Facing a Fear of Heights at Snowden, Wales – Queen of Ordinary – December 1, 2014

IMG_1188 IMG_1189  Snowden, Wales

There are some things that frighten me, but fear of heights is probably at the top of the list.  These photos were taken on top of Snowden – the tallest mountain in Wales.  We rode a train up, but still had a ways to walk and up a lot of stairs to reach the absolute summit.  As close as I was to the top, I was afraid to make those last 10 – 20 stone stairs, but our travel guide and my travel companions came back for me and I went to the top of the top with them.  I was as tense as a mouse trap, but once I came back down from the last flight of stairs, I was awfully glad I had done it and swallowed my fear.

In my heart I knew that God doesn’t want us to be prisoners of our fears.  I could have just as easily “set it out,” but I was too stubborn to let my fears overcome my faith in God’s ability to help me.

Another place where I had to fight through the fear was the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge which seemed like at least 100 feet above the cliffs and surging ocean below.  I wrote about that experience in a previous post.

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The William Wallace Monument was another challenge with over 250 spiral stairs straight up and then the same coming back down.  The rooftop tour of Penrhyn Castle also required a long climb up spiral stairs to the rooftop and then a view from the top of the castle.

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How did I find the courage to do these terrifying things?  I didn’t want to miss out on any part of our journey or fail to enjoy what the whole group experienced.

My fear of heights didn’t vanish, but I didn’t let that fear paralyze me into not doing what I wanted to do.  I kept quoting a bible verse to myself at the highest points, Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

4,000 Years Old and Still Alive – Oldest Tree in Wales – Queen of Ordinary – November 24, 2014

IMG_0558  IMG_0555 Oldest living tree in Wales

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It is hard for me to imagine a living organism on this earth that is over 4,000 years old.  This yew tree, Llangernyw,  would have been alive 2,000 years BEFORE Christ walked the earth.  It was alive through all of modern recorded history.  It was around when the pyramids were being built.

We were there.  We touched it, we left our imprint.  It will probably still be alive long after we have passed from this life.  I have often thought about trees and the stories they could tell if they could but speak.  This one could fill a library.

Of course, my curiosity drove me to research other “oldest trees,” and I was stunned by what I found.  There is another known tree in Iran, the Zoroastrian Sarv, estimated to be about the same age as the tree we vised in Wales.  These two are mere children compared to the Mac Daddy of them all.

The world’s oldest known living tree is more than twice as old as Wale’s yew tree, and estimated to have sprouted sometime during the last Ice Age, roughly 9,550 years ago. The 16-foot spruce in the Dalarna province of Sweden has a root system that got started when the British Isles were still connected to Europe by an ice bridge.

The United States can lay claim to one of the oldest trees known to man on the planet.  Methuselah, as the tree has been affectionately named after the oldest man in the Bible, is a bristlecone pine tree in California’s White Mountains.  The tree is estimated to be almost 5,000 years old.  The location of the tree is not public knowledge in order to protect and preserve the tree.

It seemed that in our month long travels across the UK, God had ordered our steps to connect us with the ancient things of those places from the castle at Cashel, the Book of Kells, Giant’s Causeway, and even the oldest living tree.  I am in many ways still connecting the dots of those things most significant in our journey.  I am very thankful that our stops included a visit to this historic tree.

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Wood Carvings at St. John’s Cathedral – Oban, Scotland – Queen of Ordinary – November 23, 2014

DSCN6488  St. John’s Cathedral – Oban, Scotland

St. John’s Cathedral was a beautiful church we visited in Oban, Scotland.  I was struck by the many beautiful carvings at the ends of pews, on seats, on podiums and throughout the church.

How do you know when artistry is at work?  Take something practical and functional, then add incredible detail that doesn’t improve the practicality of the thing, but makes it more aesthetically pleasing and you will see artistry at work through the hands of the one who created it.  Below are some carvings on pews and woodwork we found in this church in Oban, Scotland.

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The intricate carvings in the woodwork were amazing.  They were not necessary by any means, but certainly added beauty, and allowed the artists creative expression in their work.  It is as if the person carving the wood turned each opportunity into a thing of beauty and gave it as an offering unto God.

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Our lives are like these pieces of wood when they were still only lumber.  We can live them out of necessity.  We can exist from day to day and get done what must be done, plain and simple.  Or we can choose to take care of the intricate details of living, and let the Master designer create His images in us to be works of beauty that reflect His attention to detail and His delight in us through the process.  If we all started as a piece of timber side by side, each one of us would turn out differently in the hands of the artist.  I am reminded of a poem I heard many years ago that expresses one person’s influence on another person’s life

I Love You by Roy Croft

I love you, not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you. I love you, not only for what you have made of yourself, but for what you are making of me. I love you, for the part of me that you bring out. I love you, for putting your hand into my heaped-up heart, and passing over all the foolish, weak things that you can’t help dimly seeing there, and for drawing out, into the light, all the beautiful belongings that no one else had looked quite far enough to find. I love you, because you are helping me to make of the lumber of my life, not a tavern, but a temple. Out of the works of my every day, not a reproach, but a song. I love you, because you have done more than any creed could have done to make me good, and more than any fate could have done to make me happy. You have done it without a touch, without a word, without a sign. You have done it by being yourself. Perhaps that is what being a friend means, after all.

