Forgive me Readers, for I have sinned.
It’s been 3 months since my last newsletter. This month’s title is my excuse, and I think you’ll agree that it is a good one, once you’ve read to the end. I don’t think I have ever organized this many blessed gatherings in such a short period of time. Since the title is culled from a Thanksgiving hymn, let’s start there.
I was ready to give up the holiday for good this year. Olivia has no American memories of Thanksgiving since we left the country when she was 3, and the other 2 will no longer be home for it. I also wasn’t gearing up for a big classroom event since I’m not teaching English. But a struggling family and a single friend had all but invited themselves over, so desperate they were to experience this uniquely American holiday, despite my hints that without the football and family, it’s nothing more than a big meal. However, the more foreign mandatory ingredients are easier to find every year, and my friend even wanted to play the role of the Indian and pay for the turkey breast! (Yes, they brought most of the meat to that first big meal.) Keeping in mind that my own children were picky eaters, it was worth all the effort to watch the 9 year old guest wolf down his food, ask for seconds and declare my meal worthy of, not 4, but 6 stars, even when the only food he was familiar with was the turkey and green beans! It did not remotely resemble a starchy all-you-can-eat-buffet, but they still had trouble finding room for the pie, which was a slight disappointment, since I had made my first homemade French pie crust. (It was so much easier and fun(!) than the American version. Here’s a great little how-to video on my favorite French recipe site.) Anyway, we replaced the football with descriptions of the suffering pilgrims using our Thanksgiving picture books and sang of “the wicked oppressing, now cease from distressing” and other Thanksgiving favorites, setting a mildly Puritanical tone that put our guests in an almost hushed reverence.
Back in Sept. I was trying to figure out a way to prepare Olivia for her blessing/purity ceremony in Jan. In the end, I penned my first 6-week study for 7th grade girls on some of the basic themes of the Song of Solomon, illustrated through 4 fairy tales, and entitled, “How to Become a Princess in 6 weeks.” We invited all 9 girls from her class to come over straight from school each Friday night and they all squeezed onto my big American couch, nibbled on American snacks, worshiped with songs taken from the Song of Solomon, discussed the homework questions, and then listened to, read, or watched the next fairy tale together. None of them had ever read the Song of Solomon before, but I believed that if I could convey the emotions of Jesus that are found in this “love letter” for them before the storms of adolescence approach, they would have much smoother sailing. Some were more ready for it than others, but I know good seeds were planted, and the best part was that I was walking in a grace that made it very light. The fact that they are all sweet girls who like each other and love Olivia made it even better. Our final gathering happened the week after Thanksgiving when we created self-portraits based on the verses: “Who is this that appears like the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, majestic as a troop with banners?” and “Set me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm,” (using a real blood red wax seal with Jesus’ initial on it!) The results would provide wonderful prophetic decor for Olivia’s big night.
A week after that, I was asked to decorate our church restaurant for the teacher’s annual Christmas meal. Unfortunately I was only given one day’s notice, which is just a little stressful for someone with residual perfectionist tendencies, but David+Olivia’s entire class joined me for an hour giving me 20 more sets of hands that were invaluable. The humble brown paper lunch bag is non-existent in France, so a welcoming entrance lit up by luminaria always impresses. It was a costume party and since I had worked in the cold up to the last minute, I raced home and put on the most comfortable thing I could think of – my flannel pajamas and slippers. It was prophetic as well – I came home at midnight with a sore throat and joined David in bed, who had already succumbed. (We had a different chef this year that offered only 3 courses, but the foie gras was still good, followed by rabbit in mushroom sauce with spaetzle, (thick German noodles) cooked veggies, and a light sorbet dessert.)
Rachel and Noah came home 2 days later. A couple of months before, we were waiting to see if extra support money would come in when we needed to jump on a ticket purchase for Rachel. When it didn’t, I started trying to imagine Christmas without her. I couldn’t. So I did a daring thing and bought the ticket anyway, using money set aside for upcoming bills. Well, Christmas money did start coming in and the bills were paid, but Christmas morning with sick parents and empty stockings could have looked pretty bleak, even for 3 non-materialistic teenagers.
Well, Rachel’s arrival brought so much joy that she might as well have traveled by sleigh – she added presents to her presence, and even filled the stockings! Only when she becomes a mother will she realize what a burden she took from me.
