Thursday, September 27, 2012

My Shadow On The Trail

Thanks to a massive traffic jam in our city, we were arriving late, but I wasn’t about to let that dampen our adventure. Since my son’s birth I’d looked forward to this day. Somewhere along the way I’d made up my mind, “son, when you’re fully potty-trained, we’ll go backpacking together.” He had no idea what that meant, but nodded in agreement anyway. An adventure with Daddy was enough to for him to be sold on the idea.

Well, this summer that milestone was reached. No diapers, no wet beds, and no qualms about going behind any tree, bush, or rock.

On a hiking day trip with friends I discovered that some parks in the French Alps allow overnight camping sauvage (backcountry camping, usually forbidden throughout France). I couldn’t have been more ecstatic. I was climbing a mountain with guys that day, but all I could think about was returning to camp with my son.

So a few weeks later, off we went.

When we parked our car and hit the trail the sun was already beginning to set. Slightly nervous, I knew we’d have to make decent time in climbing just under 1000 ft and hiking a couple miles. Doing it with a 3-year-old threw a major question mark into the whole planning. Thankfully though, on this night, my son was up to the challenge. When we began our hike, he took straight to the trail and embraced the unknown. We walked together, sometimes me ahead and he trailing, sometimes he running along to find a new stick. Every incline that included rocks to scale brought him great joy, and he scampered up them with glee. When he became tired, he’d give me the wide-eyed longing look and beg to be carried, but I’d point at the large pack on my back and tell him it wasn’t possible.
My son is not a quiet hiker. For two hours he sang songs, debated the merits and perils of throwing rocks, and yelled woodsman things like “heeeey birdie!” I don’t recall a moment of silence.

When we finally reached a nice grassy plateau in the mountains with a nearby meandering stream, up went our tent and we huddled inside. We cut sausage and ate baguettes and fruit snacks, we sipped on our water bottles, and we played some card games. I still can’t believe he survived until 9pm for dinner. Adventure can soften hunger pains, I guess.

As darkness fell - it fell fast - the cold came with it. I knew it would be cool a few thousand feet up there, but wasn’t quite prepared for just how cold. The night went well and we both slept soundly in our sleeping bags, but the morning was frigid. And asking a 3-year-old to stay in his sleeping bag at 7am when the sun has already been up for a whole hour was torture! So out of the tent we popped, and the chill smacked us in the face like a cold wet fish from Nineveh (or anywhere, really). We were freezing. And everything from the grass to the tent was wet with dew. I began packing up while my son shivered, but my hands were too cold to finish the job. Fires are outlawed in the park, so that option was out. The mountain peaks blocked direct sunlight and thus we were still in the shade, the cold and wet shade, at 8am.

By 8:30, the sun had broached the grass on the opposite side of the plateau. We thus made the decision to pick up our tent, which I carried above my head while my son followed behind whining of cold.
We arrived at the other side of the field and sat everything out in the sun to dry. I folded up my sleeping mat into a chair and Sawyer and I huddled together, rocking in the sun. We watched birds and barely moved, not letting go of one another for at least 30 minutes. That will be a 30 minute stretch I may never forget. He felt warm and safe in Daddy’s arms, and I do wish you could have heard the elation in his voice every time a bird flew out of a tree or made an audible morning call. We were cold, but the sun had arrived to save us. In our distress my son found comfort in the arms of his father. The wonder and beauty of creation kept us company. This is life. This is a memory I will cherish.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Hurt of the Unknown

My son started school today.  For the past couple years I’ve looked forward to this day.  I work mostly out of our home, so free babysitting for 8 hours a day sounds slightly more than wonderful.

And yet, as I watched from our apartment balcony him walking away with my wife, a heaviness fell upon me.

I’m hurting.  My little boy has begun school.
I won’t be there to speak into every time he feels hurt, confused, or scared.
I won’t be there to tell him he’s tough.
I won’t even know the first time he feels lost and insecure.
I won’t know the moment he first feels betrayal.
I won’t be there to explain when he sees injustice.

I’ve never wanted to live our lives in such a way that my kids won’t fall down and hurt themselves.  I just want to be the first one there to pick them up.

But there’s more to it than that.  I know every parent goes through emotion and pain when kids reach milestones, start school, move out, and so forth.  I don’t mean to demean any of that, it’s all very real and quite difficult.  But we threw another variable in.  While my son’s in school, I won’t have a clue what’s going on there.  We are living in a foreign land, and he is attending a national school, and I know absolutely nothing about it.  I never had anything remotely close to the experiences that he’s about to have.  I never had classmates who speak a different heart language than myself.  I can’t relate to an urban childhood, a socialized system, a culture of ‘no’, and a knowledge-based education.  I don’t even know yet the terms he’ll learn for learning.  I definitely won’t know the words he learns from the other kids in a few years...

