Forgiveness

Do you forgive others swiftly? Is it easy for you? For me, it depends on the situation. In my head, I know Jesus instructs us to be forgiving, but honestly sometimes my heart just isn’t willing to do it right away. If ever.

It takes courage to forgive someone.

It takes vulnerability.

It takes a heart full of grace.

For the most part, I’d say I am quick to forgive. If someone cuts me off on the road, I might find my temper flaring, but a few minutes later I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. “Maybe they have to rush to the hospital,” I tell myself. “Maybe their wife is in labor!”

If someone I consider a friend doesn’t invite me to their party, I usually don’t fret long about it. “I’m sure there’s a good reason…maybe they just wanted to hang out with a different set of friends tonight.” And I go off and do my own thing, or join someone else.

But sometimes the wound is deep. Sometimes the protective bandage you wrap around your heart is wrapped so tight you’re afraid to let it unravel. So you keep it bound without letting go. “I’m just not ready,” your mind whispers to your heart when it calls on you to release the tight binding.

The problem is, when you don’t tend to a wound, it can fester and get ugly and become ten times worse than when it started. A heart can’t beat freely if it’s being squeezed with contempt.

About five years ago, someone close to me hurt my feelings badly. And even though many times I’ve read the verse below when Peter asks Jesus how many times we should forgive someone—and Jesus’s answer equates to 490 times— I’m still struggling with it to this day.

We’re so quick to point the finger. To declare we would never do such a thing or treat people in such a way. But if we take an honest glance at our past, not one of us has never hurt someone in some way. Maybe not physically, maybe not intentionally…but feelings get hurt…betrayals…the loss of a temper. Each one of us at some point in our life has had the need to be forgiven by somebody. We are human. It is going to happen. We cannot avoid it 100% no matter how faultless we aim to be.

I strive to be kind, but I know I’ve fallen short and I’ve been fortunate to experience the forgiveness of others in the past. I hope that grace has been extended to you with your mistakes, as well. And so, if a day comes when I expect forgiveness but don’t receive it, if I ask myself when that time comes, “Why won’t they forgive me?”…well, all I can do is look in the mirror and see a heart that is also battling to forgive.

Some injustices are horrifying, and some offenses are seemingly unforgivable. I often watch the news in disbelief at the atrocities of many conscienceless members of society. How could we possibly be called to forgive them?

In those moments, I try to remind myself that forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to be okay with what they did. It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t go unpunished. It doesn’t give the green light to stay in an environment that is physically dangerous or emotionally hurtful.

It’s just that, by forgiving, we are to let go of the anger and resentment we feel towards that person. In large part, it’s an act of freeing the bitterness inside of you so that it doesn’t sour your soul.

In the bible, Jesus himself forgave those who were crucifying Him on the cross (Luke 23:34). Those who were driving the nails into his palms and ankles, those who bloodied His head with a crown of thorns…those who left him on a cross to suffer and die. If He could forgive them, surely I can work on forgiving those whom I need to also forgive.

Forgiveness.

Not easy, but not impossible.

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” -Matthew 18:21

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Permission to Relax

It’s okay to rest today. To put your feet up and wrap your hands around a warm, steaming mug of coffee while you watch the clouds drift by outside the window.

It’s okay to escape today. Cuddle up with a soft, fuzzy blanket and escape to another place and time inside of a good book or a long anticipated movie.

It’s okay to put something off today. Save an item (or two) on your list of things to do and add a thing (or two) like a slow, easy walk while taking in the brisk, life-giving air around you.

It’s okay to rejuvenate today. Listen to some music that you loved when you were a young thing, back when you danced like crazy in your room…back when Saturdays and Sundays stretched so far and wide you would memorize whole albums in a day.

It’s okay to sleep today. Take the opportunity of a non-work day to sleep in a little…or nap a little…or make some chamomile tea or go find that lavendar sachet that will help you snooze a little. You’ve worked hard. Your body and mind deserve some rest.

It’s okay to play today. Grab a board game, make a fort with the kids, bake some cookies, or do some last-minute shopping with friends. Do something you love. Something that will lift your heart.

Stop that work that you’re doing. Look all around you and really see what is there. Listen. Take a break. Breathe. You won’t get this day back ever again, so take a little time to do what you love.

How will you enjoy this day?

