Sunday, December 29, 2013

To you who are soon departing for London:

from food to places to just plain advice. feel free to skip the boring stuff, or completely steal this and print it out or whatever.
Good Restaurants: 
o   Nando’s- baked chicken- ££ (closest one to Celtic is across and to the right coming out of Russell Square station)
o   Giovanni’s- pasta and sandwiches- £ (on Museum St. across the block from the British Museum)
o   Ruskin’s- pasta, sandwiches, pastries, tea, coffee- £ (30 yards from Giovanni’s and across the street from the church where we had class last year… hopefully you guys will be in the same building and will get to go there a lot and make friends with Ziggy)
o   Fastoche- make-your-own-combo pasta- £ (same shopping center as Nando’s)
o   Pizza Express- better than Pizza Hut and classier- ££ (EVERYWHERE)
o   The café at the National Theatre- the have good tea (naturally) and desserts, and you get a discount with your theatre ticket!
o   Pret a Manger- soups, sandwiches, salads… think of Panera Bread or McAlister’s- £
o   Costa Coffee- coffees, teas, and small yummies- £
o   Caffe Nero- a coffee shop very similar to Costa’s- £
o   Starbucks- they have it. It’s the same as America (except they have FLAT WHITES! Order a flat white, at least once) and not a penny cheaper. Most occasions you’re better off going to a true European coffee house.
o   Pubs- They intimidated me at first, but they’re such great atmosphere, usually good prices and great food as well. One of my favorites was the Shakespeare Head Pub on King’s Way, straight south from the Celtic. If you happen to stop by Bournemouth (on the coast), go to the Mary Shelley Pub!  £-££
o   Café in the Crypt at St. Martin-in-the-Field- Pretty darn expensive for a “café” but you feel so classy and like you belong when you eat there. At least I did. Plus they have GREAT Apple Crumble. ££
o   Noodle Time- If you find one, and like Chinese food, go. It’s so yummy and cheap. £
o   My Old Dutch Pancake- on High Holborn Street, back toward the classroom/west Bloomsbury. Every Monday they have £5 MONDAY MADNESS and you can get a huge “pancake” (think more of a giant crepe) that will probably last you multiple meals. It makes for an AWESOME group outing.  £
o   Gelatorino’s- I hope this place is still open. A LEGIT gelato shop just out of Covent Garden. The Gianduja gelato is THE BEST (it’s chocolate-hazelnut… so it’s basically Nutella ice cream). £
o   Pizzeria Rustica- It’s actually in Richmond, which is a far bit from the heart of London, even by Tube, but if you’re there for a play, it’s THE BEST PIZZA YOU’LL EVER EAT. ££
o   WonKei- Obscure Chinese restaurant in the heart of the West End. It’s down an alley off Shatesbury, but it’s worth seeking out and hitting up. You get a HUGE plate of food for cheap and it’s a pretty legit Chinese-London dining experience. £
o   Gregg’s- a fabulous bakery chain where you can buy a loaf of bread or a pastry or a sandwich lunch meal deal. Superb! £

