Christmas is such a wonderful time of year…! No matter what continent you live on, there are always thrilling Christmas festivities to be found in every culture around the world. Here in France, the local Christmas markets are a wonder to behold. Each year the decorations and the vendors are a little different, helping to entice people to stop by their stand and linger a bit. At the market, there are a myriad of possible gifts to purchase, roasted chestnuts to eat and chocolate samples to try. It makes for a really magical evening!
But as I think about Christmas this year, my mind isn't always focused on the events of the season that are coming ever so quickly. Instead, I am finding myself anticipating this coming Sunday when our church will begin celebrating the season of Advent. Each week now during our services, we will be reading passages of Scripture to remind us not only of our Lord's miraculous birth, but also of his Second Coming to Earth. And as my thoughts continue, I find myself imagining that I am like a child at Christmas time, only instead of sitting in front of a tree laden with gifts waiting to open that special surprise, I am instead in front of a frosty windowpane looking outside, anticipating my Savior’s soon arrival.
It’s true that women can sometimes be frustrated with their small children or grandchildren who will unintentionally place smudgy fingerprints onto their otherwise clean windows. (Who enjoys cleaning windows nowadays?) But what if we were like those children as we wait for our Lord? What if we were so excited about His return that we remained in front of the window gazing intently at the skies, so enthralled in the confidence of His coming that we pressed our faces to the window in anticipation?
Christmas ... As I am thinking of Christmas and all the festivities that come with the season, my heart and my mind are stopping for a moment and reflecting on a specific question. "What type of person do I truly want to be?" For me ... I want so much to be like that faith-filled child with my hands and nose pressed against that window, just waiting and watching - so close to the window that my fingerprints can be clearly seen!
Come join me ... Let's make a mess of those windows as we anticipate with expectant hearts that wonderful day that will soon be here! =)
What are we thankful for as we live and work here in France?
Most of all we are thankful for the Lord Jesus Christ and His great sacrifice for us that we might one day spend eternity in His presence. If we received nothing else in this world besides His forgiveness ... that would be enough!
Confession: I am not a runner. It's funny but the older I get, the more and more I am OK with this fact. At times, it can seem that the entire population is out enjoying this activity whether it be for leisure or exercise. I often, however, will think to myself how easy these athletes make this sport look. Some people just have such an elegant gait that I can find myself imagining that maybe this popular exercise could be in my future. But then reality strikes hard and fast and the visions of taking in so much of the countryside as I run past are quickly put to rest. And so happily, John and I lead up our dog Tzatziki and set out for an enjoyable brisk walk around our neighborhood instead.
Walking is a favorite pastime here in France. There is the daily leisurely walk for one’s dog; or the stroll to the local market to pick up daily food supplies; or even every now and again a “speed walker” can be seen trying to bring up their heart rate for maximum physical advantage. But as my thoughts settle on all of the walking that consumes my daily life right now, I am finding my attention turning over and over again to the spiritual encouragement found in the Scriptures about the topic. As I mull over various passages, I have been highlighting those that have stood out to me. And over time, I have turned these verses into a prayer for both my family and for those who are my family ‘in Christ.’
I thought that I would take the opportunity to share some of my thoughts with you in order to possibly encourage you in your own prayer life or perhaps as you are out walking in your own daily endeavors, you will think of us and pray for our ministry here in France.
Heavenly Father, the Apostle John writes, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth”. (3 John 4) Lord, may they walk in Your truth. But may they not only be found walking in Your truth, but may they continually walk in the freedom that Your truth provides, not enslaved by all the baggage that so easily weighs us down, because it is “for freedom that Christ has set us free.”
(Galatians 5:1) May Your truth pervade every fiber of their lives and lead them …
And as they walk, Lord, may they not only live by the Spirit, but may they also choose to walk by the Spirit, so that they will not gratify the desires of their own flesh. (Galatians 5:16, 25) The world speaks so loudly as to what “truth” is, but may your Spirit guide them as they continue.
And Father, just as the Apostle Paul prayed for those in Colossae, may we "walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God."
I know one day, Lord, our walking here on earth will be done and so I ask of You that my loved ones and I will be able to continue to walk well, while we are here.
Please, Heavenly Father, go before us, go behind us, remain at our sides, undergird us with Your strong right hand and sing sweet songs of deliverance over us until we are together with You in Glory. Amen.
To acquaint you further with life here in France, let me just begin by saying that owning a dog is a very 'social' pasttime. We go everywhere with our masters! A few years back, John and Robyn took me to an enclosed café while they waited for Ariana to complete her SAT's in a neighboring town. While they sipped on their coffees and ate their warm croissants, the waiter brought me my own bowl of water to help me pass the time. (I gratefully thanked him, but unfortunately his pant leg got a little wet in the process... sorry, Bud.)
