Thursday, 30 September 2010

Wisdom teeth and washing

Once again dear friends I'm gonna keep this one short, as I've burdened you with some pretty heavy stuff over these last few posts (don't worry heart-spilling will return soon for those of you who like to talk feelings, or at least read about mine!).

Two items of news, we'll start with the least interesting, but perhaps most shocking...

1. I've lived here for 4 weeks and only just now put my first load of washing on. Before you point the finger to accuse me of being a gross, smelly, inside-out-knicker-wearing-tramp-of-an-existence, I'd like to defend myself. I have worn a different, clean pair of pants every day since being here and still have approximately eleven pairs left. The reason I decided to do some washing on this particular night, is because I was down to my least favourite undies, which is when you know it's time for a wash! As to other items of clothing, I guess I just have too many clothes, as I could probably last for another month or so, but I prefer variety, to having to force myself into wardrobe B. Prepare for standby. In October, I have arranged for my parents to bring my winter wardrobe over - well, not only for that reason, I quite want to give my mum a hug too.

2. I had a wisdom tooth out today! I peddled for 20 minutes in the pouring rain to a private practice, which was quite hard to find, tucked inconveniently behind a row of houses. The whole cycle ride there I was a bit scared about a) coughing up what I was told could be in surplus of 100 euros and b) the possibility of having a tooth ripped out by a dutch man; but motivated by the nightmare of a sleep last night, (or lack of - I was woken up at hourly intervals by a toothy-throb) I pressed on. After filling in some forms, flashing my European Health Insurance card and shaking the dentist by the hand (a polite and surprising gesture which he initiated) I found myself in the dentist's chair. I know lots of people harbour fears over going to the dentist, but for me, the dentist's chair has never been a symbol of horror. I've never had problems with my teeth before, luckily blessed with an orderly set, so never before had any reason to fear. But in this foreign land, and with an aching gum, I sat and explained my problem in English to the Dutch dentist, hoping he would understand. Although I had secretly wanted them out, I was shocked and more than a little afraid when he said that the only way to solve this problem was indeed to remove my wisdom tooth - "there's not enough room in your mouth for all those teeth". He then injected my gum with anesthetic and X-rayed my tooth, which was a most invasive and unpleasant experience. Whilst the X-ray image was processed, I was dismissed to the waiting room. I felt so surreal. Something tasted really weird and I realised that my mouth was going numb. I wanted to be sick. Five long minutes later, I was summoned back into the clinic. Terrified I hotched back into the chair, with no comfort thinking, 'I've brought this on myself, why didn't I just stick the toothache out, buy some corsodyl, lay off the icing and boiled sweets ...'. I reluctantly, not merely for anxiety, but for literal numbness, opened my mouth and watched the scalpel/sharp instrument go into my mouth at the dentist's command. "We don't do it like you do in England, maybe they put you completely under. Tell me if you feel this." I am thinking, WHAT? DID I SIGN SOMETHING FOR THIS. THE RECEPTIONIST TALKED ME THROUGH SOME DUTCH FORMS, BUT SHE DIDN'T WARN ABOUT EXCRUCIATING PAIN. He gets to work and I can feel what he's doing, but not the pain; well, I can sort of feel the pain, but distantly if that makes sense. I know the anesthetic must be working or I would be pleading with him to stop; I mean you would be, wouldn't you if someone was knifing your gum to wrench tooth out. I'm expecting any moment for the insensitivity to buckle under impending agony. I can hear the sound of the knife cutting around the tooth, a sort of scratchy, etchy sound - skin splitting. And then he says, "There we go" gives it a twist and it's out. He's finished, I'm dizzy. My whole head throbs and I try to cry, but I can't. I can't move my mouth. I'm dumbfounded and I'm numb all over, which makes me mute. "You're done" he says expecting me to sprightly leap out of the chair and skip home. No thanks, I'm not moving. He asks if I'm dizzy and when I nod like a lost toddler, he lowers the chair and takes my shaking hand. After I've laid down helplessly for a moment he says that I look a much better colour and then automatically raises the chair again, which I take as my cue to leave. I go out into reception, pay, try and say goodbye in Dutch, which at the best of times is comical and now is pitiful with my half-immobilised mouth. I ring my friend for comfort as I'm disorientated and want to cry. I sound like I'm putting on a silly voice and he sounds confused. All the way home my face is numb and I think I might fall off my bike.

