The Correspondence: A Prologue

A year ago today, I was busy getting through a long Wednesday of teaching at Université Grenoble-Alpes. They had at least lightened my load on Wednesdays after I just couldn’t handle the long nine hour teaching day anymore. It was a beautiful spring day! The Alps were still covered in snow but the grass was getting greener and the birds were cheerfully singing. Life in France at that time was full of strikes and drama in the school administration although I had not yet seen the worst of it. It was just a happy spring day, and I was in the middle of preparations for my return to the U.S. in the summer. Little did I know as I finished up my teaching day and went back to my apartment to fix supper that my life was about to change. As I slept that night, a certain someone sent me an FB message which simply read: “Salut, Stacey! Ça va? 🙂 ”

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Now, I’ll pause here a second and explain that I had my misgivings as this was not the first time a rather unfamiliar gentleman had sent a message. I really should write a book about some of my experiences on that score, but let’s just say some of the messages I received in the past were genuinely just friendly conversations while others were obviously sent by someone on a wife hunt. So, when I first saw I had a message from this particular gentleman when I got to school the next morning, I did hope this was not a repeat of some of what I’d already been through before. I quickly sent back a couple of lines in French and continued on with my day.

The response which followed included his phone number and a request to call him when I got a chance as he wanted to talk about a trip to France. My eyebrows went up as this was not exactly the response I had expected. My impression was he was looking for recommendations for places to visit in France of which I did have plenty of ideas. I couldn’t call the U.S. from my mini French phone, so I offered to Skype. I also threw out some suggestions of places to visit, asked more specifics on what he wanted to know about, and mentioned as an example that I was at that moment researching a trip up to the D-Day beaches for the week I had off at the end of April. I’d been unable to get that trip to work up to that point because to visit the Normandy beaches, one really needs a car, and I did not have that option at my disposal. I was still trying to work it out though. I wanted to go so badly since my grandfather had landed there. Turns out there was a reason that particular trip I was trying to work out just wasn’t working, a very good reason.

We set up a time to Skype that following Saturday. During the actual call, he was in his car in a grocery store parking lot which is partly why the conversation only lasted about 10 minutes. Those few minutes of our Skype conversation laid the foundation for a trip to Normandy. After we got off of Skype, I sat there on my bed staring out the window wondering if I were nuts….

A guy I barely met in Memphis several years ago is coming to France, and I’m meeting up with him to go on a trip? Maybe I better ask someone about what kind of a person he is. I need to pray about this too!

So, I did both. Thankfully, I have some friends who know him well and were able to give me a good report a couple of weeks later. I prayed too that God would help me guard my heart and to close the door if we were not meant to go on this trip. I wrote extensively in my journal at the time just trying so hard to keep myself from getting my hopes up and to be sure to keep the proper perspective. Jane Austen knew women quite well when she famously said in Pride and Prejudice: “A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

Looking back over those couple of months before he came to France, I do have to smile. We messaged almost daily and often talked on Skype on the weekends. I remember one particular time when we talked for nearly three hours on Skype just because we lost track of time as we talked and talked. It was a blessing getting to know each other better as we started sharing prayer requests and stories while also working on trip details. It was exciting! We were both amazed as answer after answer came as we prayed and worked through the details of the trip.

I think what I loved most through all of our correspondence was that there was no pressure and no expectations other than friendship. I felt relaxed and free to change my mind about the trip if something didn’t feel right.There was also no manipulation whatsoever. He had become my friend, and I just couldn’t wait to meet him in person. I prayed that our first meeting would be relaxed and that we would feel comfortable. I’m so thankful to say that that’s exactly how our first meeting was! I prayed also that God’s will would be done and that whether we parted at the end of the trip as good friends or maybe something more, that we would be content to follow His leading.

The morning I boarded the train to go to the airport, I remember feeling so nervous because I both knew and didn’t know what was ahead. I sat in a rather open area on the train next to the baggage racks surrounded by a couple of French couples probably in their sixties who were quite amusing as they talked about this and that. I watched the French landscape rush by in the windows and just prayed and prayed and wondered. After I changed trains though for the last leg of the trip, I could barely sit still. I really felt for the man sitting next to me as I fidgeted quite a bit and got up a lot to walk around. As I got off, I looked for George on the platform, but he wasn’t there. I wondered if he were lost or what had happened. I pulled out my phone about to call him and then glanced up to see him standing up on a platform above the train station. I smiled and got onto the escalator to go up to meet him.

