Thank God for Wicklow.

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This past week has been a holiday from school called Reading Week.  It’s designed to help us catch up on reading and get started on essays.  Guess what I was doing?

Not reading.

Amy, Laura and I just returned from a four day trip to Ireland.  We stayed in Dublin, but on our second day we ventured an hour south on the coast.  That day, I think, was my very favorite day of my whole semester abroad.  Let me tell you why.

We got off the train and followed a dirt path that led to the sea.  Laura and I climbed over boulders to reach the water’s edge.  The beach was made of the smoothest, shiniest, blackest pebbles I have ever seen.  I turned some over in my hand and let the water lap against my boots.

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After strolling along the beach for a while, we walked into the sleepy town of Wicklow.  The downtown area was small — a few pubs, cafés, pharmacies, and secondhand shops.  Blue and white flags were hung all over the place in honor of the local football club, and a statue in the center of town wore one of their jerseys.  A grand cathedral sat on a hill and towered over the town.  A little past the main street we found the ruins of an abbey.  Moss covered the remaining walls.  The abbey stood across from the cathedral, and when you looked through some of the windows you could see its tower.

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We found a cozy, quiet place to eat lunch.  The three of us all ordered the mini Irish breakfast, including an egg, beans on toast, sausage, bacon, and white and black pudding.  I am a huge fan of the beans-on-toast combo, but I can’t say I’ll be eating black pudding again any time soon.  Lunch was immensely satisfying, and it re-fueled us for adventuring.  We left the restaurant and headed toward some ruins of a castle we had spotted from the beach.

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As we walked back to the coast, the sunshine grew brighter and the sky bluer.  We couldn’t have asked for better weather.  The world felt bigger as the terrain rose in small cliffs and met the water.

We spotted a crumbling stone wall.  There, a plaque told us that these were the ruins of Black Castle.  A little further in the distance, I saw the last vestiges of that ancient castle perched on a cliff over the sea.  At the sight, I forgot myself.  I had no thoughts — only goodness welling up in me.  I started running.  I didn’t know why — it just felt like the right thing to do.  I couldn’t stop laughing.  I just couldn’t believe that a place like that actually existed, that human beings could co-exist with beauty so pure.

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We climbed all over the cliffs and the stones and listened to the giant sea.  The wind roared around our ears and the sky shone like a jewel.  Bless the holy mind that imagined such glory.

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Amy peering through the castle’s window out onto the sea.

We walked to the base of some of the cliffs to sit on the stones and soak up the sun.  I stuck my boots in the shallows and splashed around a bit.  What is it about hearing waves crash against the shore that makes me feel so at ease?

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Further away from the castle at the top of the cliffs, the grass grew in soft cowlicks all over, forming small, downy pillows on the ground.  Amy, Laura and I just lay there for half an hour with our eyes closed, luxuriating in the peacefulness of the place.  I know we could’ve fallen asleep if we had stayed for longer.

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Wicklow is going to stay with me.  It got into my soul.  Back in Dublin that night, if I blinked I could see the cliffs and the waves and the grass behind my eyelids.  I know I’m going to remember it for the rest of my life.  It made me think a lot of Heaven.  I realized very solidly that if the beauty of Wicklow is just a drop in a bucket compared to the glory of God, eternity with Him is infinitely worth the most awful trials this life can give.  Those precious few hours on the coast were signposts to the perfectly loving God of all creation.

Dear mother earth, who day by day unfoldest blessings on our way, O praise Him!  Alleluia!  Ye who long pain and sorrow bear, praise God and on Him cast your care!

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A Habit of Loving London

It’s wild to think that I’ve been living in London for over a month now.  Since my last post, I’ve been to Bath, Jane Austen’s ideal holiday destination; Harrod’s, the iconic, luxurious department store of the royal family and other well-to-do Londoners; Hampton Court, the palace of royals such as Henry VIII (along with his many wives); the Houses of Parliament; I’ve taken a turn on the London Eye on a misty evening; finally had fish and chips with mushy peas at a pub down the street; I’ve picnicked in Hyde Park; and, of course, I’ve been attending classes for a month now.

