Thursday, 21 December 2006

Pictures of December College Life

Merry Christmas, everyone!

I'm just passing along the link to pictures taken here throughout December... some fun times :) As well as some sadness as it reached the end of the only semester for a few friends...

I'm off tonight to spend Christmas in the Netherlands with a friend from last year! So expect some lovely pictures-- this is a country I've never been to : )

I will catch you up before I leave for Romania in the new year...

Vrolijk Kerstfeest!
(Merry Christmas in Dutch:))
Leah <><

View the photos HERE!

Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Romania? Me??

"Ask not how little but how much can love give?"
--Amy Carmichael

Dear Everybody,

Main points:
1.) I got the job! Thank you for the prayers!
2.) I've been accepted to work with ROCK in Romania! Thank you for the prayers!
3.) With only a month and a half until I go, I'm needing timely financial support...The goal is to raise $1000.00 by January to go towards the costs of accommodation and flights!

The Job:
I'm sorry it's been so long and I virtually "left you hanging" in the last email! A huge THANK YOU for your prayers about the job interview. It was honestly to my utter surprise and delight that I was successful and was asked on staff at Parallel Options a week or so after. I read in paperwork later that my position usually calls for 2 years previous experience in the field, of which I have none at all, proving all the more certainly that it is by prayer alone... Since then I've been in training whenever time allows-- which makes for some stressful weeks and some heavy workloads, but I'm thankful. I've been interested in the Social Work side of things for years now and this, supporting vulnerable adults, feels like a little foot in the door.

I love that it's not a "normal" behind the counter part-time job. It's, in essence, a ministry of love. But I'm aware that such work brings with it its own variety of difficulties and, to be honest with you, I have very little experience with the mentally disordered, with their trials and joys and hopes and fears. Training has been intimidating thus far, the mental issues I'll be in contact with and behaviours associated with them rather scary, to be plain. I sometimes want to turn right back around and run the few miles back to the safety of my little room at college : ) But I'm trusting that He will equip me with whatever graces needed to represent His love in every dark place... I long to be compassionately understanding and to go in there humbly knowing that I stand to learn more from the people I'm working with than I have to give to them...

The Placement:
So, I've got a job to "put feet to my prayers" (right, Carol? :)) and earn the money desperately needed for this student/missionary lifestyle, but do I have the placement I wrote to you pleading for prayer about?

I heard back from ROCK yesterday and after a rather drawn out and involved application process and numerous hitches, I AM HEADED TO ROMANIA throughout January and February 2007!! This is still rather unreal to me, as Romania seems like the edge of beyond and those babies have only existed in my thoughts and prayers...

It feels like God just keeps confirming my place there-- despite the very real hardship that awaits me. Right now I'm studying for an essay due in Pastoral Care about emotional maturity and the writers are talking alot about child development, as our personalities are primarily developed by age 7. John Powell says that in the first 2 years of life, "the chief need of infants is for tender love, which is communicated primarily through the sense of touch'"-- and I think of the Romanian babies tied to the bars of their cribs to keep them from thrashing about and I think of the babies I saw in that video as a young teen so overwhelmed by human contact after months of the very barest of minimums that they turned away terrified but seemed frozen in horror.

And I wonder why I happened to be born to the parents I was born to, the father who saw to my every material need and held me securely cheek to chest, the mother who fed me, bathed me, loved on me during the day and rocked me to sleep in love each night, the older sister and brother who carried me about like a ragdoll and showered me with kisses and hugs and almost TOO MUCH attention! I can only conclude that I was born into what I was born into to be a platform to reach out from to those who weren't...

"Who can take away suffering without entering it?" --Henri Nouwen

The Plea:
I'm praying for everyone who can to catch the vision and feel a burden to pray and to give. I'm praying for the help of at least $1000.00 by the beginning of January and then putting forth everything that I can on my own as well. I'm praying for prayer warriors who will walk through this time in Romania with me-- starting from now as I strain to raise support and on through the journey as I dive into the culture and swim through the emotional turmoil of the nature of the work I'll be doing with ROCK.

Thank you for how you bless me, each of you in your own ways. I look forward to hearing from you, to knowing how He's moving in your lives as you so often hear how He's moving in mine : ) Thank you in advance for how you'll band together to help me in prayer and in sponsorship in these next few months of His years-- 2006 turning over to 2007. Thank you for understanding the gravity of all this, the life or death nature of this world's need for love as expressed in the faces of these abandoned children of Romania-- and gathering about me to do what we can to enter into that suffering and be His hands and feet...

Leah <><

"Love eachother dearly always.There is scarcely anything else in the world but that:to love one another..."-- Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

Wednesday, 25 October 2006

Please Pray...

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:
to look after orphans and widows in their distress
and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
--James 1:27

Dear All,

I write to you this time with a slightly different objective-- not to inform you of all the incredible things God's been up to in my life, but to call you to engage with Him in those incredible things...

I'm writing to rally your prayers-- for three things, really.
1-- My hopeful mission placement in January/February
2-- Finances for my mission placement in Jan/Feb
3-- The outcome of a job interview

I'm desperate for your prayer over my mission placement in January/February. You may remember that as part of my course here I am meant to go off on a short-term mission placement lasting 6-7 weeks each year. Last year I ended up in Belfast working at a regeneration project in an impoverished and war-torn part of the city. It was both incredible, and incredibly last minute as other opportunities along the way fell through. This year I've endeavored to get things worked out in a timely manner to alleviate a bit of the stress surrounding the whole placement experience.

One of the American students here, Kate from Michigan, put me in touch with a ministry in Romania called ROCK-- Romania Outreach to Christ's Kids ( and I checked it out and almost instantly fell in love with the idea. This would mean moving to Romania for 7 weeks to hold, cuddle, care for, and love on babies abandoned to an understaffed hospital. The very thought of these littlest of God's children left there without someone to love them utterly breaks my heart... I got in touch with the administration in CA and was told that they were waiting for someone to get back in at the office and to keep praying about it and they would get back to me then. That was two weeks ago. This pressure in my heart is growing day by day. What started as a nice idea has become a burning passion. And I long to get to those babies....

I wish I could make you understand where I'm coming from on this-- how this very thought is testimony to our "God Who Doesn't Waste A Thing" (which ought to be an official name of God, I think :)). You see, it started when I was 14. I remember reading a book from my church library called "Acres of Hope" which was all about a foster family and how God moved in their triumphs and defeats. He awakened my heart to foster care then, hearts and homes open to love the children of the world who go unloved, and I've long wondered how He would use it.

