Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bonjour François !

Todqy q ,uch needed third co,puter joined our fq,ily: It zill be ,ostly ,ine becquse it hqs qbsolutely wero gq,ing cqpqbilities: You ,qy notice q slight increqse in typos zhile I qdjust to the French keyboqrd: I hqve nq,ed ,y nez friend, Frqnçois;

Everybody say, "Bonjour François !"

Saturday, March 26, 2011

About our Budget

Figuring out a WORKABLE monthly budget here in France has been a complicated but rewarding endeavor. It has taken patience, determination, and high level mathematics. We are constantly working in two different currencies with fluctuating exchange rates. In the midst of moving and setting up house in a new country, it was a long time before we had what could be considered a "normal" financial month.

I am so thankful for Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University, where we learned years ago that a budget never works the first month. In fact it takes several months to get the kinks worked out and to find a system that truly reflects the family's needs, values and goals. I think we are getting close to having a monthly budget that works for us. Here are some of the challenges we have had to work through to get to this point:

Grocery Budget: In the United States I had a monthly grocery budget of $600. On that amount, we ate quite well; that is to say, we ate a wide variety of fresh, healthy foods. Mealtimes are an important part of our family culture, and we are a family who has a broad culinary palette. We like flavorful, colorful, seasonal foods. We do not eat extravagantly, but we do eat well. We sit around the dinner table 5 or 6 nights a week and we have lively dinner conversation. In the States I shopped carefully and paid attention to sales, but I did not skimp on quality when it came to food. With $600 a month I did just fine.

The French eat a lot of fresh, seasonal foods as well. Culturally, it was not at all difficult for us to adapt to shopping and cooking in France (though we do miss Costco from time to time). But the price of food here is significantly higher. We have finally settled on a workable grocery budget, and it is shockingly more than what we spent to eat in a similar fashion in the US: 800 Euros/ month, which at today's exchange rate is $1,127. Almost DOUBLE. We have heard that the average French family spends 1/3 of their monthly income on food. It must be true, for it simply costs that much to eat here.

Gas/Diesel Budget: In the US we lived out in the country and we had two cars. Gas was a HUGE expense for us, as we easily spent $600 per month filling our tanks. Here we have one car, and it takes diesel. We drive a lot less, which is a good thing, because diesel costs a whopping 1.30 euros per liter which is equal to $6.77 per gallon. Even with the high cost of gazole, we spend much less on fuel here than we did in the States. A budget of 150 euros/month ($211/month) seems to be sufficient.

Savings: In addition to retirement savings, we like to save for both longer term and shorter term wants/needs. For example, when we go on furlough in 3.5 years, we will need to put a new roof on our house; therefore, we are putting aside a few hundred dollars a month to save for that major upcoming expense--a longer-term goal. At the same time, since we are living in Europe, we want to avail ourselves to the amazing opportunity that we have to explore this historic continent. To that end, we are putting another bit aside each month for trips that we want to take in Europe. Traveling here is incredibly reasonable. Airfare between major cities is often less than $150 round trip! We pay cash for all our adventures, so we use a shorter-term savings philosophy for our vacation expenses. It took us over six months to be able to determine the amounts that we are able to save each month, and then another few months to determine the amounts we wanted to dedicate to each of our goals.

Are any of you out there BUDGETERS? I mean do you, like us, write out income and expenses every month? I would love to know what challenges/successes you have had in creating and adhering to a budget. Do you use cash? How and for what do you save money?

Are any of you out there struggling with your finances? We strongly recommend finding a place to take Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University class. I am not exaggerating when I say it changed our lives. He teaches from a Biblical perspective, but he is full of grace.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


I am not being too hard on myself when I say that I failed at most of my endeavors today. I made error after error after error in school. I seemed to disappoint one person after the next in my personal life. I said things I should not have said. I did things I should not have done. I thought things I should not have thought. And I was fully convicted at each turn. Oh how I hate to be confronted by the stark reality of my own fallibility. I much prefer being a success.

There is a fine line, isn't there? On the one side, when I am feeling successful, I am self-satisfied and proud. I have a sense of accomplishment. On the other side, when I blow it, I am self-loathing and ashamed. I have a sense of failure. Notice that on either side, the focus is SELF.

