Feeling Christmassy, the end is in sight!

Trip Start Sep 08, 2009
Trip End Jun 07, 2010

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Flag of Canada  , British Columbia,
Saturday, December 12, 2009

After last weekend skiing, I felt like I desperately needed another weekend to recover. But no such luck- the new week was beginning, 9am Monday morning. I don't think there's anywhere I'd less like to be- but I managed to drag myself to class and at least be present physically if not mentally. You could say I was sleeping with my eyes open... I hobbled around, bruised and achey longing for my bed! 

But I persevered, confident in the effects of (caffiene + sugar) x lots and sure enough, come the first class Monday afternoon, I was buzzing, and really enjoying the teaching! We had another bigwig, part of the global leadership team, come to speak to us this week about Identity in Christ. He started off the first 2 days teaching about the history of Christianity, explaining how certain Greek philosophies were adopted by Augustine and Constantine, which has trickled down into our beliefs today- the biggest of which being that God rules over and is responsible for everything that happens in the world- which naturally includes evil. So this is where the Eastern religions and Yin Yang comes in- in every evil, there's a bit of good, and in everything good, there's a bit of evil. 

This translates today into some people saying God causes or at least allows world disasters, global wars, starvation, good people to die... which isn't the case at all. Firstly, John felt it necessary to clarify that 'God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.' (1 Jn 1:5) Something that is perfectly good could not cause such death and destruction without being a total contradiction. Secondly, God's caught in a catch 22 situation- I believe he has the ability to stop all the suffering in the world. So why not just do it? The problem is love. 

If you've read my blog from a few weeks ago talking about Ella Enchanted, you'll understand the predicament. Imagine for a minute two of your married friends are fighting. Each time one attacks the other, they each retaliate with greater and greater viciousness. There relationship disintegrates to the point of divorce. You have the power to stop it by putting the Ella Enchanted spell on them- forcing them to do whatever you tell them to do. So you have two options: 1. Put this spell on them, and order them both to stop fighting, start loving, and rebuild their marriage. They snap into action and live 'happily ever after'. Great- but is it really a happy ending if they're being forced to do it? 2. Though it kills you to do it, you leave them to live as free beings, even though the consequences cause immeasurable pain and heartbreak.

Tough situation, huh? That's my understanding of how suffering can exist in a world where God is good, anyway. Whew, heavy stuff for the start of a blog considering I didn't think I learnt anything this week!

The reason for that being... caffeine and sugar sadly have limited effects. The rest of class, I was kind of lost/stopped paying attention. Last week of term is never a good time to have intense teaching- everyone's focused on the coming holidays! So I can't really tell you what else Tom said- but I can tell you about the rest of my week!

This week we played Secret Angels / Angels and mortals. Pretty much Secret Santa for the week, we picked names out of a hat, and then spent the rest of the week giving them little gifts, doing their dishes at lunch, getting everyone to give a certain person a hug, writing encouraging little notes etc etc. I picked Bobby, the staff member who lives above us in our apartments, and got my thinking cap on! I turned up to class (late!) on Tuesday, and found a chair had been reserved for me, with balloons stuck on, along with a sign saying 'Sarah, special in God's sight' 2 mini chocolate bars, and a little note signed by Nathan... either my angel was incredibly stupid, or someone was messing with my head!

I struggled through prayer stations that afternoon- we mainly prayer walked, trying out being a mobile unit instead of at a fixed spot- and felt totally spent. So I went up to eat at chilliwagon, but didn't actually go to the park- not because I overdue some sleep, but because I had 3 assignments due at the end of the week! So I came home, slogged away on my book report (bleugh- all done now though!) and finally collapsed into bed. 

On Wednesday morning, I snuck upstairs and left a muffin and card in Bobby's apartment and when I got to class, I found a muffin waiting for me on the table too, which was very welcome (and delicious!) Wednesday morning class... I wrote a little poem to be read to Bobby at lunch in front of everyone. It was fun to see him squirm! In the afternoon we had teambuilding games- which were fun, but were also intended to create conflict- so we could resolve the conflict, hopefully preventing us from arguing over the same thing again later. Unfortunately we ran out of time somewhat and so never really had a proper resolution... so everyone left feeling a little dejected and less of a team before! But thankfully we're a strong enough team to discuss it over dinner, rather than just letting it simmer. It's all better now I think. Argh I'm babbling again, sorry, my New Year's resolution is going to be to be succinct.

