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,
We’ve written a lot about our school life here, but we haven’t really highlighted our church life (unless you saw our PowerPoint during our visit last April.) Since this is an important week for us, I thought this might be a good time to share some details.
Since Paul describes us as a body, I’ll describe “The Joshua Church” that way, starting with the title. Our body has big eyes because it is good at seeing beyond the natural and focusing on what is going on in the spiritual realm instead. It has big ears to match, as hearing God’s perspective is important in seeing things correctly. 50 families and singles make up the parts of this body and a little less than half are the hands supporting the Christian school in one way or another. I guess you could say it has a really big mouth too. For a body our size, we are blessed with a faithful intercession team and 3 different worship teams that play 3 different styles, offering a lot of variety.
I would call our pastor, Luc, the feet. His passion is seeing nations changed through Christian education, so he travels a lot, promoting, encouraging, and networking with other Christian schools from Australia to Quebec.
Our feet not only travel, but they also dance a lot – kids’ feet included. We also have frequent visits by foreign feet, and it is clear that God is using David in this church to make those connections. He created the church’s website, updating it weekly with recorded messages and event info, helping people with the same vision connect with us more easily. He has also been instrumental in smoothing communication and arranging visits for English speakers who come for numerous reasons: South African Huguenots, British prayer walkers, reconciling Germans, (who all speak better English than French,) American high school French classes, etc. Last month we had a powerful visit by a couple of reformed Pennsylvania Dutch Amish men whose ancestors fled to Alsace to escape Swiss persecution. Their ancestors had been welcomed in Alsace due to their superior farming skills, but they had to compromise their faith by agreeing not to proselytize. It was a moving time of reconciliation between these men and the Alsatians in our body, who welcomed them back and blessed their ministry, who ironically are now shunned by their own.
Our body wears a rather drab cloak: a seventy-seater hall in an old non-descript building with a rusty tin roof that sits above a mechanic’s garage in an industrial zone. For several years this body eyed the available cloak right next door. It had housed a nightclub and a small restaurant, plus additional space on the second and third floors. They were praying that the next buyer would wear it for the kingdom of God, but there appeared to be no hurry to sell, though it had been abandoned for several years.
Well, this year, that building finally went up for auction, and at exactly the same time we started outgrowing our old cloak! A friend of the church, who buys investment property, was the only bidder and took the whole place. Then he offered to rent it out to us piecemeal. Excitement grew as we looked it over. The young adults would take the nightclub and transform it into a local recording studio/music café. The restaurant would provide a nice place to gather for meal-oriented events or food ministry. (The teacher’s Christmas meal is already booked, and I jumped for joy when I learned that we will have the same chef as last year!) The second floor was an empty shell, roughly finished, that was perfect for a 250-seater sanctuary, plus room for our dancers and banner-wavers who have been cramped for a long time now.
The drawback? What else? The rent for these 3 areas is triple what we are currently paying and we still needed to pay for all the materials to finish the place.
Was there a fundraiser? A budget plan? A pledge drive? No, not in this country. Just big eyes, full of faith, based on His great deeds in the past in fulfilling our needs for the school. And for the last two months, we were miraculously able to cover that rent, plus the rent on our current hall, plus materials!
We had hoped to have the sanctuary ready by February, when we will host a Christian education conference, but we had also booked a healing evangelist for 12/16. With the realization that that our hall wouldn’t hold the anticipated crowd for him, and that we needed to eliminate one rent as soon as possible, the decision was made to move NOW. The new cloak is not finished by any stretch of the imagination, but it will be cleaned up, lit, and heated, with hopefully, a chair for everyone. David is there all week reconstructing the sound and technology necessary for our tabernacle worship night tomorrow (!!) and church on Sunday. With only drywall and cement flooring and sound amplification for a room half the size, it’s the acoustics that are really being put to the test the week before the big crowd arrives.
Will faith continue to pay the bills? Will the Christmas meal be as memorable as last year’s? Will our most capable handyman have a merry Christmas despite the building pressure? Will the healing service focus on lungs clogged with cement dust after the worship hour? And Angela’s biggest question: How are we going to keep this place clean once we do have flooring??? (see Nov 06 newsletter) While waiting for the answers to these burning questions, please feel free to pray, give, or come on over to help with this wonderful undertaking!
