For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth. Colossians 1:16

Friday, August 23, 2013

One thing that gave me great comfort in France was going to my favorite coffee shop.  I would bring music, though their selection was always stellar, books, any work I needed to get done, and even my sketchbook on occasion.  What I love about that kind of a day is that, while not necessarily universal, it can be carried out in any of the places in which I have lived.  So, here I sit at a beloved coffee shop in a setting that is familiar and I feel less overwhelmed than I have been over the also few weeks.

Between the jet lag, the cultural differences, and being surrounded by my native tongue (you wouldn't think it would be as exhausting as it is), my head hasn't really stopped spinning since the plane landed .  On Friday, I intentionally didn't plan anything other than cleaning out my closet and unpacking.  My sister and brother-in-law came into town that night, and we just hung out before the whirlwind of activity began on Saturday.  On Saturday morning, I was reunited with two of my dear friends that I haven't seen in two years.  Holy reunion, Batman!  Sarah and I basically didn't stop screaming and jumping as we were hugging each other for about two minutes.  It was so surreal to see her and Brad again, not to mention meet their son!

After that reunion came the family reunion of the day: with all of my siblings, siblings-in-law, mom, and a couple friends who are basically family anyway, we went to see my Dad's show.  From there, we hung out at IKEA (frustrating flashback there) and then went to my brother's show.  On Saturday, the overwhelming emotions were nothing in comparison to being culturally overwhelmed.  What do I mean by this?  On Saturday morning, I went to the open air market in town.  This was a regular occurrence in my life pre-France as well as in France.  Here was the main difference: I am able to tune out the French background conversations because I likely wouldn't understand all of them anyway.  My ear has been tuned, however, to listening for English-particularly the American accent.  All of a sudden, my ears were soaking in every conversation, every word, every call to passersby, and I didn't know what to do with that.  I was so overstimulated, but I did get to speak in French with the French nuns who run a pastry booth, which was wonderful. 

Throughout the week, which included my first trip to Six Flags, going out to my friend's like house for a day, and many other reunions, my jet lag eased up and I'm pretty much used to speaking in English again.  Sometimes I do use French words with an American accent, thinking its the same word and it turns out that I just sound like a crazy person.  Oh well, that happens! 

When I first started this post a week ago, I was far more nostalgic and overwhelmed, which is why I didn't post it right away.  God is so good and I am so blessed to rediscover and create new relationships in multiple countries. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Once again, I find myself at Heathrow, an airport I know fairly well at this point.  There is the standard mix of characters and people from different countries: little kids wearing Angry Bird hats, a South African sports team, the same French families that were on my previous flight, a group of young students wearing fluorescent yellow shirts, and people from every walk of life.
I'm running on about three hours of sleep, but now am wide awake thanks to a short nap from Lyon and the coffee they served on the flight.  My guess is that the 9 hour flight back home will knock me out though.
I really do love international airports.  Not the security checks, mile-long lines, and the stress of rushing to your gate, of course, but just sitting with a cross-section of the world.  No matter how many places you've lived, languages you speak, or contacts you have, you can always learn more.  I think that knowing other cultures and appreciating them really helps to understand the heart of God in a new way.  When God created man, He made him in His image, and when you embrace another culture, you embrace another facet of God's image that you may not have known before.  That is one reason why I enjoy traveling, and also why I love airports.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Anticipated Changes

Living in another culture is always going to be challenging, but I think the bigger challenge is returning to your own after living somewhere else.  Here is a list of what I'm anticipating will be the biggest challenges, and also a list of what I'm really stoked to return to.

1. Shaking hands or hugging instead of kissing people hello and goodbye.
-I've gotten so used to kissing people in greeting that it actually is a shock for me to hug people, and I'm probably the world's biggest hug addict there is. So, my apologies to all of you Stateside in advance if you see my face rapidly approaching yours when you say hello.
2. Really long meals.

-In France, sharing a meal is not something done out of necessity; it is something done out of community. If you are invited to share a meal with someone, it is expected to reciprocate the invitation. These meals are not the 45 minute (if that) meal at a restaurant where they seve you immediately and clear dishes before you've finished that last bite of toast.  Yesterday, I invited friends over for lunch, and they didn't leave until 6 p.m. It's not like we were eating that whole time, we were talking, laughing, joking, and just enjoying each other's company.  Not to mention, of course, playing card games.
3. Driving.
-I have not driven a car in a year. For one reason, French roads terrify me, and for another there's not always a need for a car. You can take the buses, trams, or just walk anywhere in town.  Sure, it takes a little longer, but that just means you have the chance to enjoy the scenery instead of being stuck on the autoroute.

