Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Week Before Christmas

For most of our married life, the week before Christmas has been extremely busy and often rather hectic.  We always had a fall semester to finish out, many presents to purchase, and huge meals to prepare.  Our mission pre-Christmas week this year was a radical departure for our norm.  And what a wonderful week this has been.

We began with an experience that is typical in Idaho, a drive in a snowstorm.  But rather than our usual voyage from Rexburg to Idaho Falls, this trip was from our home in Lyon toward Paris.  We checked into our hotel just a few hundred yards from the entrance to the Palace of Versailles and the next morning had the opportunity to go to the "Paris" temple.  It was so exciting for us to come back to the temple where we worked as guides during the open house.  But this time, we were able to participate in sacred ordinances.  It was really amazing that we saw at least fifteen people there whom we already knew.  We probably don't see that many friends when we go to the temple in Rexburg!  It was really special to us to also be invited to attend a temple sealing of a couple from New Caledonia.

The next event of our week was a visit to a self-reliance group in the Antony Ward located in the southern suburbs of Paris.  One sister in this "Finding a Better Job" group admitted that she had been reluctant to join, even though she was dissatisfied with her employment.  But after just two of the twelve-week meetings, after learning how to prepare an effective C.V. and mastering some interview skills, she had found a job that required fewer hours, paid a significantly higher salary, and that she enjoyed so much more.  But the most impressive thing was that the group was now on lesson seven of the twelve-week course, and this sister was still actively attending.  She realizes that the self-reliance initiative is not just about what it can do for you.  It is also about how you can help others.  So there she was, acting as an action partner and encouraging the others in her group even though her own personal objectives had been met.

Before leaving for Paris, we had done a Google search on the best Christmas markets in France.  It turns out that most of them are in the Alsace region between Strasbourg and Mulhouse.  So even though it about doubled the driving time back to Lyon, we made a loop through Alsace.  It is impossible to describe what some of these places look like at any time of the year, but at Christmas it is just magical.  If you have ever seen one of those little medieval looking villages that people often set up under their Christmas tree, that is the portrait of Alsace in December.

On the Paris temple grounds.

The Antony Ward "Finding a Better Job" self-reliance group with our manager, Momo Djemai.

Momo and the Antony Ward sister who found a great job after just two weeks with the group.

One of the many Christmas markets in Strasbourg

Another market beside the Strasbourg cathedral.

Obernai, just south of Strasbourg.

An entry gate to Riquewihr.

The hotel (yellow, on left) where we stayed in Riquewihr was built in 1550.

The restaurant just a few steps from the hotel served wonderful Alsatian meals.

Kaysersberg, just a few kilometres from Riquewihr.

A medieval chateau overlooks the village of Kaysersberg. . . 

. . . and a little stream runs through the middle of town.

Part of the Christmas market in Colmar.

The market at Mulhouse was the last stop before returning home to Lyon.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Christmas Letter, 2017

Christmas Letter
2017, Lyon, France
As we come around the corner to another Christmas away from home and head quickly towards our departure date of February 8, we are filled with mixed feelings.  When we received our itinerary for the flight home, Sister Geddes started to cry (tears of excitement or sadness? probably a little of both), and Elder Geddes said he felt like he had just been punched in the stomach, but then in the same breath we started talking about how much grandchildren had grown, golfing, other possible trips, T.J. Max, and macho burritos at the Taco Bus in Rexburg. We knew it would happen that we would make wonderful life-long friends with the beautiful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints here in France, with the unbelievably powerful young Elders and Sisters, and with the amazing not so young senior missionaries we get to serve with. We knew we would get attached and be very sad to leave people we love so much and care so very deeply for.  But we didn’t know the extent of this emotion until the time actually came. And here it is! We will never stop loving them or caring for their best happiness and will try in earnest to stay in contact with them.

