Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Growing Up

There are ways in which we grow that no one else ever knows.
We fight the dragons of our selfish nature and we emerge from the fire victorious, but we don’t get banquets thrown in our honor.
We don’t go down in history.
The battles that matter most are silent, at least to most of our world.
But our victories over pride and bitterness and self-absorption, small though they may be in the grand scheme of things, are still victories.
Their value is not lessened by their lack of pomp and circumstance.
And our victories, if we know Christ, are not even our own doing.
The strength to fight against pride comes from Him.
The strength to have the humility to even recognize that pride must be fought comes from Him.
I can’t even see my own weakness without His hand opening my eyes.

There are ways in which we grow that no one else ever knows.
Save One.

He knows what it took to destroy that piece of pride that made us hurt the people we love.
He knows what it takes to combat the guilt we still sometimes fall prey to over the damage we once did, despite the forgiveness we’ve received.
He knows that those decisions that look easy to our world are the biggest steps of faith we've ever taken.
He sees the small victories.
He enables the small victories.
He knows how we’ve grown, and He knows how important that growth is to us even when no one else sees anything extraordinary.
But every victory is extraordinary because it means you fought.
You fought the complacency and the comfortable misery and the apathy and the anger and the self-pity and you beat it.
And you beat it with His strength.
You’re stronger now because your identity is composed of less of your broken self and more of the wholeness He supplies.

There’s a song that repeats, “I’m not who I was.”
And I’m grateful that though that phrase can be considered clichĂ©, it’s true of me.
I’m grateful that I lack the ability to win any battle on my own.
I’m grateful that He helps me when I’m fighting those dragons.
I’m grateful that victory is in Jesus and through Jesus and by Jesus and for Jesus.
I’m grateful that He sees it when I grow.

There are ways in which we grow that no one else ever knows.
But knowing that who we were is not all we are,
and that who we are is not all we will be,
can be enough.

This past week, 3rd week, was eventful mainly in how it pointed me to the Lord.
I had homework and spent time with friends and it was a good week. A normal week.
But the weekend gave me a fresh perspective.
I was reminded not to limit God by my fears.
I was reminded that there’s more to life than what goes on or seems possible in my own little world.
I was reminded, even today, that adventures and experiences and people and places can all change my life, but none of them have any ability to fulfill me.
I can’t just hope to find my purpose by changing location, or changing occupation, or even changing myself.
Because my purpose never changes.
It is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
It is to seek His will.
It is to love Him and love others because He loves me incomprehensibly. 
It is to share the way He changes my life day in and day out.
So this post doesn’t talk so much about what life in Oxford was like from October 27th to November 2nd. 
But you see, that’s because my life doesn’t revolve around Oxford.
Or Cedarville.
Or Roanoke.
Or my family.
Or my friends.
Or myself.
And this week, I was reminded of that.
I love Oxford, and at times I’m pre-emptively heartsick over leaving.
I love the people who have made my time here such a wonderful experience.
But the purpose of these posts is to share what I’m learning,
and this week I learned that not seeing what my future holds,
not being applauded over the small victories,
and not knowing all the answers I wish I did,
aren’t failures.
They are ways in which God reveals Himself.
They are ways through which He helps me grow.



Monday, October 27, 2014

Weeks 1 & 2: Adventures and Essays

Here I am again! 
Since life has been a different kind of crazy these past couple of weeks I’m condensing 1st and 2nd week into one post, so what we're looking at is October 13th - 26th.

1st week was full of adventures.

I made my mom’s chicken noodle soup by myself for the first time! The results were decent enough, for a trial run, but it was a tad bit salty. It was fun to feel independent in a new way – although I emailed her about fifteen times that day with questions. Cooking with her in the living room, available to help, is definitely easier than cooking thousands of miles away from her.

That week I also went to the Farmer’s Market that’s open in Gloucester Green on Wednesdays. It’s basically a market featuring food stalls, jewelry stalls, pretty much anything you can think of, set up in a little town square type of area. I caved in front of a food stall and got some fabulous apples. The apples here have been so crisp thus far, and I’m in heaven.

I also tried out a pub (pub = restaurant, not just bar) with some friends called the Jericho Tavern and had a wonderful burger with wonderful company.
(And the best vanilla ice cream ever).