And by the way, I don’t think it is any coincidence that we are renovating our bedroom at the same time! The goal of both locations is to grow in intimacy. Whether we are working to improve our intimacy with God or with our spouse, it is only in that place that we hear, “You are loved and you are beautiful.” (Song of Solomon 2:10, 13b, 4:1,7, 10, 7:6, 10)
And so, gentle reader, you are …
Our title reflects the fact that I am updating previous stories mentioned in past newsletters. So for the convenience of our new or forgetful readers, I’ve included links to the newsletter I’m referring to. You’ll notice the format of our letter has a lighter, cleaner look that matches our newly designed website. I think the best improvement is the Support page. We hope you can navigate easily and find whatever you’re looking for. (Noah and Olivia’s pages are still under construction.)
To celebrate the beautiful fall weather we’re having, I’m including a photo of some common vine leaves that decorate much of Soultz. Does anyone else have pale pink leaves in their neighborhood? Our region is also enjoying a phenomenal grape harvest, producing huge apples, and an abundance of walnuts and chestnuts in the woods. Those who prayer walked and prayed around Alsace last summer are taking some credit for this, as it is not like this all over the country!
Follow-up on August Activities:
David and I are always trying to improve our fitness, and last (school) year’s country line dancing class was comical. While the French women, in tight jeans and cowboy boots, were enjoying the catchy country western melodies, we were cringing over the R-rated lyrics. Once in awhile we translated for them, adding to their amusement. Since the class only met every other week, I would forget the dances by the next session, which were painfully hard for me to learn in the first place! David had an easier time of it, and now we can dance the “Cotton-Eyed Joe” together, though I’m not sure how often this skill will be put to use!
This (school) year I’ve signed up for an exercise class that incorporates a little of everything, giving lots of variety, with great music, and a great location. David and Noah were hoping to shoot some hoops on the courts outside during my all-female class, but we learned that school-owned courts are not open to the public – surprise! – due to liability. Could this happen in Indiana?? What’s a Hoosier boy to do?!
Follow-up on Only in France (popcorn trauma):
I just wanted to let you all know that salty popcorn is now available at our nearest multiplex! Thanks for praying! ; )
Follow-up on Confession #1:
This year, half of Cyril’s infamous class graduated to 4th grade. That means I now have them for English. Their teacher and I were both a little nervous. But before my first class happened, I remembered to pray instead. Then I walked in with peace and authority and love for those 14 kids, while sending 4 of them out during the hour. What makes this class a joy is that the overly energetic ones are the most motivated students, adding a lot of positive energy to the games, crafts, and songs. (We’re avoiding worksheets due to low reading levels.) Even the thumb-sucker in the back row is amazing me! Usually, the least motivated are the loudest and creating a lot of negative energy, but in this class, those are “the invisible kids.” Here they are in all their glory.
Follow-up on Confession #2:
Within a couple of weeks of writing about our mountain of hand towel laundry, the director went out and ordered paper towel and soap dispensers – and no, she hadn’t read my newsletter!!
Follow-up on health remarks:
My migraines were cropping up 3x/week by the end of the summer, and my doctor decided to put me on a daily beta-blocker regimen that is really working. Can you say “Hallelujah!”? This, combined with alleviating my anemia, has had such an impact on my life that I feel like I’ve been born again, again!
Speaking of which, I can tell my iron levels are up because the thought of doing a little home improvement doesn’t sound insurmountable anymore! After pricing linoleum, I quickly decided we needed to continue improving the walls. Big rusty flowers with brown leaves on a field of gray have stood their ground in our bedroom while all of the other hideous paper has been ripped from the walls. For me, this wallpaper is screaming that we haven’t paid enough attention to our marriage since we moved in; otherwise, we would have made our “little haven” a priority. (However, for David, the paper’s screaming, “Back off, ’cause if you take me down, I’m takin’ the wall down with me!!” and he is not interested in sleeping in a construction zone.) But this year, we’ve really started shoring things up relationally, and the wallpaper needs to reflect our efforts and surrender. My French friend of 30 years will be coming for Thanksgiving this year and she has offered to help me put it up, which means I now have a deadline for getting the walls ready, (and David has a deadline for getting the room rewired!) God confirmed my timing the other day at a bargain bin store, where I stumbled upon some wallpaper that I fell in love with for only $2.50/roll. Now I’m really motivated! (Before and after photos soon to come.)