Five or more hours later, I've got the feeling and motion back to my face, which is unfortunately accompanied by a new ache. The dentist was right, about taking out my top tooth, even though the bottom one was the root of the problem, as it now doesn't hurt. Instead however, the hole where the top one was is a little bit sore and my whole head aches a bit, but other than that I'd say the whole procedure was far-less traumatic than expected and what's more, I got bought some ice cream (stroop waffle flavour) my by thoughtful friend Johny, so it can't all be bad!

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Bunting, Bikes and Windows

I am really exhausted today, which will be reflected in the lack of substance of this blog. The ache which was a week ago in the slowly-surfacing wisdom tooth on the left side of my mouth, has gone on vacation to the right side of my mouth, which is draining, but on the plus side, I am now wise. Despite feeling sorry for myself, I wanted to share a few trivial things about the Netherlands that I have found to be charming, in an attempt to cheer myself up.

Bunting: you may have seen this stuff at village fetes when you were younger. It's a decorative string of flags, often made from scraps of material. If you're not sure what this is, then google it in images and you'll see what I'm referring to. The dutch absolutely love it. I don't know if it is symbolic or it is just a cheap way to cheer up a blandly decorated room, but it is everywhere. From cafe windows, to just about every living room I have peaked into. If you should throw a party and wish to adorn the place, then the dutch will not disappoint you. Go into the stationary and party department of Vroom and Dreesman (the department store in Leiden) and there is bunting for every occasion: girls' birthdays, boys' birthdays, passing your driving test, graduating and many more a wonderful theme, as well as multiple colours to suit everyone's taste.

Bikes: now you may have heard it said, that there are lots of bikes in Holland. Well that's actually a lie... there are a phenomenal amount of bikes in Holland! The cycle culture just takes it one step further then what you might possibly be able to imagine. They haven't quite got round to making a cycle lane on the motorway yet, but I'm sure that day will come. Londoners who get annoyed at bike-riding, light-jumping, angry peddlers, would be infuriated by the fact that bikes ALWAYS take precedence here. With a million and one bikes outside every dutch train station, and special two-storey slidey storage devices, which are so clever/intimidating (I haven't yet worked out how to use them) you'd think it would be difficult to relocate your parked cycle. Think again, that's where cycle couture peddles onto the catwalk. Fancy panniers, floral saddle-covers, flowers for handle bars and even the aforesaid bunting has been spied, spray painted and customised to personal taste - this cycle chic deters robbers, makes your own steed stand out and what's more is hot! On Friday my uni are hosting 'Pimp my Bike' so that us novice internationals can become true cycle scenesters. But it's not all about the look, utility is also important. If it's possible to lift it off the ground, then you can get it on a bike. To date I have seen a dog, a cello, a bookcase and even an entire family on a singular peddle! The dutch are not jokers.

Windows: the dutch love light (I'm glad I haven't moved to a nation that revels in darkness!). They can make prison-like buildings look inviting, because their windows are so enormous. Although some buildings are oozing with dutchness like a piece of melted Gouda, there are many that on first glance aren't that different to British builds; but the sheer size of the glass really does transform their overall appearence, which is why despite the rain, I can never forget that I'm not in England. Big windows legitimise nosiness. One further thing I have noseticed, is that all dutch people are extremely gifted when it comes to interior design.

Bunting, bikes and windows: all this I really like about the Netherlands!

Sunday, 26 September 2010

'Unashamedly naked bodies'

For those of you who desire to read my blog as a prompt procrastination exercise, rather than as a substitute for your bedtime reading, I'll try and keep today's post a bit shorter than my last.

