Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Jet Lag and Bureaucracy

Wow.  It has been a crazy, incredible month.  After nine airplanes, four different cities, and two countries, I was definitely ready to sleep in my own bed and see my apartment.  Valérie and I are still trying to get over jet lag, but it's going away slowly.  

So yesterday we went to Lille, to make an appointment to apply for a residency card here in France.  As you know, I got my visa from the French Consulate in San Francisco without any problems, but that didn't give me permission to do anything except stay in France while I apply for my residency card.  No social security number, no legal work status, nothing but permission to apply for all of that stuff.  In three months we have to go back for our interview, where they will either supply me with a Béret (one of those little flat caps with a mini-ball on top), a pencil thin moustache, and an "I'm smarter than you" smirk, and say, "Welcome to France!!", or they will drug me, throw me into the bottom of a ship with everybody else that they rejected, and sell me into slavery in some French protectorate.  Obviously, I want them to grant me residency, but if not I'm hoping they send me to Tahiti.

Anyway, when we made the appointment, the lady was really nice to us.  And on our first look at the paperwork, there isn't that much to do, and it doesn't look as difficult as we expected.  But still, I'm pretty sure I'll be nervous when we go for the appointment.  

And I'll make sure to hide some bread on my person, just in case.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The last post was about waiting to speak with the French Consulate on the phone, and as you vicariously experienced it through my blog, it was pretty difficult. Eventually, I did talk with someone, and they were pretty helpful. Well, this post comes after actually going to the French Consulate in San Francisco to apply for my visa.

As The W said--Mission Accomplished.

Actually, the experience was rather pleasant, but in the days and hours leading up to it I was scared to death. But, the guy who processed my paperwork was really nice, and we were walking out the door, visa in hand (passport) in about an hour and a half. I don't think my feet were touching the ground.

But, this is only the first step in my process of trying to become a legal, working resident who actually contributes to French society. Right now I've got a visa to stay in France while I apply for a residency card. I'm trying to remember how good and powerful God is. Thankfully, He has given me a good wife (and French citizen) to walk with me in the process.

So, the new news is that as I'm typing this, I'm sitting in my Mom's house in Laramie, Wyoming. This trip home has given me a lot of first experiences. First time in Los Angeles with a bunch of Koreans. First time in San Francisco. First time for Valerie to meet someone from my family. First time back to Laramie as a married man. And, maybe the most astonishing, I went to GreatClips and got a faux hawk this morning. I like it, even if it's the first 'styled' haircut I've ever had in my life.

Well, I better go, but right now I'm reading the the Luke's gospel, and I have been sidetracked and ended up in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was an amazing teacher, and His words are so powerful--complex and simple at the same time.

Today I'm thankful for the kisses my wife just gave me.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


So I'm really tired. It seems that moving to a new place, getting married, learning a new language, living in a community (a sweet private apartment within a community), and having everyone in that community trying to figure out who you are and what you're all about seems to do that to you. But being tired isn't that bad of a feeling. No, it's not being able to sleep that is an awful, horrible feeling. And why can't I go to bed right now, where my wife is probably freezing to death without the extra heat that my body provides?

I'm waiting to make a phone call.

That's right, a phone call. And to who, you might ask? The French Consulate in San Francisco. It seems that they don't like answering their phone during the hours that they have set aside, at least theoretically, for doing that very thing. So, I'm calling the number repeatedly so that I can get my paperwork rolling. But it is even more tiring to here the same voices and bad music saying, "We're sorry the voice mail is full...dee dee dee duh dee doo dum dah doooo...this is the visa department, to talk to an officer in the department, press one...dee dee dee..." and so it continues until you hang up and call again, which is exactly what I'm waiting to do right now.

Oh, and yesterday the charger for my computer broke, so my faithful laptop is waiting for a new one. I don't know if it is bad for a computer to sit unused for a long period of time, but that's what is happening to it.

Okay. I'm trying again.

Still busy.

