coasting and sinking, exploring and croissant eating

STILL HERE. STILL HUNGRY. (for adventure but mostly for food that is sitting in the fridge far away downstairs) YES I am still in the UK, visa-less and growing ever more penniless.

But hey, it hasn’t been all bad. In January I was able to bag a £25 return Ryanair flight to Frankfurt to go to see the beautiful Rhiannon in Heidelberg. If you’ve ever flown Ryanair, you’ll know that said ‘Frankfurt’ airport is in fact in the middle of nowhere … but hey, who needs legit airports. Or flights that don’t require you to camp out overnight at Stansted.

A plane and a bus ride later I arrived in Heidelberg for my first ever German experience.

Heidelberg is a university town, and thanks to my lovely friend Rhiannon being a student there, I was able to sneak into a lecture as well as into the ‘Mensa’ (canteen/students’ union).

Here is the view from my position of fraudulence in what many say is the best university in Germany. IMG_4848 We visited the Schloss (castle), which I write in German just because I think it may be the greatest word ever. DSC_0501 The old town was beautiful. DSC_0492 DSC_0499 DSC_0475 DSC_0509 (as was Rhiannon) We also went inside the Studentenkarzer (student prison), where misbehaving university students used to be locked up…. apparently until as late as 1914. Good times. DSC_0477 DSC_0478 DSC_0483 (2) My main memory of this is a German guide joking in English with a group of Chinese boys. Except the boys had no idea what he was saying, so each of his wisecracks was met with silence. We laughed. With him or at him is impossible to say. Food didn’t play an insignificant role in our time … IMG_4867 The same might be said for a very wonderful trip to Paris in February that was possible thanks to some Eurostar vouchers lurking at the bottom of my drawer and the very generous Penelope who let me stay with her. IMG_5038 Back to the food….. Manon and I spent the best part of a day scouting out the best pépito/pain Suisse (the correct name still remains a topic of much confusion and debate) Brioches-suissesR This is not a picture of the actual one (too busy eating) but you can get an idea of why we were so keen to get our hands on the perfect one. I spent the first half of my year abroad from Cambridge living and working in Paris, so was very excited to visit some old friends, go back to my church and just walk in the familiar streets. DSC_0528 (2) DSC_0551 DSC_0558 DSC_0563 DSC_0568 DSC_0598 (2) The 19e arrondissement will forever and always be my favourite. Even if some people say it is a little dodgy. Here’s my old apartment building: IMG_5023 Seriously, the Bassin de la Villette is super cool and Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is just the best. DSC_0536 DSC_0561 DSC_0534 (model Manon) Apéro with my dearest Jemima (who is on the year abroad right now) was a definite highlight .. IMG_5034 .. as was exploring the Promenade Plantée/Coulée verte with Mollie and Penelope, which I can’t believe I had never seen before! It’s like a walkway cum park built on an old railway in the 12e, starting from near Bastille. DSC_0578 DSC_0581 DSC_0582 Penelope and I visited the Musée Cemuschi, which is about Central Asia. Very interesting. And a huge Buddha is always a welcome sight. DSC_0542 It was also very cool to meet up with a friend from USC, Carissa, who is studying in Paris right now. The world is big but also very small, and I love that little fact. IMG_5032 And the best thing was….. the café was just fine. IMG_5017 As you can see, there have been some really lovely moments over the last few months.

But it has also been a challenging time. Being home, doing job interviews (some successful, some not), making decisions about what direction I might attempt to take my life in, feeling distanced from my existence here but also dealing with my life in the States becoming increasingly distant, has been difficult. There were a couple of days that seemed impossible. I love to walk. But a few weeks ago I was sat in the garden next to St Thomas’ hospital for hours because I could not move. There was just pain in my head and my body and a fog over my eyes.

It was one of ‘those’ days.

Thankfully these days they come around less often, and I have been lucky enough to be able to try to glean something productive from them. I was recently privileged to be able to contribute to a really great initiative called ‘This Space’, which aims to provide a range of perspectives on mental health, particularly creative work. If you’re interested in this topic, which I know many people who read this blog are, here is a link to my piece and from there you can explore the rest of the site: http://www.thisspace.org/post/113510079974/over-the-edge

There’s some cool stuff on there.

