28 November 2017

I'm Braver speaking French

Does that seem strange to you?

It did to me too, at first.

But it is something I'm noticing to be true, beyond any shadow of a doubt.

Apparently I'm also not the only person who's made this discovery.

What do I mean? Here's one example:

I was in a Tim Hortons parking lot (I often meet English language students there). The spaces are a little on the small side to begin with and once the snow falls and begins to be shoved, shoveled, blown and piled, the available space decreases. I parked my larger than average vehicle, carefully and very clearly in between the yellow lines demarking my space. Yet it was impossible to exit the car without my door touching the door of the vehicle beside me. I was scrupulously attentive - I did not want my black door to leave a trace on the white one beside me. Unbeknownst to me, however, the driver of that white car was watching - also attentively. And he wasn't happy when he saw the contact. He started hollering across the parking lot. It was in French and a good portion of it I did not understand, but there was no doubt about the gist: he was unhappy and he wasn't concerned about politeness. 
Normally I'd just ignore a monsieur like him and simply walk into the restaurant. I'm not one for this sort of confrontation if I can avoid it... But I didn't avoid. 
Instead, I walked up to him and said something along these lines, in French: "Sir, because you are an older gentleman, I'm going to speak to you respectfully. However, your age does not give you the right to impolitely scream at me from across the parking lot. I understand that you were concerned about your vehicle, however I was very careful and if you come with me, you will see there are no marks on your car." He walked over, admitted that there were no marks and then stomped off. (By the way, when we very occasionally cross paths at this same Tim Hortons, he now smiles and says "Bonjour..." for what that's worth.)

Never in a million years would I have done the same thing with a stranger in an English speaking environment. 

Why this difference?

I don't know what the professional consensus is for those who study this phenomenon; the article linked to above says that it probably has more to do with a different cultural context and less with the actual language context. But, for what it is worth, here are what I think might be at least a few of my reasons.

  • I learned to speak French as an adult, with more maturity, greater confidence and a better awareness of who I am and why I'm here. Though I do still care (a lot), I am not as enslaved to what others think as I was when younger; I'm significantly more concerned about what God thinks.
  • I learned to speak French after becoming a mother. I can't think of any other experience God has gifted me that consistently offers me opportunities to model humility, teachability, perseverance, gentleness and a heart of service - even when all I really want to do is turn off the lights, crawl under the covers (or desk... depends on where I am) and hide from the world.
  • Learning to speak another language requires losing face. The controlled, refined and very perfectionist image of me that I want to be and desire to present to the rest of the world usually ends up looking undignified, incompetent and just plain and stupid. 
This year, I'm again volunteering at the school my kids attend and working more in French than I ever have before. I regularly sound like an idiot, am at a complete loss for words, have to ask people to repeat themselves or have to repeat myself, am corrected by giggling five and six year olds, and say things that are culturally stupid because I've translated (more or less) from English 
 Perhaps most discouraging and frustrating of all are those misunderstandings that pop up because my American-English-brained-way of trying to communicate something apparently doesn't come across the same way to a Quebec-French-brained-way of understanding. Helping students learn - a domain in which I've mostly excelled - requires a lot of work in my second language. It is exhausting. Oh yeah, did I also mention that at some point during the day, my head just starts to hurt. A lot.  
Once you get used to regularly eating crow, well... you get used to it and it isn't as hard to do again. However, that doesn't mean it has suddenly become palatable. Distasteful? Probably until the day I die.

** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **

Now, I don't want to make it sound all miserable. I was sitting at a ladies' breakfast recently - listening and participating in conversations with some precious women from our church (in French of course) - and I was overwhelmed by amazed gratefulness, because there I was, enjoying understanding and speaking a language that was not my mother tongue. 

But I also don't want you to think that just because it has been 17 years, it has become effortless and easy...

And perhaps challenge you to remember that the next time you run across someone who's first language is not English, or who's home culture is not your own.

23 September 2017

Five Minute Friday ~ Accept

It is hard to accept criticism.


I think the primary reason is pride. I also think our current world where image means so much and people (myself included) attempt to cultivate their desired image via social media, etc., only feeds that pride and makes it an even greater temptation.

True. Sometimes the criticism is offered with less than altruistic motives. Does that give me the right to not listen, just because the person spoke at least partial truth to me with less than honorable, purely unselfish motives? Ideally, that wouldn't be the situation, but in reality, it is - probably as often as not. So, do I discard those words without personal reflection because I'm disgruntled by the one (or his/her manner) who offered them? 

