Sunday, January 4, 2015

Christmas in England: Part 1

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" How many times do we get asked that when we are little? The answers are fairly typical: teacher, doctor, President, policeman. But me? I wanted to be the Queen of England. That doesn't surprise some of you at all. But I was serious. It took a lot of convincing by some level-headed adults that one could not become Queen of England unless one was born in England. I was devastated. But that didn't stop my obsession with that glorious country.  I loved the idea of tea and crumpets, of double decker buses, and of-- oh! don't get me even started!--that English accent. Swoon. I had dreams of traipsing through foothills spotted with sheep, of hanging out of a bright red phone booth for a posed picture, of stuffing my face with fish 'n' chips straight from the source. And most of all, standing toe to toe, face to face with Big Ben. All I wanted was to go to England.

As some of you may have noticed from my emphatic and relentless Instagram posting, I just spent 11 incredible, life-changing days in that very same grand ol' UK. From the southwestern farmlands, to the hills of Wales, to the streets of London, to the shores of the North Sea. You'll have to indulge me for a couple posts, because there was SO MUCH to see. But before I get into that, I'd like to tell you HOW this trip of a lifetime came about.

With my first Christmas abroad, I started to wonder what I was going to do with two weeks of vacation. I didn't want to stay in Paris. But Christmastime is a time of being with family, and I certainly wasn't going to encroach upon anyone's holiday traditions. That time was sacred. But you see, God had other plans. He was busy cooking up my biggest Christmas gift ever.

It all started about two months ago, when Emma, one of my dearest au pair friends here in Paris, mentioned something about having friends come visit her over the holidays. She just happened to live on a lovely farmstead in the southwest of England. Somebody pinch me. But of course, I was still guilted by the idea of imposing, so I didn't take her seriously until she started asking me about booking flights together. Oh, so this is for real? Are you sure? Are you positive? How many times do we try to question our way out of God's gifts to us?! Thankfully not enough this time, because before I knew it, I used some travel points racked up with my Chase Sapphire card to book a FREE flight to England. This was really happening, people.

Also in the works was a long-anticipated visit to a family friend, Shelly, who took care of me as a baby. She had married an Englishman and settled in the north of England 20 years ago. I had tried to plan something last year in between school and starting my big girl job, but apparently big girl jobs don't take you seriously when you say you've been planning a two-week trip to the UK? But God knew those plans we had put on hold were about to come alive again. After a little more organization, it was all fixed: I would stay at Emma's through Boxing Day (Dec 26th, also a national holiday in England), then take a train up to Durham to stay with Shelly through New Year's Eve. It was perfect.

Except one thing. I wasn't going to get to see London. And here I have a little confession to make. I am obsessed with London. More so than Paris. Always have been. And the thought of being so close to that adored city and never stepping foot inside, well it just tore me up! So I started to research. First train tickets, then bus lines, then hotels, then apartment rentals, then hostels. But no matter how I tried, I couldn't find a way to stay in London long enough to merit the costs of going. Enter the last little miracle....

While discussing my travel plans with my host family in Paris, I mentioned that I would probably be skipping the London bit, due to costs and everything. Well, don't you know, the family's oldest daughter has an apartment right in central London. Well, don't you know, she was coming home a day before I left for England and just handed me the keys. And well, don't you know, to put the icing on the cake, for Christmas/Hanukkah, my host family gave me money for train tickets, which more than covered all my travel costs while in England.

But it gets better still! Not only was I staying with two families who were entirely welcoming and hospitable, but who insisted on supplying all my meals while I was there. So let me sum this up. That's one plane ticket, two train tickets, three meals a day, and a roof over my head for 10 nights, and not penny out of my pocket. How does that even happen?

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." (James 1:17). God used three families who let their holidays become a little inconvenienced, who really gave beyond the word "generously," who went the extra mile to make sure this ordinary expat girl got to spend her Christmas in the country of her dreams surrounded by friends and family that made her feel like she was almost home. Almost, Mom and Dad :) So here's to the Tomlinson's, the Richardson's, and the Gross's. I could never thank you enough for your kindness. I'm so incredibly blessed by each of you. You really are the spirit of Christmas to me.

Now, wipe those tears away! You're going to want clear vision for my next post, full of pictures of all these magical places. So stay tuned... you'll be chuffed to bits you did!

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