Sunday, October 30, 2011

Mischief Makers

We are currently snuggled in the fabulous French Alps at our annual GEM France Field Retreat. One of our field directors woke up this morning to find his car covered in post-it notes. I have no idea who the instigators of such a prank may have been. Okay, so maybe I do. Perhaps I even know some of them personally. Actually, I'd even say that their effort made me proud!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Learning about Joy

We sat at the stern, watching the wake that our boat was leaving across the Mediterranean. It sounds romantic. Exotic, even. But the truth is, we were sad. I sat focused on the bubbles trailing behind us, unsure of what to say.

Our kids were reading and playing games back in our cabin, my parents were on a sun deck. David and I were hiding, trying not to ruin the dream vacation, all the while wondering why the pain of past failures rears its ugly head in moments like these. Probably because in leaving the busy-ness of our day to day lives, those thoughts that we had shoved around like unwanted peas on a dinner plate were all that remained.

We sat close to each other, but truly, there were miles between us. Each one needing comfort and hope that the other could not offer. In that silence, that screaming, painful, silence, God spoke. He did not vanquish the pain or belittle the failures that we were grieving. He simply said, "This is where it begins."

What!?! What is that supposed to mean? What begins in grief? What is born from failure?

To those questions I have no answers.

In the end, we did find peace and take genuine pleasure in our vacation. We played, we explored, we ate, we relaxed, and we had important, heartfelt conversations. We "processed." Through these experiences I am learning that joy can be found in the midst of trials--in fact, it is mingled throughout them. This joy is no less real, nor is it diminished by co-existing with challenges and grief. I claim it, I embrace it, I enter in to it, bringing whatever sadness along. And I am blessed.

The JOY of the Lord is my strength.

Monday, October 24, 2011

All Aboard!

It all started back in May, when I received an e-mail from Costa Cruise Lines offering an incredible fare on Eastern Mediterranean Cruises during the month of October. I already knew that my parents were coming to visit during the month of October, and we had been talking about traveling to Greece together while they were here. When I looked at the cruise deal—October being “off-season” and all—it turned out to be the most economical way to go. So we booked it, paid for it, and practically forgot about it. But God must have known how much we would all need a vacation right about now. We are so very, very grateful.

We began our journey with a two-day road trip to Venice, which was our departure port. We had less than 24 hours to enjoy Venice, but we made the most of it.

Venice is AMAZING. David snapped this shot of me as I got my first glimpse of the city. I don’t think my expression changed the entire time we were there.

Our one evening in Venice also happened to be my Dad’s 77th Birthday. 

The day of our departure we had time to wander to the Ponte di Rialto…

…and to explore the banks of the Grand Canal.

It was sunny and about 65° Fahrenheit when we boarded the ship. We sailed at sunset; how romantic is that?


We anchored off the coast of the Greek Island of Santorini. As we took in our surroundings, we felt completely spoiled.

We recently heard of something called “the m&m phenomenon.” It is a phrase used to refer to things that only two categories of people get to experience: Millionaires and Missionaries. We fall into the latter category, obviously. Living in Europe, it feels like so much of the world is within reach, and the delights of such an existence are not lost on us. That doesn’t mean that our life is a bed of roses. We have had a very difficult year in so many ways. But the challenges in one arena do not prevent us from appreciating the joys in another arena. Right now we are drowning in appreciation.

As you look at this picture of Santorini, you see that the village is situated on the top of the island.

Here you can see the winding path that leads from the docks up to the village. We opted to make the journey on donkeys.

Or perhaps I should say, “Donkey.” Singular. While every person ahead of us and behind us was given their OWN donkey, for some reason Chandler and I were required to SHARE a donkey. We felt like the Three Two Amigos. I am not sure the donkey was all that happy about it either. The saddle—which was meant for one person—was horribly uncomfortable for two. And of course that meant that we had only one set of stirrups. I got the stirrups, Chandler got the handlebars reins.

Both of us felt rather wobbly, and the donkey didn’t seem all that stable either. We were on a steep path with no guardrails!

It would have been terrifying if we had not been laughing our heads off the whole way up. If I never ride another donkey as long as I live that will be okay with me.

Oh but it was worth the trip!


