Joyeux St. Valentin!
Since we skipped a month, I’ll pick up where I left off in December, starting with answers to questions posed in the last newsletter, and then move on to our title’s topic. (Apologies for the lengthiness.)
- Our new sanctuary has a real floor now and the walls have just been painted. We are still renting the old building for the children’s ministry.
- The teacher’s Christmas meal? I give it a 4 out of 5 – we didn’t get a cheese course this year, and the vaulted ceilings of our restaurant amplify and carry voices, making it very fatiguing to the ear. David was also too sick to go, so I got to introduce Rachel to foie gras instead!
- The healing evangelist was more concerned about healing bad attitudes, believing that physical healings would follow. Amen to that.
- The handyman was barred from working Christmas vacation and his family was very grateful.
- Our bedroom now only lacks a better ceiling, and is having the anticipated impact on our married life!
With crazy weather in the headlines, we are grateful for a mild winter so far, keeping the heating bills a little lower, we hope.
We’ve had extra gifts come in January, and that enabled me to get a much-needed bifocal. I say, “bifocal” because for all intents and purposes, I only use one eye. There was no adjustment period, just immediate relief from constant strain. Merci! (I actually look forward to sewing up some slipcovers for our couch now!)
We are in the process of booking flights for Rachel and me to return stateside this summer. She will move in with David’s parents in Indianapolis and attend the Art Institute (in the Pyramids, for you Hoosiers) for a bachelor’s degree in graphic arts. She needs to learn to drive, get a part-time job to pay for living expenses, and find a passionate-for-God group of young adults to hang with in her spare time! If any of you locals have a lead in any of these areas, please drop us a line!
Also, my parents have not seen us for 4 years, and Olivia and Noah are desperate to come with us, but we all know that flights are outrageously priced right now. We actually have 4 weeks to pay for the tickets, so we have decided that any money given via the PayPal button on our site this month will go towards a third ticket. (Also, we are flying Delta, just in case anyone has Skymiles that they would like to transfer.) Our kids may not only start praying, but fasting over this one! :^)
On that note, we hope to be earning some euros of our own this year. A banker at our church has already offered David some part-time work that has been very positive, except for the fact that we still don’t know how to get paid legally without a work permit. All the same, it is comforting to know that David’s earnings are set aside for him until that little detail is resolved. David is going to introduce himself to our mayor next week since relationships are key to getting through red tape. Our mayor rarely makes public appearances, even though he is a native of our town, so we are curious to see what he’s like up close and personal. Write “Leigh grace” on your calenders under Feb. 18, and we’ll let you know how it goes! Now on to our topic without further delay…
Fathering is on our hearts and minds right now, and though it sounds like a better topic for June, it may not be too far off base for Valentine’s Day.
Now that we’re getting to know French families beyond a surface level, (and believe me, it does take 4 years because they’re waiting to see if you’re really going to stay) a lot of pain and turmoil over the fathering crisis in this country is rising to the top, at least for me. I know that America shares the same problem, but because France is so much smaller and atheistic, it feels much more concentrated! Here are some anecdotes to make the point:
- 5 years ago, the YWAM Reconciliation School that David staffed sent a team on an outreach to Louisiana. When they came back, I asked a single guy what struck him the most about America. His immediate answer was, “There are (spiritual) fathers there!” I didn’t know how to respond then, but now that I’ve lived here awhile, I get it.
- Sarkozy. Our church was very pleased with him and the pro-faith/family statements that were pouring out of his mouth early in his tenure. And now his personal life is getting just a little bit distracting. Would you be surprised to learn that his (rich) father left the family, refusing to support his wife and 3 boys, and remarried twice? He is the first French president to be born after WWII, and that is also key. During WWI, France lost more men than any other nation except Russia, (which had a population 4x greater than France.) 1,700,000 dead soldiers (almost 2 million!) meant that the next generation grew up fatherless, or with traumatized fathers, crippling their ability to confront Germany in WWII, and creating a catastrophic impact on society at many different levels.
- On a more personal level, our church has a missing generation: men in their 30s. And I don’t think we’re alone. I hadn’t noticed this until a couple of years ago when a Swiss worship team came over to minister and it was composed entirely of men in their 30s. The leader runs a small Christian school and has 5 kids of his own, and the energy they brought into our sanctuary almost knocked me over! That’s what we’re missing! Our teams are tired 40-50 yr olds like us and run-down 18-21 yr olds (commuting home for the weekend, trying to pass impossible college exams or trying keep their first jobs.)
