This past week I had the amazing opportunity to go to Paris for a few days.
I love cities. I love the buzz and the vibrancy. I love winding alleys and old architecture and hidden-away boutiques. I love the mix of old and new, of ancient history and modern technology, I love the sense of movement and change that is so often tangible.
I’ve been to France a few times this year, but never to the capital before, and I think capitals are special. (It reminded me of everything I love about London, even though its a vastly different place). We stayed in a lovely flat, and met some beautiful and welcoming people, with such a similar heart to us. That’s one of the things I love about the travelling we do – I love meeting people who should be strangers but straight away there is that sense of feeling and connection. I love sharing stories and intermingling lives and growing together, I love the expanding, international family of people I hold dear – both in Europe and further afield. I always feel like I learn so much from spending time with them.
There are precious memories from these past few days that I don’t want to ever forget: the man with the ‘Bill and Ted anointing’, the strange rain inside the Eiffel tower that somehow only rained on us, the sweet old lady who stopped us on the Pont Des Arts and told us most of her life story, standing on the side of the bath to get a view of the Sacre Couer, and those are just the light-hearted things. There are many other things I could describe – thoughts, impressions, questions, lingering feelings for the place that followed us back across the channel. It was deeply impacting.
One of the other amazing things that I loved best about the city was the profusion of art throughout the city. We didn’t go into the Louvre to look at the paintings, but we did walk through the courtyard to see the glass pyramids outside. I liked better the vintage French art posters for sale at little stalls along the Seine, and I picked up five up at the Sacre Couer the first evening. So I wake up to views of Paris in 1889 now I also loved the street art that could be found on almost corner. Much of it seemed really prophetic, and I took about a million photos. Here is just one example that I loved:
I know that our relationship with Paris is one that will continue. A dear friend moves out to France next year, and even since returning there have been so many little reminders, little nudges to keep running with what was started there… who knows how that will turn out!
Why, oh why am I up writing this when the 8am ferry beckons? I like the night before an adventure: packing, squirrelling away essentials as well as random items you never know when you might need, checking the passport is in the bag for the thirty-seventh time (as if it may have come to life and snuck away while my back was turned), getting distracted with banalities, extricating washing from the machine, hair-drying it in vain hope of being able to wear it tomorrow, worrying that I can’t find the socks I want to take (not just any socks… they’re trip-specific), writing lists of things I must remember at silly o clock tomorrow, charging camera batteries (because I will take four hundred and twenty-two pictures of things only I find intriguing), checking the weather forecast before packing hat and gloves (and chucking them in anyway, for safety’s sake), wondering if it’ll be like it was in the book I just read (cue another rose-tinted reverie), making cups of tea and then forgetting them, emailing, stashing notebooks in my backpack in the hope that the trip sparks some creative marvels, just generally skipping along excitedly.
I am excited about this. I am looking out for the little things that are in store over these next few days. I am ready for a break – its been a long summer. I’m excited about the potential for connections, and the timings, and about proper coffee and bijou boulangeries
Last week there were French policemen twinning with British ones here in the city – a sign if ever there was one!
Where I am still speechless and instead decide to post a couple of photos:
We decided to build a globe out of chicken wire:
There were a few minor hiccups:
But in the end it looked lovely
Essays are (mostly) done and handed in, and I’m making the most of the momentarily lull to write about the wonder that was my New York Trip.
It was a new thing for me to travel in a group (there were 8 of us), it was new to go west rather than east, in fact the whole five days were jam packed with exciting experiences.
I have to write about the food, don’t I… and it really was immense in every sense of the word. There were pancakes, maple syrup, cinnamon buns, there was frozen yoghurt and snaffled crab-paste salad in Bloomingdales, there were Starbucks… and I particularly enjoyed the Bison burger I tried one night before my friends ascended the Rockefeller Center, there was feasting all round.
And then there was the weather. It was beautiful over there. On the first day we wandered around Central Park in the sun and the snow and it truly did look breathtaking:
One of the things I enjoyed most, in terms of sightseeing, was the opportunity to go off the beaten track a bit and explore some of the less ‘touristy’ and more real life areas of NY. I loved walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and then wandering around Brooklyn itself. Downtown Brooklyn reminded me of Brixton, and was a place of real life, colour and vibrancy. A highlight was asking a policeman where the nearest Starbucks was
I also loved our trip to Harlem, where we checked out the cathedral of St John the Divine. It was a pretty enormous place, and good for photos. We walked around the Columbia University campus too, which was incredibly grandiose, and put my own little uni to shame. There was a big lion statue there, and Phil threw a snowball at my camera.
The thing that impacted me most deeply, was the audio tour we did around the Ground Zero site. Its hard to describe what it felt like there… a strange mix of such sadness and grief and yet tenacity and hope and new stuff being built up. The audio tour was narrated by families of people who had died in the tragedy and people who had worked in the WTC towers. They brought a gritty realism and moving honesty to the tour. It wasn’t sensationalised or tourist-ified in any way, they simply told their stories, and it was mighty, mighty moving, and something that will remain with me for a long while.
The next day, I found myself sat in the basement of the UN Headquarters, just journalling while my culturally keeno companions did a tour. It was another really great moment for me, sat in a place that represents such good intentions, such courageous desire to bring freedom and good to the world. I sat there musing some things through with God, and praying that that freedom would become stronger and more widespread.
On the last day we wandered around Battery Park, which is right at the tip of Manhattan Island. I liked it because it was pretty in the snow, but also because it grounded the place in a little bit of history for me, which assauged my geek tendancies. It was mighty cold, and we couldn’t find any cinnamon buns, but on the whole it was a great and glorious day.
