He Sees Us

A few months ago, I was lucky enough to see my favorite singer, Adele, perform in Chicago. Hearing her sing live was, to put it lightly, an extraordinary experience. It was so much fun, and my face still hurts from smiling through the whole show. God has truly blessed her with an amazing voice and stage presence.

One thing that really stood out to me about her show was how she did her best to make the large arena feel much smaller and more intimate. She mingled with the crowd—asking the names and hometowns of fans close to the stage, waving at those high in the balconies and saying, “I see you up there,” and even bringing several people up on stage with her between songs. During one of her last songs, she looked at my friends and me and pointed right at us. Or, at least, that’s what we will tell everyone and ourselves until our dying day.

However, despite all of Adele’s best efforts to make fans feel seen among the thousands, deep down I knew she didn’t really “see” or know any of us—at least not in any meaningful way. I even knew this at the time of the concert, but it was still fun to pretend otherwise.

When the emotional high of the concert wore off, I started reflecting on the experience, particularly Adele’s attempts at familiarity and the fans’ reaction to it. Why is it exactly that we push and shove and scream just to be close to a celebrity? Just to get an autograph from them or a picture with them or a few seconds of them acknowledging our existence?

It is clear that one of the greatest desires in the human heart is to be seen and known, to feel that we are not alone and that we have significance. Our world idolizes celebrities, actors, musicians, etc. Even though they are flawed humans just like the rest of us, because of a particular talent, they become somehow more “important” in our eyes.

Perhaps that is why we clamor for closeness and acknowledgement from people like that—if someone “important” sees us, it somehow adds to or at least hints at our own significance. Our unfulfilled hunger for significance is what drives it all, and unfortunately this longing is something that can never be completely filled by another human. This realization put my concert experience into perspective, and I couldn’t help but find it all kind of sad.

Since the concert and these reflections, Psalm 139 has been often coming to my mind:

O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do. (Psalm 139: 1-3, NLT)

The entire psalm follows this thread of God’s knowing and seeing us. (This is only an excerpt. If you get the chance, please read the whole thing, because it’s AWESOME.) Although it isn’t a dark or foreboding psalm, growing up I always felt a little uneasy reading it. God knew and saw everything? For me, it was like a “He sees you when you’re sleeping, He knows when you’re awake” type of thing, but only a thousand times worse because heaven or hell was at stake rather than Barbies or coal.

Now, as I’ve grown and my understanding of God’s nature has deepened, those verses are some of the most comforting in the Bible. The God of the universe sees and knows us completely. Think about that! We don’t have to clamor for his attention. He isn’t straining to hear us, and His eyes don’t briefly graze us as He scans the crowd. As impossible as it is for our minds to grasp, God is not limited—He can see everything and everyone at once. We have His constant attention and His infinite love.

Recognizing God’s gaze can bring freedom in so many areas of our lives. We no longer have to worry or be fearful, because He sees our circumstances, now and in the future. We can have confidence that the King of Heaven is constantly present and on our side. We also can have freedom from loneliness, because not a moment goes by that His eyes are not on us. On the cross, Jesus experienced what it was like to be rejected by God so we would never have to.

It is true that realizing God sees everything all the time can be useful for correction—I am certainly less apt to do something bad if I know someone I respect is watching. But I believe that when we become closer to God, our reactions to His presence will be based out of love rather than fear, even though fear will always be an important part of the relationship.

He is not a distant God, and He desires friendship more than servitude. I find it fascinating that God still wants us to confess and share things with Him, despite the fact that He already knows it all anyway. And as completely as He knows us, God wants to and can reveal Himself to us through His Word and the Holy Spirit. We can know Him, too. Friendship always goes both ways, and God is willing to reveal as much of Himself as we are willing to seek after. Plus, the more we discover about the One who created us, the more we finally discover who we really are and what our purpose is.

Looking for significance and acknowledgement from mere humans—even one who has ten Grammys—is, and always will be, a disappointment. We must never idolize people or things, because only God can fit that role and only God deserves that praise. Only God truly sees. For me, the realization that the most important Being in the universe sees, knows, and wants a relationship with me is the greatest encouragement in the world.

Renewing the Mind

About a year ago, I began to realize that my thought life wasn’t what it was supposed to be, and hadn’t been for a long time. I thought about God very little throughout the week, besides my quick Bible read before bed to ease my conscious or in church on Sunday. In a way, I was treating God as some sort of genie that I only called upon when I had a problem I didn’t think I could fix on my own. I had an extremely low self-image and a general sense of discontent that I kept trying to fix with worldly things and with my own power and more “positive thinking.” Yet I was still filled with anxiety, fear, and worry. I continually asked questions like:

Will I survive my exams?