Who Believes in The Loch Ness Monster? – Queen of Ordinary – November 19, 2014

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This is a funny photoshopped picture created by Coty Sloan.  We were having a bit of fun teasing each other about the possibility of seeing Nessie while we were at standing on the shore of Loch Ness and he created this photo for a laugh.

Opinions have always been divided about whether there is such a thing as the Loch Ness Monster, Big Foot, or mermaids.  When I was a child, my best friend, Diane Paulk, and I were always working up our imaginations about something.  We had BIG imaginations.

As an adult, I still have an imagination that runs on high throttle, but I believe there have been enough eye witness accounts to take them seriously about Nessie, Big Foot, and Megalodon Shark.  I just don’t think that many people are deliberate liars.  They know that the very moment they tell their tale, they are subjecting themselves to ridicule and scoffers. They must be seeing something they can’t explain.

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Our Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife publicly says there are no black panthers in Kentucky, but I have seen them myself and have heard countless stories from others who have been eye witnesses.  I haven’t seen Mammoth Caves either, but enough other people whom I believe have seen them to make me know they are real.

So, is there a Loch Ness Monster?  People have been trying to figure that question out for decades.  Yet scientific discoveries are unveiling new species all the time.  The most uncharted species live in the depth of the oceans.  Is it possible that some prehistoric life form has survived through the centuries and one such creature has managed to survive in Loch Ness?  I don’t know.  Maybe yes and maybe no.

My friend, Sarah Boggs, requested one thing from my big trip to the UK.  She wanted a photo of Loch Ness and a stone.  We first saw the Loch in the evening light from the roadway across a field, circling around a bend.  I never realized it was such a huge inland body of water.  It was a beautiful place to take a photo for her.

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I’ve spent a lifetime wishing I could see Nessie, if she really exists.  Though we didn’t get a glimpse of anything out of the ordinary this day, I knew I was as close to seeing the Loch Ness Monster as I probably ever would be in my life time.  I stuck my shoes in the water and gathered a few pebbles from the beach for Sarah and Darla, who had asked for them.  I was happy just to have been there and seen a place filled with so many possibilities.

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As mortal men/women, do we really think we know all of what God has created in the depth of the oceans, in the heavens, or in galaxies beyond?  Who can unravel the creative beauty, the diversity of God’s infinite expression, or the countless secrets unknown to man that still reside in the depths of the heart of God?  How foolish are we to try to define an infinite God with our finite minds and limited knowledge.

Genesis 1:21 – “And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly,”

Psalm 104:25 – “There is the sea, great and broad, In which are swarms without number, Animals both small and great.”

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Eilean Donan Castle in the Scottish Highlands – Queen of Ordinary – Nov. 18, 2014

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Eilean Donan Castle is in the Scottish Highlands.  It is reported to be one of the most photographed Scottish castles, and no wonder.  The setting is straight out of a novel and every angle reveals a different aspect of the castle, moat, bridge, lake, and mountains.

As one of the most iconic images of Scotland, Eilean Donan is recognised all around the world. Situated on an island at the point where three great sea lochs meet, and surrounded by some majestic scenery, it is little wonder that the castle is now one of the most visited and important attractions in the Scottish highlands.  (From the Eilean Donan Castle website)

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In color or black and white, this castle is impressive.  The first occupants lived there in the 6th century.  It was added on to and fortified in the 13th century and stood guard over the surrounding lands until the 17th century when part of it was destroyed in a Jacobite uprising.   “Eilean Donan lay in ruins for the best part of 200 years until Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap bought the island in 1911 and proceeded to restore the castle to its former glory. After 20 years of toil and labour the castle was re-opened in 1932.”

I am still overwhelmed with touching, breathing, feeling history in every pore rather than reading about it in a history book.  Seeing a place with your own eyes draws a person in and enters their footsteps alongside those who loved and lived and breathed there through the centuries.  It is perfectly situated where three lochs come together, a strategic masterpiece over 1400 years old.

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We were there in mid day when the tide was out. I photographed it from as many angles as I could get in a short time.   I would have loved to see it when the water was in.  I’ve also imagined it at sunrise, sunset, in the spring, winter, and late fall.  I’m sure those who have easy access return many times.