And then, a new page began in the prologue of a beautiful story….

These Last Quiet French Days

I remember sitting in the airport crying and crying after having said goodbye to my mom and my younger brother. I’m not a big crier particularly in front of strangers, but let’s just say the floodgates opened as I wondered if I’d made a huge mistake. A year in France!? Was I crazy? How would I ever make it? My first instinct was to run back through the airport, chase after mom’s car, and run home to all that was familiar and comfortable. I realized then I would regret it for the rest of my life if I chickened out now. I dried my tears and prayed for God to give me grace and strength as I boarded the plane, and He did.

What a story has unfolded from day one.

{I mean, you can’t quite beat getting lost the first day trying to find your residence followed by tripping over your suitcase and falling into your room while trying to tell your landlady how much you love the purple walls. My landlady wasn’t entirely sure what to make of me really.}

French life has calmed down considerably in the weeks following the end of the semester. I believe this is one of the first times since I started graduate school five years ago when I’ve had time to just rest. I’m trying to take advantage of it as much as possible now because in the next few weeks, life is going to get crazy busy again, and it’s not going to let up for the foreseeable future.

So, how does one spend days like these among the French?

100_4114Well, let me tell you. You figure out what your favorite type of baguette is and pick up the French habit of keeping a ready bread supply on hand. You sit in the park with your journal and listen to some elderly French ladies argue about what kind of tree it is you’re sitting under (not sure they came to a conclusion on that one). You smile as little French kids run by chasing their siblings and screaming in delight. You pick up as much slang as you can on the tram and feel content and maybe slightly perplexed you can understand some of it even if you’d never repeat a lot of it yourself. You spend a quiet hour with a friend over a cup of tea. You laugh with friends over dinner. You take long walks around town and breathe in the scent of flowers, coffee, and bread and just soak up the sunshine. You answer countless questions about the American Presidential election because suddenly, several want to know who you’re voting for {In case you’re wondering, I don’t know yet}. You find people to speak French with to keep practicing with native speakers, and yes, some days you just stay home and read with the window open to let that Alpine mountain breeze in. You try to take mental pictures of these kinds of scenes because a camera just frankly can’t do justice to what the eye sees.

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No, life among the French has not always been enjoyable or easy. It’s often been, frankly, the opposite, but it has been worth it to come. The adventures are definitely not over yet, but I can see the curtain beginning to fall as this act reaches its conclusion and the next act prepares to begin. I both long for and dread the end and coinciding beginning.

However, I have learned a valuable lesson in these months of being far from home. That is, when you set all fears and doubting aside and trust God to write your story, the result will be far better than anything you could have imagined to pen yourself. That doesn’t mean everything will work out how you think it should or that you won’t suffer pain, loss, and disappointment, but it does mean you’re not alone. It means there’s a purpose and an unquenchable hope in how your story is unfolding. He also tucks in blessings that you might not be expecting along the way. He knows exactly what you need both of joy and sorrow as He molds you and helps you grow to be more like Himself.

I wish I could go back to the crying Stacey sitting in the airport and reassure her that she’d be just fine, that she’d make so many dear friends, that she’d have experiences beyond any she could have imagined, and that God was, is, and shall be with her every step of the way just as He is with each of His children. I think I knew even if my mind was flooded with fear of the unknown. I knew deep down this was going to be a journey of a lifetime even if I hadn’t quite reached Bilboesque excitement to yell “I’m going on adventure!” as I boarded that plane.

Next up on my blogging agenda {which does tend to change, so bear with me}: Paris and singing Sacred Harp with the French.

 

Utah Beach

Is there a name for the emotion one feels when one visits somewhere which holds so much meaning? I felt emotions which didn’t seem to have a name.

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As I stood on Utah beach just trying to take in the enormity of what had happened there, all I could think about was a farmer from Alabama who landed there. He was scared as any soldier would be as he got his first taste of war. The bullets were flying around him, and as he landed and dug a foxhole he prayed for his wife, his family, and that God would give him courage to never run away or do anything cowardly before the enemy. That brave man was my grandfather on June 6, 1944.

