Category Archives: story

5 of the reasons a “Returning Medium-Term Missionary” might seem a bit weird.

1. “Home” is no longer a clear-cut concept.  Asking ‘how does it feel to be home?’ is likely to be met with a blank look and, at best, a muttered half-truth or at worst, sobs.

2. Feelings change in direct relation to the ticking of a clock, so any question which relates to said feelings (how does it feel to be back? do you feel the cold? do you fancy a cup of tea?) probably means the answer has already changed 4 or 5 times before your voice even has a chance to inflect the question mark.

3. A big part of the brain still operates in a foreign language or some mixed-up version thereof, franglais par exemple.  Therefore common words and phrases like ‘toothbrush’ and ‘go for a walk’ are blanked out and one speaks in structures of sentences bizarre.

4. A big part of the body still carries the habits of the etiquette of the other culture.  When we need to walk past each other in the street, you will politely move over to your left as I politely move over to my right only to discover you’re still in MY way.  At which point, it becomes a game of chicken.  May the best foreigner win.

5. Everything is relative.  Every situation is open to comparison – it wasn’t like this where I was, when I was here before it was like that, I never used to see this, I always used to do that…  The possibilities for difference and discovery and naming of difference are endless as well as the ways in which those differences are important or not.  “Left-hand side of the road, Left-hand side of the road, LEFT-HAND side of the road…”

Tomorrow… a few survival tips (for all involved!) on dealing with a ‘Returning Medium-Term Missionary’ who might seem a bit weird.

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Filed under change, culture, grace, home, story

Roomie

Remember that night you were coming home late

And I stood up at the window in the door while you were putting your key in the lock?

You screamed blue murder and alarmed the neighbours

While I crossed my legs and we laughed til our bellies ached.

 

 

Remember that night I came home to an unexpected correspondance;

I fell to my knees at your door and wept?

You too wore out knees and tissues

While I grieved and doubted and raged, we sobbed til our throats were raw.

 

 

Remember I used to leave ends of old baguette on the kitchen counter

Like a little present unasked for but not entirely unexpected?

You’d smile and leave it there til I’d remember what I’d done

And we’d laugh and sit down to eat your diet soup without bread while the cat scratched at our jeans.

 

 

Remember we refused to get a television because we were oh so cultured darling,

And we put your PC in the corner out of the way, because there was nowhere else for it?

You’d casually switch it on, slip a DVD in the drive and with a sideward glance at my nod

We’d watch Friends back to back til bedtime.

 

 

Remembered vignettes of a shared life, a witnessed life, a different life;

Moving in, moving out, moving on…

Things change, memories make it worthwhile

But now I have to do all the dishes.

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Filed under change, friends, home, humour, poetry, story

Celebrate good (or not so good) times, come on.

The Jews were a celebrating-y kind of people.  Its seems that every few weeks they’d some sort of knees up, or at least some sort of special meal to commemorate something.

There’s something appealing about this kind of ritual celebration.  They were often commemorating important events that were HARD, not just good things – but even this sense of marking the past has a significant place in the present, giving weight and depth to what has gone before, what will come around next year, placing the present firmly in the context of the greater story.

I’ve been struck recently of the need for this perspective, for the need to allow room for the greater story to alleviate the drama of the immediate story.  The deep, rhythmic breathing of the years to soothe the sprinting hearts of the days : He was faithful, He is faithful, He will be faithful.

Who was, and is, and is to come.

Immanuel.

Roll on 30th birthday, roll on.  Let’s party like its 1981.

 

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Filed under change, God, perspective, story, Uncategorized

What’s the story…?

How very post-modern and emergent of me to talk about story.

I did it almost a year ago having just read a Donald Miller book and Kevin over on creideamh.ie just did it (although I must admit it was a little over my head in parts!  Perhaps I’ll understand him when I’m older 😉 ), so its all very hip and current.

Apparently.

Anyway, I was just reading about Joseph (in the bible that is) – a well-known story from my Sunday School infancy and my Girls’ Brigade stage performance (I was a dancer – yep, me – a DANCER.  Made a change from my narrating days in Primary School.).  I got to the part about Potiphar’s wife fancying a piece of his action (if you know what I mean) and him being all, like, ‘nice try lady, but I’m not into that’ and dashing off, foolishly leaving his coat behind.  Cue dramatic music and scene change.  Potiphar comes home to his wife’s story about Joseph’s attempt to taste the forbidden fruit (if you know what I mean) and in the space of 4 average length biblical verses, Joseph is thrown in prison, becomes bezzy mates with the jailor and ends up running the show (if you know what I mean).

That got me thinking.  Even though it says that God was with Joseph, attributing that as to why Joseph finds favour, I’m pretty sure it didn’t happen overnight.  It probably took months if not years of ‘good behaviour’ for Joseph to be recognised as trustworthy and upright.  We’re not told about the days where he cried at the injustice, nor the times where he questioned God, nor the nights he spent sleeplessly on a cold stone floor.  We don’t hear about the daily grind of Joseph’s life in prison.