There are many other highlights of the trip I could go into – sneaking tetley tea into restaurants, talking future plans over Dunkin’ Donuts, long walks along straight streets, searching for dinosaur skeletons in the National History Museum, finding Barnes & Noble, getting rageful at rude waitresses, riding the subway, Reeses Cups, late night chats in the hotel lounge, steam rising from subway grates, the joy of finding $3 ‘I love NY’ T-Shirts, the light and colour and buzz of Times Square. I loved it all, and the week felt like a feast of experiences I can look back at and think over and process. And I’d really, really love to go back. I’m an urban girl at heart and I loved the big city.
I also loved the sense of creativity there. It’s a bit hard to explain that, but the place definitely has a buzz about it that inspired and made me want to flex my creative muscles. I dreamt of having a little studio halfway up a skyscraper where I could design and play around with shape and colour to my hearts content!
New York was incredible, I loved it… I will post about it. But am jetlagged. And there are essays. Multiple essays. So for now, a photo of me and my lovely Manhattan homies in Times Square:
I won’t be posting for a week or so. I’m still a poor student, but the taxman very nicely paid for me to go to New York with some friends. Then I come back next week and sail to France the same day… Good times
Last year, a good friend and I ventured to the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. I blogged about the trip then… and the underwhelming nature of said attraction. This year, when I arranged to go again, I wondered if there would have been improvements.
And improvements there were… much more mulled wine, many stalls, and some great fairground rides (the most obscure of which gave one the opportunity to explore the intestines of a dinosaur… hmmm!)
I especially liked the 53m high Ferris Wheel, which gave some awesome views over the wintry city.
Here are some photos from the trip. A bit random, as I was playing with my camera settings, but I popped one of Santa in there just to prove I really was there
Uni finished on Thursday… I’m still asking myself where the term went. Its been so amazing, such a brilliant 12 weeks, and I’m a bit sad that I don’t get to go back for a month (how sad am I). The last couple of weeks were a bit mad, what with deadlines and essays and stuff like that. Everyone was a bit ‘demob happy’ and tired… and then we got our first essay back. (I got 72%… woop!).
To celebrate the approaching Christmas season and to mark the end of a great year, Thursday evening saw me heading to France with three lovely friends. We drove onto the Eurotunnel train, which was one of the most exciting moments of my year (“It’s a road… but it’s a train…. wow!”). I loved France… I love visiting new countries, and though we weren’t there for very long, it was fab to get a taster of what it’s like there. To see a place that means so much to my pals (and that I’ve a sneaky feeling will soon be the same for me). It is an incredible place… We had yummy food, fab coffee, and I bought camembert, Good times
Here is a photo from the amazing French shopping centre. The lights behind changed colour at intervals, it was such a creative place:
After France, the next visit was to Bradford, where I’ve been over the weekend. It was a loooong coach journey, but not too bad, and it was worth it to spend time with lovely friends. I have chilled out over the last few days, enjoyed Christmas food, visited a fab vintage clothes fair and an art exhibition, watched some great TV and had some good natters. Christmas with good friends… what more could I ask.
I’m heading home tomorrow, fitting in a flying London visit before settling back at home for Christmas. And the papers say there’s even a chance of snow… hurrah!!
This summer, the 24-7/SA Prayer team had the privilege of collaborating with ALOVE UK, and the International Development department at THQ, to take part in the first all-summer-school road trip.
We packed our suitcases, we saw more of the UK and Ireland’s motorway system than I ever thought possible, and we had the amazing opportunity to interact with every young person who attended one of the Salvation Army’s 14 divisional summer schools.
Now that Road Trip is over, and we are back in the office, back behind our desks, I have been musing that these past few weeks. I realise that they have probably taught me more about prayer than any of the books I have read or talks I have heard recently. I wanted to share some of those lessons with you in this article. You might not be surviving on service-station coffees or living out of a suitcase, but sometimes all of our lives feel like this: like we are on the move, like we don’t know where fit, like we’re not sure what life will throw at us next. Prayer gets me through these unsettled times.
One of the things I quickly found out about the fast-paced Road Trip lifestyle, was that there was not much sleep to be had! In all the late nights and early mornings I deduced that getting up extra early for an hour of concentrated intercession would seriously impede my ability to deliver seminars later in the day. My prayer life became flexible – I talked to God over the rabble of my travelling companions musical taste, I whispered prayers before seeking to enthuse teenagers about the things of prayer, and I think we all prayed when, in the evening ‘gig’, we had to don comedy sailors hats and step into the ‘disciple-ship’ – an inflatable dinghy where we were each interviewed about our discipleship journeys.
All of us have to pray on the move like this, when the responsibilities of work and family life crowd in. Sometimes we can find ourselves feeling guilty, because we simply do not have the time available for long devotional times. Sometimes we feel like we ‘aren’t good enough’, because we compare ourselves to others and become convinced that we don’t measure up. The truth is, God isn’t measuring our prayers on some sort of league table; he doesn’t rate us on our eloquence, or give us extra blessings because we manage to squeeze in an extra chapter of Ecclesiastes in our evening devotions. We don’t need to feel guilty, because it is perfectly acceptable, and I would argue invigorating, to mutter a prayer under our breath as we wander around the supermarket, to pray for the other parents in the playground by simply running through their names in our heads. One of the main messages we were trying to get across with Road Trip was that our personal discipleship journeys – our engagement with worship, prayer and social justice – are not extra pressures that we need to squeeze into an already packed schedule, but that discipleship is ‘whole life’ – something that should pervade and shape the lives we already lead.
The other important lesson I was reminded of through Road Trip, is that the power of God and the effectiveness of our prayers is not increased or restricted by how we are feeling at any given moment. I loved teaching young people about prayer, (especially the bit where we wrote sentence prayers on paper aeroplanes and all threw them at each other), but as any of you who’ve worked with youth will know, their engagement and enthusiasm varied immensely. It depending on the time of day, on how many hours sleep they’d had the night before, and on how many wasps were circling overhead. Sometimes I felt like they were hanging on my every word, sometimes I doubted they were even awake! I loved the material we were teaching, but after the fifteenth time I really had to rely on the Holy Spirit to inspire my delivery of it. I found myself musing that most of us shift in terms of our eagerness and belief in the power of prayer, depending on any number of factors. Some of us struggle to engage with prayer because we have experienced the pain of unanswered prayer, when we have prayed and prayed only to see the opposite happen. It is hard to trust in a faithful God after an experience like that.