Last laugh: Can you imagine a stranger just walking into your home, mistaking it for a business? Doors can be rather anonymous in a village and it happened to us this week! As you can see in this night time shot, we don’t have curtains in the door windows because we’re so desperate for all the light we can get. And the hallway goes all the way to the back of the house with closed-off rooms coming off of it. So you might think our front door was an apartment building entrance, like a meter reader did once. I’d considered putting our name on the letter slot in our front door, and now I’m thinking this might be a good idea, esp. since the lady mistook us for the local undertaker down the street!
Next month: How our little church took a giant step of faith…
…who has God and the companionship of good books.”
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning
This nice little quote sums up our summer very well. With no major departures or arrivals planned, our family was able to settle into a rhythm that restored our souls. It started every morning at 9 am for family time. I picked out 2 books that David and I had read, but I knew that the kids were each ripe to receive something from both of them. The first was Rick Joyner’s Final Quest and the second was Praying the Bible by Wes and Stacey Campbell. Rick’s book had them on the edge of their seats, while the Campbells hammered the title home, leaving us no excuse to stay in our prayer ruts. It was a grace-filled time that is producing an autumn harvest. Rachel has returned to school to find many friends and staff with the same desires to see God move more strongly in the school. Noah is committed to reading the One Year Bible and is much more content about his classes this year. David hung a swing in the attic for Olivia recently, and it is now her favorite private place to pray aloud to her Heavenly Father. I decided to test the book’s theory by joining David in his thrice-weekly prayer times at the church. As you may recall from my confessions last year, this was a big step for me. But we applied what we learned, and they were the most liberating prayer times I had ever had in a public setting!
This comes on the heels of our church expanding to the building next door, which housed lots of different spaces, including a nightclub. The youth are working towards making it a place where life-giving music is played and produced on weekends, and that we could use as a house of prayer and worship during the week. We look forward to teaching how to pray the Bible to the youth in this context!
Our English bookshelf also served to refresh a single South African friend named Helen this summer. She has lived in France for many years as a Huguenot returning to her homeland. Her mortal body has been her struggle since childhood, but American missionaries had a huge impact on her spiritual life. She felt called to teach at our school after coming to intercede one weekend, but she had a very difficult year, esp. living in one room in the chateau without an elevator for her handicap. This summer she became a foster mother for Emilie, who is Olivia’s age and whom she’s known since birth, while the mother finishes a prison sentence. She also moved into a place of her own, for the first time in 4 years. All of these events involved our help, whether with childcare, the move, or just loaning a good book or movie. Some of these books, authored by Francine Rivers, were given to me by friends last spring. They have touched the hearts of not only Helen and myself, but also to a French friend who speaks English well and wants to get them translated into French!
One day we got our noses out of our books and had an adventure together while David and Rachel were prayer walking. I had agreed to do a friend a favor and drive to Besançon, an hour away. I decided to ask Helen and Emilie to come along to spend the day there with us to see the sights while we were there. As someone with a poor sense of direction, the trip would have stressed me out, but with Helen beside me, it was “easy peasy.” Olivia and Emilie also bonded that day, making it easy to give Helen a break and keeping Emilie whenever needed. We know that God is using this difficult time to enable Emilie to attend our Christian school, keeping her on the path of life when she could easily go astray in all of her pain right now. (Here are the girls spending lots of time at the fish petting exhibit!)