Tesco, Waitrose, and Sainsbury’s are grocery stores (equivalent to a tiny Wal-Mart, Publix, and Kroger, respectively) and are AWESOME places to get relatively cheap, quick meals- especially their £2.50 meal deal! (well, it was 2.50 when we were there…)
v Boots = Walgreens
v Go to Kensington Gardens on a warm, sunny day (my first time, I went on a [literally] FREEZING, dreary day. It wasn’t too great.) Make sure you make it to the Peter Pan statue!
v Spend an afternoon in Regent’s Park!!!!
v Prayer walk through Hyde Park. It’s really awesome.
v Basically just go to as many parks and gardens as you can.
v Spend a couple hours at the John Ritblatt Gallery in the British Library- it’s up the stairs and on the left. You might cry; I did. It’s just so glorious.
v Get on the tube. Go to Embankment. Turn right out of the station, go up the stairs, and walk across the Hungerford Footbridge. During the day, at sunset, when it’s dark… it doesn’t matter. It’s the most gorgeous view and my favorite spot in the whole city!
v Do the Thames Riverwalk on South Bank. There are lots of families and tourists, which can be bothersome, but if you have a hot cup of tea and some free time (it took me about an hour to meander down most of it), enjoy walking and people-watching and pondering.
v Walk from the British Library (the one with the John Ritblatt Gallery. Also I’ve heard the Reading Room is awesome but I never made it there) back to the Celtic via Euston Road.
v Oxford Street is a really fun place to waste some time on a Sunday afternoon or something, browsing around and window shopping
v Go ice skating at Somerset House- if you can… the ice rink closes before the end of January, or at least it did for us
v Go to the Easter Sunrise Service at St. Paul’s! It starts at 4:45 or 5 AM but is SO WORTH IT. Best experience of my life.
v Spend some time on a Sunday afternoon at Speaker’s Corner on Hyde Park. We did this on a whim our last month there, and I wish I’d heard about it sooner! Really neat.
v Try some churches on your own! All Souls is great, as is the Hillsong London church. I also discovered King’s Cross Baptist Church (google it- it’ll be the first option) which is a tiny church I personally fell in love with. Take a friend occasionally, but don’t be afraid to be that awkward person sitting by herself. It’s worth it… Plus, most churches serve tea & ‘biscuits’ (cookies) after the service and would love for you to join their merriment and meet them. J
v Covent Garden is one of my favorite places to hit up on a Friday night when you’ve got nothing else to do. Grab some sandwiches at the Piazza Café or some of that awesome rice stuff in the giant cauldrons. You’ll know what I mean when you see it.
v Take the tube out to Abbey Road (it’s actually on the St. John’s Wood tube station). Take a sharpie with you and sign the wall at Abbey Road recording studios! Take pictures on the zebra crossing! Feel like part of history!
v Spend a whole afternoon by yourself or with friends at the Imperial War Museum. It’s such a huge part of world and British history and so intriguing, I had to go there twice.
v Natural History Museum- I’m pretty sure I could spend DAYS in there. Enough said.
v It’s awesome to just walk down Fleet Street and ponder on the tale of Sweeney Todd
v Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. Any tourist’s London MUST.
v Waterstone’s book store is simply the best. They’re also everywhere, which is SO handy. Buy classic novels (or really any books) and read them during your tube/train rides. Rumor has it that the Waterstone’s on Piccadilly is where Jane Austen went to buy her books when she was in London.
v The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) has superb “special displays” come through quite often, and all the other stuff that’s always inside it is pretty cool too.
v Primark and H&M are basically the best places to shop. Selfridge’s, Top Shop, The French Connection, and lots of other places have really cute clothes but are usually pretty dang expensive. Primark and H&M had the same (if not better, especially in H&M’s case) stuff for super cheap.
o   And, to top it off, Primark promises there is no slave labor at all in their supply chain, and H&M is working toward guaranteeing the same thing in their second-tier suppliers (the people who supply them with thread/cloth/etc) and it’s already confirmed there is no slave labor within first-tier suppliers. I love that.
v Paperchase and Ryman’s are excellent papergoods/office supplies stores. Ryman’s has all your classroom needs, from pens and notebooks and sharpies to binders and dividers. Paperchase has all the cute stationery and gift bag and scrapbooking stuff. I just love to go in there and look at everything.
v The Foundling Museum, behind The Brunswick (in Bloomsbury), is quite possibly the most emotionally touching/draining museum I’ve ever been to (second only to the Imperial War Museum). It’s kind of a memorial to all the orphans that lived in London when orphans were seen as disgusting… and this house was their safe haven. Go there if you can!
v Sir John Soane’s Museum at Lincoln Inn Fields was one of my personal favorites. This guy collected the most random stuff… including the sarcophagus of Seti I, the dude who was Pharaoh when Moses was born. Just go.
v Possibly the most dangerous place for my wallet: John Lewis. This awesome chain of department stores that literally has EVERYTHING from the most wonderful throw pillows to quaint teapots to ultra expensive clothing to pretzel sticks. A marvelous store but costs a pretty penny.
v Fortnum and Mason’s on Piccadilly is a legend. It’s where the Queen (among other royals) is known to shop from time to time.
v Hit up Bond Street and don’t forget to stop by places like Tiffany’s and Fabergé for the true, sophisticated Bond Street experience.
v Hampstead Heath is a gorgeous place to get away from the hustle and bustle and study or journal or just love life.
v In Liverpool, you may or may not be able to stop at the Anglican Cathedral. If you can stop, get off the bus and go inside! It’s gorgeous!
v When it comes time for your Theatre/Art/LHC papers (ESPECIALLY the Art ones!) Westminster Reference Library might quickly become your best friend. It’s almost directly behind the National Gallery and has so many fabulous resources! Use it!
If you don't have anything to do, don't just sit in the Celtic and wait for someone to invite you along. I did that a lot and regret it now. Take a map and just go walking. Look up what's going on in the city on Timeout London (a FABULOUSLY invaluable resource) and go do something alone or invite others. Don't be afraid to venture. 

