29 December 2022

I don't write much any more...


Don't write much these days.

I hardly have time to breathe.

Elle me manque beaucoup.

I truly do think with my fingers, processing life as I write about what is happening, what I'm mulling over in my mind. 

So much has happened since I last visited this space :

  • One has changed jobs, at least twice.
  • One has traveled to South Korea, learned to speak the language, and then come back home to us.
  • Two have graduated from university... another from high school.
  • One has gotten engaged and will be married in a few months.
  • One has taken a pause from post secondary studies to work full time.
  • One has chosen on-line school to move more rapidly through the program and plans a year of Bible school.
  • Two have new drivers' permits.
  • One has started her driver's training classes and another should be before too long.
  • One has started post-secondary studies and is nailing it.
  • Two are coaching basketball.
  • One is playing volleyball.
  • Two are playing basketball.
  • One is now a basketball ref.
  • One has given up coloring her hair. Six others are game to try all sorts of interesting colors.
  • Two will soon be gaining another "son"-in-love. We need more male hormones around this place.
  • Ten (+ one more too), love being together and treasure those times more than ever because they are fewer and farther between than we'd like.
  • One has almost forgotten how to type English on an English keyboard because she is so used to typing English on a French keyboard.

  • Two have celebrated 28 years together and have been gifted eight amazing kids who are seeking to love God and love people in the best ways they know how and even if it isn't what I imagined it would look like.

    No, I didn't even try to do a Twelvish Days of Christmas thing. That would have required too much thinking. 

    We are living in our new home. I'm still pinching myself to make sure it isn't a dream. 

    After over 30 moves in 28 years, the idea of not moving again is nothing less than lusciously delightful. It actually prompted me to pull out my diplomas and certificates and actually hang them on the wall in my office at school. If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you know how breathtakingly lovely our new-to-us space is. The kids have all been betting on when I will stop posting pictures. I hope I never do because this house, this space, is a gift from a gracious God whose good gifts, ones we could never merit, abound. We want to share this gift with others. I like to say, "The door's always open, except when it's not!" so if you are heading our way, let us know and we'll make sure you have the code!

    Professionally... in ministry... the past few years have been hard. The pandemic. Forced distance from family. Becoming a principal. Deteriorating "societal" mental health. Multitudes choosing anger and self over civility, kindness and others. Me, myself and I forgetting frequently what it means to choose gentle and grateful, always and regardless of circumstances.

    I wasn't looking to become a principal. It wasn't even on my top 100 list of maybe someday I might be interested in possibly trying this. It was nowhere close to even being on the radar. 

    I know how to be a special educator and figure out tricks to help kids learn both academic and social skills. 

    I know how to be a mom, partnering with my husband to lead a family. 

    I've learned (got the scars to prove the learning curve) how to be a missionary, surviving and sometimes thriving in a foreign culture and language and trying to point people towards Jesus while accepting the cost of that choice... for me as well as for those I love. 

    Being a principal? I am...

    Clueless. Yet intelligent answers are expected.

    Confused. Yet that I've figured out the babble in my second language while living in my fifth majorly different culture is automatically assumed.

    A casualty of chaos. Never time to stop running. A closed door is simply an invitation to interrupt with a frantic knock. Yet mountains of paperwork must be completed on time. Well-thought, carefully crafted strategy and future plans are required. 

    Cuffed, regularly, by capriciousness. Sometimes I think I am appreciated. Occasionally, I even feel welcomed. Yet what others seem mostly to want is a listening followed by doing what they ask without offering my opinion or questioning. Then, when the criticism starts flying, my smiling grateful acceptance is due.

    Compromised. In an atmosphere where it only counts as listening when I do what the other wants, yes, respecting my conscience is continuously challenged.

    Cross, way too often. Repeated failure and the inability to meet expectations takes an immense toll on this perfectionist pleaser. Yet calm must always be projected. 

    I can't say I love what I do. Many days, I can't honestly say I even like what I do.

    I don't know how to do this job. I think the current "vogue" term is "imposter's syndrome." 

    I am the blind person being told to lead others who are confident of their impeccable 20-20 vision.

    I hope, and pray that God is creating something that will honor his name and point to his glory because I am currently, confidently convinced that I cannot.

    Maybe, that isn't such a bad place to be.

    Pray without ceasing

    Inhale, exhale, breathe.

    Mon Dieu me soutient.