I’ve heard several times that it takes thirty days to make a habit out of something.  I’ve been in London for more than that and the astonishing thing is that it feels normal.  That this place I had dreamt of seeing for what feels like my whole life is now in the smallest bit familiar to me.  I want you to know how sweet this familiarity is.  Apart from the excursions and the destinations, I want you to see what I love about my day-to-day life in London.  Here’s a small list, in no particular order.

 

Words that don’t phonetically make sense.
This applies particularly to bus and Tube stops.  Some of my favorites include (with their pronunciations in parentheses): Southwark (SUHTH-irk).  Surrey Quays (SIR-ee KEEZ).  Greenwich (GRENN-itch).  Leicester (LESS-ter) Square.  Gloucester (see below; GLAHS-ter).  I don’t know what makes these words so delicious to say—maybe it feels like breaking a rule and getting away with it—but the sheer fact of knowing how to pronounce these makes me feel the tiniest bit smug.  They’re proof that I’ve been here.

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The St. James Hatcham kids.
St. James Hatcham is a nursery school right next to my hall of residence.  Every weekday is punctuated by the sounds of their raucous recesses.  The spirit in these kids continually astounds me.  Sometimes it seems like they yell at their very maximum volume for a half-hour straight.  Every once in a while their voices gather into a sort of chant, and I imagine they are staging a sort of civil war: boys versus girls perhaps?  My favorite part is when the cowbell rings for recess to end, and the volume does not diminish in the slightest.  They always make me smile, even if in total disbelief of their tenacity.

Goldsmiths Christian Union!
How sweet it is to be surrounded by a body of believers in a completely foreign place!  For me, the CU has been a place of warmth and fellowship, of peace and reassurance.  We have had a movie night, we’ve gone to church together, we’ve prayed together, and we’ve sought biblical answers to really difficult questions.  I am so thankful for this group.

The FOOD.
It’s sort of a blanket generalization (at least from what I’ve heard in the States) that English food is tolerable at best and dismal at worst.  That has not been my experience here.  On the contrary, I’ve been able to indulge the already-spoiled foodie in me.  The sheer abundance and affordability of Brie/Camembert cheeses should speak to that.  (Things I’ve consumed with said cheese include: a brie-and-bacon baguette, a brie-bacon-cranberry panini, a Camembert and cranberry chicken burger, and a pear-arugula-cranberry-brie sandwich, pictured below.)

ImageSometimes–to my elation–our flat has fancy after-dinner nights.  A few weeks ago, we sat around the table for good conversation, crepes filled with raspberry jam, passion fruit curd, and clotted cream; crackers and cheese, wine, and coffee.  It was a dream come true.
And, I know I’ve posted this on Facebook already, but would you just look at this sundae from Harrod’s?  Worth all of my £15.

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Goldsmiths peculiarities.  (Also known as: Toto, I don’t think we’re at Hope College anymore).
Going to class every day, I am always surprised by something funny, odd, beautiful, oddly beautiful, or just bewildering: The tough-looking guy in one of my English classes who came to class wearing, over his tattoo-covered biceps, a t-shirt covered with photos of real kittens.  The posters for the Anarchist book fair.  Walking through a thick cloud of marijuana smoke on my way into class.  And, my recent favorite, these signs:
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There’s was also one–that has since disappeared–that read: PLEASE DO NOT DRINK BEER IN THIS CLASSROOM.

 

So, in short, I love this place.  It’s always surprising me, and I’m looking forward to finding more to love in the next two months.

Colleges, C. S. Lewis, and Cemeteries

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One week in and still “uni” hasn’t gotten into full swing.  In order to make the most of our last few days free of academic worries, several other study abroad students and I took one day in Oxford.  One day was not nearly enough.  I could have spent a whole week wandering through the town and the extensive colleges that make up the University of Oxford.  But rather than walk around campus, Laura and I spent most of the day realizing some long-cherished dreams: visiting the places where C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien lived, breathed, and conversed with each other.

After a twenty minute ride, the bus dropped us at Risinghurst, across the street from Lewis Close.  There a sign pointed the way to the CSL Nature Preserve.  At the end of Lewis Close, we saw a house covered in ivy and absolutely blooming with flowers.  At the end of its driveway, a father was taking a picture of his little daughter next to a small round plaque.