- And this first-hand description of French family dynamics is probably a good picture of life among our students:
The grandmother of Pauline, Olivia’s classmate, came over last Sat. evening while the two girls attended youth group together. Much to our amazement, this woman opened up her heart to us over coffee, and we don’t even know her actual name! (I called her “madame” all evening, and she never corrected me or told me to call her otherwise, so there you go – maybe in 4 more yrs!) She or Pauline’s mother make the 40 min. drive to school every day, and on Sat. as well for a watercolor class (which is why she was hanging out with us afterwards.) We found out that she has been a rare Christian education supporter for a long time, and that Pauline’s mother was one of our school’s first students 20 years ago. (She was direction-less with poor grades and had been placed in a car mechanic track by the public school system! When the downward spiral continued, they moved her to our school, where she re-did a year or 2, was brought back to life, and passed her exams.) Later, she married an unbeliever.
Their first child was Pauline who started flailing in public school in 4th grade, so they enrolled her with us and saw her completely recover. Last year, when the younger son showed more serious learning problems, they agreed he probably needed the extra support our school provided too. Then when their other daughter started developing nervous tics, she was enrolled without any hesitation this year. Mamie (“grandma”) is thrilled, but at the same time, her other son, an active Christian, won’t let her see his kids, stating that she needs “deliverance” first! Her other daughter and husband are non-believers, but she babysits their children often, always planting “Jesus seeds.” And did I mention that Mamie is a widow? Have you noticed what’s lacking in this family tree yet?
(By the way, Pauline has spent some weekends with us and is one of the best guests we’ve ever had – worshiping the American soil we used to walk on! And you will never believe who she claims as her spiritual role model: Olivia. Pinch me.)
- The father of another good 6th grade friend, Lois, separated from his wife a few months ago. We heard second-hand from people who had history with them, and they were stunned. He’s a gentle man and has 4 daughters, Lois being the baby and the one closest to him. We drive her home every day after school and she never said a word about it to us. Neither did the parents. We’d had only shallow contact with her mother as she worked full time and always seemed too depressed to engage with us. I did lots of hand-wringing and praying, and then time passed, and Lois didn’t seem to be suffering in any obvious ways, so we relaxed a bit. I finally got up the courage to invite him and Lois for lunch during the Feb. school break that we are on, just to let him know that we care. Maybe he’ll open up – after all, we know his name!
- And then there is “the dysfunctional family that cut a worship CD” at the school that cannot be avoided – I have or have had all 4 of their unhappy, undisciplined girls in my classes who wear us all out. They were trying to start a house church, but realized a few months ago that they needed to be in a Body for awhile. Guess which church they chose? Now I’m deprived of even a Sabbath rest! It is also exhausting to continue to keep a clean heart towards the father when I witness his heartless actions and the affect on his family. But I also know that harboring judgment towards him will not set him free. So this is God’s way of forcing me to my knees more often and softening me with compassion that comes with forgiving… every week.
- So what are we doing about this gaping wound in the heart of France? Well, it just so happens that our Christian educators’ conference theme this month is “The Father Heart of God,” and this topic is so crucial to a healthy Christian walk that we are inviting the parents to come too. In preparing for Noah’s birthday recently, I read that the mother’s role is to give life, but the father’s role is to bless and validate children, calling out their destinies as successful men and women, as the Old Testament patriarchs did so faithfully. And the beautiful thing is that when earthly fathers fail, a person who gives one’s life back to God receives that missing validation – the same one that Jesus heard. “This is my son/daughter in whom I am well-pleased.” Ahhh… equal to a heart transplant, and just the Valentine sentiment that the French need to hear. (We sing this blessing over all the new students in chapel each year as a spiritual booster shot – it rhymes really well in French.)
- To end with a positive French fathering story, and to prove my point, I would like to mention Corinne, my French penpal/friend of 30 years. She is the only child of devoted parents who raised her well. The death of her mother 20 years ago brought her even closer to her dad. Now almost 80, he and his generation have seen too much war misery to sustain a faith in God. However, he has raised a daughter who has no visible vices, thinks only of the less fortunate when she suffers, never forgets my children’s birthdays, has compassion rather than bitterness towards her maniacal bosses, and most amazing of all… deemed me worthy of continuing a friendship, even when she did not understand why on earth we needed to come and pray for her country! I believe that because she was loved and validated by her dad, her image of God was not distorted, and with an open heart she is currently reading the French version of “The Purpose-Driven Life” that I sent for Christmas! :^)
Wishing you the love of the Father on this Valentine’s Day,