On the other hand, J  we cannot wait to be with children and grandchildren and dear friends who are like family to us.  That was, of course, the hardest part of being gone this far away.  We missed the birth of one grand baby and the baptism of two grandchildren, music recitals, soccer games, flooded basements, job changes, first steps, first laid eggs, and multiple birthdays not to mention important visits from the tooth fairy.
Amidst this potpourri of feelings is one overriding feeling; gratitude. We could not be more grateful for this extraordinary mission.  We love Europe.  We love living in France and travelling all over French speaking Europe, we love being drenched in this oh- so- rich cultural heritage of art, history, architecture, and religious tradition. We love the French language and are still debating if we are grateful for French bread, cheese, and pastries since we are bringing far too much of it home with us—around our  mid sections.
We feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to work closely with strong, faithful, diligent members of the church.  It is not easy to be a religious person in France these days.  We love and admire the Young Single adults we work with at the Institute for the way they face all the challenges that are so urgent and pressing upon them.  These and the other members rise to the occasion and shine like a beautiful ray of hope to the whole region. Most of the members are converts to the church with very few second and third generation members.  Their love of God and the gospel is alive and full of enthusiasm and commitment, plus they sing hymns with an unbelievable intensity and with all their hearts. We have been impressed and inspired by our wonderful, spiritually minded Self-Reliance Directo, Momo Djemai  as well as Priesthood leaders, Roland Léporé and Marc Pommier whose understanding of the gospel is deep and clear and unfailing.  We were privileged to be here during the Paris temple open house and observe a very real spiritual renaissance complete with miracles, softened hearts, and very positive media coverage.
We are grateful for each other as companions, both missionary and eternally.  We definitely make a good team on the good days and the not so stellar days.  Our skills and talents are complimentary, and we are good at filling in the gaps for each other when needed.  We have both learned a great deal about ourselves and each other (you’d think we already knew just about everything after 45 years.) We are grateful for the gift of repentance and change and the ability to grow and become.  We feel we will come home changed and better for the experience.
Most of all, we are grateful to be anchored in the knowledge that there is a God, that we are His beloved children, that He cares about us and wants our greatest happiness and progress.  In this very confused world around us, we are grateful to know we can pray and be heard and be lifted. We are eternally grateful for His Son, Jesus Christ whose birth and life we honor at this glorious time of year. We know that He lives now, that He is at the head of this church, that because of His atonement, there is tremendous hope and limitless possibilities awaiting us.  We have been grateful to wear His name on our chests this past many months, and though we will not be wearing the name badge, we will have His name engraved upon our hearts and will continue in our greatest desire to be worthily sealed as “His.”
Merry Christmas!  And Taco Bus, here we come!
Gros Bisous (French way to say “love”)

Elder et Sœur GEDDES  -  Missionnaires
France • Belgique • Luxembourg • Suisse  +33  (0)6 60 13 93 97  +33 (0)6 69 68 63 57

alias Mom and Dad, Nanny and Pappy, Chris and Matt

Monday, December 4, 2017

Return Flight

We just received an email with our return-home flight information, scheduled for about nine weeks from now.  Of course we will be excited to see friends and especially family again.  But the initial response was more like a punch-in-the-stomach than a feeling of excitement.  This is probably a good sign.  It has made us reflect on many amazing things this experience has been for us.

So what is so great about abandoning the familiar and jumping into a world where almost everything is unknown.  There are obvious major obstacles: a different language, a new culture, strange foods, etc.  And even the myriad of mindless things like turning on the oven, buying bread or parking the car can present unimagined challenges.  But they can also bring unanticipated delights, especially things like buying bread!  We often find ourselves feeling like a little kid at Christmas who opens a present and then has more fun playing with the box than with the gift.  And almost every day of our mission has given us a new box.

What have been the biggest things?  First of all, even though we already knew it, we make a great team.  Over the course of our mission we have taken turns pulling each other through new and sometimes difficult challenges with strengths and weaknesses that dovetail beautifully.  We both have great companions!  Secondly, this mission has made us turn our unified focus away from OUR needs, OUR concerns, and OUR problems and place it where it should be: Serving Heavenly Father in His way by doing our best to follow the example of the Savior in helping others.

When that mixed-emotion flight home is past, we hope that two things will have happened.  We hope that the everyday routine that had become commonplace and sometimes mundane at home will take on a renewed sense of excitement and adventure.  And we hope that our focus will stay as it has become here.

Not sure what this traffic sign meant. . . moustache crossing?!