So, what did I learn from this beautifully situated castle?  It reminded me of a vision God showed me once about a diamond.  Many people can be looking at the very same stone, but depending on where they are standing and which angle they see, the stone may look very different to one and then another.  The classic round topped solitaire that has graced so many engagement rings looks flat from the top, conical from the side, and spiked from the bottom.  Every facet of a diamond refracts the light in fire and ice, different colors from different directions.  Eilean Donan was like this as well.

In a bigger picture, we are the diamonds that others see through different eyes.  We have many facets and that allow people know us in different capacities during our life.  We are the castles, the temples of God, who change in seasons and lighting, yet we stand solid in the life in which God placed us.

When we look at other people and try to decipher who we think they are, we need to remember that each human being is a multi-faceted beautiful creation, made in the image of God.  There is more than one side, more than one perspective, more than one season in each life.  Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

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Clan Cottages in Scotland – Queen of Ordinary – November 18, 2014

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Clan Cottages – Scotland

Sometimes things happen in such an amazing way, it is unprecedented.  I loved the movie Brave Heart when I saw it, but I really never wanted to see it again because it broke my heart.  After visiting the William Wallace Monument in Edinburgh and climbing all the way up the 250+ stairs, seeing the real sword that belonged to William Wallace, and over looking the city from the tower built to honor him, I reconsidered.   I would definitely watch the movie again because it had become personal.  I had been there in the Scottish Highlands, seen the people and lands that he loved and was willing to die for.

We were scheduled to stay in the Clan Cottages after having been to the William Wallace Monument on our first day in Scotland and after driving through the Scottish Highlands.  I had always wanted to stay in a stone cottage with a thatched roof.  Imagine my surprise when we pulled in to our new lodging for three days and it was exactly that!  They were recently built, but in keeping with the landscape and the traditions.

What did we do that first night?  Our tour guide had bought the movie Brave Heart and had it ready for us to watch, on a foggy evening at the foot of a rocky mountain, beside stream that lead to a Loch.  It was mind boggling to be there, having heard the history or William Wallace, seen his actual huge broad sword, and the monument the people erected in his honor.  It was almost as if we could step out the door and into that other place in another time.

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The stay in the clan cottage was a joyous one.  Beyond the Brave Heart experience, it was in a beautiful setting with sheep in the pastures, swans on the lake and sunsets on the loch that would steal your breath away.

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Our stay at the Clan Cottage was one of my favorite parts of Scotland.  From the photos, I hope the reasons are obvious.  It was a place where I could walk at the end of the day or early in the morning before our day’s tour began and talk to God.  I had many questions about why Scotland had been in my heart and prayers for so many years, and why I was there at that particular time.  Scotland had just voted to remain part of the UK – such a parallel event in keeping with William Wallace’s struggle to free Scotland.

Many times among our destinations and activities I felt like the whole thing was a dream.  God’s blessings in my life to bring the trip about were too many to number.  I was sure I was there for a purpose more than to be a tourist and take photographs.  I’m still asking God those questions about having been there, and every day probably for the rest of my life I’ll still be giving thanks for the journey.

The Abbeys of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales – Queen of Ordinary – November 17, 2014

DSCN5209DSCN5214 DSCN5215  The abbeys of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales are amazing.

Even though most of them are now in ruins, the beauty of design, the layout of the structures and the locations compared to the lay of the land are stunning.  Some are more memories than reality, and some are still in tact, but most are somewhere in between.

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I could only imagine what these places were like in their full glory days.  I was fascinated with the stone work, the precision, the beauty, and the endurance of these structures that are hundreds of years old.  The fact that this incredibly beautiful places were built and consecrated to those in ministry who had given their lives to serve God says something about the value set on relationship with God in that time frame.

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Most of these ancient abbeys are currently under historic protection and the grounds are maintained through government programs.  In these photos were The Abbey at Cong, Creevelea, Kylemore, Dryburgh, Jedburgh, and Melrose.  The buildings may be crumbling, but the sense of being in a holy place is still very strong.  But then maybe the buildings put is in such a reverent frame of mind that we were more acutely aware of the Spirit of God within us.

Facing the Fear of Heights and More – Queen of Ordinary November 16, 2014

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An Irish View of the Ocean

On this day in Ireland we were heading to Slieve League along the Sky Road and to walk across the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge.  We took a wrong road somewhere, but just look what we found by mistake!

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I don’t know who took the time to write “I love you” with the rocks at the bottom of the cliffs, just beyond the ocean’s reach, but I’m so glad they did.   When I saw it, it felt like it was a message from God to us on our journey.  We thought we had made a wrong turn, but perhaps it was just because God wanted to share this unscheduled beautiful view with us.

