A New Discovered Fear: Heights

Dear Josh,

You would be proud of me. On Monday we went Kayaking down the river, I think it was the Rhone. It was beautiful. It reminded me of the time in Colorado when I went white water rafting. Not because the water was rough, in fact, it was quite smooth. But it was the scenery. The towering cliff sides, the blue water, the brown shallow sections where we usually got stuck on the fist sized rocks that scratched under our three person kayak.

And then, it happened. We came around a corner and towering above us (about 300 feet) was the Roman aquaduct. I was amazed. There were three tiers, and each was perfectly balanced over the river. The arches were smooth, in perfect condition despite the years. The people on the bottom teir looked small, like dots, or ants standing on two legs as we floated underneath.

We were going to jump off the aquaduct, it was about 75 feet above the water. But the water wasn’t deep enough. Apparently the south of France has inherited Colorado’s eternal drought. So we found a cliff and climbed that. Tully says that it was about 30 feet.

Josh, I was so nervous. I knew I was iffy about heights. But I didn’t know it was so bad. People had to count down for my friend Becca and I to jump. It was terrifying standing on that cliff, looking down at the water and being able to see that the hillside jutted out, knowing I had to jump forward and that my feet might brush the rocky river bed. But most of all, I was amazed at how much higher it seemed from above than below. People were flying off of cliffs above me. They ran, jumped, swan dived, cannonballed, did it in pairs, alone, with small children, with parents. And I stood at the top of my cliff shaking.

But Josh, I did it. You would be proud. I did it twice. It was exhilerating. I don’t even think I screamed as I tumbled into the water. It was so cold, I could barely move when I popped back up above the surface. I didn’t feel the bottom the first time, just the mossy seaweed stuff. The second time I felt the pebbles. I was freezing. My knees were knocking both times before I finally took that leap of faith. I even prayed the first time, I was so nervous. But it was incredible.

Josh, someday, let’s find a river with moderate rocks and take Isaac jumping. It won’t be in front of the Roman Aquaducts, but it will still be awesome.

love

sara

postscript: Mum, can you cancel that haircut with Robyn? Thanks.

Mom and Dad, can you put more money in my account?

I just got back from this place we refer to as the “pirate bar.” It has a wooden statue of a pirate standing outside and a nautical theme inside. It’s fun, pricey, but fun. So tonight, I also decided I wouldn’t spend money. But you know, it was our second place, so I decided I’d get a chocolat viennoise. Well, the lady heard us wrong, or we miscommunicated, or something. She got me two drinks. And instead of spending nothing, or very little.. I spent 10 euros.

But you know, it was fun. I had a great time. It was worth it. Earlier in the evening, Dr. Davis sent a note down with some girls to Tully while we were at the Jazz Club. It had 20 euros, and it said “Dear Tully, please treat Hanna to a good time.” So Taylor and I went up to kidnap Hanna from the house. We took the long way around, I’m not sure why. I was following Taylor. Maybe he wasn’t paying attention. But it was nice, we had a good, funny and cheerful conversation on the way. And we had a great time nagging Hanna to come with us.

At the “pirate bar” we sat and talked about lots of meaningless things. This trip is turning out to be a great combination between meaningless and meaningful conversations. Taylor and I talked about TPing, Becca and I talked about prophetic dreams. It’s interesting to be with so many people, have them stare at you when you say something that they don’t expect, or when they say something that totally blows your mind: about them, about you, about God. When you find out that who you thought was a punk freshmen is actually a a PK and is sweet and generous, when you discover someone who is cheerful and funny rather than grumpy and cynical like you expected… it’s suprising, it’s humbling…

So I’m learning a lot about not judging people, not having previous conceptions. Because people keep surpirsing me. They keep saying things about God that can change my mind. I’m trying to realize that everyone here has a great story and something to share with me. I’m excited for the next few weeks, the opportunity to be with them and learn from them. It’s humbling but good.

And in the meantime, since I’m going out with people to hear all this (because there’s nothing to do but go out and spend money), can you put some money in my account? 🙂 Just kidding.

