Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Portraits: Madame V

This precious Madame V is one of my favorites. At first I wasn't so sure about her. She seemed a little strict, and corrected the pronunciation on nearly every single French word that came out of my mouth. But now? Well, she still corrects everything, but we're becoming good friends. I go to her house every Tuesday afternoon for at least 3.5 hours. We talk about all sorts of things, like the time way back when she lived in California. And I hear all sorts of things about plants and flowers. They're her passion, an she has a new one every week. Or sometimes after I show her pictures of my family at Christmas we talk about how it's crazy that some Americans wear pajamas on Christmas. All morning. And half way through our chat she makes some tea and gives me a couple (okay, three) Pepperidge Farm cookies.

Towards the end her husband comes home from playing bridge. He speaks English much better, so he likes to tease her for her pronunciation and vocabulary. Madame V has now made sure that we always speak French at the end  so as not to run the risk of being teased by her funny husband. It hardly ever works out that way though, and he always seems to irritate her and make me laugh.

The first time I met her I was with Nancy. She told us, "I am Catholic. You are Protestant. We respect each other's religions." Interestingly enough, not thirty minutes later she was asking what we believe about creation and how long the earth has been in existence. She speaks of religion far more than any other French person I know except the ones I see at church. I'm not sure I'll ever understand how she still considers herself Catholic even though she hasn't been to a Catholic church in over 35 years. And last week we had this conversation, which still amazes me.

Sometimes she brings up things in her life that really scare her, and I can see all the anxiety in her life. Usually it's about things that are rather trivial, but I wish she knew a Savior to take all the fear away. It's impossible to tell where her heart is really at. She's an anomaly to me, so very attached to Catholicism and yet so very curious about what I believe. But I don't always need to understand. I pray and know that He must do the work. All I have to do is obey. What a wonderful thought.

Pray with me for Madame V. How desperately she needs His salvation!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Mom Makes Cool Things....

...and sends them to me in the mail. 

Like this quilt for instance. 

It's the perfect size to spread across my lap and keep me warm while I do grandma-looking-things really, really awesome and important and youthful things like crochet. 

Don't you wish your mom could sew like mine? And, more importantly, don't you wish you were as awesome and youthful as me too? 

What? It's cold outside. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Two Months and Counting....

Two months? Two months? Time has flown by, as I thought it might. I'm always remarking about how quickly time has passed. It's always expected, and yet I'm always surprised when it happens. Next thing I know, my ten months in France will be up and I'll be boarding a plane headed for American soil.

My thoughts are all over the place tonight... So many dreams.... so many convictions... so many hopes... so many realizations. Forgive me if this post ends up being scattered and incomprehensible.

Yes, time has gone by so fast. But there hasn't been a second of it that God has not used to grow me. Even my mistakes. I am learning more every day what it means to follow Him, what it means to love Him. I am learning more every day that He loves me. I am learning more every day what it means that He loves me. I am learning what things He cares very much about, and He is slowly beginning to bring me into these battles with Him. Yes, I've been learning so much these last two months.

As far as learning the French language?.... I found a quote from an Australian woman named Sarah Turnball that puts it perfectly.

"The language remains a mystery to me-- a gorgeous, mellifluous gabble which I can listen to forever without identifying where one word ends and the next begins. Those sliding liaisons and smooth syllables, the to-die-for accent and controlled cadence; together they make an incomprehensible verbal stew."

I'm happy to say that I can now tell the difference between one word and another. Usually. But French is not a language that can be learned in two months. Or even in two years probably. But I'm making progress, and that's what counts. There are small victories here and there. I try not to get discouraged about how very difficult it is to learn French, instead learning to enjoy the process rather than caring only for the end goal.

And faith.... oh how my faith has been tested. Reading about religious history in France can be do discouraging. Several weeks ago I was reading a book about it, and despite the fact that the words were written in a dry, historical fashion, I found myself being sucked into the story. Oh to think of those many faithful men and women who died rather than reject their Lord. Those blessed saints who fled the country when they were told they could not worship their God. What mighty spiritual battles have taken place in this land! The country has never been the same since that mass exodus under the rule of Louis XIV. My heart breaks as I think about all the souls who perished without the gospel, as I realize how very long it has been since the people of God have rapidly multiplied and flourished in this country. And then sometimes I get so upset at the many thousands who have been given the Word of God only to reject Him. France has had her missionaries and pastors. The gospel has been preached in her churches and streets. I've heard from many people that the majority of French evangelical churches are filled with immigrants. Oh they are a proud people who have rejected the One who made them!

