Tuesday, June 7, 2016

standing on the promises

I got to spend last weekend in Charlottesville with some of my favorite people in the world - the crazy awesome Morales family who we've been friends with for thirteen years. The weekend was jam-packed - we celebrated Maddie's 20th birthday and got to watch Josh's soccer games and just hang out together. At night we watched the mountain behind their house light up with thousands of fireflies as a thunderstorm rolled in.

One of my favorite moments of the weekend was Sunday morning when we gathered for a time of worship after breakfast.

Mr. Morales read a few verses, one of which was Hebrews 6:11-12, "And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises."

Then he asked: "What are the promises?"

Each one of us - thirteen people ages 6 to 50 - named one of the promises of God.

"For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them." Matthew 18:20

"And He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways." Psalm 91:11

"The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness." Lamentations 3:23-24

"With God we will gain the victory, and He will trample down our enemies." Psalm 60:12

He has promised the crown of eternal life to those who love Him. (James 1:12)

The Bible is full of promises from God to His people. In fact, the Christian faith centers around the fulfillment of the promises of God - the central one being the promise of eternal life.

Search the Scriptures - or just put "promise" into a Bible search engine - and you will find that God makes spectacular promises. And His promises are true.

"For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ." 2 Corinthians 1:20.

I started thinking about some of the promises of God that I return to over and over.

Thinking about the promise of eternal life reminded me of one of my favorite verses in Scripture.

"And this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent." John 17:3 

The promise of eternal life is the promise that we can know God intimately. It is closely connected with the promise that Jesus makes to us that "Never will I leave you, never will I forsake You" and "Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Hebrews 13:5, Matthew 28:20). Because of these promises, I am confident that in every moment of life Jesus is with me. He is, after Emmanuel - God with us. This is no small thing - that the Lord of the universe who conquered death and crushed the powers of hell promises that He is with me always and that He will fill me with the power of the Holy Spirit - the same power that raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11). As if that promise were not enough, I know that He will fill me with joy in His presence now and that ultimately I will find eternal pleasure at His right hand (Psalm 16:11). As I walk in His presence and in obedience to Him, He will satisfy my soul (Psalm 63:5).

Jesus does not promise an easy life. In fact, He promises that the world will hate those who love Him - just as they hated Him (John 15:18). But He does promise that He is with us through good times and bad and that all our troubles in this life will be like nothing compared to the weight of glory that will greet us in heaven (2 Corinthians 4:17).

"In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33

These are powerful promises, ones to internalize and mull over and cling to and use as a cause for worship and great rejoicing.

What are the promises that you live by? Comment below: I'd love to hear!

{via Pinterest}

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." Hebrews 13:8

"Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28

"You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart." Jeremiah 29:13

When I doubt, He will not forsake me, for it is promised that "if we are faithless, He remains faithful - for He cannot deny Himself" (2 Timothy 2:13).

"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful - He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear." 1 Corinthians 10:13

"He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6

"Have I not commanded you - Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9

"The grass withers and flowers fade. But the word of the Lord stands forever." Isaiah 40:8

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Catching up {part 2}

{If you haven't already seen this post you might want to go check it out because it's part one of my two-part endeavor to wrap up {at least for now} my travel-blogging phase and catch y'all up on my last weeks in Oxford.}

I wandered Oxford. 

There are some pretty impressive dinosaurs in the Museum of Natural History.

I wandered into many of Oxford's 38 Colleges. These three pictures are from Corpus Christi college. I loved this one because the gardeners had a sense of whimsey and I could tell they enjoy what they do. Usually Oxford colleges are grand, not whimsical, and I found this one delightful.

In the Middle Ages it was believed that during a famine or draught pelicans would pierce their own breasts and feed the gore to their young to keep them alive. This was considered an allegory of Christ's sacrificial love for the church. Since this is Corpus Christi - the body of Christ - college, there were images of pelicans everywhere.

I found one of the two things I remember from my visit to Oxford years and years ago.

