Out With the Old, In With the New

So many huge changes in our lives have come with the ringing in of the new year!

We are anticipating great things, even if it did start off with David and I getting a flu that kept us from being able to celebrate Olivia’s 20th birthday properly last weekend and my getting this newsletter out sooner!

So let’s start with Olivia: She finally had her interview for French citizenship this week and it was friendly, but they have a year to give her a final response. We fully expect it to happen before 2016 is out.

P1010324But her cat Gumdrop fell gravely ill just 6 weeks after Chester’s death. It fell to me to support her and have the vet put her down while David was out of town. We had been dreading this moment for years. (Here’s proof of their long and intimate relationship on the left.) But thanks to our new intercessory SWAT team, it was trauma-free. This cat was slightly neurotic and ran from everyone but Olivia, so we are thinking Chester’s disappearance, power tools and strangers in the house, combined with Olivia’s recent prolonged 3-week absence were more than her nerves could take. Now I can redecorate without fear of traumatized cat repercussions and we start the year with just one peaceful goldfish.

And speaking of renovations:

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Our old "water closet" is now a new half bath with a real door, sparkling white tile and green trees replacing the black mold. But 10 weeks later, the toilet is still not installed correctly and we’ve been without flooring on the entire landing. This delay has put a damper on my joy and David has reached his grace limit as well. Hopefully I can post my "secret garden" next month…

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Above was the end of the den where David’s desk was located. But it had to be moved to the spare bedroom in order to remove the old gas furnace on the L side. The new furnace (L) was installed in the laundry room (behind the above wall) and the den will have to wait its turn for a complete overhaul before we can move back into it. (David has cleaned it up and is using it as a temporary music room, at last clearing our living/dining room of all his growing gear!)

David also moved out of his office at the school at the end of the year and has been spending extra time with God trying to feel out a new schedule with new priorities. Noah followed in his footsteps, graduating in December with little fanfare and will start his first full-time job this month with Rolls Royce as a data improvement specialist.

So though we took on debt for this renovation last year, we can see God completely providing for our children and intervening to reduce our expenses this year. The government will give us a tax credit for our energy-efficient furnace. We no longer have pets with expensive health issues. We recently received free water-saving shower heads and taps. And the utility companies wrote out of the blue to say that we would be receiving a subsidy for our bills this year!

Back WC removedfinishedback

The back of the house is the most marked change from old to new and it’s no surprise that the timing matches a new relationship with the neighbors! The follow-up event was when I went back over and talked to them about our church Christmas party, but I only had room in the car for 1 child. So the night before the event, the whole family came to the door to say that they were leaving the kids with "mamie" to go Christmas shopping and couldn’t guarantee that they would be back in time for Noémi to come. She was despondent. So I offered to babysit for all 4 of them. The kids begged, saying how much nicer I was than "mamie," and then she actually pulls up and insults them with "What kind of b*s* are you kids up to?"

Sitting on the stoop with the kids draped over me, I corrected her by testifying that these kids were making me feel more loved than anyone on earth at this moment in time and then got up and went back into the house.

The parents got the picture, so the next afternoon, the kids were dropped off, meeting and falling in love with Olivia and her bestie Barbara. We made chocolate-dipped pretzels and Rolo Turtles to take to the party, did hair and painted nails. Then I took the kids to church an hour in advance, asking church friends to bring my family later. Another couple from church met us there and helped me and the oldest boy, Lucas, do some last minute decorating. He has a beautiful servant’s heart, which speaks my love language! Then my Sunday school kids arrived for a last minute rehearsal of a banner choreography of Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant. By the time people started trickling in, we had a tree up, candles lit, hot apple cider simmering and luminaries lining the drive to welcome them.