Multiple walks are definitely a daily ritual for each dog owner and on these walks ... we socialize. While I am enjoying all the smells that the world has to offer, John will be talking with his "guy gang" of other dog owners about everything from the weather to gardening. But for me, the best part of this promenade is the moment in which John or Robyn will release me from my lead and allow me to run free down the dirt path and retrieve any stones that they throw my way. To be honest ... this is the greatest thrill of my day!
But the other week John and I were startled by an unexpected animal out for a walk as well! As we were playing "retrieve the large flying rock," John spotted a black pig come out of the adjacent field and begin to follow us. As the pig got closer, John began to realize that this was not the local farm animal that had just escaped, but instead a wild boar that in fact can be quite dangerous, even to humans. He quickly leashed me back up and we started to walk faster not knowing what this fellow would do. The funny part was that for some reason this young wild boar really wanted to socialize that day and quickly picked up speed to catch up with us. It must have been a funny sight to watch as we too picked up speed trying to advert any possible danger. We came home that day winded from the unexpected jog, but filled with excitement to retell our walking tale!
My many tales begin when some soon-to-be empty-nesters purchased me from an English woman living in France and brought me into their home. You see, we live in France, but my owners are not French … so begins my international lifestyle. Instead, they live and work here in southern France serving in a church filled with people from all over the world. I have a feeling that I will soon fit right in with these other internationals, whether they be human or not!
I thought that I would begin to record some of our daily happenings, because frankly … things keep happening! I also thought that these little nuggets of adventures and tidbits of life would bring a smile to your face as you hear what life can be like living in another country & culture.
Our first trip down memory lane occurred when it came time to name me. No big deal, right? Well, actually there was more stress than normal in choosing the name that I would be called for a lifetime. You see, in France names for dogs need to correlate with the year in which they were born (“like hurricanes,” Robyn said. I wonder why she used that analogy?).
In 2012 - the year of my birth, the letter to be used was the letter “h”. My masters struggled for days with coming up with a really cool “h” name since the "h" sound is often silent when spoken in French. Being the non-conformists that they are, I was registered as “Happy” (don’t go there …), but they chose to call me Tzatziki (which is that really delicious Greek cucumber sauce that all good Greeks enjoy!) But you can call me Zeke for short, since we are soon to be close friends enjoying our many exploits together.
I look forward to sharing with you some of my daily adventures as I, being an English dog with a Greek name, live life here in France with American masters. Don’t ask … it gets complicated!
Don’t you enjoy the changing of the seasons? I know that we do and this year is no different. Where we were raised in the United States, there were four distinct seasons and depending on the month, one knew about what to expect (i.e., what flowers would be in bloom, what type of possible weather might be on the horizon for that month, etc). They were each beautiful in their own way and we would so enjoy preparing for the next yet to come. It has been the same here in the south of France and we have enjoyed celebrating each new season.
Yet over the years of living here, I have begun to realize that there is a potential mysterious “fifth” season that is not officially listed and seems to be a moving target — invading people’s lives when they least expect it. It isn’t very long in duration and one does not know when it might occur, however it gives a powerful punch and is distinct in its own way.
Its official title in French is the “Canicule” or “heatwave.” Just the mention of this word evokes the beginning of many conversations, whether one be a native, long-time expat, or a vacationing tourist. Anyway you say it, the result is the same -- heads nodding in agreement and empathy over the veracity of this temperature swing. In order to find relief from the sweltering heat, one has four options: run to the hills; run to the beach; run to the mall or workplace where there is air conditioning OR remain at home in a lockdown situation. (For us, option four remains the most viable option.)
A remedy to beating the heat and to keeping the house cool throughout most of the day is to have all the windows in the house opened fairly early in the morning and then completely shut down by 9-10am. In France, all the homes have “volets” that are either wooden shutters that open outward or these volets are made of aluminum and roll-up into a fitted track in the window itself. We have come to love this system of privacy, because when the volets are closed for the evening one can sleep like a baby until morning with absolutely no light being able to penetrate through! So it is that during these weeks of the mysterious 5th season, people live most of their days in darkness, not venturing out until after the heat of the day has subsided.
A couple years ago, one of our friends who was moving generously gave us their air conditioning unit. John fitted it to our living room window and now we have the extreme joy of being able to turn this on periodically throughout the day for short bursts of relief.
