Saturday, 17 December 2005

Merry Christmas!

(Photos are being presented in a new venue now-- more efficient for all of us, if it works...
Give it a try and let me know if you're seeing any photos!)

Dear All,

My first Christmas season halfway around the world...

We had our Redcliffe Christmas party last night and everyone showed up, families in tow, dressed to the nines (or the sevens or even fives, depending on how festive they were feeling) to celebrate the season with a buffet and a program. Claire (England) and Adriaan (Holland) MC-ed and many people took a part. I sang a silly song with my team for duties. We're the kitchen team so we made up a spinoff of "the 12 days of Christmas" describing the rather minging details of our work : ) The student committee did a sketch where they play-acted the tutors-- Simon Steer with his high-class, "blue-blooded" accent and repeated use of the word "marvelous", Rob Cook with his philosophical arguments and much chin-massaging, it was great : ) It's customary for the staff as well to come up with some kind of humorous sketch. This year they did their own version of "The Sound of Music"-- please take this moment to picture my proper British tutors (mostly men) dressed up like nuns and speaking and singing in high, squeaky voices... : ) Jolly good fun!!!

Mostly I just liked it because it felt like Christmas. Finally. These past few weeks I have been perfectly aware that the Christmas season is fast approaching but I've been too busy with end of term pressures to really feel it. Tonight I felt it, a tangible excitement, a season of celebration. We have such A Reason to celebrate...

On wednesday this week, smack-dab in the middle of our frenzied researching and writing of all our essays, Tabitha (South Africa) and I organized a bit of an informal caroling excursion. We were American, English, African, Indonesian, Hungarian, Polish, and Brazillian united in song to make people smile-- and it was gorgeous. I've decided I adore Christmas caroling (the fact that it's not -30 degrees with snow up to my knees probably adds a bit to its appeal :)).

My new pastor and his wife, who works at the college, and two daughters had me over for a Christmas lunch last Sunday along with 4 other students who go to the Kendal Road Baptist Church these days. I love people with the gift of hospitality and I want to endeavor to be one : )

We put up a huge Christmas tree in the dining hall and decorating was a group effort one evening last week. What we've come out with looks disconcertingly like kindergartner's crafttime project gone bad but at least it's festive : ) (Do see pictures!! Follow link at top!) I was missing our home that day, missing how our home begins to glow and glitter during the Christmas season with all the revered, once-a-year decorations coming out and finding their places about the house. I was missing Mom and I traditionally putting up the tree together to celtic Christmas carols in a room made all the warmer by the thick winter's blanket of unbroken snow making the night frosty and white outside. I was missing my little brothers milling about teasing me for getting lost in the Christmas-ness of it all : ) So having the "Christmas tree night" here was incredibly precious, no matter how unorthodox : )

On December the Fifth we celebrated the traditional Dutch holiday of Sinterklaas here at Adriaan and Henk's organization. It's a brilliant way of doing things, really. They keep gifts and such entirely seperate from Christmas itself, leaving the holiday open to be celebrated for what it is really about-- Jesus. The social side of the school was shrouded in secrets the weekend before as we all prepared our gifts and poems inside the homemade surprisas made from paper and craft material to represent the person whose name we had drawn. Some were incredibly clever; a giant Hebrew letter for a Hebrew scholar, a foot-high piano for an expert piano player, a table-tennis table for a serious table-tennis player. About 40 of us gathered in a huge circle and one by one unwrapped our gifts within our surprisas and read the poem written about ourselves : ) I love experiencing life through the lens of another's culture...

Which brings me to tonight. The Tanzanian couple here, Amani and Esther, invited me over for an evening meal Tanzania-style, along with a friendly middle-aged pastor from Uganda named Michael Lobowa. I wish I could put into words how much God has spoken to me through interaction with these people in one evening. First of all, I've learned that African food is delicious. Secondly, I learned many cultural do's and don't's-- such as always take from what is offered only what the guest of honor takes (which, apparently was me, so I find) and no more, and never sit in the same style as the guest of honor or they may think you're trying to take their place : ) Thirdly... I've learned yet again how beautiful God has made each and every person. I've learned how valuable He has made them. How precious. I went into that room having lived with these people for three months but really hardly knowing them. And there we talked and laughed and ate together and prayed together. And I walked out having still pools in my soul stirred by the kindness and warmth of the three of them. Somehow, I'm aware that I will never be the same having shared an evening of my life with the three of their lives. We didn't discuss or share anything too deep. I learned about Tanzania and Uganda and the liberation and swahili. We spoke of American culture and British culture and my family and Michael's. We spoke of food and the Christmas party and lecturers and accents. But the generosity of spirit. The love. Such precious bonds formed. Michael has even planned a birthday party for me for this June-- seven months away. He says he and his wife, whom he hopes will have joined him from Africa by then, will make me their baby for the day : ) So mark your calendars, Ugandan Michael is throwing me my 20th birthday party this summer : )

I love finding myself at home here in my whole new world. At home in the very state of having no home.