Helen returned the favor by keeping Olivia for us so that David and I could get away last weekend to minister 3 days and nights in Germany with French and American friends. This was another big step for me: One look at the calendar told me that this was physically the worst weekend to have quality time with my husband. On the other hand, I knew that God wanted me to start accompanying David on trips like this. (Read his trip report here) With Olivia graduating to middle school, I realized that my kids are no longer an excuse to stay home. My mothering days will soon be over and David and I would only grow apart if didn’t start joining him, migraines or no migraines. So I responded to the voice of the bridegroom in Song of Solomon who says, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come along.” I decided to trust Him. And it was magnificent – David and I really enjoyed each other’s companionship, and I had no migraines. Comfortable beds and good food was provided by the hosting church, who were released in dance during the tri-lingual worship times. (This photo, taken on Sunday morning, was a beautiful image of the international flavor of the church.)
On our return, books came to the forefront again. All the kids’ schoolbooks have to be covered in protective plastic, and a dozen makes an evening’s work!
In parting, I leave you with a hilarious must-see on YouTube that shows how people in the Middle Ages reacted to the first book, similar to our reactions to computers. (In Norwegian with subtitles) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQHX-SjgQvQ
More back-to-school news on our re-designed web site next month!
Dear Family and Friends,
This is Rachel, writing for the month of June! I have begun my summer vacation ahead of the rest of my family, courtesy of the American school calendar. As many of you know, I now attend Black Forest Academy (BFA), an American boarding school in Germany with other missionary kids.
As I look back, just about everything that has happened to me since last summer has been a brand new experience. I am incredibly grateful for BFA as a catalyst, a place where no one remains stagnant. Part of this may come from the fact that no one finds much time to stand still! I am amazed at the number of exciting, memorable events that happened in one year, and overjoyed to have one more go-around – as a senior! God has been at work every day of this year, sometimes in ways I am only now beginning to realize. Here, I think, are some of the reasons He placed me at BFA, accompanied by some of this year’s artwork: (Hover mouse over images for details)
The chance to learn from those who teach for no other reason than their love for God, their students, and their subject matter. All of my classes have been excellent and inspiring because of this passion. Outside the classroom, I have been blessed to see staff reach out to the students in tangible ways – one of my teachers frequently offers small paying jobs. The pastor and his wife, former missionaries to France, regularly invite French-speaking students like myself to their home so that we can all keep up the language.
The chance to connect with my generation! Learning to be a friend and to be accepted as a friend have been huge places of growth. I have also come to appreciate some diverse cultures, thanks to BFA’s international student body.
The opportunity to try my hand in my primary area of interest – graphic design. I was able to design several things this year, most for a wider audience than I have ever had! It has meant so much to me to be guided and given responsibility in this area. Along with learning German and gaining familiarity with music theory, I know I am acquiring skill sets that will be very important in my life and calling.
The circumstances to make me realize that accomplishing what God desires for me will require time and purposeful action; in other words, if it doesn’t appear on my schedule, it isn’t real. My time with God is easily stolen, and I know that I must be more protective of it.
Some of this year’s highlights have been musical, mainly: Playing in my first rock band! So what if our one performance only lasted ten minutes… some special friendships came out of it, and we all grew musically. Playing in a pit orchestra of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, playing on a chapel worship team, and doing percussion for the high school choir, were also pretty unforgettable. It was wonderful, too, getting to know my roommate at the dorm – we overcame our differences, and now are each other’s biggest allies. God knew we would sharpen each other, as most of our “edges” were in completely different places!
BFA feels very much like home, and I am still adjusting to being back with my family in France – let’s just say that the degree of independence I acquired away from home suited me very well! This summer will be devoted to refocusing spiritually, learning some new skills, updating web sites, doing our church’s prayer walk with Dad, and summer homework for AP English next year!
As much as we loved seeing so many of you in person last month, it’s still good to be off the road and back on the keyboard. The tears I cried over France when we first received our call always return during our descent over Paris. My mother tells me that every time she meets a transplanted European, they say, “Yah, Europe is a great place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.” My sentiments are the opposite: “America is a great place to visit, but…”
This week we Europeans got a day off, (except the Germans, that is) to celebrate the end of WWII, thanks to the American invasion – a convenient theme for this newsletter as we relate how Americans have been invading our lives all spring.
