Friday, October 29, 2010

Camp des Cimes

Yesterday we drove down to the French Alps, where we have a retreat with the GEM France Team. Besides anticipating a great time of teaching, training, and renewal, we have also been preparing. We Williamsons are leading worship for the weekend.

The retreat officially begins tonight, so while we did spend a great deal of time on sound checks and rehearsals, we also took a break and drove up to the nearby ski resort for lunch.

It was one of those heart-stopping, white-knuckle drives that twists and turns. Much of the road was only wide enough for one car, but that didn't stop traffic from moving both ways. Our car clung to the sides of cliffs in stellar fashion and by the time we arrived in this charming town--Les Deux Alps--we had worked up quite an appetite.

Our lunch was so quintessentially French that it took us a full hour and a half to consume it. And yes, we ate outside! The weather was absolutely gorgeous, probably 52 degrees. We did see some skiers and there was snow up on the top, but the full resort doesn't open for another month.

The Fall colors were incredible and we were fully inspired for the evening of praise and worship that lies ahead.

But lest you believe that I am living in a world of pure beauty, let me remind you that every rose has its thorn. Our thorn...brace yourselves...was NOT pretty.

First, here is our cozy room. We are tucked high in a chalet, and I was happily making our beds when...

I spotted a black spot on my bed. I looked closer, and to my great dismay, I discovered that the small spot was...

rodent poop, or as one might say in French, le petit souris caca. I was told by the camp director that it was not rat poop, however, but "mountain squirrel." Whatever. As far as I am concerned, that is just a yodeling rodent. And while I am not fond of feces, I was more concerned about meeting its maker.

Oh, but I did finally get to sleep. In fact it was not furry thoughts that made sleep a challenge, but a noisy heater. Still, even a rough night's sleep is of little importance when you get to wake up to this:

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Louvre

This week and half of next week we are on "les vacances"--which means none of us have school. We took advantage of this wonderful break by spending Monday in Paris. To get there, we walked about half a kilometer from our apartment to nearest the train stop, hopped on a train, and arrived at Notre Dame 30 minutes later.

After hitting our favorite crepe stand for lunch, we decided to take the boys on their first visit to the Louvre. We began at Greek Sculptures:

Here I am with my VERY FAVORITE exhibit in the entire Museum. I have never studied art, and I had never seen a photo or even heard of this sculpture before seeing it in person. Yet, the first time I went to the Louvre--when I turned a corner and found myself face to face with Winged Victory, it literally took my breath away. I gasped, and then whispered to David in reverent tones, "What is that?" Though I had seen the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and countless other famous works of art that day, none had elicited an emotional response from me. For the first time in my life I understood the power of art.

Though Winged Victory is very famous, my first encounter with this sculpture changed that way the I explored the Louvre, or any museum for that matter. I no longer go looking for all the works that others have made famous. I now look for the works that stir me. Here are just a few of the paintings that caught my eye today. Some are wildly famous, others rather obscure, all of them moved me in one way or another.

There is something awesome about spending the day with masterpieces. I always leave feeling both bigger and smaller all at the same time. It was a lovely day, filled with beauty. My heart is filled with gratitude.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Really Boring Post About a Trip to a Government Office which has a Happy (though not horribly exciting) Ending

Last Wednesday David and I had 8:30 a.m. appointments at the OFII office, which is the French government office that handles “Integration and Immigration.” Since we are not immigrating to France, I suppose we fell into the “integration” category.

Our hope for the day was that we would each leave with a carte de sejour—which is the stamp in our passport that allows us to stay in France for more than three months. I cannot believe I am going to write about the four hours that we spent in a government office, as if living through it were not painful enough. But for some reason I feel compelled to share the experience. You can stop reading now if you wish. I promise you won’t be missing much.

We arrived at the OFII office promptly at 8:30 a.m. David would have preferred to have arrived sooner but our GPS was not aware of construction in the area and we had a bit of trouble getting around it. As we parked the car we noticed a long line full of people who were waiting out in the cold. Through a challenging bit of eavesdropping (there we at least five languages other than French being spoken in the line) we learned that though the building did not open until 8:30 a.m., there were many people whose appointments were for 8:00 a.m. The doors were now opened, and it was not too long before David and I were at the counter, presenting our appointment cards. Our presence was noted, and then we were given a pile of paperwork and sent back out into the parking lot where we were to go into a trailer to have chest x-rays.