Anyway, things are going really well here so far. I'm learning a lot about a lot of different cultures. French, Korean, English...okay maybe that's all, but it's still quite a bit. Life here is very unique. I'm caught between two different communities/mission agencies who are trying to feel me out and see how I fit in with what they're doing. And the hard truth is that I don't. My main role right now is to be the husband of my wife, who works for one of these agencies, and my main goal is to learn French and start using it to express Christ's love for sinners. But, I have already had opportunities to serve both agencies, and I'm sure that there will be plenty more in the future.

Okay, trying again...

Nope. What is it with this place? Alright, once more then I'm going to bed.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly...

Well, I made it to france without any problems, except that I don't know the language here. But that will come with a lot of hard work, time and prayer. Just the other day I decided to go out and try to speak the few things that Valerie had begun to teach me. Sentences like, "Hello, my name is Mike. What's your name? I am American, but I live here in France. I live in the white castle. I learn French from my fiancée Valerie." Armed with my books and freshly learned phrases, I headed outside into the cold just to find myself wandering the streets and being stared at, mostly. I was looking for a place of encounters. A place where people might be relaxing and talking, letting down their guard just enough to let a practically mute American try to practice his french with them. As it turns out, people don't really go out when it's cold outside, which is pretty much year round here in Thumeries. This leads to a few logical conclusions. First, as valerie has pointed out, people around here have a lot of children. I guess if you can't do anything outside because of the rain and cold, then there is only so much you can do inside before you get bored and fall back on one of the few things that humans have always been good at--making babies. Second, when you try to stop and talk with people on the street when it's cold out, they usually aren't too interested in you. And who can blame them with what they're going home to. Third, if you want to talk to people in a cold place, it's best to go somewhere that is not just public, but public and warm.

So, I decided to try my luck in an authentic French Café. I know what you are envisioning...waiters wearing funny hats, every man with a thin little handlebar mustache, beautiful women, couples reading poetry together, someone peeing on the wall outside...but forgot all of that, because that's not at all what it was like. Maybe in Paris, but not here in the village. This is a working man's area, for real men. Entering the café, I sidled up at the bar next to a sharp looking blond guy, clearly on his break from some kind of construction job. Everyone was staring at the foreigner (me), waiting for his next move. It was like a spaghetti western. I was the stranger who had walked into a room full of suspicious and distrustful eyes, and as the camera zoomed in tight on my squinting eyes and those of the bartender, I said "One coffee" in the perfect french that only my fiancée could teach. The tension immediately broke as the bartender said, "Ha! Listen to his accent he's English!" It was obvious that they were talking about me for awhile, and I imagine more obvious that I was a little uncomfortable about it, since I choked and forgot how to say everything else except 'hello', 'thank you', and 'one coffee', so the blond guy smiled and stuck out his hand to shake mine.

I felt so uncomfortable that I decided to retreat back to the castle. Chugging my shot of espresso and stuffing the little complimentary chocolate that came with it, I exited the café, vowing to come back and conquer it another day. It is amazing how much of our well being, or at least our sense of well being, rests in the ability to communicate. Sure, I feel a little uncomfortable in any public place, even in my hometown, but what really made me uncomfortable was not being able to speak. Now I know why babies cry so much--they can't say anything. I'm sure I'll cry a few times these next years while I'm learning to speak too.

Monday, August 25, 2008

I Feel Cool...

...and a little nervous. As the assistant pastor at my church put it yesterday, "a weird mix of excitement and fear, that sounds about right." Yes, I'm in the airport right now waiting for the plane that will move me to France (pun intended). So right now I feel pretty hip, cool, and technology savvy, because I'm one of the guys who is blogging while in the airport. But I'm kind of nervous because I'm MOVING to France. Wow. Moving. With plans of staying for a long time. Scary as it is, especially for closet Francophobes, I'm really excited about this next phase of my life. Starting a family. Learning a language. Learning a culture. Growing up...a little.

And joining the cool guy group that blogs from the airport. See you in France.