I personally cannot fully fathom what it must have been like for him and the other thousands upon thousands of soldiers who landed on the D-Day beaches that day. As I looked from the sea to the beach, I was struck by the short distance between the two. How in the world did anyone survive?

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It’s one thing to read about these events in history. It’s entirely another thing to go to where this event took place and to have had someone there who left a firsthand account of what he experienced. I was looking on scenes he had looked on although granted the landscape has changed quite a bit in the 72 years since the landing. I wondered where he was exactly on this beach, where he dug his fox hole, where he ran when someone yelled that his best friend had been hit though thankfully, he discovered his friend was okay. I can only just imagine how traumatic it must have been for him to witness the devastation and the horror of war all around him as he tried to find a path forward.

As I stood there, I yet again thanked God for sparing him and protecting him just as I had when I went to see the Hürtgen Forest back in February which was another bloody battle he took part in. I thank God that He blessed him with the grace to overcome the trauma after the war, and that he lived to have a wonderful, blessed life following the Lord and raising a family. I know he never forgot that day he landed nor all the experiences which followed, how could he?

There is one thing I regret for him. I regret he never saw or heard how thankful the French were and are for what he and his fellow soldiers did. He had a very low opinion of the French because they fired at him, and he felt that they were overall ungrateful for the sacrifices of the Allies to liberate them. During my various stays in France, I have been moved to experience the complete opposite. Any time I have mentioned my grandfather’s story, I have seen the French nearly moved to tears and most have asked if I my grandfather were still alive to be able to thank him themselves. The French are grateful, and they do wish to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to free them from the oppression of the Nazis. This was a plaque at Utah Beach:

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“From the French in memory of the valiant soldiers from the United States who fell for the liberation of France on June 6, 1944”

I have seen firsthand the bond of an American family and a French family who have remained close through the years because a Frenchman risked everything to save an American from being taken by the Germans. I hope that this bond I have seen can be a testament to not just the friendship of two nations, but also the reality of human compassion and resilience in the midst of horrible circumstances.

I’m glad that our family can at least know that the French do honor my grandfather and those like him who risked their lives and futures that this nation might be free. Of course, I’ve heard all sorts of commentary on the economic and political reasons of why the U.S. got involved, but, my friends, don’t ever forget that life is precious and valuable and that the cost of war is insurmountable. There were men, young men, who never made it home, who never fulfilled their dreams, who left an empty place at their family’s table and in their loved ones’ hearts, who breathed their last breath on a foreign land. Looking upon those rows upon rows of crosses is mind boggling because each of those men, many of whom were around my age, had their own personalities, loves, hopes, fears, dreams, and yet, they laid it all down in the ultimate sacrifice and here they rest.

Many were gone before their lives truly began.

Let us honor them.

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Let us never forget.

Reflections from a Lectrice d’Anglais

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It feels rather strange to be working on wrapping up these classes I’ve been teaching since last fall.

I’m definitely going to miss my class full of sci-fi/LOTR fans. Never can tell where class discussion is going to go and my yes, do they have some pretty strong opinions. On an exam last fall for bonus points I gave them sentences to put into passive voice. One of the sentences was “Frodo destroyed the ring.” One of my students crossed out Frodo and put Gollum before putting it into passive voice. This may or may not have been the same student who spoke for the rest of class in a Gollum voice after I showed the Air New Zealand Flight Safety video with LOTR characters a few weeks ago during our travel unit.

I can’t say it’s all gone smoothly teaching here, but it’s definitely been a learning experience on multiple levels.

What’s it been like teaching English in France?

Different. Very different. Naturally, I knew it wouldn’t be the same as what I’ve been used to. My entire teaching career up to this point has been focused on teaching students French. Now, for the last 8 months I’ve been standing up in front of a classroom to teach English, my native language, and it is even more of a challenge than I fully realized it would be.

100_3968 - CopyI’ve sometimes felt like throwing up my hands because I feel like there’s an overall lack of
organization in the university system (welcome to France, Stace). Throwing me 8 or 9 classes and telling me to do whatever I want with little clue as to what my students have done previously absolutely overwhelmed me starting out. I was so very thankful for a couple of teachers who shared their lessons with me and gave me an idea of how to teach these classes. It’s been pretty rocky, but I think if I were to do this another year, it would go somewhat smoother.

