Friday, 16 September 2011

Skiing-Lessons of a 15yr old

Skiing has been on my mind a great deal this week. For some reason my mind has been flooded with memories of a skiing trip I took as a very keen 15 old year old to Queenstown, New Zealand. I might add it was the only one in my life given that I discovered that skiing was not my thing.  Looking back on it however, I have realised that I learned a great deal on that trip.

My friend and I took skiing lessons and I dutifully followed this German skiing instructor onto the snow feeling very excited and nervous. I tried so hard to apply his instructions but my nervousness did not make a good listener of me. 

We began with the “poma lift” which was a disk or seat attached to a bar which in turn was attached to a pulley to take the skier up the mountain. (See the picture and no that is not me lol but it looks round the right era.) The instructor was at pains to tell us NOT to sit on the disk but merely to place it between our legs, hold onto the pole with one hand and let it take us up. At the same time he instructed us to get off the lift two major poles up the mountain. Do you know it was just instinct each time I put that disk between my legs to sit on it, with the result that it threw me off every time. I did this not once, not twice but about a dozen times before I was able to train my head to not sit on it and I proudly went off on my skis up the hill, holding onto that bar for dear life.

I had been so worried about getting the lift right that I forgot where to get off and as we climbed higher I began to panic about going too far. Sure enough, after one and half poles up the hill I decided it was time to get off and headed off-straight down this very, very steep slope and onto the rocks below. How I didn’t kill myself I actually don’t know. The instructor, by this time very frustrated with me, yelled as he went past, “I told you to go 2 poles up!!!!!” The entire class skied down to me so that they were able to get me off the rocks. I was too relieved to be embarrassed but that moment was still coming!

Trying to concentrate really hard on the instructions this time, I heard the instructor tell us that if we kept our skis straight ahead then we would pick up speed. “Get the feeling of the speed of the skis” he encouraged us. I once again concentrated really hard on what he was saying and applied it very literally. I kept those skis straight ahead and down that slope I went, picking up speed very rapidly.  I felt like I was flying! Suddenly I realised that I had not heard the instructions on how to slow down, let alone to stop. I guess I was philosophical about it because I just kept going until finally I skied right into a very large bank of snow from which the class members had to lift me out with my skis in the air and my head in the snow. 

Needless to say I left one VERY exasperated German instructor on that mountain.  I sometimes giggle now when I think about how bad I was but there were some clear lessons in my head at the same time.  Firstly, instinct is not all it is cracked up to be. Sometimes we need to make a huge effort to overcome what our bodies are telling us to achieve our ends. In spiritual terms I see this as the mastery of the spirit over the flesh. 

Secondly, I learned not to give up. After the first 5 or 6 times on that poma it would have been easy to just go back down the mountain. My desire to go up that mountain kept me going. My goal to arrive in front of my Heavenly Father having completed all of those tasks He has asked of me keeps me trying, and trying again knowing that I will get it right one day.

Panic or impatience usually leads us to make our own decisions and not follow the directions of the instructor and will lead us onto the rocks below. When the Lord gives me instructions then I hope I have learned to be obedient, even when they are not easy or not logical. At the same time I learned the importance of following ALL the instructions and not just part of them. In the gospel there are some commandments and some instructions that are easier to follow than others. But I am very clear that the Lord expects me to work on all of them or a rescue mission might be needed. Of course I make more mistakes than I care to admit and so I am grateful for the patient instructor in Christ who comes and lifts me off the rocks when I make a wrong turn.  

The incident of low-flying on my skis told me that when I do follow instructions I follow them with all my heart, holding nothing of myself back. I have many weaknesses but this is one characteristic about myself that I like and I don’t want to change it. I see my move to France very much like my brief, exhilarating ski at full speed, not knowing how to stop. Although it may be foolhardy not knowing how these adventures will end, I do know that the Lord himself has instructed me to give it my all and to feel the excitement of his spirit as I travel on this voyage. He knows my character which is much the same as that 15yr old.  I have 100% faith in him as my instructor. Even if /when I fall, I know that He will be there to dig me out. I found this quote recently which tells it all. I have taken the leap and I am building my wings on the way down. No better way to go.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Essential things

While attending the temple has always played an important part in my life for the past 31 years I have never truly understood or felt its real impact until about 4 yrs ago.