Hummmm . . . what do you do here?

This is how you go for groceries. 

Backing into a parking space can be a little tricky here in France.

And knowing how much your gas cost can be even tougher.

Finding good bread isn't difficult at all. . . 

. . . neither is finding roasted goat heads!

Vegetable or sea creature?  Not sure!

Never seen one of these cars in Idaho.  Wonder how it is in snow?

Lots of graffiti, but not all bad.

France has some really funny looking cats. . .

. . . and a few strange fashions.

Well, not everything here in France is totally different!

One of the best parts!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

La Route de Soleil

The A7 auto route that runs between Paris in the north and the southern Mediterranean coast is known as "La Route de Soleil" - to way to the sun.  During the month of August, driving times on the A7 can more than double as seemingly everyone in France heads for the beaches.  And in the winter months, a trip to the south can be a welcomed escape from the harsh weather elsewhere.  So we were delighted to learn that we had the opportunity to travel down the A7 to the beautiful city of Aix-en-Provence to take part in a Self-Reliance Saturday with the single adults from the Nice Stake.

On Friday we drove down, stopping for lunch in the village of Salon-de-Provence.  During our lunch, our wonderful self-reliance director, brother Momo Djemai telephoned us asking where we were.  He informed us that there was an unusual storm headed that way and that the Saturday event was likely to be postponed.  But since we were already so close to Aix and it was too late to cancel the hotel reservation, we might as well just wait and see.  When Momo arrived, we had a nice dinner and team coordination meeting together at the hotel restaurant located in the countryside outside of Aix.  And as anticipated, the Saturday events were postponed.

On Saturday morning when we opened our curtains, everything had become Idaho-en-Provence!  There was something a little strange about seeing palm trees covered in snow.  And our little Toyota "Yaris", a great car for dodging around in heavy traffic or parking in impossibly narrow city streets almost fainted at the sight.  My 4x4 truck back in Idaho would have just laughed at the 500-yard-long snow-covered gentle incline that went back to the highway.  To the Yaris, it was Mont Blanc!  After multiple attempts backing down and making quick runs at the "hill" we got out and by Saturday evening we had once more traveled the A7 and were safely back in Lyon. 

This weekend, the A7 should have been called "La Route de la Neige"!

Provence or Idaho?

Olive trees don't usually look like this. . . 

. . .neither do palm trees.

Un bonhomme de neige.

Our team meeting and dinner with Momo.  He was the only sunshine we saw this weekend!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thanksgiving in France

Sœur Geddes just can't help herself when it comes to celebrating holidays like Thanksgiving.  At home that usually means spending days of decorating and cooking in preparation for a big family gathering.  Since we are so far from family again this November, my idea of a nice Thanksgiving celebration was for us to go out to some little local bouchon or brasserie for a relaxing dinner and evening together.  Wrong! 

Our celebration this year was to invite all of the local young adults in our stake plus the missionaries based here in Lyon for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.  This would be a heroic feat to accomplish even at home.  But here in France, where our little apartment kitchen has a total preparation space of 2 by 4 feet, and where the only whole turkeys you can find are still running and gobbling, it would take nothing short of a miracle.  But when Sœur Geddes sets her mind to something, miracles happen!

So last night we had 36 young, hungry people show up for an American Thanksgiving in France.  Dinner consisted of turkey (we found enough without needing a hatchet), dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, dozens of homemade rolls, jello with berries and crème fraîche, green beans, pumpkin pies, pecan pies, and chocolate cake with cherry glaze.  The missionaries, most of whom are Americans, loved having a little feeling of home.  For the locals, many of the things on the table were very foreign, especially the jello, turkey dressing, and pumpkin pie.  But no one went home hungry. 

For our Christmas celebration we're going out to dinner!

Sœur Geddes setting the serving table at the church.

A crock-pot full of turkey, vegies, home-made rolls, and French butter.

Stuffing, sweet-potatoes, mashed potatoes, and turkey leg quarters.

Cake, drinks, pies, whipped cream, and jello.

Getting ready for the feeding frenzy.

Sœur Geddes with some of the missionaries and a young French girl 
(dressed in black) who was just baptised the day before.

