We spent six days in Scotland this trip, and we never once saw the sun. It rained every day, for what sometimes felt like the whole day, and even when there was a break in the rain, heavy clouds still hid those gorgeous expanses of Scottish summer sky from view. The lenses of my sunglasses collected smudges and some kind of unrecognizable gunk in the bottom of my purse, which I only noticed because I was cleaning it out the day before we left.

It’s not unusual to see a lot of rain in Scotland – on average the country gets precipitation around 317 days every year. So, I’m not mathematician, but I think the odds of us being there six days and seeing a heap of rain were pretty good. But what strolling through those beloved old stomping grounds of mine, and seeing them shrouded in cloud the whole time made me realise was that, in my mind, in the Edinburgh I think of from memories of my four years there, the sun is always shining.

Sure, I remember those early days when I applied for a bank account, got rejected and had to walk home in the rain. And I remember when I applied for a phone contract, got rejected, and had to walk home in the rain again. The next day. But when I picture New College, the Divinity School where I earned a Masters of Theology and half a PhD, picturesque and majestic atop the mound, just below Edinburgh Castle and overlooking a busy Princes Street, the sun is shining. When my mind remembers the special flat that we brought a new baby Bear home to, the sun is always streaming through the over-sized double-glazed windows.

And when I picture my stroll from classes to Cafe Lucano, my favourite cafe in the city, where Agnes and I met for coffee week in and week out, my mind takes me along George the IV bridge, past the Elephant House, where J.K. Rowling wrote most of the first book in the Harry Potter series, the sun is beaming down, and though I remember myself layered up with jeans tucked into the tall brown boots I bought at the boot shop on Lothian Road, and the adorable leather jacket that only cost me 20 quid down at Ocean Terminal, the sun is bright and high in the sky, and I am warm, head to toe.

{The sun shining into our wonderful flat on Hopetoun Street.}

Truthfully, I had an awful lot of hard and cold and rainy days in Scotland. I wouldn’t trade my time there for anything, and I am completely convinced I was there for each of the days I was there inside the will of God. I just wouldn’t be remembering correctly if I didn’t also remember the winter days when I got out of a class that started at 2:00pm and it was already dark. And the days when my Mom would hear my voice at the other end of the line and think I sounded so sad, most likely because I desperately needed more sunshine than I was getting. And the days when the Lothian bus drivers didn’t stop at the bus stop for me because I had a pram {stroller…buggy…} even though I could easily have folded it up if there wasn’t space for an open stroller on the bus.

To just remember the sunshine would be to not really remember.

And while I was there this time I thought to myself – this distortion of reality is a dangerous thing.

Do you remember when the Israelites left Egypt? They got a few days out into the desert and immediately started complaining. Although manna was falling from the sky and all they had to do was pick it up and eat it, and water was coming out of rocks, they started comparing their present circumstances with a distorted version of their past, and it made them very unhappy.

We had leeks and cucumbers to eat in Egypt!

But you were enslaved and being made to work very, very hard… Remember?

Maybe we should go back, things weren’t so bad!

Weren’t the Egyptians instructing the midwives to kill your firstborn boys a while ago?

Isn’t that the reason Moses was raised in Pharoah’s palace – because his mother didn’t want to drown him, so she put him in a basket before she put him in the water?

You kind of want to ask the complaining Israelites: Are you remembering the same Egypt the rest of us are reading about? Why do you want to go back?

The funny thing is, I think in our own ways, we can do the same thing with our lives today: we romanticise our past to the detriment of our present.

High School might be a good example for a lot of us.

Sure, I had a lot of fun in high school – I had a good group of friends and a car and easy-going parents and a good social life, but I also made some marginally awful-no-good-really-bad decisions, consistently went through a pattern of getting so stressed over all the schoolwork I had to get done I’d cry at the kitchen table on a regular basis, and I was insecure, occasionally mean to friends I never should have been mean to, and constantly looking for the attention of a boyfriend to help me feel validated as a person.

All of that, not forgetting the point which really ought to come first: I had no clue what it really meant to have Jesus as the Lord of my life, and I bounced between claiming to be a Christian and acting like a wretch on a regular basis.

Are you catching my drift? It would be easy to look back and say “Man, those were the days…” but if I’m really honest, I am much more at peace with God and thankful for my life today than I was when I was riding the highs and lows of high school over a decade ago.

And the thing is, I think we risk jeopardising our appreciation for the present if we spend too much time focused on how wonderful ‘the good old days’ were.

Maybe your good old days have something to do with your family crowded around the TV together to watch Dallas (the original Dallas) or Cheers, or they have to do with that time when you were the star player on a sports team you’d dreamed about being a part of. Or even if your ‘good old days’ are the days when Ronald Reagan was in office or Charles and Diana were still royal magic — well, it’s like the old saying goes, the grass is always greener on the other side.

But we know that old saying really means that the grass just always seems greener on the other side. And there really is a good reason for just getting your heart to a place where it is thankful for what you have right now. Thankful for where you are right now.

Paul explained this well in writing to the Philipians to tell them he had learned how to live with plenty and to suffer need, he had learned how to be hungry and to be full. And he brought all of it together by saying “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And since the previous verses are speaking specifically about contentment, I think it is safe to conclude that he wasn’t trying to say he’d take on Mike Tyson in his prime and knock him out because of Jesus – perhaps we misunderstand this?

What Paul was saying was that he had found a way to be content {which my Mac Dictionary defines as “in a state of peaceful happiness”} because his focus was so far from comparisons about how good now is compared with how rough then was, or vice versa. He was taking it all as it came, trusting the will of God, and learning to rejoice in every circumstance.

If we can find that place of contentment in Christ – if we are wholly satisfied in Him, then the grass is just always green, even when life is full of trials, because we know He is good, we know He redeems, and deep down we really, truly believe that He is all we need.

Even with all those sunny memories, I’m thankful that I can say I don’t look back on my days in Scotland with a deep sense of longing — as if I were lacking a piece of my life that I had when I was there. I deeply miss the friends I made there, the church is still close to my heart and in my prayers, and I do occasionally pine for a proper bacon roll with brown sauce or the Singapore Style Chow Mein at Loon Wah on London Road.

If, however, things were to get a little tougher around here, I hope (and trust) that the process I keep walking out, learning contentment with the present, as well as keeping a healthy perspective about the past will keep that unhealthy kind of nostalgia from dragging me to a place where I’m so busy dreaming about re-living my past that I completely miss out on the one chance I have to live the present well.

Perhaps that’s why the Bible so consistently reminds us to keep our focus on the here and now: Choose you this day whom you will serve… This is the day the Lord has made… Today, if you hear His voice… Don’t worry about tomorrow, today has enough trouble of its own. Could it be that the best way to live well is to live fully awake, fully present in the now — neither running ahead like a horse in a hurry or lagging behind like a stubborn old mule?

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will guide you with My eye.
Do not be like the horse or like the mule,
Which have no understanding,
Which must be harnessed with bit and bridle,
Else they will not come near you. {Psalm 32: 8&9}

We only have this moment, this day to live and live well, after all.

Do you think you sometimes romanticize the past? Ever thought you might be doing so at the present’s expense?