Bill Bryson's book A Walk in the Woods

 

Our family is taking a week of vacation in the Pyrenees, doing some skiing.  Unfortunately I haven’t been able to join them, since I hurt my knee.  It is getting better, but the doctor said skiing would not be good.  So I find myself driving them to and from the mountain and preparing all the meals.  It’s not a bad deal, especially for them.  It’s given me a chance to do a little reading.

An author I really enjoy is Bill Bryson, so I went to the Franco-American Institute and checked out A Walk in the Woods.  Bryson tells stories with remarkable color and perspective, but he desperately needs the Lord.  In it he tells the story of hiking the Appalachian Trail with his friend Katz.  He and Katz hiked over one third of the trail one summer.  Towards the end they stay at a guesthouse and meet a young couple who have almost finished hiking the entire trail.  In their brief conversation, they mention their faith in Jesus.  Bryson clearly doesn’t esteem the two, saying of the girl that there was something serenely mindless in her manner.  His response to their transparent faith is to take a mental note to lock his door.

Immediately following this is a heart to heart conversation with his friend Katz out on the trail.  Katz is a recovered drug addict who after three years of being clean started drinking again.  In a vulnerable moment he says, “There’s just this kind of hole in my life where drinking used to be.”  The best Bryson can offer is a “stupidly affectionate jab on the shoulder.”  How ironic that just a day before they met two people who had purpose in life, a relationship with God who is the only one who can fill that gaping hole that drinking or any of our idols fake.

The young couple struck him as too weird, and maybe they were.  Christians often have a culture vastly different from the rest.  Of course, some things are good.  But I can’t help thinking of Jesus, able to live a perfectly sinless life while rubbing shoulders with prostitutes and sinners of the day.  Jesus had a magnetic quality.  Everywhere he went, people flocked to him, wanted to hear his words, drink from those streams of living water.  We are called to be Jesus to this world.  Are people attracted to us?  Are we fun to hang out with?  Do we struggle to relate?..

Students having fun at the new year's conference

 

Don’t you just love a good story?  While we were at the New Year conference, Laurent, one of our young staff members sat down with the microphone to tell everyone an encouraging story about Sophie.

Sophie is a student in Rennes.  She spent a year studying in Canada and became involved with Campus Crusade.  Through this, she participated in the summer project in Paris last summer.  

While Sophie was in Paris for the project, she happened across Eliezer, a French student she met in Canada.  She explained to him why she came to Paris and about the project.  Then she invited him to place his faith in Christ.  Right there in the campus cafeteria, Eliezer placed his faith in Christ.  He is active in his local church in Paris!  

Sophie has a passion to share the love of Christ with others, and after the project she shared about Christ with her family.  Because God was at work and Sophie took the initiative, her mother and two of her sisters placed their faith in Christ and are now active in their church!

At this time in the story, Laurent asked Sophie to stand up, which was met by a great round of applause.  Then Laurent asked Eliezer to stand up to even more applause, because both Sophie and Eliezer came to the New Year conference!

Isn’t it exciting to see God working?!  What a great story.

Girolle mushrooms and fly agaric mushrooms

 

It was a completely new experience for us, traipsing through the forest hunting for mushrooms.  Now, I’ve never been that big of fan of eating mushrooms, so I wouldn’t be opposed to using a .22 for the endeavor.  But, for the sake of my wife, who loves mushrooms, I used a knife.  Some colleagues and friends took us to a spot where they find lots of golden chanterelle, or girolle gris in French.  You should know that this is a really big deal.  There are lots of French who would NEVER disclose the whereabouts of their mushroom finds.  They take serious steps to keep their secret, even blindfolding those who might come with them.

At first I was tromping all over mushrooms, but eventually I gained an eye for them and went to work collecting.  The boys, meanwhile were running all over with their pocket knives open, sharpening sticks and whittling.  Luckily for them, their parents were doubled over, eyes focused on the ground.  In about an hour and a half we collected 750g of mushrooms.  If we were to buy that many at the store it would cost $30!

