Instructions for folding and cutting paper snowflakes

At the New Year's Conference I lead a workshop on cutting snowflakes. I thought it would be fun to share:

Here are a few pointers to help you out:

1. At the tip and the top, cut all the way across. Anywhere in the middle, always finish on the same side you start cutting.

2. Find your limits by unfolding it a little. This is to avoid having your snowflake lopped off somewhere.

3.  The more paper you remove, the more delicate your snowflake will be.

4. Enjoy! Every snowflake is unique, just like God made each and every one of us unique! 

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Happy New Year


Ever wonder about this idea of wishing people a happy new year? In France, “best wishing” is very important. The first time you see someone after New Year’s you have to say “bonne année” often followed by “best wishes and above all, good health.” I’ve been asking students about this on campus. What good does it really do to verbalize such things? For some it’s just being polite, for others it expresses their attachment to someone or simply that they care. They all agree that it’s tied to some kind of hope for the future.  I’ve asked these same students if they ever pray and they’ve all said that they never do.

But what is prayer? Simply talking to God, of course. But when you think about this idea of verbalizing your wishes in the hope that it might make a difference in the future it’s not all that different from prayer. We seem to know there is power in the spoken word – I love you, I forgive you, I care for you – all express something intangible yet powerful and important. Spoken to one another they weave the fabric of relationship, an ephemeral but invaluable commodity (imagine facebook without relationship).

God can hear prayers spoken only in our minds, but I really prefer to pray out loud. God could have thought the world into existence, but instead he spoke. Jesus’ words “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” or “Lazarus, come out!” were plainly powerful. John calls God’s Son – the Word. How sad it is when something moves within us and we stay silent. Silence isn’t always golden.

Today, look for opportunities to say something, to bless, encourage or impart hope. Pray, because it does make a difference. Oh, and happy New Year!

Emile Shoufani


Have you ever puzzled over the perpetual conflict in the Middle East? Why is peace so impossible there? What practical steps can be taken toward peace?

Last night I attended a talk given by Emile Shoufani. He lives in Nazareth and is a voice for peace. He is an Arab and Palestinian, but also Israeli and an orthodox priest. For more than twenty years he directed St. Joseph’s school, with about 1300 students. The prejudice, mistrust, stereotypes, everything that fuels the Middle East conflict feed into his school.  Every time an event happens that could cause unrest, which is often, he has to calm the students and encourage patience and understanding, not revenge.

This goes deep into his roots. 

He was born in Nazareth, and in 1948 when his village was claimed by Israel the soldiers rounded up 17 young men and shot them in the public square. One of them was his uncle. His family fled, heading north toward Lebanon. Three miles up the road his grandfather too was shot and killed. His grandmother found herself with five children to take care of. With no help at the border they eventually had to turn back. It took months. When they finally returned his grandmother insisted that she was for the living, not the dead, for her five remaining children, not the memory of those who died. She refused to attend the funerals or even have her husband’s body brought back to their family tomb. She also refused to allow anger, hatred or vengeance in her house. In short, with God’s help she forgave them.

A television with a logo for the french republic on the screen


We received a letter from the French government the other day, a crisp reminder that we are NOT living in America. In it they explained in a flourish of official language that an inspector had passed by to verify that we do not own a television, since we have declared so on our tax statement.  Since we weren’t at home he was not able to conduct his visit.  We were invited to return the form and pay the necessary tax to avoid any fine that would result in us being caught!

You see, in France there is a “television tax” every household has to pay - €119 or around $155 per year.  Whenever someone buys a television they’re asked for their address, which is then given to the powers that be.  Students commonly give their parent’s address, who already pay the tax, to avoid this yearly charge.  While living in Toulouse several years ago we purchased a used TV for dirt cheap.  Months later we received a letter with a form to fill out, stating whether we owned a television.  Against the advice of some French friends, we admitted that we indeed had a television and doled out three times what we paid for the set just to watch it with a clean conscience.