Will I ever get married?

What does this person or that person think of me?

If you’ll notice, all of those thoughts were very “self” focused. And the negative, self-centered thought patterns I was entertaining led to strongholds that were too strong for me to break on my own. If anything, all my attempts just made it worse because I turned even more inward to try and “fix” my problem.

Ironically, when I stopped trying to break my thought strongholds on my own, God began doing work in me. Several months ago, I read Knowledge of the Holy—a book about God’s nature and His infinite love, knowledge, and power. It really shook me up and made me aware of my smallness next to His endless magnificence. I mean, I always knew God was infinite and all that, but that book really made me think about it, to the point where my brain would hurt. More importantly, though, it was restoring my sense of wonder.

Then, not long after I finished that book, I read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp—a book about the necessity of thanksgiving in finding peace and joy. This book was life-changing for me, and I don’t say that flippantly. As a Christian, “thanksgiving” had become somewhat of a meaningless word. To me it meant “don’t complain about what you have because someone, somewhere probably has it a lot worse.” It was a burden rather than an overflow of my heart. But Ann Voskamp points out that thanksgiving is the only way to have true joy because thanksgiving restores our wonder.

Rather than vaguely being thankful for everything as a whole, I needed to train myself to be thankful for all things, piece by piece. Thanking God for the small things slows down time and broadens perspective. Soon after I began practicing this, I started seeing God everywhere and His master workmanship in all things. The beauty of His creation was a reflection of His own, infinitely greater beauty. The more I practiced a lifestyle of thanksgiving, the more joy I had. The more I noticed and thought about God, the less I thought about myself.

A renewed sense of wonder about the awesomeness of God and practicing thankfulness in all things started reshaping my thoughts—my mind wandered a lot less and more importantly, I thought about myself less. It was then that I had the convicting realization of what true humility is. In truth, what I had always strove for as humility was actually camouflaged arrogance. In an attempt to be “humble,” I would think and speak lowly of myself—hence my low self-esteem. But as C.S. Lewis said, “True humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” My self-esteem has improved not only because I am less self-conscious, but also because I’ve come to only believe God’s description of me, not Satan’s.

When I believed the lies of Satan, I empowered him. Any lie Satan throws at us has no power until we believe it. And God’s Word is filled with the truth about my identity so I shouldn’t have to believe the Devil’s lies. I cannot afford to have a thought in my head about me that God doesn’t have in His head about me. If I do, I will entertain something that goes against the perfect will of God.

And believing the lies of Satan and allowing him to create a stronghold in my thoughts affects more than just me. When I have low self-worth, I start comparing myself to others. That allows jealousy to take root, and then I’m more apt to be unthankful or to gossip about others. When I gossip, in a sense I am passing on the lie I have believed to whomever I’m gossiping with. Believe me, I understand that for women especially, there is a lot of societal pressure and having a secure self-esteem is hard. But let me tell you—you have captured God’s heart. Look at the way God talks about women in the Word. Look at how Jesus treated women. Jesus was and is the embodiment of God’s will and heart, so the way Jesus loved women is a reflection of how God loves us as women now. And His love is completely fulfilling.

When I began to truly understand just how fulfilling the Lord is, I finally started to chip away at an emotional stronghold I’d had for a long time—my singleness. I’m a little ashamed to admit it now, but in hindsight I’ve realized that often, on a sub-conscious level, I elevated my desire for marriage higher than my desire for God. If someone were to ask me about my singleness, I would say, “I would love to get married, but, until then, God is enough.” I realize now that my way of thinking was completely messed up. God isn’t supposed to “tied me over” until I finally got into a serious earthly relationship. Earthly relationships, although wonderful, God-given things, are not in themselves completely fulfilling, but God is. He is the only one who can fulfill our deepest needs and the only One who will ever know us completely because He created us. When I realized this, a lot of worry was lifted off my shoulders because I have the assurance of a fulfilled life, whether or not I end up getting married. I’m surrendering my desire for marriage over to Him, and I trust Him to work it all out how He sees fit.

And that really is the key to a renewed mind—letting God take over. Romans 12:2 says:

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

In the past, I didn’t “let God” transform me, as my translation says. I tried to do it all on my own. A renewed mind isn’t just memorizing Scripture or thinking “happy” thoughts. It is an experiential transformation that God alone can orchestrate. And that’s another thing I’ve learned this past year—God is everything and I am nothing. I can do nothing from my own power, but it is only though Christ that “all things are possible.”

