Paris, part one.

“Just as lotions and fragrance give sensual delight, a sweet friendship refreshes the soul.” Proverbs‬ ‭27:9‬ ‭MSG‬‬

So in the rush of being in Paris for only two days, I didn’t find the time to blog. And then there was the long trek home (7.5 hr flight from Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris to Newark, New Jersey; 2 hours to kill; 1.5 hrs flight from New Jersey to Pearson International in Toronto). And then an overnight at my condo and a drive out to Belleville (reunited with Koski! Yay!!!) and then I’ll to the farmhouse. Our friends from Oshawa arrived a few hours after me, and last night was the first dinner of their visit here.

In all of this there have certainly been free moments in which I could have written about my time in Paris. What there hasn’t been is enough emotional and intellectual energy to put together my blog about Paris.

But now it is just a little after 5am and I have been woken up by the gift that keeps giving after international travel – jet lag. So, in the quiet of this Sunday morning, I write.

Erin Brewster, my friend and roomie during the Wales tour, and I began our trek at Heathrow airport. The tour bus dropped everyone off there and along with a couple of other Wales tour participants, we headed for the Underground station. With the help of a kind attendant, we found what line we needed in order to get to Kong’s Cross/St. Pancras where we would catch the Chunnel to Gare du Nord (a hub station in the Paris Metro system). Lucy and Joan had to be on the same line, but we’re hopping off a few stops before us. It was nice to have a final bit of time to hang out with them.

We made it to our station without incident, and as we tried to get our bearings and find the Chunnel, two lovely English gentlemen ask if they could help us. They escorted us to the ticket area for the Chunnel and helped carry our (ridiculously heavy) suitcases up a couple of flights of stairs. Turns out one of them had lived in the Beaches area of Toronto for a while and was considering buying a house outside the GTA. It’s a small world sometimes.

I remember how helpful the Londoners were the last time I was there. All one needed to do was look a little overwhelmed and someone would stop and ask how they could help. Random citizens, usually. I was struck by average, people taking the time during their busy lives to help out others. It was the same way this time, even though I was only in London long enough to transfer to another city.

Our Chunnel ride was uneventful. I couldn’t keep my eyes open, and it was good to have some time to rest.

When we arrived in Paris, we had to navigate the metro system, find our keys at a little cafe that also housed some lock-boxes, and then find our way to the Airbnb address. It all went smoothly until we couldn’t figure out how to work the front door. But even that was fairly easily overcome (though we laughed about it every single time we came or went for the next two days).

After getting ourselves settled and running to the grocery around the corner for a couple of things, we slept. It had been a crazy, wonderful, exhausting day.

The next morning we took our time getting ready and headed out around 10:30am to walk to the Eiffel Tower and then to the Hard Rock Cafe. Erin loves Hard Rock and does her best to visit locations wherever she travels. I was happy to go along.

Our Airbnb was only about a 15 minute walk from the Eiffel Tower, and we were glad to get to see it up close. Lots of pictures and exclaiming done there. Then we continued our walk to the Hard Rock. It was about an hour from our Airbnb and we took our time, walking along the Seine and taking photos of the bridges and other sights.

We were glad to arrive at the Hard Rock and sit down for some lunch. Fajitas were GREAT after a long walk. We shopped and got some great tees and a fridge magnet for my collection in the shop there.

Then we left and headed towards the Louvre. Without any plans, we wandered around The Tuileries Garden, enjoying the sculptures.

And then the oddest thing. It began with what seemed like a commercial plane escorted by two fighter jets. It was loud, and low, and surprising. I said to Erin, “that’s someone REALLY important to have that kind of escort.” And she agreed. But then more planes with more fighter jets came. After about the fourth or fifth one, I started filming some of them. We began to be uneasy. Erin asked if we could head back to the Airbnb. I agreed and we set off. It seems silly, now, but in those moments we were truly unnerved.