I was reminded that God is the same, and his promises remain true, whether I am feeling encouraged or exhausted, inspired or irritated. Isaiah 40:31 says: ‘Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’ That is a promise I hold onto through the shifting seasons and emotions of life. We all need his hope and his strength to keep us going in the times when it feels like we are going nowhere, and to encourage us to move on from places of comfort and safety when things have been going well.
Road Trip is over now, our flip-flops and suitcases have been packed away until next year, and we face the prospect of a new school year and new seasons approaching. My prayer is that we will each find prayer infiltrating our day-to-day lives, and that we will learn to more fully rely on God’s presence and promises to sustain us.
The castle/sun/leaves one is from Milton Abbas, all the rest are from my time in Penhurst, Sussex at the end of July.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve had the real privilege to travel to a number of places around the country as part of the ALOVE UK Summer Schools Road Trip Tour.
ALOVE is the SA’s youthwork department, and this summer they, and us at 24-7/SA Prayer – along with representatives from the International Development department – have been visiting every single one of the 16 Summer Schools taking place the length and breadth of the UK & Ireland.
We have been doing an afternoon of seminars (two each, one with the juniors and one with the seniors), and then an evening ‘gig’, with sung worship, games, testimonies and a speak.
So far I have been to Stourbridge in the West Midlands, Chingford in Essex, Milton Abbas in Dorset:
As well as the Wirral and Uppingham in the West Midlands.
I had mixed feelings at the beginning of the tour. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about being away from home all that time, and I was nervous about all the speaking, but as we got started I soon found my flow, and even when it’s felt exhausting, I’ve still loved being out on the road.
It’s such a privilege to be able to spend time with young people, to hear their stories and to be able to get across that their prayer lives can be something they don’t need to feel guilty about – that their individual personalities will shape the kind of prayer they find most enjoyable and engaging. I have loved them coming up to me at tea and saying, ‘I’ve found out that I am a snorkeller’, much to the bemusement of other staff members. It has been fab to be at the evening gigs night after night too, to see young people responding to God – some of them for the first time.
It’s also been great to visit schools we’ve had some engagement with before, to see how some of the kids have grown and to hear some of their journeys.
Apart from all the spiritual stuff, some of my other favourite Road Trip moments have to be:
- Trying to lead a seminar whilst being attacked by wasps, managing to pause and time what I was saying around loud thumps as people attempted to squish them.
- Being given free-reign to plan a prayer room at one of the schools.
- Getting stuck in the most humungous traffic jam on the way home from Chingford and singing Westlife songs to pass the time.
- The luxury of staying in a Premier Inn for one of the evenings… sounds like a little thing but after lots of travelling and very little sleep it really did feel palatial. (It was also very amusing that they’d managed to book me in as Mr Ricky Adams…)
- My taxi journey to Milton Abbas with the most cheeriest and friendly taxi driver in the world.
- Getting to know the other team members better, chatting about our lives and experiences and dreaming about the future of the church.
- Realising the value of community even more as I communicated with my friends and Wandsworth-family by text whilst away. It can feel like a bit of a parralel universe being away for so long, but I think the friendly texts and emails kept me connected and sane.
I’ll probably think of some more and have some other tales to tell after the other tour dates: Hastings tomorrow, Scarborough on Monday, Wokingham on Wednesday & then Belfast on Thursday.
(in an attempt to work through my blogging backlog)
Two weeks ago a bunch of us trundled up to Durham for the above course. It was run by the SA’s in service training people. It was the first one of its kind, and was set in the beautiful (if remote) setting of a Durham seminary college:
Location wise it was incredible, the place had a real austere and grand feel about it, without being cold and overbearing. The long sprawling corridors were inspiring, and the refectory looked like something out of Harry Potter:
It was great to be in a beautiful place with 25 or so others who really wanted to learn and to understand more about how God can bring freedom and healing to people. It was great to hear different teachers – a fresh perspective on this stuff is always helpful, and our speakers were informed, helpful and most of all ‘normal’ – they made the topic sound like something accessible we could all be doing, rather than some weird ministry that only a few are called to.
At the beginning of the week, I thought a three day long course would be a bit of a slog, but the length of time seemed to be just right, and by the end of the course there seemed to be a real tightness about the group. It was the kind of community that is formed when a bunch of people really journey through some stuff together. I felt like I’d known them all for ages, there was a real deep level of trust, and the sense that it wasn’t a random accidental group of us that just happened to end up there, but a selection God had brought together for a purpose. I am excited to see what comes out of that and how things develop as a result of the conversations and connections we made that week.
Most of all, I was again encouraged and reminded that God truly is all about saving, healing and redeeming people’s lives from the darkness. I pray that he will use me, and all of us to partner him in that.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget our tour of Durham in the most persistent driving rain. I’d have liked to see more of the city in the sunshine, it looked like a lovely place.
This weekend held all the glorious components that a weekend should, in my humble opinion. I have arrived at the end of it feeling like much was experienced and much was achieved and much fun was had in the process.