And that’s the thing – stories often take longer than one single day to unfurl.  How did Joseph end up where he was?  Its a long story.  How did I end up in France?  Its a long story.  How did this person end up becoming a follower of Jesus?  Its a long story…

I suppose faith is being ready to live the days that make up the story and still hold on to God.  How will I make it through this conflict at work?  Its a long story.  How will I deal with my husband’s illness?  Its a long story.  How can I live my life for God when nothing looks the way I hoped it would?  Its a long story…

But the good thing about stories, is that there are usually sub-plots and diversions – the little stories that happen within minutes.  Like a last-minute dash for the train and the euphoria of making it by the skin of your teeth.  Like a child’s inadvertant poetry:  “Mummy, you’re beautiful like a flower, more beautiful than colour”.  Like a stunning sunset as you drive off on holiday with friends.

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Filed under bible, story

Things that probably won’t make it into the prayer letter.

The day started out fairly normally: eat breakfast, shower,  drive into town to find free wifi, pass a 20 year old girl and her mother in the street examining the sex toys in the window of the local ‘high-class’ sex shop, hear said 20 year old girl share with mother which one she particularly enjoys…  You know, just the usual.

But it all got a little bit weird around lunchtime when I had to phone Orange to sort out my broken down internet connection.  Apparently calling customer service here is not just a matter of waiting in line, but actually it is a test of your French pronunciation and a battle of wits.  Orange France do not have your average ‘If you want such-and-such, press 1, or if you need so-and-so, press 2’ – oh no! – Orange France have gone down the ‘If you wish to speak to a customer service advisor, say : “Service clientèle” ‘ route.  Hmmm… ok, I’ll try!

So, I made it past the pronunciation stage (yesss!) and then I am presented with the following : “Please state the nature of your problem”.  Now, generally the automated-speaking-lady in these sorts of things is programmed to understand certain words and phrases.  So that when you top up your electricity with NIE, and automated-speaking-lady asks you to confirm your customer service number, she reads you the number you’ve just typed and says: “To confirm, say ‘yes'”.  Simple enough.  But not Orange France!  Noooooo… they want you to just hazard a guess at the key words automated-speaking-lady going to compute.  Errmmm… “L’internet ne fonctionne pas?”  or “Internet Orange est un pile de poo?”… I guess that’s maybe easier to work out if French happens to be your first language, but its not exactly conducive to getting things done for a foreigner!

But you’ll be glad to hear that I passed that test too.  Eventually…

By this next stage, I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve been set up by some kind of Krypton Factor slash Candid Camera type thing, because a few minutes later, the lady (a real one this time) is telling me to take a knife prise open 6 metallic strips on the filter which was plugged into my phone socket.

“I’m sorry, what?  A knife??” (thinking my French ears must’ve gone on holiday)

Oui, Madame, un couteau.

Sérieux??

Oui, Madame, sérieux.

So, there I am, my mobile phone on loudspeaker on the table, hacking away at these metallic strips with a kitchen knife.  Which, by the way, did not go so well as the other tasks – Krypton Factor Girl I am Not.  After 5 minutes of me muttering and hacking and wondering if they’ll accept liability should I chop off a fingertip in the process, and during which time I’m sure the lady (the real one) is fiddling away with some things on Orange’s end to resolve the real problem, she finally tells me it doesn’t matter and to just plug the freakin thing back into the wall!  And lo and behold, she tells me there’s a fault on the line.

No shizz, Sherlock.

Lucky for you, it got sorted and I can update you on these things, eh?

Dinner was on the balcony over discussing some bible reading I hadn’t done, not praying and generally feeling pretty grumpy and pissed off.  And then the evening was topped off drinking cider out of a plastic cup down by the river in the dark.

That was my day today.

Just so you know.

That was my day.

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Filed under France/French, grrrr..., random, story

Esther

“For such a time as this” is the most quoted line from this little Old Testament book.  As I picked it up tonight, after exfoliating and moisturising my face and scrutinising my flaws in the mirror, I wondered what a story about a beauty pageant winner might have to tell me.

Reading the story from Peterson’s The Message translation (is that the right word for it?) certainly helps with the flow of this little récit about a shaky moment in Israel’s history.  I had never realised before that King Xerxes’s reason (or rather that fed to him and enflamed by his advisors) for banishing and essentially divorcing his wife Queen Vashti were so sexist.

After days of revelry and drunkenness, Xerxes decides he’d like to show off his beautiful trophy-wife in front of all his mates.  She refuses.  We could elegise Vashti and say it was because she did not want to demean herself or whatever, but I’d say it could equally be because she was concerned with her own girly party and was looking worse for wear, or couldn’t be bothered getting changed…!  But anyway.  Her refusal is seen as an affront to Xerxes’ authority and ownership of her – the King can’t control his own wife?!?  The men (some probably trying not to snigger behind their hands) terrify the King that the whole land of women will be in uproar and will be disobeying their husbands right left and centre!

