Monday, April 21, 2014

Grief and Asiago

I'm so very sad. Heartsick sad.

Last week a friend we've known for 25 years suddenly passed away, leaving his wife, three children and hundreds around the globe in grief and shock. Doug was caring, godly, funny, transparent and hospitable. We have been blessed to share a lot of life with Doug and Karen--cross cultural training as newlyweds, birthdays, Christmas, graduation, Thanksgiving, France, grief, laughter, kids . . . so many memories.

I was slicing Asiago cheese onto my salad and was suddenly awash in the sadness and warmth that accompany grief. Once I went to Doug and Karen's home to take Doug to the airport. He made me a sandwich with Asiago cheese. It was a great sandwich. He told me where and when I could find the cheese at our grocery store. Forever I will associate Asiago cheese with Doug Bradley. And each time I do I will pray for those who are experiencing this great sadness of losing him. But I will also remember the great hope we share of eternal life.

In Philippians 1, Paul express a tender affection, a phileo love that he has for his co-laborers in the gospel.  Phil 1:6 I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 7 It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because I have you in my heart, and you are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and establishment of the gospel.

This passage has often been a comfort in the grief and pain of missing someone. "It is right for me to think this way". It is right even when I feel very sad.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


Pushing the loaded cart through the grocery store, emotions began to rise. My throat tightened and my eyes misted over.   The boy, who is really a man, walking beside me was also choking up. He is settling in a new town where he feels alone; living in an apartment for the first time. He needs to think about things like buying groceries, paying rent, making friends, choosing a life path. It is all a bit overwhelming--for both of us.

But God has given this son wisdom, humility, humor, warmth and discernment to navigate through life. Without me.

Driving away, blinking back the tears that made the road blurry, I was rapidly running through a whole list of prayers for him that I have prayed again and again. An overwhelming sense of peace flooded my spirit as God reminded me once more, "I love him more than you do."

Life goes on.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Reflections while waiting at Terminal 1 at CDG

Recently I was at the airport to pick up a group of American ladies coming to France. I had a good location in front of the doors at customs, leaning on the railing along with a row of other chauffeurs. All of us were holding our little signs, waiting for our people to come out. It is a great chance to observe people and let one's mind drift.

It is easy to pick out the frequent travellers and business men. They have almost no luggage and walk out the sliding doors talking on their cell phones. They have no need to look around or check signs. They stride with purpose off to the next important thing, impatiently pushing passed the confused, lost and waiting masses.

Then there are the long separated lovers. On our side of the doors there are usually two or three people pacing back and forth anxiously, sometimes holding flowers, craning their necks to see who is coming out next. It is a beautiful moment when The One walks out. The recognition and joy on both faces makes everyone smile as they embrace and kiss and go off with arms tightly holding the other.

Most of the travellers seem to be couples on vacation. When the doors slide open they have to make a choice. Left or Right. I believe that how a couple navigates this first decision predicts how the rest of the trip will go. (It really doesn't matter which direction you go, but you do need to go or you block everyone behind you trying to get out.) Most people just follow the flow of the group in front of them. For a while everyone goes left. Then there is a break and everyone goes right. Some couples choose this moment to start the first fight of the trip. Each one stubbornly clings to their belief that right or left is the correct direction to turn. It can get ugly.

I make at least 50 trips to the airport every year. There are lots of very strong moments in my life associated with this particular terminal of this airport. I remember arriving in Paris as a little girl with my parents, sleeping in the terminal with little Will on our way home from Africa, arriving ten years ago when moving to France, rushing home to Kansas to say goodbye to Dad before he died, sending my first-born off to college, meeting new people, saying goodbye, going on my own adventures, travelling alone, with the family, with a group. My mind is drifting everywhere. Where was I? What? Oh, those ladies are pointing at my little sign and smiling. Introductions are made and luggage carts are pushed to the elevators and to the van. Mission accomplished.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Tuesday night at Carrefour

Men in suits with tiny children picking up something on the way home, working moms with carts filled to the brim doing the family shopping for the week, a few extended families helping Grandma get her groceries, two little boys excited about their new nintendo game, young people who hadn't grabbed a basket and were carrying a couple of items more than they could handle, a man still in his paint splattered coveralls cooing at his tiny baby in the stroller: Carrefour hypermarket before closing on a Tuesday night. I hate going to the store after a day at work, after the rush to fix dinner. I feel like I'm sleep walking and have to call home three times to be reminded of why I had to go. But observing the other types of people trekking through the aisles made it more interesting.

