Rainy Day in London Town

So this is what I decide to do:

Sit in my studio, stare out at a cloudy sky, drink a strong cuppa tea and wear jogging bottoms (not "sweatpants"--a dirty word in England since "pants" means underwear) so that my brand spankin' new trousers that I wore without knowing it would rain can dry on the door. The dishes whine to be washed and there are books to read but a moment by the window is not wasted.
It helps me think.

Today it helps me think about the beggers and needers I come across much more frequently in London than I ever did in the States. Maybe because I drove a car in the States and could stare straight ahead and leave the periphery of sympathy when the light turned green?

I was on the way home from uni today when I got stopped by a friendly looking woman who crossed two lanes of traffic to get my attention. I was wearing my headphones so I almost didn't hear her. She wasn't dressed poorly. She wore earrings and average clothes and her hair was clean and combed (the best it could be in rainy weather.) In one long breath she spewed a slew of information. She said she was visiting St. Mary's hospital up the road for someone in her family and she was 4 months prego and she was new to the area and she didn't realize that parking was so expensive and she needed money to park and she's been asking everyone for help and some people were very nice and she already had almost 10 pounds and she was so thankful and sorry she had to ask but she was desperately in need and she could even offer me her mobile as collateral if i could just help. As she said all of this her eyes roved the streets around us, barely meeting mine, and ding! suddenly i heard a bell go off in my head. This was all vaguely familiar. Hadn't my good friend told me about a time she was walking home from uni and was confronted by someone claiming to be 4 months prego and needing help for her car?

I told her I couldn't help her, and here I sit by the cloudy sky and think of all the people I pass every day who claim to need help. As a person who loves Jesus, I've never felt comfortable defining my weight of responsibility towards homeless people, and I go back and forth. This is how the argument goes in my head:

I never feel right passing on by, without so much as an acknowledgement.

But I know that a lot of beggars are more in need of rehab than money, and that money will only heighten their problem.

Who am I to judge? Jesus said give to those who ask, and that's my only concern--I shouldn't worry about how they'll spend it.

But what if everyone had this attitude? Wouldn't the homeless go on living the same life and never get out of their hole?

So is it better to have food on hand or offer to buy them fast food,

or is it better to sit down and talk to them and find out more about them? (which is not always plausible given time restraints--

but in the grand scheme of things, how important is my schedule?)

I should give my money to a homeless shelter so that I know my money is being put to good use

I already give money to people/organizations who I trust will use my money wisely...

And on and on and on.

G.K. Chesterton once told a story about how a beggar asked him for money, and he gave him everything he had. As they were walking away Chesterton's friend said, "You know what he'll do with that money." And Chesterton said, "But Jesus said give to those who ask." The next day, Chesterton received a check in the mail for the exact amount he had given the beggar.

What does this mean? I don't know. I suppose I'll never know what my responsibility is in all of this, because as the world gets older, more people hurt. Even those people we see everyday who aren't beggars, but who hide their bruised hearts behind clean, shiny faces, need our unquestioning generosity. In the end, all I can do is ask God to give me a discerning heart and a compassionate spirit (and maybe to stop spending much money on luxuries like Starbucks so I have more to give.)


American Grub

You don't really know your own country until you leave it. In the same way, you don't really know your country's food until you stop eating it.

When we first arrived in London I was curious to learn what kind of food the Brits define as American. Bad news bears. The good US of A hasn't added much variety to the culinary delicacies of the world (which probably doesn't come as a shock to most of you.) Take this picture, for example. This is the official "American" section of the Sainsbury's grocery shop we visit. On its shelves are red, white and blue colored packages filled with southern fried chicken with fries, jambalaya, cheese and bacon potato skins, chicken fajitas, and crispy coated mushrooms. Other American foods you can find in London include Oscar Meyer bacon (skinnier and leaner than the British bacon, which is labeled "streaky"--a nice visual for my friend Alaina who has an affectionate affinity for pigs), steak, burgers and tex mex. And if for some reason you're crazy enough to crave California wine when French and Italian is just a counter away, you can order a robust Fetzer to quench your thirst.