Then when I was a sophomore in high school, God laid a burden for babies on my heart that went far past the "Oh, how cute!"'s and the "Oh, I just love babies." I do just love babies. Anyone who knows me at all ought to know it : ) But it's deeper than that.

"How much more there is in a baby than just sweetness and the appealing innocence of baby days," Amy Carmichael once wrote, "All the great thoughts of God lie behind that little life, all the great purposes."

In this, she expressed my very heart. He drove this home to me when my sister and brother-in-law had my niece Abby the Spring before I left for England. My niece exemplified to me all the greatest thoughts of God...

But I can remember one night as a sophomore (16, maybe?) when I was having trouble sleeping and in the wee hours of the morning I happened upon an old video cassette in a drawer. Curious about what was on it, I carelessly put it on, little knowing what I would find would move me to tears and forever after make a home in my heart. It started out as some news program from before I was born. Mom used to tape them sometimes, I assume, for when dad was working late and would miss the news. But then came this special about the psychology of babies. They did some study (over twenty years ago now, assumably) on fussy, perpetually unhappy babies and their relationships to their mothers. They found, not surprisingly, that the baby of a mother who was preoccupied with some kind of personal problem was quite distressed and wasn't connecting well with its mother, or anyone else for that matter, and was actually behind in all kinds of developmental areas. They then compared this to the development of orphaned babies in overcrowded and understaffed orphanages in South America.

The images of those babies staring out of wide, frightened eyes from between the iron bars of their cribs have haunted me since that night; the awkwardly-shaped bodies stunted in growth by the very absence of human touch; the way a baby's expression would register shock and horror as a human moved to reach out to her, and how she, in the end, seemed to just slowly lay her little face down into the mattress, overwhelmed.

My heart was broken that night.

Later, during my year at Concordia, I studied some developmental psychology and it all came back to me. In my fed up moments when I didn't think I could stand normal life a minute longer with all its selfish ambition and temporal focus, I would go searching for volunteer opportunities in orphanages in South America.... But it was always just a silly thought in the back of my mind. After all, from the viewpoint of modern-day, middle-class America, this sort of deprivation is the stuff of novels, not a reality.

But it is a reality. "The reason there are so many abandoned children in Romania," the website explains, "is when Nicolae Ceausescu was dictator, he demanded that every woman of child bearing age conceive and bear five babies. And the repercussion of NOT having children resulted in heavy taxing of the family members where the RESULTS were children who could not be fed and housed by their underpaid parents. So currently Romania has over 180,000 abandoned children."

And it's a stark reality. It would not be some airy-fairy dream-come-true placement, but hard-- perhaps more devastating than anything I've ever witnessed in my life. I'm aware that after this I can never be the same. Yet, my heart burns.

So, what I'm asking you to pray for is that God might open doors for me to join ROCK ministries for this year's placement in January and February. Please pray that the ROCK administration and I might have clear communication and we will be in good, solid, making-things-happen contact in the very near future as I have to be on placement somewhere and need time to arrange whatever it might be if ROCK isn't in God's will for me at this time (possibly working alongside church planters in Donegal, Ireland, or with an organisation that runs Christian bookstores across the UK, but I don't want to pursue these until the door to ROCK has been firmly shut in my face).

I'm also in dire need of sponsors. I know that when God calls, He also equips, and in my case I not only need to be equipped at the heart level, but at the financial one. I would ask that you might pass my name along to anyone you think might have a particular interest in orphans, Romania, or simply a struggling mission/ministry student aching to know the heart of God and to follow it wherever it leads... I will pass along the specific financial needs when I know whether or not I've got this placement this year, but right now it's looking like a flight alone will be around $400.00.

Last but not least, I covet your prayers over a job interview that I had this morning with an organisation called Parallel Options which basically strives to empower mentally handicapped people to live as independently as possible. My role as a Support Worker would be to, in essence, come alongside the clients and be a helping hand to enable them to achieve that independence. Because of a plan they have for student support workers, it would mean flexible hours week by week, freeing me up to put studies first-- which is vital. Obviously, I have no experience at all in this field which makes me doubtful about a successful outcome to the interview, but the fact that I got an interview must be promising, right? At any rate, I need this job, especially as placement time looms on the horizon and I must gather some money to put theory into practice and go on mission... Please would you pray that I get it!

Thank you so much for your continued prayers, for holding me up to our awesome God. You cannot know how your presence in my life across all these miles blesses and sustains me in this journey. Thank you, thank you, thank you for caring!

Leah <><

"Only live for Him who redeemed you and trust Him to take care of you,
and He will."
-- Amy Carmichael, "Candles in the Dark"

(Go here to see a video from the ROCKministries website that really touched my heart...)

p.s. Jen, I'd love to talk about Romania with you in light of this!
p.p.s. If someone from Faith Baptist wants to spread this around to anyone who might be interested at church, I'd be grateful : )

Sunday, 8 October 2006

Courses, Friends and Travel!

(View Pictures of the past 3 weeks here!)

Dear All,

A *quick* update (mostly just to send you the link to the bazillion photos I've been compiling-- The American girls and I have been sharing our photos so there's much more of everything!)...

This term I'm taking only 5 classes (each year the required classes becomes a smaller number while the work required for those classes grows!).

Ethics is taught by one of my favourite tutors, Rob Cook, and I soak it up. In this class we explore the "grey areas" of Christianity-- discussing issues that touch our world today, that God's Word doesn't speak directly on, to attempt to uncover a Christian ethic for the issue. Starting later this month we must break into small groups of three and create a 2 hour presentation on an ethical issue to put before the class! As you can probably imagine, I am dreading this with all my heart! My group will be exploring the hugely controversial ethics of medicine to inform the class of each side of the arguments surrounding it... CANNOT WAIT for this to just be done so I can get on with life... But the class itself is interesting, taught by a great thinker and seeker of Truth!

Pastoral Care is taught by a tutor called John Carter who comes in from another uni once a week on Wednesday mornings. I am very excited about this class! Pastoral Care is the area of ministry I am most interested in. A few examples of positions that fall under this title are things like Christian counselors and chaplains, but the skills of Pastoral Care are employed everywhere there are human relationships. The course runs all year, rather than the term or semester that most classes run, and is unlike the more theological and academic classes most plentiful at Redcliffe.

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit is taught by Derek Foster, one of my favourite tutors here at Redcliffe, I am not ashamed to admit, and has captivated me from the beginning. How multi-faceted and impossible to pin down is the doctrine of the Holy Spirit of God afterall?? We're studying perspectives on what/who the Holy Spirit is and what Jesus' giving Him to us means on a corporate level as well as personally. You can imagine how interesting the discussions are in such a place as Redcliffe with so many nations and denominations represented in one classroom! I love the challenge it is to think through all the different views and search for the one closest to God's own heart...