Isn’t it nice to know that God’s not a father like me?  Unable to relate?  Not him.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).

Maybe God hurt on that day like I do now, probably worse.  But in so doing He positioned himself to be able to relate to us.  We don’t pray to a God that can pick us up and rub our boo-boos but doesn’t understand our pain.  We pray to a God that has walked this earth and experienced these struggles and knows EXACTLY what we’re feeling, thinking, and doubting.  God’s not blind to our experiences 8 hours a day.  When Jesus came to earth, so too did the Father.  And through those experiences, he’s just like the big brother I hope my son will one day be to his baby sister when she’s lost and hurting in school.  “I’ve been there, I know what it’s like. Here, let me show you the way forward.”

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are” (Hebrews 4:15).

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Learning to Golf in France

To play golf in France one generally needs a license.  What is a license for golf?  Well it basically shows that you’re committed enough to not be a destructive hack, you’re healthy enough to not keel over with a single swing, and you’re insured enough in case your ball cracks someone’s skull.

After a couple years of playing the dumb foreigner, I finally bought a license to play golf in France.  Only one problem: a license carries with it a lifetime ongoing handicap index.  As a new licensee I have no handicap to prove (and it’s been at least 7-8 years since I last calculated one in the US).  Thus the decision was made to give me the highest handicap available, a 54.

That suggests I average triple-bogey on every hole.

How does one change said handicap?  By playing in officially licensed tournaments and events.  Are these events flighted and handicapped by the indexes of the players involved?  Well yes.

I’d long speculated about the day of my first tournament as a 54 handicap.  Would I be paired with other 50+ handicappers and find myself sitting in the fairway awaiting their 10 shots required to reach the green?  I’d better pack a sandwich, and a book.  Would I come in with a net Kim-Jong Il score (18, was it? Or 22? Ok, even with 54 strokes that’s a looong shot for me) and win the biggest trophy available, drawing looks of ire from everyone involved?  Would I live up to my 54 handicap, somehow, and walk home defeated?  Or would I feel compelled to apologetically explain my situation to everyone involved and thus nullify the fun?

Well today was that day.  I signed up for a tournament ‘de classement’: basically a round of golf with other competitors simply for handicapping purposes.  Very official and competitive, but no trophies, no new drivers to win.

After calling last week to sign-up, giving my handicap of 54 and my license number, I arrived at the course early this morning.  I was advised by the director to come a few days before the tournament and play the course, but I shrugged it off and said I’d be fine.

Being the new guy, the only participant to have never played this particular course nor an official tournament, I was quickly identified and given a full explanation.  My favorite line came from the director who told me “Now this is a difficult course, so take your time and don’t get discouraged. The objective is to finish every hole and mark down a score. Don’t worry if it seems harder than you expected.”  [The longest par 4 on the course was just under 300m (328yd)]

Since I had no course knowledge whatsoever, I was paired not with the worst of the bunch but a couple guys who could help direct and teach me.  Claude, a 50/60-something local, and Zecherie, a 14-yr-old rising star, would be my companions.  Claude quickly took on the teacher role, Zech the “wary-of-the-new-guy” gaze.

We stepped up to the first tee and I read the score card.  A 293m par 4 awaited.  The classic gentle handshake 1st.  The tees appeared to be a little forward, and I saw a nice large green sitting straight in front of us.  Nothing but a couple small trees, some long grass, and a bunker as deterrents.  I knew right away my strategy: go for it.  Claude was first to hit and popped a fairway wood low and short, out into the middle.  Zecherie followed with a middle iron, safely in the fairway, or grass (this was not a top-of-the-line manicured course).

I stepped up with a small crowd watching.  The 54 new guy was about to swing away.  Big stick in hand, I took a soft practice swing, visualized my shot, breathed deeply.  I then swung, and swung hard.  I connected and the ball rocketed off the face of my club.  A little right of center, but tracking.  Knowing the coming result, I took my eye off the ball and just watched the green, waiting.  And waiting.  And... where was my ball?

Suddenly Claude and Zecherie approached me, looks of confusion on their faces.  “That’s not our green!” said Claude.  “It’s a dog-leg,” echoed Zech, “it goes to the right.”

Not only was it not our green, the green at which I’d taken aim was only about 170 yards away.  I’d over-shot the wrong green by about 100 yards and my ball was lost in the woods.

Way to go big guy, you sure impressed them there.

Off to a glorious start on my 54 handicap round, I re-teed and tried again, this time with a 7-iron.  The day went on and I eventually played like I had a clue, but then the skies opened up on the 5th and rain and lightening came pouring down.  We never finished.

Looks like I get to tee it up in a tournament as a 54-handicapped new guy again!