There were many overnight trips to Hamilton from Wellington and later from Whangarei where we would travel for long hours on a bus, work in the temple literally through the night and return by bus in the morning and where I would find myself exhausted for days afterwards. I was always amazed to see the elderly brothers and sisters, some well into their 80s do that trip each month with such enthusiasm. I loved listening to them chatter on with each other in Maori and I figured I would love to have their excitement for the temple. I knew even then that I was missing something!

When I was married in the temple a small piece of the puzzle appeared. OK so this was a place where families were united forever. It brought a very special spirit to me when I was able to see all four of my teenage children do temple baptisms for our ancestors but even then I just knew there was more to these temple visits.

In every aspect of my life in the gospel I try to reach a point where I am not motivated out of a sense of duty but out of a sense of love. It was finally towards the end of 2007 that this LOVE for the temple hit me and hit me hard. As I have mentioned before in an earlier blog it was during a visit to the temple that I finally received the revelation as to where the Lord expected me to go and I finally got it! This was the house of the Lord which meant that He was in there and I am visiting Him at His place, spending time talking to him and vice versa. I finally caught the vision that the temple is a place of personal revelation.

This was confirmed again during a week in the temple in Frankfurt in July 2009 when I received the message from the Lord that things were going to get tough for me but that I didn't need to worry about Rebekah (Lol that last bit came right out of left field.)

In the past nine months I have been blessed to spend 3 days in the temple in Madrid, two weeks in Frankfurt in April and July of this year, a wonderful weekend visit to the London temple with the Paris Stake Relief Society in April and last week I spent a day in the Preston temple with the Single Adults. (Not bad for someone with extremely limited resources!)

I have developed such a hunger to be in the House of the Lord in these past visits. The more that I have gone the more I have opened my heart and understanding that the Lord actually wants to speak to me, the more I have been privy to some very sacred experiences. Going to the temple now is not just important for me. It has become essential in my bid to have a personal relationship with my Saviour. I am looking forward to General Conference when I hope they will announce that there will be a temple built in France!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Oh to be a child again!

Ask any of my children and they will tell you that I am the most immature of all of us-and they are probably right!   I just love children and being a child right alongside of them.

There is a train in the Paris metro that is driverless-you can sit up front and watch as the train barrels through the metro tunnel. Many parents bring their children up front so that they can pretend to drive the train. Their eyes are as wide as saucers. I am in this train many times a week and I love to sit up front with the children. To the horror of the parents I start to play with the children and I give them encouragement on how to "drive" the train. "Freins doucement" (brake carefully) I tell them as we come into a railway station. As I see a train coming towards us from the other direction I act in mocked fear, "Mais non, attention! Evites l'autre train s'il te plaît!" (Oh no, careful now! Please avoid the other train!)

Each time I start to play with them, after looking at me in surprise, they get really serious about their task of driving that train. Recently a young girl of about 8yrs "drove" the train for a number of stations with me, going through all the motions of starting up and stopping the train. She and her parents then got off at the Gare de Lyon, about halfway along the train's journey. As she was about to go I looked at her with a face full of concern, "Mais qui va conduire le train maintenant?" (But who is going to drive the train now?) Her reply was so calm and so mature compared with my pretended panic. "Mais vous, madame!" (in other words, 'You Madame') Then as she got onto the platform she kept looking back to make sure that I was taking my new task seriously. I dutifully waved back at her with one hand on the little handle right at the front of the train in pretense of driving. She smiled knowingly and took off hand in hand with her somewhat horrified parents.

It is these kind of moments that help bring me to reality amid all the pretense and playing. Children are our most precious resource and playing with them heals my heart and makes me forget for a brief moment the pains and trials of the adult world. Rather than bringing children too soon into our world, let's all go into theirs more often.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Time to get serious

If you have come to read one of those delightful, funny blogs then you might want to leave around now because this one is going to get real serious.

As I have been travelling around a great deal in the region recently and meeting so many people I have been touched by the number of women who have come to speak to me once they realise the nature of my calling. Their messages to me have all been so similar: they have expressed the hope that the introduction of LDS Family Services in France would result in things improving for them as women. As I have listened to them I have stepped into a cultural world that I do not understand and that literally upsets me.

I would like to share some of what these brave women are saying in the hope that their voices will be heard, sometimes for the first time. While naturally I am not going to discuss individuals and their heartfelt secrets there are some common themes that I think need to be shared.

