The Queen’s Birthday

Servant Queen

Wow!  The Queen is 90!  Her birthday celebrations began favoured by sunshine on the 21st April, her actual birthday, with a walkabout greeting the cheering crowd in Windsor.  The festivities will continue through May (12th-15th) with an international extravaganza at Windsor Castle and culminate with the annual Trooping of the Colour, or Queen’s Horse Guards Parade, on her official birthday, June 11th.  She’s the Queen, so she gets to have two birthdays (an extra one in case it rains!).  With her entire royal family, she will then make her appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace and wave to the world while the RAF fly-past salutes her from the air.

If you happen to find yourself in London on the Queen’s Official Birthday, expect major crowds lining the Mall where the royal family drive by in their open carriages.  It’s going to be even crazier this year as there is going to be a HUGE block party on the Mall the following day, June 12th!  Ten thousand people (invitation only) are going to be seated at tables and served TEA!!  Giant screens showing the event will be set up in St James and Green Parks so anybody who didn’t get invited to the party can bring their own picnic and join in!  And this isn’t just happening in London.  It’s going to go on all over the country–street parties bringing people together to celebrate Her Majesty’s most momentous birthday yet.

Apart from all the partying, there will also be an exhibition of the Queen’s life featuring many of her gowns and all those hats!  It’s called Fashioning a Reign and can be seen throughout the year at one of her houses, take your pick–Holyrood in Edinburgh, Buckingham Palace in London, or Windsor Castle.  After all, you only turn 90 once!

This amazing lady has been seriously celebrated throughout her life.  There was the Coronation for starters, then three jubilees, over sixty birthday parades, and now this incredible milestone.  At 90, she’s still going strong.  She is still very much a full-time queen, travelling around the country, meeting and greeting people from schoolchildren to heads of state, giving speeches and staying current with the affairs of her government.  She still drives herself around the grounds of Windsor Park, and while she doesn’t ride her horse in parades anymore, she remains devoted to both horses and her beloved corgis.    Undoubtedly, plans are already underfoot for her 100th birthday!  Long may she reign!

It’s hard to imagine England without her.  There’s really no one like the Queen.  She is truly unique, from the matching hats she wears to the fact she is the world’s longest reigning monarch.  Although Elizabeth II is an extraordinary woman in many ways, she stands for something much greater than herself.  She never allows her personal opinions or desires to supersede those of the people she serves and represents as their queen.  It is the role she has given her life to, and to which she believes she has been appointed by God.  When she was crowned, it wasn’t the bestowing of the crown or sceptre that was her defining moment.  She herself has said it was the private off-camera moment  when she was anointed with oil by the Archbishop and given the Holy Bible as “the most valuable thing this world affords.” Throughout her life, she has openly acknowledged her dependence on God to guide her and the prayers of her people to strengthen and sustain her.  She has tried to follow Christ’s example as a Servant King, one who came not to be served, but to serve.  This, she says, has been the key to her long enduring reign.

One can safely say Britain is no longer a Christian nation.  The people love their queen, but very few love her Lord.  She stands strangely alone in this.  She is seen everywhere and by everyone, but she is always The Queen.  She reveals very little of who she really is, except when she makes certain speeches such as her annual Christmas message.  Then she talks about her Christian faith, the gospel of Christ and His message to the world.  Perhaps in Him, she also sees someone who lived for something greater than himself, enough to set aside a crown and take up a cross.

It is unlikely we will ever see her kind again.  Not on a throne anyways.  She has grasped something that only a believer in Jesus Christ could, that no matter who we are, ordinary or great, we are meant to live and serve in this life in relationship with a Sovereign Lord.  No country or place in history is greater than that.

In honour of her Majesty’s 90th birthday, the Christian Publishing and Outreach organisation has published a special commemorative booklet, The Servant Queen, about the Queen’s faith.  Nothing like it has been issued before.  It’s worth acquiring a copy.  You can order it through cpo.org.uk/thequeen.

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Gold Friends

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 There’s a song we used to sing at Girl Scouts camp…

Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver, and the other’s gold.

I love to make new friends.  But old friends are gold friends.  They are treasure chests that get buried sometimes by time and distance.  You may have to go out of your way to find them again, but when you do, it’s like uncovering a rare thing.  You cherish it.

My Lynnie is a gold friend.  We have known each other for something like thirty-six years. She has had a profound impact on my life.  We first met in Wheaton, Illinois when Lynn was newly married and I was still struggling to find my way in life.  Lynn grew up in South Africa and her heart and soul are embedded deeply in that country.  It was Lynnie who introduced me to Alan Paton’s book, Cry the Beloved Country, then the beloved country itself, and finally, my beloved husband.  It was because of Lynn that I dreamed of seeing a country I never even knew existed.  I didn’t know it would become the biggest adventure of my life and that I would end up living there for six years.