Then, sometimes criticism it is just offered. 

What do I mean by that? 

Let me explain, for I'm often guilty as charged.

The other day I "criticized" someone in my family, not upset, not angry... just observing something done without reflection that could have been done better and simply hoping to teach a better way. I asked who had put the salad we'd eaten for dinner away in the fridge, without an appropriate cover for the bowl. Said person owned up right away. I replied that the salad needed to be transferred to a better container and the lid put on, or all of the lettuce would wilt.  

Said person, I think, was both a little hurt and mildly offended. After all, said person had taken the initiative to help me with dinner clean-up and all I did was criticize.

True - I could have "done" the criticism better. Actually - no excuses - I should have. 

But I wasn't thinking of it as criticism. I was thinking of it as teaching (and that teaching should have been done better, as well). I'm a teacher and a mom of eight. Teaching comes very naturally to me, almost as naturally as breathing. So when I saw something that should have been done differently, could have been done better, the teacher in me spoke up. 

When others are criticizing me or something I've done, why can't I look at it more like that. More like someone is giving of their time to teach me, to help me become better and put myself into the position of being teachable?

I've recently spent some time reflecting on criticism and what the Bible has to offer on the subject. I think I'll finish with some of those thoughts:

  • Let the godly strike me! It will be a kindness! If they correct me, it is soothing medicine. Don’t let me refuse it. (Psalm 141:5)
  • Teach me, and I will keep quiet. Show me what I have done wrong. (Job 6:24)
  • If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding. (Proverbs 15:32)
  • People who accept discipline are on the pathway to life, but those who ignore correction will go astray. (Proverbs 10:17)
  • Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy. (Proverbs 27:6)
  • The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense. (Proverbs 27:9)
  • Whoever stubbornly refuses to accept criticism will suddenly be destroyed beyond recovery. (Proverbs 29:1)

19 September 2017

"To die would be an awfully big adventure!"

Or actually, not! At least not according to Mary Michelle.

She prefers the "To live would be an awfully big adventure" version of that quote.

But she is, without a doubt in my mind, one of the toughest little eight-year-olds I know.

Last Saturday, a few of us (Tim, Richelle, Anna, and M&M) decided we wanted to take advantage of our about-to-expire yearly membership to Parks Quebec - which gives our family all the access we could want to the Jacques Cartier National Park.

Early afternoon, we left home for our first adventure in our Matrix (the Toyota kind... no pill swallowing involved!), en route to the Jacques.

Mountains in the distance as we head towards the park.

Another mountain, names for "Les frères Wright" - thus why we want to climb this one too... someday!
Looking for a decent workout, we decided to give one of the difficult trails a try. Anna has been begging us for over three years now to hike to the summit of one of the mountains in the park. We knew it might be a challenge for M&M, but considering we were three more-or-less adults, we figured we could get her up there. And, if the trail proved too difficult, I'd turn around with the half-pint and we'd let Tim and Anna scale the heights. 
  • 6.8 kilometers, one way
  • two primary overlooks
  • the gal at the Discovery Center's words: "If you make the first overlook, keep on going. It is much easier than the first part of the trail."
  • 4:30 in the afternoon
  • 3 large water bottles
  • 4 Kit Kat bars ("For a bit of trail nourishment," says Tim as he purchases the candy.)
We started up the trail. 

I'm telling you, don't mess with this kid!

This was pretty typical of the rockiness of the trail.

KitKat break

Cooling off

Obligatory "Pride Rock" pose, without a Simba, so the water bottle stood in.

It was steep, there were lots of rocks and roots, but we reached the first overlook by 5:30 in the afternoon.

Then, we decided to continue on. After all, that was what the lady had told us. Bad life decision, but more on that later.

The remainder of the trail wasn't as steep, although there were some trickier rocky places to negotiate, especially for our half-pint. 

We knew we were close here!

We could see all the way back down to the Discovery Center!

Taking in the view.

Anna and I arrived about 5 minutes before Tim and M&M.


No time to rest. It was just after 6 pm, and we had a lot of kilometers to cover before dark.