Two of the Chinese-speaking elders in our mission.

Anne and Alexendra.  They even tried the jello.

Sister Merrill and sister Huntsman.

I think she liked the pecan pie!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

A Fun Family Visit

It seems that time accelerates as the starting point of our mission slips further into the past and the ending date looms on the horizon.  And with so much going on in recent weeks, it has been easy to neglect our blog entries.  So before too much more time slides by, we need to make record of a fun family visit that occurred during the month of October.  My sisters Roxie and Margaret along with Margaret's daughter Kjersti and her two girls, Elyse and Faith all hopped on a plane in California and flew to Paris for a few days and then caught a train to see us here in Lyon.  Even though they were only with us for a couple of days, we managed to pack in plenty of visual and gastronomic highlights.  With all the things we planned to see, we were afraid that we would walk their legs off.  But what troopers!  I guess it helps that no matter where you are in a city like Lyon, there is a great patisserie just ahead. It's a great motivation to keep on going, but it kind of defeats the benefits of all that walking.  

Margaret, Kjersti, Faith, Elyse, and Roxie on the bank of the Saône in Lyon.

What are brothers for anyway?!

Faith and Elyse in their new berets.

At a Roman aqua duct that is almost as old as us.

It was nice to take them to our Écully ward on Sunday. . .

. . . and to an authentic French brasserie.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017


In France, you can hardly fling a crêpe without hitting a magnificent church, basilica, or cathedral.  Every town, from the smallest hamlets to the grandes villes, has a spired edifice at its heart.  The most majestic of these, the immense gothic cathedrals, are in a style that was first developed here in France in the Basilica of St. Denis just north of Paris.  This unique gothic style quickly spread throughout France, then the rest of Europe, and eventually even found its way to far-away Utah in the design of the neo-gothic Salt Lake City Temple.

When you enter one of these majestic churches, you can't help but marvel at the capacity of man when motivated and inspired by God. How did they do that?!  And in contrast, you also feel a little deflated when you see the vandalism on one like St. Jean here in Lyon that was severely damaged when the secular wave of the revolution swept over France.  But even through the scars, the spirit of the original structure survives.

What was the source of inspiration for these incredible churches?  We got a beautiful glimpse of it last week on a trip to Corsica with all of the senior missionaries from the Lyon mission.  As wonderful as the creations of man are - the cathedrals, the churches, the 2000-year-old aquaducts and theatres -  they pale in comparison to Corsica's "Calanche de Piana", the volcanic "Reserve of Scandola", or a simple sunset on the Mediterranean.  Even the inside of an oyster shell is a masterpiece.  It should be no surprise then, when places like a stand of old-growth Sequoias in Muir Woods, or a gallery of calcium crystals in the cave of Baum-les-Messieurs, or an emerald cove in Corsica's cliffs are all called "cathedrals".  It can be so inspiring and humbling to see how puny we really are!  And then we ask ourselves," How did HE do it?" And the words to the hymn "How Great Thou Art" resound in our hearts.

As we breathe in the splendour and beauty of His creations like the magnificent island of Corsica, we feel closer to Deity and are brought to our knees in gratitude to know because of  the restored gospel, how great our value is in the sight of the Lord (D&C 18:10).  We are again humbled to realise that this earth was created for us in order for Him to accomplish His work and His glory (Moses 1:39) .

Our trip to Corsica was soul-healing, heart lifting, and just magnified our love and admiration for the Lord and our gratitude to be able to serve in this beautiful part of the world with our wonderful fellow senior missionaries.

Entrance to "The Cathedral" in Corsica's "Réserve de Scandola".

The color and clarity of the water and the abundance of marine life around Corsica are spectacular.

Spray from the boat going along the coastline.

Rugged rocks . . .

. . . and crystal-clear water.

More of the spectacular coast.

Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Ajaccio on the island of Corsica.

The local sea-gulls apparently aren't that impressed by Napoleon!

Church with the group (smaller than a branch) in Ajaccio.

What could be more Mediterranean that bougainvillea and an amphora?

A selfie at dinner . . . in a soup spoon.

And a selfie on the beach.

Sunset from the balcony of our hotel room on Corsica.