Tag Archives: thankfulness

A Painting for Me

A couple of weeks ago, during a sermon, this painting came to me.

The transforming breath of God.

The transforming breath of God.

This one just really made me happy, and speaks to me on so many levels. We, as carriers of the Word, are sown throughout the world; and as our hearts respond to that Breath in thanksgiving, rather than complaint, we are transformed. We shine with His indwelling light, and illuminate the way for others. I am always grateful when God gives me an artwork of my own.

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Easter in France

Our first Easter in France has been interesting. It is noticeably more low-key than in the States, with the exception of the chocolate. The section for Easter chocolate is at least as big as the Christmas chocolate, and definitely more artistic and creative. Sure, there are your bunnies and your eggs; but the chickens and roosters were a little surprising. I love the hens ON eggs! But why all the other farm animals? And why the FISH? I was so mystified, I went looking online for an answer…

I found some here… but also asked my Thursday French teacher, who explained the link to Lent and the fishes. But she also confirmed the strange April Fool’s prank of the paper fish on the back of an adult, with much giggling and calling of “poisson d’avril!”

Theodore’s Easter chocolate:

These are his chocolates from us. Notice the chocolate pig is atop a pile of fish.

These are his chocolates from us. Notice the chocolate pig is atop a pile of fish.

The piggie with his fish collection.

The piggie with his fish collection.

When the neighbors came for dinner, they brought us these bells. (See the website for why bells.)

When the neighbors came for dinner, they brought us these bells. (See the website for why bells.)

Inside Theo's little bell...surprise!

Inside Theo’s little bell…surprise!

Our bell had a surprise, too!

The Lindt bunny is from the grocery, but the bells were from a chocolaterie in our ville.

The Lindt bunny is from the grocery, but the bells were from a chocolaterie in our ville.

I like the quieter Easter. The yards of the homes in our neighborhood ring with the sounds of children playing, as friends and family gather together. I only wish we could marry the simplicity and relationship-orientation of the French observation with the purpose and depth of the true purpose of the holiday I experience at home. In the States, there is a clamor of opposing observances, and even sincere followers can become distracted.

This holiday, this holy day, is a measured walk from death to life, from dark to light, and from hopelessness to hope and joy realized. Our church had set up a stations of prayer for Friday and Saturday, with guided reflections on the hands of Christ. It wsas profound and beautiful. It would be a perfect marriage with our Kansas church’s Good Friday service, worshipping and reflecting through song and Scripture from light to dark. Without the garish circus surrounding this day, I really got to grow in my gratitude. Thank you again, my Jesus, for taking my place.

 

 

 

 

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Making a Difference in One Life

I haven’t given an update on our Compassion child in quite a while, so I thought this would be a good opportunity. I really wasn’t sure what to expect when we first began our sponsorship. We hoped to make a difference in the life of a girl in India, to help one girl at least to realize her innate value to God, and to grow strong because of it. (You can read about our Compassion journey under the Category “Compassion” to your left).

I pray we are succeeding, but through her correspondence my hope has grown a bit. First, I can SEE with my own eyes that we have made a physical difference in Pavithra’s life! Theo and I chose her out of so many little girls in India in part because she looked, well, hungry. She seemed thinner than so many others, and hollow-eyed. She was a rural child, and our reading led us to believe that her female-ness might be even less welcome there than in an urban family. This winter we finally received an update photo, and she has filled out beautifully! She is wearing clothes our gifts provided, including shoes, which she mentions in her letters, and her cheeks are filled out, and her arms look strong and healthy. I nearly cried to see the difference in her! If we have provided nothing else, we have supported the means to help her live strong and healthy through Compassion’s aid. I would show a photo, but I really want to protect her, even her image.

Second, I hear a difference in her letters. She has grown from fill-in-the-blank response sheets to interactive conversation. She writes a half page, and tells about things in her life, and responds often to something mentioned in ours. I can tell she is beginning to grasp this concept of a conversation over time in print. And delightfully, we are beginning to hear a little about her family, too! And this opens my dreams up…are we influencing her whole family toward Christ through Compassion? Not one child, but four people? What an encouraging thought, and how it has expanded our prayers! I begin to see in her letters a sense of a dream, a desire to do and be better. How I pray that I might encourage that and feed those young sparks of flame!

Our last letter was hand-carried back to the States with my husband and mailed from there (it has to go to Colorado for processing, and so much cheaper and surer to send it from Kansas than France). It was the sort I couldn’t do as an email letter: one side was a cut-out of my hand, and the other, Theo’s. Accordion-folded between them was a yard of paper with the verse “You are loved with an everlasting love” printed on. It should be unexpected and unusual enough to grab her attention, and I hope it delights her. I also hope she gets it before Easter!