    11 September 2021

    The cost of choosing choice

    According to at least a couple of sources I found, the word "count" appears in the Bible 105 times.

    Here are few examples...

    • Genesis 13:  "...if anyone could count the dust of the earth, then your offspring could be counted."
    • Numbers 12: "...Oh, my lord, please don't count this sin against us, in which we have done foolishly, and in which we have sinned."
    • 1 Chronicles 21: "David said to God, 'Wasn’t I the one who gave the order to count the people? I am the one who has sinned and acted very wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? My Lord God, please let Your hand be against me and against my father’s family, but don’t let the plague be against Your people.' "
    • Job 13: "Why do you hide your face and count me as your enemy?"
    • Psalm 40: "Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders which You have done, And Your thoughts toward us; There is none to compare with You. If I would declare and speak of them, They would be too numerous to count."
    • Luke 1: “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed."
    • Luke 14: "For who of you, willing to build a tower, doth not first, having sat down, count the expense, whether he have the things for completing?"
    • Philippians 3: "...I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.... Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
    Count. It is a verb, an action word.

    Sometimes, it was an action commanded by God allowing us to see the infinite benefit and inestimable bounty found in him - trusting him and forsaking all to follow him. 

    Other times it was an action prohibited by God, particularly because that action would lead to pride, self-sufficiency and idolatry.

    But it always includes a reckoning, a computation or estimation identifying and demonstrating the value we place upon something.

    In Jesus' discourse (Luke 14),  this verb referred specifically to determining a value, a cost, that his followers had to decide whether or not they were willing to pay.

    It was never a question of if such a decision would cost. 

    Regardless of the decision, there would be a cost. 

    That was a given. 

    The question was which one those those listening were willing to pay.

    When we chose missionary life, we knew there would be a cost to pay. Sometimes, the cost has seemed so nonexistent that momentary benefits far outweighed any expense. Other times, that cost has been far steeper than we ever imagined having to pay, leading to consequences that 1) we didn't choose and 2) we never desired.

    More than anything else, it has reinforced the value of the ministry we have been gifted.

    Today, I watched a documentary on Rick Rescorla, the director of security for Morgan Stanley, a financial securities firm housed in the North Tower of the World Trade Center in 2001. Rescorla recognized the possibility of terrorist attacks on such symbolic buildings, and insisted on evacuation drills which, when were implemented on September 11 and probably saved over 3000 lives. Not his own, however. Rescorla counted the cost, re-entering the building (while speaking on the phone with his wife) to do a final sweep, just prior to the building's collapse.  

    In light of our world's current events, I've been asking myself how it is that people want to be able to make a choice, theoretically after having weighed all the information and counted the cost, but then scream and fuss when faced with the results of their choice? 

    Why are they not willing to live the consequences inherent to their decision? 

    The consequences might stink; they may seem discriminating, frustrating, unfair, detestable, abhorrent... but they shouldn't be surprising.

    People want to decide, and in our society, they currently have that freedom. But that doesn't seem to be all that is desired. People want the freedom to choose without any cost.

    If the choice really was that important, that essential, that precious... the cost should be willingly and readily paid.   

    24 April 2021

    Emptiness and Well-being

     Do you remember the moment the COVID pandemic became real to you? 

    I do.

    Juniors and seniors at the school where I work were preparing for their trip to Washington DC. It was Tori's senior year and I had been invited to accompany the group. Tim and I had just returned from a trip to the National Broadcasters Convention (in Nashville) and it was clear that the virus was worrying people. I figured the kids' trip would be canceled... in fact I was hoping it would be. 

    It wasn't. We went to DC as planned, swinging through Hershey and Amish country on the way back north, but with the border threatening to close and the strong recommendation for all residents of Canada to return immediately and observe a strict 14 quarantine, the trip was cut short. 

    THAT was the moment I realized life as we knew it had changed, at least for the immediate future. A year later, that still appears to be the case.

    The day after our return to Quebec City, schools closed, eventually transitioning to online education. Mid-May, primary schools reopened giving families of elementary students the choice of sending their kids back to school following strict health and security protocols or continuing online education from home. 

