Sunday, January 02, 2011

Los Angeles, London and Livingstone

The weeks of December were remarkable and amazing for Older Daughter, as well as for the rest of our family. She left Los Angeles, stopped over in London, England, stopped again in Johannesburg, South Africa, and then landed in Livingstone, Zambia. All at the ripe old age of 19. When I was 19 and in college, I worked in a luggage store at the mall before Christmas. My dreams of a great journey were to go someday to Hawaii. My, how expectations and times have changed.

London, Los Angeles, Livingstone, three such distinct and different places. Yet, for this girl, three cities now connected by new adventures, memories, friends, and also now a bigger sense of this remarkable world. Definitely a different sense of the contrasts of life than her Dad possessed at 19 years old.

On her way home on December 18th, Older Daughter was caught surprised and unprepared by a massive (read: 5” in several hours) snow storm in London, grounding the final leg of her flight home to Los Angeles. Heathrow in disarray, stranded in London, without luggage, and wearing only sweats and Tom’s shoes, she spent the next 72 hours improvising a new wardrobe, worrying about getting home, but also enjoying the snowy sights of historic and beautiful city. London in the snow, at Christmastide! She made it home, via Houston, on the 21st; it was the best Christmas present of the year for our family. Her smile on our doorstep will not quickly be forgotten.

Given these events, the past several days have had me reflecting on these three places; London, Los Angeles, and Livingstone. After seeing the pictures of my daughter in England and Africa, so very far from home, and then spending time talking with her here, I have been wondering a lot. I have been thinking about these cities so distant from one another; not only in miles, but in also in time, in condition, and in need of our attention and prayer. Each city, so different, each so much in need.

Los Angeles, the city next to our home town, and by default, part of our greater home for many years. Unlimited sunshine, crowded freeways, fantasies and dreams, and hopes of fame and fortune. Millions, teaming back and forth on the freeways, isolated most of the time, one to a car, rushing forward. People come here from all around the world, hoping to find their future, to meet their imaginings. And yet the streets are not lined with gold here, but often with disappointment and frequent sorrow.

London, that foggy and snowy ancient Roman city. The city of Lords and Ladies, of Parliament and palaces, of history and gravity. Of Browning, and Dickens, Churchill and Montgomery. The cultural center of the British Isles, the center of the former British Empire.

And then there is Livingstone, the former center of trade in Northwest Rhodesia from the late 1800s that is now struggling to find its way, as is so much of Africa. A continent seemingly out of time. A place of the beauty of Victoria Falls, and the sadness of tribal poverty and the ravages of AIDS. A place the world visits, to see majestic animals on luxury safaris, and yet the same place suffering from global benign neglects. But as Kelly’s photos and stories have so strikingly shown us, Livingstone is so much more than a place or its history. For her, it was personal. It was real. Dusty, barely adequate classrooms and a school yard full of children, smiling, laughing, and being given a chance at a better life; something we take for granted here in Los Angeles, or in there in London.

And this girl, for her college Christmas break, decided she wanted to go. To go from here to there, across the world. Los Angeles to Livingstone, with an unexpected snowy stop in London on the way home. What motivated her to do this? Livingstone is a place of history and discovery, connected to London in a fascinating way – in that David Livingstone’s body is interred in Westminster Abbey. But not all of his body. The African natives, to whom he had become so close, cut out his heart, leaving a note on the body that read, "You can have his body, but his heart belongs in Africa!" Livingstone’s heart remains buried in Northern Zambia, near the place where he died. I wonder, where is my heart, even today? And where do I want my heart to be hidden, both now, and someday?

These past weeks, I have been thinking about what seems to me to be the only thing, the only event, that can unite the people of these distant and disparate cities. An event that occurred in obscurity more than two hundred centuries ago, in a dusty village in the middle of, well, nowhere.

At that single birth, everything changed.  Time was carved in two.  For everyone, forever.  For countless thousands alone with their thoughts on Los Angeles freeways, for the masses riding the London tube, and for the dusty streets of Livingstone.  All these places, given a chance again. Given hope. Christmas hope, across continents, and time zones, and time itself.

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.
Luke 2:6-7 (The Message)

The Road Home - Stephen Paulus

May 2011 be a year of new blessing, abundant life, and time to reflect on what it all means. And, above it all, may you find your way.... home.

The Road Home

Tell me, where is the road
I can call my own,
That I left, that I lost
So long ago?
All these years I have wandered,
Oh when will I know
There’s a way, there’s a road
That will lead me home?

After wind, after rain,
When the dark is done,
As I wake from a dream
In the gold of day,
Through the air there’s a calling
From far away,
There’s a voice I can hear
That will lead me home.

Rise up, follow me,
Come away, is the call,
With the love in your heart
As the only song;
There is no such beauty
As where you belong;
Rise up, follow me,
I will lead you home.
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