1.     USE YOUR STUDENT CARD. USE YOUR STUDENT CARD. USE YOUR STUDENT CARD. Ask for discounts everywhere you go (ESPECIALLY BOX OFFICES)- you’ll be surprised how many places will give you a little bit off if you just ask for student discount prices.
a.     The National Theatre has a £5 Entry Pass special for students where you can get tickets to almost any show for this awesome rate! Sign up early and TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT!
b.     Ryman’s gives 15% discounts to anyone with a student ID card!

2.     BARTER. Especially at Portobello Road, and even some of the souvenir shops in various places around the city- if the owner wants your business, they’ll come down on the price once you say, “I can’t pay that much for it” (I did this a couple times in souvenir shops along Shaftesbury Avenue, AKA The West End or Theatreland)

3.     Don’t let Londoners intimidate you. After home-stay, you’ll be a pro at navigating the city and will be giving tourists directions… but don’t totally give up your map. Sometimes it’s fun to just put your finger down in the middle of the city and find a way to get to where it lands. Also, they’ll probably make fun of your accent or unabashedly hit on you because of it. Sometimes you have to just walk off boldly and let them think their haughty English thoughts. ;)

4.     Walk as much as you can when you’re not with the whole group. Once you get a basic knowledge in your head of the city, make sure one of your friends has a map and start walking. Try to get a picture in your head of what connects where. I didn’t do this until the last three weeks and I really regret it now.

5.     TELL MR AND MRS RUMBELOW TO SPEAK UP. He/she will often be drowned out by the city noise, and people hate to say they can’t hear, then when the final comes none of you know anything from random segments of each walk. Just kindly ask him to repeat himself more loudly. You’ll adjust to the thick accent after a while, too.

6.     There are TONS of free music events on Sunday afternoons. Westminster and St. Paul’s both have weekly organ recitals (go to at least one. They’re actually rather glorious); there are often choral concerts and piano concerts and such on those chilly Sunday afternoons that you really don’t want to study anyway.

7.     GET THE EVENING STANDARD NEWSPAPERS. They’re free. They hand them out outside basically every tube station around 4-6 PM on weekdays. Pick them up and read them. Maybe even the morning papers too. Be engaged in what’s going on in the country and around the world. Play some Sudoku. Become and expert at crossword puzzles and making Boris Johnson faces. Some of my favorite memories are conversing over the Evening Standard or playing its daily Sudoku on a train ride.

8.     Sit in the lobby of the Celtic until 2 AM and bond with the people who become your second family. Not all the time, but let it happen. Those are some of my favorite memories.

9.     A. Wait by the stage door after shows and meet the cast/get signatures. Even of the ones you didn’t love as much or didn’t see any famous names or didn’t buy a program. Always have a pen and just get them to sign your ticket. I wish I’d done that more, and it only takes about 20 minutes of waiting after the show.
B. Go to random plays in the tiny theatres that exist above many pubs (like the Old Red Lion Theatre, just down from Angel tube station). Sometimes they’re the best.

