Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The In-Between-Places & Clay Pots

Missionaries are human too.

Ok, time for some transparency again. God has been teaching me a lot and I can tell you it has not been fun, in a "oh let's do that again!" sort of way. It has been necessary though.

Here's the transparency part: People always say to me, "Oh wow! You're a missionary! I could never do that! Thanks for doing what so many of us could never do." Well, I think to myself, "Thanks, but I can't do it either!" 

I once took a pottery class. LOVED it because I got to shape new things out of these lumps of nothingness. I got to be all up in there as I formed the clay. I had to smack the clay on the palette and then add water as I kneaded it. Then I had to roll it and punch it. Then when just the right amount of water was in it and it would give to my slightest movement, it was ready for the wheel. Then when it was pliable, I could lovingly raise it into something more. It made me sweat and made my muscles sore as I fought with hard clay, but in the end a piece of me was alive in each pot or cup or bowl that I made. It was such a joy!

Well, now it feels like it's my turn to be that stubborn hard, dry lump of clay- again. Clay that needs to be stretched and smacked and molded and have water added to smooth out my rough bits. His water added to make my heart pliable. I feel like I've been here before. I was once this hard lump of clay that in no way wanted to give my life over to missions. I was a homebody, and frankly - I like my comfort level to be just so. Come on, you know what I mean. So God worked out these rough bits in me when I was about 14, and I was willingly subdued after some persuasion. Every so often He works out some more. My guess is that I am one of those pots that hasn't been fired in the kiln yet. He has multiple purposes for my life if I will remain pliable.

Being pliable - well it hurts. It's pretty nice to just be left alone and not be fashioned into something you're not (yet). It's dizzying to spin on the potter's wheel after you feel you've had the wind knocked out of you. Then again, there comes a point where you close your eyes and let go. You allow His rhythm to sway you. His hands to guide you - to raise you - to what He wants you to be: useful for Him.

Just a disclaimer here:
I do not think that God does things to harm us. I think that He allows the enemy to do things to us to see where our loyalty lies and to see if we will call on Him. We are not robots; He allows us to choose - to love Him. If we choose to dry out... He'll help us work through it.

Now back to transparency:
Being in France is wonderful, but I am unable to fully enjoy it all of the time. I have days where I can breath in the beauty of this gift of time here, and there are other days where I am distracted of the coming future. I enjoy certain comforts here (even though I have no dryer or air conditioning) I still have electricity and running water. I think of what it will be in Africa without those (at least for the starting term).  I tend to worry. I know it's wrong & I am learning to trust more. It's hard to keep from thinking ahead when your "job" (ministry) requires a lot of forward planning. Anyway, no more excuses - simply put, I do worry. My time here in France is often muddied by thoughts of "what if's" especially concerning moving on to Africa. I won't list them all, but I think about raising our children and the possibilities of health issues, isolation, war, hardships...blah blah blah.. the list could go on. This is why people think I'm a little crazy for being a missionary. They could never picture themselves or anyone else trying to do what we hope to set out to do. So I myself have moments of FREAK-OUT. I think how could this possibly work?!? We have such a hard time balancing family and learning language at the same time. How will we learn a third language - one that is unwritten? If I let one little worry slip through my defenses, I feel like the whole dam will burst. And then sometimes it does and that's when God lets in the water.

After my heart has been hardened by self-ish worry, God waters this clay again. That's really what is going on when I have those panic moments where I ask myself, "Do I really want to do this?" I am being self-ish. I've weighed the cost for me if I go, but I've neglected to weigh the cost for others if I don't go. It's selfishness. God is faithful to water this hard clay in the midst of my tears through the pouring out of other useful pots.

Pots like my faithful husband who hugs me and tells me I need to stop focusing on the hardships and look at all the great stories and testimonies from the field.

Pots like my dear friend who called me from the States to water my soul & told me to read James 1:2-3. Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 
She also poured out a little water when she told me you can know that something is really a promise from God if God confirms it and if the enemy won't let you be. 

