Saturday, February 28, 2009

what I've been up too...

I left the U.S. Feb 13th but arrived in France on Valentine's Day. I think the correct term is “lugged” two giant suitcases across the world and I was overjoyed to meet Candide, Dan, and Tim at the train station in Grenoble. We all ate Raclette for dinner (which is a very delicious cheese based dinner… where you heat cheese in little skillets and eat the melted cheese with potatoes and slices of meat). yummmm. The next day we dove right into our family camp. There were about 6 families, a few couples, and a few people who came along on their own and all together we were a good crowd. Our daily schedule during camp generally included:
8:30 Breakfast of chocolate chuad (hot chocolate) and bread
9:00 (for me cleaning dishes, sweeping floors, wiping tables until 10)
10:00 meet for worship (Seigneur, ton nom est élevé…)
10:30 I would baby-sit the youngest kids (Marion 3yrs & Laura 4yrs) while the parents listened to a local French pastor speak each morning. The girls and I played on “drums” made from pots and pans. We also found a giant cardboard box to use as a voiture (“car”) and a caverne (“cave”). In addition, to the copious amounts of toys, balls, and colors we had at our disposal. Yet, the simple drums and the old box were our favorite toys!
11:30 We would all grab our sack lunches that the cook (a fellow missionary named Gwen) prepared for us. A baguette sandwich, a piece of fruit, a lump of cheese, and (the French never forget desert) a chocolate bar.
12:00 By noon, all the families are scurrying about to get their kids into long johns, pack up the vehicles with skis… because the rest of the afternoon was free for the families to ski or snow-shoe, or go sledding in the surrounding mountains. I was fortunate enough to ski with the families for three of the days. A few days, I stayed at camp and helped watch the kids for parents who wanted to have a “kid-free” ski day. I got to go sledding with one of my charges and we built a bon homme de la neige. (“snowman”). One afternoon I stayed behind with a French woman named, Caroline Berger, and we had a French lesson. First, we started of with a French Bible and English Bible. She taught me how to pronounce and understand the first Psalm in French. Then we spent two hours practicing French words… before we knew it… the sun was starting to reach the mountains… and we had spent the whole afternoon together. It was lovely.
5:00 Everyone returned a little colder and perhaps a bit fatigued from the afternoon of skiing or tromping about in the snow.
6:00 I would help prepare for dinner, set the table, wash the cook’s dishes with my fellow staff members at camp.
7:00 Dinner is served! Beginning with a salad or cold vegetable, followed by the main course, and then desert. Meals were at least an hour, usually 2 or 2 ½ for me, including dish washing and cleaning up the kitchen each night. I love dinner. Mealtime is very important relationship building time. Each night, I find someone new to sit next to, or sit next to someone I want to talk with more.
9:00pm I am usually finishing my last corner of the kitchen with a mop by now and downstairs in our meeting room… all of camp is gathering for the night event! We start with more French worship and then games ensue. We spend time together until 10pm or occasionally 11pm (we sit together and have tea before bed a few nights). Then it is time to say “bonne nuit” and go to bed.
Camp ended on Feb 22d, and we said good-bye, exchanged emails. The families signed up to return to us for family camp in August. I can’t wait to see them again and will keep them in our prayers… each family struggling with the serious stuff that we all know; possible divorce, depression, and happier struggles like new babies on the way.

Since camp ended, we (everything I do... nearly always includes the camp staff team) have been cleaning camp! Scrubbing every toilet, vacuuming every room, washing mountains of sheets. We had a septic tank clogging issue… due to freezing temperatures, perhaps. We aren’t really sure what caused the block up and the overflowing of nastiness… but for almost a week… one of our bathrooms was disgusting! Poor Dan, fellow missionary, had to work on unclogging and dealing with the nasty. I also had to spend a few hours mopping up poo water one day!

There was a large retreat group using our camp this week. Apparently, someone in their group was sick, because I discovered some very nasty blankets in the washer… when I went to wash some camp sheets… and spent an hour cleaning the washer and the blankets… but at least the chunks were sanitized I kept telling myself. Since, I have worked at camps since I was 16, this definitely wasn’t my first rodeo, discovering and cleaning up vomit… but it never gets any more pleasant!

All in a days work at camp!!!

I also developed a pretty inconvenient cold (sore throat, goobies, nose running)! Which I blame on the difference in temperature between Texas and here. There is a blanket of snow on the ground here… Thankfully, the cold hit me during a few days of rest.