Still, games were pretty exhausting. I figured I had two options: waste away the whole evening because I felt so tired, or try and do some exercise to get my blood pumping again. I went for the latter- and went to a Zumba class with Tanya and Jenny. For those of you out of the fitness trend loop, Zumba is a keep-fit dance class/aerobics, set to salsa and Brazillian music. Very high energy, lots of quick footwork and shimmying! It was so much fun, and a good workout! THEN I was well and truly knackered, so after a quick dinner I was in bed by 8:30pm, asleep by 10pm... and overslept the next morning, waking up at 8am, still tired! (Skiing for the whole weekend was perhaps not the best idea).

I quickly scurried upstairs to make a treasure trail around Bobby's apartment, leading to a chocolate orange (he'd never had one before). On Tuesday evening, I saw some poinsetta's- and commented to Rebekka how I wanted to get one for our apartment. When I turned up to class, there was one sitting on my desk... interesting! So... Thursday was our big day of teaching and I can say I probably heard about 15 minutes of it... oops. I DID manage to start my journal, write my Stop@5 presentation for Friday and draw a pretty Christmas picture though. 

When I got home, I found a bunch of red spray carnations on my bed! There was a little note with them, saying I was as beautiful as the flowers... signed by Taylor. I assumed (and really hoped) they were from my angel, signing other people's names! I happened to be sitting next to Taylor at dinner, and he asked what my angel had done that day- so I joked, well YOU just gave me a bunch of flowers- and he did look entirely flummoxed, so I figured I was safe. 

The next morning we had a bit of a lie in, then got to class for 10:30am. We spent the next hour praying for Canada- we're each leading a session on our home country- which was really about the postmodern view of religion/post-Christian church. It seems like our society is desperately searching for truth- not necessarily faith - but just something that is absolute. Science has long been that answer, but increasingly things we thought were solid facts are being disproven, and we're looking for something deeper than just plain logic. As a Christian, this is where the Holy Spirit comes in, which is good for us, as we don't have to and really can't take responsibility for that other than trusting God to show up and being open to Him working in our lives. So it wasn't really for Canada per se, but it was a great session.

After lunch I had my final Stop@5, which I had put a lot of preparation into. Not in the speaking, mind you, but creating props. I decided to talk about God is my strength and my song. I didn't just pick two topics- they were side by side in the same sentence in Exodus. I thought it was interesting that two so seemingly opposite descriptions of God were put alongside each other. So I made everyone a piece of pink card saying God is my song, and a blue card saying God is my strength, both with two slits in them. The idea being that on their own, each card is just 2 Dimensional- but slot them together, they become 3D. There are hundreds and hundreds of names and descriptions of God- so (before all you scientists shoot me, I know this isn't possible), God is really 300 Dimensional

Then the time came for our big Angel reveal. And I had NO idea- my angel was the master of disguise! While I was terrible, I think nearly everyone knew who I had, and was pretty sure Bobby had guessed too. We went around the circle, each taking a guess at who had been our angel. I guessed wrong twice - and to my surprise, so did Bobby! In the third round, we just revealed who we had, and turns out, Bobby was my angel too!! That was so much fun. The afternoon dragged on a little after that but the weekend has been awesome.

Friday night, after dinner, Rebekka, Heidi, Anne and I went to a Vancouver tradition: The Singing Christmas Tree. Yes, you heard right. It's held at the church right next to our classroom, and has been going for the last 42 YEARS. The Christmas tree is about 50ft high, and is really a giant choir stand, with thousands of lights on it. All these little heads pop out of each tier- about 50 people, and they sing Christmas songs, while the lights dance and make everything Christmassy. But that's not all! Oh no, there's also an ongoing drama, soloist and group singers, and dancing. And of course, audience participation. We started off singing the 12 days of Christmas- with the church (which was seating more than a thousand people) divided into 12 different sections. Our section was 3 French hens- and each time your number was sang, you had to stand up and do the accompanying action. All very amusing and Christmassy!

