Monday, April 23, 2012

Seven Months and Counting....

Life here is never very simple. Just when I get the hang of things, something happens and it throws me off  and I once again realize that I don't know anything. Anything. The last seven months have been an adventure. In my opinion, adventures aren't always all we crack them out to be. Usually when something unpleasant, uncontrollable, terrifying, and/or horribly confusing happens but we make it out the other end, we turn around and say, 'Wow! That was an adventure!' And that word sounds like so much fun that we completely forget about how unpleasant the entire experience was to begin with. 

That's my life in France. An adventure. Except for now, when unpleasant, uncontrollable, terrifying and/or horribly confusing things happen, I'm learning to laugh at it and make it sound fun before I'm out the other end.... because He always pulls me out of them. 

Yesterday I had to get from my little house south of Paris to my friend's house north of Paris. Sounds simple, right? Ha. So I looked up all the information I needed: the names of 4 different train stations to go through and the different times, etc. It should have taken an hour and a half. But then one train was late. And I didn't make it to the next fast enough. And then I couldn't find the right train at the next station. So my well-planned hour and a half journey turned into double the time, with the additional benefit of my rolley suitcase breaking so that I had to carry it everywhere I went while I wandered around tying to figure out how to get to the right place. 

Nothing goes quite as planned. No matter how well I think I'm prepared for something, there are always unexpected happenings throwing wrenches in my plan. That's just part of living in a different culture, part of life. But I'm learning.... not to sweat the little things too much, not to panic when things aren't going as I anticipated, not to freak out if I don't know where I am or which train I'm on or where the right bus stop is, not to look like I'm lost when I really am, and to trust that He always, always has my back. 

Seven months and counting and... I am sometimes surprised by how much I still feel like a stranger here, and am sometimes surprised by how natural I feel at other times. At seven months I'm still learning to let go and trust, learning that He has a plan even if mine falls through, learning that there's always more grace. I'm learning that it's a journey and a race, and that I'm not there yet. I'm learning that He'll always meet me at the next step with love and patience in His eyes. 

Oh. And I'm also learning about discipleship and church planting and evangelism this week in Dublin. Our conference starts tomorrow, and I am stoked. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012


I've been thinking about death this week. Morbid, I know. For some reason I agreed to see the Titanic in 3D because I momentarily forgot how utterly depressing it is. Don't ask me how one forgets that, one just does. And while surrounded by a plethora of French teenagers snickering at the unconventional deaths of hundreds of people, all I could think about was the fact that people die. Whether they die in a tragic shipwreck and freeze to death while others selfishly row away or whether they die aged 102 and in their warm beds, they all die. It's a truth that I oftentimes forget about. A truth that I was still thinking about two days later when I found out about the sudden death of a friend's wife. She started having heart problems on Wednesday and by Friday she was gone, just like that. And suddenly all of the other funerals I've been to started flashing through my mind and I am once again faced with the reality that everyone dies.

Nancy was telling me about a conversation that she had with a woman in her 20's about Christianity. The woman admitted that she rarely thinks about what happens after death because she's so young, and it will be so long before she dies.

Mr. Strange Starbucks Guy refused to answer my questions about what happens after death because I apparently am always asking 'Why?' and 'What happens next?' and I shouldn't. He admitted that he was getting older, his body was starting to fail, and yet when faced with the questions of what happens when that inevitable physical failure comes, he has decided it's not important to think about.

I was reading a blog about a woman who just discovered she has breast cancer. And while there's a good chance that she'll be a survivor, she too was caused to think about the fact that someday, our bodies all fail us. The most we can hope for is a long, full life and a death that's not too terrifying or painful. No one I've ever met has stated that they think their current body will live forever.

Some day, I'm going to die too. It could be tomorrow or it could be sixty years from now, but eventually it will happen (unless Jesus comes first, which would totally be awesome). And with this reality in mind, I ask myself, what am I going to do with that knowledge? What is a life well-lived? What is the point of it all? How can I make sure that I don't waste a single second of it?

Sometimes (okay, most of the time), I feel like I'm not doing enough. I feel like I need to be a better Christian. I feel like I should be praying longer, loving harder, learning faster, and accomplishing more. It's like I have this list of '50 Things Really Great Christians Do', and when I don't meet my own expectations then I feel like a failure. Shouldn't I know more people here in France? Shouldn't I see conversions? Shouldn't I share the gospel with more people? I mean, who cares if they don't want to talk to me? I should make them listen! Right? And yet.... and yet that's not how the Christian life is designed.

