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Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 in the Rear View Mirror

One year ago Doug and I had were ringing in the new year in our home in California with friends we had met in London, having absolutely no idea that a few weeks later we’d be moving to Paris. Such is life when God leads the way! As this unlikely year comes to a close, I could not be more delighted with how it unfolded. The opportunity to live in Paris, join a phenomenal staff at the American Church in Paris while shifting ministry gears to focus on youth and young adults have been the gifts of this year. 
 What a great adventure it has been. 
We have loved hanging out with kids again and discovered that we still have quite a bit of kid inside of us! 
Working with young adults has always been a joy of ours and to be able to journey alongside of so many young people, who are interested in living lives of significance and service all the while seeking a deeper faith has been wonderful. We will treasure this year in ministry and miss our colleagues, the kids, and the congregation very much as our interim ministry comes to a close in one week. ACP will welcome a new youth and young adults pastor in the coming weeks and we are excited for what awaits everyone! We will return to the desert on January 13 and begin a brand new that we have no idea about right now! 
And as weird as this may sound, we actually got through 2017 without the death of an immediate family member. It’s been too many years in a row where we’ve lost someone near and dear to us so we are thankful for the health and well being of our family at this time.
Of course, having the opportunity to actually live in Paris and not merely visit has been a dream. Paris is the ultimate wander around and discover cool stuff city! I’ve greatly enjoyed stumbling through a new area and discovering yet another thing that stands out in this dreamy city. Indulging in the cuisine scene, drinking so much rosé last summer that my skin turned pink, walks along the Seine, discovering real crêpes Amorino ice cream, café cremes, and of course, the bread and the butter in all its glorious deliciousness...I will miss these things! Got to check going to Roland Garros for tennis off my bucket list. 
And of course, I was able to get two trips to Disneyland Paris in during these months! 
Additionally, the opportunity to take short trips in order to discover more of France has provided us with more beauty than I can adequately express. And the challenge and depth of walking the Chemin de Saint Jacques from Paris to Chartres will continue to linger in my mind’s eye. France is a truly remarkable county and while we’ve seen a lot of it, I still feel like there is so much more to discover! 

We’ve been blessed to have many visitors here in Paris, each person sharing in the joy of our life together. In addition to our travels throughout France, we’ve also visited friends in Belgium, Luxembourg, and returned to Stockholm for a glorious visit last summer. Additionally, the added bonus of attending yet one more International pastors conference in Vienna, Austria and Bratislava, Slovakia was icing on an already wonderful cake.
So as we end this year and begin another one, I do so with an open heart and mind to what 2018 has in store for us. It is a real gift to be able to be open to whatever possibility might present itself. We are so thankful for our beautiful home and we look forward to living there again. The promise of deepening relationships with those in our community awaits us and this brings us joy. 
We will miss ACP. It has been a wonderful church to work at but more importantly, a wonderful community to be a part of. It has felt like home in much the same way Stockholm did and we have benefited from being part of a warm, healthy, vibrant, worship filled place. We do not look forward to the challenge of finding a new church but we do feel we have a much clearer sense of where we want to land.
So we wish you a very Happy New Year...and this year we also say bonne année! 
We’ll be drinking the last of the bottles of Champagne from Champagne and savoring every sip. 
Here’s wishing you and yours a wonderful new year and great adventures ahead in 2018.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas in Paris

     What joy it is has been to journey through these Advent weeks in Paris. It's always so much fun to experience the Christmas season in a new city, taking in their traditions and decorations. Paris has certainly not skimped on the decorations, it is after all, the city of lights and the Christmas lights here are nothing short of fabulous. The French Christmas markets have also been charming and delicious! Having the opportunity to sneak two Belgian markets, Brussels and Brugge, on our way to Strasbourg, the mother of all markets, evoked my childlike wonder in a big way. The windows on display throughout the city are incredible. 
When I first saw these beautiful bears in the Ralph Lauren windows on Saint Germain, my breath was taken away. Who knew a bear could be so elegant?! I even caught a glimpse of Sweden in one shop window! 
One rainy afternoon we ventured out to the La Défense Christmas market. It was lovely but a bit marred by the rain and chill. We warmed ourselves up with vin chaud and good friends. I still need to get to Notre Dame area and wander around there a bit. Thus far, Avenue Montaigne has dazzled the most with its over the top fashion houses and the stunning Hôtel Plaza Athénée. The Champs Élysées has beautiful lighting but overall, it's just a bit too commercial for my taste. 