Why do I bounce between these two awful prisons when, in reality, I have been set free from both. My purpose in life is not to impress people or to achieve greatness or even to please God. God made me to have relationship with Him. To trust Him. To be loved by Him. To know Him. And to make HIS name great. Nevertheless, I thirst for approval.

I think I have become addicted to human approval. I have an unhealthy need for feedback, affirmation, and adoration. In my American life I got strokes at every turn. I now realize that I designed my life that way. I surrounded myself with people who thought I was great and I found my identity in their kindness to me. I may have even fooled myself into believing that I somehow deserved it. That's a lot like folding dirty laundry; that is to say, I gave something filthy the appearance of being something clean. Yuck!

Well, I guess you could say God is weaning me from my need for approval. Here in France I am desperately lonely, isolated from not only friends and family, but also from myself. Yes, from MYSELF. I am isolated from myself because everything that I was good at and known for in the United States has been stripped away from me here. I used to be speaker. Here I converse at the level of a 4 year old with a bad speech impediment. I used to be a teacher, here I am a student. I used to do things that made me feel important. Here I do things that make me feel stupid. My identity is gone. It is gone because I found my identity in me instead of in Jesus.

I think I am just beginning to learn what it means to say, "I am crucified with Christ, therefore I no linger live...." Crucified. That just does not sound fun.

Fortunately, that verse comes with a BUT. A wonderful, glorious, redemptive BUT. A BUT that defines the very life I have be given by grace.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! Galatians 2:20

I am going to be honest with you. I don't really WANT to be "crucified with Christ." On the one hand, it is easy to ask for the sinful parts of me to be crucified. I am happy to let my failures get nailed to the cross. But on the other hand, I try to cling to my "righteous" parts: My speaking ability, my passion for teaching the Bible, my general charm and likability. These are the things to which I cling. Then I remember what God has to say about my so-called righteous parts. Isaiah 64:6 says, "all our righteous acts are like filthy rags." In other words, all that stuff I thought I was good at, all those things that brought me praise and affirmations, the very BEST that I can do it, when compared to God's goodness, is a soiled rag. Why would I want to cling to a soiled rag?

Here is the deal, to be crucified with Christ means that I get to hang today's failures on the cross, but it also means that all the trophies I have collected through the years get hung there, too. That's hard for me, nevertheless, I say with Paul:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. Phil 3:7-9

Oh Jesus, make it so!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Working on My Aim

I am a "Ready, FIRE!, Aim" kind of person who is married to a "Ready, Aim..., Aim again, Re-Aim, Are you sure this is the right target? Shake out arms, Scratch nose, Aim..., Adjust Aim, Get advice about Aim, Verify Aim, Double check Aim, Aim..., Breath...Fire, if you must." kind of person.

Example #1: This week I diligently folded an ENTIRE load of dirty laundry--a mistake made possible by the fact that my one laundry machine is both washer and dryer. The washer/dryer combo is notorious for producing hideously wrinkled clothes, so the condition of the load was not exactly shocking. After I hastily (but neatly) folded AND put away a load of clothes AND re-loaded the machine with a new load of dirty clothes, I opened the Soap Tray only to discover it was full of unused detergent.

I then went and smelled some of the clothes that I had just put away and realized what I had done. I regathered the load from around the house, praying I hadn't forgotten anything. I UNLOADED the clothes I had just loaded, UNFOLDED the clothes I had just folded, RELOADED the machine, and finally started the cycle, all the while wondering, "Who in the world would put a load of laundry in the washing machine, add the soap, and then hesitate or wait to start the washing process? Of course that very person might ask, "Who in the world would fold a load of laundry without first verifying that it is, indeed, clean?"

Example #2: David completed our taxes over a week ago, but he didn't file them. He went through and re-checked every single line and number on Tuesday, but he didn't submit them. Today I asked if our taxes were done and he said, "I just want to look over them once more before I actually send them."

Thorough, he is. Fast, he is not.

Sometimes his "aiming" drives me crazy. "For heaven's sake," I think, "Just get 'er done!" He does tend to over-think things. But how many times has his careful reflection saved my impulsive butt? More times than I can count!

Today I am feeling ever-so-thankful for my careful husband. God uses David to help me slow down, which seems to be a life-long lesson for me. I know he is the pilot, but in all honesty, I am the one who likes to go Mach 10 with my hair on fire! David reminds me to savor moments, to smell the roses, and to take pleasure in the process.