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The Crime of Perfectionism

Me? A perfectionist? No way. 

That was how I used to think. Until about a year ago, I’d never really investigated the word perfectionism. In my mind, that word was reserved for people who were already perfect and, well, I surely was not. Inside or out.

Yeah, I actually believed perfection was attainable.

Then, one day while browsing the aisles with my latte, I picked up a book at Barnes and Noble for the title alone. You’re Already Amazing by Holley Gerth. While most of the title words were black, the word “already” was printed in bold red, as if it were saying, “Yeah, that’s right, you see me correctly. I’m saying you, yes YOU, are ALREADY amazing. Dare me to prove it to you.” Intrigued and downright hopeful, I bought it, took it home, and snuck it into the bathroom where I escaped into the first few chapters during a long, warm bath.

I was being sneaky about it because it was embarrassing to THINK myself amazing, let alone showcase to anyone who saw the book cover that I might also agree that I was. I did not want to be labeled as conceited. Yikes!

Inside that book, I met “Ms. P” (a.k.a Perfectionism) in Chapter 3, and I saw myself in her description. All or nothing. Never good enough. Every failed attempt hammering yet another nail into the coffin of “Unworthy”, rather than seeing those failures as growth experiments which honorably coexist with “Worthy”. When I read this poem by Gerth, it finally dawned on me that I had been a perfectionist all along. Here, take a peek:

Why You Don’t Have to Be Perfect

by Holley Gerth

I know Perfectionism.

She calls my name and says,

“You will never be good enough.”

And sometimes I listen.

I cower in a corner.

Or I endlessly run.

But it’s always about fear.

Then these words stop me in my tracks,

grab me by the heart,

and invite grace to speak instead:

Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18)

I don’t have to be perfect.

I only need to be perfectly loved.

And I am.

So are you. 

A reminder from 1 John—a truth—that we are loved by God. And that is what matters more than trying to do everything perfectly. In fact, that love sets us free.

Well, after that, for a good while I threw “You are amazing” around all over the place, like great splashes out of a giant fountain of love. Sticky notes on my mirror and in my car, posts on Facebook, on little chalkboards in my classroom, texts to family and friends…all little dashes of truth to everyone (and myself) who might need it. Reminding them that they are amazing just the way they are…and me, too. Because many of us get all caught up in what we think we ought to be or who we think others want us to be. Trying to please everybody from here to there and everywhere.

But forget that. We all fall short, and that’s just the way that it is. Of course, we still strive to do our best, but we must keep in our sights the reality that mistakes happen and it’s okay. We also can’t spend every hour making the perfect this and the perfect that. We must make room for balance. And we will go through seasons when we run low on patience, compassion, and friendliness. In light of that, I find myself humbled by the reminder that God extends grace, mercy, and forgiveness to those whom He loves…for I will need it all continually.

One of the areas of my life where perfectionism still seizes me greatly is in my writing. I want to write. I lovvvvvve to write. I want to either help or entertain others through writing (I don’t know which yet)…but I struggle. I have daily battles with thoughts of “no one will want to read that”, or “no way should you share that”, or “you’ll never be able to tackle an actual book, because you don’t know what you’re doing”. Perfectionism tells me “you don’t know enough” and “you’re not qualified to write that”.

Yacks! No wonder I haven’t returned to the book that’s on my heart. I’ve let that way of thinking rob me of more than six months of action. I put my book in a drawer after finishing the first draft and have. not. touched. it. since.

Recently, however, I was reminded to safeguard my good intentions by shaking off those threatening thoughts. I saw a shared post on the Higher Purpose Writers Facebook page of a quick little “perfectionism reality check” written by professor and author, Brené Brown. As I read it, I got to a part that literally stole my breath: “it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen and taking flight.” So true.

Something in me ignited and caused me to comment on that post. A realization was born. “Perfectionism,” I typed with certainty, “is the culprit that puts up the imaginary black and yellow caution tape around my writing desk, cordoning me off from my creativity…leaving me too often with regret. We can’t let perfectionism rob us of our joy, so we have to fight back by taking action. One of my second graders often tells the kids very matter-of-factly, ‘when you’re feeling nervous, just do it scared’. Oh, how I wish I’d had that wisdom at age 8.”