One of my favorite quotes comes from Major W. Ian Thomas’, The Saving Life of Christ. He says, “If you are born again, all you need is what you have, and what you have is what He is! He does not give you strength—He is your strength! He does not give you victory—He is your victory!” After all, “my old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). I am called to think and live like Jesus and Jesus did nothing outside of God’s will (John 5:30). All believers are called to be the living embodiment of Christ in our world.

Just as negative thought patterns lead to strongholds of the enemy, turning our thoughts to heavenly things allows God to renew our minds. In the past, even though I knew all the verses about the importance of a renewed mind, I was still a slave to my thoughts. I had become content with theory and it just added to my frustration. God calls all of us to go beyond theory and to step into true experiences with Him. Outside of experiences with God, I’m not sure it’s possible to have a renewed mind. We are meant to have a full life here, not just hanging on as we wait for heaven. If I truly want God’s will done “on Earth, as it is in Heaven,” I have to allow Him in to have a personal relationship with me.

There are a few things that I’ve started doing that have helped me strengthen my relationship with the Lord and also helped keep me open to allow God to continue the process of renewing my mind. First, I’ve been trying to spend more intentional time in prayer, especially prayer for others. I’ve found that praying for others can be such a blessing because it helps take my focus off myself—a habit that can carry over into my daily life. Second, reading and meditating on Scripture is so important. God speaks to us through the Word, and the more I read it, the more it will become engraved into my heart and mind. Last, and this is really a small thing, but I’ve found that my thought life is much more God-focused when I take some time off from secular music. I always have a song in my head, and if I’m listening to songs about personal hardships or relationships or anything not of God, that’s what will run through my head all day. But when I listen to music that praises and talks about the nature of God, that’s what’s in my head instead. When I turn my thoughts to things of God, He’s so big there’s no room for anything else.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m still very much a work in progress and the renewed mind is a lifestyle that I’ll have to continue learning to develop over time, but I’m so thankful that I’m not where I was. Each day, we are so bombarded with this world’s attempts to poison our minds. But as it says in Romans 8, we have “no obligation” to do what the sinful nature urges us to do. Just like He is renewing my mind, He can renew yours. No one is too far-gone, and He makes ALL things new. Praise God for that!

 

The Saturdays Between

Earlier this week, I was listening to “Buried In the Grave” by All Sons & Daughters. The first part of that song is about the Saturday after Jesus died on the cross. It really got me thinking—until this year, I hadn’t truly pondered that Saturday. My focus during the Easter Season was always on Good Friday and then Easter Sunday.

But, wow, just think about it. As a believer today, I have the luxury of hindsight, of knowing that Christ defeated death and rose on the third day. However, the disciples on that Saturday hadn’t met the Resurrected Christ yet. The day before, Jesus—the One they put all their hope in, He who raised Lazarus from the dead, their best friend—was crucified.

I can only imagine the range of emotions going through them that day. Grief over the loss of their leader and friend. Shame for sleeping in His hour of need and later abandoning Him. Disbelief that the One who raised others from the dead could die himself. Perhaps even disappointment that He whom they had staked everything on seemingly left them without hope. It probably felt like evil was victorious.

As I was pondering this, I thought, wait, didn’t Jesus warn them not only that the crucifixion would happen, but also that He would rise again? And He did—three times in the book of Matthew alone (Matthew 16:21, 17:22-23, and 20:17-19). That’s not to mention all the prophesies about Jesus in the Old Testament. Despite all of those promises of Jesus’ victory, the Word says the disciples didn’t believe He rose from the dead at first:

“After Jesus rose from the dead early on Sunday morning, the first person that saw Him was Mary Magdalene, the woman from whom He had cast out seven demons. She went to the disciples, who were grieving and weeping, and told them what had happened. But when she told them that Jesus was alive and she had seen Him, they didn’t believe her.

“Afterward he appeared in a different form to two of His followers who were walking from Jerusalem into the country. They rushed back to tell the others, but no one believed them.”
— Mark 16:9-13

However, right when I started thinking, “How could the disciples have so little faith? Jesus told them plainly what would happen!” I realized I often do the exact same thing. How often, in times of waiting or loss or uncertainty or fear, do I give up hope in God? How often, in those “Saturdays between,” do I not trust in the promises of God?