For some crazy reason I usually do my shopping on Saturday when the whole town is crammed into our little local mall. Super Target and Super Walmart are not originally American inventions. France introduced the concept of hypermarkets 30 years ago. Carrefour is one of the largest chains in the world. Hypermarkets are usually the anchor store of shopping malls. One other tidbit you need to know: Carrefour is closed on Sunday. This is why everyone is bumping carts and fighting over the fresh strawberries on Saturday.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

October 31

Today I was trying to impress upon my son the historical importance of October 31. 493 years ago today, Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the Wittenburg door, launching the Reformation. I considered dressing up as the door and allowing people to post their theological points on me (using post-its, of course).

The conversation worked its way around to Halloween and the ways the day is observed in France and the U.S. Luke is 18 now, and I thought he was ready to hear a shocking truth about Halloweens past in the Austin home. Mark and I were always somewhat ambiguous about the holiday. While having lots of happy memories of dressing up in goofy costumes and gathering oodles of candy filled our minds, times had changed. Concerns about safety and some underlying discomfort with the darker side of the holiday tempered our enthusiasm. When the boys were small we decided that we would dress up and distribute candy. (In those days the boys were always in costume. They wore capes constantly)
Now this is where the great revelation occurred. Mark and I also agreed that if the boys ever asked to go out trick or treating we would let them. So back in those halcyon days of the 90's, in Orlando, the boys would be thrilled with each group coming to our door, pillow cases wide open. They would laugh and dance about, giving candy to all. Never once did it occur to either of them that they could also be going door to door gathering goodies. Ergo, they never asked to go. And we never asked them if they wanted to go. Passive parenting. Maybe I should write a book.
Luke stared at me in disbelief. I believe the words "what cruel parents" passed his lips. How long will it take to regain his trust, to restore his love and admiration?
Oh, and why do they call those little candy bars "fun size"? Fun size for me would be HUGE bars of chocolate. I'm just saying.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Who Am I?

Sanguine, phlegmatic, otter, ENTP, blue square, secondary leader, spokesperson, strategic, woo, includer, big picture, and a number between 1 and 9. (Sorry Mom, I can't remember which one you said I am) And I believe that I'm either a "summer" or a "winter".

Beginning with my training to be an RA at Kansas State University and through various employers and even pre-marital counseling I have become an expert in taking tests to discover my strengths, passions, gifts and how nasty I can become when stressed. Somehow I picked up a reputation for disliking these tests. Au contraire! It usually means I get to spend 15 minutes to half an hour answering questions about ME! My answers reflect the ME that I want the world to see. When the results are in I get to sit with my boss/team/spouse and talk about what it all means to ME! In some cases people I know have taken other kinds of tests and can label ME based on a series of numbers and/or letters that have no meaning to ME. But tant pis, as long as we are still talking about ME!

My favorite song of all time is Dancing Nancies by the Dave Matthews Band. (gee, I wonder why)
Here are a few choice lines:

Could I have been a parking lot attendant? Could I have been a millionaire in Bel Aire? Could I have been lost somewhere in Paris? Could I have been your little brother? Could I have been anyone other than me? Could I have been anyone? . . . I am who I am. I am. Who am I? . . . Could I have been Dancing Nancy?

Good question.