It started well on Friday, with an amusing train journey southwards. Then a jolly taxi driver took us to the glories of the second ‘tat for tat’ party. This time there were lots of people and much more tat. In fact it took about 3 hours to work through it all. My haul of tat (so much for spring cleaning and minimising) was as follows:
- 4 books
- A roman bath sponge
- 2 bags of mongolian wooden animals
- A purple and gold cushion
- a garland of paper flowers
- a wire photoframe
- a dangly 5 photo holder
- a pair of faith sandals
- Some posh cleanser and body lotion
- Some more body lotion
- 8 bags of small beads
- a little star ornament
- A mug with pink roses on
- Some purple hand and bath towels
So all that was very lovely and impressive. I learned some important things too, like (from a good friend) the dangers of drinking tequila before attending a tat party – “oooh yes I’d love that silver handbag” and (from a new acquaintance) the need to be selective about which tat to opt for – “I’m sure my dad would love a new corner shelf”… pure entertainment!
Saturday dawned bright and sunny and was welcomed in the only proper way – with breakfast in Starbucks. I had toasted fruit bread whilst my esteemed companion checked out the brand spanking new chocolate muffins and a strawberry yoghurt. We mused together, putting the world to rights and laughing about the joys and complexities of life. And then spent a while wandering the sunny streets, before we both decided that a sausage sandwich was necessary. The sandwich in question was everything a sausage sandwich should be – thick white bread, brown sauce, well-cooked sausages sliced lengthways… it was bliss.
The next phase of the day was spent walking to the house of some other good friends, who live in a small village. In fact that doesn’t do it justice… they live in the most beautiful village I have seen in a long old time, but I’ll return to that in a minute.
The walk there was lovely too – just over three miles, in blazing (but not burning) sunshine. Fields and sheep and bluebells and trees. I did however learn that three miles in London is nothing in terms of walking (I’ve done about 25 miles this past week), but three miles through the English countryside is a little more challenging. I realised I have become quite city-fied at the point where the pavement ran out after about a mile and there was just road. I stopped, momentarily flummoxed, but then I dredged up from somewhere in my mind that you were allowed to walk on the edge of roads in the countryside, and that the correct etiquette for doing so was to keep right and face the oncoming traffic. Anyway, I didn’t die, and it was lovely and scenic!
Once I had recovered from my orienteering, we drank tea and ate yummy homemade profiteroles. Then we chatted about multitudinous exciting future plans. After this, I was treated to a scenic tour of aforementioned gorgeous village. I saw the community orchard (where village residents are allowed to pick fruit in the autumn), an amazing water mill, some huge geese sitting in someones front garden (Guard-dogs are so last century…) and countless picturesque cottages. We wandered through some woods down to the clearest stream I’d seen for ages, (I so wanted to paddle) and then back (getting momentarily lost in a nettle field in the process which made it all the more fun!). Then we explored the tiny village church, having been let in by the sweetest, kindest (and probably oldest) church warden I’ve ever seen. Back out into the sunshine we peered through the bowed beams of a real live Tithe Barn with a thatched roof, I’d never seen one before. We both commented that it’d be an ace place for a reception. Then it was back, past more lovely flowers and herbs, with a quick peek into the quaint (but well stocked) village store, and a quick scan of the minutes of the last parish council meeting (where the ‘scourge of water voles’ was discussed at length). Genius.
After this, and another cuppa, we headed back and I found my way to a chugging train which brought me safely back to the buzzing metropolis. I unpacked and adored my tat acquisitions a little before heading to bed.
Today has held the usual mix of church, awesome roast dinner with friends, and then youth group. It’s been a nice day, and I’m looking forward to the week ahead
I feel a bit bad that most of these aren’t Holy Week related, they just happened to happen in Holy Week. Anyway….
I randomly banged into a friend… I happened to be at a Mainline London station at a loose end and she happened to be in a road about 100 metres away. Since we live 70 miles apart this was a feat. I went to meet her at this amazing knit shop, where they had this amazing knitting group, and lots of amazing yarn. I loved the different textures and colours and patterns, I loved meeting random people and talking about everything from Harry Potter socks to what you could knit with Possom wool. I will definitely go back (even if just to pick up Rainbow coloured Schoppel Wolle Zauberball for said friend ).
That leads me onto point 2:
Not real ones, sadly. Myself and aforementioned friend decided to make the most of the marvellous coincedence and partake of some tea. We wandered around looking for a suitable establishment, but were a little flummoxed. Then via the marvels of iphones (which cleverly tell you where all the nearest restaurants are), we found ourselves in one called Giraffe. I had an amazing Vietnamese chicken and prawn curry and my friend had a scrummy schitzel burger. There were so many lovely things on the menu we couldn’t decide and so will be returning to try out other things. It was lovely to sit and chat and eat and watch the sun go down on the river. A splendid evening all round.
For the last couple of days I have been staying with my lovely Aunt. It was nice to see her, to sample much home cooked food, to see people at church who remembered me from when I was five, to sleep in a luxurious and very pink bedroom, to go for a long walk in the sunshine (while it poured in Wandsworth. hehehe), to run screaming from huge spiders, to stroll in the grounds of the local castle, to go to various Good Friday-related services, to see my cousin again after about ten years, to put the world to rights and to plan future exploits. She also taught me to Purl… which I have yet to perfect (it makes more sense that plain stitch knitting, but it messes with my head and then makes me forget how to do plain… more practise is required I think), oh, and how to cast on… I will knit a tank top yet!
When I was in Latvia last I stocked up on some Watermelon flavoured Mentos. Like Mango, Watermelon is one of those things where I love the flavour but detest the actual fruit… so when my friends told me they’d got me a watermelon-related Easter present I was a little skeptical!! It turned out to be a quater of watermelon & apple fizzers, and a quarter of watermelon jellies. Top marks for nostalgia, for taste, for ingenuity, and for actual-watermelon-avoidance there!
That’s enough of the excitements for now I think. Will post more post-Easter!
So, I’m sitting on a bench. Apparently William Durling Thomas and his sweetheart Patricia loved it here, and I can see why.
In front of me, there is perhaps a couple of hundred metres of grassy shingle, the tide doesn’t reach this far. Sea birds potter amongst the stones, and dogs paddle in the sea, a little further out. ‘Ted’ is serving steaming coffee – in polystyrene cups – from his blue van, parked happily on the front. The breeze is chilly but the sun is persistant, gleaming with the hopeful promise of warmer days to come.
