In Which Dreams Come True, and I Walk in Storybook Land

When I lived in Kenya and flew home for visits, I usually had a layover in London. Most times it was a rather long layover, so I have memories of spending hours roaming London Heathrow Airport, just trying to pass the time. I listened to British accents, wandered through the little shops, and watched people from all over the world converge in that space. And always I stared out the windows and thought of places like Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle and longed to be able to see more of England than just the airport.

This summer I spent some time at Heathrow again as I waited for a flight home, but this time it was completely different. Instead of being alone, I was with a great group of people. Instead of staring wistfully out the windows, I kept smiling to myself as I thought of all I had seen and experienced during those twelve days I spent in England and Scotland. And I worshiped the God of redemption and restoration.

It’s true—sometimes dreams become reality. I went on a choir tour to Great Britain. It still feels almost unbelievable that so many of my favorite things—choral music, Faith Builders friends, literature, history, and travel—could all come together in one delightful experience. I’m still speechless with amazement that it really happened.

That is part of the reason why this post has been two months in the making. I wrestle with words and find none adequate. In the weeks since I came home from England, my mind has felt like a desk piled high with papers and things that need to be organized and filed away (much like the teacher’s desk in my classroom has been in recent weeks during school preparation). This experience was rich and stretching and soul-shaping on so many different levels that I think I may spend the next year processing it all.

I’ve asked so many questions: How can I let this tour make me a better person? What tools have I gained that will help me as a teacher? (Yes, I think that travel is one of best ways for teachers to continue their education). How can I be as wide awake to wonder and beauty and stories in my own land as I was in England? How am I going to continue to use these musical abilities that I’ve had the chance to develop? How can all of this be part of Kingdom-building?

A few highlights:

Singing in St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland

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The flowers and gardens everywhere. All I want for Christmas is a little stone cottage with roses climbing over it.b

Meeting people with fascinating accents and intriguing stories, such as the little old lady who sat with several of us at a restaurant and regaled us with tales of her childhood during World War II.

Walking in the footsteps of beloved authors. I grew up with the illustrated children’s versions of James Herriot’s stories and enjoyed the original stories later. Journeying through the Yorkshire Dales was like walking right into the pictures in those storybooks.

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This door in Oxford supposedly inspired some of C.S. Lewis’s writings (see Mr. Tumnus?),32

and this entrance to St. Edward’s Church in Stowe-on-the-Wold is said to have inspired Tolkien. What could be more enchanting than to walk through these doors to give a choir program?
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Drinking tea in charming little shops like this one.

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Hanging out with some of my former classmates from Faith Builders (and climbing up to King Arthur’s Seat above Edinburgh to have one’s breath taken away by both the view and the wind).

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I must be the richest person in the world.

I think it is when we are living in the greatest heights of joy and in the best dream-come-true delights that we feel most keenly the great divide between earth and heaven. Because we see that even the best experience here on earth is never quite enough. We were made for Eden, and we feel it in our bones. But here we are, still part of a fallen world, so that even in the midst of the most glorious experience we still come face to face with all that is hideously human.

I remember several conversations on this subject with friends while we were on choir tour, and we found it difficult to put words to what we were feeling. We were in the midst of one of the most delightful experiences of our lives, and it felt like a jarring incongruity that we could still so easily be tired and grouchy and annoyed.

Oh, but we found refuge in the words of one of our most challenging choir songs—words written by George Herbert centuries ago:

Bitter-Sweet
Ah, my dear angry Lord,
Since thou dost love, yet strike;
Cast down, yet help afford;
Sure I will do the like.

I will complain, yet praise;
I will bewail, approve;
And all my sour-sweet days
I will lament and love.

Meanwhile, summer has passed with a whoosh, and tomorrow begins another year of school. Fasten your seat belts, folks. We’re leaving behind the castles, cathedrals, teapots, and concerts and traveling swiftly to a world of chalkboards, crayons, math facts, and soccer balls. But who says that the task of teaching twenty youngsters can’t contain just as much adventure and joy as a trip to England?

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