    Test positivity rates, case counts, hospitalizations and mortality decreased and over the summer, life seemed almost... normal. We met outdoors in a park for church and explored the north coast of the St. Lawrence River and Gulf, camping a stone's throw away from Point des Monts Lighthouse. While it was a lovely break, we were, unfortunately, unable to cross the border to see our family in Michigan

    A new school year started with a whole host of required rules, regulations and protocols to try and protect both staffs and students from the spread of COVID as kids and personnel returned to school, masked and in stable class groups, typically referred to as a "bubble." This, of course, meant limited extracurricular options such as basketball and band. Thankfully, our school experienced only a few confirmed cases of COVID necessitating the involvement of public health authorities. This typically meant a class would switch to distance learning for a two week period, and this happened with Mary's class once. 

    Post-secondary education remained mostly online. Once case counts started rapidly rising last fall, the three upper grades (including Jon's class) began alternating days : one day at school with the following one on line, thus reducing the number of older students in the building at a given time. On either side of the Christmas holiday, the entire school had a few days of distance learning, taking advantage of the holiday to create a "quarantine," with the goal of flattening the curve.

    In January, an 8 p.m. curfew was instituted. As the one year anniversary of the first confinement approached, the situation seemed to maybe be improving. Certain sections began reopening over Spring Break, curfew was moved back to a bit later in the evening and plans to return the upper secondary to school 100% of the time started being discussed. 

    Then cases of COVID variants arrived, first popping up but then snowballing, even as spring was arriving). We had been planning for our the return of our entire student body to in presence learning, at school, for the first time since back in October, after the Easter holiday. Thursday before Easter, the government announce another tightening of health and security measures. Instead of everyone finally at school, everyone would be distance learning, for at least that first week.

    That first week has been prolonged on a week by week basis since. As I type, the hope is that May 3, students will return to school, although at the last press conference, the prime minister made it clear that the first priority was the elementary kids. About a month in to this most recent confinement (that is the word used in French), it feels a bit like a reboot of what happened last year. 

    And, as I talk with some of my colleagues, that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, a symbol of hope and the need to persevere just  bit longer, now seems to have transformed into a fantastic, mythological creature that we talk about, but don't really think it exists.

    In all reality, I can't personally complain (except for the current impossibility to travel back to Michigan). I am a hermit living in a family of hermits who all enjoy hermit-ing together. My kids miss their friends, but that is part and parcel of  missionary kid's life, so it isn't weird. They are used to maintaining relationships at a distance. In all reality, we are making the most of this treasure of time as as family, time that our busy preCOVID world and culture no longer seemed to prioritize. 

    I know, however, that is not the case for many others.  Many are feeling empty, nothing left in the tank to give and still no end in sight. Even the idea of vaccination is tricky, at least as I listen to conversations here because the vaccine doesn't mean the masking, the distancing, the disinfecting, the whole kit and kaboodle... will necessarily stop. Distance teaching when you are responsible to manage the distance learning of your children at the same time is challenging... at best. Participating in planting a church that can only meet "on-line" is uncharted territory. 

    I was reading the other morning in 2 Kings 4, the story of the widow who had emptied every possible resource and then realized that the only thing left was to sell her children into slavery. In desperation, she goes to the prophet of Elijah who asks her what remains. Her reply? "A small flask of oil." What he tells her doesn't make sense : "Collect a whole bunch of empty pots and dump that oil into them," which she could then sell to pay her debts and care for her family.

    God loves. The Bible is full of stories where He gives worth to what is valueless, frees what is imprisoned, restores what is desolate and abandoned, breathes life to what is barren...

    This story touched me because another thing God does is that He longs to fill with abundance what life, what this world, what sin, has emptied

    Before leaving Niger, I taught through the first part of the book of John to the ladies' group at our church. Just a cursory recall of  that study, I see example after example of this: 

    • The wedding in Cana where servants fill empty pots with water, which Jesus changes into wine.
    • The Samaritan women came to the well to fill her bucket with water, but left filled with the living Water.
    • 5000 plus hungry bellies filled with fish and bread.
    • Blind eyes now filled with sight thanks to muddy spittle grace.
    And that is just off the top of my head. I could keep on going.

    God longs to take what has been emptied and fill it, with himself... 

    As an assistant principal at the school, I see lots of official paperwork and a huge concern the Ministry of Education as well as the government is the importance of student and personnel well-being. There is tons of research suggesting that in this present reality, critical factors include :  
    • interacting with students and colleagues focusing on authentic care and kindness, 
    • prioritizing collaboration and compromise, 
    • focusing less on actual academics and more on learning processes, self-discipline and healthy lifestyle choices,
    • building a sense of competency and personal responsibility in learning, and
    • actually making a difference.
    We want to promote well-being.


    as a follower of Jesus, I know that in this beautifully broken world, trapped in a pandemic and totally emptied by sin,

    the only way to truly be well 

    is to continually invite God to fill all those empty places.