   Last Saturday, a group of young women who have been working with our youth came around to bake cookies for our youth Christmas party. Church received a basket of foie gras and terrines and other delectable items that we shared one lunch time. Chocolates have been given as gifts. We've had some lovely dinners out. We've shared some special time with the dearest of friends who took time for a weekend in Paris. Much laughter and joy shared around our table. All in all, it's been very festive and fun.   
     At the center of it all however has been the American Church in Paris, a joy-filled festive place with worship services and a Christmas concert that truly lifted us on high. It's been great fun to be part of a big traditional church, with big and bold music, gorgeous sanctuary decorations, and a festive spirit all around The contemporary service has introduced us to some wonderful new Christmas music as well. The lighting of the Advent candles, the music of the season, a memorable Sunday with the children leading's all added up to a very meaning advent journey.
     We also shared in memorable end of semester Christmas parties with both the youth and young adults at church. These young folks have blessed our lives beyond expression and we are so happy that we've had these months to share with them.
     Now we're on the precipice of a big Sunday...4th of Advent combined with Christmas Eve, an oddity of the calendar. We will share in one traditional 4th of Advent worship service at 11.00 a.m. where I am preaching, followed in the afternoon/evening with 3 Christmas Eve services: A family service at 4.00 and two candlelight traditional services, on at 7.30, the other at 10.00. Both are preceded by a half hour prelude of magnificent music and the 10.00 pm is followed by cookies and egg nog as we anticipate the dawning of Christmas morning!
     Christmas day will start with a quiet morning, just the two of us in our cozy, remarkably undecorated apartment followed by Christmas dinner with our senior pastor's family and our intern and his wife, people who are more like family than friends here in Paris.
     I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to journey through this season at ACP and here in Paris. And while the mornings are dark here, the afternoon daylight stretches out much longer than the days in Stockholm did so I haven't felt the darkness bearing down on me as I used to. It's been unusually warm as well, which I'm thankful for given that we don't have our super warm winter clothes with us. Sure, a snowy Paris would be magical, but let's face it, it's all pretty magical, with or without snow.
     Merry Christmas! And may you have a happy New Year as well.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Your Pilgrimage?

     I've received some wonderful feedback and affirming and life-giving comments from so many of you who have shared in my pilgrimage to Chartres. To really round out this narrative, I wanted to offer some thoughts to those of you who may be considering doing something like this one day. And include a few more photos from the trip that are quite memorable! Many were taken by my buddy Emily and I am appreciative of her allowing me to use her photos here.
     My husband asked me shortly after I came home if there was a big difference in calling this journey a pilgrimage or just a long walk. It's a fair question as everyone's motive for doing something like this will vary. I don't have a deep answer to that except to say that when you follow a road that pilgrims have for hundreds of years, it does connect you to something bigger. Every time we saw a sign or a symbol of the Chemin, it was thrilling and inspiring. A pilgrimage is defined as a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place, as an act of religious devotion. So I think the first thing to consider are your expectations.
     For me, I'm not sure I was super dialed into this experience as an act of religious devotion as much as I was just curious about what something like this looks like, physically, emotionally, spiritually. I was pretty unprepared in many ways but that wasn't all bad in my mind. I came in with even expectations, basically just curious. I wasn't expecting to have a Paul on the road to Damascus spiritual encounter, although I was open. I also didn't think it would be utterly void of learning. So I think the expectations you bring into the experience are important. But keeping your expectations open but even is also important because there is so much uncertainty in what you will encounter.
     My good friend who walked the camino de Santiago for her 60th birthday remarked that most say the camino is one third physical, one third emotional, and one third spiritual. And while the thirds are intermixed, in some ways the longer you are on your journey, more space emerges for the spiritual and emotional to rise above the physical. A short journey like the one I did, definitely keeps you in the physical place because the first week is all about adjusting to the physical demands.