Why chest x-rays? The French were screening us for tuberculosis. The technician opened the door and invited us in to the trailer one at a time. There were three private stalls, and I was directed to the one on the left. Suddenly the technician magically appeared at the “back door” of my stall, and told me (in French) to remove all of the clothing on my upper body, including my necklace. At least I think that is what she said. But there were not any hospital gowns or robes hanging around in the stall, which meant that if I got naked I would be, well, naked. So now I have a dilemma. What if I did not correctly understand what she said to do and I get half naked, and then she comes back and wonders why I have removed my clothes? I am not horribly modest, but even I felt a bit awkward stripping down without even the hope of a paper gown to slip in to. I can’t imagine how I would’ve felt if the technician had been a man.

Oh, I had understood alright. Feeling more vulnerable than usual, when the technician came for me I reluctantly uncrossed my arms, got my chest x-rayed, and was (finally) told I could go back into my stall and get dressed. By the time I was all tucked and buckled, the technician appeared once again, gave me a large envelope containing my x-ray, and told me to take it with me to the second floor of the building.

In the building, around the corner and up the stairs I found yet another desk at which to check in and a crowd of fellow x-ray envelope holders. I took a seat. Minutes later David arrived in the waiting room holding his x-ray, but before we had a chance to compare notes on the x-ray process a nurse called my name and took me into an examination room. This time I got to keep all my clothes on. Well mostly, I was asked to remove my shoes to get weighed. Getting weighed in kilograms is awesome. I weighed 60-something. She also measured me and gave me an eye test. Again, this entire interaction took place in French, which means it is a good thing I learned to say the alphabet in French or I never would have been able to read that eye chart to her satisfaction. Everything was recorded by hand in a paper notebook—there was not even a computer in the room. Do you find that fascinating? Piles of people going through the integration and immigration process in France, and their information is being kept in something about as sophisticated as a spiral notebook. The kind nurse finished with me and sent me back into the waiting room, where a few minutes later a doctor came and called my name.

The doctor was a young woman who was probably capable of speaking English to me, but instead spoke French the entire time. I loved it because it meant that I was understanding and being understood sufficiently. She asked about prescriptions, operations, family illnesses, children…it seemed like a pretty typical medical history line of questioning. She asked if my weight was what I expected it to be, and I said that I had no idea because I had never been weighed in kilograms. I asked if she thought my weight was okay, and she said it was just fine. Whew. David, on the other hand, was told by both the doctor and the nurse that he needed to lose weight. The nurse even checked him for diabetes.

My doctor was surprised that I did not have my immunization records. I told her that in the States most adults don’t have their childhood immunization records. She asked how I possibly got my children into school without them, and I explained that I DID have immunization records for my children, just not for myself. I promised that I had had all of the required immunizations, and she seemed satisfied. By the way, am I right? Could any of you adult Americans produce your immunization records?

The doctor then preformed a fairly basic examination, told me my chest x-rays were normal, signed something, and sent me on my way. The next stop was the last stop. A government official needed proof that we had a place to live (our rental agreement sufficed), a copy of my marriage certificate (which David was clever enough to bring even though we were not told we would need this), and 380 Euros each.

And then, we were each given a carte de sejour in our passport.

And in a year, we will get to do this all over again, as the carte de sejour is good for only one year. As far as French bureaucracy goes, the process was actually rather simple. It was the final piece of “official” business we needed to accomplish to make our move to France complete. And so, it is finished. And we are here. And I am thankful.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tangible Kingdom

I asked for help, and you people delivered! Thank you for all of the great suggestions of ways that we could bless our neighbors. I hope to use many of the suggestions in the coming months, and I received so many wonderful ideas it was challenging to decide where to start. But after some deliberation, David and I settled on S.S.'s idea. S.S. remembered that David and I had purchased a case of Washington wine to bring with us to France to share with new friends, and she suggested that we share that wine with our neighbors.

The "efficient" American way of doing this would be to leave a bottle of wine with a note at each doorstep--which was what we originally intended to do. However, just to make sure that our gift would be received well within our cultural context, we asked one of our instructors what she thought of our plan.

"Non, non, non!" she insisted. To leave something at the door, even with a card, would be "bizarre."

"ça ne marche pas!" That won't work.

If we just left something, ANYTHING, at our neighbors' doorsteps the strangeness of such a delivery would mark us as "odd-balls" and alienate us further from the very people we were hoping to befriend. Oh, but the wine...THAT, she assured us was a good idea. Only our method was problematic.

She encouraged us to go door to door and introduce ourselves and give our gift along with a note. One door at a time. One family at a time. One bottle at a time. One introduction at a time.