Psalms is, as you can imagine from the name, a class studying the Psalms!! And I adore it... It hardly feels like a theological course as I study the literary forms and contexts of the 150 Psalms, and work on a creative piece of work using a Psalm for my assessment at the end of the course! It brings up in vivid colour my fascination of the study of English Literature and does make me quite miss being an English major :) It's taught by the hilarious and brilliant Derek Foster, our Old Testament Scholar here at Redcliffe.

The Gospel of Mark is taught by Richard Johnson-- who may have just about the sharpest mind I've ever known, along with being the epitome of "absent-minded professor" : ) I love the Word of God so I take most any class that means delving into it deeper. This course will mean writing an exegesis on a passage in Mark, the study for which I rather enjoy if only I didn't feel so pressed by the study for everything else!

Somehow, there are never enough hours in the day.

Aside from study, I have been attempting to be extraverted to get to know the new people (Aside from Rachel and Kate, who are 19 year old American's from Moody Bible Institute and with whom I've become fast friends already!)-- though I burn out on that quickly. And we've been trying to make the most of Rachel and Kate's time here by finding ways to travel to nearby historic cities on Saturdays! Last week my friend Helen--whose husband is a third year-- drove us to Oxford for the day (do check out the pictures)! It was incredible to walk and touch and see the places and things I've only ever heard about and read about in this amazing historic university city. This week a new student called Polly took us to Stratford-upon-Avon where Shakespeare was born and raised. I'd been there once before when I was 14 and visiting England with my Auntie Melissa, but it all seemed brand new 6 years and a million experiences later! We spent the afternoon meandering through the Cotswolds and I fell in love with the enchanted Cotswold village called Bourton-on-the-Water (Pictures, pictures, pictures!) as well as getting to know Polly a little (who assures me she'll be my friend when Rach and Kate leave in December :))

Then today my pastor and his wife, Steve and Debs, had the girls and I over for a lovely Sunday Roast and then a Rugby match on the telly-- and it is soo lovely to settle into a family, especially one I adore so much as this one, and just feel at home amongst them. Steve, Debs, their daughters Bex and Megan, and Kate and Rach, my own little family for a day : ) It's a beautiful thing to find yourself at home when you mightn't be farther from it...

Anyway, so much for a "quick update"! Though it would be ever so much longer if I wasn't so exhausted after a weekend well-spent :) Do look through the pictures. I take everso many in hopes that I might bottle this up for you, even in its smallest measure.

All my love! I miss you so : )
Leah <><
p.s. Pictures here.

"Lord, may Your Spirit rest upon me and never depart from me. Prove your mighty power in my soul day by day, in such a way that all men will see that God is almighty to save and to keep."-- Andrew Murray, "Absolute Surrender"

Friday, 22 September 2006

First Week Back in England

"Where our depravity meets His divinity, it is a beautiful collision."
-- unknown

Dear All,

This past Saturday I arrived back at college and I now write this from my same lovely bedroom overlooking the vast back garden with a slightly warm autumn breeze wafting in through the open window. It's a whole new sort of strange this year. I smiled sleepily this time around touching down in London as the sights were familiar and somewhat mine. There was a polo match on the grass of a city park, horses, helmets and all. The porter called me love as he thanked me for his tip upon setting my gargantuan luggage down by the gate of my bus to Gloucester. I felt so calm, so aware, even though sleepy!

My friend's Beth and Paris (a mum and daughter from Wales) met me at the bus station in Gloucester with the two younger kids, Georgia and Isaac. Big hugs all around and many, "I've missed you"'s and some tears : ) I am so blessed. How different this year to arrive to the greetings of dear friends rather than completely lonely newness! And that was only the beginning! Once at college there were more greetings to be made and more hugs to be had and it truly felt a sort of homecoming which so eased the pain of having just left family and home again.

The new strangeness is in the emptiness of college without the dear friends from last year that haven't come back (though, thank the Lord, many people did-- there are also many who did not and it changes everything :(). This year's student population is the largest it's been in all of Redcliffe's 116 year history (last year I was the only American student-- this year I am 1 of 6! Including two really sweet new friends from Moody Bible Institute :)) but even so there is an emptiness : ( God in His grace knew my fragility upon leaving home to come so far away and placed people in my life last year who cannot be replaced and for whom I will be forever grateful. The new crop has a few gems of it's own, I'm finding, but it is a slow discovery having come out of a year with such a family feel and into a new one that feels far more institutional. It's been such a short while, though. God has much to delight me with in the coming year!

It seems increasingly clear that my life's story is meant to be written into Europe as I find it increasingly difficult to imagine going back to live in the States indefinitely. I am captivated by the people here, the cultures, the histories, the needs... I've only been back 7 days but it can somewhat feel as if I never really left as I settle seamlessly back into my Redcliffe life. It feels good to be back in England. My heart has come home here even as it left home in America. And I feel different this year. It's hard to explain yet it's almost tangible. I feel a new sort of freedom in my Christ, a new sort of boldness and confidence. Trust. He is a firm foundation and somehow this year I feel I know it in my heart like never before. He is bathing parts of me in peace where before I have known only anxiety and worry there. He is teaching me to rest in Who He is more than what He does. I have the undeniable impression that He is up to something (not that He's ever not up to something : )) and I can't help but feel excited and honoured and delighted and joyful and thankful that He's letting me be privy to it : )

I so want you to know what I mean. The beauty of it is that He's not a secret God and He doesn't do things in the dark so I know that anything I share with you about Him and what He's up to is open for you too to know and experience for yourself. And that's what I so long for everyone sweet enough to read my massive scribblings-- that you'll seek to know this God (either for the first time or just better!) and His unexplainable Love and illogical grace and inexpressible mercy. I know I call Him "my God" but He was always meant to be yours too : ) Don't miss out on that incredible gift...

So thankful for this extraordinary time He's given me in my life to soak up and learn and take in and experience, for the lessons learned through good times and the lessons learned in bad ones... Please pray that whatever each day may bring I won't waste a moment of this grace-drenched life!!

Much love,
Leah <><

p.s. If you'd like to, please pray for wisdom in discernment in choosing which classes to take and that He will provide a job that is "just right" to bring in some finances without taking away from my studies. Expect info on what classes I decide to take this term someday soon, as well as new pictures of the start of my new year once I get around to taking some : )

Wednesday, 13 September 2006

And I'm Off!