Sunburn and Bats in the Attic

Today, I woke up after only 5 hours of sleep to find three extra girls in the room next door. Apparently, a bat was flapping around in the attic room last night so the 5 girls from up there came down and slept elsewhere. Dr. Davis claimed he has officially killed the bat and buried it in the backyard and will give anyone $100 if they see it tonight. So hopefully there won’t be squealing and yelling at 1am tonight.

Yesterday was a down day after Rouen, Giverny and before Versailles today. It was sunny and gorgeous so we all put on our bathing suits and headed down to the beach. While there, all the gils decided to lay out. Well, my family came to America from England and Wales (mostly) so I’m not exactly built for sun. Laying out seemed like I was asking for sunburn and skin cancer isn’t on my list of ways to die. So when someone offered to go for a run, I jumped on it. Even though I’m painfully out of shape.

Chelsea and I ran way way far down the beach. We ran through sand that swallowed us up to our knees and turned our feet black. We splashed through icy water with slippery ground underneath that glowed green. We jumped over crabs and mussells and rocks that threatened to cut our feet.

And over all this, we talked about Jesus. We told each other our stories and talked about hopes, dreams and even a few fears.

I’m so thankful to Jesus. I think between Chelsea and Becca I have an anamcara- soul friend-for the trip.

Now if Taylor will just stop trying to get me to do some shots. Then I think we’ll be okay. And once I convince him that a guy is supposed to share food with the girlfriend.

Dancing, Smoking, Dukes and Saints

Okay, okay.

I danced last night. For probably three solid hours. It was great. Bastille Day is so much better than the Fourth of July. I’m sorry America. But the fireworks were so close, and the band was so loud and the parade was so small and quaint; everything was wonderful. It was the best fireworks show that I’ve seen. Of course, Laura and I pointed out that since Sarkozy said France is going bankrupt, this must be where the last of the French budget is: fireworks. But heck, they were worth it.

The dancing was good. Maggie (prof’s wife) wouldn’t hear of anyone not dancing. So we held our own purses or sent them home with someone else and we were crazy Americans who practically started the dance party in the Plaza. It was great too, a couple of our girls were grabbed by Frenchmen who wanted to tell their grandchildren a story about the time they danced with an American. And some of our girls dragged French boys over to our group. They then turned out to be creeps. Or just good teenagers. Instead of dancing, they stood and stared at us, and then pulled out some weed. Mm. I love the smell of weed mixed with body odour and cigarettes. But our young men put themselves in between us and the creepers and finally they wandered away.  And we danced until I thought my feet would fall off. Vive la France!

Today we went to Rouen and Giverny. Giverny is Monet’s home and garden. I saw a print of the painting that gave the title to the Impressionist Movement and it was gorgeous! Becca and I frolicked through a field we saw in another painting too. It might have been illegal and we might have jumped a little wire fence. But it was worth it. I felt free and happy dancing in that field of brown wheat and red flowers. If only I’d had a white dress like the women in the painting!

Rouen should have a post of its own. This is where Jeanne d’Arc was tried and burned. It’s also home to a beautiful cathedral (where she was put on trial) which has the tallest spire in France, which Monet painted several times at different hours of the day to catch different lightings. And there’s a massive clock.

The church is Gothic, and everything that you expect in an old world cathedral. Walking up to the door is intimidating. Saints stare down at you from their pedestals that cling precariously to the church’s walls. Inside, your eyes have to adjust to the light, dim and musty. But when the sunlight from outdoors fades, you are in an entirely different world. The ceilings are so far above, so perfectly curved, so intricately designed that you stand in a moment of dumb stupor. What can you do but stare? People are coming in behind you, pushing and waiting impatiently while their own eyes adjust and they suddenly come to to the same glorious realization that you have just discovered.

Becca said it’s humbling. I think this is what church is supposed to be like. I was so overwhelmed I didn’t know what to feel. There were dukes buried there, from the 11th century. I saw their sarcophagi and walked over their tombs in the floor of the apse. I saw Joan of Arc’s sword and I prayed where countless saints have before me.