We didn't make it. Even though the upper part of the trail was less steep and physically demanding, the rocks and trail condition made it tricky and it took us as long to get down that part as it had climbing up. On top of that, M&M's shoes were too small - she hadn't mentioned it and I hadn't thought to check prior to leaving the house. Walking down meant her toes were slamming into the end of her shoes every step, and it hurt. (I think she's going to lose a couple of toenails as a result.) By 7:15, it was getting really hard to see, and Tim turned his cell phone flashlight on. Unfortunately, the battery died within 10 minutes.

We still had over 2 km to go before we'd be back to the parking lot, and it was the hardest, steepest parts of the trail with lots of crevices running across the path, sharp turns, and small rock steps that were about half M&M's height. Speaking of her, she was terrified of the prospect of animals. 

At about this point, we tried to see if we could phone the park rangers and ask someone to bring us a legit flashlight. That was when we discovered that the paper with the number had been left in the car (but the Kit Kats made it!). Even worse, we had no phone service even though we had been able to make a call just a little bit higher up the mountain. 

Anna took the lead. I held/helped/lifted/carried M&M. Tim held my phone with just the LED light up so that we could see... a tiny bit. And little by little, we worked our way down the mountain, in the dark. Anna sang silly songs (she's good at that). Here's our favorite, sung to the tune of Veggie Tales' "Keep Walking," with slightly modified lyrics. 

Keep walking! Better watch out for that rock!
Keep walking! Will this trail ever stop!
It's plain to see that our brains are very small
To go walking down a mountain in the dark!

Amazingly (God is very gracious to us, often in the midst of our stupidity), my phone was at 57% battery when we started using it. When we finally reached the parking lot and our car, it was at 51%. Before we'd driven the 16 km to exit the park, it had crashed to 35%. We saw and heard no animals. No one was seriously hurt... just a few stubbed toes, M&M's poor toenails, a twisted ankle and very sore muscles.

Lessons learned/a few observations made:
  1. Always bring a flashlight with fresh batteries when you go hiking, regardless.
  2. Matches and a flare gun might not be a bad idea either.
  3. Make sure someone knows what trail you are hiking.
  4. Realistically assess the situation and don't depend on the information of young gals standing behind desks. In other words, use common sense.
  5. All of those Bible verses about blind leading the blind took were much more powerful.
  6. The brightness of an LED light reflected off a white metallic trail marker is astonishing.
  7. Going down can be much more work than going up.
  8. There are strength and security in numbers - I'm so glad we were four and not just one or two.
  9. What was scary to me wasn't necessarily scary to others. M&M was terrified of the prospect of animals. Tim was afraid the battery would die on my phone. I was afraid for our kids back home if we would have had to find a place to stay the night because, without the LED light, it would have been impossible to continue down the mountain without serious injury. Anna was afraid she'd run out of songs to sing.
Perhaps the most striking observation... which, interestingly, was more or less echoed the next day at church in one of our discussion groups: When we are surrounded by profound darkness, even the dimmest of lights has great potential to illuminate, encourage and be even more brightly reflected.

Once we reached the parking lot, we found three tracks shoved under the windshield wipers of our car - a clear reminder that while Quebec may seem a spiritually dark place, God's light is present and is making a difference.

04 September 2017

Five Minute Friday ~ Neighbor{hoods} and Community

I've spent the majority of my Labor Day Weekend out wandering around several different neighborhoods...  My sore and tired back and legs attest to that fact every time I try to move! My littlest littler would agree, as she was hoofin' it along right beside me - at least most of the time! We were busy helping friends distribute door hanger advertisements, and for their participation, our kids earn a little bit of cash they'll use to help finance basketball participation this school year.

Showing off her blue "raspberry" tongue - from the Slurpy she earned because of her great attitude, even though this weekend consisted of a LOT of hard work and effort.

Then, the one day in our long weekend when I wasn't supervising M&M's child labor efforts, hubby and I decided to go exploring in our new neighborhood. Please note the elevation change: down 53 m, up 70 m - one way. We had to do the reverse returning home, over a round trip distance of just shy of km.

We jokingly (?) wondered if we'd stumbled through a secret wardrobe and tripped into Narnia...

We live in a beautiful neighborhood that is part of a truly lovely city. We even mentioned it as we were walking: sometimes we feel the need to pinch ourselves to make sure we aren't dreaming. 

