about making a deal out of my birthday. It kind of just feels a bit of an arbitrary reason for people to make a fuss. It's not like I've done anything impressive or deserving, I almost feel like I would be imposing a celebration on other people, especially if the birthday doesn't end in a 0! I love my family and friends, and I love thinking of things to give them or write in a card when it's their birthdays. However, it just feels like if I let people know that my birthday is coming up, then I'm asking them to do the same for me, when really there's no need. This may sound really cynical, or like false humility, but honestly that's not it, I'm just quite content to let birthdays pass by quietly. 

Not everybody in this house feels that way though! I'd planned to just have a quiet evening with Mum and Dad and two close friends on the Sunday evening, and then go to a film with a couple of girl friends on the day (although that was as much because my housemate and I just really wanted to see Into the Woods, and we're so rarely both free at the same time). But unbeknowns to me, my (lovely) housemate abused her position of knowledge to invite lots of friends along to join us for food and the film! I was so shocked when I recognised a couple of dancing people where we were going, that I turned to the other Bethan and said, 'Oh look Stephanie and Sarah are eating here too', assuming that they were there for their own reasons. It didn't cross my mind that even though neither of them live in Swansea that they might have made the effort just for me until they started singing and handing me cards/presents! It was so sweet and I was thrilled and so touched that they were there for me, and I hadn't even been the one to impose my birthday on them, Beth was!

And then two days later, I was going round to house group - who Beth had also spilled the beans to that it had been my birthday - and they made a fuss of me too! I got a lovely card with messages (and fivers!) from everyone inside, some other really sweet gifts and cards, two more homemade cakes (which then made four altogether including the ones made by my housemate and my Mum!) and a lovely rendition of Happy Birthday. Now I'm not normally one to go all shy, but I'm pretty sure I went red in the face and a bit lost for words! Again, I would never have asked anyone to go to any trouble, but it was so lovely and thoughtful that they had, I was well chuffed!

So will I be publicising my birthday next year, or have the date public on facebook? Probably not. Do I feel deserving of such kindness and nice surprises? Not really. But am I grateful? Absolutely. You can never have too many reminders of what grace looks like. So if the way people treat you on your birthday is a hint of the overflowing, unmerited and unexpected goodness God graciously shares with me, then God just got even more lovely in my eyes. Now that's something worth celebrating.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Thank God for...Laura Whitmill

One week back at work and I'm already feeling weary and a tad grumpy, so I thought I'd do something I haven't done in a long while and write a 'thank God for' Friday post. The idea is that it's good to remember the good stuff, and to remember God is the giver of all the good stuff, and Friday is as good a day as any to mark that. Anyway, today is a special Friday for a very special friend as it is the start of her hen do, and I am seriously looking forward to a whole weekend of fun and frolics with her. Today I am saying,

Thank God for ... Laura Whitmill.


Laura is one of my closest friends from my time at university in Aberystwyth, although only a fraction of the time we've been good friends was while we actually lived in the same town. We became good friends at the end of my second/Laura's first year, on the annual student mission organised by St Michael's Church. We bonded through 'question time', one of my favourite social activities where basically I just throw deep, open-ended questions at whoever I'm with, sometimes they do the same in return, and essentially you just spend time being really intentional about getting to know someone better. I can't remember what questions I asked, but they were enough for us to realise that we really enjoyed each other's company, both in the laughy and the thinky moments! 

Bonding at Forum, the CU leaders' training conference.

We spent a lot of time together during that trip, and also at a Christian Union conference we both went to at the end of the summer break. During the conference we decided to go through a book together in the following year at uni. The book was called Too Busy Not To Pray (Bill Hybels), and I cannot recommend it enough - especially as someone who chooses to live life in a near constant state of busyness and someone who finds the discipline of praying pretty difficult. I also cannot highly enough recommend Laura as a reading buddy! She is enthusiastic, honest, willing to take on challenge and change, encouraging and just openly totally in love with Jesus. 