Soothing waves lap the shoreline shingle, the song of the birds is not drowned out, there is no traffic, no hustle, no head noise. The people are friendly too – I am sniffed amicably by frolicking dogs, their owners nodding good day as we pass.
Looking out to sea, I am transfixed by the rhythmic dance of a wind farm on the horizon. I love it that we have finally realised, we have finally recognised there is something in this breath of our creator that gives life and energy and power.
Breathing deeply in the stillness, I find myself thinking I could stay here all day. I’m sat on my own, but I grin as I remember other walks along this path, other trips with friends and loved ones, with steaming teas and crunchy chips warming us all.
And I find myself smiling again, as I think of all the times we’ll come back here, as I look forward to a future known only by my creator. For now I will enjoy the sun, and I will keep walking, and I will keep smiling.
A few cheery snaps from my Latvia trip:
I should have blogged about this way before now.
This time last week my good friend Ryan flew me across land and sea to the wonder that is Latvia in Winter. It was amazing. There are many stories I could tell about the 3 days I spent there (but some I have been sworn to secrecy about). For example it would be terrible to relay the bit where, after an unfortunate airbed puncture moment, my lovely host suggested a trek across miles of freezing arctic tundra, lugging a replacement bed back to her cave.
It would probably also be impolite, also, to mention the trauma of waking regularly in the night to a somewhat suspicious cat staring at me, poised as if to strike. I pride myself on being able to charm children and animals, so I’m not sure how my skills failed at this juncture. Suffice to say I am now nursing a cat-phobia.
So… what should I tell? Well the yummy pancakes we had on the first night are definitely worth a mention. What is that stuff called? Beizumi? I don’t know but I wish we had it in England. I also should mention my fun day wandering around Riga taking photos and then huddling in Double Coffee (the Latvian Starbuckian equivalent) trying to thaw out. And then there was the hilarious film (not Dace’s favourite one about a psychotic driving instructor, but Bride Wars, at a cinema that had the most comfy cinema chairs I’ve ever sat in, and another occasion where Vicki cried at a holloywood comedy/chickflick… how worrying).
The snow is definitely worth a mention. There was a certain irony in having chosen to go again because I wanted to see snow (as well as my friends… of course) and then having had inches and inches of the stuff in London. I awoke on Thursday morning to find a fair smattering, and then it snowed all day. (And listen up London… the buses and trams did not stop, no-one even blinked!).
It was that proper grey type of scene, like when the clouds are so low that you are pretty much in them. It made everything look even more pretty (especially the railway tracks we had to cross twice daily) and I didn’t slip over once.
Of course Lido deserves a mention. For the uninitiated, Lido is a lovely Latvian restaurant where they just have loads and loads of dishes cooked on all these different serveries, and you pick and choose whatever combination you like. The braver members of our group went for something that resembled and tasted like Christmas cake soup, but I stuck with the safety of mousse. Going to Lido makes everything in the world ok again, (even if when you get there your companions quiz you mercilessly about the future).
On Thursday also we went shopping for blinds. I was sad because I couldn’t but the bright pink, fluffy princess bag we found. I also learnt about different airbed sizes and how many Lats these would set me back. oh, and I brought bright blue trousers which have since been a hit with my youth group members.
On Friday evening we had a very wonderful supper that among other things involved apple crumble… it was fabulous.
I’m sure I’m forgetting significant details aren’t I? all joking aside though it was very lovely to be there again and to see old friends again and to share life together for a bit. I still love it there, I still feel inspired when I walk down those cobbly streets, I still feel strangely drawn back (although I have been advised to visit in summer, as I don’t think I’ve ever experienced Riga above freezing!).
ps… I’m potentially misinforming you about Dace’s cat… She was lovely really (the scars are fading now).
Saturday morning dawned, grey and drizzly, as I lugged a bright pink stuffed suitcase round the corner. The time: 7am, the purpose: a prayer day at a SA church not far from the town I grew up in.
Bleary-eyed, we navigated our way to the M1, which was in a state of roadwork-related disarray but thankfully not too busy. It was at this point that I realised I had brought pages 1,2,3 and 5 of 5 of the directions, but that the all-important page 4 of 5 had dematerialised.
(We wondered why it always seems to be the vital page that disappears at a moment like this. We didn’t need to know how to get from Wandsworth to the M1, but having an idea what to do once we turned off the motorway would have been useful. Anyway…)
Once we made it to the church building (with only a bit of creative directional improvisation), we were swiftly ensconced in set up: laying craft items out on a table, tearing up sheets of newspaper for under chairs, distributing pots of play-dough, putting Jelly Babies in bowls at the front. When the first delegates came in, they were heard to wonder whether they had walked into a playgroup… musing that made me smile a lot.
Helped by some coffee, we got into the swing of teaching: I expounded wildly about how we pray most comfortably in different ‘styles’, according to our personalities. The lovely delegates made collages, practised centring prayer, went on a short walk, found newspaper articles to pray about, and made models from the aforementioned play-dough depicting, something/someone they were praying for at the moment.
Then we had soup… amazing soup - leek and potato of the highest variety. I love meal times at days like this, just to be so mixed into the life of a church, hearing the conversations, sharing some of their journey, learning of their hopes, dreams and struggles. Laughing with people I’ve just met, though feeling as if I’ve known them for years.
After lunch the teaching fun continued. This time we thought about our distinct roles in prayer – as intercessors, watchmen, spies, armour-bearers, prophets and overseers. It was so exciting to see lights going on in people’s eyes, and to hear the buzz of excited conversation as people with the same role gathered in small groups and chatted, dreamed and prayed together.