Aside: This is NOT in my comfort zone. I am the girl who would hide behind my mother's skirt when she tried to introduce me to her friends. I am the girl who is happy to speak in front of large crowds but struggles with small talk. I am the girl who would rather have three good life-long friends than be vaguely acquainted with everyone in my town. This very activity would have been outside of my comfort zone in my home country--where I speak the language quite well, thank you very much. In France this door-to-door proposition was not only outside of my social comfort zone, it was WAY outside of my linguistic comfort zone as well.

Oh, but then I remember, this is not about me. It is not about my comfort. It is not about who I have been in the past. It is not even about who I am becoming. So, what is it about?

Its about the kingdom of God. It is about living in a way that speaks of the goodness of God. It is about caring more for those around me than I care for my own comfort. It is about building community. It is about sharing, and hoping, and listening, and caring, and--for me--obeying that which God has asked me to do.

I wrote out a rough draft of what I wanted to put in each card and took it to school for a teacher to check for errors. After I was sure my wording was right, I bought pretty note cards and hand wrote my message 6 times. Yes, there are twelve units in our building, but since we are doing this one apartment at a time I figured we would be doing this in phases rather that in ten minutes on a busy afternoon.

The note says:

Bonjour! Nous sommes la famille Williamson,vos neuveaux voisins. Nous venons des etats-unis et ce vin vient de notre etat: Washington. Enchanté de vous connaître.

David & Jennifer, nos fils David (14 ans) et Chadler (13 ans) et Jack (notre chat).


Hello! We are the Williamson family, your new neighbors. We come from the United States and this wine comes from our state: Washington. Pleased to meet you.

David and Jenifer, our sons David* (14 years old) and Chandler (13 years old) and Jack (our cat).

David and I practiced what we would say to our neighbors when they answered their doors. We tried to anticipate questions they might ask. We prayed. And then last Saturday we made our first three deliveries. On Sunday we made two more.

I won't lie to you. I was nervous. So was David. And actually, so were our neighbors. Each one seemed quite suspicious as they came to the door. But once we introduced ourselves and explained that we just wanted to given them a small gift they became very friendly. They asked lots of questions. They complimented us on our French (they were being VERY generous). They expressed gratitude for the wine. A couple of families even asked us in.

We are not finished, but as the saying goes, "Well begun is half done!" We are not finished with our first little attempt at creating community, but we are encouraged to keep going. And when this project IS finished, we will not be finished. We have only just begun.

And so, I wonder, all you friends who gave such lovely advice: What will you do? What are you doing? Many of you shared ideas of things that you have already done--I am SO inspired by you--but was it the end, or just the beginning? We are the body of Christ. Are we living kingdoms lives? Are we living in ways that speak of the goodness of God? Did we live that way today? Will we live that way tomorrow?

Oh man, did that sound preachy? I hope not. I have NO desire to preach at you. I do desire to share honestly with you, that we might be mutually encouraged by one another's faith. I am quite certain that when it comes to kingdom living, my efforts pale in comparison to yours...but it isn't a contest, it''s a calling.

And I want walk this path with you.

I need you.

*Graham has not changed his name. Actually "Graham" is Graham's middle name. His first name is David. The name "Graham" is very difficult to say in French, and so he is going by his given name in France. We still call him Graham at home, and you can still call him Graham, too!

La Gagnante

Pictured here is The Palace of Versailles/Château de Versailles (which many people had correctly deduced) AND the Apollo Fountain/Bassin d’Apollon (which only ONE person named in her response.)

We purchased this puzzle because of all the beautiful fountains throughout the gardens of Versailles this one is by far our favorite. If you want the details, I found this info on Wikipedia:

The Apollo Fountain, which was constructed between 1668 and 1671, depicts the sun god driving his chariot to light the sky. The fountain forms a focal point in the garden and serves as a transitional element between the gardens of the Petit Parc and the Grand Canal

We have yet to be at the gardens when the fountain is actually running, but I have heard it is spectacular.

Anyways, the winner (La Gaganante) is my friend in Tualatin, OR: cegr! The puzzle will be in the mail as soon as we can bring ourselves to disassemble it.

My boys would like to do a puzzle contest like this every three months or so. Are you up to it?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Any Final Guesses?

We're almost finished....

Many have given wonderful guesses. Several have been partly right. ONE person has successfully named both features, though she named the second one as a reference point rather than as a focal point. Even so, I consider her the winner. Still, I know there are those who like to have the opportunity to figure things out for themselves before the answer is given, so here is one last photo of the incomplete puzzle.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fur for France

Departing from their home in La Center, Washington at 5 a.m. PST on October 15th, my parents delivered Jack to SeaTac airport at 9:30 a.m. where he was checked in for his flight, which was to depart at 4:30 p.m. After about 11 hours of air travel, including changing planes in Iceland, Jack finally arrived at CDG in Paris--where the local time was 1 p.m on October 16th. We engaged in hours of waiting and paper work to prove that Jack was both healthy and ours before customs released him to us at about 4 p.m. Then, thanks to the current transportation strike, David, Jack and I spent 2 hours in stop and go traffic driving (what should have been a half hour drive) back to our apartment. Given the extent of his journey, we thought he looked pretty good upon arrival!