We knew we had to book a tour of The Kilns (the house where CSL lived for about 30 years), but because of some difficulties along the way we were unable to.  I called a phone number on the gate to the house and told the very kind woman that I was sorry for the short notice but I wondered if there was any way at all we could go on a tour that day.  We were in luck: a tour was starting in an hour.  She hung up, met us at the gate and gave us a map to the church where CSL attended.

After a ten minute’s walk, we arrived at Holy Trinity Church.  A sign pointed us to his tombstone.

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After taking far too many pictures of his grave and of the cemetery, we pushed open the huge doors to the church.  The space was quiet and sunlight streamed in through the windows.

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I had read about the Narnia window (located next to the pew where CSL would sit every Sunday), and I located it quickly (it was hard to miss).

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We headed back to catch the tour.  I could go on and on about his house and the different stories the tour guide told us, but instead I’ll tell you my favorite one.  Lewis’ friend Paddy Moore died in the First World War, and so Jack (that’s what CSL’s friends called him) took Paddy’s sister, Maureen, and his mother into the Kilns.  Near the end of Jack’s life, Maureen inherited a castle in Scotland and the title of Lady Dunbar, Baronet.  As Jack’s health declined, his memory grew worse, to the point where one day his good friend Tolders (that’s Tolkien there) came to visit Jack, and to his dismay realized that Jack did not know who he was.  Shortly afterward, Maureen came to visit and was warned by Jack’s secretary not to expect much.  She came in and tentatively said, “Jack?  It’s me, Maureen.”  “No, it isn’t,” he said.  Startled, she asked, “Jack?”  He answered, “It’s Lady Dunbar.  How could I forget a fairy tale?”

Walking around Lewis’ house certainly felt like a fairy tale to me, and so did hiking the nature preserve behind the home afterward.  There Laura and I both sat on the red brick bench that Lewis and Tolkien would sit on as they discussed literature and theology.  We also learned during the tour that during World War II, four children were sent to the Kilns to be safe from the bombings of London.  Sound familiar?  Instead of two boy and two girls, though, they were all girls.  Lewis had a bomb shelter installed in the woods behind the house for him, his brother, and the girls.  We saw that as well.  All the jewel-like green and the calm water of the pond made it feel like we had truly passed through the wardrobe and into Narnia.

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After we left the Kilns, a bus took us back to the city centre and we met the rest of our group.  Then we all boarded another bus that took us to Wolvercote Cemetery, the burial place of Tolkien.  The cemetery was stretched for acres and had little stones leading the way to Tolkien’s grave.  We reached it and realized that we were certainly not the only ones to make a pilgrimage to that place.  A tree was growing through the grave, and people had left all sorts of trinkets–including a thank you note, a watercolor painting, bracelets and crosses–hanging on its branches.  He and his wife were buried in the same spot,  and underneath their names on the headstone was written Lúthien and Beren, names from several love stories between a man and an elf-maiden that Tolkien had written.

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We left the cemetery as the sun was setting and hopped back on the bus for the final destination, the Eagle and Child pub.  Lewis’ literary friends (called the Inklings) would meet here– they called it the Bird and the Baby.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t eat there because we didn’t beat the crowd.

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We found a place to eat and then walked back to the rail station to London.  We were so exhausted, and we all fell asleep on the train.  But wee all kept saying to each other, “What a good day.”  And it was a good, good day.

Rounding Out the First Week

Almost a week in London, and the chaos is finally starting to settle.  What a crazy, colorful week it’s been, full of surprises and goodness from the Lord and adventures.

The first two days of our time here, the study abroad group stayed in a posh little hotel called Citadines, very close to central London.

This was the view of a street near our hotel.  That area was our launchpad for very fun tourist-y things: restaurants, shopping areas, hugely famous landmarks… the works.  Our second day, we took a “duck” tour on a bus that can go on land and water.  On land we saw Westminster Abbey and passed by Buckingham Palace.  We then voyaged into the Thames (pronounced ‘tehmz’) for a beautiful view of the Houses of Parliament (below).