Our fantastic and snowy holiday in the Peak District.
Since then we've had fun on another mission, Laura's birthday extravaganzas, holidays to the Peak District, Hamburg and Crete, and our memorable 'holiday in a day', as well as lots of phone calls, emails, hangouts and general good times. Laura totally inspires me, she manages to be both straightforward and also to feel and think deeply, she is fun and adventurous but also great company on a simple night in drinking mulled cider and helping me out making stuff for church. She is the kind of person who won't make me feel bad if we're not in touch for ages, but when we are it's like we saw each other yesterday and we wouldn't run out of things to say if we were together for weeks and weeks. She handles struggles really humbly and graciously and is much better than me at turning to God when things get tough, (and giving Him the credit when things are great for that matter). I love her like a friend and a little sister, although her wisdom definitely puts her as the older sister for sure!

On one of holidays together, at Hotel Nana Beach, Crete.
Thank you God so much for Laura Whitmill. I love her lots and lots. And I'm really excited about her hen!

 If you're interested, here are a few more highlights of times we've spent together:

Go to Hamburg! The parks have really fun stuff like this and the Miniature Wonderland is so cool (Laura and I may have spent hours there!)

Laura and her fiance Malcolm at her Two Little Ducks themed 22nd. Hands down, the best birthday party I have ever attended!

Self timer fun whilst on holiday together in Crete.


Some wild swimming on our holiday in a day

Proms in the Park with our lovely friend Kirsty.


Saturday, 3 January 2015

2014

The first few days of January are a classic time for reflection and resolution. Though I don't tend to like doing things just because everybody else is doing them, I think these two might be worthwhile regardless, and the start of the year is as logical a time as any, so here goes. What's gone on in the life and times of a Bethan in 2014? If you want to find out, then I suggest you read on:

January
I was still on my way out of a fairly stark time in 2013 where I felt I'd lost a lot of the enthusiasm and love for life, people and Jesus that had previously been so much a part of how I defined myself. I was also still pretty new to Swansea and quite frankly was devastated to return here after Christmas from the time I'd spent with people I love so much to an empty house and no real established relationships here yet. But there were little hints of future joys and one person in particular made a massive effort to make me welcome, for which I am forever grateful.

February
This was a really good month. After what had been a long spiritual drought I became excited by Jesus again; I started a Discipleship Explored course, read Mirror Mirror by Graham Beynon, and started attending a house group. These things all kind of plugged me back in to faith and fellowship, and I just felt that kind of bubbling joy that has little to do with circumstance and more to do with just knowing an amazing God on a personal level.

March
I had some time off at the beginning of the month which was much needed and much enjoyed. My best friend and I attended a Great Welsh Bakeoff themed break followed by a couple of days in beautiful Pembrokeshire which we absolutely loved. Sadly, just as we arrived at the hotel, I had the news that my Grandad had gone into hospital. I kind of didn't allow this to process while I was away and then it hit pretty hard when I got back. In a way though, it was kind of the point where I knew I was at home at church here, because awkwardness didn't stop me bawling my eyes out in the middle of worship! As well as visiting Grandad regularly, I wrote to him. We'd had many conversations about God over the years and I had an idea of where he stood, but wanted him to know the fullness of the gospel and its relevance to him so at least he'd heard it all. He definitely read the letter as he thanked me for it on my next visit, but that's as much as we said.

April
At house group we'd been going through a book about how we talk about God. This was really interesting and it made me think about why I hold the views I do, why other people might hold the views they do, and natural, non-confrontational ways of sharing with those who might be coming at life from a different angle that would actually encourage rather than antagonise. It was amazing how frequently and how enjoyably such encounters kept happening, sharing the good news I believe I've been given was a thrill and not a chore at all. It felt like the right time to start contributing and not only receiving from my new church. So I spoke to one of the pastors about how I could get involved and started off by volunteering at the children's holiday club, playing flute on Sundays and being on the Sunday School help rota. 

May
Grandad was still in hospital, I'd been trying to go over to Cardiff at least once a week and make sure I spent time sitting with him, listening to his stories and exploring faith with him where possible. I am so grateful for the many hours I sat with him over the years now, as by the end of May he'd gone downhill and developed pneumonia. The last week was without doubt the hardest and most physically and emotionally exhausting of my life. We sat with him around the clock but by then he was a shell of a man, unable to do much at all, even talk or drink, nothing at all like the proud but outrageously flirtatious man I knew! I so desperately wanted to be sure he was going to be with Jesus too, I read the Bible to him through the night, prayed and wept for him. In the end, even the deepest of faiths is precisely that, faith, not fact, so I simply have to trust the God who I know is abundantly loving and just, but who also graciously gave us free will.