Needless to say, I'm thankful to globalization for expanding America's taste.


Myself as Character

For the past few weeks my fiction class has been learning about characterization. One of the principles my lecturer has taught us is the need to discover our character's Grand Trio: the character's deepest need, greatest flaw and greatest strength. While the grand trio isn't an end all to characters (there will be times in a character's life when the 'grand trio' seems to contradict itself) these three things are often what motivates a person, whether the person exists on a page or in the real-life time and space of our tangible universe.

Consequentially, I've found myself picking out the grand trio in myself. My strengths and flaws have seemed to change over the years, but I'm fairly certain that my greatest need has remained the same: to be validated. I've always known I was a people-pleaser, but never realized it went so deep--that it's at the core of my motivation. It's as if I've never felt quite good enough on my own and use the people around me as a mirror to gauge my self-worth. When I'm relocated to a new phase or location of life (physical or emotional) I have a tendency to set down roots by pinpointing the familiar landmarks I need--people I designate as my worth-giving idols. I set them as the standard I strive for. And when it's time to move my nomadic life again, I pack the idols in my bag and carry them with me to the next phase of life. It certainly isn't the easiest way of going about life. I sweat and shake under the weight of my luggage and when I finally arrive in my new home, it's too cluttered with chintzy ideals to set up anything of substance. It's a scary thing to acknowledge my fragile dependency; one harsh word or criticism has the power to send my identity toppling to its death. Funny how the things we're most afraid of happening must happen for our own good.

A few months ago the unthinkable happened: I fell. The people I had relied on to validate my feelings, actions, and worth were gone. Some of them were out of reach, some of them disappointed me, but mostly I grew up and realized I had placed my hope in imperfect people and standards. I thought I would lose everything.

As I spun through the air, that's when God reminded me who he was. He told me he loved me and that he always would, and he asked me to trust his arms. At first I didn't want to. I'm stubborn and always will be, and God knew he had to get my attention in a big way. As the ground drew nearer the air blew by faster and one by one he gently peeled back my fisted fingers, asking, pleading me to let go and when we were inches from the canyon bottom I finally did; I let go. I looked down at my hands in amazement and saw that they weren't empty--enclosed in them were his hands, holding me safely above the ground.

"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18


*Girly Shriek!*

Yesterday at the Apple store a woman came up to Jonathan to ask if he could help her friend who had some questions about speakers. Begrudgingly (because it wasn't really his job) he agreed. Jonathan walked over to the man who had a baseball cap pulled low on his head and said hi, I'm Jonathan. How can I help you today? Then the man looked up. The blood drained from Jonathan's face.

It was Antonio Banderas.

Apparently Antonio (he talked to my husband so we're obviously on a first name basis) was really laid back and said something to the effect of, "Tell me: do I really want these speakers?" And Jonathan, being the loveably honest guy he is, said, "Well, no. There are better ones." Afterwards only one person in the entire Apple store asked Antonio for his autograph, and Jonathan was quite proud of himself for remaining calm throughout the interaction. And (this is the best part) Jonathan even shook his hand at the end, which means that I (omg!) have indirectly shaken Antonio Banderas' hand.

If any of you were still on the fence about our move to London, now you can believe with unswerving confidence that all was not in vain.




Plato once said that you can get to know a person better in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. The older I get the more I'm convinced that when both children and adults take time out for play, their lives are richer and more meaningful. I'm jealous of the Europeans who get four to five weeks paid vacation from their employers, no matter how long they've been working. Americans have to earn our fun. What does this say about our priorities and values? Even if we were told to take time off, would we take it? Or would we end up listless and bored and back at the office? I wonder if we've forgotten how to play.

Here's an article in the NY Times about the medical research behind play called "Taking Play Seriously."