It is a strange feeling to walk on an island that is referred to in the Bible. Rhodes is mentioned in the book of Acts when Paul is being transported as a prisoner of Greece. For many years Rhodes was ruled by Turks (you can see the coast of Turkey from Rhodes) and all the churches on the island were either destroyed or turned into mosques. It was also a headquarters of sorts for the Knights Templar. Rhodes is famous for the giant Colossus that once towered over its port.

Here are the remains of Aphrodite’s Temple:

A couple of us took a dip in the Mediterranean; at least until we saw this sign. In an effort to avoid an International Incident, we decided to limit our swimming to the pools on deck of the ship.

The shopping was good in Rhodes. I picked up a few keepsakes like a small pottery bowl, a linen table runner, and our traditional deck of playing cards. Our family buys a deck of cards in every new place that we visit. We are getting quite a fun collection, and every time that we play a game that requires multiple decks we feel as though we have the world at our fingertips.
In the midst of all the wonderful ports, we had plenty of time to relax. I read 3 books, we saw 3 shows, and I probably gained 30 pounds. It was a wonderful vacation.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Speaking of...

This week someone explained to me how to prepare cow's tongue. As a meal. To eat. I'd try it, but my mom is visiting right now, and she has declared (in no uncertain terms) that she will NOT eat cow's tongue. Nor rabbit. Nor horse. I suppose this means I will not be expanding our culinary palette. Not for a few more weeks, anyways. But stay tuned, because I just might post recipes for these and other such delicacies in the near future.

Speaking of delicacies, have I mentioned my new-found LOVE of comté cheese? Eating comté is like having a party in your mouth.

You know what would NOT be a party in your mouth? A hairball. Today, as I watched our cat bathe himself, I said to David, "Aren't you thankful that you don't have to lick yourself clean?" Yep! Add that to your list of 1000 Gifts.

Speaking of 1000 gifts, my parents brought us some of our very favorite things from the States: Pop-tarts, Jelly Bellys, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, socks. Yes, of course they DO have socks in France. But for some reason, my boys do not like French socks. Who knew socks would be different? But perhaps the funniest thing that we asked my parents to bring was cheese. We asked them to bring cheese TO France--the cheese capital of the world. Over 600 cheeses are made in France, but no one here makes cheddar. I love all the cheeses that I can find in France (particularly a hard, white cheese called, "comté"); however, when one wants tacos or a cheeseburger, only cheddar will do. Tillamook cheddar, to be exact.

You know what is NOT exact? The process by which one obtains a long term visa in France. After 12 days of being illegal (the original extension to our long stay visa expired), David and I received a second EXTENSION to our first long stay visa. We still do not have the renewal, for which we applied in May. Last week they called to inform me that I needed to submit a different photo. Apparently, in the photo that I had sent, my teeth were showing. Apparently, it is absolutely forbidden for one's teeth to show in a photo for a long stay visa. So I went back to the photo booth, closed my mouth, took a picture of myself, and sent the photos to the powers that be. Perhaps once they receive my closed-mouth photos they will decide to give us our visas. We shall see.

Speaking of things that "we shall see," we are all getting pretty excited about the things that we shall see next week. This weekend we leave (with my parents) to go on a vacation. A VACATION! I am praying for sun and anticipating a grand adventure. Do you want to know where we are going? I'll give you a hint: We'll pack Bonnie, we'll follow Paul, and we'll quote Dr. Jones. Did you figure it out?

You know what I can NOT figure out? I cannot figure out what these are for. The real estate agent gave them to me, but I have no idea what they lock or unlock. We feel plenty secure using the other 9 keys that she left for us.

Speaking of things that were left for us, have I told you about our dishwasher? We found a dishwasher on leboncoin (which is like Craig's List) and we made an appointment with the seller to go and see it. At the appointed date and time we drove to the next town over to view said dishwasher. When we arrived we found ourselves in a small rural village. No one was home, and the house looked as if it had been deserted for weeks. But the dishwasher was sitting in plain view on the porch. We waited for an hour, but the owner never came. We tried calling him, but he didn't answer. So we decided to, well, to take the dishwasher. We thought that if we got it home and found that it worked, we would call the owner and tell him that we would mail him a check for the asking price. If it didn't work we would simply put it back where we found it. Even though I knew that we were NOT stealing the dishwasher--that we had every intention to pay for the dishwasher--it still felt like a clandestine operation. Long story short: Dishwasher works, check has been mailed, no one was arrested in the process.