Every year I fantasize about winter family outings that never materialize. This year was no different. (I could host a pity party, but that would be yet another gathering that I don’t need!) I also think we are not the only ones: Sickness kept us from attending a Christmas concert. The abnormally cold temperatures kept us from going to the mountains for some snow time. We had planned to rent “Horton Hears a Who” as our family Christmas movie, but it had been damaged by the previous renter. A museum exhibit that we wanted to see was closed during the days that worked for us, etc. It’s a good thing we like being together because in the end, we hibernated. It wasn’t until New Year’s Eve that the kids all managed to escape the house and gather with friends for a few days. Back in good health, this allowed David and I to have a much-needed intimate gathering of our own over wine, cheese, and a great little French flick. (After 6 years, we can finally enjoy a French movie in French – a real ego boost, believe me!) Then Olivia had to go back to school while the rest of us started feverishly organizing her ceremony.
Craig Hill of Family Foundations has written a couple of good books on restoring “the ancient paths” that God instituted, but that modern society has discarded. Generational blessing is one of them. Go to their site for a great description of this concept. We wanted to combine that with her purity vows on her 13th birthday, and do it publicly in order to model this to families in our church and school, as a way to deal with that lack of spiritual fathering that I wrote about a year ago. We experienced quite a bit of enemy attack during the last week, but rather than upsetting me, it was very encouraging, because then I knew we were taking ground for the Kingdom rather than just providing entertainment!
It was a great family effort – I couldn’t have done it without my kids. David and I relived our pre-wedding nerves. Rachel got a glimpse of what planning her own wedding would be like, and played her sweet violin. Noah moved a lot of furniture and played photographer. Olivia simply radiated. I started off the evening by describing my vision for the princess class and had some of the girls share the theme of each week. Then the girls performed one of the songs we learned, which we have posted on youtube for your enjoyment! David followed with a teaching on the biblical reason for blessing children at this stage of their life: to seal their identity and release their destiny! Then he called up Olivia, got on his knees, and blessed her in English, while the guests read their printed translation. When he finished, (it was lengthy) he crowned her with a garland and they waltzed to a Boccherini minuet that Olivia loves. When the 2nd movement started, the “princesses” did a circle dance around her and offered her a rose as she turned with each of them arm in arm. Then David and I came forward and listened to her recite from memory her purity vows which came directly from the following verses: 2 Tim 2:22, Ps 101:1-6, Prov 1:8 & 3:5-6. We followed that with a reading of our own vows: in short, to be the most supportive parents we could be during her adolescence, and then we gave her a ring. Rachel translated all of that and then invited the audience to offer up their own prayers and blessings, and many did. We finished with the second song from the class (another video!) and then gave them the opportunity to order the book, which has been translated by the Canadians. (If it wasn’t for them, a lot of spiritual resources would not be available to the French. Have you hugged a Canadian today?) Anyway, our guests were so moved by the event that 13 of the 17 families ordered a copy, including our “pre-Christian” neighbors!! As Rachel says, “Yeah God!”
Nothing says “princess” like an angel food cake, so we cut up 4 of them for the reception. “Ho hum” for Americans perhaps, but a real novelty for the French. Before departing, they signed our guest book in the form of a poster illustrating a cute cutaway of a princess’s castle, filled with fairy tale references. Olivia now has their “love” hanging over her bed as a reminder of an evening that was just as she had dreamed it would be.
So when we gathered together to ask the Lord’s blessing, He did. And then it gets even better…
On the day before and the day after the ceremony, 2 deposits were made into our accounts. Combined, they made the biggest deposit we’d ever received in 8 years on the field! The timing of this blessing (around the blessing of Olivia) really got our attention, and we have real anticipation that God is putting things in place in 2009. Last month we submitted our annual request to stay in the country, and each year we hope they will get tired of processing us and give us the 10 yr. visa that gives David the right to work. This year we were encouraged by the mayor’s office to ask specifically for one and submit additional evidence to increase the chance of a favorable response. But whether we get it or not, David is still motivated to plant a seed towards a work permit by investing in some business start-up equipment with our latest gift. He has even dusted off our copy of “The Prayer of Jabez” and is getting new insights! We’ll let you know the outcome in the next newsletter…
So the day before Rachel had to fly back, we took our happy debit card to the store and bought our very own copy of “Horton Hears a Who.” (Many have seen the anti-abortion message hidden within, but has anyone besides my daughter seen the events of “the last days” alluded to in this movie??) Knowing this was our last family gathering for long while made it hard to end the evening. But resting in the fact that our kids are walking in blessing makes separation a lot easier.
A blessed 2009 to you all,