What was one of the biggest differences?

The students.

Of course, it does make sense that French students would not be the same as the American students I’m used to teaching. However, I was not prepared for the discipline problems I ran into those first few weeks. After I established rules and they got used to my rules and the consequences, things did start to go smoother though I did often feel like I was teaching high school all over again. Alhough I don’t think I would ever have heard myself saying “Arthur and Clément, please put that flask away. I want you happy in this class and ready to talk but not quite *that* happy!” in either a high school or a university in the U.S. Yes, that really did happen!

What I did love about my French students was that I could talk more freely with them without worrying so much about someone getting easily offended. In my conversation classes especially we talked about so many different things and everyone felt free to voice an opinion. Although we always had a theme for the week, I really wanted them to take the conversation where they wanted it to go. They were much more likely to get into lively conversations even debates if it was about something that interested them. You should have heard one of our book discussions the other day. 😉

It was a joy to me as a teacher to see many of my students blossom. They often wowed me with their presentations. Two of the guys pretended to be sports anchors for several minutes and then had the class do a game show quiz on sports news in Europe and U.S. Or, I had another student who had the entire class involved in a game show over different anglophone accents. I’ve had students who got up in front of the class and started off nervous but as they continued, gained confidence and were able to get the class involved in discussing their topic.

Sure, I’ve had more lessons than I want to count fall flat and there were plenty of times when I just about wore myself out trying to get these kids to talk. I have also had plenty of times I left the university after a long day nearly in tears because I wanted so badly to go home as things went just that horribly with classes. I remember at one particular low point another teacher seeing how discouraged I was, sweetly told me that I was here to touch lives and that somehow or other all these other difficulties I was going through would work out. I call that a turning point because it took the focus off of myself and put it back onto others where it should have been. I’m thankful now to look back and see the strength the Lord gave me on those tough days and smile about the good times I’ve had in class. Yes, I’m also really going to miss a lot of these kids I’ve gotten to know.

The students did also pick up on my great enjoyment of coffee….

100_3965One time I intended to write on the board for students to be sure to print a copy of a worksheet to bring to class and went along giving them instructions. I was interrupted by giggles and students pointing at the board saying “Uh, Miss? Miss! *hahahaha* Print a coffee!?” Yes, it’s rather obvious where my mind was at that time. They kindly suggested I go find myself one as they walked out of the classroom. Later that same day, two students in another class were doing a partner oral exam and decided to impersonate me interviewing for a job in an espresso company. That absolutely cracked me up, and “I” apparently got the job….Woohoo!

As much of a learning and often stressful experience this has been, there are some unique things about these students that I have enjoyed uncovering. They love to tell me about their culture and about things I need to try while I’m here. Often if class discussion was lagging, I’d ask them questions about France. Conversely, you should see how excited and curious a lot of them are when I tell them about my life back in the States. Sometimes they come up to me after class to ask questions like “Do you prefer our coffee here or the coffee in the States?” “What kind of an accent do you have?” “Where did you learn how to teach?” “What does a Texan accent sound like?” “Do you really know cowboys?” We also have laughs when there’s a complete breakdown in communication in the classroom. This is usually when they mispronounce something, and I can’t figure out what they’re trying to say, so they try in French which depending on what it is might still not work. An impromptu game of charades then begins often ending in laughs.

I have many, many stories to tell, but for now I’m content, relieved, and maybe just a little sad that the semester is almost over! What an adventure it’s been!

Lengthening Shadows

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The sun is setting here in my French home. The last little shades of pink on Belledonne are fading away. It’s been a rainy couple of days as evidenced by the clouds, but the sun has been trying to peek through from time to time. Another day is almost finished. Another lesson for tomorrow is almost put together, only lacking a few finishing touches. A cup of hot peppermint tea sits in front of me with the curling steam coming up from the cup as I try to battle the early symptoms of a cold.