This gate is the entrance to the Master's Garden at Christ Church College. Years ago when Mom, Charlie, and I visited Oxford for twenty-four hours, I took a photograph identical to the one on the top right. That view, and the Bodleian Library shop, were the only two things I remembered about Oxford up until the day when I arrived in January. I stumbled across it on a stroll through Christ Church Meadows and knew I had to draw it.

I drank lots of tea.

I grew to love this tucked-away room in the King's Arms pub - a perfect place for a pot of tea and some quiet studying. 

The stereotype of the British preoccupation with tea is on point. Tea is a crucial element of each day. It is drunk with milk, not cream, and the milk goes into the teacup first.

To give you an idea of how important tea is: There's a delightful gentleman in his seventies on the SCIO staff. His name is John. For eight years, John's Lenten practice was to give up his Saturday afternoon cup of tea. This was such a difficult thing that after eight years he gave it up and now does not involve tea in Lenten fasting. I'm not making this up. 

So. Tea is important. 

According to Dr. Baigent, tea is a necessary element of all decision-making in Oxford. 

It is also a hugely necessary element to sustain students preparing fourteen-page research papers worth 75% of the final grade for a course.

The tea I had at the Grande Cafe on High Street is called Lapsang Souchong. I ordered it because the menu discussed its distinctive smoky flavor, and I was curious what that meant. Drinks are described as having all sorts of characteristics that I usually don't understand, and this one sounded intriguing. 

It tasted like smoke in liquid form. In a good way. Drinking it was like drinking a summer campfire.

When I next had wifi I googled this tea and discovered that the leaves are dried over pinewood fires. You learn something new every day. And when it's about tea, all the better.

I had to sneak this in, though it's not tea. Cafe Nero in England is as ubiquitous as Starbucks in the States, and I much prefer its ambiance (think long lightwood farm tables and whimsical photos of Italy). I procured a loyalty card my first week in Oxford and by week 12 I had finished it. 

This was important, guys: I have never, ever completed one of those things.

When I found out that I could get whatever drink I wanted in whatever size I wanted, a good day got way better. So I got a large orange hot chocolate with loads of whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles. The barista totally understood my excitement and enthusiasm, which made me even happier.

This is only a handful of my tea photos, and I won't try your patience with more. 

I found Addison's Walk, a favorite walk of C.S. Lewis'

Lewis, Tolkien, and another friend took countless laps around this walk (it's probably about half a mile) during intense debates leading up to Lewis' conversion.

I walked into Narnia.

Unfortunately, I have no photographs documenting this fact. But if you ever want to walk through the wardrobe, I recommend the Story Museum in Oxford. Not only does this fabulous museum give guests the opportunity to sit in a sleigh in a snowy wood near a lamppost reading about Lucy's first impressions of Narnia, but it also offers a gigantic location for bedtime reading. 

It also gave me the opportunity to tap into my dictatorial four-year-old self as I impersonated an annoyed Alice at a mad tea party. 

Finally, it transformed Katherine into "The Terrible Master of Mystery," Paige into "The Cheeky thing of Nutwood," and myself into "The Mysterious Person of the Clouds." (Amy was our Phenomenal Photographer.)

Spring came, and I took photographs of flowers and chopped-down trees.

Elisa and I spent the night in London before I flew home and she went gallivanting around the UK.

We spent an hour and a half inside Westminster Abbey, but first we took rubbings of it from the guide to the square. 

I got to see what is possibly my favorite portrait ever. It is in the National Portrait Gallery and it is of William Wilberforce, who battled for years to abolish slavery in the British Empire. I have loved this portrait ever since I first saw it. {The quote is taken from the memorial to Wilberforce in Westminster Abbey.}

An unexpected detour took us to Baker Street underground station, which was one of the first underground stations in London and was recently restored to its Victorian glory. 

And, finally, I came home.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

catching up (part 1)

Well, it's been a month and a half since I last posted. In that time, life got crazy and travel blogging did not happen. So here I am. I've been home for two weeks and have enough material to write a small book about. 