Aren't you glad this post ended with the good news that we were NOT arrested?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Rhythm of Life in Loches

I have a new love in my life: comté. Comté is a hard, white cheese, and I buy 500 grams of it from my favorite cheese-maker every Saturday.

Wednesdays and Saturdays are market days in Loches. Farmers, cheesemakers, butchers, etc. come to our village to peddle their goods. I find great joy in buying local, seasonal products! Eggs, fromage de chèvre (goat cheese), comté, salami, and vegetables are always on my list. Occasionally I'll also buy a whole chicken (head still attached), fruit (the apples and pears are lovely right now), or a scarf (all varieties of shoes and clothing can be bought at the market). Someday I hope to buy table linens, a bouquet of flowers, and roasted chestnuts. Eventually I'll try to post some pictures of the market; Market days are now a part of the rhythm of our lives in Loches.

Aside: "Rhythm" is an interesting word. I struggled with its spelling for years until a music teacher showed me the rhythm of the word itself: r- H - y, t - H - m; r - H - y, t - H - m; r - H - y, t - H - m. I haven't misspelled it since.

Communal prayer is also part of the rhythm of our lives: Monday through Friday at 7 a.m. We begin with three worship songs, then we spend some time praising God for who He is. After that we read a passage of scripture together. Each person present reads one verse, and we continue around the circle until the entire passage (typically consisting of about 12 verses) has been read. Then we have about 5 minutes of silence to meditate on the passage. After this time of reflection, we pray about what we have just read. Sometimes we pray prayers of confession because the scripture was convicting. Sometimes we pray prayers of gratitude because the scripture reminded us of the goodness of God. Sometimes everyone in the room has a different response to the passage, which is a  beautiful thing, and evidence that the Word of God is alive. When the prayers subside, the leader rereads the entire passage aloud. In closing, we ask if there are any prayer requests for the day and we pray for those requests. These morning prayer meetings currently take place everyday in two locations: at the church and in our home.

In the evening at 6 p.m. both groups join together at the church. We sing a song and then one question is asked: "Where was God today?" People share about how God worked in their lives that very day, and then we thank God for His blessings. Evening prayer typically lasts about 20 minutes.

 Each morning I feel as though we have inhaled God's grace, and each evening we exhale our gratitude for His goodness. It is a rhythmic, life-giving exchange that provides a gentle framework for our days.

We brought some rhythms with us to Loches, and they are being neatly woven into our routine here. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I go for a run immediately following morning prayer. I am still memorizing a scripture passage each week--though now I do this in French. We pray together as a family before bed, David makes Pizza on Friday nights, Jack demands attention at 4 a.m., and we go to church on Sunday. Many of these rhythms have become family traditions, and they seem to follow us wherever we go.

But all of these together--the new and the old--make up the heartbeats of our life; they are the cycles--the rhythms--that move us through our days and weeks. I am learning move with them. Someday I hope to move with them gracefully, turning the rhythm to rhyme.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

THIS... NOT the photo that we chose for our Christmas Card. But it was in the running. our living room where we gather every weekday morning from 7-8 a.m. (with a few members of our church) for worship, prayer, and Bible reading. the red faux leather sofa that I bought used on for 50€.

... is a genuine smile on my face. Finally. NOT a wordy blog post. I wonder if I will find my words again. I suspect I probably will. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011


I hung laundry out to dry.

Made appetizers for a wedding reception.

Jack did yoga.

I unpacked boxes and organized kitchen cupboards.

David hung guitars on the wall.

And my parents arrived!

It all sounds so simple. But there was nothing simple about it. 

September was a month that challenged us in every domain: We had intense spiritual battles; physical ailments, emotional breakdowns, and mental overloads. I finally reached the end of myself, and in that place--haggard, broken, and desperate--I found that God is not just sufficient, He is more than enough. I AM nothing (hallelujia!), and HE is everything. He is all that I need and all that I have and all that I want.