Coming Change

It’s been a calm Saturday today. Spring has finally come to Indiana, at least it seems to have come. I cannot always tell how the weather will change or if there’s still a little bit of winter left to come. It’s not unheard of to have snow in April. However, today, spring is here. I opened up my balcony door, turned on my ceiling fan, and just enjoyed having the sounds of spring and fresh breezes waft through my small apartment.

I have had plenty to do today with empty boxes filling my living room which need to be filled to move soon. There’s a paper which needs to be written, homework to be done, exams to grade, wedding plans to work through, and I should maybe eat something soon. This week was so incredibly busy and overwhelming with so much due and so much going on. This afternoon, I decided to take some time to just sit and listen and be still for a little while. Deadlines are there, but I have found that I do much better if I also take breaks and take care to not overdo.

So much change is in the air beyond just the changing of the seasons. They’re good changes, yes, and I’m so excited about them, but with change comes a time of readjustment as well. Thinking back over the last five years of my life, change has been a constant. From moving across the country to start a graduate school program and later, moving across the world to teach for a year, to now preparing to get married and start a new life in another state, it’s been quite a beautiful adventure so far. Not to say, there haven’t been struggles and problems along the way because there definitely have been. I’ve loved how unpredictable it’s been in many ways, and how I never could have dreamed it up on my own how this story would unfold so far.

I remember in my childhood learning quite a few lessons about change. We moved from Georgia to Texas when I was young, and it took me a few years to fully adjust and start identifying as a “Texan”. {Come on, we’re talking about Texas here, y’all, it’s hard to live there and not just become a Texan.} Through it all, my parents taught me some valuable lessons about following God’s direction despite the changes it might involve. God knew us three younger kids would need that lesson as we’ve all experienced moves into areas which are unfamiliar through trying to follow His direction.

As I ponder all of the upcoming changes, I sometimes wonder what’s ahead in life. These thoughts bring a mix of emotions to my mind both of fear and of anticipation. A thousand “What ifs” cloud my mind sometimes. The more I experience changes, the more I am thankful for the Lord who is my firm foundation and who changes not. No matter the changing belief systems of our governments and cultures, He never changes and His Truth never changes. No matter what’s ahead and whether those “What ifs” come to pass, He is still good, He is my Rock.

One of my favorite hymns I learned while I was in France (pictured isn’t all of the hymn) is a prayer for God to teach His child no matter what comes. It asks that He might guard our hearts even in the midst of a storm and give us strength and comfort throughout life. “Teach me” the title says. This song touched me as I sang it with some of my dear Christian friends there.
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I’m thankful for His leading and His care over His children. I’m thankful we can trust in Him who changes not.

Enseigne-moi, Seigneur!

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Lengthening Shadows

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The sun is setting here in my French home. The last little shades of pink on Belledonne are fading away. It’s been a rainy couple of days as evidenced by the clouds, but the sun has been trying to peek through from time to time. Another day is almost finished. Another lesson for tomorrow is almost put together, only lacking a few finishing touches. A cup of hot peppermint tea sits in front of me with the curling steam coming up from the cup as I try to battle the early symptoms of a cold.

I was reflecting on a question a friend asked me over Skype the other day. He asked me to describe my best experience in France so far and also what had been my worst experience. As I think back now to some of those tough days as well as those days of triumph, it strikes me as my friend also remarked after I shared both of how intense both have been. Those first three months after I arrived were probably some of the toughest I’d faced. It’s inspiring to me though to look back over some of those dark, rough times and see where the Lord sustained me, carried me, and taught me to trust Him even more fully. He held me as I mourned with France and then when I mourned for a couple of dear friends back home who passed away around the same time. He helped me through the frustrations of dealing with the administration and trying to figure out teaching in a completely different context to completely different students.