'Clean behind yourself :( '. I have just walked past the toilet on my corridor to catch a glimpse of the aforesaid quote on an angry yellow post-it. Presumably, the foreign author, was suggesting that the previous inhabitant of that toilet cubicle should have cleaned up their skiddies after them self with the thoughtfully-provided bog brush, or, maybe they were confronted with a vision of toddler-reminiscent hilarity: a dirtied bottom in the air, debilitated face and desperate need for assistance. Talk about 'lost in translation', although in my case, maybe it's just 'lost in imagination'...

This week has been so busy that my weekend was a haven of welcome inactivity: well almost, Friday night saw some epic and rather excessive baking (carrot cake cupcakes, hazelnut and would-be-beetroot-had-there-been-any-so-instead-we-used-pumpkin-and-it-worked-really-well cupcakes, upside down Canadian pineapple cake and chocolate brownie mess) with some of the ladies from church along with some uni pals; the latter who were excited to get near an oven - an apparent rarity in this nation, that seems to prefer fried to baked goods. I'd feel bad for packing away so much cake, were it not for the fact that it all tasted YUM and that I've been rowing 3 times this week!!! Already I am feeling more energetic and toned, although after every power-pumping session I am faced with a dilemma... In addition to the slightly awkward absence of conversation (I am still lacking in the Dutch language department) between the boat and the changing rooms, upon entrance to the changing room I am confronted with lots of unashamedly naked bodies. Nothing is better after exercise than a refreshing soak in the shower, but with no divisions and an open plan shower arrangement fit for testosterone-fueled rugby lads, I really don't fancy it all of a sudden. Is it strange that I don't want whip my kit off and get stark naked in front of Leiden's rowing lasses? I don't even know why it is, sure there a some magazine worthy bodies, but also some wobblies and I don't have self-esteem issues with my physique, or at least I didn't think I did ... I could easily go topless without much consequence, but baring my bottom and other lady bit scares me silly. So instead I trade in my shyness and desire to keep my privates private, for a reputation as the girl who doesn't shower (For your information readers I do shower when I get home).

'science is the only path to understanding'
'religion is based on rapturous embracing of the bizarre'
'[the afterlife] proves to be a potent source of inspiration and reward for those who wish to kill in religion's name or merely satisfy their blood-lust'

The quotes above agitated me earlier as I was doing my reading for tomorrow's seminar on Philosophy of Religion and the Natural Sciences. Is it just me, or is religion often attacked on the basis of being dogmatic and intolerant and yet that's exactly what these statements convey to me. It's a bit of asymmetrical injustice. Religious people are not allowed to be narrow-minded. But are atheists? My study at Leiden has already activated a bee I've had in my bonnet for a while now; why does 'science' (or rather certain scientists, as no-one can claim to represent the position of global science as if it was an internally-coherent entity, there is of course much dispute within the field) claim objective grounds to absolute and unquestionable authority on knowledge? I think scientists, like the one who authored the quotes above have as their motivation a desire for truth, so I think they could do with being a little more cautious before discarding age-old traditions of knowledge-acquisition and keep an open mind. It looks like he's a bit angry at religion (and rightly so, it has been the cause of much evil, but then so has science -the word 'nuclear' comes to mind). Another thing I pondered as I was reading, was that he argues that science can be trusted as a way of knowing about the world as it is open to public testing, whereas religion cannot. But then in the context of his discussion, in which he was ridiculing religious people for bringing God into accounts of the universe's origin, it occurred to me that I for one could not test the accounts that certain scientists give us, as I am not expert enough to understand and assess in any significant depth their arguments, nor do I have direct access to the data or methods that cosmologists and theoretical physicists uses to reach their conclusions and hypotheses. I suspect that much of the growing crowd today that revere the works of Dawkins and others, don't have this knowledge either, and yet take regardless what they say as gospel truth with one open hand, whilst clenching a tight fist at the supernatural, the extra-physical or the God-explanation, for fear that such an account is not verifiable. If personal testifiability is the requirement for accepting something as a means for knowledge, then it seems to me, that for most of us mere mortals, neither science, nor religion can be appealed to. Maybe, it could be argued, that some people at least (these certain scientists) could access the empirical facts, but then if this can be granted and we are going to trust their reports even though we cannot test them, should we not also treat some religious people with the same degree of respect in granting that they might really have received revelation? Of course, one could argue, that this is a foul move, for potentially we could all become expert enough to check what the certain scientists are claiming. But then if we are now entering the realm of potential, we could all potentially receive revelation from God. I'm not 100% sure that my argument is valid, but I'm curious to know if we should give up our claims to opinions on such matters until we can reach the level of expertise required to have a stab at the 'hows' and 'whys' of the origin of everything; or at least not bully the person of faith out of the debate with verifiability demands? Just a thought.