4. Speaking in English.
-I already have a hard time remembering what certain words are in English, and now I'll be in English all the time.  There are certain nuances and phrases I use in French that really do not translate into English (and vice versa), so we'll see what bizarro things will come out of my mouth.  Plus, for the majority of the year, when I have spoken English, it's been with British folk.  If I do say something that sounds like a British term, I am not trying to be like this (best quality I could find, apologies), certain words have just crept into my vocabulary.

Now, for a list of things that I am looking forward to:
1. Free wifi.
-My favorite coffee shop here has it, but it's hard to find.
2. Driving.
-Yes. I know I said it would be a challenge, but I'm really looking forward to not walking/riding the bus for 40 minutes each way to go grocery shopping.
3. Baseball.
-They neither play nor watch it here, and I'm excited for doing both.
4. Fully understanding worship music.
-As much as I do love French worship music, my vocabulary does not include every word so sometimes I don't know what I'm actually singing.

Please have patience while I adjust back into the American culture, and while I adjust to living away from my friends and family here. It's not at all that I am not excited to see those I love in the States, it's just very hard when your heart is in different countries.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

One Week

Seriously. How did this happen?  I have been in France for 45 weeks, and now I have one week left. I can't believe how quickly time has passed.  In all honesty, it doesn't seem real that in seven days I will be on the lengthy journey back to the States.  A friend of mine said, when she returned to the States, that it seemed almost as if her time in France had been like a dream, which often happens when you return to familiarity after a time away.  Not that my life here can be compared to his journey, but I am reminded of what Frodo Baggins says in The Return of the King after he returns to Bag End: "How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand... there is no going back?" 

Over this last year, there have been many things that have changed, both in my life in France and in my life in America.  There is no going back to "normal life" when the definition of normal has changed, and that is as it should be.  There are moments that you know immediately will be significant when they happen, but then there are days when nothing seems to happen.  However, it is often in those days of the seemingly mundane that your character is shaped.  I am so thankful that my year has not been "normal", that I have been challenged and encouraged in the ways that I have been. How great a joy it has been to live here and be with all of those whom I have grown to love so deeply and to learn a fraction more of the character of God by experiencing life in another part of the world He created.

Monday, July 15, 2013

There is a song from Sunset Boulevard called "As If We Never Said Goodbye" and while it's not really that applicable to my life, the line that gives the song its title has been going through my head ever since yesterday afternoon.  In this song, Norma Desmond returns to the film studio where she was once a great silent film star and she sings about now natural it is to be back there after her "hiatus" from the screen.  Right now, my life feels rather the opposite. 
This year has been full of experiences and challenges and overwhelming joy, and all of a sudden, I only have three weeks left in this country.  I remember thinking in May that it was going to go by fast, yet it seems to me that I said it only last week.  Yesterday, we had a makeshift picnic at my friend's house which is not an uncommon occurrence, and between eating and playing cards, one of my friends knelt beside my chair and said, "You will come back, right?"  That is when the song started playing in my head.  While I do have to face the reality of leaving this place and these people I love so dearly, I want to spend each day with as much joy as God brings and not dwell in the upcoming pain of farewells. 
As Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet, "parting is such sweet sorrow" and I don't think I really understood what "sweet sorrow" meant.  Whenever I read that, I always thought, "Shakespeare.  Come on, man, how can sorrow be sweet?  Sorrow is sad.  Sorrow is pain.  What kind of a twisted, masochistic person would think sorrow could in any world visited by Kirk or Spock be a sweet or good thing?"  I'm starting to understand it, though.  With each farewell comes a flood of memories, with each hug and kiss comes an outpouring of love.  It is by that love and that joy that we can say goodbye with joy.
Thanks be to God for His many blessings.
The final chapter of vacation with Amy and Robin: Lyon.

We left early on Saturday morning, once again, to catch the train to Lyon.  The weather was crazy hot and once we got to the hotel we immediately changed clothes.  While waiting in the lobby, we met a woman from California who had just finished grad school in Michigan and was spending the summer studying French in a small town outside of Paris.  What a wonderful way to spend a summer!  Well, or course I think so, but even in an unbiased opinion, it's pretty cool.