By contrast, He allowed me to soar when I finally started being able to better understand the fast-paced French being spoken around me. He gave me the excitement of having lessons go well and to see some of my students start to grasp some of the concepts I was trying to teach. He allowed me to see spectacular scenes that even my eyes couldn’t even quite take in all the beauty. He gave me those quiet mornings spent with a friend over a cup of tea just talking about how good the Lord is and how faithful He is. He gave me the ability to hear His Word preached and read in French. How beautiful it is to see His love transcend culture and language. Every step of the way, He has been there.

I realized tonight as I was working on lesson plans how short my time is here. My landlady even asked me a couple of days ago what my departure day is as she needs to know for planning purposes. I could only give her an estimate. I’ve started having more and more details start to come up about my return. Registering for classes, housing, plane tickets, moving just to name a few.

I do beg an interest in your prayers. I remember how overwhelming the details were just trying to come over to France, and I know it’s going to be quite involved getting back to my starting point. However, just as a dear friend reminded me over a year ago as I shared with her all of my fears of trying to go France, “Well, God worked out every single detail of you moving to Indiana. Do you think He can’t handle this? Trust Him!”

He has been my Rock. Just as those mountains I look at each day have stood there for thousands of years, so is He unmovable and constant. Maybe that’s why mountains always make me think of the Lord and His grandeur and majesty.

Long Days and Mountain Air

I was yawning and scraping the last bit of my fromage blanc (kind of like yogurt) mixed with a little honey and canned peaches out of a bowl when my landlady walked into the kitchen. I looked up and said a tired “Salut”. She mentioned she was tired as she opened a cabinet for a glass, and I agreed that I was too. She looked at me and then said in her typical fast French (had to get her to repeat herself as usual) “Your days are too long! Way too long! This is not good for you.” She’d been observing for the first time some of my school routine during the week. I slowly nodded in agreement and told her that I was trying to see if I could change my schedule a little for the next semester, but I’d have to wait and see if it would be possible. She nodded and said that I definitely should change it up because it just doesn’t seem healthy to be working those long hours. Oh dear, good thing she hasn’t seen me during a typical semester back home.

Things have been incredibly busy and in many ways quite difficult over the last few weeks. I keep coming to terms with the fact that at least while I’m in France, life will most likely not be simple or absent of complication. Though really, why am I so special to think that it would or should be so? I’ve strangely grown accustomed to things not working anyway. o_O On the flip side, I get extremely excited when something does go smoothly.

Happily, I’ve lately received a couple of big answers to prayer. I finally received my medical appointments for the validation of my long stay visa and (1) neither of them are on a Wednesday and (2) they came before I have to leave the apartment for three weeks (long story). I was concerned about retrieving the letter with the appointment dates if I didn’t have access to the apartment mailbox. Thankfully, they came through email. Both were specific requests I prayed for as I waited and waited for my appointments to come. God does indeed work in the details! 🙂 The first appointment known as the “Awkward Chest X-ray to Prove I Don’t Have TB” (in true French form that would be the acronym: ACXPIDHTB pronounced as”AX-PID-HiTiBi”) is on Monday, and the second medical visit is in January. Don’t ask me why they’re spread out like that as I have no clue. After all the trouble I went through to get these appointments, I’d rather not say anything for fear of it all falling apart resulting in my being shipped back to the States before I’ve finished my contract. I’m just so happy to finally be making progress with this long administrative nightmare I’ve been going through since my arrival.

Since my last update, the weather has gotten quite a bit colder. It’s been snowing high up in the Alps! Beautiful isn’t it? The natives are happy because some of the ski slopes have now been able to open. They’d been rather concerned with the Indian Summer we’d experienced that the ski season would start later than usual. 100_1861

It reminds me of how the Alps looked my very first time in Grenoble nearly seven years ago. Maybe I really should try out skiing here this time. The weather is rather chilly but not unbearable. I can still feel my face and don’t have to wear five layers to keep from getting frost bite. 🙂 Can you tell I’ve spent the last two winters in Indiana?

