April 29, 2010

For the French...

The French often get a bad rap.  They've been called snooty, unsupportive, rude, and worse.  But my opinion is quite the opposite.  I've no idea why I'm writing about this at this time, but who cares-- at least I'm writing again, oui?  Let me give you the reasons I love the French, and why they've made such an impression on this all-American girl.

1.  My first impressions: I'll never forget, though clouded with sleeplessness, my very first view of the Eiffel Tower.  We were landing, it was morning, and cloudy.  The land looked very much like anywhere else I'd landed in my travels until, far in the distance, I spotted that famous tower.  I couldn't help it-- a smile broke out on my face.  Disinterested, sleepy passengers flanked me, but I smiled and my heart pounded and I knew I was in for the adventure of my life. 

2.  My faltering French:  I was very nervous to use the French I knew, though I had taken four years of the language, plus independent study.  I was shy, afraid that all I'd heard about the French and their rudeness would be true.  Yet I found them to be entirely gracious and patient.  I recall when we needed tickets for a Seine boat tour one evening. 
"Bonjour," I began, nervous about my first conversation en Francais.
"Bon Soir," they replied, gently reminding me of the time of day.  They smiled.  I smiled.  I continued with newfound confidence.  I also remember visiting the Palace Versailles, where we asked for directions in French.  Though we were obviously American, the guide asked us, "En Englais ou en Francais?"  He didn't simply fall into patronizing English to appease the American tourists-- he gave us the option, and we chose en Francais.  I found that they weren't so different from us.  When a foreigner asks me for directions in English, I am much more likely to respond with patience than if they assume I speak their native language.  It's the same with the French.  I never once experienced rudeness, as I always attempted to speak their language in their country.  And by the time I left, I was almost fluent. :)

3.  My favorite memory: One of the very best memories I have of my time in France is a conversation I had with a bouquiniste owner on the Seine one afternoon.  We were browsing the tiny green shops set up along the river, admiring the paintings, drawings, and antiques.  We stopped at one-- I can't even remember why anymore-- and began a conversation with one of the two old men who sat there.  One spoke some English and sat with his friend to translate for the American tourists.  He asked if we spoke French and I responded, "seulement un peu," which means "only a little."  He then asked where we were from.  My friend told him she was from Texas, whereupon this man turned to his friend and in French, said something along the lines of, "She's from Texas; you know Bush, the Republican fanatic."  I laughed a little under my breath, and he looked surprised.  "I thought you didn't speak French!"
I grinned.  "Seulement un peu," I said.  We then continued to have a political discussion (in English), and he asked who I thought would become the next president.  Keep in mind, this was 2006, before any presidential races had begun.  "I think maybe Barak Obama; at least he'll run."  I was surprised at this man's knowledge, because he leaned toward his friend and told him in French that I thought the Senator from Illinois would run.  I sheepishly realized I had no idea about French politics.
"What about Condoleeza Rice?  Hillary Clinton?"  He asked in his delightful accent.  I rolled my eyes. 
"Maybe," I said, "But I hope not."
"That would be a terrible night for American men," he went on, "To go to sleep at night knowing that when you awoke, there would be a woman president!"  I laughed at his blatantly sexist attitude.  We didn't stay much longer, but that political conversation with a Frenchman had imprinted the French people on my heart.  What warmth and intelligence!

4.  My protection:  On a sunny afternoon on one of my last days in Paris before leaving for Greece to meet up with friends, we decided to spend some more time by Sacre Coeur, with the intention of sketching (a favorite pasttime for the both of us).  We were well aware that in this area and the rest of Montmartre, the street vendors could be particularly bothersome, so you were to just ignore them and usually they'd move on.  On that day, however, the vendors were creepy.  They wouldn't leave us alone, and we're pretty sure they said some vulgar things in French.  Both of us had an uneasy feeling, but we decided to stay.  There was only one bench open at the bottom of Sacre Coeur, near the carousel.  We sat.  We started to sketch.  Even while sitting, occupied with sketching, the vendors harrassed us.  Immediately an old, white-haired French woman sat down on the unoccupied lefthand portion of the bench.  She didn't read, she didn't sketch, she simply sat and watched the birds.  No vendors came our way again.  After a time, we decided to move on and began packing our things.  When we got up to leave, the white-haired woman left as well.  I am convinced that woman sat down by us only to protect us from the vendors' harrassment.  What kindness.

5.  My other favorite memory: My other favorite memory of the French centers around children.  At Versailles, we pulled out our sketch pads once more and began sketching a fountain in the gardens.  We sat in the warm sunlight, recreating man-made beauty.  Mine was not turning out so well, and I was thinking of throwing in the towel when a horde of children swarmed into the enclosure.  It was obviously a field trip, and there were about two dozen maybe second grade students and a couple teachers.  They huddled around us, staring at our drawings.  Sounds of amazement, evident in any language, came from their mouths.  I couldn't make out everything they said save for two words: "Bon" (good), and "dessinez" (draw).  We smiled and nodded and said, "merci."  My heart warmed-- these little children harbored no resentment, no pride against American tourists.  They admired my mediocre drawing with the innocent delight of any child.