(Even now, I have doubts because I’m not sure writers typically quote themselves as I just did, but…whatever! LOL)

Then I offered this quote because it always sets me back on track:

“Ditch the self-defeating tunes in your head and upgrade to life-giving thoughts.” -Trish Blackwell

It’s time, isn’t it? To shake off those thoughts that imprison our dreams. To stop sabotaging ourselves with our unreasonable expectations. The ones that kidnap the joy and satisfaction of accomplishing great big things. Or even great small things.

So…go do your thing. That thing you’ve been putting off. Just take the step and get it done. Baby steps, giant leaps…anything that gets you closer to your dreams. Someone will want to read this. Yes way, should I share this. You and I may not know what we’re doing or know it all, but the world’s got resources out there—we can figure it out. We are qualified to speak what’s on our hearts because we have been enrolled in Life 101 this whole time. And remember, God is with you…He wants us to live abundantly so that we can, in turn, be a light for others.

You’ve got this. We’ve got this! Let’s do this.

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P.S. Please remind me now and then. 🙂

 

Praying with Jane–A Book Review

Have you ever put off reading something because you felt like you were just too busy?

I was gifted with a treasure of a book which turned out to be the very thing I needed to calm down my busy-ness!

When Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen by Rachel Dodge arrived at my door, I was preoccupied in a flurry of this and that. It took me awhile to make the time to start it. After getting through my days filled with activity, I would glance longingly at the beautiful cover where it sat on my nightstand before closing my eyes and giving in to much-needed sleep.

On one particularly stressful day, feeling as if I could barely take a breath for all the demands of life weighing me down, I finally picked up Praying with Jane. That day, I felt especially far away from God…I felt lost. I felt overwhelmed. I kind of felt wretched. I remember hoping that maybe this book I’d been wanting to read would give me the respite I needed.

It did. I wished I had started it sooner, actually, because it provided a sense of calm and soul perspective that I’d neglected for quite awhile. Small, yet profound, after just a few of the short daily readings, I found myself able to breathe more deeply, more fully…and, most importantly, reconnect with my priorities in regards to my faith in Jesus, my Savior.

I love the gentleness of this book. Each day’s reading takes about 5 minutes or less to read, and through Rachel’s writing I was able to connect with the prayers of a woman who lived so long ago. Even now in the 21st century, I could relate to Jane’s prayers and, more importantly, I was reminded of areas in my life in which I wanted to grow or nurture.

I’m somewhat of a free bird when it comes to reading devotionals, picking them up here and there when I feel the need. Sometimes I like to think on a thing for several days. I loved going back to this book, and looked forward to each new piece. Each time I picked up Praying with Jane it seemed as though the topic of the day (or rather, the section of Jane Austen’s prayer Rachel was addressing) was fitting for me in that moment. Has that ever happened to you? It’s a stunning feeling.

My favorite parts of the book were the interactive prayers at the end of each day (“Let Us Pray”). There are times in my life when I want to pray to God, but cannot find the words, and these beautiful, humbling, and genuine prayers were very good at helping me along. In some cases, they also provided me with new insight on changing the way I pray.

I also, of course, learned much about Jane Austen, her life and times, and her family through Rachel’s expertise and easy way of weaving Jane’s history into relevant thoughts for today. I’ve only read a couple of books by Jane Austen. I’ve probably seen more film adaptations, actually.

While not previously knowing much about Austen, I am thankful for this book’s tender challenge to my heart in regard to my own three decades old relationship with Christ. The benevolent call to obedience—the soft whisper to open my eyes to my own sins, however big or small they may seem—the undeniable proof of God’s love for me, no matter how many wrong turns I’ve made along the road of life. That He “knows our hearts fully, even more than a close friend or family member.”

Praying with Jane would be a wonderful gift, even for those who may not be super fans of Austen. I also think new Christians (or even those who aren’t Christians) would gain a lot of biblical insight and knowledge through the many bible references sprinkled throughout each day’s read.

One of my favorite prayers for the reader written by Rachel from Praying with Jane is this:

“Thank you, Lord, for your faithfulness and your strength. Please show me the areas of my heart, temper, and habits that you want to refine. As the psalmist prayed, please “set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141:3).  I confess to you now my negative thoughts regarding: [your specific confession]. Make my heart clean and new again. I turn to you now for refreshment and revival. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” -Psalm 51:10

What a wonderful way to start a new year, with the promise of renewal and refinement.  I’m so glad I took the few minutes out of many of my days to breathe in these integral reminders which are rooted in great faith and love.  I will be rereading it again in the new year.