Whilst I might from time to time reflect on what I am studying, fear not this blog is not about to become a philosophical springboard for my gymnastic mind. I will resume with my Dutch exploits next time ...

Monday, 20 September 2010

The muscle ache and language frustration may well be worth it

I've done an awful lot of looking back in this blog so far. Am I finding the present challenging? To be honest, yes, a little bit. But I guess the main reason for it, is that I love casting a retrospective eye on the chapters of my youth slotting seamlessly into my progressing biography and wondering what the next events to unfold in synchrony will be. I was chatting to a friend the other day about how I was already enjoying my course here (an MA in Religion, Science and Ethics: Philosophical Approaches), even more than I had enjoyed philosophy at King's (and I'm only 5 classes in). She remarked, that perhaps it was because I was meant to be here - what with God providing the finance and everything - it seems like He has ordained this next period of my life and given me the fervour for the course to accompany this divine pre-planning. I thought about her suggestion after our conversation. Was my being in London somehow arbitrary, or at least less important than my present phase? It occurred to me during this monologue, that had I not have studied in London, I would not have met Jeff and Becky, who had first posed the question of me coming to Holland; and what's more, it was at my church in London that I nurtured the desire to go overseas and plant churches... There's no point asking the 'What if?' questions. The only thing a guess-of-an-answer to those can render is, that things could have been rather different. Instead, I'm going to try and spend myself dreaming about the 'What next-s?' and how what I'm going through now, will in turn, become events transcendentally weaved into my future.

This helps me to get through the days when I am fed up. As much as I love Leiden, a gorgeous and very Dutch historic town with canals to divide driving lanes, in place of more typical white road markings, sometimes I am simply disenchanted with it all. The times the love is coldest is when I am stood in the foreign supermarket aisle staring longingly at the inconsequential cereal selection; if I stare forlornly and intensely enough, maybe just maybe I'll wish into existence a box of Branflakes! Not a tall order - it's not like I'm asking for Cinnamon Grahams or Crunchy Oat Bakes (two epic breakfast choices by the way). I settle heroically for their version of muesli without much foot-stamping and get it stuck in my teeth later that week. Living abroad can be tough. What I find perhaps even more testing is that people aren't English. Now, I know I'm living in a land that's not my own and you may say, that this was to be expected and I did know all along. But sometimes you can know something, without reallying knowing, if you know what I mean. It's like there are facts that loom above your head, but until you're plunged into that factual situation you don't digest them enough to be affected by them. I, of course, knew that English would not be as freely available here, or at least not perfect English, but until you're here mixing with new people, you just don't realise how tiring it is. For someone who craves more than anything authentic friendship, the underbelly of superficial people-pleasing conversation, I admit that I am struggling slightly with talk about how many pets I have, my siblings' names and the weather; but understanding and intimacy takes time.

Not quite on the brink of an existential crisis, I have over the last few weeks, been asking myself: 'What if I'm wrong? What if God didn't tell me to come here? What if God doesn't exist at all and you're following someone that's not there, pouring your life away for an imaginary friend? Your life would be so much easier at home with a breakfast comfort and your mother tongue - but you've done this to yourself.' Things could have been rather different it's true, but somehow as much as I doubt, and wonder if I'm being a fool - I struggle to really doubt you know. I guess the situation is parallel to the not knowing until you know. Some knowing is different to knowing. But this doubt of mine is somehow not the paramount, life-ruling kind of doubt, it's just negative questioning affirming the positive that I'm alive and thinking.