Things In General

Things I Miss


Big windows

Singing in a band

Playing keys

Worship at Living Stones in Reno

"Creative Services Dept" chats with Sara M

Natural Skippy peanut butter

Trader Joe's

My bed


Things I Don't Miss


Suburban America

New Buildings


Office work

Gigantic portions

Marginal Faith

Kraft cheese

Healthcare copays and deductibles

Too many sunny days


As Requested, Fiction Part I

A friend suggested that I post some fiction. So without further adieu, here's a smaller segment that might turn into a bigger segment. It doesn't have a title yet. Any suggestions would be appreciated :)

* * * * *

Court was adjourned. Colin sat casually in the fat black chair, legs splayed wide, hands resting on his knees. His face was always so damn calm! And I twittered on a bench on the opposite side of the office like a pigeon, shaky, cold, my fluttery hair poking at my eyes. The chatter in the courtroom behind us grew into a high-pitched whine, and oh, laughing, too. Nothing was funny! I wanted to shout, and I just about flew out the iron-barred window into the blue beyond where lawyers could be angels, perfect, sinless.

Colin didn’t look at me. His eyes were focused on a twisty green paperweight. Intestines? Bent muffler? My head after Judge Anderson finished off my legal career? His office was filled with layers of bookshelves and I wouldn’t have been surprised if one of them opened into a secret storage room where he kept the decaying corpses of delinquent prosecutors. I could almost smell the bodies. Or maybe it was the stench of my own career, rotting away into nothing. If lucky I would survive the Judge, outlive prison and work as a secretary at CU’s Environmental Center. Of course they would be overjoyed to see me, the brainy college girl who had served them loyally as a research assistant thirteen years ago. They would be impressed with my high-powered lawyer status and pay me well beyond the $5/hour salary of an undergrad (unless they asked why I wasn’t practicing law anymore and inquired about my criminal record.)

Why was Anderson taking so long?

I tried to imagine how it would go. He would walk into the office, smooth his robe in that distracting habit of his, and chide us as he looked down his pimply nose: “Mr. Jefferson, Ms. Rivers, I’m extremely disappointed with you . . .“ And I could feel my knees weaken.

No! I wouldn’t allow myself to crumble. After all, what could Anderson do to me? I was a renowned attorney, respected not only in Boulder but also in the state of Colorado. Regardless of Anderson’s decision I would leave this office with my dignity intact. I would remain professional. Colin would go into a rage or argue his punishment, of course. He was no different—driven by his pride just like every other man I’d ever known and would ever meet. But I had presented the evidence. Maybe it wasn’t exactly every piece of evidence per say, but I was acting on behalf of the client. Wasn’t I? I didn’t accept a bribe like Colin. As if his massive mansion and stocks weren’t enough.

Maybe Anderson was discussing my increased salary and Colin’s misconduct with Judge Keller right now. That was it.

Suddenly the door creaked open. I sat up straight.

Judge Anderson entered the room. He walked to his desk, ignored both of us and began penciling something on a notepad. His head was down. I couldn’t tell what kind of mood he was in. The dignified clock ticked in rhythm with his punctuated marks like they were conspiring against us. He wrote for what seemed like an hour. Finally he spoke.

“The O’Neill-Marks case has been extremely difficult. You two know that better than anyone.” He met Colin’s eyes. I couldn’t see Colin’s face, couldn’t see if he was stoic or concerned or relaxed. “You’re a couple of Boulder’s best attorneys. Mr. Jefferson, your career is particularly astonishing. One of the most talented, ambitious lawyers I’ve been privileged to know.”

He paused. Then he turned to me. “Frankly, I’m embarrassed. To see you two turn the courtroom into a mockery, to see lawyers of your caliber jeopardizing not only your career, but also the fragile future of the companies involved . . . and seemingly for your own pride? I have no choice but to penalize both of you. Mr. Jefferson, your misconduct is unforgivable. The State of Colorado has revoked your license and fined you $10,000, an amount you should find fair since it was what you accepted from Greg Marks. Ms. Rivers, your license is suspended beginning today and will last for a term of two full years. If at the end of the suspension term you decide you are equipped to practice again, you will need to contact me and the State will reissue your license. Any questions?”


This was good news.

I could have had much worse, like . . .