I begin to breathe and flex in this new space. I've been on the palette a couple times. I've made it to the wheel. Now, I hope to not fall apart while He raises me into His useful vessel, knowing full well that if the vessel tips during the spin, the clay is already soft and can be raised again. :-)

Prov 24:16a 16 for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again...

I can look back at the times I've fallen or I can look back at the progress I've made and keep going.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Mini break - trip to Tours and Chateau at Amboise

 Took a few trains (about 6 hours) and went over to Tours to visit with some friends and colleagues. It was a much needed break from class. It was good to visit with friends we haven't seen in a while and to talk with some people who have visited and lived in the West African country we will eventually serve in. It was a good time and our hosts were so gracious. We got to celebrate my (Laura's) birthday too. Nice surprise! We were exhausted after all the running and playing with the kids and doing some touristy things out in the sun, but it was a good exhausted. We had a great time! Here are some of our pics:
Some really cool OLD buildings in Tours, France

Lunch Time for the group

On the way to the Tours Cathedral

The Cathedral in Tours

My new love - stained glass windows!

Some Walking

Brent playing a card game with the kids in the back yard

Entry to the Chateau at Amboise, France

Cool Stained glass at the Tomb of Leonardo De Vinci

Really the Tomb of Leonardo De Vinci

Gardens at the Chateau

My favorite shot of the Chateau - I love flags

Up to the Tower

Cool entry to the Tower


Here we are in front of part of the Chateau

Time for some lunch

Fun with new friends

Special little Tomb building for Leonardo's resting place

Our host's backyard is an incredible respite spot - lovely roses like this all over!!

lovely back yard

Playing on the play ground in the neighborhood

Quick train trip to Amboise

Looking across the water at the Chateau in the distance

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Lyrics from some of my favorite Christian artists:

Lyrics to No Sweeter Name by Kari Jobe :

No sweeter name than the Name of Jesus,
No sweeter name have I ever known
No sweeter name than the name of Jesus.

You are the Life to my heart and my soul
You are the Light to the darkness around me
You are the Hope to the hopeless and broken
You are the only Truth and the Way

Jesus, Jesus

Lyrics to Healer by Kari Jobe :
You hold my every moment
You calm my raging sea
You walk with me through fire
and heal all my disease

I trust in You
I trust in You

I believe You're my healer
I believe You are all I need
I believe
I believe You're my portion
I believe You're more than enough for me
Jesus, You're all I need.

Nothing is impossible for You
Nothing is impossible
Nothing is impossible for You
You hold my world in Your hands
Nothing is impossible for You
Nothing is impossible
Nothing is impossible for You
You hold my world in Your hands

I believe You're my healer
I believe You are all I need
Oh yes You are, yes You are
I believe You're my portion
Lord, I believe You're more than enough for me
Jesus You're all I need
More than enough for me
Jesus You're all I need
You're my healer [You're my healer]
Lyrics to Hosanna by Laura Story:
I see the king of glory
Coming down the clouds with fire
The whole earth shakes, the whole earth shakes
I see his love and mercy
Washing over all our sin
The people sing, the people sing

Hosanna, hosanna
Hosanna in the highest

I see a generation
Rising up to take the place
With selfless faith, with selfless faith
I see a new revival
Staring as we pray and seek
We're on our knees, we're on our knees

Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like you have loved me
Break my heart for what is yours
Everything I am for your kingdom's cause
As I walk from earth into eternity.

Think the lyrics are good, you should hear the songs.
It really renews my focus and perspective when life is throwing some hard balls. ~Laura

Pretty Spring Things

pretty roses on the way to school

beginning to bloom

Sniff that spring thing, Claire

after slowly rolling down a large hill

The chateau where we had our anniversary picnic on the lawn

Lovely gardens around the chateau

our cute kids on a green spring hill
Pretty flowers and my kiddos all dressed up pretty for Easter church service

More lovely gardens at the chateau

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Roller-Coaster Ride: A little thing called Language Learning

Ok, so I'm finding out a lot about myself through this whole "living in another culture" thing. For one, I am just beginning to understand certain basic things about myself. For example, I need to have more sleep, calm periods of the day, a way to connect with others on a deeper level, good snack foods, time listening to worship music, time to do something artistic, and a connection time with my hubby. (Add all that to a busy day and woah!) Some of these are things that I thought of as superfluous before. Now I am realizing that in order to function properly and to not have frequent moments of flipping-out-insanity, I really need these sorts of things. (OK that was a bit scary to share but feels good to have it off my chest.) Basically, I need a break and these are the things that are restful to me. I also find it AB-SO-LUTE-LY necessary to have a happy home. I am a much happier person when my kids are doing something constructive with their time. :-D *big toothy grin* It's a tough balance to be a mom and a student at the same time in another land, but I see with precision of focus now that my attitude affects my kids' moods.