I stood beside a stone sculpture that was from the 11th century and had been damaged (I believe during WW2). It was of St. Simeon and the presentation of Jesus at the Temple on his eighth day. You could hardly make out the faces, the stone is so worn away. But their robes were flowing and wide, and the stone was grey and ancient and I felt this weight lay on my shoulders. My chest tightened as I thought of my nephew, Isaac, who is not even a week old. So I took a deep breath. I reminded myself that the Pope and the Catholic church can be good, I dropped a Euro in the box and I light a candle. I light a candle and I prayed for Isaac. And I think, standing in that massive hall, with my heart pounding in my head, and the candles tingling around me, I think I felt the presence of God. I think I heard the saints whispering and the ancient Dukes smiling and St. Simeon in his alcove listening and praying for me.

But maybe it was the French laughing at the non-Catholic trying to light her candle. Maybe it was the dim accordian playing outside. Maybe it was the shuffling feet over ancient polished stone.

But I think it was the Spirit.

Old and Familiar

Last night we went down to town because that’s what we do every night. We were standing on the water eating french fries and crepes and discussing options. There had been a band set up but we weren’t sure if they were giong to play because nothing in France happens until after dark, but after dark means after quiet hours (which we now know apply only to neighbourhoods, not downtown). A few of us went to check out the band’s set up and see if there was a time listed; we stood around in the plaza and then this group of old men came out onto the stage, picked up instruments and and viola! Our waiting paid off.

At first only children were dancing to the polka-esque music that was being played by the odd combination of sea foam green electric guitars, drums and an accordian. But then an older couple went round and round, waltzing and spinning and laughing. And then slowly other people began to join. Elderly couples holding each other firmly, as though this was the one thing they still remembered clearly. Young lovers stood on the outskirts watching, until finally they began to join as well– spinnning and staring into each others’ eyes, squeezed together tightly so that every possible inch of flesh was touching. There were parents with their children tucked securely in their arms, whispering in the little ears as they spun steps that the little feet couldn’t have kept up with had they been on the ground.

And then you had the Americans who don’t know how to dance properly. Jesse took girls around but was stiff (though apparently he made each partner laugh the entire time). Tully actually knew what he was doing, but he’s not very sure how to hold a girl close. Taylor was simply a goof who wanted to be Michael Jackson. Rick had disappeared, Rodelio was sweating and standing on the side, Eric just laughed. But of course, we made a train and surprisingly, a lot of French people jumped on it. So there were couples dancing legitimately in the middle, and a train of ridiculous college students attached to small children and toothless adults running around the edge. It was hilarious.

I stood on the side, snapping photos, watching the girls’ purses, laughing. I think the people beside us thought I was a bit odd for not joining in the festivities. But the twinkling lights above the plaza, the French being shouted and whispered, the crying children being ignored by their smoking parents, the elderly couples who seemed lost in memories of better days–it was lovely.

It was strange too. I stood on the side with my legs straddling our bags and watching the other girls be whisked away by the boys. Taylor tried to “convince” me to dance, but not really. He said to stop being a wallflower. I pointed at the bags at my feet. So he took Sabrina by the hand and tugged her into the suddenly crowded square. I smiled and nodded, it felt normal. It felt like i had gone back to the way things have always been. No one to dance with. I was holding stuff that didn’t belong to me while the owner was glistening under the twinkling lights with a boy who hadn’t looked twice at me. It was strange, in a sense. It’s been a long time since it has happened this way. Of course we never danced, but there was always the thought that maybe we would. There was the comfort that someone at least might stand there and smile at me becuase I was glowing under the cloudless night with her bright stars. (Glowing, of course, with sweat or embarrassment.) But last night was like the old days. It was familiar and almost comforting. It certainly wasn’t bad. It was strange because I thought that college would change things, or at least change me. But here I was, a college grad in a foreign country, still on the sidelines. But it was okay, because this is consistent. Someday, it would be nice to have a young man ask me to dance and say it without pity. But it’s also okay to watch and take pictures that we will laugh at later (and it is certainly alright to be the least conspicuous American in our group). It just amazes me how things progress and yet don’t. I’m going to Russia after France. And as much as things have changed since I left high school, somethings will never change.

So tonight, on Bastille Day, when we go back to that plaza and we dance again, I’ll hold the purses and smile and nod as everyone else is taken to dance. And it will be fine, because someone has to watch the bags, and though it’s strange to be back in this place again, it’s old and familiar and there is a good deal of comfortability about it.

