Wednesday, 16 November 2005

Beautiful Essex Adventure

Dear All,

My problem is that my weekend was too wonderful. It makes the pressures of school and all that that implies crash down all the harder as the workweek commences.

You see, I stole away on an English adventure with a great guy to befriend and a beautiful sister to visit at the end of the line. Adriaan (Holland) and I walked down to the coach station on Friday afternoon just after the rain poured down in torrents moments before to embark on a journey across the country to visit our friend Sarah who just finished at Redcliffe at the end of last term. We waited for a bus that didn't seem to be coming in a place that we weren't sure it would come to In the end, our bus pulled into London 45 minutes late and we missed our train out of London but it was a beautiful journey in that once we started talking we lost track of the time and just revelled in the adventure of the moment And I learned Dutch-- well, one or two words anyway We tackled the London underground system-- Adriaan having never been in London and I having only been a few times and in no way a seasoned Londoner but it was all part of the grand adventure and we were both too easy-going about whatever happened to care. I even talked him into wandering around the city with me all night if we got stranded because I've always thought it would be a beautiful way to spend a night of my life-- wandering around London : ) We ended up hopping on an entirely different train than our tickets allowed (we had a plan, you see. If the conductor came around to check-- as he usually does-- Adriaan would slip into Dutch and I would just look as foreign as possible and be confused) and arriving in Colchester-- Sarah's city in Essex-- an hour later than planned. Sarah whisked us away to her family's home in the tiny village of Layer-de-la-Haye in the charming Essex countryside and we played games and talked and laughed and had such a cozy time of a first evening. I slept in Sarah's room and it was just like a sleepover only I was reveling in wonderment at the fact that I was having a sleepover with a lovely British lady in England

Saturday was enchanted-- I'm convinced of it. After meandering about the city of Colchester (with poppies in our buttonholes for Rememberance Day weekend to honor the veterans) and snooping about Colchester Castle, we took a bus out into the countryside to a village called Dedham and stepped off into a pastoral scene painted by John Constable in the 18th century... The famous English painter is reknown for using the area in his paintings and frequenting the little village. Dedham was the definition of quiant and English and I was on cloud-nine. We lunched in "The Essex Rose" tea room, sauntered through the age-old village church to watch the afternoon light stream in through the stained-glass windows, described our perfect cottages to one another as we walked past the ones lining each street, frolicked in a bright red British phone box, dragged Adriaan through a decidedly girly artsy shop, climbed the formidable monument at the centre of the village, and (highlight of highlights) gallavanted about the Essex countryside, which entailed a magical visit to a pond of wild trumpeteer swans and a picturesque meander along the River Stour into the county of Suffolk and back again... It was utterly perfect.
That night we cooked together, all three. I had no idea cooking was so much fun. Or that three 'mates', as British Sarah called the three of us (American, Dutch, English, 19, 18, 32) could be so perfectly content just existing together. And the range of conversation! I think it stimulated something in my brain that had been sleeping for the last while... That night Sarah went to bed early so Adriaan and I watched a corny American movie (I'm the first American friend he's had so he had to have that experience of watching an American movie with an American girl ) and then stayed up talking until 2. He's a very tall boy and has a very deep deep voice, but soothing, and I think sometimes I ask him deep questions just to hear his long, involved reply Adriaan says I have "an American face"-- whatever that is. Do I? I always thought I had the Pearson look. Apparently I have the American look as well I think classifying ourselves the way we do is hilariously ridiculous. But it is a fun thing to be told beings that I'm here and I'm American. Hehe
Sunday was precious. Bittersweet because the weekend was suddenly here and then gone again. We went to church with Sarah-- Prettygate Baptist. Prettygate. Mmmm....-- where after the service they come around to the congregation serving tea and biscuits (little cookies) to us right in our seats We hurried home to prepare for a couple of Sarah's friends to join us for lunch. The couple had two little girls, a precocious, ginger-haired 4 year old named Lucy and a 4 month old named Freya. They were an uncharacteristically friendly couple and down-to-earth good fun. After Spaghetti Bolognaise we embarked on a walk (England has public walking trails spilled out all over the country-- through fields and meadows and forests and towns and really anywhere you go, there's a walking path for you), Sarah, Adriaan, Lucy, this couple, the baby in a pram and I. We strolled the English countryside, past stables and through fields, up hills and down. We got that baby pram over stiles and through thickets, I tell you Lucy warmed up to me and took my hand and we raced Adriaan (who's height, we're convinced, intimidated her because he's completely non-threatening in every other way) until she was "out of puff", as she so colloquially phrased it. The afternoon had the same scent of enchantment as the day before had and I found myself very much in love with it all...