Firstly, there are a number of women who have had the heartache of going through a divorce as a result of their husbands being unfaithful. Unfortunately what they have in common is that as women they have been blamed for their husbands straying with the reasoning that if they had kept their husbands sexually satisfied and if they had worked on keeping them happy the unfaithfulness would never have happened. As I have heard this story repeatedly I have been both incredibly saddened and disgusted at the same time. I have been open in my opinion that there is NEVER an excuse for being unfaithful to a spouse! That the responsibility rests squarely with the unfaithful spouse and no-one else.

One of the worrying messages in all this is that sex is to be gratified, that men somehow have these base desires that need to be catered for or they cannot survive. What a hideous way of seeing something so beautiful that the Lord has given as a gift. Maybe I am naive about this but the minute that we start saying that the wife has a responsibility to take care of the sexual appetites of her husband the magic of the relationship just went out the window. Making love with our spouse is a totally unselfish act by both parties but just having sex catered for is more about selfish self-gratification.

These women went on to report that as they have sought to rebuild their lives that they have often been shunned by their former friends and associates that they had previously shared with their former husbands. Blaming them for the marriage failure has resulted in an ongoing stigma against them in their communities. They have struggled on their own with the grief of the loss of their marriage with little empathy or support.

These issues would be serious enough but some women here in France have expressed similar problems when their husbands have been physically or emotionally abusive. They report that the advice they have received has been along the lines of, "Keep quiet and just accept it" or "If you work harder to please him then he will stop the abuse". Unbelievable advice that just breaks my heart and raises the temperature of my blood! It is insulting to the men involved to think that they could not control their abusive urges and take responsibility for their actions. It is doubly abusive to these women who have need of real ways to stop the abuse in their lives.

The same is true for the children here in France (as with other countries as well, I know). It appears in this patriarchal, very traditional society that children's rights are at an all time low. An extreme example is in the fact that France only instituted a specific law against incest in January 2010 although it was able to be prosecuted under other legislation.  The shutters on the windows of the homes and apartments reflect a very private society, a state of affairs that keeps sexual and other forms of abuse deeply hidden. In a small space of time since I have begun this calling I am already seeing evidence that the problem of incest and sexual abuse in general is no less a problem in France than in my home country of NZ or in other country in the world. I had expected a large, what I believed to be modern culture to be much further ahead in its fight against child sex abuse but here there is a mountain of work to be done to bring it out from behind the shutters so that it can be stomped on and stamped out.

I am probably putting the cat among the pigeons now but my last word in this blog is for the children again. I have a strong belief that smacking children is not the answer to changing children's behaviour or to discipline. Every single parent I have questioned has admitted that when they have smacked their child they have felt anger. When we as parents smack our children it is not discipline, it is an expression of our anger and we teach our children that it is OK for those feelings to be expressed in violence. I was told by a young teenage girl recently that we could not be good people if we were not smacked. That message just scared the heck out of me and left me frightened for the future of our society. It is time to understand the messages that we give our children and to motivate them to change using more constructive methods.

I am feeling suddenly very overwhelmed by what lies ahead.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

What if?

Usually it is not a good idea to try and reinvent our past. No amount of reinventing is going to change anything that is already set in concrete but just occasionally it is an interesting exercise. It helps me to see just exactly where the hand of God has played a significant role and where I have been quietly been prepared.

Sometimes it is in the simple things. Like my name, Marianne. The story from my parents, who are Dutch born, is that they wanted to give me a Kiwi name so that I could easily fit into their new homeland of New Zealand. Great theory but the problem is that it is very much not a Kiwi name-it is a classic French name. Marianne is in fact one of the symbols of the French Republic and represents their motto of Liberté, Egalité et Fraternité. As it so happens, on a personal level I am very passionate about each of these principles.

And then there are my high school years. I was put into an academic streamed class and for some strange reason which is unclear, they gave us an additional compulsory subject just for our class of 30 odd students of French. Although my French classes at high school were more years ago than I care to count, what if I had never had any lessons? I had included France on my list of possible countries to live in and pray about because of those classes many moons ago. I was blessed to have a basic understanding of the French language when I came here which has been essential.

A little amusing aside for me happened when I was to be confirmed a member of the Catholic Church at the age of 12. We were asked to choose a patron saint whose name we would take upon ourselves. I had asked the nuns if I could take upon myself the name of Jesus Christ and they were horrified at the sacrilege. So in my second choice I decided upon Joan of Arc or Jeanne D'Arc as she is known here. Of all the many thousands of possible saints to choose from, I had adopted one of the most potent symbols again for the French people. There are statues of her everywhere! I might add that I was the only one of my classmates to have chosen a French saint.