The Bible is full of promises from God. No matter what our circumstance, chances are that there is a promise of God within the Word that will get us through. 2 Peter 1:4 says God has given us “great and precious promises,” just like the one Jesus repeatedly told the disciples. His promises are pure and they are clear. In times when I feel like I am not hearing God’s voice, I need to look to His Word because He says He “publicly proclaim[s] bold promises” and does not “whisper obscurities in some dark corner.” He would not have us seek Him if He could not be found (Isaiah 45:19).

In those in-between times, even when I feel like I am doing what God wants me to do, I have to continue standing on those promises in faith, because the promises are “received by faith” (Romans 4:16). Faith isn’t willpower on my part, but a complete surrendering to God’s will. I also need to realize that everything happens in God’s prefect timing, and some promises won’t be fulfilled until I reach heaven. In many ways, how we handle the waiting is crucial in shaping our faith and allowing God to make us the people He wants us to be.

But imagine how worth it the reward will be for keeping faith in God’s promises! Even as they were dragging Stephen away to be stoned, he continued proclaiming the truth and “looked steadily into heaven.” What was his reward? He “saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand” (Acts 7) welcoming him into the kingdom.

Jesus Himself is an answered promise, and if I believe in Him and the fulfillment of His foretold resurrection, I must believe in all of the other promises of God. When I worry or doubt His promises, I am acting in contradiction to God’s prefect nature. Worry is the opposite of worship. But He is loving and forgiving even when I doubt, allowing me to come close and touch Him, just like He allowed the disciples to touch Him and come close after His resurrection (Luke 24:39).

In John 16:33 Jesus says, “Here on Earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” Because He overcame, we can also overcome. And we have hope. We can stand firmly on all of His wonderful promises. Those promises are what can get us through the toughest times in our lives.

Happy Easter!

Becoming Radiant for God

“When Moses came down Mount Sinai carrying the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, he wasn’t aware that his face had become radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.” — Exodus 34:29

I’ve been thinking about this story quite a bit lately, and the more I do, the more I’m convinced that I haven’t even begun to really live up to my potential as a Christ follower. Since I was a child, like many who grew up in church, I was taught to sing “This Little Light of Mine.” Now, after 22 years, I’m beginning to wonder if that simple song is more profound than I thought. Is “letting your light shine” more than doing good deeds or being willing to say, “I am a Christian” publicly?

Sure, those things are an important part of being a light, but just think: Moses was visibly radiant. Imagine being so close to God that others could just look at you and know there was something different about you. I’m not necessarily meaning it would be great to go around looking like a light bulb. But to have people see Jesus when they see me? I want that.

Is it still possible in modern times to have a Moses-Mount-Sinai makeover? Of course! God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. In fact, it’s probably even more possible to be radiant for God than in Moses’ day, because God has blessed those who are saved with His Holy Spirit.

How? Well, that is what I desperately want to find out. When I looked closely at the passage in Exodus, I discovered two things: First, Moses spent “forty days and forty nights” in the presence of God on the mountain. Second, “in all that time he ate no bread and drank no water” (Exodus 28).

This struck me, because it is a nice parallel to the temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4, where he spent forty days and forty nights fasting in the wilderness. In verse 2 of that chapter, it says Jesus “became very hungry.” However, when Satan told Him to turn stones into bread, He said, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

I’m sure Moses became hungry on the mountain, too, but what was he doing when he was up there? Listening to God speak. He was living off of “every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The Word of God is such a wonderful gift—more life sustaining than physical food—and based on Moses’ experience on the mountain, it must be a key to what I’m seeking. If I want to radiate God in my life, I have to spend serious time in the presence of God, fast, and keep my soul full by meditating on the Word.

Also, in chapter 33 after Moses had spent some time on the Mountain with the Lord, he asks God: “Show me your glorious presence” (Exodus 33:18). And because God “looked favorably on him” and “knew [Moses’] name”, He allowed Moses to catch the tiniest glimpse of Him. That was enough to make His face radiate. To me, that just shows that God will reveal himself to us if we truly spend time with Him and ask Him to show Himself.

However, the presence of God is definitely not something to be taken lightly. The glory of God is incomprehensible and awful and wonderful and I can’t even begin to describe it. God didn’t allow Moses to look at His face, because to glance on the face of God for even a moment would have meant immediate death. We just can’t handle it. Moses only saw the back of God—basically His shadow after He passed by—and that was enough to make the people “afraid to come near [Moses]” after he came down the mountain. He had to cover his face with a veil after that.