I have memorized a verse from the Bible that speaks to this weakness of mine. It is Proverbs 19:2 and it says:

It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.

Zeal? I got it!
Hasty? That's me.
Miss the way? Yeah. I do that, too. (See ex. 1)

I guess you could say that I'm working on my aim.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Les Bandes Dessinées

My husband in the world's biggest fan of comic strips. He always reads the Funnies first, and as he does, he laughs out loud with such enthusiasm I find myself asking, "What?!?! What is SO funny?"

Sometimes comic strip humor is totally lost on me. Thanks to David's careful instruction in "Comic Strip Appreciation 101" I have figured out why. I tend to be attracted to words, so I carefully read each word in every panel, and then say, "I don't get it." To which David replies, "You have to look at the pictures!" Aha! It is so true. Isn't that the beauty of the Comic Strip? The humor is always found in the marriage of the words and pictures.

In France, comic strips are called, "les bandes dessinées," or "les B-D" for short. This week in our French Biblical Language class, we were introduced to the works of Alain Auderset, a French Christan comic strip artist. I'd like to share with you a sample of his work.

In many ways, it needs no interpretation, but for you grammar geeks like me, who gravitate towards all things linguistic, I will provide one.

In the first panel the mans wonders, "From where did we come? Who are we? Why are we here?"

In the second panel he cries out, "God, why have you left us with no response?"

In the third panel, well, look at the picture!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Praying for France

We were sitting together in our cozy living room, sipping our morning brew, wondering why we had woken up at 7 a.m. on a Saturday. We lingered over meandering conversation for three good, long cups of tea before we made the spontaneous decision to go in to Paris. Our boys were still sleeping when we sneaked out of the house and headed to the train station.

We had no strict plans, only two nebulous hopes for the day. We wanted to go up to Sacre Coeur and spend a few minutes praying over the city of Paris, and we wanted to eat lunch in a cozy, quintessentially French cafe.

Sacre Coeur is the Basilica church that sits up on top of Montmartre. The first time we came to France David and I visited this church, and as I sat inside it I wept. I did not understand why I was crying at the time. I just remember feeling a deep, deep sadness. Now, as I look back on the experience from 2007, I think that it was then that God began to write a call to France on our hearts.

When you climb up to Sacre Coeur and then turn around, you can see all of Paris stretched out in front of you. This photo is a little hazy, but if you are one who is called to pray for France, I encourage you to print it out as a visual aid for your prayers. David and I stood in the spot where we took this picture, and prayed for the city of Paris. We prayed for the enemy's strongholds to be broken. We prayed for truth to be revealed. We prayed for revival.

This banner is currently hanging on Sacre Coeur. It says, "For 125 years, here, day and night, someone prays to Lord. Come worship the Lord." Sacre Coeur has had a prayer vigil going non-stop for 125 years! As amazing as that is, more prayer is needed.

Will you prayerfully consider coming to France to pray?

We are seriously looking for teams of believers who will come on short term ( 1-2 weeks) mission trips for the sole purpose of praying over France. This country is strangled by strongholds. Nothing will change here without the power of prayer. We want to unleash the Spirit of God over the places where He is leading us to plant churches, and we need your help. If you are feeling led to come or to lead a team to come and pray, please send us an e-mail.

After a lovely time on Montmartre, we wandered back down to Ile de la Cite for a lovely dejeunner dans un petit resto. A wonderful couple from Greece took this picture. Can you imagine how fun it was for two Americans to have a conversation in French with two Greeks? 3/4 of the way through the conversation they found out that we were from the U.S., said that they also spoke English, and so we finished the conversation in our native tongue. They are tour guides in Greece, and so we got their e-mail and plan to look them up if we make it to Greece someday.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Should Missionaries be Poor?

So I've been pondering this question: "Should missionaries be poor?"

I have been looking at this idea from two different perspectives:
  1. Having spent much of my life NOT as a missionary, I generally assumed that missionaries WERE poor, but I had not questioned whether or not they OUGHT to be so. What I now realize is that many missionaries may appear poor because they live in impoverished countries and serve impoverished people. In that case a missionary may chose a more simple lifestyle to better minister to those he/she go to serve.
  2. Having now become a missionary, I have met a great deal of missionaries who seem to think they SHOULD be poor since they are missionaries. But the missionaries I am meeting are not in a third world country, and they are not serving impoverished people. So should they really BE poor?
The thought that plagues me is this: What if I am living more extravagantly than those who are making sacrifices to support me? That thought makes me sick to my stomach. I mean I did get to go skiing in the Alps over Christmas vacation. Is that right? Should missionaries ski?