Fear not. 

I am not going to impose a small book upon you. (Anyway I already wrote sixteen essays this semester and I don't need to do much more writing for awhile.)

Instead, here is a very, very broad record of some of my last four weeks in Oxford, supplemented by many photos. 

Four friends and I went to the Lake District for four glorious nights.

This is the view from our youth hostel - each of the four sunsets was stunning. 

I got to "cuddle" (the handler's word) an owl named Oscar.

What appeared to be a slightly muddy patch on the trail through this pasture turned out to be ankle deep mud. Literally. I had to rinse out my shoes in a nearby creek. 

This is Hill Top Farm - Beatrix Potter's vacation home and the destination of a lovely 11 mile trek that we made one day. Many of her illustrations are direct copies of the interior of her house and of the farmland surrounding it. 

I found out that the live action introductory scene to the BBC's animated series of her stories was filmed here. I absolutely love this scene and watched it many times as a child. I think that the videocassette we had was The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck, but what I remember is this opening. According to the well-informed guide, Peter Rabbit disgraced himself during filming, which resulted in a stain on the table that is there to this day. 

This swan was actually bold enough to take a nip of my fish and chips. We were not amused. In her fear Anastasia hopped up on a nearby wall, and I don't think I've ever seen Katherine so bitter about anything. 

There was so much more to that break - the mist in the mornings, relaxing together over breakfast and dinner, hopping stone walls as we hiked cross-country, reading books aloud to each other as we waited for buses. It was one of the top five highlights of my entire semester. But. Moving on.

The entire program went on several group field trips. 

I loved St. Alban's cathedral. I had a profound sense that this is not simply a historical site that was incidentally a place of worship. Rather, it is a place of strong, living, Christian worship that is only incidentally a historical site. 

The ceiling at Winchester Cathedral.

This is the view from Porchester Castle - a Roman-fortress-turned-Norman-castle across from Portsmouth. It was here and not in Southampton that a plot against Henry V was uncovered, though Shakespeare used his artistic license to place the incident in Southampton.  

I went on a solo trip to London

Chinatown is not right across the street from Portobello Market. However, it is just behind the National Gallery of Art and right across the street from Queen's Theatre, where Les Miserables is performed. Somehow I managed to go to London five times growing up without ever realizing this fact. 

Skoob Books - an amazing basement bookstore in London. I came home from the entire trip with twenty-one books, most of them ones I found at used bookstores and couldn't resist. Some people have problems buying clothing or Apple products or music. My problem is books. By the time I found Skoob I had already bought probably sixteen books and knew I shouldn't buy any more. I went in anyway. And I bought books. 

I don't have pictures of this, but I went to the Maundy Thursday Eucharist in Westminster Abbey. It was amazing. I was seated in Poet's Corner, and as I returned to my seat after receiving communion I passed the memorial to C.S. Lewis. This was not a time to fangirl over Lewis, and I didn't. But I know so much about his faith that seeing his memorial suddenly impressed me with the great cloud of witnesses that surrounded me as I received the Lord's Supper in that place.

{to be continued...}

Monday, March 21, 2016

RED - the blood of angry men - BLACK - the dark of ages past - RED - the world about to dawn - BLACK - the night that ends at last

Friday a week ago four friends and I spent the night in London to kick off our Spring Break trip. Anastasia, Elisa, and Katherine went to see Phantom of the Opera on the West End. Paige and I saw Les Miserables. (Which is why this joint add in the Underground was perfect.)

We saw it in Queen's Theater, where it has had a nonstop run since it opened - 30 years ago. We had just finished our finals week, so it only hit us that we were going to see Les Mis as we were walking up to the theater, at which point we started giggling pretty uncontrollably from excitement. 

When the show was over, we did not talk. We were two of the last people out of the balcony. We still didn't talk for the whole thirty minute commute to Paddington Station. As we walked from the station to our hostel, our conversation went like this:

"What are we going to say when the others ask us how it was?"
"I have no idea."
"Me neither."