It's only been two months and already I've had thoughts of leaving and never looking back. They've rejected Him. Shouldn't we flee the country and shake the dust off our feet?

But His faithful, steadfast hand holds my heart here. I remember all the ways that He has proved I am just where He wants me, the great works that He has done to get me here. And He whispers softly to me, "There was a time when you rejected Me too." And then my heart melts and I am filled with yet more love and grace. How steadfast, how loving He is. As soon as I realize His love for them, I remember that most French really haven't heard His Good News. Bibles remain unopened, Catholicism has promoted idol worship and salvation by works, and the majority think that evangelical Christianity is a religion that believes that one can get into heaven if he is good enough. With that being the case, why on earth would anyone want to become evangelical? Aren't they all trying already to be good? What good will God do them if they must earn salvation on their own? Oh if only they saw Calvary. If only they understood that He gave His all for us, and that we must give our all to Him.

Yes, my faith has been tested. I believe that God can work in France. But do I believe that He will? Do I believe that He actually wants to? Sometimes I look at history and I struggle in praying for the lost. They've rarely seen Him before, what would make things change now? I have faith enough that He will save one person during my time here. But five...? Twenty...? Fifty...?

Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. (Mark 9:23-24)

Yes, God has given me a love for the people of France, but how small and pitiful that love often is. How much of myself will I really give to them so that they can know Him? What cost am I willing to pay to see some come to Christ?

"Do not we rest in our day too much on the arm of flesh? Cannot the same wonders be done now as of old? Do not the eyes of the Lord still run to and fro throughout the whole earth to show Himself strong on behalf of those who put their trust in Him? Oh, that God would give me more practical faith in Him! Where is now the Lord God of Elijah? He is waiting for Elijah to call on Him." -James Gilmour of Mongolia

This morning I finished reading the book of Judges. It is tempting to think about how wicked and stupid the Israelites were without ever examining msyelf. It is evident that they needed to put their idols away for good and keep following the one true God. Could they not see that everything went wrong when they stopped worshipping Him alone? And after having such deep, profound thoughts, it is tempting to shut the Bible and go on with my day thinking about how much more clever I am that I choose to worship God and they so often did not.

"But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does." -James 1:25

Today I keep thinking over and over again about how prone I am to be like the Israelites in Judges. How easy it would be to look into that perfect law and then forget all I hear! Idolatry snuck up on ignorant Israel and sneakily took over their entire lives. Oh how sneaky sin can sometimes be. They were not keeping watch over their lives, their hearts, their people. They let in one small compromise at a time until it became full-fledged idol worship. Is there compromise in me, Lord? They failed to be zealous for the glory of the Lord, tolerating others' sin until they themselves grew cold to it. Is there a zeal for Your glory in me, Lord? It would be so easy to think that I am doing everything correct because I don't have any statues set up in my room that I bow down to every now and then. But that's not what God's talking about! 

God demands every part of my life. He alone must decide where I go, what I do, what I think, what I buy, who I talk to, what I speak.... everything. He alone must determine whether I get 8 hours of sleep or 8 minutes, whether I fast or whether I thank Him and enjoy the good food He has given me. Only He can determine my life...

And I am so thankful that He does, because when put in control I always mess everything up.

Two months in... and I have seen more of Him. But there is so much more to see. I have learned. But there is so much more to learn. I have loved, but His love is still yet greater. I have spoken bits of truth, but there is so much more He wants these people to know. Two months in.... And I'm eager to see the rest.

He is a good God.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

We Pray Only To God

It's another one of those sweet evenings where all I want to do is rejoice in who He is and thank Him for all the sweet blessings He has given me. The more my heart belongs to Him the more I cherish all the little things around me. Every day becomes a wonderful adventure instead of just the same mundane. Every little decision becomes an opportunity to honor Him and show my love for Him. The little things in life that bring a smile to my face? I am realizing that He sent them for just that reason. Doesn't that make everything extraordinary?

I'm a little giddy still about a conversation I had yesterday with Madame V. Yesterday I was meeting with her for our weekly language exchange and showing her some pictures that I took on our trip down to Burgundy. And this picture happened to come up....

"In the Catholic church we pray to Mary and the saints."

"In the evangelical church we pray only to God."