French is also coming along. Sometimes in conversation it feels like I have a little person up in my head going through all of the French files in my brain trying to find words or phrases to try to express what I want to say. This file searching often causes a delay leaving me looking at the person I’m talking to with a deer in the headlights look as I’m mentally urging the little person frantically throwing papers out of filing cabinets to hurry up because I really need that sentence structure/word NOW! This results in a few papers being thrown my way to “make do” which causes the French person I’m talking with to smile and tell me that they understand me but that one should really say it this other way. The little person in my head usually has a sulking expression after his efforts as he makes note of the correction and files it in the MISC cabinet before finding an easy chair to collapse in {Yes, I do think they need to make another version of Inside Out devoted to the multilingual brain}. Sometimes it does get discouraging, but I’m glad to have seven more months to keep on trying.

In any case, there’s so much to look around and be thankful for despite all the long days and obstacles I seem to run into! I have food in the pantry and the ability to make hot coffee in the morning (important skill there). I have family and friends who love and pray for me. I have dear friends here that mean the world to me. I get to wake up each morning and see the Alps outside of my window. I can make myself understood even if it’s not always “grammatically correct”. I have somewhere to go to hear the gospel preached and have fellowship! These are just a few of so many blessings!

Life may not be perfect here, but it is a blessed life because I know Who has given me life and from Whom these blessings come!

Daily Life among the Falling Leaves

Bonjour!

Yes, I’m still alive over here in the land of the French! Fall has turned the Alps and the trees into a beautiful display of color. As the leaves continue falling, I seem to be finding myself busier and busier with my schedule at school and with just the daily tasks of running errands and washing clothes. It is a blessing to have such a beautiful setting for these daily activities though!

The past few weeks have been so full of new experiences. I’ve met new people, tried different foods, learned lots of new vocab, and learned some more lessons through experiences which just seem to happen to a foreigner here. I can’t say all my administrative woes are over yet. I’m still waiting on some all important letters to arrive, but I’m told that this delay is pretty normal. So, I continue to wait and seem to stay pretty busy in the meantime.

100_1805The end of October was nice. I got a week off, and as a result, I slept quite a bit. I’m glad I did because I think I needed it even more than I realized. I also did get caught up on grading and lesson planning, and even had some quiet afternoons spent reading Dickens with soft music playing in the background. I was also able to change my routine a little and get out of town to spend a day in Lyon during the break. That’s actually where this picture was taken. Have I mentioned my love for parks recently? 🙂 The French definitely have a talent for designing parks, I will say. There’s a big park in Lyon called the “Parc de la Tête d’Or”. [Don’t ask me why the name of the park is basically the “Park of the Golden Head”…I have no idea!]  A member at the church where I attend mentioned it as a place I should see but added that he wasn’t so sure that I as an American would be interested in it since he jokingly mentioned that we seem to rush around to see only the major sites. I laughed and asked him if he was being slightly stereotypical there. I definitely enjoyed my peaceful stroll there after a long day spent exploring the old city of Lyon. Maybe I did fit the stereotype somewhat, but I think the French laid back view on life has rubbed off on me in several ways. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy a walk in the park spent gazing up at the changing colors of the trees?

I did find out that in Lyon there are stairs….everywhere. Everywhere. Stairs! I think I was still dreaming of stairs after I arrived home. Of course, I figured out after laboring up to the top of the hill where the famous Basilique de Fourvière is that there was, in fact, a cable car I could have taken to get to the top. If you imagine that part in “The Sword in the Stone” when the wolf reaches the top of the hill only to see Arthur and Merlin walking along at the bottom of the hill he’d just climbed, his reaction was pretty much the look on my face. I think I missed taking the cable car because I saw a sign pointing the way to the cathedral and thought it was a “shortcut”. I should probably pay more attention to the map next time.