Every year we do a variety/talent show and then have a potluck afterwards. This year the sanctuary was packed out, with a strong youth presence, bringing lots of energy and enthusiasm to the evening. Everyone had heard David testify about my autumn party and they were thrilled to see the kids there. They were like chattering spider monkeys on our laps, but easily greeting others and cheering the loudest when David and I were singled out for our contributions that evening. Their favorite act was a rap/breakdance of O Holy Night. The evening ended with a circle dance and the kids joined right in. When their parents picked them up out in the parking lot 6 hrs later, I was ready to collapse. (Sorry, David had been too busy on the tech team to take souvenir photos.) But it was so much richer not to keep the love and joy to ourselves this year! (And the bonus is that now I have the mother’s cell phone number and don’t have to knock unexpectedly on the door anymore!)

And that’s not all that’s new about the house – we used Christmas money from my family to finally buy some proper mattress support for our latex mattresses that we’d thrown into our old waterbed frame where they were slowly suffocating (and we weren’t sleeping that well either!) As of this week, they are breathing happily on adjustable and repositionable IKEA slats and we are loving the difference!

Our outlook on life has also been radically changed simply by altering the lighting in several rooms. In summary, 2016 is already looking much brighter!

Happy New Year to all of you, Angela

No More Powerlessness

I sit here typing to the happy sounds of home renovation, taking potty breaks with a brisk walk to the center of town at the public toilets, (in awe of the mid-Nov. balmy weather God has set aside for the work) and reflecting on the very emotional last several weeks.

Backing up, I mentioned last month that I was going to sozo my body issues.
Well, in the end we dealt with the spirit of misogyny coming against my body and the lie of powerlessness in my emotions. And the dominoes started falling…

Working in the church bubble, I had a powerless mindset concerning my neighbors (described here.) But after feeding on teachings for the last few years that one has to start taking risks to continue growing in faith and to see God move in the lives of others, I started getting hungry. I even asked Nadine to keep me accountable to invite the neighbor mom over before the month ended for added pressure.

Then during my Sozo, the Holy Spirit showed me the connection between my  feelings of powerlessness linked to the next door neighbors during my childhood and my current ones. With that healed, the Holy Spirit gave me with an even better plan that would not be so intimidating. So I marched over, knocked on the door, apologized to the dad for not inviting the kids over sooner and invited the mom and kids over for an autumn party on Halloween afternoon. best attic shot

I kept it simple – they were at the perfect age to enjoy playtime in my attic at 5, 7 and 9 yrs old. I bought a pumpkin for the 11 yr old boy to transform with an electric drill. Then we had a simple snack time that was completely new for them: mini pumpkin pies (made with the 9 yr old the day before,) popcorn, walnuts to shell and hot apple cider.

best toy rm shot

Apparently the 7 yr old had been praying every day that I would invite them over, ever since I made a serendipitous connection with them last Easter. So they arrived promptly with bells on, bearing colored Halloween pages. The mom was quiet and simply observed her kids having a ball without interfering. They left the attic spotless and hunted for hidden suckers before leaving. I was smothered with hugs and kisses on their departure and sent them home with the pumpkin to light and put out on their balcony so that we could enjoy it from our bedroom window that night. pumpkin

 

We had to take a photo because it was the first beautiful thing in 8 yrs that we’d ever seen in the courtyard. And just when David was finally ready to snap the picture with a long exposure on a tripod, the tea light burnt out! So I grabbed some matches and a second light and ran out back to re-light it while they were out trick or treating. It was soooo worth it because while the letter A is their family initial, it is also mine, and it felt like a living, breathing thank you note.

Other neighbor encounters have happened in the same time period: the Jehovah’s Witness neighbors across the street have never been too friendly, but I struck up a terribly frustrating conversation with the husband one evening when he was out hanging up the laundry. Turns out his wife had been in the mental hospital since August and he said she was coming home soon for a trial visit, but that there was no such thing as a miracle. I replied that I saw miracles weekly and let him know that I was available if she was interested in seeking more help.

She’s still home several weeks later and I’ve been wondering how to love a little more concretely, knowing that at least he is very wary of non-JWs. For my devotional today, the assignment was to think of an unsaved person and draw them a prophetic picture. I chose this woman and made it in the form of a card with calligraphy and watercolors. I included some chocolates and my cell phone number and popped it in their mailbox with the hope that she will be touched!