But then again, doesn't perspective play a role? You see, I FEEL like I am living a life of luxury in so many ways. And compared to much of the world, I am. I have running water, a warm bed, and electricity (most of the time!). But I bet if my American friends were to evaluate my everyday living situation, they would not call my life "luxurious." For example, we only have one car and we live in an 800 sq. ft. apartment. I don't know a single American family of four who lives like that. And I am not complaining...I really do feel blessed, it just occurred to me that we live differently than we did before we came on the mission field.

And I wonder how much of a persons' economic situation--whether missionary or not--boils down to personal choices. I mean we make a lot of choices to economize in some areas so that we can splurge in others. Don't you? We don't have cable T.V., we rarely eat out, we never go to movies, and we do our own taxes. We choose to save money in those areas because we love to travel, and we would rather save on some little day to day things so that we can spring for the occasional grand adventure.

Finally, a lot of a person's economic situation has to do with attitude. A lot of missionaries (and some non-missionaries, too!) have a bit of a "poverty" mentality. They think that they CAN'T afford things, and they seems to focus on THOSE things.

When my kids were little and we were in a store, and they asked, "Mommy, can I have this?" I decided resolutely to never tell them, "We can't afford that." I decided that because the one time I remember saying it, I was convicted. In that particular instance, "We can't afford that" was a lie. The truthful answer would have been, "If I buy that toy for you, I will not be able to buy the expensive hair conditioner that I want to buy for me." And then I began to notice that most often it was not the case that we could NOT afford something; but rather, that we had CHOSEN to afford something else.

Now I am not saying that "we can't afford that" is always a lie. When buying a home, a family must look carefully at their income to decide how much home they can afford. In that case it is very wise to be able to say, "We like that house, but we can't afford it" if, that is indeed the case.

But I hear, "We can't afford that" from most missionaries in reference to things like a new computer, a weekend away, or dinner out. And I think to myself, "really?" Is it really that you can't afford those things, or are you making other choices? And if you have chosen to put your kids in soccer clubs and to buy scrap-booking materials, then why not say with satisfaction, "We have chosen to do other things with our disposable income this month, " rather than "We can't afford it."

When our boys were little, and sometimes still today, when they ask, "Will you buy me this?" the answer we most frequently give is this: "God gives us enough money for ALL of the things that we need, and SOME of the things that we want. We need decide if this is really the WANT that we WANT right now. If we buy this it will mean that we can't do or buy ____________. I would prefer ______________. What do you think?" This is the most honest answer that I know how to give. Oh, and our boys know that we ALWAYS pay cash, and that large WANTS require months of saving, and therefore months of saying "no" to other wants.

But in that exercise with my boys, I realized that I was convicted by the "We can't afford that" response for a deeper reason. You see God is my Father, and my Father can afford everything. But because He doesn't want spoiled brats for children, He is careful and wise in how bestows material blessings. Sometimes, "We can't afford it" is a cop-out answer. God NEVER gives that response when He choses NOT to give us something. Sometimes, "No" to ourselves and to our children is the most loving and kind response; yet, if we let ourselves believe we have said, "No" because "we can't afford it" then we rob the "No" of its power.

Let's say, for example, that my son wants a certain video game. And let'say that at that moment 2 things are true: 1.) We do not have the disposable income set aside for that game at the moment and 2.) We don't think that the video game has acceptable content. How often do we use the first reason to avoid having to address the issues in the second? But how much more valuable would the experience be if we chose to prioritize the second reason for saying, "No!"? And how much better might we know our heavenly Father if, when we feel He has denied us certain "blessings," we ask Him to reveal to us the "blessing of His 'No.'"?

But back to the missionary question! While I believe that all of the above is true, I guess I am starting to wonder if people believe that missionaries should not have any disposable income at all. That is to say, should we only raise enough money to meet our absolute most basic of needs, live hand to mouth, month to month, barely getting by? And if we are to live that way, why? I really want to know. Tell me what you think!

Monday, March 7, 2011

L'Amour de Dieu

Tomorrow I will give the meditation for our classroom devotions. This is what I will share. You can translate it in Googe Translate if you want to read it in English.