Over these past years I have been sharing what living in France has looked like for our family. The “canicule" is just another tidbit of summer life here and how people find relief.
So for right now, as we are currently experiencing an “early” 5th season, you will probably find us working in our dark house with the lights on, even though the sun is brightly shining outside; enjoying short shots of air-conditioned air; and looking forward to the next season yet to come!
I am sure that if I were to ask you what images come to mind when you think of the Medieval World, your thoughts might quickly jump to scenes of knights on horseback clad in heavy armor as they go out into battle; or the sights, sounds, (& smells!) of a small village as it's inhabitants seek to live out their lives in extremely hard circumstances. But for many of us, our minds race toward images of the various “games” that were played during this time period.
During the Middle Ages, one of the sporting events that was readily trained for by the knights of the time was the game of “jousting.” Knights, along with their pages, would train for this event during the “off” season when they were not at war. After the end of the Middle Ages, the south of France has put its own “spin” on this traditional sporting event. Since 1601, instead of knights clad in armor, mounting their faithful steeds and conquering their foes on land, here in the south they battle their opponents on sea. Two teams … two boats … two men, dressed in white, ultimately battling for victory and prestige, but in the end only one winner remains dry at the completion of the battle. The victor raises his shield high in triumph, while the other goes home literally soaked in defeat!
Each summer, this traditional joust takes place along the ports of the Mediterranean Sea. It is pretty awesome to think that even before my ancestors had made their journey to America back in the late 1600's, this traditional game was being celebrated on the waters of the place that we now call "home."
For more information on this traditional sporting event that reflects an aspect of the summer activities here in the south, I would highly recommend the following website:
Springtime. It is only one word, but yet so many thoughts tend to come to the forefront of our minds when we linger over the memories of this season.
Springtime in the south of France is one of the loveliest times of the year. Flowers are blooming, trees are budding and everything is green. Because this is a semi-arid area, the summer months bring less of the color green and more of the earthy tones of browns and yellows, with just splashes of color here and there. But for right now, vivid "green" is on display for all to see.
On my daily walks, I have been struck by not only the new budding plants and weeds, but also by the textures that they display in our world. With the beautiful green weeds growing right alongside the wild roses or the quintessential red poppies of the South, one needs to stop and just look at the beauty that is found in the “texture” of the picture.
This image of texture in nature, draws me to linger on the correlation of texture that we find in our ministry to the international community here in the region. People from all over the world come to our city and what a wonderful sight it is to behold. Just sitting on our city tram and observing people, one can take in a myriad of cultures, languages and ethnic differences. Much can be learned about a culture by just sitting, listening and watching!
But for me, as much as I enjoy seeing the “texture” that is displayed by the people around me as I walk into the city center, it does not compare with the beauty showcased in the depth of “texture” as I walk through the doors of our church. That is beauty, my friend. Not because we have all the elements that make for grandeur or elegance in our facility. No, instead the beauty actually comes from those who walk through the doors with us. People from every tribe, nation and language, worshipping the Lord together. Unity amidst diversity… Beauty found in the texture…
We have often described our ministry as a small glimpse of heaven. John and I will recount to people the vivid image of the scene set in Revelation 7 where those who know Christ as their Savior will be found worshipping at His feet and around His throne - A myriad of people from every tribe, nation and tongue. What a humbling honor and extreme privilege we have to be able to catch a glimpse - if just only a fleeting glimpse - of what God will see before Him on that day… beauty found in the “texture!”
One of the purposes of this blog has been to help people understand and experience what life is like living in the south of France. We have sought to describe many of the cultural differences and life experiences that we have had since we moved here twelve years ago with three kids in tow. We have enjoyed writing about many of the area festivities that we have seen, the local wildlife that we have encountered, and the thrill of experiencing God’s Creation with all the diversity that fills it.
However, there is one event that we continually experience here in our “field” that we have deliberately chosen not to focus the spotlight on. It has not been for the lack of words, or even for the lack of material that we haven’t expressed these occasions. Actually, it has been because … frankly, sometimes it just hurts too much. But in order to paint the fullest picture of life here “in the fields,” we thought that it might be necessary to take you out “into our field” and not shield you from some of the hurts that we regularly feel. So in order to get the true experience, we invite you to take off your shoes with us and virtually walk through the dirt & rough stones and feel the various emotions that come along with our walk.
It’s true that the vineyards in our area are just so beautiful. Even Thomas Jefferson, America’s third president, enjoyed the fruit of these vineyards as he served as Minister to France back in the 1780’s. In his personal wine cellar at his home in Monticello, there is reported to have been many wines from our area.