And then it was like Jesus wanted to reward me for risking love by loving me back: We actually do have one neighbor couple who actually does act neighborly every time they come out of the house to walk their dog. And one day just recently, they motioned me into their garage and offered me a used leather recliner cloud in perfect condition! Just what my body was craving now that our Salvation Army chair bought 5 yrs ago is no longer comfortable! Aaaaaaahhhhh…

And that brings us to the Paris tragedy on Friday the 13th. Sunday morning we had planned to honor the Richards for all that they brought to our church over the years. I was in charge of filling up a little album during the worship and announcement time with love notes from the church family. But when the band started playing this song, I ran in and warred against the spirit of powerlessness in the face of terrorism by dancing and spinning with Olivia, waving the French flag in the middle of the worship banners and exhorting the church to take this as a unique opportunity to offer God a sacrifice of worship during this time of grief, mocking the enemy with songs of victory! And then we loved on the Richards.

Because in the end, powerful love will always conquer death.

Love, Angela

All Saints Day 2

In a couple of weeks all the cemeteries in France will bloom with chrysanthemums to celebrate this Catholic holiday. For us this year, it marks the beginning of our house renovation, so we are really looking forward to it! I used the holiday as an excuse to honor the little known saints in our lives here in a newsletter five years ago and it’s time to do it again – The Comforter came through for me since my last missive to continue healing my relational summer slump.

The church council meetings that I was running from have changed for the better. Why? Because David encouraged our leadership to purchase Paul Manwaring’s Apostolic Strategic Planning Tool Kit to start clarifying our church vision, mission and culture. How refreshing to listen to an anointed speaker and plan the future together as a team. This looks very different from previous meetings where we were all hanging on by a thread in our separate ministry areas, just covering the urgent and having no time for relationship. Our efforts seem to be having an impact on our church already, even though we are only halfway through it: We have finally found 2 saints who are contracted to work full-time towards making headway on our building in the next several months and we are welcoming more new healthy families attracted to the school and church than we ever have.

Now that the council is feeling a lot more "phileo," it was such a strange comfort to have them meeting at our house at the very hour that Chester, our cat of 11 yrs, went into death throes after suddenly going downhill the previous 24 hrs. I was a mess, spoiling the pastor’s wife’s birthday blessing moment. After everyone prayed for her while passing me Kleenex, she in turn prayed for me. Chester was a saint in his own right, the friendliest cat in the neighborhood that everyone had nicknamed "Garfield." Because he oozed the love of God by welcoming tummy rubs and small talk from pedestrians while lounging on the windowsill, we called him our "covert evangelist" (but we will not be placing chrysanthemums on his unmarked grave.) Here he is at his favorite outdoor spot posing as the parking lot mascot.IMG_5389

You may recall St. Rusty and St. Janet, who have waited 2 yrs. for a response from the government for their visa request to reside here to no avail. So they are here now to pack up their belongings and let go of their dream. They are the ones that sowed the Bethel revival culture into our church, as well as Anabaptist and Mennonite healing in our region and we will never be the same! Having Janet back in town has been a big boost – she is such a good listener, encourages my writing as  a published author and is giving me sozos in hopes of getting to the root of my physical issues! Here we are celebrating her birthday…

Group photo

L to R: us, Alana (our American youth pastor/worship leader), Janet and Rusty standing, Jocelyn and Vito (council members), and Nadine (Sozo and Healing rooms director and elder.)

God sent two other women to me this fall for quality time that Anne Nadalwas much appreciated. St. Anne has been an American missionary/ intercessor and quilter in Toulouse for the last 30 years. This summer, out of the blue, she invited me to the big annual fall European quilting expo in our region that I’ve always wanted to attend. Until I recently inherited a wheelchair from my friend, St. Helen (when she got an upgrade,) an all-day-on-your-feet event was impossible for me. Now I could sit and stare at every stitch without my body screaming at me. The long drive gave us a good opportunity to compare notes in the same season of life.