On our own in a foreign land, without a guide or group, we didn’t know what to think or who to ask about what was happening. On the hour-long walk back to our place, we saw military boats on the Seine, heard an abnormal amount of police and ambulance sirens, and then a whole bunch of helicopters flew over in the same direction as the planes and jets had gone. I posted about it on Facebook when we were back at our place and discovered that it was most likely practice maneuvers for Bastille Day (July 14th).

We spent a couple of hours at our Airbnb – Erin napped while I updated Instagram and Facebook – and then we decided to book a nighttime cruise of the Seine. We hit the grocery store for croissants, bread, cheese and wine and enjoyed a feast on our balcony before heading out for our cruise.

It was a rush getting to the cruise (too much lingering over wine and cheese – but when in Paris, do as the Parisiennes, right?). But we made it an enjoyed the sights from the water as the sun set.

Afterward, we stopped at souvenir shops and got a few bits and bobs.

By the time we were back at our Airbnb we’d walked 31,000 steps. What a crazy, phenomenal, beautiful first day in Paris!

I am absolutely delighted to have shared this time with Erin – to discover real friendship where before there had been more of a friendly acquaintance-ship. Traveling together (when it goes well, as it most certainly did throughout this entire trip), has a way of forming a unique and strong bond. What a blessing!

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Two in one…

“I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.” Ecclesiastes‬ ‭3:10-13‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The last two days have been busy. They have included a ride on a steam train, a tour of a castle, an amazing dinner on the waterfront in northern Wales, our second concert, a couple of breathtaking drives through the Welsh mountains, the adventure is navigating two subway systems (London and Paris)that make the TTC look like child’s play, a hunt through the city (which was celebrating a World Cup semi-final win, by the way) to find the key to the Airbnb that we are staying at, and a crazy moment of utter exhaustion and stress in which we couldn’t figure out how to work the front door at said Airbnb (it looked like there was no handle and pushing didn’t work! …turns out the “handle” was the entire doorframe on the one side. 😖🙄😁)

So there hasn’t been time or energy to blog. This is going to be a two-in-one post in order to catch up.

Where do I begin? The steam engine ride was glorious. So many beautiful vistas and great chats and laughter with the rest of the group. Also, we sang part of our train song (“Royal Hudson”) for Andrew, our steward. He told us we should be a choir. Hahahahaaha!

The Castle at Caernarfon (pronounced Ken-AR-din) was beautiful and impressive. Our tour guide was a fount of knowledge with a wonderful dry sense of humour and though we didn’t have time for her to take us through the entire castle, we were glad of what we did get to see and learn.

Dinner at Dylan’s on the waterfront was lovely, though we were all nervous about the concert and ready to get on to our venue.

The concert itself was shared with two other choirs and was mind blowing. One of the two is getting ready to compete in the famous choir competitions they have in Wales. We felt they were ready! Both choirs has about 60 members or more and sang in Welsh. They were also very kind a out our performance. We ended the night singing a Welsh hymn together. That was an adventure to pronounce!!

We got up early the next morning and loaded the bus before breakfast. After eating we got on the bus for the long drive back to London. Most of our group was flying home, but my friend Erin and I were continuing on to Paris. We navigated the London Underground to King’s Cross/St. Pancras. Then some lovely Londoners who had spent time in Toronto helped us over to the Eurostar (Chunnel).

We had an hour to kill before boarding, so it was prossecco and a lovely sourdough loaf in the champagne bar right on the Eurostar track level. Our Chunnel ride was uneventful (just like one would hope!).

Once we arrived at Gare du Nord we discovered the joy of navigating a foreign city in a foreign language when you are exhausted and have ridiculously heavy suitcases! The fact that the Parisians were celebrating France’s victory in the FIFA semi-finals only added to the confusion. There was more than one bout of semi-hysterical laughter.