I was reflecting on a question a friend asked me over Skype the other day. He asked me to describe my best experience in France so far and also what had been my worst experience. As I think back now to some of those tough days as well as those days of triumph, it strikes me as my friend also remarked after I shared both of how intense both have been. Those first three months after I arrived were probably some of the toughest I’d faced. It’s inspiring to me though to look back over some of those dark, rough times and see where the Lord sustained me, carried me, and taught me to trust Him even more fully. He held me as I mourned with France and then when I mourned for a couple of dear friends back home who passed away around the same time. He helped me through the frustrations of dealing with the administration and trying to figure out teaching in a completely different context to completely different students.

By contrast, He allowed me to soar when I finally started being able to better understand the fast-paced French being spoken around me. He gave me the excitement of having lessons go well and to see some of my students start to grasp some of the concepts I was trying to teach. He allowed me to see spectacular scenes that even my eyes couldn’t even quite take in all the beauty. He gave me those quiet mornings spent with a friend over a cup of tea just talking about how good the Lord is and how faithful He is. He gave me the ability to hear His Word preached and read in French. How beautiful it is to see His love transcend culture and language. Every step of the way, He has been there.

I realized tonight as I was working on lesson plans how short my time is here. My landlady even asked me a couple of days ago what my departure day is as she needs to know for planning purposes. I could only give her an estimate. I’ve started having more and more details start to come up about my return. Registering for classes, housing, plane tickets, moving just to name a few.

I do beg an interest in your prayers. I remember how overwhelming the details were just trying to come over to France, and I know it’s going to be quite involved getting back to my starting point. However, just as a dear friend reminded me over a year ago as I shared with her all of my fears of trying to go France, “Well, God worked out every single detail of you moving to Indiana. Do you think He can’t handle this? Trust Him!”

He has been my Rock. Just as those mountains I look at each day have stood there for thousands of years, so is He unmovable and constant. Maybe that’s why mountains always make me think of the Lord and His grandeur and majesty.

Dreaming of Home

It seems that although I feel like I’ve pretty well adjusted to everyday life in France with all its ups and downs, part of me never has. Any expat I’ve talked to relates. There’s a part of you that always misses home no matter how much you love your life abroad.

For me, it’s most apparent in my dreams. Almost every night, I dream of home. Sometimes I don’t remember the full dream, but I always have a feeling that my subconscious went home again and brought up happy scenes. Last night, I dreamed of my return to the church where I’m a member in Indiana. I saw their happy faces full of joy that I was safe and back to stay. I heard Brother Roger in his melodiously slow Kentucky accent tell me to come over and give him a hug. I heard the Forrests asking me if I could stay for lunch while Sister Suzy wanted to know all about where I’d traveled. But then, just as quickly, their faces faded from my view as I awoke to hear the early morning stirrings of my landlady’s young son.

I was still in France.

What a strange mix of emotions I felt both of joy that it wasn’t yet time to say goodbye to my dear friends here and sadness that it wasn’t time yet to return to those I love back home.

How similar this is to our Christian walk. A part of us always yearns for home, our eternal home. It doesn’t matter where our paths lead in this life, what trials we face, or burdens we bear, we’re continuing onward to that one goal: Home. We don’t fully understand what it will be like, but a love and yearning for something we haven’t fully experienced yet tugs on our souls and reminds us where our allegiance is.

“O could we make our doubts remove,
Those gloomy thoughts that rise,
And see the Canaan which we love
With unbeclouded eyes!

Could we but climb where Moses stood
And view the landscape o’er,
Not Jordan’s streams, nor death’s cold flood,
Should fright us from the shore.”
-Isaac Watts

I love how the last part of this hymn I grew up singing just came to mind. If you’d like to hear what it sounds like, I did manage to find the version my mom used to play on her stereo at home:

I’ve said over and over that I would know when it’s time to go back home to the U.S. I know it’s not time yet. I think it will be the same when it’s time to go Home too. This old world is getting increasingly dangerous and decayed, and it makes me wish even more fervently for home in both senses. However, my Captain has me here for now and as long as it’s His will for me to be here, I’ll press on and pray for the strength to be faithful to the end when He does call me Home.