"For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light for the fruit of the light results in all goodness, righteousness, and truth--discerning what is pleasing to the Lord." Ephesians 5:8-10

"The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God's children, and if children, also heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ--seeing that we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him" Romans 8:16,17

Monday, August 9, 2010

For all the right reasons

This evening I cried while I was cooking dinner. Now depending on how well you know me you are speculating and coming to conclusions about why and judging whether or not I should be crying whilst preparing supper. Maybe it would help if I told you why I cried. I made French onion soup and had to chop a lot of onions. Sniff. Sniff.
I have heard the phrase "for all the right reasons" in reference to contestants on the Bachelorette as well as the aid workers who were killed this week in northern Afghanistan. In my brain this also linked to the Francis Schaeffer book I'm reading and onion soup. Bear with me here.
First the Bachelorette; actually I have never seen this show but I love to read blogs about it. Young attractive people are often accusing other attractive young people of being there "for the wrong reasons". It gives one pause. In the moral universe that is reality TV how does one discern "right and wrong". Discuss amongst yourselves.
In circumstances on the opposite side of the world geographically and morally, were the tragic deaths in Afghanistan. Some people seek to judge whether the expat workers were in the country for the right reasons. Who is qualified to make this judgment? These precious saints did not seek their own glory, gave up family, comforts of all kinds, financial gain and security in order to serve others, the poorest of the poor, the most desperately needy.
A few years ago I was in a Central Asian country helping out with a crisis management training amongst expat aid workers. These men and women each had a conviction that God had called them to this far corner of the world to serve the people there. Each had also come to grips personally with the possibility of facing death even though they served "for all the right reasons". They sought to please God; not man.
Which brings me to my point (finally, I think). Only in a universe where a good God has made Himself known through a revelation to man created in His image can we have any hope of knowing the difference between right reasons and wrong reasons. Our brothers and sisters who laid down their lives in a foreign land were most assuredly there for the right reasons. And I pray that others will rise up to shine as light in the darkness and spread the love God.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I know. I know.

The deal is that sometime around his 14th or 15th birthday he was supposed to transform into a hideous creature called a teenager. My understanding was that door slamming, moodiness and a penchant for insulting his parents would make me dream of the day I could ship him off to college.
Instead he became really cool, thoughtful, funny. The kind and gentle heart he demonstrated as a cute little boy only grew kinder, gentler. He developed insights to God and the world around us that challenged me and helped me grow as a person.
His musical talent and sensibility made it a joy to lead worship with him at church. Watching MTS3K with him and laughing at the same stupid jokes made him more like a friend than a jerk that I had to cook for and clean up after. He often would have to patiently correct my French, or my attitude. Always with kindness and understanding.

In two days we will drive to the airport, hug and say goodbye until Christmas. He is launching into an amazing future. We have no doubt that he will do much good in this world. I keep reminding myself that this is what we've raised him for. This what we have all done to our parents at some time or other. And we have two others still at home--almost as good as him.
But, dang. I'm going to miss that kid.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Snapshots of the Expat Life

What folly drives the expat? Little things become big things. Silly things become our quest. If they build it we will come.

A couple of weeks ago our eldest brought us exciting news that a Subway Sandwich shop had opened in a nearby mall. What joy! The menu he brought home announced an incredible deal for breakfast for only 2 euros. So, Saturday morning all five Austins piled into the car to bask in the prefab glory of an "American" restaurant. Oh! What deception! Our friendly neighborhood franchise does not open for breakfast. So we had to settle for the totally amazing bread and pastries at La Brioche Dorée

Next stop at the mall was the FNAC where the Princess purchased a CD she had been longing to own. (Owl City--which is not a band; it is just one person. I don't get this trend of solo artists having odd band-like names: Iron and Wine, Coeur de Pirate, Never Shout Never) Anyway, handsome hubby was drawn to the discount bin. For a mere 10 euros our family came to own Boston's Greatest Hits, Steve Miller Band, Eagle's Deperado, M Ward and the Princess Bride soundtrack. (Hubby observed, "It's just like music from the movie")

So on a random note; we listened to "More than a feeling" in the car on the way home. Luke went with some school friends to see a movie where George Clooney kills goats through ESP. That song was played during the credits.

So there is a snapshot of a random Saturday in the lives of these expats.

also, Go K-State!

