Saturday, September 18, 2004

Group Laments

I want to share some examples of laments that groups of women have written together. Do you notice any familiar themes?

Have mercy on me, My God—My day is not my own.
The needs of others consume me.
Every minute, every hour, the needs and cares of others weigh heavily on me!
I turn—I see laundry, a car waiting to be driven, dishes to be done. I wear the robes of judge, mediator, comforter, nurturer, teacher, learner. (Did I agree to all of this?)
God, deliver me from the tyranny of the urgent. Help me discern the significant from that which steals my peace and joy!
Lord, remind me to stop in the midst of business and to look to You for direction and purpose.

God, quiet my spirit so that I may hear Your voice and praise Your name.
You have heard me and know my heart and placed Your Spirit within me.

Your word is a lamp to my feet. Your love never fails!

Help, Lord, I’ve only got a minute…
So many things have to be done.
I have unfinished projects, places to go, people to see, deadlines, laundry, people to feed, etc., etc., etc., and no time to do it all! …and what was that You wanted me to do…?
I need relief now!

You drew near when I called on you. You said, "Do not fear! Be still and know I am God."
I can cast all my cares on You, Lord—You are a Mighty God!

Give us a break! We need a time out! We are tired and there is never enough time.
Our culture tells us that busyness and over-scheduling is The American Way.
At every turn we feel bombarded with obligations and commitments.
When will it end? The people surrounding us keep pushing sign-up sheets in our faces.
If we don’t do it, Lord, who will? If it’s not done now, then when?
O Lord, we long to feel your peace, Your rest.

Grant us a nap, a relaxing moment, allow us to ENJOY life rather than SURVIVE it.
Thank you that your yoke is easy and your burden is light.
We know that a quiet and peaceful spirit will be granted to us if we seek your kingdom before all.
Lord, You are before all things (Christmas parties, housework, and Daytimers included) and "in YOU [not US] all things hold together."

Lord, help us! We are drowning, our duties are many and our minutes are few.
We are overwhelmed by the tasks and responsibilities before us.
We try to please men instead of You. We are anxious, worried, and burdened.
Help us to choose the better thing, to order our days, to seek time with You.
Open our spirits to Your leading and give us hearts that yearn for You. We long to rest in You.
We are overwhelmed, Lord. You stop the hands of time and allow us a moment to refresh.
Thank you for taking pleasure in our pleas, for delighting in us when we come into your presence,

and for filling our hearts with thanks.


maranatha said...

Hi everyone,

My name is Mary DeMuth and I'm a freelance writer who finds herself in Southern France. We (hubby Patrick, kids Sophie, Aidan and Julia) just moved here a month ago and are working on planting a church. Life, as you may expect, has been full of transition, and thus, lament. Although these essays aren't written in lament form, I think you can feel my lamenting in them. I'll post each one separately.

If you'd like to "meet" me, go to

Mary (maranatha)
Mary E. DeMuth
Hameau des Princes, Villa 4
Chemin des Princes
06650 Le Rouret
To call from the states: 011-33-493424718

Four Essays about France:

On Washers and Dryers and Culture

We accomplished one thing today. One.
But through it all, we’ve seen snippets of God’s grace—a young boy who helped translate for me as I tried to enroll our kids in school; a woman at the French electric company who spoke blessed English with a smile; and our friend Todd helping us locate said electric company in the middle of Grasse, a city of 100,000 with wildly narrow streets named after French people I can’t pronounce.
Today our accomplishment was measured in a piece of paper—a glorified electric bill that, apparently, is the key to life in France. Without this elusive paper, it is impossible to secure a phone, a bank, a life. So, we are on step one of many, many steps—culminating in Internet access, hopefully in a couple of weeks.
Life here is slow. I marvel at how very similar the French pace of life mirrors its maddeningly long washing machines. How I long for a Whirlpool that gets the job done in less than forty minutes. Try two and a half hours! For entertainment—since we have no TV—our children take turns sitting in front of the washing machine in our kitchen (yes, kitchen) and watch the laundry spin aimlessly around. Perhaps they will spot a sock, or a pair of jeans, or a wayward stuffed animal. The suspense is killing me.
The wash cycle stops every once in awhile to pause and reflect on its washing task. Three minutes of nothingness—no revolutions, no soap introductions, no whirling—just reflection. And then it revs up again for another few minutes of tossing. This goes on for so long, my children have begun to lose interest in the inevitable slow revolutions of socks and unmentionables. Oddly, the dryer does the same thing, only there is no clear door to watch the clothes tumble. After spinning for another hour and a half, they are warm but damp. No wonder everyone here hangs laundry.
I am learning just how impatient Americans are in this crucible called laundering. I want my clothes clean and I want it now. I want to be able to stuff more than seven items in the belly of the washer. I want to be able to do all my wash in just one day. It will never happen.
As if to teach me patience, I was greeted yesterday in our tiny villa’s front courtyard by some happy flowers I remember from home: impatiens. Dressed in coats of red, pink and coral, they seemed to reprimand my impatience. So, I stopped and looked at them, realized they were dry and coiled inward, and doused them with water from a hose that took me ten minutes to figure out. My dear husband said “It’s simple—just turn on the water, hold this part firmly, and twist this gray part” which I did, spewing water everywhere. Today, it took me another ten minutes to change the name on our mailbox.
I think I’m allergic to France. I’m testy, needy, tired, confounded, embarrassed at my primary school French. Just today, I looked at my arms, discovering a hive-rash populating my hands, forearms, elbows and upper arms. My arms are allergic somehow and I don’t even know how to find Benadryl.
But I do know how to find my village. I can locate a baguette. I can buy fromage. I can say Bonjour and Merci with all the other tourists peppering Southern France this time of year. The shopkeepers have a tired look about them when they hear my Americanized accent and seem to long for “la rentree” when all the pesky tourists pack up their Peugeots and head back to rainy London.
I, too, am looking forward to “la rentree” because it means a bit of stability for our family—the swing of schedules, school, and rhythm will return to our family. Life has been a series of transitions for us the past six months. All I want to do is unpack our things when our container comes mid September, sit on the couch, and breathe a bit. I want to cook with my motley collection of pots and pans, eat on my dishes, and tuck the family in between our sheets.
And in that I will dream of home—of twenty tasks accomplished in one day, of washing machines that spin behemoth loads of laundry at lightning speed, of arms without rashes, of everything familiar.
With my bread and cheese and breathtaking views of the Mediterranean, though, I think I’d rather stay here in the adventure of it all.

Ou sont les Q-Tips?

All I want is some Q-tips and some lip balm, but I cannot find either in France.
At least not yet.
I did find something resembling Q-tips in the diaper aisle of my local mega-grocery store. The store is larger than Wal-Mart and much more populated. Crowded, bustling, and full of determined French shoppers, Carrefour is not a store to be taken lightly, or approached when one is tired, overwhelmed, or in a general state of confusion.
I was all three when I made my quest for the elusive Q-tip. Patrick had said that man phrase men say when they can’t locate something. “I can’t find them. They must not exist.” Knowing his particular temperament and realizing he has often given up finding an object when it is staring him in the face, I took on the challenge.
“I’ll find them,” I said with great pre-triumph. I mean, how hard can it be to find Q-tips? I wandered the make-up aisles, searching for cotton balls. Aha! I found them! But the Q-tips were not nearby.
OK, think like a French person. Where would a French person find a cleansing instrument for her waxy ears? I scanned the soap and shampoo aisle full of products whose labels I couldn’t read. I worried for a brief moment whether I had been washing my hair with Borax or industrial strength detergent.
I shoved my fear deep inside my American torso and continued my Q-tip quest. The baby aisle! Surely French babies need clean little ears! Sure enough, they did. On a low shelf near talcum powder, I located them.
But these were no ordinary Q-tips.
The white sticks were the same but the cotton was radically different. In swirls of hot pink, the cotton swab was shaped like the top of a Russian Orthodox Church, kind of Byzantine in its cottony architecture. Just looking at the large pink swirls, I knew they’d never fit in my ear, let alone a French baby’s. Beside that, they cost over a dollar for fifty of these ear torturers.
Head hung in defeat, I slinked back to Patrick who was placing food on the conveyer-belt. “I couldn’t find them—just baby ones and they were too big.”
Patrick smiled. Men get a certain amount of satisfaction when they go on a quest, fail, and then watch their wives do the same darn thing. Both inept in our Q-tip locating skills, we paid for our expensive groceries and headed out to the car.
That’s when I realized afresh that my lips were parched—dry as a desert armadillo. Although the folks in Southern France insist that they are dying in the humidity of the days, to this Texan girl, it is as dry as overcooked toast.
My skin is peeling. My lips are leather-like.
But, so far my quest for relief has been unsuccessful. Maybe French people have naturally moist lips—perhaps from all that kissing.
My friend Kim relayed an interesting story. “We were gathered together as a church,” she said. “And the French people were intermingling with the Americans, greeting each other. Men came up to me and said, ‘let me greet you with a French kiss.’” Kim pulled back, shocked. These French sure are friendly, she thought. One man pulled her to himself and kissed her left cheek, then her right. “I had to explain to them what a French kiss meant to an American. It was not the same as two cheek kisses.”
So, maybe the French keep supple lips from all that double kissing.
I may never find Q-tips. Perhaps the French use their newsprint-soft toilet paper to eradicate wax. I may never find lip balm. Apparently all I need to do is greet all my friends (amis) with a holy kiss.
I just hope they don’t sneak a peak into my ears.