On Thursday I had tea at The Grand CafĂ©, the oldest coffee house in England. 
I ordered what is called “Cream Tea,” which is less extravagant than “High Tea,” featuring a pot of tea and two scones with clotted cream and jam.
Clotted cream is arguably the most amazing thing to have ever been invented.
After tea, my friends and I wandered around town a bit and ended up at Oxford Castle where we climbed a mound that gave a great view of a bit of the city.

I also went to FOCUS, the church group for students that I’ve been attending, and met with my small group of girls for the first time.

On Friday I met my Shakespeare tutor for the first time and explored the area of Summertown, which is a few miles outside of Oxford City Centre.

That evening I joined some friends in attending dodgeball. Yes, dodgeball. I possess the mixed blessing and curse of throwing somewhat accurately, so my throws went the right direction but they were also easy to catch. I was able to stay in longer if I merely dodged, but it was almost more enjoyable to get out quickly and watch than it was to stay in and fear for my life as very strong young men hurled things at my head.

After that I went to a meeting of the Tolkien society where I got to meet Tolkien fans of varying degrees of intensity enthusiasm. While some of us felt we were in over our heads, it was a grand time of chatting, games, and Tolkien-themed snacking. I’ve not been able to attend since then but I hope to be able to make it to another meeting or two.

Saturday (we have now arrived at October 18th) I went to London for the day with a friend who is here for her third term, so she knows her way around. We had wonderfully mild weather all day and were able to see a lot of the geekier aspects of London that I’ve wanted to visit.
Herein follows a list of that day's adventures:
We started out in Kensington Gardens and saw the Palace there, but what we were really after was the Peter Pan statue. It was surreal to see it in person. I couldn’t stop smiling, I was so amazed to be seeing it for myself.
(I LOVE PETER PAN).

After Kensington we went on a wild goose chase for these “Book Benches” that had been scattered around London but have now been removed. So instead of finding a bench based off of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” we ended up in St. George’s Garden. Which is a cemetery. Hooray.

After that bit of adventuring we went to King’s Cross station.
Harry Potter fans know where this is going.
The station has set up an attraction for those who want to go to “Platform 9 ¾” with a luggage trolley halfway through the wall for a photo op.
So of course I stood in line with the dozens of other young adults (and a handful of kids) and got my picture taken.
And then resisted the urge to buy a wand from the gift shop.
(I did get a Gryffindor scarf, however. I am unashamed.)
It was amazing.

After that hopped back on the tube to go to the Sherlock Holmes Museum.
As in, 221B Baker St.
As in, “Oh my goodness is this real life?”
It was basically a recreation of what the flat would have looked like based on the books, with some rooms also recreating scenes from different stories. And then there was a gift shop.
Basically I went from one surreal experience to another, visiting places that up to that point had only existed in some of my favorite stories.
I was all a-flutter with geeky happiness.

We then refreshed ourselves with tea from Fortnum and Mason’s, from which Her Majesty the Queen orders her tea.
Posh.

We finished the day by wandering around Piccadilly Circus.
Side note, circus = circle. No elephants were involved.
I found a couple souvenirs and we went to a 5 floor M&M’s store.
I’ve never been anywhere that smelled so much like milk chocolate.

That was a bit detailed, so forgive me for that, but it really was a wonderful day of adventuring even if my feet felt like they were going to fall off for two days afterward.

2nd week, beginning on October 20th, was much less adventurous and much more studious.
I wrote my first essays and had my first tutorials (meetings) with my tutors.
The expectations for the Oxford Essay are incredibly different from the way I’ve been taught to write during my time at Cedarville, so it was a bit difficult this first time around to know what exactly I was meant to produce. My tutorials were instructive and enjoyable, however, and I feel much more prepared for my future essays.

I also met with my art history tutor again! My assignments for him are not quite an essay since they involve demonstrating an understanding of the particular types of art we’ve been studying. This time, we went to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Northleach. Also known as “The Cathedral of the Cotswolds,” it is a church whose construction was begun in the 14th century using money provided by those who were wealthy due to the wool industry. We studied the Northleach Brasses, portraits chiseled out of brass and inlaid in stone that was then set into the church floor. The artistry of the memorials was incredible in the details and precision of the design, and the church itself was a beautiful structure.

Saturday, the 25th, my study abroad program took us on a tour of Cambridge. The weather was incredibly mild and sunny, perfect for a field trip day.