I am glad God pointed us to Compassion International.

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Celebrating Holidays Far from Home

Yes, that’s right: the French do not celebrate Thanksgiving. I mean, really, why should they? Why do we in the US just assume that everyone shares every holiday we feast up? But still, I manage to need reminding that there is no official day of giving thanks here. I know this, but it slips my mind on occasion. But I give thanks for the fact that it still does not go overlooked.

The candy corn had to be imported from the States.

We did not celebrate the actual Thursday of Thanksgiving, other than taking chocolates to French class to share with my fellow students. Most are north African ladies, so it was a novel concept to them! We did, however, have a gracious invitation from a couple from church to celebrate with them Friday night. We were part of a party of 26, and it was so joyful! We brought sweet potato pie and roasted carrots. Our hostess, an American with a New Zealander spouse, roasted the largest turkey I have ever seen. It actually fed us all! My favorite part was the inclusion of two French couples whom the host and hostess had befriended some time ago back home in Washington, DC., who later moved to the Toulouse area, too. It is a small world with many intersections!

On a more mundane note, my sweet spouse has become a city commuter. To avoid traffic, parking nightmares, and to allow me transportation, he has become a bus rider. He leaves early in the morning to catch his bus, walking about 10 minutes to the stop. He often shares his dry wit in observations of his fellow French commuters on his facebook status. And I love that his stylin’ hat and scarf came from our own ville’s Dimanche Marché. I’m sending him off into the dark morning, and won’t see him again until the dark evening, though.

off to catch the bus

Maybe someday we’ll get to enjoy some of that relaxed French workweek.

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The Insidious Tide of the Unfamiliar

I love beach life. there was a point at which we lived on the US West Coast. The stretch of beach near our home was a fairly safe place to play. The sand was wide and flat, even at high tide. The drop in the surf at low tide was significant enough, though, that warnings were occasionally posted at the entrance advising of rip tides. This isn’t something you see coming; it sneaks up on you below the surface, gripping you and carrying you off to dangerous depths.

A rising tide can overwhelm you, too, though, if you are on a coastline that isn’t all open. We visited parts of the California coast north on Highway 1 that hosted beautiful tidal pools among rocks, sometimes piled up against low cliffs. If not watchful, you could get so absorbed in the tide pools that you could get trapped by the rising tide.

I share this perspective of the beautiful Pacific coastland because that is what life here in France has put me in mind of. Most of the time this land is beautiful, the people are gracious and welcoming, and exploring is a fun adventure. But occasionally, the tide of unfamiliar things and experiences pile up, like mounting waves, and before I know it, I am knocked off my feet. This morning was the high tide of one that had been building since the day before. It was my son’s actual 13th birthday, and a boxed cake mix nearly did me in.

I know how to do laundry. Washers and dryers are familiar. But here they are different. First of all, they vent out front. That would be *into your house.* I open the back door and window to encourage the heat to leave. Of course, when your third dryer load just won’t come dry, you troubleshoot. Door lint filter clean? Check. Other lint filter clean? Check.  Water condenser thingie empty? What? What water condenser thingie?

Our dryer, with indecipherable French instructions and manual (thankful for translate.google), with the water-thingie extended. You pull this out and dump the water, which I discovered this morning when last night’s clothes still were a tad damp.

The stove-top had an English section in the manual. Thankfully! Because it is induction. I had barely even heard of a stovetop that cooks using magnets, and NONE of the pots or pans we brought has the correct metal core to work. We were able to find a converter to place under the pan.

Note the space-age touch controls. At first, I thought they were indicator lights only, and surely the controls themselves were elsewhere.

Well, in the mornings, I need my coffee for clear thinking, so I started up the new Senseo coffee maker. We went with the Senseo led by the coffee aisle at the grocery store. There was a narrow section of just your regular coffee, then there was a wiiiide section filled with a variety of Senseo coffee filter pacs, for not much more. Then there was another even more narrow coffee section with alternative maker cups, like K-cups, which were kind of expensive. Looking that over, I decided to get a Senseo machine.

See any problem with my American-sized coffee mug? Most of the mugs in my beloved collection are two-handed sized. It makes for a psychologically warm hug from your aromatic cup cradled in two hands.