10.  Take pictures. Make videos. JOURNAL A LOT (quick-journaling will become your best friend). Writing postcards really isn’t that big of a deal. Don’t worry about doing it a lot. Watch British TV shows when you’re in homestay. Make dinner for your homestay family (just don't burn the couscous, like I did). Do things you wouldn’t normally do. Go to a poetry reading. Try to step on a pigeon (no really, it’s hilarious). Whatever. Just go find adventure and do it. You’ll never regret any of it.

Basically, it’s a lot of walking and a lot of museums and a LOT of new information. Soak it in. Stay cheerful, guard against complaining, and be thrilled to be on that three-hour walking tour of yet ANOTHER art gallery full of altarpieces and naked people in paintings. You’ll miss it next year.

AND ABOVE ALL: DON’T LET ANYONE TELL YOU WHAT TO DO. Not even me/this suggestion sheet. This is your experience, your adventure, your dream. “Do what you like, like what you do.” Stick to the rules already laid out for you and then just have fun.

"When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." -Samuel Johnson

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Upon the posting of the grades:

I absolutely loathe how easy it is to let numbers define me. For those who, like me, struggle to accept your true identity:
You are more than a number on a scale.
You are more than your GPA.
You are more than the number of hours you spend doing homework or in the practice room.
You are more than the number of followers you have on Twitter.
You are more than the number of likes you got in Instagram.
You are more than the number size given to you by clothing companies.
You are more than the dollars in your bank account.
You are more than any number of things you let limit you.

You are created in the image of God.
You are made to live life abundantly.
You are called to love God, and to love others as you love yourself.

and while we're at it, let's not forget the 'as you love yourself' bit of that.
You don't go around condemning your friends for not getting enough likes on instagram or for not having lost those 10 pounds yet or for letting their GPA drop a little this semester.
No one else is.

You're a beautiful, wonderful, living, breathing, child of the Almighty born to imitate Him.
Accept it.
Live like you believe it- even if you have to "fake it till you make it".

**I apologize for the utter cliché-ness of this post. I do, however, mean every word of it in the most genuine sense possible.**

Sunday, December 15, 2013

/He came among us at Christmastide/

One thing I love but hate about the Christmas season is how emotional it makes me. Mix finals with a month-long family reunion, memories of the past, missing school friends, and all the Jesus stuff and it just gets really messy.
I feel like all the relational/familial emotion stuff explains itself so let's skip straight past that to the Jesus stuff that really gets me.
Maybe it's just me. Maybe it's just that I always drift away from Him while I'm at school. Maybe it's just that I let myself forget, outside of the Christmas season, that Jesus was actually a HUMAN PERSON.
Whatever it is, once this time of year comes and everything seems to hit me all at once, I'm continually a ball of tears.
Today, it finally began hitting.
I went to the Crossgates Christmas program and cried for about half of it. Granted, most of the tears were over how much I wish my family were there with me, or that I were at home watching my church's Christmas program. BUT, there were loads of tears and mascara streaks over the Jesus part.

He, the baby Messiah, was born into a sin-obsessed world. The ultimate Savior- fully God and fully man- came to a weary world clothed as "a little baby thing that made a woman cry" (eloquence courtesy of J. Vernon McGee). The Bible straight-up tells us that He was "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" and that we, the billions of people He came to seek and save, "esteemed Him not" (Isaiah 53).

He's fully God- He could easily have saved everyone from their sins by some awesome loophole and not have had to be crucified and resurrected and so on.
Why? I'm sure there's some great theological answer to this.
My answer: because He's just that loving.
He knew these now-sin-obsessed people He had created to be obsessed with His glory would need something to grasp on to. Something that made Him like them. Something that was more convincing than "just because".
He died because he knew I, Becca Stovall, would be too emotional to handle life on my own. He knew I would need someone who had come before and been familiar with every pain, joy, and temptation that I've encountered, to rely on. He knew my heart before it existed.
That is why He came.

