This city has occupied a place in my heart for quite a few years now. It isn't necessarily my favorite European city, but it is the one I know best, the one that feels most familiar to me. And I love that. It's such a strange but welcome feeling to feel so at home in such a foreign place.
Leading a tour however, dramatically changes things. Always an artist at heart, it can be terribly difficult for me to explore a city like London without feeling absolutely compelled to do nothing more than stare up at the sky and ancient architecture, stop to gawk at curious street performers, and wander into random bookstores and cafes at will. It's like flipping a switch and turning off the truest part of myself, determinedly forcing focus. But it's good for me. Artistic personalities need boundaries, you see. Otherwise we'd never actually accomplish much of anything. We'd just joyfully wander about in awe of creation.
But leading a tour is about one thing, and one thing only: serving.
You're there to serve this amazing group of people with combined personalities vast as the ocean, to introduce them to a new and different culture, to point out the beautiful and the broken they're likely too excited and sleep-deprived to notice otherwise. You're there to try and answer their questions, lead them from point A to point B, make sure they eat, and cram more into each day than seems possible. You do a lot of problem solving and pretending like you're absolutely calm and confident when you're far from it, and you never under any circumstance let them see the constant craziness you're frantically sorting out while they laugh and chat and sip steaming lattes. You don't sleep much, you try to eat on occasion, and you pray. A lot. In fact sometimes you downright beg for help from heaven because you find yourself in positions you cannot sort our on your own. And to top it all off, you try to make each individual person with their unique preferences and travel styles, their own intentions and desires for this trip...happy. Imagine that, trying to make 26 unique individuals happy in a foreign city on super-tight schedule. Not a simple task, but it's the one you sign up for, and you make it your priority every single day knowing from the get-go how close to impossible it is.
It's far from easy. It's oh-so-difficult. Butit's an honor.
And aside from my endlessly-wandering-about-enamored-with-life-let's-just-stop-and-savor-this-moment-mentality...I also have to battle all of my personal concerns: How will I get enough sleep? How will I function when I know I won't sleep? How will I avoid gluten? How will I eat if there's nothing gluten-free? How will I function if I'm not eating? How will I function if I'm not eating or sleeping? How will I lead a group of strangers through a hectic city when I've not eaten or rested? When will I shower? Will I shower? How will I get thru the tube system without losing half my group when I haven't eaten or slept or showered? How will I...how will I...how will I... You see how concerning this can be ;-)
So in advance, you choose to surrender. For days leading up to my departure date I meditate on a single promise: He will perfect that which concerns me. He will perfect everything that concerns me. Psalm 138 (In other words, red berries. As always, they'll find me.)
I was reminded of this truth over and over from the moment I boarded my plane to delightfully find I had two seats all to myself and would actually get to sleep on the dreaded transatlantic flight... He will perfect that which concerns me.
When catching a cab to my hotel, concerned I didn't have enough cash to pay the driver, watching the meter creep higher and higher still miles from the hotel I finally asked him to drop me saying I'd walk the rest, to which he replied, "You're nice. I appreciate nice people. I'll drop you at the door, no worries." He will perfect that which concerns me.
When I couldn't check in because my room wouldn't be ready for several hours and there was no luggage room to store my belongings, suddenly the maid walked by and announced she'd clean my room next if I'd like... He will perfect that which concerns me.
When I was entirely too exhausted to catch the tube to Whole Foods to pick up a few groceries, I round the corner mere steps from my hotel and stumble upon the most beautiful organic market, shelves bursting with gluten-free goodies... He will perfect that which concerns me.
When a creepy Italian guy started following me and I couldn't get rid of him for anything until suddenly a look of horror crossed his face and he violently took off as if on fire, as if angelic beings had just appeared flanking me on either side... He will perfect that which concerns me.
At every turn, at every simple and sometimes grave concern, He met me. And because of His care and provision for the simple things that matter so greatly to me, I was able to shelf my own concerns and focus solely on my group.
So back to that...
In a matter of three days we saw Big Ben, parliament, Westminster Abbey. We strolled St. James park, Buckingham Palace, milled about at Trafalgar Square. We listened to violins and cellos at St. Martins in the field, gawked at a few paintings at the National Gallery. We rode a boat down the Thames in morning sun, explored the Tower of London, St. Paul's Cathedral, Shakespear's Globe Theatre, Millennium Bridge and the London Eye. We walked the historic East End, browsed the stalls at Spitalfield's market, worshipped together at Hillsong, and listened to a wonderful man share his heart concerning the homeless of the city. And every evening we shared meals and devotions, crawled into bed entirely exhausted, and prayed fervently that our alarms wouldn't fail us in the a.m.
It was glorious.
There's entirely too much to share in a single post, so today I wanted simply to introduce you to my darling group and let you know that over the next few days I'll be sharing photos and tidbits of this and that from England to Scotland and everywhere in between. Bath, Oxford, Grasmere and the Lake District, Stirling, St. Andrews... The music of bagpipes, sweet moments of realization, trying not to fall asleep on the coach, and the best gluten-free pizza I've ever tasted... Farm to table restaurants and markets, a delightful vinegar tasting, the most perfect coffee shop in existence, the most perfect thrift shop in existence... Weird encounters, a blissful meeting of souls, converted cathedrals, and even Josh in a kilt... ;-)
Stay tuned my friends, there's much to come.