Next thing I knew I was explaining what evangelicals believe happens when someone dies. Of course, she did proceed to explain to me what Catholicism teaches about purgatory, and even said that God can pardon whoever He wants to, and we don't know if He will or not. So next I explained that the Bible teaches that God is just, and that as a just Judge, He has to punish sin. But He sent Jesus to accept the punishment for us, and if we believe in Him then we can be with Him when we die instead of going to hell. And then she started talking about Muhammed and I lost her.

But even if the conversation didn't end the way that I wanted it to, I'm so happy that we had it to begin with. French people never talk about these kinds of things! Madame V is a little different.... but it's still a miracle that the subject of religion even came up. I had been praying, you see, for an opportunity to share truth with her. And the Lord provided. Isn't He so good?

As I was sharing, the reality that God sent Jesus to take my punishment became just a little bit more clear to me, and oh the joy that filled my heart as I considered that Good News!

He's always surprising me. I hadn't really expected an opportunity to share truth so soon. I knew He'd give an opportunity, but the same day that I asked?! Wow! But He didn't stop there. This morning I was riding the bus on the way to meet Monsieur E for a language exchange. I was praying about our meeting, something I do every time I meet with someone. And today I got to share why Americans have Thanksgiving (to thank God for His many blessings!), and why I don't like to watch movies.

When last we met, a couple weeks ago, he had suggested that I watch movies in French to help me learn. I had told him I don't really like watching movies.

"Really? How come?"

"Oh.... uh.... I don't know."

"But everyone likes watching movies."

"Yeah.... Uh.... I guess I get bored?" But it was a lie. And God convicted me of that. I do get bored easily with movies sometimes, but that's not why I don't like to watch them. I felt like I couldn't share the truth with him because I had heard so much about how it's rude to bring up religion in France and I didn't want to make him think I thought he was horrible person because he does watch movies! I can't deny that strong feeling of conviction that I had afterwards, and suddenly I realized how silly that reasoning was. Thankfully God gave me another opportunity to tell the truth, and this time I was ready.

Today he asked, "You said last time that you don't like to watch movies. Why is that again?"

"There are several reasons..."

It wasn't awkward at all explaining to him that movies are so often filled with things that are evil, and that the Bible tells us not to dwell on things like that but things that are good. I don't know why I've always pictured it being so awkward talking about things like that, because it wasn't at all. I was just explaining one of the many facts of my life, just like how I have to explain that in America we use the word 'apartment' instead of 'flat.'

I'm so thankful for those tiny moments to share. No, I wasn't able to share the full gospel. No, they didn't ask me to tell them more. No, it doesn't seem as if my honesty really accomplished all that much. And no, it never does come out quite as elegantly as I intend it. But they were precious gems of opportunities to share truth with Madame V and Monsieur E that they probably will never hear otherwise. And just maybe it'll be enough for them to start rethinking things. Maybe they'll want to hear more. Maybe God's working on their hearts this very moment and somewhere down the road, whether near or far, they'll be worshipping Jesus with me.

They might be baby steps, but I'm glad we're making progress. And I'm glad I serve a God who is so overwhelmingly, undeniably good.

"You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. "Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
-Matthew 5:14-16

Monday, November 7, 2011


I'm sitting in my room, taking in the delicious smell of the bread that Madam R made earlier, sipping on some Infusion Pomme Cannelle (Apple Cinnamon Tea), and nibbling on my latest replenishment to my chocolate stash. Every time I go to Carrefour (our local supermarket), I can't help but buy a different chocolate bar. The goal? Try every chocolate at least once. Never mind the fact that there's an entire aisle. I've taken it upon myself to perform this important task so that if ever I receive visitors and they think they might to try some chocolate, I can give them a helpful evaluation of the best chocolates in the store. Important business, you see.

Tonight I am filled with so much peace and stillness. I can hear the clock ticking in the bathroom beside my bedroom, the low hum of the news on the television downstairs, and the occasional dripping from the faucet. Stillness. Resting. Peace.... Those words mark my time here so far. Sometimes I feel like God called me here simply so that I can learn to be in His presence all day long. At times I don't always feel extraordinarily useful. I still haven't been able to tell anyone about Jesus. I haven't gone above and beyond in serving anyone I've met. I still don't know that  many people. And my French skills? We shan't speak of it....