I spoke to my dad on the phone beyesterday (most languages I'm learning have a word for the day before yesterday - so I've made my own) to wish him a 'Happy Birthday'. More easily pleased, perhaps than I, he said his hearing my voice had made his day. He also reminded me that it was 6 years to the day since I had been baptised. Wow, so I've been doing this Jesus thing for that long. We should be pretty well acquainted by now, but I'm still getting to know Him and finding out He's certainly my most multi-faceted of friends. I don't regret for one moment following Him. My life would be seriously different by now. About 7 years ago, my sister's friend apparently predicted that I was going to be a teenage mum! Maybe that says something about who I was before I don't know. Personally I think it's a little unfounded - I might have been drinking stolen whiskey in my pushchair (apparently 11 is quite a young age to start drinking) but I certainly wasn't promiscuous. My brother occasionally informs me that he liked me better when I was a cannabis-(ab)user, but personally I'm glad to have put the red-eyes, munchies and paranoia behind me. Of course now in the midst of Holland's famous Coffee Shops, where cannabis, not coffee is on the menu, I am offered a legal ticket to highs, but I'm not yet convinced it's a place I want to revisit. I kind of like the crazy journey God has taken me on so far enough not to need enhancements.

I realise I've been slightly over-indulging myself with my introspective-blogging today, but I have one last thing to share before I put down the proverbial pen... I actually got in a rowing boat last night! After two unsuccessful attempts at getting out on the water, due to the clog-clad gales that so frequent this land, conditions were finally perfect. Rowing in a real boat is so much harder than rowing in the gym. It was a little difficult for me to take everything on board: what with being an English novice, sitting at the very back of the vessel away from the supervision of the cox, and trying to contain my excitement of being upon the water; yet processing Dutch instructions shouted at me, of which the sound vibrations got lost somewhere between the cox, the length of the boat, the splashing of oars and myself. And what's more there were two coaches cycling along beside the river, calling out at me to keep my arms straight, to clip my oar and to follow the rhythm of the girl in front. If I hadn't been in the boat, we'd have soared and it'd have been brilliant for the other girls. I'd been under the impression that I sucked. But on getting out of the boat a tired hour and a bit later, I was told that I was one of the best beginners they'd ever had and they couldn't believe how quickly I'd improved. I blushed as they congratulated everyone, 'especially Naomi' on our achievement. Haha, the muscle ache and language frustration may well be worth it!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

God really is good and mum is apparently a psychic

I'm two classes down; the MA (in Religion, Science and Ethics: Philosophical Approaches) has officially begun. I was really scared before yesterday's 9am start (typical for my only morning class to be on a Monday!) worried that the tutor was going to put me on the spot with a tell me everything-you-know-type question. It was OK, but I must say slightly overshadowed by today's class on death. Yep that's right, I know we don't normally like to talk about it, but we have a whole course on questioning life and death and in preparation, I had to read an article about the 'art of dying' and how suicide is morally praiseworthy. I'm still processing the argument, but it made for an interesting read...

On a lighter note, I am delighted to tell you that Ronald McDonald's dutch cousin Rutger Van Donald has devised a recipe for a STROOP WAFFLE McFlurry and it tastes *lekker. All the joy that I got from the icy dutch desert, however was lacking last night at the University of Leiden's rowing house. Having not made the most of student life at King's College London, I'd made an internal pre-commitment to my coming here, to try something new. For one reason or another, I felt drawn to rowing. All excited yesterday afternoon, I set off, in my sports clothes to the boat house (which is state of the art I tell you) only to have my excitement ripped out of me and resculpted into humiliation. I didn't even get within touching distance of a boat, let alone get out on the water; but what's more, everyone knew each other, were already experienced rowers, had already rowed that night and were freshly showered and in their snazzier attire, had booked in for dinner together (which I had not) and sat round eating, whilst my stomach rumbled and chatting energetically to everyone except me, who sat muted in the corner by my inability to speak a word of dutch, (other than the aforesaid 'lekker' - but then food adjectives are of critical importance in any language). And yet, I'm going back tomorrow morning at 8.30am for another round of alienation, and if I'm lucky a spot of rowing too!