"Let's not pitch our tents in the realm of the norm. Knowing our King is an endless frontier of discovery, passion, and depth. To pursue Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength is to experience the fullness of joy."
-- Eric Ludy, God's Gift to Women

Dear all,

It's been quite a while since my last "dear all" letter : )

Just writing to inform you that I'm off to England again for my second year at Redcliffe College! I fly out Friday morning (September 15th) to arrive in London Saturday morning (Septermber 16th-- around midnight our time) but I leave Park Rapids tomorrow (Thursday, September 14th) morning to spend one last day with my niecey and my sister and my mom and probably my Grandma.

My heart's just not quite ready to leave everyone again, even while being psyched to get back to England and to friends and life there. I wonder at His plans. To think that He allows someone like me-- sooo attached to my family and friends, so shy in new friendships, so close to the ones I've been gifted with-- to move such great distances for such long periods of time is... somewhat hard to understand, but Europe has captivated me since even before I first stepped foot there when I was 14. So I pursue this : ) But this year I have an idea of what I'm getting myself into and if it resembles last year even slightly than I am bound to make some amazing friends that become like family and broaden my every horizon in ways I never thought possible-- while being challenged sometimes beyond what I think I can bear up under.

I still don't know of a specific direction career-wise for this education. I just know the experience will not be wasted, cannot be wasted. If I learn nothing else from my three years studying Him, His Word, and His ministry there in Gloucester, I will have learned how to cling to the God who knows it all and is happy to guide me along if I press in close to Him and trust.

So... here's to pressing in close and learning to trust!!

I'll be sure to send a more comprehensive report of the goings-ons once I've gotten resettled in : )

Much love!!
Leah <><

p.s. to continue in the fine photo-sharing tradition, you can see photos from my summer in the states here.

Sunday, 21 May 2006

Update from Belfast!

Dear All,

(See pictures of my time thus far-- here!)

It's the beginning of my third week here in Belfast and I'm finding a home for myself, slipping into a roomy routine, and, for the most part, managing the accents : )

Having come here with the view of being put to use within the Children's work at Oasis, it's been a disappointment to have still not received back my criminal records check giving me the legal okay. But perhaps it's a blessing in disguise (He often seems to know what He's doing, after all : )) because in the meantime, I'm delegated to the Oasis coffee shop bussing tables. I have no complaints about the coffee shop (it is exactly the sort of place that I would want to frequent with my friends or my studies), the people I'm working with (Phil is a kind, young Christian guy who manages the whole place with impressive efficiency and knows most customers by name and Angela is a darling single mother of three who grew up in East Belfast and has a lovely gift-- as I find many of the Irish do-- of gab!), or the work, really. It's nice to know I'm needed and to feel helpful. But it was even nicer when I viewed it as a temporary position before moving on to working with the kids. Clearing away dirty dishes and rinsing out half-drunk mugs isn't exactly the first thing I would think of in terms of ministry : ) Still, I think there must be no better way to get to know the average East Belfast person trying to make their way in this part of the world than to actually get right in there and work alongside them...

I spent one morning helping out in the playgroup of 3-4 year olds back when we assumed that would be my position in only a matter of time (CRB check) and it took no time at all for the darling little children of Inner East Belfast to win my heart. Imagine the petite, lisp-y voice of a three year old and then throw in a very generous helping of thick Belfast brogue and see if you can resist adoring them as they draw you into their carefree world of play : ) The facility was impressive as well, with stations of educating play set up in an accommodating church hall and two patient ladies running the show. I felt immediately a "yes" in my spirit; "This is it. I fit here" --so ready to move in and love on these precious kids who will be the next generation of souls surviving in this troubled part of the city.

But instead I'm learning to humbly and happily step in where needed-- the coffee shop-- and cherish each and every experience here in Northern Ireland as a dear gift and a piece of life's puzzle.

My experience with Oasis is not at all limited to the coffee shop or children's work. Cliff, the executive director, though he at first didn't seem to know what to do with me : ), magnanimously invites me to every meeting he thinks might be informative. I have sat in on a managerial meeting for one of Oasis' projects called Imago, which reaches into the mental health issues to be found in East Belfast, and a sort of sales pitch of Oasis itself to a board of professionals. I've been able to (and will continue to!) shadow a dear sweet lady called Isobel who heads up a branch of Oasis called the Good Neighbours Project, which reaches out to the isolated elderly of East Belfast. Last Tuesday she and I spent our morning at Stormont Castle, where the Northern Irish parliament meets (think, Capitol Hill in DC), rubbing elbows with Members of Parliament at an Age Concern meeting highlighting pensions for women in Northern Ireland. It was such an unforgettable delight to be welcomed in to an official meeting with representatives from organisations all over Northern Ireland and indeed the UK-- dressed up, footsteps echoing down those wide, elegant halls, lunch in a regal, high-ceiling-ed room overlooking the expansive front lawn, and sweet Isobel to tag along with.

My greatest struggle, if it can be called that, is just feeling isolated. I miss friends! But the people I do get to spend time with are lovely. And in my freetime, I'm going out and discovering what I can of this city, especially this particular part of it. If we remember anything at all about Belfast, it's usually sketchy rumours of The Troubles. But East Belfast is the birthplace of C.S. Lewis and what was once his grandfather's church is just up the street from where I live. Interestingly, the doorhandle to the parsonage next door is in the shape of, can you guess?, a lion's head : ) East Belfast is also the home of the Harland and Wolff shipbuilding company, the very one that built the Titanic, and the two giant cranes that dominate the Belfast skyscape from most any view (my favorite one being from my hallway window!) are affectionately known as Samson and Goliath. I hear that the shipyard has been shutting down bit by bit over the years, adding vast unemployment to everything else the people of East Belfast are trying to overcome.

And the more I learn about all that needs overcoming, the more compassion I feel and the more I appreciate and respect Oasis' presence here-- reaching out to these people and attempting to regenerate the community. I'm continuing to reach a fuller understanding of the situation here and the needs presented in that. Each conversation is another chance to be educated, whether it be with one of my awesome housemates at who-knows-what-time of night, with the little snowy-headed man cleaning up the church steps on the corner who resembles quite distinctly the image in my head of what little old Irish men are meant to look like and so wins my heart immediately : ), or with the chit-chatty ladies in the coffee shop on a break from work. I feel so privileged to not just be studying about these people or their situations, but to actually be in it with them, walking their streets, hearing their stories, and bringing my own to exist alongside theirs... God is very much using all that I'm seeing and doing here to shape and form my heart and, I feel, my future, as I taste what this Christian Ministry stuff is about. And I hope He's using me to point to Him...

Again and again He is laying on my heart that it all goes back to Love. His Love-- translated through Grace. All the great things Oasis is doing in this community (for it is great; I have so much respect for and belief in this organisation as I've come to see it up close!) would be nothing without His Love.

