I’m currently listening to www.radiogospel.fr – a 24 hr. internet radio site that plays a mix of English and French Christian music from Paris. “God loves you so much that He gave you…radiogospel!” I thought I’d include the link so that you could have some culturally appropriate background music while you read this month’s installment.
We had a really nice holiday time this year: It started with a gourmet Christmas banquet for the teachers in mid-December, along with Rachel’s easy integration back into the family, a few extra support checks that eliminated present-buying stress, a fun New Year’s Eve party at church hosted by the youth group, and it just ended with 2 weekends of celebrating Olivia’s birthday. It all sounds so wonderful, doesn’t it? And yet herein lie my dark confessions.
- Backing up a little bit, Cyril, our teacher for the 7-9 yr old class, has had a very difficult trimester. His class of 20 was the largest, and almost half of them came in as new students this year from families in turmoil. As you can imagine, this destabilized the entire class. For 3 months, these kids broke all the rules, refused to work, and made learning impossible. Cyril has always been a confident, beaming teacher, but now he was pale, angry, and insecure about his calling. And how did I respond? This leads to my first confession: I wrung my hands and worried about him. I wanted to kick all those kids out for making our lives so miserable, (I had to deal with them at lunch and recess.) And when I heard that these kids came from Christian homes, I began to despair completely…
Fortunately, the director did not respond like I did. She has not kept a Christian school running in France for 20 years for nothing, and she pulled out all the stops to tackle the problem head-on with spiritual warfare. She and the intercessors prayed up a storm for more insight. Then she repented to the entire class on behalf of any past teacher that might have treated them harshly. Then Cyril repented for his angry responses. Then several children admitted their faults in front of the class and apologized, (and some had no idea what they were doing wrong!) The director then met with each of them individually, and said parents would be called in if changes didn’t happen. Many children decided that they needed God’s help and salvation, and that impacted some non-believing families, who send their children to our school purely as a last resort for learning problems. Just before Christmas, one of those parents had a talk with one of the teachers, and prayed a prayer of salvation right there on the school playground! Just before Christmas break, Cyril was beaming again, and I am sure the restoration of his classroom was far and away the best gift he received last month.
- Confession #2: I hate French prayer meetings. Based on Confession #1, it is clear that prayer is not my first reaction to life’s heavier problems. I hope this changes soon because my missionary self-esteem depends on it. It does not help that I am married to a man who loves to pray, though you may think it might. Another issue is that my brain is so busy engaged in translating everyone else’s prayers and following the flow, that I cannot yet engage my Spirit. The last problem is that I refuse to pray in my very imperfect French, nor do I feel comfortable praying in English, for obvious reasons. Let me put it into perspective – At the last dreaded “p.m.,” with people that I love dearly I might add, it was all I could do to keep myself from running downstairs to re-organize the school cleaning closet. But before you roll your eyes in disbelief, let me add some imagery:
The cleaning closet is the equivalent of a dark, narrow dungeon, cluttered not only by myriads of cleaning supplies, but also by piles of lost and found clothing, stinky mops, bulky vacuum cleaners with broken and mismatched attachments, and various stacks and bags of clean and dirty towels and rags. This last item is our biggest headache, and let me tell you why. Instead of using hygienic disposable paper towels in the bathrooms, we use this clever money-saving system: Hope that one of the mothers will notice when clean hand towels are lacking in the bathrooms. Take the dirty, moldy ones home, wash them, line dry them, and bring them back, returning them to the proper shelf in the cleaning closet. I am not making this up because I have done it myself, and in addition, added loops to several dozen of these towels so that they have a better chance of being hung on the provided hooks instead landing in the sink or on the floor. After mentally re-organizing the place, I couldn’t wait to spend a couple of days tackling it over Christmas break. In short, I have received more compliments over that little project than all of my other contributions in the last 3 years combined. I think my missionary self-esteem just went up a notch…
- As I mentioned at the beginning, David and I were privileged to finally experience the renowned 4-hour-long-French-gourmet-meal. It was completely unanticipated, cost us absolutely nothing, and was an evening I will never forget. So what’s to confess? When I found out that it was being prepared single-handedly by a certain new single parent, I wondered whether it was even worth attending. You see, I had spent enough time with this woman to label her a “failure” as a wife and mother. (Need I mention that one of her children was in Cyril’s class?) I was also limiting my interaction with her because I found her accent very hard to understand, and the phrases I did catch were usually negative. Her face was perpetually pinched with stress and she had fingernail stubs to match, so I hastily concluded that she couldn’t be much of a cook.
You would think that after spending 2 days preparing a 5-course meal from scratch for 50 people, she would look even worse than she normally does. I would. But when she finally came out to the dining room to receive our 3-minute standing ovation, she was radiant. Her countenance was so peaceful that I almost didn’t recognize her. She expressed what a pleasure it was to do this for us, (just like I felt about my dungeon overhaul!) I am now convinced that she is the heavenly chef for the “Marriage Supper of the Lamb” in disguise. I certainly hope so, though I’m not sure what that makes me! And in this new light, I can easily bless her and watch God transform her (with the help of a mature Christian friend and counselor who understands her better than I do!)
Before moving on, I have a 4th confession to make: I am no longer against the cruel force-feeding of ducks and geese that is necessary to produce foie gras. The “handmade” foie gras (with a market value of $75/pound) served for the first course was the highlight of the meal for me, and I am now ruined for life. No, it did not taste like liver, but buyer beware – anything cheaper is not worth the can it is sold in!
- David and I are a normal couple when it comes to gift-giving. Like many men, he is challenged in this area, and like many wives, I make sure that he is well aware of my extreme disappointment for several hours afterwards, only then shaking it off with some extra Christmas chocolates. But without going into any more detail, let’s just call this little Christmas morning meltdown: “Confession #5.” But this year, the Holy Spirit seemed a little more demanding. I’d been trying to read my Bible more regularly lately, and it seemed to be having an effect… Instead of nursing my resentment/disappointment/self-pity cocktail, followed by a hot accusation chaser, I felt the desire to immediately rip it from my flesh! And Jesus met me in the bedroom as my personal open heart surgeon. I have rarely experienced such an efficient transformation: I opened my chronologically-ordered Daily Bible and read Hebrews 12 out loud. It pierced me like the 2-edged sword it claims to be, releasing tears of repentance, and then I walked out of that room 20 min. later a new woman. The icing on the cake was that David apologized for my empty stocking just a few minutes later, which usually only comes after the hot accusation part.
Still waiting for the perfect Christmas gift? All you really need is a good foie gras and forgiveness.