Friday, February 25, 2011

A Journey Towards Friendship

"How many countries have you been to?" And so began our conversation around the Olson's dinner table...a conversation that continued almost seamlessly through the next 36 hours.

We have just returned home from Germany, where we spent two wonderful nights at the home of our friends. The Olsons are from Spokane, but they have lived in Germany for the past 3 1/2 years. None of us could remember the last time we had actually seen each other, yet all of us...the children and the adults, picked up as if we had seen each other just last week.

Actually, that is not exactly true. The husbands and children picked up as if they had seen each other just last week. For Sharon and me it was a new beginning. A much needed new beginning. A wonderful, grace-filled, redemptive new beginning.

You see, Sharon and I had many mutual friends in Spokane, which meant that we crossed paths fairly often. Our children are similar ages, our husbands enjoy each another, and we were in a book club together. But in spite of numerous opportunities, we never really forged a friendship of our own.

I wish I could say that it was just "one of those things." It would be easy to let you assume that we were happy to be acquaintances and that we really didn't have enough in common to seek out a genuine relationship with each other. But that would be a lie. In fact, we are very much alike. Sharon is a friend who shares her life lovingly, a mother who parents with passion, a wife who is fierce in her devotion to her husband. She loves adventure, she speaks passionately, she reads voraciously, she laughs easily.

Why, with so much fertile ground, did friendship fail to bloom? Oh how I hate to name the weeds that choked our early attempts at relationship. Envy. Distrust. Misunderstanding. Pride. Ugly sins I harbored in my heart kept me from enjoying a dear, dear sister in Christ. What silliness it all seems now.

I am not sure how it happened. Perhaps I matured a little. We had the blessing of time and space. Certainly God has been at work. He has changed me, He continues to change me, and I will be forever grateful. And because of His work in my heart, I am being freed from the bondages of envy, distrust, and pride. How grateful I am for those people who keep their hearts open to me, even through years of disappointment. How pleased I am that my God can redeem everything.

Sharon blessed me this week. She blessed me with warm hospitality, with generous gifts, and with an open heart. After years of false starts and failed attempts, the bud of true friendship has finally broken through the soil. How like God to not give up on us. For heaven's sake, He pursued us across the globe. He brought us both to Europe, gave us a second chance, and alas, love has won out.

The hours we spent in the Olson's home were holy moments. They were honest and real and life-giving moments. They shared everything they have with us--even their own friends. And I know it was just the beginning.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What I Don't Get

I have been in France for seven months now, but there are still so many things that I just don't get. Like why don't the French ventilate their bathrooms? Every bathroom I have been in has peeling paint and budding mold, but not a one has a fan. Why?

And why do they always seem to be digging holes? Everywhere we go, we see workers with shovels digging...and then a few weeks later they refill the hole, move a few meters, and start digging another one. What are they digging for? Their road signs even depict the digging of holes. I just don't get it.

And then there are the intersections. Why oh why is there an absence of a protected left turn? Every time one wishes to make a left turn at a major intersection, one must fight through oncoming traffic. It's downright scary!

Really, I do love the French. I love France. But sometimes I feel like such a foreigner. Like, for example, when I smile at a stranger. Smiling is kind of my neutral expression, its the default setting for my face. The French, however, are famous for NOT smiling. Not at strangers, anyways. Because that, in France, is just plain strange. I have got to work on my pout!

Oh, and this one really boggles my mind. Why is it considered inhumane (and therefore illegal) to de-claw a cat; yet, it is totally acceptable to make fois gras (which by the way, is illegal in the States). To make fois gras, one needs a very enlarged liver of a migratory bird. Therefore, the birds are force-fed through a tube inserted down their throats so that they eat MORE than they would on their own. I just don't get why that form of animal torture is smiled upon. My son Graham, however, has a theory. He thinks that the French are willing to engage in any form of animal torture that improves the flavor of the animal. In other words, if you are going to EAT the animal, you can do whatever you want to it.

And there is the ongoing concern over the total LACK of deodorant use among many, but particularly those in Junior High. Isn't this the land famous for perfume? Doesn't that lead you to believe that the French care about how they smell? What is their resistance to deodorant?

Somehow, these differences continue to frustrate/amaze us. In these ways, we cling to our roots. We are, in many ways, Americans in Paris.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Fashions from France

Today, I took my birthday money and headed to the mall. Have I mentioned how very much I LOVE the clothes in France? Seeing as I am so VERY thankful for my adorable new clothes, I feel the urge to share some pics. Honestly, I do feel a bit awkward posting a bunch of photos of myself in my new clothes. But I'm gonna do it because if I can't go shopping with my mom and best friends, I can at least show them what I bought.