So if we are noticeably full of God, some won’t understand. We might—and no doubt will—be rejected for it. But isn’t that what we’re called to do? Here are some other verses I found about “shining” for God:

“Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust Him, and He will help you. He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn, and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.” — Psalm 37: 5-6

“Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.” — Isaiah 58:10

“The night is almost gone, the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.” — Romans 13:12-14

“Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.” — Philippians 2:15

Even if, when we are letting our light shine, some reject us or find it too “weird,” not all will. I want to be someone that others come up to and say, “there’s something different about you. What is it?” without having to even say anything to them.

Aren’t we called to be “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1) for God? We are told to follow “the example of Christ. He loved us and offered Himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God” (Ephesians 5:2). Our spiritual “aroma” or our “light” that shines in the darkness might be offensive to the nose and eyes of the world, but to some, it could be what draws them to the Father.

I know this is an incoherent rambling of a blog post, but I’m just now beginning to study this idea. The more I read about it, the hungrier I become for more.

Thank God for His secrets and His Word!

Gethsemane

“Wait and watch,” is all he asks, eyes glossy like the Sea of Galilee
before a squall. After he disappears into the moonlit night, I lean
against the thick, gnarled trunk of an olive tree, the scratch
of its bark on my back nothing to what would soon slash
the one bent in torment a few yards away. From here,
I cannot see the blood-sweat, later to be replaced
with spit and thorns, marring his pained brow
or his hands raised, offering back up the cup
of suffering meant to touch my lips. Yet
I hear his voice—intimate, desperate,
reverent. He will drink it. He must,
for though I am his rock, the fog
serpents through the garden,
droning a demonic lullaby,
and my eyes flutter. No,
how could I survive
the cross when
keeping heavy
eyes open is
far too
much
for
me?

The Problem with Pride

Arrogance is a big turn off, and, let’s be honest, people can be super annoying, but have you ever wondered why this is the case? Why are we so easily offended and why does other people’s arrogance bother us so much? Until a few months ago, I didn’t put much thought into it and assumed it was obviously the other person’s fault and problem. After all, how dare they think they’re better than I am! However, I’ve come to realize that the fact that I am so put off by other people’s arrogance is a sure sign that I am just as prideful as they are. My pride is essentially the problem, not theirs.

I came to this sobering realization on my trip to England while reading C.S. Lewis (yes, I talk about him a lot). The illusion of the “humble” person I thought I was shattered when I realized how often I am annoyed by other “arrogant” people, a testament to just how prideful I really am. Lewis says this about pride in Mere Christianity:

Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind. Does this seem exaggerated? If so, think it over. I pointed out a moment ago that the more pride one had, the more one disliked pride in others. In fact, if you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask yourself, ‘How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronize me, or show off?’ The point is that each person’s pride is in competition with every other person’s pride. It is because I wanted to be the big noise in the party that I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise. Two of a trade never agree. Now what you want to get clear is that Pride is essentially competitive—it is competitive by its very nature—while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. (122)

I can remember the conviction I felt after reading this passage—a sick, guilty feeling at the pit of my stomach. People were always annoying me—at school, at work, or even at home—and it was somewhat hard to swallow that my “annoyance” was simply my pride throwing a baby fit.

So how do we overcome our prideful/selfish nature? I was reminded of Philippians 2:3 that says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Once we’ve recognized that we are prideful, change begins by thinking less of ourselves and more of others, which is true humility. Far too often, I think we picture a humble person as someone who thinks they are a “nobody” who pathetically bows and scrapes through life. A truly humble person, as defined by Lewis, is “a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. […] He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all” (128).

As Christians, our ultimate goal is to be more like God. We cannot reach this goal if we don’t throw off our pride. 1 Corinthians 13:4 says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” And if God is love, we cannot be envious, boastful, or proud if we are to be like Him and love like He does.

It definitely isn’t easy—we were born with pride built into our sinful nature. And it also doesn’t help that in today’s world we are constantly being told what we “deserve” in commercials and there’s a big focus on the “self”—self-confidence, self-esteem, self-gratification, self-assertion, etc. When we are so focused on our own selves and what we are entitled to, we are more likely to be put off when someone else says something to offend us or when they get something we feel we “deserve.” True humility is not a popular stance in today’s world, but as Christians we were called to be set apart and to “not conform to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2).

We cannot lose heart, no matter how hard it may be or how much we want to be annoyed or offended, because God knows and understands our troubles. The Bible says that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are. When Jesus was fasting in the wilderness, Satan (the epitome of pride) tried to appeal to Jesus’ pride when he said he would give Him all the kingdoms in the world if Jesus would bow down and worship him. Despite this, Jesus overcame, and therefore, with His help, so can we. And just think: the more we let go of our pride, perhaps the easier it will be to love others and their pride won’t bother us as much. How liberating would that be?

