My trip to Scotland last summer was entirely unexpected and a total gift.
One bright morning in June, I made the off-hand remark to a friend that writing about Scotland would be so much easier if I had actually been there. My current project, a children’s novel set in WWII Scotland, had become a challenge as I strove to describe what I’d never experienced. But I finished my statement with a sigh and shrug. There was no way I could afford a trip like that. Imagination would have to suffice.
“But,” said my friend, “I have a friend in Scotland. I wonder..”
Days later, I found myself invited to three different homes in Scotland with the offer of free lodging, friendship, and all the tourist information I could want. My mom pitched in with a points ticket and within six weeks of that initial conversation, my feet had touched good, Scottish earth. I spent the first few days in Oxford, London, and Wales, visiting merry friends and conquering jetlag.
Then came the day when I stepped on the train to finally make my journey to Scotland. During the whole three hour chug through lolling hills and a sky that grew just the slightest bit higher with every northern mile, I was all ashake with excitement. I have one of those faces that betray emotion (however much I resent the fact) so I know my cheeks were a hearty pink when my train pulled into the final station. To know I was in the country that had fired the imagination of my childhood, kindled many of my stories, and was, incidentally, my ancestral homeland set my heart to thumping. But so did the prospect of meeting my first hostess.
What kind of person invites a total stranger, a wild-eyed writer at that, for a two-week visit? A generous person. A brave soul. A lovely spirit. A person named Venetia.[sociallocker]
I scanned the crowd as I wrestled my suitcase off the train and balanced my satchel on my hip. There, at the end of the platform stood a small older woman who looked at me with a kindly tilt of her and held out her hand as I said, “are you Venetia?”
She was. We shoved my big old suitcase into her little car and I sound found myself chattering away to this lovely woman who took me to her cottage and installed me in a bright upstairs guest bedroom with a view of the changeful sky and the trees in the little garden. “Shall we have mince and tatties for dinner?” she asked as she pulled the door to. Yes. Yes indeed.
The next morning I woke to a breakfast of tea, toast, and marmelade which inaugurated two weeks of long talks, meandering walks, small adventures, long conversations, prayer, and a shared delight in oh so many things. Venetia and I became chums. We cooked big dinners and chuckled like little girls when we had strawberries and cream for dessert…again. We got into a rhythm where I worked several hours in the morning and then we met up for lunch. After a walk, or an hour of reading with tea, we might shop, take another walk up the country road nearby, visit her church, or just go for a drive. On special days we went for day-long excursions to Stirling Castle or the Borderlands (including crazy bus rides and enormous scones). Every night, we had coffee or cocoa, drew the curtains over the windows and talked until we were sleepy.
Slowly, evening by evening, I began to learn Venetia’s remarkable history. Interested in WWII as I was, my ears pricked up when she mentioned that her grandfather had been the British ambassador to Berlin in the 1930s. But that bit was incidental to the story of Venetia herself. Born to a prominent family of ambassadors, she might have expected a life of prominence in London society. But when she was a small girl, she was struck with encephalitis. The illness stole all of her childhood memories and left her with little hope for the future. No one expected her to live. But her mother (who was not particularly religious) showed up one day at her boarding school and took her to a vicar famed for his healing prayer.
From that day forward, Venetia’s life became what I’ll call a holy adventure. Though she has no memories of her life before her healing at the age of fourteen, she told me she cannot remember a time when God was not present to her. Her simple, child-hearted faith, begun as she faced life with the handicap of a severe illness carried her through nursing school and into a remarkable life as a YWAM missionary in South America. The more I learned of Venetia, the more I wanted to simply sit on her couch (or at her feet) and listen.
When she told mentioned, casually, that she was writing a memoir and would I like to see it, I practically jumped. Yes. Now. Please. During my time in Scotland, I had the privilege of reading, reviewing, and slightly editing her manuscript. In the months that followed my visit, I had a tiny part in helping her to edit and publish the book. Now, I am delighted to tell you all that Venetia’s memoir has been published with Zest Media. I want as many people as possible to read her story, dwell with her thought, learn the kind of faith she so simply and poignantly lives.
Venetia is the sort of person who makes you want to love God like she does. Though I know it might embarass her if I said it to her face, I think she is one of God’s dear ones. One of those souls like the woman in Lewis’ Great Divorce who is a queen in the new heavens and earth, we just can’t quite see her crown yet.
So, please take a look at her new memoir. It is a gift, just like her own sweet self.
The Amazon page is here: My Life, Venetia Rumbold
And the Zest page with her profile is here: Venetia Rumbold
Sarah Clarkson is an author, blogger, and student of theology at the University of Oxford. She loves books, beauty, and imagination and wants everyone else to understand why they should too. She is the author of Read for the Heart (a guide to children’s literature) and Caught Up in a Story, an exploration of the way that narrative and imagination form a child’s sense of self. She wrote The Lifegiving Home with her mother, Sally Clarkson, and blogs about home, books, Oxford, and beauty at thoroughlyalive.com. When not chasing doctrinal mysteries down in the Bodleian, walking the meadows, or drinking another good cup of coffee, Sarah can be found at home with a good novel in the red-doored English house she shares with her husband, Thomas.