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Promise

Several years ago, I discovered a non-fiction book by one of America’s favorite fiction authors, Debbie Macomber. It was called Knit Together: Discover God’s Pattern for Your Life. I loved this book. I loved it so much that I lent it out to friends and cannot remember who I last gave it to. I think it may be time for me to get a new copy and read it once more.

One of the things that stood out to me in Knit Together was the idea Debbie shared of having one word that is her defining word for the upcoming new year. She shared that it was a tradition for her to choose a word that meant something to her, that would represent what she wanted to focus on throughout the whole year. For example, surrender or prayer. In fact, she later wrote another non-fiction book on the whole topic called One Perfect Word. The idea really appealed to me, so for the last several years I’ve also been choosing my word for the year.

Lately, I’ve seen it come up on Facebook. For example, over at (in)courage, they are sharing DaySpring’s quiz to help people find their own word for 2019 since a new year is just around the corner.

Each Thanksgiving, I begin thinking of my new word. It’s usually hard for me to decide. But the last few months have been rough for me spiritually and physically, and I neglected to even give 2019’s word much thought.

However, recently I’ve been reading a little book called Praying with Jane by Rachel Dodge…and then came Christmas. Between those two things, I’ve been deeply reminded of the sweet joy of Jesus in my life and how I never want to take that gift for granted. And with His gift, the ability to make each morning new…our sins forgiven, if we but ask. The opportunity for a cleansed and revived heart….the hope we have in waiting on the Lord. I was reminded that what I want most is for His love to shine through me, and not be hidden.

And so I thought to myself, what is the root of all my trouble right now? What is keeping my light from shining? And I realized it came down to broken promises. Broken promises to myself in many different ways which eventually affect those around me.

Here is one example: If I break the promise I’ve made to myself to show up to thirty minutes of exercise (or even ten minutes!)…but then I break that promise every day, it then snowballs into an unhealthy habit. I end up not only feeling icky, unfit, without energy, strength, and stamina, but it also eventually makes me feel bad about myself for continually breaking that promise (this was an intriguing notion I learned earlier in the year listening to podcaster and confidence coach Trish Blackwell). Then I feel grumpy and have back pain from a weak core, and we all know grumpiness does not really pair up with friendliness. It’s hard to appear kind when I’m cranky.

Another example of breaking my promise to myself is when I am not in God’s Word consistently, yet I have every intention to do so. When I say “I will make time for the Lord today”, but instead choose TV or social media. By doing so, I am not reminded of God’s promises….of His grace and love and forgiveness…of the trials of people in the Bible and how they overcame them, how God provided for them…of the blessings and goodness and just downright peace that comes with praying to Jesus…that’s the fuel for the fire that keeps my light burning brightly. Without that fuel, my joy is not as easy to see, my kindness not as forthcoming as it ought to be. I need the fuel. I need to keep that promise to myself to stay in His word.

Promise.

That’s my word. And it’s all to do with showing up. Even when I don’t feel ready.  Even when I don’t feel I’ve got the energy.

So…here are the three ways in which my word for the year, “promise”,  will relate to me in 2019:

#1) I promise to show up for my health and spiritual wellness when I say I will. Except when I’m sick, of course! Ugh! Just saying this, I know there will be times when I’ll hit the snooze button or convince myself to go to bed early or…or…okay, therefore….here’s to #2!

#2) I promise to give myself grace when I mess up. ‘Nuff said. LOL

#3) I promise to do one thing every day that scares me. This is from a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, which I heard when I first began listening to Trish Blackwell’s podcasts. I’m not talking about skydiving (that won’t ever be on the list)…but instead I mean even the littlest things that get my heart jumping and tempt me to run in the opposite direction. Being an upstander. Showing up to my writing space. Overcoming my shyness to make someone feel welcome. Trying a new recipe (if you know my reputation for cooking, this will make sense!). Teaching in front of an observer. Making conversation at a party. That kind of stuff.

So, there it is. 🙂

What is YOUR word for 2019? When you know it, let me know in the comments below. And even better, share why it’s your word!