panciSt. Linda and her husband arrived a couple of weeks later. She also had written me unexpectedly to let me know that her YWAM autobiography was published, remembering that we had wanted a copy when we heard it was in the works. As an American Midwesterner with a lifelong call to France and Switzerland, who is a worshiper living with chronic illness, I realized that we had a lot in common and she was ten yrs ahead of me! So I asked for some time and they graciously came to our doorstep while traveling through Alsace. She started the French worship ministry branch of YWAM in the early days of the 70s that has had a huge impact on the Church here by providing the modern songbook that French-speaking churches (who were done with hymnals) adopted worldwide. I see the numerous tattered volumes lying around in every church I’ve ever visited here. Although she has slowed down, her younger husband Tom continues to lead evangelistic outreaches in Paris and Alpha groups in Lausanne and they are now Swiss citizens – My heroes!

Till next month,

Angela

August Anxiety Antidotes

I couldn’t have written a positive newsletter one week ago, or even a month ago, (which is why I chose to rant about the heat wave instead.) But looking back on the summer, all I see now are miracles. It’s time to testify!

permisA month ago, I rode in a driver’s ed. car with Olivia and the instructor, anxious about the state of her road skills after driving with us very sporadically during the spring. It was dismal. And yet Olivia’s goal was to pass the driving test before going back to school next week. I thought there was no way, but the instructor confronted an attitude that was holding her back and she should have confronted mine too! Olivia paid for several more hours of supervised driving and breezed through her test on Aug. 13 ! After 26 yrs. of driving our kids all over the western world, we can finally cry, "Freedom!!" (as long as we don’t need the car.)

(The scarlet letter stands for "apprenti," not "adultery," and this is a sticker that stays on our car during her 2 yr probationary period that limits her speed and warns others to give her a wide berth and grace. 🙂

In June, I mentioned a loan needed for renovating the house. Well, despite worldwide economic anxiety, we received a big gift from a supporter, got a cheaper estimate, and a good bank easily loaned the remaining €8,000, thanks to a good reference by the retired bank manager on my Sozo team. Work starts in Sept.!

I’m also happy to report that the woman I mentioned in that same newsletter who was wracked with anxiety and anger for years is a completely new person after just 4 sozos and is back at church!

However, my relational anxiety had been simmering all summer:

I felt like the 2 local French women who had given me consistent time and attention since we’ve arrived, had abandoned me.

I felt used and abused by a few other people at the same time and new physical ailments jumped in to join the pity party.

Moments of joy were fleeting, I had to quit the fitness club and I wanted to walk out on all church meetings.

I spent lots of time alone in front of www.bethel.tv bolstering my soul and spirit, so that I could continue supporting people like a good missionary. But you can’t do that forever.

David gives the best support he can as a man with a very different way of seeing things. And even though we had an incredible 5-day anniversary escape to Lyon mid-month, my issues all came to a head on the day of his birthday this week.

I will spare you the details, but even the cake was a disaster.

Was it hormones?
Missionary burn-out?
Cultural differences?
The devil?
Or did I need to heal a deeper layer of rejection that was hindering me?

We were going to celebrate that evening during a church council gathering, but it was more important to reconnect as a couple and family, so we excused ourselves, bought David a McFlurry and opened his new webcam from the kids.

Then while he watched the extended version of Return of the King with Olivia (who had just finished the books as her summer reading) I unloaded on Alana, who was at the right place at the right time to listen and give me honest, helpful feedback. The heaviness lifted immediately and I was able to join my family for the last hour of the film.

And there was my little struggle being played out on a large scale by little people with the destiny of Middle Earth on their shoulders as all of hell came against them. Another reminder that my suffering is nothing compared to others and that the enemy knows exactly how to keep each of us down with lies about God, ourselves and others. I’ll be renouncing those lies in my next Sozo…trio LOTR 

I see these Hollywood buddy films as prophetic encouragement to the body of Christ to get healed, get over our differences,
and get ready to face the dark days in front of us,
united in faith, hope and love that will conquer all,
kind of like those 2 American soldiers on the French train last week.
Sounds like a great anxiety antidote to me…

Looking forward to the future, Angela

How to Survive a French Heat Wave

affiche_caniculegp__2015_765x570 We love Alsace because of its mild climate. (The older generation tells us that it wasn’t always that way.) But we usually get at least one week of serious heat each summer, and we’re living that right now. "Aren’t we all," you say, rolling your eyes. "It is July after all."