Sunday, February 28, 2010


Recently our eldest had a bac blanc for his philosophy class. After the 4 hour exam he joined us at the office for lunch. (as he often does, much to his mama's joy) I asked about his exam. He had to write a paper about a text by Locke about property and ownership. Someone in the kitchen asked him if he disproved the philosopher's ideas. Will pointed out that the purpose of the exam was to display that he truly understood what Locke believed. For some reason this really struck me as a wonderful excercise. What if, instead of instantly seeking evidence to prove others wrong, we actually listened to others and first displayed that we understood what the other was saying?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Happy New Year

Goodbye 2009. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Do I want to reflect on it all? Yes and no. New challenges, loss, joy, pain are part of the past. They probably will stick around for the next year as well.
How precious also are Your thoughts to me, oh God? How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them they would outnumber the sand. When I awake I am still with You. (psalm 139: 17,18)
This year I want to remember every morning that I am with God. And knowing His thoughts is the most significant thing I can do this year. Obey His voice.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Nick, Joe and Kevin Fever

They came toward us flowing with the crowd leaving the concert. The princess was sobbing, bangs plastered to her forehead, damp with sweat. I hugged her and asked her what was wrong. "I saw Nick".
Nick JONAS, that is: the cute, sensitive one from the Jonas Brothers band. The princess and her best friend from school had been anticipating this big concert for months. At the last minute I bailed out and only acted as chauffeur. Our 25 year old friend accompanied them in my place. Happily, Katie is a much more accomplished concert goer than I am. She knew how scope out the best spot by the stage. The girls were all three close enough to claim, "Joe looked right at me; so did Nick." As a bonus, another Disney star, Demi Levato was the opening act. Evidently it was stinking hot in the Zenith that night. Plus they were all squeezed together in the crowd. Security men were passing out water. Young girls were just passing out. This is where Katie's skill was most appreciated. During the final song, "Burning Up" little Rose passed out--and the Princess was on the verge. Katie successfully navigated them to the first aid section to join all the other girls who had "seen Nick" and were recovering from the experience.
After all they had been waiting a couple of hours outside before the doors opened--standing in the sun. When we dropped them off Luke took one look at the thousands of girls and said, "I'm starting to think maybe I should go to this concert." But Amy had the best quote of the night, "This is the second happiest day of my life--just after my wedding."
1. I sure hope she marries some day so she has something to live for now.
2. Where did I get a daughter who screams, cries, and passes out over a musician?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

So Close and Yet So Far Away

Yesterday Will took his SAT exam at the American School in Paris (which is actually in the posh suburb of St. Cloud). If there is anywhere in the world where he should feel at home one would think that a High School, in France, where Americans go to school would be it. So close and yet so far away. He felt very different from the kids in the exam room; felt strange answering questions by filling in little ovals; didn't have enough time to finish his essay on the topic of "must there always be losers; or is win/win(/win) possible. He got deep into philosophers and religious ponderings through the ages and ran out of time on his very last sentence. So close and yet so far.

I had four hours to kill ; so I drove around looking for a place to plug in my computer to finish some urgent stuff. Whilst cruising around Paris looking for a friendly Starbucks, I saw police presumably preparing the route for Obama and Sarkozy to get out of Paris and to their helicopters for the D-Day commemeration. Probably the only time I'll be in the same city as the Obamas. So close and yet so far away.

On my way to pick up Will after his exam I drove right past Rolland Garros while the women's final match was beginning. So close and yet so far away.

I watched all the ceremony held at Colleville sur Mer for the 65th anniversay of the Normandy invasion. My mom was only a few 100 km from where all those veterans in their 80s and 90s landed so long ago. So close and yet so far away. It was a beautiful ceremony.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Blessed are you when they persecute you . . .

He sat at the table across from us, smiling, comfortable, friendly, dressed in a dress shirt, tie, jacket. Since he has only been a France a couple of years and does not yet speak French or English fluently an Arabic friend joined my colleague and me to translate for the job interview. Since the job involves spiritual work like answering letters and e-mails about Christ, the first question was to ask for his testimony. My colleague asked in French, "When and how did you come to know Jesus?" Ali translated the question in Arabic.

