Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Rowing in the dark

The other night I was in rowing in the dark. (Well that's not strictly true, it was actually my turn to coxwain, which is amusing for the girls powering the boat, as I am meant to be the one supplying the inspirational instructions, but the requirement for me to give these commands in Dutch, probably causes more stomach-creased amusement than abdominal sturdiness and focus.) Fortunately for us all, there were several prolonged moments of silence, with only the occasional gentle splashing of the river over their oars, disturbing the eerie peace. Gliding unhurriedly through the waters which rippled apart for our boat like melted chocolate in the dim light of the moon, I was reminded of a dream I had two years ago on a distant part of the planet. The dream that is, was dreamt in Australia, but I confess I have no clue which ocean was its scenery.

In the dream I was sitting on the front of a small and humble yacht, surrounded by vast and unending sea. I remember a tension of emotions: the threat of being overwhelmed by agoraphobic awareness at the colossal waters, but at the same time a sort of awe at the majestic seas trickling over the horizon. I was sitting with my feet dangling over the front of the boat as it sailed slowly towards the ever-moving edges of the sea. I had no idea where I was going and whether I would ever get there. The water was an eternity spreading out before me, but I became completely calm because my toes weren't just dipping impersonally into the plethora of sea, but were stretched out to touch the tips of a tail rising up from an enormous shadow beneath the surface. Swimming bucolically before the boat was a beautiful blue whale. I can vividly call to mind at will how I then felt looking ahead at an oceany abyss; would-be-terror subdued by my not being quite alone. The whale’s flight was gentle yet purposeful; my feeling of meaningless abased by the communication of my little podgey toes with this mighty creature of calm and harmonious navigation. I didn't need to know where I was or where I was going. I felt peaceful in the midst of an otherwise uncomforting infinity.

A while after having this dream, unable to escape its impressing image, I asked God what it might mean. I felt him interpret it for me. He was my shepherd in the deep. So often I worry about what's behind me, (the unhelpful 'what ifs' of my past) I worry about what's beside me (the pressures, stresses and demands of the present) and I worry about what's ahead of me (the future: am I heading towards my destiny? Will I make the right choices? Have I already scuffed up Plan A for my life? Am I fulfilling my potential? What does my life even mean? What is the point? Will I make it to the end?). But as I consulted my heavenly dad, I felt assurance wash over me as I realised that the magnificent whale in the dream had been him with me. He was guiding me through the troubling waters of life. And because he was there, they were still. It didn't matter that I was a million miles from eternity's shore, because I was safe and God not only knew exactly where I was with all that surrounded me then, but he also knew exactly where I’d come from, and what’s more he knew where we were headed to and was leading the way. The huge mammal wasn't hurried or flustered, like me as the cox. There was no one or nothing to disturb our tranquil sojourn.

I felt reminded too that in the absence of the spectacular (in the dream there were wasn’t a storm, a fight with pirates, a shark attack, riding on dolphins, conversing with mermen, or anything else that might have been characteristic of a sea-orientated remarkable dream – it was just me in the boat and the whale on a journey), God still goes ahead of me. One day I will look back or maybe I’ll catch a bird’s eye view (that’d be cool) and I’ll see the pathway, like wet tracks across the sea that my life has forged, but I don’t need to worry about what direction those tracks will spread into, nor force them into being. Jesus comforts me saying: Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34) As I silently coxed in the dark, I experienced a baptism of peace, even though the flurry of my next frustrated Dutch command was soon due. I still don't completely fit in here and I still don't quite get why God wants me here, neither can I imagine what I will look back on in years to come, but because I am following the whale - the beautiful beast before me, I will not be fearful, even though there's 'water, water, everywhere'.

I don’t quite know whether the season I’m in at the moment fits neatly into my ‘high’ or a ‘low’ category among those moments in my life which I can easily compartmentalise, but I do know that I am excited to see what’s next. I love the adventure of following God. Sometimes he asks some pretty scary stuff of me and I have no idea how I can possibly make such decisions for him, without life changing radically. But I’ll take the risk of radical changes because I do not want my life to be like an idle ship on a painted ocean – I want the dynamism that comes from following, even when it hurts and my trust seems blind. Next time I will tell you about one of the most difficult decisions I ever made, which I guess in hindsight was a little bit like rowing in the dark.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Holy Buzz

[direct continuation from last blog]

... I was invited to go with some friends of the family to a Christian conference during the Easter holidays. The only reason I agreed to go was because it was at Butlins and I figured I could skip the Christian stuff for the fairground and the water rapids! Well to my annoyance, my friends' mum insisted that we sign up for the teenagers' programme. I was disgusted to see my peers singing passionately and 'getting into' prayer and listening to all this religious malarky. I always sat at the back during the sessions scowling and cringing at the thought of my school friends knowing I was there. I was made to go to the programme all week.