We would award Jack a medal for bravery if he had a place to pin it. And as long as we are passing out awards, I hereby nominate my parents for saint-hood. They had to do piles of paperwork, take Jack to a series of Vet appointments, and arrange all sorts of details from the states to make it possible for Jack to come to us.

As soon as we got Jack home, David took him straight into the bathroom for a little bath. I don't want to sacrifice any of Jack's dignity by telling you why he needed a bath, but I can promise you this: If you had been cooped up in a tiny box for almost 24 hours you would probably need a bath, too.

After his bath and a tiny bit of exploring, he quickly settled into his favorite chair for a nap.

He slept through the night, hardly touching any food or water. He was obviously completely wiped out. But he woke up this morning fresh as a daisy and seems right at home in our little French apartment. In fact, this very minute he's helping me blog.

Such a sweet kitty, and just as helpful as ever! Jack, Bienvenue en France.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

As the World Turns

The woman I sit next to at choir pointed directly at the zit on my chin and told me, "You must be eating too much chocolate." Apparently she is not shy about correcting my French nor my eating habits. Glad to know she she cares about my complexion. I'm still stocking hazelnut Milka bars in the pantry.

Besides my minor acne problem, life is moving along as usual here in France. The boys are getting used to their school, however, one thing continues to be a concern: the general sense that French teenagers are not acquainted with the merits of deodorant. We thought that perhaps they were exaggerating the issue until David had to go into the school one afternoon last week--and barely made it out alive. We are considering the purchase of gas masks.

Tomorrow is a big day--the heat gets turned on in our apartment building. We do not have a thermostat of our own, our heat is controlled by higher powers. I have been freezing for three weeks! Thankfully, I was trained for arctic- domestic-dwelling during my formative years by a mother who believes that 62 degrees is the proper temperature for a home. I know how to layer my clothes and I am not too proud to throw a bathrobe on over any outfit. Nevertheless, I would prefer to be able to go without a parka while lounging in my boudoir. I was told that in French apartment buildings the heat comes on October 15th, and not a day sooner, no matter the weather. Here's hoping!

Have I bored you with all of the minutiae of our day to day life? It's no soap opera, I'll give you that. Heck, it wouldn't even make good reality television. I guess I won't go on about our flat tire, our continuing Internet issues, our upcoming chest x-rays, or the recent transportation strike. Suffice it to say that while there is a certain amount of romance associated with living in France, not every minute is filled with pastries and flowers. You don't even want to know about the plumbing issues.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hit Me

Okay, friends, I need your help.

I just finished reading The Tangible Kingdom, and my world has officially been rocked. God has turned my head, challenged my thinking, changed my perspective, and expanded my vision. I hope to never be the same again.

In the coming weeks I will continue to process and attempt to flesh out what I have read. In the meantime, I feel like God has given me one very easy action step. A starting point for putting my newfound knowledge in to practice, if you will. You may be underwhelmed the simplicity of my plan, but humor me.

I want to do something nice for the other residents in our apartment building.

That's it.

There are 12 units. I have not formally met any of the residents. I do not know their ages, professions, family sizes, religious background, political views, favorite colors, food allergies, etc. I just know that I live in community with them, and I want to bless them, no strings attached.

Here's where you come in: I need ideas. What should I do? I don't mind if it costs me some time or money. Please, help me out! Brainstorm! No idea is a dumb idea. Hit me with your best shot.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Yes, and...?

One person has answered correctly, but not completely, so the game is still afoot. Keep in mind I receive guesses via e-mail AND as comments. This puzzle contains 2 named features...the first person to correctly identify BOTH will be the winner.

Ohhh, but you are very smart. I am sure it won't be long before someone wins the puzzle.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Lonliness Level 2

After choir practice on Monday night there was a small party to celebrate the new members--including David and me. Though this made for an exceptionally late night, we opted to stay for the festivities as we saw the party as an opportunity to get better acquainted with our fellow choir members. There was one woman who was eager to speak English with me, which I was fine with as long as she didn't mind if I answered in my very basic French. Most of the others were much more comfortable communicating in their native tongue.