His eyes softened. He relaxed in his chair and spoke to us of his wife. He was not a Christian; she was a devout Christian. She never argued with him, but was always sweet and patient with him. Ali struggled to translate--she was the odor of Christ to him. They couldn't have children; yet he was obviously a devoted and loving husband. After 10 years of marriage he embraced his wife's faith--making it clear that this was his own decision. He began to attend church with his wife and even started to attend at times without her. This caught the attention of the authorities in his country. He was arrested. After some time he was released and they arrested his wife. For one month they tortured her. She died. He was allowed to come to France as a refugee. He has not stopped trusting and loving the God she introduced him to.

He took out a tissue and touched his moistened eyes.

We paused a long time, weighing the cost this man has paid for his faith, sharing in his grief, awed by our God. How do we go on to question 2 of the interview questionnaire?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Learning Phonetics

Everything I learned about Phonetics I learned in Byblos. This charming ancient fishing village on the coast in Lebanon is the place where the Phoenicians invented the first phonetic alphabet. The Greeks later named the village "Book" (Byblos). So you can thank the amazing Phoenician people for the fact that you don't use hieroglyphics to type, write, tweet or text. Cool.

Ponderings from the Sewing Machine

Working on a quilt affords me plenty of time for pondering. This week I've been on a roll making a flying geese quilt out of a collection of African fabrics. It's looking pretty wild. Anyway for a while I was praying for the young man for whom I'm making the quilt. Then my mind wandered.

I thought about hope. Hebrews 6:18-20 speaks of hope. Verse 19 says, "This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil . . ." In what do I really place my hope? Is it in our High Priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens? (7:27)

I thought about the French high school girl that died in the bombing in Cairo, the nine people who perished in a Turkish air flight in Amsterdam. We don't control very much in life, do we? God is sovereign. I am not.

I also thought about the next quilt; sneaking peaks at the fabric and pattern that will one day be more than an image in my mind. Better get back to the machine.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

25 Random Facts about my trip to Turkey

1. A kitty sat next to me on a flight

2. Turkish Air has good service and decent food.

3. A film about the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper is as interesting as it sounds.

4. I sat in a middle seat that split down the center. When the girl on my left leaned back to sleep half of my seat went back with hers. No, it was not comfortable.

5. My friend Hiroko speaks at least 5 languages and reads 4 kinds of alphabets.

6. She reads right to left, left to right and up to down.

7. and plays piano and sings beautifully.

8. I'm not jealous at all.

9. Hazelnuts are a gift from God. (learned from an ad by the Turkish Hazelnut Producers)

10. No one in the world should be denied the benefits of hazelnuts. (from same ad)

11. People love to sing in their own language

12. CNN scares me. I've grown accustomed to subdued European news reporting

13. I was paged at the airport as Mr. Augustine Nancy

14. 3 times.

15. My duffle bag ripped open right after I checked in.

16. The plastic bag they stuck it in also ripped, but nothing fell out

17. I wish I spoke Turkish (and Arabic, and Farsi, and Russian)

18. Mark and I passed each other going opposite directions in planes somewhere southwest of Istanbul.

19. Our brilliant plan to switch places being home with the kids by flying on the the same day fell apart when I missed my connection in Istanbul and had to stay the night there, leaving the kids alone.

20. I learned my kids don't need me as much as I need them.

21. It is hard to enjoy a free night in a hotel when you are thinking about your kids being alone.

22. It is also hard to enjoy a free night in a hotel when the wake up call rings at 2:30am, 3:30am and 4:00am when you really wanted to get up at 4:30am.

23. The Istanbul airport has 2 Starbucks. Is that right?

24. Turkey leads the world in pickled products

25. It is good to be home.

Will the Gaffs Ever Cease?

Okay, so I was at Will's high school, outside the homeroom teacher's door, waiting with other parents and students to go in and receive report cards. Will was a few blocks away at the music conservatory about to perform with a jazz piano group. As the wait grew longer those of us in the hallway got antsy and started complaining about how much time the teacher was taking. I mentioned that Will had a concert now. The chatting stopped. One mother gasped and put her hand on her mouth. A young girl cried, "No!". I thought their reactions were somewhat overdramatic. Actually, I had mispronounced "concert" and said instead, "Will has a cancer, now." We cleared up the misunderstanding. But I still missed Will's concert.