And so, drinking my short cup of coffee, I made a birthday cake for my son. I had given up on the from-scratch American style cake when I couldn’t find, the night before, baking powder. I now know the French name, but threw in the towel last night and grabbed a box cake mix, French style. The side showed the addition of 3 eggs and some milk, and that sounded achievable. I didn’t count on my French oven. It is really complicated. It bakes, broils, convections, and even rotisseries. It probably would have mixed my cake had I known how to ask it. This manual defies translate.google. It makes little sense even translated. I got my cake out of it, though, so I must have done something right.

And lastly, such a tiny thing, but when so many things have piled on to make simple things more difficult, even these little anomalies become exasperating:

No doubt unique in my little apartment, but why can’t I wash my hands with WARM water after using the WC? Is the space two small for two pipes?

Well, there you go…my little rant on a morning that was almost more than I could manage. But then, such wealthy problems I have! What an easy life, when complicated mystery appliances are the troubles that weigh me down. Thank God instead for the amazing church of people to whom we took the little cake I baked, and who all sang happy birthday to my son, devouring his cake. Life is good here in France, after all.

 

 

 

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Need a Friend? Try the laundromat!

Last Saturday was laundry day. After so long at the hotel, we were desperately in need of some clothes washing. We had found a lavaterie automatique in Tournefeuille, so early in the morning we bagged up a couple of loads and headed over. The system is a little different, with a control panel for all the machines, including the one from which you buy deteregent. As Stoney and I were sorting through the French instructions, an older woman sitting, waiting for her own laundry, popped up and offered to help, in perfectly serviceable English. What a precious and enthusiastic guide she turned out to be!

I am calling this a God-appointment, though, as this friendly, bubbly woman of Dutch descent was delighted at the prospect of practicing her English, which is her least-used of her three pretty fluent languages. She insisted we come that afternoon for tea with her and her husband, a Frenchman who speaks only French and Dutch, so that we could have a little opportunity to practice our tiny store of French. She even had Stoney walk home with her to make sure we could find it, being new to the community and all.

Frankly, all afternoon as we banged furniture together, it seemed hard to believe someone we had met at the laundromat really wanted and expected us to show up in a few hours. It almost had that “axe-murderer-you-met-online” feel, you know? Except, not. But we grabbed a little bouquet of mini-carnations at the fluer-ist and arrived with offering in hand. My new-found friend was waiting at the corner to welcome us warmly, I think a little concerned that we would not find her. Her husband was so gracious as well, and they ushered us into their gate and a sheltered place in their garden, where a table had been placed, with chairs, and place settings for us all. She served us coffee actually, and tea for my tea-loving son (who loved the sugar cubes!), and orange juice as well. She offered little English cookies and chocolate cookies for Theo, and apricots, which I now suspect may have been from her own garden.

After tea she showed us around her garden, which out back included a full-blown actual Garden, with vegetables and fruit trees and a grape vine. It was amazing how much they fit into a compact spot. They insisted it was not pretty, though, because they hadn’t had rain in weeks. Still, they managed to send us off with a half-dozen really delicious tomatoes. They were an incredibly charming couple. We would like to return the hospitality and invite them to a friendly game of boules with some homemade lemonade. I hope they accept!

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Relationships in a Nomadic Life

This week, mornings Monday through Friday, I have led craft-making at our church’s Vacation Bible School. This required a fair amount of lesson planning and preparation in the weeks prior. Four days after VBS wraps up, we board a plane with loads of luggage and relocate overseas. I chose this. In fact, I insisted on it. Speculation over my sanity or lack thereof has been rampant. Some have lauded my dedication. Really, it’s none of the above.

See, I love the people at my church. I have the most wonderful church family, and I don’t want to lose a minute I could be serving with them.

I love me some church ladies!

I work with the best!

The thing is, when you move, there is a tendency to take your time getting involved in a new community. And there is a tendency to emotionally disconnect from those you are moving away from long before you have actually left. But it is the people that make a PLACE your HOME. People are a community: take those people out of their buildings and they can still be a community. If I don’t find ways to connect and make relationships as quickly as possible in any move to a new location, and ways to maintain some of the relationships in the location I am leaving, then I lose the depth of meaning to the life I live. God calls me to community in a worldwide, eternal family, and to draw as many others into that family as He cares to connect me to. How can I waste a single day of that?

That is why I committed to lead crafts for VBS when I knew I just might have to leave around then. I have five days of serving with dozens of people I love and admire. I have seen former art students that passed through my station, that I otherwise wouldn’t have seen this summer at all. I got to rejoice in one little girl joining this amazing family of God! And I am playing arts and crafts with around 90 kids, possibly for the last time for several years.

My buddy Barry the shark, whom I made for the Great Barrier Reef-themed craft room.

VBS-made soncatcher

Making memories with kids.