Later in the day, we gathered in a restaurant, debriefing about the day and continuing some of the conversations that we’d begun. We learned about each others lives, we shared our joys and pain, it felt like family. We didn’t feel like visitors, but like we were at home. Over our free salads we discussed ways forward, and how to build on those conversations. Then we travelled back to the main church building, wandered around seeing all the different rooms, hearing about the different ministries that take place in them, again feeling privileged to hear some of the energy and inspiration behind them.
After this it was back on the road, back up the motorway, back through the sleepy streets of London and back to our homes. I was left marvelling again at the exciting things God is doing in the Salvation Army in the UK, how prayer is still steadily pulsing away on the agenda and what a privilege it is to be able to catch glimpses of how that looks in practice.
This week, I had the pleasure of spending some time in a 24-7 prayer room at the church some of my friends attend.
Being in a prayer room is not a rare occurence for me. One of the joys of my job is that I often find myself constructing ‘intimacy areas’ out of old bedsheets, or taping speaker boxes together to make a Babylon prayer installation. I love the buzz of starting with an empty room and creating something that helps people meet with God.
What was so refreshing about this week’s experience, however, was that I had nothing to do with any of this. (Except, I have to say, for printing and photocopying the sign-up sheet, but then I like to leave my mark somewhere!) And that made such a difference. I could experience the room for what it was, I could meet God there without having to worry if there was enough paper or if anyone had spilt coffee or if the fish were alive or dead (there were no fish, which admittedly made this job easier for everyone).
Walking into that room was like walking into a prayer room for the first time ever. I experienced the stillness of God’s presence there (even above above the monotonous drone of a persistent drill). I felt intrigued by the different zones that had been set up and the thought that had gone into their creation. I loved rifling through a selection of CD’s before eventually settling on some chilled strings. I felt like a kid in the prayer version of a toy shop – What to look at first? Where to sit down? Do I paint first or dance around for a bit?
One of the things that struck me most about the prayer room, and the 24-7 week in general was that it is taking place in an upper room, while the main church downstairs is being renovated (hence the drill). Interestingly the gentle undertone of construction noise didn’t distract me from praying, it actually made me think – what better time to do 24-7! Something like a building project, when you’re quite literally changing how a church looks physically, strikes me as a great time to turn to prayer and dedicate everything to God!
Lots of things struck me about the room: The plant with little fairy lights spelling out ‘Love, Joy, Peace’ etc reminded me that these qualities are organic and they grow in us. The Bible verses dotted around reminded me of some of the promises I’ve been mulling over in my head recently. The heartfelt, post-it note prayers for God to transform the city challenged me with their passion and fervency, and nudged me to lift up afresh some of the things I’m longing to see God do. The pile of cushions that I sunk into in one corner reminded me of the importance of stopping, encountering God and finding his clarity in our confusion and busyness.
The bit that impacted me most, though, was the aforementioned intimacy area (although I’m pleased to report this one was not created from a manky old bedsheet!) Now, again the rigours of life and work mean I end up in a lot of similar purposed places. I have always liked them well enough and thought they were a good thing to have in any self-respecting prayer space, but I usually find them a little difficult to connect with. Everything is very white, very clean, very pristine and very still. This being the case, I’m generally very tempted to splurge paint all around and make a lot of noise in them. (Not because I have rebellious or destructive tendancies, I hasten to add… I just see white spaces and want to colour them in). Anyway, this intimacy area in this prayer room was different, and it included one detail which changed it from being just another nondescript white area, into a place where I probably did my most significant business with the good Lord.
The thing that made such a difference was simply a stretch of red fabric, torn in half, hanging in the entrance to the area, in such a way that to enter it you have to enter in through the torn fabric halves. For me this was a powerful symbol, speaking clearly of the sacrifice and death of Jesus tearing the temple curtain clean in half, leaving the access open for people to enter into the presence and holiness of Christ. I felt like I could connect with the theme of holiness and intimacy in a new way, because it was so contextualised by the visual reminder that the way is opened to me because of what Jesus did.
I was sad when my time in the room was done, and I was thankful to God for the spontaneous interlude that had only been planned the evening before, that meant I could have this space. So it’s a well done to my friends who’ve worked tirelessly to set it all up, and a thanks to God too for showing up when we pray.
My life is often a feat of trying to fit a lot of diary engagements into not enough diary days. Especially in the excitement that is September, when prayer events aplenty seem to spring up all across our fair isle. I love the busyness, the feeling of being kept on my toes, the drive to keep going to God for inspiration because my own supplies have long since dwindled.
September comes with a sense that the year is drawing to a close. My ipod strayed to a Christmas song the other day and I didn’t forward skip it in disgust. Pretty soon the shops will be full of associated garb. I begin to feel the familiar sense of satisfaction that another twelve months are almost over and done with, and with that comes the urge to start looking at the statistics of my year. How many towns have I visited? What was the top moment? Where have I flown to? (and what was my carbon footprint like?) What has surprised me (there are some top contenders for that prize this year, let me tell you), What have I learned?
Also, meetings about next year have started to creep into my week. Both this week and last I found myself enmeshed in buzzing conversations, dreaming big for 2009, sharing concepts and visions and working out partnerships. I was excited about the potential of this year, and have not been dissapointed, and next year seems to be following suit.
But there is more fun to be had before it’s time for that. Highlights of the next few weeks include trips to Bedford and Huddersfield and Banbury to hang out with lovely Salvation Army praying people. After that there’s a training day we’re pulling together that I’m really excited for. Exciting social occasions coming up include multiplicitous dramatic performances from my gifted friends, plus a cool engagement party, and an evening making Fair Trade goodie bags for a coffee evening we’re having with church.
Church is the other excitement in life at the moment. For the past twelve months we’ve been out of our building, while the dear old place was razed to the ground and replaced with an altogether shinier (and less death-trap-laced) new one. It’s pretty much done now, and it’s been really great to watch the finishing touches being applied. This leaves us with the fun process of shopping. So I have been measuring the height of filing cabinets, musing over the practicality of teal sofas and observing discussions about the correct type of potato masher to buy. I’ve learned things about decking out a church that I never would have even considered before.