By the way, the entire shopping experience was great fun. The young woman helping me was very kind and she understood all of my French! And the woman trying on clothes in the next dressing room was more than willing to give her input, which was not only helpful, but very encouraging because she kept calling me "mince," which means "thin."

Okay, this is my little fashion show in the hallway of our apartment...

Here I am sporting a flirty red blouse with fabulous tucks and gathers. I love it with blue jeans, but I think it will look great with a denim skirt, too!

This is a fabulous fine-knit sweater with some cute buttons on the shoulders and along the neckline. It is totally simple and classic, but I love having pieces like this in my wardrobe. There is so much room for fun with scarves, and belts, and jewelry...oh, the possibilities!

How I love this ruffled black cardigan! It is perfect weight for spring and summer evenings and the length is awesome!

David found this adorable skirt, and the saleswoman suggested this blouse to go with it. The skirt has two layers: the bottom layer is a crinkly silver fabric, and the outer layer is made up of two fabrics of differing patterns and textures. I wish you could see the detail, it is so pretty!

I had David take some pictures of the back so you could see the beautiful lace on the blouse. C'est joli, non?

Oh yes, I am feeling very spoiled.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

About the Boys

I often get asked, "How are the boys doing?" Let's see if I can pull the curtain back and give you glimpse into their lives.

A huge chunk of their time is spent at school. They boys are in College, which is the French equivalent of Junior High. They have classes from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. On Wednesdays they have classes from 8:30 to 12:30. At first they spent the majority of their time in an adaption class for non-French-speaking students, but now they are almost fully integrated into regular classes.

As I mentioned in this post, the educational system in France VERY different from the educational system in the United States. The teachers often use shame as a tactic and SELDOM is heard an ENCOURAGING word. Understandably, this wears on their hearts and souls. Our main goal for putting them in the French school system was for them to learn to speak French at a conversational level. We are certain that that goal is being achieved, and we are proud of them for their perseverance.

In spite of the challenges, they can't help but let their brilliance shine through from time to time. Just last week, Graham received the highest grade in the class on a math test--and his score was significantly higher than anyone else's. Even this comes with a downside, as a high score seems to mean that the student is rewarded with higher expectations for performance.

In addition, the school is entirely godless--not that this surprises us. Graham has been learning about the origins of the universe in his Chemistry class. One student, who Graham knows is Muslim, asked the teacher about how religious beliefs, such as creationism, fit with the scientific theories that he was explaining. The teacher responded by belittling and mocking any such religious beliefs. He went so far as to say that if a student where to use theories of creationism in response to any questions on a test that student would fail the class.

Day after day our boys enter this secular pressure cooker, taking with them the light of Jesus. They are well liked by other students and appreciated by their teachers. They pray for their peers and educators; yet, they cannot help but feel isolated in their current context.

For these and other reasons, we are beginning to investigate alternative schooling options for the boys for next year. We would greatly appreciate your prayers in this matter.

On the bright side, they are growing by leaps and bounds. They are finding new depths to their faith and purpose in their calling to France. They have been able to look beyond their own suffering to see the brokenness of those around them. We are so very, very proud.

They have made friends with the children of other missionary kids that they have met at two different youth retreats. They stay in contact with these kids through facebook and e-mail, and we have found that GEM-Ks have a strong and instant bond with each other.

In their free time, they pursue their hobbies. Chandler plays and creates video games and reads. Graham plays guitar, practices cello, and sleeps. They have positive attitudes, they are helpful, and they are becoming incredible prayer warriors.

In the midst of all this, they still find ways to bless me each and every day. For my birthday, Graham bought me (with his OWN money!) this Skillet t-shirt. Skillet is Graham's favorite Christian rock band, and I like them, too. So here we are together in our Skillet t-shirts. Graham bought his at a Skillet concert last year. Nothing says "Fabulous and 40" like a gift like this from your eldest son!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Birthday LOVE

When I woke up this morning , I was greeted by this amazing display in my living room:

I cannot tell you how deeply I was blessed by the birthday greetings that came my way through the mail, e-mail, and even on Facebook. And many sent monetary gifts, which means that I get to go SHOPPING! In FRANCE! SHOPPING FOR CLOTHES IN PARIS, FRANCE! I think my mother has been preparing me my whole entire life for a shopping trip like this one. I can hardly wait.

"Thank you," does not begin to express the depth of gratitude that I feel in my heart. I savored each word, laughed out loud numerous times, and wiped away tears of joy! I took time to enjoy reading your news, absorbing your wishes, and receiving your expressions of love. I am truly,truly filled with joy! What a wonderful beginning to a new decade!

Pardon me, have you seen my 30s?

Pardon me, but have you seen my 30s?

I swear they were here just a minute ago....