For another great example on how to choose your word of the year, listen to episode #298: How to Successfully Set Goals for the New Year on The Confidence Podcast with Trish Blackwell.  

Have fun pondering!

Image result for pink heart clip art loveRobin

The Great House Mystery

“Go work on your house and forget about it.” 

That random quote is written on one my bible’s front cover pages. I cannot remember exactly when I wrote it down there, but I have a memory of being intently focused on the pastor’s words while he was speaking to us that Sunday morning at church.

At the time, the words struck me as so very important, so relevant…but now, I can’t recall the specific circumstances in my life that made that sentence evoke such a strong reaction in me. However, decades later, despite the mystery behind why they are there (or what they even mean exactly) they still do something for me.

I believe I was in my twenties when I entered that phrase on that page. It’s possible I was in my late teens. It was before I met my husband, that’s for certain. The bible I wrote it in has been in my possession since I was thirteen-years-old, so that means it could’ve been written any time between ages 13 to 28. It has been a mystery I’ve been wanting to solve for years. That is, why did I make note of that? In my bible, of all places. What was it in reference to?

I remember the feeling I had when I wrote it down. It was a moment of discovery. That feeling you get when understanding unfolds in your soul and you can breathe just a little bit deeper than you ever had before. The joy of comprehension bubbles and rises up in your heart so big that you smile with wonder. Or maybe you might dip your eyebrow down a little as you ponder that new nugget of wisdom and attach it to old memories tucked away in your brain.

I recall the urgency I felt to make sure it was a message I would not forget. But, human that I am, I have forgotten the details. So over the years, every now and then, I work rather hard at puzzling out what exactly it was supposed to refer to.

The reason this mystery is important to me is that it’s written in my bible. In nearly 30 years, I’ve underlined scripture, made notes in margins, drawn hearts over verses that have caused me tears of thankfulness and joy…all between Genesis and Revelation. But it has been rare that I’ve written down anything in the blank pages of the front and back covers.

My bible is sacred to me in the sense that it is not the place where I make grocery lists or the like in it. I cringe, actually, every time I see Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park (near Big Sur) crossed out on the inside of the front cover. Lacking paper once, I’d dashed off the name of a place a new friend had recommended visiting (I discovered it is a beautiful place, by the way). But afterward, I vowed to not write unnecessary things in there again.

There are three blank pages at the beginning of my bible, its leather cover fractured and torn in multiple places on the spine from being handled and read for twenty-eight years. These front pages are a bit warped, the ink on some of them a little blurry now. They hold just a few little pieces of info from years past that, in the moment, I wanted to remember…quick jots of heart-musts.

For example, written in pencil at the top of one of those pages is the title of a hymn I loved immediately after I sang it for the first time–“‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus #581”. I had scrawled that in a hurry. A tiny little pair of eyeglasses are doodled off to the right, my signature note-taking symbol which was to remind me to go look it up again in the hymnal later when I got a chance so I could take time to really savor the words.

Underneath that are three words in skinny black ink: “He is Able”. No mystery there. That was a wow moment during a time in my life which was a steep climb when I felt weak.

A hand-written quote is third in line–the thicker black ink a bit fuzzy, possibly from the the humidity which engulfed my apartment. A pipe had burst while I was away on vacation and left water on the floor unnoticed for a week. I had carefully written,“Contentment is not our goal, it’s a by-product of living your life for Christ.” 

Beneath that John 17:1-26– with a puffy heart and the words “JESUS’ LOVE FOR US” in all caps– is boxed confidently, secured in the center of the page.

And then, from what must have been a really rough patch in my life, my heart twists in sympathy for my younger self as I reread in barely-brave-enough pencil, “I don’t want to hurt anymore, I just want to live in His joy.” 

I don’t remember what exactly caused me so much pain when I wrote that sad sentence in my very special, very-much-a-part-of-me-book…wait, stop. Isn’t that amazing? I don’t even remember what hurt so bad. What a testimony to God’s grace and goodness. That, too, has passed.

I also can’t recall where I was when I penciled that determined vow. But I do have to go off-course for a minute here to remember that it must have been the beginning of a season in my life when, for the first time, I deliberately and persistently sought joy instead of holding out hope that it would be brought to me on the UPS truck.

Until I discovered joy is a choice, and it is sometimes hard work choosing if you’re not familiar with how to infuse it into your soul.