We started off for the bascilica, which has some of the most beautiful architecture in the area.  We took the cable car up from old town rather than walking up the hill, a lesson I learned the hard way three years ago, which is always fun, and toured around the basilica.  One of the things I love about traveling is the interesting people I meet.  I asked an older gentleman if he could take a picture of us for me, and he didn't quite understand how digital cameras worked.  He kept putting it up to his eye, tried to take the picture, and then say he hadn't taken pictures in 40 years.  After I got my camera back, he started telling us about how he walked to the basilica everyday to look at the view ever since his wife died a number of years ago.  He said that it always reminded him of her and that was why he came so often, even though it was getting harder to walk all that way.  He was probably in his upper 80s at least, and it was so sweet the way he talked about his wife.

After we got our picture, we followed Robin's map over to the Roman theatre.  I had no idea that there even was a theatre in Lyon!  Of all the times I have been there, you would think I'd have known, but alas!  At one of the walls, an excellent photo opportunity by the way, we met a couple chatty French guys who spoke perfect English and they took a few group shots for us.  One of the guys was really funny, saying "You know Titanic? Be king of the world!" and things like that.

After taking our fill of pictures and enjoying the view, we headed back down into old town, this time walking down the hill, and toured for a while.  When it was time for a break, we stopped at an Italian gelato place (I know, I know, you'd think we would have stopped for la glace, being in France) that had the most exquisite cones I've ever seen.  They made each cone look like a flower! If that isn't class, I don't know what is.

As per Rick Steve's suggestion, we spent a long time walking around town.  We were getting really overwhelmed with how hot it was after a while, so we stopped in at Starbucks and played a few games for a while before heading back to the hotel to choose a place for dinner.  Once again, we ended up where we had been earlier in the day at the opposite side of town from our hotel and ate at an Italian restaurant.  Amy and Robin needed to prep for the Italian cuisine for the next leg of their trip, obviously.  After enjoying a lovely meal and coffee, we went back the hotel (successfully avoiding a demonstration in the square) and played a few rounds of cards before going to bed.

In the morning, we got breakfast at the train station and waited for their train to Nice.  It was really sad to see them leave, but what a wonderful week together!  I spent most of the rest of the day at Starbucks and completely had a flashback to my freshman year of college when I spent most every Sunday morning before church at Starbucks reading my Bible and having an iced white mocha and a blueberry muffin.  After a few hours, I headed out to my friends' house and then went off to a barbecue with other wonderful people from my organization.

A wonderful vacation, indeed.

Saturday, July 6, 2013


After a lovely breakfast at our B&B, Robin, Amy, and I headed back to Paris to catch our train back to my town.  We made it back in time to go to my favorite coffee shop and show them around church, then spent the evening playing Dutch Blitz, watching Letters to Juliet, and had dinner before heading to bed.

In the morning, we made our way to the train station to head to Annecy.  I could not imagine better weather for the day!  It was so warm and the lake was so clearly reflecting the cloudless sky, we just had to be a part of it.  (10 points if you can guess the cinematic reference)  After a picnic lunch, we got changed and headed back to the lake to rent a paddle boat.  One of the greatest decisions we've made!  We paddled out into the lake, jumped and swam a little (the water was FAR too cold to stay in for long), and enjoyed the sun.

When we returned our boat, we pulled out Robin's Rick Steve's book and started meandering around town, looking at the different sites and, of course, got some ice cream.  Once we had finished off our walking tour, we rented bikes and biked around the lake.  Another of the better decisions we've made.  We finished our bike ride with a jumping photo shoot by the lake, naturally.

"Why didn't we do cartwheels in front of the Eiffel Tower?!"

I had forgotten to put on sunscreen except for the first hour out on the lake and got wicked burned, so we had to stop by a Pharmacy on the way back to the hotel.  En route, I made a reservation at a restaurant by the lake, and we got changed and headed back after resting a little.  What better way to finish a day like this than with delicious fondue?

In the morning, we started back for my town so that I could go to my meeting in the afternoon.  Amy and Robin hung out at the house and relaxed, and when I got back, we dove right into another evening of Dutch Blitz.  My British parents came by and when they saw what we were playing, they, of course, had to join in for a few rounds too.