Saturday, December 29, 2012

Resolutions, Anyone?

Well, my friends, it is that time of year when it just feels right to set some new goals, to revisit dormant dreams, and see if the needle on the scale needs some adjusting. Yes, I am talking about the much anticipated but seldom achieved New Year's Resolutions.

Oh no, of course I am not talking about YOU!

And honestly, I typically try to avoid the "resolution" band-wagon, reasoning that If I want to set a goal, the calendar does not need to dictate WHEN I do it.

On the other hand, I DO like goals, and I have had the sense that the Lord is giving me both the inspiration and the motivation to enjoy the blessings of some increased discipline in my life. NO, that was not written with a sarcastic tone! I really do believe that tremendous JOY and fantastic freedom are found in the form of godly disciplines--when they are done in His strength and for His glory.

Therefore, I, Jennifer Ann Williamson, do hereby resolve to (with God's help!):
  1. Memorize one scripture verse in FRENCH every week of 2013.
  2. Eat healthier (less sugar and caffeine, more fruits and veg) and continue exercising 5 days a week. (Lord willing this will result in the loss of 5-10 unwanted kilos!)
That's it. Two simple New Year's resolutions for me. And you have my permission to hold me accountable!

How about you? 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

For Christmas...

...we all got new slippers! 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Abnormal Noël

Nothing is normal. I have forgotten what "normal" is. 

Here it is, the 21st of December, and we have not yet had time to watch some of our favorite Christmas movies. Normally, we would have watched each of them twice by now. I have JUST today baked my first batch of Christmas cookies. Normally, I would have made multiple varieties by now. And I have not wrapped one single present. Okay, I'll admit that one is pretty normal for me. But in most other ways, this has not been a normal Christmas season at all. 

And we are not normal. In France, they don't have stockings, candy canes, or an obsession with Christmas music. Our home is a bit of a novelty this time of year! But God has been giving us opportunities to use our "abnormality" to talk about the true meaning of Christmas.

David was interviewed for the local newspaper about our "American" Christmas traditions. Here's the article, where he describes how he makes homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast on Christmas and how we give each of our boys three Christmas gifts, representing the three gifts of the magi.

I took some of my stash of Candy Canes to the ladies in my knitting group. Besides being an American novelty, I explained how the candy cane was invented by a candy maker who wanted to share the true meaning of Christmas--the shape represents the Shepherd's staff, and when turned around it is the letter J for Jesus. I explained that the red stripes represented the blood of Christ, which was shed to save us from our sins. They were very receptive, and I was thankful for the opportunity to have a spiritual conversation.

Different is our new normal. We're embracing it!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I'm never lonely...

...when I sit down to read my Bible.

I have a couple of faithful lap-warmers who like to be in the Word with me.

In it or on it. Whichever.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Phone Rings, Part II

8 p.m. Saturday evening. Phone rings.

"Jenn, can you have a family of four to your house for lunch tomorrow?"

I open the freezer door to see what I have on hand. I'm stalling for time. I already know what my answer will be.

"Sure. No problem. Happy to do it."

We are learning the true meaning of the word "hospitality."


noun, plural hos·pi·tal·i·ties.
the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers.
the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.

We have a lot visitors to our small church in Loches. Because we work with a well-respected, visionary leader who has a philosophy of ministry that is working in France, many pastors, missionaries, evangelists, and potential church planters want to come and see what he is doing. In order to really grasp what is going on here, these people often stay for several days and live in community with us. "Living in community" is harder to explain than one might think, even though it is the call of every believer! We pray together daily, we serve our neighbors and each other actively, and we do life together! We we do not simply "have" church, we "ARE" the church in Loches.

And so when people come to experience this dynamic, they are not sent to the local hotel and given the name of a few good restaurants; they stay in our homes and they eat at our tables. We extend true hospitality so that our guests are absorbed into our community and they get a sense of what it means to BE the church.