Sometimes I find myself viewing my relationship with God as a spiritual checklist. 'First I need to knock a few things off the list before I can have good fellowship with Him.' But that's not what it's about. My primary purpose and focus on earth is not completing a list, however good I think those things on my subconscious to-do list are. My primary purpose and focus is Him. And so He is teaching me to toss out the list and sit at His feet. He's teaching me to stop focusing so much on what I can do for Him, and start focusing on Him. He is teaching me just to be with Him, to talk to Him, to learn from Him, to read His love letters to me, and to enjoy all the many wonderful blessings He sends my way every single day. He's constantly, gently reminding me that He's already paid the price that I could not pay.

And as a result? Peacefulness. Contentment. Calm, deep joy. Stability. My first weeks here have been nothing like I've expected. I'm still waiting for the culture shock. I'm still waiting for those moments when I look around me in frustration and wonder why I ever decided to leave my own country. I'm still waiting for that feeling of being absolutely overwhelmed because I have no idea what I'm doing. It's true, I don't always know what I'm doing. But it doesn't overwhelm me. I haven't panicked. I haven't regretted my decision to answer the call. I have contentment and stability, because He is teaching me to look to Him for every answer, and He is always faithful.

Oh His faithfulness. I could write a thousand books about how faithful He has been to me since arriving in France, during fundraising, when He called me here.... my whole life. It still seems so surreal that He faithfully provided through His saints everything that I needed to come. He provided my place to stay, and already I have three different people to talk to one-on-one every single week. He's provided me with all the grace and faith that I need to get through each day. He's provided people for me to love and pray for. He's given me fellowship with other believers here in France too. He's been so faithful. But the best thing He's given me by far is Himself, His presence. I love spending time with Him.

And now my heart is bursting and I search for the words to tell Him how much I love Him, how much I'm grateful, how much I never want to leave this very moment because being here with Him is the best thing ever. And oh, if you could feel the joy I feel when He tells me that this- being with Him- will go on and on for all eternity. Heaven's going to be so good, friends. Eternity is so good. I never want to leave this moment of being with Him, and I never have to. That thought makes me so happy.

I hope you're filled with peacefulness today. The storm can rage and rage outside, but that's just fine for those whose houses are built on the Rock.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Real Life Biographies

Tonight is one of those times where I feel like I could fall asleep, wake up in a few hours and then walk over to the Ellerslie chapel for church. It's funny how we long for whatever it is we don't currently have. When I was at Ellerslie, I can't tell you how much I longed to be where I am sitting right this very moment.... France. And now that I'm in France, I long to be in snow-covered Colorado too. And yet.... I'm thankful for where He has me. I am content. I am satisfied. I wouldn't change a single thing even if I could.

It's funny how this life works.

The other night I was going through photos from the last year, and I smiled as I once again gazed on all those familiar faces. I am filled with thankfulness for all those people He put in my life. So many people. I couldn't name them all if I tried. And as I saw all of their faces in the many pictures I captured.... I thought about my relationship with them, their stories, how much they love Jesus. I love Christian biographies. And living at Ellerslie was like being surrounded by the beginning chapters of awe-inspiring stories of children of God who give their everything to seek Him.... and find Him. I was surrounded by living, breathing Christian biographies. Those people inspire me. Not because they're all that exceptionally great in and of themselves (although they're all pretty cool), but because I could watch as God captured their hearts and began changing them to be like Him.

I miss that. I miss those people. I miss every single smiling face that I got to know so well, and I miss that sweet fellowship that we all had.

And yet.... I long for that fellowship here. I long to see chapters unfolding of God's love story with the people of France. I long for that day when I can watch God changing a person's life and start writing the first pages in my mind. I long to see His magnificent, mighty working in France. I long to find more of my brothers and sisters here, and watch as they get to know our Father. Oh it is only by the grace of God that it could ever happen.... so I keep longing and waiting and praying and trusting. Some day, I'm going to see a real live Christian biography here in France, and the pages of this person's life are going to point me to the Creator, and I'm going to fall on my knees and glorify Him for how mightily He can work in a person's life.

Yep. That's what's gonna happen.

Portraits: Madame M

I met her at our English conversation group. I wasn't really sure what to think of her at first. She was extremely quiet, and didn't say much unless someone spoke directly to her. But she sat there with eyes wide open and I could tell that she was drinking everything in. She watched me as much as I watched her, trying to figure me out too. Her wide, staring eyes, magnified even more so by her glasses, made me a little uncomfortable at first.

She had spent a good portion of her summer on a pilgrimage. I can't deny that I was impressed as she was telling us what all it entailed. They walked miles and miles every day for a several weeks, sometimes sleeping in tents, sometimes sleeping in hotels. I'm not sure I would ever undertake such a journey willingly, and this tiny woman who had to be in her late 60's did so gladly.