It is sweet though that truly anywhere He sends us is home if only He is there with us. Just as another hymn says “I need not go abroad for joys, I have a feast at home…”

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Where Two Siblings Went

It’s been such a busy couple of months, I’ve sadly fallen behind writing updates of my ongoing adventures among the French. It feels like after I hit the halfway point of my journey here, time has started flying. In any case, I wanted to drop by and give you a glimpse of the memories my brother Jesse and I made when he was here for nearly a month back in December and January.

Winter break was special for two reasons: (1) I was able to take a break from the stress of everyday life at the university and just travel and make memories, and (2) I got to share those memories with my little (big) brother. Hence my silence on the blog during those weeks. There was just too much to see to possibly keep up with writing.

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Having a picnic on the pebbled beach in Nice

As you can see, I was incredibly busy. 😉  It was a unique trip with several destinations and several unforgettable experiences.

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Jesse arrived around December 19th and a few days later we boarded a train and began hopping around France and England. Unfortunately, our hopping also included checking out the French emergency room at one point. You know, one should never pass up an opportunity to learn new vocab, right? Though I think we both would have preferred to learn that sort of French vocabulary out of a textbook and not from real life.

We called our adventure the Sibling Trip Winter European Edition or STWEE to borrow from the French tendency to acronym anything and everything. We explored Nice, Antibes, drove through Monaco, climbed the stairs at Eze, strolled the streets of London and later Paris, and of course, we did some hiking in the Alps around Grenoble as well as near the Italian border around Nice. The above pic was taken in the seaside town of Antibes. It was a dreamy place, I must say. I loved seeing all of the many colors of the buildings, hearing the Italian influence on the French accent there, making some new friends, and seeing some sights that absolutely took my breath away.

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Jesse and I both love French and France, but we had never been able to experience France together until now. I’m still not entirely sure that France or Europe for that matter will ever be the same after we came through. One of the best parts for us though was the people we were able to be around. Jesse got to see my life in Grenoble and meet most of my friends here including the sweet Gabins. They treated us like family and Christine made some pretty amazing Earl Grey which snapped Jesse out of jet lag and unloosed his French tongue. I’m only mildly exaggerating there. I also got to meet his sweet friends the Nadirs in Nice and Antibes.

I don’t want to give the impression that everything always went smoothly or without conflict on our trip. However, part of the beauty of our sibling relationship is that we always just keep on rolling and learn a lot lessons in forgiveness. Now, just for the record, that doesn’t mean that either of us conceded to the opinion of the other necessarily. 😉

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What made this trip special exactly?

100_3218It was watching Jesse get stared at by the French on the train as he gobbled down an entire bar of dark chocolate. It was the laughs and grunts of getting our luggage up more stairs than I can quite count. It was getting introduced to the Nadirs who took Jesse and I in while we were in Nice. I still miss those Bible studies in French and the Bible quiz Mr. Nadir and family did one of the last nights we were there. It was seeing the Eiffel Tower from the plane on the way to London. It was the laughs, the sibling comments and looks we shared seeing some of those paintings in museums, and yes, we did have to ad-lib what the statues were *really* saying in the gardens of Versailles. There were the mornings we’d wake up sore from walking but ready to go do some more exploring (once I found some coffee). It was that rainy day in Oxford when we both managed to forget an umbrella and walked around rather soaked trying to find the cross in the street that marked where our ancestor Hugh Latimer was burned at the stake.

One of the main parts of our trip was London, and it was an adventure pretty much from the time we landed. Just for future reference, arriving on Boxing Day isn’t probably the best plan if you’d like to actually eat something. As it was, we ended up arguing with some Indians running a gas station over a 4£ meal deal which was literally the only place we could find open. They don’t read their own signs and apparently, asking them to microwave a sandwich (which their sign offered) after 9 p.m. is beyond impossible. Don’t ask me why. I’ll leave the place we stayed out of it other than to say it was a big lesson in getting what you pay for. Thankfully, the rest of our adventure there went well even if we only saw the sun once maybe twice.

We crammed a lot into the 4.5 days we were in jolly ole England. It wouldn’t be exactly accurate to say that it was all completely magical. There’s a bit of disillusionment that takes place the first time you see a place you’ve always had to create in your imagination as you read. I had always wanted to go to London mainly due to my infatuation with its history and the countless books I read as a child and young adult that were either set in London or mentioned London.It wasn’t quite the dirty place you read about in Dickens, but I wouldn’t say it was quite like Mary Poppins either. I think the major disillusionment came from just how expensive everything was which is a common problem even for those who call it home.