Our Airbnb host couldn’t meet us so we had a bit of a trek through the city to find the key. But we got it without incident. And then we could t figure out how to work the front door. Sometimes God peals the curtain back and lets you glimpse how truly primitive humans can be. But we were able to call our host and while I’m sure that he now thinks Canadians are daft, he helped us get it sorted. We were even able to make a run to the local grocery for snacks once we’d unloaded our bags. We have free wifi and a mini fridge and a bathroom. All is well.

We can see the Eiffel Tower from our balcony.

Paris awaits.

We must explore!

“He holds in his hands the depths of the earth and the mightiest mountains. The sea belongs to him, for he made it. His hands formed the dry land, too.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭95:4-5‬ ‭NLT

Another unexpected gift of a day!

We travelled to Portmeirion, and spent a good 4 or 5 hours exploring there. The thing I loved about Portmeirion is that the man who designed and built this beautiful village – Sir Clough Williams-Ellis – built it to prove that one could develop land without destroying the natural habitat.

The whole place is built into and around and incorporating the hills and cliffs and forest that are naturally occurring there.

Arriving, we felt like we’d been magically transported to the Mediterranean. We were surrounded by beautiful architecture, and these amazing sand flats at low tide.

After our time in Portmeirion, we travelled to Bleddgelert where we were are staying in a hotel called The Royal Goat, a 17th century building converted to a hotel. Bleddgelert is known as “the faithful hound and his story is told on the plaque pictured (far) below.

It was an astounding evening including the best meal we have had so far (and there have been many amazing meals!), and a walk out to the faithful hound’s grave, in the dying light of a magical evening.

I have been reminded again that God’s fingerprints are found everywhere in creation – that there is nowhere I am as close to Him as amongst the green and growing things, and standing small and insignificant amongst the majestic mountains.

Rainbow days…

“You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭23:5‬ ‭NLT‬‬

One of my favourite Preachers, John Ortberg, writes about the idea of rainbow days: days when the goodness of God seems to overflow and multiply in your life. He days they are rare, beautiful, a little magical and a sign of God’s goodness – just like rainbows.

Today has been a rainbow day. We began with free time in Cardiff – which I spent shopping for a few things to take home with me.

Then we boarded the bus to drive to St. Fagan’s. All I really knew about St. Fagan’s was that it was a sort of natural museum. Kind of like Black Creek Pioneer Village to Ontarians – a place to see how people used to live.

We were all exhausted from the wonderful concert and the party last night. So my friends and I discussed going to see one or two of the buildings and then finding somewhere just to sit and relax in the shade. Maybe catch a nap. Add to the exhaustion the fact that my stomach was giving me some trouble, and I wasn’t feeling overly ambitious about this self guided tour.

But then we began to explore. And we saw some great thatched roof buildings from the Iron Age. We decided to explore a little more and found ourselves walking along a forest path, beautifully shaded and dappled with sunlight. We were talking and laughing and taking pictures. Step by step, we found ourselves refreshed.

After seeing a stone pig stye and a 16th century farmhouse, we decided to walk to the castle. It was about 10 minutes walk, and we were tired again…until we got to the grounds surrounding the castle. We were enamored. It felt like every step you took – it just became more beautiful and more impressive. We were running short on time, and never made it to the castle itself. But oh, what beautiful grounds, what amazing vistas, what a joyful time we had exploring.

We literally had to run back to the bus and we were the last to make it there. In fact, as a joke, our driver began driving away. We panicked and yelled and ran towards the bus and the group had a good laugh at us. (All in good fun – we were laughing at ourselves, too!)

Next we were off to Penderyn Distillery where we had a tour and learned about the Welsh Whiskey. After our tour we sang for the tour guides, and they were blown away by our song.

We started the drive to Llandrindod Wells (I don’t have the faintest idea how to pronounce that! I had to look it up to figure out how to even spell it.). We drove through beautiful Welsh countryside and there was a lot of laughter and chatter as we exclaimed over everything we saw.

We ended the day with a beautiful dinner and then and evening stroll through the town. All day long my friends and I have been looking at each other and shaking our heads and saying: this day has been epic, this day has been amazing!!

This has been a rainbow day.