At first everything was different and constantly reminded me of where I was, what I was doing, the novelty of it all. The accents were so obvious, so noticeable. Now I sometimes catch myself "catching myself" noticing them-- as if they've become so commonplace that I forget they're there. It was the way the telephone numbers were divided into fives instead of the usual 3 digits, dash, 4 digits. It was the unusual words used in everyday conversation: "trousers", "minging", "reckon"... It was the spelling of things: favourite, colour, programme... The cavalier mention of places I'd never heard of that seemed so foreign... Now it's all normal; to be expected.

I have been living in England for three months and three days. A quarter of a year of my life. And it has been so natural it was like slipping in to a favourite though not often heard song, and it's been so unnatural it's been like an onslaught of dischordant keys being struck violently all at the same time. Emerson wrote, "The years know much which the days know not of." I'm inclined to think that the days know much which the hours know not of because each one has held so much discovery mingled with distress, promise with pain, delight with disappointment. Making sense of it is like a long string of beads. One bead stands alone as a perfectly valid bead but it's not much good for anything. But strung up in a line of them all in a row there stands a necklace, complete and purposeful.

I'm realizing that these days, good and bad, have been beads in my necklace.

And I know in His hands they'll string up as diamonds and pearls...

Yesterday was our last day of term here at Redcliffe. Everyone's taking off for home, family, friends. Though I can hardly believe the words as I say them, I'll be flying to Paris tomorrow to spend Christmas with Tiphaine (do you remember her? She was a foreign exchange student who lived with my family a few years ago) and her family there. We'll be spending a few days in Paris, a few in Rouen, and then Christmas in a tiny village in Normandy with her parents and 5 brothers and sisters who speak very little, if any, English. I'm afraid I know very little, if any, French. So, it's bound to be an interesting week and a half : ) On the 29th I fly from Paris to Belfast to stay with a friend from College (Jenny) for the second week and a half, encompassing New Year's Eve. We'll be staying in Belfast, Armagh, possibly Bangor, and we hope to spend a few nights in a cottage in Donnegal on the northern coast when Leticia (Brazil) flies out to join us. Yes, Leticia and Jenny are the same two girls who make up my prayer triplet. Watch out world; there may be some powerful things happening that week : )

Christmas in Normandy, New Years in Belfast, my Home of Homes found in my King of Kings no matter where on earth I find myself... I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify Your name forever (Psalm 86:12)...

May His presence in your life abound this Christmas. May you seek after Him as your greatest treasure, not counting the cost. He is so much greater...
As they say here, "Happy Christmas!"
Leah <><

p.s. New way of viewing the photos:

Saturday, 3 December 2005

Catching You Up

Dear All,

It seems that I write to you in spurts-- some weeks numerous times, some times numerous weeks in between : ) Thanks for putting up with my randomness.

At Veronica's request I'm going to try to give you a few main points at the beginning and then go into detail later on in the letter so you can know a bit of what's been going on without reading the whole long, boring explanation : )

*Thanksgiving-- the week of started off really hard and I missed everyone and everything familiar : ( But all loneliness dispersed when the day of a few friends (Claire and Adriaan) and I organized an afternoon out for cocoa just so I could celebrate this holiday and about 16 of us ended up going out-- everyone gathering around just like a big, beautiful family to celebrate for my sake a holiday they didn't understand or care about : )

*Day in London-- Dave C. (Norwich, UK), Claire (Exeter, UK), Henk (Holland), and I got the cheapest bus tickets we could find and spent last Sunday gallivanting about London in order to attend the Hillsong church service that evening where Delirious were leading worship. Long day, but good fun : )

*Relieving end of term pressure-- End of term time is stressful for everyone so we invent ways to take the pressure off-- like impromptu snowball fights in the garden : )


And now for the weightier descriptions for the diehard among you : )

Thanksgiving was unconventional in nearly every way this year. But I loved it : ) From the moment I went downstairs that morning, everyone was wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving-- some even shouting it in unison. Adriaan made up a 'Happy Thanksgiving' song : ). Dave W. wore his American t-shirt (red, white and blue, of course!). Jo W. made me a pecan pie-- completely out-of-the-blue and gorgeously thoughtful! We got together in the common room that night to devour it and soon random people were wandering in to help us partake : ) Claire, Adriaan and I planned an afternoon out for Hot Chocolate just so I might acknowledge the un-ordinary-ness of the day and we made a little announcement about it at lunch and found that our group of 3 became a group of 16 as my new 'family' rallied around me to celebrate this foreign holiday that they didn't understand or remember. I thought I was feeling quite lonesome that week but I ended up changing my mind : )

It was so beautiful. My white chocolate mocha wasn't quite a turkey feast, but the fellowship was quite like a family. And I think I like this version of Thanksgiving.