A Trip Around the [political] Globe, from the convenience of the dinning room table

Today after class we went over independent studies, at which point Rick and I were assigned our chapters for Comparative Political Systems. Along with the regular assignments, we get to choose a country to read about and compare to France (since, you know, we’re in France). I walked in from the kitchen, threw a baguette at Becca as Dr. Davis said dryly: “You’re reading about Russia, obviously.”

“Clearly,” I said, squeezing around the dinning room table past the internet router “what else is worth reading about?” To which Dr. Davis hmpfed and went on to someone else’s independent study. Though I think he muttered something about me and my obsessions. But Rick wasn’t going to let it end there, because now he’s curious. So I sit down, take my book and as I’m skimming through the table of contents looking for Russia he starts asking questions.

Problem #1. Don’t talk to me while I’m reading. He should have learned this last night when he tried talking to me while I was reading This Beautiful Mess. Apparently I wasn’t clear.

So we’re chatting about Russia. I’m trying to be vague. Not rude, just… vague. He’s asking how I got interested. I tell him about Beslan, the shooting in 2005. I say no one’s really sure who opened fire first, the Chechens or the Russians. He says something to the extent of “I’m sure it was the Chechens, they’re Muslims, right?… Well I heard they were saying ‘Allah Akbar’ and all that.”

Problem #2. Assuming all Muslims are crazy extremists. So we take a jog in this direction, I try to point out a few good things from Muslim culture. And we end up on Palestinians.

I should have sent him packing to talk with Connor Walsh who probably still doesn’t understand what I think about the Israeli Palestinian situation. But at least Connor would have sighed and nodded his head in that kind, understanding way that he has, thrown his arm around Rick’s shoulders, and assured him “it’s nothing to worry about. Of course she’s wrong. But she’s also very fervent about what she thinks. Best to leave it alone.”

If only Connor wasn’t in Virginia.

So we stayed on Palestinians, Israelis for a while. And then in a moment of brilliance (or desperation) I asked how he would feel if “the British came in and took a bunch of land from you and gave it to someone who didn’t even live there?” And thank God that Becca Bolla was sitting there, because she answers tartly “Oh! Like they did in India. Yeah, that was great.” At which point we started laughing, becuase, you see, Becca is Indian. And I thought that perhaps in the jovial moment, the conversation would have ended.

Problem #3: don’t ever assume that Rick can be distracted once he has a good topic to argue with you about. Because he came back around. And we went from Israel to colonization, to Europe to America, to Christianity and back to America’s greatness.

Problem #4: apparently, America doesn’t really have problems. Or at least, we recognize our problems, unlike the rest of the world. Which I find absurd, and I almost told him so. Of course, I was still being vague, but I did try to say that while he may be aware of some societal issues, the greater American population is not. And he kept saying, at least we don’t kill our daughters if they hold a man’s hand that they aren’t married to. He kept telling me that Muslims want to kill everyone. He was saying that the Russian government is full of thugs. He finished by telling me rather flippantly to be “careful about Chechnya, they hate everyone.”

Excuse me? Do you even know where Chechnya is? Have you ever spoken with a Muslim? Have you been to Latin America? Have you been to North Africa which you just trashed? Do you read current events from a nonbiased news source (or less biased like BBC)? Have you talked with someone who isn’t just like you? Have you listened to people when talk about themselves? Have you ever tried to imagine what it’s like to be someone else? To live their life? To hold their views? To see their homes shot up by a government that conquered your people when you were just trying to get by and survive? Can you just try to imagine that and then make the blanket statements about them, calling them evil with no pity? Can you try reading the Gospel and explain to me what it means to be apart of the system, the establishment, the empire that Jesus was speaking against (1)? Can you explain what it means to give someone a “cup of cold water” to have mercy on the “stranger for you were strangers in Egypt?” Can you tell me how any of what you are saying is Biblical? Christlike? Loving? Compassionate? Do you know anything? But of course, I tried to say this all very vaguely.