Back in early March, a high school French class from Peoria, IL came out for their third annual visit during one of our many school breaks. It was a smaller group this time, coming during a school break. Since we were the only staff on-site, our family connected well with them. With the students gone, they were able to do lots of spring cleaning projects with great enthusiasm. They worked hard to speak French, and were also a very musical and artistic bunch, joining our worship team on Sun. morning. They invited us to come visit their school in April, which we did.
A few weeks later, our French church sent us off with visions of angels before us and relational bridges to build, money to spend, and secured promises that we would return! The stress of preparing to leave the house for a month suddenly got lighter. (photo w/pastoral couple)
With 2 layovers, the door-to-door travel time takes about 24 hrs, and it gets harder with every trip! I have great admiration for my in-laws who have made the trip regularly for the last several years. I also have grace for my parents who can’t conceive of a voyage of that magnitude. I guess we fall somewhere in between – once every 5 years is about all we can take! (And thank God we don’t have to make the trip by boat!)
Back in America, we were treated like returning soldiers during the entire visit. In Kansas City, a couple we’d never met graciously squeezed us into their home for a week and juggled cars with us, even though they were already housing another family of three, and had a daughter who needed a quiet house during the day for sleeping, as she does the nighttime prayer watch at IHOP. Speaking of which, we were all touched by the spiritual atmosphere there in some way. The highlight for me was to spend a few hours with Lenny LaGuardia, director of the children’s ministries there, and he gave me all 16 of his teaching CDs – worth $80! He has a very different paradigm of Sunday school that I want to tap into, if God should use me that way.
The second week we had hoped to fly to Las Cruces to be with my family, but we couldn’t afford the outrageous last-minute ticket prices. We were all very disappointed and will have to make that visit on a separate trip. Instead, we all got in the car and headed for Illinois to visit the 2 Christian high schools that had visited us. We were thrilled to stay with one of the chaperons and meet the rest of her sweet family, and we got to share our lives and pictures with lots of kids. We squeezed in a mini-Leigh family reunion while in the area before the week was out, celebrating my niece’s first pregnancy together. (photo)
It was good to finally be in a familiar city during our third week in Indianapolis. David’s parents had invited more than 30 people to come over for our one-night-only Powerpoint event. Many had declined early on, but then changed their mind the day before, and we had a hard time fitting everyone into the family room! David was thrilled to reconnect with his old high school gang who came from all over to reunite for that evening. (photo)
The other important event was saying good-bye to my grandparents. They were having good days and awful days, and God gave us such a gift – our visit fell on a very good day. Rachel played her violin. Olivia played a piece on the piano. We sang in French, German, and English, and despite Alzheimer’s, my grandfather quizzed us lucidly about our life in France. Afterwards, we enjoyed a relaxing dinner with my brother and his wife. I received news of my grandmother’s death 2 weeks later, soon after we returned. I can’t wait to see them on the other side…
Leaving Noah behind to have his own adventures, we drove the girls back to Kansas and shipped Rachel back to Germany with her new contact lenses. Then we got on a plane to Denver with Olivia and stayed with old friends for our final week. The Sunday morning service at New Hope Church went smoothly and again, lots of old friends showed up that we didn’t expect to see, and almost didn’t recognize! I highlighted my desperation to renovate our house, in hopes that one of the many skilled laborers there would come and help us one day, and a very generous offering was taken up before we shared a French potluck meal together. It was just the beginning of so many special meals with special people, giving at every turn. I even had favor with the gynecologist as a new, self-pay patient: She only charged me half the cost of a regular visit, she gave me all the free samples of migraine drugs and estrogen patches that she could lay her hands on, and she gave me her personal e-mail so that she could send me more! But the best thing was that my finger prick revealed anemia! The count was so low that she did it twice, and I have never been so motivated about taking my “Women’s Ultra, Mega Dietary Supplements” with the hope of renewed energy levels!
Needless to say, it was hard to leave Denver. Noah felt the same way about his visit. He met up with us at the airport in Kansas after a 3-day getaway to friends in Mississippi and a weekend with his cousin-in-law(?) who is an adult Lego designer and builder. We heard all the details over our “last meal” at Outback Steakhouse before heading to the airport – I boosted my iron levels, Noah tasted his first BBQ ribs, and we finished with a dessert called “Cheesecake Olivia!” Thank you again to everyone who made our trip so memorable – we have never felt so loved and supported by so many people than we do now, and that’s saying a lot for a family that doesn’t get back very often.