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One of the amphitheaters

Then, there were the stairs at the Gallo-Roman amphitheaters, then the stairs to get in and out of the metro, the stairs up to the boulangerie to buy a sandwich, the stairs on the train home…goodness, I was tired. Though my leaving the stairs of Lyon behind was not all I would face to get home. Apparently, having trains stopped on the tracks for two hours is not completely unheard of around here. There was an accident on the tracks further south, so our train was stopped for quite a while and then moved very slowly until it finally reached Grenoble again. Unfortunately, I had brought nothing with me to read as I didn’t want to lug around my big volume of Dickens (especially considering the stairs, glad I didn’t). So, I studied the map of Lyon quite extensively, discovered that my little block of a French phone which does little more than make calls and sort of text did actually have the snake game on it (don’t think I’ve played that since I was a high school kid playing it on my mom’s first cell phone), and then found a sermon on my iPod to listen to as well to pass the time. I did eventually come through my door about three hours after my expected arrival time. This was followed by my finding something to eat and then falling asleep pretty soon after. I was happy though! It was overall a beautiful day and nothing delights me more than getting to explore a different city.

In the week or so that’s followed, I’ve been just a little panicked that I only have just a few short weeks to get through the rest of what I want to cover this semester in the classes I’m teaching. I’ve been doing quite a bit of planning and trying to find activities that will help the students practice the grammar topics we’re going over and am also trying to help prepare them for their upcoming exams. It feels strange to be essentially on my own when it comes to teaching these classes. I could be teaching them lines from Star Wars while having them do yoga for all my department really knows. 😉

I promise I’m teaching them more than that! Some days though, goodness…I shake my head and wonder why I’m here teaching English when I love teaching French so much. Then, the next day I have a light bulb of how to teach a lesson and can’t imagine ever going back to teaching French. Teaching is like that though, full of ups and downs.

For now, I think I’m going to sit down and actually work on making progress grading those eighty-something exams and work on writing out my comments on some speeches and presentations since I have tomorrow off. I’m so glad to have a Wednesday off! It’ll be nice to have a break from my often crazy long Wednesday. Though indeed it’s been a headache getting the students’ make-up activities together amongst a chorus of groans and exclamations of “C’est injuste!” but in fact, they need to do these activities to be ready for an upcoming exam. So, sorry, no Star Wars and yoga apparently. Actually, I don’t even like yoga….yogurt….now, that’s another story entirely. Especially French yogurt and fromage blanc…cheese….on second thought, maybe I need a snack before I dive into grading.

Filling in the Blanks

Time has started flying here as my to-do lists seem to grow longer and longer. I’m in the middle of figuring out how to organize these classes I’ve been given as well as how to add my own flavoring to lessons. It’s been busy, busy, busy. Student emails seem to pile up, and I often feel already behind on planning when I’ve barely gotten through teaching for the week. The semester has kicked into gear it would seem. All of us in the office where they’ve put most of us international English instructors seem to run in and out grabbing papers, typing up activities, making comments on the ongoing complications of living among the French, and asking each other questions about lesson plans and ideas. Gradually, we’re figuring out our way around the building(s) as well as who to talk to for finding out answers to various questions. However, none of our names have been officially placed on the office door for the main reason that none of us have had time to fill out the piece of paperwork required. Yes, the French even have paperwork for having your name on your office door, go figure. 😉

The Préfecture: one of the seats of bureaucracy around here.

The Préfecture: one of the seats of bureaucracy around here.

I’m feeling much happier and more at home now. Things are beginning to work out as the various administrative and bureaucratic entities seem to be finally receiving all the papers they need to satisfy for the moment their almost insatiable hunger for paperwork, photocopies, and signatures. At this time, they’re chewing and digesting what they’ve been given before deciding what else they want. I’m currently assembling the next round of papers needed for when I am summoned to give yet another offering. It is my hope that by November or so a lot of this will be past, but I will just have to wait and see.