Common bond…

“My heart is steadfast, O God, my family will heart is steadfast. I will sing and make melody.” Psalms‬ ‭57:7‬ ‭NRSV‬‬

Last night we had the distinct pleasure of performing with the Cardiff Arms Park Male Choir.

In one of the pieces composed by our resident composer (and all around awesome friend), James Brown, are the words, “then meet we as one common brotherhood of peace and love.” As the Great Lakes Touring Chorus, and as the choirs we come from (Brampton Festival Singers, Headwaters Concert Choir, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church Brampton Choir), we often feel this way about each other. We have travelled together, we have worked hard to make beautiful music, we have been exhausted together, we have gathered at table together, we have laughed and talked and just generally gotten to know and love each other well.

We had not met The Cardiff Park Arms Male Choir until last evening. And yet, as we made music together, as we admired each other’s performance, as we shared the stage and the nerves and the joy – we became one common brotherhood of peace and love and music (as our wonderful emcee put it).

Then, we all went out to the local pub for more fellowship, story telling, some singing and a night that none of us wanted to let end.

Music is truly a gift from God – able to cross barriers of time and place and culture, able to bring us together in a common bond.

(Sorry no photos! Too busy enjoying the experience!)

Wondrous things…

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.” Psalms‬ ‭72:18‬ ‭NRSV‬‬

I used be terrified of travel. It was because it takes flight to get anywhere truly extraordinary. You can get across Canada by car. You can get down to the states from where I live by car. But anywhere beyond continental North America takes flight. And I truly hate to fly.

At one point I decided that fear would not be the thing to hold me back. And so I began to travel. And what I discovered is that I fall in love with nearly every place I go. Every new place I travel to is filled with wondrous things. Castles to be explored, great works of art to be seen up close, new foods to taste, new laughs and joys to be shared with friends.

And that is exactly what today was like: we started with a walking tour of Cardiff – seeing the sights and learning the history of this small and beautiful city. Then we toured the museum and saw works by Monet, Rodin, Rembrandt. Then we had a lovely break for a delicious lunch. The afternoon was spent at Cardiff Castle. And finally, a group dinner followed by meeting up with the Welsh men’s choir who we will share the stage with tomorrow.

Wondrous things. From the beautiful architecture, to the truly outstanding weather, to the gastronomic delights, to the silliness of finding new places to pose Fuzzy Angus and a new friend (a red dragon, aptly named Fuzzy Owain) for him to hang out with.

Wales is beautiful and full of absolute joys.

First day…

“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 ‭NIV‬‬

It always amazes me how tough the first day of a tour is. You’re exhausted from the flight, you don’t have enough mental bandwidth for what you are seeing and doing. You fall asleep continually as soon as you are on the bus (at least in my case).

And yet, you’re seeing a don doing thing you may never get to again. We enjoyed bath – both for the site of the Roman bathing house (and the tea we enjoyed there, will live music of course!) and for the beautiful little town of shops and eateries.

And then after a scenic (though I slept through most of it) bus ride we arrived in Cardiff. A quick stop to the hotel rooms to unpack and freshen up and we were off to Pierre’s for dinner. A great day filled laughter and exploration.

So it begins…

“The LORD will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭121:7-8‬ ‭NIV‬‬

First blog. Flight.

It’s 12:52 Toronto time. We are over the ocean, the southern edge of Greenland is north of us. In London it is 5:54 am.

The hardest part of travel for me is the waiting. Once the packing is done, and everything is ready to go, all that remains is a long and nervous wait to begin. As soon as I had called my Uber, I was ready. The traveling part had begun. And though there were still nerves, they were secondary to the excitement of having begun. Of moving forward.

Now all is quiet. My fellow travelers are seeking some rest. I am no longer vibrating with nervous tension. I’m ready. Ready to endure the flight. Ready to begin our adventure. Ready to make more memories and to gather more stories to tell.