(Author’s note: I have found q-tips and located my lip balm. Life is good!)

maranatha said...

Here's something I wrote about the first day of school. Our children loved school in Dallas, Texas, where they attended a gifted/talented academy in Garland where the teachers were nearly all Christians and they loved my children. Contrast that with the intimidation/humiliation method of teaching here and you have a stark contrast. Aidan's teacher made his friend India cry a few days back and she shoved a desk at another child also. Being here is hard!

Just Don’t Look at me with those Big Browns

I would’ve been fine if it hadn’t been for those brown eyes.
Blonde-headed Julia looked at me with those eyes the first day of French school with a mixture of fear, excitement and abandonment. As tears pooled in the recesses of her big browns, mine had to look away, briefly.
“You’ll do just fine, Julia. Watch everyone else. When someone takes out a pencil, you take out a pencil.”
She nodded and took a deep breath, the tears staying intact within their lidded boundaries. It’s as if we both knew if she let them dribble down her tanned cheek, we’d all be done for. We’d both let the fear and pain of the moment get the most of us.
So we stood there, we two, in the midst of a paved schoolyard in a small French village, wondering what the day would hold for her. I sucked in a breath and lifted Julia to myself in one of those protective mother embraces. As long as she stayed cocooned, wrapped in my arms, she would be safe.
But then her teacher, who spoke no English and who had an edge about her that unsettled me, clapped her hands. Automatically, the children lined up in rows of two, including Julia. They grabbed the hands of their partners—I was later to learn Julia’s partner was a little girl named Julie—and they marched into the school building to the applause and waves of their parents.
I didn’t applaud.
I did wave.
And I wiped my eyes that dared to spill tears Julia bravely held in.
I think I will always remember the way her brown eyes seemed that first day of school, how they pierced my mommy heart from behind her blonde bangs. She kept looking backwards as she held Julie’s hand, pleading silently. Take me back home, Mommy, her eyes said. I don’t know what anyone is saying. I’m afraid. Please don’t leave me here.
I had just enough time to locate Patrick who was standing outside Aidan’s classroom. “He’s trying not to cry,” he told me.
And sure enough. More brown eyes—big and looming like his fathers—stared at me with the same mixture of fear and fretting. Aidan was sucking in shallow breaths, trying very hard not to cry. Even from a distance, I could see red encircling his eyes as his lower lip protruded. He was sitting alone. I’m sure he felt alone.
The night earlier, I told Julia and Aidan the story of Peter walking on water. “When Peter looked into Jesus’ eyes,” I told them, “he did amazing things.” I asked them if they had ever walked on water. Both shook heads.
“Going to a school where few speak your language is kind of like walking on water,” I said. “You gotta keep your eyes on Jesus and He will keep you afloat.”
I asked them what happened next in the story.
“Peter sank because he looked at the wind and the sea,” Aidan said.
“You’re right,” I explained, “but that’s not the point of the story.”
They looked at me with those big browns, wondering.
“Even when Peter looked away from Jesus’ eyes and started sinking, Jesus still extended His hand to Peter and rescued him.” I pulled my youngest two close to me then. “That’s the way it is for you. Jesus will be with you in school. And even if things get hard and you look at all the worries around you and feel like you’re sinking, He will find you and lift you up.”
As I watched Aidan’s chest heave on that first day of school, I wondered what was going on in his head. His brown eyes and the eyes of his sister bored a hole in my soul. But as I stood there on the hot pavement, I knew the eyes of Jesus were on my children too.
And He would not let them sink.

maranatha said...