We did make it on to our adventure at Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge.  It was one of the toughest things I made myself do on our whole trip.  I have a deep rooted fear of heights.  Just looking at photos of things at a great height make my liver quiver!  Looking over the edge of something, even if I’m behind a railing, makes me woozy.  But I made myself take the long hike out to the rope bridge stretched between two cliffs about 100 feet above the ocean surging against the rocks below, and forced myself to face my fears and walk across anyhow.

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For someone as afraid of heights as I am, it’s a miracle that I ever crossed the bridge in the first place.  I kept saying to myself, “Help, me Lord…” and “Look at her back, and don’t look down,” about the person in front of me from our group.  But on the way back, there had been children jumping up and down to make the bridge sway and bounce, so the fear was doubled.  I had a death grip on the ropes on both sides and was only able to make my feet move about six inches at a time.  I was too afraid to be embarrassed about holding up the people behind me!  I truly thought I had made a mistake by crossing over in the first place.

Our tour guide, Coty Sloan, had crossed way in front of us and positioned himself on a cliff overlooking the bridge to get a group photo of us crossing together.  It surely didn’t happen.  Karen went on ahead of me and left me far behind with blank space, bride, and ocean staring up at me.  Sandy was behind me waving at Coty, and I was too terrified to look anywhere besides at the boards in front of me.

IMG_6606 Coty is the speck on this cliff facing us and no good photo for his trouble!

Sometimes we question the path that we are on and wonder if we are on the wrong one.  At times fear may paralyze us when the gulf between where we are and where we need to be is so great.  But, if we ask Him to go with us, God is there every step of the way across that divide and to the safe place we are heading.

I didn’t think I was going to make it back across that bridge without fainting, but I kept reminding myself of Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me.”

I Have So Many Photos, I Don’t Know What to Do – Queen of Ordinary November 16, 2014

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I have been home one month from our big adventure and I’m still sorting through photos.  I tried to categorize them by date, but my camera went wackydoodle and every time I changed SD cards, it went to some random date from the past.  Complicate that with the fact that I had two cameras going – a small one for shooting out the car window and a bigger one for tours, etc.  Needless to say, I have some issues with getting things in the right place.

Considering that I took over 10,000 photos in the month I was away, I’m doing pretty well with working through them in this length of time.  I’ve already deleted over 2,000 because they were blurred or duplicates.  I think I’ve seen them all, then I discover another little batch with one or two amazing shots in it.  The photos I use in my blog are not necessarily the best ones, but  ones that bring back the feeling or the memories of having been there.  I’ve included a few in this blog from one file – Driving through Scotland.

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Looking at all of these images has burned the experience into my heart and brain.  I know where home is and where my heart is, but Scotland and Ireland have taken root inside of me as well.  I miss the people I traveled with as if they have become part of my family.  A month with strangers has a way of turning them into friends.

This mountain of digital photos I’m still working through will certainly keep the dream and the people alive.  But I want to get them organized, categorized, filed away, and give it a rest.  I have a novel to finish, the holidays to manage, and all the demands of day to day life, so I really need to be able to have peace about all of these images and let them go for a while.  I’m so very thankful for God’s blessings on this journey, for being able to make the trip, and for having the privilege to photograph such a wide variety of beautiful things.  With this in mind, it seems like having this ton of images organized in a way that can be useful is part of my responsibility after having made the journey.

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I’m wondering how other camera crazy people decompress after such a journey and so many photos to work through.  Any good advice is welcomed.

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Ducks Quack Me Up – Queen of Ordinary – November 14, 2014

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Irish Ducks

Ducks are so much fun to watch.  They fly, swim, eat, and pooh where ever they go.  These are the things we know right off the bat.  But, did you know that ducks fight, groom themselves, establish dominance and even play?

This group of ducks we stopped to feed in Ireland on a beautiful little stream had made a game out of going up a little waterfall, then riding the water back down over the rocks.  They would turn around, struggle against the current and the little bit of white water to get back up the rocks and over into their small rapids.

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If we threw out bits of food to them, there would be a couple paying attention who raced forward to get the treats, then all of the rest would follow.  Sometimes they fought over bits of food, but we had enough for all.  They weren’t interested in us as people – only as food givers.

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Their ducky antics definitely were amusing.

We could learn a lot from ducks.  They do what they were created to do – perpetuate their species, fly only to get where they are going, look for something to eat, swim in the water, quack to communicate, pooh, groom themselves, and make up chasing games or other simple things as play.  I don’t suppose there has ever been a duck who sat around feeling sorry for himself because he didn’t have a grander lot in life.  I doubt that a single duck has ever been depressed because God didn’t make them an eagle instead of a duck.

Wouldn’t life be so much better if we could be content in being what God created us to be and finding joy in it?

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