A couple of years ago, Donnette and I participated in our church’s Newly-Wed game during the annual Valentine’s Day dinner. In the first round, Donnette along with the three other wives were asked to leave the room while the guys remained behind to answer questions, based, presumably, on how we thought our wives would answer. In other words, we had to base our answers on how we thought our wives perceived us. Now, I’ve never understood women, and my wife is no exception, but when it came to the third answer I knew exactly what she would say.
We were asked, “Your wife will say you are a natural-born…fill in the blank.” The question is basically asking, what is the one word your wife will use to summarize who you are. Brian guessed his wife would say “golfer,” because he loves to golf, and Will answered “piano player” because Will is the best piano player most people have ever heard. Based on this paradigm, I suppose I was expected to answer “chef,” because I love to cook and am at least decent at it. However, I didn’t really get into cooking until shortly after my wedding, about eight years ago, and it seems to me that if you are naturally born to do something, you don’t wait 26 years to get around to it. No, I knew what Donnette would say; it’s the same answer anyone who’s ever spent any real time around me would say. At the end of the day, if you’re going to boil me down to one word to define who I am, then I am a natural born talker.*
According to my mother, I said very little for my first 2.5 years. She claims she was actually a little worried about me. Then, overnight to hear her tell it, I began to speak in complete sentences, and have not stopped talking since. When I was little, my mom and I took several cross-country trips with my grandparents. We went up into northern Canada, to places so far north you can still see snow in July and the sun at midnight. This involved hours, weeks really, of traveling together in the car. My family would play all kinds of games with me, but the one I remember most clearly, and the one most relevant to this story, was the “how long can we be silent?” game. I never won. To this day, my grandmother still hopes that one of my children will be the same way, just so that I will get my comeuppance. Avonlea seems to know plenty of words, but is nowhere near as chatty as her cousin who’s roughly the same age. Maybe grandma will get her wish with the next one.
People often ask us what the process of applying to MTW was like. Just yesterday I met with a pastor who had served with them, and he summed it up best. He referred to it as “spiritual proctology,” and that’s as good a description as any I can think of. There are many good reasons for this, which I won’t go into here, but it doesn’t change the fact that it was, at times, a humbling and difficult process. One of the things they made us do was take personality tests. Lots and lots of personality tests. Some were meant to evaluate our personalities, some were meant to check for multiple personalities; there were lots of tests. One of the goals of these tests was to see how compatible Donnette and I are, together, as a couple. Do our personalities work well together? We’ve taken these sorts of exams before, and in awaiting the response you sort of wonder what sort of Pandora’s box you’re about to open up. I mean, what happens if you aren’t compatible? We’re already married, and I don’t remember Jesus ever giving a Myers-Briggs clause as solid grounds for the dissolution of a marriage, so really, what is the incompatible couple to do? Fortunately for us, Donnette and I are nearly a perfect match on any number of levels – perfect complements, the tests would say.
That bullet being dodged, the tests did reveal something that MTW advised us to be aware of, something that is relevant to the current discussion. You see, everyone has a certain number of words they need to say every day, or better put, a certain amount of social interaction they need each day in order to feel happy and healthy. For someone with Donnette’s personality, this number is relatively low, a fact that we know to be true. Donnette would be perfectly happy to not talk to anyone all day while she’s at work, and comes home the most exhausted on days when she’s been in meetings from 8-5. ** Someone with my personality though, well, I need to talk. A lot.
Here in the states, this really isn’t a problem. Everybody here speaks English, from sea to shining sea. America is one of the few countries in the world where you can drive 3,000 miles in the same direction *** without the need to know multiple languages. I can talk to anyone: the checkout lady at Target, the other parents on the playground, friends at church, there are plenty of people here that I can use my words on so that Donnette doesn’t receive a nightly dose of unwanted pent-up vocabulary. We don’t have a problem here. Where we may have a problem is France.
I mentioned last week that I don’t speak French. But the people in France, they speak French, almost exclusively. It’s sort of their “thing.” But I’m a talker, I’ve got to talk to someone, and if the only person I can talk to is Donnette, then I’m going to talk to her, whether she wants to hear it or not. MTW told us to be aware that this is could be a potential problem for us, and the more I think about it, the more I realize that they really do know what they’re doing with all those tests.
The solution is for me to learn French, and, in fact, when we get to France we will be going straight to language school. We simply cannot minister in France without first learning the language, because 1. all the ministry done there is done in French, 2. Avonlea will pick it up quickly and naturally, and no good will come from having a child who can speak a language I don’t understand, and 3. being the nightly recipient of all my words will cause my wife to commit murder. Acquiring and mastering the language is essential to our ministry, and until we’ve done this, we won’t be doing much of anything else. Our current plan is to spend one full year, our first year, away from the team and holed up in the French Alps, in the tiny village of “Albertville,” learning French. We’re excited about going to this school, because it is a Christian school, which means there will be some fellowship of the saints for us, and because they will better equip us to minister properly to the French people.****
A big part of the rational for keeping this blog is so that those of you who are so inclined can pray for us in specific ways, and so that we can keep you informed of how we’re doing throughout the entire process. People often ask us about our needs, and while we need prayer and financial support (and lots of both), once we’re in France one of our biggest needs will be the quick and capable acquisition of the language. In the Reformed tradition, we don’t believe in the gift of tongues, but we do believe that God gives everything he requires of those he calls to serve, and so we pray that he will do nothing less than reverse Babel so that we might effectively share the love of Christ with the French. Our goal is to leave for France by next August, so that we can start school in the fall (which is similar to a North Carolina fall) and not in the dead of winter (the winter Olympics were held in Albertville).
And so, we thank you for your prayers. We covet them, we truly do, both now while we’re here and once we’ve reached our goal. Pray for us, pray for the French. Thank you.
*I said “talker,” and when they asked Donnette, she said, with no hesitation whatsoever, “talker.” She didn’t even need to think about it.
**It is important to note as well that it’s not that Donnette doesn’t like to talk to people, because she does, it’s that she doesn’t need to talk to people, in a fundamental-to-who-she-is-as-a-person sort of way.
***Jacksonville, FL to Seattle, Washington is about this distance, and as long as you don’t get tripped up in the Ozarks, everyone speaks a language the English speaker understands.
****Apparently, the French pray very differently from us. It is my understanding that this is actually the case for most other cultures, which is a little weird, because I never really would have thought there was an “American” way to pray.