The play itself tried a little too hard to be culturally relevant for my liking- it followed the story of a family on a farm, who, approaching Christmas, are visited by their bank manager, who tells them he's repossessing the farm and throwing them out - even though it's Christmas. He gets snowed in, ends up spending Christmas with them, his heart is melted by their hospitality and kindness, and so persuades the bank to let them off for the time being. All a bit too much like a Disney film, but it was sweet and some of the singers were amazing. And who can feel grumpy when you're signing/hearing all the lovely Christmas songs... Christmas is coming! 

Christmas continued on Saturday. I went up to meet Anne for coffee and Don, one of the YWAM guys - sorry, I mean Santa - walks in with 3 Victorian choir singers! They sing a couple of carols, Santa gives out a few treats to the kids, and move on down the street. He makes a great Santa, although I'm sure the rest of the coffee shop were either a little concerned for Anne and mine's enthusiasm when we leapt up and gave Don a hug or (more likely) were desperately looking for an escape route to avoid this new form of Santa who goes around giving everyone hugs. 

I then went down to the Christmas farmer's market, where lots of nice food, Christmassy gifts, wreaths etc were being sold. Two stalls really stood out to me- the handmade chocolates and macaroons (naturally!). I had a great chat with Nina, who crafted these beautiful chocolates (see www.mychocolatetree.ca) about how she got into it. Turns out all I have to do is go to the Cordon Bleu cookery school in Paris, be the best in my class, get an amazing internship, do an incredible job and so get offered a job, work my way up and around all the patisseries in Paris. Easy as, eh? And then my second find was *someone who sells macaroons*. For those of you who haven't ever been to Laduree (www.laduree.com), go. You must. I have been despairing at the lack of these delicious mini-meringue sandwiches that melt in your mouth in Vancouver since I got here. So to find a stall selling them made my week. Month, even. (Obsessed, me? Never.) I would have paid whatever she was charging. Thankfully, they were reasonably priced- and while they weren't quite up to the standard of Laduree (frankly, who could be?) they totally hit the spot. Success! I finished my unintentionally French- themed lunch with a buckwheat crepe from this great little French caravan stationed right outside. Mmmm.

I came home and switched to New Zealand. Hilary (a Kiwi) and Mark had invited Jenny, Nathan and I over for a NZ-inspired evening, so I baked a batch of Anzac cookies to take with me. I didn't really understand how special her menu was- individual steak pies and pavalova - until Jenny and Nathan said not only had they never eaten either, they'd never even heard of them. Never heard of meat pies! I tell you, they're living in the dark ages over here. 

Hilary is a fantastic cook, and I enjoyed the pie even more when I realised I wouldn't just be able to pop out to the pub or a pie shop when I had a craving over the next few months. I have also been inspired to educate my fellow Europeans and North Americans on 'how the English' - no, make that 'the right way' - to eat(!). The problem is I don't know what food they don't have until I talk about it- so that's a whole lot of dishes I have to suggest!

Anyway we continued our NZ theme by watching 4 episodes of Flight of the Conchords (an amazing New Zealand comedy show starring 2 struggling musicians, playing themselves.) I know I've said this before but it was so nice to just hang out in a smaller group, and be able to properly talk. I'm looking forward to having an apartment with a dining table/less people in it again next summer!

Then this morning I read the papers online (never thought I'd see the day, but the distance from London-Vancouver makes it a necessity) before heading off to church. When we emerged an hour later, IT WAS SNOWING!!! And settling! Vancouver was already blanketed in snow- I couldn't wipe the grin off my face. I rushed home, had a quick lunch, and then ran outside to play in the snow with Heidi, Taylor, Rebekka and Ancel (hence the pictures). We spent the next hour or so having snowball fights, building miniature snowmen (it hadn't snowed that much!), and making snow angels (my first ever!) Eventually the cold and dinner prep drew us back in, but I've spent the last couple of hours listening to Christmas music just to prolong the seasonal joy.

I wish you snow and happiness (the two are inseparable for me at the moment) for the coming week! x  

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