Indeed. But for those of you who have not yet visited Europe when temps are hovering around 100F, I thought I would share some of the culture shock that still happens as we sweat through this week without air conditioning at home or in the car.

Here’s the government’s official suggestions found on our village website:

  • "Spray your body with water and use fans.
  • Keep your shutters closed during the day. (Yes, they are functional here!)
  • Stay in touch with loved ones, (esp. the elderly.)
  • Don’t forget to eat.
  • Don’t drink alcohol. (In France? Ha!)
  • Avoid physical exertion. (Gladly.)
  • Drink water regularly. (Tepid is healthier!)
  • If you feel bad, call an ambulance."

As an American, I’d like to add some the glaring omissions to this list:

  • "Don’t run your dryer!"

Admittedly, only a tiny minority of French people have a dryer, but we do, mainly to deal with cat hair. We are enjoying the novelty of lugging our laundry to the attic for flash drying!

  • "Ride your bike to get around!" Much cooler than walking or sitting in a hot metal box!
  • "Get out of your dark, shuttered house because you live like that all winter and you must take advantage of 16 hrs of sunlight while you can!"  Honestly, the shutter trick only works for the first 4 days in an old stone house anyway, esp. if it doesn’t cool down at night.

The big question is where to go for maximum coolness in a country where central air is available but very costly. The malls don’t cool the corridors, just individual stores, which quickly dissipates with wide open entrances. What about a coffee shop? Sorry, only in major cities with a student population. Grocery stores are the coolest, but only 1 has an eating area. The local pharmacy is a good option because they cater to the elderly with abundant a/c and chairs for waiting. With other businesses it’s hit and miss. My podiatrist and chiropractor were operating yesterday with shutters closed and a small fan and offered me a glass of tepid water before I left.

At the beginning of the heat wave, we were at a big bank for over an hour to open a new account and get our home repair loan. We had to complain in order for the banker to turn on the air in her office, at the lowest setting. And just as I was getting comfortable, she turned it off again. I excused myself to find the water cooler and it was empty. Hot flashes compounded my utter desperation as I begged an employee to change the bottle, only to produce… another cup of tepid water. Which leads us to…

  • "Make ice cubes and use them!" 

When central air is not an option, I can make do with ice. But that is also asking a lot in Europe. In the train stations, the only drink options are in chilled cans and bottles. What is refreshing about buying a drink that will be warm before I finish it? McDonald’s has been especially cruel because on more than one occasion I have raced in to relieve my light-headedness only to find that the ice machine is broken. Do they apologize? No! Because you’re getting more soda for your money (no free refills) and no one misses the standard 3 ice cube allotment anyway!

So if you are coming to France in the summer and are craving a Big Gulp, here is the best travel tip you will ever receive: Find a Subway. There are 67 in Paris and 450 more throughout France. Nothing sounds worse than a cold sandwich in the winter, but in the summer, our local Subway is heaven on earth: This is one of the only chains where ice and drink machines are accessible to their customers with one generous cup size. The furniture and décor feels like a coffee shop. They sell salt and vinegar chips. Their bathrooms are big and clean. And they are the only restaurant I have seen with ceiling fans to spread the a/c love around to everyone. I need to send them a love note…

  • "Bring your hand fan to church and hope for a meditative worship set."

Last Sunday was tolerable; this Sunday should be unbearable. The Catholics may still be comfortable in their windowless stone cathedrals, but the Protestants are not so lucky. (But we have better heating in the winter!) We don’t even have an electric fan to stir up the hot air created by our 8 huge windows! The women’s group organized a picnic for the 4th of July, which falls on the final blazing weekend of the heat wave. They didn’t schedule it on a major American holiday on purpose, but it would be nice to be with a group of friends that day. I may suggest carpooling to Subway instead!

Warmly, Angela