"'The world can do almost anything as well as or better than the church,' says Gordon MacDonald. "You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick. There is only one thing the world cannot do. It cannot offer grace.' MacDonald has put his finger on the church's single most important contribution. Where else can the world go to find grace?"

I've been reading Philip Yancey's What's so Amazing about Grace--incredible book! And I've been thinking about His unending Love. I've been so challenged looking around me at this situation in Northern Ireland-- the seemingly solution-less problem causing such deep-seated hate and hostility... Even the very week I arrived a 15 year old catholic boy was brutally beaten to death by a group of protestant boys in Ballymena, reminding us that though things are better, they are far from healed... Already in two weeks time I find myself frustrated by how little I can do about anything. It just seems such hopeless foolishness from the outside looking in. And Northern Ireland’s situation is just one in a world of such foolish injustices; and a collective case to boot—He has the added frustration of knowing the very heart of every one of us, and who knows what kind of situations far outweighing the Northern Irish one He must find in there. I wonder that His love doesn't run out. This book has been His timely whispering reminder to me that it's His grace that makes that Love possible, a grace so deep and so distinctive...

And so, resting in His truly amazing Grace and reaching out through His unending Love, I am cherishing the challenge of this fantastic placement, taking it all into my heart, and falling more in love with Him by the day as I come to know and love this wee country and the people of it-- the only thing that can make any lasting difference here (or anywhere!). Thank you so much for your prayers...

Leah <><
(p.s. Pictures here they will be updated off and on as I take more!)

Sunday, 7 May 2006

I'm Moving to Northern Ireland Today!

"She is led by [L]ove. The world moves for [L]ove, it kneels before it in awe..."-- M. Night Shyamalan

Dear All,

(Pictures of my Spring in England!)

When I was in Northern Ireland over New Year's and called home to wish my family a happy holiday, Mom's first comment was that someone had told her they would never let their daughter go to Northern Ireland and was I alright? Yes, Mom. Quite alright. So alright, in fact, amongst the people and places of that bit of the island, that I will be moving there on May 8th for a five week missions placement with an organisation called Oasis in East Belfast.

Belfast has been, in all actuality, a war zone for the past three decades, wracked with paramilitary activity resulting in guerrilla warfare between the Loyalists (Protestant) and the IRA-- Irish Republican Army (Catholic). The breakdown, as I understand it, is that the IRA wants a united Ireland (and clearly blowing each other up will work toward that end) and the Loyalists are "loyal to the crown" and determined to stay part of the United Kingdom.

You must understand that The Republic of Ireland, primarily Catholic, was oppressed by "the crown" for hundreds of years and only won their independence in 1921. Northern Ireland (or Ulster in relation to the whole island), primarily Protestant because of many Presbyterian church planters coming over from Scotland way-back-when, feared that Irish rule would equal Catholic Church rule and so preferred to remain within the UK's rule. This led to highly preferential treatment of Protestants in N. Ireland and terribly cruel treatment of Catholics-- the jobs going to the Prods, the housing in their favour, and even rigged elections and such. In the 1960's, spurred on by the Equal Rights campaigns in America, Equal Rights issues between the Catholics and Protestants in N. Ireland came to a head, and erupted in a battle that has raged for approximately 30 years.

The tension this has caused in Northern Ireland, known to the people there as "The Troubles," has claimed more than 3,600 lives since 1969-- many of them innocent, unsuspecting civilians, and young men and women on both sides impassioned for a cause they believe in enough to devote their entire lives to; a low, horrid, desperate war going on right under our noses. I certainly hadn't heard more than a light comment or two in passing about these struggles. In 1998, the Good Friday agreement set out a formula for power-sharing and demilitarization and thankfully peace has been coming slowly since. In July 2005, the IRA announced that it was laying down its weapons for good and since then it's been confirmed that the IRA has fully disarmed -- a historic step toward peace. The British gov't has cut its military presence in Northern Ireland by half.

Reading about the bloody battles and lives lost in atrocities next to impossible for me to imagine in this modern western country is appalling. Meeting, knowing and taking into my heart the dear people of this wee tormented but healing nation is an incredible blessing. Oasis does cross-community (cooperation between the Catholics and Protestants) work in East Belfast, a part of the city where 'The Troubles' hit hardest. They operate many community-building activities. I'll start out working in the coffee shop and Fair Trade shop, building relationships with the people of the neighborhood, and then move on to work with children and infants in day cares, play groups, and afterschool groups once my criminal records check comes back. This is a very rough sketch of what the placement will entail and I won't actually know really what I'm doing until I'm doing it. In the meantime, I'm learning to "know nothing but Love," as a visiting lecturer put it last term, and to trust that Love never fails, no matter the circumstances I'm presented with in this new move to the unknown.

I'll be staying with my dear dear friend Jenny's fiance Gary and his housemate Gus, who live just down the road from the Oasis offices, and taking in all that Belfast has to offer in my free time. I hope to glean from the people of Northern Ireland a bit of their culture and history up close and perhaps come to realize the very reasons why Ireland as a whole is so inextricably laid on my heart...

Please pray. I'm realizing again and again that I can do nothing without that. Pray for confidence. Not so much in myself, but in who I am in Him. I have struggled very much in looking at doing Christian ministry to find my place, my gifts. All around me people are so intelligent or so brave or so kind or so good. I live with prophets and preachers and teachers and prayer warriors. Their are people here who speak like Billy Graham and study like A. W. Tozer. There are people who seem to be able to connect with everyone they meet, draw them out and completely touch their lives. There are people who seem to be able to discern the needs around them and problem-solve to meet them. They don't seem to fear their inadequacies, if indeed they have any, but humbly excel at everything they put their minds to. In myself I find I have so many fears that hide from me any excellence of my own. I despair at public-speaking of absolutely any kind, and let's face it, much of the Ministry is exactly that, and even my passion for writing doesn't necessarily equal any talent when it comes to papers and things. Everyone seems to have at least an idea of what their hearts are called to doing to make this world a better place, and they're developing effective methods and techniques to carry that out. I've tried and tested and pricked and prodded and failed and succeeded and laughed and cried my way through so many attempts at ministering this year, and only one gift and burden all rolled into one remains with me through all. I love. I love utterly. Perhaps not in effective methods or fancy words, but in spirit and truth. I think that's meant to be my gift, the spring that all action in ministry flows from. Perhaps I don't excel in eloquence, elegance, intellect or talent, but I do love, and He gives evermore abundantly as I learn to reach out past my fears and give it away... Pray that I will rest in that Gift of Him, in its power; that I will continually open it up and share it around, during this daunting 5 week placement in Northern Ireland and well beyond....