She wanted to improve her English, and I wanted to improve my French. So we set up a time to meet for our first language exchange. The sweet lady spent ten minutes giving me detailed instructions on how to get to her house, diagram included. And then she met me halfway to her house on the day of because she wanted to make sure I found it just fine.

I'll admit it was a little hard for me to concentrate that first day. I was distracted by her aqua green eyeshadow, electric blue mascara, and hot pink lipstick. All I remember thinking was, 'I thought French women wore muted colors!' But she was so excited to serve me coffee and some cookies that her mother had brought from Brittany.

I love this dear woman more every time I meet with her. She's always so sweet and thoughtful, and I can tell she has a big heart. I love the way she still can't say 'autumn' and 'call.' It's one of the funniest, most precious things I've ever heard. But she practices every week, and every week it's just a little bit better. She loves learning new things, and her childlike curiosity and habit of taking everything in is something that I'm constantly learning from.

We haven't spoken of religion, but I'm fairly certain she doesn't know Jesus. She lives in a culture that worships Mary as co-redemptress and tries to do as many good works as possible so as to spend less time in purgatory. I wonder if she knows that no amount of suffering or works can make her holy. I wonder if she knows that Jesus paid the cost for her and all she needs to do is look to Him as her Savior. I wonder if she knows what God has revealed in His Word, or if she simply relies on what the priest tells her every week. I wonder if she knows how much He loves her. I wonder if she knows that He wants her to repent and turn to Him. I wonder if she knows the Way.

I pray that I can tell her someday.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Time Management

Something the Lord has continuously been teaching me about and convicting me of is how I manage the time He has given me. I already had half a post written and saved in my drafts when I stumbled across this and this yesterday. Coincidence? I think not.

Arriving in a new country means I don't have an overwhelming amount of friends or activities to distract me. But there's still unlimited internet. And a television. And all sorts of good books I could read on my kindle. And waaaaay too many photographs to spend hours editing. Trust me, distractions are endless.

But as soon as I arrived I knew that there were only certain things I should spend my time on. Instead of having a list of things to avoid, I had a list of things allowed: Reading about France, reading books God has laid on my heart, spending time in the Word and prayer, spending time learning French, and the occasional blog reading, email responding, facebooking sprints. Amazingly, time flies by really fast even when my activities are limited to the list above. And even my 'things allowed' list isn't completely fail proof, for it would be easy for me to spend a little too much time reading blogs (my greatest temptation as of late) and much too little time seeking Him.

When it comes down to it, the only right way for me to manage my time is for me to moment by moment seek Him and live for Him. When I ask Him what I should do next, He never fails to give me the answer. I must always be seeking, always asking, always looking to Him for guidance and leadership and answers, and He will always give them.

There were some instances when I felt that it was silly for me to limit myself so much. I didn't see other Christians being so careful about their time! But that's when He reminded me that sometimes others can, and I cannot. As long as I keep my gaze on Him, and not on someone else, or myself... it works flawlessly. Every time.

I am definitely not the picture of perfect time management still, because I often forget to look at Him. But He's teaching me. You wouldn't believe what a kind, gentle, patient teacher He is too!

Speaking of good ways to spend your time... The Set Apart Girl November/December issue just came out. Read it, I'm sure He'll teach you something through it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Behold the Works

I just returned to my sweet little home near Paris after a visit south. It was beautiful, every single moment. During the whole drive down and back, every single time I looked out my window I had an amazing view. I've rediscovered something. I love driving through the French countryside. I also love the French Alps. And French camp food too, apparently. And French bed and breakfasts. And....

Getting to know the rest of the GEM France team was really exciting. I'm encouraged by all the different ministries going on here and plan to share about some of them soon. Being around so many people who love God and love France was great. 

An added bonus? Being surrounded by the beauty of God's creation. It was the perfect weekend to be in the Alps. So. Many. Colors. It's especially awe-inspiring for someone who grew up around so much (beautiful) brown. My pictures don't really capture the beauty of the French Alps, but believe me, God makes beautiful things.

And as I was surrounded by the works of His hands, both in people and in nature, I came to know Him just a little bit more. What sweet fellowship with my Jesus as I would steal away every so often to hear from Him. I don't have words or pictures that could possibly explain....

Come, behold the works of the LORD, what desolations he hath made in the earth.

He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.

Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.

The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.