Just down the road and around the corner, an easy walk from chez nous (i.e. our house) is a hair stylist who has her salon in the basement of her home. Tori has a new hair cut (one of the ladies in the school office told her she was "just a tiny bit of a rebel" with her new do)  that requires regular maintenance and so we stopped in the other day to see if it was something they could do. We made appointments for both Tori and me. I had mine the other day and the gal did a fabulous job - at least she did what I asked. She cut it so that I could make it look like the photo AND so that it also still looks passable even on those days (actually most days) I don't have time to style it. I know that for a fact because after I supervised M&M the other day, we went swimming in the pool for a few minutes and then went out to see a super cool performance. I did NOTHING to my hair, literally. Like I ran my fingers through it, finger parted and didn't touch it again. The result?

In all my walking time the past three days, however, I've been thinking: We can land in wonderful neighborhoods and thank God for placing us there. However, the ball is then in our court. He leaves it up to us to start building community - finding things we have in common with our neighbors and using those commonalities to nurture relationships. 

And we are getting some of those opportunities: the hairdresser, our neighborly neighbor who came over late one night to let us know that our pool was overflowing (and apologized profusely for disturbing me late in the evening, but he and his wife had been so impressed with our little girls and their willingness to do do semi-polar plunges just because they loved the pool), the lady who walks her dog down our street and her dog looks a lot like our Monty, the kids who are playing at the park at the end of our street, others who frequent the "leave a book, take a book" mini-library just on the other side of the golf course, our neighbor who has gardens to die for and I wonder if he'd be willing to give us a few tips for next summer...

But it takes a little courage, a little gumption and a willingness to be more extroverted than I am normally, to listen to the Spirit and to know when to try and open my mouth to start those initial conversations.

26 August 2017

Five Minute Friday - Guide

What kind of person are you? 

  • One who comes alive at those opportunities to strike out into the unknown without map or sometimes even plan? 
  • Or one who meticulously makes lists, charts courses with Google Maps and sketches schematics to ensure that all luggage will fit in the back of the car - considering every possible detail determined prior to unlocking the front door.
I like to think I fall into the second category, at least mostly. Or that is what my personality profile says.

But... (there's always a "but," isn't there?)

I don't clearly and cleanly fall into one category or the either. I do make plans, sometimes quite detailed ones, yet I also crave unpredictable and spontaneous adventure. I (actually) find it exciting when my meticulously made plans are smacked awry by real life, almost relieved that I'm no longer "caged" by my expectations.

And hubby, who tends to be spontaneous and impulsive (hence the text message dinging on my cell most afternoons around 3:30 asking what he can pick up from the grocery store to grill - rain, snow or shine), becomes a mad list-maker before camping trips and family outdoor outings or micromanages wife when company is imminently expected.

Personally, I find that a plan frees me when I remember that it is nothing more than a guide. I don't know why it has taken me nearly 50 years to figure that out. Ever since I first started teaching (around the age of 12 - swim lessons), I'd create plans and very rarely follow them to the letter - or even close to the letter. 

(Five minute buzzer has sounded...)
(...but I'm continuing!)

A guide gives me security without strangling. A starting point and a base to which I can return without defining. A gentle shove in a direction without confining. Established borders bequeathing freedom to roam at will based on what's best in the actual moment.

That IS how I teach. I make a guide, prepare so that I know my material well, and then rarely actually even look at the plan during the actual lesson. The plan is always there, but off to the side, available but not a script I read. Occasionally I glance at it, making sure we are on track or using it to recenter if our tangent is too far off base...

I've been thinking about this as it relates to parenting young adults - those ones who are out on their own, but not completely.

We've all heard the complaints about how there is no parenting manual. How it is all on-the-job-training. 

But that isn't really true. 

We have the Bible, and there really isn't anything new under the sun (to quote a much wiser man than I). We have the wisdom of our own parents and others who've walked this path before us. We have our own life experiences. And we have our young adults who are rapidly gaining life experience as well. It is easy to forget that parenting these bigger ones is very much a cooperative effort - a partnership. We can offer suggestions, guidelines, ideas - but the follow-through and outcome really is up to them. Thinking of teaching your kid how to drive. Sometimes it feels safer with a checklist - but no checklist will guarantee specific outcomes, at least not when it comes to this partnership with those living, breathing young adults God has gifted us.

God gives parents to kids to guide them. Family, however, is not a little kingdom where Dad and Mom dictate all. 

Guiding, especially with these biggers, is much more a question of influence born out of mutual respect.

A respect we parents earn, beginning back in those beginning days of parenting.


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