So little preparations for my great adventure in France seemed to be in place right from birth. When I worked for LDS Family Services in NZ more than 22yrs ago I was sent for training to the USA to learn how to run sexual abuse support groups. At the time it was a very powerful revelation that I would need this training to help women who were suffering and yet I fell pregnant with my first son shortly after returning from this training and I was only able to apply it on a very limited basis before I left the job to be a stay at home Mum. At that stage I could not see ahead. The direction of my work then changed considerably to more administration roles. Never in my dreams did I see myself now working again with women who have suffered sexual abuse so many years later.

More recently, while living in Whangarei I made the decision to leave my very secure and promising government job to start a business with a business partner. It seemed totally illogical at that time and even foolhardy to take a significant cut in pay and face the possibility that I would not be able to get contracts to sustain my family of 4 children. I was motivated by the idea that I could spend more time with them and be more flexible to participate in their lives but it was a huge risk, a leap in the dark made only easier by the strong confirmation of the spirit. What if I had let my fears at that time decide my course of action? What if I had stayed in my lovely government management position?

I was able to have 6 years in Whangarei watching my business grow and my income along with it. With careful saving I was able to have enough financial reserves to survive here in Paris for the first significant period of time that I could never have been able to achieve on a salary. In addition, because I was able to show that I had already operated a successful business the French Embassy was persuaded that I could operate one here and I was able to obtain a visa. So the decision to take the leap of faith and start that business at the beginning has had huge consequences for my mission here.

If it is true that the Lord prepares our lives that far ahead then it makes our day to day decisions that much more important on a spiritual level. The seemingly small decisions we make may have long reaching consequences later on in our stay on earth. I don't want to play around too much with "What if?" I would rather be able to say "Thank goodness I decided that!"

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Forever Friends

While the rest of my blogs seem to read like a chronology of events for my time here in Paris today I am feeling philosophical and full of questions.  Once a good woman told me that we are lucky if we have one or two really good friends. We have lots of acquaintances but real friends are something else. I have been doing the whole navel gazing thing lately and have counted my lucky stars that I have always had a real good friend with me for the most important times in my life.

I am not going to cover every phase in the past (I can hear a sigh of relief on your side) but I have sprinkled in my life these amazing male friends with whom I have been ultra close, with whom I have felt totally myself and at ease. What I don't understand is why this small handful of men have managed to virtually connect with my soul more than my female friends whom I love and adore too.

In November last year I connected with one such man. The relationship was virtually instant and I very soon saw that I had connected with a soul mate, that I was able to enjoy talking with someone directly spirit to spirit. I do not believe that we have only one soul mate but special spirits exist throughout our lives with whom we connect at the deepest level possible. There is no feeling quite like that one for me apart from my personal relationship with the Saviour. With Mark, I found someone who shared so many of my same loves-firstly, our love for the gospel and our hunger to study and understand it. And then there was our deep love for music, (thankfully with an incredible match in tastes), for things historical and artistic and finally our passion for anything and everything in our world. I could count on his honesty with me :) Although a fatal illness cut this relationship frustratingly short a few months ago this will remain as one of those life changing times.


Just to prove my point that we have more than one soul mate, right in the middle of developing a relationship with Mark, I went to a single adult conference and started a second spiritual connection with yet another man, Alex. This time someone completely different and yet when we spoke the first time it was like meeting with a very old friend I had always known. We bypassed all the trivia and went to speaking directly soul to soul about things that mattered most to us. Since New Years I have communicated regularly with him and as a friend Alex was with me to comfort me when Mark died. We are opposites in so many ways but he has a warmth, an honesty and a way of lifting my spirits when I need it. I feel able to tell him virtually anything! He remains a real and true friend who I know will always have that special place reserved also among that handful of princes in my life.

Even though we are divorced (and I will always be sad about that) I count my former husband, Walter in this list of special male friends in my life. We have developed a close friendship of an eternal nature especially recently and I would be heartbroken if I did not find him on the other side in the eternities.