Hospitality does not demand that I open up my Martha Stewart books to see how impressively I can fold a napkin, but it does demand an effort! True hospitality is an attitude of the heart. An attitude that says, "I want you to know that you are valued and loved. I want you to be served in a way that acknowledges that you are child of God. I want you to feel safe and cared-for." Hospitality has nothing to do with "showing off," but everything to do with  honoring others--which means extending ourselves, being generous with what we have, and serving others.

Hospitality is an opportunity to die to self! When I open my home, I set aside my agenda and yield to someone else's. I sacrifice my comfort for the comfort of others. I share all that I have and all that I am, even if I'd rather not. And I do this NOT just for beloved friends and family. I do it for total strangers.

I Peter 4:9 says, "Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling."

This verse leads me to believe that the concept of "hospitality" is not what our modern minds make of it. We think that if we have a dinner party and invite six of our dearest friends we are being "hospitable." Yes, that is a form of hospitality. But in Peter's time, the more common occurrence was having a weary, hungry, dirty, penniless stranger arrive at your door RIGHT after you had finished feeding your family and had washed all the dishes. Peter is saying, "In that moment--that unplanned, un-budgeted, unpleasant moment, show hospitality without grumbling."

The modern equivalent? Perhaps out of town relatives, annoying neighbor kids, or new-comers to church. When was the last time you invited a veritable stranger to dinner? Who might you be able to invite? Would you open your home over the holidays to an elderly neighbor? Some single guys from your church? A needy family? Will you choose, this holiday season, to practice hospitality?
Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Romans 12:12

Monday, December 10, 2012

Phone Rings, Part I

8 p.m. Saturday evening. Phone rings.

"Jenn, can you have a family of four to your house for lunch tomorrow?"

I open the freezer door to see what I have on hand. I'm stalling for time. I already know what my answer will be.

"Sure. No problem. Happy to do it."

I say those words in faith. Because honestly, I do not feel one bit happy about it. I know what having unexpected guests for lunch means. It means a trip to the only store that is opened on Sunday morning. It means that my already strained grocery budget is about to go bust. It means that the time I had hoped to spend reading a good book would be spent tidying the house and preparing a three course meal. It means making conversation (in French!) with perfect strangers when I'd rather not be conversing at all.

"Sure. No problem. Happy to do it."

 My response reflects what I wish my heart was feeling. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

And so I wake up early Sunday morning, wondering what to make. I rehearse recipes in my head while reminding myself that I really DO like to cook. I grab a shopping bag and head to the market. Fall veggies, frozen salmon, a local white wine and strawberry sorbet all find their way into my cart. I realize I am enjoying myself.


Back at home, the table is set, butternut squash soup (my chosen appetizer) simmers on the stove, and I find that I have a 20 minute window of peace and quiet before I need to prepare the salmon. I pick up the book, Digging Ditches, by Helen Roseveare and read:
Matthew 11: 28-30, 'Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest, take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.' The yoke - that heavy, unwieldy wooden bar that holds two oxen together when ploughing, looks like an instrument of torture rather than something that is light and brings rest, until we remember that unresisting compliance to the pressure of the yoke makes possible a sharing of the load that more than halves the weight involved. The ox suffers no pressure sore on its neck if it keeps in step with its partner, and does not seek to turn to right or left. In other words, the yoke causes no pain when the ox works with it in quiet submission. So as we agree to be yoked to Christ--what an indescribable privilege!--submitting to Him in unquestioning obedience, He takes far more than half the load and guides us to plough a straight furrow.
The timer rings, calling me back to the kitchen. I go happily. I am no longer resisting the pressure of the yoke. I thank God for sharing the burden--and for turning the work to which He has called me into joyful service. I submit in unquestioning obedience.

I am blessed. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Culture Shock in Reverse

Today we watched a Christmas movie, and I experienced a really weird sort of reverse culture shock. An American grocery store looked foreign to me, as did a typical American neighborhood, American cars, and a shopping mall.