"If I speak the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing..."-- 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

May you know this Love that moves the world, this Love that someday soon all knees will bow before in awe. Prayers for you all...
Leah <><

(Pictures of the past few months)

Sunday, 2 April 2006

Pictures of the Past Few Months

Dear All,

This is just a quick update to send you the link to pictures of the past few months before I head off tomorrow for a week in Sweden visiting friends with a friend for Easter break! I'll have many more pictures to share with you after that if you wish : ) It's been five years since I was last there; five years and a hundred lifetimes of change...

We intend to have a beautiful time.

I am missing so many of you, wishing to write and yet not chiseling out the time to do so. After I return from Sweden, expect a proper update...

Seek hard after The Very Purpose. "He is nearer than our own soul, closer than our most secret thoughts" (A. W. Tozer).

Leah <><

p.s. The full link:

Wednesday, 22 February 2006

Real Update-- Finally!

Dear All,

I owe you a hefty update. I'm sorry it's so long in coming....

What all has God been up to in my life in the last 2 months?? Probably far more than only 2 months ought to hold. But He's gentle with me, and patient.

I've just gotten back to school after a term break spent house-sitting with 3 of the most gorgeous people God ever made-- each in their own precious way. There were many late night chats and lazy afternoons of studying together. There were attempts at true cooking (which, according to my Dutch guinea pigs, didn't turn out half bad) and lots of American style chocolate chunk cookies in Dutch and Ugandan tummies : ) There was MUCH worship. Much, much worship. Whether it was just me and Adriaan heralding in the afternoon with his guitar and our God or Vinyard and Matt Redman blaring over the stereo at all hours. There was some star-gazing-ful nights, and lots of goofing off on the big trampoline in the back-garden. There was some girly squealing over a certain someone's wedding this Saturday (okay, so sometimes Dorcas and I would dance around the kitchen giggling about her fiance coming in this weekend from Israel until Adriaan and Henk raised some eyebrows but you know, whatever! A marriage built on the Glory of God is worth celebrating!!). There were long walks through the peaceful English suburb (about a thirty minute walk from college), short bus trips to nearby Cheltenham for evening church and window-shopping on this year's Best Shopping Street in the UK (apparently they vote on it), and filling the house up with friends (we had a sleepover with other friends from college for Valentine's Day : )). I managed to convince my Dutch counterparts to see not one but TWO Audrey Hepburn movies with me this week (Roman Holiday and Breakfast at Tiffany's, for whoever's interested : )). There has been God, major God, going on in my heart (praise, praise, praise, praise, praise!) and I have just spent a sweetly memorable week of my life looking after a house and a cat for my pastor's family on vacation in Austria with 2 lovable Dutchmen and a fabulous Ugandan lady!

And now it's back to class and time to get serious about getting essays done before the end of third term! This term I have been taking a very full load (8 courses out of the required 6):

'Between the Testaments' on Monday mornings is an over-view of the history between Malachi and Matthew since apparently the world wasn't put on hold during that gap of centuries : ) We were assessed through a group presentation for this course which meant putting together a lecture on the Essenes with a few other students. The other presentations were on the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Zealots.

'Wealth and Poverty', the next two hours of my Monday morning, is a course I'm auditing simply so I can attend the lectures that look interesting on the syllabus and skip the rest since Simon-- Principal Steer-- teaches in just such a way to completely put me off learning anything (lovely man, not my style of teacher).

'Islam' on Tuesday morning is one of those classes that I feel I must go to since I have this opportunity to learn something about this huge world religion but I feel no passion for and not much interest in, unfortunately. Still, I'm sticking it out and auditing it with the feeling that it's important to soak up as much as is available to me.

'Developing Spirituality' has got to be one of my favorite courses ever. It gets past all the classes of facts and outlines and zeros in on the actual meaning of all this-- relationship with God. Each week we discuss another key area of relating to God in mainstream Christianity and then we have to challenge ourselves to exercise that area in some way we haven't necessarily done before. Rosemary facilitates it and I adore Rosemary. (She's also working with me on arranging my missions placement which will hopefully be taking place in Ireland this May/June!)

'Primal Religions' is one of the most interesting of my classes this term. To study the beliefs of primal sorts of cultures across the world keeps pointing right back to an innate "eternity set in the heart of man" and I love that... Plus to see the world through another shade of glasses so radically different from what I know is incredibly enlightening...

'Evangelism&Discipleship' is a bit of a challenge because I really don't care for those kind of categories, to be honest. I believe our entire lives, our every moment, ought to be an evangelical mission and a discipling time. I hate thinking of what would be "most effective". JUST LOVE!! Just love with His love. But it's good for me to get a look at the traditional "forms" of evangelism and to be introduced to "what's hot" in modern Western Evangelism, as well as dig a bit deeper into the definition of Discipleship and learn of some good examples and good sources for learning more!

'Post-Modernism' is one of my favorite courses. Partly because I love the way Rob Cook teaches, the way he thinks, and partly because I love philosophy and setting my mind to thinking on such a track. It's very likely my hardest course yet because every thought is so slippery. As soon as I think I've got my mind around it, it flits away. But fascinating, anyway : ) And so great to still study philosophy as I did at Concordia last year but with a biblical basis to fall back on.

I'm taking an extra course on Saturday's in 'Children's Ministry'. It's a full day of classes every other Saturday covering everything from child development to leading a child to Christ to running a youth club. I figure somewhere down the line this might be useful knowledge to have gained!

I'm still doing my concurrent placement on the chaplaincy team at the hospital. I'm still being stretched every Friday morning. I'm still taking a deep breath before I throw open those swinging doors to my ward and I'm still approaching each bed with a fragile smile made firm only in His grace. And I'm still being blessed by conversations and prayers I have with the patients there, while being turned away by others. I'm still learning when to reach out and take someone's hand and when to hold back, when to open the Jesus window and when to simply gaze at them through it, when to speak and when to listen. But I have dear gentle teachers.

My dear dear friend Jenny was proposed to by her awesome, rare, incredible man-of-God boyfriend this term! I got to meet him when I stayed in N. Ireland over New Year's and was so impressed. I think when she came back from a friend's wedding in Scotland with a perfect, petite diamond ring on her finger, I was as excited as she was : ) Since then I've become her wedding accomplice this side of the Irish Channel-- afternoons of dress shopping and evenings of talks and laughter about it all. Jenny is one of the dearest people God has ever made and He will use she and Gary united as a force to be reckoned with... I love romance with a purpose.