But as you know, when we speak of “our field” here in France, we are referring to people and to our ministry here among the expatriates in our region, rather than the local vineyards. Because our work is among those who are foreigners in France, this means that they are often just temporarily living here. So, for us, some of our hardest moments is having to stop over and over again to say good-bye to those who are leaving us to move to another part of the world. As we take our barefoot walk together today, we are compelled to call you to linger at the various forks in the vineyard with us. We can look around at fields in our area which look so pruned with the gnarly vines gradually beginning to blossom with green leaves and knowing that eventually they will produce some luscious fruit. But as we look at God's field here in the south of France we too, can see the luscious fruit that God is developing in people's lives. And it's a beautiful sight. But yet ...even still ...the fork remains and a good bye is necessary. People today tend to define these events as “times of transition.” Frankly, we just bluntly call it “pain.”
You see we have found that amidst the joyous celebration of watching the fruit ripen, there are also days when we need to tearfully part ways with people from other countries & cultures who have become like “family” to us and to bless them as they move onto another “field” somewhere else. It’s during times like these that we cling to the “blessed hope” that is before us, knowing "sans doute” that one day we will see each other again in our heavenly home … and possibly together have a very long conversation over a very short strong cup of coffee reflecting on all that God has done.
So, it’s on days like today that we focus on what God has been doing in ripening His fruit in this field and give our international family members a huge hug and say, “à bientôt” (we will see you soon), and through the tears we try and look straight ahead into the eyes of the Author and Finisher of our faith. You see, this is His field and we just have the privilege of “tending” to it.
Thanks for taking a walk with us today…
What types of thoughts or emotions come to your mind when the term “expat” is spoken of... experiencing adventure; enjoying travel; viewing global diversity up close and personal? Or perhaps you struggle to have any thought or emotion about the topic at all. Possibly, it just isn’t currently relevant in your life right now. But trust me when I say, that if you have experienced the “expat” life for any length of time you are bound to be filled with all sorts of images and memories that define this particular word for you and your family.
The expat life is a world filled with just that - “the world.” When you take your suitcase in hand and step off that airplane into another country ready to begin this new adventure, you have officially stepped out of the comfort zone of your own culture and friends and have plunged head long into a location where you will be constantly learning; always humbled and without a doubt you will never be totally the same again. Life will be filled, if you let it, with new ways of doing things, as well as, the enjoyment of experiencing another culture first-hand. The sights, the sounds and the smells of another country can be riveting for the expat.
However, with all the excitement that comes with living and working in another culture other than your own, there are also some emotions that fall below the surface that sometimes can be very hard to sift through during one’s stay overseas. Over our 11 years of living abroad and working & ministering to the international community in our city, we have seen time and time again how various feelings creep in and invade one’s heart and life. People who are willing to leave home and country often experience feelings such as: displacement vs. the stable life their friends might be experiencing or possibly dealing with feelings that come with living in uncomfortable or unknown settings vs. the familiarity of home.
From our experience however, of all the myriad of adjustments expats deal with, loneliness is the #1 issue they wrestle with as they try and assimilate into their new “home.” Each year we watch people come from all over the world to our city and we watch as they walk through the struggle of missing family and friends. We pray with them, pray for them and try & walk beside them (all the while, drinking lots of coffee over our conversations together). But the greatest blessing is seeing over time their spiritual walk mature and deepen as they begin to trust in God more and more. You see, if all we know is a “comfort zone” where we can navigate through life quite easily and successfully without God, then it becomes quite normal to think that we can do life without Him entirely. Yet, God from the beginning of time has called his creation to live a life dependent on Him and Him alone. It has been a joy and a privilege to watch the faith of these expat’s deepen as God has taken them out of their comfort zones and placed them in situations where they have the choice to either look up and depend on Him OR continue on living an independent life, struggling to make it on their own. When they choose to let go and let God show His faithfulness in all its glory to them… well, that is beauty.
Is it easy to walk this “expat” life? No. Are their times of loneliness? Absolutely. Personally, even after eleven years of living abroad ourselves bouts of loneliness overcome us about once a week! Yet, God has not called us to an easy life, but a life dependent on Him - a life of faith in the one true God. So, if someone asked me about the term “expat” and what it meant, I would say it was definitely a life of adventure. But my friend, the adventure is not ultimately found in the joy of experiencing a new culture, the adventure lies instead on the profound discovery of a faithful God, who makes all of a dependent life an adventure!
Wife, mother, teacher & friend who loves to "do life" alongside others as we journey together in seeking to know God more fully and deeply. Feel free to join with us as walk through a few "French fields" ...
Join us on the journey