Back in France, David hit the ground running, with 20 intercessors coming to our church 5 days later from the US, the UK, and Germany, and many details still to organize. Also the one immediate family member on David’s side that we didn’t see in the States was coming to visit at the same time – our 21 yr.old nephew who is studying in Spain this semester. Rachel also came home to be in on all the action, and everything fell together beautifully: The cousins were finally old enough to enjoy each other and bond well. The UK worship leader Godfrey Birtill had us worshiping in a 4 hr. frenzy and gave us new depths to plumb in our expression of worship. The new French president was fully covered in prayer. There were extended times of US-French reconciliation prompted by the new president’s call for a renewed friendship with the U.S., and much more…
The same day we got the last of those troops off to their home shores, another batch of Americans came in the form of 5 students from Oklahoma with their principal. Helping out at our school for a week is the focus of their Senior missions trip, and the one female is staying with us while the boys bunk at the local campground. If they run out of things to do, I’ve got my house renovation project list on standby…
Next week we have another 4-day weekend to celebrate Christ’s ascension, and David takes off to lead worship for a Christian educator’s conference in Switzerland with a friend. I will be in a prone position on my couch, listening to my Lenny LaGuardia CDs during that time. Should you have the urge to call, do not be surprised if you get the answering machine…
Praising God from whom all these blessings flow,
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.
We hope you all, our Americans readers, had a blessed Thanksgiving holiday surrounded by those you love the most. (Because Thanksgiving fell on a migraine-prone time of the month for me, I decided it would be wise to avoid the stress of inviting guests over this year, and I’m glad I did.) Our week was typical, and yet interesting enough that we thought this would be a good time to send out “A Day in the Life of a Missionary” newsletter.
- Wednesday: Because we don’t have school that day, I did my baking, and we had the “pumpkin / pecan pie” part of the meal that evening. I made some extra for a family to thank them for doing some printing for us while our printer was in for repairs, which usually means that I will have to translate the recipes into metric because they will want the recipe – such an educational, yet excruciating French exercise! Pumpkin can be found at a high quality “frozen foods only” store as puree frozen in cubes, and one pie ends up costing me about $6 homemade. Mental note: Buy extra cans when we go back to America for next year.
David went into school, like he does every Wed. morning, because he can get lots of computer work done on the school network without everyone around interrupting him. Olivia spent the morning doing homework and practicing piano, and then she has her music theory class in the afternoon, followed by giving free piano lessons to her neighbor friends! Noah took advantage of the mild weather we’ve been having, and took a spin on his new (used) bike that we got him last month as an early birthday present. He’s thrilled to have wheels again after 2 years without, and he’s getting a lot more exercise!
(A collection of Angela’s favorite food anecdotes)
At the onset of fall in America, stores are suddenly decorated with leaves and pumpkins and apples for the teachers. Here, the theme is the grape harvest. The big chain grocery store sends out a 27-page flyer this time every year to advertise the wines that are mature and ready to sell, and it includes a wine pre-order form with enough lines for 30 different items! Many are under $5 a bottle and apparently, this is when you buy your favorite in bulk to enjoy all year – “Buy a carton of 5 and get the sixth bottle free!” My favorite is the “new wine.” It’s only sold this month and it comes unsealed, with just a foil cap over the mouth of the bottle, so you have to take it home very carefully. Not yet fermented, it tastes just like a fizzy grape juice.
It’s also the time of year when people start handing me bags of wild plums and other local fruit that is falling from the trees. I’m noticing that most women make homemade jam, since it is an everyday breakfast staple, and they expect me to do the same. (Evidently, the grape is too sacred for such mundane use as grape jelly is non-existent.) Well, when I explained to one woman that I’ve never made jam and didn’t want to spend the money on canning jars, she said you could actually use any recycled food jar. (And I’d been wondering why the French never throw away a jar…)