It was that good.

Honestly, I had been wondering if this was a good idea. I've seen Les Miserables in London before, and I know the original Broadway cast recording backwards and forwards. I asked myself whether I really wanted to see it again or whether this was just something to do because I was in London.

Those questions disappeared the moment I walked into the theater and saw the projection of Cosette. 

The odd thing about this production is that it wasn't perfect. There were things that bugged and distracted me (Cosette being at the top of that list). But on the whole I was more moved by this production than I remember ever being by a stage show. I think part of that has to do with the fact that after seeing this in London eight years ago I went home and read the whole book - all 1400 pages of it - and then read it again a couple of years later for school. So what I saw on stage was only part of the experience this time, and much of the power came from memories sparked of Victor Hugo's insightful examination of the psychology of different characters in the course of the book, which were cemented in my mind by two readings.

{all photos of the cast are from the Les Miserables Official Website}
The cast on the whole was good (as one would expect from a show on the West End). The actors carried their roles well, and each one had a moment or two where they just nailed it. 

Moments that stood out:

The line "and the sun in the morning is ready to rise" from "At the End of the Day" was breathtaking and accompanied by perfect lighting. I've always loved the beginning of that song and the ensemble was marvelous.

Some of the orchestration was different, which was a tiny bit distracting but also fascinating. I want to try to get my hands on a newer recording and actually compare the orchestration with the original. When I mentioned that to Paige, she responded with surprise that I know the show so well, a comment she repeated a week later when she heard me humming "Hey, little boy, what's this I see? God, Eponine, the things you do..." and noted my familiarity with more obscure bits rather than a basic knowledge of choruses. Having friends who are waaaaay more into theater than I am has made me forget that my level of knowledge isn't necessarily paltry.

Any moment with Jean Valjean and Javert together onstage was a highlight. Aside from the sheer weight of the story, the actors had a great chemistry that took the show to a whole new level.
The bishop was amazing. He moved with a striking deliberateness that was quite memorable. 

The way they used touch in this production was incredibly powerful. The bishop reaches out to touch Jean Valjean - and he shrinks away. Valjean holds Fantine at her death scene, and of course Marius holds Eponine for "A Little Fall of Rain." What stood out to me was the realization that up until this point, the only physical contact with other people that the social outcasts Valjean, Fanzine, and Eponine had had for a very long time was abusive, and at these pivotal moments, they are finally touched with compassion - literally.

Frankly, Jean Valjean made the show. Peter Lockyer played the role with a dignity and gentleness that set him far above the rest of the cast, as good as they were. His portrayal of Valjean tapped into the better handle I have on his character from reading the book and ultimately reduced me to a blubbering puddle of tears at the end of the show. "Who Am I" brought into my mind all the torment that Valjean went through on the journey to Arras. The scenes at the barricade were all the more poignant knowing that Valjean was saving someone who would take away Cosette and his earthly happiness. 

What really got me - partly because it was unexpected since it isn't on my recording - is the reprise of "A Heart Full of Love" when Valjean takes Eponine's line and changes it to "She was never mine to keep." From then on it was snuffling and digging for kleenex, as I watched the heartbreak of Valjean slowly weaning himself from Cosette's presence and literally dying of a broken heart. And that's not even to mention the reprise of "Bring Him Home," when Valjean is talking about being brought into God's presence at last. Talk about something close to my heart. 

The show took me a good twenty-four hours to process. Something I mulled over is the weird time-warp in theatre. Had I been reading the book I would have put it down often and gone away to think over a particular scene before returning to it. But that's not possible in theater. Things happen at dizzying speed, and comedy follows pathos and intermingles with profundity in a way that is overwhelming. I now remember why I went home after seeing this in London years ago and read the book. In fact, Les Miserables (round three) is now on my reading list for the summer.

There is so much more I could say, but I think I will leave it at that.