One more important point I feel I should touch on before I finish—pride can also taint our worship. It can be easy to be like the Pharisees and to do good things “to please God” in the sight of others and to think “I am such a good person to have done that.” True worship is the complete rejection of self and complete exaltation of God. We need to ask ourselves: “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of God” (Galatians 1:10). Lewis offers this test for checking what our true motives are in our worship:

Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good—above all, that we are better than someone else—I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget yourself all together or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget yourself all together. (124-125)

As I said before, pride is not something that is easy to overcome, and the fact that it is at the very essence of our sinful nature makes me sure that I will continue to struggle with it for my whole life. But the Bible says in Colossians 3:12 that we are to clothe ourselves in humility, so every morning when we wake up, no matter what the circumstances or who we have to deal with, we must do just that. We must admit to ourselves that we are prideful and ask God to give us the humility we need. The absolute worst thing we can do is assume we’ve reached a point where we are free of pride. As Lewis says, “If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed” (128).

Harlaxton Trip: The Final Days

A lot can change in a month. What was once foreign slowly can become familiar, and what was familiar can become foreign. I’d never thought there’d be a day when endless fields of corn would throw me off, but after living in England for a month, I became accustomed to its rolling green hills spotted with sheep, wheat, and barley. I’ve been home for about a week, and I’m still not used to seeing the tall cornstalks surrounding my house when I walk outside. But even though I’m still on a “trip high” and my mind and heart are still somewhat in England, I’ll admit seeing my family and friends again has been great. I just hope they don’t get sick of me blabbing about England all the time. It seems to be all I can think of or talk about.

I apologize for my tardiness in filling everyone in about my last days there. Our final weekend in Europe was probably our busiest and most eventful. I’ll try my best to fill you in on what all we did. Ugh, looking back at these pictures is already making me emotional! Here we go…

As I mentioned we would in my last post, not long after our trip to Ireland, we went to France as a class. Before crossing the English Channel into France, we spent a day and night in Dover, England. Dover is a beautiful port town, famous for its iconic White Cliffs, which I’ll talk about a little later. I was immediately drawn to the town, not only because of its beautiful landscape, but also because of its historical importance. I love history and even considered minoring in it for a while. I am particularly interested in anything related to the World Wars, and Dover has been an extremely important strategic point in many wars, especially World War Two and the Dunkirk Evacuation.
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Upon arriving, our bus driver dropped us off right next to Dover Castle, which was built in medieval times. Because of its defensive significance throughout England’s history—from medieval times to the days of Napoleon to World War Two—it has been described as the “Key to England.” Entrenched into the cliffs with grey stonewalls that have stood the test of time, it was an impressive and imposing sight. When we first arrived, it was cloudy and a little chilly, which really added to the atmosphere of the place, but it eventually cleared up, allowing for a beautiful, sunny day.
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After exploring the area a bit, we went on a tour of the tunnels underneath the castle. The tunnels, which go on for miles and miles, have been around since at least Napoleon’s time, and were used as an underground hospital and Admiral Bertram Ramsay’s headquarters as he directed Operation Dynamo (the Evacuation of Dunkirk) during World War Two. The tunnels were fascinating and I learned a lot, but unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside.
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When we exited the tunnels and stood on top of the hill, we could see for miles. If you looked hard enough, you could even see France across the blue-green Channel. Being able to see France across the water impacted me in a very emotional way, especially after reading about Robbie being trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk in Atonement and all we learned in our tunnel tour about the Evacuation. I guess I should probably explain what the Evacuation of Dunkirk even was. In late May of 1940, Hitler and his German troops had pushed the Allied troops back across France until hundreds of thousands of British and French troops were trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk. If the Germans were able to destroy the troops who were trapped, the war would’ve basically been over and the Nazis the victors. Just as I could see France from where I was on the Cliffs, the troops could see England from where they were stranded in France. I can’t even imagine the torture for a stranded English soldier, being so close to home that you can see it, but yet being far enough away that you are unable to make it across safely.
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Admiral Bertram Ramsay, who I mentioned earlier, was the mastermind of Operation Dynamo—the mission to rescue all of the men on the beaches. From his headquarters in the tunnels beneath Dover Castle, he along with his small staff directed this seemingly monumental task. Using 900 naval and civilian ships under the protection of the RAF, the mission was a success and 338,226 people were rescued. Winston Churchill—one of my favorite historical figures of all time—called the Evacuation a “miracle of deliverance” and ended his speech with this defiant message to Hitler that gives me chills every time I read it:

We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.