All in all, these are exciting times. I find my head merrily full of projects that I am really able to get my teeth into. I find myself anticipating the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, amazed at what I have seen and experienced over the past nine months, and thrilled about what is to come.
I’ve been trying think of a coherent way to string all the things I want to blog about this last bit of June together, but I have so far been unable to, in fact coherence in general has been somewhat lacking today. I figure the best thing to do is to just splurge about a number of things and not worry about it making sense. Yes, that’s a plan.
Last week I travelled down to Sussex for a couple of days retreat. I loved the rolling green hills and the quietness, waking up to the baaing of sheep was a novel experience, and I enjoyed a wondrous conversation with a local taxi driver, who wondered if I, having come from London, had never seen a tractor before. (He then went on to direct me to beachy head… a fact which fleetingly concerned me.)
We stayed in a big old house, I shared a room with three other girls. There was that initial awkward moment, where we didn’t know quite what to say to each other, but after a few minutes we were nattering away. By the end of the retreat had a number of hilarious moments to share. We renamed the place we were staying Jurassic Park, for reasons I shall not divulge. We laughed and cried together, and we took long morning walks and considered swimming in the lake. It was great to meet them and they helped make it an great experience for me.
I’m not very good at retreating, I learned! On the first day I could be found wandering around the gardens, with a notebook (as ever), asking God to speak about my church, my job, world peace etc… The heavens were resoundingly silent and I was somewhat frustrated with the good Lord. He did then point out that it wasn’t the best plan for me to try and agenda our every conversation, and that it would do me good just to be still for a bit, without ‘achieving’ anything in terms of hearing from him. So it felt like I spent a lot of time over the 48 hours lying on my back in the grass, just chilling and being with him. With hindsight I know that was powerful in itself (although I did inadvertently bring a lot of said grass home as a result).
The programme was good, intense but helpful. I’ve spent the time since coming back feeling a bit disorientated but with a real sense that good was done there, good that God will build on in the weeks and months ahead. So that’s exciting.
I came straight back into what looked like a manic weekend, so it was good discipline not to get all caught up in the busyness and lose the sense of peace I had from being away. I emptied the diary a bit and dispelled some of the madness, so actually managed to have a quiet couple of days.
On Sunday I led the meeting and preached etc… It was an amusing occasion for so many reasons. I bribed the congregation with gingerbread men to take part… no, they were all very responsive and mostly well behaved, with only one notable exception!
Today has been quite busy, but I have been having a reflective evening, being the end of June and all that (I can hardly believe it’s July, well nearly July, already!). These last thirty days have taught me some important things:
- When God starts something he will finish it, however tempting it is to wish he would/try to convince him to abandon the mission half way through.
- God’s timing is perfect, no really it is.
- However intriguing parts of this journey are, God is residing over all of them.
- Just when you think you have God worked out, he does something that you don’t expect (and likely wouldn’t have asked for!!), but it works out ok in the end!
- I have some amazing and faithful friends, and I am so grateful for their love and the privilege of journeying with them.
- Being 25 is great. York is a beautiful city. Surprises are lovely things. I love trains more than I thought.
- There are many more exciting times ahead, so there is plenty of reason to celebrate.
- Learning to ride a bike will take more than one attempt.
- Sleeping with rags in my hair to make ringlets is painful (though the resulting ringlets are beautiful).
Last Thursday I turned 25. Surely not a noteable birthday you’d think, as one of my presents stated, it lacks the youthful exuberance of 21, or the gravitas of 60… but for me it was a big celebration, and I was determined to push celebration to the extreme.
The celebrations started the weekend before last, with the balloon creatures and cake I already mentioned.
We continued on Tuesday, with a lovely birthday meal with my friends from church here in Wandsworth. They made me a huge summer snow scene cake, with strawberries and cream in the middle and a snowman on top. It was fantastic.
Thursday was my actual birthday, and it was a lovely day. It started with a birthday coffee, continued with a birthday lunch with some of my colleagues, then I went back to Wandsworth and got some lovely presents from my friends here (including the most lovely ever purse!). That evening I went along to our monthly poetry evening where we had birthday poems and cream cakes.
The celebrations continued with fervency on Friday, as the ‘Unparis’ weekend began. To explain, we had orginally mused about going to Paris for the weekend, but for a number of reasons we decided to abandon that, so my two good friends organised a weekend of celebration on English soil. I knew where and when to turn up and what to bring, but not our itinery or destinations. The surprises were lovely and fitting.
We began on Friday night in Wagamama’s. I was handed a parcel and an envelope marked, ‘or alternatively’. When I opened the parcel it was the book Lord of The Rings. I knew then that we were going to the theatre to see it. And it truly was an awesome production. What made my night was that three of my other Canterbury friends were there too… that was a lovely bit of the surprise. I’d been intrigued by the present one of my friend’s was carrying, as it was huge!! It turned out to be a framed newspaper front page with an article about me in it… cool!!
On Saturday morning I was instructed to arrive at Kings Cross at 10.10am. So I did! I was then handed an envelope, which contained three tickets to York. I was very excited about that, as York is somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. We jumped on the train, and my lovely friends had brought pastries to fit in with the Parisian theme. They also brought me a coffee table book on Parisian markets, which I duly entertained the train with excerpts from. I had to don a huge birthday badge which flashed… very subtle! (not!)
A bit further on in the journey I was handed another present. This was a printed sheet with the information about our hotel on. And a guide book all about York. It was cool to read all about where we were going and do a bit of plotting and planning.