It was a great language-learning exercise, but it was a horrible relationship-building exercise. When one person in a conversation can only say the most basic of things and can only comprehend slightly more than the most basic of things, the conversation is, well, rather limited to say the least. The experience aroused in me an even greater desire to learn French well, but it also exacerbated my desperation for real relationships--here--and now.

It is never easy to move to a new place and start from scratch in building friendships. The language barrier complicates the problem. For example, each day I see neighbors milling around outside of our apartment building. Their eyes are engaging me, their countenances are friendly and welcoming. I want to stop and visit, but then I remember I can only introduce myself, comment on the weather, and ask for the time before my French skills are exhausted. Hardly enough to establish rapport, much less discover common ground or shared interests. And so I smile and say "Bonjour!" and keep on walking.

But I know that avoiding people will not 1.) help me learn French any faster or 2.) help me make friends. So I went out on a limb today. As I was walking in the park, I saw an older woman with a giant schnauzer. What a perfect scenario to strike up a conversation; for I knew immediately that we had something in common--a shared love of a rare breed of dogs. In my broken French I asked about her dog. I clumsily explained that I had had (verb tense passé composé) a giant schnauzer in the States (Aux Etats Unis) and that I hope (futur poche) to get dog in France. She told me that her dog is very gentle, but has a lot of energy. She told me that her dog likes to swim, but not in the canal. In retrospect,it was a pretty decent conversation. Of course, it took tremendous effort on my part, and she was incredibly patient and kind.

Yet, when we parted ways, I again felt MORE lonely than I had before we met. These little encounters with people are like tiny tastes of something wonderful. The flavor is delicious, but the portion is far from satisfying and I am left feeling even more hungry for friends than I was before any encounter at all.

Persevere, I will. The end result will be worth the effort, I'm sure.

I pray that my deep desire for friends will strengthen my resolve to learn this language well. I pray that desperation will fuel motivation. And I pray that even while still in the process of learning French, I will engage as I can, when I can, where I can.

In the meantime...I am SO VERY THANKFUL for my friends and family back home. Your e-mails, comments, and facebook posts are lifelines. Please do not undervalue these things. They mean so much to me.

In addition, we Williamsons have each other, and as a family we are growing closer day by day. We trust each other more. We depend on each other more. And we actually continue to enjoy each others' company--which is a good thing, since we pretty much hang out together ALL the time!

And of course, there is a friend who never leaves me. He is, indeed, near to the brokenhearted. He is tender and kind, and I am sustained daily by His love. He is, after all, the author of friendship. And I am so glad that He calls me His friend.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Follow-Up to my Tough Day

This week I am feeling much better than last week. Unfortunately, David is feeling worse. We seem to be passing the doldrums back and forth like a bad cold. Let's just hope the boys are immune. So far they seem to be handling this transition better than their parents. Of course it helps that their dad negotiated with the French school system and successfully got them removed from Spanish class. You may have heard their sighs of relief back in the states.

Lest you are concerned that my competitiveness may put us into marital counseling before the year is up, rest assured that I am quite thankful to be married to the smartest boy in the class. We are learning how to best encourage each other--a lesson that is good to learn after 18 years of marriage. We'll probably be even more in love when the year is over. After all, growth, even growth of the "wedded bliss" variety, is often born out of adversity.

On a positive note, we ARE progressing in our language learning. Setting aside that fact that David got 28.5 out of 30 on our last test and I only got 27.75, I would say that we are both making strides. Last Sunday in church I think I understood the entire sermon. For the first time, I was not having to translate words in my head, I was just understanding the French. It was so cool. Then the next day we went to McDonald's for lunch and the woman behind the counter had to repeat herself four times before we could understand the three words that she was saying to us. Two steps forward, one step back; but an end result of forward progress nonetheless.

As for the issues related to the lack of efficiency in France, we are typically able to go with the flow. But eventually some frustration does creep in. Like when it has been three weeks since we signed up and paid for our Internet connection, but it still is not working. Like when Chandler's cell phone stops working and no one seems to be able to tell us why nor can anyone fix the problem. Like when it takes standing in four different lines in three different locations to sign a child up for cello lessons. You get the picture?

If I am not mistaken, based on an outpouring of love and compassion from my friends and family, I should receive an onslaught of Lucky Charms any day now. For those who still desire to contribute to my need for the magically delicious breakfast of champions, please mail your boxes to:

Jennifer Williamson
17, Voie de Wissous
91300 Massy France

I will be forever in your debt.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Win this puzzle... guessing what is pictured upon completion.

The first person to respond with the correct answer will receive this beautiful 1000 piece puzzle direct from France. I will continue to post pictures of our progress until someone gets the right answer. If needed, I will give hints. But I am sure you are all too smart to need hints. The more specific the answer the better.