On Friday something shifted inside. Rather than scowling, I started to cry. I can’t even remember what was said, but I heard about Jesus for the first time, which was odd as I’d been going to church all my life – maybe it was just that my ears were now open. I heard a woman at the front speaking about how we have each done stuff that we’re ashamed of and have not acknowledged God in our lives, eventhough he loves us and made us to be in relationship with him, we have ignored or discarded him. I heard about how this Jesus, who I'd always pictured woodenly in a distant manger or on a crooked cross in some life-sucking church building, had actually died to give me life! Apparently, me rejecting God, the giver of life, was going to result in death. I had freely chosen death and deserved to be separated from God forever, but on that wooden cross Jesus died a death that should have been mine to reconcile me to God, and to bring me back into the relationship I had destroyed!

I know this all sounds mental and as I type it, I'm like - do I actually believe this? But yeah 14 year old, teenage-angsty me just started balling my eyes out and deep deep down, I knew it was true! I think I'd always kind of assumed that God loved the world, but the fact that he loved me personally was revelation. I felt a tug on my heart and I just knew that I had to let this Jesus in and say sorry to God for turning away and thank you to Jesus for making a way back to God. Balmy I know ... This was a very inconvenient acknowledgement – it was a Friday night if I remember rightly and if I was at home, I’d be stoned, drunk, or both! This Christian thing, just wasn't me... I wasn't sure how well behaved I could be and whether I could stop the drinking and pot-smoking... It took me (and is still taking me) lots of time to continuously realise that following Jesus is not about moral behaviour, but we'll come to that at some later date. So yeah, I said this prayer to God, pretty much like: 'Erm God I know you're there and I know that I haven't exactly been letting you into my life, but I can feel you calling me, I'm not exactly sure what you're calling me to, but I can just feel a tug and how can I say 'no' if it's true that your son died for me - that's amazing. So yea, thanks for dying for me Jesus and sorry for disregarding you. I think I want to follow you.'

And that was it. I was a Christian. I hadn't become weird and sandal-with-sock-wearing and I wasn't thrusting around the Holy Scriptures and bashing people all of a sudden; but I did feel like my eyes had opened for the first time and I was buzzing! It was like I was drunk or stoned, or both, but I just felt all tingly and alive in a very raw way, but this was a holy buzz. I felt on top of the world. I had begun a relationship with the creator. I couldn't believe it. (My friends as it happened, had not responded to God and I couldn't work out why they were not as excitable as me, but I didn't care too much and was dancing around like a bit of a loony). It is probably worth me mentioning now, that life as a Christian, doesn't always make me feel fluffy and invincible and is sometimes times really tough, but that was my experience at the very beginning. That being said, living life for Jesus is an adventure! I wouldn't want it any other way. My question of 'Is there more?' was answered with a resounding 'YES' from the heavens and life has never felt boring since. My trials mean something and my destination is significant. I am not blowing in the wind, but am standing firm on a rock. I will continue next time to share some of the highs and lows of my walk with Jesus so far ...

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Facial hair and knitting - before it began

Since I last updated you, I have nursed a beard, climbed the cultural ladder, aged by about 4 decades and had a thought about my future.

So what's with the beard you wonder? My friends and I went to see Harry Potter 7 pt 1 at midnight on Tuesday in Amsterdam and I decided to transform into the world's favourite half-giant Rubeus Hagrid. Apart from the beard protecting my face from the bitter cold, having a pillow up my t-shirt was probably the most beneficial nugget of costume I have ever sported, contributing to the most comfortable 3 hours in a cinema ever. That's right English suckers - Harry Potter came out in the Netherlands two whole days before the UK, in fact, we had the second soonest release date in the world; only coming after North Korea and Japan, but I figure that may have something to do with them being almost a day ahead due to time zones... Anyhow it was actually brilliant! Of course Daniel Radcliffe never fails to disappoint, but I sincerely enjoyed the film despite him and wasn't constantly comparing it with the book in my head, which I think can only be credit to the director.

My cultural metamorphosis took place as I watched Carmina Burana - my first opera! It amazes me how sound vibrations can make ones hairs stand on edge. If my existence has at times felt dull here in Holland, I was truly alive, as a full orchestra serenaded me into the depths of my imagination and onward to sophistication.

Which brings me to 2050! I've learnt to knit. I don't even care if it's what old people do. It's amazing and it's actually tres chic. Furthermore, it's so therapeutic, even if I haven't progressed beyond fraying patches yet, my new pursuit is laden with potential, which might end up as a stocking or even in yours this Christmas - watch out I might make some home-made pressies if my skill allows it.

As to thoughts about the future. I have been loosely toying with the prospect of a phD, having been enjoying my course so much. This week however, my tutor informed me of a funded position coming up next year at Leiden, that he thinks I'd be interested in/suited for. I actually think I might apply. The thought terrifies and excites me all at the same time - kind of like I felt about coming to Holland in the first place and yet here I sit... We'll see what God has in store.