Problem #5: I can’t talk with people like this. Somehow, we went from Comparative Political Systems to America being the best. (2) Shall I retrace the abbreviated journey? Russia to Chechnya to Islam to Palestine to Israel to India to the UK to Europe to America to Christianity, to America. I don’t know why this happens to me. I don’t see where God finds this amusing. Honest, I don’t. But apparently he does. Apparently, when I prayed to learn about patience he took me seriously.

maybe… maybe that was mistake Number One. Praying to learn patience. Or thinking that God wouldn’t take me seriously. Because he did take me seriously, and now my patience-teacher won’t leave me alone. Currently, I’ve taken refuge in the kitchen on the third floor (hoping he won’t venture to the girl’s floor by himself).

Footnotes

(1) Obviously Jesus wasn’t speaking against America, he was speaking against the religious establishment of his day (pharisees, sadducees, etc) who were spiritually and legalistically oppressing the people. But I think he may have also been talking about any establishment or system that does not look after the widow, the orphan, the stranger (see James 1.27). And I think that Christians often fail in our calling to do this–to look after the underdogs who cannot fight for themselves. So in a sense, Jesus was speaking against those “Christians” in America who are complacent and apathetic and allow the system to go on abusing those who cannot take care of themselves.

(2) I do like America. It’s simply when someone acts as though we have it entirely correct and that everyone else has it wrong–that’s what gets me. I hate this superiority complex that many people in my life has. Or rather, I find it unChristlike, which is infuriating. So you see, along with Patience, I’m learning to hold in tension my patriotism and my “WASP” American guilt complex.

Bonjour!

Today is my first full day in France. We are currently in Honfleur, a small town in Normandy. It’s the smallest operating port in all of Europe. I am sitting in my window on the third/second floor of our house. My left foot is sitting in the gutter so that I could have the laptop on the empty window sill in front of me.  The view is gorgeous. I can see where the Seine River flows into the English Channel. With the slight breeze I can actually see the water rippling North towards England.

The buildings in the town look too perfect and old to be real. We walked past a home today that was built in 1627. In the main part of town we walked through the oldest wooden church in all France. The entire place is picqturesque in a way that I cannot put words too.

This morning a few of us attended Mass at Le Chapelle de Cote de Grace on top of hte hill. THe church is a small stone chapel that was built in 1600 to replace a church that the Duke of Normandy had built in 1023. It was quite a exerience as I hae never been to Mass before. We tried to follow along on the songs they had printed on a sheet and I think we did pretty well, all things considered. The priest is black, I had actually seen him in town yesterday wearing his collar. This morning he wore a white robe with a green mantle. H was a good speaker, I enjoyed his homily even though I could only pick out a few words!

One thing that I did hear him say several times was a word that sound like the English word “mission.” It got me t hinking about what our calling is as Christians. That’s something I’m thinking a lot about right now as I’m in a foreign country for the first time without a “missions” purpose. What does it look like to be a light to the poeple here when I can’t speak with them, and the group I’m with has incredibly different priorities than I do? Speaking of the group–I am praying to be patient with them and loving. They are great people, but we don’t share many of the same values–I was one of the lightest packers, I have no makeup, only two pairs of shoes and (gasp) almost all my clothes fit on four measely hangers! The other girls pretty much all brought two suitcases, and are much more fashionable than myself. That’s always been a hard thing for me–getting along with people who place so much value, time and effort on their looks. What does it mean to love the people with me, enjoy their company and yet be different in a way that is both obvious to them and maybe even the French people around us? What does it mean to live as a Christian when I barely got into a theological discussion earlier before being sick of it? (I find it difficult to talk about God with many people these days as I am still sorting out some of my own thoughts)

I think, as cheesey as it may sound, I just have to “act” differently. I gave up my spot in the shower line this morning–maybe that is a good start. I won’tt drink like everyone else (and take care of them when they come home ddrunk)–I think that’s a another good thing to do. And I jumped all over my KP duty today without being told. Maybe small things like that are the right place to start.

“My tongue will speak of your righteousness and of your praises all day long.” -Psalm 35.28

Welcome

Here’s a little site where you and I can keep in touch. Over the next few months I have a few busy trips. My internet access will be spotty at best. So I’ve set this up. Here you can follow me around all over the world (or at least to Europe), hear how you can pray for me, as well as let me know how you’re doing in your own life (via comments).

I’m looking forward to all that this wonderful internet can offer us in opportunities to keep in touch. Of course, it isn’t the same as sipping chai and talking in person–but it will have to do for now.

blessings,

sara