Apart from now feeling sorry for me and getting out a collection of the world's smallest violins, you might have more pressing things on your mind, like for example, why I recounted last time in some detail my car accident in a blog dedicated to my Netherlands adventure. 'Maybe,' you consider, 'the trauma caused her to trade in her four-wheeler British experience for a cyclists' paradise.' True in part. I do love cycling. False, in that I do still drive and false furthermore in that as much as do I love cycling; that fact is not motivation enough for me to move country!

I will now attend to the object of your consideration. In early August, two weeks before I was due to move to Holland, I realised that I had no money, which of course was more than a mere spanner in the works - more like a plan-thwarter. Before then, it wasn't that I was completely ignorant to my financial situation, but to tell you the truth I'm not really much of a forward-planner and am such a scatty character, forever biting off more than I can chew, that I rarely deal with the logistical details of my endeavours until they are fast upon me. Well now my minus bank balance was very much upon me and the anxiety and feeling of stupidity jumped on board for the ride. I felt like such a knob. I'd been telling people for months about my imminent voyage to Holland to start a church and that God had spoken to me etc etc. I'm sure there must have been, at times, rolled eyes when I'd not been looking. But here I was, with my university place procured, my accommodation arranged, my one-way ticket secured and the weight of my audience's expectation like a yolk upon my shoulders. What an utter twat I felt: naivety seeping from my every pore. All this talk of God providing and the great plans I proclaimed and hoped He had for me and yet all I had were empty pockets, an empty purse and empty plans. I rang my mum up in tears, sorry that it was going to be her who was to bail me out of this mess.

I'd already looked into a loan, but it turns out, one is only eligible for a graduate loan if a) you live in the country and b) you've been in full-time work for a while. I didn't satisfy either condition. I'd applied for various grants, but turns out religious studies is far less important than medicine or law and no one wants to invest in us humanities types. So then there was the possibility of getting a job when I arrived, but this wasn't a concrete plan, but a feather a possibility - would I even have the time and furthermore would a dutch employer really want to take on little old monolingual me?

I came home and sat down with my mum and we worked out that I was going to need 10,000 euros for the year and that the university wanted to know that I had this amount of money to support myself. Big fat ****! Mum had said earlier on the phone that her and dad would try and get the money together to lend to me, but I felt really uncomfortable by this prospect, as although they are in no way struggling to survive, my family do not have spare thousands knocking about. Face to face in Sainsbury's cafe one evening and mum drops on me that she has £5000 inheritance money for me from my granny. Well, I don't know what to do with this piece of information. Initially I think, 'why the hell not tell me this until now?', and my second ridiculous thought (since I don't have a man friend, let alone a fiancĂ©e) is 'but that could be part of my wedding fund' - I've been to 2 weddings this summer! However, I soon realise that I can't refuse to accept this money for the purpose, it's not like I have any other options. My parents haven't mentioned it until this point, because it was meant to be for a housing deposit, and I worry that I'm about to waste a large sum of money on an unfounded feeling about what God wants me to do and an extravagant graduate education. I still need the other bit of the cash though, which mum tells me she'll lend me. Not ideal to add to my student debt, but it seems to be the only course of action available to me.

A couple of days later, I share with Louisa that my mum has this £5000 to give me for the purposes of moving to Holland for the church plant and funding my life as I embark upon my MA. 'No way' she says, 'I've been praying for months about giving you some money to support you and only yesterday did I finally come to a figure that I felt at peace about...' TELL US LOUISA!!! 'I think God wants me to give you £5000 as well.' At this point, I don't know what to say or do. £5000... Blimey... That's a lot of money... £5000 + £5000 = £10,000 ... and I need 10,000 euros ... so this is actually slightly more than what I actually need ... and time is running out ... I will have the money I need ... maybe the ship needn't be abandoned ...

How is it that a fellow graduate peer has £5000 lying about to so generously offer a friend in need? I don't happen to have any rich friends. Louisa's dad doesn't have a title and she wasn't schooled in Eaton. But she was the girl in the car with me on March 24th 2007 with the broken jaw, and ended up receiving a large sum of compensation (for injuries that since the healing in July I told you about, she no longer has). Louisa interrupts my train of consciousness, 'Haha, you know it's funny Nay that I got the compensation three or more years after the accident and for some reason it came through in two separate installments. And the first one came through on your 21st birthday for £5000.' Good point, that is a bit funny, don't you think? What's weirder, is that I then get on the phone to my mum to check that she has transferred the money into my bank (both what she's giving me, as well as what she's agreed to lend me), turns out she's only put £5000 in. When I quiz her as to why, she tells me, that she somehow had a feeling that Louisa was going to give me £5000 and knew that there'd be no need for her to lend it to me.