I hope, through these snapshots, I've given you a glimpse of why I love the French.  I experienced nothing but kindess and patience from them (except for the creepy vendors), and I miss them.  I left part of my heart en Paris.

April 26, 2010

My Inner Inkwell...

I told a writer friend of mine today that my "inner inkwell" has temporarily dried up.  I don't know why, but the words won't come.  It's no surprise, really.  Not to be fatalistic or self-pitying, but it usually ends up that whatever I try my hand at, I end up either failing or not completing it.  My point of view is that it's God's way of shutting the doors in that loooong hallway of options in my life.  I peek my head in the doorway of fashion design, and it promptly closes.  Peering around the doorway of starting a cupcakery didn't last long, and now I'm slowly being shut out of the publishing "room."  I'm still in that long hallway, trying door after door, waiting for the door that will stay open and the room that will welcome me in for good. 

I'm not ending my blog, I'm not giving up on writing for pleasure, but I'm thinking that I'm giving up on writing for profit.  It may be the reason my words are gone-- I don't want to do it because I have to, and recently I've felt like I have to write so I can get my work out there for women to read.  I still feel that the Lord has things for me to share with women, but the door on publishing seems to be closing in front of my face, no matter how hard I push to get in.  So, I hope you'll check back here every once in a while.  I promise, when the words come again, when the inner inkwell fills up, I will have something for you.  It will be something I've learned from all of this, I'm sure, and I hope it will help you.  Until then, walk your own hallway, try your own doors, and don't think you're a failure if the door closes (like I've thought in the past).  Just thank God for the clarification and head back down that hallway.  There's a door somewhere that he has waiting for you to find, and you will.  And so will I.

April 22, 2010

Until I Can Take a Breath and Blog...

Hello friends.  I'm sorry for my absence here-- this is just a quick note to let you know that sometimes life gets in the way, so I will return as soon as I have a moment to take a breath and blog. :) 

April 8, 2010

I Can See Clearly Now...

I have been neglecting my blog.  I have not felt inspired, I have not felt the words, and so I've been avoiding my blog like I avoid anything with mustard in it.  Despite my writer's block, I keep breathing, sleeping, eating, and living and therefore keep thinking about things I could write about, if I were to feel inspired and feel the words.  One of these things is a thought that's been rolling around unfomed in my mind since I left college, and has only recently begun to take shape.  The following are my early thoughts; I may expound on the idea later, but let me know what you think (especially you women who may know exactly what I'm talking about) and if you agree or disagree.

I have come to the realization that I have been misled.  Thinking back to my college days, many a happily married woman gave advice to the eager ears of single young women.  Much of it was useful, and we soaked it up (I was in good company then, unlike now when I am one of only a handful of single women left in my group).  However, I remember many times hearing something along the lines of this:

"When I was fully satisfied in the Lord alone, that's when I met my husband!"
"He came when I stopped looking for him!"
"I didn't meet my husband until I was totally focused on the Lord."

While that may seem like the case for them, I have realized that that is simply wrong.  Here's why:
1.  God is not an "if-then" statement.  There is no "if I do this, then God will do this."  God's will is not contingent upon our actions.  The idea that we must do something in order for God to bless us with something gives us way too much credit and is works-based.
2.  These statements assume that someone can achieve total satisfaction in/focus on the Lord, like a finish line in their faith.  The truth is, it's part of sanctification.  Even when actively striving for satisfaction in/focusing on the Lord, it will not be until heaven that we are fully satisfied in Him and focused on Him.  Therefore there cannot be a point in our lives where we say, "Ah, good.  I'm finally satisfied in God alone, and totally focused on Him.  Now where's my husband?"
3.  These statements can cause young women to pursue the Lord for the wrong reasons.  God tells us in His word that man looks on the outside, but God looks at the heart.  He knows our motivations.  If we are doing our devotions, getting involved in ministry, and worshiping the Lord because we think it will bring us ever-closer to the altar, He knows that, and that pursuit is worthless, as it is selfish and self-seeking.  We must pursue the Lord simply because our relationship with Him is the single most beautiful, satisfying, safe thing in our lives, and the closer we become to Him, the more satisfied we are, and other things seem to fade in comparison to His glory.
4.  These statements insultingly assume that the many godly single women out there are not finding their satisfaction in/focusing on the Lord.  I can think of so many of these women who have proved just the opposite.  So many single Christian women have been examples to me of what a woman after God's own heart looks like, and I am encouraged by them.  To imply that they are not pursuing the Lord because they haven't been blessed with a husband is ridiculous.
5.  Along the same vein, this also implies that all wome who are married are fully satisfied in/focused on the Lord.  I have known many married women who may be believers but leave something to be desired in their pursuit of righteousness.

I wish so badly that I could speak to the young women at Moody and share with them the reality of long-term singleness.  I'd like to tell them how hard it will be, and what they should begin to do and think now to prepare them for the road ahead.  And I would not tell them that when they stop looking/find their satisfaction in the Lord/focus on the Lord they will find Mr. Right.  Because it doesn't work that way.  I'd tell them to simply be faithful where they're at.  Do what God is calling them to do right now.  Grow their relationship with God daily and pursue righteousness.  And if God blesses them with a husband, great.  If not, then He will sustain them and teach them more than they ever thought they'd learn, which is exactly what I am learning now.