I’m always aware of the stories. Already, there is the story of my Uber driver through whom I was able to pass a message to a seminary classmate of mine, whom I haven’t seen in more than 10 years. God is in the details.

And the story of the groom from a wedding I performed last year, who made sure that my roomie for the tour and I received champagne and treats on the flight. God is good. All the time.

I’m endlessly intrigued by the thought that the good you do comes back to you in a thousand ways you could never imagine. I’ve been reminded of that twice already.

Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose.

That was the rallying cry of Coach Taylor on Friday Night Lights, and it fits as the rallying cry of Christians everywhere. Let our eyes be clearly focused on God. Let our hearts be full of the sacrificial, life-giving, transformative, love of Jesus. And we can’t lose.

Amen, and let’s go!!

Above: Fuzzy Angus ready at the door of my condo!

Above: Fuzzy Angus immediately found friends and food and wine at the airport.

Above: Erin and I enjoying surprise champagne on the flight.

Above: we survived the flight! Time to get this party started for real (after a ridiculously long wait in he lineup for customs, I mean)!!

Giving thanks…

On Easter, I challenged myself and the congregation of Graceview, to give thanks. That might sound like a message more suited to a time of year when the leaves are changing and the harvest is being reaped. But the message and the challenge came from a conversation with a colleague in which we both felt that everything – absolutely everything – we have to be thankful about, comes from the resurrection. That moment when the tomb is empty, when life has triumphed over death, when we are reconciled to God, that moment when the world is made new.

Worship was wonderful on Easter Sunday, and then I got some time off to rest and recuperate (Easter takes a lot out of us clergy folk!). And as the week progressed, I realized over and over again how much I had to be grateful for – how many moments in which and for which I could give thanks.

Here are a few of the highlights:

Driving to my folks’ place for Easter dinner with my dear friends, Luke and Naiel (and Koski, of course!):

Easter dinner with family and friends:

Walks with Koski and Gambler and Luke and Naiel:

Singing with Dad:

Celebrating a friend’s birthday:

Worshipping at The Meeting House Uptown Toronto:

And the unexpected gift of spending an afternoon singing with friends:

These really are just the highlights. There were also wonderful naps (rest!), movies enjoyed with friends, some hard workouts at the gym (getting stronger!), Starbucks runs, time to veg on the couch at home, and time to prepare healthy food for the week ahead.

My cup runneth over with good things.

And I find myself back to more normal routines and ready to serve God with energy and joy that only comes from having some down-time.

“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 ‭NIV‬‬

So, quite simply, I say: thank you, Lord.

Risen, indeed…

So here’s the thing: I’m not a morning person. I’ve seen a number of sunrises in my life, but given the option I’d prefer a sunset any day. I admire people who rise early and get a start on the day, but I’m not one of them.

And yet, my alarm went off at 5:30am today. I got dressed, got breakfast into my dog and headed out the door with the things I needed to make it through the morning. I arrived at the church by 6:20am and was climbing the hill in Centennial Park by 6:30am. The moon was still up, and bright, though the eastern sky was glowing with pre-dawn light.

It was cold, and there was a bitter wind that made it colder. But as we gathered and as we began to read the story, as we sung the Easter hymns and the sun shone on the faces of those in attendance – it was worth it. It was not only beautiful, it was holy.

To be there. To be together. To be proclaiming what the followers of Jesus have been proclaiming since that very first resurrection morning more than two thousand years ago: Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!

And that was just the beginning of day.

A wonderful (much warmer and also holy) service took place at Graceview at 10:30am. Complete with a flower cross and a presentation by the children. The music was beautiful, the fellowship warm, and thinking on it many hours later – I just cannot stop smiling.

Once the service was over, my friends and I stopped by my condo to pick up my dog and my luggage. Then we road-tripped out to my parents’ place where we shared a glorious turkey dinner, lots of laughs, and time spent with family (chosen and blood).

I am blessed. This entire day has been blessed. All because He is risen!

The Lenten season has come to a close, the Easter season (50 days after Resurrection Sunday) has begun!