Selifishly, I'm thankful because this means she'll still be in England next year since Gary, who's also Northern Irish, will be moving here to Bath for further study.

Which leads me to my next (and final, for now!) subject-- the decision to stay on here at Redcliffe for my degree. I really started to worry about making the decision just after Christmas as I felt I needed to take some concrete steps, but each time I would try to say 'yes' or 'no' I would bombard myself with all the pros and cons and all decision-making capabilities (which are low in my personality anyway) would completely flee the scene... Should I stay on and earn my BA here? In Applied Theology? What about English literature and writing? That passion hasn't decreased. What about America? If I stay here, I accept the 'unbelongingness' of ex-pat-hood as life. And what at the end of the three years? What then? I will be even more not at home where I came from, but I'll not be at home here either, so where will I be? Where will I go? What will I do? I have no certain "call" into traditional missions/ministry after this. And then I was worried about the social aspect of it. We are all people on the move and if I come back next year there will be turnover. I'll lose Jenny. I'll lose Adriaan. Two of my closest friends here. Gracie's family will be in Mozambique, Henk will be back in Holland getting married, Ruth will be in Chile, Darren, Aifionn and Finlay will be in Portugal. Most of the families I babysit for will be gone and I've grown attached. I'm so concious that the next 5 months with them will fly by and then that will be it. On with our completely seperated-by-distance-and-circumstance lives. I realize that there will be new friendships and opportunities to deepen existing ones that do stay on at Redcliffe for the full degree. But I love too much. And I depend on the ones I love. Can I do this without them? And I'm not always wild about these studies. I love to learn, I hate to be assessed on what I've learned. It's very rigid academically whereas I'm all about the artistic expression and personal styles of learning. Can I manage to please these tutors for 3 whole years? Existing completely beyond my comfort level of academia, forcing far too many essays of restricting my thoughts to the presentation they want to see... Can I manage? And can I keep on putting myself out there again and again in working with people? In ministries? I feel as if I have so very little to give and yet there are such high expectations. Can I cope? Can I possibly measure up to all that is asked of us? To all the mission placements and subsequent interactions? To all the bits of leadership we're expected to take on along the way? Can I possibly function so far out of my comfort zone for so long without burning out?

Journaling all this out in a prayer, I concluded with, "Father, can I do this? Should I?" and instantly felt,
When did it become a matter of what best "suits" you?
When did it stop being a matter of My Will for your life and My committment to carrying you through whatever you had to endure on that path?
Lovely, Rest in Me.
Rest in My promises.
I am your Home.
And I will uphold you.
Have I not shown Myself faithful?
Can I be anything but your Faithful One?
You may show yourself faithless but even then, even then I will remain faithful.
Do not calculate the fears. If You fear Me, you need fear nothing else...
Let Me show you.
Give Me your hand....

And since then He has been girding me up. Teaching me trust again. And preparing me to move to England for the next few years. Who knows where I'll be after that! But I don't believe that's really His point...

And so I leave off entreating you, once again, to turn the eyes of your heart to Him. Know this wonder, know this Love, know this God.
Leah <><

"Let all our employment be to know God; the more one knows Him, the more one desires to know Him."
--Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

Sunday, 12 February 2006

Quick Update

Dear All,

This will be short and to the point! Sorry it's been months and there must be so much to catch you up on-- which I fully intend to at least attempt to do one of these days! For now I just thought I'd let you know---

I'm spending the week (11th-18th) of mid-term break house-sitting for my pastor and his wife and girls with 3 other Redcliffe students; Dorcas-- Uganda, Adriaan and Henk-- The Netherlands. It's so nice to be in a real house for a while and with a good group of mates and do I even have to elaborate on how I'm loving the cultural diversity that is existing side by side under this roof this week? Even as I type this Adriaan and Henk are chattering away in Dutch in the next room. If I should walk in, they will immediately switch into English for me-- which amuses me to no end : ) Dorcas is incredibly enjoyable- such a beautiful sense of humour!- and I love this chance to get to know her a bit better before she's off and married in two weeks time!

I've been babysitting uncontrollably lately, which is so nice because it really develops relationships with people I would ordinarily only sit next to in class, really. One family, Darren and Aifionn and Finlay, have given me an old mobile of theirs-- so nice!! So, in case you should ever need to contact me urgently, do take down this number: (0044) 7794667646. Each minute is terribly dear, even on calls in the UK, but I'm paying as I go so it's really quite convenient.

I do intend to give you a fuller description of everything (because there is SO much to be said!) but for now I'm about to run off and catch a bus (students travel the Gloucestershire lines for free!) to Cheltenham for evening church... My love to you all!

Learning to rest in Him,
Leah <><

Monday, 9 January 2006

My 3 Weeks About Europe

"...So whatever happens to me-- good or ill-- I ought to accept with an even temper and always give thanks to God who has shown me that I can trust Him without limit or doubt."
~St. Patrick, Confessio

Dear All,

I don't even know where to begin. I suppose I might say Merry Christmas! And Happy New Year! And I hope you sought His face this Christmas in every corner of the festivities and celebration! These past 3 weeks I feel as if God has brought me through decades of experience and I only wish I could share it all with the intensity that it is!

In the past three weeks I have... (pictures)
walked along the Seine,
stood under the very center of the Eiffel Tower,
walked across every street intersecting at l'Arc de Triomph,
had chocolate chaud (hot chocolate) just off Champs-Elysses...

I have greeted more strangers with a kiss on each cheek than I can possibly count-- and not only when we or they entered a room, but once again when we or they left it! (I have to say, I love this particular custom. It breaks down all silly physical barriers immediately and leaves people feeling that there's no reason not to be comfortable with one another now that their lips have been on the other's face )

I have stood gazing in awe at and in the Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur cathedrals in Paris. If I have one small regret about my time in France it's that I didn't spent enough time at Ile de la cite-- which is the enchanted bit of Paris where Notre Dame is...

I have been told I was charming and pretty by a random stranger on the metro (subway)-- which then had to be translated for me into English as I must have just looked at him in absolute bewilderment.

I have inhaled more secondhand smoke in a week and a half than ever before in my whole entire life all together. It's appalling how common and accepted smoking is in France.

I have had chills driving through the tunnel where Princess Diana was killed.

I have spent one particular French evening on a "date with God". I managed to talk Tif into going to one of her never-ending parties on her own, leaving me in her apartment overlooking the incredibly gorgeous ancient city of Rouen (where Joan of Arc was held captive and then burnt at the stake and where the Notre Dame Cathedral of Rouen is which Monet painted numerous times...) It was a gorgeous evening. Of course, Tif's brother and two friends wandered in around 4a.m. inebriated and needing a place to sleep. Tif stayed at a friend's so there I was sleeping in a tiny studio apartment with three drunk guys whom I couldn't communicate with... Makes for interesting memories, to say the least!