I can overlook something in the packing, but I WILL NOT overlook people in the moving. It is just too, too easy to do, though. Saturday we will throw an early birthday party for my youngest son, so that he can do this same thing…strengthen the relationships he hopes to maintain to some extent after the relocation, and emphasize the importance of his friendships. When you rarely live somewhere more than five years or so, relationships have to become deliberate.

Do you have friends from childhood that you maintain across distances? I do. Not many, but I do have them. Do you have friends you have maintained from communities you used to live in? I do, although not all of them. It takes work from both parties to keep up with one another regardless of distance. Thank God for the many digital connections that bridge that gap, though! And thank God for friends who work with me to keep in touch! I love them so much, everywhere I go.

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The Lover of My Soul

Last weekend I got away from uber-busy life with a bunch of women from my Bible Study Fellowship leader group. I worried it was time I couldn’t spare, really, even though this would knock out another 50 Before 50. I had gotten to where I almost didn’t want to go, leaving my family I don’t see enough of, and my to-do list I make so little progress on. So, recognizing this attitude problem, I began, the week before, asking God each day to refresh me on this retreat. How He did this, physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually, didn’t matter, just so long as PLEASE would He refresh me? Well, the response left me breathless, and feeling just a bit like He had just been waiting in anticipation to do just that!

Arriving at the Hyatt, I unpacked and realized two things: my late night packing job had left me short a blouse, and my lipstick bag with lip balm for my already painfully chapped lips was missing. Ah well, my mind was on other things. I was desperate for a hair makeover. I had originally thought to grow out my curly graying locks for an updo for the wedding in June, but realize now what a mistake that was. Every time I walked past a mirror at work (and my department store has LOTS of mirrors), I couldn’t help feeling frumpy and droopy and old. So with the couple of hours downtime I’ve got before the retreat started, I decided to see if I could get a walk-in haircut. Surely there’s a Great Clips or something nearby? A directory showed an Aveda Institute (the school!) downtown, so I called and said a prayer. “Might you have an opening before 4?” asked at 2:10. They said they had had a cancellation of a 3:00! I can do 3! What a relief! I went walking, and lo and behold, this school was just across the street and around the corner, so I got there 20 minutes early. And what did I see next door, but a TJMaxx. Well, I had time for a quick browse. And hit PAYDIRT! in the form a of a lovely Cable and Gauge blouse for cheap! Unexpected top shortage alleviated.

I showed up at Aveda right on the dot, and the sweet girl who seated me informed me that a cut begins with a scalp massage with scented oil. Oh my! It was awesome, with refreshing peppermint, and right then I knew God was telling me He was taking care of me. The cut turned out really cute, but at the end, the girl said that as a thank you for using their services, I get a little dollop of lip gloss of my color choice. I couldn’t believe it!! It was like God overlooked NO tiny detail. And the whole experience was $18. You can believe I tipped WELL. I nearly cried, I felt so loved. God knew my needs, and me, and how to truly refresh me. I felt not only ready to receive all that He wanted to give me spiritually for the weekend, I was eagerly expectant!

And the public art in Denver is quirky and prolific. It was fun just to watch for it, no museum necessary. Take the Convention Center, for example:

Isn’t he cute? I’ll share more about the retreat itself in future, but for now, just know my prayer was answered. I am loved, and I was definitely refreshed!

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Two for One, almost

This past week we got a letter from our Compassion International sponsored child! When this happens, T and I are like the cast of Blues Clues. We have even been known to sing the “We just got a letter” song. We got to hear about rainy season for them, and see that it really does take two to three months to get a letter from there to here. And then, only a few days later, we got ANOTHER!! Woohoo! This was a thank you for our birthday present. This wasn’t only dictated, but also written in her native language, and it is amazingly beautiful. Just an artwork itself. We got to hear that she bought a dress and shoes, and the letter made it sound like they are now her only shoes. I mean, the translation requires a little translating itself, but that may well be the case, because she was definitely admiring her legs in shoes. I LOVE it! It is so perfectly an 8-year-old girl! My son and I felt like we had actually had an impact on someone’s life, to be able to provide them with their only pair of shoes. I hope she can tell that we are full of love for her from our letters. It is already time to wish her a Merry Christmas.

Letters from Pavithra

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Tiny Love

My youngest son earned a trip to the “prize box” at school a week or so ago, and in it he was delighted to find a teensy tiny frame, maybe 2 inches high. He immediately planned to paint a picture for it for ME! And he wanted to do it alongside me. He planned his painting and cut a piece of watercolor paper to size. Here is his artwork:

tiny daisies

I am SO loved!

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