100_2322On our first day we sauntered around Baker Street and were sure to give a respectful and amused nod to the Sherlock Holmes statue and later investigated the Charles Dickens House. Apparently, the Londoners we talked to later at a church service we attended that Sunday didn’t even know there was a Dickens museum. Instead of only them giving us tips, we were able to give them one or two. I’m quite the Dickens nerd, so it was a treat to get to see one of the places he lived and understand better where he got the inspiration for some of his novels. Despite our fatigue, we decided we’d catch the tube to see Big Ben, the London Eye, and Westminster Abbey at night before calling it a day.

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The next two days in London involved my trying to contain myself and not jump up and down in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey (though really few cathedrals can now compare to Westminster, sorry Notre Dame), Jesse navigating the tube map, eating in classic London pubs, seeing if London bridge was really still standing (Jesse assured me it was, but I had to see for myself), looking to feed the birds at St. Paul’s but finding none to feed, strolling around Piccadilly and Trafalgar Square, seeing the Tower(s) of London and Tower Hill, having a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament which I highly recommend doing, minding the gap, and the overall feeling that the people in the tube speak a different language even if they are technically speaking English. Did we get to see everything? No, but I think we covered quite a bit in a short amount of time.

Our last full day was spent at Oxford. Of course, one can only pronounce Oxford with a highly sophisticated British accent because after all, that’s where the intellectual elite go to university. Well, that and Cambridge, but I’m going to be biased since I haven’t visited there yet. 100_2847

Oxford, what a historic little town! It hosts about 38 different colleges that are all under one big “Oxford umbrella.” Due to how much it rains there, believe me, they need a giant umbrella. I think they sell some in the tourist shops if you’re interested in one. It was during the holidays, so there wasn’t the usual student population one would normally see there. Jesse mentioned he’d now like to transfer. He’d fit in just fine, I have no doubts.

100_2937Oxford is special for many reasons beyond the pervading feeling one senses of an ancient appreciation for higher learning. Lewis Carroll, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien were all there at one point or another to give an example. Jesse and I even ate in the Eagle & Child Pub where Lewis and Tolkien often met to discuss their works and was also the meeting place of the Inklings. Jesse and I did a guided tour of the town which was the best thing we could have done to get a true feel for the history of the place though I do wish our guide hadn’t gone on quite so many rabbit trails. About the time our tour ended it started pouring rain, and I was just about done for the day. I don’t know how they get used to it getting dark at 3:30 p.m. during winter there. It made it feel like it was so much later than it actually was. I found a café and while I tried to dry off and warm up, Jesse did some more exploring around town. I think what I will remember most though was finding this cross in the middle of the street:

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 This was the marker where multiple martyrs including Hugh Latimer were burned at the stake. I’ve had multiple experiences so far in my time in Europe where I’ve seen a place that marked a horrible event or a difficult human struggle and have found myself at a loss for words. I was standing on the spot where some of my kindred in Christ paid the ultimate price by having their bodies burned at the stake knowing that the sufferings of this present world were nothing compared to the joys of heaven and eternity at Jesus’ feet. It is at times like this that we question whether we ourselves would do the same. I pray I would be willing and ready, and that God would give me grace and strength to stand for Him if I were to ever be met with such an ultimatum. It’s all we can ever pray.

The rest of our adventures were in France mainly around Grenoble and Paris. This involved forgetting everything was closed on New Year’s Day meaning that was food scarce, my mad dash to turn in grades before a deadline, Jesse coming face to face with a bathroom floor (not my doing, I promise) and spending a day learning French medical vocab on a gurney instead of catching a flight to Ireland, my making French students nervous breathing down their necks while proctoring finals, and we wound the whole thing up in Paris before Jesse flew home.

Bruva, I think we need to figure out something called “relaxation” when it comes to our trips.

London Bridge and Coffee

This is actually one of Jesse’s photos I borrowed from Facebook. We realized we hadn’t done a selfie in London yet, so we got coffee and hot chocolate and stood on London Bridge and voilà!