     Secondly, you will need to decide if you want to go alone, with one other person, or in a group like I did. I think a group experience for much longer than we did would be pretty demanding. I don't think I could a month with a group. Pace would become an issue. And taking the time to debrief each day and night would also be hard to do. Perhaps if you did a group, after the first week, you could decide to meet up every other day, or every third day to enter into an examen with one another, but over the long haul, sharing that much would probably become pretty exhausting. While rich in many ways, also constantly listening and interacting with others takes quite a bit of energy and can distract you from your own thoughts and feelings. If you do it alone, there will likely be loneliness combined with the serendipitous encounters with strangers who become friends. If you do it with just one other person, that person should be someone with whom you desire a greater intimacy. You cannot do this without going deeper with the person you are with. This is both a gift and a little nerve-wracking!
Friends of my heart forever. Thankful beyond measure for these two.
     Third, obviously you have to decide length. We were extremely lucky to have a driver who took our stuff to our end point every day. That meant we didn't have to worry about what to pack or how to keep things clean along the way. On a longer journey when you are carrying everything with you, you have to make careful choices about what you want on your back all day and the evening is filled with getting things clean for the next day. Also, we had the great luxury of rooms with only 2 people and most of the time, just our group staying at a place. On longer journeys and perhaps even this one at certain times of the year, you are in dormitory type of sleeping arrangements, with snorers and other assorted sleeping hazards like bedbugs. Can you handle this?
     Fourth, there will be pain. I love this photo of the bread box from our first morning. Pain in French is, of course, bread and pronounced pahn, but the double meaning is not lost on me. We need bread for the journey but there will also be pain on the journey. Do not be naive about the foot issues you will have. Bring moleskin and tape and bandaids. I was woefully unprepared and had to borrow stuff from others. Thankfully there were open pharmacies in some of the towns we stopped so I could stock up but it's important to accept that you will have some issues, no matter how well you trained. You feet in particular take a beating when you are walking that much day after day. There will also be discouragement, potential illness, frustration, and grumpiness. The goal is not to be rid of all these things but learn to manage them as you journey on. Because of course there is laughter and joy and encouragement as well.
     Fifth, invest in the right gear. BOOTS that work are the most important thing. Get advice, spend some money, get the right fit, wear them for awhile before you set off. Walking sticks were super helpful. I fully recommend them, especially if there are hilly parts. A backpack that is well fitted and has the correct frame for your body is essential. And the right clothing. I had a quick drying towel that was very useful. I had good socks made for hiking so I could put my best foot forward in reducing hot spots. And best of all I had this flat water bottle that fit nicely in my backpack with the drinking tube affixed near my shoulder so that taking a drink was easy and effortless.
This was really important for staying hydrated. The more water you drank, the flatter the bag became so it was also just a very easy way to carry water. Water is heavy but you have to carry it.
     Sixth, nourish yourself along the way. Do not go into a walk like this thinking you will lose weight. It doesn't really work that way and you don't want to be limiting food or drink along the way. You might lose some weight but don't make it a goal. Enjoy the food and drink as you journey. Make sure you stay hydrated and ingest the calories you need to sustain the day. Eat some treats. Enjoy a beer or a glass of wine at the end of the day. Indulge once in awhile. Of course, making this journey in France was especially tantalizing!
Combining a physical journey with restricting food is not a good idea. It will mostly just make you hangry (hungry and angry) and won't enhance the overall experience.
     Finally, enjoy the trip, even when it's hard. Remember, it's about the journey not the destination. It's very easy to focus on the destination, especially when your dogs are barking at you and you think you can't muster another step. But stop to smell the roses along the way. To admire a beautiful sight. To take in the view. To share a good laugh. The end point will come. It's what unfolds along the way that will be most memorable. 
     There is no formula for doing a pilgrimage. Whether you see it as a long walk or an act of religious devotion, unexpected encounters with yourself, with others and with God will occur. But it does behoove you to do some serious thinking ahead of time about why you want to do this, where you want to do this, when you want to do this (time of year matters tremendously and you need to know what kind of weather you can endure) and with whom you want to do this. I was thrust into a pre-conceived situation which my dear friend Kim spent hours working on. I signed up knowing it was a group of women, mostly who I did not know well. I knew it was 5 days. I knew I would be providing some pastoral leadership for the group times. I knew it would be a physical challenge and I was intrigued by the challenge. I learned a lot. I am still not ready to say that I would do another one or a longer one. But I am open. And that perhaps is what is needed more than anything. Openness. 
     So bon Chemin, buen camino, or good journey to you...whenever and wherever the road may take you.