We were first shown Madlington Cemetery, a War Memorial dedicated to fallen Americans. It was beautiful and sobering, the resting place of over 5,000 members of the armed forces and civilians who lost their lives serving alongside them.

After that we were taken on a tour of Cambridge, which reminded me of Cedarville as it is a small “college town,” especially when compared to Oxford. We ended at King’s College Cathedral, which has magnificent stained glass windows and vaulted ceilings. After that we explored the town before heading home.

Side note: The rivalry between Cambridge and Oxford is comparable to that between US schools such as OSU and Michigan. Our Cambridge tour guide didn’t even refer to Oxford by name, she just called it “the other place.”

Sunday I attended church at St. Ebbe’s again and my student small group had a time of fellowship with a few other groups at the student leader’s house.
If there weren’t dozens of reasons why I can’t stay another term, I would stay just for the chance to spend more time at St. Ebbe’s. It’s an amazing environment and I already know I’m going to miss it terribly.

Well, that was sufficiently long and wordy.
On a more personal note, I found out this week that a family friend died in a horrible accident. I’ve been confronted with the reality of death on a more personal level this past year than ever before and it has been hard to understand and the struggle of reconciling untimely deaths with what I know of God’s goodness can sometimes be discouraging. Prayers would be most appreciated, for myself and everyone else who had the blessing of knowing him.
I’ve also had to figure out graduation/class registration issues over the past couple of weeks. In addition to keeping in touch with family and friends, all that communication is making it a little difficult to be mentally “present” here. Prayer for focus is always something I need.

Thanks for reading, friends! 

P.S. – Doctor Wilfong? This is a spot in Oxford where Mary Tudor executed martyrs, including the Archbishop of Canterbury. We saw it on our first tour of Oxford and I knew you’d appreciate the history of it. 



Sunday, October 19, 2014

Playing catch-up -- what week is it?

My apologies for failing to post last week! I ended up getting sick over the weekend and since I’ve recovered it’s been go, go, go.

So, to catch up, last week (October 6-12) was another intro week. My first week here was intro week for the students in my program – since we’re all international, we were given an extra prep week to learn about the culture, expectations, etc. So my second week was essentially the intro week for all of Oxford. Since Oxford operates on an 8-week term schedule, it titles its intro week “0 week.”
Also called “Oth week.”
Also called “Nought week.”
Also called “Fresher’s week.”
(Fresher’s = Freshmen).
The fact that term has not yet officially started with this week is, as you can tell, heavily emphasized.

So! Nought week for me consisted first of my induction into the Bodleian Library on Monday, as described in my previous post.

Tuesday, I was inducted into New College! Along with other New College members from the Oxford Study Abroad Program, I was given a tour of New College, which included beautiful gardens edged on one side by the old city wall and an introduction to the college library, among other things. It also has a beautiful front quad and gorgeous cloisters. The cloisters are beautiful on their own, but a few of us were further excited about them when we realized that they were featured in the Harry Potter movies.

After exploring New College, I visited the Radcliffe Camera and Bodleian Reading Rooms. The RadCam houses Bodleian books and it is beautiful inside and out. The Reading Rooms are enormous – I kept turning corners expecting to have reached the end only to see more books! I’m looking forward to spending time in all the libraries, which will undoubtedly become more and more necessary as the term goes on.

Wednesday, after our last round of OSAP lectures, I had dinner with friends at The Eagle and Child, a pub known for being a frequent haunt of The Inklings. Oxford is, of course, full of history at every turn, but it was especially thrilling to dine where some of my favorite writers spent so much time together.

Thursday was Fresher’s Fair! Much like the Involvement Fair at Cedarville, students were ushered through tables upon tables with information on societies, clubs, sports, etc. It was a bit overwhelming but in the end I found a few groups of interest – along with a lot of random pamphlets (engineering?) that somehow ended up in my hand amid the chaos.

Thursday was also the day that I met with a tutor for the first time! Although I originally intended to only take two courses, Jane Austen and Shakespeare, I have added a 3 credit Art History course! I am so excited to be experiencing history first-hand. My tutor took myself and another student into Christ Church Cathedral of Christ Church College. It’s a beautiful cathedral, in which I’ve had the joy of attending Evensong, and it was amazing to learn how the architecture reflects the intentions of its designers and by extension points those worshipping within the cathedral to focus on Christ.