We walked back in the darkness of evening with the streets alight with Christmas designs strung up between the antique buildings. His beauty abounds. But that wasn't all... to top it all off, as if my King wasn't gracious and delightful and beautiful enough... That night it unexpectedly began to snow : ) The flakes were full and airy and falling fast, just like Thanksgiving at home.

That Saturday a day student here named Wendy invited me to a Thanksgiving celebration at her church that's put on every year because they have an American family from Texas in their congregation. So, I did have a sort of Thanksgiving feast after all : )

Upon hearing that Delirious were leading worship in London, a small group of us decided to take the day (Sunday the 27th) and walk down to the bus station at 6:45 in the morning only to walk home again at 12:30am that night. We played tourists and hopped from one attraction to the next all day, managing to hit Buckingham Palace, where Her Majesty the Queen herself happened to be that day (No, we didn't see her but they were flying the flag which means she's in : )), Covent Garden (It's not a garden, but a street market with busy stalls and shoppes and street performers), Tower Bridge (Tower Bridge is my favorite of the London landmarks-- so beautiful and regal spanning the River Thames-- which is pronounced "Tems", in case you're interested), Trafalgar Square (I've discovered I love Trafalgar Square. It's this massive, open, courtyard type area in an affluent area of London with huge statues of majestic things to honor the Battle of Trafalgar-- which I don't know anything about... sorry), 10 Downing Street (This is the heavily guarded residence of the Prime Minister. We happened to walk by just as a huge protest was going on outside...), and the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.

Sarah, my friend from Essex that I wrote about visiting a few weeks ago, came down to meet us before the service and some of Dave's friends from Norwich. We all made our way over to Tottenham Court Road to the Hillsong service. The church, a branch off of the Hillsong church in Australia, is held each week in a massive, old Theatre called The Dominion. Delirious is a world-renown Christian rock band from England and they led worship as well as giving the short sermon. Back when I was looking at coming to England was the first time that I really started listening to this group and at the time I remember thinking, "If I move to England, I have to see Delirious." I hadn't anticipated seeing a free concert in a centuries old theatre during an evening church service : ) The entire thing was being recorded for Hillsong's New Years Eve broadcast so we had to have a little countdown and everything. If you happen to see anything from Hillsong this New Years, do watch for me : )

2 and a half weeks until the end of term and suddenly everything is coming due. Funny how it all catches up on you in the end. The pressure is more or less the same for all of us here, though, and we've become suddenly quite studious, locking ourselves away in our rooms or in the various libraries to research for hours on end so that we might compose our essays. Most dinner conversations these days have something to do with compiling how much work we've gotten done that day and calculating how much is left to be done! Midst the stress, though, we manage to make our own fun. One afternoon this week it snowed heavy, thick flakes that covered the ground with a white slush. Not Minnesota snow, mind you, but it was pretty coming down. I took a long walk in it that afternoon knowing that that night would be all about the Doctrine of God essay and the Pauline epistles worksheet. At tea (supper) Adriaan and I planned a top-secret 8o'clock snowman building party to take advantage of the sticky snow but around 7 as I sat trying to produce some essay (thinkthinkthink) I heard a deep Dutch voice calling my name and then -smack- a snowball hit my window, and then -smack- another and there were Dave and Adriaan smiling impishly down below. So I had to run out and join them and what ensued was more fun than playing in the snow ever was even as a child : ) Claire and I attempted to remain neutral as Dave, Adriaan, Paul, Abbie and sometimes Marge swung large globs of wet snow across the garden : ) Then, of course, there were the rollers, the somersaulters, and the kartwheelers... Ah, jolly good fun-- do check out the pictures!

There's so much more to say. Some things I'd love to articulate seem almost too much for words... Perhaps I'll try another day... For now, "be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.

May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and He will do it...

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you." (1 Thess. 5:16-24, 28)

More very soon!
Leah <><
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