Anyway, sorry, where was I? Anytime I start talking about anything related to the World Wars, rambling is inevitable. After our tunnel tour and looking out over the Channel, we explored the medieval tunnels for a bit before heading back to the bus and checking into our hotel. The hotel was right along the water and the big, nice rooms were a wonderful change from the cramped hostels we were used to staying in when we travelled. We walked as a group to a seafood restaurant on the beach after checking in. Do I even need to say what I ordered? We went down to the water when we’d finished eating. It was an extremely rocky beach, which wasn’t too fun to walk on with flip-flops, but it was still lovely all the same.
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The next morning, we got up early, got on our bus, and boarded a ferry for an hour-long ride across the Channel. We stood on the back deck for most of the ride, and it was one of my favorite little moments of the entire trip. The white of the Cliffs against the blue-green of the water and the deep blue of the sky was absolutely gorgeous. Add to that a cool, peaceful breeze and I was in heaven.
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We made port in Calais, and from there, had a couple hour bus ride to Dunkirk. On the way, I was able to take in the French countryside. As a whole, it was fairly similar to England’s—very green with rolling hills and lots of farmland. But there were some big distinctions between the two. Unlike in England, where pretty much all of the houses are made of red brick, French houses are made of varying materials, but almost all have very triangular roofs. Also, the French have their steering wheels on the left side and drive on the right side of the road like we do here in the United States. Oh, speaking of driving, our bus driver got pulled over by the French police for not wearing a seatbelt. At first it was kind of scary, but the policeman was nice, even though he barely spoke any English, and it became something we laughed about for the rest of the trip.

When we finally arrived at Dunkirk, we walked down to the beach. There was a memorial on the beach that we spent some time looking at. While we were looking, a couple who were taking their wedding pictures on the beach noticed we were Americans and their photographer took a picture of us with them. It was fun and embarrassing at the same time. But they were really cute.
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After that, we went to lunch at a little diner on the beach. I had a Panini au poulet—a grilled chicken, tomato, and cheese sandwich. The food was delicious and the waitresses who worked their were extremely friendly and accommodating, even though they spoke little to no English, we knew even less French, and we butchered the French we tried to speak. At one point, we were trying to figure out what was on a certain type of sandwich. Not knowing what the correct word would be, our waitress snorted like a pig to let us know it was pork. When we finished eating, we walked down to the beach, which had much softer sand than Dover’s beach, took off our shoes, and walked around in the cool water. We couldn’t stay long, though—we had a bus to catch to Paris.