When Lynn and Bill moved to South Africa, I joined the airlines so I could go visit them and see Africa.  We went on an epic journey together I will never forget. In my enthusiastic American style, I kitted myself out in khaki safari shorts and hat, just like they do in the movies, and eagerly signed up for a personal trek through the bush with my very own Zulu guide.  As it was in the heat of the afternoon, Lynn and Bill relaxed back at camp.  Every African knows you don’t see any game at the highpoint of the day.  Sure enough, I came back to camp without seeing a single animal and had nothing to show for my bundu bashing but socks needled with blackjacks.  We still laugh about it.  With gold friends, you can make a total fool out of yourself and know they’ll still be your friends.  The next morning, we went out for an early early game drive, the way you’re supposed to do it, and came upon a stand of yellow fever trees.  Emerging through the morning mist were giraffe, moving and blending in mystical harmony with the tall, pale trees.  We stopped in our Hi-Ace tracks, transfixed by the beauty of the moment.  In quiet awe, I had discovered Lynnie’s Africa.

Since moving to England from South Africa twenty years ago, I’ve only seen Lynn on annual return trips.  Now, that she’s moved back to America, it’s been four years since we last got together.  Far too long.  So on my recent visit to North Carolina, I made the point of driving down to Charlotte from Raleigh to see her.  My Lynnie is the kind of gold friend who brings me a cup of tea in the morning and then snuggles in with me.  We went out for tea and pastry later on in the day and talked for hours.  Gold friends know the joy of conversation over a mellow cup of liquid gold.   It’s your time together.  Life may be rushing around you.  But gold friends take the time just to be, talk, listen, and remember.  Because they know you and you know them.

Thank you, Lynnie.  It was also you who introduced me to this marvellous ritual called teatime.  In heaven, there will be the golden glow of yellow fever trees shining through the morning mist.  You will find Lynnie and me drinking heaven’s brew there.  I promise you.

A Confession

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I love New Orleans.  I love it as I love no other city.  New Orleans is altogether a different country.  It’s European, North American, and African all rolled into one American city that shines like no other.

It’s the people who keep drawing me back.  There’s the nail salon where I walked into a chorus of black ladies who told me their life stories while we had our toenails painted.  There’s the bookstore where I wandered in at closing time and was promptly invited to stay for an evening book club discussion of Flannery O’Connor.  How did they know Flannery O’Connor was my favorite writer?

There’s the lone trumpeter who brought tears to my eyes as he played “Amazing Grace” on the banks of the Mississippi.  And then there’s the kind but tipsy gentleman who tried to help me brush all that powdered sugar off my clothes outside the Cafe du Monde.  “Dahlin’, jes look at you!  You’re a mess!”  Where else in the world would you let a total stranger treat you like a little child and want to hug him for it?

Oh, those beignets at the Cafe du Monde!   Clouds of powdered sugar cover the place like nuclear fallout.  On our recent mother-daughter trip to NOLA this Easter, Lyndall’s top priority was getting a taste of that pure heaven of crispy fried dough smothered in sweet powder.  We made a beeline past the sign that told us to PLEASE BE SEATED!  straight towards the only empty table in this most historic of Jackson Square establishments.  A waitress was wiping all the sugar up as we descended upon her.

“May we have this table please?” we asked, all bright-eyed and drooling.

She looked behind her.  “Were y’all in the line?”

“Line?”

There was a line on the other side of the Cafe du Monde that extended all the way down the block.  We had to confess–we’d come in at the other end.

“Y’all are supposed to get in the line,” said the waitress, shaking her head.

But this is The Big Easy.  Nobody gets too upset about these things.

Never mind, though,” she said graciously.  “Y’all are here.  Go ahead and sit down.”

Really?  So we did!  We kept waiting for somebody to drag us away, to yell at us, make us feel guilty.  But no, not in NOLA.  There’s other things to get upset about in life.  Like hurricanes and gun crime and bigotry.

Lyndall and I celebrated Easter at St. Augustine’s, the first free black church in America.  There is a cross there made of chains and shackles once used on slaves.  During the service, we made a human chain of raised hands as we sang together at the end of the Lord’s Prayer, “…for Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory forever.  Amen!”  All of us, black, white, European, American, African, freed from the chains of sin through Jesus Christ.  We don’t have to stand in line for a cup of God’s grace.  He gives it for the asking.

Just another reason I love New Orleans.IMG_5848