So Queen Vashti is punished – they make an example of her in order to keep the whole nation of women subordinate to their husbands.

Suddenly this ‘story about a beauty pageant’ got more interesting to me…

Its nearly bedtime so I’m not gonna spend ages pontificating about this, but here is what struck me…  Firstly I can almost smell the boorishness of Xerxes and his buddies – not an unfamiliar scent even today.  Secondly, Xerxes’ wife was the least of his problems – it was the power his reputation in the eyes of his male friends had over him that would worry me!  Third, the desire for control, absolute control, over people (in this case women in particular) and their behaviour in relation to one’s own desired state of affairs.  And four – the role of ‘fearful what-ifs’ in making a complete shambles of a situation.

Fast forward to Esther’s reign as queen.  It seems to me that her power and influence grows stronger – she seems to have been given a place in decisions that matter.  Is it that Xerxes was madly in love with her?  Was he under her power because of her beauty?  Or was it that she had proved herself as capable and righteous because of her petition on behalf of her people?  Did he have more respect for her character and goodness?  Was he listening less to those eejits he’d had around him before?  Who knows.

I like that Esther had more influence and that she is hailed for her courage and faithfulness in ‘such a time as this’ is good and right.  But I can’t help but notice that there’s a rather bloody end to this tale…

Once the order to exterminate the Jews was revoked, the King had granted them the right to arm and defend themselves should anyone have missed or disobeyed the revoke.  Fair enough… But suddenly the land becomes a blood bath!  The Jews kill 75,000 people!  Rather than it being a defensive “this-guy-came-to-my-house-to-kill-my-children-so-i-clunked-him-one”, it became a “I’m-a-Jew-yeoo-I-will-kill-you-because-you-hate-me-grrrr”.  The cull might have been half that number, but Esther asks the King to allow the killing to go on for another day.  What the flip??!!

I can’t help but notice that before this request to the King, there is no three days of fasting and prayer.

So, as I head off to get my beauty sleep… What have I learned from this story?  It could take a while to refine, but it seems to me that given a little bit of power, men and women can be complete idiots.

Thank God for grace.

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Filed under beauty, bible, fear, God, grace, men, story, women

Perhaps

He hadn’t always been like this.

She tried to get up from the floor, but he pushed her down again, swearing and barely able to focus both eyes on her face.  His breath was foul as he pleaded with her to forgive him.

“I can’t let you up til you forgive me” he slurred. “It was an accident, I’m sorry!  You have to…”

He trailed off, slumping onto his knees then sidewards to lean against the wall.

“I didn’t mean to…”

He hadn’t always been like this, but this time wasn’t the first.

He reached out an impotent hand towards her as she pulled herself up on the kitchen chair, mumbling incoherently as she made her way out of the kitchen towards the hall cupboard.  By the time she got back to where he was with the blanket, he was already asleep.

She won’t leave him this time either.

They had grown up together, become best friends and later married – every girl’s boy-next-door fairytale.  She wasn’t interested at first, but as they grew up she discovered that the loyalty, passion and gentleness he possessed was not easily found in any other person she’d met.  His capacity to love and care for the ‘unloveable’ was astonishing, his ambition and compassion for others startlingly beautiful.

But something somewhere went wrong.

She wonders if it would be quite so hard if she didn’t believe he was made of greater stuff, for greater things.  If she’d never known him before, she would have no idea how to hope for the future.  If she didn’t know who he really was, who he could really be, would it hurt so much to see him so far from that?

He gurgled and shuffled in his sleep.  Instinctively she reached out to him in case he should slide onto his side, but he stayed put, his hair matted and mussed on one side like a child’s after a good night’s sleep.  He would make a great father, if only…

That’s why she stays.  The picture of him as he was, as he could be – that exquisite bittersweet morsel of hope in face of his bad choices, in face of his persistent rejection of her and the life they once had together, in face of his inability to say no to the voice that wants ‘just one drink’.

To stay and hope is as painful as to give up and go, but perhaps this way she can be the one to try and win him back with her love and care.

One day it’ll be over.  Either he will be won over by her love, her efforts, the truth… or he will go too far and she’ll be forced to leave.  If she has to leave, all concerned will still bear the consequences.  She too, in her love for him, in her hope for him, already suffers the consequences – she may be removed, but she will not be absent.  Maybe if she leaves he will be forced to face his own consequences.  Perhaps he’ll feel the loneliness, the futility of doing life for himself alone, the pain of what he has brought about.  Perhaps then he will change.

But perhaps he will get used to the absence of her light – his eyes will become accustomed to the darkness he has chosen and soon the memory of light will be nothing but shadow, nothing but the absence of light, nothing.

No! Love always hopes.

One day she does leave, though.  Perhaps there are children involved, perhaps she can no longer bear to see them suffer the consequences of his bad choices, perhaps he starts to hurt them.  But she herself cannot carry him any more – she cannot hope alone.

Perhaps someone else, something else will shine.  A candle lit somewhere on his behalf – a hope, a wish, a prayer.

Love always hopes.  She will always hope.

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