The old saying rings true, "If momma ain't happy - ain't nobody happy." So I realized this past week that I was getting to my overloaded point in many areas. The kids were going crazy (Ethan is on vacation for 2 weeks and has a ton of energy to burn off at home now). Claire feeds off of Ethan's energy and creates her own.  Brent was beginning to be stressed with home duties while I took on a 5 days/week class load yet again. Language learning classes just happened to break the dam! It's just something that happens with me when I am not understanding the language and I am expected to perform in class. It's happened to me before when I took eight weeks of Thai. It's something that happens to people regularly when they are involved in language learning and cultural adjustment at the same time.

It's called stress.
Mine just happens to materialize in tears.

I broke down crying (mind you, silently) in class. I kept my composure as hot tears streamed down my face. My teacher noticed and talked to me in the hall. I told her it was not anything personal but that I did not understand a thing that she had just spent the past 10 minutes explaining. She had mentioned that we had seen the material the day before - we had not. I was overwhelmed. Silly little pronouns danced on my page as my tears blurred these tiny, yet so important, words. Words that I did not understand but desperately need to know. Turns out I was absent the day the basic pronouns were introduced and now we were learning more. It was confusing and it still is. Not sure I can use them properly on paper and much less so in speech.

It will come. Event...ually.
I will understand at some point.

I think the overwhelming part is that one day we will have to use this language to survive in AFRICA. Oh, yeah, and then learn another language that's not written down yet (yep, that means no books to learn the next language- no alphabet). So if I look at things like that it is mega-overwhelming.

Baby steps, Laura. You can do it.
Phil 4:13 "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me".

Some days are really awesome and I seem to be getting it. French will start to flow out of my mouth like liquid and the people around me don't even hesitate - they seem to understand me. Yay!

Other days it feels like someone shoved a wad of black licorice the size of a golf ball in my mouth and told me to try to express my thoughts without spitting. I like black licorice, but in smaller quantities. And try talking with a mouth full of something you can't chew well! The words just won't come out right.

So there's these ups and downs in trying to speak another language. It's exhilarating and dizzying at the same time. I love it and then other times I get this sickening scared feeling in the pit of my stomach. (I think this is what people feel like when they are on a roller coaster. I've never actually been on one. I get motion sick so it's out of the question, but I've been on a flume ride with a big drop.) Days of success in communicating in French are awesome, like being at the peak of the hill - the top of the ride. *smile*

But look out for the drop!

At least I can expect to climb the next crest at some point until I get off this ride, but wait - I'm not planning on getting off this ride. Will it always be like this? No. At some point way in the future, it seems that I will plateau and not be able to learn any more French. Then it will be time for the next language.

Learning French like this is different than taking a foreign language course in high school or college. I actually have to go out an use what I learn to live here. The only break I get from it is if I am silent (doesn't always work - someone will try to ask you something). Oh, or if I am at home with my family, and still we try to speak in French, read books in French, watch TV in French, answer the phone in French, order pizza in French, go to the doctor in French, and so on... in French.

*SIGH* That felt good to share. It's a bit overwhelming at times to be here. Other times it is incredible! It is certainly nothing like a vacation. If it were I'd really need a vacation from it. It's daily life lived in a foreign land that's not too far removed from my own land though it is foreign to me at times. Keep us in your prayers as we're here, and consider the stretch it will be to be living daily life in a foreign land like Africa because that comes next. At least it is do-able: one day at a time - with the Lord's help. That's all I ask. :-)
Thanks for praying us through the drops.
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