I count myself very lucky when I look back and see the men that the Lord has put in my path. They don't come from any particular background, any particular ethnicity or even have any particular personalities. They are completely different men in so many ways. So what is it that makes the difference between those who are "friends" and those who are much more? Why do we have such deep connections with only a certain few? I don't have the answers except to say that at the moment I am glad that I am single that I have had the chance to have each of these men in my life :)

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Finally! The reason revealed for my move to France

While my life ahead was not very clear as yet, after the death of my father I was able to feel reinforced by a powerful spirit which was increasing daily. I focussed on serving in my ward and on helping Liliane to become well and independent after the death of her husband. Every Saturday I was able to spend with my son, Aaron meeting each time in some fabulous location in Paris. Lol there were definitely some upsides to this adventure!

I already had a brief inkling of what might be coming when I was invited to spend a delightful Saturday with a missionary couple charged with putting LDS Family Services together in Europe. They set a target date of November 2010 to get things up and running in France and asked for my assistance on a couple of things. I put that in the back of my head however to concentrate on day to day tasks like getting the youth of our ward ready for our end of year road show and generally on surviving. I saw the Lord literally provide for my every physical and spiritual need during this time. When I needed to go the temple to get a spiritual boost I found myself flying to Madrid in October for four amazing days. This is perhaps so difficult to imagine considering that I had not had access to my own resources since March. 

As Christmas approached and it looked like a bleak year the French government came through and gave me a reimbursement of overpaid social charges. With this I was able to send money home for my children's Christmas, have a Christmas celebration with Aaron and go to Belgium for the New Year's eve Single Adult Conference where I met more wonderful new friends who have become such a part of my life here. For someone who has no money I sure have been having an incredible time!

All this is lovely and almost dreamlike but they are still like the fluffy stuff that you put in the ceiling as insulation. I was still looking for more-always looking out for the reason why I had come here to France, knowing that I was playing a waiting game. And then suddenly, after waiting for more than 2 years it was suddenly here! I received an email from the LDS Family Services missionary couple to let me know that a general authority would be contacting me about a calling to set up LDS Family Services in the Paris region.
It was agonizing not being able to say anything specific to friends until it was official but I did tell a special friend who was incredibly supportive of me and I told my children. 

FINALLY, the Lord had revealed His hand. I was set apart by Elder Paya, an Area Seventy at the end of January and it was confirmed that I am not in France by chance. I already knew that but it gave me such a boost to hear it out loud. While it is clear that I would be focusing on the wider Paris region I did not expect to hear that I was to be made a member of a committee responsible to set LDS Family Services in place in France, Switzerland and Belgium. There is so much work to be done but I have been prepared and I am so excited!

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Lord's timing is perfect-down to the last second

June 2010 was quite the month for me in France. It is the month in  which my daughter gave birth to my first grandchild-Ella. It was not the same as actually being there with her but I made the most of the free calls from France to NZ and shared in her hours of labour as she breathed through the contractions until  Ella's father could be there with her. Although there are incredible miracles that surround this experience I am not going to add them here because they are her experiences as well as my own. I do want to share more of my journey in France as I approached the date the Bishop set aside to decide whether I was staying or not.

I was just a little nervous as D-day in June 2010 approached (Lol that sounds like a soldier in WWII could have written that in 1944). It was like seeing through a glass darkly. I would like to have had more idea of my future and a clearer picture for my journey. With the approach of the deadline I was excited however that one way or the other the Lord would now need to show His hand.

And He did-just not in the way I expected! A phone call brought me to an interview with the Stake President. He explained that his father was very ill, most likely dying and that his mother was in need of assistance. He proposed a situation of mutual advantage where I would move into their apartment, provide moral and physical support where needed and I would be able to remain in France and continue my quest to find work. I was absolutely devastated even though it was an excellent idea. As I prayed about it that night the answer came as a definite "yes" and I balked at it. Not because it was an illogical idea but because there was this element of pride in it. Like as in, "You mean I have sold everything, left my children behind and my country and you want me to do THIS?? I had built my hopes on the idea that the Lord would provide me with a definitive answer as to why I was sent here but this was not it! I wanted meaning and I wanted something to be meaningful. But I had come this far on obedience-this was not the time to rebel.

The next few weeks were incredibly difficult as I moved to the other side of Paris, away from my wonderful ward, my friends,  and most especially my one remaining child with me who stayed on in Cergy to be close to the university. Why did the Lord keep taking away any comfort blanket that I had? The couple were so wonderful to me but I was struggling. Claude was in the hospital when I arrived and my first weeks were spent driving Liliane backwards and forwards to the hospital to spend time with him each day and then to help her with day to day tasks. As his condition deteriorated I knew I needed to stay as close to Liliane as possible to provide support as she came to the slow realisation that her husband was not going to make it and 24hr/7 was taken up in her care.