    09 February 2020

    Rowdy Ruffians and Tough Tormentors

    Sometimes people ask me what I do at École L'Eau-Vive. 

    Sometimes, I wonder myself, because I wear several different hats. I imagine if I asked different students, I'd get a variety of different answers.

    For instance ~

    I'm not a teacher, although I certainly do do lots of teaching. 

    I'm not an "orthopedagogue" or learning specialist, although I lead reading workshops and help students who struggle with reading learn specific decoding and comprehension strategies. I also write several intervention plans, or individualized education plans, each year.

    I'm far from being a parenting coach, yet students' parents have been known to ask me for advice or suggestions, and not just about homework strategies.

    I am a missionary and often have amazing conversations with kids about Jesus, who he is and what he came to earth to do. Working at a Christian school, however, is not a carte-blanche to talk about the Lord. I need to avoid "spiritual blackmail," where kids feel pressured to obey out of fear instead of a changed heart. Fear motivates quickly and effectively, but leaves out an important part of the Gospel - perfect love casts out fear.

    When students ask me what I do, I most often say I'm like the police woman or detective for the elementary section. I spend many, many minutes helping children understand the rules and learn how to follow them; in addition, I help teach them about consequences for choosing to respect or not respect those rules.

    My favorite...not favorite job (think sorry...not sorry), however, is that of mediator and peace-maker. Someone I respect exceedingly told me that that was what they saw to be one of my primary roles at the school. When wearing this hat, I'm usually dealing with violence, bullying, harassment or some other form of attack that has left at least two, and often more, injured - emotionally, physically, socially and/or spiritually. I say two because every conflict involves at least two, as both aggressors and victims are hurt by these encounters. This is especially true when working with children who are still learning all about social skills and relating to others.

    Sometimes, it is easy to forget that last part... the bit about both being victims. Chris Colfer has said "When people hurt you over and over, think of them like sand paper; They may scratch and hurt you a bit, but in the end, you end up polished and they end up useless." In my role, it is important not just to help and support the victim; it is equally important to help the author of said acts understand the impact of what they have done as well as to teach them other ways to respond.

    God provided me with an unpleasant lesson this weekend that I hope will help me as I intervene, intercede, mediate and adjudicate in school-related conflicts. While I never condone the actions of a bully, I can actually have a harder time identifying with and understanding those who allow others to walk all over them... 

    My recent "lesson" gave me more than just a glimpse of that perspective. 

    Friday and Saturday, we had a huge dump of snow. I think the final total snow accumulation was around 40 cm (16 inches), and it was blowing a blizzard for a day and a half. 

    Saturday, however, was beautiful and busy. Snowplows and other snow removal vehicles were out in full force, which wreaks havoc with the traffic. Of course, living in Quebec, I quickly learned to appreciate those who do that job, for its better to put up with temporary inconvenience to have improved road conditions. I ran out to take Anna to her horseback riding lesson, and was hurrying back home because I had several things I wanted to get done during the afternoon. I followed another car into the parking lot for our apartment complex only to discover that they'd started plowing the snow and wanted us to clear the parking lot. 

    The car before me pulled into a parking place, turned around and pulled out. I started to do the same and the driver of the snow plow started wildly gesticulating, clearly indicating that he did not want me to do that. I motioned, trying to indicate that I simply wanted to turn - around instead of having to back down a small hill, back up the other side and then out into snow plow traffic. He disagreed. 

    He lifted the blade up, literally charged directly at my car, slammed the blade down just in front of me, creating a yellow metal wall wider and taller than the hood of our Infiniti. Then he started moving slowly towards me as though he would literally shove me, back end first down... up... and then out into the road. I was shocked and afraid, genuinely fearing he'd plow right into me.  I didn't stand my ground because I just wanted outta there! And so? I backed down the hill, up the hill and threaded my way amongst the other snow removal machines on our road (mildly traumatizing in and of itself). Then I spent the next thirty minutes driving around our large block, my eyes full of tears and castigating myself, all the while "thinking very ungenerous thoughts" about that snow plow driver.