I mean, honestly, how could I have lost a decade? Perhaps if I retrace my steps I will be able to locate them:

Let's see..., I picked up my 30s in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Perhaps they have wandered back there in search of their old friends, my 20s and my teens.

Then again, a large part of my 30s were stored in Spokane, Washington. Maybe I left them behind when we moved to France.

No, that can't be right. I am absolutely certain that I have seen my 30s since we arrived in France. Why yes, I know I had them when I got here. I saw them JUST yesterday! Now where could they be?

Maybe they were stolen. I hear that 30s are going for big bucks on e-bay. But seriously, who would want to buy my 30s? I mean they are not in perfect condition. They are stretched and faded from years of intensive use. Of course some of that wear and tear did enhance them. Actually, they were just getting comfortable, to tell you the truth.

It is quite possible that they are right here under my nose, hiding in plain sight. After all, it is easy to lose 10 years in the midst of love and life. What is it that they say about time flying?

FLYING! Why, that's it. I forgot that time flies! No wonder my 30s got away, I should have used my butterfly net! Oh well. They were nice to have while they stuck around.


Well, well, well, what is this I see before me? Could it be a bright, shiny, NEW decade? Wow, it is absolutely beautiful! A clean slate, full of hope and potential. I can hardly wait to try it on for size.

Hello, 40s. My name is Jenn. It's nice to meet you.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Cake, a Cat, and a Contest

This is the Lemon Mousse Cake that I had the privilege of making for a friend's birthday. It was amazingly delicious. The recipe will be posted on my favorite cooking blog in the very near future. Check it out at:

This is the man that I love with the cat that I love in a chair that love. Aren't they adorable?

This is a puzzle, which when completed will show a site that we plan to visit during Spring Break. Any guesses?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Stormy Weather

We have been in some rough waters lately.

When we decided to move our family to France we knew that there would be days/weeks/months like this. Our recent experience was not worse or even different than we had anticipated. Unfortunately, that did not make it any easier. We had about three solid weeks of rampant discouragement, volatile tempers, raging emotions, and flailing faith. The boys were struggling with the French school system, which seemed to be demanding more of them than is humanly possible. David and I were watching them suffer and yet, we were powerless to help. Our circle of friends in France is extremely limited, which means that we were also feeling isolated.

Last Monday, when I was completely exhausted from what had felt like 257 straight hours of intense parenting and desperate praying, the Lord sent me a message. It was like a lifeguard had thrown a life-ring to a drowning swimmer.

The message did not arrive with thunder and lightning. It did not come to my e-mail inbox nor was it a post on my Facebook wall. The message was delivered by a French Lutheran pastor who was a guest speaker for our Chapel time at school. He was formal and reserved and he spoke words of wisdom that I will remember for the rest of my days. I am certain that he was God's messenger for me.

He spoke on a passage that was so familiar to me, I could not imagine that he was going to say anything that I hadn't heard before. But he did.

First, he read this. (He read it in French, of course, but I'll post it here in English to keep things simple. :)

Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Lord, save us! We're going to drown!"

He replied, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

The men were amazed and asked, "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!" MT 8:23-17

Even though it is a very well-known text, it caught my attention; for I was, at that moment, in the midst of my own sort of storm. I knew that Jesus was with me in my storm, and I knew that I would make it through. But then the pastor pointed out a nuance that I had not seen before. He said something like this. (He said it in French, of course, but I will post it in English to keep things simple. :)

"Do you see that when the disciples awaken Jesus they are fraught with fear, but Jesus does not immediately calm the storm? No, there in the midst of the raging storm, he addresses their lack of faith. Can you imagine the sloshing water, the roaring thunder, the pounding rain, the looks of sheer terror on the disciples' faces? And Jesus, in that moment, wants to discuss their faith. First, Jesus deals with their faith issues and THEN He changes their circumstances."

Conviction came like an arrow to my soul. In my fervent prayers I had been frantically asking the Lord the change my circumstances. Right then, it was as if He were looking me straight in the eye and asking me, "Why are you so afraid?" You see, while I knew that He was with me in the storm, I was still panicking. I was praying prayers of despair, not prayers of hope. I was devoid of genuine faith. In other words, I "knew" in my head that God would see me through the storm, but I was not living like I believed that very simple truth.

And so I repented for my unbelief. And then, as a child hands a parent an atrocious (though thoughtfully intended) finger-painting, I handed my Savior my battered (though thoughtfully intended) faith. It isn't much to look at, but He knows it's all I have to give.

This week, our circumstances have not changed one iota. The storm is still raging. Our outlook, however, is an entirely different story. We are riding the waves with confidence, sometimes even joy. We know that the One who called us is faithful. We are living like we believe it.