I keep having these tests of my faith about being here in France and this was really the largest one-I looked ahead of me and saw no way out. I didn't have the opportunity to look for work under these circumstances and there was no other possible option that I could see to improve the situation. It was in this frame of reference that I was struck hard with an impression to seek for a priesthood blessing from a particular American missionary Elder in Paris, the husband of a missionary couple. I am so, so, so grateful that I followed that inspiration.

Much of Elder Stover's blessing is very personal to me and I won't share it all on this public forum. I can say that it became clear that the Lord was asking me to give service at this point in time, that this was not the time to seek the success of the world. What I didn't expect to hear however was when he said that I would be re-united with the spirits of my family members in the spirit world. I was also told that I was in the right place, that coming to France was the will of the Lord and that He would go before me and would be at my left hand and at my right hand. I was reminded that I was not to forget it. My first reaction to this was, "Am I going to die?" No-one in my family was ill at that time. A peaceful, wonderful spirit enveloped me however and I was suddenly not worried.

The very next day I was travelling in the train in Paris on the way home and I was reading in the Book of Mormon, a chapter in Alma 40 which was talking about the spirit world after death. This was purely by chance because this was where I was up to while undertaking a challenge to read the Book in the 90 days of summer! At that moment I received a call on my cellphone. It was my mother to tell me that my father had suddenly died while the two of them were on their holiday in Holland. Although it knocked the wind out of me and I had to get off the train at the next stop so that I could breathe better, the words of Elder Stover's blessing just sang in my head, over and over. WOW, I thought-the Lord's timing is perfect, down to the very minute!!

It was wonderful to be with family during those days of saying our goodbyes to Dad. However, Elder Stover's blessing became an important reinforcement for me again as the night before the actual funeral service my brothers and sisters spoke to me to urge me to go back to NZ, that my children were suffering and that no-one in my family supported me being in France. Once again the blessing came strongly to me and an incredible peaceful feeling overwhelmed me-"I will go before you and be at your left hand and at your right hand." I truly felt it that night. I understood all too well that using logic they were right and there was no answer that could have or would have satisfied them. I was not on my own that night-I walked back to the hotel just surrounded by the spirit. I am sure it will remain one of the most defining moments in my life.

That same day I also received word that Claude had died. I bid a tearful farewell to my Dad, said my goodbyes to my family and headed back to Paris for yet another funeral.

Although Dad dying was a shock and difficult to accept, the experience was a pivotal one in my journey here in Paris. It was during that trip to Holland that I became aware just how completely I gave my life to the Lord to do with it whatever He wanted. There was no holding back now. It was an incredible, freeing feeling oddly enough. Exhilarating in the understanding that my life could now go in any possible direction-wherever the Lord was going to take me.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Point of No Return

I get to write this blog in the most unusual of places-this time a train trip between Brussels and Paris when boredom was setting in. I am getting to some difficult bits to discuss in this voyage to France and I was not sure whether I wanted to go any further with this but I have decided to be brave in case there are others out there in the same situation as I found myself. So....

Once I had sent Joshua off to NZ in January 2009 I was faced with yet another "little" obstacle. The reserves of money that I had brought with me from home were fast running out. Although we managed to get out of the hotel temporarily, towards the end of March I was confronted with the stark reality that there was just enough money left to fly Aaron and I home. I phoned our Bishop in France to tell him goodbye but I received the unexpected response (hmmm or perhaps by now the predictable response) to "Pray about it Marianne." My first instinct was to ask, "Pray about what? There is only one option that I can see."

However, after a good night's sleep, I knelt in prayer and asked the Lord what He wanted of me. The answer came back in such an unmistakable way, "I want you to stay in France." My wonderful Bishop met with me and informed me that he was going to throw his weight in behind my decision and support me, at least until June when Aaron's university year would end. I took a very deep breath as I used the last of my money to pay for our next month's expenses. They talk about leap of faith and that image has not meant much to me personally before but it was all I could think about at first. I was leaping off a very dark cliff with no idea if I was going to be caught at the bottom. I call this point in my journey to France, "My Point of No Return". There was no going back on this decision now.