Well I find this all quite balmy. Louisa gets online, whacks £5000 over on internet banking with the click of a button and the balance that the day before had read -£1600 now reads +£8400! I literally scream 'I've got £10000' (in my jubilation I don't deduct the stupid overdraft balance) whilst jumping round the house like an absolute loony. I'm not a naive twat, but an exuberant worshipper! You did have it in your plan all along Jesus. People had always told me that when God asks you to take a step of faith, He often leaves it to the last minute to provide the necessary finances, so that you will trust in Him and not your own resources. Two weeks before I go and I get that God really is good, really does provide and mum is apparently a pyschic.

* the dutch word for damn tasty

Sunday, 12 September 2010

It was an honest mistake.

Tomorrow is my first class. Well, it shouldn't be - I was meant to have my first class on Friday, but I was so caught up in the newness of everything, I completely forgot. Not a great first impression I know, but I hope to redeem myself with incredible contributions in classes to come. Watch this space. We all make mistakes, even those of us, for whom things normally go swimmingly, trip up at times. I doubt my class-skipping blunder will have life-long consequences, although I happen to be the first person nominated to do the presentation next time!

Perhaps the biggest mistake I ever made, was on March 24th 2007. Some friends and I had been out for a meal together and were driving in convoy to the pub, to continue the frivolities with a bevy (non-alcoholic for me of course). We were approaching a right-hand turn on a road I knew well. The car in front of me made it through the traffic lights, but in the distance they changed to red. Before I had reached a complete halt, they resumed their green glow. I swapped my foot from the break to the accelerator and went through the lights to turn right. What I didn't realise, as a inexperienced driver on a dark and rainy night, was that the absence of a flow arrow requires one to give way to oncoming traffic. I may have registered the ethereal lights of the forthcoming ebony Audi, but what I did not archive was that the right of way was not mine. I was committed to the turn. I can still remember my (then) boyfriend's scream; the two blazing beacons soaring towards me, headlights that could not give warning enough, to steer my car out of the way. I momentarily prepared for the impending blow. I cannot recall in any depth the moment we came into contact. Black metal collided with silver metal and sent us spinning. My consciousness lapsed and I surfaced silently for a moment, before tuning back into reality to hear the ever since-ghostly LCD Soundsystem's 'North American Scum' playing, which I desperately fumbled to switch off, craving quiet to comfort my pounding mind. I was paddling in a bad dream. It was only as I turned around to beckon my passengers out of the car that the nightmare flooded all around me. Bloodied and benumbed were my friend Louisa and her (then) boyfriend Adam. I thought I had killed them. Screaming, nauseas and barely able to breathe, I scrambled out of the car and dived into the arms of a woman whose face I didn't even see. Nestled into her bosom I wanted to be in the arms of someone who could make everything better. Whirring sirens and bedazzling blue interrupted my embrace with the stranger. 3 ambulances. 3 fire-engines.

Matt, (my boyfriend at the time), although traumatised, was remarkably 'OK'. A few scratches and moderate whiplash. They weren't dead. Louisa broke her jaw in 3 places and Adam, having endured quite a blow to the head, escaped with impeded hearing. My conscience nursed the worst of my injuries. I lay in bed for days crying, partly because I hurt so much - my body ached all over from the shock and the impact of the collision - but mostly because I felt so guilty. My idiotic misjudgment could have killed my friends. Although she was alive, Louisa's face was swollen and disgusting and I thought she, her family and our friends would resent me; for the fact that the accident was my fault and yet she was in the most physical pain; she was the one who looked disfigured. She had been so beautiful before. I hoped that she would heal, lest I be forever reminded of my stupidity.