As a side note... most courses I’ve played in France leave me feeling out of place.  Golf is still a rich-people exclusive sport here.  I’m comfortable on the fancy courses, but when the round ends and elbow rubbing on the clubhouse deck begins, I start searching for an exit.  Today’s course was different.  3 examples:
-The course superintendent wore a belt packed with shotgun shells.
-The 7th green was out-of-commission because wild boars tore it up the night before.
-I watched a couple play their round with a dog leashed to one of their golfbags.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Family Hike in the Calanques

Since the birth of our kids, JJ and I have oft discussed an idea we share to have a family exploration day.  The objective is to set a day - maybe monthly, bi-weekly, or weekly - to simply go out as a family and explore.  Exploration could be done in a park, a picnic area, a museum, or a new quarter of the city.  We all love the beauty of God's creation and feel alive when we're in the woods listening to the wind whistling through trees or over rocks.  Thankfully, we are blessed to live in an area surrounded by natural beauty.  Recently, a trek into the calanques as a family told us that we are almost ready to institue said day of exploration.

Together with a couple dear friends, we took off on a hike through rocky provençal terrain, headed for the water.  Our descent took us about 2 hours, and upon arrival the sun was already below the rocks, leaving us to swim in the cool shade.  Swimming allowed the spotting of fish and ecosystems in the crystal clear water.  We played and laughed, the kids climbed rocks, and then we hiked a couple hours back up.  By the time we reached the high point, the sun was setting and the sky beautiful.  Our final trek out was in the dark, but so much fun.  Sawyer made the entire hike on his two feet, encouraged by our constant reminders of his incredible toughness (we really were impressed!).  Elsie loved the ride and giggled with every step, especially the climbing ones.
We're hiking! We're hiking!
He climbed, she followed. Really believed she'd do it, too.
I see you there.
Just look at the sun and smile...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Let It Be?

It was a pleasant morning.  As I settled into my easy chair to spend some time in prayer, a melodic chorus began to play itself in my head.  The song was a runover from the day before, when I’d spent some time in a park with a local musician friend.  One the songs we played was the Beatles’ iconic “Let It Be.”

Let it be, let it be, let it be...”  The words ran through my head.  Looking out my window in the coolness of the morning, I watched the neighboring wall turn from gray to yellow as the sun rose, and the moment felt sublime. Let it be...

Wait, what was I saying?  Let it be?  No, no, no!

I sat up straight, shook the cobwebs from my head, and realized the lie I'd let myself buy into.  Let my life, my city, my neighbors be?  No way.  I was up early to pray for just the opposite.  I am beseeching the Spirit of God to move through my city in a powerful way, because I care too much about it to let it be.  It is He who will bring to light, who will humble, who will provide, who will save.  I can choose to live in line with that, serving my neighbors and sharing the truth of God, his love, and his redemption.  Or I can choose to let it be.  The apathetic within me wants to choose the passive route and mellow out, let it be.

But I can’t do that.  I won’t.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Grandparent Visit

Bibi and Papi (paternal [grand]parents) came to visit, hooray!  We had a ton of fun with them.  It was a beautiful thing to watch them play with the kids who simply came alive.  The past couple weeks have been full of days they will remember for a long time to come.  We (mama and daddy) enjoyed the break, allowing ourselves to rest some while the grandparents did their work :).

So what did we do?

...there was much baseball played:

...numerous picnics and cookouts:


...swimming pools and beaches:

...presents, presents, presents:

...and a giant wheel!


Thanks for the memories, Bibi and Papi!  We'll miss you, so glad we were able to share our lives with you locally.  Welcome back anytime (bring more baseballs).

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Trip through Greece

In typical French fashion we've had a summer full of travel, visitors, and sunshiny stores-closed take-it-easy fun.  I'll start with Greece, a beautiful place with great people (who's accent while speaking English may be my favorite).

Much (nay, most) of our time in Greece was spent as this couple, relaxing on beaches or poolside, watching waves lap in or tracing boats in the distance.  Never in a hurry to get anywhere.

Many of our non-American neighbors spend their lives convinced that air-conditioning will make one sick while we laugh at their sweaty neanderthal ways.  But as it turns out... we had air conditioning at every hotel in Greece (not all of equal effectiveness) and every one of us four got sick.  Maybe there's something to it!

This little girl took quickly to the warm pools of Greece.

So this is vacation, huh?

Winding streets, white walls, little shops.

I really wanted to buy a house on a Greek island and paint it something other than white with blue trim. Would probably start a riot.

Stairs and passageways. Stairs and passageways.

Ancient town. Rocks. Not white walls.

To Athens we go:

Our last night we spent out an outdoor café next to a church around which kids played. Sawyer even ordered his dinner all by himself: chicken on a stick with fries, bread, and a water. A perfect ending to a great trip.