Our next camp starts tomorrow. It is a kids ski camp that I will be helping to clean for… so more dishes and toilets are in my future. I also will get to practice my French with some kids, make them laugh, and I even have to take them skiing on Wednesday (I know… that is a terrible job, isn’t it!)

All in all, I am so content! I step outside into the snow banks and feel more alive. I see the grateful smile of the French people when they find me scrubbing their toilets or dishes. I am having engaging and meaningful conversations. I am forming lasting relationships.

AND! I get to be near the French loved ones that I already have worked for and loved on since 2002. Things are going merrily along… yet keep our work and health in your thoughts… there is so much work to be done. Miss you all and send my love.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

traveling mercies

This week was an adventure.

It started this last Thursday night…
Thursday night: Arlington and then home to Southlake
Friday night: Mason, TX (just northwest of Fredricksburg)
Saturday night: Brownwood, TX (central Texas)
Sunday night: Comanche, TX (little bit east of Brownwood)
Monday night: Missouri City, TX outside of Houston
Tuesday night (last night): Denton, TX north of Dallas/Ft.Worth
Friday night: Paris, France
Saturday night: Camp des Cimes, La Rivoire, Bourg d’Oisans, France

I’ve been reflecting on everything and I’m trying to crystallize all my favorite moments into memory…

Starting last Thursday… I played “volley-pong” around a ping-pong table with a crew of Indian students from University Texas Arlington. Goba and Anyesh (I know I have miserably miss-spelled their names) taught me how to play ping-pong using the rules of volley-ball… the result… little plastic ping-pongs flying through the air at break-neck speeds… running to hit the ball with your paddle to your team mate… running into the wall in your distraction… running while contortion-ing your arms like a Picasso painting to try and hit the ball back to the other side of the table.

Mason, TX is a beautiful small town in the middle of Texas mesquite flats and scattered scrub oaks. Surrounded for miles, by nothing but goat ranches, prickly pear, and pick-up trucks. I was there for a church retreat… we drove into the Texas sunset… up and down the hills… over cattle-guards… down a dirt path (for miles)… and finally descended down the steepest hill to discover a tiny little creek-bed valley that had whittled-out a beautiful hole between the hills. Lined with rock cliffs and floored with oak leaves. In this little hide-away were the largest oak trees… that grew horizontal to the ground, like crab-legs extending in long beautiful directions… littered with children climbing on their branches.

Conversations with people that I love to be around ensued. The hustle and bustle of a large group of people preparing a meal… and then all of us sitting down to eat it. Stories being told. Cooling temperatures in the night air… and as only country Texans know… that certain earthly smell… the aroma of the trees and soil that grows stronger as the earth cools.

Watching “Arrested Development” on the wall with a projector. Enjoying farm-made cheese and wine. Playing “salad-bowl” (a conglomeration of charades and word games) around a kitchen table while sipping peppermint tea.

Jumping on the trampoline with my two little cousins Hannah and Jack. Hannah is twelve and Jack is eight. Hannah asking me questions… about God… about loving enemies… about her 6th grade crush Thomas who is moving to a different school.

Driving through the pine forests along I-45 as rain sprinkled the car… and finally, out-driving the storm and reaching the line in the sky between the dark rain clouds and the light-blue sky. The sun had just showed up when…. glug-bump glug-bump glug-bump… my back tire went flat. The wind was whipping! The storm front was right behind me… blowing my luggage over and making it difficult to keep my page in the car manual open to the right page! I was half way finished changing my tire. I loosened the lug-nuts by myself… which took all my muscles combined… got the spare out… had gotten the car on a jack… I had grabbed my camera to take pictures of the little dilapidated white shack and the green field at which I was parked.... when all of a sudden…! A giant 18-wheeler pulled over, and Doug the trucker/ odd knight in shining armor helped me finish changing my tire. Good Samaritan incarnated.

Falling asleep next to my grandmother, Peep, under her canopy bed. Intricate wood arched over my head with white lace hanging along its frames… an old treasure that Peep and Pop have had since they married over fifty years ago. It was storming! Rain pelted the side-walk outside. I didn’t want to get my pajamas from the car… so I borrowed pajamas from Peep… a giant moo-moo pajama dress…white flannel covered by little pink rose-buds. Peep and I told stories… rubbed noses in an Eskimo goodnight kiss… and fell asleep to her favorite radio station… soft-rock… I think I fell asleep to Cat Stevens “Bridge over troubled waters.”

…it was a lot of driving… but worth every second.