June 
We went through that weird stage of waiting for a funeral, life is sort of normal but sort of different and you can't move properly into the different yet. When it came, as well as being incredibly upsetting, it was also a day where I felt immense pride to belong to a man who was admired by so many. Despite being completely tactless, he was also immensely loyal and caring, and despite being in some ways a total snob, there was a huge range and variety of people there to pay their respects and who I know treasured him and he them also. Aside from the funeral I think the month went by in a blur of busyness at work and just missing him, as I started remembering the Grandad I'd known and not the shadow we'd watched over at the end.

July
A big change at home as I prepared to have a housemate! I was really excited about this as I am definitely someone who is happier around people than on my own. And although I wasn't lonely, I was definitely conscious of being alone. Speaking of which, the wedding season also started, including one where the bride was a family friend I'd known all my life. It was a lovely day, if a bit odd because the other girl we'd grown up with was in Australia and it felt weird without her. A low point of the day (and probably month) was when an older guest felt the need to explain to me why I'm still single and suggest it might help to be less uptight! Let's just say it was a good moment to find some grace, and maaaybe I'll work on being more easy going.

August
My new housemate was settled in, Thomas Towers became the House of Bethans (we conveniently share a first name, very confusing when her Dad rings). It was an almost instant success, we're pretty similar but not too similar, both out a lot but have fun when we're both in, we have different morning routines so there's never a queue for the shower and we were both up for having a Bethan-warming party which was a lot of fun! The day after said party was the Port Tennant carnival which could take up an entire blog post in itself (needless to say I can't wait for the next one). Oh and I made a couple more ticks off my 27 things list (I'll explain another time) as I went on holiday to the Lake District with my great friend Sarah who was kindly loaned to me be her lovely husband Alex!

September 
This was a mental month in work, I got regularly told off by the other Bethan for coming home too late and then carrying on working as soon as I got in. This was a new challenge last year as I took on leading studies; I'm still yet to find the vital balances of what stuff you need to keep a tight grip on and what is ok to let go of/delegate, and what ground work really needs to be solid and considered in advance so you don't end up with panics late on. It would be fair to say I put a lot of pressure on myself and am a perfectionist in an environment where I'm not sure such a thing is possible to ever achieve. 

October 
I found out I would be going to India with work! I think this was largely because no-one else was interested in going but I certainly wasn't going to let such an opportunity pass me by! I decided to tag some traveling onto the end of the trip, which meant I would be away for most of November. Consequently I spent most of October getting stuff ready and seeing people before I went. At the same time I began having real trouble with some flat roof in my house which was leaking through the light (and eventually through pretty much everywhere) which put me in a pretty near constant state of anxiety. The logical and faithful part of me knows that my life does not depend on flat roof and even if my whole house fell down, God holds secure my heart and soul and there are plenty of people who would be there to help with everything else, but the feeling of responsibility does weigh pretty heavily.

November
Largely spent on another continent! It was an incredible and totally bonkers experience; an attack on the senses, an eye opener, a permanent moral dilemma and much more. The people and places I met/saw were both beautiful and at the same time so different from my comfort zone. I spent two weeks treated like an honoured guest while I was working and I so enjoyed getting to know those people and dip my toe into delivering training. The next two weeks were action packed with a vast array of activities, sights and modes of transport, all shared with a wonderful group of people who I'd never met before.

December
There was no easing back into life at home, it was straight into busyness; at work, at home, at church and all the added stuff that comes at Christmas. At work, there were angry Korean clients who needed to be kept happy (which meant a lot of extra stuff being done and sent on Christmas Eve)! At home, there was finally a window of dry weather to have the critically unstable roof replaced, but this turned out to be a much bigger job than expected. And at the same time as everything else going on, my emotions seemed to go into overdrive and I had multiple meltdowns, blubfests and crises of confidence. By the time Christmas came, pretty much all I was fit for was falling asleep but thankfully there was finally chance to rest.

So it would appear it's been an action and emotion packed 2014 with plenty of highs and lows. For 2015, I'm striving to be more balanced, more reflective (expect more regular blogging), more reliant on God and less self-absorbed. Ultimately, I want to remain rooted in Jesus, living in his purposes for me, to enjoy knowing Him and making Him known. 

Bring it on.