When we arrived in York we found the hotel in the only rain shower of the weekend. It was a lovely hotel, with a huge triple bedroom. Very plush. We then walked into York, had some lunch, went on a Viking experience thing (complete with time travel, the opportunity to don a viking helmet, and coin pressing!). After a coffee we wandered round some more, buying some lovely fudge and taking in the Minster, which was beautiful. After this we walked along the river front, then went and had a carvary with a traditional yorkshire pudding.
On Sunday we got another train, this time I really did have no idea where we were going! About half way I realised we were going to Leeds! While there we met up with some good friends who live in a place called East End Park, and spent the afternoon with them, which was lovely.
It feels a bit weird that all the celebrating is over, but I am really aware that a birthday is just a summary of all that is to come in the coming year, and therefore there is a lot to look forward to and be thankful for. I’m so grateful for my friends who organised such a perfect weekend, who knew exactly what I would like, and also to everyone who helped make this birthday my favourite of the last 25!!
So, Jacob cons his dad into giving him his brother’s birthright/blessing. Jacob runs away in fear of his life, and ends up stopping randomly in ‘a certain place’ (Genesis 28:11). That night he has a dream involving a staircase, lots of angels and an affirming speech from God about his purpose and destiny. To mark the place, he sets up the stone he used as his pillow as a pillar, to mark God’s promise and presence. He calls the place Bethel, which means House of God.
The thing that struck me about this story today is that Jacob is celebrating God’s faithfulness even without seeing it having come to completion. At this point in the story he is still on the run, without family or a place to call his own. I’m not sure I’d be celebrating with the same fervency.
This made me think about the way we celebrate, the way I celebrate. Sometimes, it is because we have a tangible cause or thing to celebrate - a baby being born, a driving test passed, a new job etc. Sometimes though, it’s more like Jacob’s pile of rocks: we are celebrating something we can’t see in completion yet.
Whereas celebrating tangible things is great, I think celebrating the ‘not-yets’ in our lives somehow sharpens our faith. If, in the moments of aridity and uncertainty, we can somehow find something to celebrate (however small and seemingly insignificant), I believe those things are like stone pillars, set up at significant points in our lives to mark something of God’s provision or revelation.
I’d like to tell you about a stone pillar in my life at the moment, and the way that this reminds me to celebrate even when it seems premature, or simply ludicrous to be doing so.
Today some of my friends made me a birthday cake and 5 balloon animals (You know the sort you twist modelling balloons to make). It may have looked like a small gesture, but I was really touched. I’m sure Jacob’s stone pillar wasn’t much to look at, but to him it was really significant. For me these balloon animals are the same. I’ve set them up around my room now, and as I look at them, like the pillar, they remind me of celebration and love, they remind me of the promises of God to help me through the hard times and to use all things for good. They remind me that just as God promised his presence to Jacob, I have the same privilege here and now and today, and they remind me that I have some really good friends who choose to celebrate with me too. Such a blessing.
I’m much better when I have somthing measurable to celebrate, it feels wooly in those moments when I’m praying, “thankyou God for lighting this night up and showing me the paths to walk on,” while it’s still dark and foggy outside.
Returning to the story, a few chapters later, in Genesis 35, Jacob takes his whole family back to Bethel, to the stone he had set up all those years previously, and he builds a proper altar there. We are told that God appeared to him again, promised to give him an inheritance, and reminded him of his new name. At this point Jacob has the benefit of hindsight, he can go back and say, “You did what you said you would God.”
Most times we find ourselves in the 6 chapters in between Jacob’s initial experience and his obdience in returning to Bethel. But we can still remember the memory of the pillars and what they mean to us. There are thousands of symbols we can adopt to do this - a cross & chain round the neck, a ring with certain meaning, a painting on our wall that reminds us what God tasked us to do.
I haven’t got this celebration thing all sussed, but I have been feeling that increased sense of purity and connection when I’m celebrating even from a place of difficulty or pain. I want to know in more depth what it means to have a celebrating God, how he interacts with us in celebration, and how we ensure our celebrating focuses around transforming actions, rather than our own thoughts or agendas.
Until then I’ll just stick with my balloon creature prayer-buddies.
So, we were in Visby to lead a week of teaching about different aspects of prayer. On Tuesday we did the mechanics of prayer, on Wednesday – prayer and church, on Thursday – prayer and the community and on Friday – healing prayer.
The town of Visby is amazing, I’d recommend a visit to anyone. It is very old – some of the buildings are from the 12th century, and the section of the town we were in is walled. The town is on the West coast of the Island of Gotland, which has a rich and long history involving trading, pirates and treasure. The attached pictures hopefully show a bit what it was like.
Teaching was so much fun, and we met people from Sweden, Germany, Iceland and Denmark. It was a wondrous cacophany of languages! It was ablessing to worship and pray with the group too.
As is usual with these things, God was working and connecting and bringing about some brilliant conversations, we had ‘fika’ many times, which is like a small snack, over which we discussed boiler room, and what it means to build communities of prayer. I was thrilled to be reminded that these are springing up all over the place.
After school had finished each day, we walked all over the town and explored the windy streets, marvelling at the mix of buildings and the colours and styles. It was like we had gone back 200 years. The streets were cobbly and the whole place was just really unspoilt. It was very very quiet – so different from South West London. Even the pace of life is relaxed and laid back.
Visby’s a very creative place too. Apparently there are more artists per square mile than in any other place. We could well believe it. Something about the place just seemed to bring creativity out. We both commented that it was so easy to write there. I felt like I could have holed myself away on a hilltop and just written and written, it was that inspiring.
Food was yummy too, we had real, authentic swedish meatballs, as well as lots of nice cheese!! My personal favourites were the traditional raspberry pie, and sweetcorn soup (not together though!), we also found a lovely iron-shaped creperie, which is in one of the pictures above. The crepes were fabulous!!
I know there is more I could write, and I probably will, but for now it will suffice to say that we had an awesome time, and are excited about the connections we made out there. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to meet the people on the Saved2Save course, and to have visited Visby.