But the work is worth it, and the reality is that seeking and attaining joy is a roller coaster. You have to hang on during the lows and keep your eyes focused on the hill as you chug slowly upward, closer to the heavens, having faith that eventually you will get to the top again and experience joy once more. Have you ever noticed how easy and fast it is to decline on a roller coaster, and how difficult it is to keep the momentum as you race to the top? And once you’re up there it’s a brief and fleeting thrill before you drop to the bottom again. Joy is like that. Life is, too.

If you are searching for joy right now, keep searching. Keep climbing. And expect the lows now and then. Be prepared for them. Know that there is no limit to the number of rides you can take on the roller coaster of joy. You get a free pass. It’s just up to you whether or not you hop on. Focus on what you can be grateful for. Make lists. Redirect your negative thoughts to positive thoughts. There is power in gratitude.

And back to my bible, there are a couple more notations on that second blank page. But then you flip to the third blank page and, sitting all alone, are the mystery words:

“Go work on your house and forget about it.”

The only handwritten line on that third page of my bible cover. Nothing else on the page. The teeny black-inked words scribbled in haste, so that I wouldn’t miss out on the rest of the message in church that day.

What did that mean? What could it mean? Perhaps it’s referring to our aspirations. I know sometimes I am overly ambitious…unreasonably ambitious. To the point I get overwhelmed and have taken on so much that I can’t do justice to all of the things on my plate. Maybe it’s a reminder to step back and focus on what really matters.

Maybe it was in reference to worrying. Don’t worry, have faith, just bloom where you’re planted and everything will come out according to God’s plan. The pieces of your life that are not within your control aren’t worth wasting your energy on…so go work on what you can control so you won’t waste your time on what you can’t control.

Maybe there was someone in the bible who God basically tells “go back to what you were doing, I’ve got this.” 

I’m just making guesses here. I read it often, and I wonder for minutes on end. And each time I come across it, I happen to be facing something different in that moment of my life. Surprisingly (or not), the phrase seems to mean something profound to me in its own little way for each of those respective times.

And maybe that’s what it was meant to do.

What does “go work on your house and forget about it” mean to you? What are your favorite notations in your bible, if you’ve made any? Feel free to share in the comments below!

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Arrival

At some point during the Autumn season, my memory makes an annual visit to the U.K. It’s usually when the temperatures finally start to drop, and I find myself staring unexpectedly at random yellow-tinted burnt umber treetops, dried and crisping while they contemplate the obligatory leap to the waiting ground below. A flurry of scenes from a single day are once again revived in my mind.

This happened to me last Saturday while I was sitting in a parking lot five thousand miles away from Leeds, the third largest city in England which sits on the fringe of the rolling green and cloud-shadowed Yorkshire moors and dales. Decades ago, I lived there during an academic year, an opportunity I can still hardly believe came true.

It always starts with the same remembrance of my arrival in Leeds in the Fall of 1999, or was it 1998? It must have been 1998 because the following Spring would have been ’99. That was when we took a quick trip over to Paris, and I remember my disappointment that the Eiffel Tower had been marred by a huge electronic marquee counting down to Y2K—scaffolding, green construction mesh, and all.

But back to Leeds.

I arrived on a gray and blustery day in early Fall. It was the kind of weather that perfectly brought to life all of my daydreams of the England I’d not met yet.  The little connecting flight that brought me from Heathrow dropped me off, and I battled the wind while walking across the tarmac carrying my backpack and my instrument.

Some kind British passengers on the plane had warned me that the location of the Leeds Airport on the top of hill would make the wind even worse than down in the city, but I smiled like a champion and trudged on. I was both deliriously tired from the long flight and tickled to finally be there.

Once inside the small airport, I tried to hide my grin from the jolly man who took an extra long time inspecting my bassoon at the security check. He hadn’t seen one before, he told me, as he picked it up and looked down the red maple bell joint like a kaleidoscope. He was suddenly a twinkly blue-eyed kid in a toy store.

The best part about my first day in England was that I was alone. The other student who would also be part of the exchange between our California university and the University of Leeds was not due to arrive until much later that evening. I was excited to meet England all by myself, and I just knew I would relish it.

So I gathered my things and found my way outside to a taxi stand where I was whisked away by a driver who said he had no idea where I was going. Just the sort of thing you want to hear when you arrive in a foreign country you’ve never been to, right?