It felt like we were constantly on the move until we settled in at night.  My hotel-mate was Laura, who also goes to Hope.  I didn’t know anyone from Hope was going to Goldsmiths until about two weeks before we left.  Laura and I never met each other at Hope, which every day seems crazier because we instantly became good friends.  My biggest prayer request before I left was that I would make just one friend with whom I could connect and have fellowship and support during this experience.  I am so thankful for how quickly the Lord answered that prayer.  Laura has already been a gigantic blessing to me.  We are both huge nerds, and we’re already to work planning our C.S. Lewis/J.R.R. Tolkien tour of Oxford.  Our favorite hobby is getting lost in the Tube network.  (Side-note: the Tube is the underground subway system in London.)  We have gotten lost I think every single day here.  We set a new record tonight by getting lost for an extra hour of travel time.

Laura and I on the train.

On Saturday morning we moved into the dorms at Goldsmiths.  There are so many international students in Loring Hall, including many Americans, which is so weird!  The New Cross area is extremely diverse and colorful; it has a completely different flavor than the central London area (we’re southeast).  It reminds me a bit of Newark, NJ, but with extremely old and beautiful buildings scattered here and there.  The first few days here have consisted of taking care of a lot of logistical issues: groceries, internet, class schedules and the like.  Laura and I stumbled upon a branch of Wal-Mart here called ASDA where we can find groceries for relatively cheap.  But we have muscled in some small adventures amid all the chaos.  Tonight we visited the TARDIS from the Dr. Who series and then had crêpes for dinner in central London.

On the plane to London, I experienced the most solid sense of dependence on God.  Alone on my way halfway across the world, I knew in the pit of my stomach that only he could bless me and keep me safe.  My spirit was warmed with the firm knowledge that I was protected in his hands.  Admittedly, I am very much out of my comfort zone here, and sometimes the thought of being here for three months becomes a bit overwhelming.  But God is so good, and I look forward to experiencing communion with him and with others in a new way.  Bless his name.  Thank you all for your prayers and thoughts.  I will write again soon!

Taylor

Goldsmiths Christian Union

 

As Paul opens Thessalonians: ‘Brothers pray for us’ so we need a similar request and plea. In a few weeks time Freshers kicks off. Thousands of new students will pour through the doors of Goldsmiths to start being educated, some with a belief in God, some with none.

We know we can’t go into this next term of CU leadership without God as our strength, so here is what’s going on and here is what we’d love, and appreciate prayer for.

Just on a side note, i had written this blog post last week, an hours worth of musings and thoughts. THEN SOMEEEEEHOW, i lost it. It’s taken me all these days to bring myself back to the drawing board and re-write it, so bare with me, and apologies for the more than poor conveyance..i’m still a little bitter hah.

Pray that God will be softening hearts right now…

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2 Weeks!

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Dear friends and family, that is the short amount of time I have until I leave for lovely London (for three months!).  To catch you all up to speed, here’s some very basic information about my trip.

I am studying English courses during the fall term at Goldsmiths University of London.  The University is located in southeast London, by New Cross (about 10-20 minutes away from the main downtown area).  I will be there for three months living in a dorm at the university.  Why London?  While I am studying Spanish at Hope, I am also a creative writing major.  This semester abroad will help me fill that major’s requirements.  That’s the very professional reason, at least.  In all honesty, I’ve always wanted to go, and taking English courses is my excuse. I’m going with a small group of students from all over the US through CIEE (the Council for International Educational Exchange).

Until I leave, I am blazing through my to-do list.  While I’m preparing, would you do me a favor?  Could you keep me in your prayers?  Here’s an incomplete list of things you could pray for:

  • Fellowship with a community of believers while I’m abroad
  • Safety!  Especially as I navigate the public transit system.  As you probably know, I’m not awesome with directions.
  • That I would not be distracted from persistent prayer
  • Wise financial decisions concerning food, travel, etc.
  • That God would use this experience to sharpen a vision of my present and future ministry
  • A spirit that is alert to and hungry for the good work of the gospel that God places before me in London and at Goldsmiths

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your prayers and questions.  You can keep checking back here for updates on my trip.

Love,

Taylor