I spent most of my life in the United States, and after two and half years in France, I don't remember what a ten dollar bill looks like. The other day we had a conversation about American Speed Limit signs because I couldn't picture one in my head. And would someone please remind me how much a US postage stamp costs?

There are moments when I still feel like a complete stranger here, but I did not expect to ever feel that in relation to the US. Sometimes I struggle to pray out loud in English. Sometimes I can't remember how to spell English words, even though I used to be a good speller. Sometimes I dream that I am in Spokane speaking French and I can't figure out why nobody understands what I am saying. What does that mean?

My food preferences have certainly taken a turn towards the French. For example, it seems scandalous to drink a soft drink at dinner instead of wine and it feels downright wrong to have a meal without a baguette. I love that cheese gets its own course and I appreciate delicacies like foie gras. Paté is a staple in my refrigerator and I can't imagine living without cornichons or lardons.

On the other hand--I am deeply grateful for the 96 full-sized candy canes that my in-laws brought to us. Candy canes! My American soul sings for joy with each peppermint stick. There I found it--a deep connection to my roots in the sugary Christmas confection that I adore. I am still an American after all!

***Photos of Loches were taken by my dear MIL, Janica Williamson!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Mes Beaux-Parents

We had the most wonderful visit from David's parents last week! 

David took them to a Vouvray Cave, where they did a little wine tasting.

My mother-in-law (who once detested dogs but is now a fan), bought Gemma her new favorite toy--a squeaky ball. She and Gemma were fast friends!

We had the opportunity to do ministry together! How cool is that?

And both Len and Janica helped us decorate the church for Christmas!

We were so completely blessed by their time with us.

Thank you, Lord, for family!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Ooooh là là !

As they say in France, "Ooooh là là !" Boy, do I have a lot to tell you!

Today the rain is pouring down, David is sick in bed, my dear in-laws have begun their long voyage back to the States, and I am trying to get my brain around what God is doing here in Loches.

Last week we had a television film crew with us--"us" being the church. They are doing a special report on Protestantism in France, and our little church was chosen as the focal point of this special. The two-woman team of journalist and videographer filmed everything from our church planting training class to an evening prayer time to our Sunday service. They did interviews with our pastor, with our colleagues, with various church members, and even with the mayor of our town. Will you pray first of all for the two women who are making this news report--they heard and saw the Gospel this week, and they were clearly moved by what God is doing among us. Pray that this experience will lead each of them into a personal relationship with Jesus. And secondly, please pray for this news report, which will air at the end of January. Pray that people all across our region of France will be drawn to salvation!

Last week we also had the joy of welcoming a new brother in Christ into our church family. For almost a year we have been praying for this amazingly NICE single guy who lives just around the corner from the church. After being befriended by some people in our community of believers, he started coming to worship services. In the fall he agreed to do a weekly Bible Study with  our pastor. Last Monday night he finally made the decision to follow Jesus! Every time someone comes to faith, I get overwhelmed with gratitude. God is undeniably good! But wouldn't you know it--the rest of the week was fraught with challenges for this new believer! Yesterday he totaled his car in a freak accident. Please pray for Didier (not his real name!)-- that he would not be dismayed by the difficulties of life. Pray for divine protection over his fledgling faith!

Finally, the spiritual warfare has been a-raging this week. I know. Why am I surprised? Still, after 15 months in Loches with out any major attacks, TWICE in the past week I have been asked to pray with/for people who needed deliverance of some sort. The two instances were completely different and totally unrelated. But seriously--nothing for 15 months, and then TWO doozies in a week?!?!  We need your prayers! And so I invite you to suit up in your spiritual armor and join us in the battle. Major strongholds are coming down in this little village, and the Spirit of God is obviously on the move. Its exciting, and in all things, our Jesus is victorious!

To Him be ALL the glory!