Over and over again during my stay in France, God has continually brought me back to one specific lesson: be with Him. Look to Him. Follow Him.

I'm always trying to be and to do and to strive and to accomplish, and yet the facts are that it's not enough and never will be. I will never make myself a 'good Christian.' I will never deserve or earn a relationship with Him. But thankfully, wonderfully, He always brings me back to the facts. The Gospel. Him.

And so I realize, when I'm pondering death and how I can make my life enough, that really all I have to do is keep giving myself over to Him, again and again. I realize that devoting my life to anything else is completely useless, because people die, money disappears, beauty fades, fame is pointless, governments will always become corrupt, and humans will always be born as sinners.

Death is inevitable. Every ambition in life is futile. Except for Him.

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:
Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man's all.
For God will bring every work into judgment,
Including every secret thing,
Whether good or evil. 
Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Starbucks Encounters

A wonderful thing has happened. There's a Starbucks. Open. Near me. NEAR ME! 

Normally that isn't a cause for all that much excitement. Believe it or not, when I'm in the U.S. I don't actually go to Starbucks all that often. I just make a big deal of it when I do go. But American coffee is something that I miss a lot (a lot) here in France. You see, they drink their coffee in these itty bitty cups and it's strong and bitter and they rarely give you milk for it. So Starbucks when here in France is like a big, tasty home-in-a-cup. 

Today I was sitting in Starbucks with my French friend Sophie. We were speaking English, because, you know, even though my level of French surpasses that of most French people now, *cough cough* I find that I still like English more. And then suddenly this older gentleman walked up to us, looked me straight in the eye, and said, “Are you American?” 
I was silent for a moment as I debated how exactly I should answer that question. You see, being American can bring about quite a few different responses, ranging from wildly enthusiastic to ‘I-hate-your-stinking-American-capitalism-guts- now-go-away-and-stop-polluting-my-air!’ Of course, I’ve never gotten the latter reaction, but the possibility never quite leaves my mind. Unfortunately, I could tell by his accent that he spoke English far too well for me to deny my nationality successfully. So I smiled and nodded.

And then he asked me why I’m in France. I’ve been told the word ‘missionary’ is often heavily misunderstood, so I gave him the same answer I give everyone else. “I’m working with an evangelical church here.” 

And then something scary happened. His eyes lit up in delight. That can only mean one of two things. One, he’s already a Jesus-follower and he’s ecstatic to meet another. Or two, he thinks following Jesus is a load of rubbish and has just been dying to disillusion some unsuspecting, naive American girl. 

Turns out that it was the latter. It usually is here in France. I think. Okay, well actually I knew immediately he wasn’t actually French because French people never discuss religion! and certainly not with strangers! Buddy pulled over a chair, made himself comfortable, and for the next hour attempted to make us look stupid for our inability to read Hebrew, being conditioned by our society, and asking silly and unimportant questions like, ‘What happens after we die?’ 

He also told us that Starbucks is poisoning our society with sugar. I would have to disagree. I think Starbucks is making people do happy dances inside one cup of coffee at a time. But I didn’t tell him that. He asked us if we consume sugar. Sophie, being the health conscious person that she is, said “No.” She was being honest too. Imagine a life without sugar.... (Insert shudder here)

Then he looked at me, as I had expected he would.

“Do you eat sugar?”

“Yes, lots of it.” I just barely restrained myself from adding, ‘And I love that I eat it! Every day. Always.’ In case you don’t believe me, I’m currently drinking some extremely sugary coffee and consuming my second ‘pain au chocolate’ within the space of five minutes. Yes, that’s right. That’s probably 2,000 calories stuffed into my digestive system in just a few minutes. I should be feeling regret. Or a sugar high, in the least. But for some reason all I feel is satisfaction.

Anyways, that’s not really the point. The point, is that the crazy old man then told me that I was fat, and that if I consumed less sugar I would get skinnier. And then he oh so kindly warned me not to get too skinny because I needed to make at least several Christian babies. And come to think of it, why wasn’t I married and making babies already? 

What does one say to that? My initial reaction was to laugh, and then I couldn’t think of anything to say after that so I laughed again. It’s been several hours now and I still can’t really come up with a different response.

It was probably one of the more bizarre experiences I’ve had here in France, and that’s saying something. One never quite knows what to expect when they leave their house in the morning. It reiterates the fact that even when you feel like you're entirely prepared to step in a new culture, there's always going to be something to throw you off.

Oh, and have I mentioned the pure, unadulterated bliss I feel at the fact that a Starbucks has opened just two miles away from my house? No? Oh, let me tell you about that....