Leaving was hard because the whole weekend was such a spontaneous bit of strangeness and delight. It hadn't seemed real, somehow. Like a warm and cozy dream. That's what Essex will be to me now-- a-cuddled-up-with-a-steaming-cup-of-cocoa-before-a-roaring-fire-after-a-long-fresh-walk kind of dreamworld, suspended in time.

The journey back was just as wonderful, lost in hours of stimulating conversation and laughter, and with about an hour's stop to meander about the cold streets of London at night for Adriaan's first time. We arrived in Gloucester after the city had gone to sleep and wandered up the few blocks to college with hearts full after a blissful weekend spent wallowing in the generosity of a precious friend.

So, trading the weight of my backpack for the weight of my schoolwork needing doing is proving to be a trying transition. I'm desperate for discipline but so frustrated when I am working at it. Tonight called for a chilly nighttime chat with my Strong Tower out under Redcliffe tree (where I'm quite certain I laughed and cried in turn and He wiped the tears and clapped my back respectively) and the entire time He delighted my heart with the chrystalline sound of cathedral bells tolling seasonal sounds through the brisk, English night air. When I got back in, after feeling I'd gathered myself around myself enough to really sit down and get some work done without tripping over all the stuff on my heart, Paul knocked on my door (which is rather strange because he's never done that before) to let me know we were getting together in the common room for chocolate and coffee Then Leticia came bounding in, immediately wanted to know what it was that was wrong (is something showing in my face??) and then proceeded to try to melt my worries away with an inpromptu Samba session in her candles-lit, windows-open, Brazillian music-boasting bedroom When I went down to the common room I told myself I would only stay for a few moments and then it was straight up to do some real work for this flagging student. But then Isabela (love this lady) started sharing and God has done some awesome things in her life and I was held transfixed. In the end, out of the twenty-some people who started in that room, Isabela and I were the last ones to leave. So... needless to say, I haven't gotten very far on that work...

But my King is moving, ever-moving, in my heart. And He is beautiful, so beautiful. And so I shall not be overcome by anything but sheer wonder and delight at all that He is to me tonight and all that He's done and all that He has yet to do. Just look at Me, Lovely. Just keep holding My eyes. I know. I know it all. And I'm carrying you...

So I rest...
Leah <><

p.s. Did I mention I adore inpromptu worship sessions with acoustic guitars and guys who can play any song put in front of them?

p.p.s. I should add the disclaimer that if this email is a tad bit too whimsical for your comfort, I've been exhausted for days and this was written way past my 'bed time" : )

**Visit for pictures of my wonderful Essex weekend!!!

Thursday, 10 November 2005

Showers of Blessings (and Fireworks!)

Dear All,

I can't believe I live here. Hehe. You'd think after, what, 9 weeks (?) that I would be used to the idea. But no : ) Continual blessings showering down.

The past two weeks, about, have been interesting ones. It was the turning over from one term to the next with all that that entails-- new classes, new pressures. I've been forced to really dig into study and research for my three major essays coming due. I find the system of study in this country involves so much more self-discipline (NOT a fabulous system for the procrastinators among us... ahem...) because we aren't given so many assignments to be doing and handing in all along. Rather, the assessed work is given one deadline at the end of the course and you're meant to be working on it all along... My private research this term ( with essays due Mid-December) involves a biblical critique of the doctrine of Mary in Roman Catholicism, the missionary methods of an influential individual in church history of which I've chosen St. Patrick in keeping with my exploration of God's laying Ireland on my heart, and the providence of God-- answering the question biblically of whether or not God really does have "a wonderful plan" for every life... It all feels heavy, but it will be so good for me to think through these things and develop a firm grasp on what I think about them according to God's word. The more intense burdens on the academic side of things are my 10 minute public speech that I have yet to decide on, and my leading (from scratch) of a bible study group on Philippians 4. In my nature, these two things seem far too much. I would be crushed under the weight of them if left on my own. Absolutely terrified. But here's where I've got to trust that God knows precisely what He's doing... I covet your prayers for those two things though because I really can be so paralyzed by fear and a feeling that I have nothing to say that hasn't been said before or couldn't be said by someone better. This is an area of my own nature that God is gently but firmly coaxing me to confront and it's... uncomfortable and mortifying. But He's bigger than all my fears...