With that decision made, I went back to work looking to get the business functioning, once again expecting that if the Lord wanted me to stay then the doors would be opened and I would get the business up and running.  But has June approached rapidly nothing had changed-still no work! I resigned myself to heading back to NZ-YET AGAIN lol! By now I should really recognise that the Lord answers in His own way and in His own time. I am reminded of the scripture in Isaiah 55:8 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts neither are my ways your ways saith the Lord."

So what happened? I will write that one in my next blog :)

Friday, 29 April 2011

Leaving my Children in New Zealand

This one subject has caused more heartache and more difficulties than all of the other subjects combined relating to my move. I think that it is time to broach it here.

It had always been planned for me to go back to New Zealand in February 2009, timed to enable me to attend the 80th birthday party for my father and at the same time pick up my girl, Tineke and bring her to France to live with us. Rebekah had already strongly indicated that she wasn't going to come to France no matter what and she was of an age that I respected her decision.

However, as I watched Joshua struggle with the French education system and the French language in particular, when I compared the French high school curriculum for senior students with that in New Zealand I came to the very difficult realisation that it was not going to work for my girls in France. Tineke entering into year 12 and Rebekah into year 13 in New Zealand were just too far into their schooling for me to impose such a huge change on them. In discussions with Walter, the girls and I, we all agreed that Joshua and I would still come back to New Zealand for the visit but that the girls would stay living with their father in New Zealand.

Aaron was not able to come with us but Joshua and I headed back to New Zealand as planned. On arriving at the airport we had one of those classic scenes where we threw ourselves at our greeting party. It was so wonderful to see the girls and Walter too. At this point, I was so grateful to have worked really hard on remaining friends with him when I had seen so many bitterly divorced couples. We were probably more in sync now than we were when we were married and it was relatively straight forward to plan the next phase together. Walter had a girlfriend in Nelson he wanted to return to and it was decided that we would sell my home, the girls and he would move there and Joshua and I would return to Paris.

House sold and the furniture already taken down to Nelson, it was time to head for the airport, the car loaded to the gunnels with the children, our suitcases and what was left of our belongings. I had no idea just how difficult this farewell would be. Fear gripped me as we drove into the airport car park and the realisation that this time I really did not know when I would see my girls again-no planned return flight this time. It was a very dark evening in every respect as we flew off back to France.

A little less than a year later, at the beginning of 2010 it became even more clear that Joshua was just not happy in France and the French school system was doing him no justice. He also missed his sisters and his Dad very much and he broached the subject of going back to live in NZ. I think this was probably the lowest point in my time here in France: deciding to send him back home on his own and taking him out to the Charles de Gaulle airport. Watching him go through security and turn for his last farewell wave literally broke my heart. I cried for two days straight. Suddenly I was wrenched from being a hands-on mother to watching my children from a distance. While I still had Aaron relatively close by he was already an adult and didn't really need me in the same way and just a few weeks after Joshua's departure we were forced to live in different homes also. What happened to the usual process where the children leave the nest one by one and where you cry because the last one has finally left. How was it possible for a mother to be the one to leave first??

Many have asked me how I could possibly have left behind my children-and it is a good question that I have had great difficulty with myself as I have asked my Heavenly Father how He could expect this much of me. But I am very, very clear that He has expected it and my children are also clear on this one. There have been times when I have been tempted to throw in the towel and run home to them but it is my children, even my inactive daughter, who have encouraged me to keep on going in Paris. It is my children who have reminded me that I am in the right place doing the will of my Heavenly Father.  If I had the choice to do this all over again would I do it? Absolutely!

The Lord and I have also developed an understanding-if I am to be here doing His will then would be please take special care of my children. Through this experience I have seen incredible miracles happen in the lives of my children as they have worked through some pretty major trials-childbirth, a near-death experience and 2 major earthquakes in one instance. On each occasion the Lord has reminded me that He is taking care of things on the New Zealand end and that the best thing I can do is be as obedient to His will as I can. I have learned about the power of prayer and the power of the temple as a mother. I have had to learn to totally accept that the Lord knows what is best for me and my children and that He is molding us and refining each of us.

I love my children with all my heart and I would dearly love to be able to give them giant hugs and kiss them goodnight but my sight is on the eternities-I want my children with me forever. I can't expect them to know how to put the Lord first in their lives if I am not willing to do that myself. They are in no doubt of the love I have for the Lord and that I have been willing to give up everything that I have to be obedient.  The fruits of that are now beginning to finally burst forth.