If you don't have to rush off, I want to tell you what happened. When I returned to school, people, although they all wanted in on the almost-tragic gossip, weren't unkind to me. Louisa's surgery was successful and her face looked much more human. Our friends reassured me that I wasn't to blame and that it could have happened to anyone. 'North American Scum' stopped replaying in my dreams. Over time, things appeared almost normal. Louisa's face healed remarkably well, with only a tiny scar. All along however, I feared that maybe things weren't quite the same between us.

That was all before I went to University. However, over the three years that I was in London, out of all my friends from home, Louisa was the one with whom I stayed in contact the most. She ended up staying with me for multiple weeks throughout the duration of my time there and I felt as though God was keeping her in my life for something, as we had never been especially close before. Last spring, Louisa and I got into a chat with some of my friends about the car accident and it turned out that she had never realised how I had felt and had (understandably) harboured a little bit of resentment. But I believe, God by his grace wanted us both to know how the other was feeling, so we could put it behind us. We resolved it later that night via text, well almost. The mistake was not quite undone. Well, they never can be undone. But they can be reworked into tapestries...

In July this year, Louisa, who had recently found a faith in Jesus (having never really been interested in our car-accident/school days) came along to a Christian conference with me. Skipping past, what was really a very significant week for her, to the last day, was one the most remarkable things Jesus has ever done for me; well for us both actually. At the end of one of the sessions, some people came forward and shared from the front that they felt there were some specific illnesses and injuries that God wanted to heal. Among those conditions shared from the front, was something about a jaw. Louisa went forward to receive prayer for healing. I didn't catch on. Turns out, she had suffered for 3 years (ever since the accident) with an aching and clicking jaw, although she never told me (perhaps to protect my feelings). I only found this out, at the end of the healing ministry time, when I saw her standing on stage with a microphone, in front of 3000 or so people and between tears, sharing about a car accident that she had been in. She described how ever since this accident, she had been in pain and that every time she ate her jaw had clicked. On hearing this, I broke down in tears. A haunting reminder of an incident I wanted to forget. But before the nightmare could return, I heard her proclaiming that Jesus had healed her! The clicking was gone. Instead of crying, she was laughing, holding the microphone to her mouth and demonstrating her now-normally functioning,non-clicking jaw. I was instantly released from something I thought I'd put behind me and we ran to each other to embrace and celebrate. I now wasn't in the arms of a stranger, but my friend, whom I thought I'd killed that night and there was someone who could make it better - who was in the process of making it better and turning my mess into something amazing.

What on earth has this got to do with me being in Holland you might be thinking? Although a horrific mistake, I believe God has used March 24th 2007 to get me to Holland. If you read my next post, I'll unpack the thought for you and continue my story.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Here I am

I've been in Leiden for one week now, but we're gonna rewind back to last Tuesday when I left my mum and sister at East Midlands Airport. What surprised me is that I wasn't at all teary-eyed when we said our goodbyes; a chasm apart from my reaction when my parents dropped me off in London three years ago to start my life as a fresher. As I walked through to customs alone, I realised it was just me and God from then on (who knew then who else would be featuring in this story - well yes He did of course). After all, it wasn't me who had planned this excursion, up until recently I hadn't even felt like going to Holland at all and yet here I am.

Exhausted from a ridiculously busy summer, I slept throughout the entire duration of the flight and woke up in Amsterdam about an hour later. I was greeted by Tineke and Tom, a Dutch couple from the church that I've come out to join (more about that later). They drove me to Leiden to drop off my bags and took me out for a Pizza: an Italian meal, served in a Greek restaurant situated in a quintessentially Dutch town. As it happened I was already disorientated from my sky-high midday nap. After a lovely meal and some friendly, yet, tired conversation, I returned home for my first night in Karsenmakerstraat (The old candle makers).

Almost alone in my room I pondered on why God had brought me here. It seemed odd, that a couple of years ago when I had contemplated Erasmus; the concept appealed to me, but the reality did not. Then, I was too afraid to up and leave my friends, my country and my comfort zone. But smiling over me, away from exactly those things, was the one who had not only called me here, but given me the Dutch Courage to come out and meet Him here.