One of my favorite Christmas songs this year is I Wonder As I Wander. The lyrics say,
"I wonder, as I wander out under the sky, how Jesus the Savior did come for to die for poor ordinary* people like you and like I. I wonder, as I wander out under the sky.
If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing- a star in the sky, or a bird on the wing, or all of God's angels in Heaven for to sing- He surely could have them for He is the King."
*(sometimes I like to pretend she says "ornery" instead of "ordinary" here, because it's funny and because most days I'm more ornery than ordinary.)

This song basically lays out my heart's questions. If Jesus ever wanted anything, he could have it. So why did he come to die for poor, ornery/ordinary people like ME? Why did he want to do that?

I still haven't solidified the answer in my heart. I'm still kind of wrung up over the fact that He DIED for little selfish me.
Then He rose again to seek me out and save me.
What a good Shepherd He truly is!

As much as I hate the fact that I am so sinful/selfish/prideful/dirty and He came for me anyway, I can't help but beg Him to keep coming and reminding and redeeming and renewing and doing this nuts emotional thing each Christmas.
Because maybe it isn't just me. Maybe He's moving in other hearts for our good and His glory!

"O come, O come, Emmanuel, and random captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear. Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

O come, Desire of Nations, bind in one the heart of all mankind. Bid thou our sad division cease, and be Thyself our King of Peace. Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by Thine advent here. Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death's dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!"

Maybe the more we beg Him to come, the closer He draws to each one of us.
I'm reminded of yet another Christmas song that states so simply how we should respond to His coming, His Emmanuel-ness, His being WITH US:
"He came among us at Christmastide- at Christmastide in Bethlehem. Men shall bring him, from far and wide, Love's diadem. JESUS, JESUS! Lo, He comes and loves and saves and frees us!…

Thou my lazy heart hast stirred, Thou, the Father's eternal Word. Greater than aught that ear has heard, Thou tiny bird of Love, Thou Son of Mary...

Little man and God indeed, Little and poor: Thou art all we need. We will follow where Thou dost lead, and we will heed our brother, born of Mary."

It sums everything up.
He came.
We worshipped.
He loves, saves, frees.
We responded.
We follow Him.
We love our brothers.

It's crazy to me how much sense it all makes. Despite its craziness, despite Jesus being UTTERLY NONSENSICAL…
It fits.
Mostly because my heart has a that-sized hole that it's constantly seeking to fill.

I pray (literally), this Christmastide that you, reader, remember and realize that He was a human.
He was a little boy who had to be taught to eat and walk and talk and read.
He was a young man who had to learn to obey and follow and trust.
He was a King who came to teach us to live his radical, nonsensical way.
He is still alive- remembering His human experiences and sorrows and being the best High Priest possible for us.
I pray that you catch a glimpse of His great goodness.
I pray that you cry a few tears over who He is and what He's done- or maybe more than a few.
I pray that you experience the realness of The Almighty God, creator of forever and stars and sunflowers and nucleotides, molding your life and blowing your mind and coming like the winter snow to wreck you in the best possible sense.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

blemishes of arrogance

It has been quite a long while since I've blogged, so obviously things have built up over time. Last night came a minor emotional breakdown, during which I wrote in my journal, "I feel like this thing that has built inside me is closer than ever to rupturing, but isn't quite there. I don't even know what the *thing* is. It just is."
it's like this weird emotional/spiritual pimple waiting to pop.
And that's about as specific as I know how to word it.
Among the meetings, the classes, the tests, the projects, the friend dates, the plans, the car drives, the tears, the small joys, the words, the thoughts, the emotions, and the procrastination that has somehow filled this semester, I recently found myself living for the applause. I've never seen myself as one who lived for the limelight or sought out recognition, so it honestly shocked me last night when I realized what my ambition has been for over the past few weeks.
I've been living for others to say good things about me. I've been living for others to love me fiercely before I love them. I've been waiting for my recognition and for someone to pat me on the back publicly. I've been waiting to fit in with the rest of the MC Bubble and telling myself that I deserve to be recognized, loved, applauded, etc.
How arrogant. How sickeningly vain I have been.

