Sunday, May 29, 2011

Saint Michel

This is a statue of St. Michael, found in a monastery on the island that bears his name: Le Mont St. Michel. It captivates me. Too often I allow myself to imagine the angels of God as fairy-like pansies rather than mighty warriors. But warriors they are! And they are continuously battling against the forces of evil on behalf of the people of God.

Aside: The rooms of the monastery were knit together by twisting tunnels and spiraling stairways. The statue of St. Michael is near the end of the tour, and it is in a dark corner, off to the side, easily missed. I remember thinking to myself, "My goodness, here is the focal point, and it sits tucked away like an after-thought." But I suppose I do the same thing in my life. I can get distracted in the midst of life's winding passageways, and let the important things lie dormant on the edges of my attention. 

In this sculpture Michael is shown with the dragon. It depicts an event that has not yet come to pass, but has been foretold. 

The expression on his face is so life-like, yet the emotion behind it eludes me. Is he satisfied? Apprehensive? Confident? Disappointed? Perhaps all of the above. According to the sculptor, what is going on in the archangel's mind? I wonder, did the artist get it right?

His arm is held high, victorious; yet his eyes are cast down, suspicious. He is focused on the dragon, who has been defeated, but it is not yet dead. Michael is clearly still on duty. The dragon has not given up. Silly dragon.

And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.The great dragon was hurled down--that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Revelation 12:7-9

"What next?" I wonder. Well actually, I don't wonder. I know. I've read the end of the book. God wins.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"Are you happy there?" Part I

Today, during a Facebook chat with a friend back in the States, I was asked, "Are you happy there?" 

It was a thoughtful question, but I did not know how to answer it. It was the "there" that threw me.

I think she was speaking geographically, as if to ask, "Are you happy in France?" But where I am right now is not just a point on the globe.

Where am I?

Geographically, I am 20 km south of Paris, but far from friends and family.

Financially, I am totally dependent on the generosity of others.

Mentally, I am being stretched in some areas and losing brain cells in others. I swear that every new French word that my brain absorbs costs me a bit of knowledge in another domain.

Socially, I am isolated by a language barrier which, though shrinking as my language skills progress, still looms large.

Emotionally, I am somewhat detached--not because I am devoid of feelings; rather, because I cannot keep up with them.

Spiritually, I am thirsty, always feeling needy for more of Jesus.

This is where I am. And it is so much more than a place.

"Are you happy there?"

The past ten months have been some of the most challenging months of my life. And the challenges continue.

The past ten months have also been some of the most exciting months of my life. And the excitement continues.

The past ten months have changed me. They have also made me painfully aware of the ways in which I still need to be changed.

"Are you happy there?"

I hadn't really thought about it. I am certain that God called us to France. I believe that His plans are best. I trust that He is always working everything out for my good and for His glory. I'm banking on these promises.

And for all of that I can honestly say, "YES! I am happy here!"

"Here" is a hard and messy place. "Here" is also beautiful. It takes everything out of me, yet it gives me hope. Maybe, as a result of being here, I might someday be just a little bit more like Jesus. In this way, "here" = "the refiner's fire." Not comfortable, but necessary. For the joy set before me, I am happy here.

What about you? Where are you? Are you happy there?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Five Fun (Unrelated) Facts

1. I am seriously thinking about getting a puppy. I would like to get one in August, when I will have time to dedicate to bonding and training. Since most puppies need to stay with their mama for about 8 weeks, I will be looking at litters born in June. By the way, did you know that there are laws that govern the naming of purebred dogs in France? Each calendar year is assigned a letter of the alphabet, and dogs must be given a name that begins with the letter assigned to the year of their birth. The letter for 2011 is "G." When we have chosen a puppy, I will post an opinion poll so that you can vote on the name of our dog.

2. Graham recently declared, while discussing the fact that he has Scottish blood in his veins, "I ain't got no bagpipin' in me!"                                                                                                                
3. David and I have made three attempts to renew our Carte de Sejour--which is our long-term visa. We have not been denied; rather, it has taken us three attempts to simply figure out the procedure. One day we stood in line for 2 hours, not moving one inch. We finally left because it was time to go and pick up our boys from school. We now believe that we understand the process, and will make another go at it on a day when we have the needed fortitude for lines and paper work. 

4. French Mother's Day is next Sunday. David will be in Basil, Switzerland at a church planting conference. 
No worries, because we celebrated American Mother's Day a few weeks ago, and my boys totally spoiled me! They ordered me a KINDLE. My Kindle will be delivered in June, and I can hardly wait. I feel like I have been on a literature starvation diet for the past 10 months.

5. Our family is on a cookie dough kick. Why, oh why, does the dough taste so much better than the cookies?

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011

    A Plan Unfolds

    Sometimes God's plans are so much bigger than my own. I like to think of my self as a risk-taking, adventure seeking dreamer. But right now this risk-taking, adventure-seeking, dream-cherishing girl is SHAKING in her boots! By the way, I say that with a smile on my face. I like to live on the edge.