    I definitely got a taste of what it feels like to be bullied. Funny thing? I figured once I calmed down, it would just "go away." But it hasn't. I keep replaying it in my mind, getting angry once again at the dude and at myself. I've been much quicker to take offense when others have disagreed with or confronted me about something, even something banal and stupid, ever since. I feel guilty for not standing my ground (my kids were all really surprised that I didn't), even ashamed. My walk didn't measure up to my talk, and my gang has been spot-on in making sure that I know that.

    Thankfully, my hubby is going to stand up for me now, even though I wasn't able to do so in the moment. He's going to talk to the administration of our apartment building, denouncing the behavior of that snow plow driver.

    If I ever wondered about the importance or the relevance of what I'm doing each day, this weekend proved it to me...

    My pain may be the reason for somebody's laugh. 
    But my laugh must never be the reason for somebody's pain.     

    Charlie Chaplin

    Note : African proverbs images from: https://www.pinterest.fr/SimpleThingz25/african-proverbs/

    19 January 2020

    Language of Love

    If you were to visit my house while my crew was sitting around, fiddling on their electronic devices, cleaning, folding laundry or working on homework some Saturday morning, the probability is high that you'd hear them singing a really (and I mean really) silly song called The Language of Love (by Ylvis). When I was a kid, it was Weird Al Yankovich... When my bigs were littles, it was Silly Songs with Larry

    Today, we've got Ylvis and this song is all about a "puppy love affair", where a man and a seal fall in love and sing to each other. Ridiculous? Yes! But my kids have a blast, laughing and singing all in good fun, especially when someone decides to imitate the seal as she sings her love back to the man.

    On a cold, snowy, blowy, white-outy wintry morning when all has been canceled and all have been advised to hunker down and shelter in place,  I've heard the song a few times. Funny thing? The title lines right up with reflections I've had this past week, returning to school... and ministry... after the Christmas holiday.

    Many are familiar with Gary Chapman and the five "love languages:
    1. words of affirmation, 
    2. physical touch, 
    3. acts of service, 
    4. gifts and 
    5. quality time. 
    My love language is, without a doubt, words of affirmation. I feel most loved when people gift me words, sincere and quality words. I feel most loved by God when I spend time studying, meditating and drinking in His Word. I most naturally and easily love and minister to others through words, both written and spoken.

    At least until the last couple of years. Doing life and ministry in French makes communicating and using words well more challenging, complicated and definitely more exhausting.

    There's no doubt about it. I just can't use words nearly so easily or as well. In fact, I am pretty sure I often sound like the "seal singing" part of the above mentioned song. Therefore, since moving to Quebec I've been pushed - more than ever before - to learn new ways to communicate God's love, ones that aren't so "word-heavy," ones such as acts of service, and quality time. 

    Unsurprisingly (even though head-in-the-sand-me managed to be surprised) communicating love via those secondary and tertiary for me languages demands an investment, a significant one, of additional effort and time. Words are easy and natural, at least for this introvert. Those other love languages require that I do what comes much less naturally. Even when I do try to fall back on words, my first instinct and characteristic choice, additional time and effort is required.  

    And while I can't quantify this type of daily life effort in the same way I can calculate effort using a physics equation, I have ascertained the following:
    • Compared to what I experienced while living in the developing world (i.e. my daily life in Niger), much less physical effort is required to "do life" in Quebec... and that's taking into account all the inconveniences that are a part of dealing with lots of cold and snow.
    • On the other hand, even though the French language has been an important aspect of of life and ministry in both places, in Quebec, it encompasses the majority of all I do. Most days, I communicate more in French than in English. I can do it, but the mental effort is significant.
    • When we first started this adventure 20+ years ago, I had no clue what choosing to live life in a language other than your maternal tongue demands. Today, I have enormous respect those who, whether by choice or necessity, do so.
    • My appreciation of those who regularly demonstrate love using one of the other "love languages" is increasing exponentially.
    • I'm learning to better recognize and appreciate those gifts of love when they are shared with me.
    • I'm thankful that using my less "natural" love languages is deepening my daily dependence on God, because I feel unable, tired and out of my league.
    • I'm learning to turn first to God's Word to help me communicate love when I want to use words, as well as to recognize when words just might not be the most effective tool.
    Perhaps most significant of all, I'm realizing anew, literally every morning, just how dependent I am on God and his Spirit if I want to demonstrate and share his love - steadfast, sure and new every morning - regardless of the language.


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