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When we first arrived in Paris, I have to admit I wasn’t very impressed. The part of town we were staying in wasn’t the nicest and our hostel itself wasn’t too extraordinary, although slightly nicer than the one in Dublin. But, after we got settled in our hostel rooms and changed to go explore the city, we got to see the “real” Paris, the beautiful Paris, and I fell in love. We rode the Paris underground metro to the area near the Eiffel Tower and ate dinner at this elegant café called La Terrasse. It was one of the more pricey places we ate on the trip, but, hey, we were in Paris! It seemed only right to splurge a little. I had a Croque-Monsieur—a grilled ham and cheese sandwich that is dipped into a beaten egg then sautéed in butter. Yum. I quickly decided that French cuisine is my favorite, since it’s largely comprised of bread and cheese. I probably would’ve came back as big as a whale if I’d have spent too much time in France. We ended our dinner with Crème brûlée—an egg custard with melted sugar on top—for dessert. Can you say “heaven in your mouth?”
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Stomachs full, we walked the streets of Paris as the sun set, and headed towards the park and the Eiffel Tower. A childish wonder filled all of us when we saw it for the first time—it was a lot bigger and much more beautiful than I thought it would be. A group of French teenagers laughed at us and our obvious foreignness when we oohed and aahed as we looked up at it. We basically ran through the rest of the park to get close to it and spent several minutes taking pictures when we got to the place where the trees cleared and we were able to see the whole thing at once. Occasionally, I think it was every hour on the hour, the tower’s blue lights would sparkle, which was an amazing sight. We made it to the base of the tower just in time to buy tickets to go up in it. I’m so glad we made it, because seeing Paris from the Eiffel Tower at night is something I’ll never forget and pictures will never do it justice. I guess I’ll just have to go to Paris again to relive the memory.
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Our next day in Paris was a busy one, since we had to head back to Dover around two that afternoon. We spent the morning in The Louvre—one of the world’s largest museums. It was huge. We could’ve spent all day there and still have not seen everything. It is home to the work of some of the greatest artists in history. I saw the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that I had the privilege to see such iconic pieces of art. I would go back in a heartbeat. After lunch, we used the little bit of time we had left in Paris walking the pretty streets and spending a ridiculous amount of money at amazing bookstores that I practically had to be dragged away from. We spent the rest of the day travelling back across the French countryside and over the Channel back to Dover.
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If you’re still reading this novel of a post, you deserve a gold star and a cookie—I told you we did a lot. But, if you are still here, don’t leave just yet, because I’m about to talk about one of my favorite parts of the entire trip—the White Cliffs of Dover. Just like our first day in Dover, it began chilly and cloudy, but eventually it turned out to be a gorgeous day. We walked as a group at first, and then broke off into smaller groups we walked on. Just like on the moors, I was captured in every way by the landscape. The grandeur of the cliffs made me feel small, but this feeling didn’t make me uncomfortable. It was just another reminder of the awesomeness of our God, and how wonderful it is that He created such beautiful things in nature for us to enjoy.
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Some of the walking trails on the cliffs were pretty rugged and difficult to walk. But the sights we got to see made it all worth it, and I suppose we probably needed some exercise after eating all that food in Paris. I couldn’t tell what took my breath away more—the climb up the cliffs or the chalky, white of the rocks, the varying shades of green of the grass, the wildflowers, and the strong breeze that blew through your hair when you looked towards the port. The writer in me, as amateur as she might be, was inspired. More than anything, I wanted to sit on the edge of a cliff, look out towards the Channel, and write and write and write.
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Unfortunately, or I suppose some people would say luckily, I didn’t have any time to sit and write anything. We had to continue to press on if we wanted to see most of it. We made it all the way to South Foreland Lighthouse, which was closed, and then decided to go back a different way than we came—on a gravel walking trail that went through several fields. It was a nice, peaceful walk, but we quickly realized that our “shortcut” was more like a “longcut” and we had to jump a few fences and walk some pretty narrow cliff edges to get us back to where we needed to be. Oh well, it just added to the experience.
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We left Dover not long after lunch, and headed back to good ol’ Harlaxton. Only having a day and a half left in the manor house, we tried to make the most of it when we weren’t packing up our stuff. We spent a lot of time together as a group. I’m really going to miss us all being together. Everyone who went on the trip was a lot of fun to be around.
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After saying our final goodbyes to home away from home, we left Harlaxton early Monday morning and headed for London. We were all pretty exhausted from all the travel we’d been doing, so our final trip to London was a lot more laid-back than the others. We did, however, do some shopping and visit Buckingham Palace. It wasn’t open to the public and we weren’t able to take obnoxious pictures with the guards, but we did get to get a good look at the palace through the gate. We went back to the hotel fairly early in the evening and spent the rest of the day chilling in our rooms.
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We didn’t really do anything else until Tuesday evening when we went out to dinner together one last time at an Italian restaurant and then to the Globe to see Titus Andronicus. I didn’t really know what to expect. I mean, of course, I knew what the play was about since we’d discussed it in class, but I had no idea what to expect as far as the performance itself. All I can say is wow. The acting, effects, atmosphere, everything—absolutely brilliant. It made standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers in a large group of people for over three hours totally worth it. If I ever have the chance to see another play there, I’d go without hesitation. I’d only hope it’d be a less-bloody play, maybe a comedy, so I don’t have to worry about the person next to me fainting because of all the blood… Anyway, watching a Shakespeare play was a very fitting end to a literary study abroad trip.

Well, that’s about it, folks (as if I haven’t really typed too much.) I could talk about the joys of going through airport security and the flight home, but who wants to hear about that? I’ve already talked about all the interesting stuff. It’s kind of depressing—talking about England in past tense. It’s no longer what I’m experiencing, but what I’ve experienced. I could start throwing out all the cliché things people say to try and describe an amazing experience but I’m not going to do that. It wouldn’t do the trip or how I feel about it justice, and if you’re looking for clichés, I’m sure I’ve used enough of them in my posts. I’ll just say that I feel like a different person after that trip. It has changed the way I look at the world, the way I look at my future, the way I read books, and the way I notice things around me. Whether or not I ever have the opportunity to go back again, my time in England will always be invaluable and one of the greatest experiences of my life. If you ever the opportunity to go abroad, DO IT! I’d be happy to talk to anyone who has questions about it. You won’t regret it.