For the moment I’m sitting in the apartment with papers spread out all over the bed. I’ve been working off and on on getting stuff ready for next week as well as assembling items for my appointment with OFII (immigration office). I don’t have an appointment yet but want to have everything ready since they told me that they will be processing my file next. I realize that that could still mean a week or two or three though. I have an empty coffee mug sitting next to me from that mid-afternoon need for a caffeine fix and am enjoying the sound of thunder and rain coming through my window. I’d say it’s been a pretty productive Saturday especially since I cleaned up my desk which had become a pitifully messy stack of papers and books, set up a couple of spreadsheets for my classes, organized a calendar for the academic year on the computer (I’ve given up on handwritten planners), and looked at some plane/train tickets for a possible trip at the end of the month. I may not be able to do London just yet as I’d hoped since funds are short, but I may still at least take a little trip somewhere since I have a week off at the end of this month. We’ll see though. I definitely don’t want to just stay here if I can work it out to go somewhere and do some exploring. 🙂

Life is feeling more normal and thoughts of ever leaving seem sad. French is coming a little easier than it was as I grow more accustomed to the speed with which the French tend to speak. I think my landlady gave up trying to practice English with me because she seemed to have a harder time understanding my American accent in English than when I speak French. Is that weird or what? Being more incomprehensible in one’s native language and in one’s second!? Languages are funny indeed.

Onward we go! Life is so much brighter when I recognize Christ’s love and grace in every aspect of life. I’m thankful to see those evidences each day. Even in the difficult times I’ve faced since my arrival, He has been there to lift me up and encourage me. I read an excerpt from Elisabeth Elliot’s book Keep a Quiet Heart last night where she talked about how sometimes God doesn’t answer exactly the way we want Him to when we want Him to. Sometimes we pray for our way to be simple, but it ends up complicated. As she said: “Let’s never forget that some of His greatest mercies are His refusals. He says no in order that He may, in some way we cannot imagine, say yes. All His ways with us are merciful. His meaning is always love.” As I read that last night, I smiled thinking of how true it was and how it sounded like a description of my life so far in France. I had never been abandoned, just told to wait for Him to move even with as hard and stressful as that has been. Thank you, Father, for saying no but also holding me up until you showed me how you would say yes. 

Hand in Hand with Jesus

My younger brother and I were recently on a long, fun road trip. We tried to keep a variety of music playing as singing and humming our favorite hymns and songs from musicals usually helps keep us awake and in a cheerful mood (fatigue often plays a big role in our little sibling arguments). As we drove through the mountains of western Pennsylvania, Jesse popped in a CD of hymns recorded at a singing school we have both attended in the past. The hymn “Hand in Hand with Jesus” came on as we went around curves and descended into valleys. I hummed along to the alto as it brought back memories of singing the chorus of this song with friends as a child. How simple life had seemed then.

I sighed thinking of the simple words of the song and realized how often I really do mess up in this area of my life. I’m much like the toddler who will be holding a parent’s hand until she sees something interesting and then wants to let go to run investigate. I have found that sometimes my Heavenly Father does let go long enough for me to learn that He is worth far more than the things of this world no matter how shiny and appealing they seem, while at other times He strongly holds my hand and won’t let go His grasp as I tug and pull wanting to go run see what all the fuss is about. I don’t always understand and in my immature lamb state of mind, I may pout wondering why He won’t let me go look. Sometimes He reveals to me later how He protected me and sometimes He doesn’t reveal why which is all part of the ongoing lesson of learning to place trust in Him above understanding my circumstances.

I felt convicted as I sat there watching the breath-taking scenery fly by and gazed at the winding road before me. I live a busy life, way too busy of a life. I find myself longing for quiet and keep promising myself that one day I’ll be past this and then can sit down and breathe. However, I’m learning how unrealistic that idea is. Quiet and a state of not being busy are not going to be the themes of my life anytime soon. True, I am doing better about making time to just rest and seek sanctuary from it all, but it’s only a small fraction of the time. If I want to truly walk hand in hand with Jesus each day and seek that true peace and quiet only found in Him, I have to make Him my priority now. This is where I struggle because I want Jesus to be my first priority, but looking at my life right now in how I put my schedule together does not necessarily reflect that desire.

Why, oh why am I so often timid about sharing my faith? I started humming the song “Ashamed of Jesus” yesterday and felt convicted knowing that just the day before I had been afraid to say a blessing over my meal in front of others. I struggle in these areas because I am weak. Each sermon I have heard lately and even providentially the Scriptures I frequently see quoted keep pointing me to Christ and convicting me. I am not strong because I’m not properly seeking His nourishment first thing each day and clinging to Him in everyday life.