But Colin—? Surely I hadn’t really wanted him to lose his license? But what had I expected? Something far less severe, like a fine or a suspension or anything but a revoked license. Suddenly I was fighting back tears and I heard strange words rushing out of my mouth. “Your honor, I feel that my penalty should match the severity of Mr. Anderson’s.”

Anderson looked at me in disbelief. “You mean to tell me that you wish your license to be revoked as well?”

Of course I didn’t want my license revoked! It was asinine and for what purpose? “Yes.”

Colin coughed fitfully; he was as shocked as I was. After all my years of hard work? A few minutes ago I had convinced myself that Colin deserved the worst—and I had imagined Judge Anderson upping my salary. But now Anderson had revoked Colin’s license, the colleague that I had competed and fought and argued with for the last year, and I felt sick. Colin was the better attorney. He didn’t deserve it.

“Well, I’m sorry Ms. Rivers but the verdict stands. Any other questions?”

The courtroom was empty now. I had waited for Colin, but when he didn’t immediately follow I shut the office door and left the building. Was he talking to the Judge? He wouldn’t yell like I had once hoped. He wouldn’t put up a fight.

Outside I buried my face in my hands, completely ashamed.

I’m not sure how long I leaned against the cold cement column, but when the glass door opened Colin stepped outside, squinting in the sunlight. It was too soon because he saw my tear streaked face and I didn’t attempt to hide it. “I’m so sorry, Colin,” I whispered.

He looked at me for a moment. His gray eyes were tired, not fiery like I had seen so many times. His cheeks were pale. I grew painfully aware of our caged status, birds that had been cooped up without the warmth of the sun for too many years.

Then, unexpectedly, there was a spreading of the edges. I heard a jogger pounce past. A dog barked. Cars raced by. I looked just beyond Colin’s ear and saw that in an increasing rush of noise and smell and warmth the world was becoming more pronounced, bigger and livelier. And then I felt the wind blow. It was a cool mountain wind from the west.

“We never did have time to try that new Mexican place on Pearl.” Colin looked at his watch. “But I seem to have an open schedule at the moment. Want to?”


Horns and Stuff

I rekindled an old love last night at the Monkey Chews near Chalk Farm station. The moment I saw the sheet music on stands in the corner, and I'm talking pure, genuINE readable sheet music with notes on staffs and everything, my heart jumped. And then the horn players sidled up to the stage and the electric guitarist bounced his strings and body on the off-beat of the drummer and I was in ska heaven.

It's not like I ever really gave up on ska, I just sort of stopped listening to it. Now that I've had overstated emo rock wearing down my tastes, not unlike the jackhammer outside my window that's been drilling into my brain these last few days (the neighbors next door are renovating) it's like I've been rejuvenated by the mostly happy music played in major keys. I owe my reunion to Hamfatter, an indie band that is apparently big stuff in Australia. By big stuff I mean they get to ride in a limousine to all their gigs. But last night we were privileged to hear them in an intimate room dressed with lamps and mirrors at the top of a narrow set of stairs in a bar that looked like it belonged in L.A. In the spirit of Australia I even drank a Fosters.

Ska. How I missed thee. Welcome home to my iPod.


Outer Walls

I'm constantly confused when I hear people's church stories. Some people have gone to church their whole life and never questioned it. Others were taken as children and hated it so much that when they went to college, gave it up completely. There are even people who sit in the pews week in and week out and would tell you that they don't believe in God anymore, but don't know how not to go to church. I wish the Barna Group could conduct a study to figure out what makes the difference. Unfortunately God made people with different personalities and experiences and I don't think we could pin it down to any one thing.

I'm not sure when it all started, but somewhere along my childhood-teenage path I started viewing church differently. Church wasn't only about eating Cheerios and drawing on children's bulletins while the pastor rambled on at the front. Church wasn't just the place my brothers and I got in trouble for talking and had to suffer Dad's knee squeezes and stare-downs. There was even more to it than that.

