Life in France

Les Amis

img_0097You are NOT going to believe what we did today! Honestly, I can’t believe it happened, it’s surreal.

This morning we went up to the top of the village where we were told a group was planning to meet from the community to clean up the castle grounds and prepare it for the summer festival. We were a little nervous to put ourselves into another situation where we’d be the only ones who couldn’t speak French, but we were eager to meet more of our neighbors and excited to show our interest in the village and its history. The streets were quiet, an icy fog still clinging to the ground beneath the trees as we hiked to the top of the hill. There wasn’t a person in sight, but a few cars parked around the corner of one building gave us a clue and the sound of voices drifting from one of the doors confirmed it. Hesitant, we knocked on the door. The crowd inside turned to stare at us in surprise, all their excited conversation grinding to a hault as we shuffled awkwardly through the narrow door.

“We…uh, nous avons…uh…nous sommes les Americains…uh…”

“Americains?” a man in the center of the crowd asked.

We all nodded, and the room broke out in astonished cries and warm smiles.

“We have come to help,” my husband said, and the man jumped to his feet.

“Come! Come! Welcome!”

It turns out, instead of a crowd of our new neighbors, they were all medieval history enthusiasts from the city of Chaumont, nearly thirty minutes away. Together, they manage the castle grounds and host the festival here while also gathering several times a year to tour other castles, work in medieval festivals, and teach classes to local school children or scout troups on the rich history of our region. In short, we had found our kind of people. It was a little disappointing to learn that there were no local villagers involved in the group, but this fact made them all the more delighted to discover we intended to be a part of their work.

The man who greeted us turned out to speak a little more English than the others because his daughter had studied in America for a few years and he’d visited her there. He introduced us to the group, asked a lot of questions, then insisted we get a tour of the castle before we begin work. As we climbed up to the castle gates, he led us to the right. A map of the original castle hung on the wall illustrating what once had been a large fortress. Now, little remained of the Chateau Lafauche, but the team had spent the last thirty years painstakingly rebuilding the walls from the rubble with just a few willing hands each summer. As we climbed the steps to the first tower, I was amazed by what they had accomplished. It was obvious they’d gone to great trouble to restore the castle walls to their original position. He explained how the towers had been filled with trees that punctured holes in the walls of the tower and destroying the floors until there was little left but rubble inside the main structure. We learned how archers would have guarded the gates and a little about the history of French weapons compared to the English at the time.

Climbing up the outer slope of the castle, we took a moment to enjoy the breathtaking views of the landscape beyond our little village. It must have been a heady feeling for the original master of the castle to stand there and survey all that he owned. Here he would be lifted above all his peasants and his enemies as well, a constant reminder of authority.

We joined the rest of the crew where they were working to clear briars and tall grasses from the hillside. We weren’t really dressed for the work, some of us wearing tennis shoes instead of work boots and none of us with proper work gloves, but we took up our tools and got to work anyway. The thorns were vicious, tearing at our hands and ripping into our clothes. A fire burned on the hill below us, sending acrid smoke our direction every time the wind blew. It was hard work, but there was a beautiful sense of satisfaction in it, knowing we were not only joining in something so fabulous but representing ourselves well as both the Americans and now as local villagers.

A little after noon, we took a break and the entire group walked back down the slope to the front gates where we gathered for a photo to remember the day. Back inside the warm little room in the village, we gathered around the fire. The group offered us all some refreshment while their lunch finished cooking over the stove. An older man pulled out a bottle with a handwritten label on the front and began pouring out cups, much to the delight of his fellows. Our new friends explained that it was a medieval recipe made with wine, honey, and a blend of spices. The kids’ eyes grew wide as he offered them each a glass. They shook their heads fervently ‘no’ eliciting a few laughs, but the man only shrugged and moved on.

As we said goodbye, we felt a little sad to leave them, but they insisted we join them again and we intend to take them up on their invitation. We could certainly learn a lot from a group who’ve made it their hobby to learn the customs of the past and to preserve its treasures for the future. And who knows, maybe we can be helpful to them as well.

Walking back toward the house, my daughter smiled up at me. “Mom, that was awesome. They’re the same kind of nerds as us!”

I had to laugh, but it’s true. I’m grateful we keep finding such wonderful new friends everywhere we go. I know a lot of people were worried for us, leaving all of our friends and family behind in America. But with every twist and turn of this adventure we’ve been given new friends to join us on the journey. It reminds me of something Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age…” (Mark 10:29-30)

It’s funny that when I went to look that up so that I could quote it, I couldn’t find it at first. I was sure it said whoever left home and family for God would receive double in heaven. But once again, God is so much sweeter than we expect. He not only promises 100xs the return on our investment instead of the 2xs that I was expecting, he also doesn’t make us wait. He wants to bless us here on earth just as richly as he blesses us in eternity. Isn’t that incredible? It is certainly proving to be true for us. And in the end, we aren’t really losing all that we’ve left behind. Instead, God multiplies it, surrounding us with even more love and friendship than we had when we started this journey until overflows all around us. I hope soon our village will feel it, too.

Until then, we’ll be dreaming of castles and that gorgeous view from the top of Chateau Lafauche.