On the community and friendship side of things, it was an up-and-down weekend! Being the end of the term, some of the short term students (called "Striders" here) finished up their course of study and struck out from Redcliffe to prepare for their respective missionfields. One of these leavers this past weekend was my dear dear darling friend Sarah who's been a part of my "prayer triplet" these past 2 months and whom I've grown closer to so far than, I think, anyone else here. But God has been so good to me, and held me so close and povided so well. The very day she left instead of leaving me to despair, He immediately worked to make some other friendships flourish in my life : ) It was a weekend of celebrations in Great Britain over a holiday known simply as "The Fifth of November"-- set aside each year to celebrate the fact that a man named Guy Folkes did NOT succeed in blowing up the royal family in 1605. It is traditionally celebrated with huge fireworks displays and massive bonfires. On Friday night we here at Redcliffe kicked it off with a bit of sparklers in the garden as a sort of Happy Leaving to Sarah and Emmanuel (another Strider) who were leaving the next day. The whole weekend is well-documented in pictures on my pictures page so do go see!: Later on that night, about 30 of us gathered together in the student common room to send Sarah and Manny off (Sarah to Peru, and Manny to Northern Africa) properly. It was such a blessing to find myself a part of this. We squeezed in arm to arm in a circle, people on the floor, couches, and beanbags, and took the Lord's Supper. Overwhelmingly beautiful. So informal and yet reverent, so much love for one another in Christ gathered in that little room. Redcliffe is such a special place. And I am so incredibly blessed.

Saturday night a group of about 10 of us walked down to the football field-- about 45 minutes walk-- to see the Gloucester City fireworks for The Fifth of November! It was like a strange twist on Independence Day, I have to say : ) They set the display to music and we oohed and awwed and laughed and talked and walked and enjoyed ourselves as a smaller group-- I love getting away into smaller groups. Friendships are always fused. This night it was a deepened friendship with a girl from Northern Ireland named Jenny. She is a star. A beautiful gem. I thought there might be something special about this girl that I could really relate to from the get go but then true, deep connection just didn't happen. But I think it is just like my Heavenly Love to beckon a heart-friend to step in the day He calls a heart-friend away : ) And now Jenny has also joined Leticia and I in our prayer partnership-- filling in the gap that Sarah left in our "triplet" in her own unique Jenny-way, and I am so blessed.

Can I just say, we have developed the best and most ridiculous form of the cardgame Uno here at this school? They call it the Dave and Adriaan Special Edition because they have simply made up the rules as we go and new rules are added by these two guys all the time and it is great fun. I'm determined to transplant it into American circles when I'm back this summer : ) Who knew Uno could be this much fun?

Sunday was brilliant. Still needing some relational security after being shaken by losing someone who I really was secure with, God brought me to a church called Kendal Road Baptist which I, for the first time, felt could really be my church home. I think I may still check out one other just to be fair but this felt so right. And almost immediately upon walking in and sitting down I was invited to lunch at the house of a dear older couple who have travelled the world and are happy to share in their experiences. The church was having this thing called "Hospitality Sunday" where everyone invites everyone over for lunch who maybe don't have families to eat with or whatever. I went with the two Dutch guys from school, Henk and Adriaan, and then another guy from Kendal Road. Jim and Joy's house was absolutely perfectly British, the decorating classy and a bit regal-- just as you'd imagine a proper British home should be : ) And the food was magnificent. I need to learn to cook : ) But even more special was their generosity of spirit. They gave us their whole day and kept me there just talking over cups of tea until 5 o'clock! I am inspired by the generosity and hospitality of so many of the people who have welcomed me into their homes here. I am convicted by how little we in America seem to look outside of ourselves to open up our doors and hearts like so many have done to me here-- even if it just means a meal and a talk. I am determined to be more giving upon returning, even if it means simply more giving of my time...

Sunday night we as a college were invited over to Redcliffe House, which is a grand, large old house across the street where most of the students with families are living for an evening of fireworks and more sparklers to celebrate the Fifth as a community! It was such a beautiful thing to just come together like that outside of school and ordinary purposes. Plus, I got to spoonfeed Grace her dinner and cuddlecuddlecuddle that chubby little baby and that in itself is precious enough : ) I am so touched by the kindness and concern we as a student body have for one another. I love these people. And I am so blessed...

This weekend (Tomorrow! Yay!) Adriaan (Holland) and I are taking off to go see Sarah who is at home in Essex (an English county just above London) until she heads off for Peru. I am so excited!! We decided it was time for just a bit of adventure and both of us, being foreigners here, want to see as much of the UK as possible and decided a few weeks ago that we would become travel partners and embark on adventures whenever we could find a place to stay : ) So, expect me to regale you with tales of our expedition to Essex in time!