I'm convinced that my first impressions of church were a result of my parent's decision to join a "Share Group." The Share Group had Bible studies and social events and even played in a volleyball league. The best part was that they brought the kids along. We got to go on camping trips in the beautiful Colorado mountains and eat good food together and make lots of friends.

Since we attended a large church, having a Share Group meant that we belonged. Here was a group of people that not only believed in the same God but would talk about it in everyday language as if it really mattered. It was worth getting together for it and discussing it. It wasn't just a lazy tradition. It wasn't just words on a page or a liturgy or sermon or hymn or praise song. It was THE thing of life. By joining a Share Group my parents helped teach me that people form the outer walls of our faith, protecting it and keeping watch over it, no matter how dark and scary and turbulent it gets at night.

I remember feeling so secure during that phase of our life.

Sometimes I worry that the buzz phrase "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" has tainted our view of our church body. Of course we do need to know Jesus personally, but that's not where it ends. Our faith is not meant to be hoarded, but to be an extension of Him.

Maybe finding the balance is what makes the difference?


Why the Arts?

“The source of all art is the human psyche’s primal, pre-linguistic need for the resolution of stress and discord through beauty and harmony, for the use of creativity to revive a life deadened by routine, for a link to reality through our instinctive, sensory feel for the truth. Like music and dance, painting and sculpture, poetry and song, story is first, last, and always the experience of aesthetic emotion—the simultaneous encounter of thought and feeling. When an idea wraps itself around an emotional charge, it becomes all the more powerful, all the more profound, all the more memorable . . . life on its own, without art to shape it, leaves you in confusion and chaos, but aesthetic emotion harmonizes what you know with what you feel to give you a heightened awareness and a sureness of your place in reality. In short, a story well told gives you the very thing you cannot get from life: meaningful emotional experience. In life, experiences become meaningful with reflection in time. In art, they are meaningful now, at the instant they happen.”--Robert McKee

A Time to Love (Everyone)

I was pleasantly surprised to read an article in the NY Times showcasing the positive changes in evangelical conservatives. Read "Evangelicals a Liberal Can Love" here.


Lesser Things

Jonathan is suggesting that I write about the violence in Kenya, or the distortion of women's rights in America, or about Free Willy (for those of you who missed the heart-rending whale tale with the Michael Jackson theme song, shame on you). All decent topics, although I'm ill equipped to comment on any of the above and wouldn't want to be reductive of situations that require our prayers. I would talk about Freeing Willy, but I've never met Willy the Whale in person before and it's been a long time since my crush on the boy who freed Willy ended.

So I'll settle on a jumble of lesser things that are running through my head...

Jonathan and I went to a friend's flat in Camden where he's starting a new church plant. This morning it was a small group of people cosied up on couches (mostly Americans, strangely). They served us a hearty brunch and gave us the Word and we met some cool people, too. I left wondering how I can truly soak up the truth that all of us are in God's favor now, and how that should affect the way we live.

Tonight a friend is coming over for a chat and we'll drink wine and make pizza and I LOVE real pizza dough. I've been making all of our bread recently--it's such a fundamental and profound process. The smell of the yeast and sugar dissolving, so potent that I can almost taste the bubbles on my tongue. Kneading the stresses of the day into the dough and seeing the loaves rise high anyway. Keeping up with Jonathan is a bit difficult, considering he went through a loaf in two days, but I don't mind. Food makes the man's heart fonder, right?

Jonathan is sitting on the bed next to me playing guitar and singing. Since I couldn't fit my piano in my bag and am not allowed to use the practice rooms at the University, I play vicariously through him. I love my musical husband.

We enjoyed a taste of my favorite instant tea mix at Whittard Tea Company on the way to Piccadilly Circus. Dreamtime Tea. And I indulged in a chocolate chocolate chip cookie from M and S, too. mmmm!

Jonathan got a promotion this week! He's now a respectable Lead Cashier rather than a Mac Specialist. We're looking forward to seeing how he does.

I have a novel in the works. Agggh! But I feel much more confident to take on the task and figure, why not now?

Amidst all the jumble, I'm thankful that I can take time out to appreciate it.