    Some background: David and I were commissioned by GEM to be "Church Planters" in France. Yet, as we shared our calling with friends and supporters, we always said something like, "We actually don't want to plant one church in France. What we would really like to do is help facilitate a church planting movement." We said this with conviction, because it was clearly the burden that God had placed on our hearts. At the same time, we had no idea of how that could be done. I mean, there are goals, like "We want to plant a church in France;" and there are big, hairy, audacious goals, like "We want to help facilitate a church planting movement." We knew that our goal was beyond our capacity, that our vision was bigger that our abilities, and that our hope was outside the realm of possibility. We knew that we had been called to something that we could not accomplish on our own.

    Fast forward to today: We have spent this first year on the field learning French and praying. We conjugate verbs in one breath, and we seek the Lord's direction in the next. Both tasks are rather laborious! Slowly, the language has been coming. The direction, on the other hand, has tarried. Our year was half over, and we still had no idea what we were going to do once we finished language school. Where would we live? Who should we serve? How could we serve them? With so many unknowns, we focused our energy on the one thing that we DID know: the fact that our boys needed an education. We asked the Lord to lead.

    And now, we are starting to see the unfolding of His amazing plans.

    Back in February, while searching on the Internet for schools in France, we found a bilingual international school in a small village called Loches. It looked like it might be a good school for our boys, but we had no idea what we would possibly do there. In March we talked to our field directors, explaining that we felt like we needed to prioritize the boys schooling situation, and we proposed the idea of moving to Loches. They were stunned, and went on to inform us of an incredible opportunity in that very village. But let me back up.

    There is a young French pastor named Raphael who is highly connected in the CNEF, which is the umbrella organization for all protestant churches in France. Raphael, with the full support of the CNEF, has a goal to plant 4000 churches all across France. With 4000 new churches, there would be one church for every 10,000 people in France. (The current ratio is one church for every 40,000.) In order to reach this goal, he has a vision to create Church Planting Training Centers in 10 different regions of France. His plan is for every Training Center to BE a church plant first. This way, as pastors and leaders come for training, they will be given opportunities for practical experience. When these pastors are sent out to plant churches they will be required to stay within a 45 minute radius of one of the 10 Training Centers so that they can receive on-going encouragement and support.

    Raphael began his efforts 8 months ago by planting a church in a small village of 7000 people. This brand new church plant is the only existing protestant church in that village. This church plant is also the very first of the ten Church Planting Training Centers. This church/Church Planting Training Center is in Loches.

    Last Wednesday, after touring a school for our boys, our family spent the entire afternoon with Raphael, his wife, and their four children. We got know each other and shared our hopes and dreams,  and then we began to formulate a plan.

    Raphael has invited us to join him and his team in Loches for the next three years. During that time we would be his interns, learning not only how to plant a church, but how to plant the next Regional Training Center in France. We would join in his work in Loches for now, but with the full intention of being sent out.

    After three years, we would be required to take our one year furlough in the States; but, upon our return to this country, David and I would move to an entirely different region of France, and plant a church AND a Regional Training Center. We would then train and equip church planters! We would be helping to facilitate a church planting movement--just like we said. How amazing is that? Still, this plan is so much BIGGER than us. Thus, I am shaking in my boots.

    There are many details to be worked out. We will go back to Loches in June to spend a long weekend with Raphael and his team. We will talk about specifics and clarify expectations. Between now and then, we are seeking confirmation from the Lord that this is, indeed, His plan for our family. Will you pray with us?

    Monday, May 16, 2011

    More on School

    Remember this post? The one where we outlined all of the schooling options that we have for our boys? We may have found our answer. After touring several schools that quickly got crossed off of our list, we finally found one that appears to be a viable option.

    Last week we visited a bi-lingual school in Loches, and it seems like it might be a good fit for Graham and Chandler. It is a private school that can provide the boys with some on-going support for learning French as a second language; yet, it has also has an option which would enable the boys to take up to three classes per year in English. Upon completion, they would be eligible for a French or a European  Baccalaureate. Academically, this school meets all of our needs.

    We could (and would plan to) live close enough to the school for the boys to come home for lunch everyday. Such proximity would also allow for our house to become a gathering place for their friends--which would be pure JOY to David and me. Many of the students who attend this school are the children of government officials and bureaucrats. We learned that our children would be interacting with the future leaders of France. What if Graham and Chandler have the opportunity to share Jesus with the future president of France? With the son of a current world leader? With the teachers who are educating this country's future leaders? Imagine the impact our boys could have! 

    There is a tuition, and while it is fairly modest, we would need to seek more support in order to be able to afford it. If this is where God wants our boys, the money will be there. He is a good provider. 

    The thing that absolutely blows my mind is the fact that in this village of 7000 people, in the very village that has a school for our boys, there is an incredible ministry opportunity for David and me. It is an opportunity that maximizes our gifts and challenges our capabilities. It is an opportunity that will take us out of our comfort zone and require that we learn and grow in new ways. It is an opportunity that is much bigger than we dared to imagine or think. MUCH bigger. It is an opportunity that I will write more about tomorrow.  