We drove around for about forty-five minutes, me never truly believing he didn’t know where he was going. The cynic in me was sure he was just trying to get as much fare as he could. At the time, I did not realize how big the city really was.  He did seem earnest in his occasional stops along the way to ask for directions, and I just prayed confidently along the way. This was before cell phones were expected to be on us at all times like underwear.

Eventually, we made our way up Cumberland Road and drove through a massive arched pale stone entrance with black wrought iron gates boasting the residence hall’s name, Devonshire Hall, in white painted block letters. I immediately forgot all of my irritation on the matter of being ripped off and held my breath as we tentatively passed under the solid arch. This was it.

The taxi gurgled its way around the circular drive and made a final stop in front of wide stone steps stretching below a wall of aged glass doors. It took me awhile to find someone, anyone. Come to find out I was the first student to arrive because international students got settled in before the others.

I was given a key, mumbled goodbye to the taxi driver who charged too much, and hefted my suitcases one at a time up a few flights of stairs until I entered a door with my number on it. Finding myself boxed into a teeny space of about three feet by three feet, I encountered two more doors to choose from situated in adjacent corners. Pink doors.

Once in the right room, I looked all around me. The space was about as big as my bedroom had been at home. There was a sink along the wall which shared the door, a small wardrobe, a twin size bed, and a desk beneath the window. Someone had thoughtfully included a large single bookshelf over the bed and a reading chair in the corner.

Walking over to the window, I was delighted to find it was my favorite kind—the kind you have to crank to open. I peeked down from three stories to a vibrant green lawn and, in the corner, was a short ivy covered fence with a mysterious gate that left me wondering where it led to.

I smiled and took a breath. Then I immediately fell onto the bed and slept.

When I woke up, the shadows were long on the walls and the silence was deafening. The staff member who had given me my key said no other students would be here until the next day, at the earliest. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, sleeping in this massive hall all by myself. Yikes! I examined the deadbolt I had locked earlier. It was a pretty big lock, and quite modern despite the antiquity of the building, so I decided not to worry. Yet.

Realizing I was hungry and that the afternoon was waning, I began walking down Cumberland Road toward a small row of shops—the only shops that were in sight. It was a Sunday. Everything was closed. I was so enchanted by my surroundings that I didn’t even mind much. It was so very different from America…the textures and stone, the scents in the air…the compact cars and their skinny license plates with too many letters. I shivered inside of my black peacoat.

Resigned to the idea that I likely would not be eating that evening, I made my way back up the hill to Devonshire Hall. Along the way, the dry fallen leaves whirled around me and I found comfort in their percussive taps and scrapes on the roads and pavements. I let my fingertips dance lightly along the stones in the walls I passed as I walked. Such a sight took hold of the daydreaming part of my heart and all of a sudden I didn’t mind that I would be missing a meal. I was in England!

Halfway up the road, something furry suddenly wrapped around my leg. A sweet little gray striped kitten. She left my side and bounced up ahead, her little collared bell ringing daintily above the soft whistle of the wind. I don’t even really like cats much, but they always seem to be appearing. Like special friends meant just for me. The little cat sat and watched me make leisurely progress up the incline (no one had told me Leeds was hilly, and I was not in shape!) until the point where I was just within reach. Then she leaped up to the top of the dark, jaggedy stone wall over my shoulder and disappeared with a wave of her tail.

I stood still for a moment, waiting to see if she would return. When it became clear that she wouldn’t be coming back, I pivoted around taking in the sights around me. Cumberland Road seemed to be a residential street of sorts, save for the large church on the corner at the bottom of the road. Twilight was near, so I decided to get back to the hall.

I sighed and let in the reality of just how far away from home I was. I realized I hadn’t called my mom to let her know that I was safe and sound, so I made my way back to the giant stone arch of the hall and found a single iconic red telephone booth. The faraway sound of her voice chased away any whispers of loneliness trying to tempt me as the day’s end can sometimes do.

I don’t know that I ate after all. My memory is too foggy. But I will never forget the blustery weather, the sound of the leaves twirling about along the ground, the never ending taxi ride, the kitten…the view from my room. The way the trees arched over the road leading up to Devonshire Hall and reaching across, touching, creating a shelter from the rain.

I like to remember that day.

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