Even when things are funny, there is lamenting...

The Boy Without a Costume

A funny thing happened at Timmy’s house today.
Aidan forgot to bring his costume.
Timmy’s mother must’ve thought I was bonkers. She had specifically asked that Aidan bring his costume and Aidan, apparently, had forgotten.
“Does your son mind wearing other people’s costumes?” she asked.
I thought of our dress up box at home in Texas and how our kids’ friends loved to don the sparkly, robotic, princess, or king costumes. What a strange thing to ask if Aidan felt comfortable wearing other people’s costumes. Of course he did.
“Sure,” I said. “He doesn’t mind at all.”
“Well, good,” she said, her British accent punctuating her speech. “We have a whole drawer of them here, so as long as he doesn’t mind, it should be fine. The weather looks to be clearing, anyway.”
The weather? I suppose they’ll want to play in their costumes outside? I smiled like I knew what in the world she was talking about. I surmised this must be the way international kids play—they invite one another over, insisting they bring their own costumes and then they dress up and play make believe. How clever those British kids are! I suddenly felt like I didn’t know anymore about play-dates, that my foundation of having kids over disintegrated.
Then I remembered that I had donated all Julia’s costumes before we moved. She’s getting too old for them, I thought. This was during my I-hate-packing phase where anything and everything looking remotely useless was carted off to the garage. For every item I put in the garage for donation, I congratulated myself.
But now, as I stood in Timmy’s house sipping water from a plastic cup, I regretted my overzealous donation spree. How would my children fit in if they didn’t have costumes? If this is the mode of play in Southern France, what was I to do? And how would I explain to my children that I threw away the very item that gave them an “in” in this culture?
What kind of mother am I?
Timmy’s mom and I exchanged niceties. She agreed to bring Aidan back at 5:30, or “half past five” as she said. I wondered how Aidan would get along with Timmy, costume-less. I wondered if he would feel weird wearing some other boy’s costumes, or if he’d just roll with the punches.
At least Timmy spoke English. Maybe Aidan could explain that we don’t yet have our belongings—that our costumes are there. Then, later, I could break it to Aidan that I ruined his life and donated them all.
I thank God that He gave me Sophie, who is much more culturally savvy than I am. On our way down the hill from Timmy’s house, as I was lost in thought and pondering why I was a wretched mother, I said, “Why in the world would she ask Aidan to bring his costume? That’s kind of strange, don’t you think?”
Sophie smiled that grin she gets when she knows more than I do. “Mom, a costume is a swimsuit! Aidan forgot his swimsuit. He knew he was supposed to bring it, but he forgot.”
A wave of relief crashed over me. I suddenly remembered Timmy’s clear blue pool and smiled. Of course. Fitting into another culture, even a British culture within a French one, is full of surprises and foibles.
If you don’t mind, I think I’ll slip on my costume and take a quick dip. I need a break.

maranatha said...

This was the most difficult one to write:

I sent my little Julia off to school today.
She was weeping.
Clutched in her hand was a picture I drew of me, arms outstretched. “When you need a hug,” the crayoned words said, “just look at this picture. I love you Julia and I am praying for you.”
As she walked across the schoolyard, she kept the drawing right in front of her field of vision. I could tell by her walk she was still crying.
Julia, my social bee who loves school, is struggling. So used to having lots of friends, understanding the lessons, and being the apple of her teacher’s eye, she is lost in a sea of French children.
Her teacher is stern. She yells at the students. She yells in French at Julia.
But so far, Julia’s been able to shrug it off. It’s the lunchroom that has given her weeping fits.
“Mommy, I don’t want to go to lunch. Please don’t make me go to lunch. Please,” she says over and over.
“Why, Julia?”
“They are mean.”
“Who is mean?
“The lunch ladies.”
“Why,” I ask, my heart constricting, my ire toward lunch ladies rising.
“They make me eat everything on my plate before they will let me get the next course. They yell at me.”
Turns out the children have courses for lunch. They are required to eat every course before the next is given. All of them sit down in the cafeteria (called a cantine) and are served restaurant style. As I pictured Julia there with stern lunch ladies, I questioned my sanity in coming to France. I thought back to Texas and the nurturing environment of school. I thought of how fun it would have been to send Julia to first grade with a packed lunch in hand—a lunch packed with her favorite foods and perhaps a note tucked in. I imagined her reveling in school, loving learning, playing at recess.
Moving is so much more than packing boxes. It’s packing dreams. It’s mourning. It’s loss. I’m yet to be at that place yet where I am rejoicing in our lives in Southern France. All I see is loss. And today, watching Julia cry as she walked alone into a locked school yard (I’m not allowed beyond its gates), made me feel the loss of home more keenly.
I asked her if she had any friends to sit by at lunch before I said goodbye to her.
“No, Mommy. I don’t have any friends. They all speak French.”
I reminded her of Fiona and Julie who speak English. Apparently, though, the two girls understand English but don’t speak it.
At the school gate, I knelt in front of her and prayed as she held my picture to her chest. I prayed God would send her a good friend, that she’d like the lunch and that the mean lunch ladies would have a change of personality and be kind today (truth be told, I wanted to call fire from heaven down on those dictatorial matriarchs!)
She seemed so small walking away from me. Children skittered around her as if she were invisible. She bravely walked toward her classroom, the crayon picture of me hugged to herself.
As I write this she is facing lunch without me, without friends. All I can do is hope and pray this trial in her six-year-old life makes her stronger, makes her more compassionate toward other little girls who clutch pictures of hugging mommies to their chests.
At least that’s my hope.

maranatha said...

And, finally, one that ends with hope:

I painted my toenails today. Pale pink.
I suppose I shouldn’t declare it to the world like it’s some sort of accomplishment, but, hey, for me it is. It’s been over two months since I painted toenails. I’m not one of those toenail-painting fanatics or anything. Painting toenails is the last thing I would do to complete my daily routine. It’s simply a flourish, a decoration.
In the midst of moving, there’s been very little time to flourish or decorate—especially not myself. I’ve been in survival mode for more weeks than I can count, as have the kids. We’ve lived without our things so long it will feel like Christmas when we unpack our boxes.
But today, I can rest in pale pink toenails and smile. They are a tiny indication that things in our lives are returning back to normal, into a rhythm we danced in the States.
The saying is true that we can never go back again. So much of life in France has been a grieving of what is lost that I’ve forgotten to exist in the moment. So lost in the old way of life passing away, I have neglected to revel in what is new, what is beautiful.
Just yesterday, B-T-P Day (Before Pink Toenail Day), my eyes adjusted. I was driving the winding roads in the hills above the Mediterranean Sea, passing palm trees and homes draped with bougainvillea. Whereas before I saw that beauty with a veil over my eyes, yesterday I saw them in full Technicolor. For the first time I noticed the glint of sea breeze in the air, appreciated the sound of birds, listened to the laughter of my children. I saw France. Finally.
As I write this I am on the third floor of a lovely home, sitting on an iron bed in a stark white room. The windows are open, the shutters are flung wide and from that space of air I see olive trees, mountains, and a lick of the Mediterranean snaking into land. I see villas pressed into the side of green hills. I can hear my children chattering below the window.
Life, I realize today, is more than packing boxes, contacting container companies that try to charge us more and more, enrolling children into schools, paying French bills, running French errands, trying to say French words intelligibly, hugging my children when they mourn their many losses.
Life is more than that. It’s pink toenails. It’s the kindness of a store clerk who doesn’t mock attempted French. It’s ripening olives and happy orange trees. It’s eating barbecued meat outside under the stars with friends. It’s eating pastries so good they make you want to cry.
I’ve been accused of being a glass half empty girl. But today, with pink toenails and a vista of the sea, my glass of clear water is full to the rim, overflowing, spilling outward. Today, I love France.

Dena said...

Mary! How wonderful to read of your adventures. How very similar we all become when our heart is being pulled.

Thanks for sharing

Valerie said...

Time!!! I have it but i feel it with nothingness! I don't have it and i still can fill it with nothingness!

rhon said...

Valerie - I was recently contemplating time as a lament. I spent a great deal of it in airports this past week. I wrote, "Why is it we are afraid to stand still? Why are all our conveniences geared toward making us do more things faster? Are we afraid to be still and relate?" I have a million and one things to do and my biggest complaint is not having enough time. So I love your comment about "nothingness". What are all things "things" we're doing?