Thursday night I went to FOCUS, the student group at the church I’ve been attending, St. Ebbe’s. It was the intro meeting (everything revolves around the Oxford term schedule) and I was able to meet other students and get an idea of how the group study is structured.

Friday I visited the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford with a couple of friends. We wandered around some of the ancient Mesopotamian, Roman, and Greek areas before going through a special King Tut exhibit. It was interesting to see how ancient history can be interpreted apart from a Scriptural lens. For example, there was a display referencing a massive flood that was said to inspire the Biblical story among other “myths,” as opposed to asserting that it was the Biblical flood account that gave birth to other cultural stories about a flood. It’s strange to be in an environment that so typically supposes another worldview aside from Christianity, but I have already seen how it is good for the exercising of my discernment.

Friday was also the day that our kitchen supplies were all finally delivered, enabling us to cook! And there was much rejoicing.

That weekend, as I mentioned, I was sick. Not the most fun three days I’ve ever spent, but a few friends were so kind as to bring me some comfort food and I was able to rest up.

In general, the week held a good bit of information overload yet allowed time for exploration around Oxford and bonding time with friends.
I realize I’m a week behind so I’ll do my best to cover “1st week” as soon as I am able.
In the meantime, know that I appreciate the prayers and encouragements of everyone at home! I do miss everyone dearly but social media and communication tools are helping to ease that in some part.
Please continue to pray, as I am beginning courses and fighting homesickness, that I will be diligent in my work yet continue to enjoy my time here.
If you have any questions or would like more details on how to pray (or just want to say hello!) message me through the internet somehow. I would love to hear from you!

Signing off,

~Michelle

Monday, October 6, 2014

Across The Pond: Oxford intro week.

‘allo from across the pond!
I’ve now been in England for nearly a week, and what a week it has been!
I’ll be posting to this blog at least once a week for the duration of my stay at Oxford. For those who don’t know, I am a Liberal Arts major, and as such I am required to study abroad for at least six weeks. The Michaelmas term at Oxford will be fulfilling this requirement, and the Liberal Arts program committee has requested that I post weekly updates about my experience here. I’ve been so blessed to hear from so many people that they would like to hear about my time here, and I hope that this blog is informative without being excessively academic and enjoyable without being hard to follow. This is my first time out of the country, and thus my first time documenting anything like this, so if my topics end up all over the place, please bear with me – hopefully I’ll get the hang of it soon!

My first week began with my first overseas flight! I’m so glad I don’t have to fly again for a few months; the sleepless night before my departure and the red-eye flight that I took combined to make me very sleep-deprived for the first couple days here.  After a bus ride from London to Oxford, some wandering around the middle of town, a house-key issue, and the subsequent meeting of my new neighbor, I established myself in my new home. I live with two other international students with whom I get along well, and who are just as excited to be here as I. 
The first night featured a welcome party where all the Oxford Study Abroad Program (OSAP) students were able to meet each other and familiarize ourselves with the office and the area. It was also the first time that I went shopping in a British store, which was definitely an adventure. My housemates and I learned the hard way not to get too many groceries at once, since we live a twenty-minute walk from the grocery store. While I planned to rent a bike for the term, the traffic customs are a bit intimidating (i.e., I’m afraid I’ll get run over but a bus), so I’ll be relying on my legs to transport me around town.

The following day we were given helpful and informative lectures, and again had the chance to get to know each other better. There are so many of us that even now, a week later, I still don’t know everyone. 

On Thursday we were given a tour around Oxford, including many of the beautiful colleges. Oxford University does not have a main campus; rather, it is spread throughout the town in multiple buildings and is made up of 38 colleges. Each student belongs to a specific college and it is that college that provides the library, dining hall, etc. for the student to make use of during their time there. (If that’s not really making sense, think of it like Hogwarts houses: One school, separated). 

On Thursday evening I went to an Evensong service at Christ Church College, which is well known for its Evensong services. It was my first time at an Anglican (Episcopalian in the US) service and it was a very refreshing and worshipful experience.  We were told in lecture that Gothic architecture, used in most of the colleges, cathedrals, etc. is designed to point the eye upward, toward the heavens, and in the case of Evensong it was amazing to see how the architecture contributed to the God-centeredness of the service.