Fast forward to today.  We haven’t had television for seven years and happily keep that €119 to ourselves every year.  Still, I can’t help but wonder the shock we would have gone through had Monsieur the Inspector showed up at our door.

You want to do what?  Search our home?!

Why? To make sure we don’t have a television?!

Something about that situation just rubs against the American me.  I mean, do you have a warrant?  Let me see your badge!  People get robbed this way!!

I can imagine us sitting around our kitchen table, Monsieur the Inspector sipping on a cup of coffee that we’ve offered him.  He talks casually as beads of sweat slowly form on my forehead.  Finally the dénouement arrives, “So Monsieur Workman, is there anything you are hiding from ze French government?”  In a wave of panic I crack – “YES, YES!  There is a Romanian family hiding under the floorboards beneath us!”

Resting beneath the viaduct at Dinan


May had a dream, to bike with the boys all the way from Rennes to St. Malo along the canal, a whopping 133 mile round trip. Since this was part of a camping vacation, it included trying to fit all our camping gear, clothes, food, rain gear (you get the picture) into our bike trailer and saddle bags.  Our final destination after taking the ferry at St. Malo was the island of Guernsey.  I was skeptical.  Being the one who is responsible for keeping our bikes in working order and packing our camping gear, I was stressed.  And when we got flat tires and fought with patching inner tubes for a couple hours on the side of the trail I was quite visibly frustrated. But…

BUT WE MADE IT and had a GREAT time.  And so I can only take my hat off to May for her vision and determination that fueled our adventure to Guernsey and back.

Here are some of the discoveries we made:

  • Riding the canal is great with kids, calm and relaxing and pretty level.
  • Guernsey, where only Guernsey cows are allowed, has fantastic ice cream!
  • Sometimes mice, who happen to love May’s homemade granola as much as we do, might sneak into your trailer.
  • Watching boats pass through a lock is really cool.
  • If you want your tent partner to snuggle, sleep on a slope.
  • A dock, four Crazy Creek chairs, sandwiches and a thermos of coffee is a great recipe for lunch.
  • Victor Hugo had a marvelous view of Cornet Castle from his house, but it’s best to call ahead to reserve a tour.
  • Don’t ask for four orders of fish-n-chips, you’ll only need two.
  • Cadbury chocolate is, well, not our favorite.
  • We tend to stop less for breaks when riding in the rain.
  • Even if it looks pristinely blue and it’s the middle of August, the water is COLD.
  • A 150lb trailer can be carried up stairs or lifted over barriers when necessary.
  • The tooth fairy doesn’t make rounds in tents (Silas lost a tooth)

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Dan with a curious art student


I was at the “vernissage,” or opening for the potter photo expo. The room was wonderfully lit, full of chatter.  People wandered about admiring the pictures of a potter delicately working clay.  A student from Taiwan who knew I had some responsibility for the event walked up and asked me, “How do you combine art and Jesus?”  What a GREAT question!  She was a Christian, studying painting, who had come to Paris on a separate project put on by Campus Crusade.  She desperately wanted to use her artistic talent for Jesus, but wasn’t sure how.

Well, every painting you do has to be of Jesus – okay, I didn’t say that, but that’s what some people think!  It isn’t clear how you can combine art and faith without painting pictures of Daniel in the lion’s den or Jonah being thrown into the sea.  It’s a question that many Christian artists wrestle with.

To prepare a devotion for the project I read two really helpful books on the subject.  One was Art and the Bible, by Francis Schaeffer.  It is short but very well done.  The second was Imagine, a vision for Christians in the arts, by Steve Turner.  This is a must read for any Christian artist, and held much of what I shared with this young painter.  There are many different levels a Christian artist can touch, from expressing their world view to wrestling with themes like intimacy, betrayal or redemption.  Suddenly, just having read a few books, I was able to help free this young artist to express her faith in new ways.  She was so excited.  She asked for my email address and asked if she could take her picture with me.

It’s hard to measure the effect a project like this has.  People’s lives were touched, but we really don’t know beyond that.  The highlight for me was the long conversation with this young artist, sharing some of what I’ve been learning about art and faith.