    For now, we ask that you please pray for confirmation concerning our decision about this school. We are sensing the leading of the Lord, but we want to be sure.

    Thursday, May 12, 2011


    See this darling village? It is called Loches, and it 268 Kilometers South of Paris. We spent the day there yesterday with two main objectives:
    1. We toured a Bi-lingual International school to discover if it would meet the needs of our children.
    2. We met with a couple who have a vision (and a plan) to plant churches all across France. We wanted to discover if we might be able to engage in, support, and/or further their efforts.
    Both objectives were met with positive findings.

    We are hopeful, excited, and encouraged. It seems like God has given us a glimpse of His plans for us. My mind is wild with activity, but the words to a song are crying out above the clamor:

    Jesus, lead on! We will follow.

    Saturday, May 7, 2011

    Lost in Translation

    Let me begin by saying that I have no desire to mock the French. It's just that as a person who is struggling to learn French as foreign language, I take some small comfort in knowing that the French face their own challenges in attempting to speak English. This is a sign that we saw today outside of an airport hotel:

    Not only is there a typo on the sign on the right, the translation is fuzzy at best. One might be led to believe that longer cars must park to the left and shorter cars must park to the right. What they mean to say is that long-term parking is to the left, and short-term parking is to the right. 

    I giggle because I know, I KNOW, that I make these exact types of errors one hundred times a day. I only hope my faltering French is as adorable to them as this little street sign is to me. 

    Monday, May 2, 2011

    A Stranger

    I am pondering what it means to be a stranger.

    Today I learned that Osama bin Laden has been found, killed, and buried at sea. I learned all this through the posts of friends on Facebook. I have subsequently watched US news reports on the Internet, but I am fairly certain that if it were not for Facebook, I would still be unaware of these events. There was not a word about it in the French papers today, and there is certainly no rejoicing in the streets. It's just another day in France. And I am a stranger here.

    Chandler has just finished reading Ted Dekker's Circle Trilogy, a series that I, too, have read. On the way home from school we discuss the rich metaphors and allegories that are woven throughout this series of novels. We talk of sin and redemption and faith and evil and angels. We consider the implications of  fictional parallel universes and ponder the mysteries that were left unsolved at the end of the third book. Suddenly I realize that I am having an entirely adult conversation with my baby. And I am a stranger here.

    Graham has been closely following the evolution of his favorite band, Skillet. They have recently replaced their lead guitarist. Graham was trying to figure out how he could audition for the spot. I ask David privately, "Is Graham actually good enough to play lead guitar for Skillet? Is he even qualified?" David assures me that Graham is indeed capable. Pride mingles with humility as David admits, "Graham is already a better guitarist than I am. He has the passion, the talent, and the drive. I would not be surprised at all if he goes pro. Perhaps not now with Skillet--he's only 15! But someday." I face the reality that my son wants to be a rock star. He is starting to follow his own dreams, to find his own destiny. And I am a stranger here. 

    David and I have spent practically every minute of the past 10 months together. We go to school together, we eat together, we sleep together. We are tying to imagine what it will look like to work together, to aid in the planting of churches together, to join in God's vision together. We both tend towards independent. We both cherish our own creativity, our own ideas, our own insights. I begin to understand more and more the need to die to self. And I am a stranger here.

    Back in the States one nephew prepares to marry, while another conducts a youth orchestra in the playing of his own composition. Eldest niece will soon graduate from law school, littlest niece sports pink cowboy boots, and middle nieces hold tea parties. Extended family plans a tri-annual reunion. One dear friend packs for a cross-country move, another registers for a half-marathon. Sister pierces nose. People I love are living life to the full, and for that I rejoice. But  I am a stranger there, too.

    In the midst of this alien life I am living, I do not feel alone. In some ways I feel closer than ever to the one who left the throne of heaven for the stench of a stable. The words from I Peter keep running through my head, " your lives as strangers here..." I memorized that verse a few years ago, but I am certain that at that time I did not fully understand what was being asked of me. I probably still do not fully understand it, but I have been slightly enlightened.

    When you live as a stranger, you don't quite fit in. Not here; not there. When you live as a stranger, you always feel off-balance, so you learn to accept wobbling as a way of life. When you live as a stranger, you are quick to listen. Listening becomes intentional. You are slow to speak because you are keenly aware of how little you know.You mostly ask questions. You are eager to learn. Everything you say takes monumental effort. You and your sentences are often meandering and sometimes lost. When you are a stranger you are on alert, using all of your senses all of the time. Sounds are louder, colors are brighter, smells are stronger. You experience time differently because your life now spans multiple time zones and multiple generations. In this way you glimpse eternity. When you are a stranger, you begin to understand and fully appreciate the concept of  "home."

    Today, decisively, I embrace my role as "stranger." In each arena of my life where I am a stranger: in my marriage, my parenting, and my callings; I am discovering new territory. To grow, I must become a stranger. To be changed, I must be willing to go to unfamiliar places. As a stranger, I exercise my faith, I learn compassion, I experience Jesus.

    To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Washington, Oregon, Texas, Indiana and France, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. I Peter 1:1-2 (sort of)