Friday we took a tour of London and were able to see Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, St. James’ Park, and the Winston Churchill Memorial and War Rooms. It was a lot to take in (and a LOT of walking) but we had unusually beautiful weather and it was awe-inspiring to see such ancient and significant sights. During some of our free time a group of us stumbled upon the Sherlock Holmes Restaurant, which was an exciting and unexpected adventure. We also spent some time in Trafalgar Square and were able to wander for a while in the National Gallery where we saw works by such renowned artists as Monet and Van Gogh. I’m excited to go back to London to explore more of the museums and parks (and hopefully see some plays!)

In between all the lectures and sightseeing I’ve been able to spend time with other students in the program. The students in general are very friendly and I’m looking forward to getting to know them better over the next few months!  There are quite a few Christians I’ve gotten to know, and I’ve been so blessed by them already. 

Sunday morning I attended a church called St. Ebbe’s with some friends. It was a very welcoming and Christ-centered service, and I’m so excited to get involved there!  I will attend a student group meeting later this week – more on that in my next post!

Today, Monday, we were given a couple more lectures, as well as being introduced to the library system. Oxford University’s main library is the Bodleian Library – it’s amazing and beautiful and the second largest library in the UK. If you know me well, you know I’m incredibly excited to explore “the Bod.” I will also have access to my college library, so I will have no shortage of material.
I was also informed today that I have been accepted as a member of New College! Since the Oxford tour I’ve loved the look and feel of New College, just from the outside, and I can’t wait to see what experiences my membership will entail.

Having never been in any other culture before, I’m not sure how to gauge how much culture shock I’ve actually been experiencing. Obviously the food and customs are very different, but so far I’ve felt fairly comfortable and I think the local people are used to tourists because everyone I’ve talked to has been helpful and understanding. 
(So far the most recurring struggle is counting out change. Oi.)
This next week will feature more lectures and getting all my classes (called “tutorials”) figured out, meeting my tutors, being inducted into my college, and more.

I appreciate the prayers that I know have been lifted up on my behalf more than I can express. The Lord’s grace has been so evident through every step of this past week and I’m so excited to see how He continues to provide above what I could ask.

I think I’ll tack on a few prayer requests at the end of each post, so here’s the first batch:
*That my sleep pattern would regulate, so that I am well rested.
*That I would be intentional in how I relate to others, particularly in times of stress, so that Christ’s love would be evident through my words and actions.
*That I would remain focused on the goodness and faithfulness of the Lord in my first real non-Christian environment.  
*Homesickness hit me for the first time on Sunday. Everything has felt so surreal that it hasn’t fully sunk in that I’ll be here for so long; however, the time difference is proving to be the most homesickness-inducing factor, since I can’t always get in touch with my family when I want to because they’re sleeping or at work/school. So prayers that I would run to the Lord when I feel lonesome for loved ones would be so appreciated.

If you’ve made it all the way through, thank you for reading! If there’s any aspect of my experience so far that I didn’t touch on, leave me a comment or shoot me some sort of message (aside from texting) and I’d love to fill you in!

Cheers,

~Michelle

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

My favorite sweatshirts have this tendency to become worn out in the cuffs.
I have this tendency to hold on to things I love when I ought to have let them go a long time ago.

~January 18, 2014

Friday, December 21, 2012

Love Is My Refuge


Arms enfold me, shutting out the cold
I lose myself in the safety of that embrace
It destroys the darkness of my doubts
The dangers of the world are held at bay
Because here, I am untouchable
Here, no harm will come to me
These arms hold me for an eternity
Protect me while I catch my breath
They tighten around me as I cry
With every pain-ridden sob, they pull me closer
Trying to erase the fear, the regrets, the brokenness of my spirit
But eventually the tears abate
Eventually, my breathing slows
I’m ready to look up, peek out of my refuge
Out at the world again
But the first thing I see is the face
The face belongs to the arms that have held me close so protectively
 The face is that of Love
And Love reaches up to wipe the last few tears that traced their way down my cheeks, beneath my tired eyes
And Love gently takes my hands and pulls me up, so that I’m standing again
But my pain has made me weak, and I threaten to crumble
So Love grips my trembling hand, and keeps me standing
And Love smiles, whispering to my heart, ‘Fear not'
Because Love promises to never let go of me
Love will be there even when I try to pull away
Love will still be there the next time I break
And then Love will be there to hold me again
Love will give me the strength to face the world once again
Love will never leave me or forsake me