“Hand in hand we walk each day, Hand in hand along the way; Walking thus, I cannot stray, Hand in hand with Jesus.”

By His grace, I want to do better each day. There is a reason He tells us in the Psalms, particularly in Psalm 46 to “Be still, and know that I am God” since being still is not our natural inclination as dumb sheep who are so easily lured away from the Shepherd. I hear Him whispering to me to be still and trust Him through reading and hearing the preaching of His Word. I need to listen.

A simple chorus of a song that can be easily memorized by a child can so very often make a profound impression when the Spirit brings it back to mind when that child becomes an adult. May we all recommit our lives to Him and walk hand in hand with Him each day.

Thirty Days of Thankfulness (Days 3-14)

Well, it happened! Not too surprisingly, I got swamped with school, so keeping up with posting on the blog was out of the question. However, I did keep up with it on social media. Here’s what was posted:

Day 3: I am thankful for the gift of laughter and for my many, many laughing buddies.

Day 4: I am thankful for the right and privilege to vote. Many cultures and nations presently and in the past have not had this right to let their voices be heard. However, many have fought and died in order for us to have this freedom.We have no right to complain about what’s going wrong in this country if we are not willing to exercise this right.

Day 5: I am thankful for progress on research. I’m thankful the light bulb finally came on giving me the direction to go and the right questions to ask to further this project. Not too long ago it was a struggle just to even be able to concentrate on this stuff, thus I’m thankful for being blessed to have the capability and the desire to do this.

Day 6: I am thankful for my students both present and past. They’ve taught me so much about how to teach and not to teach, how to have fun while teaching, how to do damage control on a horrible lesson, and how to always try to do better. I may not always remember their names, but I remember faces, and it is exciting to run into former students and catch up with where they are now in their studies and what they’re up to! Makes me quite content indeed!

Day 7: I am thankful for a God who works in the details. I was traveling on the road after dark last Friday night and had a couple of moments when I felt like God was working even in the small things to make me feel safe and for me to know that He was in control.

Day 8: I am thankful for Google Maps and for safety on the road. Maybe that seems rather silly to be thankful for an app on a phone, but it really saved me multiple times in trying to find my way around in some unfamiliar areas in Ohio this past weekend.

Day 9: I am thankful for the truth of Ephesians 3:20. I often forget this truth when I’m struggling with uncertainty or worry, but time and time again He has proved this to me. Praise God!

Day 10: I am thankful for willing and patient teachers. This applies both to this past weekend when I was learning something with which I was just about thoroughly unfamiliar and to the many teachers in the past and the present who have had such an impact on my life and have helped me find my path. I would have never made it this far without them!

I came home chilled to the bone with our sudden drop in temperatures. Then, I thought of the many accounts I’ve read of soldiers in the trenches and on battlefields who had to withstand horrible weather conditions and did so bravely. Day 11: Thank you, Lord, for our veterans! My hat is off to you in salute, dear soldiers! All of you are my heroes!

Day 12: I’m thankful for the dear fella whom I affectionately call Bruva although he’s more commonly known as Jesse. He always knows how to make me laugh and has been my protector, encourager, fellow French speaker, movie line quoter, and well, he’s quite a Bruva. Wish so very much I could be there for his graduation in December! Wuv oo, Bruva!!!!

Today had barely started, and it was already a test for me of if I was going to have a grateful heart even when things don’t go the way I want them to. It doesn’t matter if I’m tired, cold, deficient of vitamin D, and feeling so behind that I’m stressed out, that’s no excuse for an attitude. Day 13: I’m thankful for a forgiving God who loves me even in my weakness and who gives me repentance and the opportunity to do better today.

Day 14: I am thankful for the kind of quiet that is conducive to productivity. Well, that and consuming coffee flavored ice cream whilst staring at the screen, but that’s beside the point here because….One form is done! *high five* Let’s not think about the five or so other forms for now or the grading that needs to be done, shall we?