Today, I'm thankful for tomorrow.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Re-entry observations

I like to watch people. It's been a habit of mine since I started to feel like everyone was always watching me. People are interesting. They do the weirdest things. They wear the weirdest clothes. They each react differently to the same situation. They're fun to watch.

I carried this people watching habit with me to Spain 18 months ago, and at first I was amazed at all the differences from America. Not too long after, Spanish practices began to feel and look normal, and I started to notice that people in Spain are just as weird as in America. But I never thought that America would ever be unfamiliar to me.

So, here are some things that I've had to begin readjusting to while I'm back, even though I'm leaving again in ten days.

While riding from the Philadelphia airport to a friend's house where I stayed my first few days back, I was astonished at the number of Evangelical churches on every block. Coming from a place where not being catholic is equivalent to being in a cult (join us, its bliisss...), it looked like picking a church in america was like deciding which ice cream to buy, or which restaurant to eat in. "Last time we went to the Starbucks on 34th street, but they didn't give me enough foam in my latte, let's try the one across the street today." To say it again, it was really odd to pass 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th Baptist Church of Philadelphia all on the same block. And they are probably all related to one another. As my pastor here in Laramie says, "There are no such thing as Baptist church splits, only church plants."

When I met new people after arriving, they all stood really far away. I felt like my voice hurt from shouting. I knew that they wouldn't be able to decipher the words, but if they could just hear the distant murmur of my voice and understand that I was at least trying to communicate with them across the chasm that separated us, it would be a productive conversation. And meeting a girl was even more shocking. Please, keep in mind that when I went to Spain, I hated people touching me, and wanted them to stand as far away from me as possible. So, upon reentering America, I was completely shocked the first time I was introduced to a new girl and she extended her hand, indicating that she wanted a handshake, and not a kiss on each cheek. It was the most unattractive and manly thing I could imagine a girl doing, outside of giving me a high five or admitting that girls also go number two.

Last, I'll share with you about line etiquette. In Spain, you're lucky if the person working in a store actually helps you when you walk in. You know that God is with you when they just keep talking on the phone with their boyfriend while helping you. But most of the time you wait a few minutes until they semi-shout, "what do you want?" It's sort of like the episode of Seinfeld with the soup Nazi. You're scared to death and after they manhandle you for a few minutes, you exit apologetically with whatever it is you bought. But not so here in America, and especially in Wyoming. I was in Coal Creek Coffee, standing in a good sized line, when the guy behind me started talking to me. What is he doing? Why is he talking to me? I don't even know him. Then I get to the cash register to order, and the girl working starts to chit chat with me. "Please stop! Treat me bad! Swear at me, just don't be nice to me! I only wanted a coffee!!"

Anyway, a little view into the world of someone readjusting to life in a very polite culture after living in Spain. America is awesome and so is Spain, and I'm sure every other culture once you begin to understand where they are coming from.

Today I'm thankful for the ten days that separate me from Valerie. I guess I'm not so much thankful for the days themselves as I am that yesterday there were eleven and tomorrow there will only be nine.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Luv is a Verb

It's raining. In a place where they are living in a time of drought, that is usually a good thing. But not here, not now. Why? Because I'm selfish and I want to go home and go to bed, but I can't. It's raining and I don't have an umbrella with me. So, I might as well update the old blog and let the world know what has been going through my head. Prepare to have your mind blown.

If you remember, I've been thinking a lot about God's love since arriving here in Spain a little over a year ago (see this post). And little by little, He has been revealing how much He really does love me. This has caused me to change not only how I interact with people, but also how I interact with God Himself. The result--healing in relationships that needed it, deeper intimacy in my fellowship with God, and realizing that even while I'm trying to love people I often have wrong motives. This has made me ask myself what is so special or different about God's love?