I have attended Christmas Eve Mass in French in a packed old cathedral in a tiny, snow-sprinkled village in Normandy.

I have seen the English Channel from the coast of France.

I have spent Christmas afternoon with an upper-class, aristocratic French family in a castle, sipping pretty flutes of French champagne and eating hordeurves from shiny silver trays.

I have spoken (with some difficulty) with one of Tif's aunts who once meant to be a nun and worked with Mother Theresa in India for a few months.... Everyone has their own incredible life story to tell. (I REALLY must learn French!!!)

I have been welcomed in to a lovely lovely French family over a distinctly family-time holiday even without being able to speak to them-- and treated so so well. I cannot possibly be thankful enough for the kindness of everyone of them...

I have eaten snails, fish eggs, cold, mushed up pheasant (which is very classy, apparently ) and sampled enough variants of alcohol to assume that I will never find a drink that suits me, not even Bailey's liqueur-- and I'm perfectly okay with that fact.

I have cried in the bathroom of Tiphaine's grandparent's beautiful mansion on Christmas Day discovering what it feels like to be the loneliest I have ever been as well as what it means to be loved passionately and unconditionally by One who is truly All-Sufficient and Enough... (And this moment, I believe, may be the very reason for the entire holiday, to be honest. Perhaps He has to strip me utterly of all securities in order to teach me that He is the only true Rock of all Ages...)

I have danced uninhibited before a roaring fire, singing in French, arms linked with those of a family whose lives, despite all real communication being impossible, have been irrevocably intertwined with mine.

I have improved my non-existent French.

I have fled gross, smoking, drunk Frenchmen intending to make a girlfriend of me, or judging by their extremely broken but recognizable English and Tif's reaction to their French (she slapped a guy for some suggestion he made to me that I couldn't understand!!), something far less reputable, at one of Tif's never-ending parties, to be whisked away on my own to a corner of the manor house where God and I could look back at their disgusting antics and laugh

I have sang along to "Broken Alleluia" and "Wonderwall" more times than I can count, as Quentin's (Tif's cousin from the South of France who spent part of a week with us) repertoire was still quite limited as he's teaching himself how to play (guitar and piano). It was incredibly refreshing to at least sing in English.

I have found my own way about not only London, which is big, overwhelming and English-speaking, but also through Paris, which is just big and overwhelming (and beautiful and wet and cold and beautiful and oldoldold and did I mention beautiful?)

I have glimpsed from my train the large, rose-colored home of none other than Mr. Claude Monet in the tiny village of Giverny (I know because the kind man next to me pointed it out. He spoke entirely in french but for the first time in the whole week and a half, I understood immediately what he was trying to say... and from that point on I couldn't stop smiling).

My time in France was incredibleincredibleincredible and unforgettable, even while being filled with raging loneliness because of language barriers and lifestyle differences. My dear friend Tif lives a very different life than I do, sees the world in a very different light-- a fact that had me clinging more tightly than ever to the hand of my Constant One. There is a darkness clinging to that country, a lack of biblical faith that is tangible and oppressive. Her family was soooo absolutely and completely generous and good to me, inspiring me to want to pocket away bits of the culture to carry with me wherever I go. Still my change of venue to Northern Ireland just before New Years was a beautiful, timely blessing. Once again, Ireland has stolen my heart...

I have ushered in my new year in the city of Belfast holding hands with a roomful of Irish strangers singing 'Auld Lang Syne' and then proceeded to make friends out of them for the rest of the week-- friends I won't soon be forgetting as they have all proven priceless and dear.

I have dined in a shady Belfast waterfront pub called 'The Dirty Duck' watching Cricket on the bar telly and laughing with such a dear friend from college and her dear guy.

I have worshiped with hundreds of faithful Northern Irish in a large living church in Belfast on Sunday morning-- New Years Day!

I have walked along the North Coast of Ireland, in awe of His majesty made manifest in the water crashing up against the white cliffs and delighting in the woolly sheep on every hill

I have tred the Giant's Causeway of County Antrim.

I have walked through both of the St. Patrick Cathedrals in the ancient Northern Irish city of Armagh-- his original see. The Church of Ireland (protestant) cathedral stood proudly on one hill rising up out of the city and the Roman Catholic cathedral stood proudly on another, staring each other down as if agreeing with the tension that characterizes the tiny nation.

I have hiked up one of the Mourne Mountains With a crazy brazillian and a hilarious Northern Irish-- two of the most amazing girls I will ever be blessed enough to know.

I have stayed in a house in Belfast overlooking the shipyard where the Titanic was built.

I have seen the church where C.S. Lewis's grandfather was vicar and gazed upon the very door handle on the vicarage door shaped like a lion's head that inspired the door handle on the beloved wardrobe of his later tales.

I've explored an 11th century Irish castle ruin on the Eastern coast of the sea at dusk, trailing my hand over the ancient stones and imagining the lives lived and lost inside those crumbling walls ...

I have fallen in love with Jenny's family. The Irish, I'm telling you. They are cunning at stealing one's heart I liked her wee Dad upon my first glimpse. With his round, weathered face, white head, and twinkling blue eyes, he fit precisely my stereotyped image of a wee little old Irishman. And he was so very kind to me. He's never left that island in all his life, so he found it quite delightful to find both American extremes (Me, USA, North America and Leticia, Brazil, South America) sitting side by side on his living room couch

In the past three weeks I have made mistakes and gained victories,

I have laughed and laughed and laughed, and I've cried.

I have breathed in the blessings along with the heartaches.

And I have loved.
So much...

O may you know this God who delights in fulfilling the desires of His undeserving child's heart, who patiently and repeatedly takes His foolish child by the hand and tenderly leads her deeper into His arms despite her ignorance, despite her naivete, despite her stubbornness and silliness. May you know this God who longs for you, may you seek His face. May you know this Love beyond all loves, this Hope beyond all hopes. May you this brand new year, set your mind on pursuing the very Meaning of all things and find yourself enveloped in the embrace of The mighty, gentle King of all the world-- from the States, to England, to France, to Ireland, may you find yourself warm 'neath the shelter of His outstretched wings and covered by His feathers of grace...

Know Him,
Leah <><

~~ Please view my gorgeous pictures here!

(or try

"When I stand in the wilderness staring at the deep dark sky
Pitch black without direction,
My eyes cast light to my feet
Lit by Your wonder and word."
~J.A.D. 2005
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