"...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
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.
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...
~~ Please view my gorgeous pictures here!
(or try http://www.kodakgallery.com/Slideshow.jsp?Uc=102dzu8o.vdt23nc&Uy=-hytu1d&Upost_signin=Slideshow.jsp%3Fmode%3Dfromshare&Ux=0&mode=fromshare&conn_speed=1)
"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."