Quand j’étais un enfant, la première chanson que j’ai apprise à chanter était “Jésus m’Aime.” J’ai toujours su que Jésus m’aime, mais souvent c’est quelque chose que je sais dans ma tête, mais pas quelque chose que je sens dans mon cœur.

Depuis que je suis devenue une adulte, il y avait beaucoup de choses que je devais faire. Je devais être une bonne espouse et une bonne maman. Je devais payer mes factures et faire des courses. Je devais être une bonne amie, une bonne sœur, une bonne missionaire, et notamment une bonne chrétienne. Maintenant il faut que je sois une bonne éleve.

C’est vrai que Dieu voudrait que je fasse toutes ces choses avec excellence. Col 3:23 dit:

Quel que soit votre travail, faites-le de tout votre cœur, et cela par égard pour le Seigneur et non par égard pour des hommes.

Bien que je doive faire les choses avec excellence, je ne les fais pas pour gagner l’amour de Dieu. Il faut que je me souvienne que c’est impossible de gagner l’amour de Dieu. L’amour de Dieu est un cadeau. Il n’y a rien que je peux faire afin de gagner ni perdre l’amour de Dieu. Et toi non plus ! Il n’y a rien que je peux faire pour augmenter ni diminuer l’amour de Dieu. Et toi non plus ! Il nous aime toujours, malgré nos fautes. On le sait, mais on ne le croit pas. Donc on travaille come si on doit gagner l’amour de Dieu. Pourtant, son amour pour moi et le meme si je reçois 5/20 ou 20/20 sur mes examens.

Je me souviens quand mes fils étaient les petits bébés. Chaque jour je les regardais et mon cœur se remplissait d’amour. Mes bébés n’avaient rien fait ! Ils criaient, ils mangeaient, ils faisaient leurs besoins-c’est-à-dire ils faisaient le pi-pi, et ils interrompaient mon sommeil. Mais je les aimaient quand même. Ils n’avaient pas essayé de gagner mon amour. Je les aimais…je les aime parce qu’ils sont mes enfants. Je pense que c’est la meme chose entre Dieu et nous.

Quand mes enfants étaient petit, je les aimais tant que j’ai crée des chansons pour leur exprimer mon amour. J’ai decouvert que Dieu fait la meme chose. Savez-vous que Dieu chante pour toi? Lisons ensemble Sophonie 3:17:

L’Eternel ton Dieu et au milieu de toi unguerrier qui te sauve. Il sera transporté de joie à ton sujet et il le renouvellera dans son amour pour toi. Oui, à cause de toi, il poussera des cris de joie, et il exultera.

À cause de toi ! Ou grace à toi ! Il exultera grace à toi ! Grace à moi !

Quand on peut recevoir l’amour de Dieu pas comme un salaire qu’il faut gagner, mais comme un cadeau qu’il faut simplement recevoir, ça nous changera. On ne peut pas être fier de nos aptitudes parce qu’ils ne nous gagnent rien. On ferra les choses excellent afin de remericer Dieu,mais pas pour nos egos. On ferra les choses excellentes afin de montrer notre amour à Dieu, mais pas pour gagner son amour. On ferra les choses excellentes avec joie, pas par obligation.

Dieu nous aime. On doit le savoir dans nos têtes et dans nos cœurs.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

In the Making

We are made in the image of God, who is the maker of all things. Perhaps that is why each of us, in his or her own way, has a creative bent. Here are just a few things that were made in our house this week:

There was a Beef Provencal, which simmered all day in a crock pot and welcomed us home from a long day at school.

Lego creations are never lacking in my home. While the boys are capable of making great masterpieces, it was this simple structure that I found on my coffee table today. Graham made it, and I love it.

David and I made a Prayer Board. This wipe board will hang in our dining room and we will use it to keep track of prayer requests and answers to prayer. It is already filled with wonderful reminders, names of loved ones, and even a drawing or two.

I am making a sweater. I bought this yarn with some of my birthday money, and I love having something to create once my homework is finished.

Chandler makes video games. Here he is working on one that he calls, "Dinner Time," where the cook of the finest restaurant in town must protect his gourmet dinner from hungry hooligans.

And finally, I made this cake...but I am sure it won't last long because we hungry hooligans plan to devour it after dinner tonight!