Before I get ahead of myself I want to look back to where it all started, even before Holland I mean. Why do I attribute everything to God? Has it always been that way?

I’ve always believed in God. Maybe because I was taken to church with my family from the moment I popped out my mother’s womb, or maybe because as I observed the world I couldn’t but think it must have a purpose. However, that being said, any belief I had was vague and didn’t affect my life and it certainly wasn’t strong enough to make me view church-attendance as a worthwhile activity (or up and leave my country for that matter). I went to keep mum happy and make my life easier subsequently; but I was terrified that as the second-hand girl to the most popular girl in school, my reputation might fall from superficial glory to the status of bible-basher (the term knocking about on the playground of the early naughties).

When I was about 12 I remember having a discussion with my puppy-love about whether or not he believed in God. He said he did and described what his god would be like. I distinctly remember thinking that his god sounded nothing like mine and thinking that if there was a god, he couldn’t both be like his and my idea of him at the same time. Perhaps I was destined to be a philosophy student.

But it was to be two years later that I stopped theorizing about God and encountered him...

Monday, 8 November 2010

The love affair with prawns begins

Apologies for my thesis-long blog posts recently. Obviously no one enjoys my monologuing enough to merit my writing to that excess! I promise to keep today's post succinct and easily readable.

Since the last time I blogged, I've been through peaks and troughs. I'm going to therefore adopt a writing formula that I never have before - one that mirrors the fat burning program on the bike at the gym... In other words I'm going to give you a high and then a low alternatively, in an attempt to slim down my flabby, waddling blog style, which never seems to be in a hurry to reach the conclusion.

High: the last Saturday of October I took part in my first ever rowing race in Amsterdam.
Low: I had to get up at 4.45am to get ready and get to the train station on time.
High: we didn't forget how to row and came 2nd in our first race, getting us through to the next round!
Low: we got knocked when our mind - body synchronization and sheer fatigue failed us.
High: nevertheless, I was able to enjoy the proceedings of the day - the atmosphere was as I would imagine that of a Hogwarts Quidditch match (all the different university rowing clubs, like Hogwarts houses, in their different coloured uniforms with their supporters and matching scarves - we of course we red and purple and the red makes us Gryffindor!) To top it off, there was even a commentary box with Lee Jordan-esque comic student commentary and songs and cheering and well, it was fanatstic!
Low: on Monday night I went to eat with the rowers and was reminded how much it sucks not being able to understand what people are saying. I'm normally one for initiating conversation, or cheekily butting into other people's, but when you don't understand what is being said, you don't want to risk interrupting a D&M (that's deep and meaningful folks) to trivially comment on the weather AGAIN and it's just really frustrating. I just felt so isolated and like I'd been stripped of my personality, as those of you that know me can hopefully testify to, I like to joke around and make people laugh and I am not a silent spectator, but rather have a loud and often uninformed opinion about most things. Not being able to speak Dutch however, renders me a mute, shy and 1D, lesser version of myself.
High: I've discovered prawns! For years I've refused to eat them, because they look horrific; like little pink aliens that will build an army in your intestines and eat your insides, from your bowel upward until they take over your brain, allusive to the heinous scene in Men In Black. I remember my old best friend asking me once to shut my eyes and open my mouth, an order which I stupidly obeyed, as she subsequently popped one in my mouth, which I proceeded to spit straight back at her. But gone are the days of prawn-projectiling: they're succulent and sweeter than honey-roast ham (well not quite), juicier and more delicate than chicken and absorb subtle flavours better than delectable lamb. Why oh why, did I not surrender my stubborn not quite know-it-all gastronomy before now? I even caught myself day-dreaming prawns in my class on Death last Tuesday. I was imagining a peachy-coloured, succulent little bugger on my tongue and the mellifluous explosion as I pierced it with my canines, when my teacher caught me by surprise and asked my opinion on people that will to die ... Have you ever noticed that prawns look a lot like croissants? I wonder whether prawns and croissants would taste good together ...
Low: I can't afford fresh prawns every day.
Serious Low: I have loads of work to do.
High: I went out and danced to drum 'n bass beats all Friday night long in Amsterdam. Finally good music (Leiden's nightlife leaves London to be desired). Four hours straight, a break prevented by the incredible deep jungle-tastic booms murmuring through my body and driving my dance moves like a whip and all this perfected by Jonathan Cluny's incredibly smooth and excitingly original hip moves. I rarely envy dance moves, but his I wanted to perform and claim as my own.
Low: my friendships here are lacking in depth. I was spoiled in London - with people that knew me so well, I didn't have to lie about having been to lectures for them to already know if I'd skived and people that I knew so well, that I knew what they were thinking simply by the way they walked into a room.
High: God is faithful and if He wants me here, then it's where I'm supposed to be even if it's hard and very surreal at times.