It gave me new eyes, and suddenly I’m seeing mushrooms everywhere, on the soccer field, in our yard, and even these beautiful red ones with white spots that are just fifty yards from our front door.  I haven’t touched them, but they’re amazing.  There’s a whole forest of them growing right by the path.  Once I saw a lady picking one, and when she saw me looking back at her she just said, “I know, I know.  But they’re just so pretty.”  Ah, la France…

Closeup of a bike chain

 

Always have a book with you.  Of course, I don’t, but that’s what I tell myself every time I’m stuck in a line.  This happens all too often in France.  This morning I went to a sporting goods store called Decathlon.  A couple times a year they let people bring in old sporting equipment and sell it for them, sort of sponsored garage sale.  A month ago I bought a bike at a garage sale, just to get by after ours were stolen.  I spent a lot of time trying to get all of the gears and brakes to function, but the bike was pretty far gone.  I hope to sell it so I can get something better.

So I was standing in a long, slow moving line in Decathlon.  Even after all my effort, it failed their inspection, and I ended up spending €10 to have the rear brake adjusted.  They proceeded to tell me that the gears needed adjusting which would cost me €26.  “I don’t think it’s even worth that,” I said.  Still, I took it back to the people checking in bikes.  I said they worked on the brake for me, but that the rear derailleur also needs adjustment.  The worker said that as long as the brakes work it didn’t matter if there was one gear that didn’t function.  They let it slide.

I told the truth, which could have caused them to reject the bike.  Still, they accepted it.

As another worker was filling out the contract he asked me how much I paid for the bike.  I told him €10.  “What?” he asked.  I explained that my bike was stolen and I bought this one from someone just to get me by.  I only paid €10.  “I can’t put that,” he said.  He wrote down more.

It struck me how my honesty caught him off guard.  I was intimidated by the whole situation, afraid that the bike would be rejected, that I just spent €10 to get the brake tightened for nothing.  I really want to be rid of it, but I’m not willing to lie for it.

Tomorrow we’re going to look at used bikes ourselves, hoping to find one that was built to last.  I really miss our two bikes that were stolen…

Closeup of a football

 

There were about fifteen of us on the soccer field, mostly French.  We laid out markers for the end zone and first downs, trying to explain the rules of touch football.  The French were a little confused, and so were the Americans.  Should we do two handed touch or also below the waist?  How many seconds should they count before they can rush?  Can the quarterback run?  Once we agreed on the rules, the fun began.  With a half dozen receivers in the field, it was chaotic but exciting.  I asked my team who wanted to be quarterback?  No one.  The French weren’t confident enough in their throwing skills.  That left it between me and guy from Georgia.  We decided to switch off.

I have never quarterbacked before, aside from throwing the ball with a few guys in the backyard.  Playing offensive guard or defensive end in little league doesn’t prepare you.  I can throw the ball pretty well, but being a quarterback involves much more than that.  I’m not used to the pressure of having someone rush, and I had a hard time focusing on my teammates out in the field.  There were so many of them, all dressed differently, I couldn’t decide who to throw to.  It made me think about how I am as a Christian.  I naturally spend time reading the Bible and deepening my relationship with God.  I know how to throw.  But what about seeing openings to share my faith?  Do I pray for them, look for them, and have the courage to speak?  Life can be more than a game of catch…

The Workman family posing in front of Mount Rushmoore

 

In America, we live life large.  The sculptures are large, our portions are large, our expectations are large, and our burdens are large.  Unfortunately, my middle seems to get large when I’m here too.  But that is just part of the surreal reality of living in different parts of the globe.  Just next week we’ll give our parents hugs goodbye, get on a plane, and find ourselves back in France.  We’ll have to pull up the shudders and open up all of our windows to get some fresh air in the apartment.  Hopefully our car will start, because the next day I’ll be taking two different trips to the train station for other colleagues arriving back.  We’ll unpack our extra large luggage and ask ourselves over and over, “where are we going to put this?”  We’ll stock up our refrigerator that’s been sitting empty all summer.  The boys will have just a few days to get through 8 hours of jet lag before school starts.  I’ll get to see how the hardwood floor I installed in the boy’s room has stood the test of temperature and humidity changes.  Finally finishing that project will be on the front burner before the crazy busyness of the school year begins.  The tears and sadness of leaving will slowly be replaced by a familiar routine.  We’ll miss the land of the large, especially large portion of love we feel there.  It’s been a great summer…