Two weeks ago at church we had put up blank sheets of paper on the walls for people to draw little pictures of things they are thankful for. As I was explaining the exercise I wanted to say, "You don't have to create a work of art". Instead I said, "You don't have to creat a goat of art."

I don't really speak English that well either.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Opposites Attract

Anyone that knows me as well as my husband can quickly discern that we are opposites in many ways. One time I met a respected "Auntie" from Sudan who has known Mark for many years. The first time she saw me, she grabbed me hugged me and said, "I'm so glad to meet you! We've always wondered what kind of woman was married to Mark!" This has happened to us many times.

In October Mark invited me to accompany him to the annual Gala banquet for his magic club. It was very interesting to meet his fellow prestidigitators. We sat at a table where a lively discussion regarding the care, training and feeding of doves was under way. This seems to be a hot subject in magic circles. In any case, it caused me to reflect lovingly on all Mark endured at my choir dinner. He actually had to sing Elvis (I Can't Help Falling in Love w/You) and Home on the Range. With me. In Public. I'm grateful that he doesn't expect me to perform in his magic act.

A few weeks ago I lost all my keys. Of course I lose my keys many times a week; but this time they were missing for two weeks (the Princess found them sitting next to the computer--didn't I look there 100 times?). Mark always hangs his keys on the hook next to the front door. He placed the hooks there for this purpose. Why don't I just put my keys there? he asks. I don't know. Maybe it's the ringing phone, the bags of groceries I'm carrying, or just plain old irresponsibility. One day we were in the car, discussing again where the keys could be. I hung my head in shame and said, "I'm just a big mess-up". Mark reached over and patted my knee and replied lovingly, "That's okay, honey, we're just opposites."

We both started laughing as he added, "You know, I mean that in the best possible way."

Opposites attract.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Reflections While Waiting for the Train

Well, to be fair these are not my reflections. Today was going fine; I was making progress on a translation project at work. Just as I was about to shut down and head home, I received two requests for help that in all of my overblown pride seemed to be "asking too much". After blowing off some steam to some colleagues (I can be a girl-doggie in two languages!) I rushed out to catch the train home, settled in my seat appreciating the isolation and time for thinking this mode of transport affords. All of that to introduce a translation of a cool little essay written by Will last week in French class. He got a good grade and the teacher read it out loud to the class. (He posted it in French on his Facebook wall)

It is possible that the train is the thing that brings together and concentrates in the least amount of space, yet the most intensely, all of the great diversity of the entire earth. That is why sometimes in order to understand many things it is enough to go sit in a train station.

A train heading to Malesherbes stops at the Evry-Courcouronnes station. It is one of those trains with two levels with more seats, which remains, however, insufferably full for the reserved French. The doors open. The people waiting on the quai step back to let flow the mass that exists the train. Someone tries to graciously get off with his bike and heads to the exit. Those in a rush make a little jump while leaving the train. Some business men pass by, with their ridiculous "bluetooths"; not far behind files out some gypsies who are surely begging. A man helps a lady who pushes a stroller with her baby inside, before getting in the machine himself. One woman is wearing a Muslim veil, another wears a traditionally African colored dress. Some British tourists already are getting out their map and looking around them. Two teenagers with those faux-hawks, that they themselves will find ridiculous in a few years, listen intensely to their music on a cell phone (that ruins the sound, for those of you that don't know that).

And there are so many so many other people to notice, each having their own destinations, their own thoughts, their own lives. It is very impressive, when you think about it. But there is something else going on, which is very sad; rare are those who don't have this fixed stare, empty and without emotion. For fear of those surrounding them, they act as if they see no one. Only people surrounded by friends and those who are not constrained by society seem to be at ease and comfortable. The whole earth is assembled in one place and we are too frightened by what others think to be ourselves, and to speak to others "ourselves". We prefer to rush on to return to the world that is familiar, yet is very restrained toward the real world.