Over the past 5 years or so of my life I've realized I basically never get anything I want. And by that I mean I will be wishing for something and then not get it and realize that it was a selfish desire. For example: Jobs (summer camps, summer part-time, etc.), Scholarships (Presidential, outside scholarship contests),  Honors titles/programs (Mortar Board, Who's Who, etc.), Relationships (let's not even go there.), and those types of things. I just never get them.
Basically my selfish desires that I have gotten are: college. London. KT.
The end.
I think part of what makes it so bothersome is that I continue to seek these good things to attain, and then fall short of them.
Not that I'm not grateful- I'm so glad that God knows better than I do.
But it stinks, how much I want these things and how GOOD they are, but then I don't get them because they aren't GOD's for me.

Last night as I was bemoaning how I didn't get Who's Who (and that I deserved that honor and should've gotten it! I'm a good student, I have a great GPA and my teachers love me and WHY DIDN'T I GET IT…) and still sulking over my latest failure in the area of 'love life', God jolted me a little.
Um, Becca. They're all just titles. They're things that will sit on the shelf collecting dust and no one will remember. You have spent your year learning to listen and care and love fiercely. You're still growing, but isn't it better for your heart to be beautiful than for your resume to be?

Thanks for that one, God. Really boosts my ego.
But seriously.
I started thinking about that old song, Legacy by Nichole Nordeman.

"I don't mind if you've got something nice to say about me
And I enjoy an accolade like the rest
And you could take my picture and hang it in a gallery
Of all the who's who's and so-and-so
That used to be the best at such and such
It wouldn't matter much

I won't lie, it feels alright to see your name in lights
We all need an 'Atta Boy' or 'Atta Girl'
In the end I'd like to hang my hat on more besides
The temporary trappings of this world

I want to leave a legacy, how will they remember me?
Did I choose to love? Did I point to you enough
To make a mark on things? I want to leave an offering
A child of mercy and grace who blessed your name
and leave that kind of legacy

I don't have to look too far or too long a while
To make a lengthly list of all that I enjoy
It's an accumulating trinket and a treasure pile
Where moth and rust, thieves and such will soon enough destroy

I want to leave a legacy, how will they remember me?
Did I choose to love? Did I point to you enough
To make a mark on things? I want to leave an offering
A child of mercy and grace who blessed your name
Unapologetically and leave that kind of legacy

Not well traveled, not well read
Not well-to-do or well bred
I just want to hear instead
"Well done good and faithful one"

I want to leave a legacy, how will they remember me?
Did I choose to love? Did I point to you enough
To make a mark on things? I want to leave an offering
A child of mercy and grace who blessed your name
Unapologetically and leave that kind of legacy

I don't mind if you've got something nice to say about me."
It suddenly all made sense. I've been seeking the trinkets, the treasure piles, and the galleries full of accolades.
How pathetic.
My family began reminding me of this when I was home for Thanksgiving (I have been so blessed to be raised by parents who are leaving marvelous legacies), and it all suddenly clicked.
Why am I not thankful for and content with my growing ability to love? Why do I feel the need to be patted on the back and loved first? Simple selfishness and fear.
Fear that I am not good enough or cool enough or lovable enough or worthy or whatever "enough" you want to fill in the blank.

Also, let's address the biblical part of this arrogance and need for recognition. In Matthew 6, God clearly addresses it: "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Matt. 6:1-7, emphasis mine)

Ha. Thanks again, God.
Right in the heart.
Self, be reminded: God is there with you and sees what you are saying and doing. He will reward what needs to be rewarded- you must not seek it out yourself.
In doing so, you are only filling this heart blemish with more impurity to have to squeeze out later.

welcome to midnight.

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