I’m always very conscious of some of my writing here seeming a bit melodramatic or somehow negative and self-indulgent. Self-indulgent it certainly is, but I want this blog to be a reflection not only of some wonderful adventures, but of a life. Those are the blogs that have interested and helped me the most.

Continuing this thread of introspection…

Since the beginning of the year I’ve been working through a book given to me by a lovely friend in LA. The book is ‘My utmost for His highest’ by Oswald Chambers, a book of devotionals with one for every day of the year. Each and every one so far has been formative, but one in particular stuck out to me in the last week. I guess it was particularly poignant, given my frustration at the seemingly never ending wait for a Hong Kong work visa.

Chambers writes of moments ‘on the mountaintop’, by which (I think) he means moments of insight into God’s love and character and in which you subsequently feel fully committed and connected to God. Lest you want to run away and put cotton wool in your ears to avoid having to hear any more ‘Christian crap’ (been there, still am on occasion), it hit me that this applies to me on levels other than a purely spiritual one. This is how I have been living my life. I am a coaster. (not the thing your mother always insists you put your drink on, that would be a terribly dull life occupation)

(see the whole text here: http://utmost.org/can-you-come-down-from-the-mountain/)

Here is a quote from Chambers: ‘Laziness can always be seen in our cravings for a mountaintop experience; all we talk about is our planning for our time on the mountain. We must learn to live in the ordinary “gray” day according to what we saw on the mountain.’

With what my friends lovingly call my ‘sense of adventure’, I see myself living from one ‘mountaintop’ experience to another. Another far-flung country, another mountaintop. Another exciting adventure in which I’ll surely be ‘living the dream’ and escaping whatever mundane reality I’m trying to avoid.

Not that moving around and never staying in one place long enough for it to become mundane is necessarily untenable. Many people spend their whole life living and working in different places, and their reality is no less valid or worthy than those who ‘settle down’ (a term I’ve long had a dislike for, not entirely sure why) when they’re young and stay put. But is it healthy to be always striving for, almost lusting after, the next exotic ‘mountaintop’? Does coasting from one moment of elation and adrenalin to the next rule out any prolonged sense of contentment and happiness just ‘being’ as you are? I wonder, does everybody live like this in their own way? Are we all living purely for those Friday nights and long-awaited beach holidays, Christmases and lazy weekends? How do we ‘learn to live in the ordinary “gray” day according to what we saw on the mountain’, so that our everyday lives are pervaded by the kind of joy we expect from those long awaited moments?

In case you were getting your hopes up, I got nothing.

One thing I have understood, however, is that my coasting from one far away ‘mountaintop’ to another says as much about my hunger but also doubting heart with regards to God, as it does about my desire to try all the food from all the places.

Moving to a new and foreign place is the space in which I feel most connected to Him. Another place in which I’ll have to start afresh, dig deep to figure it all out, be alone and then make friends, rely fully on God in my isolation and confusion. It’s kind of like I’m topping up my mobile phone credit, topping up my connection with God by placing myself in this uncertain situation.

Not sure this is quite how it’s meant to be.

This doesn’t mean that I intend to stop moving soon. There’s a reason God gives us our individual passions and loves. But my goal is to infuse my daily life, even these dull moments in the grey twilight of a British evening, with the knowledge of God’s character and love for us that I gained sitting on a bench near the Hollywood sign and standing on a snowy beach in Odessa, which is as real in London and Surrey as it is in LA and Ukraine.

Congrats on making it to the end of this mammoth post. Expect something new and equally rambly soon. Possibly election-based. In case we don’t speak before the big day May 7th, use your vote wisely (if you vote UKIP we may never speak again- if this will act as a deterrent or incentive I do not know).

Big love xxx

Here are other random occurrences from over the last few months, featuring Oxford and Cambridge, reunions, a luau, headshots for Tim and gin in a teapot. IMG_5078 IMG_4788 IMG_4794 IMG_4809 IMG_4904 IMG_4916 IMG_4962 DSC_0609

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