Incase I haven't emphasized it enough, I am so uncommonly blessed here. My King is far far too good to me and shows His precious Love in so many ways every day-- whether it be a shy gift out of the blue from a sweet Dutch friend (The Dutch are everywhere in this school :-)), people just popping in to my room to say hello, a quiet afternoon spent out of the college in the sunny chill, Impromptu worship sessions day or night, awesome, awesome prayer times, a rollicking random game of Uno or even just a heartfelt hug now and again. He is beautiful and present His blessings are bigger than the burdens...

Cling to Him : )
Leah <><

p.s. for pictures!

Saturday, 5 November 2005

An Overdue Overview (of Midterm Break in Hastings)

Dear All,

I owe you an email about Mid-term break in Hastings!! I came back nearly a week ago already but hit the ground running with the last week of the term and all that came with it.

Hastings was such a blessing. Just to go away for a week into a state of relaxation-- not to worry about assignments hanging over my head or research to be done on papers coming due or even schedules. It's not that we sat around all week. We did all kinds of things. But we did it on our own time, when we felt like it, rather than at the beckoning of a regimented schedule : )

I stayed with Marge and her parents in their century-old, hilltop house and was welcomed in with only a slight amount of the traditional British reserve. Marge's father was really precious. Very soft-spoken and kind but endowed with a fantastically brilliant sense of humor that twinkled out through his eyes even when he wasn't employing it. Her mom was gracious hospitality itself and must have baked a spectacular English dish every night just to introduce me to true, traditional, English family life. She was especially keen on "puddings"-- which is a general term for desserts of all kinds here and made things like, "Queen of Puddings", "Strawberry Povlova", and "Apple crumble with Custard"-- Doesn't that all sound just terribly English??

Hastings won my heart from the first sight stepping out of the train station to see the ancient ruins of the Hastings Castle of 1067 crumbling majestically on the highest hill overlooking the town-- In American terms, Hastings is very much a "city" rather than a "town", with over 60,000 people and well-spread out. But in England what constitutes a city is a cathedral and Hastings, though it has many beautiful, ancient churches, doesn't have a cathedral... It's built right on the seashore and the original village which was started sometime before 1066 is nestled cozily between two cliff-like hills. The modern-day town has stretched out and been built up all over hill, cliff, nook and cranny. There is an Old Town and then the more modern day part of Hastings. I was captivated, of course, by the Old Town, the bit between the two hills and right up next to the sea (English Channel).

We walked down to the town numerous times a day, sometimes, and then back up again-- to a height of 400 feet above sea level in about a mile's walk. I suppose that's how we earned our "puddin'" each night : ) In the Old Town we'd nip into quiant little shops-- art galleries, antique shoppes, chic home furnishing stores, old-fashioned seaside candy shoppes, fish markets, clothing stores, and on and on the list goes. We visited museums, took a vernicular lift to the top of East Hill overlooking the city, spent Saturday night at a music festival on the victorian pier with a friend from college who came down from London to see us, had a games night with a bunch of Marge's lovely friends from her gorgeously welcoming church, had lunch in a picturesque country pub built in 1532-- dried hop-blossoms hanging from the low beamed ceiling-- with Marge's family and neighbors, ate ice cream cones on the sea shore, explored the fishermen's net huts which are hundreds of years old and still in use and built on the shore in a style unique to Hastings only, went to "chippies" (itty bitty restaurants scattered liberally all across the country where you can get fish and chips-- big, fat french fries, basically-- wrapped up in newspaper-like packages. So very English : )), and as a "family" went to the cinema to see the new "Wallace & Gromit" film because the British love their Wallace and Gromit... We didn't get across the Channel into France, I'm afraid, but I did have my first traditional English cream tea experience and it was lovely-- in a tiny 17th century tea shoppe served with dainty, pink flower-bedecked china and Cornwall clotted cream.

It was such a blessing to be invited into a family and treated like a daughter-- even though it did tend to make me a bit homesick for the first time since I've been here...

Now I'm back to the daily grind and Monday starts a brand new term so many classes are turning over. I'm thick in the midst of a job hunt-- so far what I thought would be the best place to enquire have been dead ends and I'm wondering what exactly my God is up to in that area : ) I've just today sent away a woman who has become in two short months my very dearest friend here at college as she was only here for a short course and finished up her term. I hardly know what I'll do without her but it would seem that God is intensifying other friendships for me all throughout the school to perhaps fill the relationship gap made with Sarah's leaving... So, I am blessed and well provided for by the Greatest of Providers.

His hand is so evident in just everything...
More to come soon! Blessings on you!
Leah <><

p.s. Pictures of Hastings to be found at
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