I'm beginning to think that the answer is in its simplicity. God loves us. Period. There is no "God loves me because...", or, "God loves me so that I...". He just loves us. Now, I know that it is a little more complicated than this, but bear with me. I'm trying to make a point, not make it look like we are more important and the center of God's universe. God is the center of God's universe, and rightly so--He is the only one of His kind (obviously), and the only one worthy of receiving all of the glory, honor, and praise. He has saved us for "...the praise of HIS glorious grace" (Eph 1:6), and we are just a part of His plan to "...unite all things in HIM, things in heaven and things on earth." (Eph 1:10)

So, back to the subject at hand, the simplicity of God's love. What do I mean by simplicity? I mean that God's love is not tainted by any other motivation than love itself. As I have been learning about God's love, I have necessarily been moved to try and grow in my love toward others. But recently I've noticed that almost all of the time I have some reason why I'm loving whoever it is that I'm trying to love. If it is someone who bugs me, I say to myself, "Self, God wants you to love this person even though they are doing X that bothers you. So, the best way to get this person to change and modify their behavior to make me happy is to love them." I "love" them, and curiously, much of the time they don't change. Is this how God loves me? Is He only interested in manipulating me into obedience?

I think not. Enter Psalm 103.

He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

God doesn't treat us the way we deserve. In fact, if we are covered by Christ's righteousness, He forgets our sins, He removes them from us. He doesn't look at us the way we actually are, but the way we should be. I try to do this as well, but in my human mind it usually is a matter of potential. I look at someone's sin and say, "I'm not going to treat you according to your sin. I see your potential for good and am willing to do whatever it takes, even hurt you, to help you grow." It sounds noble and good, right? But I don't think it is. God doesn't look at us like a public service project. He isn't a social worker. Yes, He sees our sin, and yes, He wants it to go away, but that doesn't change how He loves us. "As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him."

We are His children and He knows we are weak and fail often. But he still loves us. "He remembers that we are dust." I'm trying to learn to not view people as projects, even as I look at my own life. Especially as I look at my own life. If by some miracle I am becoming more holy, even though God is just loving me as I am, maybe I should be able to trust Him to do the same with others. I don't need to fix them--just love them. God can do the fixing His way. I'm just trying to learn to imitate Him.

Now for the hard part: putting the theory into practice.

God help me, please.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

New News

I have a girlfriend. Her name is Valerie.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

He is speaking to us, we should be listening

Here is recent journal entry. As you will be able to tell, I have been thinking a lot about creation, and how God is not just telling us that He exists, but that He is a person and wants to be in a relationship with us. Sounds cliché, and probably is, but it is what I have been learning. Here it goes:

God is constantly talking to us. "The heavens declare the glory of God..." psalm 19; "His glory covers all the earth..." some other psalm; "All creation groans..." Romans 8; "If they do not praise me, then the rocks themselves would cry out..." Jesus in the triumphal entry.

The noise of the city is suffocating me. I long to be in Gods )I dont know how to make an apostrophe on this keyboard...or both parentheses) creation, just to hear what He is saying through it. The people here are too caught up in development to listen to it. They are still too young and immature in the process of modernization to have learned that having whatever you want doesnt make you happy. But someday they will.

...When we feel the suns rays beaming down on us, it is gods love that warms us, not the suns heat. When we wake up to a world freshly covered in the white and purity of a snow that only a winters night produces, it is not the cold that sends us a sharp chill, but the recognition of Gods holiness and our sin. The vast expanse of stars and moon remind us of our seeming insignificance, yet their light cuts through the darkness to say, "you are uniquely made, and important." The thunder and lightning of Gods justice and wrath make way for the tears of mercy He sheds, as the rain calls us back to Him and the new life that He offers.

Yes, all creation is proclaiming His praise and inviting us to join in. How I long to feel the touch of the garments with which He clothes the lilies, and sing the praise of His provision along with the sparrows, but for now I will have to settle for the small patch of green that lies in front of this café. The cars and buildings and pollution are screaming with all their might, but the rays of His love warm me amidst the noise. And they will suffice until I can take up a handful of the dark, moist earth in my hand, and, like Thomas, feel and believe.

Sorry for the two month hiatus. Today I am thankful for...eveything.